Melbourne have come back to earth after a hot start to their AFL season, going down to the resurgent Essendon to lose their second game of the season. Key off-season recruit Brodie Grundy has come under fierce criticism as a result, with AFL great David King saying the former Collingwood ruckman needed to show a lot more in the absence of Max Gawn.
Grundy's arrival at Melbourne was hailed as a massive win for the Demons, with Collingwood jettisoning the two-time All-Australian star in order to recruit the Lions' Dan McStay. While the 29-year-old was limited in 2022 for the Pies due to injury, he was viewed as an intelligent pick-up for the Demons.
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That trade paid major dividends when Gawn went down in round two, opening the door for Grundy to press his case for full-time selection even when Gawn comes back into the side. His performance in round four against West Coast was a particular standout, however he failed to fire on several fronts against the Bombers.
Having been traded from Collingwood with five years still to run on a massive deal signed back in 2020, Fox Footy's David King observed a number of errors from Grundy he suspected the Melbourne coaching staff would be all over during the week. He warned that continued poor defensive efforts from Grundy wold eventually result in him 'losing credibility' among his teammates.
Bombers' ruckmen Sam Draper and Andrew Phillips combined to boot five goals in the 27-point victory, with King honing in on Grundy's defensive efforts against the pair. He pointed out occasions in which the Bombers' big men comprehensively beat him down the ground.
"You go to your back-up ruckman (Grundy), who’s a high-priced recruit. It’s not about money, it’s about what you have to deliver when you get those stripes on the shoulders,” King said after the match. “To me, defensively, he was way off.
“And it’s a test of wills both ways – Draper charging forward and Grundy charging forward. But when you get it wrong, you’ve got to be able to recover.
“He’s not the greatest athlete in the world and greatest runner in the world, I understand all that, but if you can push forward, you’ve got to push back ... do the job.”
King said in the years since the Demons had established themselves as premiership contenders, a key feature of their success had been Gawn's ability to impact the game defensively. The former North Melbourne champion tipped there would be an honest conversation between the pair during the week.
“You lose credibility in the group if defensively you’re like that, you won’t get support of the 22,” he added.
“I’ve got no doubt Max Gawn will say (to Grundy): ‘Hey mate, this group here are not used to the ruckman not pushing back at full pace and full tilt. They’ve seen me do it for years. You’ve got to step up, you’ve got to raise the bar’."
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Grundy had attempted to hand over the responsibility of checking Draper to a teammate in defensive 50, but the communication wasn't quite there and it allowed Draper a shot on goal. Fellow Fox Footy panellist Brad Johnson said that was another area in which Grundy needs to improve, particularly in Gawn's absence.
“I think that’s the key. Do the job, but if you are going to (hand over), you’ve got to show some urgency in that,” Johnson said. “You can’t just float down and point, you’ve got to show some endeavour to make your teammate cover you off.
“If you don’t have that endeavour in your voice and energy to push that extra bit, they’re not going to listen and hear you. It’s not going to happen.
“A big challenge over Brodie Grundy over the next couple of weeks to get that part of his game exactly right.”
Meanwhile, Essendon coach Brad Scott wants supporters of his revitalised club to keep the proverbial lid on. Scott, in his first five games as Essendon's coach, has overseen four wins and a loss.
But Scott says the Bombers fans shouldn't yet be getting carried away with the early-season achievements. "There is so much to play out," he said.
"Melbourne are still clearly a contender. If we provide that level of effort and be consistent, we can be competitive with good sides.We are still nowhere near where we want to be and it's going to take us some time."
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