Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Dogalogue - Ranking our games against the Bulldogs since 2005

You might have heard that there's a big game against Footscray (never Western Bulldogs) coming up on the 25th. It continues a series that began in Round 4, 1925, went through a World War, a famous-for-the-wrong-reasons Grand Final, and survived multiple attempts to kill one or both clubs off.

I can't specifically remember my first game against them, but it was probably Round 8, 1991, the day our cheersquad risked it all with a banner reading 'Our objective - Beat Footscray, then worry about the good sides'. They did, but the good sides proved too much for us.

If only I'd started long, rambling, weekly posts at age 10 I'd know exactly which game it was, where I sat, what the chips tasted like, and which of Ricky Jackson, Steve O'Dwyer or Rod Owen's three goal hauls were better. Fortunately, that all changed in 2005 when our very good friends at BigFooty invited me to start writing Demonblog. Now we can use almost 17 full seasons of match reviews (except a 2006 pre-season match I didn't bother to cover, possibly due to forgetting it was on) to rank them from worst to best.

If we win the flag that's obviously going straight into #1 with a bullet. If we lose I won't be updating this list to acknowledge it.  

32. Round 15, 2011 (or 'Dog Day Aftermath')
Footscray 19.13.127 d. Melbourne 8.15.63
Goals - Petterd 2, Howe 2, Trengove 2, Watts 2, Sylvia 1

  • Turned up for a big Friday night game sitting eighth, lost to an inferior team by 10 goals
  • Pre-match arguments with a workplace executive who kept going on about somebody called 'Cementhead'.
  • Actual Bulldog paraded around the ground before a school marching band came on as entertainment hadn't been invented yet.
  • Woman in front of me ate a sandwich that smelt like it had been pulled from Docklands harbour
  • Started the rot that led to a 186 point loss four weeks later
  • All but entirely reusued an earlier post title

31. Round 2, 2008 (or 'I Hate You So Much Right Now')
Footscray 24.17.161 d. Melbourne 9.12.66
Goals - Neitz 2, Robertson 2, White 2, Davey 1, Green 1, Jones 1

  • Disappointing 2007 officially declared 'not a fluke'
  • Poor old Isaac Weetra unfairly seals his spot as a punchline for years to come
  • Forgot where my seat was after going for comfort food
  • Ended the day with a percentage of 36
Footscray 24.9.153 d. Melbourne 8.7.55
Goals - Hogan 3, Garlett 2, Dawes 1, Gawn 1, Watts 1
  • Margin on 186 pace during an eight goal to nil first quarter
  • Won the third quarter 33-2 and still lost by 98 points
  • Bulldogs record highest ever score by a side kept goalless in one quarter 
  • Docklands referred to as 'House of Horror'. Now I quite like it.

29. Round 2, 2006 (or 'Death of a Salesman')
Footscray 20.17.137 d. Melbourne 12.18.90
Goals - Robertson 3, Bruce 1, Carroll 1, Davey 1, Green 1, Jamar 1, Moloney 1, Neitz 1, Sylvia 1, White 1

  • Docklands smelt like spew
  • Unkind references to Byron Pickett carrying a few kilos
  • Much nervousness as we dropped to 0-2
  • Walked out in premature disgust during the last quarter. Imagine if I knew what was coming in a couple of years.
  • Got home seven minutes later due to living next door.
Footscray 15.14.104 d. Melbourne 15.7.97
Goals - Bate 4, Robertson 3, Maric 2, Davey 1, Jones 1, McLean 1, Petterd 1, Sylvia 1, Valenti 1
  • Surprised it took five seasons to do this obvious post title
  • Looked a lot closer than it actually was
  • Emo Maric did some crumb
  • Suggestion of pre-ordering 2013 premiership t-shirts didn't hold up
27. Round 13, 2020 (or 'Putting the cart before the horse')
Footscray 12.8.80 d. Melbourne 7.10.52
Goals - Weideman 2, Fritsch 1, T. McDonald 1, Melksham 1, Oliver 1, Spargo 1
  • Played at Carrara due to the first wave of COVID shenanigans.
  • Run of mid-season demolition jobs on strugglers ended by a proper side
  • Fox Footy director thought he was doing arthouse cinema
  • Backline got us out of jail for as long as they possibly could.
  • Finals hopes left in serious jeopardy 

26. Round 7, 2007 (or 'Watching the Defectives')
Footscray 16.16.112 d. Melbourne 16.10.106
Goals - Davey 3, Sylvia 3, Green 2, Yze 2, Bate 1, Bell 1, Dunn 1, Johnstone 1, Neitz 1, White 1
  • Chucked a newspaper in despair when Rivers was a late withdrawal
  • At 0-7, a margin like this was taking the piss
  • Dogs fans embraced stereotypes by rioting when the bars were shut early
  • Genuine concern for Neale Daniher's legacy 
25. Round 4, 2012 (or 'Rock Bottom Redux')
Footscray 13.10.88 d. Melbourne 9.13.67
Goals - Bate 2, Davey 2, Bail 1, Clark 1, Moloney 1, Morton 1, Watts 1
  • Turns out there were about seven more layers of rock to get through.
  • Emotional tribute game for Jim Stynes held in the 4.40pm Sunday graveyard slot
  • Jeff Kennett showed his respects for Jim by suggesting we merge with North
  • Daryl Braithwaite sang 'Horses'. Had we not suffered enough?
  • Mitch Clark fell on his head
24. Round 15, 2014 (or 'Life Education') 
Footscray 14.7.91 d. Melbourne 13.7.85
Goals - Jamar 3, Dawes 2, Grimes 2, Gawn 1, Jetta 1, Pedersen 1, Vince 1, Viney 1, Watts 1
  • Went six goals down before launching a blockbuster comeback
  • Young Bont kicks ludicrous sealer
  • Stirrings of pride despite defeat
  • Architectural metaphors to describe emerging side
  • Suggestion of 'reasonable rivalry' with Dogs finally comes true seven years later.
23. Round 19, 2021 (or 'The plot sickens')
Footscray 13.7.85 d. Melbourne 9.11.65
Goals - Brown 2, Fritsch 2, Pickett 2, McDonald 1, Petracca 1, Viney 1
  • Second straight top of the table clash against them in front of an empty stadium
  • Hitouts once again proven to be useless
  • Forward line continued its late season dip, scaring the shit out of me about our finals chances
  • Six goals conceded from defensive stoppages didn't help
  • No repeat of this on the 25th thanks
Footscray 17.12.114 d. Melbourne 12.10.82
Goals - Watts 3, Garland 2, Kennedy 2, Hogan 1, Oliver 1, T. McDonald 1, Petracca 1, Viney 1
  • Misguided excitement when results elsewhere technically put us in the eight pre-match
  • Had a kicking efficiency of 17% during the first quarter
  • Heroic defensive efforts by Neville Jetta against larger men
  • Felt like we should have lost by 10 goals
  • Lightly punched in the arm by crusty old man asked to move out of the train door
21. Round 7, 2010 (or 'Not A Dry Seat In The House')
Footscray 10.10.70 d. Melbourne 9.12.66
Goals - Bate 3, Davey 1, Green 1, Hughes 1, Bennell 1, Jones 1, Scully 1
  • Jumper clash fiasco between us and the umpires. Conveniently blamed for errant handball leading to defeat.
  • Goal overturned by a boundary umpire referred to as 'Slapnuts'
  • Scully has 39 touches in the wet and we're so excited that nobody admits only about five of them hit a target 
  • Man on train says "Morton, Jarrah and that other guy Oonamiri" do "that crazy shit spastic leg in the air thing". The views of this man do not represent demonblog.com
20. Round 17, 2019 (or 'Same old story')
Footscray 10.14.74 d. Melbourne 9.12.66
Goals - Petty 3, Fritsch 2, Dunkley 1, Hunt 1, Lewis 1, Petracca 1
  • Already shot season goes into wind down mode with close loss. Ended in us getting Jackson and Pickett so all's well that ends well.
  • For want of any other tall forwards, Petty goes forward and has a bloody good crack at it.
  • May and Salem described as "a combination for dedidcating your life to with an almost religious fervour", while Lever and Frost do their impression of the Tenerife mid-air collision
19. Round 15, 2008 (or 'Stormy Weather')
Footscray 14.11.96 d. Melbourne 9.10.64
Goals - Miller 3, Green 2, Buckley 1, Dunn 1, C. Johnson 1, Newton 1
  • The roof was closed, but in my heart it was pissing down
  • Top side failed to get out of first gear against wooden spooners elect
  • Convinced me not to draft Nic Nat, which ultimately led to Gawn kicking five in a Prelim so I was right.
18. Round 8, 2014 (or 'Temporary respectability adjustment')
Footscray 15.9.99 d. Melbourne 12.11.83
Goals - Frawley 2, Kennedy Harris 2, Tyson 2, Cross 1
  • Rubbish side stuck with their superiors for most of the day, never going close enough to win but not being disgraced either.
  • Did Field of Women with my mum
  • Injured Bulldogs player went forward to stay out of the way and kicked vital goals
  • Didn't think it affected me badly, then woke up grinding my teeth like an ice addict.
17. Community Series 2021 (or 'FFC vs FFS')
Footscray 15.16.106 d. Melbourne 10.7.67
Goals - Fritsch 3, Neal-Bullen 2, Chandler 1, Gawn 1, Jones 1, Petracca 1, Sparrow 1
  • The only game of three against them in Victoria this year with a crowd
  • Left me convinced, hopefully wrongly, the Dogs were going to win the flag
  • A bit too much worry based on a pre-season game
16. Round 23, 2013 (or 'The call of the void')
Footscray 16.11.107 d. Melbourne 13.9.87
Goals - Watts 4, Kent 2, Dunn 1, Garland 1, Howe 1, M. Jones 1, N. Jones 1, Sellar 1, Viney 1
  • Nobody really cared because it was the last round and we were about to get Paul Roos
  • Celebrations for Aaron Davey the only serious reason to show up
  • Late inclusion James Sellar nearly kicked Goal of the Century and never played again
  • Half-hearted attempt at a half-time brawl, showing more fight than most of the previous 21 games combined
  • Dom Barry randomly thanked me for coming while walking the concourse
15. Practice match 2009 (or 'How 'bout that drought?')
Footscray 14.17.101 d. Melbourne 10.3.63
Goals - Green 3, Miller 1, Jetta 1, Newton 1, Davey 1, McLean 1, McDonald 1, Jones 1
  • The only time I ever had multiple guest reporters. Jane, Andy and Gabrielle, I hope you're still out there somewhere going bloody mad for Melbourne now
  • Played in pissing rain at Casey Fields
  • No suggestion that we were going to be any good in 2009, and we weren't.
14. Practice match 2008 (or 'The Night the Lights Went Out In Bendigo')
Footscray 14.9.93 d. Melbourne 9.9.63
Goals - Bate 2, Davey 2, Neitz 2, Robertson 2, Jones 1

