The Demons were once again among the more active sides throughout the 2014 off-season. Nine players joined the red and blue, including two top three draft picks, but the most accomplished of these was Heritier Lumumba.
Lumumba made his way to Melbourne thanks to a three-way deal between Collingwood and Geelong, costing the Demons Mitch Clark. Given the circumstances surrounding Clark and the hole he was to leave in the salary cap, it was a fantastic opportunity for the Demons to bolster their list.
Paul Roos’ arrival at Melbourne in 2014 came with an emphasis on defence. The Demons were drilled to drag opposition scores down to remain more competitive. To accomplish this, the offensive power – what was there from 2013, at least – was sucked out of their game.
The Demons played patient football, aiming to control possession – only Gold Coast recorded a lower play on percentage than Melbourne’s 27.6%, and not many others used the corridor as infrequently. However, this low-tempo style, combined with extra numbers behind the ball, was lethargic. They ranked second last in transition from defensive 50 to forward 50 and last in converting inside 50s to goals, posting consistently low scores not seen since the game was broadcast in black and white.
This is where Lumumba fits in. His main qualities are leg speed and ball movement off half back and through the middle, kicking long and accurately and running hard. He has a keen eye for the shortest route to goal – perhaps too keen, sometimes – and the skill set to match.
These are qualities the Demons have lacked. They have tried to utilise various players in similar roles over the years but none have possessed the broad offensive qualities Lumumba does.
Against Fremantle in the NAB Challenge he won 16 of his 19 disposals between forward and defensive 50. He was one of Melbourne’s main playmakers, winning the ball in the corridor and looking to play direct. This was no more evident than when he hit two successive kicks through the centre to find Jesse Hogan inside 50.
The Dees were more timid against the Western Bulldogs but he was still a presence, even winning 15 disposals in the forward half.
It seems evident Lumumba will hold a fair share of responsibility in the midfield. He was promoted to the leadership group in February, already showing he has earned the respect of teammates and staff in quick time.
Building a sound defence to create competitiveness in the short term is only half the battle. For the Demons to start posting winning scores they need the likes of Lumumba to lead the charge through the middle of the ground.
At Collingwood’s best and fairest last year, not long after announcing his departure, Lumumba was noted for his intriguing speech, referring to his name as meaning “the prince, the one who will hold the last laugh, and is gifted.”
Mysterious as it may have been, one thing holds true: the Demons will share the laughter if his gifts can come to fruition.
You can follow Ethan on Twitter at @ethan_meldrum.