Monday, 16 April 2018

Things can only get bitter

Due to a spectacularly incompetent reading of international time zones, the work I thought I'd signed up to do immediately after our game ended up starting 10 minutes into the first quarter. So, I shut my eyes, hit record, made sure I didn't go anywhere near spoilers and started watching from scratch at 6.07pm.

In the end this was probably a good thing, allowing me to concentrate on what needed to be done instead of wiping tears away and occasionally screaming "WHY?" at the top of my voice. Still, if I'd known in advance that I'd have to ignore our game until it was over I would have probably turned back the money and trudged all the way to the MCG to see this screaming shitshow.

On the balance of things I'm happy that I got the money and the emotional distance that comes from not being there live, but it was still difficult to come to terms with the idea that my beloved (?) Melbourne was playing a real life, competitive, important game in the background and I didn't have any idea of what was happening. Could the universe please align to the same deal that I have with my family, where I'll do anything they like in the off-season if I get to indulge in this self-destructive pastime approximately 25 times a year.

Trying to media ban a game is surprisingly difficult, especially when your counter offer contractually obligates you to watch television and operate Twitter. There is always the nightmare scenario - as seen in an episode of George and Mildred - that you get all the way to the last minute before watching and something spoils the result. With the TV set up so that even an accidental hit of the back button would take me to a safe station, and alternative spoiler-free social media accounts in place, the closest I came to necking myself was at about 5.30 when I accidentally hit some obscure keyboard shortcut that ignored incognito mode (to avoid unwanted pop-ups, not because I was doing a XXX cam show) and tried to open my real Twitter feed. I just closed the window before it revealed fans lining up to drink from a foamy vat of poison.

I can't explain why I was so desperate to watch, nervous all the way through that the recording might not have worked and having to keep my phone in an entirely different room to avoid picking it up as a nervous reflex. Like the old days of the replay where they'd say "make sure you stay watching to the end!" seeing 50 notifications would have left me fretting that it either meant we'd done really well or really badly. Turns out we did both, with the bad recovering from disappointing returns in the early booths to win in a landslide.

It would have saved me a lot of time if something had gone wrong and exposed the score before I started watching. Even when I was finally free to start the tape, with Foxtel kindly keeping the recording instead of deleting it like my 75 saved episodes of classic era Simpsons, I expected some sort of last minute fiasco where a triple stretcher job caused a 58 minute last quarter that meant the recording cut out at the end. Ironically it did, ending one second before the siren, which in some circumstances may have posed a problem. Fortunately by that stage I was reasonably certain we weren't going to launch a comeback.

History was against me from the start, the last time I watched an entire match on delay we lost to Essendon by 148, and when I had more important things to do than go to a Hawthorn game in 2015 they thumped us by 105. Considering how much slime we've put on over the years I've certainly avoided a few rippers. Like my record at Kardinia Park, I must be about 500 points in the hole under these circumstances. The Essendon win last year was like the time we unexpectedly beat Geelong away, a small slice of excitement amidst an otherwise horrendous run.

There was a deep sense of guilt stretching from 3.20pm to 6.07pm about not at the very least watching live, but admittedly when I finally did tune in and the crowd looked colder than a witch's tit part of me was comfortable with having skived off under a heater. Now that I've missed being at the ground for half a dozen howlers in the post-Bailey era, I can confirm that it brings a welcome level of detachment. Had I been at the ground yesterday the second half would have been mostly spent howling derisively to nobody in particular, but safe in the knowledge that I didn't have to pack up and spend 90 minutes trudging home after the final siren the last quarter avalanche just washed over me.

There would have been a different reaction for a close game, especially when the recording died at the 0.01 second mark, but even when it was going reasonably well in the first quarter I just sat calmly without getting overexcited. Maybe it was the safe bet that we wouldn't play two good quarters in a row, but had it been an interstate game where I had no realistic chance to be there in person I'd have been hovering over the TV having nervous tics like Bruce McAvaney watching a horse until at least half time.

The option to stay inside for the rest of my supporting life is tempting, but it feels hollow. It's the little things you miss, like children falling down the stairs of the Olympic Stand, kids spewing on the wall of the Ponsford, opposition fans making a Rex Hunt of themselves and the inevitable severed spinal column from Hogan's Heroes. I'll be back for the Richmond game, to enjoy having people who've only just had a win in their lives hanging shit on us.

What TV does give you is a look at the ridiculous scenario of 22 grown men emerging en masse from their rooms through a set of comfortably wide double doors, then having to go into single file to get through a narrow roller door. Equally ludicrous is the idea that Brian Taylor is paid enormous amounts of money to talk from his arse for two hours. Pre-game he called Nathan Jones "a man of few words". Learn from him.

The original man of a few words was tasked with chasing possession magnet Tom Mitchell all day, and while he did a creditable job in keeping him to half the disposals as every other team you wonder if blowing arguably our most important midfielder (with apologies to Oliver's devil may care attack on the ball and lightning hands) on a near 100% negative job cost us. It sure felt that way when Max Gawn was merrily extending his own club record for hitouts in a game and most of them were falling to Hawthorn players.

If nothing else - and for us after the 25 minute mark there really was nothing else - the game started well. If you ignore the goal we conceded in the first 20 seconds. Jake Lever discovered why my advice is the last thing you should listen when he tried a gigantic Tom McDonald style overhead mark and failed to land it, leaving the ball to spill free to two Hawthorn players that had so much time they could even afford to have a Three Stooges style collision and still run into an open goal.

So far so shithouse, but after starting last week like everyone was on opium I wasn't panicking yet. But despite North bollocking Carlton on Saturday night (and have you noticed they found a place to sell home games to that actually helps them?), the road back should have been significantly more difficult against Hawthorn. Even this version, which is half premiership players and half guys from the VFL who are in all sorts of shit when the stars retire. At least that's what my experience with rebuilding suggests. Given that it's being done under the auspices of a highly successful and well performing club they will probably win a flag while we're still flapping around in mid-table mediocrity land.

On the topic of Hawthorn players, are the two guys with flowing mullets doing it for charity like the AFLW player or have they got significant personal troubles? I've come to the point where I'm prepared to welcome nigglers and probably armed robbers if they help us qualify for the finals, but after staying silent when Dunn was getting around with shit smeared across his lip I'd launch a board challenge if any of players turned up looking like that.

One of the mullets had more immediate issues when he unnecessarily gave away a free kick to Kent in the square as the ball was going through for a point. That was something, but it's not like it was a well-crafted goal that gave you confidence, we just got lucky with a long range hit-and-hope kick and ill-disciplined defending. Luck was not to go our way many more times before the final siren, probably because we rarely put their defenders under any pressure again.

The early signs suggested that it was going to be another day of endless attack for very little reward. When Garlett picked up the ball 20 metres out and refused to do one of those well received kicks straight back over his head towards goal I did start to shift nervously in my chair and wonder if this game was going to end very badly indeed. Nevertheless, Kent's first goal did launch an exciting run that caused me to (somewhere in the far recesses of my mind) wonder what it would be like to miss a game where we finally massacred a Victorian team. I continue to wait patiently for that opportunity.

Gawn's dominance in the taps was wasted for most of the day, but shortly after Kent's first he got another go via a Salem clearance. This time he had to convert from 40 metres out instead of five but whacked it through with the same violent intent and the only way was up. The unexpected good times continued when Hogan profited from one of the great bullet handballs/handball receives from Jones and Fritsch to snap a third.

I still didn't trust it, we were doing fantastically when we had the ball but how many times over the years have we seen games where everything looks like it's going swimmingly until the other side start to get a kick? Then an unseen switch flicks and we go from Harlem Globetrotters to Washington Generals, with nobody seemingly able to wrest control back and slow things down long enough to at least stop the other side attacking relentlessly.

It's one thing to slaughter the coach - and surprisingly good fun - but what of the on-ground leadership? If a team is going to have 360 disposals in a game who gives a fat rat's clacker if one player them gets 40 on his own? I'm comfortable with the hard tag at the start, but when we hit half time looking completely lost it was time to set Mitchell free and work on stopping the rest of them from slaughtering us. I don't know if Jones would have had any capability to change things if he was free, but it makes you wonder who else is going to step up in hard times. Do I need to cut my famous promo about not needing a title to be a leader again?

For now the good times were rolling along like an out of control freight train, Kent kicked his third, we were that many in front and looked dangerous whenever we got the ball.

You've heard of Clayton Oliver does funny things, this is where we got our first look at Alex Neal-Bullen does funny things. In a moment he'll be hoping nobody else remembers, he celebrated Kent's landmark goal by gleefully bumping into a sad looking Hawk in the middle. Shortly after he gave something back to the Hawks by handballing straight to one of them, then did a bounce handball to one of our players when stuck in a tight spot and celebrated a brave Brayshaw smother by vigorously patting him on the head. It might have had an effect, after a hot start Gus was barely ever seen again. After celebrating the fourth goal like the fall of the Berlin Wall, ANB would go on to kick our next two entirely goalless quarters later.

Oliver has cut down on the number of funny things he's done so far this year, but when you've built a reputation for mischief like he has controversy isn't too far away. After he kicked the ball out on the full the camera cut to a baby crying its eyes out. The commentators were clearly as perplexed as anyone else because they didn't say anything, but the insinuation was that the wild shot on goal had bonced the kid. I say who's bringing a child of less than one year to the footy on a freezing day AND sitting within 30 rows of the fence? At least the child was nominally a Hawthorn fan, meaning they will grow up to think footy is a piss easy pursuit where you only to wait a few years between flags.

The first sign things were going to stop going our way very quickly was when Lever took a mark on the line, which was good, then played on when he was behind the goal and gave away a point, which was bad. Like Van Halen taking out the brown M&Ms to make sure their 100 pages of stage instructions had been read, it wasn't such a big deal that he gave away the point but it just indicated a worrying lack of care and poise. He's looked less at sea since Frost came back, but I'm still concerned that he's being hung out to dry. I've got no idea what an untethered defensive zone is, but this Twitterist seems to know what's going on...

Despite watching the game on the vibe and refusing to participate in modern tactics, I've been concerned about the way we push up the ground too far since the days of Roos. I know you have to balance it against all the times it does work and creates goals, but surely if nothing else on a wet day you keep somebody hanging out the back to look after hopeful long bombs? Apparently not. We got  away with a couple of times in the first quarter where the whole team was forward of centre and a turnover saw the ball thumped the other way, skidding towards goal on a wet ground. I'm sure something was changed to compensate, it just wasn't apparent to the naked eye. Or as it turns out, in any way effective.