  • Snuck out of work early to drive to a ground located between a sleazy motel and a waterslide
  • Crowd full of unaccompanied, unruly minors
  • Our sexy football lit up regional Victoria, by not for very long
  • Lights shut down midway through the last quarter. Man with a microphone connected to an alternative power source told us to go home.
13. 2017 Community Series (or 'The kings of summer are back')
Melbourne 0.14.8.92 d. Footscray 2.9.14.86
Goals - Hogan 4, Weideman 2, Brayshaw 1, Bugg 1, Garlett 1, Gawn 1, N. Jones 1, Neal-Bullen 1, Petracca 1, Viney 1
  • First (and so far last) time I ever went to the Western Oval
  • Jesse Hogan chucked hapless defenders out of the way with ease
  • Suggestion of playing ANB forward, which might be the first thing I've ever gotten right
  • Dees again refuse to kick a Jesus Christ Supergoal
  • Josh Wagner dislocated his fibula, which sounds painful
12. 2015 Challenge (or 'A succulent Chinese meal')
Melbourne 0.10.9.69 d. Footscray 0.9.8.62
Goals - Garlett 2, Kennedy Harris 2, Cross 1, Hogan 1, Dawes 1, N. Jones 1, Frost 1, Watts 1
  • Rounded off a lovely weekend visit to Ballarat
  • Regional spectators had some trouble coming to terms with Lin Jong
  • Sam Frost chased somebody from one end of the ground to the other
  • First win in my kid's life, 257 days in. Has no interest six years later.
Melbourne - 0.10.12.72 d. Footscray 1.7.9.60
Goals - Watts 3, Frost 1, Garlett 1, Harmes 1, N. Jones 1, Pedersen 1, Tyson 1, vandenBerg 1
  • 10 years earlier I lived next door to Docklands, now a game in Craigieburn was considered close to home.
  • The week Eddie McGuire hilariously suggested the best team of the pre-season should get a bye into finals
  • Young Clayton Oliver instantly looks like a star, while Goldenballs Boyd warmed up for his memorable September campaign by kicking 0.3
  • Colin Garland hurled into the fence by a player nobody ever heard of again

10. Round 2, 2005 (or 'Getting away with it')
Melbourne 20.17.137 d. Footscray 15.21.111
Goals - Bruce 5, Davey 4, Robertson 4, Yze 4, Ferguson 1, Green 1, Neitz 1

  • First review from Docklands. Banner suggested 'setting the Dome on fire' - a popular idea amongst our fans in years to come
  • Pre-match entertainment provided by Bob The Builder
  • Margin out to nine goals before Bulldogs comeback, marking the first of mention of a team "falling apart like Michael Jackson's face"
  • High fived a child in celebration when Cameron Bruce kicked the sealer..
9. Round 19, 2007 (or 'Saturday Night Fever')
Melbourne 19.15.129 d. Footscray 12.15.87
Goals - Holland 4, Davey 3, Robertson 3, Dunn 2, Pickett 2, Green 1, Jones 1, Newton 1, Sylvia 1, Wheatley 1
  • Random win late in a putrid season
  • Ben Holland kicks goals for fun
  • Juice Newton incorrectly described as better than Brad Miller
8. Round 17, 2006 (or 'Search and Destroy')
Melbourne 18.11.119 d. Footscray 9.14.68
Goals - Yze 5, Neitz 3, Davey 2, McLean 2, Robertson 2, Bartram 1, Bate 1, Godfrey 1, Holland 1
  • Nathan Jones debuts, launching the most tragicomic career of all time
  • Man in crowd proudly yells "Hey Bruce... you're loose!"
  • Simon Godfrey torments Scott West
  • Poor investment advice to put every last cent on McLean for the '07 Brownlow
  • Temporarily carried us into the top four. Didn't last.
Melbourne 15.13.103 d. Footscray 9.10.64
Goals - Hogan 3, Pedersen 3, Toumpas 2, Vince 2, Garlett 1, Howe 1, M. Jones 1, N. Jones 1, Newton 1
  • Glorious recovery from a 100 point rooting at the hands of Hawthorn a week earlier
  • Possibly inspired by anti-Bulldog spite from Brendan McCartney
  • Spencil romps out of the centre and hits a textbook pass to a leading forward
  • Toumpas' best game
  • Hogan sledging Tom Boyd didn't seem quite as funny after the 2016 Grand Final
6. Round 11, 2021 or ('Bouncing Back')
Melbourne 13.9.87 d. Footscray 8.11.59
Goals - Fritsch 3, T. McDonald 3, Weideman 2, Gawn 1, Harmes 1, Jordon 1, Petracca 1, Pickett 1
  • Immediate recovery from being rorted in Adelaide
  • Charlie Spargo has five minutes of racking up possessions like Gary Ablett Jr.
  • Question of Sir Doug or Uncle Doug as we kicked away
  • Tom Sparrow the most token medical substitute yet, coming on with about 70 seconds left 
  • First suggestion of the Grand Final probably being played somewhere else
5. Round 11, 2018 (or 'Six won and tons for fun')
Melbourne 18.11.119 d. Footscray 10.9.69
Goals - Hogan 5, T. McDonald 4, Brayshaw 1, Fritsch 1, Hannan 1, Jones 1, Petracca 1
  • First and only Sugarhill Gang reference in a post title
  • Goodwin does lines (so to speak) from Wolf of Wall Street 
  • Five weeks of free-scoring carnage looked in danger at three goals down, then we waffled them anyway
  • Jake Lever does his knee on the thinly veiled concrete surface
  • Nathan Jones chaired off after his 250th. Eyes not dry.
4. Round 14, 2013 (or 'Neil Craig: Our Mastermind')
Melbourne 15.13.100 d. Footscray 15.10.100
Goals - Watts 4, Dawes 3, Howe 2, Fitzpatrick 2, Blease 1, Rodan 1, Jones 1, Gawn 1
  • MFC Women debuted, demonstrating winning form for men who hadn't done anything for months
  • Caretaker coach builds huge lead in last quarter, before players revert to type and go close to blowing it
  • Jack Watts celebrates recent demise of hated coach by kicking goals at one end, then saving the game in defence. I still miss that guy.
  • Wins more exciting because you weren't sure there'd ever be another one
  • Dead mouse found under my seat. Its memory live on with regular blog mentions
3. Round 13, 2017 (or 'This machine kills finalists')
Melbourne 17.11.113 d. Footscray 8.8.56
Goals - Watts 3, Bugg 2, Garlett 2, Hannan 2, T. McDonald 2, Harmes 1, Melksham 1, Neal-Bullen 1, Petracca 1, Salem 1, Tyson 1
  • Defending premier wiped off the park, causing people who had seen their side win a flag 14 games earlier to sook up.
  • Tom Bugg briefly hitting celebrity status after pre-match Instagram post ask if Jason Johannisen was ready. He then stuffed up his career two weeks later by briefly hitting a Sydney player in the head.
  • First time we'd held a team to a point in the opening quarter since 1994.
  • Dogs threw ball around like British and Irish Lions
  • Half time video game challenge affected by neither contestant knowing how to play the game
  • Offered surgical extraction of one bollock in exchange for a premiership, and will still do it now 
Melbourne 18.11.119 d. Footscray 10.9.69
Goals - Hogan 4, T. McDonald 3, Garlett 2, Neal-Bullen 2, Spargo 2, Hannan 1, Lewis 1, Melksham 1, Oliver 1, Petracca 1
  • Vital win with finals hopes still in the balance
  • Wayne Carey suggests trading Frost, Bugg and Tyson for Carlton's pick 1. Sam Walsh a decent consolation prize. 
  • Game blown to the shizen with eight goals in 12 minutes after half time. Sounds familiar.
  • Gawn treats opposition ruckman with contempt
  • Kids serenade Jolimont Station with the Grand Old Flag in a moment of lid lifting joy
1. Round 21, 2005 (or 'Son, I'm afraid we're going to have to put your puppy down')
Melbourne 16.13.109 d. Footscray 16.9.105
Goals - Robertson 6, White 2, Yze 2, Armstrong 1, Davey 1, Green 1, Holland 1, Neitz 1, Rigoni 1
  • The only home and away game on this list I didn't see live. Says it all about my luck.
  • Tremendously unwieldy post title not selected by guest reporter Peter M
  • Only heard the last quarter on the radio because I'd been at work
  • Curled on my bathroom floor in a foetal position as White lined up
  • Greeted the great escape by screaming so loudly my flatmate had to enquire if I was ok, then almost caused the fire alarm to go off with excitement when Farmer hit the post not long after. 

