by Damien Berry
North Melbourne's rapid plummet from ladder leaders to being at risk of missing the finals has been well noted. It's not the first time a VFL/AFL team has experienced such a slide, though.
The 1965 season saw one of the largest falls from grace in VFL/AFL history with the demise of the Melbourne Football Club.
Under legendary coach Norm Smith, the Demons had enjoyed an enviable record, winning premierships in 1955, 56, 57, 59, 60 and 1964. In fact, with their additional grand final losses in 1954 (Footscray's only VFL premiership), and 1958 (the famous upset win by Collingwood), the Demons had played in eight of the last 11 premiership deciders.
However, this was about to come to a crashing halt, with skipper Ron Barassi sensationally leaving to take the coaching job at Carlton, leaving Hassa Mann the job of leading the Demons in a new era.
The season opened with Melbourne claiming two narrow wins over Richmond and North Melbourne, before a 51-point thumping of Fitzroy in Round 3. Further wins over South Melbourne (three points) and Geelong (14 points) moved the Dees to the head of the ladder after five rounds.
Round 6 saw Melbourne claim a two-point win over arch-rival Collingwood in front of almost 59,000 at the MCG, and the following week made it seven straight with a four-point win over Footscray.
At this point, while it seemed business as usual for this perennially successful unit, aside from the win over the Lions, Melbourne had recorded six of its seven wins by 14 points or less. Perhaps this was a impending sign that their best football was starting to decline, as their dominance was gone, but they were just able to get the job done.
A 37-point win over Carlton in Round 8 gave the Demons' percentage a welcome boost, but this was quickly negated by a ten-goal loss to the Saints the following week, ending Melbourne's 8-0 start to the season.
Essendon's 29-point win sent the Demons' to their second straight loss, whereby they fell from top spot to down to third.
There was a reprieve for the Dees with their 58-point win over Hawthorn in Round 11, but consecutive defeats to Richmond and North saw Melbourne slip out of the top four for the first time.
In the meantime, a dispute between coach Smith and the committee saw the coach sacked, then sensationally re-instated a few days later.
The Demons stayed in finals contention with a two-point win over 10th placed Fitzroy, moving to a 10-4 record and fifth place, but this was to be the last triumph of an ultimately failed season, as the Dees lost their last four games by an average of 29 points, crashing to a 10-8 record and seventh spot on the ladder- the lowest finish for a Melbourne side since 1953.
The decline of the Demons proved to a portent of things to come with a 3-15, 11th placed finish the next year, leading ultimately to the resignation of six-time premiership coach Norm Smith after the 1967 season.
As it turned out, the Demons 1964 premiership would prove tp be their last finals appearance for 23 years, until the famous end of season surge in 1987 which saw Melbourne fall just short of a grand final berth.
While we don't yet know how North Melbourne's 2016 season will end, the Kangaroos start of 9-0, falling to 10-6 after Round 17, does holds a parallel to the 1965 season for the Demons, and as such, perhaps missing the finals is not that unforeseeable for this Kangaroos team.
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