Sunday, 26 March 2023

Hello darkness

Since discovering that Footscray are actually a steamy puddle of piss, last week's festival of entertainment doesn't seem so exciting. The first instinct after our follow-up flop against a better side is to evacuate baby with bathwater and reach for the Veil of Negativity but I'm not going into full misery mode yet. Just like Round 1 didn't prove we'd win the flag, Round 2 doesn't mean we won't. Sit back and wait for more evidence before curling up on the floor and crying. 

No team is immune from shit losses, but if there was any reason to relocate to a desert island until 2024 it was potential major injury to the greatest ruckman known to man. We won't appreciate Gawn's contribution until it's no longer available, and for 24 hours there was the prospect that we'd have to do that for the rest of the season. Instead, in a result that's shit but as good as we could have hoped for in the circumstances he'll only miss a quarter of it. You know the situation is grave when people are falling about in glee about at our most important player getting a 4-2-6 diagnosis.

As discussed endlessly during the Gawn era, it's not the rucking that makes him so good, but the general marauding around the ground, making trouble in both forward and defensive 50 and providing a reliable get out of jail target to kick at around the ground. Sure we've got a handy alternative, ex-All Australian ruckman who we're practically being paid to take but while Grundy might be good he's not Gawn good so I hope we've got an alternative strategy in Max's absence. And if Grundy goes down then form a prayer circle, because we then have the biggest gulf in quality ever recorded down to a pair of kid ruckmen who have played zero senior games in any competition.

It would be convenient to blame the Gawn Debacle for our overall inability to make a contest of this, but sadly the rot was clearly on from the first bounce when the midfield were vapourised. I've seen them beaten before, but Brisbane reduced them to a pile of ashes. Most sides won't be able to do the same, but I'd still like to reverse course ASAP before a long term trend emerges. So first we couldn't get the ball at the clearances, then our best player departed, the forward line couldn't get close to hopelessly optimistic long kicks, even if they brought it to ground there was nobody to crumb it, our small defenders didn't know where the opposition was most of the time, one of the key pillars of our backline had his worst game since debut, and even the generosity of Brisbane in putting about five set shots out on the full couldn't save us. It was a shit night, but the Lions would have thought the same about both games against us last year and look how that turned out in September? There's 21 more games to go, everything is probably going to be ok.

Maybe we should have thrown responsible adulthood/dignity out the window, played into the media narrative that we've got a death rivalry with Brisbane and punched on. Problem being that the way we were going nobody would have been able to catch anybody to brawl with. I don't buy it being presented as an Israel vs Palestine style rivalry based on one evening of spicy controversy. To the disappointment of Channel 7 and neutral sickos, both sides treated the occasion professionally instead of acting like dickheads in a pub. Which is good, as much as I'm into personal issues in footy, come up with something better to argue about. Zorko is not my kind of guy but he said something NQR, everything got sorted out via some "what about me?" moaning, Brisbane got their revenge in a game that mattered and normal people moved on.

The only serious physical contact in the opening quarter, and the only time our midfield got near anybody, was Viney cannoning off Oliver and through Gawn's lower leg. That was the end of Max for the night, and at the time god knows how long after. To the distress of morons like Grant Thomas (reminder: sacked after his side blew a five goal lead against us in the finals), a 31-year-old man simultaneously at the peak of his powers and approaching the end of his career, with a history of serious knee injuries, and the burden of leading a side expected to contend for the flag, went to the rooms looking sad. On Saturday morning somebody told me - with a straight face - that they didn't think he was setting a good example in the rooms, as if the other 22 players were seeing the same thing that this peanut was on TV. These people vote. 

Who knows how things would have turned out if Gawn stayed upright, but the signs were already suspect. Last time at this ground we went straight out of the middle and set the tone with a goal, this time it happened to us, and all that kept it from getting out of control early was the combination of  loose kicking into 50 and Lever getting in the way most of the time. McSizzle got a goal via their defensive blunder, but in a throwback to his early days as a forward we said thanks by letting them reply straight from the centre. Just one repeat stoppage in the middle would have been great (and, you know, if we don't let this in straight away the course of history changes so Gawn's not in the exact spot required to be crippled a few minutes later. Mind you, maybe something worse would have happened to him later in the game) but all night the ball went up, came down and exited stage left/right to Brisbane's end.

Nobody's been a bigger Tom McDonald fan than me, right down to covering for his one shot game last week by trying to claim it worked to free up Brown, but he did absolute nada after that goal. It didn't help that he was now required to act as our backup ruckman too, a job that he did well when Maximum was crocked a few years ago, but I was nervously adjusting the collar watching him here. I don't blame him for being outmarked in defence for one of their goals because he - previous career as a defender aside - shouldn't have been down there in the first place, and John Coleman would have struggled to pull down some of our bullshit forward 50 entries but he was nowhere near it. I'm sticking with him for now but he may want to consider pushing Jacob van Rooyen down the stairs this week.

That goal came as part of the rush that realistically finished us off, and while we had bad luck conceding one via the player diving into a tackle neck first that's what happens when you keep the ball inside 50. The longer it's there, and the more stoppages that you create, the more chance somebody will do something technically suspect and cause a free. This is why inside 50s are such bullshit, we were racking them up by kicking straight to defenders, while they were turning one into several chances before eventually scoring.

A four goal quarter time deficit wasn't enough to make me run up the white flag. Brisbane had given that and plenty more back in Round 1, and we've scored in bursts enough to know that it could happen again. The problem with this forward line was that Pickett was paying the recklessness tax on his couch and Melksham regrettably did chuff all as sub. It was one thing to come on when the Dogs were in disarray last week, but he had 3.5 quarters to show something here and didn't go near it. It was all part of the disappearance of the fringe, who'd done so well last week but floundered here - with the exception of Chandler who was very good again.

We didn't look any more likely to kick goals after quarter time, but at least now Brisbane weren't banging them through from every point on the compass. When Brown finally got one 10 minutes in I thought it might be the start of something big... until they cancelled it out a couple of minutes later x2. This was not good viewing, we were so flat across the board that I spent almost as much time trying to work out the order of votes as the rest of the post combined. Oliver gets in by default because nobody else was any good, but while he broke the tag in the second half and got a lot of possessions he was barely seen when the game was in the balance. And the less said about his putrid inside 50 kicks the better. Put 'metres gained' in a bag with inside 50s and throw them both into the sea. Calculate the metres from effective disposals only or don't bother. He is a great man but this was not his finest evening - which makes the votes even more ridiculous so keep this is mind if the Jakovich ends in a thrilling finish.

Fritsch's goal right on half time brought the margin back to 20, and even if it felt like we should have been twice as far behind you never knew. Then, after patiently sitting through the break you found out that you really did know when they went back to kicking novelty goals from close range. From there the game was well and truly over, and while we pulled off a couple of lovely looking end-to-end goals there was no follow-up and Brisbane soon went back to doing as they liked.

The ultimate insult was Joe Daniher taking advantage of Steven May's late absence to bang through four goals before three quarter time. Usually he kicks 1.5 against us but this time he could have applied a blindfold and booted it over his head from over the fence and they'd have gone through. It was that kind of night, and as if Harrison Petty wasn't having a rotten enough night he was seen hobbling off with an injury before the last change as well. He came back, much to the regret of the "boo feelings" manly men in the crowd, but while he usually steps straight into May's role and does well this was not his best night. But it wasn't anyones, so let's just get one with our lives. Daniher started missing again in the last quarter, but that was no help to us six goals down and not even the remotest chance of launching a Miracle on Grass comeback. 

As far as losses at the Gabba go, this wasn't as bad as the one that made Glenn Bartlett crack the shits (not without some justification it should be said) and set off the chain of events that lead to flag first, lawsuit second. This time the opposition was different, there were more than 323 people present, the light tower was flammable, and there was a belated fruitless comeback. The only other similarity to Round 9, 2020 was commentators talking absolute BOLLOCKS. There's never been an audio demonstration of junk time like Brian Taylor trying to wrap a two part birthday shoutout to Ron Barassi around Matthew Richardson's random fun fact about Shaun Grigg's Grand Final hitout with neither acknowleding what the other was saying. No wonder the power gave up, it was probably offended at being used to broadcast this shite.

Then, just as I'd had enough the Gabba lights joined in. With a power surge that made the TV screen look like the ground had just suffered a direct strike from a nuclear missile the future home of the Olympics was plunged into darkness. It wasn't all bad news, Brian Taylor's microphone stopped working too. Shame he didn't get an ECT style jolt and come back as a functional commentator.

I was already pushing it watching this while having to get up ridiculously early (including a 20 minute later start because Queenslanders think daylight savings kills cows), and knowing from the experience of the 2020 Melbourne/West Coast lightning incident that the result stands after half time if no further play is possible I literally said "fuck this shit" and went to bed. Unless there was going to be civil disorder I didn't see any reason to wait up to 60 minutes just to watch us lose anyway, so you'll appreciate how surprised I was to wake up a few hours later, check the score and discover we'd 'only' lost by 11. 

It's easy to scoff at this now but I'd have been balls deep invested in the comeback at the time, so it's better not to have been teased. The benefit will come when our fate at the end of the year is decided by 1% again, but until then I'll just wonder why this effort was a couple of hours earlier. As I'd rather watch the Mrs. Brown's Boys box set than review anything pre or post-blackout I'll just assume Brisbane lost interest, and let us get a bit too close for comfort but were never in any serious danger. It's more likely each goal would have made me increasingly more angry until it ruined the whole weekend. Now I can move on to next Saturday with my bundle undropped and hope this was an anomaly. 

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jake Lever
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Kade Chandler
2 - Ben Brown
1 - Lachie Hunter

Apologies to Fritsch, even though I wouldn't have given anything below Lever if the format allowed it.

7 - Jake Lever (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Clayton Oliver
4 - Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Kade Chandler, Christian Petracca
2 - Ben Brown
1 - Lachie Hunter

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The integrity of this award never reached any great heights, but I'm glad to have accidentally stumbled upon Chandler's post-blackout goal at the end via the MFC Twitter account. Ben Brown's rolling goal would have been a worthy winner, but for the weekly prize Chandler wins the Sam Blease Award for kicking a bunch (well, two...) of exciting goals at the start of his career.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
2 - Jake Melksham vs Footscray
3 - Kade Chandler vs Brisbane 

Next Week
(Update from the future - I can't read a calendar properly and thought the game was on Saturday so I did end up going. False information kept for the historical record.)
Given that we've lost my last four live games it's probably better that I can't go. I thought I could, then found out just before publishing that a scheduling conflict had stitched me up. May as well hand my membership in at this stage. Regardless of Sydney beating us in finals, playing (in body if not spirit) the Grand Final, and starting this season well, I think this is still a toss-up. I'm hoping that if we lose it won't be in such a fashion that I'm the last person standing refusing to get upset and try to sack everyone.

Forget the weekend, all the action is at the selection table. Obviously if May is fit (and I choose to believe that if they flew him to Queensland he was close enough) he's in so fast it could have your eye out. Tomlinson hasn't done badly but the only hope of keeping his spot is that Petty's hamstring explodes in the dead of night. I'm into Disco Turner but not until a few weeks warm-up in the seconds. On a related note, nobody has lined up in their assigned position since 1994 but I see Joel Smith was shown as a forward at Casey. At this rate, he may end using his DNA assisted leaping ability to ruck.

