AFL

Melbourne star Bernie Vince says anything is possible in 2016

The optimism at Melbourne is palpable. Almost to a man, the players are testifying to it.

Last year's best and fairest winner Bernie Vince is no different.

Happy Demon: Bernie Vince is feeling upbeat about the season ahead with Melbourne.
Happy Demon: Bernie Vince is feeling upbeat about the season ahead with Melbourne. Photo: Penny Stephens

"I can't wait for this year. I know every team says that at this time of year, but I truly believe that, as a footy club, we are in a position where we can do some damage and beat some good teams," he said.

Given where the Demons have come from – the club won 10 games in three seasons between 2012 to 2014 - such optimism could be cynically dismissed as the unsubstantiated hope of a playing group more excited that things have improved, rather truly believing they are as good, or better, as anywhere else. 

Except for the fact that such thinking doesn't really apply to Vince.

The 30-year-old only arrived at Melbourne in 2014, and before then was a star at a club that played finals in three of the six full seasons he was there. 

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So when Vince says there is now a "huge difference" in training standards at Melbourne, then that background should be taken into account.

You hear that a lot from players, about "training standards". But what does that actually mean?

"It's like playing against another AFL team now, when we train," Vince explained, in an interview at the club's community camp visit to Armadale Primary School on Thursday.

"When we work on our defence, we are training against AFL calibre offence.

"Or when we play offence, we are training against AFL defence.

"In the past, our defence probably looked a little bit better than it really was because our offence wasn't quite as good.

"It's almost like you can tell who wins at training now," he said.

"You've got Simon Goodwin taking the offence and Jade Rawlings taking a lot of the defence stuff. You come off the track now and you can tell which one is not happy.

"Usually one isn't happy, which means obviously the other one is happy. Whereas before, it wasn't really like that.

"We are really testing each other out, now, and it's just making everyone better."

Goodwin is being groomed to take over from Paul Roos as senior coach in 2017, but will transition into a prominent role on game days in 2016 to speed up that progression.

The senior assistant has also been a more central figure during this pre-season, with offence identified as the Demons' key area for improvement this year.

There has been a lot of education around that, and Goodwin has been the teacher.

Vince said he thought the apprenticeship Goodwin served at the club in 2015 had left him perfectly placed to take on more responsibility this season, and then establish a long career as a senior coach beyond that.

"He knows how everything works now - he knows all the players, the system, the media, all the assistant coaches, the administration," Vince said.

"Nothing is new, so he can just hit the ground running.

"He has taken a lot of the meetings and a lot of the training drills, which I guess is the way Roosy did it with John Longmire back in Sydney.

"And that is the good thing. Roosy has done it before, so they don't feel like they are treading on each other's toes."

Vince confesses to being "great mates" with Goodwin, a relationship that began when they played together at the Crows.

Vince said he knew then that Goodwin would be a senior coach, for he was virtually an on-field coach during his last years at Adelaide.

"I learnt a lot off him, he taught me how to train, and I owe a lot of my career to him because he sort of took me under his wing after my first year or two," he said.

"I'm sure we will have our differences at times, which you do with any coach, and we understand that.

"It hasn't happened yet, but I'm guessing when he takes over it will happen at some stage."

Vince himself has enjoyed a solid pre-season, missing only some ball work because of finger surgery.

It has been better than last year, which is significant given the key midfielder was almost All-Australian in 2015.

Vince found a niche in a "running with the stars" role, where he not only helped shut down the opposition's best player; he inflicted plenty of damage himself.

"I'm sure I will get that role again at different stages. But I reckon I could play a little bit across half-forward, half-back - I've been training a lot of that," he said.

There were three games last season where Vince had over 30 disposals and kicked two or more goals – not including another three matches where he had another 35 possessions. And Melbourne won the majority.

So it was put to Vince that maybe opposition teams would consider turning the tables on him, and send a tagger to Melbourne's No.23 this year.

"That would be weird, wouldn't it? Three of us running around chasing each other," Vince joked, referencing a scenario where the Demons planned to send him to the opposition's best midfielder, while the opposition actually planned to tag Vince instead.

Yet the veteran was generally reluctant to talk about his own game, which clearly went to another level last year.

At this stage of his career, all Vince wants is for the team to collectively rise to the level needed to play finals.

"When I first came to the club, the team was coming off two wins," he said.

"In my first year we had four wins, which again was really poor and nowhere near where we want to be.

"Then we had seven wins last year, which we think was an improvement, but still pretty poor.

"We just want to improve again. Whether it's nine, 10, 11 wins, we're not going to put a number on it.

"But if you're a good enough team to start winning those sort of games, all you've got to do is jag one or two more of the close ones and you are knocking on the door of the [top] eight.

"We think anything is possible."