Monday, 21 May 2018

How to make friends and eviscerate people




What a weekend for royals, the disco blue jumper officially became the greatest clash strip in the history of the sport and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex can look back fondly at how the weekend of their wedding coincided with the Melbourne Football Club finally casting off years of tedious doormattery and violently abusing vulnerable opposition.

I haven't had a Sunday post out on the day of the game for a year, and this edition was delayed even further by not knowing where to start. It is a quite literally unprecedented scenario in the life of this blog to win a game by more than 96 points. That was not an inconsequential victory (especially if you were Jack Trengove and copped three weeks because Patrick Dangerfield has a porcelain head) but lacked that last important push over the psychological barrier of 100 points. After being involved in eight hundred plus decisions since the last time we topped the ton it was nice to finally get on the positive side of the equation.

It was only the second triple figure win of my spectating life, following on almost 25 years later from that infamous day where the bird shat on my hand at three quarter time of Round 21, 1993. I suppose the statute of limitations has passed where I can freely admit that as we racked up our previous record win against the Blues in Round 6, 2004 I skived off from work and hid in Royal Park listening to it unfold on the radio. I'm still bitter at having missed that, which is why after being pus for so long this thumping victory meant so much to me. Even just symbolically going into a three figure margin left me with a little tear in my ey

Losing to us by the largest ever margin in a series dating back in 1864 was a fitting culmination to a crazy week in the life of the Carlton Football Club. First a drought breaking victory got Mark Neeld fired from Essendon, then they ended up on an episode of Law and Order: AFL courtesy of two brothers both illicitly touching umpires on the same day. First the Curnows got away with fines, then on an appeal launched by the league's spectacle police my second cousin in law was suspended (it's true, consult the 'tenuous connections' branch of the family tree), only for the one who escaped with a fine to miss with injury anyway. On paper the absence of their best forward and a handy midfielder looked good for us, but Melbourne fans everywhere sharply inhaled as we expected the replacements to come in and clean our clock. I think the guy who took Charlie's place is still standing on the G now waiting to get a kick, but the original recipe might not have done much better considering the haphazard way his teammates just hoofed the ball down the line blindly and hoped for the best.

While the Blues were engaged in legal drama we were quietly returning from Queensland with minimal fanfare after dismantling the Suns. Nobody even knew that Clayton Oliver had surgery for a broken finger, which makes a welcome change from the days where Caroline Wilson had written a story about what type of biscuits they had at the board meeting before it finished. He even suffered the injury playing footy, not sticking it in a dog's gob, halting a run of novelty injuries that was likely to end in somebody contracting black lung. At full time I'd like to have seen him remove the Nintendo Power Glove and rehab his middle digit by sticking it in the face of that mouthy Carlton fan from last year.

What turned out to be a momentous occasion started slowly, and it sure didn't look much like a record thrashing was on the cards in the first quarter. We were undoubtedly the better team, but in an unwanted repeat of last week an avalanche of inside 50s came to little, while the inferior team managed to nick goals from limited opportunities at the other end. By the end we could barely go inside 50 without scoring something - usually a goal - as confused Blues defenders stood around wondering where their opponents had gone.

Projecting towards more competitive games in the future, do we really need to play Tom McDonald on the wing for the first five minutes of every quarter? It's difficult to argue with how they've got him going - or scoring 300 points in two weeks - but recent history has shown that Hogan is a better option up field and Sizzle is the man to aim at inside 50, so why not start Hulk there? I assume the idea is for McDonald to run around with his opponent for a while then slip unnoticed into the forward 50 while nobody's looking, but there has been more than one time where we've hoisted a long kick forward in the first few minutes and I've longed for him to clatter through the pack and mark it. All's well that ends well etc... etc... but resting on our laurels after a memorable victory is a well-known MFC trait that should be abolished.

The problem for Hogan yesterday was that there was no point being a hardworking link-up man in a side that didn't need one. We were sweeping from end to end so effortlessly that he could afford to just play a solid, but unspectacular game even after getting the sooks on about not being paid an obvious free in the first quarter. It's an excellent sign that we could wait until we were 102 points in front before he kicked his first goal. You know my views on the footy butterfly effect, maybe we wouldn't have been 102 points up if he'd been paid that first free. We might have been 200 up the way Carlton played the last three quarters. The best bit about him not getting it was that he stopped to argue with the umpire and was still the first man to the loose ball. Sure he got pinged for diving on it, but it was quite the recovery from having a mid-play whinge.

At that stage we were the best part of 10 minutes in, neither side had kicked a goal and I started to think a disaster was looming. Which in hindsight was silly, how many times did we hold on for a first quarter when we were a shipwreck side only to be eventually squashed? As long as we didn't have to reel them in from five goals down we should have known that weight of attacking numbers would eventually win out. Fortunately Carlton's sixes and sevens defence didn't consider that getting away with one free was good fortune and change their ways, because almost immediately after I first started to get nervy Jake Milkshake was vigorously attended to in a contest almost directly in front barely any distance out. The way he's been kicking set shots this year it was no certainly, but he steered a dinky 9 iron of a kick through and was off to what would his greatest day.

The AFL Player Ratings are as reliable an indicator of performance as a Ouija board, but in this case I'm happy to go along with the slightly ludicrous suggestion that Melksham played the best game of anyone in the AFL this year. First he set himself for a lucrative career on the Asian AFLX circuit (where you can never see the huge crowds because they're always in a corporate marquee), now this. Even adjusting for the quality of the opposition it was easily his best game for us. He has the occasional day off - and did kick 0.7 in his first four starts for the season - but Half Forward Milkshake may finish second only to Forward Sizzle in the list of great Simon Goodwin innovations. Remember when he turned up as a defender and everyone wanted to delist him after three weeks? Now he's done the reverse Clint Bizzell with great success. In third place on the Renovation Rumble set they've somehow converted Bayley Fritsch from a handy VFL goalkicker into the new Jayden Hunt. If the coaching thing doesn't work out Goodwin should start a consultancy for reconditioning players.

At the other end of the ratings spectrum came Bernie Vince, below even the hapless Blues defender who spent the first half giving away unnecessary free kicks and the second watching the ball fly over his head. The process of dishing out these points (or in Bernie's case taking them away) is a mystery, but I suppose it's hard to lose them when you can't get close enough to the opposition to do anything. In an otherwise high watermark game - surpassing McDonald sinking the Eagles at Subi as the peak of our post-finals era - not much went right for Bernard. His best moment was a cracking shirtfront in the first quarter that would have been celebrated in the days before people realised that brain trauma is a bad thing. Dale Thomas bounced back to his feet unscathed, and despite leaping at him like he was coming off a trampoline, the equal most reported player in club history avoided another charge. Could probably do with a week off anyway to be honest...

The star attraction of the first quarter was the war between Michael Hibberd and Jed Lamb. I'd never heard of Lamb until he was famous sledged by some Essendon goose last week, so I'll just assume he was still playing angry because of that. Later, when the game was well and truly over Hibbo 'accidentally' lobbed a footy into his face. At least, he maintained the rage for about 30 minutes before his teammates evaporated around him. There was much mirth on the Blue side when Hibberd and Oscar overran the ball and gifted him a tap in from the square, before significantly more amusement was had from us kicking 22 of the next 26 goals. Another dark day for Brendon Bolton, formerly the cheeriest man in football and now somebody who looks like he's having a significant personal crisis. Can't coach Hawthorn every week.

Carlton only kicked seven goals, but there must have been about four that they then gave back straight out of the centre. Wasn't it just like watching us five years ago? You go through all that toil to get a goal then it's wasted immediately. The added bonus to the first one was Liam Jones bravely running back with the flight of the ball to mark, only to have all his efforts wasted by his teammate holding Fritsch out of the contest. The rest of Liam's day was spent trying to pick which of the four Melbourne players running past him to goal that he should concentrate on and often choosing none of the above. Their second goal was handed back even quicker than the first, with Gawn roving his own ball from the ruck, booting it off the ground to the resurgent Neal-Bullen, who launched long to Tom McSizzle goalside of that man Jones. How you end up with your man that far clear almost in the square within 15 seconds of a bounce is a mystery to me. I will assume it was the new John Coleman's positioning that created it.

At three goals to one entering the last minute I think we all knew what was coming next. Now that we've racked up a blockbusting win we can laugh heartily about our failed attempts to desperately hang on in DemonTime™. The obscure defensive combination of Hogan handballing to Tim Smith ended in a free 40 metres out right in front, feeding into my almost fanatical belief that Cameron Pedersen is perfect and would have carefully helped us run down the last few seconds of the quarter. Then the fun really started, with the Carlton bloke kicking into Gawn on the mark, prompting several of our players to trot in and laugh merrily at him. The problem was that Maximum had been adjudged to have crept over the mark and while players from both sides were left engaging in manly jostling the Carltonian was galloping down to the square to kick the goal from point blank range.

The highlight - retrospectively now that we know the result - is Maximum's look of wounded disbelief at being pinged. Not to mention the Carlton players exhausting their last bit of fight by running in to give it to him. Despite the score they were playing such Keystone Kops footy that we should not have bothered with a man on the mark for the kick and hoped that they'd do something stupid like play on after the siren.

It was a source of some bitterness that after dominating them for the first quarter that goal only left us three points in front. Like an unwanted replay of last week it was clear to see that the opposition were no good, but at the same time you wouldn't have staked your life on us winning. In a much more positively received replay of last week we soon made amends for the first quarter by battering them unmercifully. It still didn't look as easy as some of the 100 point games we've been on the wrong end of over the years. Here's to doing it again many times over in coming years so we've got something to compare with.

We should have known what was coming when Smith made up for his pre-quarter time shenanigans from almost the exact same spot by setting up Viney's comeback goal. It wasn't so much the goal, but that Smith juked, jived and did everything but play on and they still missed Jack running up the middle of the 50 mark uncontested. I'm sure nobody was expecting an instant classic from Viney in his comeback, but he was pretty good. Certainly nothing to complain about on return to top level competition for the first time since mid-August after no pre-season. As the ball went through I delivered the time honoured footy fan pledge that I would crack the shits if we lost to this rabble.

