Monday, 20 August 2018

You're going home in a cosmic ambience

There you have it Demons fans. Fellow travellers and sufferers of the virus. The dismissal of the monkeys, albatrosses and millstones that have been weighing us down since Round 1, 2007 is complete. Now to work on the ones dating back to 1964. We're only marginally closer to winning a flag than a week ago, but at least now we've got a ticket in the lottery and belief that we can turn over top teams.

The joy that our fans are feeling over this seemingly minor achievement must seem strange to supporters of good clubs. But when you've spent the best part of 12 years being humiliated at every turn there's something special about not only qualifying for the finals again but doing it in front of a crowd so anti-social that it's surprising they didn't do 60 seconds of applause for Andrew Gaff whenever Angus Brayshaw got the ball. This might be the finals talking, but it's got a claim to our greatest interstate win.

If we had to go through the disappointment of last week then it seems worthwhile now. It would have been much cleaner to have steamrolled Sydney in the last quarter and gone to Perth knowing we couldn't be beaten, but then we wouldn't have just obtained a lifetime of memories would we? The real reason I wanted it to happen last week was to be there in person as we cartwheeled over the Rubicon, but all's well that ends well. Going off like a pork chop in front of my TV acted as an adequate substitute.

What a weekend of hair-raising thrills, spills and gastric distress. Short on confidence about us winning two in a row in Perth for the first time since 2000 my focus was still on how others could do the work for us. It felt defeatist, but going straight off the Super Bradbury how to vote card just in case was the sensible way to look at it. Surely you know by now that when it comes to this club expect the worst and take anything else as a bonus.

I've taken more notice of neutral games in the last fortnight than any time for years, and the first port of call was Richmond beating Essendon. They made hard work of it by resting three players and allowing the Bombers to launch a furious comeback that nearly got up. Fortunately it didn't, so that was one contender wiped out and the focus turned to Port Adelaide. A top eight fixture all season they've had a MFC nightmare style run over the last couple of weeks, first beaten by a goal umpiring howler, then a goal after the siren. What do you expect when you recruit 10% of our 2013 senior list? Now they just needed to lose to Collingwood and our game both became 'win and in' AND kept the door ajar to losing both and falling in default. So while trying to avoid mingling with another parents at a four year old birthday I find they're three goals up in the first quarter. Lucky there was no better place to be for unhealthy comfort food.

Meanwhile at our old friend Kardinia Park, Freo did their bit for keeping Geelong's percentage down by holding a quarter time lead. Then like any good waterfront workers they went home early, conceding the last 23 (!) goals of the game. With Gold Coast still to come for the Cats that was bad news for any scenario that ended with us fighting them for 8th. As that game went into perverse "how far can they go with this?" territory, Collingwood were stuttering to a 13 point lead at three-quarter time. It would have been just the sort of thing they'd do to screw us, but they couldn't help but batter a rapidly disintegrating Port and won easily. Good club, never said a word against them.

In theory Port and GWS could combine for a 300 point swing against us and knock us out on percentage, but even I'm not deranged enough to contemplate that. Once I'd shamefully punted the old enemy (circa 1964) home and Sydney beat GWS to break away from the pack, I became convinced that we had to win it off our own bat rather than hope for others to stack ahead of us. Which was easier said than done going first to Perth, then back to the MCG for potential last day of the season "AGUEROOOOOOO" style dying seconds heartbreak.

The stress of having to consider something as wonderful as leaving WA with the most crucial four points in over a decade was enough to cause my innards to going into crisis mode. The liquification doesn't seem so bad now that it's been replaced by a feeling of euphoria, but the sort of physical and mental sporting trauma I've experienced since Friday night might have chopped months - if not years - from my life. Best get on with winning flags before I cark it then. For now I was fondly remembering those much maligned mammoth wins against bottom sides that seemed pointless when we couldn't beat anyone good, but which set up the monster percentage that has us in the eight no matter what happens next week.

It's difficult to win a flag if you don't make the finals to begin with. It sounds bland, but that's what makes today so important. We would 100% have been filling a gap if the 2016 Mighty Ducks Finish had come off, might not have been much better last year, and most likely won't get past the first week this time but at least we're there. No need to fast forward 12 months and be huddled around ladder predictors drawing up scenarios about how to get in for the first time. That distressing subplot has been dismissed. As has the great "you haven't beaten anyone inside the eight" debacle. Will second on their home deck do? It certainly will for me, and I'll worry about our record against the other seven sides still in contention later.

Perhaps the finest aspect of this victory, even more so than taking (and conceding) two four goal leads and the ballsy way we held on in the last quarter, was that three field umpires finally walked into an Eagles game and didn't obediently hand them the game on a platter. Of course West Coast had to win the free kick count or the stadium would blow up, but for the first quarter and at various points throughout this enchanted afternoon we genuinely got away with doing a few dodgy things. About time. In the circumstances that would have been welcomed anywhere, but even better when you can make 50,000 people who have had a white male style run of entitlement squeal like pigs. Some are still sitting in their seats at Perth Stadium now, howling at the moon.

It goes without saying that there will be a full viewing of the replay during the week, but as I wanted to get this post out ASAP to capture the moment I'm just going to have to rely on scattered highlights and my highly unreliable memories of what happened. If something illegal had happened during the game I wouldn't be able to testify in court, it all just seems like a beautiful blur. The chaos I unleashed while watching was more than the usual interstate game ritual of hovering over my TV and shrieking like a banshee turned up to 20. It wasn't just one random screech of glee that accompanied McSizzle's winner at Subiaco, this was quite literally four wall-to-wall quarters of riding every possession like my life depended on it. All this while spending the first half acting as the responsible adult in charge of a small child, which is just as bad an idea as it sounds in the circumstances.

I couldn't entirely rule out the idea of us winning, but after being made to look silly last week it just seemed like such an un-Melbourne thing to do. One Bertocchi ham from the SEN prize cupboard to Garry Lyon for doing his bit in the wake of the Sydney defeat by calling us mentally weak. In many ways he was quite right, and of course everyone from the President down had to defend our position, but you know it provided a handy motivation for the troops to rally around. Especially in the absence of Hogan, whose season ending foot injury (and pull the other leg that he only developed that last week) meant missing yet another of the great wins of the last few years. I'm not suggesting trading him to Freo (and why would you go anyway?), but we've got quite the record for pulling off bonkers wins in his absence.

To replace him  and the dumped Garlett - we rolled the dice on a forward structure that added Hannan and Kent to the obvious return of Melksham and opted for Sam Weideman to replace Hogan. I'm not off The Weid under any circumstances, but was terrified at the prospect of him struggling to make an impact as Tom McDonald's second banana. No such drama, he had equal career high disposals, marks and if Champion Data is tracking it pack crashings. A couple of loose roosts at goal from inside 50 might have been handled better, but overall he played his role to perfection. Hannan too proved the selectors right, and while Kent was barely seen in the first quarter and only dropped in occasionally from there he saved his best for last.

For those of you who subscribe to the theory that you can tell whether we're on in the first couple of minutes this game was right up your alley. We looked confident with the ball and were thumping them with tackles at every opportunity. I've seen us come back from more than four goals down to challenge too many times to get worried if Plan A doesn't work, but in this case it was paying off like Adelaide in Alice.

For once we weren't the ones forced to mount the blistering comeback. It was the Eagles who had to do it twice. For only the second time in the recorded history of the Stranglewank (and I know that's one stat Champion Data isn't across) a team reduced a -24 gap to -6 or less twice in one game, following on from us on Queen's Birthday 2015. That day all our forward moves were cut off by Adam Oxley, today the game opened with similar from Barass. We haven't been screwed so badly by somebody with that name since 1965. You'd almost think we were playing with a Lockett, Ablett, McDonald forward line with the way the ball was still being hoofed in there at the start. Nevertheless, the Eagles were rattled and we eventually found alternative routes around their numerous tall defenders.

The best thing about the first goal is that it came from a strong Gawn mark, and after a couple of weeks where he looked like he was about to keel over and die from exhaustion when doing anything other than racking up hitouts this was a welcome return to versatility. We got exactly what was needed against the Swans, an extra tall popping up randomly in defence and the forward line to take marks and generally create havoc. He also did some eye-watering ground level stuff that somebody with his giraffe like height shouldn't be able to. Surely nobody that size has ever been able to pick up a ball in traffic and generally hit targets so cleanly. The next best thing about the opener was that Hannan marked his return to the senior side by effortlessly plonking through a set shot, far better than the comedy capers we put on last week.

There should have been a second shortly after, with Oliver taking advantage of a diabolical turnover in the middle to launch a long shot that landed almost on the goal line before bouncing away. Because I was looking for any reason to say "here we go again", that seemed like just the sort of bad luck that would come back to haunt us. Next thing you knew Weideman had a contested mark and converted another set shot so there was still something to be said for beating fate and our own tragic history and making this game count.

I don't know if we caught the Eagles by surprise with our chase and tackle early, but they were rushing to turn it over at every opportunity. Now that we had a team rattled it was important to finish them off, just like the Alice Springs gold standard for crushing a team's spirit by quarter time. One tackle that certainly surprised was Oscar McDonald flattening Jack Darling, caused him to be knocked loopy when his head hit the turf. Nothing wrong with the tackle, grow softer grass. To the untrained eye this and Scott Lycett limping off with a knee complaint were both favourable to our chances. Two opposition players injured in the first quarter, where have we seen that before? Lycett returned to be persecuted within an inch of his life by Gawn, but the man who could have standing in our forward line if not for a) sex romping and b) the avant garde selection of Lucas Cook was finished for the day. And thank god for that, I never factored key players going off injured in any version of the Bradbury Plan.

When the third goal was initially created by Oliver falling on his arse while trying to kick and we were through more than half the quarter without an Eagles score I did start to think things might be about to go our way. Even the previously unknown WA commentator rolled out because nobody else would fly to Perth saying "the Dees can do no wrong!" as the unbelievably improved Harmes stuffed his kick home didn't initially come back to haunt us. Three goals to nil was not to be sniffed at, but after doing likewise in the first quarter of the Port game and losing I wasn't calling Dial a Champagne yet. But there may have been slight raising of eyebrows when McDonald kicked the fourth for 26-0. If A. Random Commentator wasn't going to get us I was, saying to my beloved "we'll have to work hard to stuff this up". What a stupid statement, there was about 3.5 quarters left to hold a four goal lead, plenty of time to do something outrageous.

