Steven May described the Dees’ list as ‘unbelievable’. But is it?

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Key points

  • Steven May says Melbourne have an “unbelievable” list that should have “smoked” Collingwood.
  • Brodie Grundy, James Jordon and James Harmes departed the Demons in the past fortnight.
  • Melbourne brought in Shane McAdam and Tom Fullarton this trade period.

Lost among Steven May’s inflammatory remark about how Melbourne should have “smoked” premiers Collingwood was his bullish evaluation of their playing list.

The All-Australian defender described the Demons’ list as “unbelievable”, in a nod to the bevy of stars at the top of the line-up, and the league-leading work from talent chiefs Tim Lamb and Jason Taylor.

Melbourne star Clayton Oliver will be one of the most scrutinised players in the AFL next season.Credit: AFL Photos

For all May’s confidence, this club has the unwanted tag as the only team to exit the finals in straight sets in consecutive years – and that record follows their drought-busting flag the previous season, which triggered all sorts of dynasty predictions.

His comments at Melbourne’s club champion function were refreshingly honest, and a break from the robotic cliches many AFL footballers trot out. But they preceded a trade period where his Demons lost or traded three (admittedly fringe) players: Brodie Grundy, James Jordon and James Harmes.

Is the list still unbelievable?

Tom Fullarton’s unheralded arrival as captain Max Gawn’s latest ruck sidekick caps a two-year evolution in that position from Luke Jackson, the so-called unicorn who played a pivotal role in the match-winning third quarter of the 2021 grand final.

Shane McAdam, a gifted 181-centimetre forward, is Melbourne’s other trade addition this fortnight, and Lamb and Taylor typically have a surprise up their sleeve, so don’t rule out another.

They will hope Fullarton and McAdam can make an impact more akin to Lachie Hunter’s than Josh Schache’s, or even Grundy’s, out of last year’s recruits.

Tom Fullarton is Max Gawn’s new back-up.Credit: AFL Photos

The Dees also remain in the pick one frame, with selections six and 11 in this year’s draft, even if North Melbourne are favourites in the event West Coast agree to trade it. But any Harley Reid heist is speculative and still to play out.

Indisputable is that Melbourne’s depth is not what it once was, and the list overall probably isn’t as good as 2021, with Grundy, Jordon and Harmes following Jackson, Jayden Hunt, Toby Bedford and Sam Weideman out the door.

Michael Hibberd and Luke Dunstan also announced their retirement, and Jake Melksham will miss most of next season recovering from an ACL rupture.

The messy Clayton Oliver situation is an ongoing storyline, and could easily become a serious distraction, while the club’s much-discussed forwards – and the delivery to them – has been a problem for years.

Veterans Tom McDonald, 31, and Ben Brown, 31 in November, are entering the last year of their contracts and will need to be significantly better than they have been the past two seasons to extend their career beyond 2024.

The Demons are more likely to prioritise the Jacob van Rooyen-Harry Petty combination in attack, alongside the prolific Bayley Fritsch, while McAdam adds to a smaller group, including the prodigiously talented Kysaiah Pickett, Alex Neal-Bullen, Kade Chandler and Charlie Spargo.

Despite overtures from Adelaide, Harry Petty seems as good as certain to stay in red and blue in 2024.Credit: AFL Photos

Adelaide still have another day of trade period to try to change Melbourne’s mind, but Petty, who is contracted until 2025, seems as good as certain to stay in red and blue.

That is important because Petty may have a key role to play down the other end in the longer term, especially if Melbourne’s first-round draftee from last year, Matt Jefferson, can accelerate his development as a key forward.

May is still an outstanding defender but turns 32 in January, while Gawn is the same age in December.

Key defender Adam Tomlinson, who tested the market before Lamb and co. told him he would not be traded, is 29 years old, too, so Petty, 24 in November, is a major bookend piece of the puzzle.

As for the ruck, Fullarton – an ex-basketballer with 19 AFL matches to his name, but none this past season – is all that stands between coach Simon Goodwin having to turn to Schache or untried rookie-listers Will Verrall and Kyah Farris-White, in the event of a Gawn injury.

Gawn has played 21 or more games in every season from 2018 onwards, barring the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign, and Goodwin will hope like hell that durability continues.

Fullarton kicked 30 goals in 18 VFL games last season, but has only six in his short AFL career, so the jury is out on whether he can be any more capable up forward in the big league than Grundy, assuming Melbourne ever plan to select two ruckmen again.

Lamb’s done a brilliant retention job with the club’s stars and most promising youth, re-signing Oliver (2030), Christian Petracca (2029), Jake Lever and Angus Brayshaw (2028), Pickett and Trent Rivers (2027), Fritsch, Jefferson and Christian Salem (2026), and Gawn, May, Jack Viney and van Rooyen (2025) for the long term.

That core should ensure the Demons are perennial contenders at worst, but they need the likes of Bailey Laurie, Taj Woewodin, Daniel Turner and Blake Howes to help fill the depth void.

Otherwise, there is a risk club great Garry Lyon will be pontificating again about another failed season rather than reigniting the dynasty debate.

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