Jack Grimes admits he was “thrown in the deep end” when made Melbourne captain last year, but believes the season from hell has defined him.
Grimes last February was made Demons co-captain at just 22, partnering Jack Trengove – at 20 the youngest skipper in AFL history – as the club set about a rebirth.
But the inexperienced leaders found themselves under unrelenting pressure as a controversy-packed 2012 threatened to rip the club apart.
Melbourne was investigated for tanking, lost much-loved president Jim Stynes, had coach Mark Neeld accused of racism and was forced to terminate its partnership with major sponsor EnergyWatch all in 12 months.
“It genuinely was a massive shock to me. I really didn’t expect it and at the time it was almost like, ‘What have I got myself into here’?” Grimes said of being made captain.
“Looking back, it really was as hard as it gets, what we went through, but with ‘Trenners’ in it with me and the new leaders we had around us, we had so much help.”
After a summer of reflection, and buoyed by the hope a new season brings, Grimes looks back on that horror initiation as the sort of education money can’t buy.
“It’s an experience I never want to have to go through again and for all the new captains around the league I would never want them to go through it either, but it’s one of those one’s where you’re almost glad you’ve seen that side of it,” he said.
“Neil Craig (director of sport performance) always asks me the question: ‘Who do you think learnt more out of last year? You going through what you did or another new captain at a successful club that won most of its games?’
“There were times when it seemed like it was jumping from one thing to the other and it was tough, not just for us, but for ‘Neeldy’ as a first-year coach.
“At one stage we were 0-9 and he’d been called a racist and we’d been through all these other off-field issues. It was taking its toll on a lot of people, but at the same time we never fractured as a group and, if we were ever going to, it would have been then.
“Our backs were against the wall and everything was going against us.
“But it felt like we stuck together and began to turn it around in the second half of the year.”