It didn't take long to add the next, with a Melksham/McSizzle combination through the middle setting up Petracca from a range where even he couldn't miss. Things were starting to look good now, but when it comes to Melbourne it's sensible to stay calm until victory is absolutely confirmed. The defence especially were all over their opponents. It's hard not to look good when matched against the least fearsome attack since us in 2014 but I've got faith they've worked out how to play with each other now. We're not going to get this easy a run against the good sides, but the blocks are in place. Stop the good teams getting the ball in there quickly and count your money.

With respect to Original Recipe Lever doing the full FIFO thing whenever the ball came near him, and to Lifetime Achievement Award winner Neville Jetta, I love Oscar McDonald. He may be referred to as Sizzle Jr by association (much like Troy Longmuir being called 'Horse' because he looked like John Longmire, not for reportedly having a gigantic dong), but is so no frills that he should be simply listed on team sheets as DEFENDER but he's just quietly ticking away doing his job every week. This is not a bad thing.

I still wake up in the night mourning the season we left Lynden Dunn in the VFL all year - and fully still expect him to play finals before us - but on current indications it was the correct call to focus on Oscar. But be vigilant, I remember another defender of the same name having a blistering first half of the year that put him in All-Australian contention then being torn to shreds on Queen's Birthday and rapidly dropping out of calculations. Incidentally, the goalless Junior is only 10 games shy of the game where Tom kicked his first two, so we may as well try him up forward one day and see if forward play is in the family DNA.

As the second quarter went on the hits started coming at a more solid pace, with what was ultimately the knockout blow delivered courtesy of Lewis riding a bump 10% as savage as the one Vince had ironed out Thomas with earlier and finding that man Melksham miles in the clear with a perfect handball. Likewise, Melk saw McDonald caning into goal with nobody near him, dropped a delightful kick over the top to him and we were building a solid wall against the Blues ever turning up again.

The non-stop flow of goals from 20 metres was reminiscent of the day Port kicked a winning score entirely from the square in Alice a few years ago. Wherever Jeff Garlett was watching from he must have been spewing to miss out on a festival of kicks bombed over the top of a confused defence to waiting forwards, and cheapo handballs to players running into an open goal. Bad time to get dropped and by all reports do nothing in the seconds. For now I'm comfortable that everyone being picked instead is offering more across four quarters than he does. At this point - as we have to find money for two McDonalds, a Brayshaw and Jetta, you start to wonder how much money he's on and whether he might be jettisoned at the end of the season to clear cap room.

They kicked a nice running goal to steady the tide for a bit, only to hand it back in less than a minute again. If I was a Blues fan - and had the Dees lost the 1988 Prelim I would still have been too young to properly appreciate their '95 flag - I'd have been ropeable at the inability to hold the game up in the middle. This was one of those golden moments where the team who kicks one goal end up wishing they hadn't, because it leads to two immediately from the following centre bounces. When Melksham took a perfect over the top handball from Hogan to run into the goal and celebrate lustily with the cheersquad I secretly felt like we'd broken them. But kept it to myself. Which was fortunate because we then instantly gave up a seven point play courtesy of a nutbag Vince kick and the Blues had won the exchange by a point.

The excitement of the goal by Cripps - who must be on his way to Nathan Jones style neck surgery from carrying so many teammates - lasted a bit longer than the last one, but ultimately the result was the same. The ball bounced off the back of a pack to McDonald standing on his own, he was up to four and by any realistic reading of the situation we had the game won. I remained on high alert for a shambles.

Any suggestion that the newly miserable Bolton would deliver a spray for the ages and encourage his troops to overturn a five goal deficit went out the window within the first 30 seconds of the second half. Another ball fell over the top of the pack to a free player, where that man Melksham decided to swap close-range goals for a crumbtastic turn and snap from 40. This was the football equivalent of "you can actually pinpoint the second where his heart rips in half" from The Simpsons. I've seen enough overmatched teams enter panic mode and start playing like they're escaping a sinking ship over the years. I've nothing personal against the Blues, not since J**d retired anyway, but eventually somebody had to play victim for our triumphant return to respectability and they just happened to be standing in the way at the wrong time. Or in the case of their defenders, standing as far out of the way as possible.

If the first goal didn't cause them to bust out the lifeboats and start singing Nearer My God To Thee, the one we added about 15 seconds later must have been the last push over the edge. Brayshaw lobbed a long kick at goal that was probably going to beat everyone and bounce through anyway, before Fritsch made it more exciting by sprinting diagonally into the square and narrowly avoiding necking himself on the goalpost while taking the mark. I've enjoyed the extended highlights and there are looks on the faces of their fans behind the goal that are hauntingly similar to how I got around for most of 2012-2015. Only I was sensible enough to sit where the cameras couldn't catch me looking like it was the worst day of my life.

The carnival atmosphere kicked off in earnest when Petracca double fist punched a loose ball to Milkshake in a way that would never have come off a few years ago. He'd have got both hands to the ball only to see it bounce into Row A. This time it dropped directly into Jake's pocket to turn and snap a simple goal. Finally, a two handed fisting in our favour. It was the best thing Petracca has done for weeks, forget tripping over one dog playing basketball or being eaten alive by the other, a lucrative career on the off-season volleyball circuit awaits.

Five minutes in, courtesy of Anal-Bullet plucking a ball off the ground with the greatest of ease, we were 59 points ahead and goal umpire David Rodan must have been baffled at the idea that this was the shambolic wreck of a team he played for. We were making Rodan work so hard he might have done his knee again, almost straight after Neal-Bullen's goal Gawn added another after his opponent comically fell over in the contest, then the Bullet stormed right out of the middle for another and it was the most dominant stretch of MFC play since the 12 goal slaughter quarter against GWS.

At this rate we might have been a hundred up by three quarter time, but charitably calmed down for a few moments and let them kick a goal. You won't be surprised to discover that this was almost instantly wasted. Immediately cancelling out an opposition goal was one thing, but the most outrageous part was that it came from an Oliver vs Kruezer ruck dual. I can't believe he was meant to be there, and The Hamburglar didn't bother to contest. He just waited for it to come down and did what he normally does, with a similar result as Harmes goalled seconds later. It must have been galling to the Carlton man to finally get a chance to rest against somebody not a) called Gawn and b) likely to make him look stupid then watch the ball shoot off for a goal anyway.

We conceded in DemonTime™ again, but the Chris Sullivan Line had been breached to a point where you couldn't even remotely imagine us losing and it being renamed the [No Name Carlton Forward] Line. For once we could quite comfortably sit back and enjoy the last quarter, even if you did expect us to slow down or the Blues to try and claw back some dignity. Last week showed we'd discovered the joy of burying ides but still I couldn't bring myself to believe we'd go on with it beyond a 70 or 80 point victory. When you last saw a hundred point win aged 12 it's hard to find a point of reference.

The expected last-ditch fightback never came, and the score kept clocking upwards at a rate of knots. With it suddenly all to play for I very much enjoyed the Melksham goal where Salem ripped it long to a one-on-one, Jake bumped his man out of the way and had it sit perfectly in his hands to run into an open goal for a fifth. As McDonald kicking that many is no longer ludicrous, Jake instead goes into the Hall of Novelty Fivers alongside Slamming Sam Blease.

At three quarter time I'd resolved to sit back and enjoy the last quarter for what it was, but after the first three goals got us close to the line with plenty of time to play I was back to riding every kick like it was a thriller. For the first time since our three near misses in the first half of 2011 I had that rare feeling of your blood pressure going up with the margin as it cartwheels towards the hundred. It's the only scenario where you get more stressed the higher the score goes. Getting angry at players trying Hollywood kicks when you're 98 points up is a bit rude, but the three digit win meant a lot to me. My kid didn't care, but she'd at least reached three quarter time before becoming bored (quote: "we have already watched a lot of footy") and failed to appreciate that if we made it she'd have seen half as many 100 point wins as me in three career starts (+1 in utero loss to the Gold Coast Suns)

With more than 10 minutes left the margin crossed 90, and two minutes later Neal-Bullen was strolling into an open goal to put us within one kick of the promised land. This was no time to rest, seven years ago some Adelaide shit got a pointless late goal that held us out long enough to keep the margin to 96. With the weight of history on his shoulders, Charlie Spargo missed a sitter that would have made it 103, before Oliver took the ultimate revenge on the plonker he'd been forced to issue an insincere apology to last year by gleefully thumping home the decisive goal. He could have run a lap of the boundary looking for the guy, but would probably have had to run to Richmond Station to locate him.

With several minutes left - not that you'd know listening to the radio these days as they pretend there isn't a countdown clock in front of them - we were left in the ludicrous scenario of going home slightly unhappy if the Blues got a cheap one late and we 'only' won by 98. They had their chances, hitting the post once then missing a snap from the pocket in quick succession. I was almost ready to throw punches if they'd toppled us from here (not sure who at - probably a seat), before the Blues delivered a heritage round throwback to the first quarter by giving away a needless free. Hogan continued his run of kicking a goal in every game and the cherished margin was safe.

Absurdly it could have been even more. With the ball in hand for his 10th goal in two weeks, the league's new glamour full forward McDonald chose the most consequence-free moment of the season to finally miss a set shot. For half a second I was disgruntled that we didn't win by 114 points, but quickly snapped back to reality and what a great moment it was.

The sort of people who go to a 100th birthday party and say "gee, you look old" will mock us for celebrating this in lieu of finals or flags, but if you've lived the toil and struggle like we have you are well aware of what it meant. Of course I'd rather have beaten Collingwood in Round 23, 2017 and won this by 99 points but for where will sit in the world at the moment thrashing the pants off an incompetent team will have to do. Let's do it again sometime.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jake Melksham
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Alex Neal-Bullen
2 - Tom McDonald
1 - Nathan Jones

Apologies to everyone, but especially Lever, Brayshaw and Oscar McDonald.

