Saturday, 13 April 2019

The comeback is on

The emotional rollercoaster ride continues. From being resigned to the death of our season at the first bounce, to being forcibly perked up by Braydon Preuss playing like Hulk Hogan, then reaching for poison halfway through the second quarter, this turned into the life-giving, spirit of '06 victory that I desperately hoped for but was too scared to believe in.

In order to concentrate on the morale and confidence benefits of this victory, let's briefly skim over Sydney being steaming turd. They've been a safe 'keep the flag out of Victoria so I don't have to hear about it' contender for 15 years and haven't won less than eight games since 1994 but finally look ready to take a turn in struggletown. Their flimsy rucks were swept away by a Gawnslide, the forwards had no idea how to take advantage of our terrified backline, and their defence extracted the ball from defence in a way that would make you light fires if you hadn't just seen two flags in 15 years.

It started both very poorly, and very well. After some manly jostling between Oliver/Viney and Callum Sinclair - who was probably reminding them how he got lucky when we passed on drafting him - the first few minutes were spent camped around Sydney's 50 with the Swans doing everything but kick a goal. One shot was touched through on the line and another snapped out on the full from close range. This was no good for my blood pressure, already elevated by having to watch on a 35 minute delay and not being able to nervously peruse Twitter to reassure myself other fans were also having a disappointing supporting experience.

Then, almost literally out of nowhere, Charlie Spargo of all people burst off the half back line, had as many bounces as our entire team did against Essendon (one), and hit a perfect pass to Milkshake in the middle of the ground. He set up Petracca (via a wobbly handball) to run to 50 and kick the goal, and I can't have been the only one openly yelling about why we'd ever expected him to play as a contested marking target near goal.

For loudmouthed amateurs like me, any week where the stuff that you've banged on about is not only tried but succeeds is a great one. It wasn't just half-forward Petracca, see also the introduction of Braydon Preuss, a colossal figure in the forward line that allowed everyone in his orbit to do good things. Sure, any kick five metres to either side of him was easy pickings for his opponent, but in the greatest tradition of the Australian rules cliche his mere presence straightened us up. It probably won't work against good sides, but in the interim it was the most exciting forward cameo since Tom McDonald kicked five against West Coast.

If it's a Brent Heaver-esque one hit wonder performance, we'll always have his first kick in a Melbourne jumper. With one of the boundary umpires suffering from a crippling arm injury that only allowed him to throw the ball in half the normal distance, the world's beefiest man ran off his clearly confused opposite number, gathered the ball on the full, kept running into the pocket and snapped across his body for the goal. It was one of the most remarkable things you'll ever see, and well worth several repeat viewings:
In none-more-Melbourne fashion he kicked a second goal then spent half of the second off with a dicky shoulder. Hold for the late change next week when he's OUT: amputated arm (4-6 weeks). Injury issues aside, he returned to generate another goal from a forward 50 stoppage later - about as many as we got from everyone not called Gawn in the whole of 2018. Meanwhile, for the people who whop off over contested possession, let the record show that of his 11 possessions, 10 (TEN) of them were contested. What a beast, christ knows why they got spooked over one bad practice game and refused to play him for three weeks.

The second goal had me all fired up, ignoring the obvious comparison to doing likewise against Port for 20 minutes then capsizing. The competing theory was that the Swans are almost as bad at playing their home ground as we are, and it's no surprise we eventually overcame them. It might not have required overcoming if Gawn's near total dominance in the ruck was backed up by his midfielders. If they'd got their hands on more of his taps we might have put the game away early, but like so many times before we left the door ajar and the opposition kicked it in.

Given that we won, what I'm most pleased about is how we realised halfway through the second quarter that another outrageous opposition score was on the way and did something about it. Compare the pre and post-comeback trials of Oscar McDonald, a guy so low on confidence that even he knows he wouldn't be playing if not for injuries. When Heeney took a mark on him in the second quarter he looked like he wanted to be swallowed by one of the many gaping chasms in the SCG surface. He was barely spotted after that, which is the best you can hope for with a key defender (though truth be told he missed the last quarter with concussion, so that helped...)

Then there was Frost, the second of the well-deserved scapegoats from last week's insanity laden defensive effort. He played the same sort of game on Franklin as he did in scoring a rare two votes last year, not completely putting Lance (never Buddy) out of business, but pushing him far enough away from goal that he was left trying to kick 60 metre bombs like it's 2008. The further out the better, leaving Franklin 2.8 against us in these two starts. He has a curious career record against us, we're the only opposition he's played against more than 10 times but has more behinds than goals. He may never have lost to Melbourne until Thursday night, but his 43.46 in 16 games against us compares favourably to the 70.35 he's tormented Essendon with in the same number of starts.

Like Oscar, Frost probably doesn't make Round 23 either if Lever and May are fit, but it was a welcome return to form. My highlight was later in the game when he reacted to missing a ground ball because of a turning circle like the QE2, only to follow up with a desperate lunge to keep it away from an opponent on the boundary line. To prove that once fans lose interest you can't do anything right, he was subsequently criticised for risking giving away a below the knee contact free - welcome to Club Cale Morton, where you'll never be allowed to do anything good ever again until you're traded for pick 88.

Life would have been a lot easier if we'd taken the hint from kicking the first two goals and went on to win by 150. Instead we conceded the next two in quick succession, the second from a free kick so soft it was almost invertebrate, continuing the proud tradition of rooting us whenever the prime time TV cameras turn up.

There was a second goal to Preuss - born from a perfect tap from Gawn to Jones and finishing in a Mason Cox-esque mark where he was simply too large to spoil - that left us four points up with five minutes to play. That would have been a fair indication of the state of the game to that stage, before bleeding three quick goals, including to somebody called Jordan Dawson who'd played eight games in three years and was threatening to Kingsley us.

To say I was flattened by the extended DemonTime finish to the quarter would be an understatement. It didn't help my deep psychological scarring that watching on delay meant no quarter time break, just fast forwarding straight to the start of the second to try and catch up on the live coverage by the end of half time. Breaks are an annoyance when you have to sit through them, but it's only when you don't that you realise how vital they are for your mental health as a supporter.

Conceding the first chance of the second quarter immediately from the bounce didn't do much for my enjoyment of either life or the 6-6-6 system. I started to wonder if the midweek propaganda about how all our woes are actually the fault of the midfield were correct. Fortunately Franklin missed a sitter, giving us the opportunity to go down the other end for what could generously be described as a steadier for Harmes. His goal prompted everything to turn to shit for a few minutes, leaving the life support plug for our season teetering precariously out of the socket. First Kingsley kontender Dawson bobbed up again, before popular whipping boy Sizzle Jr conceded a mark to Zak Jones - who sort of resembles Nathan, but with more of a sunken faced, ratty, suburban drug dealer look.

That goal, and the general tribulations of Oscar, saddened me to the point where I was almost ready to do my traditional gesture of surrender and sit down instead of hovering above the TV yelling and gesticulating wildly. Then the half-forward flankers (not rhyming slang) of my dreams Petracca and Melksham set up the more respectable looking Jones to drag us ever so slightly away from the precipice. It was a beautifully constructed goal too, with first Tom McSizzle taking a strong overhead mark, then Melk splitting the pack with a near screamer, allowing Truck to gather and intelligently spot Jones on his own instead of blazing away at goal.

That was Jones' easy goal, followed by a ripper from the pocket as he ran onto a loose ball, beat the despairing lunge of his brother and cut the margin to 11. From the verge of death we were now well and truly back in it. Then Melksham got one from almost the same spot - with the additional degree of difficulty from fumbling a few times before picking up the ball and thumping it through. This would have been more of a major event if we hadn't proceeded to cop a reply immediately from the middle.

It was almost the last time the Swans did anything in the centre, with the Gawn n' Everyone show taking over. Simon Goodwin loves 'connection' almost as much as Dean Bailey liked saying 'competitive', and he would have been chuffed at Maximum and the mids finally getting on the same page in the middle. As we've previously discussed, hitouts are one of the great bullshit stats but if we hadn't turned a 73-13 advantage into something it would have been as bad as the Kardinia Park inside 50s debacle.

Viney was the next to kick a goal on the run from the left side pocket, high on bloodlust from having just necked some bastard in a crunching tackle, and we were back within a goal. Via two Sydney misses deep in DemonTime we got to the break in a much better shape than we had any right to be 20 minutes earlier. I'd certainly stopped trying to ring the Ecuadorian embassy in London to see if they had any vacancies.

Not long after the break McSizzle got a free and levelled the scores. It was his only goal of the night but still his best performance of the year. I'd rather he start kicking goals left, right and centre again but playing a part in them is just as important. It's what makes Melksham so underrated, twice this year he's had four goal assists in a game - a feat only previously achieved by Melbourne players eight times since 2003. There's a big gap between those 10 (Melksham x2, Petracca x2, Jones, Jetta, Wonaeamirri, Brayshaw, Petracca, Weideman and Hogan once each) and the 62 players who have had three. One day somebody will have five, and I'll put on the biggest obscure statistical celebration since the first time in his career Mark Jamar had five kicks.

Again the lead didn't last long, but in contrast to the Essendon game it didn't feel like we were entirely powerless to stop the opposition scoring when they got the ball. What really scared me is that we were playing like we'd turned a corner, but our window for error was now so small that even the narrowest loss, caused either by a defensive howler or kooky umpiring, would be fatal.

Enter Petracca again, walking through a defender, then kicking a snap from 40 while being swung around by the jumper. Here's a way to make the Fox Sports Lab useful, get somebody in a white coat to work out whether the force of the swing created a greater connection (thanks Simon) with the ball and helped him cover the distance. It was the high point of a performance where he was used to his strengths and looked so much better. A genuine night to put fear into opposition players and coaches again. Harmes was so impressed by the goal that he eye gouged him while doing some seppo bullshit during the celebrations. Surprisingly Christian's eyeball didn't pop out and fall into one of the several dozen SCG divots.

Petracca's goal drew scores level again, before new pressure forward sensation Hunt put us ahead. This ushered in a great few minutes where he kicked a second, then necked an almost certain Swans goal on the fast break (which caused terrible flashbacks to Essendon players waltzing past red and blue traffic cones until owl energy carried Hunt far enough to affect the kick).  By three quarter time - via another Franklin miss from distance - we'd set up our first Stranglewank scenario of the year to take a 14 point lead. I don't know where it came from and didn't feel we deserved to be that far ahead, but wasn't going to turn it down.

Because I've not updated the list since Round 2 last year, here are the updated WANK FILES - games where the margin got to 24 before being reduced to six points or less.