Considering Gawn went on to have 66 hitouts, it sure did feel like James Harmes was doing a lot of ruck work in the first half. Was the idea to keep him fresh for the end? If so that seems to be the only tactical gambit all day that worked. The Harmy Army would have enjoyed their man throwing himself over the top of his opposite number at a throw-in. At his apex he adopted the exact same pose as Michael Voss that time he broke his leg in Perth. We all love an unusual ruckman - third only behind outfield players in goal and wicketkeepers bowling - but as much as he tried hard it was ineffective. This is where Pedersen would have come in handy, not to mention giving us some sort of target inside 50 other than Hogan.

Gawn provides an excellent forward target, but only when he's 40 metres out. He marked in practically the same spot as the Geelong game, and under much less strenuous circumstances did exactly the same thing. Which at least proves his first miss wasn't because he was overawed by the occasion. Two weeks after thinking that Dean Kent's career was going down the gurgler, I suggest Maximum has a look at the footage of his two set shots and sees that no matter how close you are to goal you can kick with the same action. Like glory era Mark Jamar he is a surprisingly accurate set shot overall, but what's the point in having him take towering marks 20 metres from goal if they're going to spray everywhere?

It took until late in the first quarter, deep into DemonTime, to discover the full horror of what was about to befall us. With less than 90 seconds left all we needed to do was shepherd our nice little lead into the break, hopefully identify some of the issues that nearly tripped us up, and presumably come out to be thrashed anyway. Instead everyone was too shitscared to rush the ball and allowed a Hawthorn goal off the ground, leading to that grand traditional of commentators mocking players for "not understanding the rule" when nobody can be certain what the rule is from one week to the other.

That was bad enough, but when the ball flung straight out of the centre and into the arms of the reasonably well held Jarryd Roughhead with 10 seconds left my blood pressure tipped into dangerous levels for the first time. The siren meant he couldn't run around from an obscure angle and he missed, but it should have led to flashing red lights in our huddle. Instead we came out like Lemmings and dutifully plummeted off the cliff without protest. That's Melbournetainment.

If it wasn't for the last minute I'd have been half-tempted to think that in real life we'd already won and everyone other than me was enjoying a party atmosphere. At that point I just wanted to know what happened good, bad or otherwise (spoiler: bad). This watching on delay caper was doing nothing for my mental well-being. Being quite sure that we weren't going to follow a good first quarter with an equally good second - because we never do - it dawned on me that I'd never heard of half their side, and the idea of losing felt more offensive than the days where their premiership stars would regularly clean our clock.

There was a mild outbreak of macho bullshit at quarter time, and we must have got all the testosterone related activities out of our system there. James Sicily, like GWS' Lachie Whitfield a dead ringer for a random Trump child, was at the heart of it and good luck to him. Every team needs at least one antagonist who everyone else wants to punch in the head. Coincidentally by the end of this game I wanted to punch Bugg, and it had nothing to do with him niggling me.

Like the passengers who caught the Hindenberg all the way from Prussia to New Jersey before it burnt to buggery, nobody could have seen the journey ending as badly as it did at this stage. I could certainly contemplate that we'd lose (in fact I find it hard to think otherwise), but to go to pieces in that sort of lifeless fashion was offensive.

It's not until you don't have them that you start to appreciate the pause for contemplation that quarter and three-quarter time give you. Half time can piss up a rope, but the other two are a short break from brain squeezing tension. Of course I could have just sat through them instead of fast forwarding, but when you know the game is already over there's a rush to catch up so you can join the celebration/anguish (delete as applicable) with everyone else.

When you kick five goals in the first quarter it would obviously be nice to get another five (if not more), but for the moment I'll settle for at least three and breaking even. It seems rude to be complaining about not kicking enough goals when we used to struggle to five for the whole day, but didn't we sit through those years of criminally low scores in an attempt to teach everyone how to defend? Did we not place enough emphasis on letting other sides run riot up and down the ground while all our players stand around quietly contemplating the mysteries of the universe?

From the first bounce of the second quarter Hawthorn clamped the handcuffs on and beat the suitcase out of us. That we were still winning inside 50s deep into the last quarter tells you all you need to know about that useless statistic. We missed gettable chances, but the majority of entries were of the half-forward line averse "I'll just roost it down there and let somebody else take responsibility" sort, whereas our former merger partners would bound forward and find a backline so disarranged that the players often had to call long distance to speak to each other.

In the circumstances Oscar McDonald did great work, everyone else less so. Occasional flashes of brilliance aside, Hibberd is not getting any space to run and Jetta seems to be suffering a Demonbracket hangover because he's only been ok so far this year. From an outside perspective the backline doesn't seem to have anyone in charge. Is this what Vince and Lewis are supposed to do? Time to think about what we're doing there.

The bad times were brewing early, and when they kicked the first goal to cut the gap to less than six I felt like it was about to turn bad. When you haven't hauled yourself to the ground you don't have to bother holding out hope. What I wanted most was to do my usual nervous reaction of flicking through the world famous Dees Twitter community and feed off the distress of others. But I couldn't, so I just had to sit there on my own, wallowing in my own defeatist attitude.

We couldn't even take advantage of Frawley spending the entire second quarter on the bench with a mystery injury. Lack of a killer instinct continued to hurt us. For most of the quarter the ball was trapped in the middle of the ground, but the difference was that when we went forward we kicked points and in the same situation they got goals. It wasn't the weather for talls, but it feels like we could desperately have done with a second target down there - or just one to free Hogan to play further up the ground and try to at least create a contest and bring the smalls into it.

Yes, we did have smalls. Garlett played one of those games you've got to endure to get to the good ones. He refused to kick over his head, laid one ripping run down tackle and was barely seen again. Kent too was practically unseen once his opportunities dried up, almost his last appearance was gifting Roughead a goal via a stupid 50 after McDonald had beaten him all day.

Not for the first time this year we could have done with a Hogan at full forward and centre-half forward, because when he was in one nobody was in the other. It was just the sort of day where Watts would have gone missing, but I still can't help feel that he would fit the bill of a forward who can lead to the ball and semi-convincingly go into the ruck. It was one thing having Hogan try and drag a mature age first gamer to the square, but he had to be able to go towards the ball in those circumstances rather than waiting for it to be punted on his head. He didn't play a bad game by any means, but old mate VFL veteran more than held his own on debut.

Our Alf Ramsey style wingless wonders formation that had worked so well in the first quarter did bugger all in the second, but that didn't stop us from giving it a red hot go again after half time. For a time we did have the play at our end, but with nobody looking even remotely likely up front nothing came out of it. Then a long bomb down the middle found some Hawthorn bloke dashing into goal with three of our players trailing behind. Game, set and match. Some players clearly didn't fancy the conditions, others tried hard but looked a mile off the pace. Not sure it would have helped if we'd played in the dry, Clarkson had his opposing number on a leash.

Hawthorn was so dominant that they could afford to send the injured Frawley to play at full-forward. Either that or he was perfectly fine and they just wanted to put him where the action was. About time there was some respect for all that development work we put it into him in his last contract year. Later there was a great shot of him on the bench with his head in his hands that would have been great if he'd been concussed and we could pretend that he'd woken up thinking he still played for Melbourne.

A lame attempt at a spoil set up Hawthorn's seventh goal in a row, but considering we didn't look in any way likely to run down a 15 point margin what harm was another six points? Or another 50 as it turns out. When somebody finally got on one of Gawn's taps for the first time in 45 minutes, and Salem pumped the ball forward to Bugg we got the chance at an immediate reply but he fluffed it and hit the post. With respect to him having a career day a week earlier, his conversion rate is not good enough. He can obviously find space because he's having all these shots, but so often crucial opportunities are wasted. We need another tall, and now that Kent has come back to life it's time to take the niggle to the VFL.

As a spectacle the game was dead and buried. It was like one of those boring Roos era matches where we couldn't kick a goal for the life of us. The only difference this time was kicking five quick ones at the start before packing up shop and letting their defence do a similar number on us as Richmond vs Brisbane the day before. At least the Lions got a goal in the third quarter.

We carried on playing like it was dry, which was questionable at the start but even more so when it actually began to rain in play. We'd fall victims to cheap kicks over the top to nobody, everyone would jump for the one ball in defence without a player on the ground to mop up, and so, so many long kicks went to nobody. This team can find space and execute a string of disposals, I have seen them do it. Yesterday was like 2014 Appreciation Day, with a far better side playing like a far worse one.

The only surprise is that it took so long for us to completely crack. For those who've been following our record of games against teams that lose players to injury, you won't be surprised to know that we really fell off the cliff when they lost two players - on top of Frawley gingerly going through the motions inside forward 50. We were putrid, we played putrid football. I was pleased that Gawn tried a ridiculous snap in the last minute that went straight out on the full, because it was still a better attempt than any other bastard.

In the last quarter I started cheating to get to the end faster, 2x fast forwarding when the ball rolled out of bounds, and not waiting for any post goal analysis before skipping to the next bounce. As far as a last three quarters go it was about as limp as the Sydney game last year. The only question by now was how badly we were going to be beaten. They kept piling on the goals and I said thank the good lord Jakovich that I didn't turn back work and effectively pay hundreds of dollars to watch live. By this time I'd have been standing on top of the train on the way home trying to make contact with overhead wires.

After 75 long minutes Neal-Bullen got the sixth goal, and true to form we didn't even deserve it. Salem passed it to him after a free for bending over with the ball and doing a pro wrestling style backdrop on his opponent where he should have been done for holding the ball. Junk time had already been welcomed in long before that, but as that goal quickly gave way to struggle again I had to strongly resist going into x60 fast forward mode. About the only thing of note to happen in the last 10 minutes was Jimpey kicking Bugg in the jimmies during a marking contest. Otherwise we just conceded goals hand over fist in an attempt to make sure that this year our percentage doesn't narrowly keep us out of the eight.

The natives were restless, and there was a great collective murmur when Lever unnecessarily punched in a contest instead of marking. At least there was from those who hadn't been pictured piling up the stairs at top speed 30 seconds earlier. The work colleague who compared him to Diamond Jim Tilbrook a few weeks ago has since been dismissed (not because of his anti-Melbourne stance let me add), but I feel like tracking him down and saying that maybe he had a point. Jake did some decent stuff, he was not alone in doing some terrible stuff, but the price paid in draft picks is starting to hang around his neck like the millstone of old. Apparently his dad got into an argument with fans who were complaining, which is always excellent entertainment.

Even the VFL players were seen taking off early, with good guy Cameron Pedersen the only one who looked like he was staying. He didn't just stay, he happily clambered over the seat in front of him to improve where he was sitting. What a man. The way we were going I'm surprised he didn't slip and snap his ankle in a folding seat.

Thank christ it eventually ended. If anything happened on the siren I don't know about it. In fact whatever happened in the last 10 minutes was nothing more than a blur of Hawthorn goals. Can't play Brisbane and North every week. And when we do play Carlton they will live up to Team Kingsley reputation and give us a torrid time. As it started to go tits up in the third quarter I made a note that "at least now when we have a miserable loss that makes you question everything you believe in it is only by 30 points rather than 130". Then it became 40, 50, 60 and 70 and the spirit behind the message it was somewhat lost.

