Casey Demons' premiership defence looked on track until three close losses to end the regular season consigned them to seventh spot, before an elimination final hiding at the hands of Footscray.
BY THE NUMBERS
Position: 7th (after finals)
W-L-D (%): 12-8 (126%)
Players used: 54
Played every match: 4 – Jed Adams, Matt Jefferson, Deakyn Smith and Roan Steele
AFL players used: 27
Debutants: 17 – Jed Adams, Kynan Brown, Trent Burgoyne, Zane Duursma, Finn Emile-Brennan, Kyah Farris-White, Rhys Galvin, Max Gregory, Matt Jefferson, Cooper Macdonald, Ned Moodie, Charlie Peters, Oliver Sestan, Tom Sheridan, Cooper Simpson and Ziggy Toledo-Glasman, Will Verrall.
Best and Fairest: 1st: Deakyn Smith, 2nd: Roan Steele, 3rd: Luke Dunstan, 4th: Andy Moniz-Wakefield, 5th: Bailey Laurie
J.J. Liston Trophy votes: Luke Dunstan (18), James Harmes (7), Josh Schache (6), Adam Tomlinson (6)
Coaches MVP votes: Luke Dunstan (56), James Jordon (33), James Harmes (30)
VFL Team of the Year representatives: Luke Dunstan
Goalkickers: Josh Schache (29), Matthew Jefferson (23), Andy Moniz-Wakefield (20)
(Averages – minimum 6 matches)
Disposals: Luke Dunstan (29.1), James Harmes (28.6), Adam Tomlinson (26.0)
Kicks: Adam Tomlinson (20.8), Daniel Turner (15.2), Luke Dunstan (14.4)
Handballs: James Harmes (15.7), Luke Dunstan (14.7), James Munro (13.6)
Marks: Adam Tomlinson (7.9), Daniel Turner (7.5), Blake Howes (6.8)
Tackles: James Munro (9.8), Mitch White (4.7), James Harmes (4.4)
Hitouts: Jack Bell (17.2), Will Verrall (16.1), Kyah Farris-White (6.5)
Clearances: Luke Dunstan (5.2), James Munro (5.2), James Harmes (5.1)
Inside-50s: James Harmes (5.4), Mitch White (4.7), Charlie Spargo (4.7)
Rebound-50s: Adam Tomlinson (10.2), Daniel Turner (5.9), Tom Freeman (3.8)
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The rise of Roan Steele would be right at the top of the list. After a solid 15-game debut year in 2022, Steele played all 20 matches and proved a consistent and valuable part of the defending premier’s line-up to finish second in the best-and-fairest. Luke Dunstan starred once again in what turned out to be his final season at the level and Andy Moniz-Wakefield continues to come along, booting 20 goals from the wing. Dan Turner and Adam Tomlinson were almost impassable in defence and best-and-fairest Deakyn Smith provided plenty of drive off half-back. Everything seemed on track at 11-4 after Round 18 with a top four spot at their mercy.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Losing talisman Jimmy Munro for the first half of the season was disappointing to everyone who loved watching him play, although he didn’t miss a beat when he finally returned. Skipper Mitch White also missed five games to injury. The Demons fell from the top four to seventh after dropping their last three games by a combined total of 11 points which left them needing to take the long road home. After thrashing an injury-ravaged North Melbourne in the Wildcard Round, the Demons were weakened by the loss of a host of Melbourne-listed players in the elimination final against Footscray which resulted in a meek ending to the premiership defence.
The Demons won the 2022 premiership on the back of the brilliance of their VFL-listed players and that same group was left to try to defend the flag when eight AFL-listed players were withdrawn for the elimination final to fill three available spots in the AFL team. Put that aside, and the fall from nearly unbeatable premiers to a seventh-placed finish was disappointing on face value, but they really weren’t that far away, with five of their eight losses being by 14 points or less and none bigger than 28 points until the thrashing to Footscray in the elimination final.