Paul Roos has to handle the delicate balancing act of surgically rebuilding Melbourne and its scarred footballers. Photo: Pat Scala
If the Melbourne Football Club’s attempt five years ago to lose games for early draft choices did not already sit high on the long list of the game’s most haunting cautionary tales, then Paul Roos confirmed its place on Sunday.
The Demons’ practices of 2009 seemed initially successful but proved ultimately disastrous. That is well documented.
Roos didn’t explicitly say so after his side’s capitulation against the Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium on Sunday, but he spoke ominously and emotionally about there being ‘‘a reason’’ behind the skill errors, the breakdown in stoppages and kick-ins. A reason behind a team that was ‘‘waiting to get beaten’’.
At some point, Roos will stop talking about the past. He surely realises there is a fine line between referring to the sins of those who came before him and erasing it from the conversation altogether.
But to give him the benefit of the doubt – and premiership coaches with reputations like his deserve that – clearly he believes that talking about a problem sometimes cannot be a bad thing.
Only six days earlier, Melbourne chief executive Peter Jackson spoke of the club’s ‘‘toxic’’ culture and how this was not something that could be eradicated in one year. Jackson was referring to Roos’ contract extension.
But as Roos handles that delicate balancing act of surgically rebuilding Melbourne and its scarred footballers – scars that appear to have deepened during the short but ugly Mark Neeld era – the good news is that tanking appears to have been removed from the AFL narrative this season.
There will always be an incentive to finish on the bottom of the ladder as long as the draft moves forward in its current form. But no team will come close to qualifying under the commission’s new discretionary powers to hand out priority draft choices this year and no team intends to ask. While three teams, including Melbourne, appear to be in contention for the wooden spoon, recruiters appear divided as to who is the No.1 draft choice anyway. And all those bottom teams – including StKilda and Greater Western Sydney – have achieved at least one genuine scalp in 2014.
As bad a game as Melbourne and Brisbane dished at the weekend, there was no sentiment among the audience or those behind the glass that this was a game either would have preferred to lose.
Certainly Roos appeared taken aback in his disappointment. It is worth remembering that he was sitting on the Fox Footy couch the night Brock McLean spoke of and ultimately blew the whistle on the tanking affair – an affair that led to football director Chris Connolly leaving Melbourne, former coach Dean Bailey being suspended, and the club heavily fined. If McLean spoke honestly about that whole unfortunate period and the effect it had on him, then he cannot have been alone in his sentiments – even if he was the only one to speak up.
Roos appears to still be learning about the aftershock of setting up teams to lose when at the same time setting standards to win.
The other club to have adopted this unfortunate and unsporting process almost as blatantly and escaped penalty was Carlton, and it did the Blues and those who were there at the time no favours either.
Clearly Roos misread the extent of the damage at Melbourne, but the fact he has agreed to stick around to try to fix it cannot only be about a lucrative contract. Nor does it seem to be about excuses any more.
This is good news for Melbourne, as was his tough call on those players he pointedly stated on Sunday might not be able to get over the past. This is not an indictment on Roos nor the players, but those who masterminded the clumsy tanking strategy in the first place and those who stood by and allowed it to happen.