THE STORYLINES are everywhere in Melbourne's unbeaten start to the season.
There is Christian Petracca's ascent to superstardom, Kysaiah Pickett's rise to cult hero, Steven May and Jake Lever's formidable defensive partnership, Jayden Hunt's return to half-back weapon, Ed Langdon and Angus Brayshaw's wing residencies and coach Simon Goodwin's removal from the pressure valve.
Then there is Tom McDonald's career resurgence, which makes you question whether clubs missed a trick when they didn't take him when the Demons key forward was put on the trade table last year.
After a career-best season in 2018 when he booted 53 goals and helped steer the Dees into the preliminary final, McDonald became emblematic of his side's woes the next two years, kicking 25 goals in 29 games across 2019-20.
During 2018 he had signed a four-year extension through to the end of 2022, but after injury-interrupted campaigns and form troubles the Dees were open to offers for the hard-running forward last off-season. None came.
His price tag – his final two seasons were estimated to be worth more than $600,000 a year – scared off some clubs, but that was going to be offset by a very low trade price. Essentially, the Demons, who were in the midst of prying Ben Brown out of North Melbourne, were interested in moving McDonald's money out of their cap.
Given Brown landed at Melbourne in exchange essentially for a second-round pick, a deal involving the 28-year-old McDonald was unlikely to have been anything until late in the second round or early in the third.
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Hawthorn, Essendon and Collingwood were all linked to McDonald at stages, however the Pies, with their salary cap issues, weren't about to jump all-in on a key forward who looked to be past his best. The Giants were also tossed up as an option but went with Jesse Hogan as a bargain basement pick. Melbourne was upfront with McDonald, telling him that if other deals fell into place, his opportunities as a key forward could be limited.
Six months on, McDonald is keeping Brown and young key forward Sam Weideman out of the (so far) all-conquering Demons' line-up. It has been a remarkable recovery that hit another gear last Saturday night when he booted three goals from 18 disposals in Melbourne's impressive win over reigning back-to-back premiers Richmond.
That had followed two goals from 22 disposals the previous week against Hawthorn, and was the fourth time in six games this season he has kicked multiple goals (for a season tally of nine so far).
With a stacked forwards group that has seen Brown and Weideman kept at VFL level, Goodwin has resisted any temptation to throw McDonald onto the wing or play him again as a defender so to allow one of his other marking forwards to claim a spot in the Dees' 22. It has been a vindicated decision, with Melbourne humming and McDonald a critical part of its set-up.
Credit also goes to McDonald, who used the lack of interest as motivation over a grueling pre-season that saw him train up as a wingman before being reshuffled into the forwards group when injuries hit. At a club that now has the luxury of a surplus of key goalkickers, McDonald has won back his prime position.
In a game that has opened up for key forwards with rule tweaks, particularly those who have strong endurance, clubs might rue not taking their shot at him when they had it.