Wednesday 12 June 2024

Royal Crumble

My only philosophical view on the state of the game is that there should be more feuds. We don't need to dial it up to fans punching on, but some good old-fashioned spite really livens things up. After years of one-way rivalry where we tried to hate Collingwood but they didn't give a rats about us, things are getting interesting now. The problem is that since 2022 we've had one soon discredited mid-season against their three wins, scot-free escape from causing career-ending injury, and flag.

The unfortunate side-effect of restoring traditional balance has been the joy at our expense from Australia's neediest fans. You can spot them getting more enjoyment complaining that their big, successful team isn't acknowledged at every turn than following the big, successful team in the first place. This sizeable faction of deadshits are more to be pitied than despised, but I'm still upset at giving them something to be smug about. The bit where our season swirled down the toilet was almost as bad.

The main event was our first meeting with Corey Maynard's brother since Angus Brayshaw was smothered into oblivion. Thoughts with the Channel 7 video packages producer who had to play up alleged ill-feeling between these sides (spoiler: players not really that concerned) without dwelling on the 'football incident' that ended a man's career. Instead they had to rely on archival footage and Ed Langdon's off-hand duck comments that weird units took unusually strong exception to at the time. They must have limited outrage capacity, because the live crowd forgot about Langdon and focused on moaning about everything else.

I'm on the unpopular radical fringe of Melbourne fans when it comes to Maynard. Obviously he should have been suspended, but it doesn't rank close to the most heinous assassinations in modern footy, and it's pure awful luck that the guy on the other end had been one big hit from enforced retirement for years. I question his character based on the classless post-match interview where he was at full mast over the crowd reaction without a hint of "shame about the circumstances" respect for Brayshaw, but if the same thing happened in reverse our fans would be the ones doing Olympic standard mental gymnastics to try and prove it wasn't his fault.

There wouldn't be nearly as much hate towards Maynard himself if not for all the Collingwood-connected people who have acted entirely without self-awareness since. Like the sad tool dancing around a restaurant when the not guilty verdict arrived, or thousands of people who couldn't stand to hear this poor man booed and countered by treating him like a hero. This was the footy equivalent of a soldier who accidentally blew up a village coming home to a rapturous street parade.

Suggestions that we should punch on with him were optimistic. After last week's limp performance, I'd have accepted a token pile-on at his first possession to get the blood flowing, but we haven't got the cult-like atmosphere to pull something like that off. They've done stacks-on aggression towards Jack Watts for being somebody else's prized possession, and Langdon for saying something no normal person would give a shit about, while we would struggle to convincingly pull off a pre-determined brawl if they burnt our mascot alive. 

Having said all that, I'm not usually one for complaining about player reactions at full time but could have done without Oliver and May yukking it up with him after we'd dished out four quarters of slop. Mind you, I don't see May as a spokesman for serious collision vendettas after once nearly turning a Brisbane player's brain to mush.  

You'd think people wearing beanies to raise funds for a serious neurological disorder might have more sympathy for the person with brain damage instead of acting like giddy simpletons at a Donald Trump rally, but now that the first meeting is done can we move on a bit? Even the Scully vitriol was never the same after the original Carnival of Hate. I predict we'll have better things to complain about by the time we play them in the final round, and carrying on like this will be sadder than Jeff Kennett writing sooky letters about token government awards.

That's what we were mad at, what about the other side? They're still howlingly upset that May expressed the opinion that we should've beaten them in a final. The obvious response would be "that's nice, but you didn't, then we won the flag" but in one of the great ironies, fans of the club that once put out "I don't care what you think" bumper stickers acted like he'd shat on the grave of Jock McHale. The great news is that an Expected Score from this game had us ahead so they can now go to their grave feeling hard done by about statistics despite winning comfortably where it counts.

All this made for a genuinely spicy fixture, but made me realise that it's more fun watching neutral crowds baying for blood. I didn't fancy being in the minority at Nuremberg Rally '24 so wasn't really upset when my half-hearted midweek attempt to get a ticket died in 'allocation exhausted' land (for an attendance of 84k in a 100k stadium). I'm starting to get middle-age phobia about dropping dead on the spot, so hanging out with the family until 3.19pm and from 6.01pm felt like a better use of my time. I'll be happy to cark it at the 'G but want a minimum five rows of empty seats in front when it happens.

After missing a lot of epic live moments in recent years, this saved me from a slopfest on the same level as when we sullied the marquee fixture by kicking three goals. Until recently our "I love you but you're boring" era was balanced by knowing we'd hold the opposition to a catchable score, but now ball movement has ceased to be, the midfield is expired, and any hint of forward structure has gone to meet its maker. This meant we were more tedious than watching paint dry on a public holiday in Adelaide, and if Channel 7 hadn't just been handed an annual Carlton/Essendon blockbuster (if you thought Anzac Day Eve sounded fake, what about King's Birthday Eve?) they'd be lobbying to turf us from this fixture, if not the network entirely.

You probably suspected what was going to happen when the teams were announced. For the first time they came as an interactive game where you had to work them out on your own after the Sunday VFL game started. Once Ben Brown appeared at Casey I knew they were going to have another crack at the Petty/Turner combination that did sod all in Alice Springs, and that it wouldn't work. They did, it didn't. The reserves cupboard might be almost bare, but even with van Rooyen back, anyone who thinks this is going to work should be piss tested by Glenn Bartlett's personal doctor. 

You can't blame Turner for taking every opportunity, but if they won't stop picking Petty then he's got to chuck a sickie eventually because it's looking more like a cruel pisstake every week. I'm desperate not to make this look like a weekly vendetta so would like to point out that in the rare times he was at the right end of the ground Petty took a solid defensive mark and put in a timely spoil before returning to Centre Half Bermuda Triangle. Even his contribution to JVRs second goal came from a intercept mark. What could the message be? Answers on a postcard/flaming bag of dog turd to PO Box 'He's a fucking defender you clowns' in your capital city.

We started the day only a sliver of percentage behind the Pies, but even with blah recent form and a raft of injuries they led us around by the nose all day. With a few exceptions we were terrible at everything, and in another advertisement for my 'Feels Like' margin system, it's almost admirable that we only lost by 38. Choose your own adventure, but it felt more like 58 to me. That's more than our sad final score of 6.15.51 which felt like 3.18.36 with five out on the full.

Under exceptional circumstances you could win scoring 51 (e.g. against us in Alice Springs when it's a bit damp), but good luck making a habit of it. Collingwood did convert an absurd number of goals from strange angles, but the real story is the horrendous toil and struggle we went through just to get in a position to miss shots. Maybe if we'd converted an early one the rest of the game would have turned out differently, but anything after Petracca's injury is irrelevant because that was the official end of us. Off (eventually) went one of our few consistent performers, leaving many others who were out of form, couldn't handle the atmosphere, or have lost the will to live. You never know what sort of weird shit is in store for the rest of the year, but unless something drastic happens or Jake Lever is a miracle worker we may be in shitloads of trouble.

After the first couple of minutes it's hard to believe that they didn't crush us beyond recognition. Highlights included an attempted bear hug tackle by Pickett being brushed off, and May desperately chasing an opponent back into the 50 before a goal. Imagine going two goals down and recovering to win by 92. And that's what you'll need to do because the only recovery here was belatedly putting the brakes on and stopping them from piling on goals for a few minutes. It was a bit like last year's final, except that our laughably poor forward line that night looked like world beaters compared to this version. I'm always open to a game swinging at random (love you 25/09/2021, no matter what anyone says) but this was so disjointed and ugly that Collingwood would have needed to commit football suicide on an epic scale to avoid a winning score.

We did have a few shots from novelty angles early, for a couple of hit posts and Chandler shanking one in embarrassing fashion. We still looked horrible, but when Turner marked 40 metres out as good as directly in front I hoped for a tide turning moment. Then he kicked it into the behind post and it was 'Hello darkness my old friend' etc... For about 0.001 seconds it looked like Pickett had one, but the enthusiastic protest from a defender about touching it was a hint not to get too excited. I'd have thought the reaction was enough to review it on the spot instead of waiting for everyone to go back to the centre before taking it off us, but any excuse to get an ad break in.

If the upside to sitting on the couch in misery was avoiding a depressingly negative live atmosphere, the trade-off was another rock-bottom shit call from the worst commentator ever to breathe air. The Pickett replay led to some 'hilarious' Footy Record-related 'banter' where 'BT' was asked if he had a rubber, and I wondered how much better our viewing experience would be if his parents used one. Whether he's playing a character or not, this buffoon adds insult to injury when your side is already having a shit one. Minutes later Big Turd called a Collingwood player's first career goal, then came back from the break to clarify that he'd actually kicked four. People think he's not wacky enough on TV compared to radio should be removed from the electoral roll.    

That ended a brief period where we were sort of in the game but unbelievably poor at creating and/or converting chances. I don't know where a game-changing forward is supposed to mysteriously appear from at this stage, but the only hope I'm holding out for this season is that we find somebody who can take marks, or just make a decent contest to keep the ball at our end. Amongst all the confusion, JVR was very good but he can't do it alone. I know half our side has gone into witness protection but am (semi) convinced that a lot of our issues can be fixed by them not spending 75% of each quarter furiously defending.

