MELBOURNE midfielder Jordie McKenzie says competition for spots is a sign of the Demons’ resurgence.
The Terang Mortlake export was recalled from a six-week stint in the VFL last weekend and played a crucial role on Essendon midfielder Brent Stanton in the Demons’ stirring come-from-behind win at the MCG.
Melbourne bolstered its midfield in the off-season, adding Adelaide’s Bernie Vince and Greater Western Sydney’s Dom Tyson.
That pair, along with the club’s top 2013 draft pick Christian Salem, have established themselves in the Paul Roos-coached line-up.
McKenzie, 24 tomorrow, overcame a foot injury to play in rounds four and five before he was sent back to VFL affiliate Casey Scorpions.
“With the midfield group improving this year, we have a lot more depth in that area of the ground and you have to take your game up a level or two,” McKenzie said.
“You have to earn your spot. Roosy is big on stringing a few good games in the VFL and putting your hand up.
“It’s all about creating a good culture and no one gets given a game, it’s all about earning them. I was in good form in the VFL and was lucky enough to get a call-up.”
McKenzie grabbed his opportunity, restricting Stanton to 13 touches on Sunday.
The defensive midfielder was involved in the last passage of play as the game went down to the wire.
He had two handballs as the Dees rebounded from defence and surged forward in the dying stages.
Salem, the number nine pick in the 2013 national draft, ran hard to get on the end of a Daniel Cross pass.
The highly-rated teenager brushed aside any nerves, coolly slotting a goal from 25 metres out to put Melbourne in front with 19 seconds to play.
The come-from-behind win — the Dees were as much as 33 points down at one stage — was the club’s fourth of the season.
“It was good to get back out there with the boys and to have such an exciting win like that made it even better being back in the seniors,” McKenzie said.
“It was a bit of a thrill and a bit of a relief in the end.
“It was a really good passage of play and Bernie Vince started it with a good tackle deep in our defensive 50 and everyone did a bit from there on and for ‘Salo’ to be so cool under pressure and to finish was a credit to him after only playing a handful of games.”
McKenzie said his goal was to re-establish himself in the Dees’ line-up.
“I will take it week-by-week to be honest and try and narrow my focus and have goals going into each game and training session,” he said.
“The big thing is on game day carrying out my role I have been given and to keep improving.
“As a modern-day footballer you have to be prepared to play a variety of roles.Whatever comes your way, the onus is on you.”
McKenzie said Roos, the 2005 Sydney premiership coach, had brought a wealth of knowledge to the Demons along with his assistants.
“He’s brought a game plan and structure that if it’s carried out we are going to be hard to score against,” he said. “Everyone was working hard from day one to learn the game plan.
“It’s nothing too out of the ordinary but there’s a high focus on everyone playing their role within the group.”
McKenzie said it was great to have “fresh faces and fresh ideas” at the club.
“They are all a wealth of knowledge so everyone is trying to pick their brains a bit to find out what it takes to be a good side,” he said.
“It is a great environment to be in.”
Melbourne’s defence is conceding an average of 79 points a game — a marked improvement on 2013 when it leaked 122 points a match across a disappointing season which netted just two wins.
“It means a lot to all the boys, especially for the ones who have been there for a few years, to be playing a lot more competitive football,” McKenzie said.
“Probably the biggest difference to previous years is our best and worst gap has reduced a bit.
“So far this season we haven’t had a big blowout. A better brand of football is allowing us to stay in games of football.”
The 2008 rookie pick said Melbourne had endured some dark times in his six years but there was now a sense of excitement.
McKenzie, who played 12 games for 12 losses in 2013, is contracted to the end of 2015 and would love to be a part of a Demons’ finals tilt.
“There have been some tough times but a lot of kids dream of playing AFL and I never take it for granted,” he said.
“I’ve loved every minute of it. The club’s been great and the mates I’ve made in that time. A big driving factor for me is to enjoy the success with my mates I have made over the years.”