I know re-recruiting The Spencil is a running joke on here, but even if he's well beyond it maybe we should have parked A.N Experienced Ruck on the rookie list just in case. Now we've got Grundy, and a Grand Canyon-style gulf in experience to project players so far off it that they're not even playing VFL yet. Verrall hasn't played beyond the SANFL Under 19s and Farris-White may not previously have kicked a footy since he was 12 for all I know, neither will play anytime soon. That leaves us with McDonald, who I remember doing an admirable job replacing Gawn in 2017 but didn't look anywhere near it here and has a foot that may fall off at any time. Otherwise, it's Brown and no thanks to that anywhere outside the forward 50 so why bother, just pick somebody else and find an alternative avenue beyond the big boot.

IN: Hibberd, Jordon, Laurie, May
OUT: Gawn (inj), Harmes, Melksham, Tomlinson (omit)
LUCKY: McDonald
UNLUCKY: van Rooyen

Final thoughts
Get the slopfests and major injuries out of the way now, finish the year at a million miles an hour.

Monday, 20 March 2023

Are you not entertained?

The moment the fixture arrived I was filled with panic about Round 1. In the dark times you weren't concerned about such things, you'd usually expect to lose so there wasn't much to be worried about. Even against sides at our level you knew that win, lose or draw the season wasn't going anywhere anyway so it didn't really matter what happened. Not anymore. 

This year I felt the weight of expectation like never before, and it destroyed my enjoyment of the build-up to the season. In the last week people who'd previously identified me as a footy nuffy (correction: MFC nuffy, AFL interested observer) kept asking if I was excited, and were almost offended when I said "no, I'm scared". I don't think it how you're supposed to do it.

We're in such a good position (September 2022 physical collapse notwithstanding) that it's hard to comprehend only entering Round 1 off the back of a finals season twice in 15 years. In 2019 the 'difficult' off-season meant nobody was really surprised when it went teet up, and last year the build-up to unfurling of flag kept the fervour up all summer. Now we're not defending premiers, but are a popular tip to be one in 12 months and that left me in emotional disarray. I was only half joking saying we should have resigned from the league after the premiership so nobody could ever beat us again. After a taste of the good life I can't handle the idea of being disappointed again.

As much as coming from behind to tonk a top eight side doesn't guarantee a thing for the future, it was much appreciated by those of us with a nervous disposition. Having done my maddest "be there unless you're dead" support at the club's lowest ebb I'm still just happy we're not going to endless the season winless. Come back and see how that's holding up if we finish 1-22.

So, as you can see I really needed this. Not enough to crowbar a trip to the MCG into my ludicrous semi-rural schedule. The way it's going I'll be lucky to see five games in person this year so I've come to terms with watching at home, even in this case via a shitbox laptop that couldn't adequately connect to a wi-fi point three metres away, leaving the footage scrolling between standard, low and no definition. At one point in the second quarter it was like watching International Soccer on the Commodore 64, but I just don't have the time, energy, or commitment left to be there every week. I'd love to, and feel guilty that I'm not. Long term readers will remember that my last shift work career ended just in time for the 2007 season, so no doubt my next full time return will also coincide with another Great Deepression.

For now, sit back and enjoy the show whether you're watching at the ground, home, or while being held hostage by militants in the Sahara Desert. If things continue on this trajectory a lot of sides will hang with us for half a game before falling away - and along the way somebody is going to get wrecked. I can't ever see us kicking a massive score, but a 140-10 style porking must be on the cards somewhere in 2023. 

It won't be much consolation to Dogs fans but this continued the series of games between the sides with insane momentum shifts. Given that the AFL draw is a total rort anyway I can't understand why we don't play them again. I know the league has to make room for us to go to Kardinia Park every bloody year, but another match between sides with an exciting recent history and a hint of animosity (even before we started swapping players like footy cards and Pickett belted somebody) would be much more interesting than rematches against Carlton or Richmond. At least this way Footscray can't get end of season revenge without making finals first. Which they very well could do, I didn't think they played too badly here, we were just better for a lot longer.

We've had the better of the free trade agreement between the sides. They got Mitch Hannan, who hasn't done anything since the 2021 Preliminary Final, and Oskar Baker who was never more than a peripheral figure with us, while we've come up with two of their Grand Final team. And I bet both Lachie Hunter and Josh Schache just love sharing memories of that night with their new teammates. Other than the usual footy fan pantomime I don't know why Hunter needed booing but thought the retaliatory booing towards Baker dragged us down to the level of West Coast fans.

If you were capable of looking behind general opening round tension, we had soap opera style plots coming out the yin yang. The long awaited pairing of Grundy and Gawn, Hunter vs his old side, a defence without its lynchpin, a forward line without its top goalkicker, midfield Pickett, and a pair of debutantes. By 10:30pm most of the storylines had been resolved in the affirmative - neither Grundy or Hunter had their best games but formed vital parts of the machine, the backline held up against Footscray's cavalcade of talls, we spread goals widely enough to cover the absence of Fritsch, Pickett found a way to excel both midfield and forward, and the first gamer who was in a position to do the most damage played like he'd been at it for years. Tick, tick, tick etc...

Independent observers might have thought everything was coming up red and blue when we dominated the first 10 minutes, but we saw a start like this go south so often in 2022 that fanatical viewers knew to stay at DEFCON 1. This despite a delightful first goal where Kade Chandler took advantage of being freed from substitution duties for the first time in two years to put the loveliest of all passes on Pickett. 

Obviously Channel 7's Chandler fun fact was that he'd been sub four times last year because they kept mentioning it, but I forgot that he came on the ground every time last year. I've got him permanently stereotyped by his 2021 Tracksuit Time period, and after finally getting a few quarters in a row dating back to the practice games I was very happy to see him do well here. He flubbed a couple of gettable-to-piss easy set shots but was otherwise completely at home. Excellent forward pressure, good disposal and should easily hold his spot. It would be nice for him to get some reward when any number of dud teams might have been happy to get him under the 'recruit fringe players from good sides' rule and guarantee a weekly game.

Speaking of guarantees, I'm glad we're beyond whatever contractual shenanigans/coincidence that landed Brayshaw back in the midfield last year. You wouldn't have him kick for your life but he's good for interceptions and general collection of ball at ground level, and I think we've got enough other players to go through the middle that he's not needed there as anything more than a surprise option.

When the Chandler Goal Assist Machine activated again to set up Gawn absolutely everything was going our way. Their forward line was obviously meant to stretch us, but you've got to get the ball down there effectively in the first place and they were left doing hit and hope bombs that we mopped up with the greatest of ease. Naughton beat Petty in a couple of contests but the rest of them did next to nothing, and the whole operation fell apart when one had to be sent to defence to cover the injured Liam Jones. 

The last we saw of Jones he was doing a neck from watching so many goals go over his head at Carlton and he went down with more neck related issues here. First it looked like a leg complaint, then something to do with an arm. Insert COVID vaccine jokes in the space provided. At this stage of life I couldn't care less if he got the jab or not but am mortally offended at the idea of anybody leaving a million dollars on the table for ideological reasons. For that amount I'd take an experimental cocktail of drugs sourced from the glands of a poisonous Russian ferret ("there's an idea" - Essendon), and maybe this was the universe's way of saying he should have just rorted a vaccine certificate off the internet like everyone else.

In Jones' absence, much of the defensive burden fell on conversion job Josh Bruce, forced into defence because the Dogs have recruited so many forwards. By the end they were probably scrambling to find a receipt for Rory Lobb so there might be life in him yet. Here's an argument for in-season trading, there must be a shit team somewhere that needs a key forward and could save him from ending his career in this undignified fashion. At one point when he was on Ben Brown we got the historical curiosity of the two most recent players to kick 10 in a game playing on each other. Surely this hasn't gone near happening since Stephen Silvagni randomly plundered Fitzroy in 1993 before going back into defence.  

We were moving the ball and escaping defence so well that the only way the Dogs were going to get a goal was from a defensive blunder. Enter Adam Tomlinson (who should not be held to Steven May's standard because who's ever going to reach that?) and a short kick that didn't clear the defender turned into their opener. Now, for the first time, we were on the back foot and all that early dominance was turned into a Bulldog lead not long after. New year, same concerns about not being able to go on with a start. For now I was back to contemplating how miserable I'd be in the event of a loss.

It doesn't matter when you've won by lots, but at the time I was in an undeservedly bad mood. It goes to show that no matter how much I struggle to get going for a season, I'll never stop the wild mood swings from watching this side - flag or no flag. Life must be a lot easier when you go for a team but ultimately don't care what happens.

We got back in front via Sparrow towards quarter time, but were aided by some rank goalkicking at the other end. That's gimmick infringement, we're usually the ones spraying shots from every point on the compass. Regardless of only being in front due to peg leg kicking, I was satisfied by the break that even if we didn't win here, it would just be a blip on the radar. This didn't factor in upcoming games against good sides, or the near certainty of Sam Weideman kicking seven against us a few weeks later, but when has there ever been anything rational about following footy?

This good mood lasted about 90 seconds into the second quarter when the Dogs thumped through a long goal and I instantly went back to wishing I could still watch TV with my head in the oven. Speaking of thumping, it was about this point where Kysaiah Pickett livened things up by doing this: 

The phrase "you don't see that every day" is overused, but this had to qualify. Ironically, the man on page five of the 2023 Tribunal Guidelines went home with a two week holiday. We're not even bothering to challenge, probably having pored over the Zapruder film all weekend to try and find an angle where it doesn't collect the head before realising there's no defence by modern standards. Even a few years ago you'd have got away with it because the victim bounced to his feet and played on - not even upset enough to join the post bump jostle - but the week the AFL got sued by repeat concussion victims wasn't the time to introduce human cannonball to the competition. 

He'll pay the recklessness tax, and all the muppets trying to get him four or five weeks can calm down with the manufactured outrage. The good news is that he got away with punching Jack Macrae square in the chops during the aftermath.

In the biggest upset since Melbourne/Essendon 2013, this assassination attempt has not (at the time of writing) led to race hate controversy from some ill-bred humanoid. This is undoubtedly a good thing. I guess these days people get more upset about not landing multis than players nearly getting a dose of instant CTE.

If we'd been the one to lose by 50 from there somebody (David King) would have mournfully gone on about Pickett "regaining the trust of his teammates". Instead the Dogs botched a few excellent chances, the sides split the next two goals, then Pickett went back to wrecking them for the rest of the night - fortunately at ground level rather than diagonally. 

At quarter time I'd been darkly muttering about not putting sides away when given the chance, but Footscray's woeful goalkicking came back to fatally haunt them. From the 20 minute mark we went boonta Grand Final style, lobbing through five in a row before the siren to take control. The obvious favourite was Pickett getting a free kick so administrative that even he wasn't sure if it was for or against him. If the same thing happened to us I'd have contemplated murder, but that's why you want league leading agitators on your side not against you.

Now we were a little over three goals up, Lachie Hunter was probably huffing oxygen to stop the flashbacks to 25/09/2021, and Footscray looked rattled. To our credit we did go on to wallop them, but for the sake of my blood pressure it could have happened a bit quicker than it did. They got two of the first three goals after the break - as well as Naughton being denied a goal that could very well have gone through if anybody bothered to review it - and I was packing it over another big shift in the game. 