Monday, 13 September 2021

Just win baby

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, there was a world where Melbourne didn't make Grand Finals. That world sucked. This one is better. If I'm trapped in a virtual reality experiment, please cue up Melbourne d. Footscray.exe for Saturday 25 September and let me live the rest of my life inside The Matrix.

Two days after our path to the decider was confirmed, with a quarter and a half to spare, the feeling is still surreal. Every post on here for the last 10 years has referenced some element of us being rock-bottom slop, now there's only one team between us and fulfilling the spiritual quest I've been on (other than some sooky teenage years) since 1989.

As soon as we confirmed our place in a Preliminary Final, this was always a chance of happening. Whether the opposition was Geelong or GWS, we would be one of the last four sides in the 2021 AFL season, starting favourite, for the right to play on the biggest stage of all. 

You'd think I'd have been more nervous. Maybe a fuse in my brain popped from midweek stress, and I secretly, so deep down it would never be admitted publicly, thought we'd win. I was not enjoying the serenity. It felt like not worrying was secretly tempting fate, almost guaranteeing we'd lose and I'd end up dictating this post to my lawyer through a plastic screen across several prison visits.

So, for roughly 12 hours before the bounce I waited patiently for that famous moment when your stomach drops like an elevator, and you get a touch of clam in the extremities. It's happened for enough meaningless games over the years, but didn't come when most expected. Maybe it was due to the atmosphere dialling down from tens of thousands of people doing their block, to me yelling at a screen in a dark room on my own. There was no frame of reference for watching a game of this importance on TV since the '94 Prelim, and I don't remember a second of that.

Unexpected air of calm or not, I knew that if the result went down to the wire, it might have ended with a SWAT team smashing through my window. Fortunately, civil unrest was averted by a win so comprehensive, it beat our winning margin in every game played against Geelong since 1860. By modern standards it was near enough to unprecedented, the last two times we've beaten them by a mere 30 points were 2005 and 1994. Don't even think about the sort of damage they've done to us in that time, it's no longer relevant.

Based on recent results between the clubs, everything pointed to a life-and-death struggle. And it was. We got life, they got death. And if the state of Chris Scott in the post-match press conference was anything to go by, they know it. How appropriate that a decade after 186, we'd be the ones to bring the curtain down on Classic Geelong. They've done well to stay near the top for so long, but step aside, there's a new sheriff in town.

As I wrote in the preview, the extra element to this game was protecting the legacy of Max Gawn's goal in Round 23. If we lost here, it would have been a great moment forever tainted by the knowledge that a few weeks later the vanquished opposition returned to fix up our best chance of winning a flag in six decades. Fair to say I didn't expect Maximum to make sure we could enjoy his match-winner until the end of time by kicking four goals in what may have been the greatest quarter this club has ever played. 

The option to enjoy that goal for the rest of your life is a good start, but if things go particularly well in a couple of weeks you'll also be able to rewatch all the moments when supporting Melbourne has emotionally hurt you and laugh, safe in the knowledge that you won't die flagless. They'll all be retrospectively acknowledged as necessary gates we needed to pass through on the road to ecstasy.

I can't explain how I remained so calm for a game of this magnitude. Last year a pre-season game brought on a headache, once we beat Carlton in a thriller and it affected me so much I ended up in an MRI machine having brain scans. But this was serenity now, with not even a hint of anal leakage

About the only time I tensed up on Friday was when Geelong did a shifty with their emergencies, introducing the wonderfully named but rarely utilised Quinton Narkle (who looks a lot closer to 43 than 23). We haven't been Kingsley'd for a while, but I could feel one coming here. Then they didn't pick him, or even make him sub, opting instead for a creaky-as-fuck Shaun Higgins to rescue them in case of emergency. He came on to get 14x more kicks than the man he replaced, but found it hard to make an impact when his side was 10 goals down.

Ill-timed hamstring drama for Steven May left us holding the injury excuse card (and still winning by 83 points), but they countered with illness excuses. In our last meeting Patrick Dangerfield struggled with the squirts, and now he had to contend with teammates dropping like flies from something between COVID 1 and 18. Seeing an opposition ravaged by injury while in a supposedly tightly controlled and quarantined environment is the risk you take stocking your side with the elderly, but for us represents the natural progression of the Bradbury Plan.

It goes without saying that absolutely nothing in the build-up suggested a record-breaking, landslide victory. I was open to us winning, but expected it to come via blood, sweat, tears and fears. There was moderate sweat during the first half, no sign of the rest. An early indication of where we were at came with our first shot on goal. Pickett could easily have let the ball run out on the wing and reset for a stoppage, but instead tapped it around his opponent, piss-bolted away and hit Brown on a lovely lead. 

From as good as 50 out on an NQR angle, Brown hit the post, but the set-up showed good intent. As did non-stop brutal tackling, led by Mr. Finals Jack Viney. I've incorrectly written off so many players over the years that it's becoming embarrassing, but after going all-in on keeping him at the end of last year, my faith was shaken by the needless suspension against Gold Coast. That seems a lifetime ago now. It doesn't make sense that some players are more suited to finals than others, but here we are. He was fantastic, and enters a Grand Final (yes, let's say it again) in red hot form. Literally tread carefully around him until the 25th, one accidentally stepped on foot could be the end of him.

Fans of the idea that you can tell if we're on in the first couple of minutes would have been doubly excited when Pickett set up another shot, this time to McDonald on the opposite flank. Sizzle thumped his kick into the man on the mark, but the early signs were very good. None of this would mean anything if we failed to score, and surprise, surprise, after five minutes of their attacks breaking down like a Yugoslavian car, they got the opener via a ball that skimmed off a pack and into the hands of Jeremy Cameron. He was lucky not to hit the post, but if it hadn't gone through we might not have kicked the next five.

That disappointment was quickly overcome. From the centre bounce, Petracca romped out of the middle to find Brown in a one-on-one contest. He dismissed his opponent in a way not seen since the night Jesse Hogan effectively picked Zac Dawson up, moved him to the side, then turned around to take the mark unguarded. He kicked straight, and Harmes added another soon after, causing me to punch the air before self-consciously realising we were only halfway through the first quarter and winding it back a bit.

Brown turned up again to play his part in the fourth. His towering contested grab at half forward begat a contest where Neal-Bullen hoovered up the crumb, and my god things were starting to go unusually well. Everyone will love Brown if he's a premiership player in two weeks, but the glee I get from seeing somebody in number 50 who looks like her from Arcade Fire kicking goals cannot be explained in words. Like Steven May and Jake Lever, where have you been all my life?

Speaking of life, it wasn't meant to be easy. Just as we were starting to take control there was the inevitable "remember you're Melbourne" moment of despair. Earlier in the year, Steven May had his face caved in by a recklessly swung elbow from Tom Hawkins, and his nemesis got him again here. This time the contact was somewhat incidental, just a casual shove in the back that caused May to land with a dicky hammy. 

At the time you didn't know there was an issue, and were able to celebrate Hawkins wildly kicking out on the full. Not long after my heart sank when they cut to the bench to show May looking crocked. It was clearly not the full hamstring rip/tear/snap, but bad enough when you're trying to defend an early lead in a Prelim, much less with a potential Grand Final on the horizon. He was nearly crying, I was ready to join in.

The only cause for optimism was that Jordon wasn't immediately subbed on, leaving May to sit on the bench for the rest of the quarter undergoing painful looking physio treatments. Then, about two minutes later, Lever was limping around after an attempted smother caught him across the shin. I was having nightmare visions of coming all this way, then losing at the second last hurdle because both our star defenders went down at the same time. Like most of the night, there was no need to worry. Lever's injury was a false alarm, and Petty did a fine job stepping straight into May's role. See also Jake Bowey, who could have been excused for playing with some nerves, but weaved in and out of traffic like a 150 game veteran. In a season where it felt like we were a couple of injuries away from our depth being cruelly exposed, these two have been amongst the all-time great ring-ins.

