Sunday, 7 August 2022

Ducks and flakes

When you think of great moments in psychological warfare thoughts usually turn to Genghis Khan catapulting human heads over city walls, Britain floating a body with fake invasion plans towards the Jerries, or Americans flushing out General Noriega via maximum volume Van Halen. Nobody expected that the next evolution in the practice would be Smilin' Ed Langdon dropping zingers on the radio. What happened next is unlikely to appear in any CIA training manuals.

In a radio interview on Thursday, Ed fell victim to the old "footy players should be more honest"/"what did he say that for?" paradox by assessing the Pies as a 'one trick pony' who were, in a quaint old fashioned saying 'more duck than dinner'. Due to being born after 1947 I don't even know what that means. Neither did a lot of other people but it didn't stop them becoming outraged. It was perceived as a shot at the guy who tries to get himself decapitated in every contest, but I'd like to have taken a sample 100 people who were gravely offended and asked them to write down exactly why. 

Now that we've lost it's probably better to sweep the whole thing under the rug. Good luck with that, you'll be hearing about it for years. The best thing to do would be to beat Collingwood for once. Other than the Million Dollar Fisting in front of a near empty Gabba, we've lost every game against them dating back to Jack Watts' golden run. Given that we've had time since to trade him, and warm his direct replacement up enough to kick six in a Grand Final you can appreciate how long that's been. Duck Week would have been a great time to invoke the spirits of '26, '39, '55, '56, '60 and/or '64. Alas no, and we're back to wobbling towards the finals with no earthly idea of where we stand in the premiership race. At the moment I'd say outside looking in, but there's a couple of weeks to boot the door in and have another go.

But now, back to water bird content. Every side has demented fans who treat sport like a war against opposition supporters, but I thought for sure players of a side that had won 10 in a row wouldn't be concerned at somebody pointing out that they've been successful at winning games. Instead, they wrote it on the whiteboard, piled into Langdon at the first opportunity, and according to Jeremy Howe he 'got what he deserved'. Which is true, if we're discussing premiership medals. The former winner of the coveted Mark of the Year/Turnover of the Year double wasn't asked to explain why they responded to this tremendous slight on the club's otherwise clean reptuation by not turning up until four goals down.

My view that any sort of 'controversy' (even pissweak ones) is great for football doesn't change because it's our guy being hollered at, but some people have a comical lack of self-awareness. I'm into the novelty value of people bringing rubber duckies to the ground, or having duck for dinner as if it's not the world's shittest meat, but some of the humanoids screaming their hearts out in disgust because "bad men said thing about my footy team" need an intervention. When that was over they went wild for a convicted nightclub harasser, so who knows what direction the moral compass wound up pointing in.

It shits me no end that we had the opportunity to send these deplorables home unhappy and blew it in almost identical fashion to the Footscray game. Another lead carelessly thrown away, more of the ball escaping our forward 50 with queues of spare men waiting to get the ball, another attempt at participating in a shootout that fizzed after half time, and still being a chance to win at the end before running out of ideas.

This duck nonsense must have been a godsend for Collingwood's coaches. Here they are trying to keep alive what is statistically the most ludicrous winning streak ever, having watched their team fall over the line for weeks against some of the worst opposition on offer, and just when you think there's nothing left that you can do to motivate them (other than a blockbuster clash against the defending-for-a-few-weeks-more premier with a top four spot on the line), along comes loose lips Langdon and you've got something to talk about. 

To reiterate, more players should roll the dice on saying wacky things before matches. They'll never let him talk again, but if you did it every week it's going to come out in your favour sometime. It was an excellent subplot, but anyone who thinks it would affect the final result should be exiled from the mainland of Australia. Knowing that didn't help my pre-match nerves. Given our recent record against Collingwood I was already shitting through the eye of a needle about this game and didn't need another reason to hear from their fans if we lost. Because you always do. Probably because there's so many of them. So many brave people who followed the herd and supported the most popular team in the league.

The chances of having a bit of a spew weren't helped by waiting until 7.50pm for the game to start. The AFL doesn't care about the 1% of people who needed extra time to get to the ground, there's no good reason this couldn't have started half an hour earlier. Perth people can watch on a phone on their way home or move to another location. The mood was not helped by being forced to watch with a Pies fan so casual that he went on about the 1970s half the night, didn't even know the duck angle existed, and had the audacity to say "I don't know why you're so upset when you're three goals up", as I sat there stern-faced, waiting for the inevitable reverse.

For all the pantomime from the stands, and the players who mobbed Langdon on his first touch as if he'd presided over a regime of systemic racism, things started well. They got the first goal, but things were rattling along at such a pace that you knew a response would come from somewhere. It all led to the most ridiculous quarter of the year, one that made the Dogs game look tame in comparison. 11 goals between the sides set an unsustainable pace for the rest of the game, and not surprisingly there was less than double that in the remaining three quarters.

Neutrals would have frothing at the turbocharged pace and big crowd going off their nana for everything, I was thinking it was all a bit too hot. On the other hand, even knowing that scoring would drop off, I fancied discovering whether we'd learnt anything from two weeks ago. As would late be revealed, no.

I didn't love Petracca's game as much as his possession figures would suggest, but his first goal was a thing of beauty. He flat out refused to be stopped until finally flinging the would-be defenders off and snapping through from the pocket. I was a bit spooked about our ability to craft traditional kick/mark goals, so was happy to take them from any source. Even our first set shot came from a Salem mow down tackle, and the third via Viney doing another improbable snap. Of course this early lead wasn't to be trusted, but it was better than the alternative. 

Issues that sank us later were on show when former MFC recruiting target Jamie Elliott had an area code of space inside 50 for his first goal. For now the architects of our demise from Queen's Birthday, Mihocek and Cox, were being kept quiet but cast your mind back a fortnight to your Jamarras and smaller doing us in while Josh Bruce was as useless as tits on a bull. I'm not surprised that teams are twigging on how to break through our award-winning defence. 

Nobody good enough to be paid for coaching at any level in the AFL would be fooled by the joint finals maulings, they know the defensive system got us there and would naturally devote effort to finding a way around it. As we saw last week, the other side has to be good enough to take advantage, but I'd be interested to know if we're trying anything different at this late stage or just pulling a jumper over our head and legging it straight towards the flames in the hope that everything will turn out ok. It still might, other than a tenuous grip on a double chance I'm not much less convinced of our chances of winning the flag than last week, or the week before.

In a way no coach has thought for 30 years, you don't need a defence if you just keep kicking goals. By the time Melksham was collared by Darcy Moore for a goal from point blank range I thought we might do it without them. The irony of them one for a high tackle was not as funny a couple of hours later. It would have been better if Gawn converted a chance not long after, but you can copy that sentence and paste it several more times through the review. This looked even worse when our old friend Mason C. Ox wandered forward for a goal. His campaign to be the first ever three-time Kingsley faltered, and about the only other thing he did of note was to set off some manly jostling after jamming his knee into Max's gut at a ball-up. Kent's Friday night was not entirely wasted.

Fritsch pulled down a screamer and all was well with the world again, for the 30 seconds until we conceded again. Statistics suggest we won the centre clearances easily, I distinctly remember either conceding or nearly conceding from a lot of the ones that we didn't. There were still two more goals to come in this free and easy, do what you like quarter. Fans of harassing players for not showing Florence Nightingale levels of kindness to teammates will have enjoyed Fritsch setting up Pickett for the last one. That was one of Kysaiah's few contributions for the night, and he failed to register a tackle all night. Last time that happened he kicked six so it's not an exact science but you see where I'm coming from. It's not exclusively his fault - the full count of our inside 50 tackles were Melksham x2, Viney x2, Gawn, Jackson, Petracca and Salem one each. Brown nil, Fritsch nil, Spargo nil, Neal-Bullen nil, everyone else NIL. No wonder the ball came out so easily.

There were five golden minutes at the start of the second quarter where we had them on the run, and were pounding the door down for another goal. After repeat inside 50s paid off we would have had another straight from the middle if not for Maximum reverting to comedy capers goalkicking mode. Sparrow got the next one anyway. I wouldn't have trusted the lead if it came with a statutory declaration but we were building a nice buffer. Maybe, like Freo, they'd be frustrated into submission and it wouldn't matter when we stopped dead at the end?

Ironically, with the margin just bubbling under Stranglewank qualification, our demise began via forward pressure. Overall it's a good thing that Elliot chose not to join us because a) it would have altered the course of history so we probably wouldn't have won the flag, and b) he got to sink Essendon with a goal people will remember forever. Would have been handy if he wasn't playing against us here though, rumbling Jordon for the free/goal that got them going again. Now that everything which got us in front - most notably contested possession - was levelling out, their second in a row caused my body temperature to reach 'overturned petrol tanker' levels. But then we got the next two, including Howe giving away a 50 because he was too busy wondering why he was supposed to be worried about ducks. 

There's a different meaning to it post 25/09/21 but it is always the hope that kills you. Which is why I spat it like no time post-flag when we missed a chance in the dying seconds, then had the ball fling down the other end for them to kick a late goal. The gap was still 17 but that was nowhere near enough. Still, if we could get the game back on our terms/it started belting down raining before the end, that buffer might carry us over the line. No, no, and it didn't.

Pretending that the duck chat had any impact on the result ignores how well they put the clamps on us after half time. We stopped scoring, they started to move the ball in free range formation, and in the words of security guard Milhouse van Houten, "first it started falling over, then it fell over." Usually in a situation like this you can identify a few players who nearly dragged us over the line with super human efforts. In this case it was not easy, even after nearly winning a top of the table clash. Oliver, Petracca, Brayshaw and Viney had about 150 possessions between them but none was particularly inspiring. Oliver probably wins for 42 touches + a shitload of clearances but he's had 30 touch games that were twice as good. It's telling that our total handball numbers were way up and theirs went the other way. We were trying to do anything to extract the ball from pressure and they were happy just to kick around us.

Outside the midfield, Gawn extracted the ball wonderfully at times but treated the ball like he had an artificial foot on, and as much May and Salem were the only standouts in an otherwise rotten backline neither deserved top score. Stay tuned to see how I come up with something resembling convincing numbers.