Simon Goodwin woke up this morning to worse polling figures than Malcolm Turnbull, but could everyone at least wait until mid-season before making football fans of themselves and trying to sack him? I'm traditionally overly cautious when it comes to turning on coaches, because eventually one of them has to be a success, but you know as well as I do that they're not going to get rid of him now so it's just pointless venting.

When I finally dared to look at a phone again I had the luxury of a 1000 tweet buffer to catch up on, and in the middle of a lot of reasonable questions about why we set up so badly in the wet there was all too much "there's no plan B!" going on. If you look back at the history of Goodwin's coaching career Plan A is usually the issue, leaving us often having to climb out of a Buffalo Bill style "it rubs the lotion on its skin" pit of death at some point in the first half. It's either that or we fire off to an early lead like this, Brisbane, either of the last two St Kilda games before everyone clams up with embarrassment at actually playing well and lets the other side launch a comeback.

Contrary to popular belief, the Sporting Stranglewank didn't originate with Melbourne circa 2014. Go back and look at Australia's 2006 World Cup campaign, where Guus Hiddink is feted for nearly getting us to a quarter final but really just got away with a string of death or glory moves when his side was in deep shit. This may work in a three group game tournament a'la the early 2000s Ansett Cup, but you can't spread it over 22 matches.

Melbourne fans accusing a coach of being without Plan B is, like Beauty and the Beast, a tale as old as time. When the Norm Smith/Checker Hughes combination was trampling everyone in the 50s there were probably still fans hanging over the fence demanding answers about what was going on with Denis Cordner.

God only knows who half those Hawthorn players were, but they sure made us look like arseholes after the first 20 minutes. Remember when we tried to throw millions at Clarko to become our coach and he laughed at us? He's not the best coach of the modern era by accident.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
None deserved. Some less undeserved than others.

5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Oscar McDonald
1 - Dean Kent

Apologies to Hogan for missing the last one narrowly and something nice for Neal-Bullen, Brayshaw and Salem.

Another good day for the usual suspects, and finally the breakthrough votes for Sizzle Jr that see him dismiss 'No Eligible Player' in the race for the Seecamp. Still nothing on offer for followers of the Hilton.

13 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
12 - Nathan Jones
10 - Clayton Oliver
8 - Jesse Hogan
5 - Jeff Garlett, Christian Petracca
3 - Dean Kent
2 - Oscar McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Christian Salem

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Back to the glory days of this competition, where we had less choice than a North Korean at the ballot box. By the time ANB got his goal it was almost getting to the perverse stage where you want to see how far we could go without one, so obviously the winner here is going to come from the first quarter.

With respect to the two Kent goals that didn't come from the square, I'm opting for Hogan's big snap around the corner. For the weekly prize he wins a flash to the eyes from a Men In Black style laser that helps him forget this game ever existed. I'm still not convinced we've seen anything like a winner of this tournament yet, so we will not be naming a clubhouse leader until that happens.

Hawthorn had more respect for this competition than to drag out one of their pre-printed industrial strength banners. Still didn't think much of it, the font was too weedy for my liking. Ont he other hand ours had a font so strong that you could drop it on a Syrian mustard gas factory. The white/red letter contrast is magnificent, I'm thrilled that it looks to be a permanent fixture now. Dees 4-0 for the season.

The Sponsor Shack
I know sponsor recall is important to clubs, so best they explain what the hell CSG is at some point. Hopefully it's coal seam gas, to replace pokies as our morally suspect money spinner.

Crowd Watch
What about the humanoid who threw the ball at Salem's feet after the deliberate in the last quarter then went back to his seat looking absolutely chuffed with himself. Get back to digging ditches for a living. Second place to the guy in the Hawthorn hat and scarf who realised he was on TV and unzipped his jacket to show a Hawks jumper as well. That answered my question, and several others.

Next week
Take a reasonable break before the Anzac Eve game. After a week as the best team in Victoria we're sure as shit not going to beat the new champions playing like this. After Dustin Martin took one hapless defence for six goals yesterday I expect that they'll have him go down there and rip the piss out of us as well.

I dispute our alleged depth at either end of the ground. We've got midfielders coming out the yin yang, but forwards and tall defenders are in short supply. I'm just opting for Pedersen ahead of Weideman or Tim Smith because we somebody who is a competent second ruck. Whatever second round pick we end up can we somehow acquire a forward who can also play backup to Gawn? Pedersen won't last forever, and Weideman is on the Cale Morton starvation plan so he's not going to do it.

IN: Pedersen
OUT: Bugg
LUCKY: Lever, Lewis, Melksham, Vince

After that it's Essendon, who could do anything, then the season defining run of St Kilda, Gold Coast and Carlton. If we don't win three of the next five I'll assume it's over until they do something to convince me otherwise. Who else would you rather follow?

Was it worth it?
From my perspective you're damn right it was. Imagine I'd left the house to watch this garbage? Could do this more often to be honest. I may as well have given in to what I felt was going to happen at quarter time, confirmed the score, had a five minute tantrum over the margin and got on with my Sunday night. Instead I struggled to the end, deleted it from my Foxtel box and went to bed.

Watching Essendon emerge from light crisis mode to handle Port Adelaide without raising a sweat, it is clear that mid-table mediocrity could stretch to about 15th on the ladder this year. This is why the Brisbane and North wins were so important, we might be kept alive longer by teams unexpectedly winning or losing but I don't fancy us to do anything great until Sizzle Sr and Viney are back.

Final thoughts
No club can possibly have had as many losses that have blown the wheels off and caused massed panic. One day Paul Roos will come out and admit the veil of negativity is justified, and David King will apologise for telling us not to be so worried. We've even reached 'should I raise my kids as Melbourne fans?' stage. The answer is obviously yes, they may suffer through decades of insipid football but at least they'll be a moral cut above the riff raff urchins that follow other clubs.

I still think this is the core of the group, but fortunately never thought it was the year. The idea was to establish a bridgehead in the eight - which we still may very well do, let's not commit hari kari for a few more weeks - and go for it in 2019/2020. Those who tipped us to burst into the top four should be commended for their optimism and faith, but they were suffering from delirium based on two surprise premiers in a row. At this point I'd settle for finishing where the Bulldogs did in 2016 and forget the remarkable run to the Grand Final.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Standard "this post is delayed" notification

I'm really glad that I hid away from the result of that game and watched it on delay. Real uplifting stuff. Anyway, not writing about it now.

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

Cheerio and Go Dees.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Our long national nightmare is over

The mission is complete, return to your home planet. Like how by the end of Passenger 57 nobody remembers Wesley Snipes causing the innocent family man to be shot, the horrors along the road to this long awaited triumph are all now forgotten. You, me, and all the 10-year-old North fans at the ground who knew nothing else except total dominance now live in a world where the Melbourne Football Club holds a winning streak against North Melbourne.

After 4248 days, football's most BDSM style relationship is over. We have removed the ball-gag, unchained ourselves and recaptured our dignity. That losing to the same team 17 times in a row is only the second worst losing streak in the history of the club says a lot about the history of the club outside a 25 year glory era after the outbreak of World War II.

If you just count days between wins, this was actually worse than the 22 straight losses to Hawthorn from 1973 to 1984. Consider this, given that they were called 'the Kangaroos' (complete with that rancid "Good old *obvious edit* THE KANGAS!" theme song) in 2006 this is the first time we've rumbled a team called North Melbourne in any match that counted since Round 2, 1998. That day Sandy Roberts said "welcome back Gawwy Lyon", we gave up a massive lead to almost lose and I was well and truly roped back in to footy after 2.5 seasons largely refusing to participate due to teenage misery. Seems like a lifetime ago. Because it was.

The euphoria of finally toppling a team that has beaten us three times by under one goal since 2007 and once by 20 goals is understandable, but what will be underrated in the discussion is that we've now won twice in row as red hot favourites and sit exactly where we expected to be after three games. You may recall that based on our treacherous run home I was going to pack up on 2018 if we went 1-2, now it feels like we've set up the base to have a proper ping at the eight. This can only go one way.

Life as a Melbourne fan wasn't meant to be easy, after two weeks of high scoring first quarters (albeit with almost as much scoring effortlessly coming back the other way from Geelong), this was a return to original recipe Goodwin Era, where our players stormed through crepe paper with murderous intent, then stood around looking at seagulls like Geoff Hayward for the first half an hour. 

One day I will sit down at the MCG with 100% confidence that we're going to win a game easily, this was not it. We could just have torn them from limb to limb and opened a comfortably enormous margin at quarter time, but where's the fun in that? Fine time for equalisation to finally come good and stop rebuilding teams from having to completely die first.  

My central nervous system was already playing havoc with the contents of my stomach before we spent the first 10 minutes desperately trailing the Roos around the MCG. Psychologists would have a field day with me at the best of times, but if you traced all the days I've felt like my gizzards were about to hurl out of my body in one direction or another the results would be revealing. Let's just say it doesn't happen in summer, and rarely on weekdays. My already peaking tension was not helped by 'expert commentator' Kane Cornes taking his hatred of stats to new levels by claiming on the big screen that we hadn't beaten North for "17 years". He also tipped us to win the flag before the season so I don't know why he was broadcasting if he hadn't provided ASADA with a urine sample.

In the end the margin was probably representative of the gap between the clubs, we filled up on goals after their fighting spirit was broken but they'd already padded their score by cruelly taking advantage of our disarray at the start. In the end six goals seemed right against a side of kids, fillers and a small core of top players. This is the difference between a bottom four side now and us five years ago, at our worst we were basically Jones carrying 21 teammates on his shoulders and trying to play serviceable football as a second job.

Later on we were able to patronise the beaten side for their effort, but when Jarrad Waite was found in 30 metres in free space out the back to kick their fourth goal in a row to start the first quarter I was half ready to start breaking things and defaming people. But after going that far down somewhere in the first half and recovering to within six points EIGHT times since Round 1 last year the rational side of my brain knew there was a comeback lurking somewhere. The irrational side expected them to be 6.6.42 to 0.0.0 at quarter time, with security guards having to resort to Victoria Police style tactics to thrash people trying to get at the huddle. This was a rare win for the rational.

The prospect of an emotional outburst wasn't so much about losing to them again (though that didn't help), but that it was coming at the hands of the two men best suited for the Kingsleys. For the first quarter Billy Hartung, fringe Hawthorn player popular for being quick and not much else, thought he was Robbie Flower, ripping up and down the Southern Stand wing with the haplessly outpaced Dom Tyson struggling to keep up. He used his speed to exploit us so severely that it didn't matter that he's not particularly good at football because he was always disposing of the ball 20 metres in the clear, usually to a teammate in acres of free space like a training drill.

