THIS was as 'Demony' a season as they come. Wasted opportunities, inconsistency, losses when they're expected to win, falling short against the best sides and ultimately placing ninth.
Only Melbourne could climb eight spots and still be a disappointment. At the same time, there's reason to believe better times are to come. The line-up transformed, they have a bevy of guns – Max Gawn, Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver, Steven May among them – and the kids look pretty, pretty good.
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Wing recruit Ed Langdon can be untidy by foot, but played a major role in remedying Melbourne's lack of outside run and recorded a top-five best and fairest finish. The Demons will also be pleased that 2019 draftees Luke Jackson, Kysaiah Pickett and Trent Rivers all look quality long-term prospects, while Tom Sparrow became a senior regular before a collarbone injury. However, the biggest development might be Sam Weideman, who went from not playing in the first five rounds to the club's No.1 key forward. The 23-year-old wasn't as impactful late in the year, but was crucial in the team's mid-season revival.
Melbourne sat in the bottom four at the end of round nine, when it ranked worst for score per inside 50 percentage. The Demons were tracking below their historic lows from last year in that statistic. They corrected this from round 10 – placing fifth from there – but inconsistency, even within games, hurt them. The Bulldogs enjoyed a six-goals-to-none third term against Melbourne in round 13, and Sydney blanked Simon Goodwin's men in a five-goal second quarter in round 15. A one-behind opening term against Fremantle was another example. They were the Dees' three losses in the second half of the season.
Christian Petracca turned a step forward in 2019 into a magnificent campaign this year that propelled him to his first All-Australian selection, Dustin Martin comparisons and a maiden club champion award. Only Coleman medallist Tom Hawkins amassed more score involvements than Petracca, while Brownlow Medal favourite Lachie Neale was the only player who won more groundball-gets. He also re-signed for two years in February.
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There were eyebrows raised when Melbourne drafted ruckman Luke Jackson with pick three, given Gawn's presence, Jackson being sub-200cm and the Demons wanting to contend for finals. Jackson's numbers won't blow anyone away – and a hamstring setback proved the end of his season – but he showed enough to suggest he's going to be a nice player.
Tom McDonald's fall from grace since his breakout 2018 season was a sledgehammer blow to Melbourne's fortunes. His 53-goal effort that year – when he became one of the competition's most accurate set-shot exponents – now looks an aberration. Couldn't get a game after round 13 and will probably be elsewhere next season. Neville Jetta struggled, too.
The narrow round 14 victory over St Kilda in Alice Springs seemed significant – and left the Demons inside the top eight, with match-ups to come against then-bottom-five sides Sydney and Fremantle. A spectacular final-term Petracca goal and a stout defensive performance from May were crucial.
Lethargic performances in back-to-back defeats in Cairns to Sydney and Fremantle cost the Demons a finals spot. The 51-point loss to Port Adelaide was a horror show as well, with Melbourne being just 2-6 against finalists. The two wins were over an understrength Collingwood and St Kilda (barely).
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How should they approach list management?
The Wagner brothers and Kyle Dunkley are already gone, and Harley Bennell has retired after his COVID-19 breach. There's a decision to make on whether Nathan Jones plays on, which could see him reach 300 games. Restricted free agent Jack Viney is yet to re-sign and exploring his options, while the McDonald siblings are out of favour and possibly need a fresh start. Braydon Preuss is also set to seek greater opportunity elsewhere. Kangaroo Jared Polec is being linked to the club and could give the Dees a potent wing set-up, after Langdon's impressive first season in red and blue.
Early call for 2021
The Demons need to make the finals. Goodwin will be under pressure from the get-go and must find a way to generate greater consistency, intensity and, yes, ruthlessness from his squad.
C. There was big improvement from the shambles of 2019, but Melbourne missing finals again was underwhelming, after it seemed primed for sustained success two seasons ago.