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The trouble with Demons

Under siege: Melbourne coach Mark Neeld lets the players do the talking during the Demons' huge loss to Gold Coast at the MCG on Sunday.

Under siege: Melbourne coach Mark Neeld lets the players do the talking during the Demons' huge loss to Gold Coast at the MCG on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

Mark Neeld's disastrous coaching career looks certain to stagger through at least another round of football, despite the growing chorus seeking his removal.

The club's new chief executive, Peter Jackson, remained uncontactable on Monday after Sunday's scathing public analysis of the mess he has taken on, but is understood to have met the beleaguered Neeld for a frank chat.

Although Neeld's future rests with president Don McLardy and his board, any move remains highly unlikely unless Jackson recommends it, and knee-jerk decisions are not his style.

With due respect to Melbourne's well-meaning directors, they have not exactly proved themselves capable of good football decision-making and they should not be left to control any decision on the coach.

Jackson made it abundantly clear on Sunday that big changes were required at Melbourne, and quickly. He would not guarantee the coach's position or any other, but called for all those under pressure to work with the benefit of some ''clear air''.

That breathing space will be afforded to Neeld at least in the short term, with Jackson clearly appalled at the dysfunctional football set-up left behind by Cameron Schwab and which has clearly played a major part in the team's dreadful performances in recent years, and more notably since Neeld was appointed coach.

The most pressing void appears to be at the helm of football, and performers such as Geoff Walsh (Collingwood) and Neil Balme (Geelong) do not grow on trees.

Jackson spoke of four people reporting to Schwab, and although he didn't name them those four are Neil Craig (director of sport performance), Tim Harrington (list management), Josh Mahoney (football manager) and Neeld, who also reports to Craig.

Jackson also made it clear this was a mess but has clearly not had time to assess whether any official capable of taking hold of the football operation exists at the club.

There is irony in the fact that Essendon, the club Jackson ran for 14 years until 2009, is also looking to restructure a football department which was so dysfunctional from the end of 2011 that it allowed its players to be subjected to a cavalier, dangerous and potentially unlawful sports science program.

You have to wonder at the fact that the Essendon board still has not moved to make changes, despite the fact it has known the findings of the Switkowski report for more than a fortnight. Perhaps legal negotiations are taking place to afford those changes.

Melbourne, like Essendon, threw money into its football structure and lured performers with big names on big contracts to fix the club. Like Essendon, it forgot to implement any form of acceptable leadership structure.

Unlike Essendon, Melbourne can no longer hurl money at the problem. Jackson has confirmed the club will lose more than $1 million this year.

Although some at the Demons might have tried to conceal certain problems from the AFL, the club remains utterly dependent on head office.

Should Neeld depart - and this looks increasingly likely - before the end of 2013, Todd Viney has been mooted as his successor, but Viney's relationship with one of the few players to have demonstrated strong leadership this season, his son Jack, poses a big problem.

It is also true that Viney disagreed strongly with the coach over recruiting and other decisions before the season began. His long-term contract and passion for the club would indicate he will stay, and perhaps given a clear mandate to completely overhaul the woeful development or recruiting roles.

But one certainty at Melbourne is that Jackson is not only an interim CEO but a crisis manager. The other certainty is that six months cannot fix or even begin to rebuild this cultural basketcase.


  • Melbourne's directora are "well meaning". Is that code for weak, dithering and inept? A strong and incisive Board would have acted at the end of last season when it was obvious that Neeld was not the right guy for the job but they dithered and left him and his team in place to seal in another shocking season with their dreadful list management and recruiting. Now the Club is facing up to another interim coach when the directors find their spines and remove Neeld some time over the next few weeks. Another season gone and another crowd of disillusioned supporters lost along with God knows how much money.

    Mt Eliza
    Date and time
    May 14, 2013, 8:15AM
    • I couldn't agree more. For years the long suffering Demons fans have been relying on a saviour to turn the club around whether it's Gutnick, Stynes, Lyon. What the club has always needed and lacked is experienced and disciplined management, starting with the board. It's a joke, and they should all be sacked. If you're a member of Melbourne's board, you should take it off your resume.

