Saturday, 15 January 2022

Who's next?

Once a soccer fan laughed heartily at my suggestion that the AFL would start a summer competition just to try and screw over the A-League. That's about the only thing I predicted correctly, I'd never have considered playing women coached by Ryan Ferguson, in hot, humid conditions, at a rebranded Punt Road in the middle/tail end/early stages (delete as applicable in the future) stages of a global pandemic. 

It was my first game back on Foxtel's coverage since Round 22 against Adelaide, and it was clear we were in for a huge night when the first thing I heard on commentary was a claim that Richmond's men had played their "first game of Australian Football" against us in 1908. Quite generous of the VFL to admit a team that had never tried the sport before. A while back mad people were trying to have VFA premierships included in their tallies, now the year a side turned up is being treated like Year Zero. It was not the last weird thing said on the call, which didn't even have the Brereton/McGuire style zany tangents factor to recommend it.

I could have done with extending the pre-match commentary improv when we conceded a goal after 20 seconds. Don't think our AFLW team has ever let one in that quickly. It came from a hefty clearance inside 50, then through by a basketballer who was only there because her game had been wiped out by COVID. We could sympathise with 'cron related team chaos, having lost the handy collection of Gay, Heath, Lampard, Scott and Sherriff to the wonderfully corporate 'AFL health and safety protocols'. The commentators kept referring to them as such throughout the game, long after everyone was clear that it was the league's 'protocol', not that of any government or the Federal Court.

The flip-side of losing a quintet (!) of key players was that we got back everyone who had been mysteriously absent (for the same reason as it turns out) last week. At first Goldrick, Magee and McNamara played like they had the Omicron, Delta and Ebola strains at the same time, racking up about 10 clangers between them in the first 10 minutes, but when they settled they were very good. McNamara was especially fantastic. You could cut her some slack for being hesitant at first when her last appearance on national television saw her bumped into oblivion during last year's Prelim.

Our very good friend the protocols hit the backline especially hard. Lampard is underrated, and Sherriff is always bobbing up down there before going on Langdonesque trots down the ground. This wouldn't have been so bad if we could keep the ball away - or god forbid score ourselves - but they were well up for it at the start. We turned back a few attacks but couldn't get anything going out way, barely squeaking a metre inside 50 on our first alleged attack. Things were going so badly that even when Harris did a tremendous spoil to win what had originally been a five-on-one contest, we didn't even get a point out of the subsequent mark in the pocket. Parry was a touch unlucky to be called play on when she moved about 4 millimetres off her line (especially considering how much wandering about there was on the mark throughout the night), but it looked like we'd struggle to reach double figures.

Enter Tayla Harris again, finally getting us on the board with a screaming pack mark. That's precisely the sort of goal we'd been missing the last couple of years. Not that there hadn't been 2500 efforts to set one up, just nobody capable of bringing them down regularly. Afterwards, Foxtel put up a graphic suggesting the goal had been kicked by McNamara, which is an easy mistake if you've never heard of or seen the most well-known player in the competition.

Considering the rancid first 10 minutes, a seven point quarter time deficit was positively generous. Last week we made our domination count first before doing bugger all. Richmond failed to do likewise. They might be no better than a fringe finals side but we've lost to worse.

The folly of not taking your chances (and with apologies to the guy in the Coles ad, getting a point for "just having a crack" only carries you so far) came back to haunt Richmond when Kate Hore arrived. She opened the quarter with a missed snap, then got another chance via Harris' second attempt to murder an opponent in a marking contest and levelled scores. Now things were getting interesting. Her second goal came from another set shot, which was nice but nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing as Bannan belting through the middle, taking two bounces and running her opponent into the ground before converting. She backed up for a second straight after, and christ on a bike the margin was 19. The next started with Pearce, Lauren in the ruck and ended in Pearce, Daisy getting a delightfully soft free. Still had to kick it though, which has not always been our forte, but through it went for six in a row and a big lead.

The party wound up there, but it was a delightful turnaround from those rough early minutes. Eliza West was particularly impressive in the comeback, playing so far inside that Donnie Brasco would have approved. Declaring anybody The Next [insert great player here] is fraught with danger, but she might go alright in the heart of our midfield after a few years at the Karen Paxman Finishing School. She's a second gamer off the rookie list, the recruiting hits just keep on coming. Piss off expansion sides, they're all ours.

Just when you thought Richmond's spirit had been broken and they might call it a night, we discovered that all the scoring was happening to the left of screen. They got two quick ones to start the second half, while our forward line had gone into full retreat again. About the only interesting event down our end was Harris nearly killing somebody else in a marking contest. It was a bit unnecessary in a semi-pro competition but you tell her to settle down. If she gets through the season without suspension it will be a miracle. 

Tayla's flirtation with an early holiday was as exciting as it got until the last minute, when the Hall of Fame combination of Daisy and Paxy combined for a steadier. We shambled our way forward for Zanker to have another shot after the siren that might have finished them off. It just fell short, but we'd done well to lose less than a goal off the lead. 

Richmond wouldn't reel in a four goal deficit unless we contributed with self-destruction, but when they kicked a freaky opener I did get a bit nervous. Hooray then for the 50 we got for the super administrative reason of the ball being put on the ground after a free. Even when they forgot to set up a mark and let Hore dash towards goal it shouldn't have been fatal, except when they failed to kill the ball, allowing it to be slapped into Harris' path to toe-poke home from the line.

Our COVID ravaged backline couldn't keep them out all night, and they made it ever so slightly interesting by reducing the margin to 17 with three minutes left. They had another kick soon after, but did their bit by wasting half a minute before missing anyway. Don't know why the clock kept going after that free and not the next one but it helped run the clock down until we were safe. 

It was not a perfect night, but considering the challenges we've already had with team selection a 2-0 start will do. We had to play the 'get out of upset jail free' card halfway through the first quarter, but the banana skin has been avoided. Get the COVID five back in the side and let's start doing some real damage..

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Eliza West
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Eliza McNamara
1 - Kate Hore

Apologies to Birch, Goldrick, Harris, L. Pearce and Bannan.

8 - Tyla Hanks
5 - Eden Zanker
4 - Libby Birch, Eliza West
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Eliza McNamara, Casey Sherriff
1 - Kate Hore, Sarah Lampard

Goal of the Week
You couldn't go beyond the Bannon run. It was even better when she celebrated with a Diamond Dallas Page impersonation. That means nothing to 76% of readers, the rest are nodding sagely, remembering that magic evening when DDP dressed as La Parka to fool Randy Savage.

Crowd Watch
With the crowd capped, you could understand people watching from outside the fence. Especially when it means you can neck a Slurpee at the same time.

Also, have you ever considered how attending an AFLW game may be your best chance to be caught on camera coming out of a grimy portaloo. That way you'll be a part of the national game's broadcasting history. Try to make it a more exciting game than this so there's a chance somebody will watch it again in the future.

Next Week
In theory, it's St Kilda on Saturday afternoon. Who knows how many first-choice players either side will have after the old 'health and safety protocols' wreak havoc with team selection. This week we had so few players left one of the two emergencies wasn't even a listed player so anything could happen. If all last week's outs are in, and most of this week's ins recovered from a rocky start to be very good indeed, god knows where that leaves us. Which is just the level of in-depth analysis I know you're coming here for.

As for playing the Saints, I'm still scarred by that loss to them in the first season but surely not. Ok, if we lost 12 players to the big one and have to field players plucked from local parks there's a chance but with all we know now about clubs called Melbourne being good we're surely not going to fall over against strugglers like this. Worried anyway. 

Final Thoughts
I've forgotten what it feels like to lose.

Monday, 10 January 2022

You can win 'em all

On Saturday 29 June, 2013 we kicked off top-level women's football, our men won their second and last game of the season. Now the Melbourne Football Club may never lose another match. That's what I call progress.

You may have heard that our men's team did something absolutely bloody spectacular about four months ago. Scientists are still trying to work out what happened that night, and how close I was to dying at half time, but knowing the immeasurable joy that came from the last time we watched Melbourne play, I wasn't sure if I'd ever watch football in the same way again. There's previous form for going out on top, my peak years following Formula 1 were the lead-up to Jordan finally winning a race (the mere thought of Damon Hill at Spa still makes me misty-eyed), and several years of being right into the NRL effectively ended the moment I saw Wests Tigers win the flag in 2005. It's still the only time I've ever seen a team I follow win a major competition live, but for the first time since it seems feasible that it might happen in the AFL too. 

But no team affects me mentally, spiritually, and sometimes physically like the Dees. The only other club that goes within a million miles is Wimbledon, and even all the promotions (and in latter years, great escapes from relegation) together can't match what I felt on September 25, 2021 - a day that will truly live in famy. 

You may recall that halfway through the last quarter of the Grand Final, I bawled my eyes out like a baby. There were serious doubts that I could ever take footy seriously again, whether played by men, women or other. I'm pleased to report that when Lauren Pearce beat her opponent all ends up at the first bounce and tapped the ball straight to a teammate I got a rush that suggested everything's going to be ok. Maybe I'll re-evaluate after we've won both competitions several times in a row, until then I'm still prepared to get a bit silly about Australian rules football.

