Unmasking Melbourne’s Superhero Power
These are heady days for the Demons. And they ought to be as well. Sure we’re still in April and just four rounds into the new season, but Melbourne are sitting proudly in second place, with their 4-0 start their best since 1994.
While the Demons are excelling in a number of areas, boasting the league’s second best defence, a midfield that’s producing a league-high 61 inside 50’s per game, and a tenacious attack that’s leading the competition for tackles inside-50 with 15.5 per game, there’s another, less heralded area where Melbourne are exhibiting superhero signs.
Is it a bird, is it plane? No, it’s Melbourne’s extreme durability which for the moment at least is allowing players to stay out on the field longer, enabling Simon Goodwin to be more creative with how he uses his bench within the new world of interchange restrictions.
This superior fitness base has also unleashed a squad that’s so far revealed itself as one of the leagues most menacing fourth-quarter outfits.
Get fit enough so as to have as many players as possible comfortable withstanding solid on-field minutes, allowing the likes of Charlie Spargo and Kysaiah Pickett to jump on and off the field and keep opponents on their toes.
While Spargo (75%) and Pickett (73.5%) have so far produced relatively minuscule time on ground numbers, the duo has still produced a combined 11 goals and 21 scoring shots on this season while ranking 2nd and 3rd at the Demons for tackles inside 50.
Through four games, Melbourne have fielded 5 players who have been able to operate at 90% or more time on ground, with their brilliant defensive anchor Jake Lever leading the way, amassing a 98.5% figure.
Lever’s joined by Adam Tomlinson, Ed Langdon, Max Gawn and Bayley Fritsch, and would have also had Steven May for company had the brilliant full-back not nearly lost an eye in a first-quarter incident with Tom Hawkins, prompting Melbourne to activate its sub for the first time this season.
Interestingly, the only club in Melbourne’s ball-park where this kind of time on ground is concerned is last year’s Wooden Spooner, and the vastly-improved Adelaide Crows, who, like Melbourne, are also proving themselves as a fourth quarter powerhouse.
How's it playing out in games?
Well so far, Melbourne, and Adelaide for that matter, are finishing off their games in maniacal fashion, making minced meat of opponents along the way.
While North Melbourne took a narrow 4-point lead into quarter-time on Sunday, the Crows were able to flex their fourth-quarter muscles, lean on their staying power, and pour on an 8 goal to 1 final term to bank its third win of the season. The Crows had 6 players produce at least a 90% time on ground figure, including Round Four’s rising star Lachie Sholl who dialled in at 95%.
As for the Demons, they took a 10-point lead into three-quarter time in their massive MCG showdown against Geelong, but kicked 3 goals to 1 in the last quarter to confirm a rare, though highly-significant win over the Cats. Like the Crows, Melbourne had 6 players post at least 90% playing time, with emerging star Luke Jackson submitting a 92% TOG number which represents a career high.
So far the Dees have won every fourth quarter they’ve played this season, while they’re the only club still yet to lose a second half, blasting a competition-best 140 percentage along the way. Having a mind-boggling 9 players contribute at least 85% game time over the course of the season is a massive reason why.
Does being able to run out games so strongly actually mean anything?
Well that’d depend on your definition of success.
Geelong won’t need reminding that they were last season’s regular-season benchmark when it came to fourth quarter performance, winning 12 of their 17 ‘mini’ bouts, and posting a dizzying 179.9 percentage in the process.
And what did all that get the Cats? Well, to be frank, diddly-squat, as all of Geelong’s fourth quarter prowess proved futile as Richmond produced a 5 goal to 1 last-quarter denying the Cats a tenth club premiership, the likes of which appeared to be in the bag at half-time.
Speaking of the Tigers, it’s interesting to note how pedestrian of an outfit they’ve been where fourth-quarter performance was concerned over its 2019 and 2020 flags, posting a middling 20-19 record. They have however, along with Brisbane and Melbourne, won all four of its last stanzas so far this season.
We actually have to go all the way back to the 2015 Hawks to find the last club to marry up its fourth-quarter supremacy with a premiership, a union which also prevailed when they won the 2013 flag.
Now, while being the best fourth quarter team doesn’t exactly make for a magic carpet ride to premiership glory, we should note that 8 of the last 10 fourth-quarter champions have made it to at least the preliminary final, with 6 of those 8 appearing on Grand Final day.
But hang on, what about the Bulldogs?
Well, the AFL world probably wouldn’t keep spinning if the Bulldogs didn’t insert themselves into the equation as a living, breathing conundrum.
Yes, like Melbourne, the Bulldogs are undefeated, sport an eye-watering percentage and are even enjoying flag favouritism according to the Stats Insider futures model, yet are the polar opposites of the Demons when it comes to their own time on ground numbers, while they’ve actually been a relatively mediocre team when it comes for fourth quarter performance as well.
Currently, Alex Keath is the only dog averaging at least 90% TOG, while he’s one of just a trio of players along with Bailey Williams and Josh Bruce to be operating at 85% or more.
Interestingly, Tom Liberatore leads the league in clearances, and is third for total score launches, yet is doing so with just a 78% TOG figure. And it’s a similar story with the revelatory Tim English, who with just 80.8% playing time has completely altered the dynamics of the Bulldogs forward line so far this season.
As always, and thank heavens, but there still exists innumerable ways to skin a cat where AFL success is concerned.
What’s working so well for the Demons is having the safety and reliability of players like Lever and Tomlinson holding down the fort so well in defence. While these two have contributed to the game’s second-ranked points per game rear-guard, their durability is allowing the Demons to be more potent, and significantly less predictable in other areas of the field.
While the season is of course still young, as too is our new interchange restriction universe, Melbourne has shown themselves to be ahead of the pack, using this advantage to trigger its highly impressive start.
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