Having hit rock bottom in 2013, the only way is up for Melbourne.
Burning through five coaches since their last finals appearance, you could forgive the hardest Demon heart for thinking they’d seen this before.
Twice wooden spooners since their last finals appearance, and saved the ignominy of the last two spoons by expansion sides, the Demons lost the respect of the competition last season with just two wins for the year.
But the arrival of Paul Roos on an initial two-year deal, the masterstroke of new chief executive Peter Jackson, is the game-changer the club needs.
In turning to Roos, the Demons have their first premiership coach at the helm since club legend Ron Barassi in the early 1980s.
While Roos is a near-certainty to record just his second season with more losses than wins, the feeling that Melbourne are pushing in the right direction – finally – is palpable.
At the club’s AGM in early February, Jackson reported huge growth in corporate support and a surge in members following Roos’ appointment.
The off-field improvement was matched by the Demons’ on-field effort with a surprising win over Richmond in the NAB Challenge.
But as the off-season fades into another year, Roos has swapped list management for expectation management.
After club warnings the Demons are a “two and twenty club”, Roos said that initial win was important to give fans a small taste of success.
“Some teams need to take (the NAB Challenge) a little bit more seriously than others and we’re one,” he said.
“It means a lot to the club. To show members, supporters we’ve improved.
“But we know there’s a long way to go.”
While other coaches survey what’s changed in the game, searching for the next tactical breakthrough, Roos has taken his team back to basics.
“We’re trying to focus on what hasn’t changed – the things that make good teams regardless,” Roos said.
“Good teams are good defensive teams, hard to score against. You build your offence from there.”
In his first off-season, 11 players retired or were culled from Melbourne’s list, with only Colin Sylvia leaving for greener pastures (Fremantle).
With several places on their list to fill, Roos has focused on hardening the midfield, recruiting Bernie Vince (Adelaide), Daniel Cross (Western Bulldogs), Dom Tyson (Greater Western Sydney) and Viv Michie (Fremantle).
They’ll join Jack Trengove, Jack Viney, new captain Nathan Jones and oft-maligned Jack Watts in the engine room.
“I see his skill set as conducive to playing in that area. We love to get the ball in his hands,” Roos said of Watts.
In attack, Roos has the makings of a strong group with Mitch Clark, Chris Dawes, jumping Jeremy Howe and young prodigy Jesse Hogan to test most defences.
With several of Melbourne’s bigger names – including co-captain Jack Grimes, key defender James Frawley, Clark and Dawes – all missing several weeks through injury last year, Roos is placing an emphasis on coaching whole groups in new systems.
“The better teams don’t rely on their best players,” he said.
“The main focus is to get a system in place, so if you’ve got the best team out there, we can play our best footy, but if we don’t we still can be competitive.”
“That’s the main goal for us.”
Coach: Paul Roos
Captains: Jack Grimes, Nathan Jones
Last five years: 16-12-13-16-17
Premierships: 12 (1900, 1926, 1939-41, 1948, 1955-57, 1959-60, 1964).
Key Five: Nathan Jones, James Frawley, Jack Trengove, Mitch Clark, Jeremy Howe
One to watch: Dom Tyson. The Demons gave up pick two to the Giants for Tyson and think they’ve got the better deal for a reason. The competitive midfielder brings quick hands and strong running and should be a fixture in Melbourne’s best 22 for a decade.
Ins: Daniel Cross (Western Bulldogs), Jesse Hogan (Claremont WAFL), Jayden Hunt (Sandringham U18), Jay Kennedy-Harris (Oakleigh U18), Viv Michie (Fremantle), Aidan Riley (Adelaide), Christian Salem (Sandringham U18), Dom Tyson (Greater Western Sydney), Bernie Vince (Adelaide).
Outs: Aaron Davey (retired), Troy Davis (delisted), Tom Gillies (retired), Joel Macdonald (retired), James Magner (delisted), David Rodan (retired), James Sellar (delisted), Colin Sylvia (Fremantle), Rory Taggert (delisted), Josh Tynan (delisted).
Best 22: B: Lynden Dunn, James Frawley, Dean Terlich
HB: Jack Grimes, Tom McDonald, Colin Garland
C: Dom Tyson, Jack Viney, Jack Watts
HF: Sam Blease, Mitch Clark, Bernie Vince
F: Jesse Hogan, Chris Dawes, Jeremy Howe
R: Jake Spencer, Jack Trengove, Nathan Jones
I: Jimmy Toumpas, Daniel Cross, Max Gawn, James Strauss
Predicted finish: 16th
To win the flag: $251
To make the top eight: $13