  • Round 13, 2014 vs Essendon (-33 at 3m Q3, +1 FT)
  • Round 1, 2017 vs St Kilda (-24 at 4m Q2, +30 FT)
  • Round 8, 2017 vs Adelaide (-28 at 17m Q2, +41 FT)
  • Round 10, 2017 vs Gold Coast (-24 at 20 Q2, +35 FT)
  • Round 11, 2017 vs Collingwood (-28 at 9m Q2, +4 FT)
  • Round 3, 2018 vs North Melbourne (-24 at 13m Q1, +37 FT)
  • Round 4, 2019 vs Sydney (Huzzah)

  • Round 11, 2014 vs Port Adelaide (-26 at 13m Q1, +10 at 17m Q3, -20 FT)
  • Round 15, 2014 vs Footscray (-35 at 11m Q2, +6 at 6m Q4, -6 FT)
  • Round 19, 2015 vs North Melbourne (-34 at 29m Q1, -2 at 26m Q3, -35 FT)
  • Round 3, 2016 vs North Melbourne (-42 at 20m Q1, -5 FT)
  • Round 10, 2016 vs Collingwood (-24 at 24m Q1, +5 10m Q2, -25 9m Q3, level 19m Q3, -25 FT)
  • Round 15, 2016 vs Essendon (-24 at 30m Q3, -2 at 17m Q4, -9 FT)
  • Round 7, 2017 vs Hawthorn (-27 at 29m Q1, -3 FT)
  • Round 9, 2017 vs North Melbourne (-26 at 31m Q1, -2 at 13m Q4, -14 FT)
  • Round 1, 2018 vs Geelong (-27 at 35m Q2, -3 FT)
  • Round 12, 2018 vs Collingwood (-26 at 19m Q1, -5 at 13m Q2, -42 FT)
  • Round 7, 2014 vs Adelaide (+ 36 18m Q2, +3 FT)
  • Round 21, 2017 vs St Kilda (+39 at 10m Q2, +4 1m Q4, +24 FT)
  • Round 2, 2018 vs Brisbane (+25 at 27m Q1, +6 8m Q4, +26 FT)
  • Round 22, 2018 vs West Coast (+26 at 18m Q1, +6 17m Q2, +27 at 5m Q3, +3 at 15m Q4, +17 FT)

  • Round 2, 2015 vs GWS (+30 at 4m Q2, -45 FT)
  • Round 9, 2016 vs Port Adelaide (+24 at 6m Q2, -61 FT)
  • Round 3, 2017 vs Fremantle (+27 at 28m Q2, -2 FT)
  • Round 18, 2018 (+29 at 2m Q4, -2 FT)
Disposal efficiency was approaching record lows, but it didn't matter because every panicked kick towards Sydney's goal that wasn't marked was either fumbled or returned via peg legged disposal. They got the first goal of the final term to give us a momentary scare, before the Weid got a free and converted. It wasn't the best game of his post-Round 22 2018 glory era, but whenever he gets the ball things happen. When he learns how to find it 20 times a game watch out. Is also a red hot set shot kick, which helps.

Like Hogan and McDonald so many times before him, Weideman's goal was wasted by an almost immediate reply out of the middle that cut the margin to less than a goal again. I was back on the highest DEFCON1 alert for a meltdown that would see us be teased with a season saving victory only for the arse to fall out when it mattered.

Here's to the pretty ordinary free Jones got for Selwooding into a tackle, and for the set shot that kept the ship upright. Then to my new idol Preuss for disposing of his opponent at a ball-up in the forward 50, allowing Brayshaw to add the exclamation mark.

We're beyond the point where the first win of the season only exists to ensure we won't go 0-22, but it's still a major psychological barrier to cross. Whether it translates to the good teams we'll need to beat to storm back into the eight I don't know, but am hoping that we've just seen the blueprint for 18 (plus?) games of enjoyment. If we still miss the eight then bad luck us for turning in a bunch of stinkers at the start of the season, but I've got renewed hope that we're going to come out of the season with some happy memories. Onwards and upwards.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Marty Hore

Unlike last week, apologies to lots - in alphabetical order Brayshaw, Fritsch, Frost, Harmes, Hunt, Melksham, Preuss, Salem and Viney.

Stiff shit NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER voters, we have somebody on the board in every category. It's unlikely that if Gawn keeps playing Preuss is going to catch him, but the other big man is officially in the race for the Stynes with his 13 hitouts.

10 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
9 - Clayton Oliver
7 - Angus Brayshaw, Jake Melksham
5 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Bayley Fritsch, James Harmes, Nathan Jones, Jack Viney
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Marty Hore (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Corey Wagner

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There were several contenders in this game that stood above almost everything else we'd kicked this season, but it's impossible to go past Preuss from the pocket. Sure he took advantage of a non-ruckman at a ridiculously shallow throw and kicked an arsey snap but say hello to your clubhouse leader for goal of the year. Some may argue for Petracca's goal in the third, and they may very well be right but I've got a fetish for cult heroes and am not ashamed to admit it.

For a weekly prize he wins a gigantic tube of whatever oil Franklin had liberally applied to himself before the game.

You'll have to work hard to beat one of our milestone banners. The best look I can get at Sydney's response was for about 0.5 seconds in this tweet, and it seemed as primitive as can be. Celebrating John Longmire's 200th game as coach brings back fond memories of his first, when he failed to grasp the concept of the sub rule and allowed to scrape a draw. Before - it must be said - going on to do what every coach we've had since Norm Smith hasn't.

Besides, our cheersquad gets extra points for having to be prepared for McSizzle to pull out with injury so they would have won anyway. Dees 4-0 for the season.

This segment probably needs a different graphic for Channel 7 games. So...

Regular readers will know I've been in a confirmed mid-life crisis for about two seasons, but at the risk of setting off that bloke who was going to molest your pets for supporting The Spencil my views on Brian Taylor are softening. GEE GOD BOY WOW was the breakthrough in our strained relationship, and now I'm even starting to enjoy the freelance anarchy of Roaming Brian. It won't last, on Friday night he screamed that there was only one goal left in a tight game as if it was a demonstrable scientific fact. If he'd said that when we were less than a goal down with five minutes left I'd be lobbying for a crucifixion.

Next Week
After the short break comes the long break before the really short break. It's St Kilda at the MCG on Saturday at the NQR time of 4.35pm. Sadly I'll be working during a premiership points game for the first time since the Round 21, 2006 draw against Geelong. Like that day, my best chance of knowing what's going on is sneaky headphone listening to the radio coverage. In the same way the phone goes off at Kingsley Manor whenever an ordinary player turns it on against us, I've activated guest reporter protocols and one of your 25 or so other readers will be in charge.

Now that the monkey is off the back, you'd like to think we're going to get back to the same 2-3 record we had after five games last year. I'm still having trust issues so my hopes are being kept under the stairs until next Saturday night. Pending their game against the half-wonky Hawks on Sunday, I haven't rated the Saints' form this year. They've won games and gone close in Perth, but it's not sustainable and they're going to tumble at some point. Hopefully starting next week.

The problem is after that FIASCO where they beat us to round off three weeks of misery last year how do we know that's not going to happen again? We don't, and the best we can do is face the MCG and pray for the best. Remember that for the first 20 minutes of that game we were dominant in every way and looked like it was going to turn into a poleaxing, so let's have more of that and the mystery three goals in three minutes at the end rather than the dross in the middle.

As for changes, it's a good thing there's an extra break because we had a few come out of last night battered. Especially Preuss, whose shoulder looked semi-rooted after his solid gold first quarter, and Hunt after being flattened with a ripper of a tackle. Assuming they both survive, and there's not another raft of mystery midweek injuries all the action is in the backline.

The complication is that Jetta and Lewis both need to come back (though after three quarters of our defence not playing like they're on the comedy circuit I'm not gagging for Lewis as badly as I was last Friday) and Hore was very good. Josh Wagner can rotate out with some apologies, but the question is how we fit the other two in while also protecting Oscar from being shelled by some complete nobodies. Maybe we don't even need two genuine talls against the Saints and can get away with Hore and Jetta? Otherwise Marty might have to go the Corey Maynard route and get dropped after scoring his first votes.

What I'm going for is the one tall BUT with the 4D option of swinging the surviving McDonald back to defence if some bloke you've never heard of looks like Beau Wilkes-ing us. Otherwise, all the new players this week survive. Stretch didn't excel but played his role with no major cock-ups, and Spargo still can't play four quarters but always has some sort of impact. Bad luck for Lockhart, who falls behind Charleston in the pecking order again despite looking pretty good in his first two games. Spargo also now holds a 15-5 career win/loss record, which makes him our most successful player since about Frank "Bluey" Adams.

IN: Jetta, Lewis
OUT: O. McDonald, J. Wagner (omit)
LUCKY: Hibberd? Hasn't been much chop but has runs on the board.
UNLUCKY: Lockhart

Final Thoughts
What happened in previous years means chuff all now, but going back to 2006 the first win set off a run of five straight victories that entirely removed the bad taste of the opening rounds. Could happen again, but let's wait for a bit more evidence. After all, we were also 1-3 in 2009 and won the spoon, and in 2013 when we were morally the worst team in the competition. Or 2014, which ended in four low scoring, grindhouse victories. The difference is a vastly superior list to the last three examples, and one that would shit on '06 if everyone wasn't injured.

Should we win at least two of the next three, preferably starting next week, I think the early evenness of the competition will work in our favour. I'm not launching a new Bradbury Plan until at least Round 8, but I will admit having a little tinker with the AFL's ladder predictor (good on them for putting it up from Round 1 this year but I'd prefer an Excel version where you can input exact scores if anyone's got one handy) and having us three games out of the eight after Queen's Birthday, getting to touching distance of eighth, then finishing a game and distant percentage 9th.

That's double where I'd have had us last week, so I'm setting it as my benchmark. Anything better than ninth and I'll be happy, anything below will be graded on a sliding scale from 'a bit miserable' to 'head in oven'. All we've done is beaten one fading team, but it has given us life. As we often say around here, every day above ground is a good day.

What a difference six days makes:

Friday, 12 April 2019

Standard "this post is delayed" notification

Like Brad Green said after we won two games in 2007, we're back and heading to the finals. Post on the Sydney game hopefully online by Saturday morning.

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

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Four quarters and a funeral

Well that was a bit different to my last Friday night at the MCG. On September 14, 2018 I practically levitated out the door, with flights hastily booked to Perth and the outside chance of returning for a Grand Final two weeks later. Last night it was a death march for a season that has offered diminishing expectations - from potential premiership tilt, to comfortable top eight finish, and now requiring a minor miracle across the next 19 games just to get a start in the finals.

I walked into the MCG in such a state of disarray it's a surprise they didn't kidnap me to play in the backline. It was nobody's fault but mind, having had three hours sleep during the day and removing all faith in humanity in advance by spending the trip in reading about grisly unsolved murders. Hardly the recipe for an evening of light entertainment, even before seeing our defenders playing like they'd been on a three day ice bender.

It's all gone a bit 2007, where we show up touted as a genuine premiership chance and shit the bed. The difference is that then we had too many good players coming to the end of their career, whereas now we've got enough in the tank to bounce back next year. But that's next year, we have to get through another five months of 2019 yet. I don't care that we took an 0-3 record to the SCG in 2006 and still miss the finals, it's not happening this time. For the first time since a 4-18 year in 2014, the season is dead, buried and cremated before the end of daylight savings.

I'm confident about the future - especially after the inevitable decimation of the assistant coaching ranks at the end of the year - but am taking the idea of being out of contention after Round 3 very poorly. You may note that this is almost the worst post ever, and the few thousand words of disappointment that follow are purely for obligation and the historical record. Once I get angry it should improve, so wait a few weeks until I'm blowing up in public like early 2007.

The lack of sleep and the loopy way we defended during the first quarter left me watching in a state of total psychological distress, so there's no doubt I'm going to miss something important in the recap. Please get in contact via the usual channels if there's a particular defensive fuck up or unreal umpiring decision you'd like to highlight.