At this point I'd like to discuss Brayshaw as a midfielder. Last week it was a fun, post-contract novelty, this time I reckon he'd have come in handy dashing around in the backline and adding another intercept option. God love him, his owl energy, and his mystifying TV panel show appearance, but Hunt isn't doing it for me. You can't tell me Gus wouldn't offer more against competent forwards, and for what loss in the midfield? He's good at it, but so are the rest of them. This is the guy who was outpacing May and Lever for interceptions at one point. I know Salem is there now, but we've got extractors and possession getters out the wazoo, how much more digging can you do in the middle? I'm massively into him, Clayts and Trac as individual players but don't fancy tying up enormous parts of our salary cap for years to come on three guys standing next to each other while the rest of the ground is on fire.  

Tellingly, the first goal after half time came from a quick break, and suddenly every time we went forward it was coming back with interest. I'll punch on to defend Daisy Pearce in arguments with self-confessed weak, hypocritical sleazes, but I couldn't have disagreed more with the idea that the Pies needed to start taking risks at this point. Sure we could have kicked two on the bounce and finished it, but realistically they were playing opposition who throw away leads for fun, are suspect running out games, had just flown halfway across the country after playing in the wet, and whose forward entries were basically a written invitation to a quick raid on goal at the other end. There was no need for death or glory yet, all they had to do was keep the pressure up long enough for the inevitable collapse.

I wish they'd taken her advice, because it would probably have meant more chance to intercept risky kicks. Instead they safely dinked the ball hither and yon via spare men, while ours were caught between ball carrier/potential next ball carrier and couldn't decide which one they should run to. This usually ended with them standing in the middle having the ball booted over their head. When we sludged it down into stoppages things were fine but the first loose kick turned back from defence meant danger.

They got lucky a couple of times from here but we made moving the ball so easy that the only way we were going to win was to keep scoring at a first half pace, which has conclusively been proven as not our go. Brown is being slaughtered by fans at a Weideman-esque level but I'm prepared to argue that you need two targets so we're not as predictable. I'd rather win 60-40 with 75% of time in forward half than toss a coin on the chance of winning 100-95. Problem is I'm not sure we've got two targets that are going to help.

Collingwood's laissez-faire attitude to defending from the first half was barely tested again. Spargo squeaked a snap through a crowd to inflate us a bit, but we were well and truly on the run now. Perhaps if an absolutely rancid set shot from an unmissable angle had actually missed, as originally called, and not shown to have gone through on the replay, their momentum would have been halted. That's doubtful, the tide was absolutely flowing against us now. We had more chances, Gawn with another shizen snap, and Brown with an arguably shizener set shot, and anyone who thought we were going to hold on to a seven point lead from here should get a 'thanks for your optimism' letter from the club and/or the makers of Prozac.

For most of the last quarter we looked no chance of scoring, and it took them kicking two goals to go ahead before we started. Even when luck worked in our favour we couldn't take advantage. A mark that was clearly bobbled over the line was paid on shifty video evidence, but even after the bloke kicked it OOF and left them a point short of what they'd have gotten in the first place, we couldn't extract it. Would have been better to concede the juggled point and flog the ball into the middle. Instead, inability to clear eventually ended in Viney being slaughtered in a tackle right in front of goal. The big whinge was on about his prior opportunity, but morally everybody knew he should have been pinged. If it had happened the other way you'd be screaming like Essendon fans.

There was a stroke of luck after losing the lead, when Brown was in the right place at the right time for the ball to drop on him. He converted, we were ahead again, and any neutral observer who was having a good time could get stuffed. It only took a couple of minutes for them to retake the lead, and while I thought we could kick another goal the idea of not conceding again was laughable. Our best chance would be to get in front, then lock the ball inside 50 for the rest of the game. Sort of like Collingwood did for the last four minutes.

The first part of the equation came true when ANB got in on a chain of handballs from the next centre bounce and bombed one through from 40. After the night he had I'm surprised he didn't run straight at the nearest defender like a pigeon returning home. He's been very good over the last couple of years, and can be relied on to defend grimly at all times but recently his offense has been offensive. The Bullet let out a giant roar, but while I'll never deny any player the right to celebrate after toiling through three and a half quarters of endless running and being tackled, it wasn't quite Nathan Jones 2018 level iconic. Especially when we gave the lead back - this time for good - within a couple of minutes. 

Almost all our post-streak misfortune is self-inflicted, but how's the luck when it comes to the mid-season draft? Who knows if we'd have picked anyone good, but when you consider we only kept McDonald off the long-term injury list in the hope of a miracle, and Daw retired almost immediately after, you had to be bitter watching a guy Collingwood plucked from the SANFL kick a match-winning bag of four. Yes, I know he spent a year in the seconds before debuting but that doesn't work for this bit so go with me. Either way, a mature forward who can create aerial contests would come in handy about now.

Johnson's decisive goal - earning him a provisional Kingsley membership in case he never does anything half as good again - required heavy emphasis on making sure a push in the back was seen. Good for him. Firstly it was there anyway, secondly, creating legitimate contests in front of goal - via land or air - will end in goals from free kicks. Collecting inside 50s like footy cards and sticking most of them down the throat of a defender will not. Harrison Petty is now 1-16 this season for frees. When he gets one the next time do a bronx cheer that will leave commentators and opposition fans alike baffled.

Every week I've got to point out that I know FUCK ALL about footy tactics, but this is two weeks in three where allowing the other side to bound out of defence unchallenged has cost us far too many goals. In both games we've put up decent scores (almost all generated in the first half), but if I may be a joyless prick this isn't how I want to play. Maybe in the future, not for the rest of this year. Their scoring efficiency was off the charts, but as much as our backline was largely average they weren't helped by the ball getting down there so easily.

We might have charged out of the middle again, but instead the ball wandered down their end and stayed there for however many minutes were left. Since becoming old and broken down my reaction to losses has usually been a short period of sporting anger then a return to something resembling a normal life. This was the opposite, the moment they got the margin to six I sat in resigned misery, knowing we weren't going to win and being pretty sure that even a draw was beyond us. The siren went, a few indecent things were said, and that seemed like that. 

Then about 10 minutes later the red mist came over me. I hate losing in the same shit circumstances two weeks out of three, I hate not being able to fire a shot in the dying seconds of a thriller, and most importantly I absolutely fucking despise giving Z-grade, Peter Helliar level 'comedians' an outlet to think they've got one over us. With respect to an exciting football team that can't be held responsible for the nuffies that follow them, I hope they win stuff all so I don't have to hear about them for a few more years.

On the up side, while we're all about to kill ourselves the reality is that it was a seven point loss to a good side. If it happened in Round 5 you'd dust yourself off and look forward to going again. The problem is that in Round 20 it leaves our top four prospects hanging by a thread. We can win it from outside, history says we probably won't. And if we do somehow blag our way into the four we might get another shot at them - going the Geelong 2018 plan of losing to a team twice then rumbling them in the finals. If it does turn out like this, don't waste time sending players out to deliver cryptic messages via the media, just take out a full page ad in the paper listing all the NQR off-field stuff they've been involved in recently.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Steven May
3 - Christian Salem
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Brayshaw and Viney who just missed out.

The top two consolidate their position, causing the line of doom to swallow up everyone below fourth place. Gawn and Viney are nearly cactus too, leaving it a straight race to the finish line between Oliver and Petracca. It's advantage Clayts because mass accumulation will always gets votes, even if the team has been shit overall. There's further action in the Seecamp where May has drawn level with Brayshaw but could still vault his way into the lead by default if Gus is disqualified. I don't think he's going into the backline again now so this could happen as early as next week. Hold all tickets.

54 - Clayton Oliver
42 - Christian Petracca
--- Can't win without two finals ---
35 - Jack Viney
--- Can't win without four finals ---
27 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Can't win full stop ---
23 - Angus Brayshaw (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Steven May (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
21 - Ed Langdon
9 - Jake Bowey
8 - Kysaiah Pickett
7 - Bayley Fritsch, Harrison Petty
6 - Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Michael Hibberd, Christian Salem
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Toby Bedford (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It's Viney in the first quarter, and I've absolutely lost all interest in any further analysis. No change to the overall leaderboard:

1st - Langdon vs Essendon
2nd - Pickett vs Port (this one)
3rd - Pickett vs GWS

Next Week
Why not extend your misery with another evening game against a finals contender? This time you get to sweat all the way through to Saturday night before we play Carlton. They seem to be heading in a much different direction to Collingwood, and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since that weird pre-season game, but I'm still petrified of them. It would be old school Melbourne to give a side who looked on their last legs one final boost before the finals.

If we lose, and surely we won't, you can be satisfied that we didn't deserve to be in the top four anyway and pray for the sweet release of death in an Elimination Final. Thanks to Freo coming back to life this week, and playing the West Coast Bye next, we'll probably need to win both games just to finish in the four now. How has it come to this?

After falling over in important games twice in three weeks we have to make a ritual sacrifice, and after cherishing his defensive efforts over the last couple of seasons it's got to be the Anal-Bullet. Happy to have him back after a short period of reflection but we need to change something in our forward line. Spargo is lucky not to be going with but the baby is just holding on as the bathwater goes flying out the window at terminal velocity.

From an uncultured perspective this would seem to leave us with two options - go back to playing with two tall forwards or replace ANB with somebody young and hungry to try and be the same sort of pressure player. At this point I desperately wanted to pick van Rooyen, but this surprise, surprise, the broken down, shitbox VFL has got Casey on a bye this week so that's seemingly out. Instead I'm inviting Kade Chandler to tear the tracksuit off like Hulk Hogan and go for it with all he's worth. He won't play this week either, but after being sub 95% of his career he'll tear off the leash like a starving dog and probably kill somebody else in a tackle three minutes in.

More likely they pick Joel Smith, who has recently been converted back into a forward in the seconds and has the advantage of being athletic enough to make contests of dreadful inside 50 kicks. It's a grim, dystopian vision of our future but at this stage anything they do to shake up the mix down there will be appreciated.

Whatever happens I know there won't be any celebrations if we're four goals up in the first half. Hopefully the Blues play the part of Fremantle and machine gun themselves in the foot. Even Michael Voss looked like he was over it in the coaches' box last week, here's to his players following suit and gifting us some momentum going into the last round. 

