Saturday, 15 September 2018

So this is what it feels like when doves cry

As Hawthorn's third goal of the last quarter went through my body crossed the line from nerve-shattering tension to a level of sporting fear like never before. When you don't expect to win a game and have it taken away from you in tragic circumstances it creates trauma, when you don't expect to make a prelim and look like blowing a five goal lead that's another dimension of suffering.

My stomach had been in constant churn all day, not helped by the nervous consumption of half a dozen different toxic foods, but here the whole body locked up and left me unable to do anything but hunch forward with my head in hands and hope for a miracle. 20 minutes later I was ignoring the last moments of the match trying to book flights tickets unseen to a Preliminary Final in Perth. Funny old game this.

So my 12 year odyssey into football's heart of darkness either ends on an insane jaunt to the other side of the continent or in a Grand Final. This is not an outcome I'd envisaged watching us keel over and die against Sydney. As bitter as I am that Collingwood didn't win last week and save me the travel money, there's something poetic about taking the wildest journey of exploration since Burke and Wills just in case a new greatest day in my sporting life opens the door for an even better contender to emerge a week later. I could have done with saving the money, but let's worry about that later. Win, lose or draw in regulation time chickening out of this adventure would have haunted me for years to come.

All week I'd scoffed at people who'd booked flights or accommodation to Perth in advance. They all had get-out clauses but it still felt more like angering the football gods than a sensible business decision. After all, we had to get past Hawthorn first. A club that has spent more than a decade treating us with contempt, run by a mastermind coach who instils the same sort of fear in opposition supporters as Herald Sun readers get from African people. Clarkson remains the greatest coach of the modern era, but could do nowt to stop the fantasy continuing. I'm sure the darkest arts were dabbled in, but even with the game turned into a slog and the Hawks able to do a fair bit of chippy bullshit we not only prevailed but became the first team of this finals series to crack the ton.

It was difficult to come to terms with being such red hot favourites again. In almost every year of the top eight the losing Qualifying Final teams have been criminally underrated, while everyone's gets a big over-heated at the 5th-8th side winners before sanity prevails. This time there's an argument that after Richmond and perhaps West Coast you could have picked the order of the rest of the eight out of a hat and nobody would have had cause to argue. If ever teams are going to be bundled out in straight sets it's in an even year like this.

This is a golden chance for us. We're now one game from running into a team perceived to be unstoppable like '88 and '00, but the rest of the finals series is wide open like 2004. That year we were top after Round 18, didn't win another game, finished 5th, and were narrowly knocked of a wide open finals race. Geelong was gettable, the fading Brisbane had to play their prelim at the MCG, and Choke Yourself With A Tie era Port were good but not great. We could have won that flag, and if not for the doomsday double of West Coast in Perth and presumably the Tiges in the main event you might almost convince me we're a chance here. Now it's reached the stage where I can let myself dream. No doubt when next week is snatched away from us in cruel fashion I'll hate myself for even contemplating glory, but we've won two finals and will start as major underdogs so there's no way anyone can interpret this as anything but a great season now.

Knowing that the Perth trip was our 'reward', we still had to deal with the Hawks. We were aided by injuries to one of their mulleted defenders and the perennially injured and ridiculously named Jaeger O'Meara. We'll never know if their absences were decisive, so let's pretend we're that damn good that we'd have won comfortably anyway. This was a very good time for the league's top scoring team (and it's still difficult to comprehend that) to maintain the rage. After playing cameo to the emergence of the Weid last week, the face of the AFL's simultaneously most efficient and inefficient forward line was your friend and mine, 2013 Demonbracket winner Sizzle McDonald.

Yesterday I got a bit nostalgic, went through my old texts to SEN and would like to double down on this provocative statement made while sitting in traffic six weeks ago. Whatever we're paying him it's not enough, and I'm comfortable in saying it's been the most personally exciting 50 goals since Farmer in 2000, if not Jakovich himself.

Every time he had a shot last night I had to balance the fact that he is frighteningly accurate kicker with the idea that he had to miss a crucial one eventually. Even with 90,000 people in the house for a second consecutive week there was no drama or obvious nerves, lobbing them through with the greatest of ease at the start when we needed to make a statement and at the end when the heat was at ground zero nuclear bomb level.

All week I'd fretted about what would happen if they got the jump on us. GWS and Adelaide both opened slender leads over the last six weeks before we steadied, but after piledriving Geelong in the first quarter there was major concern about having to dig ourselves out of a hole on a massive stage. Considering how many times they've come back from stranglewank margins in the last two years I had faith in the resilience of this group if required, but still felt suitably distressed when we conceded first. I suppose it was greedy to want two goalless first quarters over two weeks in front of a combined 180,000 spectators.

Even worse that their opening goal came from general defensive disarray and the ball dropping straight into the arms of Ryan Schoenmakers - the player a Hawthorn fan had torched to me with the intensity of a thousand suns earlier that day. Imagine following a team so successful that you can treat a guy who's only won a single flag like he's Jace Bode? Anyone who plays in a flag for us will have to commit treason or mass murder with a hedge trimmer for me to turn against them. Maybe on the fourth premiership in a decade your perspective changes? I'm keen to find out.

When they attacked a second time to our one point I was ready to begin hyperventilating into a paper bag. Which was obviously stupid so early in the game, but all week I'd been guard for a post-Geelong let down so any sign of weakness was liable to set me off. My nerves were not settled when I saw Sam Frost confidently grabbing the ball to take a kick-in. His method of getting the ball and steaming forward like an escaped greyhound is thrilling, but the last thing you want him doing is trying to land a precise kick. Because he's on the run of his life he wasn't silly enough to try that, instead using the for now still sensibly sized goalsquare to unleash a fearsome torp into the middle of the ground.

By next year's artificially inflated scoring standards he might have kicked a goal. For now he didn't even get close to the line and still dropped an artillery round to nearly the centre circle. James Harmes necked Tom Mitchell in a tackle, Oliver gave off to Hannan and he hit McSizzle with a perfectly weighted kick leading back towards goal. Forwards running at the ball make me quiver, but the higher degree of difficulty in identifying a target, kicking it to the right spot, then seeing somebody get away from his defender protect space and take the grab is almost as satisfying. Ultimately if it ends in a goal who cares, but when crumb is all but off the agenda we need to craft as many beautiful goals like this as possible. And what about Mitch Hannan, on his arse in the VFL for a month and now doing exciting finals things two weeks in a row.

With the heat coming back the other way this week it wasn't a game for the sort of wankers who want footy to be a flawless exhibition of perfect disposal, and our forward 50 entries were often being easily snaffled by grateful Hawthorn defenders but we were in the contest up to our eyeballs. If Clarko had been pulling mystery levers they were only good enough to keep his team sticking with us rather than kicking away. Our goals were nicely constructed, and McDonald got his second courtesy Spargo handball over the top into the square that floated off his hand and temporarily left me with heart in mouth that it was going to be chopped off. After being 0 from 59, Sizzle is now 84 from 145 and rapidly moving towards the biggest non-flag related celebration of all time when he crosses 1.00 goals per game. Before last night Hawthorn was the only club he hadn't kicked a goal against, now he's had one for every 22,500 people in the ground.

At two goals to one more than halfway through the quarter it was not shaping up as a high scoring classic. But unless you're the CFO of Channel 7 or Steve Hocking, who needs high scoring when you can have Jack Viney? There is written evidence from three weeks ago that I considered not picking him last week, and for that I was an idiot. He sat on the bench for the first few minutes, then calmly entered the game and started beating the piss out of opponents like Stone Cold Steve Austin in a Royal Rumble. Forget unusual squares and 6-6-6 positions, here's a free spectacle idea - play theme songs when players first come off the bench. He tackled everything, racked up a game high 27 possessions, five centre clearances and was generally amazing. Just a reminder that wonky foot issues notwithstanding the rest of the league stood back and let us get him for pick 26 at the end of 2012. Thank you all for your generosity in our time of need.

I'm no tactician at all let alone a master level one, but not sure why you'd want to slog with us. They held Brayshaw - except for a pair of timely goals - but Viney, Oliver, Jones, Tyson, Jetta, Neal-Bullen, James Freaking Harmes, Hibberd and even Gawn are not to be messed with. They looked their best when they did get the chippy bullshit happening, and held their own at ground level but never got into any decent rhythm. Harmes was fantastic again, breaking even with the future Brownlow Medallist and holding him to his equal lowest possession count since Round 8. It helped that Mitchell was carved up by a Jetta bump and spent several minutes either side of quarter time having treatment but I'll not have that detract from another grandstand moment for the Harmy Army.