Like a night at Nadia Bartel's house, the party started with Charlie. By now Geelong players were all at sea, with effluent dripping down their legs like Robert De Castella. They were unnecessarily playing on from frees, botching simple passes, and in this case conceding goals after blindly kicking off the ground from inside defensive 50. That wild swipe landed with Christian Salem, almost the last person you'd want to kick to with your teammates hopelessly out of position, and he found Spargo standing in miles of space for our fifth straight.

When Fritsch had a shot not long after I was looking for a paper bag to breathe into, but he kept some life in the contest by missing. This generosity continued for another quarter, before we flipped the switch to carnage mode and started converting from every available orifice. For now, I couldn't have convincingly pretended to know we'd win. Part of that was natural Melbourne-related dread, part memories of another great return from the dead a few weeks ago.

For all the excitement over kicking the last five, May's situation was giving me conniptions. It was a good sign that he was with the huddle at the break, and when he walked straight into position for the restart, effectively daring the hammy to blow, I treated it like the second (quarter) coming. I was expecting it to explode in a shower of sparks at any moment, but still loved the idea of sending him back out there to test it. Wouldn't have loved it as much if he'd ripped it off the bone at the first opportunity, but he survived until the game was won and should be right for the Grand Final. That's the Grand Final that we're in. Melbourne. In a Grand Final. Bugger me.

The best thing we could do for May's recovery was to make sure he had as little work as possible to do, so  I was nervously adjusting my collar when he was beaten in a marking contest for their first goal after the break. Other than that, and one misguided kick across the ground that we got away with anyway, we got away with it. It wasn't just Petty's fine cover, but Hibberd came back from the dead for about the fifth time this year, and Lever was almost entirely untroubled in mopping up any old rubbish kicked in his direction.

Anything Geelong did, we could do much better. That goal was instantly wiped out via another rampaging centre clearance. If you're ever keen to piss on people treating basic statistics like gospel, consider that Geelong won the clearances but conceded 101 points from stoppages. This one came from the generally unstoppable Oliver, who powered out of the middle and set up Spargo's second. Their response to our response coming from somebody blatantly playing for a free was probably fair payment for some of the rubbish we got in the first half, including Viney flying in to sit on an opponent's back and being given a free for below the knee contact.

The lead was just enough that based on historical precedent we should have won, but would look like absolute cockheads if we didn't. See Round 23 again, a result that looks even more important than ever now that we've collected every reward possible for finishing first - including the ability to bribe local fans to fake support for us via free chips and warehoused merchandise. Thoughts and prayers with the op shops of Perth who'll have to try and shift about 25,000 scarves long after the locals have stopped pretending to care. It's one thing to go to a game as a neutral and want a particular team to win, dressing up in their colours is a bit weird.

I've seen plenty of games where the lead has blown out from 'comfortable' to 'unbelievable' in the space of 10 second quarter minutes. Usually not in our favour. As we whacked on three unanswered goals it looked like their life force was ebbing away. Some of it was luck, like Sparrow falling over just in time for his pursuer to accidentally land knees in his back, some of it was pure genius. See Max Gawn 'marking' a kick that had been touched so much that you could see the ball deviate on TV, not realising the umpire had paid him a mark anyway, and wheeling around to snap the cover off it from 40 metres.

Now we were in an almost unbeatable position. Not that you could have convinced me, I was petrified of a reverse that people would still be talking about in 20 years. In a way, when Pickett got the next one and the margin was left just under 40 I was even more scared because things seemed too good to be true. I knew there had to be some sort of correction, and very briefly there was. Not before we had a couple of chances to extend the gap beyond what they'd given up at Kardinia Park, and considering what we had to do just to win that after the siren they surely weren't going to run down anything beyond 44 points now.

Because of what happened next, I've got no hard feelings against Petracca or Fritsch for their missed set shots, but with the sense that we were missing a golden opportunity for the coup de grace I almost jumped over the back of the coach when Brown's flying shot narrowly missed. It still wouldn't have been enough to relax with a half to play, but enough that it would have taken the most outrageous comeback possible to get us from there. The sort of tits up clusterfuck that's so memorable even neutrals know what they were doing when it happened.

The sense of dread was proven partially correct when they went down the other end for a Hawkins goal. Speaking of aging superstars, desperate for one last crack at glory, Mr. Brown Undies, Dangerfield did his bit to get the Cats moving by theatrically falling under the slightest contact. The wind from Petracca's hands going near his back almost had more force than the 'push' itself, but as somebody who has championed the 'by any means necessary' philosophy, I respect his hustle. He missed, and much to the (I'm sure) disappointment of neutrals everywhere may now never win a flag. 57 years worth of Melbourne players say "stiff shit".

I don't know if Geelong had anyone under 30 playing (maybe the guy with the Support Australian Hip Hop hair?), but all the action was coming from their veterans. Isaac Smith may also leave Geelong empty handed, but at least he can dry his eyes on a collection of vintage flags. Remember when he had the choice of joining us for three years or Geelong for two, and picked them for a better chance of success? Have fun with that. Smith's late goal cut the margin to less than five kicks. Even worse, it had an element of fluke about it. Like Hawthorn all over again, a teammate randomly threw his boot at a loose ball and it accidentally landed on a teammate. 

Those late goals set off my nervous condition, and I spent half time moping about missed opportunities. The last thing I wanted was actual halftime analysis, and if you watched the Fox coverage that would be the last thing you got. There was a shoehorned mention of Collingwood, but with tensions this high Eddie Bingo was strictly a game for neutrals. It was much better for my mental health if I concentrated on hurling abuse at Mike Iceberg than contemplating blowing a 40 point lead and ending the season like dickheads.

At a minimum, I expected a replay of the Brisbane game, where our early lead held up, but not without a few uncomfortable minutes. Just like that game, Ben Brown got a chance to burst the opposition bubble early in the third quarter. Set up by a midfield masterclass by Petracca and Oliver, everything else was exactly like it had been against the Lions - he was kicking to the right of screen, plucked a long kick over a pack with his Inspector Gadget arms, and lined up from 20 metres out on a slight angle. Last time he missed, and we spent the rest of the quarter defending grimly. Naturally I expected the worst, especially during his three hour run-up, but it went through, and we were a step closer to unleashing terror. 

The most ludicrous part of the frenzy was how almost all the destruction was compacted into the first 10 minutes. It was like a tornado ripping through a town and leaving the survivors wondering what the hell had just hit them. There's 'when you're hot, you're hot', and there's nuclear heat. Brown's goal started the party, but a spot of world class goalkeeping by Bowey at the other end stopped them responding with what should have been a simple tap-in from the square.

If that wasn't the moment where Geelong ran up the white flag, it came less than a minute later when Selwood (who had such a disappointing night that his head didn't even split open) gave away a ridiculous 50 metre penalty, promoting a set shot from a questionable position into the certain goal that wiped out all their pre-half time gains. 

For somebody who has had vastly more success in his career than our entire club since about 1959, he enjoys doing stupid things against us in finals. Sam Frost knew what was up:
The comedy value of that mistake reached 100% when at the next bounce, Gawn held his opposite number off in a derisory fashion and put it straight down Viney's throat, before Petracca brushed Selwood off like a Division 4 Amateurs plodder and began caning forward. Gawn's opponent thought he'd better do something and ran at Petracca, leaving Maximum standing on his own in the middle. He got it back, ran to 50 metres and smashed through a kick with the power of a 10 megaton intercontinental ballistic missile. It was magnificent. As was Viney lifting him clear off the ground in celebration. If there was still a monkey on our back it joined the lid in orbit at this point.

In a piece of excellent timing, this was when Mrs. Demonblog appeared from the important task of trying to cope with two children while her other half was yelling nonsense at a screen. I know nobody else in this house really gives a rats, so I'm not going to force them to sit there and watch, but it was nice to have somebody to vocalise my joy to.

The celebrations of that goal were short-lived, but only because 20 seconds later McSizzle was gathering a bouncing ball, turning the corner and casually booting another. This was the point where my central nervous system shut down and I went into a sporting version of the K-Hole. After the glory of the first two, Max getting his third from a bog-standard free kick was welcomed just to calm things down.

Former West Coast player Will Schofield, part of the side that cornholed us on the same ground in 2018, suggested during the week that we might carry some mental scars from that day. Hopefully, he has a job other than football punditry to fall back on, because we did not display a cracker of hesitation from first bounce to final siren. It was already a ludicrous suggestion considering we've got half a new side in comparison, but by the end of our thumping victory, his comments sat comfortably alongside my Round 4, 2020 suggestion that Coronavirus had been reduced to a "mere annoyance" as one of the dopiest things ever said.

The Hardcore Gawn was not over yet. Remember when I wasn't sold on him as captain? Well, here was a very large man strapping the club on his back and storming towards glory. Next thing you know he's pulling down a ball-up and kicking goals around the corner in the same motion. I greeted this with the sort of shriek you usually only get from sitting on something sharp.

Now that we were 71 points in front (!!!!), one more than Essendon's record breaking comeback against North in 2001, even I yelled "there's no way even we could lose this from here" to nobody in particular. Note, it still wasn't "we've got this won", because old habits die hard. Enter Pickett, worrying a defender out of a high ball NRL style, and running into an open goal. 

