Emma Quayle August 05, 2012
Sam Blease is figuring out how hard he needs to work. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
The Demons and Suns are list-building, there are pitfalls, writes Emma Quayle.
FINISHING last three years ago was meant to give Melbourne a head start. Drafting four top-20 midfielders to join Jack Watts was meant to mean that by the time the expansion clubs were up and running the Demons were ahead of them, ready to reach for their next premiership before the new teams had grown into the monsters most imagined they would quickly become.
What wasn't supposed to be taking place today was a game between a 16th-placed Melbourne side - with a new coach and just two wins for the season - and a Gold Coast team sitting right behind them. Melbourne wasn't supposed to still be imagining a bright future and replotting it. Starting over, again. Yet today, the 22 Demons average 73 games of experience, not many more than the Suns' 58. Three years after trying to break away from the yet-to-be-born Suns, they are standing in the same spot as them.
''If we manage to field a side with more experience than the opposition, that's only going to be for the second time for the year,'' said Melbourne coach Mark Neeld this week, pointing out that the Demons had averaged 65 games per player throughout the season and that teams boasting fewer than 65 games experience, across the league, had only won three times this year. He anticipates a close one. ''In terms of that it should be a really close tussle because in terms of those stats we match up fairly evenly.''
The consensus seems that, despite a second season that has still offered mostly glimpses of what could come, the Suns are building a good side. But what Melbourne's last few years have proven is that potential isn't always realised, that potential can take time to be realised and that what happens to a player after they are drafted is so much more crucial than what got them there.
Melbourne has 12 first-round drafts picks on its list, with James Strauss and Luke Tapscott picked just outside. They have drafted for all parts of the ground. The Suns have 11 first-rounders, 12 if you count Jaeger O'Meara, who cost their No. 4 pick in the mini-draft last trade period, and the several 17-year-old signings who would otherwise have featured high up in their draft.
Have the Demons made some mistakes at the draft table? Of course they have, but every single club in the country has and will again. They have drafted some very talented kids which emphasises the point that potential will not always lead to performance and where they can show their opponents today that only development can make good players good enough.
In some cases, things have been out of the Demons' control. Sam Blease (pictured) whose pace is exactly what they need and who has only just started to use it, has barely done any pre-season work at all in three years and is figuring out how hard he needs to work. Jordan Gysberts, after a highly promising start, has been almost constantly injured. Strauss had a badly broken leg, and there are others. Jack Grimes has battled injuries in each of his five years, and yet still done enough to be chosen as a co-captain.
Others have taken time, for whatever reason: Jack Watts, whose gradual progression from skinny schoolboy to senior player has been tracked intently from the outside, every step of the way. Jack Trengove's third year has been a rough one, but he did enough in his first two to deserve patience. Lucas Cook is making his way in the VFL, and we probably won't see him until next year. Certainly - regardless of the circumstances, and considering that they do have a new coach now - they have barely developed.
Already, the Suns are finding out about best-laid plans. Brandon Matera missed much of last year through injury; now Seb Tape has been robbed of a season after injuring his knee. Some players have bobbed up and/or come on as expected - Harley Bennell, Josh Caddy, Rory Thompson in defence, and there are more. Some haven't - Josh Toy was an intense, highly rated junior, but has barely played for the Suns. And again, there are others, but to expect all of them to progress at exactly the same rate, and at once, is unrealistic.
The Suns said from the start that they couldn't put their side together in one draft, that it would take several of them.
The next year will say a lot about whether they picked the right players to ensure their progression. Today they play a team that, with another bunch of early draft picks on the way, knows nothing is guaranteed and has spent the past few years in a constant state of starting over.