Never before has there been a wider gap between how fast somebody looks and how fast they actually are. You expect Jayden Hunt to be quick (at least you did before everyone opposition coaches launched an anti-spectacle campaign and started putting players in his way), this guy looks like Frank from the HR department then dashes about like Usain Bolt. Thankfully after quarter time we put some effort into stopping him and he barely got another kick all day. Another win for Goodwin's famous Plan B envelope. Here's to him retrieving the Plan A one from down the back of the couch before next week.

As far as battlers having the day of their lives go, Majak Daw once kicked 6.4 in a game (and an average of 0.77 goals per game other than that) so this might not have been the highlight of his career but it's probably a clear second. Who didn't shudder when news came through that he'd be a late inclusion? After we made the last chance saloon experiment of playing him as a defender look silly in pre-season you just knew he'd come out when it counted and kill us. Almost quite literally when he dumped Jordan Lewis on his arse, but figuratively speaking when we were gleefully punting the ball down his throat while playing as loose man in defence. North fans might think they've found the next big thing, but I suspect good teams will just detour around him and he'll be left standing there gagging for somebody to throw team rules out the window and kick long towards him.

Like his mate from Hawthorn, Daw's contribution didn't stretch across four quarters. Once we started to make him accountable - often via comical matchups against Bugg or Fritsch - and stopped playing right into his hands with aimless long bombs he wasn't nearly as influential. Knowing that Hogan would run rings around him in a direct match-up, I thought the late change may have been a scam to allow Goldstein to roam forward and create havoc in our forward line. It rarely happened, mainly because Daw wasn't allowed out of defence until they were in death or glory catch-up mode deep in the last quarter. Also because Goldstein was probably too sad to do anything after Gawn kicked seven shades of shit out of him in their long awaited rematch from that Hobart 2016 heavyweight title fight.

We had our own athletic, strong marking but awkward as anything defender returning to the side in Frost. After an internet clamour for him not seen since the Free Ricky Petterd campaign in 2012, he was finally restored to the side so we could let Lever loose. Sam never looks 100% comfortable down there, even when he's doing something good, but it certainly did the trick in releasing our boy Jake for FIFO spoiling duties. We were still conceding points far too easily, but I'm willing to blame that on the speed of the ball coming inside 50. We weren't bad when the ball actually went to a contest, the problems came when they would fly from end to end then bypass our defence like Germany invading France via Belgium.

It was undoubtedly Lever's best game, though I'm yet to see anything to explain what qualified him as an All Australian last year. His disposal was average at best, and at least twice he could have easily taken an overhead mark and punched it away instead. This is your weekly reminder that you were probably wrong about Tom McDonald's value as a backman. He would probably have unloaded one high profile howler, but based on what we're paying (and paid for) Lever the Sizzle is worth double. I'm not writing off Lever by any stretch of the imagination, he's going to be in that backline for several years so we've just got to set up to his best advantage and get him confident in taking uncontested overhead grabs. And when Mason Cox kicks seven on him I'll turn hard.

Speaking of Sizzle Sr, this was another day where we could have done with one of him at either end. Not only would he have been handy keeping the backline disciplined, but in attack the prospect of him leading straight down the centre of the 50 leaves me breathless. Jesse Hogan has just played one of the better games you'll ever see from a key forward who only gets one goal from a tap-in, can you imagine what happens when you not only have him running up and down the ground gathering possessions like a midfielder but then stick an unusual but genuine, safe handed full forward right in front of him? Until they both play and it's a disaster I'm just going to fantasise about it being the greatest combination since Carey and Longmire.

The problem today was that with Pedersen out and Hogan doing all his best work up the ground we didn't have any regular targets. Which makes it even more ridiculous that the ball was being panic bombed down there so much at the start. Luckily in this case the small forwards and professional irritants carried us over the line, but with respect to my deep love for Jack Viney I sense that we are a Sizzle/Hulk combination away from finally violently battering at least one team.

This is all too positive, let's get back to the opening minutes where we played the role of traffic cones while North did as they pleased. The reason I sit in the top deck is because I want to see what's happening off the ball, and after today I've concluded that this may be detrimental to my health. The number of times half a dozen North players ran free down the ground almost caused me to have a stroke. There was one point in the second half where I was flabbergasted by the way we were busted open from a kick-in (only for Waite to make a goose of himself and kick it out on the full) that I couldn't express my displeasure in words and was reduced to making a series of sounds like somebody who'd been raised by wolves. Give me the behind the goal footage, pause it just as they went to kick in and you'll be able to circle the exact path the ball took from one end to the other before it happens.

Then there was the third quarter kick-in, with the game very much still on the line, where they kicked to at least a four, if not five, on one contest. Then Frost did the team thing and gave away a numpty free kick to take the heat off his mates. If we weren't kicking goals going inside 50 it was coming back the other way with interest. You couldn't even entirely blame diabolical forward pressure, all they needed was one clear kick from anywhere beyond 20 metres and there'd be an orderly queue of free players waiting to take it. Several times we were lucky that they had players entire area codes in the open but either picked a bad option elsewhere or needlessly turned it over.

Then there's all the times we have two players run to one with the ball, or when we give away a free and players just amble off (into either some sort of zone or the Bermuda Triangle) instead of going to an opponent. Any day now my doctor is going to tell me to go and sit on the fence where you can't see anything more than 20 metres away and/or what's on the big screen for my own health.

The positives were few and far between in the opening minutes. Inside 50s continued to be the most useless statistic in footy as we did nothing with them except set up North to go the other way. In the midst of this first quarter crisis one man was unbowed, with Gawn launching what was inarguably one of the best games he's ever played. When we were winning in his absence last year there was a lot of chat about how maybe a key ruckman isn't so important. For the third week in a row he demonstrated that while you might be able to substitute any old fill-in for an average ruckman, you can't replace quality.

I enjoyed Max's unusual pre-game ritual, standing on the edge of the centre circle like he was about to contest the umpire's practice bounce, only to watch it fling off to the left, nod approvingly and run back to his teammates. Now that's dedication to your craft. Of course once the game started the ball pinged off in every other direction but that one, which didn't stop him from running riot. And don't just get hung up on the taps, go back and watch the second efforts when the ball hit the ground. He is an animal, and the only concern I have is that some dickhead will injure him while he's grappling for the ball. In the meantime stand back and enjoy the show, a ruckman who creates scores at the rate he does is worth his considerable weight in gold.

With Pedersen filling his traditional role as the first person out the door the moment he plays a bad game, the question was who would end up playing limited relief to Gawn at centre bounces. If you selected James Harmes could you please also submit next week's Powerball numbers to the usual address. I expected it to be Frost, but I suppose you don't want to mess with your defensive structure just in case the other side fluke a quick kick forward to take advantage. Instead, much to the delight of the Harmy Army, he not only took on Jarrad Waite but won a tap that created a goal. 

The long road back started in the most unusual place, almost a year to the day after I destroyed Tomas Bugg's previously creditable set shot record by declaring him a sure thing against North, the ball ended up in his hands after Wagner was needlessly decked post-kick. Brad Scott looks like a man who is easily annoyed, but that must have sent him off his nut. Fancy getting four goals up as underdogs then having somebody gift the other side their first goal like that. Of course, based on the last 12 months it was no certainty that he'd convert. But he did, and the goalkicking day of his life was on. 

While Clayton Oliver was suffering from the media curse post-Age article by being tagged to buggery, Bugg was experiencing the exact opposite after our official website did a write up about how he's trying to earn back 'trust and respect'. Amongst lines like "fateful Friday night" that made it sound like he'd wiped out a family while drink driving, it felt like an unnecessary rehashing of the same plot from that Sydney game. 

I'm not into macho bullshit footy culture, but how does a fringe player biffing somebody in the head so lightly that they ended up playing the next week affect the fabric of the club? Are we blaming him for the fact that we were somebody between ordinary and flat out shit for the rest of the season? Still convinced he actually just meant to jostle Callum Mills in the upper chest and accidentally punched his lights out, but even if he lost the plot and meant to land the punch flush on his jaw let's all calm down on it being some amazing crime that he needs to seek redemption for. As far as I'm concerned he was already off the hook, but unless you're Mills or a North fan then I think kicking four in a vital win will do.

Gifting us the first goal soon gave rise to the second, with Dean Kent also returning from the wilderness to kick off what was his best game since Queen's Birthday 2016. A killer tackle for holding the ball 35 metres out was a rare example of one of their defenders coming under pressure instead of leisurely extracting the ball at his own pace and we were rewarded. There should have been more if it.

We were on the verge of the quickest ever Stranglewank comeback scenario when Wagner narrowly missed a shot that would have reduced the margin from 24 to 6. Bugg, Kent, Wagner - strange things were afoot in our forward line. That was the end of our resistance for a few minutes, Lever conceded a goal from a free for being elbowed in the head (oh but you see he took his eyes off the ball - probably because he was worried about being elbowed in the bloody head), and we were very lucky not to concede a second straight from the next centre bounce. The soft goal and the next clearance were about as good as got for Goldstein, who resumed normal service of following Gawn around like a lovesick puppy immediately after. On centre clearances, a word for Christian Salem who went off his nut racking them up in the first quarter without anyone really noticing. It was one of his better games too.

Their goals stopped our run, but crucially we were starting to get some decent disposals and stopped turning it over every five seconds. We were still three goals down when Kent found Bugg for a second sitter, and after the unexpected result of the first I put the reverse mozz on him by saying "there's no way he'll kick two in a row". This tactic worked twice more, only failing when the half time siren broke the mystical spell by going off as he was lining up.

We were due a few more twists and turns before the game was safe, but the first 10 minutes of the second quarter looked a lot more like when we beat them in the pre-season than the depressing start of the game that mattered. It began with Fritsch expertly leaving his opponent in the dust after correctly deducing that a ball was going to fly over the top of their contest, and when Goldstein gave back the goal from his earlier free to Vince we were ahead. For the second time in three weeks I simultaneously couldn't understand how we weren't further ahead or further behind.

The game had certainly turned, and it felt like it was one or two goals away from going entirely our way. So naturally after two missed shots they went down the other end and kicked a goal. Credit where it's due to our lot for not dropping their bundle, and Fritsch turned up again to intelligently find Hogan on his own in the square to put us back ahead. The way he gathered the ball running towards the boundary line, looked up to see Hulk on his own in front of goal and hit him perfectly was tremendous. I would like to keep him.

Not long after that North pulled off the sort of blunder so hilarious that you couldn't believe it didn't happen to us. They got a free kick in front of goal, the bloke with the ball played on, couldn't decide which free teammate to pass to and ended up hitting it straight into the outstretched hand of Jeff Garlett to run into an open goal. For the third time I positively cursed Bugg's goalkicking, before Lewis set Petracca up hard on the boundary line for another. It was just the sort of goal that I love, running around and casually depositing it in the near corner by the barest margin over a defender's hand. Remember when Ben Kennedy did similar? He now plays for Montmorency, Truck is not going anywhere.