Leaderboard
Maximum strikes back, further entrenching this as a race in four. Though Jake Milkshake in the form of his life might fancy himself an outright chance to at least make it a big five. The second division makes for exciting viewing, with Sizzle catching up to his brother and Anal-Bullet making his first appearance of the season.

24 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
22 - Clayton Oliver
17 - Jesse Hogan
14 - Nathan Jones
11 - Jake Melksham
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan, Christian Petracca
4 - Bayley Fritsch (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Jordan Lewis, Oscar McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Tom McDonald
3 - James Harmes, Dean Kent, Alex Neal-Bullen
2 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd
1 - Neville Jetta, Cameron Pedersen, Christian Salem

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Two weeks in a row of having 20+ options to choose from puts all sorts of stress on the voting panel, but given how many came from walking past Carlton's open door defence into an open goal we can narrow it down to a handful of truly worthy contenders. The winner is former clubhouse leader Jake Melksham for his crumb and lusty blow to calm the nerves at the start of the third quarter.

Jake doesn't win back the overall lead, which is still held by Dom Tyson at Docklands, but for his second weekly prize of the year and a rare votes/GOTY double he wins this match on Laserdisc, VHS, DVD, Blue Ray and digital download.


For the second week in a row the opposition went with social issues on the run-through, but while Gold Coast's slogan had to skimp on text size to accommodate a massive curtain Carlton's was just a lazy, effort free hashtag. I think they stuffed up and held it the wrong way around, because the other side had the far more detailed message explaining what was going on. We had a supporting message on the back of ours that even rhymed properly. That, my friends, is a mark of quality. Dees win as usual, 10-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch (incorporating Matchday Experience Watch)
It's noble that Carlton Respects, but how about a round of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing?


Talk about injuries in footy, I was casually walking back to my seat after a nervous pre-match whizz when I saw this and nearly did a tendon in my arm trying to get the phone onto camera mode before it disappeared. Maybe they realised that the extra letter would have pushed all the other text down a line and thought it fit in with the reduction of waste theme?

Handing out GWS style orange flags then issuing farcical, unclear instructions about their disposal (who were they supposed to hand them back to? Just lob it over the fence at Hype for Hire Pete Lazar?) was about as dynamic as the entertainment got. They didn't even bother trying to put on a show to prove their superiority, holding a quarter time Worksafe friendly version of Hogan's Heroes featuring an AFLW player gingerly kicking the ball to children and another iteration of Richmond's "Are You Paying Attention?" generically called 'Oblivious Cam'. Don't waste all your creativity at once.

Otherwise there was not a cracker from the crowd. We were surrounded almost entirely by Dees fans and the lone Carlton guy in front of us didn't even get sucked in during the first quarter. In fact I don't recalling him moving once during the game and he may actually have died in Q33 of the Ponsford Stand. What a great place to go. If I snuff it please smuggle the ashes in to a home game, spread them across Row MM and thrown the empty tin down the stairs when we lose a thriller.

Stat My Bitch Up
First time seniors and reserves have ever won by 100 on the same weekend. Good times.

Next week
We go into a top four game as the higher placed team, for our first genuine match of the round since god knows when. That should drag at least 5000 people through the gates in Alice Springs. On paper it should be the most exciting non-natural disaster event in the Territory's history, and venue aside we're probably getting the Crows at the right time. They're girt with injuries, and have just had to slog through the wet to win. We had to deal with rain too, but scooted across the top of the water like nobody since Jesus Christ.

The prospect of a massive let-down has to be considered, after all just look at the turd Carlton served up to follow their grandstand victory. I live in hope of extending this streak into a win against a contender, but pending how we play it's almost a free hit. The most important thing is not to shit the bed after beating a horrible team and let the Crows jump us. Here's to Taylor Walker enjoying another week of hamstring awareness, and Lever warming up for his Round 19 Carnival of Hate at the Adelaide Oval by taking 20 intercept marks. Or alternatively to Kyle Cheney mysteriously returning for 52 touches.

I'd like to hear more about Oskar Baker, though it's hard to judge anything based on a VFL game against a suburban side in disguise like Frankston. That will unfortunately count against Pedersen, whose six goals will be marked down accordingly. Smith did just enough that the patron saint of the 'unlucky' column won't be considered. Of course, if we're discarding older players to give the kids a run you'd be fair to ask why we wouldn't drop Vince even if he did beat MRP Lotto.

It's hard not to think we won't make a couple of cosmetic changes at some point in the next couple of weeks. You don't want to mess around with a winning side, but there's three games to the bye and Queen's Birthday is shaping up to be an actual blockbuster for the first time in years so there may be gentle massaging of the squad to keep players fresh. Best do that coming back from interstate, for now minimal alterations.

IN: Wagner
OUT: Vince ('rested')
LUCKY: N/A
UNLUCKY: Pedersen

The All New Bradbury Plan
What a spectacular weekend for The Plan. I ran a homebrew ladder predictor yesterday that had us winning all the obvious games and losing to top four contenders and it still landed us in a death-or-glory match against the Giants in the last round. Geelong and Hawthorn both unexpectedly stuffing up against spoiler only sides has given us a bit of a leg-up. From the lofty heights of third I'm not making any changes in the seedings, but Gold Coast can consider themselves lucky not to be sliding into the bottom five.

Can win every week - will clearly be above us - Richmond and West Coast
Unlikely to be in the battle for 6th - 10th so may as well win  Adelaide
Lose against higher teams, beat lower teams, take games off each other - Collingwood, Geelong, GWS, Hawthorn, North MelbournePort Adelaide and Sydney
Preferred result depends on opposition, usually want a win - Footscray and Fremantle
Win against higher teams, lose against lower teams - Gold Coast
Good value as spoilers only - Brisbane, Carlton, Essendon and St Kilda

Now that we've got through the month of potential doom unscathed I'm pleased to announce your first Bradbury Plan how to vote card of the season for Round 10:

Bulldogs d. Collingwood
St Kilda d. Richmond
Brisbane d. Sydney
Carlton d. Geelong
Essendon d. Giants
Hawthorn d. Eagles
Freo d. North

No 50/50s this week, that is your card for maximum benefit. You never know, but I can't see any of the Plan friendly sides getting up except Freo. Still, who'd have seen Essendon beating Geelong? A cold as ice Jack Fitzpatrick apparently:
Was it worth it?
It's difficult to envision a scenario in which this wouldn't have been worth it. Perhaps if I'd contracted dysentery then slipped down the stairs on the wreckage the day would have gone down as a draw. My luck extended to parking, I'd never driven to a game with more than about 25,000 people, and only narrowly got in before they shut up shop, then ignored parking instructions from some galoot in a high vis vest that would have caused me to collide with another vehicle and shared a "what in god's name are these people doing?" look with the near other party in an insurance claim. Being practically on Punt Road I expected to still be waiting to get out at midnight, but instead was out the door and back on my way within minutes. I didn't even have to use my A.K. I got to say it was a good day.

Final thoughts
Back in the glory era of arcade gaming you didn't mind losing your coin once you'd have a fair go, and that's how I feel about the last month. It's a long way from the near turn on Goodwin in the second quarter in the Essendon game to a record breaking victory, but we've done exactly what we were supposed to in the first half of the season and that's set us up for a reasonable bash at the top eight. I won't be happy if we lose next week, but we've put ourselves in a position where beating the Crows would be a massive step towards building a siege mentality style fortress inside the eight. Forget family, friends or organised religion, clear your calendar for 3.20pm AEST next Sunday, the only event this week that matters a damn.

P.S - After nine games we've scored more than anyone else in the league despite totals of 48 and 56. What the bloody hell is going on?

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Standard "this post is delayed" notification


Christ on a bike, I am going to need some time to digest this result.

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, 13 May 2018

Slip, slap slop

If the Gold Coast Suns are in the news, you know something's gone horribly wrong. First it was players on drugs, now they've been accused of acting as a branch of Pauline Hanson's One Nation. The polite thing to do would have been to forfeit this game to us while the investigation continued, and it took three quarters but in the end that's precisely what they did.

The Suns were terrible, but at least nobody saw it. An alleged 6060 was the lowest crowd at any AFL game at the Gabba. The previous record was for us against Brisbane in Round 22, 1991 so it's hard to put forward a case for us making any contribution to Queensland football beyond giving The Spencil a job for nine years. Sure it's not their home ground, but after the Suns have been hither and yon in the first seven weeks of the season you'd think their fans might relish the chance to see a game 80km down the road. Apparently not, even with a significant number of touring Melbourne fans present the tiny audience barely stretched around the lower level of the ground. Soon they'll be begging for that guy who had to return his membership after hurting Gary Ablett's feelings to come back.

The audience was 4.5 people shy of exactly half of what turned up for our 2011 game against them in Brisbane, and even that was suspiciously stacked with schoolkids and free ticket neutrals. Now they couldn't even give seats away, as demonstrated by the vast swathes of unoccupied corporate seats. It probably didn't help that the rugby leaguists were playing a double header featuring both the Titans and Broncos just down the road - and the Brisbane Lions were on TV about three hours later. Considering they've played on every other ground in the country over the last few weeks they should have gone for a double header of their own and made this the curtain raiser to GWS/West Coast because the stands were empty there too.

The best thing about Gold Coast - and there are not many - is that they've hired a fat coach. I too often hear the Carlton theme song playing while walking down the street, so appreciate affirmative action on behalf of the portly gent. Let's not forget that Stuart Dew should be our coach now, only stopped (or saved, depending on how you look at it) from being Roos' successor because Sydney wouldn't let him out of his contract. I'd have loved to be run by somebody who looks like he's going to have Pizza Hut deliver to the coaches' box. The only other heavy coach I can think of is Neil Balme, so like record defeats we could have had the two leaders with the highest BMIs in league history.