Turning on the coach at this stage is not an option, but I did raise an eyebrow when he said during the week that we should be judged on our performances, not our pre-season and "we're ready to go". It was a bold strategy to pretend that the two weeks of stinky matches for premiership points didn't happen, and as it turns out a foolish one.

If you treated like this Round 1 your judgement would be that we're just as chaotic in defence as last year, but without the animal midfield play or the free scoring attack to cover it up. Then about three days after we were instructed to ignore the pre-season, the coach goes on the radio post-defeat and has a pop at Steven May for showing up porky at pre-season training. Which one is it?

I'd like to say that defeat, and conceding 130 points, was a surprise but didn't we discuss last week how Essendon's fancy running play would likely stitch us up? They'd arguably been worse than us over the two weeks that Simon Goodwin reckons didn't exist, and will be crucified by good teams during the season, but the run was always going to scare us. Especially if we allowed them to return uncouth inside 50s at maximum speed. It's no coincidence that the only time we played like a finals side was when we kept the ball inside 50 for more than five seconds at a time.

The rush to get the ball forward and damn the consequences explains conceding a goal from the first of many panicky, dump kicks into the forward line. Not as many as last week, but that would almost be impossible to replicate. Our first entry never looked like resulting in a score for us, didn't create repeat stoppages in front of Essendon's goal, and before you knew was down the other end landing in the middle of several defenders who didn't look like they had any idea where to stand.

It wasn't the last time the backmen acted like they'd been test subjects for a new psychedelic drug.  Remember when Paul Roos basically turned scoring off for two seasons because we had to learn how to defend? How did that work out for us? Next time I'd be happy to lose 80-150 every week instead of 40-110, safe in the knowledge that in the grand scheme of things it means bugger all.

The defenders weren't the only ones struggling with the concept of defence, but you could see why we've spent two years trying to buy every key defender on the market. The ones we did have - in in fairness to them two wouldn't have been playing if Lever and May were fit - didn't appear to have any idea where to go or who to run to.

It was like when we'd use Rivers, Garland and Frawley in the forward line and they'd do a few nice things, but clearly weren't 100% sure of what to do. The problem being that confused defenders are far more dangerous than confused forwards. What I can't understand is how Frost, Oscar McSizzle and Hibberd can go from cogs in a two time finals winning team to a comedy festival act overnight. Lewis' organisational abilities have always been considered more important than his play, but he can't be that much of an influence that they're all at sea without him. And if he is, who replaces him at the end of this year when he retires? At this rate they'll ask him to stay on.

It was a huge night for everyone who has followed the plight of Melbourne since the last time we stuffed up a post-finals campaign. Essendon's opening quarters in the first two rounds had generated zero goals, now they kicked six, and their second goal came from a player who was previously 0.7 for the season. All this and Shaun McKernan (one goal in his previous three games, four here) going full Kingsley was enough to make me wish for global thermonuclear war by quarter time. That he was injured from the second quarter but stayed out there because they'd already lost a player in the first quarter is even more insulting. Our shocking record when given a one player advantage continues to grow.

We were fortunate to be just 19 points down at the first break. After their third goal, Dyson Heppell (who must be no good, because he was left on his own most of the night) burst out of the centre and only just missed kicking the sort of classic 6-6-6 goal that we were meant to be the masters of. That allowed us to get down the other end for Sizzle to deliver one of his few contributions of the night with an intelligent tap to Lockhart for a crucial goal.

Tom went off with an ankle injury during the game, but if he was 100% fit to start with I'll go hee. Either way, has had a garbage start to the season. I suppose he didn't arrive until Round 6 last season and still kicked 50 goals, so maybe he's just working his way into things. Would probably help your craft as a forward if somebody passed the ball to you at lower than full arm extension height - also not really helpful when you get injured in the second quarter and they start you on a wing in the third.

Further drama came courtesy of the umpiring, pinching Jetta for what stood as the worst free of the night until the final term - when first Gawn 'kicked in danger' with nobody near him, then Sam Frost took on a tackler in front of goal and had an air-swing but escaped unpunished. Not a great night for the umpiring fraternity, but they weren't the primary reason for our defeat. The Jetta one didn't help though, with Jake Stringer doing what maligned players usually do against us and sinking the kick from the boundary.

It was almost time to take up sniffing glue, until our own soft free let Anal Bullet do what he should have in the first quarter against Port and convert a set shot. That was about his only contribution, and I assume the 40 metres covered by this shot didn't factor in to his 34 metres gained for the evening. Of course like all stats, metres gained is useless without context. For instance, Angus Brayshaw had 10 inside 50s and gained more ground than Yiannis Kouros, but they may have been the worst collective set of deliveries into the forward line ever. Harmes had nine and a disposal efficiency of 57% and Viney six with 61%. No bloody wonder we're not delivering lace out passes to leading forwards.

I'd almost (but not quite) like to go back and rewatch the first quarter just to see if the state of our backline was as bad as I remember. I certainly remember McDonald-Tipungwuti dashing past about six defenders to kick one out of his arse from the pocket right at the end. That was a blow, keeping the margin to 13 points would have been a spectacular result considering the state we'd been in for most of the term.

It was another night where our all-contested possession, all the time, gameplan didn't hold up due to the minor issue of losing the contested possessions. That wouldn't matter if the whole plan didn't depend on it. The only outside runner was Kolodjashnij who looks well off top gear, and other than Gawn playing by far his best game of the season there was very little to recommend us. The usual suspects racked up the stats, but unless Supercoach points start being factored into the ladder that's no help. Even worse was how so many of these possessions seemed to be disposed of ASAP, especially by Brayshaw who is one of the great panic kickers. I like him, appreciate him, and will give him votes further down the page but I'd rather we weren't expecting him to get rid of it by foot so often. I just want some silk. Where's Jimmy Toumpas when you need him?

Other than Corey Wagner - fast developing into my favourite of the Wagnii - kicking a pearler to open the quarter, it was much of the same after the break. The difference was Essendon narrowly missing chances and flubbing sitters.

The number of free opposition players when we lose the ball is criminal, so you can't fully blame any defence that has the ball flung at them so often and so quickly. However, you can hold it against them when three players run to one opponent and leave two others on their own in front of goal. All that saved us from total calamity was Zac Clarke refusing to lob the ball over the top to a player on his own and missing, because I might have walked out in disgust.

With the Veil of Negativity about to drop, the next goal inspired several minutes of irresistible, last ditch stranglewank football. The veil was temporarily put back behind the emergency glass as we had Essendon on the run for the only time all night. By the end of the night they may as well have handed out replicas to people streaming from of the ground midway through the last quarter.

After his nightmare evening at full forward in Geelong, Petracca had a much better game this time. Still not great, but better to the point where I no longer want to drop him. Don't know why we persist on playing him as a deep forward when he'd be better suited around half-forward, but it was progress. He flung open the door to the magic minutes by crumbing a Weideman contest to goal out of a pack. Like Truck, I didn't think the Weid was spectacular but he did enough during the night to keep me interested. Generally speaking anyway, my actual commitment to the night, other than the bit where we were kicking goals galore, was about 0.1%

I was definitely awake when Lockhart got his second, and Hunt took advantage of finally being able to play forward by kicking a nice goal. For now this is definitely his best role. Via a false start when Petracca did another shithouse set shot, Harmes put us in front, Weid extended it beyond a goal, then Gawn took a huge mark at the top of the square for the exclamation point. It was a delightful 15 minutes, and even though I could have done without conceding one on the counter right at the end I was having something approaching fun at last.

The problem was, unless we kept scoring it wasn't sustainable. The way we were being sliced up on turnovers and the total chaos of our backline, we were never going to hold them out long enough to win. Even then I could have seen us conceding 130, but was far less confident of scoring that much ourselves. That's 2018 stuff, this is the new era of toil and struggle. I still can't believe we got 112, albeit with an assist to Essendon shutting up shop after the game was won.

In the week where the activities of 2009 became a hot topic again, this was more of a throwback to the glory days of falling in a heap at the start of third quarters under Neeld. I wasn't at all surprised when we conceded in the first minute after the resumption of play. From there it was all downhill for a second time.

The highlight of our latest collapse was undoubtedly ANB setting up a goalscoring chance by dropping a mark cold in the middle of the ground. He wasn't the only one dropping marks, but was lucky the Bombers missed everything with the subsequent kick because otherwise he'd be on all the TV shows. In a salute to whipping boys, the next goal came from Oscar being run around so violently that it's a surprise he didn't wreck his knee changing direction. Another soon followed via Frost being outmarked, and all we lacked was Cale Morton jumping the fence to get involved.

After three quarters of Essendon players sprinting away from ours, Jayden Hunt was the man to save us just as everything looked forlorn. His goal begat one by the Weid, and outrageously we were within four kicks at three quarter time. It wasn't going to require a Round 6, 1992 comeback but was reminiscent of the time we were forced to launch a last quarter revival against their B team in 2016 and lost because we'd left ourselves too much work to do.

With the season on the line, we predictably had a big belt at it to start the final term. From 21 points down, first Harmes kicked a point, then Kolodjashnij nipped forward for a goal that temporarily raised eyebrows. The challenge lasted about two minutes before the piss was further taken out of Frost by nicking him for a shit free and goal.

The rest of it was played in a pressure free environment with enough cheap goals to have the CEO of Channel 7 cracking a full horn. It wasn't good football, but all's well that ends in lots of ads being played. Don't get too sarcastic about the host broadcaster, the way we're going their TV rights money might be the only thing keeping us from another round of deep financial shit.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
Throw a blanket over about 10 players. Nothing to do with the votes, I just don't want to see them.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to nobody.

An early thriller at the top of the leaderboard, as multiple players jostle for footy's equivalent of being the best pilot in a plummeting plane.

7 - Angus Brayshaw, Jake Melksham, Clayton Oliver
5 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Bayley Fritsch, James Harmes, Jack Viney
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Corey Wagner

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Corey Wagner is doing well from me, getting a vote in the first week and now a nomination for the Davey. The finish was good, but my highlight was the gather of a ball going behind him, then turning straight into the shot.
I didn't think he should have been dropped after Round 1, but for the weekly prize Corey wins a trip back to Casey so he can play for a team with some chance of winning.

At first I was right into the mean tweets banner, but started to resent it as the concept spiralled into the biggest comedy session at our expense since that dickhead and his cheese platter. The Reach Foundation do wonderful work, and the concept of stamping out online bullying is sound, but by the time it had become all about players pretending light snarky mentions of their name were hurtful I wavered.

It certainly lost something when they couldn't show the real top shelf XXX stuff like this 2015 classic:

The focus on the effect on players was a misstep. Put the unkind comments on the banner by all means, but wouldn't it have been more powerful to have the players reading actual comments that caused legitimate harm to non-celebrities? People who go well over the top and post totally over the top things should be named and shamed, but there is a world of difference between what a footy player gets, and the 15-year-old kid being cyber bullied until they want to kill themselves that the campaign is actually focusing on.

Footy players, here's a handy guide on how to reduce the amount of negative social media feedback you see:

1) Consider if you need to be on it in the first place, under your real name, with a username that relates to your role as a footy player, and with a bio that identifies you as a player. To quote The Thick Of It, social media is "like opening a door to a room where everyone tells you how shit you are". Accept the fact that people are arseholes and don't open the door.