If conceding late, (sort of) against the run of play goals to somebody who hasn't played since early 2023 while kicking nil ourselves wasn't bad enough, the quarter ended with Petracca suffering a heroic demise while trying his best to do something/anything. A big old knee to the vital organs in a marking contest left him struggling to get off the ground as if he'd been dropped from a third floor window. Some people complained like he'd been the victim of a mob hit, but as much as I love siege mentality you can't just fire off into the outer solar system about everything. Never mind what they did to him, the call was coming from inside the house on this one.

Petracca had been one of our few decent performers in the first quarter, so I was pondering whether we could score double figures without him when he unexpectedly reappeared on the ground. I don't blame him, the doctors, or the coaches for letting him return based on the available evidence, but it was blatantly obvious about 15 seconds after returning that he was actually quite broken. Everyone loves a heroic last stand, but the problem is they're usually accompanied by a 100% casualty rate, so how he made it all the way to half time without being removed is the biggest question since the sound of one hand clapping.

It would have been one thing if he'd come back to life like Hulk Hogan, played like a man possessed, and was revealed to have serious internal injuries later. Instead he could hardly run, and winced when kicking the ball as if being squashed in an industrial vice. At this point somebody should've thrown the towel in. Thanks for having a go at getting him back, but if the doctor says grandma is fit, then she topples over in the hotel foyer you take her back inside, not to your car. The severity of his injuries wasn't known, but as he couldn't actually do anything what was the point in risking him? It hardly inspired his teammates, most of them were so passive they wouldn't have flinched if a hand grenade blew up behind them.

At first I thought they might have been waiting for the painkilling gear to kick in, but could that not have been done on the bench? Lucky he could barely get to a contest let alone participate in one, because if he'd been anywhere between generously bumped or cleaned up this could have been really ugly. Imagine Maynard going through him in either 'football act' or 'other act' fashion? Even our placid and reserved fans would have turned it into Milburn vs Silvagni II.  

While all this was going on poor old Jack Billings was sitting on the bench with his Resting Terrified Face thinking how they preferred to risk major injury to a 1% fit star player than let him on. Once he was introduced Jack did nothing of any consequence, and while I don't expect him to replace Petracca the problem is that he's not replacing any of Brayshaw, Harmes, Jordon or Spargo either. We got Melksham to be a defender then turned him into a handy forward when that didn't work, but if there's no Plan B for Billings he may follow the Luke Dunstan path of St. Kilda > Melbourne > Casey > Retired.

Trying to get Petracca to half time in one piece was like that movie where they drive trucks full of unstable explosive materials through South American jungles with obvious results for half the cast. Like the time we nearly drowned him in 2019, Trac survived our best efforts at an insurance job before mercifully being replaced at half time. Next time you saw him, he was being loaded into an ambulance with family present, and later ended up in intensive care, which makes sending him back out there for so long look like an even worse idea. Great news for NQR humanoids with conspiracy theories that we're actually at fault for the Brayshaw KO because [scene missing]. Hope they invest their life savings in a Glenroy tobacco shop.   

Until those last minute goals and effective loss of a key player we were starting to get back in the game. Last year we had two similarly shit starts against Collingwood and recovered to one win, and one close enough to hurt loss. This was more like the final, as we barely clung on by our fingernails while looking unlikely to kick a decent score. That night we only got one in the first quarter from the downfield free after Brayshaw was carried off, this time there were posters, and the near miss with the video review, but it just felt like everything was such hard work that there was no way back. There wasn't, but thanks to van Rooyen for briefly making it interesting with a couple of goals. Nobody since 99 goal Fev could have successfully overcome playing forward in such a malfunctioning side, but he had a crack. 

It was JVR's best game since kicking four against Richmond last year, a game that will also be remembered for Petty kicking six. Andrew McQualter has gone from coaching the Tigers that day to working for us, and if this was a TV show they'd have cut to his inner monologue wondering how the hell he ever let that happen. The most frustrating part of the Petty debacle is that there's a perfectly valid alternative position for him to be playing. At one point you'd have gotten more out of swapping him with May, but we just kept doing what wasn't working. Meanwhile, Meanwhile, Tom McDonald kicked two quick goals last week and was never seen forward of centre here.

I'm trying my hardest not to do a cowardly but satisfying U-turn on Goodwin, but the first question at the press conference should have been "Do you seriously expect to win anything with this forward line?". Instead he got to summon his inner Mark Neeld and claim we'd made improvements. Which is technically true, but compared to losing by 92 points is like bragging to the rest of the burns unit that you've only had half your face singed off. If it was any worse than the St Kilda game - which wasn't exactly our finest hour regardless of the result - then this was a failure. You didn't need the coach to admit that it was, no matter what spin they put on it we were putrid.

We didn't have many winners, but ANB did a good job tagging the premium Daicos brother. It could lead to a second half of the season a'la James Harmes 2018, but the way we're going it's more likely to backfire and derail one of his best seasons. For now it was good, even though the other Collingwood players jumped straight into the void, and it cost us the Bullet's contributions as a forward. Maybe we'd have been better letting Daicos get 50 touches, but ANB could only do what he was asked. In an alternative universe the bit where he chased hard to stop a Daicos goal might have been the turning point, instead all their players you'd never heard of ran riot while half our side looked like they'd rather be anywhere else. 

Just when you thought we'd successfully applied the boring filter and might be within range at half time our inability to take chances came back to haunt us when they casually lobbed through three in the dying minutes. Queen's/King's Birthday may be the atmosphere-free public holiday in the book, but one great tradition is Collingwood players unexpectedly going off their nut against us. Enter Nathan Krueger, who has previously done nothing except rehab before kicking three here. He pulled up in the second half, but is still a worthy induction in the Kingsleys - joining two-time nominees Brad Dick and Mason Cox as the first Pies inductee without a flange-related surname. They're playing North next week and I bet he kicks 0.1 and finishes the year in the VFL but he'll always remember doing as he pleased against what was once the best defence in the league.

At half time the players were shown awkwardly milling around the meeting room, reportedly because the coaches were making them wait. Given that there's no windows for the coaches to have been trying to escape through, I think they were frantically wheeling out the iron lung Petracca was going to spend the break in until the late goals made them realise there was no point risking him further.

If you held out any hope of a miracle win then I'd like some of your medication, but JVR's third not long after the restart left the door ever so slightly ajar. And then it was slammed shut with our fingers inside seconds later. You can wear the odd immediate return goal while kicking a competitive score, when you've had three in two and a bit quarters then it's a death blow. After another unexpected goal from the boundary line (remember the bit where we kicked OOF from right in front?), the Collingwood bench went into full "we've broken these kents" elation for Steele Sidebottom pulling down a screamer about 10 career games beyond where we've been able to drag any player since 1897. He didn't score, but nobody cared because they were toying with us by this point. I'm retaining my childlike hope of a recovery but it was getting a bit sad now.

If we did anything of note in the last 1.5 quarters it barely deserves a mention. I enjoyed Pickett flipping somebody the bird but that's about it. Gawn did his best to keep things happening around the ground, but even he couldn't be arsed with the usual "grab the ball and do it yourself" move when we were getting flayed at stoppages. Whatever's going with Oliver's finger, emotions or OTHER, he's a shadow of his best, and Viney always has a go but isn't having a huge impact. About the only player you can trust to get near a centre clearance is Pickett, and around the ground we were in full traffic cone mode. 

It's hard to find players who have improved this year (ANB, Lever, McDonald?), but Chandler seems to have come to a complete halt. Laurie deserved his full game here, and probably should get another chance at it instead of being rotated directly out, but we're yet to see any suggestion that he's a long termer other than that feasting on a defeated Richmond. You can go back to the earliest posts this season to see me fretting about our depth, but the frightening thing is that until recently we've had a reasonable run with injury. It's just that the players we've got aren't performing at full power, and even if there was selection pressure coming from the VFL, the coaches wouldn't reward it. I'm more depressed thinking about this game now than I was on the day. Take me back to the glorious afterglow of us boring Geelong and the nation shitless.

In the end we barely covered Collingwood's half time score and departed with minimal fuss. I'm surprised we didn't make things even easier for them and chair a couple of players off. Making us play them again in the last round is cruel, not only will it bring up memories of our hari kari job at the end of 2017, but if they keep us out of the finals it'll be another in a long line of things you'll never hear the end of. For that to happen we've got to reach the final game with a mathematical chance of making the top eight, and every day I'm less confident that will happen. Never mind, if it all gets too much at least we can switch codes and start following the Melbourne Rebels right?     

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Jacob van Rooyen
2 - Kysaiah Pickett
1 - Judd McVee

Apologies to McDonald, Salem and Petracca before he was crippled.

Leaderboard
A few weeks ago this was looking like a thrilling race, but as most others have sunk or been sunk by injury, Gawn continues to risk serious injury pulling teammates onto his back. He's a great man and deserves to win this outright but there's 10 games to go (plus... no, I can't say it) so any offbeat shenanigans are possible. No change to the minors, except for the Rising Star trending towards a bit of a farcical result if there's no more scores.