I know what an ill club looks like, and this lot need Florence Nightingale and/or euthanasia. Earlier in the day their reserves went goalless, which was a cause for great hilarity until the seniors kicked their first goal after 20 seconds, much to the delight of the 135 members in attendance. That was a setback, but we were soon down the other end menacing their defenders and endless repeat inside 50s became the theme of the day. They couldn't clear the ball effectively, we couldn't put it through the big sticks and by this point there were probably more people in the stands than watching on TV.

Finally after three behinds, including Gawn missing from hard on the boundary because nobody was there to hang shit on him from over the fence, the extraordinarily generous Sam Weideman set up the extraordinarily old Charlie Spargo for the first. It was another weird Weid game where he did nice looking things when he got it, but didn't get it enough. He was certainly kind enough to hand off about four goals to teammates but I'd like to see him get greedy and start snaffling a few for himself.

After struggling mightily to convert for the first 10 minutes, the next one came immediately from the bounce. Jones got a free and unleashed a kick straight down the middle of the 50 where the thinking man's Coleman Medallist Tom McDonald casually stepped in front of his opponent to grab the mark. He's so good at set shots now that I started to suffer a strange phenomenon during this game, my expectation of him kicking accurately is so high that I'm even more nervous about him having shots than a regular player because the implication is that any result other than a goal would be a grave waste of a chance.

McSizzle got the next one too, a suicidal Suns kick across defence was intercepted by Neal-Bullen, who missed Hannan standing on his own in the square and went wider instead. McDonald had to make the most of it from an angle and checksided it through for the second under heavy pressure even before Hannan could stop reacting negatively to being ignored in the first place.

The turnover was the sort of bonkers disposal that made you think the Suns were terrible and there was no way we could possibly lose to them, but it also only opened an eight point lead. Then they got the next goal and the prospect of punching ourselves out and being caught on the break loomed large. As all this was happening I was trying to act as the sole responsible adult to a near four year old who declared my hovering over the television and yelling "silly", but then wanted to join in when I responded to the follow up goal - ironically caused by an old school Tommy Mac turnover in defence - by jumping up and down on the spot theatrically.

Fortunately the cause for leaping about comically (at least to a kid, I was too nervous to have any fun) was quickly flipped on its head when we cartwheeled out of the centre for ANB to reply seconds later. By then Junior had already lost interest and wandered off, ducking back in periodically to ask if the footy was over yet so she could watch Peppa Pig.

After an NQR quarter where we dominated and kicked goals but still only led narrowly it was incredibly lucky that the siren went seconds before a Gold Coast player deep inside 50 could get boot to ball. We'll never know if he'd have snapped through the goals as casually without full knowledge that it wouldn't count. Even without that going through in time it was still hard to know what to make of it, we were obviously the much better side and had a far greater spread of players but while I couldn't see how we could lose to them I wasn't convinced we'd win either. At the time I didn't know that we were going to eventually overwhelm them with outrageous number of inside 50s. For now it just looked like we'd waste chances out the yin yang and be regularly hit on the counter.

There were ups and downs to being the lowest priority of the six Saturday games. We got the guy they consider to be the lowest on the commentary totem pole, but who should be commended for calling the game properly and not hyperventilating for four quarters BT/Dwayne style. They should be the ones relegated to Melbourne vs Gold Coast in front of friends and family while the likes of Papalia, Bennett or almost anyone else do the big games. They don't do anything that bogans like, and that's as good an endorsement as you can get.

On the other hand the director was off his or her face, persisting with ridiculous closeups which meant a ball would fly off-screen and the camera would barely get to where it went before it was on the move again. More than once a disposal led to a moment of terror because you had no idea who was on the other end. They were also keen on showing replays of free kicks while the game went on, without at least putting up a picture-in-picture of the live action. You'd think they were aware that only a tiny fraction of people cared. Also it's not the fault of the team doing this game, but somebody at Fox Footy probably should have thought about launching an ad with a shotgun related punchline the day after a major gun crime tragedy.

For the first half of the second term we didn't look much like winners, much less 70 point winners. I don't know if Sizzle Sr was even on the ground for most of it, because otherwise the obvious thing would have been to aim every attack at him. Instead he was nowhere to be seen, while Hogan was further up the ground trying hard to get involved. It can only help for the future that players like Hogan and Gawn can go all day, or that Clayton Oliver can be best on ground (spoiler!) on 75% of game time.

There was a sense - incorrect as it turns out - that we were going to stuff this up. After handing them the lead via a rare errant Oscar kick and a silly 50 from Hibberd, Neal-Bullen had the chance to kick through an unguarded goal but to continue his recent nervy run he missed. Had we not recovered to win by a lot I may have driven to the airport to pelt him with eggs on arrival. The poor bastard's blunder even made the infamously shit AFL website highlights, where they don't even bother to serve up all the goals but here's a guy doing a humiliating miss. When you're hot you're hot, and when you're not you're not.

People who like to complain about why football is allegedly no good these days may wish to direct their focus on a free kick paid against James Harmes during this quarter. He ran back against the flight of the ball, perfectly spoiled an opponent who was falling backwards anyway in an attempt to take the grab, and as the momentum caused our man to brush him on the way through a free kick was paid. If his follow through had landed him on top of the Brisbane man, impeding his ability to get up and contend for the ball fair enough, but this was ridiculous. People seem to want more frees to be paid, but as I've said before if the incidental contact doesn't impact on the player don't call it. I've given up trying to keep the number of interpretations for umpires down, it's always going to be a crap shoot so let's do something for the players.

For the sake of balance there was an arguably even worse free in the last quarter when Jetta ran into a guy who was doing nothing more than going for the ball and received given a free for low contact. It was about time Nifty had something go right for him at the Gabba, earlier in the year a Brisbane player had gotten away with trying to murder him, and this time a Suns player ran past and punched him in the dick.

If the state of Queensland has a hate on for Jetta, I'd be surprised if Harmes didn't request a trade to play there. Our only better interstate performance of recent years was the 73 point win against the Suns two years ago, and both times he's had one of the best games of his career. You have to adjust for the quality of the opposition, but this was by some distance his best game of the year. Speaking of maligned players, it was easily the Jordan Lewis' finest appearance all year, and one of the best of the last two seasons. He was rock solid in defence, setting up numerous scoring opportunities and almost flawless with the ball. Still not convinced he's got enough petrol in the tank to get him past the end of this year, but it was a welcome return to form. We hope that for both of them the good times continue against better organised sides.

The tide turned when SME Killer Steven May - still my favourite non-McDonald full back in the comp - gave away a cheap and pointless free to Hannan in the square 75 metres off the ball. Like the earlier Harmes debacle it was probably a correct decision to the letter of the law, but is that what we really want paid? May then tried to demonstrate that Hannan ducked and inadvertently lightly headbutted the umpire, who fortunately for him didn't take a Graham Carbery vs Phil Carmen style overly dramatic bump. May picked a bad week for it - unless he's trying to get out of going to Shanghai - after Tom Hawkins got rubbed out for swatting an umpire's hand and Ed Curnow will also be in trouble for fondling one at the MCG. None of it should be anything more than a fine, but no doubt they'll want to make an example of somebody and will order him to be broken on the rack. Which is also a fair way to describe the Gold Coast career of Harley Bennell.

Hannan's goal was the first of three in a row, with Oliver setting up another immediately after by winning a free from the bounce and stuffing it right down McDonald's throat at last. Finally we were playing to his strengths. He's already had a gift in the square from Weideman for his third, and followed up here with a belting full-extension overhead mark right in front. It was his worst set shot since the one from 20 metres out against North in Hobart last year, but things were running so severely in his direction that it snuck in.

I'm comfortable with questioning the methods of Simon Goodwin, but Forward Sizzle could be his masterpiece. Sure it came out of necessity last year when nobody else could kick a goal, but it's turned out spectacularly. Surely there can't be another player in history who has gone 59 games without a goal then had two bags of five. With the Sizzle Brothers on fire at either end are we sure we can afford to keep the band together at the end of this year? Their value goes up every week, and we've also got to fit Brayshaw and Jetta in this season - both of who would be rising in value weekly.. Considering the mad money Hogan, Jones, Viney, Gawn, Lever and Oliver at a minimum are on I start to wonder if we might have to start jettisoning some midcarders to pay for it all. For anybody else who is out of contract and a chance of being retained - e.g. Kent, Wagner, Pedersen, Harmes, Vince - I suggest signing anything you're offered without complaint.

After Melksham - who had a touch of the Petraccas in front of goal - missed an opportunity to really dig the knife in we got another sign from the heavens that things were going to go our way. Salem was clattered into by some oversized oaf after marking, and after dismissing the flashbacks to when the brick dropped on his head he took his 50 metre penalty and narrowly dropped the ball over the line from distance. A video review helpfully confirmed that it had gone about half a metre over the line before being touched. That goal should have been it for the first half, but where Gold Coast had been ordinary in the middle all night they chose the right time to win a centre clearance. For the second quarter in a row they were nearly beaten by the clock, but this time managed to stuff a hurried kick through for a point, leaving Salem's goal relatively unscathed.

Interviews with players walking off the ground are rarely worth it, but it was hard not to enjoy four goal hero McSizzle responding to a perfectly banal question about whether the Suns had done anything to surprise us like it had been implied that we'd come in expecting a 200 point win. For somebody who won Demonbracket with a spectacular run of novelty posts it was a magnificently serious performance, proving he's not just versatile with his field positioning.

Things were looking a lot better than they had been before the May free kick, and when Neal-Bullen made amends for his earlier shithouse shot by dribbling one through from the top of the square the margin was inexplicably out to nearly five goals. At last the rising tide was beginning to swamp the Suns. They got a goal back almost immediately, before falling victim to a classic piece of Max Gawn total football. The man can do it anywhere on the ground, and in this case twice in the same passage of play. He contested a boundary throw-in, then ran to the square and took advantage of somebody punching a loose ball towards him to kick the reply to the reply. Three goals in the first three minutes of the quarter and who said footy was getting boring? We did our bit for average scores across the league here by not only kicking 146 but letting in 77. AFL House, send cheques of appreciation courtesy of Brunton Avenue.