There are no guarantees this AFLW season will even finish, but our chances of making finals (again a top six, though they change the rules in this competition so often that it could end up as 12 finalists plus two wildcards) were greatly enhanced by beating one of the better teams. Or at least that's what I perceived them to be, in reality they've been 1-5, 2-5 and eighth over the last three years. Forget the bit where we lost to them in 2021, Footscray may actually be shite. That would remove a little of the shine from running them around like a training drill for the first 20 minutes here, so let's go with the fantasy about them still being serious contenders.

It was, like so many of our other AFLW games over the previous five years, a one quarter win. Everything after the opening term was good enough, and plenty of players contributed siren to siren, but the win was entirely set up at the beginning. When we lost the toss and had to kick into the wind I had my first "here we go" moment of the season, expecting to let in three unanswered goals, fail to take advantage of our turn with the breeze, then heroically battle back into it after half time before kicking 0.8 in the last and losing by a point. Old psychological habits die hard. 

Instead, we flicked two fingers at the conditions and spent the first quarter gleefully kicking around the Dogs like they weren't there. There was a mention in the commentary about how much Footscray coach Nathan Bourke hates possession football and is all about exciting spectacle. I don't think he meant it to come via his team struggling to get a touch but I was certainly entertained.

Even when they did shamble forward, our backline was immense. Libby Birch was just there last year, doing a job without ever looking dominant. Maybe it was the motivation of playing against her old side, but she was back in All Australian form here. They might want to edit the nomination tape to remove the bit where she gathered the ball on the line and flubbed a five metre kick straight to an opponent. Things were going so well that we even got away with that. All of this was achieved with a negligible contribution from Karen Paxman. I've got no doubt she'll be back, but maybe it's a Jack Viney style scenario where so many good players have turned up that she doesn't need to carry the rest of the team on her back anymore.

At first, there was a sense that our lovely linking play out of defence was going to run aground on a lack of attacking power. It wouldn't be the first time. Tayla Harris took a couple of strong marks up the ground, but still felt like we were lacking the killer touch inside 50. Then again, other than when teams play the competition's Flotsam and Jetsam, does anyone have the sort of firepower I've been longing for since 2017? And now that I've seen the twice-in-a-lifetime avalanches in finals Preliminary and Grand nothing's ever going to compare, so I may as well just take what I'm offered. 

In the absence of a star goalkicker we'll just have to keep sharing the goals around. It's strange how we've had nine players kick three in a game (including Alyssa Mifsud, who can be assured that if she ever Googles herself and finds this that I'm still thinking about how good she was in season one before disappearing off the face of the earth), but nobody's ever got four. One of the equal record holders is Richelle Cranston, who randomly turned up in Footscray's backline after her stint at Geelong. This competition has an A-League style fetish for recycling players. I thought one of the Dogs players looked familiar, turns out she played two seasons for us, achieving the rare feat of being traded in and out of the same club.

Contrary to the opinions of the former AFLW player paid to spruik odds during the breaks, betting on an honest, entertaining, but still semi-professional competition is a bit weird. However, if you'd asked me to back our first goalkicker I'd have chosen - in order - Hore, Harris, D. Pearce, Zanker, and about nine other players before Casey Sherriff. That's no reflection on her ability, she has been very good over the last couple of years, but I didn't expect a defender to wander forward and kick the sort of set shot our forwards have been missing since day one.

A second goal immediately after suggested some very good times in our future. The commentators were generous to Bulldogs fans by not mentioning what had happened the last time their team was on Channel 7, but by the time Zanker kicked a third I was noting that our run against the entire Footscray Football Club (trading as Western Bulldogs) from midway through the third quarter in Perth was up to 118-8.

A three goal lead into the breeze was a good platform to build on. Alas, even after winning many more games than we've lost over the years, this side has rarely played two great quarters in a row. Logic suggested that having done that against the wind we should have piled on goals in the second. Then classic Melbourne AFLW turned up and put on 1.6. That they only got 1.0 was credit to a backline that picked off aimless kicks inside 50 with the greatest of ease. The only problem was that they'd wised up to our hardly revolutionary tactic of kicking to a free player and started to put pressure on. We'd extended the gap by a goal at half time but I was hoping for a quarter of depravity that would make every other player in the competition's liver quiver. Unless they play for Geelong, who we don't need to worry about because we're destined never to play them for premiership points.

Not many AFLW sides would have blown a 23 point halftime lead, but we spent much of the third quarter giving it a red hot go. The margin got within two kicks before Harris forcibly removed her opponent and kicked a steadier. I was unnecessarily suss about recruiting a spearhead who averaged less than a goal a game, but I'm on board for more of this:

Minor scare aside, if we weren't going to lose from 23 points in front at half time, it would have been nigh on impossible for Footscray to overhaul a five goal deficit at the end. The wind had died down, but while that could have been expected to hurt us, it also didn't do anything to help them score. Indeed they did not, adding no goals nothing by the siren. We only kicked 1.2 of our own, but with nine (plus?) weeks to play there was clearly a spot of "that'll do for now" amongst the players. 

You can understand the reluctance to go full bore when the result was beyond doubt, when there had already been a raft of injuries. It was a big night for the weird subsection of hate-watching men who ring talkback radio and pretend they're concerned for the welfare of female players. They'd have been having a fit watching players go down like nine-pins here. The worst was the Bulldogs player who blew her ACL to the bejesus belt, but at various times we had Lauren Pearce, Lily Mithen, Karen Paxman and Ali Brown on the bench for treatment. All survived in such good shape that the match report on the AFL site denies that we had any injuries at all, but when the Dogs temporarily looked like mowing us down I was bricking it.

Hore added the exclamation mark with her second, going past Tegan Cunningham to become our all-time top AFLW goalkicker. There's plenty more where that came from if we're not forced to give her away to some shitbox expansion team. There's no doubt that the rush to add four new teams to an already stretched thin talent pool is going to cause chaos next year, and no chance the league will risk Hawthorn or Essendon being as putrid as Geelong, so watch for them to be given every advantage under the sun. I'll chain myself to objects to keep a lot of our players, but Hore and Zanker are a must. Witness the bit where Eden did a video game style spin-move through traffic and took off up the ground unchallenged. It was ace, and she's pictured doing that while wearing brown in 2023 I'll go the big vom.

And on that bombshell, it was a welcome return to watching footy. No matter what happens with the pandemic I suspect I'll be doing a lot of it from home this year so may as well get used to it.  

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Eden Zanker
4 - Libby Birch
3 - Tyla Hanks
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Sarah Lampard

Apologies to Hore, L. Pearce, Gay and Mithen

Goal of the Week
Harris was solid most of the night, but her goal in the third quarter was a delightful hint of things to come. Here's to more opposition defenders being shoved around like shop mannequins before the year is done.

Uniform Watch
Why were our numbers so comically small? The Jaguar logo is way too high, causing them to have to squeeze in digits that look like they're off early 90s Auskick jumpers. These are the sort of things you complain about when you've got nothing serious left to worry you. 

Next Week
Unless there's widespread COVID chaos and we lose 15 players to the 'cron, it's back to our rightful place in primetime, against Richmond on Friday night. Their thumping win over St Kilda has got a question mark over it due to the Saints seemingly being shit, but there would be nothing more Melbourne AFLW than following a good win by kicking 2.11 in losing to a midtable side. In fact it would make perfect sense if we fell over here, but I don't think we will. 

The good news is that there are players to come back. Presumably, our Irish players aren't locked up in a hotel with Novak Djokovic so I'd be keen to see Goldrick back as soon as possible. Magee went from NFI to very handy at warp speed last year so she's welcome to have another go too. I searched Twitter to see if Goldrick was injured and all I found were tweets referring to how good she is at Gaelic Football, which is ace but I'm more interested in seeing her pissbolting out of our backline at speed.

Elsewhere, attempts to keep the competition afloat start with Freo and West Coast relocating here for a few weeks and playing the wackiest double header of all time at the Western Oval against the Suns and Giants.

Final Thoughts
Things can never be the same again after 25/09/2021 but I still reserve the right to go off my nut over any footy team that starts in 'Mel' and ends in 'Bourne'.

Sunday, 5 December 2021

The sweetest repeat - 2021 premiership celebration in review

It's unfortunate that every new post from here will push the one about the Grand Final further into the archives. It would have been appropriate if I never posted again, leaving that post at the top of the page until the very moment humanity is wiped out like the dinosaurs. But bad luck, you're stuck with me, so let's have one more post relating to the most interesting thing ever to happen in the month of September before this chapter closes. I'll still be up for any form of chat that involves us winning a 13th premiership. Or if you want, chat about the other 12 - they're all part of the lead-up to us doing our block in epic fashion on that lovely night in Perth.

Two and a bit months after winning the thing, Victorian fans finally got to celebrate the 2021 premiership with friends/family/an empty Row MM (delete as applicable). It was certainly unique, surely no other team has ever gathered 35,000 people to watch a replay, much less 10 weeks after the event. As much as I'd always dreamed about the wild scenes on a Sunday after a Grand Final win, this would do as a replacement. And for the first time in about 110 years, all the players at a premiership celebration were sober.

Knowing that we'd collectively spent more than the annual budget of Uruguay on merchandise since September, the club showed tremendous restraint by making tickets to the event free. Even $5 for adults would have passed without complaint, but the did the polite thing for a fanbase that missed the biggest game of most of our lives and threw the gates open. This also allowed a few people to get in wearing merchandise of other teams, which helped remind Melbourne fans that there are currently 17 loser sides who aren't reigning premier. Long may it stay that way.

