The experiences of Fitzroy helped me in the early days.
The Lions were a pretty downtrodden club from 1986 to the time of the merger with Brisbane. We lost something like ten games in a row in 1994, my last year with the club, and there were always problems with money. Finances weren’t the issue at Melbourne, but the legacy of losing – and its impact on the playing group – felt similar to when I was captain of Fitzroy.
I had empathy for Jack Grimes and Jack Trengove as captains. I remember taking Nathan Jones aside early in the first season and telling him, ‘I know what you’re going through.’ The communication lines between playing group and coaching staff were very open.
There were breakthrough games along the way. The first win is always critical. We lost our first three games in 2014 and then beat Carlton. That was a big moment. The goal we kicked at the death to beat Essendon in that first season was also memorable. I remember watching the piece of play leading up to Christian Salem’s goal and thinking, ‘Geez, that’s like watching the Swans play.’
It didn’t happen a lot in that first year, but it demonstrated where we were heading.
The win down in Geelong the next season – the coming-of-age game for Max Gawn – was huge. But the big test was always Hawthorn.
They had smacked us over and over again through the years and knocked the wind out of us at times when we thought we were getting better.
To beat them at the MCG in round 20 of the 2016 season was massive. I remember Jeff Kennett saying in my first season that we were more like a VFL team. A lot of people took offence at that, but I didn’t. You’ve got to earn your stripes. If you win two games and lose 20 the previous season, you’re going to attract criticism.
To beat the Hawks two years later was a massive look-how-far-we’ve-come statement. It was a significant moment in Melbourne’s evolution. Coming, as it did, in one of my last games with the club was tremendously satisfying. I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of the fans and players that night.
Nathan’s goal against the Cats, Max Gawn’s celebration after the West Coast game, Neville Jetta crunching Joel Selwood … I don’t know quite how to put it all into words.
There have been many, many other significant moments over the last two years under Simon Goodwin – those games where you can sense the players growing in confidence and skill. Beating West Coast in Perth in round 22 to confirm their place in the finals was one of those. And beating Hawthorn last week – so long the benchmark in our competition – was another.
To me, the best part about those wins is the knowledge that people won’t talk about the ‘old Melbourne’ anymore. They’ll talk about this Melbourne. The club created by Angus Brayshaw and Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver and Jesse Hogan and all the young guys who are now involved.
I remember attending the last best-and-fairest and a parent coming up to me to say, ‘Thanks very much, my kids can wear their Melbourne jumper to school now.’
It doesn’t get much better than that.
I saw a video on Instagram a few days ago. It was a dad giving his son tickets to watch the Dees play in the finals. The boy gasped with joy, hugged his old man and burst into tears.
It was the perfect summary of what this season has meant to Melbourne supporters.
And this is what getting finals tickets means. ?
— Melbourne FC (@melbournefc) August 30, 2018
Bulldogs supporters would understand and, to a lesser extent, Richmond fans. The outpouring of enthusiasm and optimism after a sustained period of losing is quite a remarkable thing to experience. Walking around the MCG before and after the first final – seeing the crowd queuing up to get in, the excitement when the siren sounded, the happiness around the stadium – was one of those footy memories I’ll carry with me forever.
It’s been powerful to reconnect with people at the club over the last few weeks and months. I’ve had dinner with Georgey Stone and Bernie Vince. I’ve had a coffee with Benny Mathews. I spoke to Goody on ‘On The Couch’. I’ve texted Todd Viney and Josh Mahoney and Jason Taylor. The recruiting guys don’t get the credit they deserve. They’ve been a huge part in the revitalisation of the club.
They talked about the 2-and-20 days and how different the club feels now. No matter what happens from here those guys, and all the others who make up this great club, should be immensely proud of what they’ve achieved. I’d love to think they’ve got another week left in them this season.
I remember a parent coming up to me to say, ‘Thanks very much, my kids can wear their Melbourne jumper to school now.’
People have asked me where the Melbourne experience rates in my own footy career.
It’s hard to compartmentalise. Rather than ranking it, I instead view it as the culmination of everything I learned at Fitzroy and Sydney as a player, everything we did as a collective at the Swans when I was coach.
It’s the bank of knowledge I’ve gained through my exposure to Mick Conlan and Laurie Serafini and Bernie Quinlan and Garry Wilson and Matty Rendell and so many more that I’ve been able to package up and pass on to this generation. There are so many people who have unwittingly contributed to Melbourne’s success without ever being part of the footy club. And then there are the people who I was able to bring with me from the Swans – Brett Allison, Daniel McPherson, Ben Mathews, George Stone. Their contributions cannot be overstated.
It feels like the end part of my footy journey and it reaffirms everything I believe in. One person can’t rebuild a club. It takes a lot of listening and learning from a lot of people.
I’m so pleased the club has a terrific young coach in Goody who will be there for many years to come, as well as great leaders in Jack Viney and Nathan Jones who will teach and reinforce standards and behaviour among the playing group.
The future looks bright.