McDonald then got his fifth with a quarter and a half left, leaving open the tantalising prospect of him kicking an actual real life bag. Ironically we spent the rest of the game aiming for him inside 50 and everyone else got the goals. After the Ronke Tonk Man did his Darren Cuthbertson impression by kicking seven for the Swans on Friday night the best thing to keep him from becoming overexposed would have been a reconditioned defender banging through 10, but we'll have to wait a bit longer for that. While he was doing this Hogan remained scoreless, but it was as good a scoreless game as you'd get. He covered more ground for the game than anyone, and it was nice to see him rewarded for effort by chipping in for a few when we'd blown the game to buggery in the last.

When you follow Melbourne you should never start to fantasise about anything amazing happening because you'll usually end up being let down. McDonald's fifth sparked the Suns into having a go for the first time since the second quarter and they made things temporarily uncomfortable by kicking three in a row. Maybe we got a bit excited by the margin and started to lose our structure, because the first one came against the unheralded defensive combination of Weideman/Tyson and the third after an absurd block from Spargo. I have no idea why any of these people were within 50 metres of our goal.

With the margin cut in half and still plenty of time to play in the third quarter we were desperately in need of a steadier, and unusually it came from Michael Hibberd. He was on the end of a flowing move from one end to the other and thumped through the much needed goal on the run. It restored  a comfortable four goal gap, and in reality crushed whatever fragile spirit they had left. If the real sun stops all life on earth ceases to exist, if the AFL version does nobody is all that surprised and Spargo paid back the goal he'd given away from a free in full by converting after having his head ripped off in a tackle.

We wasted two more chances through Harmes and Melksham, but all-in-all did well to ride out their brief flourish of resistance and come out looking like winners. A 32 point margin left us in that interesting position where we were short of the certainty of the Chris Sullivan Line, but would have to do something outrageously stupid to lose. I was confident that they couldn't keep the ball out of our attack long enough to kick six goals without reply, but considering we almost lost the Brisbane game by dying in the arse for 20 minutes you weren't going to take anything for granted.

It was ok to relax. At last we detected a team ready to collapse in a screaming heap and took advantage of them. We still conceded a couple of avoidable cheapies late, but eight goals to two partially made up for taking our foot off the gas late for the last two weeks. I suppose after wandering around the country aimlessly like backpackers we're supposed to feel sorry for Gold Coast having to go to China next week. Not in the slightest. Maybe they should have factored the effect of the Commonwealth Games in before gleefully signing up to sell their home game to support Port's oriental wankfest?

Considering the damage that would eventually be wrought on their rag-tag opposition, we started the last term slowly. The first, and what seemed like sealer even though I wasn't ready to trust yet, didn't come for eight minutes until Hogan set up Salem to storm towards goal unhindered and smash it through. If that wasn't good enough to convince you we were home, Brayshaw adding another about 30 seconds later should have done it.

Personally I was still waiting for one more, which eventually came from one of the odder set shot goals you're ever going to see. Hannan marked 40 metres out, and what looked like an attempt to set it up to the top of the square came off a bit too well and he actually set it up to the top of the fence straight through the middle. That was my cue to relax, when we were kicking bizarre goals like that there was no way the Suns were going to unleash a record breaking comeback.

The first step would have been to stop us from going forward every 20 seconds, as we constantly sent it forward to where their defenders were starting to lose the will to live. All of a sudden it started to look like we were going to beat the record for inside 50s in a game (at least since they started counting them in 1998), an idea almost as ludicrous as the day Mogadon Mark Neeld presided over the highest fourth quarter score in club history. This was not a bad fourth quarter score either, with goals flying in from all angles. With Milkshake converting a set shot all it lacked was McDonald putting through five and Petracca converting from anywhere to achieve perfection.

Because my MSDS knows no boundaries there was a close-up (surprise!) showing Brayshaw about to come on in the last few minutes and I was tense that he'd come on too early and we'd lost 71-0 on a head count. I don't even know if the head count is still a valid tactic in 2018, but if any team is ever going to lose a game because of one it'll be us.

Subliminally the players must have known how silly the inside 50 record would have been, because with three to get and plenty of time left they eased off. In the dying seconds Lewis could have hoisted one forward just for the stat but decided to dink it around instead and we had to settle for a share of the 20 year high alongside North Melbourne in a 129 point win over GWS. Even Geelong only had 69 during 186, but that's because they scored from 48 of them.

Even after finally putting a team to the sword there was still a bit of sour regret at conceding the last goal and losing the +70 margin. Still, there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Imagine reaching the stage in your supporting life when you win by 69 points and can find something minor to get upset about? I'm still not sure this is going to translate into beating the good sides, but the way it's going we should give ourselves a decent chance going into that nightmare run home. Onwards and upwards.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Jordan Lewis
3 - James Harmes
2 - Tom McDonald
1 - Nathan Jones

Apologies to - in reverse alphabetical order - Salem, Melksham, O. McDonald, Lever, Jetta, Hogan, Hibberd, Hannan, Gawn and Fritsch

Leaderboard
The midfield strikes back, with Oliver's maximum carrying him back past the rucks and forwards to the top of the tree. Jones was the only other of the big four to take a point, leaving three new names to join the race this week. It will now take Jack Viney the equivalent of six BOGs without reply to win the title. Fat chance.

22 - Clayton Oliver
20 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
17 - Jesse Hogan
13 - Nathan Jones
6 - Jake Melksham
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan, Christian Petracca
4 - Bayley Fritsch (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Jordan Lewis, Oscar McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
3 - James Harmes, Dean Kent
2 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd, Tom McDonald
1 - Neville Jetta, Cameron Pedersen, Christian Salem

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
A refreshing cavalcade of selections to choose from, but with apologies to Hibberd and Salem on the run it's Max Gawn taking a boundary throw-in, running towards the square then holding a man a head and a half shorter than him at bay to kick the goal.

For his second nomination of the year Max wins a framed commemorative poster showing our dual torments of the Suns at the Gabba over the years. They were supposed to have won about four flags by now. Stiff shit.

Tyson on the run vs St Kilda retains the clubhouse lead, possibly quite literally because like a golfer who's already played through the 18th I suspect he won't be on the course next week.


Very well done to the Suns for having a message suggesting we stamp out domestic and family violence. Shame the curtain under it was so enormous that the messages was reduced to about 10 point font at the very top. Ours came on the 'away' horizontal stripes and suggested lifting the intensity and blowing them away. Which we did, so an obvious win for the Demon Army there. 8-0 for the season.

Next week
At least if we flub the last leg of the quaddie it won't give the Blues their first win of the season. Hopefully having caused Essendon fans to go into full meltdown they've got it out of their system and go back to being terrible. To be fair, despite a club record rancid start to the season they weren't exactly Melbourne 2012/13, and we have proven to be worse at the MCG then every other ground we've played on this year so don't include a win in your ladder predictor calculations just yet.

I write before Viney plays his comeback game tomorrow, assuming that no matter how rusty he is we'll pick him unless he has his neck broken by some uncoordinated suburban player. That leaves the matter of who to drop, and it's time for Vendetta 2018 to finally pay off. Tyson was not very good tonight and somebody's got to make way from the midfield. Despite his two goals Anal-Bullet still looked uncomfortable, but it was better than his recent performances but for want of anyone else to pick he can have another go.

I'm 50/50 on Weideman. He has been serviceable, and I think we can carry the three talls but it's possibly time for a respectful, no hard feelings omission. He had four goal assists tonight but still only two kicks. The question is who to pick instead - Garlett is an obvious alternative if he plays well tomorrow. Otherwise the option is to send Fritsch back forward from whatever weird floating thing he was doing tonight and bring in somebody who can play a wing - not keen on Hunt immediately coming back, and don't get any crazy ideas about Wagner doing it again. I fall on the side of picking Jeff (never Jeffy at any level of the game) just in the hope that he'll kick three against his old side like both games last year.

Then there's Harmes potentially being done for a sling tackle that wasn't even deemed vicious enough to pay a free kick for at the time. Surely not.

I'd like to get off to a good start, Carlton have given us all sorts of trouble over the last few years despite being pox so let's not give them any oxygen. More importantly, what second rate matchday entertainment will the Blues put on to try and convince us that they're still a massive club?

IN: Viney
OUT: Tyson (omit)
LUCKY: Neal-Bullen, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Garlett (pending VFL performance), Pedersen (permanent entry)

The All New Bradbury Plan
With tomorrow's games to play there's not much movement in the Plan, other than to move Essendon into the irritant only category. The way the plan works we will want them to beat Geelong next week. But they won't, because they're shit. The marginally more successful of the two franchises are also down a rung this week, dumped into the mid-table mediocrity battle. I'm certain they'll pick up when they get players back, which is a shame. If they could become demoralised by Round 23 instead that would be excellent.

Can win every week - will clearly be above us - Richmond and West Coast
Unlikely to be in the battle for 6th - 10th so may as well win -  Adelaide
Lose against higher teams, beat lower teams, take games off each other - Collingwood, Geelong, GWS (),  Hawthorn, North MelbournePort Adelaide and Sydney
Preferred result depends on opposition, usually want a win - Footscray and Fremantle
Win against higher teams, lose against lower teams - Gold Coast
Good value as spoilers only - Brisbane, Carlton, Essendon () and St Kilda

Final thoughts
In the least likely of the last three games we've finally discovered the joy of battering an opponent while waving the white flag. It still pays to remain vigilant, anyone talking up a prospective massive margin against the Blues will be boiled in oil.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Keep a lid on things




They say footy is dying, but we've just won two games under a roof in a jumper that looks like a 1980s cocaine binge, so as far as I'm concerned the party has only just started.

Not only that, but yesterday's win was our fourth (4th! IVth!) in a row at Docklands. Cast your mind back to those long, fruitless years of being beaten there by anything between 2 and 122 points and imagine there would be a time where you'd almost prefer playing there over the MCG. The solution is simple, an enormous infrastructure program to build a roof on every ground in Australia.

