Broken Heart, But Still Beats True

by Simon Dobbie

Oh, to be a Melbourne Demons supporter. The expectation. But then the despair. Year in. Year out. Why do I do it to myself? And with a young son now, why should I do it to him as well?

I wrote last year when the Club seemed like it was at its lowest point after the infamous massive drubbing by Geelong. That game ended up with the sacking of Dean Bailey as coach which I thought appropriate at the time. Not so much for that one game but for his whole four year tenure as coach.

I now see, after only three games in 2012, that those thoughts were more than appropriate. Fore I can only surmise nowadays that those four years were completely and utterly wasted.

I took issue with the fact Bailey didn’t seem to have a game plan and lacked any tactical nous to make decisions or changes to try and alter the course of the match. It was like he thought “I’ve got some of the most talented kids in the country through the draft and all I need to do is give them plenty of games and success will follow”.

And that’s what he did. He gave them games and gave the older guys more games as well. Very little in terms of accountability. Very little in terms of standards and measures around performance. Around improvement.

Well, haven’t the chickens come home to roost now. Many of these kids might have 20-50 games under their belts but it’s hard to see any development or progress in terms of the intangibles. Footy smarts. Positioning. Decision-making. Hardness.

Why have players at other clubs with similar levels of experience gone on to bigger and better things? And why is it that ours haven’t?

I’m not for a minute doing an analysis of the top draft picks over recent years and going through a game of “we should’ve picked Player A instead of Player B”, etc. Those arguments are irrelevant until such time as both players have finished their careers and you can properly look back and evaluate.

For instance, I still think Jack Watts will become a better player than a Nic Naitanui or a Stephen Hill or a Daniel Rich. But he’s only just turned 21 (and so have they mind you) so let’s leave that debate until we seen a hell of a lot more from him and from them.

No, the point of this is to ask the question why do Melbourne’s players seem to stagnate and never really make the jump to the next level? Where’s the ‘progress’ that you can hang your hat on and feel good about the next year or two to come? Where’s our next ‘superstar’ who the rest of competition look on at and wish they had?

We’re a patient lot we Demons supporters. We’ve had to be. I’ve been waiting my whole life for a Premiership. And that’s after being filled with talk of the glory days of the 50s and 60s from my father. It’s hurt a lot. But that’s the thing, it seems there’s no end to the hurt in sight. In fact, this year may bring even worse hurt based on our first three performances.

I’m a glass half-full sort of guy though. I still retain some hope for 2012. You can stop laughing now.

Yes, my reasons are this. Basically, new coach Mark Neeld is actually starting from scratch with this playing group. Many of them have plenty of games under their belt and many of them have now got AFL experience. But that ‘experience’ has been under a system devoid of strategy and tactics and accountability and standards. It will therefore take some time, maybe quite a bit of time, to instil some of these elements into the Melbourne Football Club as a whole and into the current playing group.

It’s quite obvious that the players are struggling with this so far. Actually playing to a game plan and having structures in place must seem very foreign to them. But they will become accustomed to it and dare I say it, ‘while it won’t happen overnight, it will happen’.

The challenge for Mark Neeld and the coaching staff is enormous. Everyone knows it now. There’s no glossing over. No papering over the cracks. I’m a pure realist on that front. As one of the new coaches in 2012, his task is definitely the hardest. The others have inherited lists that just need a bit of a reno. Neeld has inherited a list that needs a complete rebuild.

But I do have faith (hey, it’s all I got) that the club did make the right decision to appoint him as coach as I think his attributes in teaching and developing will eventually be rewarded and of course be crucial to any future success.

I’m keeping faith then and actually think that, while the first half of the year will be dismal (more of the same I’m afraid), the second half may see some real improvement and hopefully some stuff we can hang out hats on for next year. Instilling a game plan and teaching our young players some of the intangibles of AFL footy. The stuff that you need to ‘progress’ both as a player and a team.

But by god, I can’t believe I’m saying ‘there’s always next year’ so early on into a season. Definitely some sort of record.

Yes, they certainly make it hard for me to love them the old red and blues but hey, what am I going to do?

This heart beats true and I’ll remain a Demon for life. And so will my son.



  1. Simon, may the grace of God be with you.
    Regarding getting games into kids – that’s why I think Gold Coast and GWS are in trouble. Games into kids is only good if they earn the games and learn the right way to play. I still remember when Bomba Thompson sent Jimmy Bartel back to the reserves for weeks on end until he could show he had improved defensively. Seemed to do the trick. I don’t know if they have that option at GC and GWS, and as you say, it wasn’t done at Melbourne and the likes of Paul Roos has said it’s almost impossible to correct those bad habits of older players who like to get ahead of the footy.

  2. Cookie, definitely agree on ‘games’ not being everything. I also think GC and GWS will take a lot longer to progress than most reckon despite all their high draft picks for that very reason. On the Dees front, they do seem to drop players back to the twos at times but they’re back in the seniors in no time because someone else has underperformed and needs to be dropped. The likes of Morton, Petterd, Dunn and Bate are perpetually going back to Casey before gaining a quick return. It’s a merry-go-round they can’t get off it seems and no lessons being learnt a la Bartel back in the day.

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