IN: Chandler
OUT: Neal-Bullen (omit)
LUCKY: Hunt, Melksham, Spargo
UNLUCKY: Bedford, Chandler, Harmes, Smith

The All New Bradbury Plan

The walls are closing in on us here. You might even want to start looking at what 7th/8th placed teams you'd rather play.

St. Kilda d. Brisbane
Gold Coast d. Geelong
West Coast d. Fremantle
Collingwood d. Sydney (no doubt the bastards will lose now, but I'm willing to accept that they'll finish top four and try to stuff up the Swans' chances instead)

Irrelevant to the top four - Bulldogs/GWS, Richmond/Hawthorn
Barely worth playing at all - Adelaide/North, Essendon/Port

Final thoughts
Duck's off sorry.

Sunday, 31 July 2022

Funny/Piss Funny

There's plenty to be said for flying to the other side of the country and rebooting your premiership defence by holding the locals to a pitiful score. But after 33 years of watching footy, I've discovered that some of the most satisfying wins are when umpiring causes an interstate crowd to lose their mind. You can't help but enjoy the pure innocence of people who usually 'convince' their team to an advantage losing their mind because things go against them for once.

A night of enjoyable niggle was kicked off by the well-known pugilist Jake Melksham, who ensured a salty atmosphere by snatching a 'comedy' Luke Jackson to Freo jumper waved by some poon probably more interested in TikTok engagement than recruiting. Melk probably didn't need to do it, but it was hardly an Oceans 11 heist given that it was returned to the same nuffy to have another, equally humourless go after the siren. Now I hope Jackson goes to West Coast and all they're left with is $120 of ruined fabric.

This incident will fit nicely into the movie script I'm writing about Melk's year. It's just the sort of sensitive tear-jerker the Academy Awards will love - player who has previously been doped with unknown substances by another club is in the twilight of his career, finds his career at a crossroads, spends a lot of time playing on shit suburban grounds, misses a famous Grand Final triumph, breaks his hand punching lippy teammate for being rude about it, sets the appropriate atmosphere for double chance saving game by grabbing jumper from dickhead in crowd, holds his spot through finals, then kicks the winning goal in the Grand Final. 

I'm already planning the final scene - he and May accidentally run into each other during the post-match celebration, and with fans behind them going absolutely bonkers Steven turns and says "I always knew we'd win one with you". They embrace and laugh as we pull back to an aerial shot and credits roll like the end of Lethal Weapon 2. 

We've all had a good old fashioned sook about umpiring, but I speak from years of experience in saying nobody else is at fault when you kick 5.9. I knew last week didn't represent the real Melbourne but could only stretch my belief as far as coming out on top in an arm-wrestle. Putting the opposition to sleep with a savage strangulation seemed a step too far. We got an assist from inclement weather and one of the worst forward lines ever fielded by a prospective premier, but you'd have to be the most purple-clad lunatic alive to argue that the result and margin weren't fully deserved.

You may remember roughly the same Freo team ending the most popular winning streak in history via a thunderous 70 point turnaround earlier in the season. Justin 'brother of' Longmuir obviously had fun because he wheeled out all the stuff that worked well that day. This meant the much anticipated (?) rematch between May and converted defender/Kingsley aspirant Griffin Logue. The original attempt to tag a key position defender with... a key position defender was short-circuited by May's concussion, but now we know it would have ended in our man still doing pretty much what he liked while theirs offered some of the stinkiest set shots of the season. Out of respect for May we won't declare it a 'knockout' win, but should we cross paths in the finals I don't think they'll bother trying it again.

Unfortunately this also meant another round of Oliver being tagged into the ground. Congratulations to James Aish, who prompted thousands to say "I didn't even know he still played" at their first meeting, but has gone where thousands of others have failed and cracked Clayts' code. Bad news for Oliver's Brownlow prospects, but good news for Petracca and/or Viney, freed to run riot all night. Good luck stopping the #1 prospect, but if you haven't got a plan for #2 and #3 you're rooted. 

Have I told you lately how much I love Viney? He might have donated one of their few goals with a loose handball, but 30 minutes later he was setting up goals with a Robbie Flower impersonation and you're ready to propose marriage. A reminder that some people were happy to give this man to Geelong for nothing a couple of years ago....

I love making judgements based on disposal efficiency (even knowing that the number is pointless because it doesn't take the situation into account), but if you base everything on his numbers you're missing the point. Just over half his disposals were 'efficient', and only one in four kicks, but the ones that came off were delightful and important. Maybe I'm willing to forgive everything because he's club royalty, but I'll engage in a knife fight on a city street to defend Jack's honour.  

In an additional midfield pisstake we threw the Brayshaw into the centre bounce for the first time all season and his 're-signed for a motza energy' had them scrambling too. He was very good again, proving to be a man of all positions. May as well throw him forward if things ever get dire.

Enjoyable result aside, this was anything but a classic game. It still had so many small moments of enjoyment that I wish there was time to take in the whole replay and not miss any. Alas, my sliver of spare time was taken up finding the right Lethal Weapon clip so sorry if your favourites missed out. Leave a comment, and if it's not about unlicensed medical treatment it will live forever under the post.

Some people, probably the blind community, loved Freo bringing back one of the worst jumpers in history. Forgot NRL players running screaming from pride jumpers, I'd have invented religious and cultural reasons to get out of having to wear it. This Microsoft clip art monstrosity was rotten when Tony Modra kicked 10 and hasn't gotten any better with age. On a barely related note, the Dockers celebrated the opening of Perth Stadium with a jumper that looked like it was being pelted with an apocalyptic meteor shower. Which is odd.

We joined the retro round fun by clobbering a team at Perth Stadium, and the ground itself put on a tribute to 'Death Valley' era Docklands. It was patchier than a teenager's face, with large parts of the ground the same luminous light green as an indoor cricket pitch. I haven't seen a Perth ground in such bad nick since we played a pre-season game there immediately after an Adele concert and The Spencil kicked three. It is still, based purely on our last six appearances there across both genders, the best ground in Australia.  

Despite many outing themselves as malakas by buying that dreadful heritage strip, Freo fans were still comfortable howling at umpires like they were war criminals. To be fair, they might have had a point with our first goal. After we'd opened with three behinds, all that looked like being wiped out x2 when the Dockers had the ball right in front of goal. There Petty absolutely infringed against an opponent, but we got away it, and rocketed down the other end to drop the ball on Pickett right in front of goal.

It was good that Kysaiah got that, because earlier he'd risked being cancelled for ignoring a free teammate to have a ping. Sure, he's built his career on having shots from ridiculous positions but let's get moral about him not stopping while hard on the boundary and trying to square the ball to a teammate with three defenders on him. Apparently, at one of the pre-match breakfasts, Goodwin was raving about how happy they were at Fritsch selflessly trying that pass in the final quarter last week. I don't get it, but he's the premiership coach so I'll take his word for it. Bayley later kicked a goal from pocket that he could easily have tried passing, but because it went through nobody cared.

Pickett had another successful night in front of goal, extending his run to 11 goals in three weeks after a mid-season dip, but returns to Melbourne $1000 poorer after being fined for staging. This is a bit embarrassing for everybody involved, but I won't lose any love for him, as far as I'm concerned premiership players are a secret society who can do as they like. It does set up the comedy angle of a lifetime next week when he's paid a contentious, game-winning free after the Pies bloke who leaps into tackles like a Mexican cliff diver has gone unrewarded all night. Weird, cultlike Collingwood people who figuratively and literally have nothing else going on could actually come over the fence if this happens.

Despite having Oliver and Gawn reasonably well covered, Freo floundered enough to let us get the first three goals. I'd love to have got excited, and would ultimately have been right, but considering what happened last time we played them (much less against every other team we've been that far ahead of this year) left me confused about how to feel. Nobody's going to ever turn down a start like that, but our vaudeville approach to holding leads still had me sweating.

At first, a few us would have been nodding our heads and going "ahh, that's what I thought was going to happen" when Freo got the next two. In order to temporarily balance the umpiring ledger, the second came courtesy of Hibberd being done for below the knee 'contact' when he was reaching for the ball and the 3D person clattered over him.

In another throwback to the Grand Final, once the opposition went alright for a bit when they settled down and stopped looking terrified. There was also the added complication of Lever hobbling off with an ankle injury. Returning professional substitute Kade Chandler must have got a bit of a spring in his step, thinking he was about to play 3.5 quarters in the seniors for once. Turns out Lever had just rolled it and was able to return, leaving Kade to keep playing David Brent style vibe merchant on the bench, pumping up his teammates as they came off.

Nobody's career has been slaughtered by the medical sub rule like Kade's, and this was one of four times where somebody was half-crocked, but not enough to have to come out of the game. His reward was to fly back on a red eye flight then play for Casey hours later. I still have absolutely NFI if he can play AFL, but I've got sympathy with him flying around the country like Charles Kingsford-Smith just to sit on his arse all night.

As much as I'd like him to get a chance, I'm happy that none of Lever's ankle issues, Salem's rearranged nose, Hibberd's dicky hamstring, or Jackson staring blankly at a doctor (not sure if concussed or that's just what he does) were enough to take them out of the game. What rotten luck to not only be stuck in a selection queue behind half a dozen premiership players, but to also be at one of the few clubs in the league that's not rorting the sub rule blind.

Despite being stereotyped as Mr. Tracksuit Time, this was the first of Chandler's four sub appearances this year where he didn't get on the ground. Still, two full games in 10 career starts is a bullshit way to see your career go past. Maybe he'll get a go - either with us or elsewhere - turn out to be no good and look back fondly on pocketing match payments for a couple of years based on potential. We should find out by loaning him to a shit club for a year, then getting him back when he's got more experience. I'd just like to see him play against non-VFL opposition, at this stage I'm not even sure what to do expect when he does play, other than killing a West Coast player. Had the ground been in the same state that night, his chasedown tackle may have caused an actual fatality.

The hot start had - seemingly - fizzed out a lot earlier than last time. Enter Fritsch to keep his feet superbly after a marking contest and reestablish the two goal buffer. We could have had another if the quarter went 10 seconds longer but no need to be greedy, I was just happy to be ahead. Also would have been a great last goal because the ball bouncing directly into Pickett's hands 15 metres from goal came directly from another unpaid free that had fans screaming.