I'm not sure why the idea of covering up appeals to me so much, other than it coinciding with us winning. Maybe it's lifestyle related, if you've ever seen my skin colour you'll know that natural light has been my enemy since 1981. Turning the sport into an indoor pursuit certainly didn't do anything for the people who fret about game quality, with St Kilda's non-stop extravaganza of suicidal football proving that you can't legislate against stupidity.

Whatever the reason for this fetish, I encourage governments across the country to work towards never having to see a shadow on an AFL ground again. Don't even waste money on retractability, bolt them up tighter than a nuclear submarine. I'm prepared to resist changes to scoring, number of players on the field or anything to do with zones but outdoor footy can do one. It's like camping, once man discovered how to live in houses isn't hanging out in a forest taking the piss?

One tradition I'm not giving up on is my dislike of St Kilda, now entering its 20th season. It all started after sitting next to their cheersquad at the 1998 Semi Final, and after a lull where I felt sorry for them losing two Grand Finals by a whisker that old feeling is back. Not that they've done anything wrong to me, it's just that now Footscray and Richmond have found success only two of the great, old school VFL disappointments remain and I need to be sure they're not going to leave us alone by winning a flag first. The best way to be certain is for them to keep losing. Nothing personal Saints fans, it's just that there's two clubs left in the lifeboat, and if it takes eating you to survive I'll do it.

After a period where the clubs seemed neck-and-neck, current indications suggest that there's no hope of them winning the big one in the near future. Which is only marginally less than our chances, but at least it means company when every other Victorian footy fan is at a premiership reunion. There's a baseball statistic called 'Wins Above Replacement', which measures the worth of a player against a generic alternative - a term which could be used to describe most of St Kilda's list. When the extended benches came in on Thursday night they'd named Clark, Battle, Marshall and Paton, which looked like the sort of team lineup you'd see in an unlicensed video game, like when Nintendo International Cricket replaced Craig McDermott with the immortal C. McDirt.

The joke will well and truly be on me when the World War II themed line of Marshall, Battle and Paton run top three in a Norm Smith Medal, but for now I'm confident in saying our nobodies are better than their nobodies. Besides, the list of scenarios where the joke will be on me is now about 4km long. Having an advantage in the obscure players is fine if you're battling for spots at the back of the field, but we are aiming just a little bit higher than that. But not much higher yet, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

With not even a remote chance of winning a flag this year unless about 150 top players across the league fall victim to a pandemic I'm back to being willing to settle for a token finals appearance. After the Hawthorn and Richmond games I'd have settled for stuffing up the value of the draft pick traded to the Crows, but now that we've ticked the first two boxes in our four week tour through the league's most mediocre sides I firmly believe once more than we can reach the giddy heights of... err... seventh.

Now that we've won it's easy to look back and say that the result was obvious before the bounce, but who would dare trust the Dees? Confidence was shaky until the third quarter last week, but this is the sort of game that a team in our position just has to win. And that we did. There was an assist from the opposition playing like they were off their faces, but enough of it was our own doing that I can now be sure we won't finish in the bottom four. Now to work on maximising our position in the top 14.

Knowing that Gawn would lead anyone they put against him a merry dance, and fully aware that their forward line had about as much power as a Yugoslavian automobile, St Kilda's masterplan was to tag Clayton Oliver to buggery. His opponent spent five minutes delivering what looked like filthy verbals, and this worked a treat for about five minutes until it became obvious that you couldn't run a tag close enough to stop him from getting the ball in packs. At first the tactic looked like a winner, Oliver gave away a free, then conceded one of those electrifying administrative 50s, before bursting back life by setting up Mitch Hannan for a mark inside 50 with what looked to the naked eye like a rushed kick but was probably deep genius. He went on to 22 touches in the first half and 36 for the game. Many of them were handballs, but most of those were delightful so play on.

Before the game I'd discovered a terrifying substance called Etihad Stadium Secret Salt, and for the first few minutes of the game I was winding myself up to get very salty indeed. They started as they meant to go on with a horrible miss from a set shot, then did what they should have tried more of and kicked a goal from a stupid angle. That it was set up by traditional slow starter Lever missing a tennis style overhead smash then trying to smother the St Kilda's player's arms instead of his feet didn't help. He got better, the Saints got worse.

After toiling away for several minutes to finally put ball through the correct stick, the Saints ripped a page out of our playbook by giving it back via old man Spargo about 30 seconds later. The later Brisbane vs Collingwood game apparently saved the gravely ill sport of Australian rules football, but these goals formed part of a period where Docklands was the entertainment capital of the universe. Their cancelled goal was almost uncancelled straight back out of the middle, but a set shot that barely went through for a point was turned into Gawn marking in the square just seconds later.

There was some nervousness given his recent record, but instead of running towards the boundary line and kicking it over his head he decided he was too close to miss and casually slotted it. Then from the very next bounce we went forward again where a goalmouth scramble ended with Hogan doing a FIFA International Soccer '98 style spinny move to kick his first and give us an early break.

The focus will be on St Kilda's gormless goalkicking, but the real story was outrageously poor decision making and inability to hit us where we were vulnerable. It played into our hands that they seemed even slower than us, but there were several times when we were wide open for the taking and the attack broke down with a shonky disposal. How many times was the path to our goal illuminated like a runway but they either couldn't hit a target or completely missed four guys running down the opposite wing. In the first quarter they'd often switch to their advantage, then for the rest of the game we either stopped them or they clammed up and kept kicking to packs. For once this didn't disadvantage us, we looked more likely to take contested marks around the ground and were pretty ruthless at ground level.

Quick transition out of attack was not our friend - and our forward pressure wasn't terrific other than a few celebrated ruthless tackles - but credit to the Saints for the way they often worked the ball into the open from a pack. The problem was that they'd do all the hard work to extract it, then miss the final target required to unlock the vault and walk it into goal. It was a good advertisement for handball, much to the chagrin of commentators who get nervous when they see an imbalance in the disposals. There are absolutely times where you can over-handball (e.g. one of our famous one metre 'effective disposals' to a player with an opponent hanging off them) - but at one point St Kilda had about nine flawless ones in a row before stuffing it up with a panic kick.

I respect that everyone in a commentary box (and most outside it) know more about the game than me, but we should demand a higher level of analysis from professionals than 'here is two numbers, one is higher than the other so that proves XYZ' unless you're talking about score. You don't want to go too far and replace any semblance of The Vibe with ruthless statistical analysis but take us one level deeper. Don't insult our intelligence, hitouts are not a reliable indicator of anything, inside 50s are a fraud, free kick numbers mean stuff all without the context of what they were and what was missed. For example, as far as I'm aware any handball that reaches its target is considered effective - slice one layer further and tell me how many of these allowed the play to continue and how many just led to the receiver being tackled or driven out of bounds.

Then there's the old chestnut of goalkicking, where even the smartest people in the game continue to fall for the "if they'd kicked 5.1 instead of 1.5 they'd be winning" fiction. The science on that is settled, time to pick it out of the cliche files and shred it. I wish there was a university masters course that I could do to fully understand how footy works, just so I could do a thesis debunking this idea.

We weren't that far ahead at quarter time, but you could see the wind quickly going out of their sails. If there's any team you should keep your end up against it's us considering how vulnerable we are to conceding six goals in 10 minutes. Or in St Kilda's case one goal made up entirely of behinds. The old 'out the back' goal even made a welcome return when McDonald Sr launched a long bomb towards Petracca and it bounced off the gravel and sat up for him absolutely perfectly. He had so much time that he nearly fumbled it on the last grab before trotting into an open goal.

The best bit about the first quarter was Angus Brayshaw running riot. He's found  a permanent spot now and made the most of it. His disposal is a bit wobbly, and there was one farcical attempt at a running bounce that went horribly wrong but otherwise he was safe as houses. More of that please.

Even after Jetta found Hogan in acres of space for a reverse DemonTime goal with 20 seconds left I wasn't comfortable with a 14 point gap, but I haven't been anything near comfortable since the day we were seven goals in front of Gold Coast at the first break. Even that game had a brief period where it looked like they'd overhaul us. This didn't, they continued to play like arseholes and it was reasonably comfortable for the rest of the day.

The shits kept on coming when a free kick from Dom Tyson holding the ball (drink!) right in front was missed, then a 50 from Petracca probably offering to insert his recovering digit in the umpire's eyeball went wide as well. We should have turned the third miss into a goal courtesy of a Lever - Oliver - Harmes - Melksham end-to-end play but the disease was catching and Milkshake sprayed it.

After 10 minutes of peg-leg kicking it ironically took Tom McDonald to finally show everyone how to take the perfect set shot. There's a small sect of people who treat him like he's instantly replaceable, but the insanity of that viewpoint was demonstrated when the Forward Sizzle experience went off like a suspect package. I'm ambivalent about his impact outside either of the 50s (including the latest round of him mysteriously playing on a wing) but it became abundantly clear why he can be so valuable in attack when he bolted through four defenders to run onto Lewis' up and under chip kick. It was the sort of angle players had been missing from all day but he lobbed it through with no drama.

His simple, accurate set shot kicking creates an odd couple pairing with Hogan, who generally converts but makes the process look as hard as Chinese math. Then almost immediately after he took advantage of a 50% crap Petracca set shot and 50% St Kilda forgetting how to defend to mark on the line and set up Jones right in front. As his leg went back to pass it back towards the centre at the captain my Sizzle supporting life flashed before my eyes, but the kick could not have been any more precise. He's like a new man when he steps inside the forward 50. If you're not yet convinced I invite you to test the stability of Petracca's finger by swivelling on it.

At four goals up we were still vulnerable if they got a run on. Enter Neville Jetta, pining for his old clashes with Nick Riewoldt by running into the path of the much larger McCartin and clashing heads. Fair enough there was plenty of concern for McCartin's battered scone, but what the commentators didn't pick up on is that Jetta was also one major concussion away from retirement a few years ago. God knows how the science works, but maybe because he's avoided one for so long he gets a freebie thrown in.

