Where to begin? Firstly let me say it’s great to be back after spending last year overseas. I wasn’t as active online as I would have liked to be, but it got to the point where it wasn’t worth getting up at 5am to watch a team playing without much passion or desire. I decided to take the second half of the season off and come back in 2013 for what would hopefully be, after a second full pre-season under Mark Neeld, a very different Melbourne team.
Unfortunately what showed up today is a slightly different team in terms of personnel, but attitude-wise it was as bad as we’ve seen. The big screen pre-game promised us we would see things like “magic moments”, “rising stars” and “big wins”. What followed was as insipid and uninspiring a performance as we could possibly have imagined. From start to finish, Port were on top and they never had to get out of second gear. That’s the scariest part – they never had to react to something we did, never had to change something in their game plan. From start to finish they were first to the ball and were allowed to do what they liked.
In the first five minutes we struggled to get a clean disposal, let alone a forward 50 entry. When we did eventually get something going forward it had to be perfect, because ball to ground meant Port were a couple of kicks from a forward thrust of their own. Forward pressure was almost non existent.
They literally had spare players everywhere when they had the ball. It was so frustrating to see Melbourne players constantly trailing their man who marked uncontested, and then rushing to stand the mark as if they had given their all to prevent it. But it was clear to all in the stands that they hadn’t- while we struggled to clear the ball from our back line, with pressured or even uncontested kicks often resulting in either a throw in, a mark to them, or even a rushed behind courtesy of Tom Gillies.
I guess I should talk a bit about what was going on on the scoreboard. We got off to the worst possible start, conceding the first three. Mitch Clark kept us in touch early with a couple of great set shots, from 50 on the boundary,and a banana from the opposite pocket. At that stage it was three goals to two. Then Port hit back, Howe kicked a set shot after a strong grab, and right before the quarter time siren they kicked another to go in ahead by 14. We had to work so hard to get those goals, but Port responded with ease every time. 14 down at the first break.
We were in it, but only just. We needed to start the second quarter well. Two minutes in they had kicked two. A third by Jay Schulz after an early mark of the year contender and the score was 51 to 19. How does that happen, straight after a break? Neeld must have given them some sort of advice on how to get back into the game. Yet they do what I assume was completely the opposite. It’s just not good enough at this level. Goals from Byrnes, Howe Viney and Peterson again kept us within range, but they were all broken up by Port goals. When Peterson kicked his goal at around the 28 minute mark we were 20 points down. My dad was encouraging us to go forward and kick another before half-time, but I would have been equally as happy merely not conceding. Well we gave one up almost instantly, and they even had time for a couple of misses.
And that was the most frustrating thing about it. We had to work so hard for a clean mark or a goal, yet they were able to score with ease. It was basic things that were costing us too. I touched on it earlier but before anything, the effort has to be there. We just didn’t want it. And after an entire pre-season building up to this moment, it just doesn’t make any sense.
So we went into the main break 29 points down instead of 20. It’s a huge difference given how hard we were working for our goals compared to them. Again we needed a response at the start of the third. And again we got the complete opposite. Monfries kicked one to put them up by 37, and that was when the Melbourne supporters began to find their voice. We demanded our players to some passion, to show that they weren’t going to accept what was happening. We not no response. Clark went down with an ankle injury and with him went any hint of a fight-back. Port kicked away and were up by 64 at the last change.
I stopped concentrating about halfway through the third, choosing to focus my energy on posting angry messages on Twitter, a far more worthwhile and fulfilling exercise than attempting to will on a team clearly not interested in putting up any sort of fight.
It would take far too long to run through the list of players who were below par, so I’ll talk about the one stand out. Jack Viney’s game today was one of the best debut games I’ve seen by a Melbourne player. He embodied everything we weren’t. He clearly wanted the ball, wanted to create something, and had the talent to execute. His pick up and spearing left foot pass to Clark for our first goal was outstanding, and hopefully a sign of things to come. That he was our best player by far today should really be a kick up the arse for the more “senior” players, although I believe some of them have been given a free ride for far too long.
Aside from Viney, I thought Matt Jones showed a bit. Not nearly as talented, but he had a crack. And at the end of the day, that’s all we as supporters can ask. While skill errors are frustrating, they will always happen. Players are human after all. But you can have all the talent in the world, if you aren’t willing to put in the effort, good luck getting a kick on an AFL ground. Jones, as a 25 year old debutante, showed that persistence pays, and it was great to see him have an impact.
After the game, Neeld said:
We didn’t see that coming. Our execution was poor and Port Adelaide was able to captialise significantly on that. Once that happened it was clear to everyone at the ground that our confidence dropped unbelievably.
Inexcusable. Why didn’t we see that coming? Why was our execution so poor? Why did our confidence drop so dramatically? These are AFL footballers. They do this for a living. They are paid to face these kinds of situations, and to deal with them. Not shy away and roll over. If this is the kind of reaction we get every time something goes wrong, well it’s just unacceptable.
The captain had this to say:
We are [shellshocked]. It’s a pretty good way to sum it up I reckon. We are all in this together. We feel like we let the supporters down most of all, and we’re frustrated. There’s a lot of guys that probably have to have a good hard look at themselves but we’ll stick together through it.
Grimes was okay, probably in our best two or three, but this game required the captain to step up and make a difference. I’m not sure if he is capable of taking a game by the throat. Time will tell, but for me the sooner Viney is captain the better.
Overall, plenty of room for improvement. And it doesn’t get any easier with Essendon at the G’ next Saturday night. A lot will be said this week, both in-house and in the papers, but ultimately our performance is all that counts. There will surely be omissions. Some players will be held accountable but we can’t make twenty changes. Most of the players that played today will be given a chance at redemption. They must take their chance. For themselves, for their careers, but more than anything, for the club. For the supporters that give their time and money to supporting the Melbourne Football Club. Because our support should not be taken for granted. We give our support but we expect something in return. No one is asking for a premiership in 2013, but we definitely have the right to expect that the players who represent our football club will put in 100% every time they wear the jumper. Anything less is unacceptable.
Let’s see how we respond.