In a flashback to last year, our tall forwards didn't look particularly terrifying but like the backline they worked so well as a unit that it didn't matter. Sure McDonald didn't have a shot until after the siren (another Grand Final flashback - this time he didn't have a human pyramid forming next door and missed) but does anyone think Brown kicks four without McSizzle taking some of the focus?  At one point Brown thought he was early era McDonald, taking back-to-back intercept marks in defence. Both Gawn and Grundy wandered through the forward 50 to do damage throughout the night, so even if Maximum's around-the-ground game was 10 times better Brodie did his bit. His career won't last as long as Luke Jackson's but he can contribute right now while we're in the (incoming cliche alert) window.

We finally broke them with 1/3 genius, 2/3 luck - Oliver responding to their goal by hurling out of the centre like a missile was the genius part, but the rest was fortune. The ball bounced over everyone inside 50, where Brown ran onto it and briefly got tangled in a flurry of flailing limbs before kicking through the open goal. Footscray got the next, but we responded next to straight away again. Finally, after four years of mainly sitting around being forced to do nothing, it was finally time for Kade Chandler to shrug off his tracksuit and pre-season specialist tags and kick an AFL goal. 

And what a lovely goal it was too, turning a defender inside out first before snapping from the pocket. It was not only reward for years of being treated with contempt at selection, but for making the most of his opportunity on this night. His forward pressure was good, he linked up well with teammates, and had kicked a sitter on the three quarter time siren he may have even been in the mix for votes. That miss left us just under five goals up and the faintest possibility of falling over. Based on pre-season, last year, and most previous meetings against the Dogs this was unlikely but you couldn't rule it out.

Like certain other games against them where we'd put on a burst of goals I needed a steadier at the start of the last quarter to know everything was going to be alright. Enter Jake Melksham, freed from substitute duties to finish off an end-to-end move so erotic it should have been restricted to fans 18+.

It's against the spirit of the game to present this in portrait rather than landscape, but it deserves to be seen regardless:

Just in case that NQR flange Elon Musk turns Twitter off and we lose all the embeds of great moments, let the record show that it involved Gawn spoiling, Oliver gathering from mid-air in traffic, and unlocking the vault with a delightful handball to Pickett and thumping a tremendous kick to Melksham, who skidded it through from outside 50. From it hitting Gawn's hand in the back pocket to crossing the line was the best 15 seconds I've had so far in 2023. Melk hasn't had that much fun in a short form of the game since dominating AFLX. The commentators weren't ready for him, we were told he was "preparing to come on" early in the last quarter, about 90 seconds after he'd run past the camera, and even when he was kicking the goal the not-that-one Al Nicholson thought it was Harmes.

It was nice to see the sub get involved so early, we used it so infrequently the last couple of years I think the only time it had any impact was Chandler murdering that West Coast player in a tackle. Sadly I've got to admit I've come to terms with this new version. A decade ago I was ready to set myself on fire in protest about subs, but after two seasons of players sitting on the bench for four quarters waiting for a teammate to be injured, the return of ad hoc changes felt like a good thing. In the absence of a deflating Round 1 loss that's my excuse to use this image:

It helps that this time the sub is an extra player, rather than the 2011 method where they just made an interchangist wear a green vest as if we wouldn't notice them illegally sneaking on. 

That was very much it, and after a consolation goal we went back to kicking the piss out of them. Even when Petracca failed in an a slapstick attempt to toepoke a goal through from the square nobody cared because the game was long dead. We'd done everything required, nobody got injured, and while I could have done without Mr. Electricity getting himself rubbed out via excess enthusiasm it was hard to fault anything. Does it translate to even better teams? No idea. I don't even know if it translates to Round 3 at this point, but it was the start I needed to avoid keeling over dead from stress.  

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Jake Lever
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to Bowey, Brayshaw, Brown, Chandler, Hunter, and McVee.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies to the coast-to-coast masterclass at the end, but I can't go beyond the romantic notions of Chandler's first. For the weekly prize he wins a commemorative golden tracksuit, in the same way Brazil got to keep the World Cup after winning three times.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
2 - Jake Melksham vs Footscray
3 - Ben Brown Q4 vs Footscray 

Media Watch (incorporating Press Conference Punch On Watch)
I was hoping we'd get a repeat of Stressed Bevo nearly garotting a journalist at the press conference but had no time to stay around and find out. I'll just wait for anybody who angered him to have their personal scandals exposed in the next few days. I'll be nice in case the dirt unit starts digging through my archives. 

Next Week
It's Friday night against our old friends Brisbane, fresh from shattering like a fine Chinese vase under the lightest of pressure from Port Adelaide. Based on this you like to think it'll go more like Round 23 than the Semi Final but beware teams on the rebound. The difference is this time we won't be at the tail end of the season with half the squad ready to keel over and die from exhaustion.

Those who remember the glory years of picking through the lower reaches of the list to try and find 22 competent players each week will appreciate that now we've got too many players to fit in the side. 10 years ago you'd have pushed your grandmother down the stairs to get all of Fritsch, May, Salem and Viney in the side the moment they were fit but now it's not so obvious. 

May for Tomlinson (with apologies) goes with saying, and you've got to get Fritsch into the forward line somewhere but I'm not as concerned about the other two. Salem is 141 games ahead of McVee but no point jamming him into the side without practice games, and Viney's becoming so iconic for injuries below the knee that I'm prepared to be conservative with him. Give it another week and then rotate Sparrow out to make room. Melksham did enough to retain the coveted position of substitute, until Pickett got rubbed out. May as well just play him from the start now.

I never expect to win, but given our recent record against Brisbane everywhere other than the MCG I'm confident we can give their death spiral down the ladder a helping hand. Watch for their socially aware, politically correct fans to heckle Harrison Petty for once publicly having feelings. And for the love of all that is holy, Jake Lever please just hand the bloody ball back if there's a free in the dying moments of a thriller.

IN: Fritsch, May, Melksham
OUT: Pickett (susp), Laurie, Tomlinson (omit)
LUCKY: Harmes
UNLUCKY: Melksham, Salem, Viney

Final thoughts
This was very good, and puts me in a much better frame of mind for the rest of the season but nothing serious has ever been won in the opening round. I'm certainly comfortable that unless the entire list catches creeping cruds we'll be right in the mix at the end, and in mid-March what more can you ask for? 

Standard 'post delayed' notification

Hello all, we won and Pickett nearly killed somebody. Look for a post late Monday, early Tuesday.

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

Sunday, 5 March 2023

Good enough for government work

Here endeth another pre-season. They're not what they used to be. When I was a kid clubs could end up playing half a dozen games before Round 1, and unless they took place in the Fosters Cup you wouldn't know dick about what happened in them other than a score and goalkickers if lucky. Now everything's broadcast live and at halfway through the last quarter on Friday I started pining for the simple days when you didn't feel roped in to watching games just because they were on.

Until then it was as good a practice match performance as you'd like, and in the strongest possible keeping of feet on the ground in pre-season I'm not sure that only an outbreak of the Black Death can stop us from playing finals. This might not seem like the appropriate reaction to tonking an almost full-strength Richmond but let's start with the absolute minimum and ramp it up as the season progresses.

Nothing says "don't get overly invested" like players going around with entire bottles of sunscreen on their face. Leader of the Slip Slop Slap brigade was Christian Petracca, who turned up looking like Beetlejuice. Fortunately he still played like Petracca, going about his business as if the other side weren't there. And for much of this game they weren't, but knowing him it probably wouldn't have made a difference anyway.

Kicking five unanswered goals in the first quarter was fun, but arguably not as good as the pillow-over-the-face defensive strangulation we were putting on at the other end. Every time they tried going forward we either had somebody in the way to intercept, or they never got inside 50 in the first place due to a wall of players ahead of them. Of all the elements that sunk our premiership defence the actual defence was not one of them, so no need to excessively tinker with a winning formula there. Our trouble usually comes when ball hits ground but that was no problem either. Who knows when Salem will come back from his mystery illness, but I would like Jake Bowey to become a permanent fixture in my life.

If we replicate this sort of defensive demolition against Richmond in a few weeks, SEN will need extra phone lines to handle 'sack the coach' calls. And this was against two triple premiership winners and next big thing contender Cumberland Sausage. I love this shit, but the pinging the ball down the other end at the greatest of ease has the potential to take our game to zany new levels.

Richmond can take some of the credit for the all star defensive smackdown. I don't blame them for playing with their first choice forward line as preparation for games against the other 16 clubs, but trying to play three key forwards against us is nigh on suicidal. They're still good enough to have finished with a reasonable score despite being thrashed, but if a really shit team tries that against us they might go home with 1.3.9. I maintain that you'd be better dropping all the talls, picking a bunch of crumbers and rolling the thing in at ankle level 20 metres out.

If you believe pre-season performances are a window to the future (see Oliver 2016, Petracca 2020), the Gawn and Grundy plan might come off. Ok, they were often tormenting the piss out of a hapless rookie defender but whether forward, middle or back, they were a delight from one end of the ground to the other. Fat chance they'll kick six combined again but the carnage caused by their mere presence inside 50 was a great compliment to dominance around the ground. 

The question of whether you can take Maximum seriously as a forward was answered 'yes' and 'maybe' at the same time when he took a tremendous leading mark in the opening minutes. He missed the kick, much to the delight of commentators who still can't help discussing his goalkicking record all these years later, but still finished with three so stick that up your punditry jumper. It wasn't just goals, he'd randomly show up in all parts of the ground causing trouble. I feel for him the same way 12th Man version Bill Lawry felt about Merv Hughes.

I stick by the ladder prediction from last week that Richmond is a lot better off than St Kilda, but other than not letting in a vaudeville goal in the first 20 seconds the opening of the two games couldn't have been more similiar. We had all the play, their attacks were basically an invitation for the ball to fling back the other way at the speed of sound, and everything was going well except the conversion of chances into goals. This time we avoided comical concession, and instead got the first via Spargo copping the lightest of touches into his back in the last 1% of a tackle. That's how you improve scoring, hire a fourth umpire and get them to pick out the most administrative shit possible 20 metres from goal.

Even without ropey frees it was all going very nicely indeed, with ball movement sharp enough to have somebody's eye out. The year will ebb and flow, and there will be times where everything looks bleak but I'm absolutely certain that we'll dead set ROOT some of the worst teams in the competition. We've had more from this team in the last few seasons than ever expected, but the only thing missing has been outright disdain for the feelings of others. Now I'm convinced that at least one bottom four team will turn up to play us with hope in their hearts before going home in the back of an ambulance.

In another outbreak of Ruckman Forward Fever, Gawn got another after falling over in the marking contest then bouncing up to get on the end of a Chandler handball in the square. Kade was lively without hitting the heights of his 2022 pre-season campaign, but the good news is that even if he never gets beyond 23rd best on our list the unrestricted sub has been reintroduced so he'll never again have to spend four quarters in Tracksuit Time purgatory. I doubt he survives the return of Fritsch, but we do have a bit of a crumb hole due to Midfield Pickett so he's a chance of getting a decent run in the seniors for the first time ever.

