Like so many of us in our younger years, the Dees were a little premature in 2022. A 10-0 to start the season had many questioning whether this team would taste defeat at all.
And it’s usually when people start asking those types of questions that things rapidly fall apart.
The Melbourne team in the second half of the season simply could not string good games together. They looked great one week and ordinary the next, finally waving goodbye to their premiership defence with a straight-sets exit from September.
Their forward line sputtered and their usually watertight defence had some injury issues to deal with, however, the fact remains that this team is just 18 months removed from raising the premiership cup – this is not a club that will go quietly into the night. Not by a longshot.
With some of the best players in the competition, and some of the more unsung heroes on their books, Melbourne are gearing up for another assault on the grail. They’ve grabbed Brodie Grundy to create one of the more tantalising ruck duos in recent history, and added Lachie Hunter as an outside runner to complement Ed Langdon. Can they rectify their 2022 crash?
Let’s fnd out…
It’s that time of year, already.
The break after Christmas and New Year is over. The holidays are finished for AFL players, and the hard stuff starts now. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head into 2023, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.
This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2023.
We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.
The way it works is as follows.
Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about their 2023 season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-13 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.
You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it.
And with that, let’s jump into The Big Questions relating to Melbourne in 2023.
IS IT TIME WE STARTED TO GIVE BAYLEY FRITSCH AS MUCH CREDIT AS HE GETS CRITICISM?
Hell yes, it is.
A bunch of people have loaded up on Bayley Fritsch at points, alleging that he gets a bit (or a lot) of tunnel vision whenever he is in range of the goals. Hell, if that is the only way we are going to assess the bloke, then they’re genuinely spot on.
BUT… and you just knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you? But, whilst he has been guilty of being a little too eager to slot the ball between the big sticks, people seem to forget just how adept he truly is at this aspect of the game.
People, we are looking at a man that has registered 114 goals over the last two seasons. Shall we have a look at others who have been able to match that feat in the same period?
The list is not a long one.
1 – Tom Hawkins – 129 goals
2 – No one
Yep, that’s it
For a bloke that has kicked the second-most number of goals across the last two seasons, he sure gets minimal credit. More than Jeremy Cameron, more than Charlie Cameron, and more than Harry McKay, Tom Lynch, or Lance Franklin.
Yet, what do we hear about?
We hear that he doesn’t look inboard often enough. It’s garbage.
If this bloke puts together another 50+ goal season, it will be nigh-on impossible to ignore just how good he is. I am sure many will still find a way to play it down, but he could kick a tonne and they’d still find a way to minimise his achievements.
Go well, Bayley.
HOW DOES THE GRUNDY/GAWN COMBINATION WORK?
This is the million-dollar question, and in many ways, the success of the Demons in 2023 depends on these two forming a formidable ruck duo.
Scratch that – there are no questions as to whether these two will perform well when they are rucking – they remain two of the top three rucks of the past five years – but the question of how they are used around the ground when not rucking is the one that has most scratching their heads.
Gawn at full forward seems to be the answer most come up with. It is a simplistic one, isn’t it? Tall guy with good hands… throw him forward… see if he can kick goals. If it works, great, but we are looking at a player who has a career-high of 16 goals in a season. This strategy not working quite as well as people think should not be discounted.
If we’re going to apply the same logic to Grundy, and have him rest at full forward when not rucking, I reckon we could be in for a rude shock. Grundy is not a goal-kicker. He is also nowhere near the marking colossus that Gawn is.
I got ya.
Grundy’s contested marking numbers have never been over 1.23 per game. On 2022 numbers, that would have him at around equal 58th in the league. Compared to Gawn, whose best contested marking season saw him at 2.50 per game (it was 2022, and had him as the number two player in the game in that stat), you see that there is a stark difference.
So Mongrel… you’re pretty big on pointing out flaws – how good are you at offering a possible solution?
