THE hard work for the Melbourne Football Club has only just begun. Long-suffering supporters are understandably shaking their heads as they are again faced with the reality of their side propping up the AFL ladder.
No one could have envisaged that Melbourne would be on the bottom of the table after seven rounds. And with games against Sydney, Carlton, Essendon and Collingwood in the next month, the likelihood of this changing in the short term is slim.
That the playing group has been asked to embrace a dramatic change in the way it prepares and plays has been telegraphed from day one of the new, Mark Neeld-led regime.
Liam Jurrah is the ultimate wildcard but his kicking history speaks for itself. Photo: Getty Images
What the supporter base would be having trouble digesting is that it would appear that the change is going to, again, take time. For a group starved of success, the frustration of being asked to have patience as a new coaching group takes hold would be testing in the extreme.
Listening to Neeld and coaching director Neil Craig speak as they navigate their way through an extremely trying introduction to the club, it is obvious that they were under no illusions as to the magnitude of the job.
But perception and reality may have surprised even them as they seek their first win for the year. Despite what some may say, maintaining the faith is not hard if you understand the quality of the people charged with the responsibility of the playing group.
Right now, though, they are under enormous external pressure and that is also the reality of football. There is little patience or tolerance afforded to a football club that has seemed to be in a constant state of rebuild for the past 5½ years, and that is a fair enough position to take.
They will have a view of where they need to be in the long term, but the scrutiny of what takes place in the short term will not go away.
Having looked back at the performances of the side last year, the improved output of four players will, I think, have a significant influence on the fortunes of the team in the coming weeks.
Brent Moloney had an enormous season last year. He was in Melbourne's best three players in six of their eight victories, polling 14 of a possible 18 Brownlow votes in those wins. He was a dominant presence on the playing field and his combination with Mark Jamar was as good as any in the league.
He was elite in contested football, clearances and first possession and knocked up getting the football. He has played in five of the opening seven matches and hasn't been able to recapture anywhere near the sort of form of 2011, in which he won his first best and fairest for the club. Whether it's a result of the new style of football being asked of everyone to play remains unknown to me, but the fundamentals of winning hard football and clearances would still be a priority, regardless of the game plan.
Jack Trengove is another way down on his 2011 output. Connecting that to Trengove assuming the co-captaincy of the club, at a younger age than any footballer in the history of the game, is an obvious one that most in the footy world are making.
It is a reasonable question to ask, and a 0-7 start to the season would play on the minds of the most experienced leader. To know the player is to know that he will not be looking for, or making, any excuses. Rarely have I encountered a young man who takes more responsibility for his own performance and that of the team. The qualities that led to him being appointed as captain will see him through this period and have him emerge as a stronger all-round player.
From where I sit, he looks a little ''heavy'' in the legs and doesn't appear to be covering the ground as quickly as he has in the past. He seems to be labouring a little in his running and maybe that's a by-product of a heavier and far more taxing pre-season campaign.
Again, as an unbelievably hard trainer, he would have pushed himself to the limit in every session he's involved in. Perhaps a little freshen up might be in order. He was also a major influence in the Demons' better performances last year. Mitch Clark, Jeremy Howe and company have demonstrated an ability to stretch most defences, they just need more consistent supply from the likes of Trengove and Moloney.
Colin Sylvia is the other barometer for the Demons. I know there are a lot of people in football who would suggest that relying on such a temperamental talent is fraught with danger, but I am a fan.
He has been criticised for his inconsistency in both effort and output, and while I'm not saying he is completely blameless, there have been some mitigating circumstances this year. A serious back injury that sidelined him for six weeks in the pre-season with multiple fractures in his vertebrae came at an appalling time. He has managed just three senior games, one as a sub, and is still working towards full match fitness.
I think he's the most talented footballer on the Melbourne playing list - an explosive, power athlete with a physical skill set perfectly suited to the game. And yes, he has an unpredictable mischief about him that would not have raised an eyebrow 10 or 15 years ago, but in the modern, professional era he needs to continue to remind himself of the standards that need to be met every day of his AFL career.
He is a challenge for new coach Neeld. Finding the right buttons to push, coming down hard when it's required, and extending him some creative licence at other times are the sorts of balances that all coaches need to strike at some stage. But I have no doubt he is worth the effort and, with an uninterrupted run in the weeks ahead, he can become the sort of on-field leader that this young group desperately needs.
Which leaves the ultimate wildcard, Liam Jurrah. Again, when the Demons were winning games last year, Jurrah was the man kicking the goals. He kicked 27 in their seven wins, managing multiple goals in each victory.
No one can really understand where his mind is at, given the extraordinary circumstances he has been confronted with this year, but what the Melbourne Football Club has always done, and will continue to do, is act in his best interests.
If football is the one thing that allows him to keep moving forward, and his form warrants it, then he will be given that opportunity, as he has been this weekend. If he struggles to mentally prepare for a game of AFL football then I'm sure he will be given the time away he needs.
He undeniably makes Melbourne a more potent attacking force, and along with Clark and Howe would present a difficult challenge for opposition back lines. Moloney, Trengove, Sylvia and Jurrah have all faced challenges this year that have resulted in them not being able to put their best foot forward. Like the team itself, though, they are the only ones who can rectify the situation. The competition does not sit still and affords no player or side the luxury of time to find the sort of form that makes them a competitive outfit.
Respect in this competition is coveted and consequently it is as hard to win, as it is easy to lose. This quartet of players recapturing their best form would be a very good starting point.