Even without Fritsch, the forward line looks solid. Neither McDonald or Brown appear likely to kick the ton, but in a rare correct application of Moneyball principles to footy, if we've got roughly 300 goals to share for the season then who gives the fattest rat's clacker if one guy kicks 33% of them or they're shared around. The more options the less likely opponents will know exactly where the ball is going the moment it comes off the boot. For an example of how that works dig out your tapes of 2020, when we ruined Sam Weideman's career by playing him one out in the most predictable forward line ever to step on grass.

Forget goals, the most notable part of the first quarter was Dwayne Russell finally apologising to viewers. It wasn't for previous crimes, but for doing an 'In Harmes Way' gag. I'd argue it wasn't in the top 2000 silliest things he's ever said, including comparing Grundy and Gawn to Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the basis that they were all tall teammates. Dwayne was responsible for the biggest commentary upset in history, refusing to fall for Nick Dal Santo's provocative attempts to draw a sook about 6-6-6 warnings. I believe he's the first commentator since the rule was introduced not to agree with the suggestion that there should be an instant free. Good for him. I can guarantee that Gerard Healy would have disagreed, but he must have already gone for a quarter time milkshake by this point so was unable to bring the mood down with sour comments.

Despite suspiciously forced comments about discussing something "on the way home", suspicions that they were calling remotely spiked when the second quarter opened with a Richmond player doing his shoulder in the corner of the screen and nobody mentioned it for minutes. Surely if you're looking at the ground you notice out of the corner of your eye that somebody's hunched over in pain. I guess they could have driven home together from Fox Footy's office too. Surely the boundary rider, who was confirmed to be at the ground, can break in with special comments when she sees something and not wait until called on to speak.

Meanwhile, if you can't wait for Dermott Brereton to make horrendously outdated references to the 1980s, get ready to go back a decade when the Richmond draftee named after Steely Dan gets going. If Tom Lynch was any sort of teammate he'd have given his number up to facilitate Hey Nineteen gags. Dwayne also promised that we'd get sick of hearing about how Steely had been struck by lightning, then 30 minutes later did the lightning story as it was a brand new fun fact. 

The ruckman goal rush got an assist at the start of the quarter when an administrative 50 set up Grundy. Richmond didn't get on the board until Dustin Martin did about 19 tugs on McVee's jumper (and I'm reasonably confident that this was the first game where a Judd took on a Judson) before beating him a marking contest. It probably wouldn't have made any difference to his chances of taking the grab so in the spirit of whinging about soft frees I wasn't going to get upset. Helped that it was a scratch match and we were six goals in front at the time.

It's no good for James Jordon, now furiously browsing the Casey fixture, but Lachie Hunter was very good again. It's no knock on JJ, or Brayshaw before him, but now the ball can go down either wing and you're confident we're getting the best possible service. Who knows where his Melbourne career goes from here but at the moment Hunter looks like the biggest trade theft since Jeff Garlett. The difference is he's coming into a side that's neck deep in contention, whereas Garlett did good service at the right price in a team that was mostly shite.

My flimsy commitment to the contest was further exposed when Kayo crashed as I was a couple of minutes delayed, and when the site reloaded I didn't even bother to try and scroll back to where the coverage was when it died. It meant missing their second goal, but coming back just in time for more end-to-end gold, finished by Neal-Bullen. It was so easy that you secretly wondered if Richmond had the pre-season handbrake on Paul Roos style. If I tune in to see Carlton romping from one end to the other unchallenged it will confirm that this was just us being shit hot rather than a deep state conspiracy to lull us into a false sense of security.

Even before half time things were starting to get silly. In the most pre-season incident of all time Spargo had a shot instead of passing to Gawn, a defender shoved Chandler square in the back a metre from goal, and instead of wasting time lining him up for a free they just paid the goal despite Spargo's shot  blatantly clanging into the post. There are claims that the cameras missed Chandler being awarded the free and rolling it through from close range but the Disputed Goals Panel is having none of it, crediting the goal to Charleston. In a real game we'd have got to sit through 30 seconds of ads and a sponsor logo just for the ball to be handed to Chandler at point blank range anyway.

I know you don't come on here expecting top level analysis but at this stage I'm legally bound to admit that the second half passed me by in the same way a Gold Coast vs Port game would. I watched it all but can't for the life of me remember most of what happened and don't have the life force to go back and watch it again to find out. At one point Oliver burst out of the centre, ran around two players and tried to kick the all time greatest pre-season goal, and there was the merest hint of a comeback at one point, but Richmond didn't care enough and we were playing too well to concede at the required rate.

It seems impolite not to give more coverage to a game that we ended with a six goal quarter, but by halfway through the third all the real work had been done and it was a case of getting everyone to the finish line in one piece. Once we got to the end with everyone upright then you could afford to enjoy the clobbering for what it was but I remember yelling "What the fuck is he still doing out there?" at Gawn being involved in the last few minutes, with scant regard to the presence of children.

The moment the siren went I turned off and went into full blown pre-Round 1 panic mode. We've had two solid wins but they mean stuff all now. Everything's pointing in the right direction but I need to see it in the real world before knowing that everything's going to be ok. 

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Steven May
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Jake Bowey

Apologies to nigh on everyone. Especially Grundy, Hunter, Lever, Neal-Bullen and Spargo.

Final results
8 - Christian Petracca
7 - Max Gawn
4 - Steven May, Clayton Oliver
3 - Lachie Hunter
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Jake Bowey, Judd McVee

Next Week (+1)
For all the optimism about this season we've got a kent of an early draw. Beat Footscray, Brisbane and Sydney and we'll swashbuckle through the next 19 games before going out in straight sets. Lose one no (?) drama, lose two and don't worry there's enough of shit teams to rack up the required wins, lose three and even if you still deep down know things are going to be ok brace for the media and panicky idiots to turn harder than Lewis Hamilton.

How about we avoid all that unpleasantness by just beating the Dogs in the opener? This time there's no thrilling pre-match flag reveal, and it's not on Wednesday night but otherwise it's hard to see anything drastically different from last year other than one of them being on our wing. They've got plenty of good players and beat us last start, but I'm not going to lose sleep over Liam Jones unless the COVID vaccine goes haywire midway through the first quarter and he's the only fit player left. And at the risk of karmically helping him to eight goals, if Rory Lobb is the answer to your forward line then get a new question.

I like to think pre-season hasn't led us into a trap and that we'll win reasonably comfortably in the end. I'll bet it's not without some drama in the middle though. Why not warm up by watching the 2021 Grand Final?

Final Thoughts
Let the madness begin. If I'm lucky I'll get to see about four games live but coverage on here will continue at reduced speed. If you don't see a match review or the time-honoured technical difficulties post by the next morning check back that night, then the next morning, and so on until it becomes clear that I've quietly decided to retire somewhere in the middle of the season.

Sunday, 26 February 2023

Seven inning stretch

Even as somebody who thought broadcasting pre-season games was the best thing to happen to TV since the Cathode-ray tube, I was surprisingly unmoved at the opportunity to watch 200 minutes of the most half-arse practice contest ever broadcast live in Australia. It's hard to take a round of games seriously when they're all played under local rules, and yesterday featured Hawthorn briefly stemming the concession of 230 points when #84 kicked a goal.

But there I was watching at 4pm Friday anyway, and despite entering this season at my lowest tension since the mid-2000s I sat through the whole thing before it was mercifully called off 29-odd minutes early, just short of a full seven 'periods' where the last three may as well have been played in a local park. There's nobody else to blame, I had the option to revert to the pre-broadcast era and piece together what happened from scattered fan reports and journalists who probably never left the bar but - for the first time since the great COVID Cairns debacles of 2020 - willingly chose to use valuable weekday time to watch footy, or something like it.

They could call this 'match simulation' until blue in the face, it was a practice match as far as I and the historical record will show. The last AFL match simulations I took seriously were on Footy Fanatic about 15 years ago, but you broadcast Melbourne FC and I'll watch. Even over a proposed 8x25 minutes, requiring a level of commitment that was never going to befit the quality of contest. 

I don't know what is widely considered the greatest practice match of all time because there probably isn't one. If everybody survives uninjured it's basically pointless for the season, existing just to get the players going after summer. We won, but return of Messiah/Judas coach (delete as applicable) or not, I don't expect the Saints to be any good anyway so there's no point getting carried away by beating Windjammer and Ayce Cordy.

So now that we've set out that this was a complete waste of time, let me tell you about the four hours I spent watching. Despite this I'm still not feeling buzz for the new season. I knew nothing would be the same post-flag but that and its ultimately failed defence have definitely popped the maddest part of my brain. Having said that, my last experience of the men's game was going purple-faced bonkers about Lever giving away that stupid 50 in the Brisbane final so there's no doubt I'll fire up as things progress. For now, my off-season malaise means no pre-season preview (you'll cope), but I've wedged the all-important betting markets and ladder prediction into this post to make up for it.

Now, back to Moorabbin (or if you prefer grounds that sound like urinary tract infections - RSEA Park). Not literally, I'd have needed to leave home at midday. Where were these novelty games all those years ago when Demonblog Towers was just down the road. Even then I'd probably have snuck off down the Nepean Highway after one period of the Casey All-Stars vs St Kilda Not Quite As Good As The Seniors. The first bit would have been worthwhile, but in 2023 there was no sane reason to hang around for the rest.

The answer to the question of 'who's playing' was 'every fit player on the list', plus a handful from Casey to make up numbers. One of the ring-ins was Trent Burgoyne, fresh from training for a spot on our list all summer before losing the final of Football Idol to a key defender from the amateurs. I thought he'd be on the first plane back to Adelaide the moment his dreams were crushed, but here he was (I think, the calling of non-AFL listed players was haphazard at best) doing it for the love of the game. Maybe they're just keeping him around in case somebody's crippled before Round 1 but if he's ever seen at Casey Fields in sub-zero wind chill I'll eat a handful of SANFL clearance papers.

You could tell from the starting lineup that we were going for it in the opening hundred minutes and the rest could look after themselves. Every upright male who you'd expect was there at the beginning, with Hibberd and Jordon the only notable demotions to the second division. Hunter and Grundy came from elsewhere, and the country music sounding Judd McVee started in place of novelty injury victim Salem, but otherwise it was the same side you knew and (generally) liked last year.

In opposition, St Kilda arrived without their forward line. This didn't bode well against a side that takes pride in torturing teams for the lowest possible score, but sometimes it's worse for us when we play against a weird forward set up. Between May, Lever and Petty I'd be confident in chopping off long kicks to anyone from Lockett/Loewe to Leopold/Loeb, but rolling kicks along the ground or into space give us all sorts of trouble. Predictably that's how we conceded the first goal, turning our centre clearance into two players running over the ball in front of goal and letting them in after 20 seconds.

Thankfully that slapstick fiasco was an anomaly, and for the next few minutes we casually picked holes out of their cavernously loose defence. At this stage it didn't look like the Saints had come with a backline either, because we had more marks inside 50 than some full games a decade ago. You may remember what happened next from last year, total dominance without goals to show for it. Chandler and McDonald both missed, and in another key throwback to 2022 (and 2021, and 2020 and...) Petracca put his set shot out on the full. It was a solitary blemish, because in every other element of the game he was superb. Here's to another year where opponents know exactly what he and Oliver are going to do but can't think of a way to stop it.

It took us four goes before Ben Brown converted, celebrating the last appearance of his iconic zany hair before it was slashed for charity. In another continuation of 2022 he did his job without ever suggesting massive bags of goals on the horizon. It's got to help to have McDonald back down there for as long as it takes until he runs into a player called 'Andrews' and gets 10 weeks for taking out his state election frustrations.