31 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
23 - Christian Petracca
22 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
21 - Alex Neal-Bullen
18 - Jake Lever
10 - Jack Viney
9 - Judd McVee, Clayton Oliver
7 - Tom McDonald, Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
3 - Ed Langdon, Daniel Turner (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Jacob van Rooyen, Caleb Windsor (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Kade Chandler, Harrison Petty, Trent Rivers
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Pickett in the third quarter, but what does it really matter? I don't need screamers, somebody kick bulk goals from the bloody square.

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week (+1)
Thank god for the bye, because now we get a fortnight to fight amongst ourselves plan to revive this rapidly disintegrating season. More likely - the same players get rotated in and out and we turn up basically unchanged from this limp and lifeless performance. Thank the good lord that North finally won again this week, because we're in such emotional freefall that even if they do beat us it won't have the same Sydney '93 air of humiliation. So that's something.

It's a long way down from a year and a bit ago when the Roos were held in such contempt that Josh Schache was called up for the lols and we still won by 90. That went so well that we tried it again in a final but forgot to let him on the ground. If he was fit I wouldn't even argue about them picking him ahead of the other two. I'm kicking myself for not being able to join in the serious Goodwin whinging, but could do an America vs Iraq and find any flimsy reason to have a crack.

Like Saddam Hussein circa 2003, our weapons of mass destruction have long since disappeared but my tipping point could be reached by them playing Petty and Turner in the same forward line again. One of them if absolutely necessary, but both would be criminal negligence. None of the other options will make your liver quiver, but they must try something before it's too late. In an ideal world Petty gets some touch back by clubbing North, but as he's done BUGGER ALL against everyone else except for a half against Geelong how can you have any confidence that it'll happen? And even if it does, what faith would you have that it would continue? And as they're clearly never going to put him back where he belongs then sadly he must tour the VFL until a) finding goalkicking form, or b) all the alternatives suck and we're back to throwing magnets in the air.

It would be hard for any key forward in the known universe to have less impact as them in the last two weeks, so regardless of where his career is at I'd like some Ben Brown please. He's had as many goals in six games as Petty and Turner in 14 combined, and even if an individual Fox Footy style pressure gauge would probably show him on -50 a proven goalkicker is better than waiting for miracles to happen. Also, because we're a friendly club dedicated to making everyone else's day it would be wholesome for him to play in one last North game. 

Next to him comes Tom Fullarton, who could still be a fictional character for all I know but things are desperate. I've seen four non-consecutive quarters of VFL in the last two weeks and he's never been on the near side of screen yet so maybe they're just making him up. If I take his AFL Tables page as proof of life (including last playing seniors in a finals win over us), six goals in 19 career matches doesn't bode well but if he can compete, and take the second ruck so van Rooyen gets to stay inside 50 then it's worth a try. Maybe it's not, but at this point I'd rather play Troy Davis, Declan Keilty or a Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man than 66.6% of our talls. You could pick a smaller player (then boot it a metre over his head), but even though Shane McAdam kicked four at Casey I say do it a couple more times before we start thinking it will translate into the seniors.  

Tholstrup gets his chance to be mini-Petracca, Woewodin gets a full game somewhere, and I'm going to give Laurie another chance. There's some talk that Lever might be back, but for the love of all that is good and pure in the world the man has just had knee surgery so can we look somewhat into the future and not rush him back too quickly? If we can't beat North then we've got bigger issues than him having another week off. 

You'd think we'd win, but funnier things have happened.

IN: B. Brown, Fullarton, Tholstrup, Woewodin,
OUT: Petracca (inj), Billings, Petty, Turner (omit), Chandler (to sub)
LUCKY: Laurie, Oliver, Sparrow, Windsor
UNLUCKY: Tomlinson + anyone who is MFC listed and can walk.

The All-New Bradbury Plan
Welcome back to the ever-popular segment where we choose preferred winners based on results that suit us best. None of this means dick if we don't also win, but it doesn't mean you can't find some interest in neutral games. It may mean secretly going for teams you hate but we're all about the big picture here at Plan HQ. For now I'm only brave enough to aim at the top eight, but the plan is open source so alter as required to match your lofty ideals. Due to the bye I'm going to chuck in two weeks' worth, but please check your fax machine for any amendments after next week.

Round 14

St Kilda d. Brisbane
Footscray d. Fremantle (Better to jam up the middle of the ladder than let any of the other mid-table mediocrities get too far ahead)
Richmond d. Hawthorn
Sydney d. Adelaide (Swans too far ahead for either plan, may as well kill off the Crows ASAP)
North d. Collingwood
GWS vs Port

Round 15

Carlton vs Geelong
Port d. Brisbane
Sydney d. GWS
West Coast d. Essendon
Gold Coast d. Fremantle (Suns more likely to fall over at the end of the year so may as well do us a favour now)

Final thoughts
Shame my daughter doesn't care enough about footy to take over the Demonblog empire, because she summed this up far more succinctly than I ever will. Late in the fourth quarter she walked past the TV, said "Well, Melbourne are really going downhill again" with perfect comic timing, then kept going. Hard to argue, but I reserve the right to go full Bart Simpson at Kamp Krusty and believe that somebody is going to turn up and save us.

Monday 3 June 2024

Dead heart

If you think it's time to be dramatic you might say our greatest modern era started and ended against Freo. The undisputed opening ceremony was Round 1, 2021, and you can either retrospectively bring the curtain down the day they ended our big winning streak, or when they kicked seven shades of suitcase out of us here.

The Dockers are sponsored by the Max Hardcore-affiliate sounding 'DP World' and they celebrated by doing us from every conceivable angle. We once kicked the first goal then lost by 120, but this set a new benchmark for futility by turning a 13-0 lead into a record-breaking trip down the tube.

After demanding a Euro '96 reference last week, we unexpectedly rolled the clock back to 92. It wasn't just the margin, but a coach deploying players in positions they weren't suited to and watching it all go sour in spectacular fashion. Graham Taylor was silly enough to let his reactions be captured on video for eternal mockery but sadly we'll never get a similar fly-on-the-wall documentary about this atrocity. An optimistic staff member was taping Goodwin's half time address just in case, but I guarantee that footage has already been 'accidentally' wiped.

Era-adjusted, this was one of the shit performances. It was up there with John Longmire kicking 14 in 1990, the twin mid-season thumpings of 1998, the 2000 Carlton calamity, or any number of Football Park/Subiaco games before the arse completely fell out of things post-2006. None of those are relevant examples unless we bounce back to make finals, which suddenly looks a bit ropey. It's not our first mid-season dip in recent years, but this was by some distance the most violent.

Most of the traditional post-loss whinges are valid, but thoughts with the people who'd have gone triple troppo if we were still called Narrm. Seems a bit weird playing in Alice Springs directly after two indigenous-themed rounds, but I suspect rank and file local fans couldn't gave a rats. Instead, we did this under the old-fashioned name - inspired by some deve who whipped orphan girls and had a brother called 'Peniston'.

The old 'flogging home games' debate was ready to step into the void until we lost by such a significant margin that the focus went straight to coach and players instead. And rightly so. Even I'm noting where the Goodwin Bunker emergency exits are just in case. It's on all of them though. Remember the struggle to find players for the votes against West Coast? Whoever gets mentioned here should officially decline to be named.

This was by all metrics the worst game of Simon Goodwin's coaching career. Not only the biggest margin, but the most disorganised team playing as if stoned to the bejesus belt. It was a replay of the Eagles game, but with a more advanced opposition causing us to collapse in a heap. Shame 'Things can only get bitter' has already been a headline, because the next eight days (and beyond?) promise to be extra spicy.

You could easily see us losing this game by kicking a poxy score, but anyone who predicted a surrender on this scale should be studied by the government. It was like Brisbane and West Coast combined and mutated by radioactivity. The club got a fat cheque for turning up, but other than the Chief Financial Officer we had no winners.

The first few minutes were soon spectacularly discredited but were actually really good. Shame about the bit when the other side turned up. It was the equivalent of somebody sprinting to the lead in the Olympic Marathon, getting exposed for jumping the fence mid-race, then being forced to finish the course even if it killed them. 

First Gawn snuck through a set shot, then Petty was handed an open-goal confidence builder before not getting another kick for the rest of the game. Not a cracker. I'm determined to hold off on joining the mass panic for a few more weeks, but the continuing saga of him playing forward may set me off. What more evidence do you need that it's not working? He was great against Geelong, but has done chuff all else forward of centre. They couldn't help van Rooyen being hurt, but when you know Turner is learning to be a forward, Fritsch is low possessions/high(ish) impact, and McAdam hasn't looked remotely likely to impact a game yet, leaving him to get pulverised again is just cruel. At some point it's partially on the player for not putting their hand up to stop being humiliated, but the other 99% is on the coaches.

JVR hasn't been dominant this year, but this is twice in recent weeks we've gone down in a screaming heap without him. Again there was a putrid low number of inside 50s, and again a lot of that was down to nobody able to mark the ball forward of centre. Putting peak Wayne Carey at today's equivalent of CHF probably wouldn't have helped, but some level of deep forward entries to a genuine contest would have been nice. The B in BBB may now stand for 'broken', but I refuse to accept that Brown couldn't do more than Petty and Turner combined, and if he can still kick 41 metres he's one ahead of McAdam.

