REVITALISED defender Tom McDonald has seen it all in the Demon defence.

Assignments don’t come much tougher than making your name as a young last-line defender, picked at selection 53 in the late rounds of the National Draft and walking into a battling Demons side.

McDonald’s break-out season came in 2012, playing 20 games in a Melbourne outfit that won just four games.

Three of those wins came against expansion sides – the only teams that the club finished above on the ladder that year.


The highs of the seasoned veteran’s career came at the other end of the ground entirely, winning his premiership medallion with a collection of 33 2021 goals to his name.

So it’s remarkable that at the end of last season, McDonald sat down with his coaches and asked to return to where it all began.

“I think I might have raised it,” McDonald says.

I had a rough couple of years with different injuries happening and hadn't played the way I wanted to, mostly with my body that hadn't really allowed me to.

- Tom McDonald

“I just said look, if there's an opportunity to train down back a little bit, if it gives me more of an opportunity to play next year (let’s do it).

“It was sort of started off as a discussion of playing both ends, maybe depending on where there's a need week to week.

“They said let's give you a couple of weeks training there, a couple of weeks up forward, and we'll sort of reassess after Christmas.

 “After Christmas, I pretty much stayed back for the rest of that period.”

It didn’t take McDonald long to get his chance, recalled to the side for its Round 1 encounter with the Bulldogs where he racked up double digit marks in his new role.

The 31-year-old says he wasn’t nervous to make the switch back, especially given the stark difference from when he last patrolled the defensive 50.

“The difference is that we were really, really, bad back then,” McDonald says.

“We used to get a lot of goals kicked on us and I’d get a lot of goals kicked on me.

“Playing in the worst sides, playing in the best sides – I feel lucky that I've seen both ends of it.

“They’re all exciting, even when we're the worst team in the league and we won two games. I was still rapt to just be playing AFL footy at that stage.”


McDonald has come to terms with his football mortality in recent years, as various injuries kept him to just 17 games across the previous two seasons.

He felt the sands of time slipping away and decided to enter this season with a new mentality and approach to the game.

“My goal for this year was to have the most fun season of my career, and that didn't matter if I was playing AFL or VFL,” he says.

“If I'm playing well or playing poorly, don't let it weigh me down too much.

This could be my last year of senior footy, who knows. I've tried to make the most of all the good things and all the bad things.

- Tom McDonald

“Times when I used to wake up and think about how sore I was or if I wasn't playing well, I'd look at the negative side of that. Now I'm kind of thinking, well, how good is it to be able to do this as a job and play footy?”

Being nearer to the end of his career than the beginning has also led to thoughts of what comes next for the Demons, and McDonald is confident the club will be left in good hands.

“You take the positions of the guys who went before you, like we had Frawley and Rivers,” he says.

“Pretty soon myself and Stevie (May) will be gone and Max (Gawn) will be gone, and the guys who are coming through will replace us.

“It's sad when you're on the way out but it's exciting to see the guys who you work with take strides.”

It’s a growing group of young Demons taking their place in the senior side that is giving McDonald that excitement about what’s ahead.

“I think they call themselves the Mouse Pack,” he says.

“Those six or seven of those boys. Van Rooyen, Judd (McVee), Howesy.

All that sort of group that got drafted together and just hilarious.

“I love trying to hang out with them and pretending I'm still a 21-year-old again sometimes.”

Maybe McDonald’s time with his younger teammates is having an effect on the 14-year veteran, because pretending to be a 21-year-old again and returning to defence has certainly got his 2024 campaign off on the right foot.