      Date and time
      May 14, 2013, 8:52AM
  • This club is not worth commenting about.

    Date and time
    May 14, 2013, 8:17AM
    • Yes it is. There are a number of issues that come directly out of this club. I believe all point to Demetriou. The two major ones are

      1. creating conditions in a competition where a club was enticed to not do its best (call it tanking if you will). It has screwed the MFC royally.

      2. diluting the quality of the competition to a point where we have a number of 'novelty' teams running around for the sake of the 'brand' instead of ensuring the best players weren't enticed away (Scully, Ward from the scraggers).

      Date and time
      May 14, 2013, 9:40AM
    • Kepler-22b, right, I agree with you. And I would add that you could draw a direct line back to the failed Demons-Hawthorn merger in the 90s to help explain the mess the Dees are in now. Many of the fans who watched their own beloved club prepare to extinguish itself lost faith, while it had the opposite effect on the Hawks, who took the part of the underdog and used it to become stronger and better.
      It has been obvious since then that the AFL, with Demetriou only the most recent incarnation, would like nothing better than to see Melbourne fall on its sword completely and remove itself from competition, and they have created the conditions that make this outcome inevitable. As soon as I heard that the AFL were creating two more 'novelty' teams in GWS and GCS, I handed in my Melbourne membership and I haven't been to a live game since. Fair weather supporter? Maybe so. But as a fourth generation Melbourne supporter I got tired of being crapped on and I see no end in sight. I'd rather give my membership money to an actual charity.

      Date and time
      May 14, 2013, 9:56AM
    • Kepler, it was entirely Melbourne's decision to tank. Other clubs have had the opportunity to do so but instead they won games and created a winning culture. Blaming the AFL for that is a copout.

      It has also been Melbourne's decision not to broaden it's supporter base by looking beyond Collins St lawyers. Other poor clubs have gone interstate to find more members, Melbourne's elitists feel they're too good to have to do this.

      Date and time
      May 14, 2013, 10:25AM
    • Katiealex - the merger? I don't see Hawthorn as being irrelevant

      Date and time
      May 14, 2013, 11:29AM
    • andyl12LocationDate and timeMay 14, 2013, 10:25AM

      Accept your comment as I barrack for the Tiges and am proud that they have not been linked to tanking (unlike Carltank) nor drugs (Essendrug) nor salary cap breaches (where do you start). Also about the supporter base - good point.

      Nonetheless, the AFL is responsible for the administration of the game and has stuffed up royally. How you ask, well let me count the ways

      1. drugs - watch the weak punishments (if any) to see what I mean
      2. salary cap cheating (and creating special rules for special people)
      3. gambling running amok - if you don't think this is a problem, watch the umpires. 600 games of soccer in Europe are being investigated - naïve to think its not happening here
      4. ruining the spectacle with all the noise at the game
      5. changing the rules constantly so nobody knows what's going on
      6. novelty teams to the north
      7. dilution of the competition
      8. unbelievably biased draw - all about maximum buck, little about supporting teams like Melbourne (or the scraggers, roos and saints)
      etc etc

      The AFL's major (one would argue only) role is governance - you know trying to stop all of the above. Instead they flounce around like corporate gods, get in bed with the biggest bunch of spivs they can find, and simply cannot see they are driving people away. This is from somebody who went to every Richmond game one year (as well as a bunch of other games) to somebody who has only been once in 5 years. I can't even watch a whole game anymore. I still love the game but my kids don't!

      Date and time
      May 14, 2013, 11:43AM
    • Katiealex 9:56AM

      With you on supporting - I've stopped going too!

      Date and time
      May 14, 2013, 11:45AM
    • Kepler-22b, WORD. The phrase that keeps coming to my mind is that they're (the AFL) killing the goose that laid the golden egg. I used to adore the footy, I even played it for five years (in the women's league). But due to all the factors you describe above, I simply don't enjoy it anymore. Footy makes a huge amount of money now for a lot more people only peripherally involved with the actual, you know, sport - bookies, TV moguls, corporate sponsors, etc. The players are now fully professional and earn huge sums. But the fans of the clubs are just treated like s***.

      Date and time
      May 14, 2013, 12:22PM

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