Melbourne officially started its pre-season at The Tan on Monday morning and will spend extra time at the iconic running destination this summer as they look to bounce back from a nightmare 2019.
Under new high performance boss Darren Burgess, who returned to the AFL after two years at English Premier League powerhouse Arsenal following two separate stints at Port Adelaide around key fitness roles at Liverpool and the Socceroos, the Demons will spend Saturday mornings running up the hills and around the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Melbourne chairman Glen Bartlett, senior coach Simon Goodwin, head of football Josh Mahoney and Burgess outlined how the Demons will respond after they finished 17th this year with only five wins – 12 months after they ended a 12-year finals drought by reaching a preliminary final – at a members forum on Tuesday night.
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This time last year, the Demons were decimated by post-season surgeries that prevented the majority of the list from banking a comprehensive pre-season.
Fast forward to now and only three players are coming off operations – Jake Lever (ankle), Braydon Preuss (shoulder) and Sam Weideman (hips) – and two others – new recruit Adam Tomlinson (calf) and Charlie Spargo (ankle) – are facing delayed starts to their programs.
While the Demons won only two games more than perennial strugglers Gold Coast and two games less than 16th placed Carlton, Goodwin and Mahoney stressed at the members forum that there is a feeling inside AAMI Park that this year was an aberration.
“Many clubs have used adversity to build something special, and that’s the plan here,” Goodwin said.
“We have the foundations. It’s about using the learning from 2019 and building something really special and something you can be really proud of.
“What I’ve seen in the off-season is something that’s really encouraging. I’ve seen a playing group come together and train like they’ve never trained before.”
Burgess built a reputation at Port Adelaide for preparing them as one of the hardest gut running sides in the competition.
The veteran fitness guru has designed a program at Melbourne that is more football specific than the one he ran at Alberton, but will incorporate an extra running session each week of the pre-season at The Tan.
“The philosophy that we will employ is about 80 to 90 per cent footy. I’m a big believer in working with the coaches to design programs to let the coaches get hold of the players. I don’t want players doing laps; that doesn’t win you games,” Burgess said.
“We have incorporated an extra session or two in pre-season; we’ve altered the program a little bit. Anybody that was up early on Saturday morning would have seen the guys running up the hill at the back of the shrine and doing a few extra sessions there, which hopefully will benefit them in the fourth quarters of games and in the hard games.”
Burgess, who departed Arsenal in early July and was snapped up by Melbourne weeks later, revealed he received text messages from players late in the season looking for advice on how to prepare for games.
“I’ve had text messages from players going into games last year who I hadn’t even met when they got a whisper that I was coming to join the team to say, ‘what should I be doing to prepare for this game?’ And this was Round 23 when you think it wouldn’t matter to these players,” he said.
After a season plagued by fitness and conditioning issues, the Demons have assembled a high performance team who have had experience in the NFL at the Miami Dolphins, in the MLB at the New York Mets and newly promoted English Premier League side Norwich City.
Melbourne also acquired Alan Richardson as a director of coaching after he was sacked by St Kilda late last season.
The Demons currently hold Picks 3 and 8 in next week’s National Draft.
They have invited former Gold Coast and Fremantle midfielder Harley Bennell and former Geelong and Essendon forward Mitch Brown to train with them from December 3, with the view to picking them as a pre-season supplemental selection.