Even after all that blood dripping, chainsaw massacre slaughter, there was still 11:51 to play before three quarter time. The record breaking 12 goal quarter from 2013 temporarily looked in jeopardy, and this time in a season where we couldn't lose 16 of the next 17 games. Speaking of that day, Mark Neeld will be one of several people hanging out for us to win the flag so the MFC Truth and Reconciliation Committee finally meets to process application for amnesty. If we end the year as premiers I will personally sponsor the rehabilitation of every villain in our history up to and including Tom Scully. 

We've played great finals quarters before, but as popular as the six goal to one opening quarter in the 1941 Grand Final must have been at the time, the goals can't have come in a whirlwind like this.
The only modern comparison was our 10.4 against Footscray in the '94 Semi. This was a more important game and we didn't concede two in reply, therefore it was better. Garry Lyon double figure fanatics, address your complaints elsewhere, I'm not having a bar of it. That can still be great, but it can't be as great as this. 

Because we hadn't had nearly enough of Gawn in this quarter, he banged through a fifth as well, from another set shot. He was doing it all, and anyone of an MFC persuasion would have been sliding off their seat in joy.
Even at six goals beyond the magic 47 points (though given you can't draw a final, it probably should be 48 just in case) I was still half-tempted to suspend the Chris Sullivan Line. Not that I thought we'd lose, but was now expecting something unusual to happen and make the result null and void. As we discovered in the Eagles game, it had already gone beyond the point where the result would have stood if the game was called off, but I'm so damaged by this club that I just couldn't comprehend such a tremendous margin without expecting something to go wrong.

I finally decided to observe official protocols and relax when Hawkins took what would have been paid a mark in the square 22 weeks per season, then failed to get so much as a point out of it when half our backline and a visiting Angus Brayshaw pounced on him like a wild animal. Now I could openly admit, without fear, that we had it. This must have been what Geelong fans felt like, on a much larger scale, when they pulverised Port Adelaide in the 2007 Grand Final. I'm willing to find out how that felt.

Now it was all about avoiding injuries and suspensions, and if they got a few cheap ones to make the margin more respectable, for once nobody would care. Then we won the quarter anyway...


Sadly, Max missed a shot or his sixth, but otherwise we were barely troubled. You can't blame either side for lacking interest at this point, if the option had been available I'm sure both coaches would have agreed to shake hands and wrap things up early. Geelong had a couple of chances but true to a night where you could have played the Benny Hill theme over their highlights, they bungled them in slapstick fashion.

I'd switched to standing when the goal rush started, and remained on foot for the rest of the game, but didn't need to get excited again. Now it was all about nervous energy. My heart has been through a lot over the years, who knows when it might go pop, leaving the family to find me with Xs for eyes the next morning. Not before I get a look at a Grand Final.

Against Brisbane, we discovered that May, Gawn, Oliver and Petracca were the most valuable foursome since The Beatles. Now, with May out of the game we discovered that the fifth Beatle was Jake Lever, when the cue was gently wedged into the rack with nine minutes to play. Fair enough too, after his earlier scare we couldn't afford to risk him. As much faith as I have in Harrison Petty, I'm not yet ready for him to be marshalling a backline alongside Joel Smith and Majak Daw.

Two quick goals briefly put a triple figure win back on the agenda. Even when Fritsch accidentally kicked the ball while trying to pick it up, it rolled directly to Pickett in an acre of space. Slick Fritsch pushed the gap to 89 himself. I know the opposition was hoping for a quick, merciful death at this point, but please go back and review what Brown did to create space for him to mark uncontested.

Like a much higher profile repeat of Gold Coast, the Cats ended an hour of torment with the least consoling goal in history. Jeremy Cameron's rate of converting disposals to goals was an excellent 50%, pity he only had four touches. This almost ended in another moment of high farce, when he played on to snap around the corner and went oh so close to having it touched.

Obviously this meant nothing to anybody, to the point where you could see Jake Bowey give it a dismissive "ahh, whatever" wave afterwards. What a story he is, six games, six wins, and about to play a Grand Final. He's so new that Google hasn't even indexed his page on AFL Tables yet. If you want to feel old, consider that he was born two days before we lost to Adelaide in the 2002 finals. Mr and Mrs Bowey certainly didn't see this coming 19 years later.

Knowing we were beyond our greatest winning margin against them, toppling this 1909 classic (?), there was an undue sense of investment in holding back their last inside 50. No player would give half a shit about record wins, but our backmen had the professional pride to make sure there was no more scoring. Imagine being Will Schofield and thinking that a backline featuring Frost, O. McDonald and (until we sent him forward because the game was stuffed) Smith compared in any way to what we put out here, even with May off the ground having his person manipulated in a number of uncomfortable ways.

We kept the margin above 80, nobody suffered a crippling injury in the last seconds, and the siren was greeted with arms aloft celebration instead of the sort of commotion reserved for thrillers. 

Even if you haven't agreed with everything he's done over the years, you can't help but feel joy for Simon Goodwin (and thank god I only turned about halfway on him before pulling up...). Without a couple of unconvincing wins to start the year he could have been on the couch watching other teams play, now he can preside over the first non-Norm Smith related Melbourne flag since 1926. Imagine going from a figure of comedy for saying "learnings" and "connection" after every loss to instant legend status.

As sad as I was not to see this juggernaut live (refer to the Brisbane post for philosophical discussions about whether good things would still be happening if the season was played as originally scheduled), I'm thrilled that the real, hardcore MFC enthusiasts of Perth have had this drop in their lap after watching us play so badly for many years.

However, now that Victoria's COVID numbers are now out of control and half the state has unofficially adopted the "let 'er rip" philosophy, let's find spurious reasons to get the all-Victorian Grand Final home. For instance, when the crowd got bored with the slaughter and did a Mexican Wave. Can you trust these people with the biggest game of the year? Tell Mark McGowan to stick it up his iron ores and cancel the contract.

I still think they'd rather secretly kill anybody who catches the big one than risk losing the game, so it looks like we'll just have to win it over there. Now we've dodged the bullet of Elmer Dinkley and Friends legally crossing the border to watch live, it might be another crowd heavily tipped in our favour. And if we're so far ahead at the end of this one that they want to do the wave, then best of British luck to them. They can follow it with a Moonie mass wedding and a historical recreation of the Battle of Waterloo as well if it's clear that when the clock reaches 0.00 in the last quarter, that Melbourne will have its 13th premiership.

Now that nobody can stop us playing in a Grand Final (barring major pandemic shenanigans) on Saturday 25 September, I've got to work harder than ever to avoid accidents, comas, and flesh-eating viruses. Not that I'm driving 200km/h the wrong way down the Ring Road anyway, but there's already an extra layer of 'don't cross against the lights' and 'don't make eye contact with the madman in the street', to reduce the risk of any scenario that might leave without hearing, vision, or speed in two weeks. Fans of my finals campaign injuries will be pleased to know that a poorly stacked knife flung out of the dishwasher and took a glancing blow off the top of my foot on Sunday morning. Hopefully that's all the bad luck out of the way.

What a strange night it was. Strange, brilliant and insane. It scarcely seems real that a team called Melbourne is playing in a Grand Final without rugby league being involved, and the pure, white-hot insanity of the third quarter will live in the memory for years to come. Who knows where this will end, but I'm absolutely FANGING to find out. Unlike 1988 and 2000, there is even a chance we might win without having to hope the opposition are struck by lightning.

Good thing I dithered over this post long enough to see the video package below. For the first time there were nearly tears. It's easy to feel like you're alone when you actually are, but seeing the effect this is having on other people is enough to make a heartless bastard like me get all watery. I remain eternally grateful that you choose to spend some of your MFC related emotion with me.
Drink it in friends. One way or another we're going to be talking about the next two weeks for the rest of our lives.

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

Apologies to everyone - especially next cab off the rank Salem. Heroes one and all.

Leaderboard
Somehow, a week before he wins a Brownlow there's bad news for Oliver. He's won the main event in a canter, and I didn't even notice that he broke the record for most votes in a season after the Brisbane game, but Petracca has hit the lead in the as-yet unnamed Finals Player of the Year. I'm still open to suggestions for players who have delivered memorable finals moments since 1989. Currently leaning towards Lyon - and if he presents a certain cup on the 25th you can be sure that's where it's heading.

66 - Clayton Oliver (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
56 - Christian Petracca (LEADER: Finals Player of the Year)
38 - Jake Lever (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
29 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
22 - Tom McDonald
21 - Luke Jackson 
20 - Steven May
17 - Christian Salem
13 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Ed Langdon
9 - Bayley Fritsch, Harrison Petty, Jack Viney
7 - James Harmes, Alex Neal-Bullen, Charlie Spargo
6 - Angus Brayshaw
5 - Jayden Hunt
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - James Jordon (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jake Bowey

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
By christ, how many contenders can you have in one night? It's one thing for a bunch of players to be kicking goals out of their arse in Round 15, but the quality in a Prelim was top shelf. Even more bizarre that three of them came from a ruckman in the space of 10 minutes. Any of Maximum's big three would have worthy winners, so here they are ranked:

5) The free kick from the exact same spot as Round 23
4) The set shot for #5
3) The quick snap out of the pocket. A worthy winner any other week.
2) Kicking the bloody cover off it after running through the middle.
1) Playing on when he didn't have to, wheeling around and snapping from 40 metres. WHAT. A. MAN.