It's no coincidence that Harmes has been starring ever since the ill-fated interview on the Demonland Podcast where my microphone committed hari-kari halfway. He probably thinks I died mid-chat and is dedicating the rest of his season to my legacy. If this is correct I'll be happy to travel to Perth under a false name to make sure he continues to star. West Coast, if you've got a midfielder who isn't suspended for thuggery we've got a 'tagger' ready to effortlessly run off him.

Deep in the quarter is was still two goals to one, before the Hawks equalised twice. Our go-ahead goal was a moment of rare beauty from the enigmatic and slightly loopy Christian Petracca, bursting through the pack to kick a goal on the run from 50 metres out. For those of you who've been following the outrageous quality of the AFL website highlights you won't be surprised that they considered Jarryd Roughead telling his teammates a joke before the first bounce (possibly explaining  Melbourne's record against Hawthorn) worth showing, but not this crucial goal or Hawthorn's response. The best they did was a GIF of the celebrations - reaffirming that he and Oliver are the cutest platonic couple in the competition. But not the actual well taken goal deep in the first quarter of a knockout final. And this organisation has the nerve to tell me what we will make the game more exciting.

So after a quarter where we hadn't played particularly well we were dead level. There was room for improvement on both sides, but for absolutely no good reason I felt we had more improvement in us. The old 'bottom six' debate was well in our favour, and none of Brayshaw, Melksham or the Weid had done much to that point but would come good with some A1 interjections later in the game. I was less convinced of winning now than at the start, and even then I'd been suspect to start with. What it did mean was being able to restart as if the first quarter had never happened, with 3x20 minutes to slay the beast and carry on the impossible dream.

Hawthorn's second quarter was a lot like ours last week, only that when we wasted half a dozen chances and let the other side kick a couple of goals from limited opportunities it came with the buffer of a five goal lead. Before we could get to the Hawks torching an endless stream of chances, there was a goal in the first minute. Viney won a free in the middle, and with no ruck duties required Maximum wandered forward to take a huge pack mark. I preferred him from 40 metres out directly in front than 20, and with everyone still assuming he'll miss from what happened in Round 1 he duly converted to take back the lead. At this stage what happened in Round 1 is about as relevant as the three quarters of unmerciful humping we received from the Hawks three weeks later.

For the second week in a row an off the ball free went in our favour, this time with it inside our 50 and not the other way around. It was far less clear cut than last week, with Oliver taking a relaxed attitude to remaining upright after being bumped. At this stage I'm in the 'by any means necessary' camp, so well done to him for sucking the umpire in. In the end it would have been better to land in the hands of McSizzle or the Weid rather than vandenBerg as we only got a point out of it, and anti-Hamburglar nuffies across the country were provided something else to focus on while trying to ignore him consistently ripping their team to bits.

After Gawn's goal it was almost exclusively Hawthorn, but for just one behind. They spent the whole quarter giving it the full kitchen sink for just six behinds. Credit to our the defence for keeping them out half a dozen other times, but especially Michael Hibberd playing his best game of the year and our lord and saviour NEV just for being Nev. Down the other end we turned a half chance into a Weid mark, he converted, and somewhere in the suburbs I hope somebody blazed one up to celebrate. One day he'll kick a goal at the 4.20 mark and gear will be legalised on the spot.

The Hawks should have hit back via a quick kick into the 50, but Hibberd's troublesome hammy stayed on the bone for him pressure the ball over the line and we were off the hook again. Apart from the lack of a five goal lead, the difference to our toils in the second quarter last week is that we got an extra goal against the run of play. We were lucky not to give them another opportunity when Lewis responded to an unpaid holding the ball by going off his face at the umpire in a way that would have 100% given away a free in Round 5 before lightly jostling with premiership teammate Roughead. If it couldn't be linked to nutters punching suburban umpires I'd be all for players doing eye-popping anti-umpire outbursts. In the meantime I'm thankful that the AFL doesn't believing in enforcing rules consistently throughout the season.

With a nice buffer of around three goals towards the end of the half, we just needed to get through the last couple of minutes without conceding and would be in a handy position going into our favourite quarter. Cue a couple of minutes of terror football where we worked our arse off to feed Hawthorn opportunities that they couldn't take advantage of. Frost x1 and Fritsch x2 paid no attention to where the game was at and tried to play on like they were down five points 30 minutes into the last quarter. It was not Bayley's finest game in the back half, but I'll cut him some slack considering this time last year he was a handy VFL goalsneak. Overall his mid-rookie season transformation into the new Clint Bizzell has been almost as good as sending McDonald/Melksham forward.

We just got away with the goalless quarter via a final missed opportunity on the siren, and took a 13 point advantage into the second half. Like Geelong, keeping them to not many goals in a half was welcome but we didn't have anywhere near the knockout score or the control of the play to be comfortable. In the midst of all this Gawn set an all-time record for hitouts in a season, a mark that will probably stand forever now that stoppages have been declared satanic and will probably be abolished by 2020. I'd like to know how far he is from the hitouts to advantage world record. The game eventually turned for good when he was left alone in the middle against Roughead for a contest. Then the Weid had a go at the ruck caper and set up a goal himself.

Weid was on everyone's lips at the start of the quarter too, when for the second term in a row we got a quick goal. Oliver roosted out of the centre from a free, Sam completely outbodied his opponent and converted effortlessly. Now the lead was 19 and it was starting to get into memorable loss territory if we gave it up. When we weren't torching opportunities by kicking it straight to them, their defenders were under all sorts of pressure. It's hard to be angry at James Frawley when a) he did plenty of time in the asylum before fleeing, and b) has the moral highground of winning a flag but there was still something secretly exciting about watching him toil against McDonald. I know we just played him forward in 2014 because he was leaving anyway, but I dare say we picked the wrong man to experiment with.

Both Anal-Bullet and Milkshake had varying degrees of good chances to add another one and make things really bonkers, before Hawthorn got their fourth in the sort of classic bullshit circumstances that can only come against us - even when we're at the peak of our powers post-2000. Frost stretched for what should have been an easy mark, misjudged it and allowed Puopolo to slip out the back (as it were) to bounce through a much needed goal. He almost flubbed it, watching it take a violent bounce at the last minute just as it was too late to hit the post.

With five minutes to go in the third quarter and everything left to play for we witnessed one of the all-time great swings in momentum. Jack Gunston, their only forward who looked likely all night, plowed into an open goal and hit the post with such ferocity that the ball bounced back 20 metres and it wobbled like it was going to snap off and skewer the Hawthorn cheersquad. His miss was welcomed, but not as much as us going straight down the other end for Neal-Bullen to turn what should have been an eight point lead into 20 via a farcically askew handball in Hawthorn's defence and one of the 35 Year Old Man Charlie Spargo's three goal assists for the evening. Now that I've heard his voice I'm thrilled that he also sounds like Barrie Cassidy.

The 11 point play tore the roof off the joint, and with McEvoy off the ground Gawn set up the play that ended with Hannan pushing his opponent away, looking at the umpire with a guilty conscience and being paid the mark anyway. I sat there thinking "that will do, just get out the quarter without conceding another", but bugger me if we didn't go forward again, and after the Bullet stood up in a tackle, Viney walked through multiple defenders and centred for Brayshaw to pull down a screaming pack mark. He converted, Neita went off his tits, a lady in the crowd cried a bit prematurely and we went to the last change 32 points up, having only conceded 45 all night.

Temporarily no longer in need of a defibrillator, I said to my companion "we're either going to a Prelim or are going to stuff this up in a way we'll never forget". Oh how we teased the latter a little too much for comfort, especially after spending the first two minutes of the last quarter hunting the goal that would let us glide home comfortably. After early goals in the second and third terms, vandenBerg had a flying ping that didn't even go near scoring but for a second had me about to join the lady that keeled over with a heart attack against the Cats. We had a couple more chances to keep the ball down there before they got a genuine team lifter goal from 55 metres out to cancel Brayshaw's goal at the end of the third with way too much time left for comfort.

Gus was involved in the next goal as well, briefly out of action after being pinged for an outrageous free, pinched for low contact while being cannoned into while trying to pick the ball up. He actually blind turned to get the ball and as such could never have known there were legs there to make contact with even if he'd wanted to. It wasn't Burgoyne's fault either, but instead of either the head being sacrosanct or recognising it was a fault-free accident and calling play on they gave it to Hawthorn. Of course they did. The collision with the legs being protected temporarily left Brayshaw unable to stand, allowing said protected legs to run straight out of the middle with no signs of injury and dump the ball to Gunston over Hibberd for another. Now my internal organs were recoiling into self-preservation mode.