In good news for everybody except Double J James Jordon, it seems like former winner of the Middle Park Demolition Derby, Lachie Hunter will fit nicely on our near-side wing. While Langdon was legging it back and forth on the other side, Hunter was in everything early and capped it off with our second goal. Sure it bounced into his lap in the square but they all count, even in games where we could have gotten away without counting scores. Later, in the dregs of the afternoon, this did happen but I don't think it was deliberate.

Less popular with me was Midfield Pickett. What he did around the ground was very good, but your views please on where we're going to replace 40-something goals a year if he's not lurking around the forward line intimidating defenders into submission. I'm all for finding something else for forwards to do later in their career a'la Aaron Davey, but 'more midfield time' just for the sake of it makes me want to go postal. Port should have been on the phone at 6.05pm promising he'll never have to leave the forward 50 ever again. Maybe he doesn't want to be typecast as a crumber all his life and this is what will convince him to stay, and in that case all objections are waived.

Once our defenders remembered that they could pick up the red thing bobbling about on the grass, we started to escape their alleged attacks with the greatest of ease. It was appropriate that Ross Lyon's return to St Kilda was against us after getting off on defensively tormenting us for years. If he doesn't get the forwards back the 2023 Saints will make the days where he'd try and win by scoring 50 look like the early 90s. Or he could profit from the Bullshit Goals Theory, as their second came from the ball bouncing off a pack to somebody standing on his own in front of goal. I can handle letting a few of these through every week if it means sides are having to go to the ends of the earth to find a way because we've got all the conventional avenues covered.

The first quarter/period/session/chukkah was Classic recent era Melbourne, obviously better but leaving open the prospect of throwing away the lead via 10 minutes of inactivity. We went on to win easily, but even before then it wasn't worth getting upset over. I'll save my sooking for when bulk inside 50s don't convert to scores in the real stuff. McDonald missed a second set shot near the end, but as it came at the end of the loveliest end-to-end move you'll ever see at Moorabbin in February you felt ok getting into the spirit of things and letting it go.

Fox Sports/Kayo's commitment to broadcasting these games was admirable, even if they weren't willing to risk their regular commentators blowing a voicebox before Round 1. I can only imagine the carnage Dwayne would unleash on a weird game like this, but as he was nowhere to be seen they had to rely on a cheap and cheerful duo who said a few weird things like "it's great to see fans get around match simulation", and called Harrison Petty as "Tom" but have to be commended for keeping the energy up for four hours. At one stage they got bored and speculated that it should be play on if the ball bounced off the post, failing to consider how few times that would be worthwhile. I know early in the season is peak time for 'the game is broken, change the rules', but please try to consider the logistics of what you're proposing.

In every element of the game other than converting set shots and not letting in novelty goals, the first bit was an unqualified success. Under normal circumstances most teams won't be able to hold on if we play like that for four quarters. going to be able to hold on for four full quarters if we play like that. Doesn't instantly mean flag, but should keep us in the mix long enough for that to be a chance. My only worry is not killing teams off ASAP and relying on the defence going full pelt for four quarters to keep things tight enough to win.

Early on I liked Grundy, but even if he didn't do much towards the end there's no need to ring the alarm yet. I still don't know how they're supposed to get the best out of him and Gawn at the same time. It looks like one dropping behind the ball will be more successful than either regularly kicking goals, but either should help bring the ball to ground when they do go forward. Cue more whinging about Pickett not being there, leaving us with less crumb than Hoover head office. Fans of defence will love watching us but I can see a few Channel 7 executives pondering self-harm over prime-time scoring strangulations.

It didn't take long after the resumption to realise that there was no way our first choice side was going to lose to whatever rag-tag collection the Saints were offering. It took less than the full 2/8ths (or as it turned out, 2/7ths) to pass our previous pre-season high score at Moorabbin, and everything was going well. I'm certainly not expecting a 2018 to 2019 style penthouse to outhouse plummet unless something goes unbelievably wrong with injuries. The only connection to that year was Steven May risking suspension in a pre-season game, spoiling an opponent in the head.  

They did have their chances, but St Kilda's first choice forward line was approaching 'tits on a bull' levels of uselessness, only to allow us to walk the other way unchallenged for pre-season specialist Chandler to goal. Then Petracca bombed out of the middle for another one on the siren and everything was ok in the fictional shadow-world of 'match simulation'. It took us 13 minutes to score in the third stage, but anyone complaining about spectacle at this point of the year is a dickhead. The true joy was watching a Lyon coached St Kilda side trying to find an avenue to goal without Nick Riewoldt involved.

Entertainment returned when Gawn took on the Pickett role and crumbed one. Ironically that led directly to St Kilda's first goal since the opening thing, but even that had to come on the run from distance because every traditionally set up forward entry fell over due to Harrison Petty standing in the way. We responded via the more traditional methods, with Hunter booting one to Brown on his own at the top of the square. Despite being at such close-range he still ran in from 40 metres out but the result was right.

The Saints covered up their Reverse DemonTime crimes in the opening periods with two goals before the break. Should have been three if somebody called Dougal hadn't missed an absolute sitter from directly in front. I knew none of this meant anything but was still a little bit antsy about blowing a solid lead. Never mind, two minutes after the restart Petracca got one back. He was going so well that it was via set shot.   

Our only concession to the game being long was sending people's champion van Rooyen into the forward line just as everyone else decided they'd had enough of running around in the heat. He generously laid off a goal that ended with Langdon, but otherwise you can settle down on expectations that he'll kick 12 on debut and wait for natural development.

If you had any capacity for being worried about losing it got back to 27 points for a couple of minutes, until Pickett dashed inside 50 for his third (maybe there is something in this...) and Gawn got another before apologising to the goal umpire for clobbering them on the way through. Not to be outdone Grundy rolled a kick through from distance, assisted by a defender getting a bastard of a bounce, and we were back to it being class material for Footy University on the difference between flag contenders and mid-table mediocrity. 

Rivers plonked one through from distance at the end, we'd won the main event by 59 points and there was no good reason to keep watching. As far as is concerned, that was the final score, but for anybody who thought they had another 4x25 minutes in them the coverage continued with a glorified VFL game. So glorified that we even had VFL players in #8 and #31, robbing the seven or eight remaining viewers of the chance to see somebody in a truly ludicrous high number, and flummoxing commentators who obviously hadn't been told who the randoms were. They were able to correctly identify Steven Milne's son playing for St Kilda, and gee I bet that kid never hears anything about his dad's famous legal issues.

Speaking of people who'll hear the same thing for the rest of their life, if you're considering references to Will Verrall and an actor with a similar name I can confirm everyone else will have got there first. Hold off until he leaves in controversial circumstances and you can call him Wankerman.

We treated part B in the spirit it was intended, removing all the Round 1 certainties, while St Kilda tried to keep it interesting for the home crowd by running several senior players into the ground. This opened up the prospect of the only time we'd ever blow a 10 goal lead and not leave fans queuing like Lemmings to leap off a cliff. Suspicions of Fox Sports wasting their time broadcasting this were confirmed when the boundary umpire was replaced by some bloke in a black polo shirt who had to stand inside the boundary to do throw-ins. 

St Kilda A/B was obviously better than Melbourne B, but not at a quick enough rate to make it interesting. van Rooyen looked more comfortable in VFL company (+ Hibberd and Jordon) and missed a couple of shots. At the point when callers started calling him "van Roonen" he got his first goal, and even for enthusiasts like me this was getting a bit tiresome. I started pausing to do other things and catching up with regular presses of the +15 second button. We had a different backline but most St Kilda attacks ended the same way, when they had the ball you'd skip forward and find it had landed in the arms of a defender. 

To keep things interesting Schache kicked a wacky, wobbly goal from the pocket, set up by a lovely underground handball from the ring-in wearing #39, and the margin was still hovering around what it had been with the first choice players. If Ross hadn't gone home he'd have enjoyed the charity of them being allowed to run about 30 metres without bouncing to kick their next goal. A bloke missing from 20 metres out directly in front on the siren told you everything you needed to know about this.

It's foolish to give votes for the second game, but Woewodin impressed as a left field option for early in the season. van Rooyen did get another at the start of the seventh term (and as it turns out the last, both clubs having lost interest), by which time even the field umpire had gone home. Now the game was in the hands of an enthusiastic amateur in a vest, so I wasn't particularly keen on gambling the future of the club on such a casual contest. Maybe this is what happens in all non-televised games. 

In the spirit of simulation St Kilda kicked a point but an amateur goal umpire forgot to signal it, we kicked in and no score was recorded. In the end who cares, but haven't we come a long way from waiting until 8.30pm on a Friday to see the match of the round to watching live footage of training sessions petering out to nothing in real time. 

The only thing worth watching in the last 10 minutes was the St Kilda guy doing a Russell Robertson style over the head goal from the square. That made it 35 points, and I reckon if they'd bothered to play the eighth then this might have got close. Note - I'd usually say 'have got interesting', but there was no chance of that unless The Beatles reformed inside our forward 50.

With four minutes left in the already shortened game, Schache kicked his second and whoever was in charge of the siren decided they'd had enough, hit the button and mercifully let everyone go home. On what planet were they ever going to play an eighth period of this shite? The only upside is that now nothing that happens during the regular season can seem long, up to and including continental drift. 

Other than the four hours of my life that can never be regained I have no complaints. Everyone got through ok, May didn't hit the guy hard enough to be rubbed out, a proper gap was established between us and ordinary opposition, and we go on to the next 25-odd games in a perfectly reasonable state.  

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Lachie Hunter
2 - Max Gawn
1 - Judd McVee

Apologies to Pickett, Rivers and Chandler

Promotional consideration paid for by the following

There's no point being a lightly read internet pundit if you can't use it to push merch, so allow me to remind you that copies of The Last Hurrah are still available. Probably not in bookstores, given that the last royalty statement showed sales figures in the negative, but always on Amazon. It says there's only two copies left, but that figure has been going up and down like the proverbial so I'm guessing copies are slowly being redirected from shops. I don't know how any of this works but would like to make one cent above the advance so please purchase generously.

And now a segment we like to call..


Half-baked pre-season preview content 


First, the traditional betting markets. As we try to predict the likelihood of players pocketing one of the many fictional awards from the Demonblog portfolio. I've probably left somebody off so please advise and they will be seamlessly edited in.

Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

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)
2019 - Max Gawn ($9)
2020 - Christian Petracca ($6)
2021 - Clayton Oliver (3) ($6)
2022 - Clayton Oliver (4) ($3)

$3.50 - Christian Petracca
$5 - Clayton Oliver
$10 - Steven May
$12 - Jack Viney
$15 - Max Gawn, Harrison Petty, Ed Langdon
$20 - Lachie Hunter, Jake Lever
$25 - Christian Salem, Kysaiah Pickett
$27 - Angus Brayshaw, Brody Grundy
$35 - Jake Bowey, Bayley Fritsch, Trent Rivers
$38 - Tom McDonald, Tom Sparrow
$40 - Charlie Spargo, James Harmes
$45 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Ben Brown
$55 - James Jordon
$70 - Michael Hibberd, Jake Melksham, Kade Chandler
$100 - Bailey Laurie, Jacob van Rooyen
$150 - Blake Howes, Joel Smith
$200 - Luke Dunstan, Josh Schache, Adam Tomlinson
$250 - Taj Woewodin, Judd McVee
$500 - Jed Adams, Matthew Jefferson, Andy Moniz-Wakefield, Deakyn Smith, Daniel Turner 
$2001 - Kyah Farris-White, Kye Turner, Oliver Sestan

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year

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 ($4.75) (2)
2020 - Steven May ($11)
2021 - Jake Lever ($8)
2022 - Steven May ($7) (2)

$4 - Steven May
$6 - Harrison Petty
$12 - Jake Lever
$15 - Christian Salem
$20 - Jake Bowey
$40 - Michael Hibberd
$60 - Tom McDonald, Joel Smith
$75 - Judd McVee, Adam Tomlinson
$100 - Josh Schache
$150 - Jed Adams, Daniel Turner, Kye Turner
$200 - ANY OTHER PLAYER, Deakyn Smith

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
Any player who enters the year with less than four senior games.

2005 - No players eligible.
2006 - Matthew Bate
2007 - Michael Newton
2008 - Cale Morton
2009 - Jack Grimes ($4)
2010 - Tom Scully ($5) (revoked in September 2011)
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)
2022 - Toby Bedford ($12)

$9 - Bailey Laurie
$11 - Jacob van Rooyen
$15 - Blake Howes, Taj Woewodin
$20 - Judd McVee
$40 - Matthew Jefferson
$50 - Andy Moniz-Wakefield, Daniel Turner
$80 - Jed Adams, Deakyn Smith
$100 - Oliver Sestan, Kye Turner, Will Verrall
$150 - Kyah Farris-White

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year 
Qualifying mark - 10 hitouts per game average

2005 - Jeff White
2006 - Jeff White (2)
2007 - Jeff White (3)
2008 - Paul Johnson
2009 - Mark Jamar ($3)
2010 - Mark Jamar (2) ($1.50)
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)
2017 - Max Gawn (4) ($1.25)
2018 - Max Gawn (5) ($1.10)
2019 - Max Gawn (6) ($1.50)
2020 - Max Gawn (7) ($1.05)
2021 - Max Gawn (8) ($2)
2022 - Max Gawn (9) ($3)

$4 - Max Gawn
$8 - Brody Grundy
$50 - Tom McDonald
$100 - Kyah Farris-White, Will Verrall

And as usual a projected ladder. If history has taught us anything I'll get 50% of this spot on and whiff shockingly on the rest. As usual, brackets are provided to show teams I'm expecting to be around the same mark.

1 - Brisbane
2 - Melbourne
3 - Geelong
4 - Footscray
5 - Fremantle
6 - Richmond
7 - Sydney
8 - Carlton
9 - Collingwood
10 - Port Adelaide
11 - Adelaide
12 - Gold Coast
13 - GWS
14 - St Kilda
15 - West Coast
16 - Essendon
17 - North Melbourne
18 - Hawthorn

Fat chance of it turning out just like that, but follow how it goes on the Squiggle ladder predictor scores. Anything above a C is a win as far as I'm concerned.

Next Week
It's an official pre-season game against Richmond, which means four quarters, the umpires staying for the whole thing, and a bit more gravity given towards the result. It still won't define how the season's going to go, but they'll be a lot closer to us on the ladder than the Saints so best to take it at least somewhat seriously.   

Final Thoughts
Yay footy but save me from myself and just play separate AFL and VFL games next time. 

Thursday, 1 December 2022

The funnest day in the history of Springfield

There was a dark time when all our flags were so grand and old (or in some cases stolen) that soon no living person would remember them happening. Then the 2020s came along, the greatest global health crisis in a century somehow worked in our favour, and the Melbourne Football Club has now won premierships across the entire spectrum of national league football. Today, more than ever, let me say what a time to be alive.

For those of us who celebrate all the meats of the MFC cultural stew, a seven season wait for AFLW glory wasn't anywhere near as traumatic as waiting a lifetime for the men, but that doesn't detract from how important it was to finally capture the cup. For years the women have inched their way to this point - initially denied by ludicrous finals systems, having a season cancelled mid-finals, losing a Prelim, then a Grand Final. 

Technically everything was advancing in the right direction, and even if we'd lost almost the exact same team would have been back for another go next year, but it left open the unpleasant possibility of other sides catching up quickly and leaving a golden generation going out empty-handed. If you can find one that's not rocking back and forth, ask a St Kilda fan what that's like. Our men avoided this issue by playing an average of one good season a decade before breaking through, but for years their counterparts have won the majority of their games without getting over the line.

The AFL's handling of the competition this year had truckloads of scorn poured on it, but the realignment of the calendar worked in our favour. It made sure Daisy went another year, it created threadbare expansion teams that important players refused to consider, and left the coach with something to do before he ran out of patience and started flicking through the men's coaching section of

Post-Adelaide redemption couldn't happen without making another Grand Final. We did that, via a season with only one loss and some of our all-time most savage wins. Then, in a weird outer suburban location, under strange atmospheric conditions, and a couple of hours after Delta Goodrem clambered atop her piano this happened: 

Which was nice.

The classic moment didn't come easily though. Unlike the hour of power during our last triumph, 27/11/22 required the grimmest struggle possible, with the result in doubt from midway through the second quarter until the final seconds. By then I was, in the words of David Lee Roth, crazy from the heat, having quite literally gone troppo under conditions unsuitable for a soft southern shite who's never done a day's outdoor work in his life, and might have been airlifted home in a straightjacket if we'd lost.

Men in white coats were on standby to carry me out, but were not required due to our team standing up under a hail of incoming bullets for three quarters and earning one of the grittiest wins you'll ever see. No club has ever deserved a flag, but given our run-up since 2017, and the recovery from a drastic position on this day, they were as worthy winners as you'll see. 'Brave' is usually said when patronising shit teams who've had had a go, but there's no better way to describe Melbourne AFLW on Sunday afternoon. Now the group has the reward its deserves, and by any means necessary I've seen Melbourne win a Grand Final in person. Everyone's a winner - unless you're involved with Brisbane. And in that case you've been here, so step aside and let us have our moment.

Also important, if you're a sicko like me, is that it may have completed the circle of winning every VFL/AFL (1897-) endorsed competition ever staged. Some are so frivolous that it's almost embarrassing to mention them, but I need this to make the point that we're the only side with such a collection. Your 126 year path to grand slam glory:
  • Men's flag - 1900
  • Seconds/Reserves - 1931
  • Third/Under 19s - 1947
  • Lightning Premiership - 1952
  • McLelland Trophy - 1955
  • Little League - 1967
  • Night Series - 1971
  • AFLX - 2018
  • Women's flag - 2022 Spring
(Warning: Don't try and claim annexed Sandringham or Casey modern VFL flags, because that will expose that 'we' never won the defunct VFL Development League, and haven't yet done the VFLW)

Appropriately, both our first and most recent senior premierships involve beating the Lions by four points. In 1900, Fitzroy arrived so sure of victory that carriages outside the ground were adorned with 'Premiers' decorations. This time they took us more seriously, almost everyone else was assuming victory on their behalf. Regrettably, that included me so I'm glad that years of underestimating our side came home to roost in the most delicious fashion. 

For once, you can't blame me for being nervous. The only side to beat us all year had just spent the second half of a prelim with their feet up, and had us playing in ripe (in more than one way) home conditions. You could picture a path to victory, but it seemed the major obstacles were a) running the game out in the heat, and b) scoring enough to win in the first place. Turns out neither are an issue if you hold the opposition goalless for three quarters. A valuable lesson for the next team who are forced to play late November games in Queensland.

Any venue in that state would have provided an equatorial experience, but with the Gabba and Carrara both booked we were off to the literally all-new Brighton Homes Arena (AKA 'Springfield' if you're the ABC or keen on Simpsons gags) for its inaugural event. Sure the turf had only been put down a month earlier, but what could possibly go wrong? Part of me was outraged at playing on a third choice construction site, but compared to the proposal of playing in Cairns it might as well have been the MCG.

I wondered if they couldn't play on cooler Saturday night game because the lights hadn't been plugged in yet, but now that we've won there's no point moaning about the venue. Like the men having to travel the country from east to west for a flag, sometimes things that don't seem ideal to the naked eye turn out ok. You don't know what would have happened on a temperate Melbourne afternoon, but you know they won in the sauna so embrace the oddity.

With legitimate questions about the surface holding up, a minority movement ironically campaigned for the game to be played at Death Valley Docklands. I was against this not only for reasons of fairness to Brisbane, but more importantly because it would have left me holding non-refundable flights and accommodation. Besides, the claim idea that 50,000 would have turned up in Melbourne doesn't compute with 43k less than that attending the only other AFLW decider held here. We'd certainly have got more than Springfield, but the showcase game would have been played in front of a near-empty stadium. If you want to know what that would have looked like, refer to the Brighton Homes Arena five minutes after the final siren as Brisbane fans evacuated like there'd been a bomb threat. 

The AFL took Brisbane's word that the ground would be fit to play on, so we had to go with it. Turns out they were right, but I still wasn't confident until we reached midweek without turf chaos. The only remaining issue was getting in. I didn't think that would be a problem while impulse booking to go, but came perilously close to disaster. Fortunately, I was in place at 5pm when tickets went on sale, because within a few minutes they were gone, only to return for a window of about 45 seconds later in the week. I don't doubt there was plenty of interest, but the rapid disappearance of tickets probably had a bit to do with letting people 10x per transaction, including freebies for kids. 

To the credit of the people snatching enormous handfuls of tickets in one go, if capacity really was 8000 then only about 500 didn't show. Maybe they turned up to discover the zaniest queue in the history of western civilisation and gave up. There's no way to adequately describe it if you weren't involved, but the thing had more bends than the Mississippi River, leaving you several hundred metres away, perilously close to standing on a road, with nobody official to be seen. As part of the Simpsons theme it left me thinking "if the line's this long it's got to be good" and expecting to get to the front and find I was queuing to sign up for Auskick.

The reason for the congestion was eventually revealed as an entry point where nobody had thought about a 'bag free' line, meaning anybody without one was stuck waiting for security guards to do half-arsed checks that wouldn't have found a loaded AK-47. But eventually I was inside a Grand Final venue hosting the Melbourne Football Club and ready to party like it was 2021. Yes, that night meant more than any other moment in the history of football, but it took place in my loungeroom with one smuggled family member who semi-cared, and two residents who were just humouring me. This was the chance to see premiership football alongside people who cared.

So, if I was looking for the aura of quality MFC people it makes no sense sitting in a spot that gradually filled with Brisbane fans until I was a one man red and blue enclave. It was partly because I'd mentally had enough, having got up at god knows what time, carted myself across two states after suffering a random fear of flying at the last minute, then foolishly walked around in the heat for a couple of hours before going to the ground. Now I just wanted a spot to take the game in and damn the consequences. Not surprisingly it didn't last.

My first thought on walking in was how good the controversial newborn turf looked, having expected to find something resembling the surface of the moon. "Wait until somebody turns left and does a knee" I thought, but it never even looked like happening. Given that everyone else associated with Brisbane got to do a speech at the end they should have had the groundskeeper up for a round of applause as well. The playing area had come up so well that the only questionable bit was the unprotected brick wall just over one bit of the boundary line. No doubt that will be fenced in before a nondescript reserves player is crippled after sliding into it.

