Tuesday, 1 March 2005

I'm interested in apathy...

It's not too often that I agree wholeheartedly with Mike Sheahan but this article sums up my feelings about the coming season perfectly. The deluded will probably tell you that we're a dead set certainty for the Premiership but all the signs point to upper level mediocrity at best. When we win the flag this post will mysteriously disappear.

HISTORY says at least one of last year's finalists will fall out of the eight this year.

The vulnerable three are Melbourne, Essendon and Sydney, with Melbourne and Essendon most at risk.

It's difficult to dismiss Melbourne's dismal finish to the 2004 season, which ended with five straight losses.

Rounds 19-22 were terrible. Four scores that produced just 31 goals; four losses by a total of 162 points.

Then came a spirited fightback in the first week of the finals before the Demons eventually fell five points short against Essendon.

Essendon was gone a week later so it's difficult to measure the worth of the elimination final performance.

On the other hand, Melbourne was on top of the ladder, a win clear of the pack, after Round 18.

It was that sort of season for the Demons. A first-round loss to Hawthorn followed by six wins in a row, and then a mixed bag that included losses to Adelaide and Carlton, and wins over Essendon and St Kilda.

As capable as the Demons were along the way, they weren't good enough in the end, even with Jeff White, Adem Yze, Cameron Bruce and David Neitz all having seasons that were solid (Yze and Neitz) to excellent (White and Bruce).

Throw in the improvement from Nathan Brown, beaten by White by one vote in the best-and-fairest, Brad Green, Brad Miller and Jared Rivers, and you have a team that didn't have much go wrong.

Clint Bizzell was the only frontline player to miss a significant number of games (nine), although skipper Neitz missed the last two, including the final.

Troy Broadbridge, Darren Jolly, Scott Thompson, Peter Vardy and Peter Walsh have departed for various reasons, with just one replacement of proven quality: Brent Moloney.

The pre-season competition has produced a win over a second-string Brisbane Lions in Cairns and a 10-point loss to Carlton on Sunday night.

Lance Whitnall and Brendan Fevola again exposed Melbourne's concerns in defence, but Alistair Nicholson and Rivers were among the missing. While Nicholson's no Tassie Johnson, he is an experienced, committed, durable defender.

Rivers is a class player, but he's young (20) and light. He is listed at 90kg; he must have been lumping his footy gear (wet) when weighed.

The other concern is Neitz's erratic formline. He booted 69 from 21 last year, but his best and worst are a long way apart.

He kicked six or more goals five times, he also kicked none or one five times. Melbourne won just one of his five downers.

He remains the barometer of this group. He is a magnificent leader when on song, yet can look totally lost on a bad day.

White also is critically important. When he has a good year, so does the team. He was excellent last year, although the workload started to tell late in the season.

White now has the new ruck rule to adjust to. It's early days, but he might be the player who has the most difficulty adapting, given his running-jumping style.

If the better players of 2004 can hold their form, the Demons can hold their ground.

If, though, Rivers, Miller and Aaron Davey drop back for whatever reason, the task will be significantly more difficult.

Rivers and Miller occupy key positions at 20 and 21 respectively, while Davey is a second-year player who is going to get close attention.

Melbourne can make the eight, but its better players are going to have to perform to their very best again, and they have an erratic history.

EXPECTED FINISH: 7-9


But never fear ladies - there's hot Colin Sylvia action in this article. If everything else goes down the tubes I suggest staring at that picture for the rest of the season instead.

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