Straight after the Gunston goal they were back on the attack, and while Gawn defused the first opportunity with a massive mark they had more chances via another bullshit 'sliding' free, and a bloke who missed from 20 metres out. Then Roughead got a free from a ball-up, the margin was two kicks and I didn't even have it in me to enter 'fight or flight'. It was more like vom or expire. I don't know what I would have done if we'd lost from there, but we'd have had to see it almost as many times as Jim Stynes trotting over the mark at Waverley. I've talked before about how strange memories reappear at times like this, and I remembered a 2009 pre-season game against the Hawks where we were more than five goals in front at the last change and a young Roughead won it for them with 30 seconds left. I hurled a shoe in anger, vented my frustrations online and got on with my life, not sure if this would have been as easily forgotten.

Enter Jake The Snake Melksham, who'd done a couple of nice things amidst a whole lot of nothing all night before pulling a half chance off the pack and screwing it around his body through an empty goal to genuinely rapturous scenes. Three goals was still not enough with plenty of time left. Then a minute later he was back at it, rumbling figure of fun James Sicily in a one-on-one and setting up a perfect kick for Sizzle to run at and beat Frawley to. Chip must have been left sprawled on the turf still confused as to how this was happening to him, before struggling to his feet and looking up as another perfect sent shot sailed over his head. Now it really was as good as over, we'd absorbed the moments of terror and were striking back.

The real end came courtesy of Melksham again, playing a last quarter to make up for the other three several times over. Harmes had just had a chance to deliver the ultimate sealer, before Melksham marked just outside the square. He kicked it, Hawthorn was rooted and I think I breathed out for the first time in 10 minutes. In the midst of the chaos I never even noticed Petracca heartily laughing in the punchable face of James Sicily for being outmarked.

When he grabbed it I took my headphones out, wanting to savour the roar when it went through. It was exactly as I hoped it would be. Then, with hands shaking almost too much to access a mobile connected device I made the fateful decision to go west, whipping my phone out and starting to look for flights. The Hawks kicked a reply right out of the centre but my mission could not be halted, I was going to Perth no matter how much it cost. Even at this stage there was a sense of embarrassment that I was doing it, with the phone shielded so the people behind me couldn't see that I believed the game was won.

I'm accustomed to low expectations, so went directly to the Melbourne 2012/13 of the airline industry Tiger Airways to ensure lowest possible fare. Who cares, as long as it doesn't plummet into the ocean or make an emergency landing in Coober Pedy I'm ready to suffer for my art. Any concern at the expense of the trip was allayed when they offered me a quite reasonable $830 return fare. This was the point of no return, even when they got off to a bad start with a Ticketek style website fault. Probably because 150 other people in the vicinity of the MCG were trying to get on the same flight. With one screen to work on I had no time for comparisons with other airliens.

Hearing the crowd about to go troppo again I looked down to see Charlie Spargo thump the exclamation mark through from the square, dangerously thrust the hand with the phone in the air to celebrate, risking lobbing it off the top level of the Ponsford, then went back to job at hand trying to get the flight confirmed ASAP. I was just clicking no to every extra under the sun, probably leaving me sitting next to a pay toilet with a complimentary meal of contaminated strawberries. Ironically about the only healthy thing I ate all yesterday was a pack of the very brand of berries that have had needles stuck in them, but as my stomach was instantly liquifying anything that came in contact with it no sharp object was likely to pose a problem.

By midway through the song - via a false start fumbling to get my credit card out then putting in the wrong expiry date - I was in and could get back to the core business of going right off about the Dees cannoning through to a prelim the hard way in the spirit of 1998. That's still my favourite season ever, but depending on what happens next week I'm ready to consider an alternative. With the grittiest, non-refundable ticket to WA booked there is no turning back now. Even if something bizarre happens with the tickets to Perth Stadium and I don't get one by the time I leave Victoria there's no alternative but to go anyway and scramble for something while I'm there. At worst I end up paying eight hundred bucks to yell at a TV in another state.

I'm a bit upset with myself at going early on the booking and missing the raw feeling of the last goal and the siren, but at the same time I've never done this impulse interstate trip shit before and would have necked myself if I'd waited 10 minutes and found all the flights were $3000 one way. This doesn't have to be the last chapter of my story, but if it is I'm not watching it in my living room while eating chips. Two finals wins later I still have trust issues around sports, so had to ask somebody else to independently verify that I'd got my dates and times right.

As we confirmed that everything was in order, a group of ladies walking the same way admitted they'd done the exact same thing and booked already after originally contemplating a drive that would take 36 hours. What a frenzy, I don't ever want it to end. Unless it's at about 5pm in two weeks and ends in a Jones, Viney, Goodwin cup hoisting ceremony. Good god almighty.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Tom McDonald
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - James Harmes

Apologies to Gawn, Oliver, Jetta, Salem, Spargo, Frost and Weideman

With Gawn very unlucky not to get the last vote, the race is over. The also apologised to Clayton Oliver fails to poll but now cannot be overturned, and becomes the only man other than Nathan Jones ever to win two Jakovich Medals in a row.

There's some movement in the minors, as McSizzle's pair of threes put him ahead of Weid and Viney in the running for the finals award. With Champion Data statistics during the week showing that Fritsch has only been considered a defender since Round 20, Salem retains the lead in the Seecamp and now has only Hibberd, Lewis and Jetta breathing down his neck. We're due a grandstand finish in September, either in the Defender of the Year or from somebody running over the mark after the siren in a prelim.

62 - Clayton Oliver (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
51 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
32 - James Harmes
29 - Jesse Hogan
24 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: As Yet Unnamed Medal for Best Finals Player)
23 - Angus Brayshaw
16 - Bayley Fritsch (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
14 - Nathan Jones
13 - Jake Melksham, Jack Viney
11 - Christian Petracca
10 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
8 - Michael Hibberd, Jordan Lewis
7 - Neville Jetta
6 - Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan, Sam Weideman
4 - 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
The second half goals were more vital, but I really enjoyed Petracca on the run in the first quarter. For the weekly prize he wins a life-sized portrait of the time it looked like he celebrated a goal by manipulating his nipples in sexual ecstasy. For legal reasons I need to point out that we don't believe this is what he was actually doing, but it certainly looks like it.

The fate of the overall award is still undecided. Nothing this week to challenge Kent in Perth, Hannan vs Geelong or the unappreciated Charlie Spargo Over 35s nightclub shuffle at Kardinia Park. I'm still intending to stack those three and anything AMAZING that happens in the next two weeks into a public vote at the end of the season - whenever that comes.

To be fair to Hawthorn's effort it was very good, though I was thrown by the non-traditional use of lower case letters. They didn't have a curtain, the graphic was nice, and they even went over the top for a 50 gamer on the reverse side (that he wouldn't see). In many other weeks this would have won, but the Dees also went for an unusual design which paid off, the rarely seen four column look. I very much liked the excellent touch of white at the end. We win on points in a close one. That leaves us 24-0 for the year and at a minimum 25-0 due to the Eagles being a heartless franchise that emerges through the beak of an inflatable beast.

Crowd Watch (incorporating Match Experience Watch)
After having the overwhelming numbers in the crowd last week I thought there was no way we'd get the luxury of such a huge advantage again, but while there were more Hawthorn fans than there had been Cats it wasn't by much. We were still able to club together and unload the sort of noise that you'd usually only get from having a Boeing 747 take off above you.

Due to the lack of opposition fans in our area there was a grand total of zero cross words exchanged with the other side. I'm reliably informed that it was on for young and old in other areas of the ground, but in Q30 the only anxiety was from the girl sitting next to me occasionally asking her man to stop yelling out obscenities about the umpires. At the end when we had it won a few Hawks emerged from the woodwork and quietly slunk out without making eye contact or giving us a spray about how many flags they'd won. That luxury is out the window next week, and having every neutral in the country on our side isn't going to help when there's 50,000 lunatics going apeshit at everything around us.

I look forward to sampling West Coast matchday 'entertainment' for the first time because there's no way it can be any more gauche and new money than what Hawthorn put on. In the Big Book O' Footy Stereotypes they're only supposed to be a little bit less rich than us (though nobody's pinned cheese on them yet) but I don't believe it.

It must have been hard to rev somebody else's crowd up, and it felt like their only strategy to combat this was turning the volume up to 11 and shouting a lot. Probably the best bit was the ring of ordinary citizens parked around the ground to wave flags, which they had to do for about 30 minutes straight and were clearly totally over it by the end. The awful yelling announcer asked us for a round of applause in their honour because "it's a big night for them too". Four flags or self-consciously waving a flag featuring the head of a diseased chicken for half an hour, I think they've had bigger. The question is who was signing up to do this in the first place. It's one thing to have a bunch of kids in a guard of honour, but another for grown adults to say "I want a twirl a flag in front of thousands of people".

