Melbourne stumbled at the final hurdle in a year that, for the most part, they looked likely to end their long finals drought.. The Demons finished an agonising 0.5 per cent outside of the top eight, but they will rue numerous chances throughout the year that could have solidified a top eight spot.
That being said, a lot of positives can be taken from the year. Melbourne finished with twelve wins (two more than last year and five more than 2015) and a percentage of 105.22 (a 7.6% improvement on 2016). The Demons are on an upward trajectory, and while a ninth place finish will certainly hurt, co-captain Nathan Jones hopes that “it burns in the players’ gut over the pre-season.”
What they did well
Fantastic improvement from a range of players
Michael Hibberd had a breakout season in his first year as a Demon. The 2017 All Australian averaged 27 disposals per game; five more than his season average in 2015 when he played for Essendon. Hibberd added some much needed leadership to the backline.
Tom McDonald proved a more-than-competent full forward; a five goal effort against West Coast in Round 14 the highlight of a great year. Clayton Oliver, the Best Young Player of the Year as voted by the AFL Coaches Association, was a ball magnet with an average of 30 disposals per game. Other strong improvements came from Cam Pedersen, Christian Petracca, Mitch Hannan, Alex Neal-Bullen, Jeff Garlett, and Neville Jetta to name a few.
A streak of four wins
Melbourne’s four game win streak over Gold Coast, Collingwood, the Western Bulldogs, and West Coast between Rounds 10-14 demonstrated the potential that this side has. It was the first time since 2006 that Melbourne had won four games in a row and to play finals in 2018 they will need to string multiple wins together like this again.
Challenging wins away from home
Melbourne’s two biggest wins of the season undoubtedly came against minor premiers Adelaide in Round 8 at Adelaide Oval and West Coast in Round 14 at Domain Stadium. These two wins were massive for the club and proved that the Demons are capable of not just challenging, but outperforming top sides.
The win over the Eagles was the Dees first at Domain Stadium in fifteen years, made all the more incredible given the absence of regulars Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones and Jack Watts. Their 41-point demolition of Adelaide was also stunning; a 69-point turnaround from midway through the second quarter to leave Adelaide in stunned silence. Melbourne also (finally) had a decent run at Etihad Stadium with big wins against the Saints in Round 1, Essendon in Round 6, and the Bulldogs in Round 13.
What they did poorly
Complacency against lower-ranked teams and a failure to perform when it mattered
There’s a simple rule in footy - you lose too many games to sides lower on the ladder, you won’t be playing in September. Melbourne’s losses to Collingwood, Hawthorn, Fremantle, and North Melbourne (twice) were fatal for their finals chances and proved the point that the Demons aren’t the powerhouse they should be just yet. It’ll be a case of ‘oh, what could have been’ for Melbourne. A win against any of those sides would have booked them a finals appearance, while three wins would have put them in the top four and four wins would have seen them atop the ladder.
Blowout first quarters
Melbourne were outscored by 127 points in first quarters during season 2017. The fact that their percentage finished at 105.2 shows that the Demons weren’t short of scoring, but definitely let games get away from them too early. Frequently the Dees were playing catchup footy which, as any fan knows, is not the brand of footy you want to be playing. Melbourne laid less than ten tackles against Collingwood in the first quarter of their Round 23 clash and appeared drowsy in other first quarter performances. This is certainly an area for Simon Goodwin to fix going into 2018.
Melbourne were missing three major performers
Max Gawn only played 13 games in 2017 thanks to a hamstring injury, although the 2016 All Australian wasn’t at his usual best for the year. Gawn’s disposal efficiency was down, as was his average dream team ranking. Jack Watts was another disappointment for the Demons; fading away at the end of the season to eventually be dropped. Jesse Hogan was unable to contribute majorly, playing just ten games, although the key forward had a horrendous year personally with a suspension, a battle with testicular cancer, and injury severely limiting his time on the field. While Gawn and Watts can both step up their game in 2018, Melbourne will be hoping that Hogan can consistently play footy; a six-goal effort against Brisbane providing a great example of how dangerous he can be.
What they need
Melbourne need to find consistency and they need stand up to the pressures of expectation. We saw them at their destructive best, but we also saw them at their woeful worst in 2017 and the only way for them to play finals next year is to mirror the top teams by dominating lower opponents and removing external pressures from the game. Melbourne also need to hit targets inside forward fifty and use the ball more efficiently. They ranked 16th in the competition for efficiency inside fifty with a meager 46%, despite ranking fourth in the competition for total inside fifties.
Final word and rating
Melbourne should have played finals this year. There’s no denying that. That being said, they are still improving year-over-year and the fact that fans are now expecting them to win gives a great indication of how far they’ve come. A bitter ending to the season for sure, but there was plenty to be impressed with and it’s difficult to see the Demons missing September action in 2018.
How do you rate the Dees in 2017? Would you class it as a success or failure? Comment below.
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