It helps when you've got the jolliest crowd since a Hare Krishna convention, but this most glorious of family days was handled perfectly. Really, if you're at the celebration for a premiership ending a 57 year drought something amazingly drastic is going to need to happen to make you complain.  Even entry was quick, despite predictions of delays as people battled to prove their vaccination status and work out how to use a mobile to get through the turnstile. It went off without a hitch - where I was anyway.

This baffling, government-enforced entry condition caused some confusion, especially for people like me who were up with new technology until about five years ago and now just want everything to stay the same. Not surprisingly, when the app you were checking in on proved your vaccination certificate (unless you're one of the people carrying a fake printout from, there was no need for the digital wallet to open. Please don't write in with an explanation of what that means, I couldn't care less. 

After that it was smooth sailing, finally given the opportunity to book a level four seat again I refused to take my assigned spot in Row C and went straight for the back row. Sadly, the mystery Cluedo passage between Olympic Stand and the Ponsford was locked so I couldn't sneak over to where I really wanted to be. Still haven't set foot in my home ground since the day Oscar McDonald kicked a goal and we limped to a sad defeat against Collingwood in front of a putrid crowd. A bit has changed since.

At first I felt like a nuffy sitting there watching a two-month old game for the umpteenth time, but the mood of the crowd won me over. It was just genuine happiness, and sitting in dear old Row MM offered a box seat view of people having a wonderful time. As far as mass gatherings around the Melbourne CBD go, it sure beat cockheads waving placards on Bourke Street. 

Forget nonsense like Dance Cam, this was genuine, unashamed joy from relieving the greatest evening in the history of sports. It was like going to wrestling, everyone knew the result was pre-determined but got into it anyway. Self-consciousness was officially out when people cheered Neal-Bullen and Brown having the first two shots when everyone knew (or did they? Perhaps not everyone's a rolled-gold nutter like us) they were going to miss. Good, otherwise you may as well have skipped to the point where we were 19 points behind and enjoyed the freewheeling carnage from there.

I'm not going into great depth on the game itself. We've seen it enough times that we know in advance when Brian Taylor is going to say something stupid - it usually coincides with him speaking. If you're new to this, and god knows there's never been a better time to get involved, the full match review of that deelightful night is one of 16 years worth of insane ramblings in our archives. What I will say is that the 100-7 finish is just as good on the 20th replay as the first, and that Jackson was incredibly stiff not to get votes. Given my time again I might even slot him in for three and nudge Viney out with the greatest of regrets.

We might have saved time and fast-forwarded through the bathroom break second quarter, but keeping the game at full length meant there had to be some sort of half time break. I could have done without the Russell Robertson All-Stars singing Boys Light Up (which he tenuously connected to the footy club, despite it being about rooting), but people aged 6-10, and every woman over 50 seemed to love it. Mind you, this was such a frisky crowd that you could have set 9/11 to music and they'd have started dancing. At least I saw this one, unlike the real half time show, when I was sulking in another room with a spontaneously bleeding nose and a central nervous system teetering on the brink of collapse.

I've only cried with happiness once in my life (guess which day that was?) but nearly had a teary again when the crowd went nuts for the Mad Minute. Had to hold it together a second time when Neale Daniher arrived, battling his coight off against an ultimately unbeatable disease. Made me think about Jim Stynes, who did likewise for as long as he could while the team swirled down the toilet in front of him. Fans of emotion were also well served by the Nathan Jones/Neville Jetta tribute at three quarter time. I wonder if Nev had to ask new employer Collingwood for permission to don the MFC polo. His career change was politely ignored, in case people without decorum ruined the solemnity of the occasion by booing the Pies. 

Then it was back to the replay, and the 30 minute victory lap of a lifetime. Brown's goal at the start was very good for my health, if we'd even gone close to blowing that lead I'd have been killed by death. Now that you know what's going to happen it's funny listening to commentators talking about how we were home at 40 points up with 15 minutes to go. It would have taken something remarkable to beat us from that position but I'd still have shit my shorts if Footscray kicked the next goal. They did eventually get one in the last quarter - we got nine. I've never seen anything like it and never will again. The second half should be a walk-up start to every Grand Final marathon until the year 2100.

The virtual siren was followed by a recreation of the post-match from Perth, only with all the bits involving Footscray cut out. Sadly, border restrictions meant we weren't able to hire the Mayor of Perth as host then forget to pick him up from the airport. In his place came Garry Lyon, a sensible enough choice, until he turned up with the most unruly pile of paper notes you'll ever see. 

It was farcical watching him try to deal with these unstapled, possibly handwritten sheets that were threatening to waft into the crowd at any moment. Maybe that's why he did the crowd-pleasing gag about Basil forgetting to call on Goodwin, then had to be told by Tom Sparrow that he'd skipped Bayley Fritsch. Gaz took this in the right spirit, calling himself a dickhead. If the Mayor isn't willing to do similar I'll be happy to step in. 

The low key highlight, other than Lever dangling his kid off the stage by the arm in the most NQR fashion, was Jake Bowey (called 'Jack' by Lyon, surely a subtle gag about Basil doing the same thing) appearing in front of a crowd at the MCG for the first time after winning his first premiership but before playing in a loss. He could retire now and still be treated as a hero by Melbourne fans for the rest of his life.

Once Goodwin had finally made his thwarted Grand Final night speech (hardly "I have a dream" stuff but he's won a flag and I haven't so carry on), the cherished premiership cup arrived via a queue of ex-players going full fan nuff, and was handed over by David Neitz and Neale Daniher to much acclaim. And, err, that was it. For me anyway, other than a heroic Ed Langdon-esque run to catch a train. Pretty banal finish to an otherwise wonderful event. My only regret was not 'accidentally' running into Anthony McDonald and thanking him for winning me a $1000 Harvey Norman gift voucher on that 2004 Fox Footy game show. When that's the extent of the misery you've had a pretty good day.

Next year
The dear old AFL, who'll ask for repayment of $3 million they spent to keep us alive in 2013 if we're not careful, are going all out to make sure the memory of the Grand Final is shoehorned into every aspect of the new season. Not only are they making us play the Bulldogs in Round 1 of AFLW (a competition where, after four seasons, we'll still never have been fixtured against perennial slop side Geelong), but are starting the men's competition with a replay straight off the bat. They'll probably make us play them in the pre-season too. Footscray fans should seek an injunction on the grounds of mental trauma.

Wasting a Grand Final rematch on the opening round is bad enough, then you find out they've scheduled it on a Wednesday night. I know Richmond/Carlton is consistently a horrible season opener, but the solution is to piss one or both of them off, not to plonk a game the night before and pretend like you're doing fans a favour. Having said that, I'll be there (figuratively) walloping myself to a standstill over cloth going up a flagpole. It would be mad not to.

Commerce Corner
Any enterprising capitalist would have taken a shitload of books and sold them from a rug outside the MCG on Sunday. I'm nothing more than an out-of-his-depth amateur having a crack, so you'll have to pick up last-minute Christmas gifts for the Melburnian in your life the old-fashioned way. Support your local bookstore for this one, see if Amazon can on-demand print the other in time. All profits unashamedly go to me, but will ultimately find their way back into the hosting costs for Demonwiki or on buying memberships with guaranteed Grand Final tickets I'll never be able to use.

Final thoughts
This was a nice way to end the period of post-flag euphoria. The joy will never depart, but I may not watch the game again in full as many times during the rest of my life as between September 25 and December 5 this year. I can't see how my supporting life can ever be as frantic again as it has been since 2007, but I'm willing to go with the flow and see what happens next. Besides, when we win the next 11 flags one of them will have to be nearly as exciting as this one...

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

2021 End of Season spectacular - 🏆 Victory lap edition 🏆

On the scale of things I never expected to do, reviewing a premiership season sat alongside climbing Mt. Everest and having the ARIA #1 single. The first two can get stuffed, staying alive long enough to see Melbourne win a flag is my greatest achievement.

Some of you were privileged to see it in person - legally or otherwise - the rest of us should just be happy to be on the same planet at the same time. Why we had to break our long, painful, premiership drought in Perth isn't important now. 'How' is worth thinking about at length. 

But first, as we're meeting in an official capacity, please remove your premiership cap (or, thanks to Australia Post, any available substitute) and rise for the national anthem:

[IMPORTANT NOTE: RIP to the YouTube account containing the video of Ricky May singing the anthem really badly. I once downloaded it just in case, and when I find where it was saved will restore to its rightful position in this post].

Lucky I've been recycling the same format on these end of year posts for about 10 years, otherwise I wouldn't know where to start. Now that our lifelong quest for a premiership is over everything will be different. One day there will be generations of fans who were too young or too not yet alive to fully appreciate 25 September 2021, but if you're old enough to read this you're old enough for it to remain a positive memory until the day you croak.

Five years ago, I included an apt line from Bertolt Brecht on the back cover of The Great Deepression, "the man who laughs has simply not yet heard the terrible news". Now I'm a bit sad for the people who really will be born later and never experience our joy that night. There could be more flags, and they'd all be welcome, but none that can match the feeling of this one - even from the other side of the country. And if they have to wait 57 years (or longer), I've got mine and nobody can take it away. 