I have long thought that Gawn is best suited when he can run and attack the footy without an opponent making it his sole purpose to spoil him. His big, ‘Get out of Jail’ contested marking on the wing, or at half-back as the Dees exit defence, opens up the game for his team. I’ve also noticed the big fella starting to get a little slower to get up when he hits the deck the last couple of years – he needs to be protected from two or three opponents congregating and jumping into him. As a forward, he would continue to cop that treatment.
The acquisition of Grundy, and having him work the stoppages around the ground, would permit Max to play a kick behind the ball. It would be a throwback role where the ruck stood “in the hole” and basically marked everything that came his way. With Grundy at stoppages and Gawn stationed 50 metres off the play, defensive side, it forces the opposition to completely abandon quick clearances and the “throw it on the boot” to get it forward tactic.
What does that mean?
It means the opposition, should they get their hands on the footy, has to go lateral to avoid Gawn – all the damn time! Anything else results in the big man either taking a grab, ala Gary Dempsey, or killing the ball out of play, at which point he sets up again. It also means that there is no fast ball movement into the opposition fifty, and the May/Lever/Petty combination will relish the slower build ups.
The other good thing about this possibility is that Grundy can be used in this fashion, as well. Gawn takes the ruck – Grundy sets up 50 metres down the line and the opposition are screwed.
Of course, I expect there will be some small teething problems with this, or any other system where the Dees play both Grundy and Gawn. They WILL need genuine rests at points and their time on the bench should be managed well, however, when they are on the field together, we could see the best one-two punch since the Cox/Naitanui duo at West Coast.
Or they can just throw Gawn at full forward and hope for the best.
ARE WE NOW REALISING WE HAVE AN ALL-TIME GREAT IN THE MAKING PLAYING IN FRONT OF US?
People are catching on – Clayton Oliver is compiling the career of an AFL Hall of Famer.
Four Bluey Truscott Medals (equal record), two AFLCA Champion Player of the Year Awards (only the great Gary Ablett has more, with three), three All-Australian selections, and a Premiership.
And he is just 25 years of age.
People, I don’t know how to tell you this – Clayton Oliver can still get better. He is the type of competitor that just does not stop. I see him tackled, I see his arms pinned, I see players around the contest start to relax and prepare for a stoppage… and then I see Oliver, still fighting to get his arms free, still working out a way to keep the ball moving, never… giving… up on the play.
And then he fires out a handball and the Dees start running.
From his second year in the system, Oliver demonstrated he meant business. He went from 19 touches per game in 2016 to 29 per game in 2017, and he has not looked back, since. Coming off a career-high 32.74 disposals per game in 2022, we are only now seeing Clarry at his peak… and that should scare the living hell out of those planning to take the Dees down.
Some point to his disposal efficiency as a means to degrade that which he provides. Sweet Summer Children… he wins more contested footy than anyone in the game – 2022 was the third time he has topped 400 contested possessions in a single season. The other players to do it are Patrick Dangerfield (twice), and Sydney’s Josh Kennedy (three times). People, this red-headed maestro is redefining what a contested footy winning midfielder does, and by the time all is said and done, will be remembered as one of the greats of the game.
Still, some would prefer to look elsewhere for their stars. Big goalkickers, flashy mids who are more sizzle than steak – Clayton Oliver is ad and shoulder above them in terms of what he is achieving. His is like one of those hunks of meat that restaurants dole out as a challenge for you to eat in one sitting – he is all steak, and plenty of it! He is too much for most to handle.
2023 will be no different for Clayton Oliver. He is just as much football machine as he is man. He will continue to build a legacy that will be remembered far more fondly in years to come than he is getting credit for right now, and when he is being hailed as one of the greatest mids of the modern game, only then will you realise how lucky you were to witness it.
So pay attention now!
WHAT IS THE BEST POSITION FOR ANGUS BRAYSHAW?
Well, my research in chatting with his former partners tells me that he really likes it when you grab him by the hips and…
… ummm, yeah, look ladies, I was talking about footy, but it was an entertaining conversation, nonetheless.
Anyway, Brayshaw has proven to be a Jack of all trades at the Dees. As a midfielder, he cruised to a third-place finish in the 2018 Brownlow before coming in for a bit of a change in scenery and being shifted to the wing. Many questioned what he was doing out there, as his numbers dropped dramatically and he seemed to be less involved in the play by a fair margin.