For the second time you'd have been forgiven for thinking we were about to run over the top, especially when Hogan was lining up another shot, but the plot continued to thicken. They kicked one real goal, before being gifted a total howler. After Gawn and the SME were rightfully allowed to monster each other all night, Maximum was pinged for Ben Brown falling over in the ruck contest. He converted, before we missed an opportunity to cancel it out. With the chance at an unprecedented fourth set shot - which would surely have been the biggest surprise first half since Brodie Holland kicked six - Bugg finally missed and the margin stayed in single figures.

If you have to write the margin out instead of expressing it in digits too close for comfort, but six goals to three was a damn sight better than what we got in the first quarter. With Gawn's dominance and the way we'd killed off the players who'd been giving us grief in the first quarter I'm confident that if we'd been able to convert better when going inside 50 that we'd have kept creating opportunities for the forwards. By now there was no question about who the luckier side were, they were fortunate to be so close. We'd already played our contractually obligated terrible quarter, it was just a question of whether there was going to be a complimentary second one thrown in.

Looking back at the start of the third quarter, we should have known things were going to our way when the usually laser accurate Brown missed a set shot and we went coast-to-coast to set up Kent's second. The rarely seen five point play heralded nearly 10 minutes without a goal as the game tightened right up, along with the contents of my stomach. I was still fit to hurl at any moment when Brown got rid of Oscar in semi-legal fashion to finally get his second. This was followed shortly after by a freebie courtesy of Frost unnecessarily pushing somebody over and things were starting to look ropey again. We'd done well to contain Brown to this point, but he was about the only player they had capable of beating us on his own. Good luck to him, anyone who gets around wearing a silly number is alright in my book.

Our kick-in defence continued to be virulently pox. We were dominating the inside 50s, but to me each one of them that we didn't score a goal from (e.g. almost all of them) was just a potential North goal going the other way. There was some time to stop and think about what was going after Jack Ziebell hit a UFC style knee-strike to Jake Melksham's head, and that indirectly led to the breakthrough goal for Garlett. He started it by storming inside 50, but instead of kicking through an open goal tried a handball that was cut off. He then rushed in to put a tackle on, then cleverly pulled out of the tackle as the ball spilt free, turned around and ran back to the square to be on the end of a chain of handballs. I nearly had a nervous breakdown in the 0.001 seconds it took for Kent to handball to him instead of just kicking it himself, but he got there in the end.

The margin was still only 13 points, at least expressed in numbers but still far from comfortable, when Gawn set up the resurgent Kent with a dynamite handball. I can't say I trust Deano to pull out games like this every week, but he's come a long way since that Darwin game where he did his shoulder and the cameras cut to him sitting in the gym on his own looking suitably miserable.

At 19 points in front approaching the end of the third quarter it goes without saying another goal would have significantly eased (but not erased) my nerves. So when Fritsch nearly broke his neck crashing over a pack to take a mark in the square it seemed like all my Christmases had come at once, only to look up post celebration and see the ball being handed to a North player for some barely detectable free. No sense of theatre these people. And what would have been a horrific three-quarter time lead to lose under the circumstances became merely potentially embarrassing.

I wasn't confident of victory until the security guards came out for their traditional walk around the fence, but for all the shit I've put on Lewis this year you couldn't fault the clutch set shot that opened the last quarter. More important was Jones' pass to set it up. He is belying his advancing years so far this season, and maybe he will be there long enough to get involved in us winning something. Either way, he's got a statue coming from me and Max Gawn sounds like he'll be the first person to donate.

That goal left North teetering on the brink of death, but in a deeply Melbourne twist we couldn't find that one push over the edge that would have allowed me to relax. For the best part of 10 minutes I was in deep psychological trauma at the prospect of throwing it away from such a strong position, to the point where I have no idea what happened between the Lewis goal and Oscar being pinged holding the ball in the pocket for the North reply. I expect that if you asked a hostage negotiator to write down their observations they're not going to remember what the curtains looked like.

It was such as weird day that when Waite and McDonald tumbled over the line at one point, the North man actually helped Oscar to his feet. Which was a lot better than when he headbutted Tom. Sizzle Jr is battling against the odds playing on the best key forwards without putting on about 20kg but has been very good so far this year. Brown did his usual stitch up job on us, but considering how often the ball was flying in at warp speed we did well to keep him to four - including one that was outrageous charity.

A 20 point margin was not impossible to throw away, but in a great win for the oft maligned Dave Misson we were finishing with far more gas. Fittingly it was Jones who effectively sealed it. Garlett kicked the goal, but the way Chunk shrugged out of the initial tired, hamfisted attempt at a tackle and hit the perfect pass to a lead was a thing of beauty. The official sealer came from Bugg's fourth, with the ball dropping neatly into his arms out the back of a pack. He may never kicked four of five from set shots again, it's hardly 'I saw Mark Jamar kick five goals' but best get t-shirts printed anyway.

That snapped North, who finally had to exhale and admit that they were the 22 men to lose the only achievement of note that their club has had this century. Which is roughly as many as us. Those who came before them certainly had a good run. Now for the love of all that is holy is there any danger we might reel a few straight on them over the next few years? I can't see us threatening double figures, but seven or eight should be the lead indicator of a regular finals team.

The exclamation marks came from the man who made Mooroopna famous, Clayton Oliver. As North's life force slowly ebbed away he began to shake his tag and get involved more but when there was nothing left to be proven in the last few minutes he was given the chance to rest forward. There he kicked a pair of what might be described as junk time goals if the first one around his body wasn't so damn attractive.

I'm hardly a religious man, but on the final siren I risked a seagull spray to the eye by tilting my head backwards, looking up at the sky, holding my arms up and loudly exclaiming "thank god". A'la Bill Brownless in 1994 the monkey's off the back, strut into work on Monday fearlessly, and if anyone tries to downplay the importance of this victory lean in close and simply go...

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Jesse Hogan
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Dean Kent
1 - Christian Salem

Major apologies to Petracca and Bugg for missing out on the one vote in a photo finish. Everyone else was at least decent, but some degree of apologies to Wagner, Harmes, Garlett, Fritsch, Vince, Lewis and McDonald.

It's on big time at the top of the table, with Gawn and Hogan both issuing the strongest challenge from outside the midfield since Maximum fell a vote short of Jones in 2016. Which is not all that long ago now that I think about it. No, a ruckman doesn't count as a midfielder, that's why they never get any Brownlow votes. Though on the strength of today's performance you could argue Hogan is one.

10 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
8 - Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones
5 - Jeff Garlett, Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca
4 - Jesse Hogan
2 - Dean Kent
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Christian Salem

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
As much as its general construction gave me the shits I'm going to have to pick the king of fruitless nominations Garlett again for that goal in the third quarter. He deserves it for being involved three times in the same play. Apologies to Petracca's 9 iron or either of the last quarter efforts by Oliver or Jones. We've not seen anything like a nominee for the overall winner of this competition yet.

I've run out of weekly prizes to give Jeff, so for this time only I will grant him the superfluous 'y' just once and call him Jeffy. Feels wrong.

In order to prove that no player has ever taken the slightest notice of what's written on a banner, the run-through side of North's was just a surprise message of support to us for ditching pokies. Their players were so inspired at our community focused gesture that they went on to kick the first four goals. At least it was better than Collingwood pumping out a message so banal that the now infamous spelling error wasn't even the most offensive thing about it.

Coming from the side who once had players run through a curtain hanging from a levitating sausage, the return to traditional values was welcome, but their social issues slogan was entirely without bite and suffered badly from piddly little thin letters. The only worse font I saw on Saturday was on a bus parked outside the MCG from this company, who have for inexplicable reasons opted for a corporate logo in the Microsoft Office ransom letter font 'Chiller'.

There was nothing wrong with the letters on our banner, they were big, bold and kerned exquisitely. The second line needed a bit of work to get all the words in, but they pulled it off perfectly so you didn't notice at the time. I'm a bit suspect about the focus on the epic losing streak - though as North showed you could write death threats on there in Chiller and players wouldn't notice - but the white highlight on the word 'today' was a thing of beauty. This may be my favourite text only design in recent years. Dees 3-0 for the season.

Matchday Experience Watch (incorporating Crowd Watch)
After two games away I was back into the familiar territory of the Ponsford. My mum was ticking off her traditional early season game while the weather is still relatively warm, and I didn't think it polite to drag her to either of the Row MMs. If you have to be polite to company and sit near the front you're far less likely to have people around you in the Ponsford. So it was, with a family featuring a small child a few rows in front providing the only semblance of audience atmosphere AND reminding me not to unload any of the real big hitter swear words when North exited defensive 50 with nine spare players.

Ironically if I'd sat there for the Geelong game I'd have been right behind Gawn's miss, and would have deduced it was missing myself without having to rely on commentator/fan reaction. It took a fortnight, but I got the chance to see a disaster anyway:

Where half-time at the MCG would usually be full of kids playing naive but enthusiastic footy, this time the ground was cleared so that some under the pump event staff could rush to put together playground equipment. Considering the time taken to set up this flat-pack obstacle course I thought they were set to launch some remarkable new promotion. Instead four kids rolled an oversized Milo footy from one end to the other and back again, then it was packed up and everyone went home. It was the biggest blow to the Little League since 2014, when the kids were given the boot in favour of some middle aged competition winner gits having a casual kickaround.

There was some suggestion that they were unable to source kids to play due to school holidays. I said "send an email around", then turned on the Adelaide/St Kilda game to see they'd done just that at Docklands. I know nobody else cares about this sort of stuff - and strangers who pay attention to the actual kiddy games should have their hard drives examined - but it's the principle of it. Gil McLachlan would force his granny into a woodchipper in exchange for a few thousand Chinese people showing an interest, but opportunities to give the players of the future (now valid for boys and girls) a thrill are tossed out the window at the first opportunity. It might seem like a small thing, but it's symptomatic of the way the competition is going.

Mind you, we would struggle to take the moral high ground when it comes to innovative and exciting promotions. We took Richmond's 'Are you paying attention', where they play the Jeopardy music and focus on people in the crowd who have got something better to do than watch ordinary big screen entertainment, dressed it up with clipart, a China Southern logo and the catchy title 'Is your head in the clouds?' Now that we've chucked the pokies we can't afford the Jeopardy logo, so it was accompanied by a jaunty track presumably bought royalty free off for $29.95. It was, at least, better than a Kiss Cam or the one week 'Match The Emoji' shitshow.

The only crowd observation I'll make comes with a caveat. If it was in any way socially acceptable I would still - as an adult male approaching 40 years of age - wear the club jumper to the footy. Alas it is not (though ask yourself, why does nobody care at soccer games? Is it because the only options for footy jumpers are no sleeves/poncy long sleeves?), though apparently nobody has told a significant percentage of North Melbourne fans.