One aspect of the first quarter that absolutely gave me the horn was Aaron vandenBerg being freed from playing as a defensive forward to actually do midfieldery things. He was very good at it, as you'd expect from somebody who is actually a midfielder. From one foot on the scrapheap a few weeks ago he's bought himself another contract on the strength of this performance alone. Sure he did elbow somebody in the head, but hopefully if he goes it's only for a week. If not he can consider himself a great martyr to the cause. It says something for our recruiting that him, Fritsch and Hannan are headed towards the finals and none look out of place. It took us a few years to get top 10 draft picks right, now we're just plucking useful players from the minor leagues at will.

As all these mystery goals were going through and Eagles attacks continually crashed on the rocks of our defence, I was exhibiting the early signs of going troppo. Hopping from one foot to another, pacing forward towards the TV and then stepping back into my optimal viewing position, spinning around whenever something happened that I didn't like and generally screaming at the TV like an arsehole to the point where I had to apologise to my daughter because she thought I was yelling at her. There goes Father of Year, I'll have to settle for finals tickets instead.

It all seemed a bit too easy, like one of those games where the other side put us under siege the moment they get their hands on the ball. At first without Darling they had no idea what to do in attack, but gradually found their feet and started to make trouble. Their first goal was the signal for the smalls to start giving us the shits, with a midfield turnover ending in one little man confusing the bejesus out of both Frost and McDonald to snap from close range.

If that was all we let in I could still call the quarter an unqualified success, but two more before quarter time cut the margin to 10 and left me both literally and almost figuratively with the shits. The margin wasn't unwelcome, but nor was it reward for effort considering how well we were moving the ball and how often we were going inside 50. The main problem was as ever, speculative long kicks into the 50 that we weren't equipped to deal with.

It looked like the party was over at the start of the second when the Eagles were piling forward and repeatedly putting our defenders under pressure. They were up to it, with our man Sam Frost pulling in a great pack mark to defuse one opportunity. For 10 minutes there was nowt but points on offer, and while the score was struggling to go up my blood pressure must have been reaching epic proportions. While Channel 7 was admirably restrained in not talking about the live ladder every five seconds, my mind was re-calculating scenarios about what needed to happen here, there and everywhere. Here was the most important, and the contents of my stomach moved a bit further back to where they were supposed to be as Brayshaw got one against the run of play.

After a quarter of things unexpectedly going our way, the first 'IGA - how the locals like it' (and ironically they had their logo on the ball) umpiring decision of the day cost us a goal. In full total football mode vandenBerg flew in for a defensive spoil, only for an umpire standing behind the contest to decide that he didn't have eyes for the ball. Which was an interesting adjudication, followed by the guy who looked dead from the contest leaping to his feet and hammering home a goal from 50. AVB then nicked it straight back out of the centre and no bastard was game to try and take it off him lest he thump them. It was about time one of ours had a hurried snap around the corner that went in, and not straight to the defender waiting in the square.

For all the small forwards we'd picked there didn't look to be much pressure on the Eagles defenders as they merrily turned any forward thrust that didn't end in a score at our end into an opportunity for one at the other. It was like the St Kilda game but against a much better opposition. The difference between the Saints defeat and this was that then we didn't have the bull in a China shop exuberance of Sam Frost to regularly get us out of trouble. Both he and Oscar McDonald were very good, and in fact in the absence of Darling it was more their small forwards that hurt us than anyone else. Luckily if you've got a small forward, we've got a small defender:
Nev later pushed his claims as one of the shining beacons of his generation by engaging in a life or death grapple with his opponent yet somehow finding enough space to take a mark. After some wobbly weeks in the run-in he was very important here, not that you'd know it from the plonkers who do the AFL Player Ratings and had him about fifth bottom. Wash your methodology out with soap.

The game had considerably tightened up - along with my left and right ventricles - but we'd still narrowly increased our quarter time lead. The scene was set for something memorable to happen one way or the other. With a one player advantage, opposition fans were coming out of the woodwork from every angle to assure me that this time everything was going to be alright and that we had the game won. Fans of clubs who have won anything this millennium telling us not to worry is like the smug pricks in industry superfund ads berating their mates for being crap at investing.

Compare the pair - on the left is Lucy. She's a Hawthorn supporter who has banked a lifetime of happy footy memories. On the right is Sophie, she's seen Melbourne win bugger all. Same age, same premiership starting balance. Now Lucy has four flags and Sophie has none. Lucy is convinced the Dees are home, Sophie is not so sure.

Until the final siren the Lucys of the world were the worst people alive. Interested neutrals, did you not understand the immense psychological pressure we were under? The last thing anyone needs in that circumstance is to feel like we're going to look like even bigger knobs for losing. In the end you were right, and I love you dearly for it but next time hush up until it's over.

My scepticism about friends, colleagues and total strangers telling me not to worry so much (hello David King, it took a year but I'm finally enjoying footy) didn't factor in kicking the first two goals of the quarter. The theory that Melksham plays better with Garlett went out the window here, he was brilliant. Maybe just plonk any old small forward in front of him and wait for good things to happen? The first goal was textbook, from Gawn's tap, to Oliver pirouetting through hapless opponents then rushing to get involved again, and Kent's comeback from a slow first half by finding Milkshake with the pass. It was not his best kick of the day, but a slips catch dragged it in to extend the margin to 20 again. Then Melksham set up McDonald, the margin was 27 and we were away again.

Hands up any Melbourne loyalist who thought we were sure to win at this point? Me either. Because we are afflicted by a syndrome that makes us waste goals kicked by McDonald as soon as possible, the game high lead lasted about 30 seconds. The second West Coast Stranglewank was on when they got another straight after, then a third via one of the finest soccer style crosses and finishes you'll ever see. Whenever there's a World Cup on commentators will do a hammy trying to force in references to any goal off the ground, but this perfectly dropped from outside 50 for Rioli to side-foot through in style from the square. I can appreciate it now, at the time I was half-screaming something like "Oh fuck off, they're not going to beat us with that shit are they?" My voice was practically already gone and there was another quarter and a half of this torture to come. If we'd lost and I'd never seen a second of the replay something would have been missed not reliving BT's call of "I can strike it like one of the best international strikers in the world". Pipe down you tool.

With the smell of blood in the water, the locals popped big time for Tyson being tackled over the line and blatantly failing to dispose of it properly first, only for the umpire to call it a point. There's nothing better than an overwhelming majority feeling hard done by. At one point the goal umpire had to call a review for a West Coast goal because she'd been run into by multiple players as it went through and they booed that as well. If you told them they'd won Tattslotto and everyone in the stadium was getting a million dollars they'd complain that it wasn't two. I've sat in the MCG reserved seats and realised that I don't like half our fans, if I was a fan in Perth or Adelaide I'd just stay home and watch on TV.

My suspicions that we were eventually going to be exposed were not helped when Hibberd pulled up from a contest looking for all the world like he'd either done or was just about to do a hammy. That's the last thing we need, especially when we're only one foot injury away from a free one. He recovered, but given that he did well to be so effective when he didn't look fit at the first bounce god knows what condition he was in by the end. What this victory also buys us is the chance to rest players if we need to it, giving them two weeks off to get right for the finals. Did I mention the Melbourne Football Club is going to be in the finals?

Not that you'd know it from the pissweak highlights on the AFL website which ignore everything after the Rioli international world striker strike, but the rest of the third quarter was a Channel 7 executive's dream. It burst open for a few minutes while teams kicked goals from everywhere. Stranglewank #2 was complete when the margin was reduced to less than a goal, before Hannan got another immediately from the bounce. Then they did likewise, only for us to reply through McDonald. This time he didn't let anyone ruin his goal because he kicked the next one as well. But in a karmic reminder never to get too excited we leaked the reply to that one immediately instead..

In the carnage and chaos of those few minutes I'd allowed myself to believe again after McDonald's third. Whenever they got the ball into space we were in big trouble, but the backline was holding up well and we had multiple avenues to goal. When West Coast's last goal cut the margin back to eight again at three quarter time I'd swung to complete deflation. Now the chances of us coming out the game looking stupid were sky high. The problem was I'm not sure I could have condemned them even if we had lost - though you never know what sort of wacky way we'd have done it - because you knew they'd given everything up to that point. The forward pressure was shit, but everything else had been just as you'd want it in such an important game. Dare I say the sort of stuff that you can imagine seeing on Grand Final day. By somebody else obviously.

I made two shocking mistakes at three quarter time. One was not recording my blood pressure for posterity, and the other was failing to go viral with a video capturing my antics as the game unfolded. Knowing that I was likely to blow an O-Ring with the biggest force since the Challenger space shuttle, three quarter time was spent sitting on the couch, nervously flicking through Twitter to make sure the rest of the community were as likely to heave as me and trying to calm my nerves by taking deep breaths. What a sight I must have been, acting like a complete poon over a sporting event. But this was my chance to get this much coveted finals appearance in before I step away from full-time supporting, the AFL intervenes to inject spectacle until we die from an overdose, and the finals are expanded to a meaningless 10 team wankfest. I just assumed we'd lose next week, so North being humped by Adelaide on the other channel was no consolation I needed us to get the job done here because another week of this sort of tension might have put me away.

Considering how we'd at worst broken even in the umpiring I was expecting to be kicking into the rorts in the last quarter. Remember 2016 when we stuck with the Eagles all day only to buried under an avalanche of batshit crazy decisions and misinterpretations? That's exactly what I thought would happen here, but maybe somebody obtained photos and is holding them in a Geneva bank vault because there was nothing more than the lightest whiff of hometown umpiring.

With all my expectations set to crumble, kicking the first of the final term came as a surprise. Random Commentator was not wrong when he said "the Demons can sniff September", but like actors and Macbeth you just don't say it out loud. Melksham's goal had its genesis with Salem's first kick of an ice-cold last quarter where he didn't put a foot wrong. The margin was back to 14 and quite frankly I didn't know what to do. The obvious answer was to adopt the brace position, because that prompted the most serious of all their comebacks.

