Dees now more the team of Neeld's making
Melbourne coach Mark Neeld admitted the list changes were significant but not radical. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
MELBOURNE crashed this year, but Mark Neeld remains intent to crash through.
Twelve months ago, Neeld got a job and a mandate for change. A year and one dispiritingly poor season later, the resolve now is not just to change but to up-end.
Plainly, when the regime of Neeld, Neil Craig and the phalanx of new coaches arrived, they came with the view that the depth of change needed at the club was profound, but was also limited by time.
Last year, the list changes were kept to a minimum, with four senior players traded or cut. The playing list was, in large part, given the time and opportunity to embrace the new coach's philosophies, which were emphatically pressed home on the group. The overhaul of the leadership then was the most symbolic and tangible change of direction and era.
In November last year, the coach did a range of interviews, presenting reasonable yet firm warnings to his team.
"All players need to know if you drop off a work ethic or a certain aspect of your game, you need to know how that looks and that looks like playing VFL footy," he said in one of many similar declarations at the time that players had a simple choice at the club — follow or leave.
A year on and many have left — 14 in fact — traded or told to go.
Melbourne was the most active club in trade time. It moved five players to other clubs and brought four more in from rivals. Had the Demons been able to what they wanted, they would also have secured the contracted Farren Ray from St Kilda, beaten West Coast to Sharrod Wellingham and bagged one or two more low-end players.
The day after the free agency and trade period ended, they jettisoned eight more players. Admittedly, among that final figure of 14 there were three rookies and Liam Jurrah, whom the club did not want to lose but who presently has more complicated and compelling legal and family issues at play.
Among the departures were four players who had been first-round draft picks at the club, three of them taken in the past five years.
Matthew Bate leaves after eight years and 102 games. He had been given time enough and his departure should not surprise.
Cale Morton had proven such a disappointment that he was ushered out for a draft pick that will probably not be used (88) and with Melbourne paying some of his wage next year.
Lucas Cook — pick 12 two years ago — might just have been a poor choice at such a low draft pick, while Jordan Gysberts (pick 11 in 2009) was more reluctantly lost. He was part of a trade for Cameron Pedersen, a player the club figured it needed more than Gysberts. In short, to get something they had to give something.
Melbourne next year will be very much more the team of Neeld's making. It will be his team.
Neeld admitted the changes were significant but not radical.
"If you look a the majority of other clubs in terms of the numbers of changes that you make, that is not unusual," he said of the five players going out and four coming in and ahead of the club culling a further eight from its list. "We are looking at it over a period of a month — the net effect on our list — and we always said we would look at all three avenues: free agency, the trade period and now the draft. And we have some exciting kids that we have already locked away in Jack Viney, pick four, Jesse Hogan and Dom Barry."
List manager Tim Harrington admitted the changes to the playing list were partly for cultural reasons as well as for talent or need.
"Following on from the change of staff last year, it [the change] is a lot to do with what the new regime and the club sees that we have to push towards, so that is a cultural change, but it is also providing our own group with faith to say the club are genuinely trying to make a change to the list and what the expectations of the players are," he said.
"You have to balance up between the role [recruiter] Todd [Viney] and I play, which is a medium and longer-term view and saying, 'What do we need to build the game style to allow us to achieve success later on down the track?'
"So you can't get belted early days. So what are you doing in the short term to make sure that later on down the track you are in good shape for the way you play the game? So that is why you look at blokes like Shannon Byrnes and David Rodan, but then a Chris Dawes, who you hope is going to play for seven or eight years.
"In numbers, it is a significant change but maybe it's a bit different to what has happened in the past. We have gone a bit older, so we have recognised we needed some more experience, blokes who can play their roles in AFL straightaway."