Maybe it's because their club releases a new commemorative jumper for every minor occasion but proportionally speaking I've never seen so many middle aged people wearing the jumper or at the very least an ill-fitting, garishly blue polo shirt. The most deranged display came from the adult lady - not surprising wearing a non-standard club issue jumper - who created space for two different player numbers on her back by applying kid sized digits in a diagonal design. Absolute insanity, somebody should hold an intervention.

Next week
Hawthorn on Sunday afternoon, and in what feels like an outrageously adult life decision I'm going to stay home and watch on TV. I've got legitimate, honest work to do almost immediately after the siren and can't justify turning back the money for something that is easily accessible from home. Not having to deal with Hawks fans is an added bonus. So, if you run into a nuffy whose only positive life experience has been following a successful football club please submit your Crowd Watch contributions via any of the usual channels (email, Twitter, in the comments on an old post, by putting a public notice in the paper).

I'm ambivalent about our prospects of beating them, if we'd stomped one of the two also-ran teams into the dirt then it would feel like a good chance. Now I look back at not being able to beat them while they were in shambles last year and wonder which side has gotten significantly better since then. The finals tilt is most assuredly ON if we do win, but even if as I suspect we don't two insurance wins are in the bank.

As much as I'm fanging to get Angus Brayshaw back in the side it's hard to lobby for too many changes. Unless they take the piss and suspend Nifty Nev for putting Brown on his arse a week after the guy deliberately shoving him into a dangerous collision didn't even warrant investigation. The players I'm still suss on like Lewis, Vince and Tyson all did enough - and as much as I'd argue you should be improving your side rather than just hanging on to what worked previously none of them are going anywhere so why bother trying?

IN/OUT: No change
UNLUCKY: Pedersen, Brayshaw

Was it worth it?
Halfway through the first quarter I was likely to end up under the train home rather than on it, but in its entirety this was an unquestionably positive experience. The play itself may not convince me of an immediately glorious future, but after seeing every one of those 17 losses of one to 122 points missing the day we finally beat them would have left deep psychological scars.

DVD extras
Given that I won't get the chance to use this for at least another decade, here's one we prepared just in case...

Blow up the pokies
Morally 'getting out the gaming industry' (the gambling one, not selling your Playstation to Cash Converters) is a wonderful idea, and we're all high on life that the club is doing the right thing but it makes me uncomfortable to think about where the replacement money is coming from. Losing $2 million isn't a revenue cut, it's an amputation. It's one thing to assume we're going to increase revenue over the next couple of years by being good at football, it's another to overcome the handicap of being an organisation famous for necking itself at the last hurdle.

In this case I just have to blindly jump out the plane behind the board and CEO and assume they have a plan in place. Maybe they know something we don't and are legging it from gaming before the licenses crash in value? Good luck with that, as much as it would be magnificent for everyone else's gaming business to be struck worthless overnight as we fly off in the ejector seat, we all know they're not going anywhere.

What it really means is that if you're one of these people violently opposed to the Northern Territory games then you're shit out of luck. I've always been pragmatic about the need to play there for the cash, but was open to somebody finding $1.2 million somewhere else to remove the need. Now you've got to come up with an extra $2 million to cover what we won't be pinching from the pockets of addicts (good news for said addicts, they'll still be able to be fleeced but the money will be going to a racing club instead). Knowing our luck we'll deposit the money in the Pyramid Building Society and it will all disappear at the drop of a hat, leaving us to play 11 home games a year in different parts of the Northern Territory and/or China.

Final thoughts
It's taken longer than seemed necessary, but that's the end of all the home and away season droughts except finishing inside the top eight. Then on to winning finals, making Grand Finals and raising flags. Eventually. First, let's worry about the good sides.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

"He pulled out just enough to win"

Say you had something better to do on Saturday night than watching Melbourne wobble to an unconvincing victory against a lower mid-table side. I've got good news for you, there's no need to catch the replay, just cast your mind back to our pre-season game against St Kilda. If you pretend the Saints players you'd never heard of are the Brisbane players you'd never heard of and picture about as many people inside the Gabba as were at Casey Fields it was practically a carbon copy:
  • Play irresistible football in the first quarter to open a big lead
  • Barely extend the lead before half time as the other side belatedly turn up
  • Nearly lose after unexpectedly plummeting into a Grand Canyon sized hole
  • Cause fans to get collectively mopey about how mentally unfit we are
  • Bounce back to win relatively comfortably in the end.
At least this time the reward was four precious premiership points. And it can't be understated how precious they are. I'm living on the edge of a cliff, so spooked by our run home that my belief in getting anything out of this year (where anything = eighth or higher and damn what happens next) hinges entirely on starting 2-1. With that in mind, halfway through the last quarter I was pulling the shutters down on 2018 and heading outside to try and hammer in the last nail. One leg of the doomsday double is complete, but we've still got to get through North before I start showing any zest and/or vigour for the season.

Almost every "It wasn't pretty but I'll take it" win of the last few years has been against Brisbane, and like all of those I'm overjoyed to get the win but not confident that it will translate to the beating of good teams. The excuse of the Gabba being a humid hothouse at this time of year is a popular excuse for why we nearly collapsed, which would be fine if the Lions weren't 1-7 there in March/April over the last three years - and that win was against Gold Coast. Or that we sell home games to two hot, humid climates.

We got to our fourth win in a row against the Lions eventually, narrowly avoiding another 'losing as favourites' scenario. It's one thing to be the better team on paper (which is usually the first sign of impending doom), but anybody automatically counting this as a win in advance needed their head read. Wooden spooners or not, Brisbane is far from the rock bottom operation of a few seasons ago. They may not feature in the finals this year, but then again neither will we if there's not significant improvement in the next 20 weeks. But for now grasp the win to your bosom tenderly, because halfway through that last quarter the four points were heading out the door with its bags packed.

The start was good, but when it comes to Melbourne you're better off not trusting anyone. Clubs love waffling on about their 'brand' and what they stand for, well having enjoyed the first two weeks of this season and an AFLW campaign where we conceded a total of 0.1 in our last five first quarters and still lost three times (!!!) I'm reasonably confident that the poor starts which blighted us in 2017 have been addressed - leaving fans playing a the new game of guessing which of the other three quarters we'll cark it in. Last week it was the second, this week it was draped across the end of the third and the start of the last. One day everything will click, and we will enslave a team for four consecutive quarters. I will likely be on the pension by then.

The closest I get into werewolves, astrology and all that Games of Thrones shit is Max Gawn's facial hair, but I should have known something weird was going to happen when they focused artistically on a full moon before the first bounce. Next thing you knew we'd entirely strangled Brisbane to the point of being five goals up at quarter time. Then an hour later a seven goal lead had gone up in smoke and we stared down the barrel of humiliating defeat. Why would you follow anyone else?

By the end it looked a lot like our last unsatisfying win against the Lions. Only instead of Hogan tormenting defenders one-on-one and Pedersen ghosting in from the side to take advantage of their wonky structures it was left to Hulk to do it all, with supporting from Garlett hoovering around at ground level. Let's have it again when we play more organised teams, but that was the sort of performance by Jeff (not even Jeffy under these circumstances) which makes you laugh heartily at Carlton giving him away for peanuts. Next week he may have four kicks but we've still had value for our pick 70.

My key concern, other than just general anxiety about being in the toilet at 0-2, was that we wouldn't be able to take advantage of their disarray at the back to kick a string of tap-in goals like St Kilda did. We got around to it just when things were starting to look hairy, but in the crucial first quarter they were dead keen on making sure somebody was on the last line of defence at all times. Which effectively just condemned some poor bastard to an unsafe workplace by forcing him to go one-on-one with Hogan. Secretly we all know Harris Andrews (is he a department store?) would have rather been pushed up the ground and watching the ball being booted over his head into an open goal rather than having Jesse manhandle him.

I don't want to get you excited, because we all know that's the first step to disaster when following Melbourne, but after one game against a finals team and one against a not finals team Hulk is averaging four goals a game. The last time anyone did that was David Neitz in 2004, but to be fair he did boost his tally from zero to nine in the second game. For a more obscure option what about James Cook going 2, 6, carried off permanently crocked in 2000? It's a bit early to be hailing the return of the full-forward given that every year there's higher scoring in the first few weeks before the inevitable defensive correction, but while Jesse may not kick 88 for the season, having a spearhead upright and available to aim at is a big help.

The most intriguing battle was - for me at least - Gawn vs SME. In reality it was only the warm-up for Maximum's heavyweight title fight against Goldstein next week, but how could you not enjoy these behemoths going head-to-head from practically first siren to last? The ultimate goal of killing off stoppages and making the game look like a pinball machine is perhaps the dopiest 'innovation' of all. Huge humans going to battle 70+ times a game should be a selling point, not an annoyance getting in the way of 200-190 final scores. Congratulations to the umpires (surely some mistake? - editor) for getting into the spirit of the contest and letting them grapple for supremacy like Greco-Roman wrestlers instead of paying technical frees.

I will always cherish the SME years, and am overjoyed that he is doing well in Brisbane, but this showed why focusing on Gawn was the right thing to do (though I'm not sure that's where they were intending to go when Stef got the Tijuana). Max is a machine - on what planet does a huge man like that ruck almost the entire game in greasy, humid conditions without keeling over dead? Pedersen had six hitouts in relief and I was surprised he even got that, because he'd have been lucky to contest two centre bounces. There weren't as many perfect backhand taps as Maximum's best games, and a couple of loose ones did end up with Brisbane players, but his overall contribution was molto bene.

Always expecting the worst, I was concerned that we'd seen the start of this game many times over. Narrowly avoiding a goal at one end, then spending five minutes deep in attack for no reward. Usually this leads to the ball flinging out the back door and the other side scoring against the run of play, but this time Hogan sensibly picked Bugg's pocket 20 metres out on a slight angle to kick first goal.

That was a the beginning of a period of mass disarray for the Lions. I like Luke Hodge playing for them at this stage in their life, but he must have suffered terrible flashbacks to pre-glory era Hawthorn when he desperately cleared the ball to find the only person in the way was Garlett. Jeff has been surprisingly accurate with set shots (so far), in inverse proportion to Petracca forgetting how to kick them again after a glorious 2017 and duly converted.

Once we got the third goal - courtesy of a great commentator's curse declaring some bloke the Rising Star favourite just as he kicked it out on the full - I felt a lot more comfortable. Which is not to say I was actually 'comfortable', just not as nervous. The bullet kick by Tyson - probably his best disposal in three years - to Neal-Bullen leading perfectly into the space left by Brisbane's distressed defence was the added bonus.

The commentary box excuses for the Lions started early, apparently they're disadvantaged by not being able to train on their home ground over summer. Which doesn't carry much weight when you follow a club that hasn't been able to regularly train on theirs since about 1984. Having to wait for a Sheffield Shield final to finish didn't seem to be causing them too many problems when they were later kicking seven goals in 20 minutes.

