Former Melbourne strategist Craig Jennings hits out at Simon Goodwin’s gameplan

A former Melbourne strategist who worked with Simon Goodwin has delivered a scathing assessment of his gameplan. He has outlined three clear flaws, and believes the Dees must move the magnets.

Former Melbourne strategist Craig Jennings has made a scathing assessment of coach Simon Goodwin’s gameplan, comparing the Demons to St Kilda’s recent mediocre sides.

Former Saints coach Alan Richardson joined Melbourne on a long-term deal as director of coaching this season and Jennings said the Demons now looked like the “St Kilda model for the last five years”.

“When you were planning for St Kilda in that time they were basically one-trick ponies,” Jennings said.

“They had a strength that was pressure. But if you could nullify that pressure, which is pretty easy to do in some ways because what beats pressure is finding a mark (you would win).

“The challenge for Melbourne at the moment is they can’t defend a mark.”

Jennings called for struggling onballer Clayton Oliver to be moved forward against Gold Coast on Saturday and for the ruck duty to be shared by Max Gawn (defensive half) and Tom McDonald (forward half).

But Jennings pointed out “three clear flaws in Melbourne’s gamestyle” and said the Dees were proving relatively easy to coach against.

“Ultimately you’ve got a defence strategy that’s flawed, a contest strategy that’s not working and definitely an attacking strategy that’s not working,” Jennings said.

“They’re three separate strategies but when they come together they’re totally misaligned. I’m seeing strategies, one for each line, and they just don’t connect.”

Jennings said West Coast’s keepings-off game in the fourth quarter of Round 1 highlighted the “massive flaw” in the way the Demons defend.

“That (tactic) was taken to an extreme level against Geelong a couple of weeks ago,” Jennings said.

“I know that game was very unpopular but from a strategic point of view (Cats coach) Chris Scott absolutely nailed how to beat Melbourne.

“The second thing is their contest. Too many players go to the footy and teams exploit that.

“They just wait on the outside and if Melbourne do win it, they set up pretty well with their players behind the footy and Melbourne give it straight back to them.”

Jennings said the opening bounce against Richmond on Sunday exemplified that. Five Demons – Gawn, Oliver, Christian Petracca, Jack Viney and Adam Tomlinson – tracked a loose ball on the wing, which was won by Tiger Kamdyn McIntosh with four teammates free on the outside.

Jennings said shifting Gawn behind the ball would help plug easy goals and feed Jake Lever with the confidence to bring back his intercept game.

Jennings believes Max Gawn should be shifted behind the ball. Picture: Getty Images
Jennings believes Max Gawn should be shifted behind the ball.

Lever averaged 3.5 intercept marks in 2017 but has taken just five for the year. Jennings said the Demons were trying to mimic Richmond’s 18-man defence by forcing teams to the boundary, but that it was overcomplicated and falling apart.

“I’ve been really disappointed in Melbourne that every team they’re playing is playing the way they look when they win and taking away all the strengths from Melbourne,” Jennings, who departed Melbourne after three seasons last year, said on SEN.

Club great Garry Lyon accused the Demons of playing at a breakneck speed that wasn’t working and it appears they do not have the cream to execute such a slick style.

The Dees have scored from just 32.2 per cent of inside 50s this year, which is the worst conversion rate on record, and Herald Sun analyst Mick McGuane said their midfield was heavy on grunt but desperately needed a splash of class.


They are the four words you would not have expected to see across the top of Simon Goodwin’s ball movement battle plans this year.

But four games into a season that is already quickly slipping away from the Demons, Melbourne’s superstar ruckman Max Gawn is currently the club’s safest kick inside 50m.

Max Gawn shadows the Demons’ entire midfield as the club’s best kick into the forward 50. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images
Max Gawn shadows the Demons’ entire midfield as the club’s best kick into the forward 50.

It seems extraordinary that the tallest bloke on the team can be the Demons’ most precise kick in the forward half but the remarkable statistic lays bare the problems Melbourne’s prime midfielders have had using the footy forward in 2020.

From Gawn’s nine kicks inside the arc this season, the Demons have retained the Sherrin six times – at a club-high retention rate of 66.7 per cent.

Of the top-10 ball users at the club, spring-heeled forward Bayley Fritsch is ranked second at 62.5 per cent.

But from there, there is a Grand Canyon-style drop-off for the red and blue ballwinners.

New recruit Adam Tomlinson (45.5 per cent) comes in third but even he is below the league average of 46.8 per cent, according to Champion Data.MONEY MEN

Hawthorn playmaker Chad Wingard has emerged as the most lethal kick inside 50m in the league in his second season at the club with a retention strike rate of 83.3 per cent.

It has been one of the most maligned trades of the past few years but certainly this season Wingard has delivered in spades on the ‘money kick’ to Hawthorn’s forwards.

But for Melbourne, it is the same old story.

The Dees have beaten their opponent for inside 50s in three of the four games this year for only one win – after limping over the line against Carlton in Round 2.

Goodwin admitted the terrible turnovers were “killing us” after a 27-point loss reigning premier Richmond on Sunday, prompting the Demons to consider speedster Harley Bennell and veteran Nathan Jones in a bid to add more class and composure for Saturday night’s crucial clash against Gold Coast Suns.OFF TARGET


Worst 5 kicks inside 50m

Nic Naitanui (WC) 31.3% retention rate

Tim Kelly (WC) 31.3 %

Ed Curnow (Carl) 35 %

Jared Polec (NM) 36.8 %

Andrew Gaff (WC) 37.5 %


If the is a silver lining, the Demons have copped some decent sides early – West Coast, Carlton, Geelong and Richmond, including the postponed Essendon clash.

But Goodwin’s greatest coaching challenge this week will be how he restores the confidence and belief in some of the prime midfielders who have butchered the ball early this season.

Remarkably, Oliver, a dual best and fairest winner, is travelling at a retention rate of only nine per cent so far this season.

Of his 11 kicks inside 50m, Melbourne has retained possession on only one of them. Nine of them were won by the opposition and the other disposal resulted in a stoppage.

Hard nut backman Michael Hibberd (16.7 per cent) and midfielder-defender James Harmes (25 per cent) are also at the bottom end of the retention kick index.

Melbourne great Garry Lyon, who has been one of Oliver’s biggest fans and last year labelled him the club’s “best ever midfielder, since probably the 70s”, said the young bull had “stagnated”.

“If he wants to get to the category that many of us (believe he can reach), then he needs to get greater value for his possessions,” Lyon said.

But Goodwin has backed Oliver to respond.

“His effort and intent – I think as you can see – is outstanding,” Goodwin said.

“He has probably overused the ball a little bit and miss-kicked a couple (against Richmond).

“He is an incredible player, Clayton.

“I think it would be harsh to say we don’t get value from what he delivers. He is a pretty special player.”

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