For some reason we tried to save the game from 15 points in front with 25 minutes to go by sending Tom McDonald into defence, and he was nothing more than another red and blue traffic cone for the Eagles to walk around as they kicked three in a row to take the lead. At this point I completely lost it, running into a bedroom, pulling a blanket over my head and screaming most of George Carlin's seven words you can't say on television at the top of my voice. That felt like the killer blow, we'd led all day and were now on the ropes taking punches.

We had about seven minutes to not only regain the lead but hold it. In a moment of high domestic drama Junior - who only knows our sporting teams as "blue and red" and "yellow and blue" walked up to the TV, saw the West Coast logo on the screen and said "oh yay, the yellow and blues". I'd forgotten to ask her the key question of whether we were going to win or not before the game, but did notice she was holding some kiddy Disney princess wand and said "could you please turn Melbourne into a finals team?" Whatever she said as this dinky plastic toy was pointed at the screen worked a treat - get her down to training during the week.

There was still work to be done. That goal left us in such a state of disarray that Brayshaw mysteriously ended up back on without his helmet. In a sign that maybe things would work out ok for us he even put on a tackle without a three-banger clacking of heads ending his career. I imagine it would be hard enough for his mum to watch another game at this stadium anyway after what Gaff did to the other son, let alone with Gus comfortably getting around without cranial protection. Good on him, medical advice be buggered there was no time to waste.

Despite the final margin, I am certain that one more goal would have killed us. Without access to a full replay at this time I'm unable to work out just how close we went to conceding it. Like the mental anguish in Geelong that caused me to forget how the game finished I've only just recalled that Melksham got the go-ahead goal before Kent's sealer. That's the sort of condition I was in at the end of this game. All I wanted to do was fast forward to the final siren and know whether we'd won or not. It's been many, many years since I've been on the gear but I remember the effect being similar to what was happening here.

On viewing of the highlights - and it's nice of them to include any of the last three goals instead of just giving up halfway through - I do remember the end-to-end goal that finished with Melksham goalling from an unguarded square to put us in front. It started with Salem, went through Brayshaw, and to Fritsch to rip long down the boundary for Hannan to run onto. The Eagles defenders did a 100% Melbourne and all went towards the man with the ball, allowing Melk to slip unnoticed into the square. He cracked it home, roared towards the cheersquad like a lion and we were ahead again.

With five minutes left there was way too much time to run down with dinky Sydney like kicks, but we gave it a red hot go. It worked well for a minute, before we were eventually forced to go forward for want of any other available dink. Glory be, a West Coast player overran a perfectly easy ground ball, Harmes picks it up and hits a perfect pass to a leading Dean Kent 40 metres out directly in front. Yes, if you have come in a time machine from 2012-2014 we not only made the finals but it came as the direct result of one player leading and another kicking to him. God almighty, it can't have been all that difficult for people to work out back then could it?

Usually in these situations I'd have no faith in anyone's set shot no matter how close they were, but it's funny how your mind works when it's been damaged by football. I instantly went back to the last minute of that game against North Melbourne in Hobart, when coolly sank a set shot to reduce the margin to under a goal. That was the reigning high point of his career until today, and remembering it gave me a weird organised religion style faith that he'd get this one as well. The two shouldn't have even been remotely connected, being that they were two and a half seasons apart and people have done all kinds of scientific work to dispel the idea that 'clutch' players even exist, but through it went and scenes were very much had.

As it flew through I fell to the ground screaming in joy, pounding a reasonably thin floor mat with both palms and quite honestly nearly crying my eyes out. I could actually feel tears coming at a rate of knots before realising we weren't yet safe from two goals in two minutes and a one point defeat which would have sent me to my grave. I regained my composure, and even after the last goal and another round of wild scenes the blubbery had passed, regardless of how overjoyed I actually was. In the event of us ever winning a Grand Final I promise to bawl my eyes out like Max Gawn watching Gilmore Girls.

It was only about half an hour later when the adrenaline had worn off that I realised the pounding of the floor had really hurt my wrist, and it still hurts like buggery whenever I flex it now. Small price to pay to see real-life magic happen. You can only imagine what state any of my limbs would be in if we'd leaked the two quick goals straight after. I didn't mind running the clock down through stoppages in the middle, but was terrified that we were going to feed them with an ill-advised kick into 50 that pinged out the other way at warp speed. If they got to within one goal you knew another would have been coming soon after.

Thank god for the health of my body, mind, soul and household fittings we got away with it. Like the Adelaide game there was an exclamation mark when the Eagles pushed up looking for a goal, and allowed Melksham out the back for the double sealer. Any score was going to do, but he rubbed it in/increased the dramatic tension by taking as much time as possible to kick it.

The players had done all the physical work while I just fretted, but nothing could stop my excitement at the final siren. I took off on a gleeful lap of the house with my arms aloft like a runner crossing the line at the Olympics. The jubilation of our players, however, was temporarily delayed by a stoush between Sir Neville Jetta and some Eagles peanut. Whatever was said must have been good, because Nifty temporarily forgot that he'd just cracked September after 137 games and a delisting and indulged in some manly jostling instead.

I can't think of anything that could have provoked that reaction in those circumstances (instead of, say a sarcastic pat on the head and "better luck next time dickhead") that we won't hear more about later. Once the lads were free from having to defend the great man's honour there was much time for celebration. And it may as well continue for the rest of the week, stuff the GWS game. I was almost tempted to find out what time the plane landed so I could go to the airport and mount Stone Cold Craig Jennings in celebration.

What a weight off the shoulders this is, hopefully the first day of the rest of our lives. I'm just so proud that as much as I'd have taken it they didn't rely on others falling over (well, not in the last week anyway. Love you Port) to get in. They did it with their own hands, and now anything could happen from here.  To paraphrase McDonald's I'M FUCKING LOVING IT.

Melbourne FC administrative staff, press send on the finals brochure mail-out with confidence this time. Receptionist, answer the phone with a spring in your step knowing that there won't be a nutter on the other end. Chris from Camberwell inhale a massive belt of helium. Crownbet take the $50 I had on us to miss the eight and stick it up your arse. Everyone else enjoy the ride, I'll see you in the queue at the Arts Centre Ticketmaster Bass at 9am Monday week.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
If I wasn't so hopped up about the integrity of this award could I'd give everyone a vote just for being part of such a monumental moment. But I can't, so much love to everyone involved but bad luck.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - James Harmes
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jake Melksham
1 - Christian Salem

Major apologies to Hannan, Tom McDonald, Weideman, Frost, Jones vandenBerg, Brayshaw, Tyson and Hibberd.

Maximum claws two back from Oliver, but time is his enemy and he drops into the position of needing a pair of unchallenged BOGs to grab a share of the title. Not only has The Hamburglar all but sealed victory, this also puts him ahead of Nathan Jones 2014 for the most votes in a season. He's a mastermind, and I'm glad that for once taking a punt on an unusual draft selection paid off in spades.

In the minors Fritsch would basically need somebody to come in and have a Darren Cuthbertson-esque run through the next few weeks to be challenged, and unflappable Christian Salem enters double figures in his quest for a first ever Seecamp.

57 - Clayton Oliver (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- At least two finals needed ---
47 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Abandon all hope ye beyond here ---
29 - Jesse Hogan
23 - Angus Brayshaw
22 - James Harmes
17 - Tom McDonald
16 - Bayley Fritsch (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
14 - Nathan Jones
13 - Jake Melksham
10 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Christian Petracca
8 - Jack Viney
6 - Neville Jetta, Jordan Lewis, Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan
4 - Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald
3 - Dean Kent, Jake Lever, Dom Tyson
2 - Sam Frost
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Joel Smith

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There were more spectacular finishes, but for a heart-in-the-mouth/massive release of tension interface you can't go past Kent's winner. Pending somebody doing something remarkable in a final that will become as iconic an MFC set shot as Jeff White from the boundary line against Footscray. That was a more difficult kick, this one was for instantly higher stakes and he drilled it without an ounce of drama. He might be playing on the same ground for a different side next year, but if so what a gift to remember him by.

For the weekly prize he wins a lifetime of endearing admiration from Melbourne fans everywhere. The clubhouse leader, with time rapidly running out, remains Charlie Spargo in Geelong.

What an incredible capitulation by the Eagles. While our lot carted a shitload of crepe paper, gigantic poles, and enough rope to have alternative uses if it all went horribly wrong 2700 kilometres, the home team emerged from the mouth of a droopy beaked inflatable Eagle into a guard of honour of some flag-waving secessionists. The Eagles have already struck a blow against one footy tradition by replacing their theme song with a soft rock abortion, now this. What an organisation. Dees by default and 21-0 for the year.

Crowd Watch

Next Week
Speaking of franchises, next week we're back at the MCG to take our victory lap against the Giants. From sooky fans to no fans, in a match that still has some relevance for unexpected reasons. For what it's worth I have us losing (why start showing faith now?), Geelong narrowly pipping us for 7th via a 100+ win over the Suns and a first up blockbuster final against the Pies. If Sydney beat Hawthorn we go there to play them instead, and I'll backflip on everything I said at Kardinia Park about never going into a hostile environment again and travel at the drop of a hat. Either of those scenarios will provide the opportunity to show if we've learned from one of our earlier major cockups. What a wonderful world.

In the afterglow of cracking as close to the impossible dream as we've had in a while it's hard to think about changes. I still reckon Spargo is cooked and don't understand why they picked him this week so he can have a rest. Two weeks off should keep him in good nick if required for the finals but no need to squeeze all the life out of him for the sake of what is effectively a dead rubber. With Casey finally losing - and no wonder when we keep nicking all their players - it's hard to get a decent form line on replacements but I'm opting for niggle and giving Bugg a go.

There is also a case for resting Hibberd as he is so important in defence I'd hate for his hammy to tear out and fling across the MCG like debris in a cyclone. In that case we've got so little in reserve to cover him that you could have either of Pedersen, Wagner or Kennedy-Harris and it's not going to make much of a difference. I think we can win, probably setting up a home final against the loser of Hawthorn/Sydney, but for the first time since about 2013 won't be heartbroken if we don't.

IN: Bugg
OUT: Spargo (rested)
LUCKY: Nil - warriors all.
UNLUCKY: Garlett (not from a selection standpoint, but he's necked his finals chances unless Kent goes kickless next week)

The All New Bradbury Plan

Is no longer relevant. There's an outside case for making the top four but that's not my concern now. Let your ladder predictor skills turn to working out finals permutations, you've earned it.