Brisbane reminded me a lot of us in the last year under Roos. They're not very good, but have improved vastly from their absolute terror years. Outsiders wouldn't have a clue who half their players are, but they were all having a massive bash and only losing out to the odd barmy option or failed disposal. To prove they are a lot like us, they desperately needed to settle things down and not go any further than 22-3 behind with three minutes left then let in two goals. All it lacked was a Jack Watts (RIP) figure sent back to take a mark in defence, flap his arms around as if to say "everyone calm down" then watch it be kicked straight back over his head.

It's another season where the AFL website doesn't believe 'highlights' means showing all the goals, so I'll just have to assume without seeing it again that Jordan Lewis did get a hand to what looked heaps like a throw, setting up a pinpoint Hibberd kick to Melksham and on to Hogan for the fourth. It's criminal that they don't consider Hibberd's kick worthy of inclusion in the highlights, it was nearly as perfect of a disposal that you'll get on a footy ground. I unashamedly love him, we may never have underrated an All-Australian more. Then, just as I was preparing to build a shrine in my backyard he barely got a touch after half time. But the point still remains valid, he is magnificent.

After conceding the fourth in what used to be known as during Demon Time™, they really couldn't afford to let another in. Then some galoot turned it over in the dying seconds and allowed Hunt to set up Fritsch for five. It was another good night for Bayley (which conversely made it a bad night for Mitch Hannan), more used to howling arctic gales on unprotected VFL grounds than Queensland dew but still clean as a whistle while everyone else fumbled around him. He wasn't even put off by the siren going as he started his run-up, just casually went back and lobbed it through to provide what should have been - and I suppose ultimately was - a match winning lead.

Comparing to last week, there were a lot of similarities, but this time we had the fortune of playing against a less inexperienced, more disorganised side that seemed to have the worst tall forward lineup since us in the year Dawes was leading goalkicker with 22. The smalls were good though, and there were still a LOT of times where we'd lose the ball going forward and they'd come out of defence with so many options they didn't know what to do next. Our pressure was reasonable when the ball got within 30 metres of goal, but the lack of a genuine marking option across half-forward except for Hogan will continue to make me tense until McSizzle returns. Then again, if Pedersen takes the heat off Hoges and allows him to dominate, then perhaps McDonald can do the same for Lever? Sharing is caring.

I'm admittedly tactically naive, but there are some turnovers where I can't work out how we get so badly exposed. Fair enough when you're bursting out of defence and everyone's lining like a rugby league team to be the next option, but there was one last night where the kick went from half-back flank to a Brisbane player on the wing and returned straight into a bunch of opposition players standing on their own. Where did the defence get to in those crucial 2.4 seconds between ball leaving our boot and landing in their arms? All this and more next week on:

Even before women's football showed us how to throw away first quarter dominance I'd never have trusted the lead. There's never been a Chris Sullivan Line style declaration of what it would take for me to be comfortable with a quarter time lead. I was reasonably comfortable at 6.6 to 0.2 against Gold Coast in 2012, but even they briefly made it interesting. Set the time machine for Round 10, 1972 and let's see where 11.7 to 0.2 would have satisfied my nerves.

In my footy watching lifetime I've ever been at one game when we were 60+ in front at half time, and that was nearly 20 years ago. Which probably explains why I'm always so nervous. Compare to other middle of the road up-and-down teams like Port Adelaide, who had done it seven times since 1996 and Fremantle three since 1995. I need a full business intelligence platform to track all the ways that following Melbourne is less rewarding than almost every other club.

I think we were all poised for the inevitable correction in the second quarter, we certainly weren't going to get five goals to nothing part II. The Lions had to start scoring at some point, and usually that's the queue for our lot to start conserving their energy for later. To nobody's surprise our dominance in the opening term disappeared the moment the ball was bounced again. Brisbane got the first goal from a free, then should have had another one for Lewis' unconcealed attempt at punching the ball over the line deliberately. Because commentators see him as a whole instead of acting like his career began two years like I do, they conspired to explain away this fiasco because there was a player within the same postcode. No, it was an artless, desperate attempt at getting the ball out of bounds that was rightfully pinged.

I was wavering last week, but I've really had enough of Lewis. Thank you for your service, go gently into that good night. I thought Vince was much improved doing a tagging job, mainly in the first half, but one of them has to go. Neither is the future, but for now I'll do without the guy who gives away NQR frees by the bucketload. There was one where I'll have to give the benefit of the doubt (because umpires were whistling late all night, as if one of them was a work experience kid) that it was holding the ball, because otherwise it would have been another unnecessary free given away through ill-discipline and I'd be offering to drive him to Casey myself.

I don't doubt his commitment to the cause, I do doubt that we should be investing so much time into somebody is just going ok and won't be there at the business end. "He won't play in the next premiership side" is a terrible cliche for bottom four teams, because you need to get out of a hole to start with, but it becomes valid when you reach mid-table and are trying to find that last push over the top. Pedersen gets a pass because of his size, if we can't find somebody else to play as a mop up defender we're not trying. He seems to split the community 50/50 with no middle ground, so if you're violently in agreement with him address your letterbombs to Demonblog Towers - PO Box 999 in your capital city.

Against the odds we contained their early enthusiasm and extended the lead. Garlett was in everything, setting up Jones and kicking a pearler of a snap from 35 metres out for three in a row. When Pedersen had his best moment of the night by hitting Hogan right on the tit we were on the verge of setting up a margin highly unlikely to be overrun. He missed, and so did Bugg at the other end (because ever since I praised his set shot kicking early last year that's what he does) and opportunities to make the gap as close to safe as possible had been wasted.

Still, we'd kept a side to two goals in a half so who was going to argue that? Perhaps I wasn't going to 'argue', but their six behinds indicated that they still making opportunities and we didn't have an entirely steel-trap defence. Hibberd was brilliant, and Oscar McDonald is in career best form but a late arriving Max Gawn is still our most reliable pack mark in defence. That can't be healthy.

Jetta has been suffering a mini-Demonbracket hangover, and while the conditions did nothing for his hair, nor did being blatantly shoved into a collision shortly before half-time. He's been one concussion away from retirement for years now, and when he sank like a stone after the bump I was flat. He survived, but mysteriously the unnecessary shove by the Brisbane player, despite being as clear as day, was not picked up on by the commentators. This was surprisingly considering Paul Roos is so ridiculously pro-Melbourne in his special comments (and good for him) that it's like watching an MFC version of Press Red for Ed.

If the one man match review panel can't be arsed delivering a verdict on that potentially career-ending piece of attempted murder I doubt they'll want to get involved with Bayley Fritsch copping a Wrestlemania season move that looked like a cross between a DDT and a Codebreaker. Like the Jetta shove, it was 100% deliberate. It might not have been malicious, but was certainly dangerous. The player was trying to stop Fritsch from taking off and succeeded in not only dropping him on his neck but also kneeing him in the ribs. While Bayley went off clutching at himself to make sure nothing was broken, the umpire decided everything was above board and refused to pay a 50.

Later in the game a Lion was pinched for being north/south instead of east/west on a mark, but attempt a Mortal Kombat style fatality on a second gamer in the middle of the Gabba and she'll be right. At least it was consistent with Gawn and the SME going the full Weinstein on each other in ruck contests all night without penalty.

Other than nearly crippling two of our players, I enjoyed the anti-social nature of Brisbane's play. If players start being nicked at booze buses you'll know it's Luke Hodge's influence, but now that we've got past them with a win I hope they give sides the shits all year. Chief antagonist was Charlie Cameron, who put on what was probably the most niggly performance since Tom Bugg vs Richmond in 2016. The only Adelaide players I knew before the 2017 finals series were Scott Thompson, Eddie Betts, Kyle Cheney and Tex Walker, so like discovering Lever for the first time it was all new to me. What a show. He ran around like a greyhound, kicked goals, tried to start fights, and at one point celebrated a goal that he had absolutely nothing to do with by shaking his head wildly like a 1960s teenage girl at a Beatles concert.

On the other hand, how many players in the competition have a more punchable face than the stringy indie music haired Rhys Mathieson? Not bloody many. Speaking of punching people in the face, Bugg's kicking for goal concerns me. I like what does off the ball, but unless he's going to convert opportunities there's no spot for him. I'm also concerned at the lack of influence Melksham has had in the first two weeks, though I note he came good with a couple of great interventions when the game was on the line.

With a 37 point half time lead we were going to need one hell of a disastrous quarter to lose. Or two really bad ones strung together. Finally, after more missed set shots the great Nathan Jones appeared to remind us that after a quiet pre-season he's far from finished. His goal extended the margin beyond 40 nearly halfway through the third quarter, and as we fatefully like to say around here 'What could possibly go wrong?' I admit that Jones' goal sucked me in, and I started to believe that we weren't going to have the traditional tits-up capsize quarter. Then Brisbane kicked seven goals in 20 minutes.

Oliver and Jetta had chances at the end of the quarter to steady the ship but missed, and we went into the last change 'only' four goals up. It's a handy enough lead, but not insurmountable. Especially when all the humidity chat, and repeat mentions straight off the 'interesting facts' sheet about how they'd once come from 50 down to beat Geelong after the siren, had me royally spooked. But not as much as them thumping in four straight goals to draw level.

Lever (unfairly likened to Diamond Jim Tilbrook by one workplace smartarse during the week) had been alright to this point, but as Brisbane ran riot he was mostly left standing around and looking at Lions players going past. I don't care what master plan Goodwin is working on, get Sam Frost in there and stop making him play as a one-on-one defender. This isn't signing a down on his luck Clint Bizzell and successfully converting his position, it's taking the strengths of an All-Australian defender and tossing them out the window.

Under the current structure I am concerned Ben Brown and Jarrad Waite will combine for 21.19. Lever's torment - and does he ever do contested marks, or just punch everything that comes near him? - needs to be packaged up and delivered via Express Post to everyone who moaned about Tom McDonald in defence. I'll take the odd over-ambitious kick failure in exchange for somebody with bucket hands who can beat three players in a marking contest.

The comeback came much to the joy of the people sitting on the beer garden style deck behind the goals, which looked like the most heavily populated spot in the stadium. There were only slightly fewer people in my loungeroom than the top level of the Gabba, but with the prospect of having to go 12-8 through a minefield draw from here I was under more pressure than a deep sea diver.

If some well-meaning religious minority had knocked on the door right then I'd have either punched on or signed up. There's no way to explain to a non-football person the helplessness you feel when your side is rapidly shedding a lead. Or the sort of simplistic footy types who spent all Monday reminding us that we were "unlucky" against Geelong and focused entirely on Gawn's miss rather than the root cause.