Based on all that, I can understand how a two goal lead might not have been as safe as it (briefly) looked. Conceding 11 of the next 12 goals was a bit surprising. Ironically, in the week of the great holding the ball crackdown we were dudded out of a third from what should have been a free kick directly in front. That might have spooked Freo into winning by less than 90 points, but instead became the green light for an epic fiasco to break out. he opening ceremony was Rivers burying May with a flubbed switch kick under no pressure, and it was off to the races from there. For unknown reasons the people calling this game off a TV from Victoria originally assigned this kick to Bowey. This was quickly clarified, probably because the Fox Footy lawyer hit the emergency button before the biggest AFL defamation case since Hutchy called the wrong St Kilda player a sex offender.

And from there Freo went whomp, whomp, and whomp, as the TV kept pretending the 'Pressure Gauge' meant anything. They stopped talking it about as we were being dominated for the rest of the half, and I could see why when it rotated through the on-screen graphics in the break and we were only slightly behind. You don't need a number to explain pressure when you can see opposition players charging around doing whatever they want, however they want.

As if we needed any more help to lose, their first goal of the second quarter came via a 'mark' that was held for about 0.25 seconds, then dropped the moment he hit the ground. Still, see what happens when you have forwards who are involved in contests and get their hands to the ball. Things were going so badly that Freo botched a certain goal in what would usually be hilarious circumstances, with an attempt to hand one off to a teammate in the square ending in a literal handoff and free kick. That would have been a great turning point if the game had turned anywhere but straight down the crapper. Enter, about 45 painful seconds later, premiership player Luke Jackson for his first of a season-high three goals. He would have come in handy at the other end, and while I'm not as bitter towards him as most other defectors I hope he's enjoying flying across the country every two weeks. Seems like Adelaide is our flight time limit before turning into pumpkins.

Every thrashing has a point of no return where you can't imagine any chance of a comeback (Unless we're in front, then one mark inside 50 by the other side and I'm panicking about a humiliating collapse), and the rest of the game is about nothing but damage limitation. Reasonable people would have treated the next goal as a good time to depart to do something more important, but like a complete tool I stuck around until the miserable end. The pisstakes came thick and fast, including goals from May being kneed out of a contest, and a 50 for Turner wandering through the protected zone like Jim Stynes in 1987.

Most of us would be old enough to remember games regularly being over by half time, but it must have been an experience for the kids who have taken up this lifestyle in an era where it's considered a good day out if we're not stripped of all dignity. And not just kids, we haven't lost this comprehensively since the last round of 2016. Sure, the Port 2020 game was headed in that direction if not for reduced quarters, but if you were 10 when we finished Paul Roos' coaching career on a low you've almost reached legal driving age without seeing us being pummelled senseless. Now you are truly an adult.  

If there's a pond in Alice Springs, we were sucking the water out of it with an industrial vacuum. We hadn't played this badly against the Dockers since the Air Farce One game where this happened:


The key difference between Round 9, 2013 and the present is that a) we were expected to do offbeat and stupid things then, and b) in their own special way three of our defenders got near the ball. This was an open invitation for any Freo forward since Clive Waterhouse to roam like native animals in acres of free space.

I thought Woewodin replacing Hunter at half time was an admission that we'd been so bad it was worth trying a young player over somebody who is probably on their AFL exit lap. Then they cut to an injured Hunter and you realised that even as everything burnt to a crisp they'd probably have left Taj sitting on his arse until the last quarter if not forced into it.

We've overcome a 50 point deficit to beat the Dockers before, but this time there was more chance of [insert unlikely example] than a repeat. I still wouldn't have been happy if we'd broken even in the second half, but expected some semblance of a response. We did get the first goal after half time, after surviving a couple of near misses down the other end, only to concede it straight back after 20 seconds due to having a backline you could have flown a plane through. If the truck behind the goals had gone full Maximum Overdrive and taken off the only people in any danger would have been Freo forwards.

Even considering previous form I don't think Lever will go anywhere else (and I'm voting for him as next captain), but he must have been sitting on the couch mentally adding thousands of dollars to his contract while seeing this shambles unfold. The performance was so dire that he might have not have prevented us from losing, but I doubt there would have been the same level of abandon ship panic going on. Not that I'm pinning all the blame on the defenders, they were certainly thrashed but any danger of not letting the ball get down there so easily? After those (relatively) magical early minutes we moved the ball as if navigating a Cambodian minefield.

I knew we couldn't win, but was open to a crack-papering second half stalemate. Should've known how things would turn out when Langdon and Petracca almost buggered up the first goal, then got an even bigger hint when we gave it straight back. No need for detail about what happened next, just imagine Freo players having a training drill, while some red and blue traffic cones looked increasingly miserable.

As the margin hit 63, Anthony Hudson nuked years of hard-won credibility by yelling "They're going to take some catching from here". You reckon? Unless he was talking about the handful of fans who'd travelled to see this running out into the desert to escape. Even as the club tries desperately to flog what a great cultural experience these games are I'm only into them for the financial benefits, but how long do you think the Northern Territory government will keep paying us to show up? It's one thing when the game is shown on Channel 7 and they can flog tourism benefits to a national audience, but this was buried (preferably under concrete) at 1pm on a Sunday, with 7000 people in the ground and only about twice as many watching. I'm not cultured enough to know who you're paying taxes to when living in a territory, but thanks for the free cash. 

At 70 points with a quarter and a half to play the big structural change was finally made... with Turner going back instead of the premiership defender. McSizzle then plucked a goal out of a stoppage in a way you suspect neither of the other two would have done if the game lasted 24 hours. Then at the end of the quarter Turner was back forward having a shot, so it may have just turned into a Little League style 'go wherever you want' fiasco. Later Fritsch and Turner were in defence and somehow Petty still forward, suggesting he may have blackmail material on the coach that would make Glenn Bartlett bar-up.

All McAdam has done so far is defensive pressure, so ironically he looked to have injured himself by doing a tackle. We're currently heading towards paying a pick in the mid 20s for him, which doesn't seem like good value. His other main contributions were a pretty looking bump on a player mid-disposal, and randomly having a bounce as he played on after a mark. He's got solid novelty value so I'm not against him playing again, but for the love of all that is holy can we get some of these players form in the VFL before picking them?

Without Lever to argue with, May escalated to difficult conversations with Gawn at three quarter time. He hadn't played well but was probably complaining about all the times we've kept a side to five goals at three quarter time without scoring 115 in response. There was a very real chance of a triple figure loss here, not helped by Sparrow copping a bullshit 50 after being beaten to a mark. It probably saved us from them kicking a point, then getting it straight back for a goal. Not much use in shaving single points off the margin by now, we were already a confirmed basketcase.

Nobody deserves votes, but Petracca gets credit for having a go. Anyone upset with him for cracking it at teammates should boil themselves in oil. I thought he was quite restrained, given that he'd just been in the middle of Freo's defence casually punting the ball around him without a teammate to be found. This is the level of angry reaction I respect, not soft as butter loser fans announcing they're off to follow another club.

Later some bloke marked in the middle of May and Tomlinson, who shared a "what in god's name is going on?" look in the aftermath. Eventually the margin landed right on the dreaded 100 points. It feels like we've lost by that much more than 26 times in my life, let alone the history of the club, but only because morally you can throw in all the 90 point defeats as well. I knew we'd be back in this position eventually but really didn't think it would happen this soon. There's bad days, this was toxic. 

McDonald had already made the most of his forward cameo for one goal, and he saved us again with a nice mark in front of goal. Everyone else please note, it can be done. For some reason rushing his set shot like he was trying to bring the margin under a goal with 20 seconds left. I don't know if you can say he's still got it based on this alone, but even his horrid end to last year looks like a glory era compared to Petty's season so this opens the argument to sending him forward again. How can he do any worse than the non-van Rooyen players we've tried down there?

While that goal reduced the margin to just (?) 94, we were still only one kick from crossing the great psychological bridge to doom. Enter Ed Langdon with the most bittersweet handy point of all time, ensuring that even in our degraded, possibly oxygen-deprived state, we'd keep the margin in double figures. And that really was that was left to get excited about. Remember when Channel 9 found a guy lost in the desert for 43 days and made him walk around doing an interview before rescuing him. That's about the level of power we finished this game with.

Just as I was finishing writing this I decided to take on the distress and see how AFL360 and On The Couch covered it. Incredibly, nobody talked about the forward line at all. We did get Nathan Buckley looking at shirtless players in the rooms after and deciding they're not fit looking enough for him. Of course he knows more about footy than me, but that's rock bottom 'nutters on Facebook' level analysis.

This looked like a sad reverse of the greatest day in the history of Alice Springs, when we clubbed Adelaide and sent Don Pyke bonkers. They've never been any good since, and I'm not saying the same will happen to us but it does make you wonder. I was non-commital in tipping us to finish somewhere between third and ninth, and less than a month after thinking we were back after the Geelong game I'm concerned we'll struggle to get there. The Bradbury Plan returns next week, but I've been tempted to look in the future. This prediction has us 10th, one game behind 2nd, which shows there's still a lot of weird, unpredictable stuff to happen before this season is over. I invite you to join me living in silent, quivering fear.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Jack Viney
1 - Christian Salem

Apologies to McDonald for doing more in a quarter than the alternative has in two months, and Woewodin for only getting half of this king size borry on him.