Final Thoughts
And so, after 313 contests ranging from an AFLX wankfest to practice matches at obscure venues, pre-season cup knockouts and home and away games we're back. A lot has changed since Nick Smith was plucked from obscurity to play Freo at Subiaco on Friday 15 September 2006. Finally, a chance to add to Demonwiki's Most Finals page for the first time.

The path through the last three weeks of 2005 was amazing, but it was off three other recent finals appearances. So, without access to the deep, dark reaches of the internet that were available in 1987 I'd have to say this is the greatest finals qualification moment of the internet era. Which is a relief considering the dead set farcical circumstances that kept us out last year.

Whatever happens from here should be treated as a bonus, but I've just got this feeling that they're going to tease us with something magnificent and we'll still end the season feeling something has been snatched from our hands. It will hurt if it happens, but not even remotely as much having our hearts torn out and shown to us before we died if we'd lost here and ultimately missed out.

It's taken me so long to get this post out that most of you will probably be waking up to it on Monday morning. The feeling is real, the brief Mid-Table Mediocrity period is over, the #fistedforever decade is now only to be studied to ensure we never make the same mistakes again. Welcome to the Fringe Flag Contender era.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Unsafe at any speed

20 years ago this round I went to the MCG full of a mixture of hope and dread to watch us play Sydney for a spot in the finals. Back then there was none of this Round 23 nonsense yet, so victory was a lot more decisive in making sure we didn't win 12 games and miss the eight. Tony Lockett's 100th goal didn't help them in the slightest, we won by a comfortable 31 points, somebody waved a stolen USED CARS banner behind the Ponsford Stand goal and a good time was had by all.

Even after reliving the greatest season of my supporting life in lurid detail just two months ago, the coincidence between that season and this year didn't strike me until I found out that Footscray had overturned a five goal deficit to rumble North. Now a win would all but make our return to September certain, and I foolishly allowed myself to dream for a few minutes. It helped that we were winning reasonably comfortably at the time, and that the Swans would be short two players for the last three quarters. Then one blatant deliberate in front of our goal went unpunished and a complete tits up scenario ensued. Now we're the '98 equivalent of Richmond, likely to win 12 and finish ninth after being pulverised in the last round.

As exclusively revealed on this page several weeks ago - when even Brock McLean's mate Blind Freddy could see how things were going to play out - anyone continuing to reference Richmond as perennial 9th place finishers after this season will be on the same level as cheese gag strugglers. The Tigers have done it twice, so have St Kilda, neither of them in consecutive years. One of these three teams has also won a flag, while the other two just plod along wasting licences the AFL could give to Greater Even Further Western Sydney and Gold Coast South.

For some reason there was incredible optimism about us winning, and as much as I appreciate people trying to be positive there was no reason to send us in as such warm favourites. The Swans may have inexplicably lost to Gold Coast, but throw a rock inside the eight and you'll hit somebody guilty of disgracing themselves at least once. Who were we to point fingers after letting St Kilda score 120 points? Especially against a team that keeps running finely tuned anonymous players off a production line year after year. Never having heard of half of them was no reason to get overconfident.

Just because I didn't expect to win in a canter doesn't mean that it's any less painful to have once again lost courtesy of a few minutes of madness that left us in a crater too deep to climb out of. It narrowly missed qualifying as a Stranglewank, but was very much in the same spirit. It's at this point that we ignore winning 12/20 games and start to ask serious questions about on-field leadership. Jones' career should be celebrated but it's hard to argue against the number of times we've been buried in a landslide over the last few years. It's not just his fault, I'm assured that we're supposed to have leaders coming out the wazoo but the moment the bullets start flying everyone's legging it for safety instead of standing to fight.

If you expect a calming influence to flow from the top I'm not sure I've got anything for you. Viney is the obvious option, but he's been co-captain for almost as many debacles AND has a foot likely to fall off at any moment. What I'd like is for everyone else to step up around the captain(s) and lead without a title, which has been my frustration ever since we had about 10 players in the leadership group and were still run like the Marie Celeste. There's no J**d parachuting in to give Carlton fans a short break from their drab lives, we'll just have to do with what we've got. And if anyone suggests handing Oliver the poison chalice I'll knife them.

Who would honestly be a Melbourne fan? I've been demanding the club hold a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for years, and now the terms of reference should be extended to include the person(s) that convinced us to get involved in the first place. I can blame myself for living in Hawthorn in 1988 and refusing to follow the bandwagon, Murray Wrensted for not kicking that goal in the Elimination Final, the distant relatives who took me to my first game, or indeed the great Allen Jakovich for sealing my fate in 1991.

Speaking of Jako, it was a significant week for those of us who still worship his existence. He'd already come out of the cold late last year for a podcast, but a surprise TV appearance was another welcome step in his reintegration to society. Next step is to hire him as our forward line coach, he might have had a ping at goal from any opportunity but at least they were from scoring range and not hopeful 90 metre roosts to be picked off by any number of opposition defenders. I'm almost as upset at doing badly in front of him as I am about the performance in general. May he return again soon and deservedly be treated like a deity. During the week somebody Twitter searched his name and favourited about 50 different times where I'd mentioned his name since 2009. In my sickest, darkest fantasies I hoped it was actually him and he knows what he means to me. Anyway, enough of being creepy towards celebrities and back to this tremendous cock up...

I should have known the day would end in misery when I woke up feeling like I'd had a dodgy curry. There have been enough game days like that over the last 10 years like that to know it's was pure sporting anxiety and not microbes. There was a time when I thought they might relocate the club to New Caledonia at any minute and felt like this almost every week, now it's because we're on the verge of narrowly missing the eight again. As an added bonus I also found the skin on one of my knuckles mysterious grazed off overnight. It's possible that I was so stressed about this game that I sleep punched something 12 hours before the game even started. There was no further punching to be had, but as we botched a last desperate thrust forward I did tear my hat off and bash the seat in front of me with it like Boss Hogg from Dukes of Hazzard.

It's a filthy secret that I haven't sat in Row MM since clubbing the window after Maximum's miss in Round 1. Even worse, the last time I was in the cherished back row of the Ponsford was the infamous first quarter of Round 23, 2017. I don't believe in omens, superstitions or gods of any persuasion but the stress of the run-in sent me a bit loopy and I headed up there in the hope that a win would wash away all the bad vibes from that end of season debacle. Just like that day I didn't last the full game there, throwing a wobbly midway through and relocating to another stand in the forlorn hope that it would provoke a famous come from behind victory. Nope.

Considering we spent the first few minutes on the back foot with the Swans constantly attacking the forward 50 the opening quarter turned out pretty well. I think we were all scared to death of Franklin, but even though he ended up having seven shots he was pretty well held. Frost did exactly what was required, pushing him up the ground and making him take most of his shots from a mile out.

That Franklin (now holder of a proud 15-0 record against us) is one of the few players in the league who can convert from that distance was irrelevant. There was one great moment where Frost beat him one-on-one and took off through the middle of the ground that would be talked about for hours if done by a flavour of the month player on a popular team. To prove he could deliver antics anywhere on the ground, there was also a moment in the heat of the last quarter where he marked just outside 50 and went on an insane run, right through a nest of Swans players and barely escaped without being pinged holding the ball. He's bonkers and I love him.

While our defenders were busy forcing Sydney's best forward to travel hither and yon for goalscoring opportunities, their teammates contributed by thumping the ball into the attacking 50 like an out of control fire hose. Who didn't see Aliir Aliir's hot form for intercepting everything that came near him becoming a factor? I know absolutely nothing about tactics but could see that the interface of quick, athletic, marking player vs "just kick it" wasn't going to end well for us. It feels rude to criticise our forward structures when we're the highest scoring team in the league, but feeding on rubbish sides only to give up scores against anyone half decent and just missing the finals is all a bit 2011 before general turmoil blew the doors off. Now we don't even have an off field feud to blame, we're just hanging around the lower reaches of the eight in the hope that something will snap and everything will mysteriously come together just in time.

We tried to make Aliir accountable by putting vandenBerg on him, which seemed odd considering AVB has never jumped more than a couple of feet off the ground, but every once in a while the Sydney man would take a break from chopping off our attacks to fresh-air a contest and gift us a goal. After six behinds to start we had to earn our first goal through Petracca, before Aliir midjudged a leap and gifted vandenBerg the goal everyone had been dying for last week. I guess like Frost you have to take the good with the bad, because he also got in the way of about a dozen other aimless attacks that may have otherwise bounced off into the hands of a waiting forward.

Despite a shaky start, the two late goals set up an 11 point lead. That was more than enough for us to throw away, but a decent foundation to work with. The emotional part of me says it's better than coming from five goals down at quarter time, the rational says at least that provides three quarters to mount the comeback instead of having to compact it all into a frantic 30 minutes of unbridled enthusiasm and uncontrolled execution.

To outsiders untrained in the ways of Melbourne, the task looked even easier when Sydney emerged from quarter time two players down. Poor old Alex Johnson came back from five knee reconstructions then did the other one, and an All-Australian defender was DQed with a Garry Lyon-esque back/hamstring combo. But again, if you've been paying even the slightest attention to us over the years you know that no team is worse at taking advantage of the misfortune of others. They would later be forced to keep injured players on due to a lack of fit players and we still couldn't win. That's Demontainment.

For now though everything was coming up Melbourne. After two misses Hogan's even longer and sillier than usual run-up finally yielded a goal and we were three straight in front with eight more scoring shots. In one of the most ill timed interjections ever, this bloke turned up with some helpful advice just before the afternoon started to go horribly wrong:
Outsiders lecturing us about having faith is a bit rich. Shane, like David King after the famous "lie back and think of September" article from last year, could I please introduce you to the Melbourne Football Club. His helpful pep talk at 3.50pm AEST was rendered completely bloody useless within 30 minutes as the Swans knocked through six straight before half time to not only overtake us but set up a very handy lead. For one it looked like pissing rain was on the way, and secondly they were going to need a buffer for the last quarter when the lack of rotations hit. The rain never seriously came, but their collapse did after we'd kindly provided just enough buffer to make sure they were never seriously threatened.

I'm very happy that we can run up huge scores by modern standards against pish teams, shame about the top half of the comp. Or when we arseholed ourselves against the Saints. It's not the first year in recent memory where everything looks ok until the opposition get the ball. If nothing else, unlike the Collingwood debacle, we showed up for the first quarter before pissing off. But when we left it was at warp speed.

