Melbourne defender Steven May believes selection pressure is keeping the side on edge, but has the 2021 premiers well-placed to rebound from an “embarrassing” straight-sets finals exit last year.
The Dees kept themselves two games clear in fourth spot on the AFL ladder with a four-point win over the Adelaide Crows at the MCG on Sunday, which marked the second consecutive starring performance from captain Max Gawn.
His uptick in form follows the club’s decision to send highly-touted trade recruit Brodie Grundy to the VFL to work on his forward craft, with the 29-year-old kicking a goal and three behinds for Casey in a 42-point win over Coburg.
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Grundy’s omission, May said, was part of a larger pressure on senior spots that was helping hone the team’s focus.
“You see the standards that are required to play. For ‘Brodes’, he’s a full-time ruckman and we’ve just thrown him forward and taken a bit of game time off him in the ruck,” May told foxfooty.com.au after Sunday’s win.
Melbourne Demons Press Conference | 04:44
“He’s just adjusting, First year at a new club is always tough as well, learning to play with new players and coaches and a new system.
“He’s certainly going to fast track and hopefully he’s back ASAP, but it does keep everyone on their toes that Brodie Grundy isn’t immune to getting dropped.
“Everyone needs to be on their toes and executing their role.”
Despite Gawn’s markedly improved form in the past fortnight, May said there was still a spot for Grundy in the senior side as the club approaches a third consecutive finals campaign.
“It’s not an experiment – we believe in playing both of them – it’s more we weren’t getting much bang for buck from both of them,” May said, referencing the pair’s meek output in the forward line in recent weeks.
“Brodie was going pretty well in the ruck as well. He needs to go and work a little bit on his forward craft, but I see him back in the team in the finals, no doubt.
“Having two All-Australian ruckmen like those two is going to be such an advantage. For the time being, we get some games in some young guys and experiment with the forward line a little bit and Brodie, hopefully cherry ripe, can come in, in the next few weeks.”
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The Dees’ forward half in particular is an area where competition is hot, illustrated by Ben Brown being subbed out of Sunday’s match for Joel Smith, who kicked a goal soon after coming on and threatened to add another before the match concluded.
Growing competition for spots is something Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin was aware of when he was asked about it post-match.
“I hope so (there’s pressure for spots). It’s a competitive team and we’re trying to play our best footy,” Goodwin said.
“I hope every player is not on edge in a way that’s unhealthy but on edge in a way that’s highly competitive and they work incredibly hard on their game.”
May added: “I think everyone takes a lot of pride in their own performance, but you see so many good players playing in the VFL.
“Every time the team gets picked there’s three or four you’re always thinking: ‘Gee, they’re stiff.’ That’s a great spot to be in with a footy club.”
After shaky patches during the season, Melbourne is now poised to have relatively good availability heading towards September and is starting to click into gear at the right time of year.
The Dees remain the only side to have defeated Collingwood on the MCG this season, which could prove a vital statistic with the sides projected to clash in a Qualifying Final.
For May, there is a sense of unfinished business for the Dees after last season, which saw the then-reigning premiers win their first 10 matches of the year, only to bow out of the finals with two consecutive losses on the MCG.
“Oh, 100 per cent (it’s motivating). Going out in straight sets is quite embarrassing,” May said.
Adelaide Crows Press Conference | 06:50
“We thought we were playing unbelievable football coming off a flag. I think we are trying new things and I feel like we’re progressing.
“We only had a small win today, but I thought the way we moved the ball and were able to respond to being challenged both last and this week, it’s just sharpening us up for the finals.”
May forms part of a list core that has been lauded externally and earmarked for multiple premierships, such is the calibre of talent at Goodwin’s disposal.
Faith in the side’s build extends internally, with May voicing his expectations for the club in 2023 and beyond.
“I think we have the list, the culture and the coaching staff, I think we feel like we have everything in place to challenge for a flag,” he said.
“Going out last year kind of felt like a bit of an empty season.
“We still had a really good season but probably thought we had more we could’ve achieved and probably got a bit of a reality check, which has actually helped us this year.”
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