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Season review: Melbourne

The key tall the Dees should chase What went right and what went wrong for the Demons in The Wash-Up

In a nutshell

Melbourne broke through to make the finals for the first time since 2006, accounting for Geelong and Hawthorn in the elimination and semi-finals respectively. The Dees were blown out of the water in the preliminary final, but that aside it was an extremely successful season.

What we said in the pre-season 

Every AFL.com.au reporter successfully tipped Melbourne to make the finals. There were also a few people who predicted the Demons to come fifth on the ladder, which is where they finished at the end of the home and away season.


Have your say: Give your season verdict on the Demons using the form at the bottom of this article.


What worked

High-scoring Demons Melbourne was the highest scoring team in the competition in 2018, and by some margin. Led by the emergence of Tom McDonald (53 goals) as an elite forward, the Demons kicked more than 100 points 15 times in 2018.

No standing in Harmes way When Jack Viney went down with another foot injury in round 16, James Harmes stood up and assumed his role in the midfield. Harmes became one of the AFL's best run-with players in the back half of the year, but could also win plenty of the footy himself.

Gawn and Oliver among the AFL's best Max Gawn and Clayton Oliver were named as All Australians after stellar 2018 campaigns. Gawn was among the top five players in the competition, such was his influence on games. Oliver went to another level in 2018 and can now be considered as one of the best inside midfielders in the AFL.

What failed

Viney's foot troubles Co-captain Jack Viney managed just 10 matches for the season, with a persistent foot injury forcing him to miss the first two months of the season. The foot complaint flared again after round 16, and although he made it back in time to play finals, it's a huge concern the Demons must continue to monitor.

The handling of the cancelled pre-season camp From the very start, Melbourne was fighting a losing battle. When it became public that Demons players had raised concerns about the health and safety of the SAS-style boot camp, the critics were out in force.

Falling at the penultimate hurdle It's harsh to zero in on one loss, but the manner in which the Demons were hammered by West Coast in Sunday's preliminary final deserves a mention. The loss will either steel the players to go one better next season or leave them questioning whether they have the mental toughness to win those sorts of games.

Overall rating

A

Although it slipped over at a crucial stage in the premiership race, Melbourne proved it has the potential to be on the dais for years to come. 

The coach

Goodwin's coaching methods were challenged after the pre-season camp, but he quickly silenced those doubters with the club's performance on the field. The Demons coach, who is set to begin talks on a new deal in the off-season, had to reshuffle the defence after Jake Lever went down with a season-ending knee injury, cope with injuries to key players and see his team win the last two games of the season, under pressure, to lock in its finals spot.

Simon Goodwin silenced the doubters after a pre-season challenge. Picture: AFL Photos

The leaders 

As mentioned, Viney played just 10 games as his season was ruined by injury. That meant Nathan Jones' leadership, as one of the co-skippers, became vitally important, although he moved more on to a wing rather than playing as an inside midfielder. The way Jones carried himself off-field was impressive, and both players complement each other well.

MVP

Max Gawn: The Melbourne ruckman became the first player to record 1000 hit-outs in a single season. It was the quality of his hit-outs that underlined his impact on the game and his team, with 35.5 per cent of them classed as 'to advantage'.

Surprise packet

Charlie Spargo: Although he was Melbourne's first pick in last year's NAB AFL Draft (No.29 overall), Spargo quickly became part of Melbourne's best 22 and kept Jeff Garlett out of the side. His ability to pressure the opposition meant he became one of coach Simon Goodwin's favourites.

Get excited

Bayley Fritsch: Missed just two games in his first season, including when he was dropped for the preliminary final. Fritsch started the year as a forward, he played on a wing and finished the year in defence. He's a superb ball user and a terrific mark of the ball.

Disappointment

Jeff Garlett: The small forward still kicked 18 goals in 11 matches, but lost his place in the side because of his tackling pressure wasn't considered to be good enough. At 29, he will have to work hard next season to regain his place in the side.

Best win

Round 22: Melbourne 16.12 (108) d. West Coast 14.7 (91)

After 12 long years full of hurt and disappointment, the Dees secured a return to finals after storming West Coast's with a drama-filled 17-point victory at Optus Stadium.

Best individual performance

Max Gawn. Round 17 v Western Bulldogs

Gawn delivered a ruck masterclass in the third quarter, racking up seven hit-outs to advantage and instigating three goal chains from centre bounces. He finished with 17 disposals and 41 hit-outs.

Low point

It's hard to go past the preliminary final loss to the Eagles. Going to Perth and winning in a hostile environment was a tough ask, but the Demons were left shell-shocked from the start of the game. Melbourne's goalless opening half was the first by any team in a final since 1927, the first ever in a preliminary final, and their 0.6 scoreline was the lowest finals score at the main break since 1960.  

The big questions

1. How will Melbourne respond after preliminary final shellacking?

Coach Simon Goodwin insists the loss won't leave scars, but it will be fascinating to see how a young group, tipped for a period of sustained success, comes back from the gigantic loss to the Eagles.

2. Will Jesse Hogan be a Demon in 2019?

Melbourne says he's not going anywhere, but the West Australian continues to be linked with a return to Perth to join Fremantle. If Hogan does stay at Melbourne, the setup of the forward line, after Sam Weideman's breakout finals game, will be a much-debated point.

3. How will Jake Lever return from a ruptured ACL?

Lever was just starting to find his feet when he went down with a season-ending knee injury in round 11. The Demons, who invested two first-round picks to poach the defender from Adelaide, will be hoping he bounces back strongly.

Season in a song

Finally by CeCe Peniston

Who's done?

Retirements: Harley Balic, Bernie Vince

Delistings: TBC

Unsigned free agents: Nil

How should they approach trade and draft period?

Melbourne has been linked with North Melbourne's Braydon Preuss, with the Demons desperate to add some ruck depth behind Max Gawn. The club has also reportedly met with Sun Steven May as it looks to bolster its backline depth. Bringing in A-grade talent will always be a priority.

Early call for 2019

Melbourne will contend again. The Demons have high-calibre young talent within the right age profile and the club has long been setting itself up for a period of sustained success.

Demon fans: what's your season verdict?

Share your views via the form below and we'll publish the best responses on Wednesday, October 3. 

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