We might have let in two quick goals, but it was not the same calibre of game or opposition as last week. Playing the Bulldogs under a roof promoted the sort of free and easy atmosphere that doesn't suit us, a jungle warfare slog in the rain was more like it. Freo responded by not kicking a goal for the first 28 minutes of the second quarter, while we while we went back to doing what we liked.

About their only success in that time was the other Brayshaw (not to be confused with the other other Brayshaw or the bloke who speaks nonsense on Channel 7) mowing Jackson down with a tackle. Somebody probably thinks the following 'cop that you bastard' head rub will make Jacko think twice about joining the Dockers. As far as ridiculous reasons for turning them down go, it would be second only to the person who booed him for...  not signing before he's legally allowed to? Possibly a Melbourne fan getting in early. Or a Freo fan who doesn't want to spend a fortune on him when they've already got the bloke who looks like Dan Aykroyd after sucking on an air hose. Justin Longmuir, make sure there's no hard feelings by giving us your Brayshaw. We'll let the third one play at Casey if that helps. 

Inflatable Aykroyd also provided a highlight by walloping Petracca in the back. There wasn't much in the blow but I enjoyed Christian's indignant yelling at him like a displeased parent. 

If I had the chance to yell abuse at Dan it would be about Caddyshack II

As much as I used to enjoy the Media Watch segment, there's not much unique shit left to hang on Channel 7. This time they spent about five minutes on Whisperin' Brian Taylor speaking in hushed tones about life after Jackson as if he was about to die of a serious illness. People defend this clod on the ground that he brings 'colour' to the call. That colour is brown.

As the margin ticked towards what it had been that time at the MCG, I was left mentally bargaining that we'd still win because a) there was more on the line now, b) May was still out there, and c) it was set to bucket down again at any time. Their forward structure was so bad it's hard to see how they could have caught us without seriously injuring several defenders but I've seen losses to worse from further ahead before so there were no grounds for relaxation.

It was briefly back to 'annoy the fans' mode when a mammoth rundown on an indecisive Viney ended in him getting a high contact free. This was a case of a technically correct decision that I don't morally agree with - if the impact of the tackle is somewhere else on the body and an arm gently wafts across the shoulder you should reward the tackler. In this case it was good because we got to laugh at angry fans. The man Alan Richardson would have kicked for his life missed from right in front anyway, so no harm done.

There was so much different about this game than our earlier collapse against the Dockers that it was almost stupid to draw comparisons, but I still thought "here we go again" after conceding in the last 30 seconds. This came much to the tremendous delight of this fellow. I'm with the guy on the left of screen, refusing to get excited about one goal when you're six down.

That left me a bit uncomfortable through half time but I was still as confident as I ever am that we'll win. Which by community standards is still not very confident. The backline had done very well but you couldn't rule out Maggie Taberer and friends getting on a couple of fluky ones, while we'd been kicking them from everywhere until now so who knew if that could go on forever. Would have nice of the Weid had got any sort of disposal. Last week he kicked three goals when we delivered the ball to him on a platter, this time he couldn't get near it no matter how hard he tried. For those of us who've defended him it was... not good.

Doubt and fear were starting to seep through when, after seven goalless minutes for both sides, they crumbed one to bring the margin under four goals. Hello again Fritsch, having another great night on his favourite ground, belting through a set shot from 50 metres out on a tight angle to restore some sanity to proceedings. It barely took a minute after the Dockers' breakthrough goal, which must have been deflating. Probably not as much as letting the Weid mark one on the line mid-wrestle with an opponent. It was his first and last disposal for the night, but at least that's good scoring efficiency.

Despite Salem going down with a temporary case of death, Freo had the attack power of Greenland's air force and couldn't take advantage. Just to prove everything was going against them, just as it started pissing down a defender accidentally toepoked the ball on the full in the forward pocket. This gave Spargo the chance to finally kick the goal from the pocket that he was cruelly denied by a squibbing umpire in Adelaide last year. It didn't feel right but we could even have crossed the Chris Sullivan Line if Gawn hadn't unloaded an absolute dog of a set shot at the end. Lucky for him it was only five minutes earlier that a Docker had put one straight over the line from 20 metres out so nobody will remember it.

Good thing we had it as good as won by three quarter time, because the last quarter was a slopfest. I don't know why them finally kicking the opener eight minutes in worried me so much, we were further ahead than we had been at that point in the Grand Final but there was still something worrying me. This was stupid considering that even when they got a goal they were still half our score with 13 minutes to play. Enter the resurgent Melksham, setting up Pickett to waltz towards goal in "stick that up your arse" mode to make sure of it by any measure. I'd like to think he was inviting Freo to take their Word Art jumper and get off our ground.

Things had deteriorated so far that Channel 7 switched from its "idiots speaking tripe" coverage to some weird unit necking a drink out of his shoe. People go wild for this sort of thing - and I'm astonished that the broadcaster didn't ruin the historical record of this match by devoting 30 minutes to the boundary umpire's mullet - but I think people like this and their supporters should be kept on the other side of the country by force if necessary. They can take BT with them, who wondered what you made of it all when a kick by one of our players towards the boundary wasn't paid deliberate because Freo got their first and took it out. In 100 years people living on Mars are going to watch highlights of old-school footy and PISS THEMSELVES at this poon being allowed to speak over the top of the peak professional sporting competition in the country.

The locals had already taken to throwing pissy little plastic cups at the ground in frustration (lucky old mate didn't fling his shoe), so it was good to throw in a couple more dodgy decisions to really get them going home with steam coming from the ears. First Lobb and his stupid Ginivan-esque hair being denied a mark in front of goal, then Spargo wandering so far over the mark that he was almost halfway through reacting to giving away a 50 before it wasn't paid. 

Even if Maggie T had kicked the goal on the siren it would have still been their lowest ever score against us. In a classic COVID quirk the previous record holder was when they beat us in Cairns in 2020, so you can only imagine how bad we were that night. If you believe the secessionists in attendance, the new record was due entirely to dodgy umpiring. If that's what keeps you from sticking a fork in the light socket go with it, we'll be over here trying to win flags again. God knows how successfully, but the dream remains alive.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Bayley Fritsch
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Harrison Petty

Significant apologies to Lever, May, Melksham, Pickett. Some level of apology to many others

If other teams can find effective taggers for Oliver it could be on at the top here. Forget that, what about the potential controversy about Brayshaw picking up Seecamp votes as a midfielder? One week doesn't DQ him but the committee will be meeting if he starts in the middle again next week. Great news for fans of Steven May. No change in the other categories.

49 - Clayton Oliver
40 - Christian Petracca
35 - Jack Viney
--- Can't win without two finals ---
26 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
23 - Angus Brayshaw (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
--- Can't win without three finals ---
19 - Ed Langdon, Steven May
--- Can't win full stop ---
9 - Jake Bowey
8 - Kysaiah Pickett
7 - Bayley Fritsch, Harrison Petty
6 - Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Michael Hibberd
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Toby Bedford (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
As much as I enjoyed Fritsch's pick up, wheel around and snap in the first quarter It's got to be Spargo from the pocket. Partly for general degree of difficulty in pelting rain and the stage the game was at, but mostly because it furthers my belief that we were robbed at the Adelaide Oval last year. He wins a free round of whatever it is that he was caught breaking COVID isolation rules to do a couple of years ago. No change to the leaderboard.

1st - Langdon vs Essendon
2nd - Pickett vs Port (this one)
3rd - Pickett vs GWS

Next Week
I'm sure neutrals are positively quivering over defending premiers vs Collingwood side that has won 10 straight via so many fluky finishes that they've practically become an artform. It'll be a ball-tearer for everybody else, I'll be silently rocking in a corner until such point as we're confirmed winners - and that won't be while they're kicking in with 30 seconds left - and none of us has to hear from the several dozen Pies fans in our lives. 

It does promise to be massive. Both sides are confirmed finalists, but given that each plays alleged contenders in the last two weeks it could send the loser into a death spiral out of the four. We're used to rebuilding our season on the run, hopefully if we win it'll machine-gun their morale and lead to explosive decompression. All I know is that if Mason C. Ox has a third Kingsley level game against us I could self-harm.

Unless Jackson comes down with a Harmes style delayed concussion or somebody got Deep Vein Thrombosis on the flight back there shouldn't be too many changes. The bad news for Harmes is that his injury might come back to haunt him at the wrong time. We don't really need him to wither and die in the forward line, but Brayshaw was such a hit in his return to the midfield that there's probably no spot for him there either. He's a loveable character so I hate to do him a mischief, but he may have to bide his time with the unstoppable Casey Demons and wait for an opportunity. I love his joyful nature but we're trying to win a flag here.

Speaking of Bambi shooting scenarios, it feels hypocritical throwing the Weid on the scrapheap a couple of weeks after I said we should just play him for a few weeks and damn the consequences. That was before Melksham's career revival, and more importantly before Weid himself went from an average but profitable three goal game to getting one accidental kick. I'd like to find a way to keep him because I don't trust us to use Brown on his own, but whatever he does it'll probably be more than Sam did this week. It is 100% time for Weid to engineer a Chandler-esque move to a shit team where he can just play every week. He's not going to win the Coleman but there's a half-decent league forward in there somewhere. Probably time for us to move on though...

... and if we are going to move, the next cab off the rank in our post-Neitz quest for a home-grown full forward is van Rooyen. Last week I thought it was the time to play him, now I can see they're happy to only play one tall so he's not going to be picked to debut in front of 70,000 people with seasons potentially on the line. He kicked another five in the VFL today, admittedly against dire opposition, and would have already walked into lesser teams but if they weren't going to start the Bowey preparation this week I doubt it's going to happen after. See also Laurie. Either or both could get a run this year if things get drastic but should be kicking the door down to play Round 1 next year. Yes please on both counts.

I'm just going to be ridiculously optimistic and say we win. It would be rude for them to turn up properly now after barely beating rubbish sides for weeks. 

IN: B. Brown
OUT: Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: Neal-Bullen
UNLUCKY: Chandler, Harmes, Laurie, van Rooyen and all the usual suspects

The All New Bradbury Plan

Now that the top eight plan is officially shelved - and thank christ for that - we can concentrate on the four. This means more dead rubbers - so next week you can take Hawthorn/Gold Coast, GWS/Essendon, Port/Richmond and West Coast/Adelaide out the back and shoot them. All the action is in:

Footscray d. Fremantle
St. Kilda d. Geelong
North d. Sydney
Carlton d. Brisbane

I now think we'll finish fourth, ahead of Sydney on percentage, and play Geelong in the first week. Which is both terrifying and a good opportunity to get them just as the creaky players started to fall over.