2) Ok, so you want to be openly on social media as a footy player. Then don't read the comments, and don't look at your mentions. Ever. You're not missing anything.

3) ... and for the love of all that is holy never keyword search your own name, because if you're playing badly you'll find your own fans having a crack, and if you're playing well there'll be an opposition fan reaching deep into the venom file to find something to slander you about. I will defend the rights of players to get offended by comments directed at them, but zero sympathy (except in extreme cases like racism, attacks on family members or the lowest of low-blow personal sledging) for anyone who goes out of their way to find what people are saying about them and doesn't like the results.

Only people who say phrases like "virtue signalling" with a straight face think it actually contributed playing badly, but I was just in a generally bad mood with everything coming out of the club this week so even positive social causes weren't immune. Then we turned in a performance worthy of epic online derision and the whole thing became what the kids would refer to as a meme.

Fortunately, the text for next year's version is already available:
I was ready to declare this a no contest just out of anger and frustration. Then Essendon's banner was complete rubbish anyway, so much like the game that followed the winners get the points by default. 3-0 Dees for the season.
Crowd Watch
A surprisingly low turnout in Level 4 of the Ponsford meant not having to sit in Row MM to get away from people. Which worked a treat until the third quarter when the Justin Bieber Fan Club plonked themselves behind me and proceeded to scream stupid shit for the next quarter and a half, before doing what I would have if I was sensible and leaving midway through the last.

Otherwise there was a lot of unsavoury Essendon fans wearing jumpers (which is fine), with custom names above the numbers (which is not). Including one character was getting about with SUPERSTAR and should be the subject of an intervention from friends and family.

Next Week
Thrice I've tried to convince myself we were going to win only to see a steamy turd delivered. So I'm going the other way and assuming a defeat of somewhere between 49 and 111 points in the spirit of our last three visits to the SCG. If we rediscover the spirit of '06 and stay alive with a win so much the better, but I won't be banking on it.

I bet we don't even do significant changes, but even allowing for our limited remaining depth I'd like to make some significant alterations. First the obvious one...

It must be a P thing, because Preuss is following in the Pedersen and Petterd tradition where I'm just going to call for them to be picked every week until they are, do nothing and get dropped. Selecting him would ignore the available evidence that our forward line actually looked better last night when it was down to the smalls rotating around Weideman, but I don't care because this is now a vendetta about more than footy. Obviously if Tom McDonald is unable to play that cracks open a spot for him.

As for the other two, Frost survives in favour of Oscar only because he's a better matchup for Franklin, and Kolodjashnij needs to go and get a kick at Casey. I've got faith in him being a useful player soon, but it was NQR picking him last week, and now time to rotate somebody else in for their chance. That person is Billy Stretch, whose career is approaching a crucial point and should be given an opportunity to prove himself. If we're allowed to do that now that draft picks are back on the agenda.

IN: Petty, Preuss, Stretch
OUT: Neal-Bullen, Kolodjashnij, O.McDonald (omit)
LUCKY: Frost, J. Wagner
UNLUCKY: Hore, Keilty

Casey play tomorrow, and the only others I can see being in contention are Garlett, Maynard and Sparrow. Garlett especially a massive chance if he has a good game.

Was it worth it?
My word no. I've left plenty of games since Round 1, 2007 in deep misery but never before have I come home so upset with myself for leaving the house. Part of that can be blamed by going home on a train that was sweatier than Jakarta and full to the brim of happy Essendon supporters. I can think of a lot of better ways the full seven hour round trip could have been spent, none involving going to the G to watch rubbish.

I'll be in the same work/lack of sleep situation for the Anzac game, and as we're not the home team it can go piss up a rope. I'm staying home, eating chips and hurling abuse at commentators. Right after that, Demonblog Towers shifts to its 11th location since 2005 and I'll have a slightly more direct trip to the MCG so my willingness to travel to near certain losses should return to '07 - '16 levels. And if it doesn't I might just wrap this whole thing up at the end of the year.

Son of Tankquiry
Remembering a time where Melbourne fans celebrated losing, we trawled through 83 pages of the AFL investigation interview transcripts printed by the Herald so you don't have to. Nothing you didn't already know, except the spectacular degree of contempt Dean Bailey held for Chris Connolly.

Wonder what we get for winning less than five games this year?

Final Thoughts
So Clayton, how would you describe our campaign so far?

Friday, 5 April 2019

Revenge of the Tankquiry

Welcome back, for about the fourth time, the zombie scandal that will never die. Last seriously referenced by Paul Roos in 2014, the decade old shenanigans that landed us the first two picks of the 2009 draft have roared back to life. Completely coincidentally, I'm sure, just as we're pointing backwards for the first time since Roos was appointed transcripts (1 and 2) from the AFL's post Brock McLean On The Couch inquest have been released.

To save you the trouble I've read all 83 pages and summarised the key points below. Full disclosure before we start that I want to believe Bailey over the other two, but there are still holes in his story that make it hard to be absolutely certain of what happened. Besides, the allegations were never tested anywhere other than AFL investigation that had as much credibility as a North Korean show trial so I'm not making any final judgements on what happened. However, what I will say is that I find it hard to believe Bailey would have been so traumatised about his experiences with our administration that he'd risk his future in the industry by dragging an invented story across a number of interviews.

There are no amazing revelations, just enhanced detail on all the stuff that was being leaked to Caroline Wilson mid-enquiry, encouraging her to incorrectly guess we'd be bombed off the face of the planet. It was big laughs at her expense when that didn't happen, but when you read this you do get a sense that we were bloody lucky not to be wiped out.

As you no doubt already know, Bailey reluctantly went along with somebody else's bullshit plan (it should be noted, much to the delight of many fans), but the great debate is whether Chris Connolly and Cameron Schwab ever officially ordered shenanigans or whether the coach felt an implied pressure that he had to deliver the picks to save his and his colleague's jobs. And after reading the lot, I reckon there's even an unconvincing case that nobody actually tanked, and we just followed the development plan that was in place from the start of the year but with a shitload of external noise and scandalous chatter.

What this has done is better clarify some of the sides in the off-field struggles that ended in 186. Looks like Connolly, Schwab and Kelly O'Donnell vs everyone else. It also reaffirms my view that we were bonkers to extend Schwab's contract twice in the years after this, but I can see why Connolly was coincidentally shifted to a non-footy role at the end of 2011.

A summary of the transcripts follow:

First Bailey interview (August 2012)

  • They rarely reference 2008, but when he says development was the priority and winning was a bonus (so far, so like every other pox team ever) I can only assume that was the plan right from the start and not something new after we won the '08 spoon
  • Speaking of 2009, he blamed a raft of pre-season injuries on having to train on a number of different grounds - including Moorabbin.
  • He'd communicated to the board that the first phase of his development plan was getting players fit.
  • It's gentlemen, start your sour comments as he says about Connolly and Schwab "they were coaches those two, the best coaches in the world... some of the greatest football minds in the world". Later says "maybe if they were coaching they might have done a better job than me". Cop that.
  • Says he felt pressure not to win more than five games from administrators, 'outside', and even directly from fans at games. Probably the same dickheads who later discovered email and started hammering
  • In this interview he says he didn't feel as if his contract would be terminated if he didn't do "as he was told". I had to go back and re-read that bit to make sure I hadn't misinterpreted him, but no he actually does say that (refer page 8) before changing his tune in later interviews.
Second Bailey interview (October 2012)
  • Says that after we beat Port (good day out, Jurrah ran riot), Schwab came in to the rooms shaking his head, mumbling something like "we've got to think about the club's future" and claims Connolly said "fucking Jimmy had just fallen out of his bloody hospital bed". This seems to implicate Stynes in any nefarious plan, but surely he had more important things on his mind at the time that getting involved in this bullshit? He did moderately torch Schwab in his book, but then he re-signed him after 186 so hard to decide where he stands.
  • Claims that at the famous Vault meeting on the Monday morning after the Port win, Connolly rocked in, picked up a texta (Whiteboard Monday) and wrote "Scully" and "Trengove".
  • Mentions Connolly and Schwab "rang each other about 20 times a day". Don't forget that under our football structure, Bailey reported to Connolly - one of the people he'd beaten for the job.
  • Now says he felt his job was on the line if we didn't get the draft picks, then says "I was threatened if we don't get it, I wouldn't have a job, even though I was contracted for next year". No hard evidence provided on how the threat was delivered, where and by who.
  • Late in 2011 - specifically the Carlton game - we rested players under the guise of being 'injured'. Somebody leaked this fact to the investigators, and Bailey says he has no idea who did that. In a later interview he says they would have been rested anyway but it would have been too scandalous to openly say that.

Third Bailey interview (November 2012):