The twirling never stopped, and the rest of the program went on around it. They had two Hawk mascot (including one overly sexually suggestive female one who kept touching people) and a pair of gigantic tubey things that two teams - one of which included Campbell Brown - climbed into and had a race in. When asked where they were from both the ordinary bloke contestants helpfully offered "Melbourne". It was such a Wobbies World spectacular that I was hoping one of the mascots would be run over by the tube. Then they both did a simultaneous pre-arranged pratfall and the things gently steamrolled them with no damage whatsoever. Which was a shame because it would have enlivened this otherwise farcical spectacular. They also had a Latin hashtag for the finals, which is far more pretentious than anything we've ever done.

Then came the main event, their innovative twist on the already lame 'are you paying attention' gimmick called Late Cam where people who weren't actually late because they were in the ground before the first bounce were shown walking around while Announcer McDickhead made smart comments about them. I never thought anyone could come up with something worse than Match The Emoji, but there we were. Given that West Coast has 80,000 members for a 60,000 capacity stadium I'd like them to pit fans against each other in a gladiatorial contest to the death for the right to a seat.

The fun didn't end once the game started, with god honest fireworks going off on top of the Olympic Stand scoreboard whenever Hawthorn kicked a goal. At least for the first nine, on the last one the pyrotechnic expert must have already pissed off to catch the early train. I take it that next year when all the rules changes mean footy is fixed we won't need any of this chintzy shit to keep people entertained. Tell you what entertains me, following a club that has won 16 games for the season.

Elsewhere this week
Our prelim is my ultimate scenario, we make the Grand Final or an interstate team does. Maybe I'll be so bitter and twisted by next Saturday night that I'll be happy for either Collingwood or Richmond to win, but to be absolutely safe let's get the $cully-free GWS over both of the above. Hopefully in the unlikely event of us playing a franchise Grand Final they still put him in the parade so we can let him know how much we respect him as he drives past.
Next week
Out 3.20am AEST Friday, back 7.15pm AWST Saturday. By christ this seems like the most insane thing I've ever done, but 100% right at the same time. Ticketing is allegedly either a 50/50 split on the allocation or at the very least a shitload of space reserved for our fans to have a crack at, so as long as I don't enter a coma before 11:00 Monday there shouldn't any drama getting in. The question is how to make sure I'm amongst the faithful and not some braying secessionists who think they're hard done by in the umpiring. I guess the earlier you buy in the Melbourne allocation the more likely you are to be surrounded by fellow fly in, fuck off Demons.

After two weeks of barely seeing an opposition fan in my section it's going to be something to go into a snakepit with at best a 55,000 - 5000 split where we feel like one of those GWS fans against Richmond. I think we can win, I don't think we will, but am ready to see it unfold live one way or another. We're on a tremendous high and have Viney back, but this time they have Josh Kennedy and presumably Jack Darling not knocked out by quarter time. Speaking of knocked out, here's to Angus Brayshaw loading his helmet with a horseshoe for when an Eagles player tries to punch him in the head.

Meanwhile, for this end of an era blowout I'm going to go full nuffy and wear a jumper to a footy game again. There's no point having dignity now, it's just left to decide whether it's the Phil Read, Stefan Martin Experience or Sam Blease model that gets an airing in enemy territory. If we win I'll go 100% security risk dickhead and wear it on the plane.

The venue will not concern us, and after the last two weeks I'd like to think neither will the occasion, but it's a question of whether we can keep up the momentum, beat the afternoon heat caused by the AFL having no idea how to schedule, and overcome how the locals like it umpiring by terrified whistleblowers. The idea of standing in the middle of the carnage having just destroyed the year of a massive amount of people and knowing I've got a guaranteed Grand Final ticket waiting for me when I get back would probably be enough to put me over the edge into the good type of a full emotional breakdown. And Tiger should get me back shortly before for the first bounce the following Saturday.

The last two weeks have turned out so comprehensive that it's hard to argue for any change that's not enforced. Spargo played the game of his life, and even though I wasn't entirely enamoured with Tyson he disposed at 80% so can't bring myself to give him the chop. Part of me is tempted to spring a September surprise and throw Garlett in there on the off chance of crumb, but the pressure has been good enough that I don't dare mess with a winning formula. Besides, how often does he genuinely crumb goals anyway? The vast majority either come ducking out the back or from set shots. Adrenaline is running riot, let's ride it to the end whenever that comes. Once this is done I'm never going back there, so let's make it a memorable one for all the right reasons.

IN/OUT: No change
LUCKY: Tyson for balance
UNLUCKY: Garlett only because he provides something different up front.

Was it worth it?
There have been about 150 games since our last preliminary final appearance where this would have been a sensible question. Now we hold these truths to be self-evident - Melbourne has just rumbled a fourth top eight team in a row, have beaten Hawthorn for the second time since 2006 and are one game away from a Grand Final. I came, I saw, I went off my trolley. Never did end up watching the replay last week, and you know I'm not going to this time either. The highlights and All The Goals videos 1200 times yes, but not the full match. I'll sit down and enjoy them as part of the Melbourne International Dees Festival at the end of the season. Like the aftermath of the Geelong game all I want to do is get to next week and see what the next chapter is.

Final Thoughts
I suppose people (other than me) would have got used to the Melbourne Hawks eventually, but imagine thinking some shitbox merged entity with a velcro Hawk on a Melbourne jumper would move you as much as the original recipe does?

Don Scott, you were such an awful special comments man that this banner remains an all-time classic, but for your work inadvertently keeping my dream alive I salute you. I'm not sure everything we've been through is instantly 'worth it' now when it shouldn't have happened to begin with, but it's official that there has never been a better time to be alive since the year 2000.

At portly pop sensation Heavy D said in 1991, now that we found love what are we gonna do with it? Next Saturday your options one enemy territory are either death or glory.

Standard "this post is delayed" notification

The fantasy continues, I'm going to Perth, and if you're lucky there will be a post up Saturday afternoon outlining all the ways this game caused me both deep joy and psychological trauma.

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.

For now it's 2am on Saturday and I'm going to bed, but know I love you all deeply. Cheerio and Go the Preliminary Final bound Dees.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Weid The People

After years of hanging shit on the citizens of Adelaide and Perth, I finally understand the benefit of sitting in a stadium rammed to the bejesus belt with an overwhelming majority of people going for the same team. Geelong fans have seen enough glory in the time we've been shit that it's not surprising they'd fail to turn up in numbers to watch a side that's slipped from 2nd to 8th limp into - and eventually out of - the finals. This was good news for us, creating space for about 65,000 red and blue fanatics to deliver an insanely one-sided atmosphere.

Maybe all the Cats fans were still on the Ticketek website, waiting patiently to 'transact' with whatever MS-DOS system was being used to book finals tickets. The legitimate trauma I suffered trying to get one on Tuesday morning in competition with 450,000 other people may have brought on the illness that left me on my arse for the rest of the week. Regular readers will know there's nothing unusual about me being sick at Melbourne games, but this time it wasn't just sporting anxiety but also an immune system that had been carpet-bombed to the point of barely existing.

The sensible course of action would have been to focus on what really mattered and take multiple days off work to recuperate for the big game. For professional reasons that wasn't an option, so I just had to punch my way through, knowing that if I could survive until 7.50pm Friday night everything could be temporarily forgotten and any other consequences could be dealt with by medical professionals. Cue the week from hell, a nervous, sweaty wreck with a voice fading in and out, coughing like a TB patient in secret to avoid attracting unwanted attention. After 12 years aboard the SS Capsize nothing short of being in a coma was going to keep me from the MCG, and a doping campaign Lance Armstrong would have applauded got me to the line. The Dees took care of the rest. I'm cactus now, but who cares?

I thought we could win, but after the horror of our other two games against them this year wasn't convinced it would happen without a life or death struggle deep into the last quarter. The idea of being five goals up at quarter time was so fantastic that you'd have been carted off to the loony bin for suggesting it. From the start of the second term we swerved and wobbled but did almost everything right except convert chances that would have killed off the game by half time. Hair-raising noise at the end of the national anthem - and that we were playing a game where the anthem was required - notwithstanding I actually floated throughout the remainder of the game on an emotional cloud, suffering the usual background fear that we'd find a way to stuff things up but never once presented with an actual comeback to get realistically terrified about.

The phrase 'carnival atmosphere' has been applied to plenty of games over the years, but this was the ultimate. Melbourne fans outnumbering the opposition by the tens of thousands, a dream start and an eventual easy victory. It was a step down from beating North by 118 in the corresponding 1987 fixture, but that matters sod all now. We got the right result without a detour via cardiac arrest, the fairytale continues, and the most storied team and coach of the 21st century await as the next challenge.