This time, unlike Round 23, there were a reasonable number of tackles laid. Mind you, that number was propped up by the likes of Oliver having 12 while three of his teammates failed to hit one and another three chimed in with just one each. It's not unprecedented, we had three with zero and four with one against the Dogs, but that did include a quarter where the other side barely touched the ball. I don't know if it's relevant, especially when the Swans reduced our opportunities to tackle by spending most of the game daintily chipping the ball around amongst themselves. It's probably got more to do with us firing off our load like a horny teenager in the backseat of a car whenever we got near goal.

At the other end the Swans kicked six without a miss, the seemingly cooked Charlie Spargo failed to make the distance from 40 metres, and Sizzle McDonald's goalkicking was suffering full strangulation from the media curse. It was another huge week for that much loved cliche, with Anal-Bullet responding to an article that painted him as the nicest man alive by playing a shocker, and Oliver only narrowly avoiding being squeezed to death by a double page Herald Sun spread. We can't be far from a full colour special celebrating Harmes' great second half to the season, I suggest the media manager turns his phone off for the next two weeks.

Even playing in perfectly calm conditions this week attacking from distance was not our go, but as the opposition were of slightly higher standard than the Gold Coast Suns we weren't allowed to walk 15 goals in from the square. Garlett was completely neutralised until the last quarter, and most of our points were from speculative long bombs or horribly mangled set shots. 3.12 was a putrid half time score considering how often we'd been inside 50 - and because we missed three opportunities in the last five minutes to get the margin back under 10. Look how much good that late goal in the first quarter against the Crows did us, but here we were just being wasteful and it cost us dearly.

Even after conceding our traditional violent burst of goals, 14 points at the break wasn't a death sentence. One thing you can say for this often rudderless outfit is that they're usually good for a few minutes of breathtaking football. Preferably one where the opposition never touch the ball, especially an opposition capable of kicking with surgical precision. Instead we conceded the first goal within two minutes, three of the first four and I was left trying to work out how to climb up one of the light towers.

Two in a row - including a much needed set shot for McDonald after about seven misses in a row across two weeks - recovered the half time margin. Given you could already see Sydney's midfielders waning I suspect all we needed to do was play out the last 10 minutes without going any further behind and we'd have steamrolled them. Instead we went back into our shell and let in the next two. The worst moment of the day was Sir Neville Jetta bringing a rampaging Franklin down in one of the most heroic/suicidal tackles of all time only for the ball to come straight back the other way for a goal. Way to pay tribute to the brave efforts of a teammate who is one concussion from retirement you pumpkins.

Pedersen drifted forward and got one back with a very strange finish, and it was going to leave less margin for error but I could just about have seen us overturning 22 points. Then we negotiated the last two minutes of the quarter like a drunk driver, needlessly conceded a goal and I went right off.

The only problem with Row MM life is that all sorts of dickheads get bored during half time and think it's a lark to clamber up to the most outrageous seat in the house. The whole point of going there to start with is so I can misbehave in peace without either a) ruining other people's day or b) having to be self-conscious about going off-chops. The visitors usually get oxygen deprived and rack off about five minutes into the third quarter, but this time I found myself surrounded by adults and kids alike. When Papley's late goal went in they got the full tantrum experience, an unhinged Kardinia Park style rant about how I hate going for this team before clambering over the seats in front of me and storming down the stairs, still carrying on like a wanker until I was well back into the single letter rows.

By the time I got to the bottom of the stairs and temporarily parked myself in the same standing area where I'd mounted the rail in celebration at the sealer against Brisbane last year, Sydney were about to launch another attack and the people in that area enjoyed a burst of my emotions as well. The only thing that saved us when we were ripe for the knockout blow was the Swans helpfully refusing to go forward in the dying seconds, even when the clock got to the stage where the only possible result was them scoring.

My antics were embarrassing enough, imagine how bad it might have got if I'd gone in thinking we'd win. The problem was (as ever) having victory dangled tantalisingly in front of me - in the most important game of the year - three minutes into the second quarter only for it to be snatched away without the merest resistance offered. The 2019 membership slogan should be "if you've got a back, we've got a knife".

Even against a rapidly fading team a 28 point lead was too much for us to overcome. We couldn't play a Gold Coast style trainwreck every week. And neither could Sydney. We'd had a few winners, but were not playing like a team likely to run over the top of anybody holding that sort of advantage. Maybe if they seas hadn't parted to gift them that last goal, but not with a lead of nearly 30 points. The only Sydney players who never looked tired were their defenders, who let three goals in via sheer weight of numbers but had more than enough in the tank to stop us completely breaking through their line.

On the other hand we had players who looked crocked even with a full set of rotations. I'll be buggered if Hogan is fit, and the line about Gawn "pulling up sore" after Gold Coast had hair all over it. His game on Sunday was nothing more than The Spencil could have put on, he did a couple of ripping hitouts but never looked like randomly popping up forward or back to do damage. The all eggs in one basket scenario worked a treat for a while but in retrospect maybe we should have risked a fiasco and given him the week off against the Suns? If you believe he wasn't already struggling you'll buy anything - including a jumper commemorating our record breaking double 9th place finish.

The Swans were so dominant at keepings off that they could have won first possession then just chipped it amongst themselves for the next 25 minutes while our players trailed sadly behind. We did our best to assist this by not starting Oliver on the ball at the first bounce. It's like we were trying to conserve energy for a one final heave against a side who were already out on their feet. The Hamburglar later tried to do a Franklin style dummy/run around the man on the mark and fell over, which said everything you needed to know about the way we finished the game trying to play at 110% speed when it wasn't required.

Then there was two players tracking a needlessly high ball into the corridor and neither of them marking it. I'd love to hear more from the people who got sooky during the week about me giving no respect to our chances of finishing top four. We're still nothing more than a fringe finals side liable to be torpedoed by any side with an ounce of heart. There's only one profession who spend more time on their back than us, and at least they get to work inside.

When Garlett turned up for his first kick of the day five minutes into the last quarter it was back to 18 points, but he missed a wild snap straight after, Brayshaw flubbed a set shot and it took 12 minutes for McDonald to get the next goal. Time was running out to kick three, but we might have been able to do two, and Jones recovered from the worst game I can remember him having in years to kick a vital goal that left us right in the mix.

The Swans were out cold everywhere but where it mattered, and now that we were one goal from putting them under real pressure I hope the crunts sitting around me at the end of the third quarter understood why that last goal caused me to do my block. I went off because I could see through time, we were going to mount a comeback and just fall short. Without that cheap goal I'm sure we'd have at least got it to less than six points and given ourselves a fighting chance instead of relying on absolutely everything to go in our favour for half an hour straight.

It goes without saying now, but the delivery into the forward line was the stuff of nightmares. I couldn't be any more pro-Pedersen if he was my dad, but what about when he set up mark of the year for Isaac Heeney via the worst possible kick towards Hogan in the pocket? Whatever Heeney wins  he should give Pedersen half. I couldn't give a rats who wins these frivolous awards, but encourage you vote for either of the other nominees so we don't have to be constantly see replays that remind us of the last quarter of this game.

After that we didn't score again, and even with the petrol tank flashing empty they were the ones who missed two opportunities to seal the game. There nothing like going down fighting and this was nothing like going down fighting.

It was another day where a burst of goals by a good team killed us. 14-2 combined against Geelong, 6-1 against Port and 7-0 here - and that's just the close losses. I can also offer you nine in a row against Hawthorn, 6-1 against Richmond, 5-1 vs Collingwood and the death by a thousand cuts insanity of the St Kilda game.  ⛷ Opposition fans, don't be the wanker who does 'funnies' about our supporters going to the snow. Say it about our downhill skiing squad instead. ⛷
And so, for the third year in a row I sat in the back row of the same stand and watched a season disappear before our eyes. In 2016 the Mighty Ducks Finish was a pipedream even before we ruined it against Carlton, then last year we had the backup scenario of the Eagles/Adelaide game the next day (fat lot of good that did), now there is at least one more shot at glory at the MCG but for all intents and purposes I'm writing this season off. Finishing with 10+ wins three years in a row is not to be sniffed at, but I can't wait any longer because the anticipation is killing me.

Let none of this Melbourne misery detract from Sydney's ballsy last quarter. This was not us barely avoiding drowning against the Crows, this was a classic battle of a gutsy, winning culture against a team that doesn't get it yet. I live in absolute, ball-tearing fear that they never will but am ready to be proven wrong.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Angus Brayshaw
4 - James Harmes
3 - Christian Salem
2 - Sam Frost
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to vandenBerg, T. McDonald, O. McDonald and Tyson.

Oliver narrowly extends the gap at the top, but more importantly without Gawn registering a vote and Melbourne likely not registering a final the man who made Mooroopna famous is now almost certain to win back-to-back Jakos. The only previous multiple winner is Nathan Jones (x5), and his 2012-2014 threepeat represents the only time anybody's won it in consecutive years. Maximum battled hard, but as he's likely to find out on Brownlow night midfielders = medals.

Fritsch is also home in the Hilton. For the sake of probity we have to keep referring to him as a provisional winner in case Spargo logs four BOGs and a Norm Smith Medal from here but it's over. The Seecamp remains very much alive, but another good performance by Salem has cleared the malfunction at the junction from last week and left him as outright leader. Watch this space - I dare say our defence is going to get a severe workout the next two weeks so any of the chasing pack could deliver heroics and get back in the mix. Or the entire unit could fold like umbrellas and concede 23 goals, it's been that sort of year.

54 - Clayton Oliver (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- No hope without at least one final ---
42 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- At least three finals needed ---
29 - Jesse Hogan
--- Officially done for ---
23 - Angus Brayshaw
18 - James Harmes
17 - Tom McDonald
16 - Bayley Fritsch (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
14 - Nathan Jones
11 - Jake Melksham
9 - Christian Petracca, Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
8 - Jack Viney
6 - Neville Jetta, Jordan Lewis, Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan
4 - Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald
3 - Dean Kent, Jake Lever, Dom Tyson
2 - Sam Frost
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Joel Smith

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Could nearly cancel this and put on the Earl Spalding Point of the Year instead, but in keeping with the general farceshambles nature of the afternoon I'm going to give the weekly prize to a man who probably doesn't even know how he kicked the goal. God only knows how Pedersen's kick evaded a defender to go through, but it was a timely intervention just as we were staring at death for the second time.