  • Bailey says Connolly threatened him with the sack if he won too many games, and Schwab leaned heavily on him by saying things like "the future of the club is in your hands" but never accuses him of pressure in anywhere near the same terms as he does Cuddles.
  • At the time of the original Tankquiry there were suggestions that Connolly's pro-tanking comments in The Vault were a joke that had been misinterpreted or misunderstood. In the transcripts published, nobody ever references the comments as being anything other than serious. On the other hand, Bailey suggested he "exploded and erupted".
  • Says nobody ever flat out told him "don't win games or you'll be sacked", but claims Connolly was mind-blowingly cavalier during the year about the prospect of priority picks
  • Quite rightly suggests that before Round 15 our level of experimentation was appropriate for a developing (e.g. rubbish) team but that it went haywire after Round 15. There's a surprise SME reference, when his appearances as a back, forward and ruck are cited as legal random shit we'd done earlier in the year.
  • By this time the AFL investigator is obviously sick of the whole thing, and tries his best to lead the witness. He's never handed the smoking gun he's dying for. Bailey claims he and other staff were the subject of "bullying and harassment" and flat out says "I was threatened" but doesn't go into any further depth.  
  • The investigator suggests Connolly said "You will be sacked if you win too many games", and Bailey replies "yes, absolutely", and that's why they ramped up the experimentation. Flat out says he never threw games or instructed players to lose.
  • There are multiple references across the interviews with coaching staff to players prematurely being packed away for surgery. I'm not buying this as a massive factor, of the players who didn't make it to the end of the year the only established best 22 players were Green (out after Round 16 with a broken hand), Warnock (injured after Round 18), Bruce (out after Round 19). Grimes was also out after Round 18, but knowing his record he was probably legitimately crocked. We had plenty of quality (relatively speaking) left in the side beyond those three so don't know how much difference it would have made.
  • Bailey is presented the interchange numbers for the year, showing them dropping after the Port game, picking up again for the win over Freo, then going downhill again. He wonders if injuries were involved but concedes they were lower than usual. This angle - and how much control the coach had over it - deserved more scrutiny
  • For his part, the coach chucks another bomb at Connolly, suggesting he "basically ran the bench", and sent reports back that players couldn't return to the game because they were injured. He says "Chris was very controlling during that period", and that he thought it was odd that he'd be making decisions on injured players rather than doctors. He cites a particular game where the SME was supposedly unable to go back on due to injury but ended up with no actual injury symptoms after the game. Wondering if this was the famous Jordan McMahon game where only played 36% game time.
  • Asked if these decreased rotations would have harmed performance, Bailey concedes it would. When it's put to him that he was doing it to "satisfy" Connolly and Schwab he said "Chris was in control, so he was satisfying himself". He hypothesises that Connolly would report to Schwab, and that he had to make sure the handbrake was applied himself because he didn't trust the coaches to do it.
  • It's put to Bailey that Connolly said he was never on the bench or had a matchday role in 2009, to which he is incredulous and says "that's a lie. I'm sure you could find vision of him sitting on the bench". Which I suppose you could, I might watch that sick one point Brisbane win again and see if he's captured directing traffic. Maybe he only went down there 'later' in the season.
  • Connolly is also said to have no involvement in match committee, to which Bailey replies "Did you ask him how many times he walked in and out of match committee?" It's suggested Connolly would duck in and out of meetings offering suggestions, including post-game reviews.
  • When it's further put to him that Connolly said he "never interfered in how the team was coached or managed", Bailey says "Unfortunately for Chris, you could line up 100 people out the door. All would tell you it was a lie. Seriously, out of control" and "I can't wait for the next rock to be lifted and there will be another story. He wanted a statue built. How he saved the Melbourne Footy Club". Rowr.
  • Bailey suggests Connolly might have been pressuring players behind his back, and that he didn't think he could coach. Who'd have thought that giving the bloke who missed the coaching job a consolation prize might come back to haunt us?
  • Round 21 is the second most referenced game behind Richmond. Surprisingly the last round against St Kilda, where we arguably did more suspect shit, is barely touched on. Mention is made of Nathan Jones being dropped for the Carlton game to give 'somebody else' a go (probably Jordie McKenzie, he came back after three weeks out for his second) game and playing Matthew Whelan in the last three games just to get him to 150. Sadly there's never one reference to him having such a rooted hammy in the last game that he could barely run, let alone kick the footy.
  • He's given the injury list for the Carlton game and effectively asked if it was legitimate. He says he had no reason to doubt the doctor's opinion, but is confronted with official injury lists that show players who aren't on the doctor's list. Says he had nothing to do with the official injury list as submitted to AFL/media and that it was controlled by Connolly.
  • The investigator sticks the boots in to the Tim Ruffles powered 2009 Fremantle Dockers by suggesting "you couldn't lose that match", then points out the team changes between that game and Carlton a week later (IN: Valenti, McKenzie, Whelan + Jamar late, OUT: Bartram, Dunn, Miller + Jones late - all of who came back a week later) and suggests something suss was going on. There certainly was, Jamar kicking five.
  • When asked how much Schwab knew, he suggests that Connolly wouldn't have been able to restrain himself from telling people what he was doing. Says Schwab and Connolly were "thick as thieves" and always talking to each other.
  • Asked if he considered going to others (football director Andrew Leoncelli is mentioned by name) and revealing he felt threatened Bailey says he should have but felt like the 'process' had the tacit approval of the board so what good would it have done. 
  • He was contracted through 2010, but believed his job was in danger if we didn't get the priority pick. There's something to this, it wouldn't have been hard to convince people to chuck him pretty quickly the season following dual wooden spoons. At that stage nobody saw us becoming a downright reasonable team in 2010, so I can understand his concern. Still, you'd think they'd have had too much to lose to rush forcing him out and give him the chance to spill the beans on what was going on.
  • So, for this reason it's no surprise that when offered a one year extension to the end of 2011 (nearly made it) he jumped at it. He didn't even negotiate on salary, just taking what they offered to get an extra year of security. Nobody ever insinuates it was a payoff (either said or unsaid) for keeping quiet, but even if we were in an acknowledged development phase it's hard to understand what the hurry was to lock away a guy who'd just presided over a pair of spoons. Sure, you don't want season three to be played out against a media sacking frenzy, but it would have been less suss if they'd waited until early in the season instead of doing it in February.
  • It's obvious that he didn't like Schwab, but despised Connolly. They talk about a meeting in early 2010 where Connolly supposedly went off on him nearly costing us the picks. Bailey says he was told: "You almost fucked it up, you and your fucking persistence, fucking know everything and you fucking almost fucked it up". Which is just how you want your 
  • Around the same time of the "you fucking almost fucked it up" story they talk about a newspaper story suggesting Connolly had been meeting with players, Bailey all but says Connolly gave it to the papers himself. Given that the club was leaking like a sieve at the time it could have come from anyone. Most of the leaks were going straight to Caro, but I can't find this article online so must have been in the Herald Sun. Anyone got a copy?
And that's all from Bails. All that has been released anyway. Now, on to the 58 pages of interviews with other identities. These are heavily edited, so some context may be missed. If you're well connected feel free to send me more documents. 
  • Brock McLean 
    • Consistent with the comments that kicked this whole farrago off, he says players were never instructed to play badly but thought putting them in random positions wasn't good for the team. Felt development was being prioritised over winning, and could understand the general concept but believed he was past that stage and wanted to win
    • Speculates that Bailey was put in an uncomfortable position by 'others'
  • The non-Choke Yourself With A Tie Mark Williams. Who provided such quality content he got interviewed four times.
    • Plays an admirable straight bat - saying we won "either four or five games". Mate, if we won five we wouldn't be in this situation.
    • Says the goal in 2009 was to get players into young games and build bodies
    • Players were told upfront that we were going to "develop the flexibility of playing group" by trying them in alternative positions
    • Denies the famous Paul Johnson vs Nathan Brown matchup was a rort by suggesting Johnson was only covering for somebody else for two minutes. Also says he'd spent six months trying to convince Bailey to play Warnock forward (as he had for Sandringham). Strange that they never did it again after this game to try and make it look less suss.
    • Understandably says there was no feeling Bailey or the other assistants weren't trying their best
    • Says Connolly spoke about priority picks "a lot", and that coaches would reference them as "his baby" Williams got the impression Connolly was trying to interfere with coaching decisions.
    • He was insulted by Connolly's purported actions in the Vault. Said he would come into meetings, "shoot his mouth off", then leave and that the coaches were "really pissed off". Credits Bailey with being "fantastic" and saying that they'd continue following their own development plan despite the pressure. The other coaches looked to Bailey for leadership about what they'd do next after Round 15. Says there was probably a lot more going on but Bailey shielded them from it.
    • "Wouldn't be astounded" if Connolly came up with the plan to score priority picks, but would be astounded if he was "trying to influence the whole thing by himself". And we all know who that's implicating.
    • Suggests Bailey was told he'd be sacked if we didn't get the picks - but doesn't offer any evidence of where and when this was supposed to have happened. Said Bailey was "under the pump to experiment".
  • Josh Mahoney - about the only person involved in this who has something to lose from it being dredged up.
    • Said the focus was on developmen and that we"weren't good enough at times to win games". He didn't feel pressure from above to lose, and never asked Bailey if he was getting any.
    • Says he felt like we wanted to win all the time. References Garland and Rivers playing forward in 2012 as an example of strange moves paying off.
    • Whoever was typing up the notes fell into the trap that has befallen so many Melbourne fans and talks about "Jarrah". Shame they never had to have a go at Wonaeamirri. The investigstor references Jurrah kicking three goals against Richmond, confusing it with the last round against St Kilda. Possibly due to this confusion they never reference the excessive time he spent on the bench in that game after kicking the goals.
    • Says he had a post-Vault conversation with Bailey where he asked "are you comfortable with this?" and the coach said words to the effect of "We have to do what we've got to do". Understandably Bailey never mentions this, as it wouldn't help his argument that he was carrying on regardless of what anyone else thought.
  • Chris Connolly
    • Cites Jamar going forward and kicking five against Carlton as a win for the development program. Which is iffy because he was a late replacement, and a big part of the case for the defence rests on us not pulling random, unnecessary late changes. He points out Jamar later became an All-Australian. Yeah, but not as a full forward
    • Says he 'rarely' went to match committee, never had a matchday role and rarely went to training due to doing 'club activities'. The matchday role bit is a massive conflict with Bailey's testimony
    • Asked if the priority pick factored into our strategies at the start of the year he says "Absolutely not. A hundred per cent not"
    • Suggests that the lowered interchange numbers were because they wanted to "maintain our energy out on the field" and talks like that was his idea
    • Says he didn't observe anything to suggest Bailey coaching to lose and denies ever having a conversation with Bailey, Schwab or any other executives about priority picks.
    • Nobody raised concerns with him about playing or being coached to lose
    • A quote attributed to him in The Vault was "We're all going to be out of a job, the Zulus are going to be coming over the hill, we're all gonna look like idiots, this has got to happen".
    • Denies threatening Bailey's job, and when asked if he thinks Bails hates him so much he'd effectively suicide bomb him his career just to get vengeance he says "yeah".
    • Denies spraying Bailey at the 2010 meeting
    • Claims Bailey tried to get him sacked, including going to the board and accuses him of leaking to the media. Doesn't say when, but this fits neatly into the 2011 Andrews Report era chaos. Any danger of that scathing, and as it turns out pretty much ignored, document getting released next?
  • David Dunbar
    • Development phase gets another mention. Says his role all year was observing opposition clubs, which is a nice way of taking the heat off yourself for what the people that employ you did
    • Didn't feel Bailey was under pressure to lose
    • There's a reference here to an earlier Bailey interview where players came to him to express concern about whether the club was trying to win games.
    • Paul Johnson on Nathan Brown and Frawley/Warnock forward gets another run
    • Says no senior managers or administrators came into the box Ted Parker style during the Richmond game. It's not clarified if they were there to start with.
    • Is the most guarded about The Vault, saying he felt it was more a case of everyone getting the boot if we continued to be shite rather than anything to do with the tanking.
  • Kelly O'Donnell
    • View was to try and get games into required players and create midfield depth  Then we drafted two top midfielders and still had the worst crop in the league three years later.
    • Says there was no evidence coaches weren't trying to win. Blames long term injuries
    • Never discussed pressure to lose with Bailey.
    • The notes say he "denies The Vault meeting took place", but right under that there's a comment that "I can't recall him (Connolly) saying we had to lose games" which I guess is a reference to general conversation rather than the meeting he doesn't recall.
  • Cameron Schwab
    • Says it was a full list rebuild and praises Bailey for his commitment to getting games into players.
    • When asked how often he met Bailey to discuss the team and coaching he responds with a smart-arse "Not as often as you would hope"
    • Says he never instructed Bailey not to win five matches but did discuss priority picks with Bailey and the perception that they might be seen to be tanking
    • Says nobody in the club was suggesting to play for picks
    • Admits he was in the coaches' box for the Richmond game, but clarifies it was the 'stats' box
    • Admits he knew there would be 'noise' about the Richmond game because "we had Melbourne supporters who were going to the game hoping we'd lose". And those people went home chuffed.
    • There's an unfortunate edit here just as it gets interesting. When asked about him thinking Bailey was "courageous" about the rebuild his response about him being sacked was "the club fell to pieces" but it cuts off there before we can get any insight into 186. 
    • Refers to the suggestion the post-Round 15 tanking was under his instruction as "crap"
    • Also calls "crap" on the claim he was glum after beating Port and said something like "you've got to remember where we're going to get at the end of the year". Says he is "hurt and offended" by the suggestion
    • Bailey's performance appraisal was done jointly between Schwab and Connolly. That must have been fun for all involved.
  • Barry Prendergast
    • Admits they discussed what you'd do with the priority pick, but says nobody ever said they'd play for it.
    • Describes the top two selections as "critically important" for the club
    • Says nothing ever made him suspicious that team was tanking
    • Is specifically asked if he knows what 'The Vault' is and says yes.
    • Felt Bailey didn't want to go along with the tanking
    • First and only mention of Bailey saying something about wanting to "see everyone's hand in a bucket of shit", and believed everyone would be fired if they didn't go along with the tank
  • James McDonald
    • Plays one of the straightest bats ever and gives the investigator NOTHING. One word "no" answers and a lot of "I can't recall". Good on him.
    • Says he wasn't aware of the players approaching Bailey, as claimed by the coach
  • James Frawley
    • Wasn't aware of players approaching Bailey either
    • Thought playing forward against Richmond was unusual but never heard anyone say they wanted to win less than five games
  • Paul Johnson
    • Priority picks never discussed among playing group or coaches.
    • Said he "noticed a change" in Bailey "through the season" but there's an edit and they don't give any further context 
    • Didn't think anything of playing on Brown and never questioned it
  • Sean Wellman
    • Had a feeling that Bailey was being pressured to lose games, but had no proof. Felt the message from Connolly at the meeting was clear, and pro-priority pick
    • Understood the "aggressive long-term view" to rebuilding the list and cites Geelong. Who haven't finished in the bottom two since 1975 or last since 1958. So not the best comparison but bless him for having a go.
    • Says a few players came to him with concerns about position changes (presumably against Richmond)
    • Can't remember Bailey ever complaining, but says he was "fairly agitated"
  • Andrew Leoncelli
    • "There's no way it's humanly possible for him (Bailey) to have not tried to win", which I think is a compliment
    • Says playing for picks never discussed at board level. Everyone is polite enough not to drag the reputation of the late Jim Stynes through the mud by asking if he knew anything
    • Amusing said Bailey "inherited possibly the worst bunch of players that nearly ever run out on the MCG"
  • Andrew Daff
    • Says he couldn't remember anything about a meeting where Connolly allegedly told everyone they had to tank. The investigator doesn't think much about that line of defence, only for Daff to say he can't even remember if he was present. Personally I can't see why a doctor would have been there.
    • Says "the coach looked disappointed even though we were in front" against Richmond. As opposed to all the other times when Bails was wearing a beaming smile while coaching?
    • Never directly requested to rest somebody unnecessarily
  • Joel Hocking
    • Discussed a three to four year plan to develop players starting in 2009
    • Says emphasis was on improving "everything" because "we were starting at the bottom"
    • Says the training regime was consistent all year and not altered towards end of season
    • More discussion of the meeting. Suggestion that Mark Williams was most emotional about Connolly's comments, and that Bailey was trying to draw Connolly into being more direct about what he was saying
    • Alleged Connolly said "people's jobs were on the line" at the meeting.
  • Ian Flack
    • Says Schwab had "negative" body language in the rooms after beating Port Adelaide
    • Adds more weight to the Vault story, saying Connolly mentioned "everyone's job was on the line if we didn't make it happen". Believed it was a directive not to win more than four games
    • Stood out to him that Bailey wasn't happy and wasn't participating in the discussion
    • Puts Kelly O'Donnell in it by saying he was the only person other than Connolly who ever mentioned the priority picks and suggests there was pressure on him to report back to Connolly if the rest of them weren't following the plan.
    • Mentions "CEO's in the box asking questions" during the Richmond game. So, now we've had Schwab not there, in a separate stats box, and this implication that he was right in the mix
    • Says both Connolly and Kelly O'Donnell had been in the box during games, making decisions about if players could continue after being 'injured'. This is consistent with what we heard earlier, but now with them doing it from the box not the boundary line
    • Our first mention of the famous Red and Blueprint, but the paragraph (end page 37) is so confusing I can't work out what he's trying to say. Says he expressed a desire to Connolly to debate the strategy with Schwab but doesn't appear to have happened.
  • Scott West - trying to understand how he went from winning seven straight best and fairests to this:
    • About the Vault meeting, he says Connolly interrupted "which is not uncommon" and gave his opinion on how many games we should win
    • Reiterates what others have said about Bailey being disengaged during the meeting
    • Connolly never said to tank, but West read between the lines that it was what was expected to happen
  • Craig Notman
    • Suggested that the five players taken out of the side against Carlton under the guise of injury was to give other players opportunities.
    • Believed Connolly and Schwab were "pushing people into situations" they weren't comfortable with, and that Bailey was backed into a corner.
    • Makes a topical (in 2012) reference to "players going to the point to try and remove a CEO". And how did we handle that? By extending his contract of course.
  • Don McLardy
    • Obviously didn't deliver much of value because his contribution has been cut to one question saying he didn't have knowledge of The Vault meeting, and that Dean was a decent, good man.
In a way it's telling that the majority of the people in the coaches/players camp listed above left by the end of 2011. In another way we'd just had a coach sacked and lost a game by 31 goals so you can't be surprised at a mass evacuation - just a bit suss that everyone in the other group lived to fight another day.