Max's weekly prize is immortality, but I still can't go past Kardinia Park for the overall leader. If that doesn't happen, then maybe none of these five do. Maybe we'd already gone out in straight sets and were settling in for a summer of recriminations and backstabbing? Now, anything could happen.

If you were into omens that it was going to be a good night, forget following a team that finished top of the ladder and won its first final easily, look no further than the commentary team. Expectations of a momentous occasion ruined by Brian Taylor talking shite were replaced by a perfectly sensible call.

Anything involving people's champion Jason Bennett is good, but add Hamish McLachlan proving that anyone sounds better when not dragged into BT's cocoon of horror, and Channel 7 should lose the broadcast rights if they don't use this team again for the Grand Final. 

I don't care if they're in a studio in Melbourne, it shat on anything Taylor has ever done. Some people like him. Some people like being shat on.

Next week
Under normal circumstances, I've have cracked the sads over waiting an extra week, but the additional time for May's hamstring to recover will come in handy. The AFL hasn't done us a favour like this since sweepijng tanking under the rug. 

I'll also look forward to 14 consecutive days of being one of the few Dees fans anyone knows. They'll be coming from absolutely everywhere now, but true enthusiasts know who's really feeling it and who's just along for the ride. All the years as an office worker, having people almost forming an orderly queue at my desk on Monday to discuss what stupid shit we'd done on the weekend were leading to this. My entire adult life has been spent trying to avoid mingling, but just as every bastard is locked away I want to breach the orders of the Chief Health Officer and meet them all for a spot of small talk.

The week after
Because Port couldn't hold on for one more game before doing their traditional finals faceplant, we're in for a 1954 Grand Final repeat against Footscray. Remember the bit where I tipped them to win the flag pre-season? That might come back to haunt me.

Port's flat as a tack performance was bad news for notorious mischief lover Choke Yourself With A Tie, who would have relished the chance to turn over his old side. Now we run the risk of losing a flag to the unusual ex-MFC combination of Mitch Hannan and the SME. I doubt that's ever happened before. Crackers Keenan and Stan Alves did it together in 1977, but we weren't involved due to the small matter of finishing second last.

The involvement of fringe ex-players is a storyline for enthusiasts, neutrals are more likely to gravitate to the tragic histories of the clubs involved. The Bulldogs breaking their drought five years ago takes some spice out of it (imagine playing St Kilda under the same circumstances? Lifeline would put on extra operators), but it's still the previous longest premiership drought playing the current record holder, and two teams who could easily have been wound up at various times over the last 30 years.

Sadly, if we're going to win a flag, it's not only long-suffering fans who won't be there. Nathan Jones has taken the decision to come home for the birth of his kids. He was unlikely to get a game - though watch about six players go down with injuries now - so it makes a lot of sense, but the idea of him being there to see it live felt important. His legacy is complete no matter what happens, while family is forever, so no sane person could seriously hold this against him. He'll have plenty on his hands once the kids have arrived, but I really hope he's got somebody to watch with. I'll sneak past the 5km exclusion zone death squads and do it if nobody else is available.

His absence has necked my innovative plan for him to present the Premiership Cup if we win. Not that it was going to happen anyway, you could see a mile off that as Garry Lyon's in town he'll be doing the job. I won't argue it. With apologies to Ron Barassi, I'd have Neale Daniher in a flash if the game was being played in Melbourne, but Gaz is also a fine choice. Wasn't much chop at picking coaches, but you'd have to be Bill Brownless to get unhappy about seeing him - especially because it implies that we've just won the bloody flag.

If we don't win, Garry (or Allen Jakovich, or Darren Kowal), will be left sitting in the stands with their thumbs up their arses while [insert relevant Bulldogs figure] is handing over a trophy, so the most important thing is to get a side on the park that can win. The key injury concern is May, but it looks like he might get over the line. If he's fit, and Hibberd's performance keeps Joel Smith at bay, that's probably as far as we need to go for changes. If you've paid more attention to the Dogs than I have this year, you might have an argument for a more significant switch, from my rank amateur perspective I don't see it.

There's no way they'll play May if there's a chance his leg will explode two minutes into the first quarter. The medical sub means we probably won't even get him standing in the full forward goal square, hobbling around on one leg because nobody's left on the bench. It does make you think more about who gets picked for tracksuit time. It would be incredibly harsh to ditch Jordon after he got on the ground for the first time in weeks, but do you need somebody who can go back in an emergency? Alternatively, do you keep the much-maligned McDonald to defence move up your sleeve, and stick with a midfielder? 

I'm controversially throwing my support behind Mr. Owl Energy himself, Jayden Hunt. Can play at either end, or go onto a wing if needed, and while he's not an in-the-guts midfielder, if the mystery injury comes just as the opposition are tiring his pace could make things interesting. They're super-conservative with team selection, so I can't see it happening. And the way things are going, who am I to argue? 

Otherwise, Rivers has looked a bit shaky of the last couple of games, and I reckon he'd get a week off if this was the middle of the season, and McDonald is way down on his form from the start of the year, but they're both doing jobs in a side that has is winning finals left, right and centre, so why mess with a winning formula?

IN: Nil (Hunt to substitute)
OUT: Jordon (with the greatest apologies)
LUCKY: McDonald, Rivers
UNLUCKY: Jones, Melksham, Smith

The Dogs are formidable opposition, and whether we start favourites or not, I'm sure this will be the hard fought contest we were mercifully denied against Geelong. Secretly I think we'll win. but for god's sake don't tell anyone. In fact, play it down at every opportunity and invite any Dogs fans you know to get premiership tattoos in advance. Stay tuned for various preview posts during the week - if you've got anything you want to contribute get in touch via the usual channels, and if it's not defamatory it might get a run. 

Promotional consideration paid for by the following
There's never been a better time to buy my stuff. I always dreamed about writing another book if we won a flag, not thinking it could ever happen, but not sure I'm contractually allowed. If something comes out by 'Anonymous' in the spirit of Primary Colors, let's pretend I'm not involved. 

Final Thoughts
As somebody who dwells way too heavily on the past, I'm more emotional about what we've had to go through to get here, than the moment itself. The drought isn't dead yet, and it may never be, but the idea of Melbourne playing in a Grand Final a few years ago would have been utterly ludicrous. 186 was supposed to be a one off humiliation, not the launching pad for years of trauma. 

From 148 (not to mention 122, 111, 108, 105 and 101), to kicking 3.16 on the MCG against a team of GWS kids who'd lost their entire bench, and two seasons where we were about as exciting to watch as paint dry. Even when we finally clawed our way back to respectability you had disappointing ends to 2016 and 2017, then following up a breakthrough season by finishing 17th. 

At that stage, you felt nothing was ever going to go right. You can trace my descent to madness in the archives. But now, a season I was sceptical about for so long has qualified as one of the greats. Each of 1998, 2000 and 2018 have various charms, but I can think of one obvious way 2021 can power into first place...

 

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Standard 'post delayed' notification


Well bugger me, Melbourne is in a Grand Final. As much as I intended to go all night to get the post out if that's what it took, I'm not as young as I used to be and am caving in at 04:35hrs. I 100% guaran-damn-tee* you this post will be out by Sunday morning, if not sometime Saturday night. I'll be trying to drop it before the Port/Footscray game so I don't have to change any of the 'who will it be?' mystery content.

(WARNING: GUARANTEE WAS A COMPLETE LIE. Due to circumstances beyond our control I'm now expecting a Monday morning release.)

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

Monday, 6 September 2021

Oh no, not you again - Preliminary Final preview

This is your brain on Preliminary Final tension:

Mine anyway. You're welcome to be philosophical about Friday night, I'm considering taking horse medication.

You may recall an exciting finish to our Round 23 game against Geelong. At that time I suggested Victoria's frazzled morale could only be salvaged by a Grand Final rematch. This discounted the very real possibility of playing them one game earlier. Now, the idea of them eliminating us a step short of the decider fills me with sporting terror. The sort where you know there are about 300,000 more important causes in the world but temporarily don't care.

It's not that there's anything particularly fearsome about the 2021 Cats. They've got plenty of good players, but other than finals experience, neutrals would rightly consider us favourites. I just don't want to lose our best chance at a flag in my lifetime AND the happy memories of that Gawn goal on the same night. I reserve the right to sulk for the rest of the calendar year and beyond if required.

A goal after the siren to complete a 44 point comeback and win a first minor premiership in 57 years should be untaintable, but if we win here it'll mean no matter what happens next you can watch it again on your deathbed Soylent Green style without thinking "yeah, that was great, but what about when they beat us in a Prelim three weeks later?" Ask a Brisbane fan how their exciting Round 23 victory looks now, after the team they got the advantage over that night beat them by a point when it really mattered.

