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Story of 2015

Melbourne finished last season in 13th, a solid improvement from 2014’s 17th spot. The rise of Jesse Hogan was a dream come true for long-suffering Dees fans, finally giving them some hope.

The acquisition of Bernie Vince continued to pay dividends for the side, winning Melbourne’s Best and Fairest and was a shining light even during some of Melbourne’s worst moments.

The peak came with a win in Geelong for the first time in ten years, as Bernie Vince led from the front, helping to dull the pain of a decade of domination. Their lowest point came late in the season, round 20 against a Bulldogs side they had beaten earlier in the season. The finals bound Bulldogs piled on twelve consecutive goals to start the game and thoroughly humiliated the hapless Dees.

What went right

Jesse Hogan. Everything to do with Jesse Hogan. Since being picked up in the 2012 mini-draft, Hogan had been talked about as Melbourne’s great white hope – massive expectation for a developing key forward. Hogan was more than impressive as an underage player in the VFL during 2013, but was sidelined by injury for almost all of 2014.

Despite this setback, he finally set the world alight last season as he kicked 44 goals from 20 games. His goal tally wasn’t the only impressive part, his strength and agility were already a major positive for what was basically a debut season, as he managed to lead the club in contested marks and in fact was third in the competition.

With Hogan providing such a domineering force, Melbourne’s scoring improved quite dramatically. Critics of Melbourne have pointed towards their low scoring and defensive gameplan under Paul Roos as negative and boring, but 2015 managed to turn that trend upwards. Melbourne lifted its average points scored to 70, a 10 point improvement over 2014 – still comfortably below average, but still a significant increase.

At the other end of the ground young defender Tom McDonald announced himself as an All-Australian contender early in the season. A Travis Cloke opening quarter on the Queen’s Birthday almost singlehandedly derailed his chances, and his confidence, but McDonald recovered towards the backend of the season to finish strongly. McDonald’s composure and ability to both limit his opponent’s influence on a game while also rebounding and intercepting at the same time provided stability and strength to a Melbourne backline that was at times vulnerable.

What went wrong

A massive lack of consistency across the board meant that one step forward was often followed by a step back. This was on show in round two against GWS, as the Dees jumped out to a five-goal lead late in the second term, holding the Giants to only two goals for the first half. The Giants then kicked 13 unanswered goals to rip the contest wide open, running out 45 point winners against the shell shocked Dees. All of their seven wins were by more than 20 points, but on the other end of the spectrum they lost sixgames by more than 50 points. The gap between their best and their worst was far too great, and it lead to a number of humiliating defeats.

Melbourne’s finish to the season was incredibly disappointing. A 98 point loss to the Bulldogs was followed by an inexcusable loss to Carlton and a heartless performance against Fremantle making it tough to find positives despite some of the highs experienced earlier in the season. They were consistently slow to start games in the final quarter of the season and unable to win a single quarter in their last five games. In two of those games they were held goalless, and they were only to kick a sole major in another. In fairness, Melbourne were able to defeat the Giants in round 23 to finish the season, but by that stage it was the equivalent of putting a band-aid onto an amputated limb – the damage had already been done.

2016 Preview

The turnstile that is Demons’ list continued to turn during the off-season, with Mark Jamar, Daniel Cross, Jeremy Howe, Jack Fitzpatrick, Jimmy Toumpas, Rohan Bail, Jordie McKenzie and Aidan Riley all departing. In return, the club loaded up on young talent with two top 10 picks entering in Morrish Medalist Clayton Oliver and developing key forward Sam Weideman.

Oliver is a powerful young midfielder with the potential to add real spark to the Demons’ midfield, and his ability to go forward and kick goals is not to be underestimated. Weideman should be a great addition to the forward line behind Hogan, but a pre-season calf injury has derailed his start at the club and it may be a case of waiting to see him in the side.

Melbourne’s midfield is already a solid one, experienced campaigners Nathan Jones and Bernie Vince always lead from the front and are never found wanting. Add in the youth of Jack Viney and Angus Brayshaw, a revelation last year, along with Oliver and a hopefully fit and firing Christian Petracca and you have the makings of a versatile and potentially dangerous midfield unit. It may not be the most exciting or the most explosive, but there’s no doubting the toughness of it.

A lot will hinge on the effectiveness of Melbourne’s attacking prowess. Despite the improvement in scoring last season, there’s no papering over the fact that they still struggled to score. Melbourne have a genuine superstar in the making with Jesse Hogan, but only he and Jeff Garlett were able to kick a significant amount of goals last season. They simply have to find a varied number of targets down forward, and with the introduction of the interchange cap there will be increased onus on their midfield group to contribute in front of goal.

Interestingly, Melbourne have completely revamped their leadership group as they look for new direction. With only captain Nathan Jones remaining, it has seen Colin Garland, Bernie Vince, Tom McDonald, Jack Viney and cult favourite and people’s beard Max Gawn added. It’s a refreshing change and it may have a positive effect on a side looking for leadership from different players this year.

Best 22

B: Neville Jetta, Colin Garland, Tomas Bugg
HB: Lynden Dunn, Tom McDonald, Heritier Lumumba
C: Angus Brayshaw, Jack Viney, Dom Tyson
HF: Jack Watts, Chris Dawes, Christian Petracca
F: Jeff Garlett, Jesse Hogan, Ben Kennedy
Foll: Max Gawn, Nathan Jones, Bernie Vince
Int: Clayton Oliver, Aaron vandenBerg, Sam Frost, Christan Salem

Ladder Prediction

13th