Home Australia Clayton Oliver’s inspiring return boosts Melbourne

Clayton Oliver’s inspiring return boosts Melbourne

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Clayton Oliver runs with the ball against Adelaide

Clayton coach Oliver has praised his role in Melbourne’s strong start to the season and said he is “super proud” of how the Demons midfielder has bounced back from a tumultuous off-season.

Oliver was in the headlines all summer after approaching an exit during the trade period, before being hospitalized late last year.

The controversy surrounding the 26-year-old came as Melbourne grappled with questions about its culture after forward Joel Smith was suspended for testing positive for cocaine in October.

An off-season filled with controversy following back-to-back straight-set final exits would have doomed many AFL clubs, but Melbourne has so far thrived amid the chaos.

After being comfortably beaten by Sydney in their season opener, the Demons have made it four straight wins, including back-to-back road wins over Adelaide and Port Adelaide, and are currently second in the standings.

Oliver’s strong start to the year has been one of the driving forces behind Melbourne’s early season success.

Despite a largely disrupted pre-season, Oliver has played in all five of Melbourne’s games so far this season.

Clayton Oliver’s bright start to the 2024 season has mirrored Melbourne’s through the first five rounds.(AAP: Matt Turner)

“Things were pretty tough towards the end of last year,” his manager Nick Gieschen told SEN.

“To be honest, I’m very proud of where he is now.

“I was at the Bulldogs vs Melbourne game in Round 1. He obviously played well that day and I was actually very emotional seeing the support everyone has given him and the support they have shown him.

“He’s in a very good place right now and he’s clearly doing a lot of work to do what he needs to do to be well.”

“But he’s a heartbreaking guy. Everyone has challenges and struggles from time to time, but he’s obviously doing what he can to overcome that.”

Gieschen, whose team includes youngsters such as Harley Reid and Harry Sheezel, admitted Oliver’s tumultuous summer was possibly the toughest challenge he had faced in his time as a players’ coach.

Oliver’s season averages of 25.8 disposals and 5.8 clearances per game pale in comparison to some of his biggest seasons, but his return appears to have provided his team with a boost that simply can’t be measured by any available metric. .

“The only thing I’ve taken away from the last three or four weeks watching him and on TV is how much he enjoys football,” Gieschen said.

“You see him celebrating goals and obviously in the rooms after the game singing the song… he loves playing football and being around the boys.

“I’m really excited to see him do well and he’s obviously very grateful for the work the club has done.

“It hasn’t always been easy, there were some really difficult conversations, but I’m really proud of him.”

Oliver’s counting stats may be below his eye-catching career highs, but he has still found a way to make an impact within Simon Goodwin’s system.

His 15.2 shots and 5.2 inside 50s per game are rated elite, while he still ranks above average in other key metrics such as contested possessions, clearances and meters gained.

Melbourne’s early season success has centered on the ruthless efficiency of its forward 50.

The Demons’ 12.8 goals per game in five matches this season are virtually identical to their mark in their premiership year (12.9) in 202. However, Goodwin’s team is managing to maintain its goal-scoring level of three years ago despite averaging significantly less within 50 innings. per game (50.4 in 2024 compared to 56.2 in 2021).

Goodwin’s men led the league in tackles per game (62.2) en route to winning the flag in 2021, and once again rank in the top five in tackles.

Teams have to do their job early against Melbourne, defending the ground well, because once the Demons get the ball in their 50, their opponent is usually done for.

Players like Bayley Fritsch (14 goals), Ben Brown (five goals) and Jacob van Rooyen (seven goals) can act as focal points when necessary, but it is at ground level where the Demons can be devastating inside the 50.

Unsung heroes like Alex Neal-Bullen and Kade Chandler are two of the top four tacklers in Melbourne so far this season, with Kysaiah Pickett also in the top 10. The trio often play a key role in blocking the ball within Melbourne’s attack. fifty.

After being guilty of relying on their superstars to do all the heavy lifting in years past, Melbourne are now receiving consistent contributions across the board.

Premiership windows in the AFL are fleeting, as history has shown time and time again.

Melbourne came into the season with the third-oldest roster in terms of average age (25.1) and the second-most experienced roster in terms of average games played (84.9). Inspirational captain Max Gawn will turn 33 this year, star defender Steven May is 32 and the team’s best player, Christian Petracca, is approaching 30.

Simply put, the time for demons is now.

It has been a frustrating few seasons since Melbourne claimed their premiership in drought-breaking 2021. With Oliver’s resurgence playing a pivotal role, 2024 could be the year the Demons strike gold again.

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