The Western Bulldogs leave the field after losing to Geelong in round 5. Photo: Pat Scala
First impressions are often accurate, and lasting. The first impression of Melbourne this season was not pretty nor was it inaccurate - a 79-point loss against Port Adelaide. And it has been lasting.
As first impressions go it was like walking in on your grandmother in the shower - some images you can't get out of your head.
Some first impressions also flatter to deceive. Like the Western Bulldogs. The Dogs accosted a Brisbane Lions side that come round one retained a bloated and misguided pre-season optimism.
Melbourne has won one game; the Western Bulldogs have won one game. Melbourne has lost five games by 10 goals or more, the Bulldogs three games by 50 points or more. Admittedly, two of those Melbourne losses were by more than 15 goals. But for all of the excitement of the Western Bulldogs' first-round victory, the stark reality is this: the Dogs have won one of their last 18 matches.
In this season, Melbourne might have quickly and cringingly re-established itself as a poor side, but the Western Bulldogs' slide has continued without anything like as much scrutiny. The difference between the teams and the disparity in the criticism they have deservedly drawn is because the biggest discrepancy between the sides has not been win-loss but effort and competitiveness.
The Bulldogs have escaped serious criticism because, first, there is always a more compellingly pathetic option to focus on (Melbourne) and because the players have appeared largely to be trying. They have been competitive in each of their games - bar the West Coast loss - even when the margin has blown out late in matches, such as occurred again at the weekend against North. They have also played better sides than Melbourne has and pushed them harder (Geelong recently).
Against that, Melbourne deserves its lumps because from the opening minute of its game against Gold Coast at the weekend it plainly was not there to play. Or it was there to play, it's just that the game the Demons wanted to play was not football.
Over 100 missed tackles says enough about their limp effort. But it also in part is a reflection of the fact the Demons were missing six of their best 22 players. This week Colin Sylvia's knuckle-headedness means it will be seven (Trengove, Grimes, Watts, Clark, McDonald and Jamar). Few good teams can afford to lose that number of their best players and still be competitive. When poor sides lose that number the result is grim.
The Western Bulldogs mind, have had the bulk of their best side out there each week. Bob Murphy and Matthew Boyd have both missed three games, Daniel Giansiracusa and Ryan Griffen two each and Shaun Higgins has gone for the year. But Adam Cooney, Daniel Cross, Dale Morris and Luke Dahlhaus have played every game.
The Bulldogs' problem is not that the players have lacked effort but they have constructed a side around a game plan which is skewed towards big contested ball-winning midfielders but seemingly at a cost to players with polish in disposal and foot speed to cover the ground. Coach Brendan McCartney has acknowledged this ground cover problem recently.
The Bulldogs' further problem is that those senior players - save for the experienced Will Minson - do not occupy key positions. This has magnified a problem of covering the ground for when there are not the big players to mark the ball, the smaller players have to work that much harder.
Melbourne's problem over the Bulldogs is that its issues are not restricted to the misery on the field. The chief executive has been pushed out the door, the board has proven itself well-meaning but flawed and now the dark touch of Dank has drawn the Demons into the ugly AFL investigation.
All of these matters further pollute the idea of the club beyond what is occurring on the field. Unlike at Essendon where what is happening on the field is salving the wounds off it and galvanising the club, at the Demons it is only painting a starker picture of chaos and incompetence.
BAD TO WORSE
Melbourne and the Bulldogs from round 13 last season
|Inside 50 diff||-7.5||-11.3|
*Melbourne is 16th, the Bulldogs 17th and GWS 18th in all those categories.