The year to date
While season 2015 has only produced one extra win compared to the same time last year, there are clear indicators Melbourne is heading in the right direction.
The overwhelming highlight has been without doubt Melbourne’s shock win against Geelong at Simonds Stadium – the sight of a loss in 2011 that made Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding seem like child’s play.
With the hellish trio of Fremantle, Sydney and Hawthorn in quick succession behind them, the Dees are poised to further cash in on their solid start to the year in the second half of the season. While finals still seem a fair way off, there is every indication this is not another false dawn and their form is finally trending upwards.
When number two draft pick Christian Petracca went down in pre-season it seemed a calamity, but the emergence of Angus Brayshaw in his first year of AFL football has helped offset that pain. If a play could sum up how impressive the 19-year-old has been this season it was against Geelong: intercepting a Joel Selwood kick, Brayshaw burst through midfield before delivering it perfectly to Jake Spencer.
That piece of play highlighted three of Brayshaw’s main attributes – sublime reading of the play, deceptive speed and precise field kicking, ending that particular game with 75 per cent disposal efficiency. His form has been impressive considering the man has not even completed a full season of senior football yet.
In a more general sense, Melbourne has greatly improved their contested game in 2015. They have lifted their contested possession rate to 138 per game, placing them fourth in the league. It represents a significant jump when compared with 2014, where they had an average of 130 and ranked 16th in the league, and it is a clear indicator as to how Paul Roos is setting up the side. The challenge will be to maintain their contested footy and not drop off as the season goes on.
In a season of solid growth thus far, Melbourne’s old ways have occasionally reared their ugly head.
Systemic breakdown of structure has cost the Dees so far this season on a few occasions, and will ultimately remain a hurdle they have to overcome as they build towards finals in the coming years. In perhaps their most explosive few seconds of Paul Roos’ coaching career, his side somehow let victory against St Kilda slip due to a fundamental breakdown of communication between coaches and runners.
After going ahead through a Jeremy Howe goal with just 41 seconds left on the clock, the Demons failed to drop numbers back, instead leaving ample space in their defensive half for the Saints to kick a late goal to snatch the four points.
While it was Jimmy Toumpas’ man who waltzed into an open goal with only mere seconds left, it was an overall structure breakdown that gave Melbourne fans flashback to the unspeakable Bailey and Neeld years. It is those methodical lapses in concentration which will lay the foundations for sustained success in the future once the Dees eventually snap out of it.
Where to from here?
Finals might be out of the question for Paul Roos’ side but there is plenty for Melbourne to gain as the season winds down.
Their next test comes in the form of the resurgent Eagles up in the tropics of Darwin, in what should be a decent test of where the side is at coming off the bye. As for the rest of the season, there are winnable games wherever you look.
Melbourne face Essendon, Brisbane and St Kilda after the Eagles in round 14, representing a trio a games in which they would genuinely fancy themselves. Apart from a hellish trip to face Fremantle in Perth in the penultimate round of the season, the remaining games present a chance for Melbourne to finally send a strong message to the football world as they go into 2016. Look out for their home game against GWS in the final round.