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Five Key Dee-tails: T Mac, Max and potency

The DeeBrief

The DeeBrief

Contributor Ben Wilmoth lauds Melbourne’s Round 1 performance against the Bulldogs, recording a 45-point win at the MCG and playing a selfless brand of footy that would have pleased their adoring supporters.

Here are the five key dee-tails to take from the victory:

1. Clarry’s back 

After an off-season largely spent away from the main group, it was the Clayton Oliver of old on Sunday afternoon in a display of dominance from the superstar midfielder. He amassed 35 possessions in vintage Oliver style, but it was his brute strength in the contest and ability to cover the ground that suggested to Demons fans that their man was back to somewhere near his very best. The emotion when Oliver received a Demon ovation on his way to the bench late in the final term was palpable and perhaps symbolic of a united football club.

2. Dees’ connection too strong

Melbourne failed to connect in the Opening Round against the Swans in slippery conditions at the SCG. But the more expansive MCG, in perfect conditions, allowed the Dees to shift the angles and transition effectively. Melbourne took 129 uncontested marks and looked to move the ball with purpose, lowering the eyes inside 50 and giving their key forwards great looks. Recruit Jack Billings was instrumental in Melbourne’s connection with 20 kicks and Jacob Van Rooyen (three goals) and Ben Brown (two) stood up on a rare off-day for Bayley Fritsch. 

3. Max’s huge response

Max Gawn was beaten badly last week by his former sidekick Brodie Grundy in an uncharacteristic night for the skipper. We found out during the week he was unwell, so it came as no surprise to see him back to his best against last year’s All-Australian ruckman on Sunday. A total of 35 hit outs, 26 touches and nine marks paints the picture well, but his tap work to advantage helped the Dees get on top of the Dogs’ midfield – especially after a shaky start in the first term. Gawn’s ability to remain fit and firing all season will be Simon Goodwin’s greatest wish and will go a long way to determining how far the group goes in 2024. 

4. T Mac wound clock back

After two injury-ravaged seasons, many thought Tom McDonald’s spot in the best 22 had closed. But the veteran’s return to the back six was a resounding success against the Dogs, with 18 disposals and 10 marks he was pivotal in taming the Bulldogs’ tall timber. We haven’t seen McDonald play as a permanent key back since 2016, but after Adam Tomlinson was (perhaps unfairly) dropped, he put his best foot forward in cementing a spot in the Demons’ back six. 

McDonald was composed down back

5. Potency a big tick

Questions of Melbourne’s ability to score were answered comprehensively against the Dogs, with a 16.13 return their best since round 20 last year. The side’s inside 50 efficiency (29 shots from 53 entries) was glorious to watch and demonstrated the class of forward half stars like Kozzy Pickett.  The inaccuracy that led to its 2023 finals demise was rectified through sharp shooters Kade Chandler (3.1) and van Rooyen (3.0). On the other hand, Fritsch (0.3) was uncharacteristically sloppy in front of goal, which in some respects is a major positive not having to rely on his goalscoring output to win a game of footy.