AFL 2024; Melbourne captain Max Gawn defends player fitness

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Melbourne captain Max Gawn has again defended his club’s culture after former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley attacked the fitness of the Demons players following Alice Springs’ loss to Fremantle last weekend.

It was the second loss to a Western Australian side in three games, having lost to the underperforming Eagles in Perth, and Gawn had already described the two performances as the “worst in the last five years”, while superstar teammate Christian Petracca said he was “embarrassed” by the way they played.

But after seeing footage of the Melbourne players in the rooms following the 92-point loss to the Dockers, Buckley twice questioned whether the players were in the right shape for an elite AFL side, first on morning radio and then on his Fox Footy program on Monday night.

“When I saw this vision, I just thought to myself… first of all, the energy is not great… but a thought came into my head [that] this doesn’t look like a tough, fit top-four team. A bit of body shape. I just don’t think this is a tough, fit unit. I don’t expect energy after a 92-point loss, but they are not as tough and fit as I would have expected,” Buckley said On the couch.

His opinion was not widely shared by other experts, and while Gawn did not specifically address Buckley’s comments on Wednesday, he insisted his team’s culture was “where it should be” but acknowledged there were major issues to be resolved on the field.

Gawn said the annual visit this week by former coach and MND champion Neale Daniher had also acted as a “circuit breaker”, underlining the need for actions, not words, to bring about a turnaround.

“After the week we’ve had, you can get lost in your own thoughts and talk a lot, and there is a lot of talk,” he said.

“There is a lot of talk within our four walls about how we can make amends for what happened. But in the end, what matters is what Neale says, it’s actions. This week the truth has been revealed. That’s what we have to do.”

“We’re not the team we want to be. But I’ve stood here a couple of times and defended our culture, and I’ll continue to defend our culture. I think it’s where it should be off the field, but not where it should be on the field.”

Gawn said his teammates had to face some “pretty honest truths” this week as he reflected on last week’s game and painted an ugly picture of the Demons’ performance.

But the desire for “revenge” for last year’s qualifying final loss to Collingwood in Monday’s King’s Birthday clash could help narrow the focus and make Melbourne hungrier to do what it takes.

“We think we’re one of the better teams defensively and competitively, but that hasn’t been the case over the last six weeks. If we want to get back to winning ways, we’ve got to go out there and do it,” he said.

“We look at the numbers and see where we stand across the AFL and they are nowhere near the numbers we can achieve.

“I think it’s pretty cool that we’ve got a pretty hungry Steven May out there wanting to make sure the Pies don’t score, a pretty hungry Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver out there wanting to make sure we keep the ball away, and a pretty hungry Bailey Fritsch and Kozzie Pickett who are going to score some goals.”

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