Melbourne defender Steven May and teammate Jake Melksham put their restaurant blow-up behind them to focus on winning an AFL flag at the MCG.

But after a straight-sets exit prompted their coach to admit “vulnerabilities were exposed” within the team, Geelong premiership captain Cameron Ling has shared his belief that the Demons never quite moved on from the ordeal.

May served a club-imposed two-game ban for brawling with his teammate during what would become a three-game losing streak against three other finalists.

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His return in a thumping 64-point win over Brisbane proved to be the first of several false dawns before defeats to Sydney and the Lions knocked Melbourne out of the finals.

“I have to wonder if what went on in the middle of the year … had an impact on the mindset of the entire group?” Ling asked on 7AFL’s Al and Lingy Show.

“Because their bottom six players in the two finals were terrible. A million miles off the mark.

“Was it just that they were tired? Was it that they didn’t understand their role any more?

“Or was it more than that and there was a slight fracturing in the group that come finals time, as Simon Goodwin said, your vulnerabilities get exposed and were those vulnerabilities actually the unity of the group?”

Steven May (second from left) stands arm-in-arm with Bayley Fritsch, skipper Max Gawn and coach Simon Goodwin. Credit: Getty

Ling said Melbourne coaches and players “will brush all this off” if asked for the honest truth.

“And that’s fine, that’s their job – just brush it off and stay strong, ‘we’ll build towards next year’,” he said.

With his experiences at the Cats front of mind, however, Ling believes some Demons players would have struggled in the wake of May’s fight with Melksham.

Ling pointed to the famously frosty relationship between Geelong premiership teammates Steve Johnson and Paul Chapman, which he helped settle down after becoming captain, and issues among other unnamed players.

Cameron Ling (middle) helped repair the relationship between Paul Chapman (far left) and Steve Johnson (second from right). Credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

“The individuals don’t have to get along,” Ling said.

“We had another couple of players in our group who don’t like each other, still probably don’t to this day.

“They were fine with training and playing together because they understood that they had to push all that aside to do what the team needed of them. But it’s also those around those players.

“Steven May and Jake Melksham both delivered in the second half of the year, they showed a maturity and a mental strength to say ‘this has happened, dealt with it, let’s get on with things’.

“But I just wonder if those around the periphery … you can’t help but take sides a little bit or sit back and go ‘yeah but more should’ve been done’ or ‘why does he get away with that’.

“Little questions, and when things aren’t going perfectly as a team and the results aren’t clicking as smoothly as in the first half of the year, all of those little conversations or all of those little ‘why is he allowed to do that’ comments get magnified.

“It’s not necessarily the two guys who may not like each other, who realised they had to set it aside and get on with the job, it can be others in the group.

“And that’s where there’s lots of little tiny fractures that perhaps get exposed when things get really big in finals. I’m just thinking out loud with this but it just feels like that a little bit to me.

“Melbourne’s bottom six last year were unbelievable, embraced everything they had to do. You name the players, they were superb at every element of the game and that’s what got them the premiership.

“It wasn’t there in the finals (this year). Sydney exposed it and Brisbane, particularly in that second half, ripped it open.”

Fremantle brace for player exodus in trade period.

Fremantle brace for player exodus in trade period.