Final thoughts
Everything is alright with the world again. Until the next loss when the sky will be falling again. 

Monday, 25 July 2022

A series of unfortunate events

In the increasingly unlikely event that Saturday 24 September ends in back-to-back flag glory I will absolutely piss myself thinking back to this game. There's losing, there's losing a thriller, there's losing a thriller with excuses, then there's losing a thriller in farcical fashion where the only reason you can't hear Benny Hill music is because opposition are drowning it out in glee at pulling off a brave, come-from-behind upset.

For a side that's won a lot of games in the last 2.5 years, we sure hate to do things conventionally. This was a rare occasion where we were decided to try and chase down a big score instead of winning via skull-squeezing defensive efforts. With Ben Brown a late withdrawal, replaced by Weideman in the same lone tall forward role that killed his career in late 2020, I didn't think we were qualified to participate in a shootout. Somehow, via wacky twists and turns that must have had neutrals quivering in glee. 

Had we held on to win I'd have suggested air-dropping promotional DVDs of it across the northern hemisphere. Instead we survived the highest-scoring first half of the season to hold various comfortable leads before our most buffoonish loss at Docklands since forgetting how time works. You can stuff the digital video disc up your jumper, I just want to vent my misery via the medium of keyboard walloping then pretend none of it happened.

When you've seen so many losses over the years, the dropping of premiership points isn't so bad, it's fumbling them in slapstick fashion that gives me the shits. The only consolation is that like the Adelaide 2021 fiasco, this game is in no way representative of us so you can go into the shell and pretend it's an out of the box result unlikely to be repeated. We could play Footscray nine times more in a row and this style of contest wouldn't happen again. Doesn't mean we'd win every time, but there's no way you'd get another (relatively) free-scoring extravaganza, and we'd probably have made some sort of interchange in the last 10 minutes.

Like that infamous afternoon in Adelaide, if we bounce back it won't be anything more than a memorable bump in the road. Whether we will is anybody's guess, and it's going to take beating one or more good sides to avoid falling into the eight in shithouse form - or turning a 10-0 start into missing entirely. And what value will we provide if we get there? Even during the momentarily wobble 12 months ago we looked to be heading towards September in better physical and mental shape, with a shitload of players in career best form. Now we've plateaued, injuries are piling up, the element of surprise has disappeared, and it looks like our Plan B envelope is empty. After catching fire out of nowhere at the end of last year you'd be mad to write us off, but maybe take the lid off the pen just in case. I'll be happy just to make it and have a ticket in the 'anything could happen' lottery.

Of course the mood would be brighter if we'd taken any number of chances to win. It would have been patronising "well done for getting so close" for the opposition and renewed optimism about storming through a month of finals contenders and into September on a high. Why I should lose faith (again) when I've just outlined when the game means nothing long-term is a mystery, but changing your mind at the drop of a hat is what being a fan is all about.

Despite a week of being exposed to every illness other than COVID and Simian Haemorraghic Fever, I managed to get to just my sixth and last home and away game of the year (including having to leave the opening round at half time). Adam 2012 has sent a message via the Kaspersky Lab time machine labelling me a "softcock", which is probably correct. I'm going to fix the prick up by sending back nightmarish visions of helping a child barf into a disused ice cream container at 2am. My last two appearances were losses, so I could easily have finished a week that was rancid in more ways than one with a stirring victory. Instead we showed as much composure as the poisoned guts and carelessly discarded another four goal lead.

My theory that a half-full Docklands is a better place to watch games than the MCG these days was given a boost when nobody turned up. Suppose we'll be blamed for that. Even the giant screens I was so dismissive of last week were, I have to admit, impressive. Usually the lower capacity means you have to put up with some numpty talking shite two rows in front, but this time I had several glorious metres to put my feet up and mutter under my breath. Of course just when it got hairy in the last quarter some lone Bulldog wandered in and gave me a box seat view of his glee, which was not appreciated.

This was, to put not too fine a point on it, an odd game. Both sides did things ranging from spectacular to spectacularly ugly, doing their best to keep it interesting for as long as possible. Our individuals didn't play badly, but it was a classic example of a lot of decent performances that didn't collectively stretch across four quarters. Some did their best work early, some turned up in the middle, some randomly spent the last 15 minutes on the bench while their teammates were about to die.

If I didn't give you the score and said Fritsch/Weid kicked seven combined, May had five contested marks, Gawn created goals out of the middle with fancy backhanded taps, Aaron Naughton was reasonably well held and Josh Bruce may as well not have turned up you'd probably think we won. But that's because you're missing the bit where we failed to take advantage of the opposition's suicidal tendencies, allowed them to roam up and down the ground unchallenged during the second half, and allowed a #1 draft pick to have his first great night in front of goal.

That also leaves a lot out of our story. For example, Petracca taking mercy on the Dogs after carving them to shreds in the Grand Final. He got plenty of touches, and did a couple of nice things, but his overall effect only rated about 2/10 on the Perth Stadium Mental Disintegration Index. And as hard as Gawn battled I'll still be rooted sideways if he's fit. The trend is going in the right direction, he was much nearer to 100% than last week, but is still in no condition to be his usual dominant force. As much as I hope he stays and becomes the future ruckman of our dreams, Goldenballs Jackson is not the man yet, and we let Tim English Muffins have far too much of an impact.

Given how leads are being carelessly thrown away across the league, I wasn't going to start sulking after conceding the first two goals. Nothing in the opening minutes suggested our new look/no aerial presence forward line was going to kick a decent score, but any team can reel in a lead of that size - it's just a matter of how long they can hold after. We did for about 111 minutes, unfortunately expiring shortly before the final siren.

To be unfair to what turned out to be a decent performance by the forwards, Footscray's defenders looked ripe for the picking. Even the Anal-Bullet steered through a set shot, and by the time Melksham Mania broke out via a goal, then a kick to space for Pickett to run onto, we were not only winning but had them on the run. If only we hadn't been in the same situation before almost every loss this year you'd have called home to put the champers on ice. Then the Weid kicked two in quick succession and I was sucked in by fantasies about this being the night he finally ran riot. 

Other than one ripping lead that created another goal on the stroke of three quarter time he was barely seen again, and his only impact on contests was to be shoved out of the way for the free that lead to his first. Not arguing with three goals though, I still believe in Weideman and think that he could do damage if we gave him space and kicked to him on a lead. Otherwise he's not going to do much consistently. He might have kicked the ton when leading forwards were all the rage but today, and in a team that loves to boot the ball a mile in the air, he's limited back lack of screaming pack mark ability. I appreciated the impact in a couple of forward 50 contests, but he did bugger as a link player up the ground. When I think about Brown pulling down big grabs along the wing last week I'm willing to try them together again once BBB is fit.

There were various collapses in our near future, but I was further sucked in to thinking everything was going to be alright when Fritsch goalled 30 seconds into the second quarter. Then we went missing for a bit. Everything that had worked so well until then disappeared, Footscray belatedly turned up, and before you knew it the gap was back to a kick. Then, in a game that was already trending towards a weird finish, we got four in the next five minutes and were in control again. So far so Grand Final, but without the mystery nose bleeds.

This was the point where Gawn brought back everyone's favourite move, the overhand tap that drops straight to a midfielder steaming past. I know he often had the advantage of playing against Josh Bruce, who was the worst Footscray ruckman since Brett Goodes, but it's been a while since we've seen it. They eventually twigged and began preparing for it but the first time was a thrill. Nothing will ever beat Gold Coast 2016 when he did one at a boundary throw-in that Viney hoovered onto, then belted it through from 50. And it's not often that anything from 2016 can be described like that.

You can't get a radio station to tell you how much time there is left in a quarter, but you can get idiots saying things like "Melbourne hasn't had a statement win, this could be the big victory they need", as if a four goal lead is anything in games between these clubs. And as if we hadn't recently pulverised Brisbane in a top two clash. I'd already turned off one station because they were convinced Ben Brown had been withdrawn in the last hour before the game, it was either stick with this lot or risk ejection by throwing my radio at the playing surface.

The 'big victory' didn't last long, Footscray got the last two goals of the half and went into the break with something to look forward to. These goals need not have happened if Harmes hadn't completely flubbed a kick to Melksham in acres of space inside 50, before Melk's attempts to handball back to Harmes ended in the ball rolling through for a point. It was all a bit undignified.

Never mind that we'd let the Dogs back into it, and were treating scoring opportunities like the Marx Brothers, their fans were having such a whinge about umpiring I was waiting for somebody to climb the fence. This was ironic when they follow a side that's had a spot of luck with decisions over the years. If you're into conspiracies we've had the least frees in the league this season, and were thrashed in the count here, but I'm not leaning on that as a reason why we lost. The game was in our hands twice and we botched it both times. Do - not - leave - it - in - the - hands - of - the - umpires. We didn't do ourselves many favours in the free kick count by being caught holding the ball every five seconds. You'd think that the Geelong game would have been a wake-up call that you can't expect to wade through tackles against good sides with the same contempt as the jabroni sides.

The party briefly reconvened at the start of the third, via an assist from the umpires that even I felt guilty about. Wasn't going to argue a free goal, but the contact on Milkshake in the marking contest was nothing out of the ordinary. Certainly not compared to Petty belting somebody's head off with a spoil later on.

Then things changed for the worse. It's good to be at the ground so you don't have to wait for the TV to show half a dozen players standing on their own along the wings, or the panicked efforts of our players to find an opponent, often leaving two of them running towards the same guy, only to realise they were both heading in the same direction, then both go elsewhere and leave the original guy alone. Here they were joyfully swinging the ball from side to side while all Langdon's running was done trying to find some space. Sam Mitchell hasn't done much as a coach yet, but tagging the shizen out of Ed has been his gift to the rest of the competition. In lieu we went through Jordon a lot, but he usually had sod all targets to aim at so that didn't do us much good either.