So, where do I pre-book a Soylent Green ending? The final act will be a replay of the last minute of the third quarter. James Brayshaw being the last voice you hear is a small price to pay for going out watching the greatest moment in the history of sports. Until then, I'll spend the rest of my life trying to find a greater high than the moment Oliver capped off the mad minute. Give me all the sex, drugs, rock and roll I can handle, none will come close.

Welcome to the new dictionary definition of 'If you get it, you get it'. Plenty of droughts have been broken this century, none in such a mad fashion. Everything between Sydney by four points and Geelong by 119 would have been great, but none featured the same rollercoaster of emotions as this. I'd have been more likely to die at the exact moment Leo Barry took his mark, but the Swans hadn't just blown a four goal lead, then climbed back from the edge of a cliff before unleashing the blitzkrieg of a lifetime. I'm not going to punch on over who enjoyed their flag more, but nobody's going to win it under circumstances like this again. It was once in a lifetime, and thank god for that because a repeat might have killed me.

It all started on a sunny afternoon in late January...

2021 AFLW season in review

Round 1 vs Gold Coast - The Many Moods of Melbourne 
The first COVID related fixture change of the year left us playing the eventual wooden spooner, instead of a scheduled game against the eventual premier. Which was helpful. Seemed alright at the time, and the AFLW season turned out pretty well, but you'd have been less enthusiastic if you knew the Suns would finish 0-9.

Round 2 vs Richmond - I've got a Tiger by the tail
In a rare 2021 scenario, the game was played between the scheduled teams, at the scheduled venue, on the scheduled day at the scheduled time. In a nine game season, a 2-0 start was welcome, even if it was another uninspiring win against traditionally shithouse opposition. With the 'Rona starting to take hold again there was, for the first time, speculation that the season wouldn't finish. And as we discovered in 2020, do everything you can to finish the men's comp but stiff shit for the women if things get tricky.

Round 3 vs North Melbourne - Home Alone
Finally, a win against a good side. Shame nobody was there to see it, as Lockdown IV: What The World Is Watching saw the gates slammed shut. The lack of background noise inspired our lot to pile on six goals in the second quarter. Which was great, until we conceded four after the break, leaving us just one point ahead at the last change. All was well that ended well, as the competition's glamour team was dismissed, putting us in an excellent position to be left high and dry if the season was called off.  

Round 4 vs Footscray - Can't buy a thrill
Crowds returned in time to see the Bulldogs took advantage of injuries, variable breezes, and an opposition kicking the putrid final score of 2.12 to get their season going again. Shortly after, it stopped again and they finished eighth. Bad kicking was bad football, as were bad handballing and bad defending. Not our finest hour, but better than the following week.

Round 5 vs Collingwood - Dead end street
The sense that we could do the impossible and miss the finals from 3-0 in a nine game season came to life at Victoria Park, where we kicked one goal, leaving us 3.20 across the previous fortnight. It was a long way down from the side that was kicking goals for fun against North a couple of weeks earlier. All of a sudden we were in more trouble than the early settlers.

Round 6 vs St Kilda - Pearce them off
With the season hanging by a thread, the prospect of a coach sacking only kept at bay because AFLW drama doesn't sell newspapers, and a forward line operating like an Albanian automobile, we had a go at something different and sent Daisy Pearce forward. This worked a treat, and after starting the season in full decline as in defence, she was given a new lease of life. A rampant win was only soured by pulling up at three quarter time instead of delivering a tremendous, percentage boosting thrashing. 

Round 7 vs Adelaide - From woe to go
It's one thing to beat St Kilda, now our wonky forward line had to kick a winning score against the 5-1 premiership favourites. Or not as it turned out, with the backline giving us a taste of things to come in the men's season by keeping the opposition to 15 points. Our 6.7 still wasn't all that convincing, but better than scores of 37, 38 and 40 in the next three wins. It was a strange season.

Round 8 vs Fremantle
- Flying high again
The AFL's COVID powered wheel of fixturing stitched us up a treat, putting on three games against top sides to end the year, while other sides in the mix for a top six spot got the chance to dismember the league's rubbish. Throw in the coach being absent because his wife was about to have a baby, and we looked scant chance in Perth. In the sort of weird game you only get in AFLW, Freo went three quarters without a goal and could have been considered unlucky to lose. But they did, and for the first time ever we made finals without an assist from the season being shut down midway.

Round 9 vs Brisbane - Melbourne AFLW, your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?
The job of qualifying was complete, now it was about showing we were serious by turning over another finals bound side. That we did (though they had the last laugh by winning the flag), with another assist from our very good friend 
(ultimately, a flag winning one) the novel Coronavirus. This time a late breaking virus outbreak in Queensland meant Brisbane's players were confined to one floor of their hotel on arrival, which can't have helped their mood. Also, the hotel was in Glen Waverley, which is a few luxury steps down from the New York Hilton.

Qualifying Final vs Fremantle - When you're hot, you're hot
By now we'd played the Dockers' women twice and men once so I was getting fairly sick of them. Like the men's game, this one took place without Daisy Pearce, who'd gone down with a knee injury against the Lions. Freo wasn't taking too well to our repeat meeting either, going three quarters without a goal again. This time there was no thrilling near miss, falling 15 points short. They were out, we were a game from the Grand Final...

Preliminary Final vs Adelaide - Interstate of Disaster
... and that's where we stayed. The cover version of the 2018 men's journey was complete, storming into the Prelim on a wave of momentum, then running out of petrol at the first bounce. Like the West Coast (yay)/West Coast (boo) doubleheader that year, the Crows weren't falling for the same trick twice within a few weeks. After briefly toying with us in the first quarter, Adelaide realised there was no resistance coming and got on with things. The margin was only 18, but kicking 1.9 - and most of that after Adelaide went into self-preservation mode - was a flat end to an otherwise enjoyable season.

AFLW Defender of the Year

It's a triumph for the Emerald Isle, with the vastly improved Goldrick joining 2015 Prymke Plate champ Heritier Lumumba and countrywoman Laura Duryea (retrospectively) as overseas-born award winners.

Name for new award (other years given retrospectively) pending. Give it a couple of years to shake out and we'll apply the honour to somebody deserving.

5 - Sinead Goldrick
2 - Gabrielle Colvin, Sarah Lampard, Casey Sherriff
0 - Libby Birch, Meg Downie, Chantel Emonson, Sarah Lampard, Lauren Magee

Honour roll:
2017 - Laura Duryea and Katherine Smith
2018 - Katherine Smith (2)
2019 - Harriet Cordner and Meg Downie
2020 - Libby Birch
2021 - Sinead Goldrick

AFLW Rising Star Award

Another new award that I'd forgotten about until it was time to write this post. On paper there wasn't much competition for rookie on our AFLW list, but ultimately the women got twice as many votes in 11 games as the men did in 25. 

McNamara had a very good opening season, until she was knocked to buggery in the opening minutes of the prelim. Won't turn 20 until after next season, so we look forward to a glorious future if the AFL resists forcing us to trade her to one of the 213 new expansion clubs. 

3 - Eliza McNamara
1 - Alyssa Bannan
0 - Megan Fitzsimon, Lauren Magee, Krstel Petrevski

Honour roll:
2018 - Tegan Cunningham
2019 - Tyla Hanks
2020 - Casey Sherriff
2021 - Eliza McNamara

Daisy Pearce Medal for AFLW Player of the Year

Paxmania reigns supreme again, eclipsing Nathan Jones 2012-2014 for the longest winning streak in a main award. The final margin suggests a romp, but it didn't come without a strong mid-season challenge from Tyla Hanks. The legend couldn't be stopped, and won handily. Not hard to be the best player in team history after five seasons, but future generations will have to go a fair bloody way to beat her record (to date) of four wins and a second.

36 - Karen Paxman
27 - Tyla Hanks
21 - Lauren Pearce
20 - Lily Mithen
10 - Kate Hore, Shelley Scott
8 - Maddie Gay
6 - Tegan Cunningham, Eden Zanker
5 - Sinead Goldrick
4 - Daisy Pearce
3 - Eliza McNamara
2 - Gabrielle Colvin, Sarah Lampard, Jackie Parry, Casey Sherriff
1 - Alyssa Bannan

Honour roll:
2017 - Daisy Pearce
2018 - Karen Paxman
2019 - Karen Paxman (2)
2020 - Karen Paxman (3)
2021 - Karen Paxman (4)

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance

In the year I introduced this award, and let's be fair it was initially just an excuse for the gag name, we played one NAB Cup and three practice matches. Four games was enough to sensibly come up with a winner, two just caused a massive logjam at the top. Still, fair group to share it, hardly two rookies and a delisted free agent.