Nev got back up, refused to go off and played on, but being forced into retirement while trying to stop a much larger St Kilda player marking would have been a fitting way to end his second life as a defender. What are the odds that two players with such histories with head knocks would clang into each other? All it lacked for the full CTExperience was Brayshaw trotting in to check on his fallen teammate, tripping over and copping somebody's knee flush to the face.

Having watched another forward struggle to live up to the unrealistic expectations of being #1 pick, I had some sympathy for McCartin. Especially when he had to go off to consume bulk sugar when his diabetes started playing up. Even Jack Watts never had to deal with that. Mind you, nor to my knowledge did Jack Fitzpatrick who had the same affliction. With the game lost he was packed away for his own safety, and for my sanity as I pondered a surprising return from a diabetic coma and acquired brain injury to boot the winning goal after the siren.

They did get their goal in the end, from a range that was impossible to miss from, before it was rubbed out by a smart Tyson kick off a step from 40 metres. It was a lovely goal, set up with a nice handball from Oliver, but didn't change my view that I could do without him - especially when Viney is ready to return. I maintain that his stat line doesn't tell an accurate story but he's still a handy depth player. We'll never stop hearing hindsight moaning about Josh Kelly, but it was a sane trade for where we were at then. If we'd picked Kelly he'd either be floundering at Casey by now or traded to Port Adelaide. Instead he may turn out to play a much greater role for football as the enemy within at GWS by blowing their salary cap and eventually forcing them to rely on discards like Dylan Buckley as they slide down the ladder and into liquidation.

After a 14 point lead at quarter time extended to 28 at half time we should mathematically have won by 64 but I was just happy to be in a position where it would take a disaster of major proportions to lose. It wasn't out of the question, if you give teams enough opportunities they're eventually going to start converting some of them. Whether it would be enough to kick five more goals than us for the half was yet to be determined.

The pleasing thing about the first half was the confirmation that our defence seems to be coming together at last, at least against battling teams with non-existent forward lines. From being the easiest to score against, with everyone standing in a different time zone to each other it has started to look much more cohesive recently. Sizzle Jr is doing the most no frills backman job since Jamie Shanahan, Hibberd has come good after a slow start, Jetta finally got over the unpunished attempt murder by the Brisbane player, and Lever has been much improved since half time last week. There are still the odd moments where they're found completely at sea, but that's usually when we're fried on an end-to-end fast break. If we can slow the opposition forward entries down and ensure Nifty isn't regularly trying to spoil a man twice his size the profits should start flowing in.

You could tell how the third quarter was going to go when Gawn put the ball down Harmes' throat at the first bounce and we went straight into attack. Of course because McDonald was patrolling the wing our options inside 50 were limited, but it was the thought that counted. The missed chance to kill off their challenge early in the quarter started to look ropey when we conceded the first two goals, but we got the advantage back when Hogan was caught high and goalled.

For the second week in a row a mutant in the crowd gave one of our players an ill-timed verbal from over the fence just before he kicked the goal. The St Kilda variety was smart enough not to hang over the fence, make a Rex Hunt of himself on national television (edit: no he didn't) and have to issue a grovelling apology later. The result on the scoreboard was the same.

Being yelled at by the underprivileged may be the cure to Petracca's goalkicking ills. Remember last year when he was pinging them from everywhere? Was it against Essendon that he was having a shot from the boundary and responded to some tosspot providing free advice, possibly the same one as last week, by turning around with a beaming smile after converting? You'd say that outright abuse doesn't work, and that you'll have to be more clever in your attempts to put a player off at close range, but whoever Newnes is he got the result with this spray before one of the misses.
I dare say he'd have missed even if there was complete silence, we're back to his first season where he was so inaccurate you'd rather have a St Kilda player kicking for your life. It makes no sense that you can go from horrendous inaccuracy, to laser accuracy and back again. Another job for our club psychologist, the hardest working man in sports. He did, however, catch a break when a smothered kick ricocheted perfectly to our advantage and ended up with Harmes trotting into an open goal.

It wasn't all passive aggressive goalkicking for Hogan in the third quarter. In a moment that we best forget quickly, he reacted to the lightest of blows to the throat from Jake Carlisle after a point and sank like a stone. Not the first time the combination of Carlisle and blow have proved controversial, but like Oliver against the Eagles it's best to pretend that the contact caught him so unaware that he stumbled to the ground. The umpire certainly believed it, paying him one of the softest frees you'll ever see. As the incident had taken place inches outside the square he was put on a slight angle, and because Jesse is a diplomat he tried to kick around the corner from 10 metres out and barely got a point.

Our delivery of the rare two point play nearly turned into the even rarer minus four point play when the Saints went the other way and landed the ball 10 metres out from goal. The defence held firm, St Kilda got nothing and the procession was allowed to continue nearly unchallenged. Via another McDonald screamer against multiple defenders (*swoon*) it was going so well that when Melksham tried a lofted pass into the corridor instead of hitting one of his usual savage kicks, Brayshaw was able to fall on his arse, get up to retrieve the ball and still kick the goal.

When Jake Lever stormed past an opponent fast enough to spin him around like a cartoon and intercepted a kick-in, the Chris Sullivan Line beckoned for the first time in almost a year. He did what you'd expect any defender to and hoofed it out on the full, leaving the Saints to go coast-to-coast (cliche!) for a goal with 20 seconds left to bring the margin back under 40. A minute please for the expression on Lever's face after he missed:


The last goal ruined the third leg of winning every quarter by 14, but while victory was far from statistically certain I was still reasonably confident we'd win from six goals up at the last break. Still needed some positive reinforcement early in the last, and after Weideman finally landed a strong overhead mark for a goal before three quarter time, he got a second via the less conventional method of a 50.

It's bad news for those of us with an unswerving dedication to Cameron Pedersen, but Weid had another positive outing as the third of the triple towers. His goals were welcome, but even before that he contested well and is proving a surprisingly competent backup ruckman. To be fair and balanced he only had one kick that wasn't a goal but I'm prepared to overlook that for now. He has the natural talent and there's never been a problem with effort, we've just got to get the ball into his hands more. With Hogan and McDonald expected to kick goals he's free to work anonymously in the background and find his touch at senior level. One day it will rain - unless the roof building program can be accelerated - and we'll be one tall over the limit, but until then I'm happy to look to the future and keep giving him games.

Big laughs were had immediately after the Weideman goal when the umpire delivered the worst unrecalled bounce ever, perfectly favouring Maximum to smash it down the throat of a teammate to set up another. St Kilda fans were already stressed about the umpiring, and if I was them I'd have snuck out at this point and vandalised AFL House while nobody was looking. The rest of their anger was questionable, this was just flat out thievery. Lucky for them the game was already stuffed.

Brayshaw carving one of the Saints players like a Christmas turkey and leaving him on the bench in the hands of trainers was the final straw for us. Realising that nothing good ever comes of playing a side with multiple players off injured we put the red and blue bins out and declared junk time. The state of the rest of the game can summed up in the unofficial highlights video where the last 16 minutes and 10 seconds are represented by 1.35 of footage.

It's my fantasy that one day we'll pile on the misery against a demoralised side in the last quarter like Hawthorn did to us, but alas no. Earlier in the day I'd looked on with admiration as Richmond phoned it in for three quarters against Freo then piled on eight goals to nil in the final term. Our best last quarters since the off-brand avalanche against GWS in 2013 have been nine and seven goals against Gold Coast, but we still let them kick four and three in response. Give me the total party atmosphere experience where the other team visibly lose the will to live.

The closest fan to me all day was a fellow traveller lone MFC male about six rows away. He sensed that the game was heading for the toilet and pushed off with 10 minutes left. Then a St Kilda fan who had taken to letting his kids drag him around walked through Row X and said: "It doesn't look any better from up here". Bullshit. Your team's performance may might have stunk no matter where you watched from, but at least from the back row wing you'd have had the widest possible angle of it happening. If you're anything like me it won't be any good for your health, because you'll spend the whole game making indecipherable noises of anguish, thinking that players 100m away from the kicker will somehow get the ball.

There was literally nothing left in the game at the end, so you had to make your own fun. The second last dreadful miss by the Saints was precipitated by Jake Lever pretending to tear grass up and throw it at the kicker in the style of Lynden Dunn. It missed anyway, because of course it did, but Lever's antics would have had much more effect if we didn't all know the Docklands surface is spray-painted dirt thinly covering a slab of concrete. Then they capped off a generally shithouse day in front of goal by missing one practically from the top of the square. For the second week in a row we generously gave away a few cheap goals at the end, which in no way will come back to haunt us at the end of a close home and away season.

Being upset that we didn't pile the misery on them at the end is understandable, but embrace that feeling. We're well beyond the point where every win from one point and up is something to hold a street party over. It's now ok to accept the four premiership points but lament a missed opportunity to slaughter somebody. This is progress.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
It was an absolute raffle for the top three, with Hogan possibly losing out on top spot just because of that fiasco with Carlisle and the subsequent rancid effort on goal. There was an even wider blanket thrown over the last two spots, with several players unlucky not to qualify. Most notably it's a welcome return for Brayshaw, scoring two to equal his entire 2016-2017 score in one go. He's now level with the unlikely duo of Dean Terlich and Liam Jurrah with 21 career votes.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Jesse Hogan
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Michael Hibberd

Not many bad players, but also in contention were Jetta, Jones, Lever, Lewis and the Sizzle Brothers. The JJ, LL, MM pattern is not deliberate.

Leaderboard
The big three clear out, leaving anybody who hasn't scored a vote yet that fancies themselves (Viney?) requiring the equivalent of four BOGs to nil to catch first place. The dreaded line of elimination is a long way from appearing, but with two non-midfielders amongst the top three this could be the year the Jakovich finally goes to a big man. Or Oliver will make like every other award in the competition and bring it home for the midfielders.