In a shocking turn of events other teams seem have studied what helped the premiers win and are throwing roadblocks in the way to stop it happening again. That's probably why only the best teams win more than once, and everyone else has to be content with one off magical moments before falling back to earth. Mind you, Geelong won three flags spaced out two years at a time and we haven't been able to get rid of them since so there's still some hope if this year doesn't work out.

I'm sure they weren't working in such wide open space in the first half. Now every time we went forward and didn't score it was being rocketed back towards our goal, relying on an under siege backline to save us. 

You won't get in-depth tactical analysis here, but I'd have thought two potential methods for combating free running players would be a) don't panic bomb kicks into a 50 without any forwards who can take overhead contested marks, and/or b) put an already wonky defence under enough pressure that they might do something NQR. The first one happened occasionally, the second literally did not, and we ended the game with a grand total of zero tackles inside the forward 50. 

This seemed unusually low, and our round-by-round figures confirm it. The number is so bad that I'm waiting for Champion Data to reveal they forgot to punch a number in. 

R1 - 7
R2 - 14
R3 - 10
R4 - 16
R5 - 9
R6 - 12
R7 - 11
R8 - 13
R9 - 12
R10 - 23
R11 - 9
R12 - 9
R13 - 12
R15 - 17
R16 - 11
R17 - 7
R18 - 6
R19 - 0

Considering we had the best average in the league last year, racking up nil feels like a tremendous blooper in a close game. Mind you, the last time a team had zero in a full length game, Richmond won the match, then a flag five weeks later so who knows how relevant it is. Feels like a few would have helped on Saturday night. We only had six in the Grand Final, but that's probably because Footscray's defenders spent most of the second half looking up at the ball flying over their heads.

As they went into free range mode I started to wonder if maybe there had been something in Bedford doing a defensive job on half-forward flankers last week. Still reckon you need to get possessions too. If there's anything to be optimistic about, it's that we mathematically put less pressure on a backline than any side for three years and still somehow nearly won so it shouldn't be hard to improve next week.

It took a few minutes for things to get truly ropey, but once they parked the ball inside our forward 50 and we couldn't extract it for love nor money things turned sour. Once the first went in their tails were up, and two more brought the margin back under a kick again. Then weird turned to Weid, when he got our second in a row at the end of the quarter, the margin was back into double figures, and maybe we were going to hold on after all.

For the benefit of my mental health I refused to believe that playing in warm weather last week was going to cause a fade-out here. Can't have helped, because by the end everyone looked half dead. Conversely, the Dogs were able to throw on a fresh sub. For once there was no question of conspiracy, Treloar had been their best player so replacing him with Rip McCord didn't offer much beyond the fitness benefits. Meanwhile Bedford was cooling his heels on our bench, looking around and wondering why so many of his teammates were spending half the quarter sitting next to him while players on the ground were screaming for oxygen.

Now that I knew we were in full survival mode, conceding the first seemed like an invitation to roll over and die. To our credit we did not, and Pickett slid through a lovely goal on the run to restore a decent lead. Annnnnnnnnnnnnd we didn't kick another goal. What ammo was still in the shootout was all delivered at the other end, including Ugle-Hagen (🎵 I can't stop this feeling, deep inside of me 🎵) getting a fourth. 

After all these years of helping the careers of mediocre and broken down players, may as well be the first victims of a future superstar. Must have been nice for the Dogs to have him delivered free via the draft, shortly before they changed the rules and anything we spent developing Mac Andrew flew out the window when he was drafted elsewhere, just as we could do with a replacement athletic ruckman to make up for the existing one doing a bolt. Free kicks, free players, free land from the state government. Some have all the luck, except in the third quarter of Grand Finals.

We could very well have still won it from here. Mainly due to being more than a goal in front halfway through the quarter, which is a decent platform to work with. And as many unnecessary points as we were conceding, the backline was holding up reasonably well. Then, in a moment nobody could have seen coming when everyone started bullying him about taking instinctive shots, Fritsch found himself in the pocket, had second thoughts because some fuckstick like Dermott Brereton might be offended, and tried a ridiculous 10 metre squaring kick that was never going to come off. Well done to everyone who contributed to this moment by being sucked in to media bullshit.

Given that we were clearly out on our feet and had fried almost all our interchanges on laughable attempts to put the game away I thought that would be it. Somehow we ended up with two changes left despite not making any in the last eight minutes, and with three of four players spending the final 10+ minutes off. What's all that about? It's clutching at straws to think it would have made a difference, but when half the team looked about to pass out, surely one of Sparrow, Spargo or Rivers would have come in handy? Not to mention Weideman, who'd kicked three goals and finished the game with splinters in his arse. Could we not have made a change after either of the goals? This is the sort of niche content I'd like addressed in press conferences.

Even though they seemed far more likely to score we still managed to blow a couple of chances, first via a wild Petracca snap, then Pickett from a set shot right in front. I'll punch on to protect his reputation but missing a gilt edged chance like that was a blow. Then came the tremendous cock up that changed everything. They might have been running free all over the ground, but still needed two goals to win it. So why not keep things interesting by handing over the first on a silver platter? As much as I love May, and as much as he'd taken a shitload of marks in Lever's absence to keep us in it, his turnover was the worst seen at that ground since a young Jack Viney in that pre-season game against Essendon's reserves.

May obviously thought that after we'd exited defensive 50 via the flanks 97% of the time that this was the perfect opportunity to confuse the Dogs by doing something else. Unfortunately, that was a kick  into the middle of the ground that landed straight on the teet of an opponent 40 metres out. Just to prove it was that sort of night, it was called play on but they still had enough time to steady and kick the goal. I've reached a level of zen post-flag that would have seemed impossible a few years ago, but still greeted this by pulling my hat off and whipping the seat in front of me like Boss Hogg.

The global pandemic and associated lockouts helped, but this was the first genuine thriller I'd seen live since Hawthorn 2009, and other than that post goal tantrum I'd like to think I coped well. Even better the last close loss I'd seen was the Zac Tuohy debacle at Kardinia Park four years ago. It's a mark of how much has changed in the last few years that my blood pressure remained under Chernobyl levels when they strolled in for the goal that finally took the lead. If nothing else it was a less ludicrous way to lose than Essendon.

This had been a truly stupid game, so I couldn't entirely rule out us winning in some flat-out zany way that would be spoken about with reverence for years to come. It wasn't going to be courtesy of Weideman, who left marooned on the bench while we tried the innovative method of recovering a lead in the last two minutes with no recognised tall forwards. As a replacement they tried to send May down there, opening the door to combine with Melksham for the match-winner then fall into a tearful embrace on the Docklands 'turf'. Alas he never got the chance.

Things were not looking good, but while the margin remained under a goal. I was open to anything. Then we were sunk by a cover version of young Bontempelli ripping a goal out of his sphincter to win a thriller in 2014. Obviously this time it had to be Jamarra, unfairly labelled as a Kingsley by some when this could very well be the breakout performance that will springboard him to immortality. Alternatively, if he never kicks five again and his career peters out into mediocrity they might retrospectively have a point. 

It was an insane goal to end a game, even better than the Langdon one that sank Essendon. 12 months ago I'd have been on the roof with a sniper rifle, this time there was just base-level sadness at all the missed opportunities. It's not just this game, we've embraced the Stranglewank to ridiculous levels this year, and for all the valid excuses about injuries and invalid ones like umpiring, they've got to do something about it in the next month. Brisbane seems like the anomaly of the century when you consider the only other teams we've gone on with a lead against were slop like GWS and West Coast.

Bulldogs fans certainly liked it, and why wouldn't you. I'd have been delighted if we'd hung on all night and nicked a win in those circumstances. Surely the level of joy related to general excitement after a thriller/keeping your finals hopes alive, and nobody was seriously thinking they'd delivered any sort of 'payback' for the Grand Final. I have my doubts considering the generally nasty atmosphere in the level four walkway immediately after the siren. 

Sadly I just missed the local biff in my area, but after going back for a look at the commotion did enjoy some Footscray bloke theatrically yelling at a security guard "He should be CHARGED! One punch is not on... ONE. PUNCH. IS. NOT. ON!" while the pissed as a fart alleged perpetrator stood there in his Reject Shop 'Melbourne' hat looking bemused with no actual victim in sight. If only that was the most interesting thing I'd seen at around 10pm on Saturday night our season would be in a lot better shape.

Roll on the week of hearing about how 'hurt' everyone is, then on to the next debacle.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Steven May
3 - Bayley Fritsch
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Hibberd, Jordon, Melksham, Petracca, Petty, Sparrow and Viney, all unsuccessful entrants in the one vote Royal Rumble.

It's advantage Oliver again, and because we look like playing fewer games every week they'll have to surgically amputate his entire arm to stop him from here. As we now have an absolute maximum of eight matches left, that's curtains for anybody more than 40 votes behind. Great news for Jake Bowey, who can still rip through the rest of the year with eight straight BOGs and a Norm Smith and grab a share of the Jako.

In the minors, butterfoot May closes the gap on Brayshaw to two, with no movement in either of the other categories. Regardless of what's good for the team it's on them to pick a rookie next week just to put some interest into the Hilton.

49 - Clayton Oliver
36 - Christian Petracca
30 - Jack Viney
--- Can't win without finals ---
26 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Can't win in one final ---
21 - Angus Brayshaw (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
19 - Ed Langdon, Steven May
--- Can't win in three finals ---
9 - Jake Bowey
--- Can't win full stop ---
8 - Kysaiah Pickett
6 - Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen, Harrison Petty
5 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Michael Hibberd
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Toby Bedford (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
As much as I liked Pickett's goal in the last quarter, residual bitterness about what happened next means I'm looking elsewhere. Instead, it's Fritsch kicking the cover off the snap for his fourth. He wins an effigy of 'Derm' that he can clobber with a baseball bat Peter Caven style. No change to the leaderboard.

1st - Langdon vs Essendon
2nd - Pickett vs Port (this one)
3rd - Pickett vs GWS

Matchday Experience Watch
If you remember the days when I could actually go to games regularly, you'll know the standard for dreadful mid-match entertainment was set by 2016's one week wonder Match The Emoji. I've seen some slop over the years, but perhaps nothing ever as NQR as "What Dog Are You?", where random crowd members were compared to craggy bulldogs that looked like they were a few days away from being put to sleep. Makes you appreciate the simplicity of that time Hawthorn wheeled some recovering drug addicts out for a goalkicking contest.

