Eagles v Bombers in high-flying showdown
Soaring Essendon face their toughest test yet, up against the undefeated West Coast Eagles. Rohan Connolly offers his tips for AFL round 7.PT0M0S 620 349
THERE'S a chance Melbourne will be winless when it reaches round 12 and has its bye, as not much has gone right for this club since it overreacted and sacked coach Dean Bailey after round 17 last year.
As such, there's a stack of questions to be asked of the Demons.
■ Are the players who played under the old coach being confused by the demands of the new?
Hard yards: Melbourne's Matthew Bate, Mark Jamar, Jack Watts, Brent Moloney and Jack Trengove during training yesterday. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
■ Are they shaken by the off-field issues that have affected Liam Jurrah and Aaron Davey?
■ Are they still grieving the loss of club legend Jim Stynes?
■ Are they befuddled that loyal veteran Brad Green was dumped as captain and the two young men who replaced him, Jack Trengove and Jack Grimes, started last week's game against Geelong on the bench?
■ Are the players angry the club couldn't persuade Tom Scully to stay?
■ Are they miffed that Mitch Clark, who is no better than a good, ordinary player, walks in on superstar money?
■ Are they embarrassed that their major sponsor was a dill and had to be replaced?
■Do they look at Nic Naitanui and think of what could have been?
■ Do the players get exposed enough to former Adelaide coach Neil Craig? We never see or hear from him, unlike Rodney Eade at Collingwood and Mark Thompson at Essendon.
So, where do you start with the Dees? Since Bailey was sacked, the team has won once in 11 outings. Just what was expected of Bailey? In his four years, the success rate went from 14 per cent to 18 per cent to 39 per cent to 44 per cent. Weren't they on track? Don't forget that it took Thompson eight years to land his first flag with Geelong.
Bailey evidently didn't hit it off with chief executive Cameron Schwab and football general manager Chris Connolly. But those who have power at the club chose to keep the ''old boys'' and cut a coach who, with his experience at Essendon and Port Adelaide, knew what premierships were about.
Bailey's teams played with a certain amount of flair. When on their game, they were good to watch. Slowly, Bailey was building the required defensive strengths.
Under new coach Mark Neeld, Melbourne uses the boundary 67 per cent of the time when coming out of defence - the highest percentage of any team.
In Collingwood's 2010 premiership season, Melbourne played the Pies twice, for a draw and a one-point loss - good signs. The players enjoyed being encouraged to play attacking, possession-based football. Last year, the Demons averaged 89 points a game, and conceded 105. This year, the averages are 70 and 118. In effect, they are five goals a game worse.
Neeld has to be given some time. He has no doubt brought Collingwood's premiership game plan with him. But that doesn't mean much. You have to cut your coat according to your cloth. The best game plan in the world may work with one group of players, but not with another.
The Demons don't have the size, strength or fitness base of the Magpies. Their midfield doesn't run as deep, and they don't have two power forwards, or the experienced, versatile defence. So Neeld has to be careful he doesn't insist on a brand of football the Demons can't deliver.
The game is constantly changing. The successful Collingwood forward press of 2010 doesn't stand up as it once did. Teams such as Carlton, Essendon, West Coast and Hawthorn are using lots of short kicks and uncontested marks to beat the press. Melbourne sits 18th in these areas. There isn't enough run and spread and boldness in the Demons' play.
The one area the Demons dominate is hitouts. But they aren't taking advantage, as they are 13th in clearances.
Against the Hawks tonight, it will be tough.
It would be good to see the Demons play with more boldness. Mark Jamar will dominate the hitouts, so use that to advantage. Have Brent Moloney, Nathan Jones and Trengove be on the fly at stoppages to create effective breaks. Use each other more with handball and short kicks to encourage players to spread far and wide.
This should help the team kick more than the average 10 goals per game and give the fans something to get excited about when they leave the MCG.