Speaking of Maximum's kick, after a week of refusing to watch the replay I was finally subjected to it in the pre-match 'highlights', and how about that buffoon Brian Taylor calling it a goal off the boot? There are certain things people say that indicate they're a knob who should be ignored (e.g. 'virtue signalling' and 'gentrification'), in BT's case just throw a blanket over the lot. Being in off-Broadway games that probably struggle to beat TV Shopping Network in the ratings has some benefits. We might have had a soccer commentator relying heavily on his pre-prepared fun facts, but at least he was calling the game rather than yelling incoherently.

For all the stress, and the stream of indecent abuse I delivered at my TV as Brisbane drew level, you had to enjoy the way we steadied. After it happened anyway. We shouldn't have been in that position to begin with, but at least when it happened cool heads prevailed. The coolest head of them all amidst carnage is Jones, and he set up Garlett for the steadier. Then, for the second week in a row we were given a leg up by an opposition player missing a sitter, with Zorko stuffing one up from right in front. This flung the door open for Melksham to perfectly bump an opponent out of the way to take advantage of a pinpoint Petracca kick, and for Garlett to run into an open goal. Exactly the sort of soft coast-to-coast goal the Lions were bleeding from every orifice last week, but even better when it represented an 11 point turnaround.

After already losing one thriller I went back on high alert as the Lions goalled to reduce the margin to six, before 1880s steampunk superstar Cedric Cox kicked straight into Garlett on the mark and allowed our man Hoges to finish from the pocket. I felt solidarity with Melbourne Football Club life member and 1998 Reserves coach Chris Fagan when he hurt his hand punching the desk. The result obviously means plenty more to him than me, but when you boil it all down our anxieties come from the same place.

It still wasn't enough for me to relax, but fortunately Brisbane's spirit was crushed. After a final scare where the Brisbane guy didn't hear a play-on call and walk into an open goal, we went the other way for Hogan's fifth. Game over thank christ, with the exclamation mark of Fritsch whacking through a second on the siren to take us to exactly 100 points. Somewhere Mitch Hannan tipped his coffee table over.

It wasn't the most dynamic win you'll ever see, but it would do. But if you thought you were a bit flat after the siren, Brisbane Lions management took a spectacular quantity of piss out of their players by forcing them to run the boundary handing out Easter eggs to anyone who was left. As far as post-loss crowd engagement went it was certainly better than Gary Ablett stripping a Gold Coast fan of his membership, but you can't imagine it ever happening at a Victorian club. Unless it was Nathan Buckley or James Hird, where the crowd would be more interested in licking them than the chocolate.

The season is alive, at least for one more week. Win next week - well or otherwise - and let's start talking about a glorious future. But not too loudly.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jeff Garlett
4 - Jesse Hogan
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to McDonald, Hibberd, Vince, Petracca and Fritsch

There has never been a more ridiculous leaderboard in the history of this competition, with five players tied for first. It's certainly a good start for all their title hopes, including Jones looking for an unprecedented 6th Jakovich. To be fair, nobody else has ever won two so even Oliver repeating would be unprecedented.

And I don't see any circumstances where Gawn's going to lose the Stynes from here, so let's get the formalities out of the way and declare our earliest ever provisional winner.

5 - Jeff Garlett, Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Nathan Jones, Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca
4 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Cameron Pedersen

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With apologies to Hogan's effortless finish from the pocket in the last quarter, I'm going to opt for Garlett's around the corner effort in the second. Despite having more nominations for this award than anyone else he hasn't won it, and won't for this because something better will definitely come along. His house of already full of weekly prizes, so this time he gets the phone number of Carlton to ring up and laugh at them.

The slogan on ours was a bit clunky, but it came just at the right time after some corporate wanker in Collingwood's marketing department enforced the use of the term 'external narrative' on theirs. Meanwhile Brisbane failed to properly integrate the picture of the player, like your annoying work colleague who doesn't know how to use transparency in a Powerpoint presentation.

A crucial curtain penalty costs the Lions here, with the bonus points for lugging the banner interstate also contributing to another win for the good guys. Dees 2-0 for the season.

Matchday Experience Watch
Speaking of the hardest working people in the business, Collingwood's marketing department, they tried to take the heat off their disappointing run of results (except one in particular) by introducing a new pre-match singalong for their fans. After banning Port Adelaide from wearing their jumper, they'll probably insist the Power be banned from holding a faux emotional scarf waving wankfest as well.

It was reported that not only would they play Nothing Else Matters by Metallica before the bounce but they had 'bought the rights to it'. Which sounds like exactly the sort of thing they'd do, spend money unnecessarily when you could probably just sign up to APRA for a few thousand dollars a year and have access to Metallica's entire back catalogue. Its debut was celebrated in stony silence by a line of people, mainly kids but some half embarrassed looking adults, holding up the name of the song on a slickly produced banner in the exact same font as their official season hashtag on the digital screens behind them.

Elsewhere, Fremantle are promising "rock classics" like... err... Purple Rain and ex-Dockers having a shot on goal before the game (Phil Gilbert please). All this enforced fun is getting right on my tits, here's to sticking with a wonky sounding transition from Hell's Bells and people in overalls nearly breaking their neck taking a screamer at quarter time.

Who knows what sort of tripe the Gabba offered before the game, but their addition of a digital screen halfway up the stand on the wing was giving me the shits by quarter time. Apparently they're getting a new train line, which is a great use of government advertising dollars to promote it for the 15,000 people there and the 8000 watching elsewhere in Queensland.

Uniform Watch

I'll tell you what enhanced my matchday experience, the disco blue jumpers. They are magnificent. I'm sure they're even more aggressively light blue than the 1980s edition, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

See for instance my spirit animal Brent Crosswell:

and compare that to last night:
Where possible the real dark blue jumper should be worn at all times, but this is the best clash jumper we've ever had. After their well-received (by me anyway) outing in the 2006/07 heritage rounds it's outrageous that it's taken this long to become an official alternative. Imagine living in world where somebody - either at Melbourne or the AFL - thought the worst thing to happen to fashion since the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was a more attractive option:

Is there any better example than that of what a mediocre, dull waste of space we were in 2008? It upsets me to even look at it. The disco jumper is full of personality and protruding nipple, it's the perfect outfit for our exciting new era of upper mid-table mediocrity.

Stat My Bitch Up
A reader from Punt Road takes a break from frottaging his replica premiership flag to ask:
If you go on my definition of said act (a 24 point lead that's reduced to a goal or less since Round 1, 2014), this is the first collated airing of THE WANK FILES. We still don't know who has a sexual fetish for near death experiences, but they would have been reduced to firing off air in the middle of last year.

  • Round 13, 2014 vs Essendon (-33 at 3m Q3, +1 FT)
  • Round 1, 2017 vs St Kilda (-24 at 4m Q2, +30 FT)
  • Round 8, 2017 vs Adelaide (-28 at 17m Q2, +41 FT)
  • Round 10, 2017 vs Gold Coast (-24 at 20 Q2, +35 FT)
  • Round 11, 2017 vs Collingwood (-28 at 9m Q2, +4 FT)
  • Round 11, 2014 vs Port Adelaide (-26 at 13m Q1, +10 at 17m Q3, -20 FT)
  • Round 15, 2014 vs Footscray (-35 at 11m Q2, +6 at 6m Q4, -6 FT)
  • Round 19, 2015 vs North Melbourne (-34 at 29m Q1, -2 at 26m Q3, -35 FT)
  • Round 3, 2016 vs North Melbourne (-42 at 20m Q1, -5 FT)
  • Round 10, 2016 vs Collingwood (-24 at 24m Q1, +5 10m Q2, -25 9m Q3, level 19m Q3, -25 FT)
  • Round 15, 2016 vs Essendon (-24 at 30m Q3, -2 at 17m Q4, -9 FT)
  • Round 7, 2017 vs Hawthorn (-27 at 29m Q1, -3 FT)
  • Round 9, 2017 vs North Melbourne (-26 at 31m Q1, -2 at 13m Q4, -14 FT)
  • Round 1, 2018 vs Geelong (-27 at 35m Q2, -3 FT)
  • Round 7, 2014 vs Adelaide (+ 36 18m Q2, +3 FT)
  • Round 21, 2017 vs St Kilda (+39 at 10m Q2, +4 1m Q4, +24 FT)
  • Round 2, 2018 vs Brisbane (you know)
  • Round 2, 2015 vs GWS (+30 at 4m Q2, -45 FT)
  • Round 9, 2016 vs Port Adelaide (+24 at 6m Q2, -61 FT)
  • Round 3, 2017 vs Fremantle (+27 at 28m Q2, -2 FT)
Also, did you know we've been in more finals series than the Lions since their last Grand Final. That's an unpleasant reflection on both sides.

Next week
I was so poorly after the Geelong game that I said we were playing the Lions on Sunday. So, if you're such an avid reader that you take my word for everything (and why wouldn't you?) then I apologise that you missed the game. Your central nervous system thanks me.

So, to be absolutely clear next week it's North at 2.10pm Saturday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. As if you didn't have this circled on your calendar in blood, eager to finally cast off the black magic spell they have on us and take control of our own destiny. You'd be significantly more confident if they hadn't kicked the shit out of St Kilda, so the best thing for my psychological health is just to assume they'll beat us. Probably by a point with a goal after the siren.

Casey played Frankston, the next best thing to a bye, in a VFL practice match and beat them by 110 points so I'm not sure what we learned there. What I know is that if you kept our defence in its current format Sizzle Jr and Lever should swap pay packets, so time to get some help in for the My Chemical Romance lookalike. Frost and Brayshaw go back, Hunt goes forward to try and get a kick, Lewis catches a train to Cranbourne Station, then connects with a bus to Casey Fields only to discover the first game is at Coburg.

IN: Frost, Brayshaw
OUT: Lewis, Bugg

Regardless of what they did to the out-of-sorts Saints, North is not going anywhere this year. They won't be awful, but a few teams are going to rip them from arsehole to breakfast. We will not be one of them. I will take any sort of win and a promise that the modern day Sam Blease, Billy Hartung isn't going to crash through the gates of Stately Kingsley Manor and demand immediate induction.

Injury news from other venues
Nope, not getting involved.

Final thoughts
Our last two outings will usually beat teams 10th-18th on the ladder, and if lucky might occasionally knock off 6th to 9th, but neither suggested a rock solid, guaranteed finals contender.

I'm not yet sold on Tyson, ANB or Harmes as four quarter players, you know my issues with Lewis and/or Vince, Garlett is on and off like a tap, Melksham doesn't look as good as he did late last year, Hunt is struggling, Lever hasn't been played to advantage yet and Wagner/Bugg are just ok. We have some potential blockbuster players are the top end, but not convinced that the middle and bottom of the 22 are yet good enough for anything but a brave but ultimately heartbreaking crack at the finals.

Wreck North with malice aforethought and I'll get interested, but for now I see a side barely improved from last year. Given how little we missed the finals by, 'barely' might be enough to scrape into 8th.