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Huge stakes for Demons in round one

Ashley Browne  March 25, 2013 9:44 AM

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Melbourne co-captain Jack Grimes

THERE might be more attractive games dotted throughout this elongated opening round, but it is hard to think of one that could more shape the fortunes of an entire season than the Melbourne-Port Adelaide game at the MCG.

For the visitors, it will be their first game under new coach Ken Hinkley. Winners of five and half games last year, there is not a whole load of expectation surrounding Port.

But Melbourne? A different matter entirely. The Demons won just four games in 2012, Mark Neeld's first year in charge. It took them until round 10 to get a win and for much of the first few weeks of the season, they were barely competitive.

But it could have been different. Melbourne opened last season at home to the Brisbane Lions as the warm favourite. But a 41-point defeat knocked the stuffing out of the Demons and it took them two months to recover.

Add to this the anxiety over the summer as the AFL's tanking investigation finally reached its conclusion, and the apprehension felt by Melbourne types ahead of this particular season opener is understandable.

The importance of the game is being spun in different ways out of Demons HQ, with club chief executive Cameron Schwab playing the straightest of bats.

"Isn't it just one of 22?" he asked AFL.com.au.

"That's realistically it. That's what it means for us. There will be another game the next week where we can bounce back if we lose the first one."

The players are taking a different tack, however, and speak candidly about the profound disappointment of losing the last season opener.

"There were expectations among the group that we would win the game and start the season well, so there was a lot of disappointment after that game," Jack Grimes said last week at the annual media call by AFL captains.

"There's no doubt that going into this season with no distractions hanging over us and the air being clear is a real positive for the footy club," he said.

"We were in it for a half and then we got blown away in the second half," he said of the Lions clash last year. "It just went the other way. It shook us up a little bit, but we will be more ready this time around and we won't get blown away."

Melbourne fans have done it tough as their club has floundered on the field in recent years. Add to that the ongoing tanking investigation into the club by the AFL that only reached its conclusion in February, and you can't help but feel that the MCG will erupt with joy if the Dees can get the points against the Power.

"They do deserve us as a footy club to improve," 2012 best and fairest Nathan Jones said.

"There is no doubt about that, and they have hung in through some pretty tough times, and that that is part of the driving force of the football club wanting to get back on the top because the loyalty of those fans."

Ashley Browne is a senior writer for AFL Media. @afl_hashbrowne