Applying retrospective meaning to the way teams line up for an anthem is like debating whether they should have gone on a bonkers pre-season camp or not, but when our boys were all arm-in-arm and Cats players stood like individuals who'd met on the way to ground I desperately wanted it to mean something. I knew it probably didn't, but then we spent 120 minutes scaring the shit out of them with thumping tackles and I wondered if there might have been something in the theory after all.

I was on high alert for another fiasco against the Cats, but not as concerned by the prospect of a finals choke. The occasion was enormous, and the crowd massive but it's not like GWS suddenly going from playing in front of two men and a dog to 90,000 overnight. We've had 85k, 83k and 77k games over the last two seasons (and admittedly lost the lot before this) so big crowds are not alien. I was confident that once the game started we'd just crack in (and have a crack) and do what was required. Indeed we did, riding out a few minutes of the Cats looking likely at the start before turning on the afterburners and battering them in a rare fashion. Five goal quarter time leads in finals = this, the 1941 Grand Final, the 1948 Grand Final Replay, and the 1988 Preliminary Final.

The unexpected poster child for the first quarter avalanche was Sam Weideman, a player who I didn't want in the side a month ago but has now progressed to the level where you start to wonder how we fit him alongside Hogan and McDonald next year. If it was a good night for him it was a ripper for his agent, who would now have 10 clubs on the phone wondering if he's keen on 22 games next season instead of being stuck in the queue behind the other two and occasionally relegated to the frozen tundra of Casey Fields.

He didn't just take marks and kick goals, but further extended his career best disposal tally to 24. One game ago it was 17, two games ago 13 and he'd played part of three seasons never having more than seven kicks in a game. Last night he had 12, validating something I said earlier in the season about him having every element required to succeed if he started getting more of the ball. Now he's on a three game streak of career best performances and looms as a massive player for Hawthorn to be worried about next week. And hopefully somebody else for the two weeks after. Then take a break and gaze at the premiership medallion.

The first blow was struck by the most unlikely leading goalkicker in history, Tom McSizzle, and when he marked again not long after I was on high alert for the most unusual finals bag since Shane Ellen. He missed, and never looked likely to kick another goal after the first two minutes of the second quarter but it was a mighty start that well and truly set the tone. While he was taking commanding contested marks, on ground level Jack Viney didn't go anywhere near the weird forward/mid job he'd speculated on two weeks ago and instead concentrated on ripping the limbs from his opponents. His torment of Ablett was a welcome flashback to Round 1, 2015 when he took the piss out of Gaz to such a degree that it nearly constituted workplace harassment. There was no hint of ring rust there, he just walked back into the midfield like he'd never been away and we were significantly better for it.

Other than the spanking first quarter and eventual steadying, the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Joel Selwood emotionally cracking under the weight of Harmes' tag and making a Rex Hunt of himself on a big stage. You expect Ablett to whinge to the umpires (who can forget the night Jordie McKenzie almost had him in tears?), but Selwood went off like a petulant child not used to losing. Probably because he isn't, having just played in his 70th defeat vs 201 wins. He can take his premiership medals to show and tell at Nathan Jones' house, and the 82-3-177 MFC Hall of Fame Legend elect can teach him something about humility. Selwood was also somewhat upset by the obvious result of ducking into tackles when Neville Jetta is around, e.g. that he will knock the piss out of you.
Everyone was at it, taking their opportunity to thump a hapless opponent. This was the shell of the previously very successful Geelong club, but most of them hadn't won any more flags than our lot and played like it. One bloke thought he was smart running past vandenBerg, only for AVB to stay in the chase and mow him down with a tackle immediately after. Later in the evening Weideman clocked Dangerfield with a clothesline from hell, and Frost did his bit for the psychological warfare campaign against the backdrop of Bruce McAvaney saying a phrase you'll likely never get out of your head:
It might have taken us five minutes to get the first goal, but after McDonald's miss they began flowing with ease. Gawn took full advantage of playing on a fourth gamer to get forward and mark right in front, and in an important psychological blow converted from basically the same spot where he'd missed six months ago. The avalanche was given an assist by some forward play by the Cats that should have been accompanied by circus music, a theme we'd enthusiastically get involved with during the second quarter.

For now it was pure battery, including Harmes taking a rest from abusing Selwood to work his arse off running forward into a marking position right in front of goal. This wasn't as much a tagging job as a clear one-on-one victory with a bit of anti-social behaviour thrown in. The Weid got his first, before marking in the square on the siren in front of an incredulous, Alice band wearing Geelong defender who was convinced he'd got a hand to it first. The ledger was evened later when Lewis spoiled a ball straight in the air and a Geelong player was given a mark.

Weideman converted, we were 31 points up and bloody hell what was going on here? This wasn't supposed to happen against good clubs, but were Geelong a good club on anything other than reputation? I guess we just found out whether it's better to come into the finals beating two top eight contenders or thrashing flotsam and jetsam by massive margins. That they've had as many ton plus wins in their last three starts as we have since 2004 doesn't mean much now.

It was certainly better than being five goals behind, but for obvious reasons the lid was being kept firmly pressed down for now. Maybe because I was in shock, but mostly due to the fresh memories of throwing away a not much smaller lead in the space of 25 minutes a few weeks ago. And in Round 1 we had kicked six in the opening quarter then only two in the second, so there was historical precedent for things tightening right up by half time. The difference was that day the Dangerfield-less Cats took advantage of our backline's disarray to kick 12 by the end of the second quarter. This time they were starved of chances.

If you're of a nervous disposition - and I certainly am - the second quarter simultaneously showed a side at the near peak of its powers and left us looking at our watch for the inevitable blockbusting comeback. Rarely has a side dominated so comprehensively for zero goal reward. After five minutes of going close Anal-Bullet missed a sitter that would have made it 41-2, part of a period of frenzied attack where we'd kick 1.10. Of course after his miss, the Cats went straight down the other end for the first goal. We wouldn't actually get a non-set shot goal until Jones' opened in the last quarter. That concerns me but I don't think it necessarily translates to next week, it's not like we didn't have the opportunities they were just wasted.

I still reserved the right to be nervous with a 23 point lead at half time. If there was any question about Viney blowing up from lack of match practice and if our players were struck by the tension of what happened at Kardinia Park we might have let them get back in it. No and no. For all my nervousness, if you'd given me that lead with the opposition held to two goals I'd have grabbed at it shamelessly. Hawkins was their only forward who looked even remotely dangerous, and I was confident that we had the rest of his anonymous comrades covered well enough that it wouldn't matter if he kicked a few. In the end he got two, his side got six and several television executives probably self-immolated at the lack of opportunities to run ads. Stiff shit. I know the dream is a hands off AFLX style wankfest where everyone kicks 25 goals but you can stuff that up your jumper, I'll have this sort of physical contest. Had we been the ones unmercifully hunted by a relentless opposition maybe I'd have been more in favour of 16 a side and squares that stretch from one end of the ground to the other.

We were lucky to get to the break just shy of four goals up, with some dingbat playing on from a free directly in front and hitting the post trying to roll the ball along the ground. Then again, we did end the quarter with Jones running inside 50 and missing so at the same time we were unlucky not to be back to five goals in front. Either way, Geelong had turned up 45 minutes late but were now here to play. Fortunately they'd left themselves in such a deep hole that it was impossible to climb out. Finals nerves had been dismissed as a myth, now it was stuffing up against Geelong nerves that were causing me concern. Still not that much concern though, I don't know whether all the medications and potions had a calming effect, but while sporting terror was burning away inside I outwardly kept a relaxed demeanour. It was partially because I didn't want to show any nerves, and partially because there was only so much energy to go around and it needed to be conserved for keeping me upright until the siren and getting home.

Speaking of people having a shocker out of their control, a word for the poor kid operating a food counter at half time with the world's faultiest EFTPOS machine. The biggest crowd of the year, in an area where any queue build up traffic jams the place to the point where nobody can move, and he's presiding over a machine that was taking five minutes to complete each transaction. He was under more pressure than a deep sea diver and did well to not crack up. Though at one stage he called a colleague in to have a look and may have used this as an excuse to try and escape, only for his mate to wave the white flag, say there was nothing he could do and walk off again, forcing the original bloke back to the contest.

After 10 minutes when he'd only worked through two other people and finalised my transaction (I'd have given up if I didn't desperately need steadying caffeine, and suspect some others 'gave up' with items in their pocket) I did my best to assure the kid that it wasn't his fault. He was already wearing a traumatised look that suggested he'll walk away and never work another shift at the MCG. Everyone at wishes him well.

When we returned after half-time for Geelong to kick the first goal and cut the margin to 17 I knew how the 15-year-old EFTPOS disaster kid felt. At this point I steeled myself for the possibility that this was going to finish as a thrilling shitfight. Need not have been concerned, they never got any closer. Straight from the next centre bounce Harmes went forward - again with the player he was allegedly tagging nowhere to be seen - and Melksham took advantage of a defender falling on his arse to mark right in front and kick the 1 in 1.10.