Cameron wins one of those puffy jackets to wear when he's back playing in sub-zero Casey Fields temperatures in a few weeks. He didn't do much today but should also win a new contract as a vital depth player. I unashamedly love him and would much rather give him another go than half the peanuts we employ.

Sydney put in a strong effort, with no questions asked the best kerning I've seen on an opposition banner ever. Good kerning was important, because they also tried to force in about 3500 words and rhyme "MCG" with "#proudlysydney". Nevertheless, had they not been up against our good cause charity banner I could almost have given them the points. But I won't. Dees 20-0 for the year

Crowd Watch (incorporating Matchday Experience Watch)
At one point in the third quarter I looked heavenwards in exasperation and saw this. Which was great, because then I expected a Huntsman to suddenly drop down the back of my neck and further improve the quality of my afternoon.
Even on closer inspection I'm not 100% sure of what the substance is, but if it stayed in place long enough for a spider to build a web it must be sticky. And you thought the only unsavoury things about Row MM were the language and the bird shit coated seats.

As for matchday experience (the sort that isn't just the team stabbing you in the back repeatedly), I've got no idea the Demon Dash returned, I was too busy shifting from the Ponsford to the Olympic via the Cluedo passageway in order to make a quick full time exit. The day was going so well that I'd forgotten I needed to go back towards the city, and this in fact made my trip home longer.
Media Watch (incorporating Coaching Corner)
Listening to Triple M is usually only good if you want to hear Cold Chisel, but I encourage you to tune into any game of ours featuring Paul Roos for his underground assassinations of Goodwin's coaching. It's all fairly polite, but there's a brutal undertone where you can tell he just wants to kick the door of the box down and take charge. Fancy that, somebody actually providing analysis in a call instead of screaming like an escaped mental patient. This time he was brutal about the extra man off the back of the square leaving us understrength in attack and Lewis as the spare man in defence. He also continued his love affair with Sam Frost but crucially hushed up on his usual praise for Garlett when he was doing two thirds of fark all.

It's a bit hollow considering he hired the bloke in the first place, but enjoyable nonetheless. Personally I'm conflicted, one on hand it does seem like we're squandering our best list since 2002 but on the other what are you going to do - get rid of him and roll in some random to start again? You're not getting Clarkson, so what's the point of somebody else who doesn't come with the two years of experience in the job? He deserves scrutiny but that's as good as it's going to get. I suspect there's a pre-flag Richmond style assistant coach massacre on the cards, hopefully to get somebody with experience in to tune up what has been a very wonky band.

Next Week
Here's a good news story for you, if by Sunday afternoon Sydney and Port have won by any margin and Geelong have thrashed Freo to the bejesus belt we will need to win for the GWS game to even come into the equation. That's how important keeping the Swans down was and we've blown it. Now the top four run that was never there in the first place is gone and we'll probably have to beat the Eagles away to stay alive.

It's been done before (though admittedly only once in about 20 years), and they are without three of their best players but compare their fighting win over a crippled Port to us playing like cripples yesterday and I think you know where this is headed. They could end up being the least deserving top two side ever unless we do something about it here. I'm not completely ruling it out, but there would want to be a widespread heart transplant program on offer this week at AAMI Park for us to stand any chance.

My first instinct is to sack everyone, but as we've so often found this season the stocks at Casey are thinning rapidly. If Hogan's whatever doesn't come up then Tim Smith or Weideman can have a go instead (although I'd rather Pedersen if we're being honest), but now Hunt is injured too we're shit out of luck in defence if Hibberd doesn't come up. Then there's Melksham, who is crucial but is now into his second week of 'minor' hamstring trouble. What did I say a couple of years ago about Essendon's drugs taking hold at just the wrong time and taking them out together? I'll assume he'll play, because if he doesn't we'll know they were just bullshitting about it being 'minor'.

The good news for Casey is that we might be ransacking their squad for players now, but that they should get plenty of VFL standard players back for the finals. Spargo can probably do with a week rest, but let's do our best to help JFK win the Liston Medal.

IN: Kent, Melksham, Hibberd
OUT: Hunt (inj/omit as required), Kennedy-Harris (omit), Spargo (omit)
LUCKY: Garlett, Neal-Bullen, Pedersen
UNLUCKY: Anyone fit who isn't in the side already

The All New Bradbury Plan

After we did our bit last week and barely anyone else joined in, this was a great week for other teams falling over in front of us. Then, instead of a graceful leap over their carcasses we stacked right into the pack. So for what it's worth this is your how to vote card for Round 22.

Richmond d. Essendon (this is crucial in the Port collapse theory, we don't want that game to come down to the winner being able to jump us)
Collingwood d. Port (it's like when America starts a war, you just have to swallow your pride and join in even if you know they're wrong)
Freo d. Geelong (more chance of Oscar McDonald kicking 14)
GWS d. Sydney (crucial in keeping the Swans warm for a last round run-down)
St Kilda d. Hawthorn
Adelaide d. North (crucial to entirely kill off the Roos).

Realistically the race is down to (in order of likelihood) Geelong, Port and Sydney making it and us and North being the clowns who win 12 and miss out. I've got us ninth if we lose the next two, but very much still in the mix (albeit not at all safe) by winning one. As long as Adelaide do the business on North next week at least we'll go into the last game knowing our fate is entirely in our own hands. Unless Port beat Collingwood, Sydney beat GWS + Hawthorn and Geelong have put on 30% slaughtering flotsam and jetsam in the last two weeks - then we can do as we please against the Giants in front of 2000 people and it will mean FUCK ALL.

Was it worth it?
Certainly not, and I wasn't at all happy leaving the house to go and see it. I should have listened to the wisdom of my daughter, who has proven to have the tipping acumen of the alligator that picks World Cup winners. Every week since Queen's Birthday I've asked her on game day "are we going to win?" and she's delivered the correct answer 100% of the time. If she says no next Sunday I might ditch the game, buy bulk weedkiller, play Ride of the Valkyries at full volume and destroy my garden instead.

Final Thoughts
We're 0-7 this year against the current top nine, so the next two weeks should complete the most unwanted set since the year we failed to win a single home game. What a farce, even in 2014 when we spent 22 weeks making scoring look more complicated than open heart surgery we knocked off 7th and 8th. Now we might be left relying on the Ultimate Bradbury where Port and North go to bits and let us in with 12 wins. I won't turn it down, but that's no way to break a drought.

It was an additional insult to exit the ground at the same time as Melbourne Storm fans. We rorted the salary cap and got a couple of token finals, they've built the sort of unbreakable culture that we can only dream of. In sport, like all aspects of life, there is the winning class and the rest. We are the rest. I was insane not to set up a self-managed super fund and invest the lot on us to miss the finals at 9-1. With that sort of payout I'd have entered September without a care in the world, instead of hate-watching finals while hurling off-colour abuse at my TV.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Standard "this post is delayed" notification

It's five hours before the game and I already know that scheduling conflicts will keep me from posting until Monday night. If you are reading this after 1800hrs Sunday I'm either uproariously happy or am on the platform at Jolimont Station trying to make contact with overhead wires.

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

Cheerio and Go Dees.

Monday, 6 August 2018

The maim event

Now we've won by 96 points it's ok to admit that I didn't think there was any way we could lose to Gold Coast. I held appropriate respect for our history of doing insane things as favourites, but if we lost to the lowest scoring team in the competition, coming off a loss to Carlton, and with their two best key defenders out you may as well have called the liquidators in.

Instead, the secret concern was of a struggle to an unnecessarily difficult victory that actually hurt our percentage. When I turned up to find a strong wind blowing across the ground my fears seemed somewhat justified, were we going to spend the afternoon blowing opportunities left, right and centre on the way to an unsatisfying five goal victory? In the conditions set shots were not our friend, fortunately we also walked about 10 goals in from the square and had several others from within 30 metres. The tricky breeze also allows us to be delusional and claim that in calm conditions there would have been a 186 style landslide.

For at least the first quarter the spirit of annihilation was alive and well. Yesterday we were three points better off at the change than that oft referenced day at Kardinia Park, sadly failing to match Geelong's 12.1 to 1.1 second quarter. A league record might have been off the agenda, but when the margin extended to 75 a few minutes later I could see the all-time club record 141 point victory in the distance. It turned out to be a mirage, but at the same time it's nice to know that early in a match that there is no possible way to lose. It was such a slashing start that by the end people were legitimately angry that we didn't go deep into triple figures, and what a marvellous position that is to be in.

If you thought you'd seen this game before you were right. In 2011 we beat the newborn Suns and their gak happy rugby leaguist by what was perceived (by me anyway, and history showed I was right) to be an unconvincing 90 points, while a year later we dumped 6.6 to 0.2 on them in the first quarter at the MCG. Even adjusted for the disgraceful state we were in by Round 19, 2012 that game was probably the most frustrating of Neeld's rare wins. In the last appearance of both Gysberts and Morton we kicked the first goal of the second quarter then barely won the rest of the game. The title of that week's post was right, "You take it where you can get it", but we should have gone on to do terrible, morale boosting things to them. Seven seasons later neither side has played a final, but at least now we seem to the ones heading in the right direction while they're a rudderless shambles.

Just because I thought we'd win doesn't mean there wasn't a brief heart/mouth interface when Peter Wright - their only tall forward - easily marked within range in the opening minutes. Fortunately for us, Two Metre Peter was reduced to Two Minute Peter when he did his ankle in the marking contest, didn't make the distance with his kick from 40 metres and left never to be seen again. Shortly after the switch was flicked from 'contest' to 'procession' and we proceeded to rain fire down upon them in nearly unprecedented fashion. A 57 point quarter time lead was our equal fourth best ever, and eclipsed a 56 against 1990 Sydney as the greatest of my supporting life.

After that early scare the Suns provided such scant resistance that our players often became over-excited at the ridiculous variety of options available to them and failed to take proper advantage. See for instance an early Bayley Fritsch handball where he tried to loop it 30 metres because he could already see it unlocking the door and letting a teammate stroll into an open goal. That didn't work, but plenty of others did as the wind was removed from the equation by a truckload of close range kicks and tap-ins from the square.

