Morale hits alarming low at shattered Demons
MELBOURNE is a shell of its former self and that shell has cracked.
So far and so hard have the Demons fallen that five months of disappointment has eaten away at this club like a colony of termites bringing down a mansion.
From a preliminary final to 17th - the highest of expectations has been met by the lowest of realities.
The fans don't show up anymore - just 23,700 in Friday night's 53-point loss to Sydney - and the players seemingly don't want to be there either.
Coach Simon Goodwin's veneer of positivity has cracked in front of the players in recent weeks.
Publicly, the coach repeatedly insists he has "full confidence" in his players, but his players are anything but.
They are beaten, bashed, broken.
Jake Melksham is a bubbly, positive person. But speaking to the Herald Sun after the Demons' sixth consecutive loss, he was hollow.
"I never thought this would happen," Melksham said.
"This time last year was the best time of my life, the best time probably in the club's history since 2000 and we couldn't have been better positioned for success.
"I just don't know. I just can't give you an answer of why we're playing the way we are. I don't have an explanation. It's extremely disappointing.
"The longer the year has gone the worse we've got and we've just lost our composure and gone away from what we've been good at.
"The morale is low, real low. The last three years, my first year we just missed out of finals, last year we were in a prelim and this year we're second-last on the ladder.
"'Goody' is very positive and he has been all year. But in the last couple of weeks he hasn't been his positive self."
Goodwin spoke with honesty and conviction after his side's latest debacle against the Swans, saying Demons fans deserved better.
Rightly or wrongly, he has been spared a lot of the direct criticism speared towards some of his coaching contemporaries this season.
The alibi is the injury list that blew out before the campaign even started and the three-year contract extension he signed before round one.
"I sit here with a team sitting 17th on the ladder and I take responsibility for where we sit, but it's reinforced the things I know we need to get right," Goodwin said on Friday night.
"I'll learn from this experience. I'll learn from where we got to and where we are now.
"It's hurting me greatly because I know how much the Melbourne supporters want us to be great."
The loss to the Swans was laced with deja vu. Woeful ball movement inside 50m, poor skills and an inability to defend their turnovers undoing all the hard work that had the Demons winning the inside 50s by 10 and contested ball by 15.
The Dees had nothing to play for, but neither did the Swans and they fought and scrapped with intent.
"The great thing about last year … when Melbourne supporters came to the game and you guys came to the game, you saw a style of play that was identifiable," Goodwin said.
"At the moment no one can see that and is clearly frustrating."
The winds of change whipped up a while ago. Assistant coaches will depart, fitness staff will depart and players will go, too.
Asked how he planned to turn it all around, Goodwin said: "We look at every area of our club. We come back to our preseason as a playing group and a coaching staff with a clear method of play, we get the basics and fundamentals right, we get fit, we get healthy and we come back with a determination to take this club forward again.
"It's pretty simple. There's no magic formula, it's coming back ready to go and doing the work.
"When this season finishes and another starts we'll be in another phase where we've got hope and belief. We'll get our chance to do something about it."
The question over summer will be whether this is an aberration or closer to the norm for the Demons.
Chris Judd said they now looked like a side who had started to believe they were a poor team.
There's a big stain. Can it be removed?