That was it for goals for the rest of the quarter. Which was weird. The 17 minute major drought was assisted by Dangerfield missing from point blank range and Menzel hitting the post instead of passing to a player standing in the square. He couldn't believe it, and neither could I. The story of the game after quarter time was supposed to be Geelong striking back, but they necked themselves in such an amazing variety of ways there was never any real momentum behind the comeback.

See also Ablett twice having kicks smothered and trying to blame his teammates up field. Or Selwood's decision to grab Melksham by the neck and throw him to the ground 70 metres away from his teammate having a shot on goal. I didn't even know an emergency umpire could pay a free, so thank god it went in our favour or I'd be writing this from a picket line outside AFL HQ. Even more delightful that Ablett then had a big sook towards said off-field umpire. Bad luck mate, go back to the Suns.

So after a quarter less worthy of a final than the two that preceded it, we were left with a 23 point margin to defend. If that sounded familiar, it would be because that was exactly the final change gap in Round 18. That night we kicked the first goal and still lost, but I was exceedingly confident here that if we could get the opened again they weren't going to catch us. Partly because they'd kicked three goals in three quarters, and due to their attack other than Hawkins being cute, fluffy and completely insignificant.

Even before the first goal, the signs that we couldn't be beaten were everywhere. See for instance, Selwood's Master of Disaster evening continuing when he won a free, went to play on, slipped over and was pinched holding the ball by Viney. That directly set up an inside 50 where Petracca danced out of a pack, looped a wide handball to Nathan Jones and the skipper - who better? - kicked one of the most popular goals of his career. The highlights reveal that BT called him "an old campaigner", which is appropriate because that's how I refer to BT. Speaking of commentators who have no place calling anything other kick-to-kick in the park, a contentious decision in the first quarter apparently lead to Dwayne Russell threatening to give up calling. Who knew bad umpiring could actually be beneficial?

It was pretty much over with Jones' goal, but what happened earlier in the year meant nobody was allowing themselves to get overly excited. The omens were all there when Kardinia Park irritant Zac Tuohy got the reply to leave the margin in the low 20s again with plenty of time to play. If we were going to collapse now would have been a good time. They were certainly close enough to get a run on, and this is the point where I started mentally ticking off every stoppage as a few seconds wasted. Apart from a complete knock-out in the middle, we didn't dominate the overall stoppages as much as I'd have liked considering the inexperience opposition ruckman, but each one slightly reduced the time they'd have to launch the necessary comeback.

We ran off eight minutes without a score before the goal that won it, a quick kick forward by Melksham, Hannan's opponent slipping over in the contest, and a great run from the wing to almost the square. The closer he got, and the more obvious it was that he was considering other options rather than kicking it himself the more seized up my body became, until he mercifully slotted it where so many others wouldn't have. Finally I could sit back and relax.

— AFL (@AFL) September 7, 2018

If all you've seen is the call with Taylor making up distances, treat yourself to the alternative of this proper call off the radio - complete with Garry Lyon almost popping his load in the background god bless.
That really was it, there was 10 minutes for them to kick five goals but it simply wasn't going to happen. The first exclamation point came from Weideman taking another contested mark at the top of the square (♪ Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near ♪), and playing on unnecessarily quickly. He could have wasted 30 seconds in the spirit of Milkshake against the Eagles, but must have sensed that the fans were fit to burst and wanted to gratify them ASAP. Not me, I looked heavenward in glorious relief when he grabbed it and missed the actual finish. Didn't detract from the celebrations though.

The margin was more than it had been at quarter time now, and though we then packed it away and let in a couple of late ones nobody was complaining because it was already a job well done. Things were going so well that as a kick went inside Geelong's forward 50 Oscar McDonald accidentally intercepted it with his head with back turned. It was far better than anything he'd been involved with in the last quarter in our previous meeting.

Alex Neal-Bullen, who had helped set the savage tone in the first quarter then missed the opportunity to nearly kill them off in the second, got the glory of hammering the final nail into Geelong's coffin. The highlight of the Bullet's goal was when he did the old 'grab at the bit where a club crest would be if we hadn't sold the space' move made popular several years ago by Brad Green, and instead indicated that he was keen on Zurich Finance. Good on him, it's about time people packed away lame cheese gags and went back to stereotyping us for being as rich as fuck.
The sound of the crowd at the siren was outrageous, I've never heard anything like it at a Melbourne game. In various ways we've been liberating ourselves of hoodoos and long term disappointments since Paul Roos turned up, but this was the full enchilada of fans unloading all their misery. Even if god forbid we win next week there won't be the same overwhelming crowd numbers. I hope for even greater days for the club and us as fans, but I seriously doubt there will ever be a night where we get such a huge partisan audience so wound up.

I'm sick of keeping the lid on, we know it's extremely unlikely that this season will end in a flag but like English soccer fans I'm ready, willing and able to go RIGHT OFF about football coming home before even making the final. I'm willing to let the veil of restraint slide right off and start looking beyond the Hawks to Collingwood/West Coast and most likely the Tigers afterwards. After running into juggernaut teams in 1988 and 2000 it's almost inevitable we run into Richmond at the peak of their powers this time isn't it?

Everything from here is a bonus. If we lose next week it will burn like buggery, but overall no harm done to the long term plan. Maybe that Carlton fan who chastised me for cheering on other teams falling in front of us had a point? And speaking of irritating Carlton identities, have we had a ruling from Chris J**d on whether the level of celebration was appropriate for an elimination final?

And now a special feature, the first ever recorded evidence of me singing the song. Which is not a surprise considering I've steadfastly refused to indulge in it for years. This seemed like a good time. Enjoy the bit where the exertion becomes too much and a lung is nearly hacked onto the MCG seating. There's video footage too but you're not getting that.

With many of the already meagre collection of Cats fans having ducked off early, the atmosphere of unbridled enthusiasm outside the ground was akin to the scenes when Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad. If we win next week let's do this to serial MFC player assassinator Leigh Matthews. And his statue too.

My car was parked at Spencer Street so I didn't know what to with myself. I just walked back across the city listening to the faithful going off their chops, and in the non-perviest way ever looking at all the kids who'd either bravely taken up supporting us in the heat of the #fistedforever era or are so young that they think a solid, competitive (that one's for you Dean Bailey) side is just how it is. I guess it's the modern difference between the kids like me who came in post-'88 and the older generation who'd fought their way through some part of the 1965-1986 slurry. They'll never appreciate what it took to get here, and I hope this time we don't back up with another decade of disgrace that stretches from their mid-20s to mid-30s and gives them a taste of what they missed.

The effect of this result on the supporter base was still on my mind when I missed a freeway works detour turn-off, then the next opportunity to get back on track 11km later. Enjoying the all-MFC, all-the time content on the SEN overnight show I just kept driving generally north in the hope that I'd eventually see a sign directing me where to turn right and head home. Eventually somewhere outside of Diggers Rest I thought things were getting perilously close to regional Victoria and stopped for directions, only to be directed back down the countriest of roads in a mystery fog that would rise and lift every few hundred metres.

As my petrol gauge hovered on two bars I thought this would be an appropriately farceshambles way to end the night of the brand new high watermark of Melbourne supporting, but narrowly survived to tell my tale. All it did was give me an extra 45 minutes to listen to a fantastically biased radio host talk Dees, Dees and nothing but Dees while sour Geelong fans complained via text message. Dry your eyes on a flag dickheads, this is our time.

In a happy reverse of my trip back from Kardinia Park, it was only when I got home at about 1am that I remembered how sick I'd been all week. Like the time a headbutt from a child that later turned out to be a broken nose temporarily disappeared while we pounded Richmond, the glory of the opening quarter, the tension of the comeback, the relief of the win, and the epic journey through Christ only knows where masked the symptoms.

At about 03:00 when I forced myself to go to bed Finals Fever really struck with a vengeance. With no more need to keep it together I suddenly turned freezing cold and began shaking like an ice addict. The remedy was the largest pile of blankets known to man, a heater on full blast and more clothes than an arctic explorer - with the unintended side consequence of eventually overheating and having insane bloody dreams for the next three hours, before waking up early to think further about the Melbourne Football Club. Today has been hell, but I'd do everything other than the mystery rural detour all over again.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Sam Weideman
4 - James Harmes
3 - Tom McDonald
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Neville Jetta

Apologies to plenty but especially Viney, O. McDonald, Frost, Hibberd, Brayshaw, Lewis, Neal-Bullen and Gawn.

Maximum could still grab this with a couple of BOGs on the way through the Grand Final, but the problem is stopping Oliver from polling. You can't do it, he is operating on another planet to everyone else. In the minors, congratulations to Fritsch for officially winning the Hilton.