The best way to get everything we want - for another two weeks - is to win, by any means necessary. Ideally, we look back on the heroics of Kardinia Park as the moment that launched our flag campaign, not a wonderful historical curiosity that was flushed down the toilet shortly after. It's not hard to find examples of the same thing happening between these sides. The joy of holding on after the siren in 2005 was tempered by the Cats thrashing us three weeks later, and we all felt a lot better about Zac Tuohy's winner after rumbling them in front of 93,000 people simultaneously blowing an O-Ring.

Maybe it's this subplot that's got me this far without having to be heavily sedated. If I had to focus entirely on the chance of playing in a Grand Final or spending summer/the rest of my life wondering where it all went wrong I might end up having toxic waste pumped from my stomach/pantaloons. Ultimately this has nothing to do with Geelong, as terrified as I am of them, and everything to do with expectation. In 2018 there was excitement but no serious expectation of winning. This time it could very well happen, without the need for the opposition to suffer a mass outbreak of food poisoning first. Though that would be great, if the caterers of Perth could arrange it.

Not that I've felt any more confident if GWS were the opposition, but if nothing else Gawn's goal would have been safe from retrospective discrediting. Of course, once they limped over the line against Sydney, the Giants never stood a chance. That didn't stop me from nearly doing a tendon in the rush to start watching after they got within 20 points in the last quarter. The revival barely lasted the time it took to switch the game back on, ensuring that Hogan and Preuss wouldn't return from their contractually obligated injury breaks to beat us with the games of their lives. Instead, I'm left shitscared of the team we've beaten twice rather than the one that fixed us up last time. Doesn't hurt that GWS has about 11 supporters in Victoria, while I'm girt by Cats' fans at every turn.

So it's another battle against Chris Scott's merry mix of ageing superstars and players who'll sink like a stone in a couple of years. Chris looks more like a charismatic cult leader every day, so watch out for foaming Gatorade if they lose. Their long term future means nothing to us now, they've only got to drag themselves over the line for another week to make Perth our Prelim graveyard for the third time.

Anything could happen, but any sort of close result will be different to when we last made this stage. In 2000 we stuffed North, and in 2018 the Eagles won so easily the crowd could afford to shelve their dignity and do a Mexican Wave during the last quarter. I'm fully expecting a thriller, and if it's anything like the Brisbane/Footscray game you'll need the Fire Brigade to get me off the roof after.

Selection
Poor old BT will have to find another way to slaughter the call of a big game now that Par Fitt is out. On our side, we're a mystery midweek injury (current favourite: table tennis ball to the eye) from as close to a full list as you're ever going to get at this time of the year. The only scare so far was Channel 7 trying to sizzle up an ANB injury angle based on shots through some trees of him with light bandaging to the thigh. I'd be upset if he didn't play, but won't preemptively slash my wrists on the pissweak evidence provided. Apologies to Tom Browne c/o the AFL Media Association's Perth hot-tub when The Bullet's leg ruptures four minutes into the first quarter.

Otherwise, I don't see much need to test our depth. With a week off, everyone who's capable of playing should arrive with a spring in their step. Mind you, our first game after a break was against Collingwood and look how well that went. Plenty of water under the bridge since then, imagine a time when New South Wales was a safe refuge from COVID, not its largest exporter. Since then we've got on to win lots of games, finish on top, and convincingly win a final. Outsiders think everything is going swimmingly, from the emotional heart of things I'm waiting to be rorted by the worst umpiring decision of all time.

Coaches are paid to work this sort of stuff out, but from an uneducated perspective it feels like any changes would be tempting fate. Other than an extra tall in their side, and an injured tagger who'll be spared the embarrassment of watching Clayton Oliver run away from him all night, we pretty much know what we're in for. After holding Gary Rohan reasonably well last time, I don't see any reason to sacrifice Joel Smith for Hunt or Hibberd. This means the only question left is whether Nathan Jones gets the heartwarming call up to... err... sit on the bench and wait for a teammate to become injured.  Somebody's going to be the first man in many years to win a premiership medallion without stepping on the field, may as well be one of ours.

It would lack romantic flavour, but I wouldn't object to Jones filling a vacancy for a medical sub. However, if none exists we can't start trading on sentiment now. I'm sure he's been kicking the door down in training, but hasn't played a full game since Round 6 and was only just going then. I'm confident he could do a job on nothing more than half-arsed scratch match form, but the well-rested, youthful legs of Jordon, and the potential impact sub Melksham also have their claims. Could even be a job for Hunt, who can play at either end, and would add pace if somebody came a cropper towards the end.

I'd love to stop worrying and learn to love the fairytale, but the overwhelming sense that this is our best chance of winning a flag in nearly 60 years is too much to ignore. That's why I bet heavily on Ben Brown when our long term future would be better suited trying to get The Weid going. We should challenge for years to come (though 2019 would like a word...) but there will rarely be a more even field, and we'll never lose this few players to injury so the time is now. I'd be sad if Jones missed a flag, but for purely selfish reasons, at least that means we'd have won it.

The war on sentiment also means I won't make a scene if Jordon makes way for a more versatile player. Bit cruel to go out after playing every game a'la Fritsch 2018, but he has been unused sub in the last two, and we're not running the Make A Wish Foundation. If another player is needed to successfully move one space towards the ultimate prize so be it. Maybe they'll decide he hasn't played enough recently. This has been the first real break since he broke into the side, they might think experienced players will get going faster off the bench if needed.

If I was a neutral, randomly invited to give my thoughts on Demonblog.com I'd say Melbourne win by 10 points. As an overly emotionally involved nutbag who's been building to this moment since 1989, I'm expecting to go down in controversial circumstances after extra time. Should be fun. For somebody else. 

Final thoughts
This is it friends. Our next game is either going to be even more IT, or a Petbarn Community Shield match against Carlton in Yackandandah. For now, we can only deal with what's ahead of us, and while I'm absolutely leaking with concern, I console myself by believing the players who have it all ahead of them on Friday night aren't. All season I've waited for the rug to be pulled out, or for a self-doubt timebomb to activate and destroy everything, but it hasn't. So, we might not win, but it won't be because of nerves, or failure to rise to the occasion. 

If we're lucky, the next time you read a post on this page it will be speaking about Melbourne in a Grand Final. Here's to, at long last, good things happening to people like us.

Monday, 30 August 2021

First we take Adelaide...

Several weeks ago I offered to act as the town bike if this Melbourne side was a legitimate premiership contender. Good thing nobody's legally allowed to come to my house, or there'd have been a kilometre long line on Saturday night. At this rate, nobody will be able to extract "I told you so" revenge until about March 2022, by which point the result of this season will have been long confirmed as Preliminary finalists (good), Grand finalists (better), or premiers (BLIMEY!).

I'm not even prepared to contemplate playing in a Grand Final until it happens, though in my weaker moments I've fantasised about how I'd defy public health orders if we did, but there's growing evidence of good things happening to us. In most years that would mean disaster lurking around the corner, but having stretched this run into the 24th week of the season you can't even put it down to a fluke. Five seasons ago the edge of the lid gently lifted after a Round 1 win, now it has exited the known solar system, and the five other teams left in season 2021 are forming an orderly queue to try and topple us.

Now that the first finals banana peel has been avoided, I'm declaring war on misery about not being able to be there live. Seeing a Qualifying Final the same way I did meaningless pre-season games eats me alive like a flesh eating virus, but who's to say any of this still happens without empty stadiums, fixture changes, mystery flights to Queensland, and interstate finals? I know for sure we beat Brisbane at the Adelaide Oval, can't say with any certainty the same thing would have happened at the G. If that bloke in China had never [insert theory here], we might have still played the Lions and won, we might have lost to David Teague's flag favourite Carlton, or we might have failed to qualify due to finishing 17th again. Time to concentrate on what you know is real instead of dying over hypotheticals. 

If all goes to plan there'll be some bitterness about not being there for the moment you've pictured in your head so many times, but you'll also gain 23 players and a coach whose names you'll be able to reel off on your deathbed. I'm going full steam on them winning it wherever and whenever. Even if we never get another chance in Victoria you'll still have the option to engage in the last refuge of the footy scoundrel and ask other supporters when they last saw a flag. They'll say "did you see it live?", you'll lie and shout "yes, I lived in Perth at the time DICKHEAD", and everyone will go home happy.

None of that will be relevant if we don't win our next game. In that case we'll be left sitting with St Kilda in the loser circle of teams that haven't done shit since black and white TV. The good news is that the many and varied disasters from 1965 to 2020 are only scarcely relevant to the players involved. The number of times 57 years has been mentioned in interviews suggests they know the gravity of the situation, but aren't playing like it. On the other hand, I've got zero contribution to make and am absolutely bricking it. But that's the difference, to them this is a ultimately a job, to me it's a spiritual quest.

This is what separates highly paid sportspeople from Bargearse over here on the couch. They're playing like they don't carry the weight of our expectation, or that something they've been working their arse off towards for years couldn't be swept away in an instant. In real life, I live for good old fashioned workplace pressure, but patiently delivering the ball out of the backline, or kicking a set shot with the whole country watching would give me a seizure. Perhaps that's why I never reached greater sporting heights than losing an indoor soccer Grand Final after falling on my arse in front of goal. That and an entire lack of natural athletic talent.