We've suffered enough over the years that I'm happy to take vengeance on anyone, but as much as enjoyed it there was also something sad about watching a lifeless team that had absolutely no idea what they were doing being beaten to a pulp. Nothing to do with feeling sorry for the Suns, it just reminded me of some of the gash that we used to sit through. And this was the end they'd chosen to kick to after winning the toss. Without their only key forward it was hard for our defenders not to look good, and for the first quarter none of them put a foot wrong. Against degraded opposition it was hard not to enjoy Sam Frost running around like a lunatic, but Salem was the main event in calmly dismantling a series of attacks and getting forward for a goal himself. Later in the day there were some moments that made you nervous about what was to come, but you can only beat the opponent put in front of you. Or in this case you can spend the last three quarters trying to create drama because the other side is offering nothing.

The 'no porking' sign came down after five minutes when three Suns defenders (or at least players masquerading as) all went to a contest against Gawn only for the ball to fall over the back for an unguarded Jones to stuff home from close range. A despairing lunge by one of the hapless McDonalds uniform wearing backmen just failed to reach him. As far as defensive pressure went that was it for the visitors until about 15 minutes into the second quarter. The second came from Oliver walking through a pack like it consisted of wacky waving inflatable arm tube men, then Tyson kicked off his best game all year with a perfect handball to set up Salem's long bomb.

Barely 10 minutes since I'd fretted about the greatest fiasco in sporting history it was now clear that the only way Gold Coast could escape this afternoon with any dignity would be to phone through a bomb threat. To honour the surprise return of John Blackman as ground announcer they should have asked a panel of celebrity judges to rate how the Suns were going:

Ironically, amidst the wanton carnage Tom McDonald had his worst ever game as a forward. When the second goal was followed by a hefty Gawn torp out of the middle that tumbled straight into his arms, the much sought after Sizzle Slaughter was very much on the agenda. He stabbed at that shot, missed a snap from a slight angle in the second and poked unconvincingly after another strong mark in the third. Can we hush up about his accuracy from set shots now? Ever since people noticed and it started being highlighted whenever he got the ball he's dropped from a 90% prospect anywhere in the forward line to only slightly better than 50/50.

McDonald's travails were only a minor irritation, things were going so badly for the Suns that even after they kicked an arsey snap to ruin our hopes of a scoreless quarter Neal-Bullen got the reply straight out of the middle. The Bullet's performance was sponsored by the Curate's Egg, half of it very good and half of it rancid. By the fifth goal things were starting to get violent - though we weren't to know how serious yet - and we delivered the sort of ball movement that would have made the AFL spectacle police slide off their seats. It helps when one team consists of people both dressed and playing like traffic cones, but even then only the most pragmatic, hard-hearted bastard could fail to enjoy Petracca ripping a long kick from half back, which found Oliver at half forward, who wheeled around and hit one of the best passes you'll ever want to see onto Charlie Spargo running into the square.

You could see the life force ebbing out of the Suns players when even Petracca converted a set shot, and barely a minute later Truck was back in the play setting up Spargo's second. It was another day where Charlie looked good early before drifting out, but I have faith that when he matures and learns to play four quarters he'll be very handy. It was hard for anyone not to look dangerous in the midst of this terrifying rampage, and two more in the last few minutes stretched the score to a barmy 57-6. To prove that all the luck was flowing in our favour the last came after Anal-Bullet fumbled at ground level and his opponent still carried through with a two handed shove to his back.

Against the run of play we failed to add another in the remaining 49 seconds, having to be content with our second biggest quarter time lead in history. History backed up the feeling that we were as safe as houses, second only in absolute surety of victory behind an 11 goal to nil rampage against North Melbourne in 1972. If you're sad that we didn't carry on to a monumental victory please consider that even on that day a 71 point quarter time lead 'only' translated to a 108 point final margin. Unless it's at the highest end of the MFC victimisation scale that's usually how massacres go, it's hard to maintain the rage all day. Remember when Gold Coast was 93 points down at quarter time against Essendon and 'only' lost by 139? Then 13 weeks later we were the ones nearly making record breaking arseholes of ourselves in Geelong. Work that out.

To their belated credit Gold Coast managed to clog the game up for the first few minutes of the second quarter, not looking remotely like scoring themselves but also putting the brakes on us for a while. The crowd never got the vandenBerg goal they were gagging for, but he did set up Harmes' first and the resumption of the towelling by standing strong against a wank-handed tackle in the forward pocket. Ultimate chaos was firmly on the agenda when Hogan beat some hapless bloke called Spencer (sadly not Jake) for a simple mark in front of goal, then Jones, Harmes and Brayshaw added more. In the middle of this Gold Coast kicked one and like letting a kid take a set of table tennis off you out of pity nobody was really that concerned.

When Gus shoved off some bloke having a horrible day to mark in the square the margin reached 75 and we'd reached peak bloodbath. Regrettably we failed to add another in the last six minutes, remaining marooned on a reasonably impressive 14.6.90 at the break. A lucky goal to Kingsley nominee Alex Sexton at the end cut the margin to just under 11 goals, and once we've won a flag I might go back and re-watch Round 19, 2011 to understand how a team could ever be 50 points worse off at half time than the Suns were yesterday.

It sounds ungrateful to say, but it looked like the third quarter saw cue introduced to rack. We only won it by two goals to one, carrying on with some of the overly cavalier play that cost opportunities before half time. I'm not going to hold it against them, this was the last opportunity for fun before things get ridiculously serious and probably end in bitter recriminations so why not enjoy playing with total freedom while you still can.

There wasn't much to get excited about in the third, other than a Sam Frost shambleskick in defence inadvertently setting up a goal. Fortunately for him, after leaving a divot that the MCG ground staff will have a prick of a time getting out, Lewis was clobbered high trying to recover and launched an attack that ended in glory. His 15m kick fell short of Fritsch, who then forced Angus Brayshaw to run back with the flight of the ball into the middle of the ground in a moment that must have given his poor mum a heart attack. Then 90 minutes later her other son suffered a broken jaw after being punched in the head. After all the issues with Gus she may want to scour the internet for bulk Valium discounts.

Two goals to one for the term was nothing by the standards of the first term, but at least we were pulling away instead of putting our feet up and letting them recover a more respectable margin. With an eye to Round 23 it was hard not to compare with GWS' mutilation of Carlton across town, the difference was they might only have won by nine points more but due to an injury plague were occasionally getting around during the last quarter with two players less. And still kicked seven goals to one. Just a reminder that no matter how bad Carlton fans pretend they have it, that they're still six percentage points better off than we were in 2013. I feel bad that they haven't been able to release tension with a mid-season coach sacking, but until they can slice off that extra 6% I'm not listening to a word of their misery. Never mind Blues fans, look at us for inspiration - you too could be narrowly missing the eight three seasons in a row in a few years.

With fans becoming legitimately agitated that we weren't ruthlessly tearing them apart, we at least won the last quarter comfortably. It didn't start well, considering they've scored zero or one point in a quarter FOUR times this year by Christ (and have had four other quarters with 0-2 points), we sportingly gifted them a goal to begin the last term. A hopeful roost into the forward line evaded Oscar McDonald, took a bugger of a bounce and landed with Sexton for his fifth of six Gold Coast goals. It was a real feelgood charity job, and the Kingsley Kommittee were thrown into disarray as they debated whether a player could be inducted in a game we won by nearly 100 points. Yes apparently, and we welcome him to the Hall of Kingsley as the second Suns player inducted after Jarrad Grant.

Of course I wish we'd been a bit more sadistic in the last, but you couldn't fail to be entertained by moments like Hogan marking a dainty ANB chip into the square that any number of opposition players had all the time in the world to clear. On replay you can see his hapless opponent Not Jake Spencer wishing his manager had been one of those telling their players not to go to the Gold Coast.

Chin up son, at least when you go back to Queensland nobody will give a shit.

As the margin once again threatened the ton, the only bad news was Joel Smith being crippled in a tackle. It was unfortunate timing for him just as he'd had found a regular spot and started to win fans, but when you consider all our other injuries in defence it could prove satanic. If nothing else we were treated to the unique scene of him walking off under his own steam while using his remaining good arm to huff on the pain relief whistle. Those things should have been handed out at the 'G when we were the ones losing by 90 every second week. There's still three weeks to order in a crate of the 'finals heartache' cyanide flavoured ones.

The margin temporarily hit the magic mark courtesy of Garlett's second, third, fourth and fifth efforts in a contest, then another Petracca set shot. No more goals were forthcoming, and the cheap one down the other end that I'd feared so desperately in the Carlton game cut our advantage back to 94. If we hadn't already broken through for a 100 point win earlier in the season I might have been sour about not following through, but now that spell has been broken we were free to be satisfied with any old rampant victory.

Fritsch had one last chance to breach the popular three digit psychological barrier after the siren, but consistent with almost all our other set shots beyond 30 metres he missed. No harm done for anyone other than greedy milestone collectors like me. The actual result was very good, providing some much needed insurance against Geelong's piss easy finish of 120 point home wins against Freo and the Suns.

Does any of it translate to games against good teams? Based on what I saw yesterday no, but it's hard to accurately gauge anything against an opposition more unmanned than undermanned. 3.20pm next Sunday is everyone's time to go, and over the next three weeks we'll discover whether our lot are the sort to tackle the gunman or hide under a table. You'd like to think that they've come a long way since clamming up in Round 23 last year, and are about to have three opportunities to prove that they deserve to be considered the next big thing.

After a series of thrillers on Saturday, some interpreted Sunday's trifecta of massacres as a great result for the AFL's rule change campaign. Can't see why, all three games still dragged the average game score for the season up and would have provided plenty of opportunities for Channel 7 to show sexist Ultratune ads. That theory also ignores the fact that any 'trial' is a complete swizz that will have no bearing on a monopoly doing whatever it wants. A 6-6-6 lineup would have certainly helped scoring today, it probably would have led to the Suns and Carlton being even more spectacularly dismembered. While we're tormenting lesser teams why not remove a few rotations too? GWS playing with 16 was probably by league directive to test that out.

