Apart from being an excellent game of footy and a great contest, the Melbourne Football Club’s twenty nine point victory over Hawthorn last Saturday delivered more than just four competition points.
It was another piece of evidence that suggests a much improved Demons side is more than capable of playing finals in the very near future.
The win represented a changed team, a team that previously contained some young talent and loyal servants, yet one that had been stripped back to bare essentials and rebuilt from the ground up.
For the first time since 2006, Melbourne fans can actually believe that their team has a shot at finals. This season will complete a decade of absence from September action yet the club can almost taste a new beginning.
If they are able to reproduce their efforts from the weekend more frequently, those finals might come sooner rather than later.
The three years of Paul Roos’ tenure might just go down as one of the most successful overhauls undertaken by a football club in recent memory. As many clubs continue to make decisions that befuddle and confuse loyal supporters, Melbourne seem to have pulled the right rein in just about every aspect under the guidance of Roos.
Their drafting, recruitment and retention has been spot on, and players who were struggling or showing limited potential only two years ago have started to flourish under the coaching of a proven winner.
Players such as Jack Watts and Max Gawn appear to have grown a leg this year and the youthful inclusions and development of Christian Petracca, Jack Viney and Tom McDonald have added much flair, enthusiasm and creativity to the way the Dees approach the game.
While some of the list predates Roos and not all of the quality in drafting and retention is his work, his ability to mould the talent at his disposal has been masterful and his decision to stand by players like Gawn and Watts has reaped dividends. Finally, the loyal Nathan Jones has some capable allies.
Melbourne had taken on a sense of desperation prior to Roos’ arrival. The coach himself has spoken in the past of the disarray that he felt the club was in after he analysed the structures from top to bottom.
An understandable lack of belief in their ability to win, futile comments and input from senior officials and the lack of a plan that could steer the club in a positive direction are all symptomatic of a club in crisis.
Roos set about mending all of the above and someone with his qualifications around culture, planning and the ability to lead from a position of authority was a shrewd and calculated choice by the Administration.
It was also an expensive one with reports placing his salary nudging the two million dollars per season mark. Coach’s salaries are generally well kept secrets, but if that estimation is anywhere near correct, the Melbourne Football Club invested heavily, yet wisely.
It seemed to be the worst kept secret in the AFL before the deal was announced and Roos constantly deferred attention from his potential new gig. In the end a two year deal was ratified and the enormity of the task became immediately apparent to Roos.
His first on-field step was to address poor decision making and tentativeness and empower players to have the courage to play in the style that he knew would eventually prove to be successful. This would lead to some early pain, yet as the players began to trust the structures, he knew that things would change.
The first sign of success was the ability of the Dees to stop opponents scoring in the way they had previously, this was obvious almost immediately. Having had 2,691 points scored against them in 2013, Roos shrunk that down to 1,954 in exactly twelve months.
Percentage was elevated from a pathetic 54.07 to an almost respectable 68.40. Sure there was the odd slip up, yet generally, the numbers trended in the Melbourne defence’s direction.
From there, Roos then stepped out of his comfort zone in developing a more attacking brand of football than he had adopted for much of his time at the Swans.
The epic ‘flooding’ encounters of the mid to late 2000’s against a similarly minded West Coast will always be synonymous with Roos’ time in Sydney, yet with the cattle at his disposal, rule changes and the evolution of the modern game Roos had to mould a style to suit.
The end product saw the Dees go toe to toe with the big boys on Saturday and outscore them when it was most needed.
Calls for Simon Goodwin to take over the helm at the start of the season have subsequently been proven to be rash.
Many felt that the habits had been adequately ingrained in the playing group and the time was ripe for Goodwin to begin his senior coaching career.
Goodwin had showed amazing maturity and invested in a long term vision to his coaching by signing a five year deal and intending to work under Roos for an extended period. The decision to stick with this plan through 2016 was justified last Saturday and now is the perfect time for Goodwin to take the reins.
Goodwin has learnt from one of the masters and apparently has considerable responsibility already, however, the job was not quite complete. Saturday afternoon saw the completion of the rebuild. It was the full stop, the exclamation mark, the arrival moment for the Demons.
Their ninth win of the season was different to the eight before. There was something more lasting, permanent and passionate about the way that it was completed. The rendition of ‘It’s a Grand Old Flag’ in the sheds was evidence of that.
As the new coach takes over from Roos, the club needs to continue to aid the rise. Their biggest mistake could be looking back on Roos in a melodramatic way as soon as the first hurdle is placed before them, and there will be hurdles.
What Roos did was remarkable, yet the simplicity behind football is constantly discussed by coaches. Winning contested ball, forward entries, possessions and metres gained are quite easy things to comprehend. Building spirit and a consistent message based on a sound game plan might just be the greater part of Roos’ achievement.
It would be foolish to think that the Demons will ride off into the sunset and walk away with the 2017 premiership. Just as foolish as seeing a statue of Roos erected in the front office of the club as some sort of Messiah.
He is great coach who applied basic and tested principles and structures to a group of young men and led a rebuild that was tangibly achievable through hard work.
On Saturday he had every right to throw the phone in the coach’s box firmly at the wall, stand up and simply say, ‘My work here is done!’ There would have been a nice Shakespearean feel about that scene.
However the Melbourne Football Club fare over the course of the next few years, their progress was envisioned, instigated and led by Paul Roos. The supporters now beam with joy again and surely numerous finals appearances await.
Whether this does come to fruition or not will not provide much pleasure to me either way. The privilege of having witnessed what Roos was able to achieve with a basket case is pleasure enough for me.