There were supposed to be three games this time, before COVID cost one. While it seems ludicrous declaring an overall winner when nobody could score more than 10 votes but here we are. Spare a thought for the Demonblog budget, we've got to pay for three plates now. Also for Kade Chandler, who almost got as many votes as times he was the unused substitute.
7 - Max Gawn, Steven May, Christian Petracca
4 - Jake Lever
3 - Kade Chandler
1 - Ed Langdon, Clayton Oliver

Honour roll:
2008 - Aaron Davey
2009 - Cameron Bruce
2010 - Brad Green
2011 - Colin Sylvia
2012 - Nathan Jones
2013 - Nathan Jones (2)
2014 - Jeremy Howe
2015 - Heritier Lumumba
2016 - Jack Watts
2017 - Jesse Hogan, Jayden Hunt and Clayton Oliver
2018 - Max Gawn and Christian Petracca
2019 - Max Gawn (2)
2020 - Bayley Fritsch
2021 - Max Gawn (3), Steven May, Christian Petracca (2)

2021 AFL Year in Review - part one

Practice match vs Richmond - The carnival is back in town
After the various pandemic related shenanigans of 2021, things were looking up. Cricket had pretty much gone off without a hitch, and nobody really cared that tennis didn't, so we settled in for a new campaign and... err... watched an early morning YouTube feed. A handful of people tried to watch through the fence at Casey, presumably because their internet had failed. You'd be mad to get excited by such a frivolous, throwaway game, but ultimately the formline of a comfortable win against a strong side held up pretty well.

AAMI Community Series match vs Footscray - FFC vs FFS
The break from restrictions and regular fixture changes lasted about eight days, leaving this as the only official pre-season game on the calendar. Bad news for AAMI, missing a week of promotion in the year they took over from companies like JLT and Marsh (me either), who nobody had ever heard of, throwing their money down the drain. As a nervous person always expecting the rug to be pulled from under us, I declared the Dogs premiership favourites (close) and suggested we'd be lucky to scrape into the eight (bit wrong).

Round 1 vs Fremantle - Mainly happy returns
Other than being assigned seats so random it was like they'd come out of a barrel, the long-awaited return to live games in Victoria went off with our a hitch. After a year on the couch I was willing to go along with everything they wanted. For about two weeks, then I spent the rest of the year whinging. On-field, we won with the absolute minimum oomph required against a travelling, injury-ravaged, mid-table side. Any Round 1 win is a good win. Hard to see us adding the next eight as well.

Round 2 vs St Kilda - A cat couldn't scratch it
After remaining respectfully sceptical of Simon Goodwin throughout 2020, I was ready to finally give in to public sentiment and turn on him halfway through the second quarter. We pulled up just before stacking it, narrowly pulling ahead at half time. Pickett kicked an unreal goal from inside a phonebooth, and we won by 18 points. Turns out the Saints were decidedly ordinary, but we weren't sure about that at the time.

This exchange is still remembered fondly, even if Goody kicked Jones to the kerb about three weeks later. 
Another week, another win, and another comeback from a semi-hopeless position. Even at 3-0, there was still nothing to suggest we'd contend for the premiership. For now I was just happily working towards being a fringe finals side. Significantly more excited, Kelli Underwood, declaring that "they" called him "Slick Fritsch", a nickname that would have gone down a treat on Grand Final night if anybody else in the media joined in. Not the stupidest idea, they've all adopted Dwayne's bloody chaos ball, why not this?

Round 4 vs Geelong - Be still cat
Finally, something approaching a statement win. The margin wasn't huge, but considering some of the rubbish we'd put out against the Cats over the years it was more than enough. It was especially impressive because a) we put in our best performance in the wet for years, and b) most if was without Steven May, who'd been assassinated by the recklessly swinging elbow of Tom Hawkins. I still wasn't ready to queue for finals tickets, not yet knowing that the queue started on the other side of the country, but this was the first time I seriously sat up and took notice.

Round 5 vs Hawthorn - High five
This was a strange day out. An unbeaten team struggling to get rid of flotsam, Mitch Brown beating Ben Brown into our forward line, Gawn running around taking contested marks like a madman, and a last quarter rampage from out of nowhere that carried us to what a comfortable win. In reality, it was anything but, not firing until we'd endured a goal in the first 20 seconds of the last quarter, and some bloke dropped a sitter in the square that would have given them the lead. Everything after that was fun though, and I wasn't going to turn back a 5-0 start for the first time in christ knows how long.

Round 6 vs Richmond - The Nathan Jonestown Massacre
The night we discovered that 2021 was real and spectacular. The scope of Richmond's decline wasn't quite clear yet (and they could very well roar back to life next year for all I know), but overcoming a rocky start to run away with an easy victory in front of a pandemic adjusted big crowd, showed that we were something approaching the real deal. The other item of interest was Nathan Jones' 300th, much celebrated because he'd climbed through 50 layers of shit to get there. Unknown to him, the finish line was just around the corner, but it was nice that he hit the rarest of MFC games milestones on the night we were confirmed as pretty bloody good. Evening ended with a farcical trophy presentation where the host didn't get told the winner before she started talking.

Round 7 vs North Melbourne - The last shall be first
First we announce our arrival, then we line up against an 0-6 side with the chance to go top of the ladder and spot them a four goal start.  The good guys got the job done, but not without some serious fretting about winning all those games then flopping face-first as favourites. North's youthful enthusiasm ended in the third quarter, and Bayley Fritsch got his party started with six goals (also getting away with smacking a bloke in the head with his forearm), but it was nothing more than four much-needed points in the bank.

Round 8 vs Sydney - Eight the hard way
If you're going to wobble, you may as well do it while winning. Especially against another top side. Mind you, since a five win run to start the year they'd lost to Gold Coast by 40 and beaten Geelong, so who knew what sort of opposition would turn up. In the end we got something in the middle, and they hung around like an unflushable nugget until halfway through the last quarter. It was hardly convincing, but you'd have been insane to turn down an 8-0 start. Forget premierships, I was still worried we'd find a way to miss the finals.

Round 9 vs Carlton - Channel 9/0
Now that you know how it ends, let's be ruthlessly honest and agree that this was a shite performance. We did enough to beat ordinary opposition comfortably, via kicking a ton of missed opportunities in the last quarter, but nothing suggested our hot start would translate into long-term success. I could sense that a loss was coming, but surely not until after playing the reigning wooden spooners...

Round 10 vs Adelaide - The recession we had to have
... or just when we played the reigning wooden spooners. I don't what aged worse, our defence being blown open, the shithouse umpiring decision at the end, or Tex Walker being hailed as a hero. Was still one of our highest scores of the home and away season, which confirms that it was just a flat-out strange night. Randomly struggling against a shit side was hardly an anomaly considering what happened against Collingwood and Hawthorn later, but perhaps without it we wouldn't have rumbled a pair of premiership contenders across the next fortnight. 

Round 11 vs Footscray - Bouncing back
Back to an empty Fortress Docklands, where our response to the Adelaide debacle was James Harmes kicking a goal so quickly that Channel 7's fake crowd noise machine hadn't yet warmed up. After Adelaide unexpectedly scored heavily against us, restricting a contender to eight goals was reinvigorating. Featured Tom Sparrow coming on as the most token medical substitute in history, replacing a concussed Ed Langdon with about 50 seconds left in the last quarter.

Round 12 vs Brisbane - Dees go to 11
The first half of the year had been spent regularly climbing out of holes (keep that in mind, it becomes significant again later), and at half time in the unusual surrounds of Sydney Showgrounds we were in all sorts. Just as our top four hopes were about to swirl around the S-Bend we hit the accelerator and ended up winning unexpectedly easily. Strange things were afoot at the MFC.

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award

From the few good seasons we've had, it's clear that the best thing for a high-scoring Hilton race is for the side to be so putrid that shitloads of young players are given their chance. 
None of that this year, with the winner playing every game (albeit with a few appearances as unused sub), with only three eligible players making an appearance.

Despite falling slightly out of favour at the end of the year, it's a deserved win for Double J, who went close to votes a few times at the start of the year. He couldn't stretch it out for a full season, but there's never been a better year to be in and around the side. The emergence of a literally unbeatable Jake Bowey added some mystery to the competition, but it was still not a banner year for statistical fanatics.

Important historical note, even with the post-premiership Truth and Reconciliation Commission pardoning of all the people that have screwed us over the years, we will not be derevoking the 2010 award. The original winner will have to get over it while lying on a bed made from money. 
2 - James Jordon
1 - Jake Bowey
0 - Kade Chandler

Honour roll:
2005 - No players eligible.
2006 - Matthew Bate
2007 - Michael Newton
2008 - Cale Morton
2009 - Jack Grimes ($4)
2010 - [REVOKED]
2011 - Jeremy Howe ($30)
2012 - Tom McDonald ($8)
2013 - Jack Viney ($5)
2014 - Jay Kennedy-Harris ($15)
2015 - Jesse Hogan ($4.50)
2016 - Jayden Hunt ($50) and Christian Petracca ($10)
2017 - Mitch Hannan ($15)
2018 - Bayley Fritsch ($4.50)
2019 - Marty Hore ($8)
2020 - Trent Rivers ($40)
2021 - James Jordon ($30)

Demonbracket X

Eight months before a panel of distinguished voters/'how did they get here' randoms unanimously awarded him the Norm Smith Medal, Christian Petracca was named the #1 selection of the fans in a landslide Demonbracket final. Solid bookends for any season.

The good news is that the Twitter-only voting format, and subsequent 2000% reduction in admin work, reignited my passion for the concept and we'll be back for version XI next year. Hard to see how one of Oliver, Petracca or Gawn doesn't win, but I wouldn't rule out Steven May going close.