In the Seecamp,  Jetta pulls to within striking range of Salem but this morning I received a protest from a concerned reader that Bayley Fritsch should be eligible due to time played in defence. He's got a point, but the problem is there's no actual measurement to decide what qualifies somebody as a defender. I'm going to have to ponder this, but if anyone has hard statistical evidence for either the prosecution or defence please table it via the usual channels.

We're also pleased to announce a new award for the best player in finals. I want to call it the Nathan Jones Medal, and like the AFLW award already being named after Daisy Pearce in the middle of her career may just do that by the end of the series. Given that I inexplicably didn't go the '05 final there will be no retrospective winner for that year, but we're pleased to award Brock McLean the '06 title for his dual four vote performances.

62 - Clayton Oliver (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- Three more finals needed ---
51 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Abandon all hope ye beyond here ---
31 - James Harmes
29 - Jesse Hogan
23 - Angus Brayshaw
21 - Tom McDonald
16 - Bayley Fritsch (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 - Jordan Lewis, Jack Viney
7 - Neville Jetta
6 - Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan, Sam Weideman (LEADER: As Yet Unnamed Medal for Best Finals Player)
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
Who else but Mitch Hannan, with his cover version of the Jack Watts running goal to the same end last year. That was obviously a more aesthetically pleasing goal with a higher direct impact on the game, but this was a sealer in a final in front of 90,000 people. Holy moly. Sure beats playing for Gisborne. Or nearly driving there like I did at about 1am.

He got an assist from his opponent falling over, but after contemplating mid-run whether to pass then noticing that the Geelong defender had expertly positioned himself to stop the dinky chip to the square he finished perfectly from a reasonably acute angle on a night where every other bastard was spraying it. It's great that we found a way to make Fritsch even effective than first expected so both could fit in the same team. He's had his down times during 2018, but this goes up there with Adem Yze against St Kilda in '06 for great sealers (albeit without me yelling obscenities into the face of an opposition supporter immediately after).

This throws another spanner in the works of the clubhouse leader. Now that we're not picking from a handful of goals in big losses it's difficult to separate importance and spectacle. Spargo in Geelong had the funkiest moves, Kent in Perth was the most ice-cold, and this provoked the wildest public reaction. They've all got claims (though I suspect if it goes to a public vote Spargo's got no chance), and I'm going to further ruminate on it in the hope that even more magic will unfold next week. Might package this and the Fritsch dilemma up into one vote.

I was too nervous to focus on what the Geelong banner actually said, but it looked to have been designed by primary school children. Their cheersquad must be as bored with finals as the fans and players. Ours was a thing of beauty, I loved the way it acknowledged that making the finals was one hurdle. One school of thought would be that you don't treat making the eight as a big deal once you've done it. I frantically disagree. The first phase of the new journey looked alright, I'm keen on getting three more in by the end of the season. That's 23-0 for the year. The perfect season just got perfecter (?).

Crowd Watch (incorporating Match Experience Watch)
I should have known a weird night was in store when on entering the ground Catman and I clattered elbows going through the security scan side by side. That brush with nuffy royalty was about as close as I got to any Kardinia Park style insanity with Cats fans, because section Q30 in front of the Ponsford scoreboard featured no more than 10 of them, who all sat respectfully quiet from about the 10 minute mark of the first quarter. More concerning was the Demon loyalist who reacted to Mitch Duncan 'drawing' a free kick by shouting 'MITCH DUCKIN!", and after getting no reaction said it again in such a desperate grab for attention that I wanted to put my arm around him and provide reassurance that everything was going to be alright. Like the rest of us he was left mouth agape and unable to form full sentences by quarter time and we never heard from him again.

Since 2006 I've only been to two neutral finals - and none after 2012 - so have no idea how they work but wasn't it a bit weird that it got treated as an MFC home game? Is it the prerogative of the club finishing higher to carry on like they would in Round 6? Tonight when Russell Robertson was interviewing the Demon Army and going ape for the 'mons this seemed like a good idea but won't be as warmly received next week when the team with toilet colours hold the reigns. The only obvious changes were the substitution of the much-maligned Hogan's Highball for a much more interesting long kicking contest (which apparently happens every Friday night, explaining why we'd never seen it before). At the end of the game they should have reintroduced Match the Emoji, shown πŸ’©πŸ’©πŸ’© and asked fans if they recognises the performances of Ablett, Dangerfield and Selwood.

Meanwhile, in a week where Fox Footy coincidentally rolled out Mark Neeld to try and play down his role in the implosion years (to be fair he's nowhere near 100% responsible, and should we win a flag any time soon I may even hand out pardons to everyone involved) I was more interested in seeing our ex-players go off their tit, most notably this from The Wizard:
Who are these people interrupting him going troppo to take photos? The selfie should be abolished, it's taken a gifted performance artist out of the moment while he was doing his best work.

Elsewhere this week
Abhorrent as it is to my nature I am the biggest Collingwood fan ever tonight. We can beat Hawthorn and I will be stupid enough to go to my death in Perth if the fixture sends us in that direction. Let's stay in Victoria so I don't end up hitch-hiking back across the Nullabor in misery with Bradley John Murdoch. However, if we don't beat the Hawks I retrospectively hope the Eagles won by 199.
Next week
Before concerning myself with red-eye flights and hit and run missions across the continent we've got to beat Hawthorn for the second time in 17 starts. It's back to the 'G next Friday night, the only way we can get a local game in the marquee timeslot this season. They humped us unmercifully after quarter time in Round 4, but that's a lifetime ago now. It might just be the weight of expectation, but I'm astounded that we're red hot favourites. There's no way they will be as bad as they were against a much better side on Thursday night, but we very much can beat them if there's the same sort of wild-eyed insane tackling and we don't kick 1.10 over two quarters.

In our first final against them since 1990, get ready for the usual cavalcade of MFC/HFC highlights. Leigh Matthews killing somebody, Jim Stynes running over the mark, the Merger Match, Don Scott gloriously ripping a shit Hawk off a Melbourne jumper, Jordan Lewis winning flags, Yze and Bruce as assistant coaches and perhaps even Clarko reminiscing about how his 41 game stint with us in 96/97 got him where he is today. Let's also have that dreadful merger theme song that should have been enough to convince anyone who wasn't just a stooge for the board to vote no.

I genuinely don't know what to do with the changes. I think Tyson's recent good form was bulldozed by the return of Viney, and still have serious doubts about playing them both. Also as much as I like Spargo for the future I'm not convinced by him in a game of this magnitude. But do I want two changes from a winning side? Probably not. It's a shame Garlett isn't booting the door down, because we could do with a bit of crumb but I'm too scared to risk him. So if we assume the defence and tall forwards go in unchanged that leaves us with Bugg, Garlett and Kennedy-Harris to choose from.

I'm concerned Bugg hasn't played since the last time Hawthorn wrecked us, don't trust Garlett to bring four quarters of the required pressure and not sure Kennedy-Harris is going to offer all that much more than Tyson. I was tempted by JFK for Tyson, but against my better judgement will stick with this lineup and hope that they find a way to utilise Tyson and Spargo effectively.

IN/OUT: No change
LUCKY: Spargo, Tyson
UNLUCKY: Bugg, Garlett, Kennedy-Harris and everyone else at Casey still upright.

Was it worth it?
God almighty yes. No matter happens next week the memories of tonight will live forever. Later defeats never sullied the reputation of Adelaide/St Kilda '98, Carlton/North '00 or St Kilda '06 (though North '02 was entirely forgettable). This was the night we lined up a third top eight team in a row, unloaded a first quarter of rare excitement on them in front of a massive crowd, then answered when half-heartedly challenged to only drop a couple of points for the rest of the game. Everyone involved reached manhood.

Final Thoughts
The Herald Sun is a dead-set rag of a paper that should only be used for lining the bottom of a budgie cage, but if I can crop out Collingwood and some nonsense about super funds I'm prepared to wear the Melbourne Storm run-in to look at this forever. I don't know how many statues feature the player in this post, but I think we might have found the final design.
Like when Ric Flair had to win every match or retire, my life as a 100% lunatic supporter lives on for another week. The Nature Boy's bid for immortality failed, but I'm aiming higher. The Bradbury Plan is dead, but a Mighty Ducks finish is back on the agenda.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The great finals ticket crisis

Day 1

Complaining about Ticketek is like complaining about the AFL, there's ultimately no point because they've got the market by the knackers and can do whatever they please. Still, even though we'll eventually fork out the $7.50 transaction fee it's still worth capturing for posterity the magic and mystery of today's finals ticketing FIASCO.

