Sympathy for the devil
Melbourne’s 41-point loss to Brisbane was disappointing, but not because it didn’t honour Jim Stynes.
There is no doubt that Jimmy Stynes had a profound impact on the Melbourne Football Club.
Likewise it goes without saying that his untimely death two weeks ago has sent shockwaves through the playing group.
Jimmy meant a lot to them. And of course they would have wanted to honour him.
It would have been a glorious football fairytale had the Demons beat Brisbane on Saturday.
But the reality is that fairytales are make-believe. While every now and then a real-life equivalent might pop up life doesn’t necessarily operate the way we’d always like it to.
From an Aussie Rules perspective, the reality for the Demons is that they simply aren’t good enough at the moment.
Indeed, the Dees were behind the eight ball even before Stynes passed away.
In the weeks leading up to the season proper, Melbourne was smashed by Hawthorn by 79 points, before losing to the lowly Port Adelaide by 48.
Both losses were convincing and brutal. They were also the kind of thing you’d expect from a bottom-eight side, trying to acclimatise themselves to the structures of a new leader.
Sure, it’s naive to read too much into pre-season form. But Melbourne fielded strong sides in both games. And they wanted to win.
After all, why wouldn’t they have? Given the Demons’ rotten run of luck over the past few seasons a win is a win is a win, pre-season or not.
Furthermore, with new coach Mark Neeld wiping the slate clean, every player was playing for their spot in the team.
That Melbourne followed up these disappointing performances with a poor performance against the Lions is a shame. But it’s understandable and should have been expected.
Yes; Jim Stynes’ death should have provided the Demons players with some extra motivation.
But can motivation be directly translated into skill? Can motivation improve a player’s strength, speed or kicking ability?
People talk about the spirit of a person living on in a team’s performance. But how does that work in pragmatic terms?
Did fans honestly expect the ghost of Stynes to be present in the mortal bodies of the Melbourne playing group?
We are talking about demons after all.
Without trying to state the obvious, the Melbourne players can only do what they can do.
The death of Jimmy Stynes might have made them emotionally stronger, or given them a bonus incentive to win. But it’s unreasonable for us to expect that it would have made them better footballers.
Better footballers for a solitary weekend, I might add.
If Melbourne is seriously dedicated to honouring Stynes and his legacy, fans don’t want this to be represented by fleeting moments anyway.
Rather, they want to see chronic changes in attitude and behaviour.
It is flawed to expect that the Demons put in 110 percent for games of emotional significance.
First of all, giving 110 percent is physically impossible. It’s an utterly meaningless piece of rhetoric.
Secondly, such a concept implies that the team plays below their capacity on a regular basis, and that they possess an extra supply of skill and effort, tucked away in an “emergency-only” container.
What rubbish. If a team is capable of winning a game of football, then I expect them to play their hardest to win that game of football, regardless of the occasion.
Thirdly, this logic forgets to account for the opponent. The Brisbane players wanted to win that game of football just as desperately as their Melbourne foes.
Stynes’ death wouldn’t have compromised the intensity and passion with which the Lions intended to bring to the game.
The Melbourne players are not heartless. They love Jimmy as much as anybody.
And the Melbourne players work and play hard. Like every other team in the competition they don’t compete half-heartedly.
As such, Melbourne fans should not blame their club for not living up to fairytale expectations.
If anything, their biggest complaint should be that the Demons simply aren’t yet good enough.