Since being drafted by Melbourne with pick number 53 in the 2014 national draft, Oscar McDonald has developed into an important cog in the Demons backline as the club embarks on playing finals for the first time in 12 years.
Melbourne are currently sitting fourth on the AFL ladder, with McDonald beginning the year in career best form, stamping his credentials as one of the best young key defenders in the league.
After steady improvement under Paul Roos in McDonald’s first two years at Melbourne, the Demons looked destined to play in September in 2017 until a disastrous loss to Collingwood in round 23 left them agonisingly short of a finals berth.
McDonald notes it was a “missed opportunity” for the group but it’s not something they have dwelled on too much.
“We addressed it (missing finals) on the first day of the preseason but we haven’t at all since then. That was the last we really spoke of it,” he said.
“It’s probably in the back of people’s minds that it was the first chance (as a group) that we had to play finals but I haven’t tried to focus on it too much” he said..
Despite enormous scrutiny earlier in the season as the Demons looked to be underachieving after an off season full of promise, the club responded with 6 straight victories before succumbing to Collingwood in the Queen’s Birthday clash.
The revival in form is something McDonald puts down to a mental approach rather than a tinkering with the game plan, as the players looked to create “strong habits” on a daily basis.
“We looked at the process of how we were going about things week to week.
“Our game plan has always been pretty solid, everyone has bought in,” he said.
McDonald is enjoying his best season on an individual note as well, regularly limiting the influence of opposition key forwards.
On Friday night McDonald will run out in his 50th AFL game as Melbourne travel to Adelaide to take on Port Adelaide in their only Friday night encounter for the year.
McDonald outlined how his improvement this season had largely been a product of his body maturing and some subtle alterations to his approach on contests.
“The way I played previously was that athletic style, run and jump at the ball,” he said.
“But I’ve put a bit more work into building some more size to help with those one on one contests so I can go up against the likes of Tom Hawkins and Tom Lynch.”
A growth in confidence has also allowed McDonald to play more freely and execute his role more effectively.
“Once you get that confidence you can go from strength to strength,” he said.
“I’ve always felt like I was a good kick but it’s something that I probably just needed a bit more confidence with.
“It’s nice once you get that belief in your own game.”
Talent Manager at the Greater Western Victoria Rebels, Phil Partington watched McDonald progress through the TAC Cup into the AFL system and wasn’t at all surprised by how well the key defender had adjusted to the rigours of league football.
“We always knew Oscar was going to be a good footballer and also a really good citizen,” Partington said.
“He’s a highly intelligent young man so when he puts his mind to something he excels at it.
“He’s still got a lot of development left in his body but that will come [the longer] he stays in the AFL environment.”
Partington outlined that McDonald’s ability to read the play and “knowing where to stand and how to beat his opponent” were areas of his game that stood out at the Rebels.
Oscar’s older brother Tom has made the switch to a permanent forward role in recent times and has shone since making the transition, a move Oscar wouldn’t rule out making himself if the opportunity presented itself.
“I’d love to go forward but I think everyone does.
“As long as I’m helping out the team in some way you never know what the future holds.
“Right now, though I’ll let Tom get all the [attention]” McDonald said jokingly.
Tom was one of the competition’s most sought after free agents this season but recently
recommitted his future to the Demons long term, signing on until the end of 2022.
Oscar is out of contract at the end of the season but contract negotiations are well underway with the Demons as he looks to remain a one club player.
“I don’t know about a lot of people these days (being loyal) but I’d love to stay at Melbourne [long term]” he said.