Leaderboard
More votes for the leaders whether they want them or not. No alterations to the minors, though Turner's share of the Rising Star based off one game is looking a bit shonky now.

27 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
23 - Christian Petracca
22 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
18 - Jake Lever
16 - Alex Neal-Bullen
10 - Jack Viney
9 - Clayton Oliver
8 - Judd McVee
7 - Tom McDonald
5 - Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
3 - Ed Langdon, Daniel Turner (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Caleb Windsor (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Kade Chandler, Harrison Petty, Trent Rivers
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Tempted not to award this out of spite but going for Oliver from distance just to tick a box. 

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
Special events unite on King's Birthday when we play Collingwood for the Disappointing Premiership Defence Cup. They're coming at it from a different angle than us, losing at the start of the year instead of the middle, and hopefully at the end. Either way this could be (massive cliche alert) season defining for both sides, so if there's ever been a day for on-edge fans to have an embarassing punch up this could be it. Get ready for a massive fortnight of content from the AFL's neediest fans. People who don't get enough satisfaction from following the most popular, generally successful club and need constant reassurance that everything Collingwood does is right and everyone else is an idiot for not joining in. I predict unpleasantness on a grand scale.

Casey's results mean nothing in the overall scheme of things, but comfortably losing to standalone strugglers Coburg was a bit high alert. I watched the second half to confirm that Tom Fullarton did exist and discovered that a) he does, but b) the depth cupboard is almost bare. Which is a shame because I'm ready to cut a swathe. Your fit AFL experienced players to choose from are - B. Brown, Fullarton, Howes, Laurie and Tholstrup - with potential first-gamers Adams, K. Brown, Jefferson, Moniz-Wakefield, Sestan and Verrall. There's a couple of options there, but not enough to replace all the players who need a week to think about where they're going.

I'm terrified that if JVR isn't fit they're going to play Petty again and somehow expect him to turn around some of the worst form ever seen on the Australian mainland. The only reason I'm not trying to drop Petty, as if it's possible, is that he should fill the spot from McSizzle going forward again. Bet you there's no hint taken from him being the only person to compete in the forward line here and we carry on in disarray. Alternatively, he stays in defence, Petty goes entirely, and we give Brown a one-for-the-road shot at glory.

Howes comes back, Laurie and Woewodin get a full game to sink or swim, and god help us all if there's a similar debacle next week. NFI if these changes do anything for team balance but I'm in a mood for change.

IN: B.Brown, Howes, Laurie, Tholstrup (to sub), van Rooyen, Woewodin (to start)
OUT: Hunter (inj), McAdam, Petty, Rivers, Turner (omit)
LUCKY: Chandler, Petty, Sparrow, Windsor
UNLUCKY: Fullarton, Jefferson, Moniz-Wakefield

This was already going to be a hot one before both sides sank to mid-table mediocrity but will now go right off. God knows what happened to Angus Brayshaw after his early-season bench cameos, but we should ramp up the tension levels by bringing him back. Maybe as guest coach for the day?

Final thoughts
Watching this live would have caused me to commit violent public mayhem, but seeing it on TV from half a continent away left enough separation to go outside and play with the kids at full time. I miss getting really angry about footy but am open to recapturing that vibe by the end of the year.

Tuesday 28 May 2024

Go Yroke, go broke

Since getting into footy, 1996 was the season I paid the least attention to. It started as standard teenage sooking and only got worse when we frantically tried to put ourselves out of business. Into the void stepped soccer, helped by a) playing about 12 hours a day of Championship Manager, and b) the attractive option of compacting all your commitments into one hour of Premier League highlights on a Monday night, leaving more time for being an emo bastard. 

Based on the results I didn't miss anything except a lat game against Fitzroy and Michael Polley's entire AFL career. The only clear MFC-related memory that didn't involve a velcro Hawk on our jumper was going for Sydney in the Grand Final because they had Kevin Dyson. Just as football nearly came home to the Glenferrie Oval, I got right into the English equivalent in that year's European Championships while waiting to see if I'd have to go through with the empty (?) threat to follow Freo instead of the merger.

We survived because Hawthorn's board didn't go for gold in the Rorting Olympics, but it turns out the first all-Victorian merger happened years between Euro and Yroke. I wonder if there's an Urge To Merge style book explaining it all. What I'm saying is that I was really hoping to merge my love of Stuart Pearce rifling it home from the penalty spot with a much-needed thumping victory and call this post 'Euro 96'. There may never be another opportunity, but I'll be hanging out to see who we played in Assumed Name Round every year in case there's a chance to pay off this not-at-all-worth-it gag for my own amusement.

It was unlikely that anybody would win by 96 in the Chloform Cup between Ross Lyon and Simon Goodwin. Until last week I'd have thought us more chance of going inside 50 that many times than scoring it, but thanks to a few scoring outbursts in another game that must have been brutal for neutrals we narrowly went beyond the magic mark for our second highest score of the year. And that doesn't fill you with confidence then breathe into a paper bag and try to believe that this time we will defend our way to a flag.

Bullshit there were hyphens in the original language, but I take it from First Nations experts (as opposed to the Fist Nations experts who supported Melbourne 2007-2017) that Euro-Yroke means "the grinding stone place where they sharpened their stone axes". That's appropriate, because for the second year in a row, St Kilda helped calm our Narrm after a miserable interstate trip. Last year it followed a truly dreadful attacking performance, where we lost to GWS by two points courtesy of a fluke goal that only became relevant after kicking 5.15. This time it followed a more attacking but infinitely more putrid loss. Both defeats led to tidal waves of babies being thrown out with the bathwater, and while neither follow-up win was special, they were both exactly what we needed at the time.

It's a shame that my random hatred of St Kilda from 'incidents' with their fans during the '98 and '06 finals has cooled. Now I don't wish them any specific harm, but am happy to contribute in any way to ruining Ross Lyon's return. They're the most beige team in the competition at the moment (e.g. a rivalry round where they played the third wheel of 1925 entrants due to lack of options), and I know it can't have been easy watching nuffies like Richmond, Footscray, and us break through in recent years, but that was no reason to launch dignity and self-respect from an upstairs window and crawl back to the coach who'd run off with a floozy just before things went sour.

And doesn't Lyon look like he's having a whale of a time back at Moorabbin? If doing conga lines along the boundary was a mark of quality Ken Hinkley would have won something by now, but Ross the Boss looks like he could do with a Floss is Boss style surprise attack to put him out of his misery. Chris Scott is still the man most likely to end his career shooting it out with the cops in a burning cult compound, but Ross is giving off vibes like somebody who's about to take a splinter group up the river and commit Colonel Walter E. Kurtz style mayhem. If they come good and he gets treated like a hero I'll power spew.

Ross looked like he was being propped up in the box Weekend At Bernies style, but even he must have secretly enjoyed our craft at slowly squeezing the life out of his side. Many wouldn't have been as generous, and our old pals Channel 7 must have thought about coming back after half time with a test pattern.

Enough about them, let's talk about one of the league's other perennial disappointments. We got off last week's horror performance lightly because HarleyMania took all the attention away from the people he was fending into oblivion. I don't know if either Langdon or van Rooyen could have rescued a side that was deader than Kelsey's proverbial nuts, but this was a good reminder that even if neither has been in barn-burning form this year that they both make a difference.

Meanwhile for reasons unknown, possibly part of an elaborate hazing campaign, we continued to play Petty forward and he a) did nada again, b) saw Adam Tomlinson play an excellent game in a spot he might have occupied, then c) required substituting before his foot fell off again. Can we take a collection to send this guy to a holiday resort for a couple of weeks to help him regain the joy of life? I want him to be happy, mobile, and preferably playing at the heart of our defence for years to come but at the moment it feels he's the victim a multi-directional pisstake.

There's no quick fix to our forward woes (unless we pull off the ultimate mid-season draft fluke and pluck an immediate difference KPF from thin air), and once you'd come to terms with that there were no surprises about doing all the early attacking then conceding first goal. We've kicked goals in the first 30 seconds of two recent games (+ getting in first against Brisbane before Farce O'Clock hit) but it's more in our brand/DNA (play the David King home game and delete as applicable) to struggle. At first we couldn't create a goal from open play if our lives depended on it, but saw their midfield crack like an egg at the following centre bounce, allowing Viney to hit van Rooyen on a lovely lead, aided by his opponent slipping and sliding on the spot like Jerry Seinfeld in cowboy boots.

This was the platform for bigger and better things. They certainly had chances, but were too inept to take advantage of the Lever void. In his place came emergency defender Adam Tomlinson, who responded with one of his best games for us. Australia's most patient man should be the test case for mid-season trading. Everyone says it's unfair on interstate teams because nobody will want to join them, but if you offered an extra year on his contract he might prefer to play at [insert whoever needs a defender] every week instead of touring the VFL until our next backman falls over. Seems unfair that he's wasted so much of his career toiling in our reserves but considering our flimsy depth elsewhere I'm happy to have at least one guy who can fly in and out as required.