Next Week
After six games against West Coast, and one glorious outing against each of Geelong and Footscray, it's finally time to play Fremantle at Perth Stadium. Here's to them suffering the same sort of virus outbreak (let's just call it 'bad luck' - taste editor) that forced their AFLW side to drag in ringers from off the beach and lose by a record margin. At this point, I'll take their men losing by any margin under any circumstances, because unless we win again there's still a half chance of us missing the finals with 13 wins.

The Dockers cleaned us up like a bird through the engine of jumbo jet last time, but while they remain neck deep in flag consideration they haven't done much to excite in the last few weeks. They'd have lost to Richmond if the Cumberland Sausage hadn't played on at the last minute, and that gives me some confidence about winning here. I'll think we'll give it a decent crack before losing in regrettable circumstances.

If you're looking for changes, the good news is that Casey won again. The bad news is that the best players were Baker and Chandler, both of who could be relied on for honest toil (or in Chandler's case, to sit on the bench all night doing crosswords) but don't strike me as match winners. Unless it's going to give him PTSD about tackling the West Coast bloke to death, may as well waste Kade's time by flying him across the country to be sub. 

On the other side of that equation, if Brown is suffering wear and tear issues with his knees give him another week to recover without the added stress of forcing his plus-size frame into some bullshit airline seat. I cannot be convinced that we don't need a second marking target, so while he may only have kicked one goal in the seconds it's time to go Dutch and unleash JVR. Just give me somebody hungry who will compete in marking contests, and if it doesn't work you've given Brown an extra week to recover. 

Given that Melksham has done better than expected since returning I'm going against everything I believe in and chopping Harmes to create room. He'll be welcomed back with open arms ASAP but somebody's got to make way for the European Union of JVR/Weid. I've been suggesting changes long enough to know that none of this is going to happen. Probably still best to trust the people who are paid to do this sort of thing and not numbnuts from the internet.

IN: van Rooyen, Lever, Chandler (as sub)
OUT: Harmes, Tomlinson (omit), Bedford (sub)
LUCKY: Rivers, Spargo
UNLUCKY: Baker, Bowey, Hunt

The All New Bradbury Plan

We're still three games and percentage inside the eight with four to play so even I can't contemplate the horror of falling out from here. With one notable exception, let's stick with a top four plan. Slim pickings for us here, so best do the right thing, draw up the spirit of certain other games in Perth and look after ourselves.

Port d. Collingwood
GWS d. Sydney
Hawthorn d. St Kilda (really only relevant if you're clinging on to a top eight plan)
Geelong d. Footscray (the Cats are finishing top two whether you like it or not, I'd rather fix up Footscray)
Adelaide d. Carlton
Richmond d. Brisbane

No interest in the Coast Derby or Essendon/North.

Final thoughts
It's not my brand to be involved in winning, so despite following a club that has won a lot of games in Victoria this year I'm going to finish the home and away season with a 2-3 record (+ the first half of Round 1 before I had to leave). Even if finals might boost the number this will easily the fewest live games I've been to since 2002 and I hate it with a passion. 

On the other hand, even though I've never been one for superstition, maybe it's better if I do stay away. Stiff shit, you can have Carlton and Collingwood without me, I'll throw your granny in front of a train to be there in September. I might follow this person's lead and bring an emotional support animal:

Monday, 18 July 2022

Pickett up the pieces

During the week the club asked for your favourite moment from the Alice Springs games. The attached highlights package included eclectic moments from Jeremy Howe taking a screamer (obviously in a loss) to Heritier Lumumba doing the Adam Goodes dance after a goal. Sadly no sign of my selections, sending Don Pyke off the deep end, or making a couple of million dollars flogging home games there while we were struggling to stay afloat..

All previous happy memories of Traeger Park can move back one spot in the queue and pay their respects to the best crumbing forward game we've seen since god knows when. After a year where he's randomly bobbed up to wreck teams before disappearing for hours on end, Kysaiah Pickett went absolutely hog wild bonkers here, kicking goals from literally every angle, and single-handedly saving a forward line that was sliding towards 1890s St Kilda level potency.

I don't know if anybody else on the planet is called Kysaiah, but more performances like this and there will be hundreds of them in the future. It'll be the Australian version of the basketballer whose completely made up first name became the hottest thing to call your kids because he was a good guy at sports.

Thank god for the small forward masterclass, because that's about all there is to recommend from this game. Given that they were calling it off the TV from Melbourne, Channel 7 should make a direct contribution to the Northern Territory's economy by paying to have the master tapes buried in the desert. Just remember, a proportion of any money that the NT government receives back to us for playing there, so give that we may grow. I'm still not sure they're getting value for money, but keep writing cheques and we'll keep turning up.

Despite it being 2nd vs 12th, there were various warning signs about this game - our misfiring forward line, Port's reasonable recent form, and the potentially Brownlow costing absence of extraction machine Clayton Oliver. Fox Footy tried to pretend there was relevance to losing our only three meetings with Port in Alice, but considering that the last one was in 2016 I'm not sure the five players left in the side from that day would have given half a shit. 

Seems weird now that the careers of Colin Garland and Christian Petracca briefly intersected, via a series of detours and false starts, eventually passing the baton between the #fistedforever and #flagforever eras. On the scale of likely events I'd have ranked the chances of bouncing back to a flag at that point below a global pandemic. As they say at Old El Paso, "why don't we have both?" I still say the flag doesn't come without the Corona, so the usual million thankyous to whoever ate the bat/brewed it in a laboratory/made the whole thing up (delete as per your views).

Now we're the hunted, and even after keeping up with the hottest side in the competition for most of last week, Port must have fancied their chances of an upset. This was good news for their fill-in coach Nathan Bassett, the latest ringer due to their boss going down with the big one, and surely the first ever MFC reserves only player to coach against us. 

By my half-arsed count, exes who have taken charge in a game against Melbourne are George Haines/Heinz, Bernie Nolan, Gerry DonnellyBert Chadwick, Col DeaneBill Adams, Len Smith, Noel McMahenRon Barassi, Norm Smith, Brian Dixon, Ian Thorogood, Stan Alves, Peter Rohde, Chris Connolly, Alastair Clarkson and Luke Beveridge (+ Len Insigneri and John Lewis, who played for us after coaching elsewhere, and Cameron Bruce in a pre-season game), all of who played somewhere between a handful and shitloads of senior games. And if I'd known there were so many I wouldn't have started adding links to each one. So Bassett, part exchanged for Matthew Collins after one season, seems to have done something unique. Wonder if he had any thoughts back to an injury plagued 1997 campaign with us when called on to replace Kern? Probably not.

I'm sure he counts as the coach of record, but Port obviously didn't have complete faith given that Hinkley was wired up to give instructions all day. The way their fans talk about him it might have been better if somebody pulled the internet cord out and let the former #3 rookie draft pick do his own thing. I'm sure he was making plenty of decisions but every time the TV cameras cut to him, Bassett was sitting there looking on like a spectator. If I was only going to get one shot at senior coaching I'd make it memorable and go into full Clarko phone-breaking mode.

Like most opposition coaches, Bassett's best hope was that we'd kick a criminally low score that the defenders couldn't cover. For most of the day that looked a live chance. The opening 15 minutes were like our first meeting this year, except this time both sides were entirely incompetent in attack. The key difference was that while their multi-pronged attack was running aground against a very good backline (including Hibberd and Tomlinson having their best games of the year), we were merrily handing the ball over without a fight at the other end for want of any convincing targets to kick to.

Symptomatic of our issues was Ben Brown, who took a few very good grabs up the ground then had nobody to kick to. And when he was the target he had multiple defenders to deal with because they all knew where we were going to aim our inside 50s before they came off the boot. He had a purple patch in the third quarter but otherwise failed to do much at the important end of the ground. People want to drop him, but I say he was let down by not adding a second tall. Considering Gawn's about 9% fit it's unrealistic to expect him to maraud down there Prelim style, so who else are these optimistic dump kicks supposed to land with? He's not in great form, but leaving him alone is akin to when we ruined Weideman's promising start to 2020 (and ultimately, probably, his career) by shelving McSizzle. This time McDonald's absence is enforced but it's doing our chances of kicking bumper scores just as much harm.

Also the subject of much angst when things were going badly, Bayley Fritsch, who burnt Spargo to a crisp for what should have been an easy goal. Now that content-hungry journalists have highlighted it everyone's jumping on the bandwagon about him being hungry, but given that a few weeks ago we were upset about players passing instead of having instinctive shots the reaction is clearly tied to the outcome. If somebody kicks goal of the year with three opponents hanging off them and a teammate standing on their own at the top of the square nobody will care, but if the same kick falls five metres short he's a shit bloke. Some have even gone haywire and want him dropped as some sort of political statement against selfishness, which sets new standards for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 

I'm backing Bayley, even if it comes down to just me and him fighting the rest of you Melksham style. He ended up kicking two goals, but missed one when you could tell he got the guilts halfway through a shot, tried to change to a pass at the last minute, got half of each and gently put it through for a point. Later he tried to play on immediately after a mark, not realising a defender was standing right behind him. So be it, like so many other forwards before him you take the good with the bad. Besides, he kicked six in a Grand Final so he could invade Lithuania now and still be a hero to me.

After pulling down everything that came near him in a wet reserves game I thought this might be the week to take a punt on van Rooyen, but he couldn't even make an extended team that included half the list. When Weideman was amongst the 500 prospective inclusions I thought surely they'd realise the Bedford plan stalled after Brisbane and go back to playing with two key position players. Not in the slightest.

I know Weid floats a diminishing number of boats with every appearance but with McDonald no chance of returning before next year it seemed worth a go. Instead poor old Tobes was left struggling again, taking a quarter and a half to get a touch. I'm sure he was doing some sort of defensive job but you've got to get a kick at the same time. Meanwhile, Brown would mark on the wing and have stuff all to aim at ahead of him. He hasn't dominated a game since Round 1 but I'm not writing him off until he's given some cover, whether that's Weid, van Rooyen or OTHER. As long as they're tall and can provide an aerial contest I'm willing to talk, because you're not going to get this much crumb every week.