So, after all that my TL:DR reading of events is:
  • Knowing we'd be rubbish, and with a bunch of injuries to deal with early in the year, 2009 was expected to be a development season. I assume they didn't think we could win four games even if we were trying. 
  • The back-to-back West Coast/Port wins and the upcoming free kick against the Dockers  seemed to cause a panic reaction and emergency application of the handbrake. This was not an artful long term conspiracy, but a ham-fisted, last minute effort at achieving what 'they' thought was the secret to our success
  • I can certainly understand how it was found to be the action of rogue individuals and not the club itself. There's not a cracker of evidence in what was released yesterday to suggest that it was a widespread conspiracy, and in retrospect I suppose the $500,000 fine was fair enough sanction for everyone seemingly knowing something was afoot (though they all had their eyes open to degrees on what was really happening) and nobody doing anything to stop it...
  • ... but however guilty we are, what does it say about the AFL that they saw everything that happened against Richmond and yet we were still allowed to be pulling suspicious moves weeks later. I doubt they interviewed their own people, but I'd love know if anyone from the league at least picked up the phone in the wake of that loss and said "this looks shithouse, what are you up to?" and issued a few threats about sanctions if we didn't stop being so obvious about 'development'. No bloody wonder they covered it up twice when their inaction enabled everything that happened from the moment Jordan McMahon kicked his goal until the final siren of Round 22
  • Based on the transcripts only I can see why Connolly went down. Again, what actually happened I don't know but he was certainly paying for being in the minority faction of the war. Fortunately for him, once the Teflon Don Garry Lyon turned up at the end of 2011 he and Schwab were back in business. 
  • Bailey, on the other hand, obviously had to go as he was the leader of record of the team but I wonder how far - just based on what's been released - he would have got challenging his own sanction in court. There is still no concrete evidence that he actually chucked games. The interchange numbers are almost the most damning stat, but he's got a half-convincing cover story. He's certainly guilty of not blowing the whistle, but by the sounds of it what would have blown it on? Unless he could have tricked somebody into writing it down or done CIA style secret recordings inside the Vault it would have been career suicide. At least this way he got another job instead of being blackballed and bricked in the street by fans who were 100% horny for Scullgove.
  • I've always wondered how Schwab got away without sanctions, and this goes some way to answering my question. He clearly retains a distance from the main controversy. On the other hand, how he kept escaping with his job I don't know.
  • We don't know enough about Stynes and McLardy's involvement due to one being deceased and the other having his testimony cut down to 10% of a page, but for everything Leoncelli said about the board not being involved surely somebody would have thought "christ, this doesn't look good for us" and would have a word to the coach. Maybe they did it through the CEO instead and that's why it went nowhere?
  • For all the moral turmoil now and Connolly being held up as the bad guy, let's not forget that if you flash back to Round 16, 2009 his stance would be considered revolutionary by most fans. 'We' wanted the tanking, we got it. Just that people thought it was an artfully constructed scheme, not a seat-of-the-pants panic session.
Anyway that, until the inevitable extra leaks on Monday if the story gets any traction today and the living certainty of a snarky Caro column in The Age, is that. You can also expect a couple of old players to be dragged out for comment (1), as well as Paul Gardner sticking his nose in again even though he was long out the door by the time this happened.

My highlight has been the people making anguished cries that we should be retrospectively wiped out for our crimes. This ignores that the leaked documents were part of the investigation that the Andrew Demetriou led administration used to conveniently sweep the issue under the rug in early 2013. The $500,000 not guilty tax and a couple of token suspensions was a ripping result for a club that would have struggled to survive apocalyptic penalties and we thank him for his help.

Never forget:

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Let thine eyes with horror stare into that vast perpetual torture-house

If you're short of time, the story of Saturday night is best described by the Kardinia Park sponsor with the slogan A NEW HELL BEGINS. The only minor consolation was not wasting my time going to Geelong and standing in the rain for three hours to see it live.

There's also good news for Tony Abbott, as climate change is off the hook for last week's Preliminary Final hangover. We were no good in the hot afternoon sun, but even worse in the evening rain. I'd like to try again on a mild day in the dry just to be sure, but we may actually be a team for no seasons.

The disappointment of last week was discreetly covered up under the assumption that like 2013, Port Adelaide might be unexpectedly good. Then they instantly put the value of that result into question by barely beating Carlton at home (can't play Melbourne every week...), while our system went into meltdown like it had contracted a computer virus, and season 2019 was thrown into the bay with a cinderblock attached to its ankles. Farewell top 4, 5, 6 and 7. I cling to outside hope of eighth to keep myself getting up in the morning.

Given that we've only made finals 13/48 times since the 22 game season was introduced no surprise that our record after starting 0-2 is putrid. The only successful revival was in 2006, when we just pulled out of an 0-3 hole via a thriller at the SCG (and guess where we might go with an 0-3 record in two weeks?), won 13.5 games and a final. That year was so bonkers that we went on an 11/12 run and sat third mid-year before the wheels fell off again. At this stage of 2019 I'd be comfortable with any script that finishes with "... and a final".

With no competing priorities, I could easily have gone to Charnel House Stadium, but given that we held a 2-1-18 record there during my supporting life the high percentage option was to stay in and be miserable in the security of my own home. I think I've done my time at that ground, being soaked through on that godforsaken terrace as we kicked four goals in 2013, seeing every minute of 111 and 186 point losses, then last year copping a fisting from an opposite direction after the siren. Can't see a scenario in which I'd go there again, and in this case it turned out to be the best footy viewing decision since skiving off in the middle of work to see us take out our post-tanking frustrations on Freo in 2009.

An 80 point margin would suggest your garden variety thrashing, and while it was our worst defeat since Roos' finale on the same ground there were statistical anomalies that will appear in Champion Data trainee textbooks for years to come. As you'd be well aware I love stats, and desire to spend my days working with them, but this is the night where the basic package of footy numbers were dismissed as a fraud.

I'm sure there are advanced measurements that can explain what happened and predict what comes next, but we proved the handful of figures that fans and media obsess over are a spent force. We had less disposals, narrowly fewer contested possessions, and lost the free kick count, but otherwise had more clearances (+6 from the centre, +4 from stoppages), tackles (+3), hitouts (+19), the same number of forward marks, and most outrageously misleading of all in a game we lost by 14 goals - 73 (seventy three, LXXIII, the atomic number of tantalum) inside 50s to 48.

The worst statistics in the game are hitouts and inside 50s, because both are useless without understanding they context they happened in. Hitouts to advantage goes some way to clearing that one up, but inside 50s is still just a lump sum that means bugger all on its own. In our case maybe three were at a leading forward and the other 70 were either passes to the boundary, hit and hope bombs, or balls that limped over the 50 metre line without ever posing a threat. Still, when you beat a previous record low mark by five full goals you know that - as the kids would say - shit is fucked.
That goes to show no matter how good your midfield is, bad things are going to happen when your forward structure doesn't convert and the defenders are still getting about like they're badly traumatised. Both structures were equally as wonky last year too, but contested possession propped us up long enough to launch a four week run of magic that we'll have to accept as a substitute for never winning a flag.

Kicking 25 goals more than anyone else in the competition and flogging a few also rans was tremendous fun, and it helped sweep our wasteful forward play under the rug. Now 17 teams have had a summer to study our brute force methods and come up with the revolutionary counter move of sticking players in front of our forwards and not letting them get the ball. Don't bother picketing against Goodwin, he's not going anywhere for a few years, look to Richmond's pre-premiership example and pile in unmercifully on the assistants in the hope that a refresh might solve everything. Even if, like me, you're not entirely sure what their roles or responsibilities are.

It might help if we played the tall forwards in attack, instead of McSizzle and Weideman roaming up the ground and aiming kicks at Melksham and Petracca. Milkshake has done as well as humanly possible to make something of this madness over the last fortnight, whereas Truck looks like he wants to slash his wrists. Opposition tactics obviously play a big part, but how did we up with Geelong turning our forward line around 180 degrees so the big forwards were delivering to the medium size players? I hate to think what would have happened to Spargo if we'd played him.

In the Sydney game on Friday night there was one of the most sensual forward moves you'll ever see, with a player marking in the middle of the ground and instantly turning to put a pass right on the teet of the forward he knew would be leading down the middle of the 50. For what gets me going it was far more attractive than the goal of the year mystery snag Franklin kicked from the boundary line minutes earlier. We can do this. We did it several times last year, and now that everyone's onto our bulldozer approach we'll have to try it again. What happened to the noble art of chipping it around a few times to open up the 50? Is there that little faith in retaining the ball that we'd prefer to just whack it long and pray for a miracle? That is an unattractive turn of events.

Our impotent start to the year hasn't changed my mind on trading Hogan - even if it did turn into a red and blue spot special discount giveaway so we could shift his personal issues onto somebody else - but my worst nightmares about him being gone are coming true. Everyone's used to McDonald as a forward now so the surprise element is gone, and while he's still capable of doing damage if he gets the ball in hand we've got to create the space that allows that to happen. We've also got to get the Weid into the game more and/or devise an avenue to goal that doesn't involve carpet bombing the 50 and hoping for the best or this season is one flush away from going down the toilet.

Another reason the inside 50s were so misleading is because the ball constantly flung in and out of our attack while we were failing to score from kicks the opposition could see coming like they've cracked our code books and are intercepting radio transmissions from midfielders to forwards. Then there's Petracca, more often than not left alone inside 50 while the talls are for some reason kicking it towards him, having a shocker and inviting unkind comparisons with the rampant Jordan De Goey. In a further blow for statistics his numbers read like a good game, but it was not. Seven tackles were welcome, but he looked miles off making an attacking impact. If this season is going to fizz out I'd rather we made the required statement and shipped him off for a spell at Casey rather than crossing our fingers and praying he'll somehow kick five next week.

I'll accept not picking Preuss this week because of weather concerns, but if somebody had access to a long-range forecast it obviously didn't influence the selection of defenders. May came in (and looks like going straight back out again), but christ knows why we persisted with two other tall defenders when a) there was a high probability of rain, and b) Geelong's forward line consisted of Tom Hawkins and small/mid-sized forwards galore.

May on Ablett at the first bounce might have been something to do with 666 but it didn't fill me with confidence about our matchups. I've already given up on the idea of throwing defence out the window and winning the type of goal-heavy shootouts that would give Channel 7's CEO a reason to live, and would really like to start keeping opposition scores down again.

I'd already have dropped one of Frost or Oscar and kept Hore, but when it became clear on the day that it was likely going to rain I'd rather have shoehorned Spargo back into the side. Hore was kept out of the Reserves practice match as the carry-over emergency, I suppose just in case we needed yet another defender. The result of our top heavy defence was Hawkins only kicking two (morally three considering he patronisingly gave one away) and everyone else under the sun taking advantage of holes in our backline so big you could fly an Airbus through to chip in for a couple.

Yet somehow despite all this we had more inside 50s than 23/25 games last year (and the other two were both thrashings), which if nothing else goes to show we have players who can get the ball. Now to get them moving it with some poise, not like they've been told it will explode if they hold onto it for more than a second.

Chief amongst the accumulators was the dear old Hamburglar himself, a midfielder for the ages whose 44 possessions were the most ever recorded by a Melbourne player not called Greg Wells. Who ditched out on us mid-season when it became clear we were never going to win anything and walked straight into a flag at Carlton. But while Oliver is racking up touches what's happening elsewhere? I love Brayshaw but his disposal is ropey, and Harmes is whole-hearted but wasn't much better with the ball last night. I expect Kolodjashnij was picked to play on 'the outside', where he subsequently recorded the second lowest disposal tally of his career. What possessed them to pick him on the back of one Casey practice game after they saw how Viney and Jones (both improved, especially Viney) went last week is beyond me.

Further to the total state of anarchy that we seemed to be in were allegations about choosing to kick into the wind in the first quarter, only to watch it drop off by the time the second started. I'd dispute any suggestion that this was solely to blame for the minutes of madness in the opening term that left us in tatters, but if true it's hard to understand where we earned the right to try cute manoeuvres. This club has been a bastion of conservatism for 160 years, 0-1 and at a ground that attacks us like poison gas was no time to start being radical.

That aside, the first 15 minutes of the opening quarter was the only time where we looked even moderately threatening in attack. Of course in an unwanted throwback to AFLW season, all the early chances were killed off without scoring, and when May welcomed himself to Melbourne with a turnover that came back to our old nemesis Hawkins for the first goal I thought "oh Jesus, here we go again". As did May I expect, currently having as good a start to 2019 as his mum Teresa. He and Kolodjashnij must have looked at each other in the rooms after the game and shared an unsaid acknowledgement that this wasn't the escape from misery they'd counted on.

There was a short period where we looked not only Geelong's equal, but capable of kicking a winning score. Like we did in regulation time at the same ground last year, before pissing it all away by treating defence as optional in the final seconds. McSizzle had one of his few opportunities for the night and missed a quick snap, before Weideman got our first from a tap in after a pass that could have gone anywhere. It was the sort of night where we were so sketchy in attack that you'd expect most of our goals to come from goalmouth scrambles, but we couldn't even create those. Later we conceded a goal toe-poked from a foot out with our backline camped everywhere around the square except where it countered.

Jay Lockhart then made a mockery of being added to our list 15 days ago (surely the latest we've recruited a player since Les Parish joined from Fitzroy in mid-1985) by running around his opponent like the Road Runner wrong-footing Wile. E Coyote to kick a fantastic goal and we were more than six points ahead. That moment of high excitement was quite literally as good as it got. Next thing some bloke called 'Gryan' (the only obvious explanation is that G is right above B on the keyboard) who had support Australian hip hop hair like the second coming of Ben Nason kicked a simple goal and disarray mode was activated.

The rest of the night was a parade of us kicking inside a forward 50 more crowded than a Tokyo train, then seeing the ball shot back as if fired from a mortar into a Geelong forward line where players were queued up waiting for the cheap handball and goal. An alternative route to purgatory was provided by Bayley Fritsch gifting Selwood a shot from the boundary by kicking on the full. I was hoping he'd be confused by getting a free that didn't involve ducking into a high tackle but alas no, and through it went. The last two goals of the quarter came from the ball bouncing around loose in our forward line, leaving me Googling for the name of our defensive coach so I could launch a campaign to drive him out along with his forward counterpart.

As steady rain began to increase the degree of difficulty for a comeback, conceding another in the dying seconds was what killed us off. I could have seen us coming back from three goals down, but the low intensity way they got the last compared to how hard we were working just to create half chances was all I needed to know about our chances of getting back into it. As was Petracca dropping a mark that would have left him with a shot after the siren. Usually that would only have cost us a point, but it was in the same area he kicked a set shot last week so who knows what greatness it may have generated. As it was his night died a terrible death from there.

The trauma of the last 45 minutes made me forget the second quarter was actually only one goal each. Sure, ours didn't come until we'd endured 20 minutes of pressure and missed opportunities but Geelong's goals late in the first quarter meant that when they got the first of the term we were rooted. It doesn't say much for our new look backline (at least the interim new look backline until Lever comes back in about 2024) that the period where we conceded the least goals coincided with May hobbling off into a Kardinia Park broom closet for treatment. I'm not laying the blame on him by any means, and believe he may have been requesting a psychological assessment after choosing to join us instead of Collingwood.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, Brayshaw wound up on the ground after convening a session of the Frequently Fractured Society by colliding with Gary Rohan. In a reversal of fortune Rohan came out of it with a head injury, and Brayshaw a sore leg. Unfortunately for both Gus and May they had to come back instead of getting a head start on traffic, via Gus having a furious session on an exercise bike where he was pictured turning back an offer of salt and vinegar chips from a fan. Most players would have ignored the bloke, but because we're a higher class of people he politely declined, probably wary of them being spiked with opium and costing him a 12 month ban.

May returned looking proppy (cliche!) and lasted until three quarter time before succumbing. We must have learnt out lesson from running Joel Smith into the ground for no reason against Brisbane and chose to leave him on the bench looking thoroughly gloomy for the rest of the game. The only thing that would have raised his spirits would have been if a Brisbane player wandered past and he'd have stuck out a good leg to trip them.

Melksham should get a bravery medal for what he's done in that dysfunctional forward line the last two weeks, and his crumbed goal just before the half kept us clinging on through the break by our fingertips. I still had more faith that we'd broker peace in the Middle East than win, but it provided some motivation to hang around until the second half instead of going outside and digging until I found high voltage underground wires.

Should have got the shovel out. Compared to, say, the Bulldogs coming from five goals down in the last quarter against Hawthorn (suck shit $cully), our hopes of coming back to life were not aided by one of the most remarkable examples of wasted dominance you're ever going to see. For more than one reason it brought this to mind:

Never before has a team done so much attacking in a short period of time without scoring a goal, only to instantly roll over and concede about six in a row immediately afterwards. Melksham turned a kick from the pocket into zero points, Weideman wasted Jetta's bravery in almost killing himself in a collision, a kick to a fully outstretched Clayton Oliver expected he was going to take a towering overhead mark and Brayshaw stormed out of the middle and trying to have a shot because he had as much faith in the forwards as the rest of us. It was undignified.

On the other hand, Geelong always had a player on the outside of forward 50 contests because they knew we'd over-commit multiple players to the ball, and benefited from the Hibberd debacle when he fumbled into the path of Selwood on the line. Cats players were all but taking numbers and waiting for their turn to kick one without breaking a sweat. It was putrid, another goalless quarter to go alongside the scoreless end to Round 1. The common thread in both has been criminally wasted opportunities before the the other lot came to their senses and pulverised us.