20 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
17 - Jesse Hogan, Clayton Oliver
12 - Nathan Jones
6 - Jake Melksham
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan, Christian Petracca
4 - Bayley Fritsch (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Oscar McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
3 - Dean Kent
2 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd
1 - Neville Jetta, Cameron Pedersen, Christian Salem

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Typically after a half of slaughtering Dom Tyson to nobody in particular, and demanding that Jack Viney be sent out in a mask to take his place in the second half he bobbed up with a ripper from the boundary line in the second quarter. I may not be entirely keen on him retaining his place in the side, but the good news is that his finish was so good that I'm boosting it in front of Melksham's first vs Richmond to be our clubhouse leader for goal of the year.

Apologies to Hogan's pinball effort in the square during the first quarter, and Oliver waving in junk time by quickly hacking one home like a golfer smashing the ball of a sand bunker early in the last.

For the weekly prize Tom Dyson wins a reprieve at the selection table by people far more mature, informed and calm than me.


Usually this segment is used to lambaste the opposition then matter-of-factly point out that ours was better due to superior kerning and award the points to the good guys. This time I'll generously give the Saints some credit, if it wasn't for another example of a weedy font (style tip for the cheersquads - use whatever the crepe paper equivalent of Ctrl + B is) they might have been a contender.

There was also an issue with the unusual command to "play by the crest", a phrase that only appears once on Google (until now) as part of a "triple-play by the Crest Hill catcher" in something inexplicably called 'Pony League Baseball". There was also something weird happening with the very end that looked as if they'd run out of letters and had to construct the final one out of the off-cuts from the rest.

Like the team itself, ours did enough to win without over-extending. It was nothing special, but at least both teams opted for a message supposedly focused towards their own players (note: we are aware that none of them care) instead of rotten attempts at comedy. The Saints even followed our lead and did the polite rotation to all areas of the ground, even if that only revealed an effort-free ad for Pepper Money, the sort of company who sound like they'd hide your money offshore where neither the ATO or you can ever find it again. 7-0 Dees for the season.

Crowd watch (incorporating Matchday Entertainment Watch)
What crowd? I was there an hour early due to the sort of poor timekeeping that is traditional against St Kilda, and waited patiently for a rush of people stuck in the ticket queue that never came. You'd say it was our fans refusing to go there two weeks in a row, except that the Saints only got 14,000 through against GWS in their last start there. The 25,496 was actually perfectly in line with the 25,217 and 25,322 for their home games in 2015 and 2016 and it meant far more leg/swearing room than last week. With no kids around this would have been a great time to finally record the audio of me watching a game alone, before submitting it to the Classification Board for an X rating.

As far as matchday entertainment went it was hard to spot any. Remember when they banned the warm-up so clubs could concentrate on dazzling their fans with amazing spectacle? To their credit the Saints realised nobody cared and didn't even try. Now that you can't even drop a man on his head what's the point? The best they could offer was Kosi touring some kiddy playground cringingly referred to as an "activation zone". When did 'activation' pass from insider marketing wanker speak to something that regular people are supposed to get excited about?

They did have what was promoted as a pre-game 'pep talk' from Alan Richardson that was about as inspiring as the Mark Neeld one before we were pulverised by Essendon. In an inclusive, community minded gesture they had a guy interpreting it with sign language and I think he was using Auslan to tell St Kilda fans they were in deep shit. Then, just as you thought they'd dumped the idea of fake community singing done with a Betty Boo style backing track it got a run just before the first bounce. Nobody joined in, because like Collingwood trying to get that Metallica nonsense up, what works for a 95% partisan crowd of 50,000 in Adelaide has got fuck all chance for a split crowd in a half empty arena.

Whenever talk turns to groundbreaking spectator experience your first thought is Casey Fields, and just when you thought the razzle dazzle was over, they ripped an idea off from the pride of Cranbourne and blared out music after every goal. It was not only unnecessarily loud, but featured the most generic collection of stadium songs ever recorded. By the end of the day the only spaces on my bingo card left unfilled were Song 2 and Zombie Nation. Who is this supposed to keep happy? 98% of football discussion at the moment is complaints about not enough goals being kicked, surely they are rare enough to keep people happy without having to introduce EMF to the mix? Especially when a team is so inaccurate that the odd successful conversion should be treated as a major milestone.

Everything about their presentation was tacky, up to an including a three quarter time promotion where people walked through the stands with prizes written on placards and fans had to shelve their dignity and practically beg them to win. I'm biased, but is it not fair to say no matter how badly we've been doing on-field that we have always been sober and measured in our 'entertainment' (except for the Match The Emoji debacle) instead of trying to make it feel like everyone's having a good time when they're most certainly not.

We've certainly never stooped to promoting a Kiss Cam, and for the benefit of the club employees who read (most likely on their phone in the can in case somebody sees them) I think I speak for everyone by saying don't even think about it at any price. This one didn't even have a sponsor, which I thought was the point of these chintzy segments. We sell paint at quarter time and shoes at three quarter time, with random China Southern promotions thrown in. This was a completely revenue neutral round of people sensibly declining the panting demands of a horny sounding ground announcer to pash on.

I was also unhappy with their NQR spelling of 'hoody' when it should definitely be 'hoodie'. I thought this was an unreasonable stance, until Google confirmed that Hoody is a South Korean singer and a Hoodie is something you wear when robbing 7/11. In another defeat for their fashion range, the club hat was modelled by a player wearing an expression that made it look like he'd just been sprung exiting a brothel.

The Sponsor Shack
Was this a battle between the teams that attract the lowest grade of sponsors in the league? Since 1990 we've displayed a disappeared housing company, a disappeared bottled water company, a disappeared car company that only sold 800 vehicles nationwide over two years and through some translucent sticky tape a company we sacked for race hatred before even playing a game.

St Kilda has had milk, a window company, an online bill payment portal, LED lights, iced coffee, some minor league financial operation and called their training ground the Linen House Centre. For a few years we were sponsored by the same company, and outside of LG it's almost the best deal we've ever had. Forget the Melbourne Hawks, if we'd merged with the Saints during Amalgamationmania in the 80s and 90s no second division corporation in Australia would have been safe short of the Tricontinental Bank.

Now they're moving back to Moorabbin, and because these days nothing is worth existing if you can't make a buck out of it (except as it turns out Kiss Cam) it will be known as RSEA Safety Park. For some reason when you drive past Essendon Airport there's a massive billboard advertising the name of the 'new' ground, which should lead to all sorts of misunderstandings when somebody turns up to watch training and is obliterated by the propeller of a Cessna.

Next week
The unusual fixture of Gold Coast at the Gabba on Saturday afternoon. Given that they can barely pull a crowd at home this should be a real friends and family only atmosphere. I'm unnecessarily bitter that what I thought was going to be a perfect record of attending our only ever game against them at the ground has been nobbled by the Commonwealth Games, to the point where I almost considered flying up just to go 2/2. Surely it will never happen again unless climate change causes Carrara to slide into the ocean.

It's been seven often long years since I finally saw a win at the Gabba on the fourth attempt, sourly complained about a 90 point win not being good enough, and tried to sack the coach less than a week later. The whinging was not without some justification considering how many points other teams put on them later in the year, but admittedly only one us ended the season having lost a game by 31 goals.

Whinging on the internet aside, that was - and obviously remains - our biggest ever win outside the Melbourne metropolitan area. I can't see it going down that path next week, but can absolutely see us winning. A third victory in a row as favourites would be nearly unprecedented, but the way we've gone recently just being favourites three times straight is unusual enough.

The Suns are doing the same lower-mid table mediocrity act that they do every other year, except without Ablett to panic handball to 42 times a game, having travelled everywhere but the Gold Coast this season and not having Tom Lynch available. You would like to think we'd win relatively comfortably, but it's going to take many years of ongoing success (or what passes for it) before I'll go into a game supremely confident.

It looks like Viney will be back, though we really should give him a run at Casey first. There was mid-week club propaganda about how he's raring to go and what a great job the conditioning staff have done, but I'll be prepared to cut him some slack for the first couple of weeks. If his foot snaps again I'll chuck shit.

If neither Viney or Salem are fit somebody's going to have to come in for Neal-Bullen, who is gagging for a run in the 2s. Now that we're comfortable Spargo knows what he's doing what about giving Danny Bonaduce-alike Oskar Baker a start? All I know about him is that he's quick and unlike the real Bonaduce has never thumped a transvestite prostitute - both endearing personal attributes. And he's from Queensland, so it should provide good content for when they do the hidden camera pervo cam telling him he's playing.


IN: Viney, Salem
OUT: Neal-Bullen, Tyson (omit)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: Pedersen

The All New Bradbury Plan
We're still not in a position to issue clear How-To-Vote card instructions on each game, but wins by Collingwood and North push them into the mid-table royal rumble while St Kilda slip into the dreaded 'spoiler only' category. What we really need is to push one or two of the level three contenders up and another two down. And more importantly to go a minimum of 8-7 for the rest of the season.

Can win every week - will clearly be above us - Richmond and West Coast (↑) 
Unlikely to be in the battle for 6th - 10th so may as well win - GWS (↓) and Adelaide
Lose against higher teams, beat lower teams, take games off each other - Collingwood (↑), Geelong, Hawthorn, North Melbourne (↑), Port Adelaide and Sydney
Preferred result depends on opposition - Footscray (↑) and Fremantle,
Win against higher teams, lose against lower teams - Gold Coast and Essendon
Good value as spoilers only - Brisbane, Carlton and St Kilda (↓)

Was it worth it?
Yes, yes, yes. The margin should have been heaps more in the end, but even if I don't celebrate victory by humping strangers or shredding my throat singing the song I'm still not in a position to complain about near seven goal victories confirmed early in the last quarter.

Final thoughts
Maybe it's the fake euphoria from beating shit teams (the same one that convinces people in sub-zero temperatures to get naked and die), but maybe we can go to Geelong, Adelaide and Perth in the last six weeks and still make the eight. Or maybe it will all go absolutely tits up in the next few weeks and that won't be a factor. For once the cliche is right, let's take it one game at a time.