When the second goal came via Langdon and the returning Hunter converging from their wings to the top of the square this was by all measurements better than last week. Plenty of time for it to go wrong though, so I remained on the highest of alerts for a shambles.

In the continuing saga of "I'm just here to annoy people" it would have been fun if the umpires were forced to officiate using the indigenous names. This would have also been good for the economy because people who secretly love being offended would have been smashing their TVs across the country. For once I'll say something nice about Channel 7 and say that I thought they found the right balance of using the traditional and very traditional names. Compare to the stooges from last week who acted like they'd get an electric shock to the nards for saying the wrong thing. On Foxtel the scoreboard read NAR EUR, so it would be good content for 2025 if two of the teams yet to join in make sure their abbreviations spell APR ICK.

Whoever the opposition were, they had the piss belted out of them after the opening goal. We know exactly who we are, and not surprisingly couldn't take advantage on the scoreboard. It took a shithouse, panicky kick through the middle to set up Fritsch's first, and it might not have been the most convincing four goal lead at quarter time but was better than the alternative. 

The key player here and beyond was Max Gawn, who only played after passing a pre-match fitness test. Part of it must have been listening to the history's most inspirational speeches, because he was tremendous. I'm not buying into this clickbait media theory that he's now the greatest ruckman ever because it's impossible to compare between eras, but it's remarkable that people can even say it without being laughed from the room. Last week showed that he's not invincible and/or capable of turd polishing miracles, but imagine the odds you'd have gotten on him being here at the point where he was doing two knees and getting caught having a ciggy on the way to training. If we'd been able to develop top 10 picks like this we wouldn't have had as many top 10 picks.

This wasn't the modern equivalent of Gawn having 80 hitouts against a bankrupt Bendigo VFL side, he thrashed a good opponent so significantly that for once I'll accept that "if they'd kicked goals instead of behinds" might have been valid. The way we were going, the likelihood is that the ball would have been straight from the middle and into attack again. Whether we had the personnel to take advantage is another matter. JVR was a welcome addition, but after one nice contested mark at the start Petty was ineffective. Fritsch and Pickett did Fritschy and Picketty things, the latter continuing to impress in midfield cameos, and while McAdam didn't get many touches, any goals, or a chance to prove he can kick 40 metres, but had six tackles so is welcome to stay just for forward pressure.

Almost everything had gone right after the first goal, but surely nobody expected us to keep it up after quarter time. One of these days we'll demoralise a team so badly that they'll give up and let us do what we want, but here the door was left open for opposition players scared of reprisals from their coach to briefly make it interesting. Once our goals dried up it was back to the old game of 'can the backline save us?' For 10 minutes they did, via Oliver giving away an unnecessary downfield free and May spoiling Max King's head in a way that suggested he wants to keep Lever company. Their first wasn't quite "here we go" worthy, but when we only narrowly avoided another straight after my blood pressure was starting to bubble up. Down the other end we'd reverted to attacking like raging drunks, the margin was back to a very catchable 12 points at half time, and I was getting to go the full Sylvia Plath on here.

There was no need to worry. Neutrals be stuffed, this is where things got good for us. It didn't feel like a six goal to one quarter, but who's complaining? Things may have been different if they hadn't missed a piss easy shot at the start. It took a few more minutes before Gawn's goal alerted everyone affiliated to St. Kilda, the Saints, Euro, Yroke, and the City of Moorabbin, that it was time to hit the lifeboats. In his best game for the year, van Rooyen brought the ball to ground in a two-on-one situation, nearly stuffed it up considering handballing to a passing Langdon, then Petracca got an assist from opposition players crashing into each other in the middle to kick a third in 90 seconds. 

Any chance of going on with it this time? Against the odds yes, and by late in the quarter we were reaching deep into the Hollywood files. After St Kilda finally broke through for their lone goal of the term, Viney turned their defenders inside out like a lost Pickett brother and kicked what was not in any way a steadier but certainly made me feel better. Then the real deal Pickett plonked one through on the run from an obscure angle and we were back to having a good time. 

The three quarter time margin was slightly under the Chris Sullivan Line, but I adjusted for the fact that the other side had nearly gone to sleep and assumed victory was safe. Ideally we'd have carried on and won by a (for us) huge margin, but after having our fun in the early stages we let the opposition save face with meaningless late goals. 

On a weekend where umpire whinging went through the roof (and wasn't it great to see somebody get finally pinged for not giving the ball back to the umpire?) these ones decided to be difficult about the distance of kicks, as if they can definitively tell the difference between 14 and 15 metres. This came just as we decided to try some short kick ins, leading to a few heart-in-mouth narrow escapes in front of goal. On the other hand they didn't care how unrealistic your marking attempt was, in one passage of play McAdam and Pickett both jumped on top of a pack well before the ball arrived and got away with it.

Things were going so badly for St Kilda that even when their sub came on, presumably the last of them with any interest left, he immediately had a shot on goal from 20 metres out as good as directly in front and missed. Just before Petty departed with his wonky foot, he proved that you can be polite even when you're struggling and handed a certain goal off to Petracca. Good bloke, bad form but I hope his foot is still intact.

Normal programming was thrown out the window at the end and even May got to kick his first goal since a Hail Mary forward appearance during one of those Cairns debacles. Apparently his heart gesture was part tribute to his mum and part recognition of our indigenous jumper, sadly not a demonstration of platonic love for the clearly delighted Jake Lever, or a tribute to Diamond Dallas Page. 

That's where the excitement ended. They made the margin and their final score more respectable, but unless there's another final round percentage debacle we've got nothing to complain about. I think the Saints are crap, so who knows how much notice you should take of this, but on a day where we could have been either fourth or ninth I'm happy just to bank another important win and proceed to what I thought was the bye until halfway through this game.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn

--- Immense gap ---

4 - Adam Tomlinson
3 - Christian Salem
2 - Tom McDonald
1 - Clayton Oliver

Sarcasm free apologies to Langdon, Neal-Bullen, Petracca, Pickett, van Rooyen and Viney.

Leaderboard
We've got a new leader, and it's time to stop being silly and pretending that anyone else is going to average 10 hitouts per game and score 24 votes - Maximum is your provisional Stynes winner. Otherwise no alterations, please go about your daily business.

23 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year),
22 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
19 - Christian Petracca
18 - Jake Lever
16 - Alex Neal-Bullen
9 - Clayton Oliver
8 - Judd McVee, Jack Viney
7 - Tom McDonald
5 - Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
3 - Daniel Turner (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Caleb Windsor (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Christian Salem
2 - Kade Chandler, Harrison Petty, Trent Rivers, Christian Salem
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The obvious answer would be Pickett from the boundary line, but I'm applying a Stawell Gift style handicapping system based on him being known for doing wild things. With apologies to the May goal which sparked joy around the country, I'll opt for Jack Viney extracting the piss from the entire St Kilda backline before kicking one.  

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
It's off to Alice Springs for a pay day... err... cultural experience. We're playing Fremantle in the Northern Territory for the first time since the night Jesse Hogan moved Zac Dawson like a cardboard cutout and Peter Jackson's head shined like the Lighthouse of Alexandria in the sweaty Darwin evening. Everything else has got better since 2016, I'll be happier to revive the spirit of that night than our putrid last outing in Alice or a couple of wonky recent losses to the Dockers. Freo go up and down like you know what, so your guess is as good as mine about whether they'll be heaving and hoing at full pelt next week.

The safest route when considering team changes is to ignore Casey's result. Our questionable depth has left them flailing around near the bottom of the ladder, but as Tomlinson showed on Sunday it doesn't mean individual players can't step up to the next level.

I feel bad for Woewodin, who has done nothing wrong in any of his sub appearances but is probably getting to the point where he needs a full game somewhere. Keep him warm for King's Birthday so we can all be reminded of how badly his dad's trade was handled again.

Last week Howes was rotated out after not doing much wrong, so even though we didn't seem to miss the extra defender all that much I'll assume he comes straight back. And surely for the love of all that is holy this is the chance to rest Petty and try something else up front - the good news is you've now got the safe choice of Ben Brown, or the radical wacky suggestion of wheeling Matthew Jefferson in off the back of a five goal performance. He would struggle to contribute less than the incumbent, so even though Brown did SOD ALL in the corresponding fixture last year I'm having him (after checking that it's not going to rain).

On the topic of debutants, I don't care if Moniz-Wakefield's shitload of weekly touches are spraying out on the full 96% of the time, or that with Bowey and Salem in the way we don't really need him, I've decided to go into bat for him and demand he gets a game. Seasoned VFL watchers can decide whether this is a good idea, or whether I've just been seduced by his exciting name. Not easy  

I'm on a one game streak of assuming we'll lose and being pleasantly surprised, so let's try that again.

IN: Howes, B. Brown, Moniz-Wakefield (to sub)
OUT: Petty (inj), Windsor (managed)
LUCKY: McAdam
UNLUCKY: Tholstrup, Laurie, Woewodin

Final thoughts
The pulse is back, let's try to keep it going for a bit.

Monday 27 May 2024

Standard 'post delayed' notification


Dees win, and until the post goes up (Tuesday night perhaps?) please conduct research on the big Euro-Yroke merger.

Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link. Send any thoughts on the game via the usual channels and I'll incorporate/shamelessly steal them.

Wednesday 22 May 2024

RIP Fortress Perth (2021 - 2023)*

* Technically it died on 19/05/2024 but I don't want the glorious memories to be tainted by association with this debacle.

As far as glory eras go, a few consecutive wins at one interstate venue is hardly Norm Smith in the 1950s, but if you're the sentimental type there's no shame in feeling sad about the Perth Stadium bubble bursting. The conditions will never exist again to do much in so few games at a single venue, including the obvious highs of September 2021 to thumping a COVID-ravaged Freo AFLW side that was roaming the streets trying to find players a few hours earlier, and a couple of effortless 10 goal wins while West Coast was in the relegation zone.

It didn't have to end this soon, but here's another reason why it's risky assuming we'll win in advance. At the other end of the scale, lunatics who dared to talk about percentage boosting and players having an easy one to get back into form and probably feeling ripped off now. That's between them and the once again beleaguered club receptionist who has to answer calls from nuffies.

There's some good news from this, it proved that premiership anaesthesia is flowing through my system. It's one thing losing lots of finals but the real test was our first lifeless, sad loss to a lowly side. I may have sworn in front of the children but was not moved to tip the couch over. In a week where Richmond's demise has me wondering what it will feel like to eventually fizz out again, I haven't got enough energy to go off chops this early in the piece.

Last week the round was ruined at the first opportunity, this time you had to hang around while 16 other sides went at it, thinking "surely we won't stuff this up". In the words of top stuntman Rob Sitch, "the waiting. It's the worst part". It was hard to take delight in the misfortune of Geelong or Hawthorn knowing that we were heading directly towards a banana skin. I still thought we'd win, even if it took a plug fugly struggle. Then we played as if in the advanced stage of carbon monoxide poisoning. Unless you're North or post-Anzac Day Richmond this season has had something for everyone, but even if the Eagles are well past their 170 point loss era I didn't expect to make it this easy for them.

Regular readers will recall my role in killing our 2023 AFLW campaign by buying a membership late in the season, now I've provoked a tits up shambles by going all-in for Goodwin until the bitter end due to his emotional scenes after the Geelong win. If you're into mystical shit you may note that neither side has been any good since that goalless quarter and picture Channel 7 execs plunging needles into AFL-licenced voodoo dolls. Whatever the reason, we've got the violent wobbles - just like mid-2021, 2022 or 2023. Except we're not even halfway through this interminable season yet so I understand people getting nervy about just making the eight now, let alone reaching September as contenders. 

I can hear the Bradbury Plan envelope unsealing as we speak, but there's no need to chuck your dignity out the window and carry on like we reunited the Mark Neeld All Stars just yet. I wouldn't bet five Hungarian Pengos on us winning a final, let alone three or four, but teams have survived worse. It doesn't mean we will, but no matter how (relatively) dreadful this was, nothing happened to definitively prove that it's over. 

Now that half the league is stealing our indigenous names bit (after we ripped it off from Melbourne Storm) my remaining interest is annoying easily outraged people in the Facebook comments. It's not the highlight of my year, but this is your annual reminder that a quick browse of the news will reveal a lot worse going on than footy teams playing under an assumed name. In the interest of balance, the minority on the other side who get upset when anyone slips up and uses the traditional names can proceed to the same bin.

My only radical political view is protecting the 2021 flag's legitimacy, and I'm considering civil war against people whose coping strategy for bad losses is to act like it's illegitimate because they didn't see it live. Even if you believe the same path would have been followed at the MCG (which I do not), and regret not rorting the COVID restrictions like everyone else to watch with friends/family, it was a great moment and I'll occupy a major university to defend it. If premierships don't matter unless you see them live, could somebody tell the thousands of fringe Pies fans who go to one game a year but carry on about the 2023 Grand Final like they were whispering tactical moves directly into Craig McRae's ear.

I don't think race relations will break down if I refer to West Coast by their regulation name throughout this post (NB: their indigenous jumper was tremendous and they should wear it every week) but the scoreboard abbreviation of WAA was a fitting tribute to four decades of fans sooking about umpiring. Ironically, they got their first goal via a good old fashioned shove in May's back, and double ironically we were WAAing by the end and saying NAR to any hope of winning the flag. 

We've been five goals down against North Melbourne in consecutive years before winning, so when we did unlike last week and goalled in response I was calm. In retrospect, the Potential Shambles Alarm was going off in the background. The midfield was a step behind and the forwards may as well have still been in the domestic terminal. That's fine if you've built everything on defending... until West Coast's second goal came with a bonus kick to the head for Jake Lever. So that was the end of him, and I'm not saying that doomed us but it sure as Christ didn't help. Now we find out that he's got lingering knee trouble and is being sent for surgery, which makes sense if he's already out for a week and we've got the bye but I reserve the right to worry that they'll leave a scalpel inside him.

Last time we lost a defender it paid off the otherwise curious decision to name Marty Hore as sub. Now the replacement was Taj Woewodin, who did well amongst the chaos but wasn't going to help in the air. Lucky we had a perfectly good one at the other end, playing like he'd just beamed in from another galaxy. So they left Petty flailing around for the next three quarters while the Eagles carried on like they'd reincarnated prime Scott Cummings, Peter Sumich and Josh Kennedy. Who knows if Petty would have made a difference to the disaster evacuation levels of panic when we got the ball, but I'm certain he'd have offered more than he did trailing defenders to the ball all day. Fair enough not making the change at quarter time when he had to get through his own concussion assessment (insert your own unkind comments), but carrying on in the same fashion after half time was waving a white flag.

If I was defending the forwards in Footy Court I'd lean heavily on us having our least inside 50s in a full length game since 2015. The jury would see straight through that, because a large part of the problem was having zero marking power on approach. Last week we had more inside 50s before scoring than any team on record so god knows what's going on, but it's not good. Can't help that van Rooyen was KOed by J(ack)V(iney's)R(right knee) and Turner did a mystery hammy, but no idea why we thought playing Brown and Petty at the same time was a good idea. I didn't mind playing McAdam off the back of injury/limited VFL form, but there had to be something else that didn't rely on more than one forward who is moving like the elderly.

Brown has at least found his way to a few goals this year, but Petty is in all-time dreadful form. In eight games, the first played half in defence, he's kicked 2.8 and half of his marks were in the backline against Hawthorn or in that one really good performance against Geelong. He showed promise as a forward last year but needs to head for the other end or the VFL as quickly as possible. I was there when we had so few real forwards that Frawley, Garland, and Rivers were given a go, and all of them would have done better than him this year. Refer previous posts about not running him out of town because he'll eventually be a quality full back, but if he starts forward next week I may punch on. His confidence is obviously shot, so keeping him up there every week is almost workplace bullying.

It was all getting a bit farcical by quarter time, including May getting lost without the other half of footy's greatest platonic couple and hoofing the ball off the ground straight into the hands of Jayden Hunt. As much as I hated this whole game, it's nice to see him doing well after arriving at West Coast just before the bottom fell out. Last year I was thinking about launching a hostage rescue to get him back from Perth, but if he can hang around long enough Mr. Owl Energy might be trying to save his old teammates from disaster.

While everything was going to shit I'd like to acknowledge that Kysaiah Pickett was having a massive go setting a good example. He might have been going too hard trying to lift everyone onto his shoulders and ended up turning it over as much as anyone else. Still, I'd rather go down in that fashion than standing around watching the opposition do as they liked. See also ANB and Oliver, who will also (spoiler alert) feature in the most difficult set of votes I've had to do for ages.

I always do the votes first, then change my mind a few times before the end. Even after a loss this is usually the easy bit, but this time my shortlists were 'Doesn't really deserve a vote' and 'Certainly doesn't deserve a vote'. It was easier to give Jordie McKenzie the five for 186 than deciding who our 'best' was here. This struggle was vindicated by the coaches' votes, where we got nil for the first time since Port 2020 kicked off the popular Bartlett vs Goodwin feud. And while we're having a shit week, any chance of the latest 'leak' from the Bartlett files? If it fires the group up they can compare us to the Medellin Cartel again. It's a shame Joel Smith's timing was so shit because he'd probably have been handy in our forward line this year.

So, by the point where it was clear Lever was finished, and we were being beaten in every part of the ground all I had left was innocent childlike hope of another comeback. If we could turn the tables against Carlton, then we could overrun a team of half kids and half nearly crocked veterans? Well yes, except when you stand back and let young and old do whatever they like. The best description for this performance would be 'timid'.

It wasn't exactly the passing of teams in opposite directions like Hawthorn in the 2007 pre-season (and for all-time dated references, what about a post title referencing the shortlived Playstation Portable?), but we did pay off years of helping young players get Rising Star nominations by making absolutely sure King Harley Race will win the overall award in a landslide. I'm not bothered whether North are ever good again, but hoped the merits of tanking would decided for good by them missing out on this guy but coming out equal or better eventually, but they're probably secretly regretting winning in the last round right now. Anyone who thinks Dustin Martin would have turned out the same way if we'd picked him is mad, but I suspect this guy could have walked into any club from top to bottom and had an immediate positive impact. 