The next key question was how the heat would affect players. Brisbane should have had the advantage, given that we haven't had a hot day in Melbourne for about nine months, but it turned out to be a non-factor. You couldn't know that at the time, and whoever put together the day's running order hadn't studied player welfare. After warming up, in all senses of the word, both sides were called to the middle for what would traditionally be the national anthem. Except in this case they stood there for about 45 seconds listening to a club mix of ABBA's Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight), then unnecessarily long sponsor chat, and an extended version welcome to country where the guy threw in ad libs as they came to mind. Looking for any excuse to expect defeat, I thought this extra energy-sapping, awkward standing around would cost us late. And if we'd a goal at the end you'd better believe that's precisely the line of whinging you'd be reading.

Our beating of the heat will be great for the resumes and future job interviews of conditioning staff, but there was an unexpected assist from nature. While it remained 32 degrees and stickier than the floor at the Crazyhorse Theatre throughout, the sun was obscured by cloud during the middle quarters. The weirdness continued with a thunderstorm warning. Luckily this came about 30 hours early because 7000 people would have had nowhere to go if it started pelting. Most would probably have bolted for home, but I was prepared to go down with the ship if that's what it took to see live flag.

It took four quarters of trench warfare (almost as long as the introduction to this post) but my tribute pilgrimage to seven seasons of joy from watching this team turned out pretty bloody well. What follows is an amalgamation of my live viewing and the replay, because I could barely make out what was happening at the other end. There was a video screen but it was so small that you could only make out the score and the elapsed time, and I know writers watched footy for 120 years in these conditions but they probably just made stuff up to compensate.

To pay off one of the great storylines of the season, starting Harris in the ruck made me nervous. With the fear of wilting in warm weather I wanted to get off to a good start, and even whe she does well in the middle it robs us of our only serious contested marking target forward. Her absence also reduces our chances of bringing the ball to ground or scattering packs like a bowling ball. Whether it was due to being painkillered to the gills or not she didn't show any obvious effects from the shoulder injury, and while Tayla wasn't disgraced in the ruck duels we couldn't win a clearance under any circumstances so I couldn't see (he says questioning a premiership coach) where the benefit was.

I'm not saying she'd have kicked eight if left forward, but you got an early example of what we lost without her as a target when Hore had to aim at centre half-forward Paxman. Of course she didn't mark, because it's not what she does, and the ball did work its way to Daisy for a missed snap, but we were all motion under pressure rather than having time to think about building attacks.

Speaking of Paxman, it was good to see her go with the pre-bandaged head one last time. And why not, when it's become so iconic somebody in the crowd had made their own replica. Sadly it wasn't unhygienically piffed into the audience at the end but was hopefully preserved with tongs for inclusion in any future MFC museum. In an unexpected post-match twist, the next time you see Paxman it might be in purple. Other sources suggest it's unlikely, but after seven sensational years I wouldn't begrudge her going. Presuming Daisy hangs up the boots, there doesn't need to be much more movement from the flag winning side but we've got to get McNamara back and start looking at the future so we'd go on.

Our more immediate issue was getting the ball out of defence. We couldn't clear from stoppages, and had no clear targets when exiting Brisbane's 50. What we did have was Tahlia Gillard tormenting the piss out of the league's top goalkicker. Multiple times in the opening minutes alone she stopped Wardlaw from taking clean possession, and continued to get us out of jail all afternoon. In the lowest moment for the 3-2-1 voting system since the umpire leaked Brownlow results to his mates, she didn't get a cracker in the BOG award. Not that I'm saying the expert panel were influenced by stats, but you won't be surprised to discover that the two players who finished a mile ahead of everyone else also had the most possessions.

Birch was pretty good, and Heath did a spectacular shutdown job on their best small forward, but Gillard did so much that doesn't get counted on a basic stats sheet that it's criminal that she didn't get more credit. From my restricted view she was best on ground. It wasn't just me, I heard somebody else say she was going to win the medal shortly before it was given to a Brisbane player who profited from having it kicked to her 15 times. The AFL's website report had Gillard fifth best, which was a bit more realistic, but they also had Hanks first and she didn't get a vote either so who are you supposed to trust?

Our midfield did their bit, especially West throwing herself into every confined space on the ground, but we didn't win without the backline standing up. The coaches would know, and for the rest of her life Tahlia will be able to review gamefootage to prove she was robbed. If she wants to launch a legal challenge on the result I'd be prepared to testify under oath for her. 

In a change from usual procedure, Brisbane's first shot was taken by two-time after the siren misser Greta Bodey. I was almostcertain that she'd finally go third time lucky on us here, and kept this firmly in my mind until the game was over. This time her kick landed in the square, we short-circuited about six attempts at a snap, and the panic continued. It didn't help that I was already considering throttling about 90% of the adults sitting within a five metre radius. 

As well as we did to stop the Lions scoring from close range, it was ridiculously difficult to get the ball away from their goal. We survived one hopeful kick being intercepted, before the second ended with a player standing on her own miles in the clear. As Brisbane fans whinge about the umpiring, feel free to note the absurd angle liberties taken by the player before this kick, but it's still our fault for not having somebody in the way. 

It was the third time from three this final series that we conceded the first goal, and it turned out alright the first couple of times so there was no need to stress out. "At least it gets the ball away from their end" I thought, only for them to fang straight out of the middle and into attack again. This time there was no titantic struggle for scoring, the umpire missed Birch headlocking one player, then made up for it by giving a soft as butter free straight after. Now we were two goals back and in a spot of deep, warm shit. 

To their credit (because we ended up winning) the coaches kept the faith with Harris in the ruck, but panic alarms were going off at full volume when the Lions broke out of the middle and went forward again. Guess which defender got in the way? Hint - her surname starts with 'Gill' and ends in 'ard'. I thought watching the replay would unlock the secrets of why she wasn't considered in the best players, and it only further convinced me she was robbed blind.

Our forward issues were demonstrated by Zanker marking, kicking to Daisy one-on-one, and still being the next closest Melbourne player to the ball when it hit the ground. It felt like if we were ever going to go four quarters without a goal this would be it. At 11 points down, strong defence was appreciated but no longer enough to win the game. My only consolation was that we'd have the use of a slight breeze in the second quarter. That should have also helped us in the last, but the bastard died off during the second half. 

We got to quarter time without any further damage, but not before another panic kick off the last line of defence nearly led to what might have been a death blow third goal. Top defensive performances by Gay and Chaplin (later a clear BOG in the early celebrations) saved us, finally setting up a gilt edged chance at the other end that we stuffed up in such farcical fashion that it made you want to catch the early plane. 

A series of handballs left Fitzsimon walking in an open goal, but unfortunately not being made aware that there was an opponent right behind her. From the other end it looked like she was too close to miss, so I shouted "That's more like it" a millisecond before the tackle mowed her down. The upside to being on grass, and with Brisbane fans a respectful distance away, was that I could flomp to the ground in frustration. On replay, I can see that if you were under oath at Footy Court you could argue that the ball hit her foot on the way down, rolling to Bannan on her own 10cm out, but morally you couldn't argue the free.

There was plenty of time to recover, but that blunder felt symptomatic of where the game was going. Brisbane had nicked goals out of nowhere, while we worked our arse off for one good chance then blew it in comical fashion. The ball stayed at our end but a Wacky Waving Inflatable Flailing Arm Tube Man would have been more chance of marking than anybody we had down there. You can win a game without forward 50 marks, it just puts a lot of reliance on goals plucked from the arse. And there we were, two goals down at quarter time of the Grand Final, being yelled at relentlessly by the world's cheeriest ground announcer while baking like rotissierie chicken and wondering if there was something better going on at the shopping centre over the road. 

As much as I'd prefer to either have a designated seat or somewhere Row MMish to stand, you could get away with playing Grand Finals at a grassy knoll if spectators had the remotest decency and sense of occasion. I wouldn't have minded being in enemy territory if you could confirm the enemy was Brisbane Lions and not Gilbert Sullivan, because the fans present were the biggest collection of theatregoers known to man.

The greatest crime perpetrated by these people was to stand in front of you and have a casual chat while the game was going on. Forget that there was a Grand Final happening, just hang around gasbagging like you're at a BBQ you peanuts. Which is a gasbagging and peanuts short of what I said to the two men in front of me when the second quarter was about to start. Interacting with fans is not my go, but nobody else seemed to care and without intervention they'd have stayed there forever. Then, of course, the siren went and nothing happened for about 30 seconds. You could see them considering whether to start saying things like "have you missed anything yet?", or "is this exciting enough for you?", at which point I'd have switched to low-blow personal sledging and probably been evicted.

I didn't understand at the time, and am no wiser having watched the replay, but somehow the best attack in the competition never kicked another goal. You'd never have guessed from the start of the second quarter, where we got what passed for a centre clearance in the circumstances only to be pinged holding the ball to gift them another chance. By now I was starting to get a bit nostalgic for playing the shit teams, and thinking how it good it was to sit at home and sulk in front of the TV.

After all the false starts, various Christmases came at once when a lovely tap-down from Paxman allowed Hanks to stuff the ball right onto Harris' chest 30 metres out directly in front. Much to the glee of the fans around me, who had decided to call a surprise Carnival of Hate, she missed. If my Plan B of kicking to marking forwards wasn't going to work I was flummoxed.

We didn't look any more likely to kick a goal, but the midfield were starting to break even, Brisbane's defence was starting to absord pressure, and we remained alive. Usually at this stage of a struggle to score I'd say 'when all else is lost call in a legend' and either Daisy or Paxy will kick a goal. This time it was 'call in the foreign legion', as cult figure Mackin unexpectedly cropped up. Bannan deserves credit for assisting it, putting in about four efforts before flipping the ball out to her running teammate and bingo, bango the margin was less than a straight kick.

I take it the women are included in the post-2021 pledge to automatically make all premiership players life members when their careers end. I don't think much of that idea no matter the gender, but am interested in the perversity of a player who first came to Australia in August leaving at the end of November with life membership in the bank.

This was the goal that changed everything, and was solid reward for improved performance. Now everything that happened in the first quarter was irrelevant, and it didn't hurt that their captain was injured in the same passage. Considering how much long we had the ball down there, one goal wasn't a fantastic reward but more importantly nothing went in at the other end. We did have to survive one scare in the dying seconds when old mate Wardlaw finally got a chance courtesy of Gillard doing Gillardish things up the ground but grassed the mark.

When the first hints of storm came at half time I thought everyone in the uncovered 99% of the ground would rush for the train station. It never went behind a few fat, menacing drops and the crowd was unmoved. I had to find somewhere to properly express myself in the event of a thrilling and/or controversial finish, and would like to thank the Demon Army for providing a safe space where I could leech onto their general presence and make sure somebody in the immediate area understood my feelings.

After my earlier outburst about people standing illegally I was left open to charges of hypocrisy when the President parked herself practically right in front of me before the third quarter bounce. I was pondering whether to risk excommunication by asking her to move when she avoided a diplomatic incident by moving voluntarily.