2012 - James Frawley d. Nathan Jones
2013 - Tom McDonald d. Mitch Clark
2014 - Nathan Jones d. Jack Watts
2015 - Nathan Jones [2] d. Dom Tyson
2016 - Jack Viney d. Nathan Jones
2017 - Max Gawn d. Jack Viney
2018 - Neville Jetta d. Clayton Oliver 
2019 - Clayton Oliver d. Neville Jetta
2020 - Max Gawn d. Clayton Oliver
2021 - Christian Petracca d. Max Gawn

Welcome to the family

Last time we won a flag you could travel to Ceylon, East Germany, Rhodesia, South Vietnam or Upper Volta. It’s been a while. In that time we’ve been dragged through muck from pillar to post, tried voting ourselves out of existence, and had worse luck than anyone except St Kilda or Fitzroy. Drag out any reference material in your house that pre-dates 2021 and write our name in the premiership list.

Happy memories
Turns out that a large part of the premiership afterglow is the little moments that neutrals won’t remember, but which will be burnt into your brain forever. These include, but are not limited to:
  • Basil forgetting to let the coaches speak
  • Various cup related shenanigans - e.g. Hibberd piss-bolting off with it, and Brayshaw/Gawn conducting an on-field interview.
  • Jako swearing on live TV
  • Gawn atop Tomlinson's shoulders in the nightclub
  • Petracca trying to do an AFL360 interview in the back room of a pub with people randomly walking in throughout.
  • Insert your own in the space provided [                                               ]
Luke Dunstan
Arrives on a free transfer from a tragic club just in time to hear all about what a good time we had without him. Bit unlucky, but better than not having a job at all. As usual I don't know anything about him, even after playing against us 10 times since 2014, but I'll take your word that he can get heaps of the ball then spray it like a fire hose. Sounds like the perfect candidate for a redemption story. Or just a reasonable insurance policy against injuries.

Tayla Harris
Key off-season AFLW recruit, who shouldn’t be expected to perform miracles (after all, she did nowt last year and holds a career average of under a goal a game), but will add strength to a young forward line. I still get annoyed when that Colgate ad shows her playing for Carlton, which, proves there’s a level of pettiness that even winning a flag can't eliminate.

Draft picks
IN: First round, second round, and third round picks this year. OUT: a different second round pick, and next year's first. Based on recent results, who am I to argue? 

The grand old flag…
Maybe they’re waiting to visit Bags O' Flags after lockdown, but I've never needed to see a piece of fabric more. It’ll look the same as all the other ones, but for the first time in my life our bloody name is on it. Melbourne. Premiers 2021. I will never get tired of seeing that written/sewn/spraypainted/dripped in blood. It's NQR to say 'we' when you didn't have anything to do with the result, but in this case the 'we' stands for everyone who went through an absurd degree of humiliation waiting to be vindicated. 

Now, 'we' have this:

And anyone who doesn't like that can blow it out their arse.

Wished well in future endeavours

Austin Bradtke
While Luke Jackson might argue, ruckmen usually need a few seasons to get going. Which is shithouse luck for somebody who gets one full season in the VFL before it’s effectively cancelled for the next two years. Doesn't help that the best ruckman in the game and the next big thing are ahead of him in the queue. If he doesn't get re-rerookied Bradtke will have to decide whether to follow dad into basketball, mum into tennis, or [long list of Melbourne players] into premature retirement.

Darren Burgess
Vale BurgessBall, a philosophy of physical fitness that I was never quite convinced actually existed. Maybe it had nothing to do with us running away in a Grand Final but it can't have hurt. He's exercised the Scott Thompson option to go back to Adelaide, leaving somebody with the fantastically 1920s name of Selwyn to carry on his legacy. Wilbur and Ethel are presumably not far behind.

Kye Declase
There's not getting a decent run at it, then there's being drafted mid-season, shortly before the only competition you've got to develop in is shut down. Departs with fond memories of the greatest paid holiday to Western Australia of all time, and I'm sure they'll look at giving him another go in the pre-season if we've got any room on the list.

Marty Hore
Not many players have played 14 games in one season and never been heard from again. In my time Robert Pyman holds the record with 19 in 1997, but otherwise Craig Ellis, Ben Kennedy and Craig Turley are your lot. The common thread is usually injury (except for Kennedy, who they just lost interest in), and Hore was unlucky to miss two full seasons with burst quad and equally burst knee. At one point I thought he'd be the new Neville Jetta, now they'll probably end up in the same backline at Collingwood VFL.

Neville Jetta
... and speaking of Nifty, it's farewell to one of the great revived careers. Arrived as a 'medium forward', but everyone expected him to start kicking goals out of his arse just because he was indigenous. For five years he didn't do that, mainly balancing his career between a shitload of losses in the seniors and wins while in exile at Casey. 

Nev's great revival came under Paul Roos, who successfully recast him as a defender. Soon the rocky early years were forgotten and he became one of the most beloved figures of our recent history. I'll always fondly remember his willingness to fly into contests against much bigger men - or several - despite being one major concussion from oblivion for about the last 100 games of his career. Has moved into a coaching role at the Pies, where we hope he does extremely well while the club falls to bits around him.
Nathan Jones
Since 25 September I've discovered that there are practically no regrets about winning a flag, but it feels like we've moved on quickly from the man who put a god-awful club on his shoulders for years with scant reward. I'm as guilty as anyone, going from dreams of building a tribute statue, to one of Clayton Oliver with his arm outstretched and a brass Luke Jackson going boonta in the background.  

On the day he was drafted, as I drove towards Albury well under the speed limit so SEN's signal would hold out until our first pick, nobody could have predicted how his career would pan out. Fancy being drafted to a side that had just made the second week of the finals, then going close to playing in the most losses in league history. If he'd known that I might have found him on my way home, running across the Hume Highway trying to get run over. 

After seeing so much horror, and carrying so much dead weight that he would have been forgiven for walking away from the club/game/country, it was an appropriately #fistedforever finish to be within touching distance of playing in our breakthrough flag but not even in the ground when we won. Never let what happened while he was watching on his couch detract from his contribution to the long, painful lead-up. May he enjoy 100% joy in whatever comes next and never have to pay for anything in the vicinity of a Melbourne fan again.

Jay Lockhart
The worst timed knacker injury in history kept him out just long enough for us to move on, and our magical run with injuries left him out in the cold. Showed some promise as a defender in early 2020, but ended the year in the hub equivalent of the reserves, and probably won’t get another spin. Still, as far as MFC careers that fizzed after 22 games go, a last official act of going on the piss with premiership-winning teammates beats what happened to Rod Keogh and Jack Fitzpatrick.

Money spent on Grand Final merch
Most of the clothing is so ugly it should be sold out the back of a car at the Caribbean Gardens market, but we were still moved to drop hundreds/thousands in all the excitement. Christ knows where any of it actually is though, I think mine is currently halfway down the Panama Canal. 

Aaron vandenBerg
Handy player in his day, but has been around so infrequently over the last few years that I can't even remember the fun fact about how many possessions he had in that NEAFL game. We’ll always have a) his winning cameo at the end of 2018, b) the time in 2016 he tried to kick a goal and was pinged for deliberate, and c) increased health insurance premiums from all his treatment.

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year

After six years of thumping, challenge-free victories, Maximum finally got some competition in the form of Luke Jackson. At one point the race got very tasty, before Maximum brought home title #8 in style with his dual demolitions of Geelong. 

The more I watch the Grand Final, the more I think Jackson was unlucky not to get votes (two time winner SME is still wandering around Perth Stadium wondering WTF happened at the end of the third quarter), suggesting the trucking good times should carry on long after Max has moved into a lucrative media career.

29 - Max Gawn
21 - Luke Jackson 
0 - Austin Bradtke, Majak Daw

Honour roll:
2005 - Jeff White
2006 - Jeff White (2)
2007 - Jeff White (3)
2008 - Paul Johnson
2009 - Mark Jamar ($3)
2010 - Mark Jamar (2) ($1.50 fav)
2011 - Stefan Martin ($30)
2012 - Stefan Martin (2) ($12)
2013 - Jack Fitzpatrick ($50) and Max Gawn ($45)
2014 - Mark Jamar (3) ($5)
2015 - Max Gawn (2) ($10)
2016 - Max Gawn (3) ($1.80 fav)
2017 - Max Gawn (4) ($1.25 fav)
2018 - Max Gawn (5) ($1.10 fav)
2019 - Max Gawn (6) ($1.50 fav)
2020 - Max Gawn (7) ($1.05 fav)
2021 - Max Gawn (8) ($2)

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year

There was a time when people were ready to fight in the street over trading two first round picks for Lever. We'd been through so much that there wasn't much willingness to wait and see what happened, or consider that we might have used the picks on rubbish anyway, and when he had a rocky start there was a lot of muttering about how we'd blown it. Then, just as he got going after a few weeks Lever's knee blew on the thinly veiled concrete surface at Docklands, costing him back 12 months of playing and 18 months of development time. 

Fast forward to the present and nobody cares what he cost, because ever if it looks like a minor royal from the late 19th century and talks like a three cartons per day smoker, Jake has just put together one of our great defensive seasons in a premiership year. Much love also to the men around him, specifically May and Petty, who helped form a steel-trap defence only seriously challenged by Hawthorn doing fluke kicks along the ground for want of anything better to do. 