Probably calm down on treating the kid like the second coming until he's played a few more games and we find out whether people will just start grabbing his fend arm and whipping him into the turnbuckle WWF style, but bloody hell he had our number here. I've avoided seeing him until now by watching approximately 0.00 seconds of Eagles games but turns out the Rankin' Wankin' x50 frenzy might be justified. Very polite of us to let him get on with it too, while our players were being battered off the ball at every opportunity we must have been hoping to stay in his good books for the inevitable 'Return to Victoria' scramble, shortly before he joins Carlton and coincidentally discovers a love for cardboard recycling.

Anyone would fall over themselves in glee if somebody like this turned up at their club, and fans were toppling from their seats in record numbers when Wonderboy followed Hunt's goal with three bounces and one of his own. Fair enough. It was like the time Bontempelli kicked a ripping goal out of his arse and you realised he was going to be a top player. Here's to Harley doing as he likes for the next decade against everyone except us.  

We got through two more shots by the end of the quarter, and were barely holding on. Two goals be buggered, this was a much worse performance than being 30 (and soon 36) zip behind against the Blues. Still, three quarters to get it right eh? Then before you knew it they had two more goals, from a player standing in miles of space in front of goal and McVee trying to defend against Jack Darling. Can't remember if Petty was back at this point, but that should have been the big FO wakeup call that we needed more size in defence. 

Maybe they were fooled by the false alarm of three straight goals. I've seen it done better at this venue, but wasn't in a position to complain about quality. After not doing much else (and he wasn't alone there) McAdam joined the exclusive one goal kicker club from a metre out. Which was good, but failing to make the distance from 40 metres later in the quarter didn't bode well. So we've got two key forwards who can't get to a contest, and McAdam and Billings can kick about 60 metres between them. Imagine the classic 'this is fine' cartoon in this space.

The third one was so weird that it deserved to lead to better things, with Brown kicking one on the run from the boundary that he had no historical right to. For execution and context it was no Pedersen vs Carlton for ex-North player finishes from that side, but now even I was getting sucked in to the idea of a Bellerive-style recovery from near-disaster to comfortable win. We conceded the next goal, but responded quickly and might have been within single digits if McAdam had between 40 and 45 metres in his leg.

More missed West Coast shots before half time felt like a big, flashing neon 'Danger' sign. Then we returned to do the exact same thing, and immediately deflated the balloon by conceding 30 seconds after the restart again. This really was a tribute to the Neeld years, when we usually returned after half time as if he'd spent the break reading them a list of war crimes and atrocities. We kept things interesting for a bit longer, and while it's sad to have waited the whole weekend just to watch us irritate a side that was thrashed last week, that's where this was at. West Coast got the first two, but we continued to hang around like a bad smell by responding. Then they got two more and the response is still floating somewhere over the Indian Ocean. I expected to be teased with another comeback before falling short, but every time West Coast left the door wide-open we blundered into the edge of it like an old school comedy routine.

The way we were playing the only surprise about conceding the first was that it took so long. Unlike the follow-up, which was born of the best non-Mad Minute centre clearance I've seen for years. Usually if you offered me a highlight involving Oliver and Petracca in the middle of the ground I'd like and subscribe in a heartbeat, but now we'll have to watch King Harley dismissing them like peasants on every highlight reel until the end of time. The only way to make it palatable is if you get to yell "yeah, but who won the flag?" at your TV or internet connected device for the rest of his career. This is currently unlikely.

It was still only two goals late in the quarter but we were getting into slapstick territory, when first McAdam realised he couldn't kick 50 and tried to pass to a leading Petty, then Billings missed from 20 metres out. Regardless of how poor we were overall, the margin was a very gettable two goals until the dying seconds, when our wasted opportunities came back to haunt us courtesy of you-know-who going forward and turning Howes inside out before goalling. Game morally over.

The only thing more offensive than our performance was commentary provided by the Western Australian Broadcasting Corporation. If you ever wanted to know what things would have been like if secession took off, here it was. This was audio torture beyond anything Dwayne or BT have done recently, if West Coast had done 9/11 they'd have blamed the buildings for getting in the way. Obviously the goal is to set up for a job for life in the WA media, but I'm surprised Matthew Pavlich lowered himself to wearing the state flag like a cape and talking nonsense. More understandable from the other guy, who graduated from the Kane Cornes Institute For Getting Attention By Saying Stupid Shit. 

Other than Pav and McBain's mate Scoey exchanging their credibility for local jobs, the highlight was the claim that what would have been nothing more than a fringe Mark of the Year contender would have been the "greatest of all time" if held. Shaun Smith retains the clubhouse lead but Liam Ryan gets the consolation prize of dropping the big mark but playing in a win. The lowlight was guffawing over a picture of rapist and women-basher Mike Tyson holding an Eagles jumper two weeks after the league stopped to raise awareness about violence against woman at the suggestion of... the West Coast CEO. By the second half it would have been as big a theft as last week if we'd won but I wanted it 10x more to annoy these people. With a day to think about it I've realised they wouldn't have given half a rats once the broadcast ended, it was just about playing their character for the local market. 

We were closer at the final change than last week, but nothing in the first three quarters gave me confidence of running over the top. If Lever was there and we looked to have the slightest bit of life force intact perhaps, but there was no way we were going to stop their forwards marking while playing one defender short and letting the ball fling down there without interruption. And lo, we did not. They politely waited a few minutes to concede the first, but after that it was a victory lap for West Coast's players, fans, and commentary team. You'd have been justified cracking the shits and walking out of your loungeroom but I felt it important to stay until the end. Well, until there was about 0.01 seconds left. I'll assume the special comments gurus managed to exit gracefully instead of spunking all over the place like him from South Park.  

So this was shithouse, but the good news is that you don't have to wait long for our very good friend Harley to fix us up again. After playing Carlton and Geelong for the only time all season (insert 'except for finals' if you dare) we're doing this all again at the MCG in six weeks. Maybe they'll go easy on us and rest him. Who knows if anything will have changed for us by then. It could be about the time we get Lever back and Melksham is well ahead of schedule. Otherwise we've got the chance to make some random's dreams come true in next week's mid-season draft. I'm not getting my hopes up when one of the headline available players is Kyle Dunkley. 

I don't suppose a 34-year-old Jake Spencer is still one of the options so I've got no opinions on who we should get but surely this is the time for ex-AFL players who can play a role rather than long term projects. And that's where we're at, two weeks after being 'back' I'm pinning my hopes on finding a gem on the May rookie draft scrapheap. Why would you want to follow anyone else?

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Judd McVee

Despite nobody deserving votes, apologies to Fritsch, Viney and Woewodin for just missing out in the process of elimination.

Leaderboard
Not often you get this far into the season and none of the top four poll. In a win this would be a good sign, in this performance... not so much. So, congratulations to ANB for Bradburying a step closer to the top of the table and drawing to within 10 of his entire career total. Otherwise no alterations to the minors.

22 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
19 - Christian Petracca
18 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jake Lever
16 - Alex Neal-Bullen
8 - Judd McVee, Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney
5 - Tom McDonald, Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Tom Sparrow
3 - Daniel Turner (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Caleb Windsor (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Kade Chandler, Harrison Petty, Trent Rivers, Christian Salem
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Any mention of Ben Brown must be accompanied by pointing out that he's the nicest man in football, and on this occasion, I'd like to say thank you for everything (but especially one game in particular) with a nomination for that chip shot from the boundary. Might kick a more important goal for us, won't kick a better one whether he meant it or not. No change to leaderboard.

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
Remember the years when Ross Lyon derived a near-sexual pleasure from keeping us to absurdly low scores? Well he's relatively under the pump, we're losing altitude, and Lever won't be there, so set a calendar reminder to be furious on Sunday night next week. I'm trying hard to retain my bundle so am going for the coping strategy of expecting to lose and hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

It's another week where you won't get much inspiration from Casey, who somehow blew a five goal lead in a game where they only kicked eight. We know Lever is out and Bowey came back in a moonboot, but I'm going to blindly assume JVR's concussion has passed and Langdon will be back from his personal problems. So that's the enforced changes, now for the spite ones. I'm entirely off Billings and it's time to start looking beyond Brown, and as much as I wanted Petty to go down the other end on the day, with a week to think about it he can have a week to ponder his future. And for god's sake give Windsor a day off, he has been very good until now but played like he was about to die here. 

The problem is the inclusions - none of Fullarton, Tholstrup, Tomlinson played so how do you judge their readiness? None are on our suddenly extensive injury list, so I'll assume they're right to go. Tomlinson gets rewarded for hanging out in the VFL all year watching his career ebb away, and if Bowey doesn't play I'm all for giving Moniz-Wakefield a go and seeing what happens. Like people who couldn't say 'Trengove', I'm not even sure if these changes perfectly balance. If not add or subtract somebody to your tastes. I know they probably don't help team balance, and there's no way we'll omit three players and manage one at the same time, but this is as close as I'll get to demanding vengeance for now.

IN: Fullarton, Langdon, van Rooyen, Woewodin (to start), Laurie, Moniz-Wakefield (to sub)
OUT: Bowey, Lever (inj), Billings, B. Brown, Petty (omit), Windsor (managed)
LUCKY: McAdam, Sparrow
UNLUCKY: Sestan, Tomlinson

Final thoughts
There could be another reason why I'm so calm...