Gary Buckenara analyses Melbourne’s list after the 2019 season

Melbourne’s epic fall from a preliminary final appearance to second last on the ladder could become even worse before it gets better. Recruiting expert Gary Buckenara names the Demons who need to step up.

The time has come for Melbourne Football Club to draw a line in the sand.

As coach Simon Goodwin said on July 21 this year after a loss to West Coast, enough is enough.

It’s time for actions, not words.

Are the Demons going to genuinely challenge for a premiership over a sustained period over the next one-three years or are they going to fall back into mediocrity without a whimper and let more years go by without the possibility of success.

The supporters deserve more.

The club and its rich history deserves more.

The fall from grace from 2018 to 2019 was spectacular.

Were the Demons unlucky? Yes, there were some injuries but were they self-inflicted via poor end of season management? A poor pre-season?

It was a wasted season. There is no other way to put it.

From premiership contenders and a preliminary final to bottom two?

We haven’t seen a fall from grace quite like it.

The list has been overrated. When I have a deep look at what Goodwin has available to him, I see 11 A or B-grade players, far too many C-graders and only one player under 21 — Sam Weideman — who has the potential to become an A or B-grader.

It’s a massive concern.

“Smile if you’re a Melbourne A-grader”. Picture: Michael Klein
“Smile if you’re a Melbourne A-grader”.

Here’s the breakdown:

A: Max Gawn, Clayton Oliver

B+: Jack Viney, Tom McDonald

B: Nil

B-: Nathan Jones, Christian Salem, Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd, Kade Kolodjashnij, Jake Melksham, Bayley Fritsch, Steven May

C+: Christian Petracca, Jake Lever, Sam Frost, Aaron Vandenberg, Jayden Hunt, Alex Neale-Bullen, Marty Hore, Josh Wagner, Neville Jetta

C: James Harmes, Billy Stretch, Mitch Hannan, Oscar McDonald, Joel Smith, Corey Wagner

C-: Jay Kennedy-Harris, Braydon Preuss

Developing*: Sam Weideman

Developing: Charlie Spargo, Oskar Baker, Harrison Petty, James Jordan, Tom Sparrow, Toby Bedford, Aaron Nietschke, Austin Bradtke, Kade Chandler

For a team that has had so many top draft picks, for the players not to have elevated themselves and/or received the right development to become very good AFL players or stars of the competition by now is alarming.

Will Christian Petracca ever fulfil his prodigious promise? Picture: Michael Klein
Will Christian Petracca ever fulfil his prodigious promise?

There are too many players who fall into this category — Christian Petracca, Angus Brayshaw, Christian Salem, Jayden Hunt, James Harmes and Oscar McDonald — these are all guys who have been talked up as stars or emerging stars of the competition but where were they when their team desperately needed them to step up this year?

What about Jack Viney and Tom McDonald? This year they didn’t even get close to producing the level of football they did in 2018.

The next 12 months is going to be critical — can any of the C-graders or the developing youngsters like Charlie Spargo, Oskar Baker and Harrison Petty emerge as very good AFL players? There are real concerns.

Every club has to be aware that one successful season, albeit without silverware, doesn’t make a career and it doesn’t guarantee you success the following year. The only way to achieve that is to work hard and throw egos out the window. Every Melbourne player, and the club as a whole, must accept this and accept they got carried away with the year they had in 2018. They were satisfied. You can’t ever be satisfied in a tough competition like the AFL.

If there is a repeat of this year in 2020, a lot of careers in football could be over.

Adam Tomlinson has joined the Demons from GWS. Picture: AAP
Adam Tomlinson has joined the Demons from GWS.

TRADE AND FREE AGENCY PERIOD

Magpie Jamie Elliott has turned down Melbourne, which is a shame because he would have been a perfect fit as a genuine goalkicking small forward. He would have been my No.1 target over Adam Tomlinson and Ed Langdon given what he would have offered — he’s so dangerous and exactly the type of player the Demons desperately need.

Tomlinson will arrive as a free agent and he’ll add some versatility — he can play a variety of roles, including on the wing while he was also used as a second ruckman by GWS at times this year.

Fremantle’s Ed Langdon wants to be traded to the Demons and I think pick 22 would be a fair deal.

I’d be looking at Richmond’s Dan Butler as a small forward option. While he’s not a star, he does provide that manic forward pressure and he’s clever around goals. I think he’d come pretty cheaply in a trade, too. The Demons could get him for a fourth-round pick, currently No.60.

Melbourne should be looking at Josh Jenkins. He would come very cheap in terms of a trade deal and reports are he’s willing to play for not much money. He would be a perfect fit as a big-bodied forward who can also go into the ruck and help Gawn.

The Demons need more firepower up forward, like Josh Jenkins. Picture: Getty Images
The Demons need more firepower up forward, like Josh Jenkins.
Tiger Dan Butler could fill a role at Melbourne. Picture: Getty Images
Tiger Dan Butler could fill a role at Melbourne.

LIST NEEDS

The critical need is for a forward-ruckman to help Gawn. I had concerns last year over the recruitment of Braydon Preuss to be that player and those concerns were validated — he just isn’t effective as a forward target and wasn’t the right player to target. The Demons need someone who can play predominantly as a forward and spend 5-10 minutes per quarter in the ruck.

They’re also severely lacking midfield speed — it’s far too one-paced and made up mostly of similar types. They need a couple of outside line-breakers who have silky skills, while they’re crying out for a quick and dynamic small forward who can apply manic pressure and kick goals.

Melbourne also needs another experienced tall marking forward to help McDonald as Weideman continues to develop.

Braydon Preuss didn’t quite work out for the Demons in 2019. Picture: AAP
Braydon Preuss didn’t quite work out for the Demons in 2019.

DRAFT STRATEGY

The Demons haven’t had a first-round draft pick since 2015 when it picked Oliver at No.4 and Weideman at No.9, so it’s imperative the club reinvests in the top-end of the draft this year to bring in some good young talent. What stands out and worries me greatly about Melbourne is they have only one player aged 21 or under who I see as having the talent to develop into an A or B-grader. Pick No.3 this year must be a quick and classy midfielder with great skills.

CRYSTAL BALL

Melbourne can’t win the premiership next year, however, there’s enough scope for improvement on the list for them to bounce back into finals contention but that won’t be achieved without everyone at the club, including the playing group, accepting responsibility for what was a very poor season this year.

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