38 - Jake Lever
20 - Christian Salem
19 - Steven May
9 - Harrison Petty
5 - Jayden Hunt
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jake Bowey

Honour roll:
2005 - Nathan Carroll and Ryan Ferguson
2006 - Jared Rivers
2007 - Paul Wheatley
2008 - Matthew Whelan
2009 - James Frawley ($22)
2010 - James Frawley (2) ($3.50)
2011 - James Frawley (3) ($4)
2012 - Jack Grimes ($7)
2013 - James Frawley (4) ($2.80)
2014 - Lynden Dunn ($25)
2015 - Tom McDonald ($14)
2016 - Neville Jetta ($13)
2017 - Michael Hibberd ($16)
2018 - Christian Salem ($20)
2019 - Christian Salem (2) ($4.75 fav)
2020 - Steven May ($11)
2021 - Jake Lever ($8)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year

Pickett's confined spaces masterclass against St Kilda survived 21 weeks, and he claims for a nomination from the finals goal from the pocket against Brisbane, but match-winners will always have a special place in my heart. How, then, can you go past Gawn kicking the clutchiest of clutch goals in Geelong? The kick that swung the door open for us to enter September with a distinctively un-Melbourne swagger.

The Petracca dribbler which kicked off our mad minute in Perth was more instantly important, but Gawn to battle against the crushing weight of history. It sent us towards the finals on a high and we never looked back. 

I still can't watch without thinking that somehow he's going to miss - especially when his original run-up is interrupted by the siren - so we best have another look to make sure:
2021 Nominations
Round 1 - Ed Langdon
Round 2 - Kysaiah Pickett
Round 3 - Kysaiah Pickett (2)
Round 4 - Bayley Fritsch
Round 5 - Max Gawn
Round 6 - Alex Neal-Bullen
Round 7 - Bayley Fritsch (2)
Round 8 - Tom McDonald
Round 9 - Tom McDonald (2)
Round 10 - Clayton Oliver
Round 11 - James Jordon
Round 12 - Tom McDonald (3)
Round 13 - Clayton Oliver (2)
Round 15 - Tom Sparrow
Round 16 - Bayley Fritsch (3)
Round 17 - Tom McDonald (4)
Round 18 - Charlie Spargo
Round 19 - Kysaiah Pickett (3)
Round 20 - Max Gawn (2)
Round 21 - Ben Brown
Round 22 - Bayley Fritsch (4)
Round 23 - Max Gawn (3)
Qualifying Final - Kysaiah Pickett (4)
Preliminary Final - Max Gawn (4)
Grand Final - Christian Petracca

Honour roll:
2014 - Christian Salem
2015 - Nathan Jones
2016 - Jack Watts
2017 - Tom McDonald
2018 - Mitch Hannan
2019 - Marty Hore
2020 - Christian Petracca
2021 - Max Gawn

All-time nominations (2014-2021)
19 - Christian Petracca
16 - Jeff Garlett
8 - Tom McDonald
7 - Max Gawn, Jake Melksham, Kysaiah Pickett, Jack Watts
6 - Bayley Fritsch, Mitch Hannan, Jayden Hunt
5 - Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones, Dean Kent, Bernie Vince
4 - Clayton Oliver, Cameron Pedersen, Jack Viney
3 - Jordan Lewis, Jay Lockhart, Alex Neal-Bullen, Christian Salem, Charlie Spargo
2 - Angus Brayshaw, Chris Dawes, Mark Jamar, Braydon Preuss, Dom Tyson
1 - Oskar Baker, Sam Blease, Ben Brown, Chris Dawes, Jack Fitzpatrick, Sam Frost, Marty Hore, Matt Jones, James Jordon, Ben Kennedy, Ed Langdon, Jay Kennedy Harris, Heritier Lumumba, Oscar McDonald, Ben Newton, Aidan Riley, Tom Sparrow, Corey Wagner, Sam Weideman

2021 year in review – part two

Round 13 vs Collingwood - A farce to be reckoned with 
Undoubtedly the worst part of the season, where we lost millions of dollars by playing Queen's Birthday in Sydney (shortly before they got shut down by the big one too), around the same time we missed out on the annual Alice Springs windfall. All of that would have been bad enough on its own, without another collapse against shizen opposition. Accepted wisdom is that the Pies played out of their skin because their coach had resigned, but clearly it was because our forward line was badly misfiring, leaving us vulnerable to opposition kicking any half-decent score. I was a touch worried.

Round 15 vs Essendon - Saturday Night Lever
The mid-season slump was temporarily halted by a battling win over mid-table opposition. It doesn't take much to make Essendon fans see conspiracy theories, but a bit of wacky umpiring had them rushing the umpires like Trump fanatics attacking the Capitol. We won, but it didn't encourage you to start putting money away for impulse merchandise purchases in late September..

Round 16 vs GWS - Misery is the best policy
After this, I was all but running through the streets ringing a bell and crying "the end is near". Premature considering they were still in the hunt for finals, but it all seemed like a Candid Camera style set-up to make us look like idiots for getting excited by the 9-0 start. Since then we'd been tickled by wins against top four contenders, lost to bottom four certainties and I didn't know what to think anymore. I haven't seen a live game since, and it went so well I probably never should again. 

Round 17 vs Port Adelaide - Uphill skiing d. Downhill skiing
I didn't know what sporting pressure was until the last two games of the year, but until then this was as close as I got to freaking out and hiding in a mineshaft until it was over. A promising season badly on the turn, in front of the full Friday night national audience, against a side that had proven incapable of beating the best. Now to work out if we really were in 'the best' or only good enough to make up numbers in the eight. Turns out we were - though this wouldn't be proven for another few weeks - and a professional performance saw us home, much to the disgust of some locals:
Round 18 vs Hawthorn - White light, dead heat
Just when you thought we were back on track, our top four campaign hit the skids again with an unexpected draw against a bottom four side. I was left distraught, thinking we were about to throw away 9-0, limp into the finals and get knocked out in the first week by Essendon.

Round 19 vs Footscray - The plot sickens
Our second top of the table game against the Dogs without a crowd, and the sequel was not as good as the original.
At this point I'd have thought us more likely to win the French Open than an AFL premiership, and reacted accordingly, thinking about a concession speech for our premiership tilt and wondering where to buy a white flag. In retrospect it wasn't so bad, but felt like death at the time. You can go through the archives, find my comments in the aftermath and mock me now for not having faith but after about one good performance in six weeks I was entitled to see a bit of tits up in our future.

The COVID crisis that saved our season, where a flight to Queensland was pulled up short and sent home, leaving the game to be played the following day. Cue a Suns side whose life force had ebbed away weeks earlier being forced to travel at short notice and realising about halfway through the first quarter that they'd forgotten to pack their will to live. With Jackson and Brown building nicely towards the finals, we finally pulled off the violent beating I'd been waiting for since Round 1 and never lost again.

Round 21 vs West Coast - Living on the end of a lightning bolt
Where the weirdest season got even weirder. Winning confirmed we'd finish top four, but not until building a near unbeatable lead, missing the chance to put them away early in the last quarter, going off for a 40 minute lightning break, then having to withstand a furious comeback that left me with my supporting life flashing before my eyes. Thanks to Harrison Petty for saving the day with some of the most egregious timewasting in VFL/AFL history, and to the umpire with a box seat view who let him get away with it. Any Perth-related frustrations were later taken out on Geelong and Footscray.

Round 22 vs Adelaide - Going through the emotions
Now that the double chance was certain, it was a matter of making sure we got our choice of venues (anywhere you liked as it wasn't in Victoria or New South Wales), and ideally finishing on top. With an all-star clash against Geelong on the horizon we just needed to beat the Crows to enter the last round with our fate in our own hands. Easier said than done considering what happened earlier in the year. Again, it took far more effort than it should have, but we held our nerve long enough for them to run out of youthful enthusiasm. Ended with Bayley Fritsch kicking the most ludicrous run of quick goals until the next week. 

Round 23 vs Geelong - Delta Force
Most years it would be hard to beat the excitement of coming from 40 something points down to win the minor premiership with our first winning kick after the siren in history, but just over a month later this would have been lucky to tie for second as the most ludicrous thing to happen in 2021. No matter what happened next, never forget how wonderful this night was.

When you're playing for top spot, shipping a bunch of quickfire goals out of the middle was far from ideal, but felt like the natural progression in a long list of Kardinia Park debacles. Then the locals clammed up (other than Dangerfield, reported to have been literally dripping with gastro), we dragged it back within a kick, got a 50 that the umpire wouldn't have dared pay with a hostile crowd present, and the unlikely attacking combination of Lever/Gawn combined to set up the famous kick. 

That was all very nice, especially the Geelong players looking accusingly at each other, but the pre-September 2021 Melbourne script would have piled an extra layer of misery on us by having him miss anyway. You know what happened next. Cue wild scenes at the ground, in my house, and the worldwide fluctuation of internet capacity as the kick was watched on repeat. 

You can't overstate how important Maximum's kick was. It wasn't as breathtaking thrilling as his prelim antics, or immediately equal to the Grand Final rampage, but without it maybe neither of those things happen. We might still have gone the long way to win the flag, but it wouldn't have come in the same glorious, iconic fashion. Fair way to end the year for somebody who did two knees and once got in trouble for having a smoke in his car on the way to training.