It was the sort of unholy struggle I remember from early season games a few years ago. What a dickhead for thinking we'd turned the corner, though if you look back now and remove the "everything's going to be ok" glasses maybe it was always going to happen. Obviously they didn't mean for half the list to have off-season surgery, and would have packed a few off midway through last year if we weren't a live finals chance. Pre-season injuries haven't helped either. Alternatively, maybe we're still good enough to generate a massive number of attacking opportunities but just stuffed them up due to being panicky idiots.

Speaking of panicky idiots, we also became the first team in AFL history to give away a penalty for botching the 666 starting positions. There's been plenty of warnings dished out so far, but everyone's taken notice except us. In a great piece of slowing the game down they then had ensure everyone went back to their rightful positions before Geelong could play on. Remember when we thought the new rules were going to play right into our hands? Who would have thought the absence of runners would lead to our already dodgy on-field leadership getting even worse. Time to send out hidden messages with the water carriers, and to borrow Richmond's new #fistedforever symbol for general use:
After the brief, ultimately pointless, excitement of Viney kicking the first goal, the final term had an embarrassing stench of effortlessness about it. Like when they beat us at the same venue about 10 years ago and one player feigned sleeping during their box-ticking rendition of the song. We'd already had several minutes of replays of Dangerfield pointing to his grandmother, now Hawkins ran into an open goal, stopped, handballed backwards to a rookie and allowed him to kick the goal. Depending on your view it was either a great moment in gallant teamwork or the most arrogant display since the Ox taunted Carlton fans by holding the ball aloft running into an open goal.

By then I'd already been desensitised so he could have put it on the ground, lifted his teammate up and swung him at it like a putter for all it would have affected me. Just another in a lengthy queue of goals that made the art of kicking goals look piss easy, while we were dividing by zero via instructions we Google translated from an instruction manual written in Klingon.

In keeping with the spirit of the evening, the goal's genesis was Petracca almost being responsible for the death of Nathan Jones with a ridiculous hospital pass. Perhaps the co-skipper may be open to somebody helping end the pain:
Travelling fans who'd already wasted their Saturday night were tempted to throw themselves into the Barwon River when at the height of our fourth quarter distress the umpire paid an administrative free against KK for running in the general vicinity of the man with the ball, even though they had about as much chance of interacting with each other as Mercury and Neptune. If last year's after the siren fiasco encouraged me to scarf down a massive sympathy Maccas at the Rockbank services Maccas on the way home this could have ended in a one-man inhalation of a 32 piece KFC bucket and a trip to the emergency department.

Last week we were one of the stories, now we're the story. Prepare for a sad music AFL360 montage, and a week of people spouting 'in the know' bollocks like "got ahead of themselves". The only analysis I'm interested in is a three hour Fox Footy special On The Couch broadcast where they go through behind the goals vision of all 73 inside 50s and diagnose how we only turned them into six goals.

On the plus side, we won't have to battle with Ticketmaster for a seat at the finals this year... Maybe the VFL finals, if we don't take all their players and leave them relying on winos found in the main street of Cranbourne.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Angus Brayshaw
--- Nobody deserved it, so I'm just for the top tackler ---
1 - James Harmes

Apologies of sorts to Salem, Fritsch and Gawn. None deserved votes but any could have blagged one by default.

7 - Jake Melksham
5 - Clayton Oliver, Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Angus Brayshaw, James Harmes, Jack Viney
1 - Corey Wagner

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There's a severe lack of options again, but this time we did have one goal that deserved celebrating. Back when we still had hope in our hearts during the first quarter, Jay Lockhart celebrated his miracle ascension to the big leagues with this dummy-selling classic:
Oh the joy I got watching somebody take that level of piss out of his opponent with what was either his first or second kick in senior footy. Needless to say the defender had the last laugh by the end after he'd helped knock over about 57 other attacks.

In these once more troubled times, there is one element of this club's output that you can rely on to put in 100% every time. It's the one that's constructed on crepe paper by people doing it for free because of love for the club, not the players and coaches pocketing a combined $15,000,000 per annum.

For the second consecutive week a tidy milestone banner with a nice picture of the player being honoured came out on top. Though to be fair it would have been almost impossible to lose to Geelong's rudimentary, stringy fonted and quite frankly crap effort. You have an entire town in which to find somebody with artistic flair, use it. 2-0 Dees.

To make me stop taking the piss out of Dwayne Russell you'll have to kill one of us, but there's nothing to endear you to his insane stream-of-consciousness commentary than the lowest common denominator SLOP offered by Channel 7. Even if it's aimed at the lowest rung of footy fan I can't believe anyone is genuinely interested in their "ho ho, that's good from you Darce" style commentary where they spend almost as much time talking about themselves than the game.

I secretly enjoy self-indulgent Triple M style wankfests on the radio, but it offends me greatly on television because a) other than as bonus content on a Grand Final DVD, nobody is ever listening to a radio call again whereas the TV coverage is the historical record of that game, and b) should any future generations go back to watch this game, they will quite rightly wonder what Cameron Ling winning a sixths cricket premiership had to do with anything. The only improvement from their 'live, interactive and shithouse' Saturday night coverage of a few years ago is that it no longer features Brian Taylor, and even then there were stages of this call where I was nearly pining for him to turn up, call the wrong player and misdiagnose an injury.

The undisputed worst thing about Channel 7's coverage is going out of their way to highlight people you wouldn't sit next to on a train vigorously reacting to umpiring decisions. I'm not into outrage, but a week after two different sets of people belted the suitcase out of each other in the stands (in right about the area where 7's NuffyCam scans for content) maybe take a break from showing people screaming their heads off like they're addressing a rapist and giving double middle fingers to players? Watching the Collingwood game on Thursday, I hadn't seen so many middle fingers on my TV since the glory era of Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Either they had a less bloodthirsty director last night, or the locals were so relaxed at their easy win that there wasn't enough content to switch to, but for those of you watching at home next Friday night I guarantee you multiple cutaways to people nearly frothing at the mouth after a contentious decision. Usually I'd say our fans would be too classy to join in, but there's a few people with veins on their forehead that are about to pop in spectacular fashion so don't rule anything out.

Next Week
Against all odds our return to Friday night football is a battle of 17th vs 18th. If you were an enterprising legal firm you'd hand out 40,000 branded templates demanding an EGM, because whoever loses out of us or Essendon the fans are going to go off. Obviously Worsfold has more to lose than Goodwin because he hasn't just signed a contract extension to 2022, but otherwise it's a dead heat as to which group will spin out more in the event of defeat. Our expectations were pumped up by a month of quality football, they just always assume they're going to be good on name value alone.

My dream is that we'll deliver a win so stinging that it will instantly tear Essendon open like the San Andreas fault and launch a civil war between people who want to bring Hird back and those who haven't been lobotomised. After gifting Hird the last win of his tenure and Worsfold the first of his, this could go either way - his last win before a losing streak that ultimately sees him given the arse, or the excuse Essendon's board need to tip him. Maybe we rushed to re-sign Goodwin unnecessarily early in the season in case he got tempted to go back to the Bombers and get on the human growth hormone again.

Against my better judgement I think I'll be there, having finished work at 07:00 that morning, taking an hour to get home, sleeping for as long as possible, then getting up just to go another hour and a bit back to the 'G, then driving home exhausted like I'm pissed. If I didn't self-report in advance here there'd be every chance of just falsifying a Crowd Watch segment and pretending I went.

You'd think that Essendon's loss to St Kilda is an even better indication that we'll win than their big defeat to GWS, but I'm worried after the Bombers have been carpeted for recruiting too many fancy outside runners that we're the perfect team for that tactic to finally achieve a safe landing against. Before they go on to lose to everyone else.

The best I can do is say we might win. Until Friday I'll be comforting myself with the memories of the second half against them last year, a return from the brink that set off the best six weeks of the 21st century. If this goes bad it's season over - I'm not dismissing the 2006 example of a recovery from 0-3, but like Sydney turning 0-6 into a finals appearance that was a once in a lifetime last gasp from a lot of players heading towards the end of their careers at maximum speed.

If you waited for the club to give details you'd never know that Casey played a practice match against Geelong yesterday. Given that the development of our players is far more important than VFL premiership points I'd say this was as worthy of base level coverage as any match. The MFC disagree. They could have at least stolen the details off the forums and pretended to have had somebody there watching. Meanwhile Casey's Twitter is going at about one post a fortnight, and used up this week's on a promotional opportunity so were unable to provide any details of their side playing an actual match.

What I gather is that Preuss didn't do much around the ground, which is fine because that's not what he's employed to do when Gawn is there. If it's dry on Friday I'm picking him. Not like our forward line could get any worse by adding another tall. Gawn was much better this week, despite ongoing attempts at niggle, but we'd be mad to bring a guy in to give him a rest and not play him before winter arrives and makes a three forward setup less attractive.

I was ready to bring Spargo back for Sparrow based on the assumption that if neither of them can play four quarters at least Charleston has the runs on the board from last year - but if he was disappointing as reported that's not going to happen. Instead I'll ring the Corey hotline and give Wagner another go. I'll bring his brother in as well so Hunt can go forward. If a pair of Wagners is the answer god only knows what the question is but I'm getting desperate here. Stretch also comes in, having done well in his only game before being injured last year and reportedly one of the best for Casey as well.

Going the other way Neal-Bullen and Petracca are the ritual sacrifices, and if May is fit then I'm narrowly going for Frost over Oscar because he offers more of an attacking option. Yes it's likely at some stage he'll dash out of defence at 200km/h and either kick the ball to an opponent, fall over, or run straight into a tackle but at this stage of our disappointing 2019 journey I'd rather that to Oscar doing straight out defensive jobs while looking petrified. Unfortunately if May's injured grundle keeps him out then we'll have to put up with both of them.

I'd love to go right over the top and drop about eight players as a knee-jerk overreaction, but our much vaunted depth is running on fumes in the spots where we need it. So, Hunt gets one go forward, Lockhart another chance based purely on the goal and hitting Joel Selwood, and while KK kouldn't find a kick I'll bank on him improving second up after a spell like Viney and Jones.

IN: Preuss, Stretch, C. Wagner, J. Wagner
OUT: Neal-Bullen, Petracca, Sparrow (omit), May (inj)
LUCKY: Hunt, Kolodjashnij, Lockhart, O. McDonald
UNLUCKY: Hore, Keilty, Spargo

Final Thoughts
Who'd be a Melbourne fan? The big let down is a sporting tradition, but even when I was conservatively tipping us to finish 5th in the face of a hype campaign that suggested we'd win the flag unbeaten there was a morbid fear of it all going bad. If this season was food dropped to the floor it's still in three second rule territory rather than rampant salmonella outbreak, but the point of no return arrives on Friday. If we lose by 1 or 191 this season is over. Don't forget the year ends with Richmond, Collingwood, Sydney and North in Hobart, if we're not well established in the eight before then forget about it.

Subconsciously I've been preparing myself for this all summer, I can't count how many times I either said or wrote words to the effect of "if it doesn't happen this season we've got the list to challenge for a few years to come..." What has the world come to when I'm looking to Richmond's surprise down season before a flag for inspiration?

I'll meet you all in the window of the school book depository next Saturday morning...