What was happening at this point was that Brayshaw, and in fairness Simon Goodwin, as well, were giving AFL fans a bit of an education as to how to successfully play the role of a wingman. We kind of take them for granted a bit, but we started to notice Brayshaw making his opponents make decisions they normally would not have thought twice about. Irrespective of whether the contest was ten, twenty, or even fifty metres away, Brayshaw refused to be drawn to the contest. He maintained his width on the wing and you could visibly see his opponent starting to gravitate to the ball, only to glance over his shoulder, realise that Brayshaw was being left all alone in space, and having to make the call on whether the risk was worth it.
It was fascinating to watch Brayshaw control his opponent without actually touching the footy.
From there, the Dees needed him at half-back and in 2022, he shifted back into defence to aid the back six. Taking to the role like a duck to water, Brayshaw gave an All-Australian selection a shake before having to settle for being a member of the 40-man squad.
So, what do you do with a bloke like this? He can play anywhere and do it well. The Dees seem to have the wings covered, with Langdon and Hunter the front-runners for those roles. The defence looks highly capable with or without Brayshaw, and the same goes for the midfield, which is one of the best even without him in an on-ball role.
Are we at the point where Angus becomes more of an everywhere man, like Jimmy Bartel was at Geelong? A player that transcends positions?
As it stands, nothing that has been thrown at Brayshaw has seemed to derail him. The criticism around his game when he was on the wing soon faded as people came to realise exactly what he was doing and what it meant to the team. He is nearing the point where he is Sting (the musician, not the wrestler) and every little thing he does is magic.
The answer, to me, anyway, seems quite simple. Where I the best spot for Angus Brayshaw?
Wherever he is needed. That’s where you’ll find Angus Brayshaw.
DO THE DEES NOW HAVE THE BEST WING TANDEM IN THE GAME?
I just mentioned above that the Dees have the wing positions covered, and the addition of Lachie Hunter gives the club two powerful outside runners to propel the footy inside 50.
Ed Langdon has been a revelation since he came across from Fremantle. His hard running, particularly early in the season, was unparalleled. You would often see him involved in a chain inside defensive fifty, only to do the hard yards down the middle of the ground to get involved again as the ball entered the Demons’ attack. So prolific was he, that teams started to employ defensive players to negate his influence.
Great runners are one thing – great runners who can find the footy… that is exactly what every team needs.
On the other side of the ground, it is likely that career-wingman, Lachie Hunter takes the role being kept warm by James Jordon. Despite a few hiccups over the past few years (see below), Hunter is close to being an elite wingman. If he is able to consistently find his place in this team, he offers a very solid outside player who excels at finding space and tearing up the turf as he takes off.
How would this tandem compare to others in the league?
The strength of Geelong in 2022 came in many forms, however, the proliferation of wingmen at Chris Scott’s disposal was ridiculous. Isaac Smith, Sam Menegola, Mark Blicavs, Zach Tuohy, Max Holmes, Mitch Duncan, Sam Simpson… even Tom Stewart filled in on a wing at points. Any two of these blokes in the role are formidable.
Collingwood’s Josh Daicos and Steele Sidebottom were an imposing pair at times.
Meanwhile, the Tigers had two tough-to-beat competitors man those positions in Marlion Pickett and Kamdyn McIntosh. They’re probably the most rugged of the bunch.
However, week-in and week-out, I reckon you’d be stretched to find two players who could offer more to their teams than the Langdon/Hunter duo.
Consistency will be a huge key to their progression in 2023. Hunter has habits he needs to break from his time at the Bulldogs and Langdon will need to modify his game to cover Hunter until his new running mate completely understands what Simon Goodwin wants from him in every situation. However,the future is very promising for this tandem. Given the mish-mash of bodies involved in the Geelong set-up, I’d go so far as to say that the Demons would be front-runners in terms of possessing the most damaging wings in the game.
This ends the free component of the article. The next five or so thousand words are for our members. Want to join us?