Qualifying Final vs Brisbane - First we take Adelaide...
The forgotten final, a perfectly decent, grown-up performance that will always pale in comparison to the insanity that followed. Felt like gold on the night, especially after Channel 7 debuted that terrifyingly presumptuous montage about breaking the alleged Norm Smith curse. The almost all-MFC build-up felt like a level of disrespect to the Lions that would make us look stupid in the event of a loss. Fortunately said Lions were warming up for the game not watching TV and did their very best to keep the fairytale finish alive. We carried on as you'd expect first to against fourth, earned the express route to a Prelim, and got a week off to fret about Geelong taking revenge for the grand finish in Round 23.

Preliminary Final vs Geelong - Just win baby
Nothing will ever beat the torment I went through on Friday and Saturday of Grand Final weekend, but this lead-up went close. Not only were we playing to go into the Grand Final as favourites for the first time since 1964, the legacy of the Kardinia Park comeback and Gawn's golden goal were both on the line. If this went wrong we'd never be able to watch it again without thinking about their old age pensioner side taking revenge when it really mattered. 

Max took us in his arms, quietly whispered "don't worry, everything's going to be alright" and unloaded one of the all-time great finals performances, dynamiting what had looked like a competitive game with a five goal haul that helped build an insurmountable lead. Both he and everyone else ran out of goals in the last quarter, keeping the margin to 'just' the most we'd ever beaten Geelong by since first playing them in 1860. Turns out it was a taste of things to come.

Grand Final vs Footscray - Everybody loves a happy ending
Spoiler alert. This goes tremendously well at the start, sour in the middle, then turns into pound-for-pound the greatest explosion of footballing power ever see. I'm not going to get deep into my feelings on this, because the trauma detailed in the above match review captures the moment far better than memories from a month later.

What I will say is that there couldn't have been a more Melbourne way for the first two and a half quarters to go. Teased by a hot start against a side which completely failed to come to terms with the extra week off, going within touching distance of putting the game out of their reach before they settled down, then having success snatched from before me eyes, leaving me on the verge of a meltdown.

Still don't know what the half-time entertainment was because I was too busy nearly having a stroke. An hour later I was considering a stroke for entirely different reasons, having just seen the most indescribably insane half of all time. It got within a goal of "oh shit" territory (which they could very well have had), before an eruption of such power and fury that replays should have this flashed on the screen just as Harmes' pass landed with Fritsch.

As Kevin Bloody Wilson might have said, "Six thousand tonnes of TNT, the noise, the blinding flash. The coach of Western Bulldogs said 'what the fuck was that?'"

Americans are mad for giving recognisable names to sporting moments, and what happened at the end of the third quarter should be known as The Minute. I appreciated retaking the lead from 19 points down, but what came next was the most enjoyable 45 seconds since my first sexual experience. Petracca rolling one through from the boundary like Peter Daicos was one thing, but when Sparrow got one from the next bounce, (with an assist to McSizzle treating a defender like a vaccine mandate on the line) then Oliver chipped in for another before running away with his arm aloft like Alan Shearer the foundations of my house were under more stress than during the earthquake.

God knows what the Dogs were doing, but with 15 seconds left they almost let us get out of the centre again, and we'd scored another I might have died from excitement on the spot. No need to be greedy, it was already the best thing I've ever seen on a footy ground. And after about 750 views over the next month, probably the only passage of play I've seen more than Jako's scissor kick against North or the Alan Partridge calling Liam Jurrah highlights.

I've always been fond of Bill Clinton's promise to be there for his supporters "until the last dog dies", and it finally came true in the last quarter, with each Footscray player's will to live shutting off one-by-one, until they were nothing but target practice. God it was fun. Which is probably why the second half has been streamed more times across the world than Squid Game.

The only problem was the entire quarter yet to play, and with the veil of negativity cutting off airflow to my brain there was still a tremendous level of fear about cocking it up. I knew that you'd have to do something amazing to lose from four goals ahead at three quarter time, against a team who'd just been mercilessly destroyed in one magical outburst, but after all we'd been through, would there have been any better way to confirm our status as the game's most unlovable losers by coming this far, then capsizing with one hand on the cup, never winning a premiership, and leaving me to die looking like this:

There will still be plenty of reasons to go out old and sour, hated by family and strangers alike, but none caused by missing a flag. Nerves were quickly settled by lovely, zanily numbered, looks like her from Arcade Fire, Ben Brown, and the procession continued unabated. We'd broken them, and it was magnificent. I ran outside and screamed, and when there was absolutely no way to lose unashamedly cried my eyes out.

Bit rich to say this after shunning human contact for years, but I partly feel cheated at missing out on the chaotic, mass outpouring of public joy Fever Pitch ending. However, if it had been possible then maybe we wouldn't have been the ones enjoying it. Go with what you can confirm happened, and the fear/terror/joy/astonishment I went through at home that night will still occupy a special place in my happy memory Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly there hasn't been one random nosebleed since. Nor have I had a truly good time, so maybe that night ruined me forever. Totally worth it.

Garry Lyon Medal for Finals Player of the Year

A decade ago you wouldn't have known if we had any 'big game players', because we weren't in enough big games to find out. 12 months ago I hated triumphant Richmond fans for taunting us over not picking Dustin Martin, now I'm prepared to face Moorabbin and offer thanks that they didn't draft Petracca.

He's been 'good' for years, but Petracca's ascendency to the top table began by walloping the Crows in that pre-season game last year. Via a pair of All-Australian campaigns, and a contract that should keep him at the club for the rest of his career, the hard work paid off with a Grand Final rampage for the ages. After four votes in the first two finals - behind Oliver and Gawn respectively - this was enough to carry him to a comprehensive, well-deserved victory.

While we're at it, recognition please for Jack Viney. He came back from foot death to win the award in 2018, and has done the same (via an unnecessary suspension) to run second here, polling in all three games. There was a time I refused to believe that players could be 'made for finals', but the evidence in his favour is overwhelming.

13 - Christian Petracca
8 - Jack Viney
6 - Clayton Oliver
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Charlie Spargo, Tom Sparrow
1 - Ed Langdon, Christian Salem

Honour Roll:
2005 - Not awarded
2018 - Jake Viney
2021 - Christian Petracca

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

Given our record with high draft picks, eyebrows were raised so far when we took a punt on Oliver that they almost flew off the top of the head. Obviously a super talent from day one, it took him a season to get into the swing of footy club life, but has been near unstoppable since. See, for example, the first Geelong game, when they tried to stop up with some bloke who'd tagged opponents into the ground in the early weeks. Oliver said "that's nice" and went on with his business, dragging his minder around all day like he was on a rope.

Retrospectively, you can see the moment we picked him as when it all started to turn good. There's a bit of luck in everything - he might have had 17 concussions in his first year and retired - but pick four for the man who made Mooroopna famous would have been value at twice the price now.

64 - Clayton Oliver
61 - Christian Petracca
38 - Jake Lever
29 - Max Gawn
22 - Tom McDonald
21 - Luke Jackson 
20 - Christian Salem
19 - Steven May
13 - Bayley Fritsch, Kysaiah Pickett
11 - Jack Viney
10 - Ed Langdon
9 - Angus Brayshaw, Harrison Petty
7 - James Harmes, Alex Neal-Bullen, Charlie Spargo
5 - Jayden Hunt
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - James Jordon, Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jake Bowey

Honour roll:
2005 - Travis Johnstone
2006 - Brock McLean
2007 - Nathan Jones
2008 - Cameron Bruce
2009 - Aaron Davey ($8)
2010 - Brad Green ($4)
2011 - Brent Moloney ($9)
2012 - Nathan Jones (2) ($3.50)
2013 - Nathan Jones (3) ($2)
2014 - Nathan Jones (4) ($3.50)
2015 - Jack Viney ($15)
2016 - Nathan Jones (5) ($8)
2017 - Clayton Oliver ($35)
2018 - Clayton Oliver (2) ($3.25 fav)
2019 - Max Gawn ($9)
2020 - Christian Petracca ($6)
2021 - Clayton Oliver (3) ($6)

Next season
Thinking about the community madness at the end of Fever Pitch led me to watching it again for the first time in about 15 years. Frightening how much of myself I recognise in the main character that wasn't there when I first read the book/saw the movie in the late 90s. There's a bit at the end, where he says "We still see each other all the time. And I still love them, and I still hate them. But I have my own life now. My success and failures aren't necessarily linked up their theirs. That's got to be a good thing I suppose." 

Never thought it possible that I could reach that point, but also never thought we'd actually win the bloody premiership. But don't think the small matter of flag and a midlife crisis will spell the end for this page, I'll be back for everything starting with the 2022 AFLW season and ending with rising sea levels turning the MCG into a swimming pool. Might just not take it so seriously. Let's see how many weeks into 2022 that lasts.

Final thoughts
In addition to his earlier comments, our old friend Brecht also said, "how can I eat and drink if I snatch what I eat from the starving?", and while at this moment I couldn't give a continental about the feelings of anyone outside the MFC bubble, may all neutrals get to experience this feeling once in their life.

Who knows when the joy will wear off. Hopefully never, and even after our turn at the top has eventually ended, we'll bond over how close things came to disaster on that most glorious of nights, recite the exact order that the goals were kicked, and laugh at how unreal (in all senses of the word) it was. And on the occasion where we finally become the team to chase: