Sunday, 6 June 2021

Dees go to 11

Given that entire 100 game careers start and end within nine years, it's no great revelation to say that a lot can change in that time. It's been that long so I first planned to use this headline, as we were plummeting towards an 0-11 start in 2012. There was even a Tufnel-referencing Facebook Comment of the Week video (before all the comments became about political correctness by defeated men who look like the cast of Don's Party), thankfully rendered obsolete by an improbable Round 9 win against high-flying - in all senses of the word as it turns out - Essendon.

Now all these years and multiple false starts later we are widely acknowledged as the best team in the competition, will end another week as premiership favourites, and the headline can be revived for good rather than evil. We stuffed up the chance of using it for an 11-0 start, but rumbling two premiership contenders in consecutive prime time fixtures will do as a consolation prize for losing in Adelaide.

That this is only the third time we've gone to 11 since 2006 is a cause for national shame, but at the moment our past indiscretions are irrelevant. To people who matter anyway, I'm still troubled by results from the early 90s. As one sage individual put it on breakfast TV over the weekend, nobody's ever won a premiership in June. But, offensive interventions by the footy gods aside, we've never been in a better position to have a go. The best thing is that for everybody playing out of their skin there things that can be improved. By christ(ian), is this really happening? I need to go back and read some Neeld era reviews to avoid getting ahead of myself.

Despite this uncharacteristic outbreak of optimism, I assure you that spiritually I'm shitting through the eye of a needle. There's no way people who have seen a flag feel like this, but when every chance could be your last, the pressure to finish the job is excessive. God knows how St Kilda fans survived those Grand Finals without being carted off to the funny farm. Better them than me, but maybe the true meaning of life won't become obvious until we too have pissed away a golden opportunity at immortality. Alternatively, do a Footscray/Geelong 2007 and get the hard work over in the Prelim before cruising to victory in the big one. Right now I'll take a repeat of any Grand Final winning scenario from 1898 to 2020, up to and including it being played at the Gabba or Waverley.

Against a side that had won seven in a row, I was prepared to make excuses for defeat. Unless we ran up the white flag and conceded 30 seconds in like the Port game last year, a loss would have left me exactly where the previous Friday ended, considering secret Bradbury Plans to make sure we wouldn't finish ninth. Now, via a ropey first half, I didn't see a farce, now I'm a believer.

Having to pull back leads against the good, bad and ugly of the competition is going to backfire on us eventually, but there's no better feeling when it comes off. 20 points is just short of stranglewank territory but there's still a rush from dicing with death before finishing in ecstasy. The final margin was similar to that against North, but the emotions are poles apart. Running away from the wooden spooners elect was a relief, dismantling a premiership contender who looked to have cracked our code in the first half was several million times better. 

It means nothing unless there's a repeat in September but we've now beaten 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and the reigning premier. The only sides in the eight unconquered are Port, who didn't demonstrate any of their famous flakiness while walloping us last year, and West Coast who we don't play until Round 21. Can I mention again that a) things are shaping up very nicely, and b) I'm not psychologically coping (NB: in a sporting sense, this is not a real-life cry for help) well with that.

Like the jumper 'clash'/empty stadium conundrum last week, who knows what would have happened if the game had been played as scheduled in Alice Springs. Maybe we'd have won by more, maybe we'd have lost by 187. The difference this time is that while most of us went to bed happy to get the points in any state that would have us, the Chief Financial Officer was probably having to be restrained from throwing himself into the shredder over the loss of $700-800,000. The people of Sydney were slightly more receptive to our charms than when 1000 of them combined turned up for last year's two game stand at Fortress Showgrounds, but with the yet to be disclosed crowd stuffed on one wing I don't think the gate receipts are going to cover much more than our Minibar bill. 

When the league dragged their feet on announcing the fixture for this week I held out some hope that we'd adopted Mafia tactics to convince the NT government to let us in. More likely they're happy that they didn't have to pay for Alice Springs to get more mentions in the Victorian media than the other 51 weeks of the year combined. No doubt a later game's going to be moved there, we'll get paid anyway and everyone will be happy. Obviously, the authors of the Fat Chance Report, calling for an AFL team in the NT, were so busy printing copies at Officeworks that they missed the news, releasing it on the same day that the game meant to showcase football in the territory didn't happen. The league is currently scrutinising this proposal before filing it next to Los Angeles Crocodiles.

The centre of Australia may have been replaced by the back blocks of Sydney, but we finally got to wear the jumper and it was a corker. It's not my place to interpret the meaning, but as good as the front was, the back was spectacular. One day a team is just going to adopt a full-time indigenous jumper, and I'd be happy if we got in first and permanently adopted this as the rear of ours. It's even handily designed to fit the sponsor logo at the bottom AND offer space to sell another spot at the top. Given we've already been involved in this good news story, being the first club (?) to have an indigenous presence on the jumper every week would be fantastic. If it's a step too far for us, I offer the idea free of charge to Gold Coast, who must eventually get serious and stop dressing like a McDonald's franchise.

If we had to play anywhere for free, the Showgrounds were the next best option. No tremendous cash payment, but a flawless record against neutral sides. To be fair, we did only wobble past Gold Coast before tonking a rotten Hawthorn, but it's a great leap forward compared to earlier games there against GWS. Remember starting underdogs against an 0-17 side and giving them their only win of the season? It's better if you don't, leave the historical misery to me and concentrate on what's good right now.

The difference in our third National Pandemic Cup match on the ground was that we were playing a top team. This promised to be a daunting challenge, but so did last Friday night and we handled that without any major drama. This time there was a serious challenge that left us having to execute another high-risk comeback, but the end result was the same, a (relatively) stress-free last few minutes, another four points, and further confirmation that players you already knew were good are very good indeed.

In scenes reminiscent of Round 1, 2019, the other side started playing angry and we looked spooked. The majority of them couldn't maintain the rage after half time, but in the opening minutes they were the most aggrieved Queenslanders since the man from the succulent Chinese meal. Like that fateful Port game, the primary assassination target was Max Gawn. They should have sent a better hitman, merely winding him with a big bump before he recovered to play his best game since Hawthorn.

Brisbane's attempt to unsettle us with biff backfired when pissweak high contact 60 metres away saw Fritsch gifted the opening goal from the top of the square. When I'm elected to replace Steve Hocking players will be able to do that all day without sanction, but for now, stiff shit and thanks for the six points. Channel 7's fake crowd flipped out over this and continued to go nuts for the rest of the night. After employing a subtle, inoffensive backing track last week, they cranked up the digital excitement to levels not seen since Laurie Lawrence in Seoul (P.S - I vote we adopt Laurie's "stuff the silver, we come here for the gold" as our slogan for the rest of the year). 

Seems they only went for the quiet option last week before it would have seemed silly to play frenzy.mp3 in an empty stadium. Which is a shame, because with the entire audience parked in the same part of the ground they'd have got a decent authentic atmosphere by turning off the soundtrack to AFL99 and letting the live crowd tell the story.

We've got a few players that could handle themselves in a scrap, but after a brief flirtation with serious niggle under Roos, it's not really our go anymore. Not that it needs to be, but if anyone was going to see the red and blue mist it was Steven May, holder of multiple suspensions for whacking Brisbane players. After hitting one of them at the first available opportunity in a pre-season game (and not to open old tribunal wounds, but bullshit that was worth a week) he's shown admirable restraint, but the old fashioned aggro is still bubbling away under the surface.

If he was ever going to flip out and start distributing shirtfronts again, it was in a first half where it looked like our league leading backline had finally been rumbled. The commentators were keen to act like they were witnessing the end of a brief but glorious era of defensive dominance, but I would suggest letting the ball fling down there at pace was to blame. Compare to the second half, when Brisbane was reduced to attacking on our terms and their forwards couldn't catch COVID in a quarantine hotel.

In 20 years people will be watching clips of Pickett crumb on the YouTube equivalent, but the low-key most exciting thing about this year is watching the opposition lose the will to live when the ball is locked at our end and they have no idea how to clear it. They could sell behind the goals footage at Club X and there'd be a queue around the block. Forget spoils and one percenters (still haven't worked out what they are), when this comes off it's a work of art. Takes some work though, requiring us to get the ball down our end, the forwards to make a contest, and everyone to combine in an animal defensive effort when the ball hits the ground. Then if they still get it we stick up the Berlin Wall and dare them to break through without turning it over.

We were not near our best early. None of McDonald, Weid or Fritsch (gift goal aside) was seriously contesting marking duels, and further up the ground Oliver was being relatively well covered. So if the forwards weren't going to take pack-busting marks the next best option was crumb. In this case, from the unlikely source of Max Gawn. Given that he's the fourth tallest man ever to play a league game, his gather and kick in one motion was probably one of the most nimble finishes by such a huge man in AFL history. Hard enough to do when you're a regulation crumber, nearly bloody impossible at 6ft 8.

That had us ahead by seven, but the lead was tenuous. Eric Hipwood - who provoked a great May/Frost stoush in 2019 - had already panicked Lever into giving away one goal from a free, and when he marked in a better spot I had visions of him kicking a bag before dashing off to impersonate Rafa Nadal at a tennis-themed birthday party. He hit the post and kicked another 0.3 by the end of the night. That was retrospectively good, but when he and Daniher were grabbing everything that came near them and some other bloke was kicking goals out of his arse from all angles it looked like their forwards were going to more damage than our misfiring forward line could cover. In the end, we somehow nearly scored 100, and the purported 'best attack in the league' (didn't we just play them last week?) only got to 75. I'm almost at the point of trusting the process but years of mental scars aren't going away in three months.

Nearly 10 years after Baileyball was run out of Melbourne, it returned to haunt us in the shape of crumb king Zac Bailey, whose four goal haul against Richmond a fortnight ago is the only thing stopping him from being instantly nominated for a Kingsley. Just our luck to swat away a team where every second person has the first name Bailey last week, then run into somebody with it as a surname having the time of his life. His second was the sort of lucky goal worth it's weight in gold, sitting up for him to boot out of the air for their second in a row.

While we were under siege, only offering a Weideman shot for no score at the other end, there was one moment that should be blown up to the same size as Father Ted kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse and displayed as an example of what's right in 2021. This Spargo highlights package is much deserved, but watch the mark in the second clip for an example of getting your team out of jail.

At that point we were down seven contested marks to nil and being pushed around like lightweights. I won't claim it turned the entire game, given that we were still shite for another 30 minutes, but it was a brilliant, brave grab. I've been sitting on the screenshot of Gawn saying "poor Spargs" ever since that ill-fated pre-season documentary, but there is no need for it this year. He's not doing anything that will be noticed outside the MFC bubble - though the above tweet should help - but is quietly putting together a very good season. 

Spargo is not Dustin Martin, and nor should you expect him to be, and will still have up and down games due to being 21-years-old, but when he gets the ball his decision making is off the charts. You watch on TV and scream at them for not kicking to a loose player then realise they probably couldn't see him from ground level. Charleston sees them. Hopefully I joined his fan club early enough to get a membership number in the top 10.

Also from the role player playing their role to perfection files (might need to workshop the name), Anal-Bullet has been important too. I'm not qualified to explain why, but the vibe is good. His disposal efficiency on Friday night was not, but I'll allow more latitude for a sprayed handball in close or a quick kick from a pack than a flat-out, pressure-free shank. Brayshaw and Petty have both been tarred with that brush, but were very good again. The bucket-handed Petty is especially promising as the third defender.

After 15 minutes of being second best I could almost handle going into quarter time two goals down, so allowing Hipwood another shot deep in DemonTime had me reaching for the pen to start writing us off. He missed, and I put the sharp object down, but when they got a goal 40 seconds after the restart things started to look grim again. Our reply was one for the defensive rebound fanatics, with a loose kick from a centre break falling into Lever's arms, and after a free to Gawn, Lachie Neale was caught holding onto Petracca's arm like he was trying to clamber into a lifeboat. Maybe he was getting ahead of his duties on Brownlow night and trying to hand the medal to this year's winner now? 

According to James Brayshaw, who looked sensible compared to BT for a while, Petracca had "explosive wheels to get this trip". Is there Channel 7 mode on Google Translate? Yes, he's got a burst of speed that you could describe as 'explosive wheels' if you didn't want to use normal words, but unless he was expected to run around the man on the mark and sprint to 30 metres out before kicking it's hard to see how this was relevant. Instead, he just kicked a conventional drop punt, paying tribute to Matthew Bate by launching from right on top of the Telstra 5G logo.

So now we were back to where we started the quarter, which wasn't such a bad place to be. Enter Petracca again, reminding us after a couple of weeks of mass-frottage over Clayton Oliver that he's also one of the shit-hottest players in the game. Without him the next goal probably doesn't happen, using the famous explosive wheels to dash onto a loose ball, swatting off a tackle with contempt, then launching a long-distance handball into the middle of the ground. Harmes and Sparrow also did brilliantly here, both were standing in space and calling for it, but the moment it went towards Sparrow, Harmes took off around the back to be next in line, setting up Fritsch to pick Jordon's pocket at the top of the square.

It felt like the game was turning in our favour, which is why conceding the next two goals gave me the shits. Lever didn't like the blatant block that allowed them the first one, but more power to the guy who took advantage of the fact that you've just got to make it half look like you were legitimately trying to be in the contest. We should do more of it - see Brown and McDonald against Sydney. The second goal was less controversial, as important as he is Salem has still not recovered his earlier form and was nailed holding the ball right in front of goal.

In an outbreak of goals from the middle, we got this one straight back, before they quickly restored the 20 point lead. It left us back where we started from, but at least we got to hear Brayshaw scream "Lukey Jack!", the strangest thing a commentator has called a Melbourne player since "Slick Fritsch". Is it too much to ask that blokey bullshit be confined to the radio where it belongs? In the same way everyone with a mullet will look back in 20 years and realise their horrible mistake, future generations are going to piss themselves laughing at us for allowing the biggest sport in the country to be called like this. 

I was still not over my outrage at the official record of this important match being sullied by a future star of the competition being referred to as "Lukey Jack" when Brisbane was down the other end kicking the reply to the reply. How you can pay advantage 10 metres ahead of where a ruck free happened when nobody yet knew who had done what I'm not sure, but advantage that man Bailey again and sorry to my neighbours, who may have heard the phrase "for fuck's sake" shouted at top volume. The old blood pressure was peaking off the charts when we spent the next couple of minutes desperately trying to stop them kicking another.

We're not Essendon 2000, there's going to be more than one loss this year, and better against the good teams now than in September but I was still feeling a bit flat. The margin was not insurmountable, but it seemed likely that even if we got our forward line going they'd score enough to hold on. What, as usual, do I know?

After a first half where he'd barely gone near it, Tom McDonald started the second as he meant to go on, kicking what seems like one of our rare goals from a forward 50 stoppage. Somebody will find a stat that disproves this, but it just feels like we don't get as many of these as we should. For the first few minutes there was 100% sizzle content on offer, including him deploying a mysterious goo from a yellow tube on the front of his jumper. Presumably it helps marking, and that's what's responsible for his improvement this year either every player in the league should buy in bulk. Now wait for the AFL to ban it.

On a rare off night for his set shots he missed another chance, but was directly involved in the next goal, courtesy of off the ball shenanigans with Dayne (surely not a real first name) Zorko. Add him to the list of people who, like Toby Greene, are such amazing heels that they become good for football. Never underestimate the impact to the culture of the game of players that you tune in just to see lose. Ask Richmond fans, who have won everything under the sun but are still shirty about the time Tom Bugg shhhed them. The competition needs more of it, but don't be the dickhead who takes things too far and gets arrested.

Other than being a general pest, Zorko's contribution to the angry atmosphere was needlessly delivering a forearm smash to McSizzle off the ball, giving away a downfield free that led to a crucial goal. Sizzle risked a reverse by throwing him to the ground, then unusually yelled abuse in his face before offering a hand to help him up in the same motion. I wonder if he subconsciously realised that he was risking a reversal so tried to take the heat off with a spot of Gentlemania. "Trying to work out who's been reported," said Brayshaw, who I now regret ever saying nice things about. Do you reckon maybe the guy standing the mark of the free kick? When Brian Taylor of all people has to explain what's happening to you something's gone horribly wrong. 

As far as on-field skullduggery goes, it was a step-up from Lachie Neale making this NQR face at Melksham after a spot of manly jostling in the first quarter. Very undignified from a Brownlow Medallist but enjoyable nonetheless. At the other end of the success scale, let's also have more Rhys Mathieson, who invited ridicule by referring to himself as Brisbane's 'barometer' during the week only to be relegated to substitute. Much shit was hung on him but perhaps he had a point, they won when he was playing and lost after he was dropped.

While the rest of our side play the Showgrounds like the Field of Dreams, it's not been a happy hunting ground for the Milkshake. Last year he managed to find one of the 250 people in the crowd to have an argument with, and battled to five touches on Friday. Might have had something to do with the role he was playing, maybe he is just regrettably continuing a slide that's been going since the injury against Gold Coast two years ago. He got the last laugh on Zorko here, it's less certain whether he'll still be in the side for any September rematch.

Pickett's goal, intercepting a handball and rolling the ball through a crowd, reduced the margin to less than 10. Given our response last time we got that close I wasn't ready to buy-in yet, but all the signs were there. We were back to playing like 2021 Melbourne and Brisbane were as helpless as any of the other sides kindly offered a lead before being run down. Except they kicked the next goal, seemingly confirming all my dark suspicions. Of course it had to come through Zorko, whose joy at getting one back lasted all of 30 seconds. We romped out of the middle, Petracca snatched a ball out of the air and flirted with tripping over his feet for a millisecond before banging through a monster goal on the run. Stiff shit Dayne, enjoy writing a cheque for $2000.

It didn't take long for the next to arrive, a touch fortunate given that Harmes nearly botched a quick handball, and ANB only just got the ball to boot while being swung in tackle. That led to more Spargo gold, intelligently tapping down to McDonald, who scooted through and cut the margin to a point. Now even if we lost I could be satisfied that we'd had a red hot go. Brisbane did get another goal, but again we didn't let them keep it for more than a minute before responding. We missed a pair of chances to take the lead late, but had done a fantastic job to get going again.

After a month of half-paced, wobbly at best final quarters, I wanted to believe that Burgessball (a much more popular form of 'ball' than the forwards on the half-back line model employed by the original Bailey) was going to strike again. If we kept playing like the third quarter superior fitness wouldn't be needed, it was just a case of whether we could convert enough chances to outweigh the inevitable at the other end. What seemed inevitable anyway, in the end they only got one more goal, and that was a low-key garbage time job that Charlie Cameron couldn't even be bothered to celebrate with a half-arse, sad motorcycle rev. All he had to do was raise the hands a little higher and hold them closer to his face and it would have resembled this popular GIF:

As it often did on the night, all the fun started with Gawn. Oscar McInerney has done as well as anyone ex-Casey, except possibly Bayley Fritsch, and played in as many finals as our entire club in 15 years but he was brutalised in the ruck contests all night. Here Maximum got the party started by gently dismissing him at the opening bounce and heaving a long kick to Pickett. This time his set shot was bang on, the lead extended to seven, and I was simultaneously buzzing and bricking it at the idea of having to defend another narrow lead.

After a couple of half-chances that might have got the Lions back into it, McDonald's next was a thing of beauty. For goals created via handball out of the backline this was a better team doing their cover of Salem sinking Essendon in 2014. Oliver, Lever, Petty, Neal-Bullen, Sparrow, Rivers and Hibberd were all involved in phone booth style congestion, before Jordon broke into the clear and set up ANB's second effort. He roosted it to McDonald, who nearly knocked it past the defender and ended up goalside, before gathering, ignored Petracca yelling at him for a pass, spun out of a tackle and kicked the goal. Trac was still complaining until he turned around and realised it had gone through.

Everyone who had a hand in it deserves credit, but the finish was class. Taylor Walker might have something to say about it, but I haven't seen anyone come back from the dead like this since Weekend at Bernies II. 

Unlike 2019s less ambiguous Corey Wagner heatmap, McDonald's was an inkblot test for how much of a sicko you are. Either you see a protein powered bicep or an upside-down cock and ball. 

A minute later ANB, Petracca and McDonald combined for another goal. It was clear that Brisbane had given up, a ball rolled to Sparrow's feet at the top of the 50, and without an opponent for miles he could afford to fumble, take a handball from Weideman, run around and thump it through from 50. With eight minutes to play we could easily have given away a 20 point lead, but had the pedal firmly stuck on the floor looking for the exclamation point goal. Spargo and Petracca both missed before The Bullet got reward for a fantastic last quarter. I'm dutybound to point out that this passage of play also involved Spargo fending somebody off.

When the Weid had another go right at the end I so dearly wanted him to kick it. Was hardly going to be the feelgood equivalent of Harley Bennell on the same ground a year ago (and how well did that end?) but I wanted something to go right for him. He'd already been stooged once in the last quarter when a touched ball landed perfectly for him directly in front of goal, and even though I'd already crossed the floor to the Ben Brown Party mid-match, it still would have been nice for Sam to get one. It's hard watching somebody's confidence bleeding everywhere while everyone else is in the midst of a glory era. Then he kicked it out on the full.

You can't fault Weid's effort, and there's a sense that it's going to click eventually, but goals from marks inside 50 are crucial, so I'm going with the guy who has a proven history of taking grabs and kicking straight. If that causes Sam to leave so be it. I want him to stay and be a dangerous forward like he was for a few weeks last year, but we've got a red hot chance to win a flag, so a week after suggesting mutually beneficial trades, now all we are saying is give #50 a chance.

His miss was about as disappointing as the last quarter got, which proves how enjoyable it was. I'm not going to pile in on anyone for not believing we're going to win the flag, but it's delightful how the great unwashed are switching from patronising us to actively disliking our presence at the top of the ladder. Let them hate so long as they fear.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Charlie Spargo
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Harmes, Jordon, May, Petty, Rivers and Sparrow

Leaderboard
Oliver gives up a sliver of his lead, but still holds a commanding gap at the top. If Petracca outscores him at this rate it'll take another 10 games to catch up. I can't see it happening but it'll be fun to watch. Alternatively, he could go for the biggest win in history, the 27 vote Nathan Jones landslide of 2012. He won by 21 the next year, so even though he's all but been forgotten now, anyone caught disparaging his overall contribution will be thrown from a window.

In the minors, Gawn not only strengthened his lead, but Jackson has lost eligibility due to being down to a 9.3 hitout average. I'm not willing to declare a provisional winner yet but we can't be far away. Nothing for the defenders or the rising stars this week but there are serious discussions underway about whether the Hilton will be awarded by the committee's discretion if no eligible players score votes. This means I'll have to go back and make an arbitrary decision about 2005 as well. 

32 - Clayton Oliver
23 - Christian Petracca
19 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
16 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - Tom McDonald
12 - Jake Lever
11 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Steven May
8 - Luke Jackson
7 - James Harmes, Ed Langdon
6 - Bayley Fritsch
4 - Charlie Spargo
3 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd
2 - Jayden Hunt, Adam Tomlinson 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
You get plenty of nominees in weeks where the set shot is all but abandoned for goals from open play. As much as I loved Gawn supersize crumb, McDonald's storming run in the third quarter, Pickett's intercept, Petracca's in the third, and Neal-Bullen's sealer, but it's hard not to give it to Sizzle for the handball fiesta and Truck burning snap. Usher the kids from the room, pour yourself a stiff drink, and enjoy this in all its glory.

We've already given Tom a shitload of meat in weekly prizes this year, but have some more. Bring it home on the plane and let's see if we can plunge Victoria into another biosecurity disaster. As good as this was, I'm still on Pickett vs St. Kilda for the overall lead. 

Crowd Watch
I've been off Channel 10 ever since they lied about the afternoon repeats of Prisoner coming back after the 1996 school holidays, so can't think how I ended up watching their Friday night news. I thought their reporter's claim that the AFL had wheeled Kevin Sheedy out to do the promotional rounds during the week improbable but it turned out to be 100% truer than Chanel 10's voiceover in 1996. Sheeds even invented something special for the occasion, telling bemused rugby leaguists that "It’s an AFL mid-season grand final and I don’t know whether Sydney people understand that." So there you have it, make room in the trophy cabinet alongside the AFLX Group B title, we're the mid-season premiers. 

And though he was probably continuing his vendetta over not getting our coaching job in 2008 and punting Brisbane home, Sheeds turned up, and according to a Demonblog correspondent "said bugger all to anyone; but diligently marked all goals and behinds in the Record". I reckon the pen was pressed with a tinge of despair whenever we kicked one.

Next Week
In a major improvement on 2020, Queen's Birthday is going to be played. Unfortunately, instead of 70,000 at the MCG, there'll be two men and a dog watching at the SCG, waiting for King Wally Lewis to go down the Big Freeze slide. I just hope that whatever the New South Wales government has paid to host that plenty of it trickles down to us.

In a world where our biggest wins at Sydney Showgrounds are against Hawthorn, Brisbane and Gold Coast, nothing's surprising anymore, but the distance between our games at the SCG against teams other than Sydney must be some sort of record. It started with Essendon in 1904 (locals half-interested), then Geelong in 1981 (locals half-interested), and now Collingwood in 2021 (locals ?). See you there again in 2062 after the alien invasion. Could also be the next time we're this good, so cherish it while you can.

For a few years we went into Queen's Birthday with absolutely no chance of winning, and based on the respective ladder positions of the sides you'd like to think this is our opportunity for a guaranteed four points. Even before Collingwood beat the Crows I wasn't going to get comfortable, now I'm left hoping they've gotten it out of their system and will show up ready to be plunged back into horrible reality.

There are people paid more than me (e.g. anything above $0) to work out how to best use footballers in a structure, and it is their duty to get Jack Viney back into this side without persecuting Sparrow or Jordon. The only way I'll accept the latter is if he's 'managed' as a first year senior player, but that hardly seems necessary on a 10 day break. Instead I'm chopping Melksham and let them sort it out. 

More obviously, to me if not the selectors, is Brown. If we were playing for mid-table mediocrity (see Carlton or St. Kilda) I'd say just keep playing Weideman and see what happens, but we're over the halfway mark of a season where we're 99.9% guaranteed to play finals and are neck deep in the race for the top four (if not top two). We've got to find our preferred combination down there soon. Besides, imagine the odd couple of 0% meat and 100% meat forming the tall forward division of a premiership team? Catering at the victory party would be shithouse, but what a story. If we can't get Brown going at full pelt - and he looked pretty good against Sydney - then it might just be a case of picking whoever provides the best blocking for the rest of them.

IN: B. Brown, Viney
OUT: Melksham, Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: Everyone at Casey who can't push a case for selection.

(UPDATE - One week out of the limelight and I immediately forgot Ed Langdon. Apologies to Ed. Obviously he comes back in. Christ only knows who for, I spent enough time trying to work this out the first time, I've got no life force left now).

After the Adelaide debacle I'm going back to an evidence-based approach, thinking we should win but waiting for confirmation that there will be no huge letdown. I did not like our old recruiting target Jamie Elliott kicking six against Adelaide, let's hope shown his hand and we'll be ready for him. Same goes for the rest of them, half of who are so obscure they can only be identified by dental records. This is the new Melbourne, we've changed, choff, choff, choff, I'm still going in with the self-defence technique of believing it could go either way.

Sale of the Century
After a couple of weeks rest from shameless plugging of my new book, I've unwittingly wandered into a media circus. After 16 years of carefully trying to hide my face, you may have seen me talking all things Dees on the Channel 9 Today Show on Saturday morning. If you missed it stiff shit, but be assured I didn't make a dick of myself. Also, good timing that it's the first time in 20 years I've only got one chin.

I think that's as far as TV appearances go, but look out for a few radio spots in an attempt to capitalise on us being the hottest team in the game for the first time since about 1964. Should you not be into lining Amazon's pockets, there's a list of other online retailers here. As far as I know the hard copies are still on track for shops in about a month, and not on some ship that's been hijacked by pirates off the coast of Borneo. Wait for the epic stitch of bookstores still shut and books locked in warehouse. Anyway, buy now or buy later, you'll have a whale of a time, and in the unlikely event of a flag this year I'll come around to your house with a texta and amend the title. 

Final Thoughts
If you've still got an office to go into, I suggest ordering a fan of an inferior club to kneel before your feet at 9.01am on Monday. There's no possible way that can backfire.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Standard 'post delayed' notification


Just as things are getting (as the kids say) real, my capacity for writing quick reports has disappeared. Come back before Monday morning for the full review. Until then, in the sage words of Tim Gossage:
Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link. Send any thoughts on the game via the usual channels and I'll incorporate/shamelessly steal them.

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Bouncing back

As somebody who won't trust a three quarter time lead under 47 points, it's no surprise that our first loss in 10 weeks left me in a dark place, scouring the fixture for enough wins to guarantee eighth place. It's an undignified way to live, but after 30+ year of letdowns that's where I'm at.

Unexpectedly, one of the four wins required came on Friday night, effectively cancelling out last week and leaving us where I thought we'd be after Round 11 anyway. To clarify, that's where I thought we'd be two weeks ago, not at the start of the year. Anyone who'd tried to sell you a 10-1 record at the halfway mark would have been banged up in an insane asylum until after the Richmond game.

It's official, we are the world's first uphill skiers. After offering the Crows so many breaks they couldn't help but win, the follow-up was to casually disassemble a side that had not only replaced us at the top of the ladder, but clobbered two pox sides that we'd struggled to put away. The Fear means I'm naturally hesitant to come out of a secure underground bunker and get excited, but the lid may have done a couple of orbits.

Other than being first and second on the ladder and both having female presidents, there was very little in common between us and the Dogs. Best defence vs best attack, no home training facility vs free land from the government, lengthy drought unbroken vs broken, and for fans of symbolism in advertising - luxury cars/banking vs pet food/cryptocurrency exchange with a vaguely dildoesque logo. We took Big Crypto's money too but have wisely kept them in the background since. Footy clubs can't be snippy about who's paying them (in this case, hopefully in AUD and not some coin they made up on their lunchbreak) but for gravitas, this deal ranks somewhere between Snowy Mountain Water and Snowdeli.

In a world where no team has ever had their best 18 available by this point of the year, injuries are no excuse, but the absence of Adam Treloar can't have hurt our chances. For my purposes, it was more important that neither the Stefan Martin Experience or Mitch Hannan played. I've got nothing but positive feelings for the pair, but even though it's only happened a handful of times in living memory the prospect of ex-players going nuts against us frightens me. There's plenty of them out there at the moment, but we've dodged Kent, Frawley, Sizzle Jr and Tyson, took care of Frost, and won't have to face Howe or Preuss due to injury. Presuming Harley Bennell doesn't nominate for the mid-season draft, the pressure to do a Brent Grgic may fall on Jesse Hogan, as long as Round 16 falls in one of his limited fit weeks.

One of the great ex-player games was famously by the SME himself. With his post-trade career flatlining, he came to what was then known as Graveyard Docklands and revived his career in an afternoon. The man we plucked from obscurity, played in every part of the ground then chucked for fringe picks has done well to stretch his career this far, but at nearly 35-years-old everyone knows he's just doing a one year lap of honour at the Dogs before retiring. You'd think Gawn would batter him but given that Brent Harvey kicked a career best six goals against us in about his 420th game you wouldn't rule anything out.

Regardless of who was in or out, we did bloody well to react to letting Adelaide have everything their way. As a total coward I didn't expect to win, but was keen on the response. No drama in the end, like Richmond without the shaky start we slowly strangled a top side to death and won without challenge. This was a return to what made us good in the first place, setting up the Great Wall of Melbourne in the middle of the ground, and slowing their forward entries down to a glacial pace.

It was one memorable win that people won't be able to falsely claim they were at in years to come. With The Big One spreading like a Clayton Oliver clearance, Victoria shut down again (for political discussion on this topic please refer to your uncle's Facebook posts, not this page), causing the unexpected return of the Empty Stadium Match. It feels like we played plenty of these last year, but there were only four behind closed doors games. To be fair we did play in front of a few crowds so meagre that the league didn't bother to give a real crowd, just tossing out estimates like 250, 350 and 750. That feels like a lifetime ago now, except that we're about to play Brisbane in Junee with an audience of 27 curious locals who stopped to watch while walking the dog. 

I'm a big fan of the Butterfly effect, so reject any idea that it's "a shame people weren't allowed to see" this game. Maybe things would have gone as well (or better) with a crowd, but as we can be sure the game wouldn't have played out kick-for-kick like it did on Friday night, I reckon stick with the option that ended in us winning easily.

Before we could get on with discovering if our life force had been sucked out by cowardly umpiring, there was the small matter of what we were going to wear. As much as I'd like to blame the AFL for everything, it is reportedly our fault that the indigenous week jumper was DQed at the last minute for clashing with the Footscray version. They told us a month ago that it was too similar, and in a Collingwood attempt at projecting Big Club Energy we didn't bother to appeal until this week. It seems the AFL is still not half as scared of us as they are of Edd.... err... [insert interim Collingwood president here] because we went back into our normal home jumper.

I can't see how it was any more of a clash than Collingwood and Essendon on Anzac Day, but life goes on, and we'll wear it next week instead. Have it for the first game back in Victoria with fans too for all it bothers me. Because he'd rather be burnt at the stake like Joan Of Arc than cross 'key stakeholders', James Brayshaw tried to claim that the mix-up was nobody's fault because they were designed before this week's fixtures were decided. Which is fine, except that we've known that it would be Melbourne vs Footscray in Round 11 since December so let's just put it down as a general cock-up instead of trying to find an alibi for everyone involved.

Speaking of inconsistency, I'm sure every Melbourne fan was ready to kick buggery out of an inanimate object when we were pinged for an 'insufficient intent' the first time a ball rolled over the line. Assuming it wasn't the same umpire who chickened out last week I'm prepared to accept that this guy made the right call (under the current rules) and not get too upset about it. Besides, bit different in the first quarter and not with 30 seconds left in a thriller. Later, Gawn was called to play on for the sin of walking straight back on his mark like you're supposed to. Like every other year since 1897, umpiring is in disarray but the ladder at the halfway point of the season would suggest that overall it's working for us.

Maybe the jumpers were also part of the Butterfly effect, and had players not seen the familiar design out of the corner of their eye we wouldn't have flown out of the middle faster than the Starship Enterprise for a goal after 17 seconds? I was already in the 'centre clearances save lives' community, and hope you'll join me after seeing Gawn walk around an inexperienced opponent and thump it forward, eventually ending in Harmes running into an open goal with his man in a different postcode. 

The goal came so quickly that Channel 7's ACME Fake Noise machine hadn't been properly revved up yet, giving us surround sound coverage of players going nuts in celebration. The digital crowd back later but was so subtle that it made me wonder whether I was just imagining it. This is a good thing, for all the shit poured on the idea they've got it to a background level that will help people who are scared of silence and not annoy the shit out of the rest of us. Meanwhile, the roof provided acoustics Van Halen would bar up over, letting us hear a satisfying Tom Moody six style *THUD* whenever ball hit boot.

Harmes' goal started an evening that brought back fond memories of late 2018, simultaneously tagging an important player into the ground while picking up key possessions of his own. This time the victim was Tom Liberatore, not only an important midfielder but wearer of tattoos so offbeat that they're almost good (compare to Josh Bruce, who has the visual representation of 'dance like nobody's watching' across his legs). With him out of the picture we were free to concentrate on Bontempelli, Macrae etc... Fair group of players, didn't do them much good in the end.

One of the key figures in stopping them from waltzing down the ground unchallenged was Angus Brayshaw. I've been accused of running a campaign against him, but let the record show that recently there has been nothing but praise for his Jetta-esque courage in taking on contests that could end in a career-threatening head knock. It's loose-as-a-goose disposal that concerns me, and while his defensive patrolling of the wing 'only' led to 13 touches, he played his most influential game of the year. Anybody who tries to convince you that players ratings and rankings points tell you everything you need to know about a performance is insane. This was a performance that would have sent me home happy if I wasn't there already.

Things weren't universally going our way, but further reward came with the second goal when a smother by Jordon - who continues to be a defensive animal - opened the door for Petracca to kick the cover off a snap. This prompted the return of Channel 7 Fancam, a usually pointless idea that was brought to life by this quality City Wars content: 

You can tell the Kayo Minis aren't being put together in South Australia because this was inexplicably left in the highlights package despite offering nothing except laughs.

After last week I wasn't declaring victory on a two goal lead four minutes into the opening quarter, but it was clearly an improvement. Then karmic payback for the Fancam incident came about 15 seconds late, when the Dogs burst out of the middle for a goal. At the time I was bleeding but it turned out to be so rare that it didn't matter.

A decade of rule changes has done nothing more than created the second lowest scoring full season in modern history, but the 6-6-6 rule is one of the few changes that helps promote goals. Problem is that after the first bounce of a quarter you need somebody to kick one first, usually after 15 minutes of the ball being stuck in the middle of the ground while TV executives shed a silent tear. As Channel 7's new Friday night glamour team, we almost did our bit, cannoning out of the middle for a shot to cancel out their cancellation. 

Sadly for fans of ads (Channel 7) or awkward silences where the commentators don't speak (Channel 7 via Foxtel/Kayo) it missed, but the much-appreciated major was not far behind. They barely got it outside 50 before a clearly spooked Libba Jr looked up to see nowt but Melbourne jumpers and tried a suicidal kick across the ground, ending with McSizzle putting the ball down Fritsch's throat at the top of the square. He was so startled at being as good as right in front for once that he ramped up the degree of difficulty by playing on from 10 metres out. All's well that end's well, but my heart was in my mouth at the time.

Footscray got their second goal around this time but our pressure was clearly affecting them. Can't play St. Kilda every week. After a couple of minutes where Charleston Spargo picked up possessions at Gary Ablett pace, Fritsch was on the end of another gift botched kick across ground. These are the goals we didn't get last week, because the opposition didn't need to do risky switches, simply kicking it to one of the COVID test length queues of players on their own up the ground.

The Spargo Minutes peaked when he set the most delightful kick to the top of the square for Weideman. It couldn't have been better delivered to him if it came via a butler carrying an ornate platter. He dropped it cold, part of a rotten first half that saw him marking like he'd just received a hand transplant from Donald Trump. Double J saved him, crumbing the bejesus out of it, and kicking one of the most severe 'height vs distance to goal' snaps you'll ever see. In another win for ambient sound, the ball landed on an advertising hoarding with the same sound you'd get by driving into the door of your garage.

This brought us to 'if we stuff this up from here it will be embarassing' stage, which is when you know things are going well. But last week we were in exactly the same position in the opening quarter before getting altitude sick and breathing life back in the contest by conceding a couple of late goals. Even if that happened here (spoiler: it did not), the difference in quality of performances was chalk and cheese. 

The round is dedicated to Sir Doug, but when Gawn kicked a sixth in the dying minutes (after the mention of his shaky set-shot kicking, as mandated by the Broadcasting Act 2018) I was about to have an Uncle Doug. Only a nervous one, we've lost from better positions against worse teams. Still, you'd be the tightest arse in the English speaking world if you weren't satisfied with what you'd just seen. I'd say more goals from turnovers in a quarter than we used to kick in four full quarters represents a win for the system. 

I won't claim to have been a card-carrying member of the Simon Goodwin Fan Club at the end of last year, but regardless of whether the Yze/Choke Yourself With A Tie dream team have helped, or our current position is the result of a player-led revolution, if he's going to take all the heat for us playing badly he can have an equal share of credit when it's going well.

If there's anything to be sad about after a high scoring opening quarter it's that history shows it'll probably be our highest scoring quarter of the game. Doesn't mean we won't still win, but I'd love to mug a team from the first bounce and go on with it. However, due to our a ripper backline I'll settle for creating a break early, then winning without excess fanfare. I'd love a wire-to-wire festival of fanfare at some point this season but winning by any means necessary is a fair substitute.

There's nothing left to say about how good Lever and May are, and the latter bounced back wonderfully after being troubled over the last couple of weeks, but a word if I may for Harrison Petty. Watch out if he learns to kick. This is why I felt bad for Adam Tomlinson going down when he did, imagine watching the guy that replaced you either spoiling everything that comes near him or, in one case, jumping over an opponent for a screamer. Sure, at one point he did kick out on the full at right angles but he's rapidly heading in the right direction.

As expected, fans of high scoring footy were left disappointed. Much like Dogs fans, whose side barely broke even in the second quarter before going down without a trace in the third. Which is wonderful in hindsight, but when they got a goal within the first minute I was almost at the point of yelling "here we go". Except this year total collapse under pressure is now only an option rather than a guarantee. This one came from an optimistic blind handball over the head from Salem, who must got overly excited hearing us moan about his absence last week and returning for his worst game of the season. He and Langdon did nowt, it didn't affect the overall team performance. I think this is what being a good team is all about

After Tim English Muffins got another I was touching cloth. The margin was still 15 but I remember another recent game where we were that far in front with eight minutes to go and lost by a point. There was plenty of time for an unwelcome reverse here. Enter the rare scenario of Melbourne cancelling somebody else's goal directly from the bounce. For the second time we created a goal directly from the Bulldog ruckman fresh-airing the bounce, allowing Max to grab it and thump the ball forward. Why was this bloke not playing for Adelaide with 20 seconds left last week?

Gawn's kick found Petracca 55 metres out, whose claim of taking a shot on goal fooled nobody except the Bulldog defence, which allowed McSizzle to trot onto Truck's pass unchallenged. His kick around the corner was flatter than a shit carter's hat but was close enough not to matter. In a classic case of the original goal costing more than it earned, we turned the next bounce - via a brief retreat towards their end - into another goal - emerging from English's goal with a six point profit. It was that man McDonald again, taking a delightful pass from Anal-Bullet (which, incidentally, is the same sort of object now pictured on the back of Footscray's jumper) and kicking a more conventional set shot.

Seconds later we tried to waste two Tom McDonald goals at the same time by giving their small forward (I bet he's not endlessly compared to Cyril Rioli for some reason...) an hour to place his snap, but fortunately he missed. Cue several minutes of Footscray players losing the will to live while trying to find free teammates, ending in the margin blowing out to beyond five goals. Blimey. It started with Pickett harassing his opponent, and ended with him on the end of a pass, via a risky "we've got no other ideas" kick that was turned over in the middle. 

With five minutes left in the half there we could either:

a) Sludge them out and go to the half with a comfortable lead.
b) Bang a few more goals on to completely ruin the contest
c) Remove foot from pedal and allowe them a couple of goals to keep it interesting.

And after avoiding our self-destructive urges in the first quarter, nobody was surprised that the answer was C. I suppose you've got to concede sometime, but if there's anything I'd like more of from this team it's ruthlessness when the opposition are on their knees. When they had the first decent chance after half time, with the game having degenerated back into a World War I style trench battle, there were genuine concerns that they'd sussed us and were going to chip away until the last quarter before overrunning us. 

Enter Bayley Fritsch, or more appropriately, enter Zaine Cordy. Crazy name, crazy guy. He gave away a high tackle free, took out his frustrations by berating Fritsch for allegedly diving, and was still having a big old sook when Bayley walked around him and kicked the goal. It was the no crowd equivalent of that Essendon fan hanging shit at Gawn (then, apparently, being arrested as a suspected car thief) before the goal was kicked anyway.

That set off as close as we were going to get to the floodgates opening. Fritsch caused the fake crowd to go off like a Geiger Counter in Chernobyl by hitting the post, before the Weid came to life with goals from his first two kicks. Hell of a minute, shame the rest wasn't much chop, but given that his greatest performances came in front of combined crowds of 180,000 playing in front of 0 might have been a letdown. 

Clayton Oliver wasn't required to perform single-handed acts of sporting heroism this time, but evidence is mounting that he and Petracca are the most influential duo since air and water. Whatever happens from here I'll be wistfully reminiscing about seeing them play when old and clapped out. I loved Harmes' game, but these two are at the heart of everything we do. Grant Thomas isn't a fan, but if we want the opinion of a coach who was sacked for losing a final to Melbourne, we'll call Stan Alves thanks.

When Jordon immediately pinged out of the middle for another shot I was ready to pitch a tent, and though it narrowly fell short, a 36 point lead at the last change was worth getting excited about. For Sullivan Line reasons I wasn't going to open a crate of champers and light cigars, but was reasonably confident. Eight years on I'm not even traumatised by the time we led the Dogs by 44 points halfway through the last quarter and almost lost a game that would have given birth to the Jeremy Howe Line.

The last quarter was played out in a fashion befitting the crowd size. McSizzle's third, generated by the hapless Dogs ruckman not being able to bend down far enough to punch the ball off the ground, made absolutely sure of it five minutes in. With nothing left to lose Footscray got a couple of token goals from the sort of edge-of-your-seat footy that would have come in handy a quarter earlier but it was too little too late. I still wasn't truly comfortable until they needed five goals in five minutes. 

As good as it would have been to plow on and bury them, this was a workmanlike, cue in the rack last quarter that made the finish to the Carlton game look silly in comparison. Both involved a controlled descent to a comfortable victory, this time we'd done infinitely more impressive work to get there in the first place.

The AAMI ad had led me to believe that this would flash on the screen at the final siren. Alas no. It just puttered to an understandably atmosphere free conclusion.

Because Melbourne fans are legally not allowed to be happy for more than a few minutes at a time, the  mysterious appearance of Tom Sparrow as super-sub with a minute left caused some concern. Not to Channel 7, who didn't see fit to immediately tell us Langdon had gone off, or confirm that it was because of a head knock until about an hour later. You can set the stopwatch for a mention of Dr. Gary Zimmerman in every Dogs game but even with two boundary riders in an empty stadium, good luck getting important medical news.  

For reasons best known to the AFL, players who'd been together all week, tested negative to COVID then gone face-to-face with up to 23 opponents for the previous two hours had to put on masks to sing the song. When they were a new thing a year ago I could accept the idea of players 'setting an example' for the community. Now it just looked NQR. Shame Port didn't do more to mock Collingwood by wearing prison bar design masks after their win.

Anyway, as long as our players are singing when they're winning they can do it with Tuckerbag paper sacks over their heads for all I care. Every win is another payment towards a September neck-deep in premiership contention. And this, two months short of the 10th anniversary of 186, is an excellent position to be in. May 2021 continue to be dedicated to more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
Bit of a difference from last week, where some players were getting votes for very ordinary games. Now I could have included about nine.

5 - James Harmes
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Steven May

Apologies to Gawn, Lever, Rivers or Spargo who might have had the last vote.

Leaderboard
It's 1-2 for the Magic Twins, but Clayton's got the big break now. Plenty of votes left to be awarded, but barring disaster it's hard to see anyone pulling back this sort of a gap. In the minors, there's a slight tightening at the top of the Seecamp but Salem remains almost a full BOG ahead, and the Hilton race remains unopened halfway through the year.

30 - Clayton Oliver
18 - Christian Petracca
16 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
14 - Tom McDonald
12 - Jake Lever
11 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Steven May
8 - Luke Jackson
7 - James Harmes, Ed Langdon
6 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd
2 - Jayden Hunt, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Charlie Spargo

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
I have a great deal of fondness for James Jordon's defensive efforts but generally wouldn't let him kick for my life. However, his snap that defied the laws of physics was delightful, pocketing him the weekly nomination. He wins an ornate presentation case in which to display highlights of - so far - the most successful Melbourne rookie season since Allen Jakovich. 

Goals against St Kilda have since lost most of their value, but Pickett retains the overall lead for his spinny, turny, kicking over the head extravaganza in Round 2.

Next Week
It looks like the only chance we've got of playing for 'TP' next week is players punching on for Sorbent at Safeway. They're not going to wait until midway through the week to decide if we can go to Alice Springs, so I'm expecting by the time you read this it will have been shifted to either the SCG or our old friend Fortress Showgrounds. For the love of all that is holy, anywhere but Cairns.

With respect to the Northern Territory, I couldn't give a fat rat's clacker if we actually play there, I'm just bleeding that it'll cost us $700,000 in sponsorship money. This seems an excessively large amount to pay for one game to be played, but if they're willing to write the cheques we'll keep cashing them. Who knows what the contract says, but surely if they're the ones stopping us from coming when the rest of the country doesn't have an issue it should be on them to pay up. We're probably playing the long game, not chasing them for $700 large this year because we know it's worth $7 million over the next decade. 

Given that the even more lucrative Queen's Birthday is now also in trouble, the only way to recover some costs from this debacle might be to shift a different home game there. If the MCG will let us, GWS in Round 16 seems the obvious choice. Problem for the NT is that this is only going to get the same level of Friday night promotion if they pay Channel 7 a motza or there's bugger all good alternatives for the 'best' timeslot. At this stage, they might just get away with it, only Geelong/Essendon features a Victorian club and looks like having any finals implications.

The cleanest way to handle this would be for Gary Pert to slap down a dossier full of compromising images of NT politicians (and not the ones they've already sent themselves) and get us an exemption to play there. At the time of writing it hasn't been ruled out entirely so I've got some hope. Losing a game in Alice Springs would not only be a financial disaster, it's also a letdown for people who like to hear barely competent middle aged white men make patronising comments about the local crowd as if they're seeing electricity for the first time. On the other hand, great news our Sydney fans, who can enjoy the novelty of watching a game for premiership points alongside about 650 other people.

Whatever obscure venue it's played at, this game will be a further test of how far we've come this year. Brisbane have risen from the dead in the last few weeks to become serious contenders again, but are still trapped in a Battle Royale for premiership favourtism with us (!), Geelong and Port. There's plenty of time for others to come home with a burst, but at the moment it's looking a lot like 2004, where the lack of truly outstanding teams offers the chance for somebody to come through the pack and pinch a flag. Good timing, I've only been waiting 17 years to avenge our spontaneous combustion at the end of that season. 

After two weeks of getting predictions horrible wrong I'm going back to cautious optimism, thinking we could very well win but will fall just short. If we do lose, and it's still hard to come to terms with that being an unlikely option, may it have the same galvanising effect as the Adelaide debacle. For the first time in years Collingwood will be treating Queen's Birthday as their Grand Final, not the other way around, and I don't want any surprises.

The unavoidable change is the concussed Langdon. This is no good, but considering Friday night was probably the least effective he's been for us it proves we can win comfortably without him. The obvious replacement is Baker, but with no VFL to go off this week I'm basing my decision entirely on one Demonland post and giving Fraser Rosman a go. Sure, the same person says Baker was better in the same game but I'm keen to try the man who will dominate the nightclub scene when it reopens.

Despite Weideman not having a kick until the second half, his 60 seconds of glory compares favourably to Ben Brown barely getting a touch in the seconds a week earlier. As a swinging voter I still don't know which option to support, Brown still seems safer, but I understand it's probably better to persist with the Weid because he'll still be going years after Brown retires. We all like Ben, who seems an exceptionally cheery character in the Langdon mould, but given that we signed him to a four year contract that neither party is probably happy with anymore, maybe we'll find a trade for him at the end of the year? At which point all our other forwards will catch a flesh eating superbug.

Brown was unfairly maligned after the Carlton game, a wet day when we shouldn't have played both he and Weid in the same forward line, and in a game of Sim Selection Committee I'd probably pick him next week. In real life that would be a gigantic loogie in Weideman's face. Hopefully his second half was a confidence booster, otherwise VFL form or not (in the current climate, more accurately VFL or not) I'm switching to the guy with proven career form as a goalkicker.

The success of our midfield here - especially Harmes - is both good and bad news for Jack Viney. He is absolutely crucial to our finals tilt, but now we don't have to rush him back. Give him another week off and hopefully his foot stays attached for the rest of the season. Let's unleash him on Queen's Birthday, at which point he'll be so revved up that several Collingwood midfielders could die.

IN: Rosman
OUT: Langdon (inj), Sparrow (omit)
LUCKY: Melksham, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Sparrow, Viney

Regardless of where this is played, even on the deck of a ship in international waters, it promises to be a cracker. I will now accept that we're a top eight side, but won't start gazing lovingly at the prospect of a double chance unless we win here.

Mid-Season Mania
Unlike most drafts we've been involved with over the last 20 years, nobody's stressed that winning caused us to drop a position. For once we're picking like the best team in the country, which lacks a bit of excitement compared to the National Draft - where it implies you've just won the bloody flag.

Unless you're North, about to snatch a highly rated prospect via loophole, it's hard to take this draft seriously. A handful of teams found regulars last time, but most selections never got a game or flamed out quickly. We have a couple of positions that could do with cover (e.g. tall defenders, running half-backs, mid size half-forwards) and up to two spots to fill but considering draftees aren't going to play in the next couple of weeks anyway, you're left going for kids who are expected to develop for next year, break in case of emergency experienced players, or Marlion Pickett style Hail Marys.

The full list of nominees is available here, and I'm not at all qualified to tell you who we're going to pick but wonder if we might take Wiz Jr. this time, just to park him at Casey for the rest of the year and see how he develops. There's not much else there if you're hoping for romantic ex-MFC connections. The lost Brayshaw brother, the Werribee bloke who trained with us pre-season and Mitch White, but sadly no sign of The Spencil, who is too busy running riot at Doncaster to waste his time hanging out on a rookie list for half a season.

Otherwise, we're left looking for wacky names and anomalies. Including several nominees from club 'none', #108 who spelt Heidelberg wrong, #109, who wrote down an address instead of a club name, #126 who casually refers to his club's competition as 'Adelaide footy league', and plenty of others who are clearly just wasting everyone's time by nominating for a laugh. May whoever we end up with turn out to be the shit hottest player ever to lace up boots.

Final Thoughts
Let me be very clear that I'm still not claiming us as a serious premiership threat but imagine if things go super tits-up in Victoria, the league ends up as a travelling circus again, and our return to the Adelaide Oval is to play a Grand Final. There would be a lot of wrist-slashing over not being able to see it live, but at this stage of my life there would be immense (and I mean IMMENSE) personal satisfaction in seeing us win a flag from anywhere, whether that be the ground, my couch, or an iron lung. We're still not even halfway there yet, but it feels a few percent more possible than last week.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

The recession we had to have

Given we've only had three other 11 game winning streaks in history there's not much to compare this defeat to, but could there have been a better time to lose than the week ridiculously premature articles about 'daring to believe' started? It wasn't quite David King's telling us to stop worrying in 2017 shortly before we missed finals but still felt like unnecessary jumping of the gun. It's nice that people show a positive interest, but a 9-0 start is nothing more than a deposit on a finals spot. 

A top two finish is desirable, but even the prize you get for the minor premiership has about the same value as a secondhand DVD player from the Salvos. If you're not flying on September 1 it matters not a jot what you were doing in May. Doesn't mean we didn't enjoy the ride, but that will be worth the same as 5-4, 6-3, 7-2 or 8-1 if we're not raring to go at finals time.

An even more appropriate sign of the apocalypse was taking on a cryptocurrency exchange sponsor. In both cases, values have been inexplicably increasing all year while we waited for the boom to fizzle out. Right on cue, fictional concepts Bitcoin and Melbourne leading the ladder both crashed in the same week. If one of them regains their value in the near future I don't think it will be us.

This page has turned simplistic footy analysis into an art form, but there will be somebody out there accusing us of taking the Crows lightly. This ignores us giving slop like St Kilda, North and Hawthorn every chance before coming good when it mattered. That might be the most offensive part of this capitulation (non-umpiring department), we'd indulged another challenge and were set to win with just a few minutes left before pissing it away. 

Now that the great run is over it's easy to be dismissive of past performances, but look back at last week again and tell me that we weren't ripe for a loss. Admittedly, I was as confident as possible that we'd get through here before being touched up by the Dogs, but will testify under oath that the danger sides were there against Carlton. We got away with that because they were an ordinary team that didn't play well. This time we ran into an ordinary team playing out of their skins and fell as narrowly short as you can get.

I tried hard to stop the famous Veil of Negativity dropping from the ceiling. After all, without ever being menacing for more than a couple of quarters at a time we'd beaten all the other lowly sides, why not another one? Salem is so important that the news of his withdrawal with 'soreness' (later revealed to the more sinister-sounding 'groin complaint') was the only time my confidence wavered. I'll take their word for it that he was too sore to play and they weren't just resting him for an 'easy' game with an eye to next week.

In his place came Nev, who is the only 2010s veteran who'll go close to leaving with the same adulation as Nathan Jones, but like Jones is not approaching the finish line at top speed. In trying to remain positive I thought he might free up Hibberd to do Salemish things. He did not. Nor did Hunt. Conceding nearly four goals than any other game this season - oddly enough against North - suggests the backline as a whole had a shocker. Not that they're solely responsible, I love everyone who kept us unbeaten for nine games but throw a rock and you'll hit a contributor to this loss. Unless the rock hits Clayton Oliver, in which case I'll knife you.

Flat performance or not we very well could have still won, but let none of the whinging about missed opportunities or one of the great umpiring bloopers detract from Adelaide's performance. Salem's absence helped, but kids and veterans united to give our defenders a bath, and I've got no earthly idea how our structure-free forward line nearly kicked triple figures. Probably because most of the goals came from the midfield.

Probably the only element of the game we were better at this week was winning clearances. Fat lot of good that did, but far from being proof that you can afford to lose them, it adds weight to the theory that you can't expect defenders to get you out of jail every week. We were ropey enough with the ball flinging down there at speed in open play, I can only imagine the sort of out the arse goals Adelaide would have kicked if it had also been shooting out of the middle. Salem might have been good for the missing two points (if you believe things work that way) but our backline hadn't been under this much pressure since the Port or Dogs games last year. Even the great Cairns cockups had more to do with failing to kick a winning score than anything offensive by the backmen.

Considering how it ended, the early returns were positive. The ease of the first goal made it seem everything was going to be alright. Had things gone as expected this might have been where I'd said "and that's when I knew we were going to win". As if I've ever thought the first goal proved we were going to win. Still, Sizzle and Langdon bamboozling the Crow defence with an intelligent tap of a bouncing ball and a finish from close range suggested good times. We barely looked like kicking a goal from close range again.

One of the reasons we didn't win was on display not long after, when Gawn flubbed an intercept mark in defence that and allowed them to sneak the reply through. He's done this a couple of times in recent weeks and a worrying trend. I know they're trying to protect Petty and add another intercepting option, but if you're not going to take the marks or kill the ball your presence becomes dangerous. This is why Lever just thumps it out of bounds so often. Your first instinct is why didn't he just mark it, then you see situations like this and realise that sometimes it's better to do the conservative thing and make absolutely sure the other side's not going to crumb it.

Speaking of Lever, I'm pleased for Crows fans that they finally got to do a half-baked Carnival of Hate three years after he left. They weren't creative enough for anything more than vigorous booing, but it was their right to sook and I'm glad they exercised it. Considering our form with this sort of thing you'd be hypocritical to complain. In fact, there should be more of it. More personal issues, more Duursma bow and arrow, more Rhys Mathieson, more Toby Greene. That will do more for the game's profile than endless pissing about with the rules.

However, my view on booing has not changed since the dark days of the Adam Goodes debacle. It is the coward's way out. You should say what you really mean and be judged on that. Still, genuine ill-feeling that doesn't veer into bullying (but sure, you were just booing him because he belted Simon Godfrey a decade earlier weren't you?) is good for football. There's got to be some standards though, I'm not accepting Hawthorn fans being pantomime angry at Lance Franklin when they'd probably nosh him off if asked politely.

The hostile reception may have contributed to Lever playing one of the nervier games of his post-ACL life. Or the cuddly-looking Matthew Nicks just found a way to stop him merrily running free and chopping off every kick inside 50. This is a side-effect of playing well early in the year, everyone's got the chance to come up with ways to negate our best features. He still bobbed up for plenty of intercepts but often looked rattled and gave away a goal from a needless push in the back. Jake may have lost here, to the joy of the people sitting along the fence who looked like they'd dug a shallow grave or two in their time, but did avoid the Don Pyke Kidnap Express bus tour so he's probably come out ahead psychologically.

It wasn't the first time he'd played the Crows at Adelaide Oval, but last year they were so bad the ball didn't spend enough time in defence for the skeleton strength crowd to hang shit on him. They may have lost five straight before this, but have clearly come a long way since ending that night 0-10. Not hard to do better than that, but I think they'll be back in finals contention a lot quicker than some perennial rebuilders. Funny how some teams bounce back quickly from disaster and others spend the best part of a decade in disarray.

Like Paul Roos before him, 2021 Simon Goodwin would rather win 45-40 than 145-140, so he must have been concerned at how much space the Crows were finding. When it turned into a contested possession game in the second half we lost anyway, so maybe it would have been better as a shootout? In the end, that's irrelevant, in both the high and low scoring phases of the game we had the four points in the bag and stuffed it up.

We seemed to settle down to proper top of the ladder form midway through the quarter, kicking three goals in three minutes. The first came from McDonald not just selling candy but the entire meat tray and walking around a hapless defender to goal from the square. He wasn't terrible from there, but didn't do much to further his surprise All-Australian campaign.

This was followed by Trent Rivers turboing out of the middle at the next centre bounce and hoofing one from distance. I know some would rather we let the opposition get the ball 20 metres out from goal before we try and launch attacks but this was right up my alley. If they're going to persist with 6-6-6 you may as well take advantage. When Melksham hit a wonderful pass to Weideman for the third in quick succession it looked like we'd finally sussed them and were going to trot off into the distance.

Our problem was that you barely ever saw any of these people again. Melksham set up two goals with wonderful kicks in the first 20 minutes then proceeded to do bugger all, Weid got almost all his kicks up the ground, and Rivers didn't do a great deal forward or back. They were not alone, had we pinched this a top of the ladder side may never have won with fewer players going full pelt.

In the great narcoleptic Melbourne tradition of unexpectedly falling asleep, we failed to press on and kill the game off (or just get to quarter time with what we had), doing our best to let the Crows get back into it. Not long after, the Weid goal was cancelled via a hitout intercept in defence (and if Nathan Buckley has ever been right about anything it's that hitouts are a shithouse statistic to derive any serious meaning from), then Lever gave away another by deliberately handballing over the line. As we discovered later, where he went wrong was not rocketing it over the boundary from 20 metres away.

Usually, you'd say kicking five goals in a quarter was a good thing, but with our defence looking uncharacteristically shaky letting four in at the other was a worry. Not to mention them almost booting another one right at the end. Maybe it was that old MFC fatalism coming back into play but I had much more faith in their forwards keeping it up for four quarters than ours. Perhaps our players felt uncomfortable at not having to climb out of a hole in the first quarter for once? Fine time to wish for a return to the Stranglewank days.

Just as clearances came back, forward pressure disappeared. It was diabolical in the first quarter and didn't get any better by the end. Of the players you'd expect to have an impact, ANB went hardest but balanced his defensive work with rotten disposal, Fritsch acted like a traffic cone when he didn't have the ball, the thinking man's cameo artist Spargo just ran around, and Pickett hasn't looked dangerous for a month. But, forget that he's a 19-year-old second year player finding his way, how about another comparison to four time premiership player Cyril Rioli? 

Our quest to keep the ball down there would have been helped by not stuffing the ball down the throat of unchallenged defenders about 25 times. Seems like as good a time as any to bring back that famous word 'connection'. I'm torn down the middle on the Brown vs Weid debate. When it looked like Jackson was going to be out for another week this looked like a knockout match to decide which one we stuck with, now I'm more confused than over. Weid's role crosses over with Jackson's but in that Geelong final he was taking belting marks in front of goal so it's not like he can't do it. And while Brown hasn't done anything outstanding yet, he kicked five goals in his first two games before playing one dud in conditions that didn't suit him. For now, I'm 51% in favour of the Weid but would be happy either way - mind you B. Brown apparently played an absolute stinker in the VFL today and M. Brown kicked 2.6 so that's probably made their decision easy.

A wonderfully weighted kick Petracca to Fritsch kick that opened the second quarter once again made you think everything was going to be ok. Then Fritsch joined the cavalcade of players who went missing, as we were reduced to playing about 12 on 18 (or for umpiring whinge fans, 12 on 21) while search parties were being arranged to locate the rest.

This was, for once, a Melbourne game that our old mate Steve Hocking would have loved, with plenty of opportunities at both ends. Any suggestion that we were finally going to take the hint and cruise away to another victory was shattered by them kicking two in a row. Sure, then second was just a flat-out pisstake free on Petty for doing nothing more than winning a battle of strength but I'd argue Adelaide got reward for creating a situation where the Wheel of Umpiring could spin in their favour. Maybe if we'd done the same we'd have snagged a couple of dodgy ones?

Enter Clayton Oliver, about to put on the best performance in a loss the golden days of Gary Ablett at Gold Coast. First, he kicked a goal only slightly less ludicrous than that belter at Adelaide Oval a few years back, then he created an opportunity out of the middle that ended in Fritsch hitting the post. He couldn't do it all, and another dropped Gawn mark in defence (what the dickens is going on?) allowed the Crows through again. We not only couldn't get rid of them, but it took Harmes leading with his held like Joel Selwood to win a high contact free and going into half time with scores level.

There was a last-ditch chance to go ahead at the break, with another centre clearance ending in a Fritsch mark. He was - for once - right in front but his kick fell short. There's nothing more that I hate than the assumption that if a player had converted instead of missing that the rest of the game would have followed the exact same path. However, a kick after any of the first three sirens is as close as you're going to get to being able to argue it. Still, even if he'd snuck this through for a point and we'd started the third term one up, it doesn't automatically mean we have one more at the end and draw. Wouldn't have hurt though.

Half time offered us a chance to glance into the Plan B envelope and find a way to stop the Crows dominating uncontested possession. Must have been Salem's week to guard the envelope because we came out to exactly the same sort of game, with them merrily chipping it from one end to the other a'la Geelong 2020. Ludicrously, a third dropped Maximum mark let them in for another and things were starting to look a touch ropey. I said he looked tired a couple of weeks ago and am wondering if - for once - my knee-jerk reaction might have been correct. Certainly a big difference to Hawthorn, the day he could have outmarked the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

If Max had already done more blunders than the last five years combined (and to be fair, he did a lot of good stuff as well, I'm not trying to get him dropped), his involvement in the next Adelaide goal was unlucky. After seven weeks of barely paying 50s they've roared back with a vengeance. Now the mere knocking of ball from hand in a marking contest led to the penalty. It still left the Adelaide ruckman more than 50 metres out. Hence why a teammate ran past for the handball and walloped it through. We've tried that about 50 times in the last few years and it's worked once.

Now at a couple of goals down, there was cause for panic. Oliver and Petracca were having a tremendous bash, but if the rest of them weren't involved in bloopers it's because they weren't getting a touch. For instance, Pickett, who sparked at just the right time to bolt into an open goal after barely getting a touch all night. He finished it but it didn't happen without a great second effort by Jackson, who put on another performance that left you giddy about his future. Until Freo get us back for pinching Jeff White by rorting their salary cap to sign him.

We couldn't help but keep them in it, including Lever doing a good old fashioned shove in the middle of his opponent's back right in front of goal. I was ready to be outraged, then the replay showed he did it. Like a more legitimate version of the Petty free, the more you take defenders out of their comfort zone, the more likely they are to give away frees. We had zero interest in this philosophy and look where it got us.

That man Oliver continued to carry the team on his back, this time recovering that goal from a contested mark. Set shots are not usually his forte but he could do no wrong, almost adding another at the end. That miss left us three points ahead at the final change, and considering our good record in last quarters and the limits of their youthful exuberance this should have seen us home.

Things looked even better when we finally got the game on our terms, with Lever intercepting his way towards a tremendous "fuck you all" win, and their backmen unable to find simple avenues out of the defensive 50 for the first time. So when Spargo turned up for the steadier - set up by Oliver of course - it stood to reason that the floodgates might open. And that they did, albeit temporarily and without enough force to do fatal damage. Incidentally, Spargo's reaction while it was going through was thoroughly giffable. If only there was anything from this game that I ever wanted to see a second time I'd play his sideways leaning antics on a loop.

After Langdon kicked a goal that may have been touched but good luck proving that with the quality of AFL cameras, I reasoned with myself that I'd be comfortable with one more. Enter who else but Oliver, not even bothering to try and bring the forwards into it and rifling home on the run. What a performance this was. Contested possessions have only been a stat since 1999, but he improved on his own record (previously shared with Jack Viney) to have 27. It's a positive stat, but the visual evidence of how he did it was even more impressive.

Turns out he couldn't do it all himself, and my stupid level of confidence in the 'one more goal' theory didn't take into account conceding straight out of the middle. This is why I despise losing centre clearances. Had we held up for a minute, or got the ball forward and locked it in there, they would have had to work extra hard to get it forward, instead we allowed them to immediately neck Oliver's goal and were left in the same place. He might as well have missed and we'd have been a point better off.

We've had a reasonable run of not turning 5/11/17 point leads into one point losses, but you still always know the possibility is there. In fact, we hadn't lost by one since 2010's brutally but accurately described 'Petterd Game'. That's not surprising considering for most of the time since we've been flat out losing by anything less than 50. On the upside, this time we get to point and boo at an umpire as the villain rather than scarring the memory of an otherwise much-loved player from the #fistedforever era.

Like us, Adelaide (defeated Geelong, lost to Hawthorn) must only seriously bother turning up for the big games because they would not go away. For the first time ever I watched a thrilling finish with Child #1, who started the last 10 minutes demanding Melbourne kick a goal and ended it laughing hysterically at me charging around the room shouting things like "I can't believe we're going to lose like this". When the once again much-maligned Petty was cheated out of a blatant holding the ball that led directly to Adelaide's goal I had to internalise words that would have probably ended in a visit from Child Protective Services.

Even though I was already disappointed at myself for caving into public pressure and assuming we'd win, I mentally doubled down and tried to believe we'd get out of this somehow. Would have been a fine time to pluck a goal out of our ringpiece, or perhaps just to find a mark near goal for the first time in living memory. Instead, we spent two minutes shambling around like a team that was 0-9 and protecting their first lead all season. 

Then, much to the delight of that Carlton stroker who wanted to besmirch the good name of Steven May, the winning goal came in a contest against him. He couldn't get a spoil on Taylor (never Tex) Walker, and you just knew the way the evening was going that he'd kick it. Don't want to get greedy after winning nine in a row, but couldn't he have just repaid the favour from Weideman's miss against them two years ago? Apparently not. 

After Leoncelli's famous 2001 winner received a welcome airing during the week I remained open to another miracle finish. Don't know why I was suddenly in full MFCAnon mode after nine weeks of interpreting every slight negative as a sign the end was nigh. As I've just discovered, that's what seeing the run of your life go down the tubes by the narrowest of margins will do.

With 40 seconds left it would have been appropriately comical if we'd just lost the centre bounce and any chance of victory. But we did get forward, where Pickett dropped a mark and the ball fell to ground. At this stage I'd have taken a hurried snap for a point that secured a draw just to avoid having to come to terms with the feeling of losing again. Instead, an Adelaide defender picked the ball up and heaving it over the boundary the line in the most obvious fashion ever. Like Walker's set shot I knew this wasn't going to go our way, and any Adelaide fan who tries to justify it should be excluded from the mainland of Australia. Some tried to justify it by saying the ball deflected off Spargo. These are the same people who think OJ Simpson was a bit unlucky to come home just after a double homicide.

At any other time of game, or place on the ground, the umpire would have given deliberate so vigorously that his shoulder risked dislocation. Instead, the prospect of 40,000 people saying mean things encouraged him to take the safe option. I thought it was suss that, like when Brisbane were dudded at Kardinia Park, it happened to the visiting team. The AFL found a way to kill that theory, letting Port's ruckman almost impregnate Brodie Grundy in the dying seconds of their game. Two one point wins for Adelaide teams, two questionable decisions. What a week to be South Australian (jokes on a postcard to the usual address).

I respect the difficulty of umpiring a fast, complex game with 360 degree movement but this was such a bad decision that it's almost funny. Piss off with the Zapruder film style efforts to pretend the umpire saw some minor loophole, he stuffed it up and it cost us. Not as much we'd recently cost ourselves. The decision certainly took the heat off a team that had stuffed up their chance to kill the game and were left scrambling for a Hail Mary goal in the dying seconds.

As far as controversial umpiring decisions in Adelaide go didn't quite reach the intensity of Fitzroy being crucified in 1991 but still hurt. There's some comfort from being the 'good' side in a situation like this, think back to the few games we unexpectedly won while in a worse position than the Crows and imagine what damage you'd have wrought on inanimate objects if something like this had stopped us winning. For all the shit Peter McKenna got as a commentator, at least in 1991 he had the plums to openly slaughter the decisions that fixed up the Lions. The otherwise gold standard Foxtel team of Hudson, Dunstall and Lyon (not Ricciuto) could only muster up slight indignation and random noises, not the sort of the howling abuse this deserved. The perpetrator may as well have driven through every red light camera on the way home while he was at it. 

Like Brisbane in Geelong, it would have only given us the chance to win. We would still have had to navigate a kick from the pocket with 20 seconds left. I don't believe in mystical bollocks like fate and destiny, but considering our commitment to not winning this game I bet it would have been kicked across the face and failed to score anyway.

The best bit about that Leoncelli goal was the dead silence that greeted both it and the final siren. Vacuuming the oxygen out of the place in the same fashion here would have been cruel but wonderful. We'd have got one more on the board before being beaten next week no matter what, but more importantly would have won another game as red-hot favourite. Now all the familiar dread will come back when we play Collingwood, Essendon, Gold Coast, Hawthorn and Adelaide again. The next game against the Crows comes after playing the Bulldogs and West Coast in Perth, and ahead of a last round game against Geelong away. Winning has been fun, we'd want to be doing a lot more of it before getting to the last month.

A forward pocket boundary throw-in kept open the prospect of a blockbuster finish, but how often do we directly create goals from stoppages that close? I think back to the time Max did a fancy over the head tap to Viney who snapped a goal and wish we could see more of that. This would have been a great time. Alas no. They stopped Oliver or Petracca (because, realistically, who else was going to get it) from scooting onto it, Max tried to take one of the two remaining stoppages out of the ruck himself and the Crows were home. Bah. 

I'm still irked now, but the red mist phase passed quickly. After a few minutes of stomping around the house complaining to nobody in particular life went on. I don't think we were beaten by a better team, but certainly one that were a better side on the night and made the most of their chances. Couldn't care less if they win one more game or 10 as long as they lose to us in the rematch, but I'm willing to accept joint custody of the result - they won it, we lost it.   

So in the end, almost everyone except Clayton Oliver got the result they deserved, James Jordon finally lost, the AFL's going to have a hard time spinning the deliberate decision as anything other than historically bad, and we're just as unlikely to win a flag as we were last week.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Clayton Oliver
--- The distance from here to the Moon ---
4 - Ed Langdon
3 - Christian Petracca
--- Paris to Dakar on a moped ---
2 - Luke Jackson
--- Another measurement of distance ---
1 - Jake Lever

Apologies to Gawn, but only because he was in a neck-and-neck race for an underserved point against Lever. I really did consider every option but can't justify anyone else making it. This is one of those days where you have to just fill in the numbers and pretend the rest of the game never happened.

Leaderboard
26 - Clayton Oliver
16 - Christian Petracca, Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
14 - Tom McDonald
12 - Jake Lever
11 - Kysaiah Pickett
9 - Steven May
8 - Luke Jackson
7 - Ed Langdon
6 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - James Harmes, Jayden Hunt, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Charlie Spargo

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
The way I feel about Oliver today I'd have given him the award for a tap-in from a metre out with no defenders within 50 metres. Good thing he also kicked a belter. Watching it again will make me angry about the rest of the game but I remember it fondly. For the weekly prize he wins excessive adulation, to the point where I might turn up outside his house. Pickett is still your overall clubhouse leader.  

Next Week
Now we'll never know if - like Nigel Tufnel's amplifier - Dees go to 11. If we play like this over the next two weeks we'll struggle to get to 10 anytime soon. After the Bulldogs, fresh off dismembering St Kilda, it's six wins in a row Brisbane, in a match for the prestigious We Lost Because The Umpire Squibbed Cup.

Footscray are like us with additional ruthless scoring, hence why they've won two games by over a hundred points this year and we've done it twice since 1993. Even if we'd beaten the Crows easily (hah) I'd have expected to go down next week. But now that the heat will be off a bit, let's see how much has been learned from not only this week but also our pre-season game, where they took care of us without raising a sweat. As far as I'm concerned nothing has changed for them, I thought they'd win the flag then and still do now, but we've done much better than expected without ever excelling so it should be interesting. Or it'll be like playing them on Friday night in 2011 with the world at our feet, losing by 10 goals and sacking the coach a month later. Either or.

For all the coverage of our forward dilemmas, I'm struggling to find players to replace the ones I want to get rid of. Salem for Jetta is obvious if fit. If not god help us. Might be a chance to give Bowey a debut. If Viney is fit he has to come back and I'm narrowly going to shelve my distrust of Brayshaw and drop Harmes again because it's not like we play Gus in the middle anyway, so he wouldn't be taking up Jack's spot.

Then there's Melksham, whose zero tackles and anonymous last three quarters mean he gets to be the sacrificial lamb. But who comes in? After last week I can't trust Chandler in a big game and we are otherwise cactus for half-forwards. vandenBerg is only just coming back from injury, Jones is still out hurt, and frankly do either of those options float your boat anyway? I'd rather work out how to give Sparrow another go, even if it's not a like-for-like swap.

Depth is starting to be a concern. There's tall forwards and midfielders, but otherwise the uninjured cupboard is looking a bit bare. We're down to Baker, Bedford, Bowey, Bradtke, B. Brown, M. Brown, Chandler, Daw, Jones, Lockhart, Rosman, Smith, Sparrow and vandenBerg. There's a chance to go crazy picking state league randoms in the mid-season draft but that's the biggest pot-luck process known to man. Fine if you're Richmond and you can warm a guy up for the whole second half of the season before dropping him in the Grand Final, not much help if you're trying to tackle immediate shortcomings.

IN: Salem, Sparrow, Viney
OUT: Harmes, Jetta, Melksham (omit)
LUCKY: Brayshaw, Pickett, Spargo, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Browns of all varieties

I demand to be proven wrong, but will eat the metaphorical hat if we win this. I'm still intending to go if tickets are available (and this result has probably killed the interest of a few of our fans), and at a stadium that's not the MCG will even cop sitting next to somebody. The only question is whether the inevitable fist fight with them comes before or after half-time.

Final Thoughts
Considering how bland we've been for the last few years, we haven't been involved in the upset of the season for a while. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, being on the end of the massive upset means things must be going alright. I'm still looking no further than the gap to ninth.