SETBACK-PLAGUED Christian Salem is optimistic about producing "a big year" after being best afield in Melbourne's 21-point win over Carlton at the MCG on Sunday.
In what the 21-year-old agreed was the most assured performance in his frustrating 32-game career, the highly-skilled left-footer gathered a personal-high 31 possessions.
This eclipsed his previous best of 27 touches, achieved against Geelong in a humiliating 111-point loss at Simonds Stadium last year.
Salem was everywhere in the first half, amassing 21 disposals by the main break – four more than the next-best player, teammate Clayton Oliver.
Originally slated to play on a wing, Salem was moved back to familiar territory at half-back following the suspension of veteran Bernie Vince.
The No.9 pick in the 2013 NAB AFL Draft is hoping for a change of fortune in his fourth AFL season. He wants to build some continuity and momentum after a horrendous run in which he has suffered recurring thyroid issues, hamstring problems and even a bout of concussion after being struck by a brick on a pre-Christmas training camp.
"It's probably the best game I've had at the club, but it's also just a start and I really want to build some consistency now," Salem told AFL.com.au after starring against Carlton.
"I'm a year older now and it's time to step up after a frustrating three years.
"When I first got to the club I had a thyroid issue, then a couple of hamstrings and another thyroid issue, so I've been pretty frustrated.
"But I had a really good pre-season and my thyroid's under control, so it's just about getting some consistency with just playing games.
"The most I've played in a row is only seven games. It's not a lot but hopefully I can stay on the track and have a big year."
The Demons are 2-0 for the first time in 12 years and the feeling in the rooms was naturally positive. As Salem started to answer a question with: "The best thing was …", big man Max Gawn playfully interjected: "You've got a good ruckman."
Salem hopes to spend more time in Gawn's vicinity in the midfield but, for the time being, and whenever required, is more than happy to play at half-back where his kicking and decision-making are so valuable. He was a beacon in an error-riddled contest with the Blues.
Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin, in his post-match press conference, praised Salem as a key contributor to the result.
"He was a standout today, Christian. Played at half-back and I thought he was great in every phase of the game. Clearly his offense was very strong but defensively he was outstanding," Goodwin said.
With many suggesting it was the type of game the once-fragile Demons might previously have surrendered, Salem said they now boast greater maturity and composure.
To emphasise the point, he cited the example of their start to last season when they defeated Greater Western Sydney in their season-opener at the MCG, only to suffer an upset loss to the depleted Essendon seven days later.
"Compared to previous years, we've got that calmness amongst the group," he said.
"We're all a year older, we've all played another year with each other, no one panicked, we were calm and got back to doing what we knew we had to do."