A BOTTOM-THREE ladder placing and a slump across key statistical rankings have not sapped Mark Neeld's optimism about his coaching career at Melbourne.
Approaching the Demons' last match of the season on Saturday against Fremantle at Patersons Stadium - a venue where they have lost their past 11 matches - Neeld insisted progress had been made by instilling a more accountable playing philosophy at the club in his first year.
''There's been some peaks and troughs, no question. There's been a lot of change,'' he said. Broad benefits from the season have, according to Neeld, included starting to remedy the paucity of senior match experience among many of the club's younger players, and also the hands-on leadership experience for raw captains Jack Grimes and Jack Trengove.
''I'm seeing in those two [Grimes and Trengove] some things I saw at my previous club [Collingwood], in the initial stages of what is [now] renowned as a really strong leadership group,'' he said. ''They're going to be outstanding AFL captains. I wouldn't describe them as ruthless just yet, but they're on that track, which is great.''
Neeld gave little insight into how he had coped with handling on-field affairs. ''It's been life experience. There's been some things you can never prepare yourself for,'' he said. ''A lot of the things that get written about and spoken about are everything but footy.''
Having occupied mid-range rankings in most disposal-related categories last year, the club's rankings this year generally reflect its ladder position. The most significant declines have come in overall disposals (10th to last) and uncontested disposals (seventh to last).
The overwhelming contested-possession deficit seems to signal that Melbourne has few players capable of matching or beating quick opponents when chasing kicks and handballs to space. Neeld underlined the difficulty of solving that deficiency.
''If you don't have speed you don't have speed. It doesn't matter about the game plan,'' he said.