Demons facing another brutal end to the season

Glen Bartlett's uncharacteristic attack on his football team in late July came at a time when not only was coach Simon Goodwin coming under increasing pressure but also the board room of the Melbourne Football Club.

Mounting frustration with the club's disappointing form since the club's top-four finish in 2018, coupled with Bartlett's leadership style, had seen the formation of a move to unseat the seven-year president anointed by Andrew Demetriou as part of an AFL bail-out.

Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin.Credit:Getty Images

Melbourne then won three in succession including a dominant victory over Collingwood but a disastrous series of outings in Cairns that followed the Alice Springs game against St Kilda and the strange travel arrangement that linked those games has left Melbourne 10th and a game out of the eight.

Saturday night's cut-throat clash at the Gabba pitches one of the game's elite foundation clubs against the youngest. Greater Western Sydney, premiership favourites at the start of 2020, and their recently re-signed coach Leon Cameron will slip out of the eight with a round to go while Melbourne have to defeat the Giants to stay in the race.

Should the Demons as expected miss finals again Goodwin's position looks tenuous given the optimism around the club over 2017 and 2018 regarding the strength of their list and the view that the club was entering a so-called premiership window. Melbourne have never quite given up on luring Alastair Clarkson back to the club and Ross Lyon remains an active target.

Bartlett extended the coach's contract after the 2018 season until the end of 2022 but the prevailing view is that next year Goodwin must reach certain performance targets to move into his final season, which means the coach would enter 2021 in a similar contractual position to Ken Hinkley this year.

Former CEO Peter Jackson (left) with Melbourne chairman Glen Bartlett.Credit:Getty Images

To sack a coach with two years left on his agreement would seem unthinkable in this environment and probably harsh given the experimental nature of 2020 but scapegoats loom none the less.

Long-serving football manager Mahoney's position is expected to be scrutinised by CEO Gary Pert and the board. Although things may have changed after Melbourne's disastrous 2019 and its botched pre-season, Bartlett had initially underlined the demarcation between football and the Pert-run administration.

Having overseen the removal of key assistant coaches and the high-profile appointments of Alan Richardson and Darren Burgess, another assistant reshuffle is also on the cards.

Melbourne's reportedly strong financial position, aided by Bartlett's timely and lucrative decision to sell the club's gaming venture, poses the question as to why the president remained the subject of influential supporter unrest. Certainly his decision to extend Goodwin long term shortly after the departure of former CEO Peter Jackson means Bartlett remains solely tied to the coach and his success or failure.

Long-serving football manager Josh Mahoney.Credit:Getty Images

But Bartlett has also lost support because he has failed to unite the club and its key factions. Jim Stynes, whose presidency oversaw the tanking scandal, had brought the club and its unique elements together from the outset despite the other failings of its board. But Bartlett made powerful enemies from the start, immediately expelling popular board members in a manner they will not forget.

The president has never truly won back the trust or respect of those directors nor their networks despite the fact that several continue to give large donations to the club. Nor did Bartlett win friends at the MCC, a relationship he has never prioritised and one that Jackson did.

Jackson supporters at the MCC report the significance of the cricket club's celebration of the former club chief's AFL life membership at the start of this season in contrast with Bartlett's board placing scant acknowledgement of the honour, which in part came about due to Jackson's work rebuilding the Demons.

It is true that the relationship between Bartlett and Jackson did not end well, which was unfortunate given the club's transformation during their stewardship. Jackson was highly respected, even revered by his staff and executive, but managing up was not his strong suit and his impatience with Bartlett became an open secret.

Still, despite that falling out and Bartlett's sensitivity over some criticism to the AFL-supported appointment of Pert, everything seemed so rosy two years ago as Melbourne moved into their first finals series since Neale Daniher's last full season and the Paul Roos-Goodwin succession plan paid its first real dividend.

But instead, for the second year in succession, Melbourne's football operation looks headed for a brutal spring and its president in for some savage soul-searching which could define his chairmanship.

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