Jake Melksham escaped suspension for his altercation with Melbourne teammate Steven May on Sunday because he challenged the key defender about his behaviour on the night and then acted to defend himself when the discussion escalated into a physical encounter.
The Demons did not condone Melksham’s decision to resort to violence, but club sources said they took the view that he had acted almost on behalf of teammates in challenging May, who had provoked the fight through his behaviour. It followed drinking at a restaurant in Prahran and spilled out in to the street outside.
Jake Melksham requires surgery on his hand after his physical altercation with teammate Steven May.Credit:Getty Images
Melksham, 30, told teammates on Tuesday there was no excuse for the disagreement ending in blows and apologised to them. Sources confirmed that May had sledged teammate Joel Smith in the lead-up to the fight, alongside other banter. Smith organised the evening’s gathering, which the Demons were pleased was at a restaurant rather than a nightclub.
Melksham’s hand injury – caused by an infection as a result of the fight – required surgery and would keep him out of the VFL or AFL anyway, while May was suspended for Monday’s Queen’s Birthday game for drinking while in concussion protocols.
The Demons imposed community service orders on both of them for the fight.
As more details emerged about the fight, Melbourne captain Max Gawn denied that May sledged Melksham about missing the grand final. Sources within the club said the ex-Bomber questioned him about his drinking on the night and his comments, which included those to Smith.
May took exception and the disagreement escalated as teammates who were present, including Smith, James Harmes and Michael Hibberd, separated the pair.
Gawn said on Wednesday he was embarrassed by the drunken scuffle that left May and Melksham ashamed and the team down a key player as they aim to break a mid-season funk.
A forthright Gawn condemned the pair’s fight as “horrible” and “unacceptable” and issued a public apology to the Entrecote eatery.
Insisting the wheels had not fallen off their premiership defence, Gawn admitted May’s “hurtful” remarks had crossed the line of acceptable banter.
Key Demons were confident the incident would not fracture the playing group. Although the Demons acknowledged May had slipped up, they also believed the 2021 All-Australian’s behaviour in the past two years had been excellent.
“The grand final one is completely false and I do want to get that out there because that looks bad on characters,” Gawn said. “That wasn’t said and I’m pretty comfortable and trust those two boys that that wasn’t said.”
Gawn said he had rebuked the other players present for not calling out May for breaking team rules by drinking while under concussion protocols.
The Dees are top of the ladder after 12 rounds but losses to Fremantle and Sydney, followed by the alcohol-fuelled public fight between two senior players, have rocked them.
Gawn said it was “flattening” to be told by Melksham and May of their involvement in the altercation.
“I think it’s just a bad example, definitely,” Gawn said. “And those two boys are very remorseful in what they did and what they were able to do at Entrecote but in the end violence is not the answer, violence is never the answer.”
Melbourne captain Max Gawn condemned the behaviour of Steven May and Jake Melksham.Credit:Getty Images
Gawn said it was “disappointing” teammates had not told May he shouldn’t be drinking given the concussion.
“There was a group of six or seven there. And Steven was drinking with them and I’ve spoken to all parties involved and especially the five guys outside of Steve and Jake. And I express my disappointment.
“Obviously, it’s a difficult situation and anytime the guy’s one of the older leaders of the football club, but we expect our young guys to be able to lead as well and that really was disappointing.
“And we expect Steve to be able to make the decisions himself at the age he’s in and the experience that he’s had.”
Gawn defended the Demons’ decision not to suspend Melksham.
“Community service is something that can give back to the community,” Gawn said. “A one-week match penalty we didn’t think was suitable for the act that happened.
“Wrestling at a restaurant in the public, both being well-known people in the community. It’s a horrible act, but they can give back through community service ... not to mention the public shame that they both have in the stories coming out left, right, and centre.
“The wheels haven’t fallen off. I’m completely comfortable with where we are from a performance point of view,” Gawn said.
While May said he and Melksham were still mates, Gawn said it would take time for the pair’s friendship to heal.
“I’ve got no doubt that ‘Melky’ and ‘Maysy’ have worked it out and are working it out, but it’s probably not an overnight thing. They had an altercation that probably will go on for a couple of weeks making sure that they mend that friendship.”
Football manager Alan Richardson said on Wednesday morning the football club was embarrassed about what happened.
“I want to make it very clear that as a club, we do not condone violence of any manner, and the fact that our players allowed any disagreement to escalate to a physical level is completely unacceptable.”
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