After 10 minutes of our forward entries falling apart like a Taiwanese alarm clock, Port decided they'd had enough and kicked the first two goals. If you thought we could go a week without the obligatory Alan Partridge reference, the second came from "What, Todd? Seriously?" Marshall. He got it by beating Tomlinson in a marking dual, but otherwise our man was very good. In fact the whole backline were, even with the odd heart-in-mouth blooper kick. 

The only problem with a great back line is that you also need to generate scores at the other end, and other than a couple of wonky set shots we didn't look likely to score in groups of six. Melksham came in for Oliver (while Luke Dunstan sat on the bench all day wondering why he'd joined in us in the first place if he couldn't get a game at this point), put on some good pressure and both kicked and set up a goal later but looked as unlikely as anyone to get a goal at first. 

I'm genetically predisposed to thinking everything's going to end badly so while I wasn't yet ready to turn the couch over and crack shits, unkind words may have been said about not altering a forward structure that's done relatively bugger all for weeks. The Jurrahcane was pictured in the crowd sinking cans while wearing excessively prominent headphones and I'd have been willing to sub in him if it was legal.  

Things turned out alright, but not without some nervy moments, including them kicking their third goal to nil not long after the restart. I was now ready to enter a death spiral of doom, especially as Gawn somehow looked even less fit than he did in Geelong. Didn't stop us aiming every kick out towards him, where he was not only trying to get his colossal frame off the ground but had multiple players jostliung him in every contest. One of them later brought back the Round 1, 2019 spirit and belted him behind play. I'd like to say Max was better for the run(s) but he looked stuffed. Plenty of time to get right for the important bit of the year but I miss screaming contested marks down the wing that nearly bring opponents to tears of frustration.

Finally, once we realised there was no hope of kicking goals the conventional way, it was time to cross the Pickett line. He got the party started with a goal from outer space, ducking and dodgy around the boundary before snapping around the corner. That was more like it, as was Fritsch toe-poking a loose one through soon after. After weeks of treating leads with contempt we decided to reinvigorate the spirit of that great night against Brisbane by coming from behind, and after Viney did a fancy over the head handball to Jackson for the third all Port's hard work had been wasted. Bad luck. 

Well done to whoever yelled "sign the contract Luke. SIGN. THE. CONTRACT. LUKE" straight into the effects microphone. Even if it's quite likely that they were Freo fans, he wasn't to know that at the time, so hopefully he thought "I've just kicked a goal, yes I would like to stay at Melbourne". Well done to Steven May here for politely not thanking the Dockers for trading in Jesse Hogan and allowing him to win a premiership. 

Remember how if that trade fell over they were going to play Hogan back and Weid forward? How many minutes would that have lasted into 2019?

Just when you thought Port might realise that they're a mid-table mediocrity and piss off, some Scandanavian looking fellow kicked an outrageous banana to put them back in front. Which was bad. Then Petracca set Fritsch up (a great opportunity for the sharing and caring crowd to hang shit on Bayley again), which was good. Until we doubled down with the worst sequence after winning a centre clearance in history, first Trac had one of his few blemishes by turning it over, then Gawn gave away a 50 and goal by knocking the ball out of Charlie Dixon's hand post-mark. 

I know Dixon did his absolutely best to spill it once Max made contact but you're in high risk territory putting your hand near the ball in the first place. You'd want to carry our players off on your shoulders if they did the same thing, so no hard feelings towards Charlie for taking advantage of kindly umpiring. Now things were getting nervous again, and we reached half time ahead care of another class in crumb from Pickett. 

Even if he'd pulled up there (and we'd still won), it would have been a memorable performance but there were four more to come. They didn't arrive quickly, and for the first 15 minutes of the third quarter we looked like going tits up again. I've vowed to get through this season without losing sight of the fact that we just won a flag, but my stomach was still turning over like a faulty car when they were two goals ahead. We were playing ok but that wasn't going to count for much without booting several goals.

Thank god then for Sam Powell-Pepper going the Reverse Pickett and missing about four close range snaps. Down the other end your hero and mine smacked one out of mid-air, then threw in a boring old set shot to equal his career best and help quell my squelchy guts. Enter Brown, who kicked one from three shots in quick succession, but I was happy just to have the ball at our end. Also to get his hands on it a bit in case that sparks a confidence boost for the next few weeks. Remember when midway through Round 1 he looked likely to win the Coleman in a canter? Would be good to get a spot of that against the same opposition next week.

Port looked to have died in the arse when we kicked the first three of the last quarter, but just when you thought it was safe to cancel your September holiday plans again, they whopped through three quick goals to make things unnecessarily tense across the last three minutes. The nominal visitors only had the tiniest sliver of hope but that was enough to nearly make me lose my lunch. It would have needed absolutely everything to go wrong for us from there, but fortunately our old love of losing games in comical fashion has been transferred to Richmond and we held on to our dignity/premiership points in the end.  

The good news is that as grim, gritty and at times shitty as it was, the game ended with us almost mathematically certain to play finals. I know that after last year my aspirations should be higher than falling into the eight by any means necessary but old habits die hard and I'm genuinely excited just to qualify.

Let's revisit this when we know the circumstances of our death, but I can handle missing out on a second flag, just not the shame of missing the finals entirely from a 10-0 start. With a lot of the fringe contenders falling over unexpectedly you may find by the end that 12-10 is enough to get you in, but ending the regular season on a 2-10 run didn't bode well for our finals aspirations. Now we can't do worse than 3-8, which is nice (?). Considering everyone we play from here is either good this year or has been very recently it would be a good time to lay the smack down on some contenders and re-establish our alpha team status.

It wasn't a performance befitting a premiership contender but looked better than losing to the Dogs in the same round last year - a week after we'd drawn with a putrid Hawthorn. Perhaps tellingly for our future, that night the forward line also looked dreadful, leaving me to all but give up on any chance of glory. Then we unmercifully humped Gold Coast and were off to the races. I'll have a repeat of that thanks. 

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jack Viney

Apologies to Brayshaw, Brown, Fritsch, Harmes, Jackson, Jordon, Langdon and May, any of who could have snuck in for 3-2-1.

Oliver's enforced absence allows Petracca to eat further into his lead, but a two BOG lead should still be enough to see Clayts home if his thumb doesn't fall off. Variety with the other votes means no significant changes to the leaderboard, with all the minors untouched. The good news for Toby Bedford is that while his season has gone tits up all of a sudden, he's got one more vote than touches in a fortnight of first quarters and retains a lead in the Hilton.

44 - Clayton Oliver
36 - Christian Petracca
30 - Jack Viney
25 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
19 - Angus Brayshaw (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Ed Langdon
15 - Steven May
9 - Jake Bowey
8 - Kysaiah Pickett
6 - Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen, Harrison Petty
5 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Michael Hibberd
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Toby Bedford (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Bayley Fritsch, Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Obviously Pickett wins this in a landslide, but in a week where he could nearly have had all three of the AFL's Goal of the Week nominations, the heat's on me to pick the best one. I'm going for this, the running away from goal first, and the "who, me?" celebration put it over the top. 

Kysaiah wins a $1 million voucher to Headband Warehouse so his magnificent barnet remains in good condition year round.

That will also adjust the overall leaderboard, I was tempted to confuse the whole thing by promoting his mid-air goal to third but the GWS one was still bloody good so it retains a spot on the podium.

1st - Langdon vs Essendon
2nd - Pickett vs Port (this one)
3rd - Pickett vs GWS

Next Week
The nightclub tunes derby against Footscray is back, and if any of their players mention that bloody song again their licence should be given to Tasmania. With their finals hopes hanging by a thread we should do the honorable thing and free them from their misery. I can easily see us winning but not winning easily. There's certainly no expectation of another unprecedented massacre like 25/09/21, or even the various runs of free-scoring from Round 1. I'll be happy just to win via low key sludge. 

Helpfully for the prospects of the senior side, our Reserves side that plays in a competition with about 32 teams had the week off. For that reason I'm only picking players who can come in fresh and know what they're doing straight away. As much as I'd have taken one of Laurie or van Rooyen this week it's optimistic dropping them into a senior debut after a week off. Bowey played his first game in Round 20 last year, why not wait a week and try the same thing this time? Then whichever one does play can do  17 straight wins, get a flag and two Rising Star nominations then suffer delayed second year syndrome and be dropped late the next year.

You don't need a seconds game to know that Oliver (surgically reconstructed thumb) and Petty ('cron survivor) are immediate re-entries. Melksham gets credit for having a red hot go but must have known he was just filling a space for a week, but I'm losing Tomlinson with the greatest regrets. This was his best game in ages but Petty is the future of that backline and I need him in my life as soon as his immune system has recovered. Obviously if Lever's shoulder isn't right then you play them both.

More controversially, I want to bring back the Weid and offer some mystery about who we're going to kick to inside 50. Brown can't do it everywhere, so give Weideman his final chance to cement a spot going into finals. Alternatively we could do something completely off piste, restore Petty to the emergency forward role he did semi-successfully in 2019 and keep Tomlinson in defence. Either way, they've got to get another tall target down there because we're not going to be kept afloat by crumb every week.

If all goes well I should be there, returning to Docklands for the first time in three years. Can't wait to reacquaint myself with surly staff and potentially deadly crowd crushes on the way out. They've got a fancy new massive screen but that's about as relevant to me as a set of electrified nipple clamps. The last two games I've seen in person have been losses, and I might not get to another game before the finals so if we go down here I'm considering a month of self-imposed isolation at a monastery during September.

IN: Oliver, Petty, Weideman
OUT: Bedford, Melksham, Tomlinson (omit)
LUCKY: Spargo
UNLUCKY: Hunt, Laurie, van Rooyen

The All New Bradbury Plan

There will be a slight tilt back to a top eight plan if Footscray win, but for now let's be optimistic and look through double chance eyes.

Richmond d. Freo
Adelaide d. Sydney
Port d. Geelong
Gold Coast d. Brisbane
GWS d. Carlton
Essendon d. Collingwood

Your 'who gives a toss' game of the week is North/Hawthorn, and in the event of us losing I'd also like West Coast to beat St Kilda on Sunday if possible.

Final thoughts
Every win is sacred. We've all been sooky in the middle of a shit one, but if last year taught us anything it's that once the points are in the bank you should move on because it probably means nothing long term.