A clean bill of health and an opportunity emerging have added up to a successful campaign for Lewis Melican to date.
Injuries have often interfered with Melican’s attempts to cement his spot in the Sydney side, so for Melican, a return to the senior team was second on the agenda early, with getting his body right critical.
“I feel like I’ve been having a pretty good year so far. I’ve been able to keep the body right, get some continuity in,” he said.
“To be able to play some pretty decent football, there’s obviously some things to work on, each week that I’m looking to get better at, but it’s been nice to come back in and hold a spot there for a few games now.
“Hopefully, keep doing the same thing, and keep that spot. That’s my plan.”
Opportunity through adversity
An opportunity was looking likely for Melican sooner rather than later, with both McCartin brothers going down with a concussion in the same week against Port Adelaide.
But Melican wasn’t preparing any differently in case of a call-up, preferring to focus on his health above all else.
“I didn’t do anything too drastically different, my goal the whole time was to get myself right, to be in a position where if I was right, I’d be able to step up and play an important role,” he said.
“I felt like, even if there wasn’t any injuries, I still wanted to do what I could to get my body right to be playing as many games as I could, just to, I guess prove my point and get back into the team regardless of whether there were injuries or not.
“Nothing really changed too much for me, with the injuries in the seniors, it was more so, it just gave me an opportunity maybe a bit sooner from getting back from my injury itself.
With the emergence of the McCartin brothers in 2022, Melican spent the year in the reserves, which gave him a different opportunity compared to the seniors- to grow as a leader.
The Swans reserves have been fielding young teams in 2023, and Melican, at 26, is one of the more senior members of the group, leading to the leadership opportunity.
“It’s a bit different, you’re able to get a bit more experience with leadership and that in the reserves,” he said.”
“I’m one of the older players there, and there’s some young boys, especially this year, our reserves team is a bit younger, especially in defence who haven’t played too many games, so you’re able to sort of, be a bit of a leader there and help some of them grow.
“It helps you when you get into the senior level to do that regardless, but there’s a bit more onus on you to do it in the reserves with the younger players around you.”
A tall order, and a new partner
The return of Melican to the senior team saw him take on some important roles against some dangerous forwards, including Charlie Curnow, Max King, and Tom Hawkins, requiring different tactics, and also working in tandem with the Swans’ other key defenders.
“I think the big thing that I’ve been focusing on since I’ve been back, is how our matchup down there, is not too important, whether it’s me or Aaron [Francis], who goes to the key forward, its sort of, we play our system in defence, and look to help each other as much as we can,” he said.
“As much as I was on [Tom] Hawkins, on the weekend for a fair bit of it, it was so important for me to have Aaron there to come over and help when he could.
“I think the early game against Carlton, Aaron had [Charlie] Curnow for most of it, and my focus was just to get over and help him any chance I got.
“There is a bit of a change, as in you’ve got to do a bit of homework on who you’re playing on, but we’re definitely going with the focus of playing our system to beat them as opposed to being too man-focused.”
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Recent recruit Aaron Francis, like Melican, got a call-up when the injury bug hit the Swans, and Melican opened up on the unlikely pairing.
“We sort of got thrown in there, together, he’d played a few games before I got myself right and in,” he said.
“It’s been good, I think, the way we play, it sort of goes pretty well together, he’s really good in the air, at reading the ball and launching at it, I’m probably a bit more focused on my man, trying to lock them down.
“It sort of helps me knowing he’s there to come in over the top, and vice-versa if he needs to take front positioning to be in a better position to fly at it, he knows I’m there in the backs, accordingly.”
The Rising Swans
While Melican has been helping the Swans from the backline, a group of rookies have been leading from the middle, with Errol Gulden rising into AA contention, and Angus Sheldrick finding his feet at AFL level,
To Melican, however, their success is not surprising.
“It’s always good to see those young boys [succeed],” he said.
“For some people, when they get into the AFL they see them for the first time and it’s a bit of a surprise how well they’re doing. For us, that train with them all through pre-season, even last year, we know how good they are and how good they’re going to be.
“So, it’s not so much a surprise to us, them being rewarded for the hard work being put in.”
A loss, a win and a draw may not necessarily be the best formline for a club pushing for finals, but the Swans’ recent form represents their best since the beginning of the year.
And for Melican, one thing has been a key focus: four-quarters of footy.
“Yeah, I think, over the past few weeks, we’ve had that focus of putting together four quarters of our football,” he said.
“Against West Coast, we were able to do that, and into Geelong, we played a pretty solid game, for the majority of it. It starts with our contested ball, in and around, and our system, behind the ball, to put pressure on teams, and really suffocate them in the forward half.”
A Record Result
And there was no better indication of the Swans firing on all cylinders than their equal record 171-point win over the Eagles in round 15, which Melican says was a great culmination of their efforts over the last few weeks.
“It was great,” he said.
“To be able to go out there, and I think our focus was, we just wanted to play our football, regardless of what they [West Coast] were going to bring. We played four quarters of Swans football.
“To be able to do that, just made it so enjoyable, and we just have to back that in every week.
“It’s not always going to go as smoothly as it did on that day, but to be able to play our footy for four quarters, made it so enjoyable.”
With seven games to go in the season, finals are still the ultimate goal for Melican at the Swans. Personally, his goals remain the same.
“Obviously we want to push for finals, I think that’s the goal every year, you want to be in the thick of it at the end of September,” he said.
“Personally, it’s just, keep playing consistent footy, keep the body right, to be able to help the team out as much as I can.
And even if Melican finds himself back in the reserves to finish the year, there will still be plenty of lessons to take back for him.
“I’d love to be able to keep my spot in the team, and do what I can, but if I find myself in the VFL, I’ll be doing anything I can to help us win as many games as we can and help some of the young boys with their development too.”
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