The light at the end of the tunnel has turned out to be a train too many times in recent years for Melbourne supporters to get too excited on the eve of an AFL season, but there’s at least reason for cautious optimism ahead of this campaign.
By most measures, most importantly wins, the Demons improved last year.
They went from 17th with four wins in Paul Roos’ first season to 13th with seven victories, developed a potential superstar of the competition in Jesse Hogan, were harder to score against and benefited from increased output from a number of their younger players – Jack Viney, Tom McDonald, Angus Brayshaw and Christian Salem to name a few.
A summer of promise has Melbourne hitting the season with solid momentum after an undefeated NAB Challenge campaign.
Roos is confident that long-suffering Demons fans don’t need him to reassure them this isn’t another false dawn.
“The fans can see it – I think they can see that we’re a developing team,” he told AAP.
“What we’ve been able to achieve over the past two years has been significant. We’ve put together a really competent coaching group and the recruiting guys have done a terrific job.
“What I can say to Melbourne supporters is that I know that we’re heading in the right direction and I know that we’re going to get there – I just can’t give them a date.”
While there are plenty of positives, there are still enough question marks to give the sceptics ammunition.
Nathan Jones and Bernie Vince are hardened campaigners but the support cast around them is still young, with mature-aged recruits Chris Dawes and Heritier Lumumba failing to have the impact that was hoped.
They had the 16th-ranked attack last year and have faded badly in the second half of Roos’ two seasons in charge, but perhaps the most damning indictment on the Dees has been their maddening inconsistency.
“We felt like we dropped off a lot last year,” Roos said.
“We felt like our best football was really good but the difference between our best and worst was still too great.
“I think the least that we owe to our fans is that they see a team that is hungry and wants to fight, bite and scratch win, lose or draw.
“We’ve got to bridge that gap.”
Roos will toss the keys to coach-in-waiting Simon Goodwin at the end of the season, regardless of how the campaign unfolds, and he firmly believes he will be turning over a squad ready to achieve success.
But he won’t be drawn on whether that potential could translate into the club’s first finals berth since 2006 in his swansong season.
“For me that (playing finals) is an outcome but I think as a club you do need to start focusing on that at some point,” he said.
“You can’t shy away from that – the ladder is the ladder. I never worry about where people think we’re going to finish but I think at some point you have to start to say what you’re here for.
“We exist, like every other club, to play finals and win premierships. We’re certainly a developing club and we’re getting better and we’re getting more respect.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, but the results will look after themselves if we can play the sort of footy that we want to play.”
Coach: Paul Roos
Captain: Nathan Jones
Last five years: 13-16-17-17-13
Premierships: 12 (1900, 1926, 1939-41, 1948, 1955-57, 1959-60, 1964)
Key Five: Nathan Jones, Jesse Hogan, Bernie Vince, Jack Viney, Tom McDonald.
One to watch: Clayton Oliver. The club’s latest top-five draft pick has delighted fans with his competitive edge right from the outset. The 2015 Morrish medallist rocketed up the draft order last year and he’s already shown glimpses of his rare combination of wrecking ball competitiveness and smooth skills.
Ins: Tomas Bugg (GWS), James Harmes (rookie elevation), Liam Hullett (Dandenong U18), Ben Kennedy (Collingwood), Mitch King (Murray U18), Jake Melksham (Essendon – suspended), Clayton Oliver (Murray U18), Joel Smith (Maribrynong Park, VIC)), Aaron vandenBerg (rookie elevation), Josh Wagner (Aspley, NEAFL), Sam Weideman (Eastern U18).
Outs: Rohan Bail (delisted), Daniel Cross (retired), Jack Fitzpatrick (Hawthorn), Jeremy Howe (Collingwood), Mark Jamar (Essendon), Jordie McKenzie (delisted), Aidan Riley (delisted), Jimmy Toumpas (Port Adelaide).
B: Sam Frost, Lynden Dunn, Colin Garland
HB: Tomas Bugg, Tom McDonald, Christian Salem
C: Dom Tyson, Jack Viney, Heritier Lumumba
HF: Aaron vandenBerg, Cameron Pedersen, Jack Watts
F: Dean Kent, Jesse Hogan, Jeff Garlett
R: Max Gawn, Nathan Jones, Bernie Vince
I: Neville Jetta, Angus Brayshaw, Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver
Predicted finish: 14th
Betting (William Hill)
To win the flag: $251
To make the top eight: $9