If talk was all it took for Melbourne to
beat the reigning AFL premiers Sydney this week, they’d already have a handy lead.
But unfortunately for the Demons, the game doesn’t start until 1.10pm on
Sunday, and putting a positive spin on recent losses will count for nothing
come the opening bounce.

Coming off three losses,
pressure is mounting on Demons coach Neale Daniher. After only three rounds,
the media is already murmuring about how much patience the club has for
failure, especially considering many rated Melbourne a shoe-in for the finals
this year.

Daniher’s team is not on the way up, with
many of his “stars” in the middle stages of their careers and playing the most
productive football that can be expected of them. Your Robertsons, Yzes,
Johnstons, Neitzes, Motlops, Whites, Greens, and Bruces are seasoned,
experienced, strong-bodied players, but somehow those individuals can’t get it
together as a team. That’s perhaps the main reason people are looking to
Daniher for answers.

Most alarmingly though, Melbourne must be
concerned about becoming this year’s easy-beats. The Swans won their first for
the season last week against a determined Carlton, and may have found some of
that unsightly resolve that took them to the flag last year. Earning that
first win will have been a huge boost.

Melbourne, on the hand, are going into the
game desperate for a win, and could quickly find themselves frustrated,
strangled even, by their opponents. It’s a danger the Demons coaching staff
must be counselling their players to be aware of. From there, things could
unravel fast, both in terms of this week’s game and the season. With the
Kangaroos, Geelong, and Fremantle all ahead of them, life is not about to get
any easier.

Given the improved performance of last
year’s losers – Carlton, Hawthorn, and to a lesser extent Richmond – Melbourne
are on shaky ground. What further loosens the turf beneath their footy boots is
that if this group of players is ever going to challenge for the flag, this year
looked as good as any.

Peter Fray

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