Whatever happens next year, it's a good time to be an at worst mid-table mediocrity again. Hopefully by the time our period of relevance is over (except in the unlikely event of doing a Sydney and hanging around like an unflushable nugget) Gil and Steve Hocking have been forced to escape AFL House in a helicopter like the Fall of Saigon and we can get back to enjoying the game instead of being told how awful it is. Until then it's incumbent on us to take advantage of whatever insane ideas they come up with by regularly clobbering the terminally horrible.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jesse Hogan
4 - Christian Salem
3 - Dom Tyson
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Clayton Oliver

Mega apologies to Garlett and Harmes. High level apologies to Vince, Frost, Jones, Jetta, Petracca and Lewis.

The field has cleared out to the point where not only are Oliver and Gawn (but mainly Oliver) the likely winners, but Hogan's score involvement laden BOG only barely keeps him in range of a miracle comeback. The Hamburglar has done enough over the last couple of weeks to make a back-to-back win all but certain, and in a regulation no chance of finals season could clinch next week. We suggest Maximum realises that he needs finals to stand a chance and plays the game(s) of his life.

Meanwhile in the minors, Fritsch remains the only rookie with a vote on the board, but the real action is in the Seecamp where Salem has vaulted to a 1/3 share of the lead alongside Jetta and Lewis. With Hibberd and McDonald a further two votes back there is potential for the widest ranging tie in Demonblog award history.

53 - Clayton Oliver
42 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- No hope beyond here without at least three finals ---
29 - Jesse Hogan
--- Officially done for ---
17 - Tom McDonald
18 - Angus Brayshaw
16 - Bayley Fritsch (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
14 - James Harmes, Nathan Jones
11 - Jake Melksham
9 - Christian Petracca
8 - Jack Viney
6 - Neville Jetta (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Jordan Lewis (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Alex Neal-Bullen, Christian Salem (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan
4 - Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald
3 - Dean Kent, Jake Lever, Dom Tyson
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Joel Smith

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
In lieu of any real stormers, I'll go for the team effort of Petracca, Oliver and Spargo in the first quarter. The 35-Year-Old Man finished it, and he should get credit for running to collect but on a day where his disposal was way more off than usual Oliver's kick was the real winner. Charlie will have to console himself with the clubhouse lead for the season after his goal in Geelong, and for the weekly prize he wins a lovely romantic dinner with the Melbourne FC players of his choice:

Given their minuscule constituency it feels rude to go into too much detail on Gold Coast's performance. All I will say is that there has never been a banner in the history of the game featuringa higher proportion of curtain. It forced the text into a couple of size 10 font lines at the top and made you feel like the Demon Army should actually take them under their wing as proteges because it was all a bit tragic.

Our banner looks to have risked the most amazing forfeit in history, only just holding together in the wind to win. How about the solid kerning at the top? To ram all that into one line and keep consistent letter size is the mark of true professionalism.
I'd have opted for "with very good reason" in the second line, but that's a minor quibble. Another knockout victory for the good guys. I lost count somewhere and already had us 19-0 for the year last week. That's what you get for going to a state school.

Matchday Experience Watch (incorporating Crowd Watch)
The role of MFC Promotions Manager is as much of a poison chalice as running the membership department circa 2013. First Hogan's Heroes was neutered because one contestant necked himself, now somebody's done a hammy running the Demon Dash. If one person out of 100 landing on their head was enough to take all the excitement out of our quarter time entertainment this latest injury should see the three quarter stuff rebranded The Demon Walk.

Otherwise undocumented moments like this are what I'm going to miss the most next year (and for god knows how many after). You can watch a game on delay without knowing the result, but you can never replace the thrill of seeing a random crash to the ground as if he'd been shot by a sniper. There are several months more for you the secret millionaire to give me a job that helps keep weekends free, otherwise somebody else is going to have to start cataloguing these small, otherwise insignificant moments of farce and/or shambles for the enjoyment of future generations. If you are ready to pay me a motza I'd like to get started in time for AFLW, but the way old Hamfisted Forever is running it I'll be able to chuck one sickie and see the entire season.

There were a surprising number of Gold Coast fans there. I reckon at least 50 in my section and another 50 behind the goals. If you extrapolate that across the ground there might have even been 500 there, and while it sounds like I'm taking the piss I'm actually impressed that they got that many. I've got no sympathy for anyone who changed clubs to watch them, but imagine if you were either a jilted Fitzroy fan willing to get back on after 15 years in the wilderness or were taking the game up for the first time in 2011 and chose to go for them. How upset would you be now watching GWS regularly contending (and we hope continuing to fail in September), knowing that if you'd held on for another year you could have gone for them instead? In the end it will be good for them to enjoy the struggle, especially safe in the knowledge that they could be down to the same 500 fans at home games and the AFL would still keep them afloat.

Next Week
The last time we played an eight point finals contention game it ended with fans kicking each other in the head, and next Sunday could reach a similar conclusion. If we win the door opens to any number of results working in our favour, if we lose it's either win in Perth or hope that more than one of the other challengers spontaneously combust.

We have every right to be scared of Lance (never Buddy) Franklin's return to form, but as odd as it sounds I'm confident in Frost's ability to take him on around the ground. I'm more concerned about feeding the reigning #1 intercept mark player in the competition Aliir Aliir Oxley-esque numbers. We'll start favourites, but not by much, and are still not confirmed finalists even if we win so it promises to be a madcap Sunday afternoon that will probably end in me clambering on top of a train and trying to grab the pantograph.

It's hard to make changes to a side that delivered such a violent beating, but we're not a charity and have to recognise that the challenge next week is about 99.9% more intense than the garbage served up by the Suns. Melksham is an obvious in, but now we're hearing his supposedly 'minor' hammy is actually only a 50/50 chance of coming off. This I do not like. Meanwhile in the absence of Smith, Hibberd would be handy but is at least a week away. As for Jack Viney I suspect his foot has been eaten by a flesh eating bacteria and they just haven't had the heart to tell us yet.

It's hard to take anything from Casey obliterating a rubbish Carlton side (who like the ones were 53-0 up at quarter time and 'only' won by 91), but if the Milkshake is unavailable I'm keen to understand where Dean Kent is at. He's the only emergency who didn't play for Casey so nothing to go on this week, but even though neither of them did much wrong I can't take Kennedy-Harris and vandenBerg in the same side when we need a playmaker. I don't even know what a 'playmaker' is, I just know Melksham is one and Kent somewhat reminds me of him. The original recipe would be preferred, but not at the expense of rushing him and missing out on the last two games.

Considering Smith is finished for the year, it was good timing for Pedersen to be in the bests but I'm scared of unleashing an emergency option in such a massive game. Instead I'm going for Hunt with the option of sending McSizzle back into defence if necessary. Although I'm not sure how keen I am on McDonald going back to his roots, there are still horrible memories of him trying to take a kick in against Collingwood last year and stuffing it right down the throat of a pre-useful Mason Cox. Could we bring in Pedersen as a defender then swap them if he gets eaten alive? That's just one of the many variables which will probably restrict me to about 10 hours sleep between now and next Sunday.

IN: Melksham (or Kent), Hunt
OUT: Kennedy-Harris (omit), Smith (inj)
LUCKY: vandenBerg (in a tight one vs JFK, because if McDonald goes forward AVB is more chance of playing a role inside 50)
UNLUCKY: Bugg (to be unlucky x2 when Gaff breaking somebody's jaw is deemed only as bad as him thumping a bloke who played the next week), Pedersen, Keilty.

The All New Bradbury Plan

We did our bit, nobody else other than the Adelaide Oval video reviewer joined in. Saturday was one of the wildest days for neutral games I can remember (because deep down who really cares when there's no impact on us?), with three different Plan friendly results teased then snatched away from us at the last minute. The worst of the lot was in Brisbane, where Cam Rayner took up the $cully Challenge for #1 picks working against our interests and missed a sitter with 30 seconds left that would have all but knocked North out.

Now my rolling Bradbury ladder has 5th to 8th all on 14-8 and you know who becoming the first team ever to miss on 13-9. If we beat GWS (and I suppose it could happen) that would bump us up to 5th on percentage and eliminate somebody on 14-8. This is the most insane run home in recorded history, a fact that seems to be ignored while we're concentrating on ramming rule changes up everyone's arse like a spectacle suppository.

At this point the categories are irrelevant, the straight how to vote card is where it's at. For Round 21 we suggest.

St Kilda d. Essendon (only relevant by the narrowest of margins)
Hawthorn vs Geelong is as close to a genuine 50/50 as anything. The obvious Bradbury selection would be to assassinate the lower placed Cats, but given they've got a piss easy run home and Hawthorn has to play Sydney in the last round I'm going to risk it all by going for Geelong. Amendment - Wednesday 08/08 I'm switching to Hawthorn
West Coast d. Port Adelaide (a few weeks ago I wasn't buying the Port collapse theory, now they're below us with the second toughest run-in. I have nothing against Watts but it would be funny if we made the eight and he didn't)
Brisbane d. Collingwood (not so bonkers, they did Hawthorn twice so why not go one step better than the last game against the Pies?)
Adelaide d. GWS (happy to wear the very slim chance of the Crows getting in ahead of us to keep the Giants in sight)
Footscray d. North (absolutely crucial result. Deeply unlikely that the Dogs win, but will either be massive for us as a potential knockout blow if we beat the Swans or a saver if we lose)

Looking forward there's not many realistic paths to us losing the last three and still making it other than Port doing likewise and finishing beneath us on percentage. All three of their games are live for the plan, and the other big hitters from Round 22 are GWS over Sydney (possibly not relevant if we lose next week) and Adelaide over North. That one in particular is crucial, let's hope they forget the whole Lever thing and us mocking them for kidnapping their players and do us a big fat favour. At the same time it's worth remembering after last year that nobody else is to be trusted and just keep winning.

P.S - I'm aware that some people are doing Top 4 plans, and I'd like them to know that in the 1500s they would have bound and thrown into a river to see if they floated.

Was it worth it?
Marginally less than it would have been if Fritsch converted after the siren, but let's celebrate it for the thumping win it was. It may turn out to be a Pyrrhic pounding, but for now all we can do is keep the faith and/or reopen our dormant betting accounts to have $50 on us to miss the eight at 9-1.

Final Thoughts
Step 1 in the journey of this side was not having every win feel like a grand slam.
Step 2 is thumping flotsam and still being a bit sour about not winning by more
Step 3 is to win massive games against fellow top eight contenders, and I know a good time to start.