I've suffered so much sporting trauma since the 2006 Elimination Final that I've got no idea how I got a ticket for that. Whether it was via the internet or by the old fashioned method of exchanging money for goods in person I don't remember it being anything like the sort of fisting session we've been through today. At the time of writing the ordeal is still not just unresolved, but they haven't even come up with a timeframe of when it will be fixed.

The blame goes directly to whoever decided to sell the tickets to four games at the same time to a total membership base of about 750,000. There's no doubt the AFL, Ticketek and probably the MCC will end up pointing fingers at each other and claiming that they told the others to take a staggered approach. I assume the AFL think they're safe considering their in-house media propaganda unit were comfortable in referring to it as a 'meltdown'.

You'd have thought the 11 days between the first weekday after Round 23 and the opening finals game provided adequate time to spread this out. Instead some peanut decided to go for the lot at 09:00 on Tuesday (why not Monday?) and lo the internet did collapse in a fashion not seen since the Australian Census. And with respect to the Census who gives a fat rats clacker about that compared to finals tickets?

I was trying to be calm about 09:00 this morning, knowing that the moment it went live would be the peak time where everyone piled on at once and would probably cause the system to burst. Ticketek may very well have borrowed a few extra units from Supercomputers 'R Us and we wouldn't be talking about this, but who amongst us didn't expect some kind of disaster? Fair to say that I wasn't expecting to kick off at 09:00 AEST and still be ticketless mid-afternoon. A few error messages and false starts were to be expected, this was a world leading fuck-up that should end in somebody being tarred and feathered as part of the Grand Final half-time entertainment.

The complication to the process was that I was in a one-on-one training session with some old mate who was meant to be showing me how a system worked. I got there at 08:00 and slowly watched a conveniently placed wall clock tick towards 09:00, trying to convince myself that I could wait until later and nick in after the rush but knowing full well that any bullshit excuse would be required to duck off to a computer the moment tickets went live.

I can't help it, Hawthorn fans can kindly hush up and wait for the inevitable Grand Final, I've dragged myself through 12 years of masochistic torture to see any sort of final and was hoping that it might have been an even remotely experience to secure a ticket. I don't care if it's in Row MM, in fact I'd welcome it. Just let me hand over my credit card details to a company that will probably leak them straight to the Russian Mafia and give me a piece of paper that allows me access to the MCG next Friday night.

So after holding out until about 09:02 I did a decidedly subtlety free "oh, do you mind if I just log on to that computer over there and check my email?" and ducked off for what I thought might be a quick transaction. Given the stacks on element of the ticket release I wasn't surprised to get a message telling me I was in the queue. After a few minutes of stalling while pretending I really was going to get back to the training soon I had to give up, leaving that playing in the background and instead switching to the mobile version. This was only moderately more useful, putting me in the same queue as the desktop computer. Twitter had already started to reveal that people were stacking it in the middle of the process left, right and centre but I had a religious-like faith that I'd somehow navigate my way through the carnage and come out ok.

To prove that the system was a lottery rather than based on any merit, the computer was still thinking 10 minutes later when the mobile loaded a list of events I could book for. "That wasn't as hard as expected" I foolishly thought, ignoring the tantalising option of Phil Collins Live to choose AFL instead. And off I went to the second queue, which claimed that "thousands of AFL fans are transacting right now". 'Transacting' may be a real term, but like 'proactive', 'gaslighting' and 'virtue signalling' it's one that helps you instantly decipher that the person you're talking to is a wanker.

After the computer returned me to the back of the queue twice via website crashes (which should have been an indication that things were not going well in the background), the mobile version paid off after about 30 minutes. My call progressed in the queue to the point where I could choose what game I wanted to watch. At which point we reach the only part of this story where I'm at fault (other than not just going to a Ticketek outlet at 7am and standing there until they opened). It asks me to log in and I realise that I've got no idea what the password for my account is. I tried all the classics and variations thereof for no reward, and not surprisingly the "forgot my password" button was under as much stress as the rest of the site and failed to respond when pressed. However, for some unusual reason I was still able to use the last ounce of Ticketek's Atari 2600 computing power to register a new account on the spot. Problem solved? Not quite.

So I log in with the new username, watching the clock at the top of mobile screen (PC was still thinking) tick down from 15:00, knowing that at 00:00 I'd be given the arse and forced to go back to the start again. By now I'd started to get a scope of the massacre on Twitter, but now that I had the option to put a barcode in and select a seat what could possibly go wrong? On mobile I couldn't tell what each of the categories meant so I just picked the stand, agreed to pay $68 and pressed submit. At which point a message popped up saying my request was being processed. Which stayed on the screen unchallenged for the remainder of my 15:00 then unceremoniously dumped me out of the process for taking too long.

Training was off the agenda at this point, I made my excuses and left so I could throw more devices into the mix. On my way I had another tilt at doing it on the mobile, working my way through the queue again before another round of "please wait, we're processing your request". At least this time I knew what was coming and didn't get my hopes up. By now the prospect of missing out still seemed ridiculous (and frankly it still does, I'd be staggered if it finally came through and offered me restricted viewing with 75% of a scoreboard in the way. So staggered that I might self-immolate outside AFL House), but what had gone from "aww shucks Ticketek" at 09:30 was now rapidly progressing towards an actual concern.

At least I didn't work for the Ticketek social media team, who were probably having to be coaxed from putting their head in the oven to keep reading hundreds of sour responses from people who'd been shafted. If I was them I'd have closed the 'replies' column and called my union delegate. This was not a time to be hanging it on them, the poor MFC social team who must have thought they were finally going to get some positive messages or any sort of receptionist.

No point being angry at anyone really, the AFL will slap everyone involved on the wrist and Ticketek executives will lie low for a couple of days then go back to swimming through bank vaults of money like Scrooge McDuck. For now I was concentrating on getting through the 'we're processing your request' stage, and added an iPad to the mix. No wonder the system failed if people had so little faith in it working that they were resorting to using multiple devices.

So for the next hour I sat there looking at three different internet connections spinning around the same queue for no overall result. After the first couple of queue reboots any early humour at the scenario was out the window and I was ready to knife somebody.

Richmond was the first outlet to report that Ticketek had done a Federal Government and adjourned for the day. The company themselves weren't having any of it, reporting:

... and when you get 361 replies against three retweets you know that the public aren't buying what people are selling. The first person to respond said the site still wasn't working. They replied that yes it was. It wasn't. Shortly after the AFL announced that they had instead stalled the process for some indeterminate time until they worked out how to escape from this mess. This was the modern version of the stress that stopped me from queuing overnight for the 2000 Grand Final after seeing every game in Victoria that year.

An hour into my three device extravaganza I finally got through (on the phone again, neither of the PCs used ever got to the ordering stage) on the iPad. This time instead of spending 15 minutes telling me that my transaction was being processed it just flat out said piss off there are no tickets left. Of course there were tickets left, this was starting to get ridiculous. Now I know how soccer fans felt trying to watch the World Cup through Optus.

'Confirmation' that the process had been stopped came from an update to the second queuing page, featuring the scandalously false claim that thousands of fans were still transacting before admitting they weren't. The countdown clock at the bottom continued to roll, and the person writing the message was obviously so under the pump that they turned 'competing' members to 'completing' members. That was the only thing being completed on their website today.

Many had managed to land tickets, and if it all goes wrong I may be mugging them for their tickets in Yarra Park before the game but for now best of luck if you managed to achieve anything from this flaming shitshow.

And now, three hours later nothing else has happened. They're supposed to staggering sales on the games when they do come back (now there's a sensible idea), and as it's now past 3pm and there's been nothing but tumbleweeds since that's surely not going to happen today. Like a hostage crisis the saga will probably continue into a second day. Updates to follow if I get a result and/or go troppo.

End of Day 1 update
Some genius has come up with the idea of splitting the sales from tomorrow, and thank god we're on at 1pm and not when I'd be absolutely unavailable to partake from 9am to 11am. Apparently they're waiving the $7.50 fee. I would rather it was donated directly to their Twitterist to drink themselves into a coma.

This should be the end of it, but I'm not confident that when we're roaring to the line at 12:59 like the start of the Indianapolis 500 that it's not going to smack straight into straggler Richmond fans.

Day 2
Given that the Richmond/Hawthorn sale at 11:00 worked ok I was pretty confident of surviving this without throwing a keyboard into the stratosphere. Still, when the site crashed a couple of times after 1pm my blood pressure was well on the rise. Having no respect for the process I was still working a three device scenario, and eventually got through to the seat choosing bit on a tablet before the computer had got beyond stage 1. Glory be it all worked (and don't you think there's something int his staggering of sale times Ticketek?), and just as I confirmed my seats on the iPad and got the confirmation email the computer finally crossed over into stage two. I closed the browser window and let somebody else advance in the queue. Mission accomplished eventually.