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McDonald warms to his task

Tuesday's news wrap Pie cap tight, Waite's wait and more
Tom McDonald has developed into a reliable key defender in a trying year for the Demons

MARK Neeld undoubtedly came to Melbourne with elaborate ideas to get the club up the ladder and back to being a competitive force in the AFL.

And in a season full of harsh lessons for the first-year coach, one of them would be that even the best-laid plans can go awry.

With just one win from the first 11 games, the Demons have been forced to experiment, with some impressive results.

One trial that has worked out particularly well has been the use of second-year player Tom McDonald as a key defender.

Click here to view McDonald's career stats

McDonald, who arrived at Melbourne as a key forward as the 53rd pick in the 2010 NAB AFL Draft, was brought into the backline in the second game of the season and has steadily improved, to the point of winning the round 13 nomination for the NAB AFL Rising Star.
"I was probably lucky I got a chance in round two. I came in as an emergency and I've been able to stick in the side ever since," McDonald said.

"I probably exceeded expectations considering it could have been a little while longer until I got a chance. To take it and stick in the side, I've been very happy with my season so far."

McDonald's switch is a common story at Melbourne this season, culminating in last weekend's 78-point win over GWS which featured star performances up forward from long-time defenders Jared Rivers and Colin Garland, while Jack Watts and James Sellar held down defensive posts after spending time in attack.

McDonald, 19, says he hasn't approached coach Mark Neeld about getting a turn in front of the goals when he tries out new combinations.

"I did play up forward in juniors. I really enjoy it down back actually so I think I'm starting to find my role back there," McDonald said.

"I haven't suggested it yet but if he wants to put me there I'm happy to try and kick a goal but I'm pretty happy with how it's going down back."

McDonald was faced with the task of taking on No.1 draft pick Jonathon Patton at the weekend. After an impressive debut the previous week against Richmond, Patton came into the game against the Demons with a big reputation but careful plotting by McDonald and backs coach Jade Rawlings kept him quiet for most of the afternoon.

"I knew I was going to be playing on him most of the day if they went in the way we planned they would. I knew his strengths were his contested marking and his body work," he said.

"Jade Rawlings and I had a bit of a plan of how we would attack that and go about it and what I could do to help the team. I really set myself for it and thought I did my job after quarter-time. I gave him a goal in the first quarter which was frustrating but I was happy with how I worked through it."

McDonald has praised Rawlings, who arrived at Melbourne in the pre-season after assistant coaching stints at Richmond and the Brisbane Lions.

He said the former Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Western Bulldogs forward has been vital in bonding Melbourne's defenders.

"He's been a really good influence on me. I didn't have a lot to do with him in the pre-season because I was training as a forward but I went back and he's been a massive influence in the way he's brought everyone together back there," he said.

"It's probably our closest group in the club so we think we work together well and we get on well."

Luke Holmesby is a reporter for AFL Media. Follow him on Twitter - @AFL_Luke