Further evidence against the zany, Trumpian idea that the umpires were helping us win came from West's early kick to Hanks in front of goal not being deemed 15 metres. Perhaps it was 14.86 but would have been paid anywhere else on the ground. It was part of more forward half dominance, until much to my "I told you so" satisfaction, Harris marked a kick that never went as far as West's. Then she tried to play on so ridiculously quickly that the player was still hanging off her from the contest and she could plausibly deny it. This time she kicked straight, and we were ahead. On a related note, I saw lots of people wearing a fugly, bootleg t-shirt of her that could only have been sold via Facebook ads. If you've ever wondered who falls for those crappy sponsored posts the answer is several Melbourne fans in the greater Ipswich area last Sunday.

After doing all the hard work to get, and stay, in front (including narrowly surviving a touched kick) nothing would have been more typical Melbourne Football Club than conceding right at the end of the quarter. Or in this case after it, as Brisbane's latest shot after the siren was the most realistic and gettable of them all. From 30 metres directly in front I was all but resigned to the result, but as the fairness and probity loving Brisbane fans behind sooked about the cheersquad waving a giant flag behind the kick, it missed. I'd like to think it was the flag that won it. Our lead survived, but spending the last couple of minutes under siege suggested to the nervous onlooker that we didn't have much left in the tank. False alarm, there was plenty to go around. 

Two goals in two quarters was a great result for long-term AFLW hatewatchers and once a year sooks alike, but they can jointly piss up the nearest rope. There's a difference between players missing set shots from the square then shanking the kickout on the full at right angles, and a grim pressure struggle where every goal is worth is weight in gold. You'll never convert the skeptical, but I look at it like Halloween - you're more than welcome not to enjoy it, just don't be the miserable kent who sets out to ruin the game for everyone else. I'd still like to commission research to determine crossover between the saddest of these gits and people who vote for political parties with 'Freedom' in their name.

These people could never understand, but I was STRESSED AS FUCK at three quarter time. We'd literally come too far to lose this in disappointing circumstances, and after dominating through the middle quarters any result short of victory would have sent me off the deep end. 

Cue the most knife-edge quarter imaginable. Maybe neutrals weren't invested enough to appreciate it, but I was hanging on every kick, and continually looking at the time ticking towards 15:00, safe in the knowledge that there would be stuff all time on. If anybody looked to be tiring in the conditions it was Brisbane, but the longer we went without putting the game away the longer they stayed a chance of throwing one lucky punch to nick it.

No moment seriously impacted the result under the last 30 seconds, but there was a moment of excitement after Mackin was caught in a failed dummy. The umpires got confused as to who was in charge, Bannan spotted one of them calling play-on and ran through the ball-carrier like a rocket launcher hitting a tank. In normal circumstances this would have been either 50 or holding the ball, but ended in the Brisbane player being sent back to take her kick like nothing had happened. I saw a post during the week about a fan being served at Rebel Sport by Bannan two days before the Grand Final, and if this was anything to go by she should ditch retail, join the police and start pummelling Victoria's crime rate.

An exclamation point winning goal would have been nice. Zanker had a set shot that she aimed perfectly but just didn't have enough leg to put through. If you know what to look for you can see me in the crowd ready to go absolutely apeshit if this went through, before slumping back down again as it was rushed through. Like everyone else in our side that didn't rack up bulk possessions, Zanker was ignored in best player calculations, but was really good. I don't know if there was something wrong with Lauren Pearce, but she spent a lot of time rucking, and also pulled in a lot of crucial touches around the ground.

I didn't know there were only two minutes left, but it was obvious that we were getting close to the end. It would have been a good time to lock the ball inside 50, but Brisbane quickly took off and reached the wing unimpeded. Thank god that a kick which might have unlocked their path to goal missed the target and bounced straight to Hore, who was caught high in a tackle. Her kick was picked off, but we lived to fight again. Possibly out of guilt at the Bannan missile tackle debacle, the umpires then completely ignored the ball being piffed over Goldrick's head after a free, leaving us still stuck on the defensive side of the ground.

At last, it was time to open the MFC White Pages, scroll to 'L' and dial a legend. After struggling one-on-one as a forward for most of the day, Daisy went big when it counted and plowed into a contest with zero regard for own safety, breaking up what would have been a certain mark and another forward thrust. Bannan and Gay both had half chances to seal it, but the second miss troublingly left Brisbane kicking in with what turned out to be 36 seconds left. A lucky bounce let them get a kick forward but Hore was parked behind the ball, Hanks worked her arse off to mark her kick and if I was watching on TV I'd have known we were safe.

Instead, despite somebody in the distance yelling about there being 30 seconds left, my ringpiece was clenched so tight it could have produced diamonds. I might have been immediately behind our cheersquad, but was still wedged between two families of wholesome Brisbane supporters so was trying not to be a complete bastard. By this point heat, humidity, and sporting tension had gotten to me so I probably wouldn't have been able to hold back the anti-social behaviour if we'd lost. 

I was so delirious that as a Fitzsimon snap bobbled towards goal I was too focused on it to notice that the siren had gone. The first realisation that we'd won was when Bannan let out a clenched fist, almighty roar in our general direction. They cut away before you saw where the kick went, but as it failed to score thank god she wasn't shooting to win it. 

Cue a little bit of carnage, and surprise interaction with strangers. I got so excited singing the song that when a Channel 7 bloke stuck his camera in my face I went with it instead of hiding. Thankfully they didn't show it, saving me from being permanently attached to a premiership moment looking like a dong. Later the party atmosphere got to me again, and as manners had been thrown out the window anyway I snuck my head into a group photo of the Demon Army and Daisy Pearce. No regrets, when else am I ever going to be in the same picture (even peripherally) as a legend?

Of course, it wouldn't be a Melbourne premiership without the presentations turning into a farce. The only difference here was the absence of Basil Zempilas, and a Brisbane captain going through the longest concession speech of all time. I don't envy the job of having to speak after losing a Grand Final but you'd think the instinct would be to congratulate the winners, thank the sponsors, promise to come back next year, and leave. Instead she may as well have thanked every Brisbane member from Aaronson to Zakowski.

Then it was time for the Ms. Norm, and while I was ready to howl in ecstasy when Gillard was rightfully announced I'd have accepted any of our lot. The Brisbane winner played well, but the announcement fell flatter than a plateful of piss because there were only about 103 home fans left in the ground. She briefly livened up proceedings by telling us she’d only just avoided having a Chris Mew, before picking up where the captain left off and mentioning every person who'd ever visited South East Queensland except Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Eventually the winning side was asked to be involved, and obviously respectful of her teammates itching to have a massive piss-on in the rooms she kept her remarks to the point. The big difference in winning Grand Finals was this time the coach got to speak, and also showed admirable brevity so that Brisbane didn't have to camp out for the night listening to us rub the result in. The weather didn't care for their feelings and exploding red and blue streamers wafted directly into the deject Lions group.

In case you thought proceedings had gotten back on track, the individual presentation of players was the biggest post-match Grand Final shambles since Peter Moore threw his loser medal to the crowd. Anyone who has ever watched one of these ceremonies knows how it works, which apparently didn't include the person who'd been hired to do it here. First she promised to read the names in 'chronological order' (?), then took off saying them in numerical order at world record pace. She was going so fast that it got to #7 Tayla Harris and #3 Maddie Gay hadn't yet completed her medal-hat handover with the kid. Somebody wisely chipped in to suggest slowing down, causing her to realise it was going tits up and make a self-deprecating comment. 

It was tremendously undignified, but she'd probably have read out I.P Freely if it was on the sheet. No doubt Channel 7 would have preferred Telstra Premiership Cup Ambassador (this was a real thing) Abbey Holmes to do it, if they could have stopped her wandering around confused as to why Adelaide hadn't won.

Finally, because they couldn't locate the recruiter for the Springfield Communist Party, the players were free to go nuts. During the raucous post-match I just stood up the back applauding like a bandwagon live attendee, watching our team interact with the cheersquad in a series of the most wholesome footy moments since the Casey player's dog ran on the field. The men appreciate the week in/week out, around the country support they get from these fans, but I can tell it meant the world to the women It's one thing to be there for the win, but this will also be a cherished memory.

After getting within sight range of a recently won AFL premiership cup at last, I had no more contribution to make. My voice was gone, my core temperature was above Fukushima reactor three, and the happy memories were in the bank. The added bonus to hanging around so long - single digit numbers of home fans on the train back. And that was it. The prospective storm didn’t drop for another 24 hours, I had a brief but fruitful session at the State Library the next day scanning for coverage of our first game against the Bears at Carrara, did some other limited tourist stuff and came home. As far as interstate Grand Final thrills and spills go it didn’t come close to sneaking into WA for live flag then spending three months in the clink, but for where I'm at right now it was perfect.

If there's anything to complain about, and there really isn't, it's that we did it in this weird year that will forever be referred to as 'Season 7'. It'll always be the 2022 Spring season to me. It won't make it any less ludicrous if they come back in a year with 'Season 8' as if they're naming Wrestlemanias rather than sports seasons. Here's to us winning a weirdly named cup that will baffle people in the future, before sanity is restored and the 2023 premiership is awarded. Preferably also to us.

What a day, what a team. I'm so happy for the originals who have been there from the start, but also the great players picked up on the way, all of who are doing this part-time. They might have had to go back to jobs on Monday, but every one of them has their place in history. Regardless of how long their careers last, each has the most important words in footy etched next to their name forever - 'premiership player'. And in a completely platonic and non-threatening way I love them all for it.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tahlia Gillard
4 - Eliza West
3 - Shelley Heath
2 - Eden Zanker
1 - Tyla Hanks

Apologies to Purcell, Gay, Birch, Chaplin, Hore and most everyone else.

Final leaderboard
In the most tricky finish to a Demonblog awards season yet, the result came down to a game where you could throw a blanket over a dozen players for the last vote. Sadly for Purcell she was just edged out by Hanks, leaving us with the first major award tie in the 17 year (!!!!!) history of this page. Congratulations to both on fine seasons, and to our other confirmed winner this week, Demonblog's own Tahlia Gillard, who ended up romping the Rising Star.

27 - Tyla Hanks, Olivia Purcell
23 - Karen Paxman
22 - Eliza West
20 - Lily Mithen
15 - Tayla Harris, Kate Hore
12 - Libby Birch (WINNER: Defender of the Year)
10 - Tahlia Gillard (WINNER: Rising Star Award)
7 - Eden Zanker
6 - Shelley Heath
5 - Sarah Lampard
4 - Maddie Gay 
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
Considering the gravity of the event there's not much on offer here. Obviously, in the battle between running goal and set shot from the square, motion gets the nod, so Blaithin Mackin can add this honour to her premiership medal and TBC life membership. No change to the overall top three, meaning it's a Bannan quinella at the top. Congratulations to the excitement machine, who takes home the annual award of a lifetime supply of Jolt Cola.

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Alyssa Bannan vs Adelaide (QF)
3rd - Eden Zanker vs Gold Coast

Next week
This was my 50th post for 2022, so the first thing I'll be doing is not writing any for a few months. Apologies to anyone who is still interested in an End of Season Spectacular, it's just not going to happen. Please do expect some updates, starting with adding the words 'premiership player' to a lot of profiles, but also historical stuff. I'm currently doing the 1996 papers so get ready for a spot of merger chat. But not for a bit, let a tired old man rest.

Final Thoughts
Despite ending the day in a state of near total physical/mental collapse and losing my hotel key it was the best time I've had in Brisbane since Expo '88.