Whatever this playing group's secret is, and it seems like a long time since they wobbled home with a draw against Hawthorn, the future is in their hands, and they've taken the express route to the second last week of the season. There's something you literally don't see every day, only the second time in the near 30 year history of the final eight that we've vaulted straight to a Prelim. The only other example was 2000, and while that win over Carlton narrowly remains my favourite of all time, there was a sense that we were just playing for the right to lose to a side that had won the other Qualifying Final by 125 points. This time we're up to our necks in it, with no superteam lying in wait with heavy artillery at the end of the road. 

Now that we're shorter priced favourites for the flag than we were just to win games a while ago my nerves aren't coping. In 2013 we failed to cover a +90.5 line against Hawthorn, anybody who thinks they understand what we've been through is kidding themselves. Here's hoping the years of dread don't end in a massive, Saints style, ball bounces left instead of right, chance missed forever, stitch-up.

Despite the weight of expectation after the truly bonkers finish in Geelong, I held myself together reasonably well during the week. Maybe it's because I didn't stop thinking about Gawn's goal until Wednesday. In the spirit of putting the garage door down on my lawnmower while replaying that in my head, I accidentally shut my foot in a door midway through writing this post. If we win the prelim I'm going to try some Jaidyn Stephenson style freestyle BMX.

The panic kicked in at the most unlikely time, when GWS/Sydney looked like it might go to extra time. Given there was still 70 minutes until the bounce I'm sure we'd have only missed awkward pre-match discussion, but at the time my mind jumped straight to a delayed start in Adelaide somehow being responsible for us losing.

For about six months I've been waiting for somebody to tear the hood off and reveal we're fakes, like the end of a Scooby Doo episode. Turns out we're actually pretty good, which still surprises me 18.5 wins later. Over the next two weeks I might go back and read posts from earlier in the season, when no matter how often we won it scarcely seemed believable that we'd be one of the last four teams alive in the premiership race. Now we're even able to survive karma tempting packages like this.

Imagine being a Brisbane fan watching that, you wouldn't have known your side was involved. That would have been embarrassing if they'd won. But they didn't, so well done Channel 7 for backing a winner. They also sent back the same commentary team that delivered the goods in Geelong, saving us at least one more time from having that absolute wazzock BT bring the atmosphere down by spouting shite. I'm glad he narrowly avoided catching fire during the week, but any danger of staying home and resting until about 2028?

This post should wrap up a bit quicker than last week. The game was more important, but in isolation it featured a few dozen fewer twists and turns, or a grandstand finish. We just built a solid lead, withstood a half-strength revival, and held out long enough for star power to make the difference. Neutrals and Brisbane fans feel like we romped it in, I wasn't so sure at the time but am coming around to that view now. If you're strapped for time you might as well skip to the votes now, because I'm about to say all that again in more detail, with additional coverage of my psychological torment.

From the calm of two hours earlier, my innards had nearly turned to liquid by the first bounce. Couldn't have asked for a better settler than Brown uncharacteristically plucking crumb off a pack and slicing it through from 30 metres out. I foolishly thought that if he was kicking those, then he'd run riot for the rest of the night. He went on to play a very strange game, including plenty of solid marks up the ground and score involvements, balanced by dropping the biggest sitter on the lead that you'll ever see, twice taking marks inside 50 that he didn't know were touched, and botching a golden chance to kill the game off immediately after half time. Regardless, he did his job, and I got a rush from seeing somebody wear #50 in a final. Here's to a whole generation of young players realising that silly numbers are great.

In 1998, Chris Fagan took our reserves to a semi off the back of goals from Craig Nettelbeck, so he knows a bit about great key forwards. This time he had to settler for Joe Daniher, who might have kicked a goal in every game this year but holds an absurdly bad recent record against us. Way back in 2015 he kicked 5.0, but has otherwise shanked his way to 5.15 in six starts. Regardless, after 45 goals in the home and away season he represented a dangerous option. Like Brown, when he lined up for an early shot I incorrectly believed it was the start of something big. He missed and failed to trouble the scorers again. Congratulations, you've just met All Australian full back Steven May.

With our old nemesis Hipwood long since crocked by a knee injury, all the action in their forward 50 was at ground level. Which is what you want against our defenders, drop all your big men, play with quick smalls and watch us get nervous when the ball hits the ground. For that reason, nobody could have been surprised that Charlie Cameron was at the head of the Brisbane attack. In fact, he pretty much was their attack. 

This was bad news for Joel Smith, who had the thankless task of trying to keep up with him all night. He lost, but not in the sort of landslide that makes you think anybody else on our list could have done a better job. Sometimes it wasn't entirely his fault, he couldn't have anticipated that a panic, blind, over the head handball from the pocket would land perfectly with his opponent. Or that a tremendously nervy Rivers would flub a handball in the middle that left Cameron barrelling into an open goal, with enough time to fumble the ball, before regathering and kicking it.

In the spirit of playing at the Adelaide Oval, the first quarter was a lot like both our games against the Crows. Our usually impenetrable backline conceded more than you'd like, but the forwards held up their end of the bargain. The concern in situations like this is that we'll keep conceding goals but stop kicking enough to cover them. Like the Adelaide rematch there were no such problems, and it was back to regular service after half time, slowly strangling an opposition to the point where they lost the will to live.

You'd like to think we'd have won anyway, but there was an element of luck in the Lions losing one of their best players in the opening minutes, absolutely CLOBBERED with a knee to the head by a teammate who failed to hurdle him. It was quite the collision. UFC fighters have been knocked out by less, though this lacked an opponent repeatedly punching him in the head after. As we're done with the days concussed players can go off thinking they're Abraham Lincoln and come back later, that was RIP to one of the key pillars of their defence. Back in the day this wouldn't have mattered, you could eliminate any random player from an opposition side and we'd still go to water. Once GWS lost their whole bench and beat us by 10 goals. Thank god we're made of sterner stuff now.

This stroke of luck meant the introduction of Rhys Mathieson, who probably thought the injury was a false flag operation set up by the government. Even if it wasn't for his cavalier attitude to the murder of schoolchildren, you'd still hate him. He's just that sort of character. Not even in a pantomime Toby Greene way, or because he has a face that says "I just bloody love mischief" like Cody Weightman, just somebody to be despised. Now, watch us make a Grand Final against the Lions and for him to single-handedly win it with the greatest game of his life.

After Sparrow got our second goal, we had a few minutes to breathe before the sort of random scoring onslaught that unites both AFL and Channel 7 executives in delight. Unlike either of the warp speed explosions last week, this one was a joint production of both sides.

Everything came up Melbourne in the end, but the way we play I'd have rather led 15-7 at quarter time than 34-26. Only if one of those two goals also came from Pickett plowing through a narrow gap at a stoppage, running towards the boundary line and screwing his shot through from a ludicrous angle. Finals nerves be buggered, he would gladly do the same thing in any week from Round 1 onwards. Brief dip in the middle notwithstanding, what a year he's had. Now that kicking goals from the pocket in a final is like shooting fish in a barrel what can stop him?

I'd have been more excited if we hadn't conceded the reply two minutes later. The ring-in Adelaide fans who we'd tried to buy off with free chips loved that it came from a Lever blunder. There's nobody alive who enjoys football feuds more than me, and for that reason I was ecstatic to hear their sour booing. You'd have to be precious to get upset about it, the game is in a precarious state at the moment, there's nothing that will keep people coming back more than maintaining rage over trivial matters. The good news for upset Crows fans is that he was involved in a couple of other first half cock-ups, the better news for us is that they can see him again by watching their TV in a fortnight. That'll be their only interest in a prelim for the next few years.

When it comes to our midfield, the main events at ground level are almost always Oliver and Petracca, but a moment please for Jack Viney, continuing his 2018 Finals Player of the Year form. About once every three weeks he looks cooked, but couldn't have played his role better here. Like Nathan Jones, he bravely held the fort for long enough that top quality reinforcements could arrive, but unlike Jones finds himself still going at the right time to get a cut of the spoils. There's still a chance for both to end up in the same team again before the end of this year, but if it doesn't happen for Jones, the irony after playing in so many fiascos is that his career will end with eight straight wins.

Sparrow - who I reckon looks more like late 90s Todd Viney than Jack - was also very good, almost confirming that Double J won't be back in the starting side again this year. There is no guarantee (I repeat, in case jinxes do turn out to be a thing, NO GUARANTEE) that we're going to win anything else this year, but these are the sort of unexpected players who often come good just at the right time in flag sides. It's not just him, Spargo, Bowey, Rivers (though not so much this week...), and the Anal-Bullet, have also picked a good time to be in form. 

While Viney is bred for finals, the man who made Mooroopna famous is just naturally good at them. Other than set shots and convincingly falling over when bumped in a pack, there's not much Oliver doesn't excel at. He does love the Adelaide Oval, where he's got half the goals and Brownlow votes as at the MCG in 50 less starts. Bless that man, whoever decided to recruit him, and everyone who played a part in shepharding him through a rocky first season. Now, I defy you to find too many better players in our modern history. You can't compare him directly to Flower or Neitz because they did completely different things, but at the moment his domination is nearly absolute. Stopping him might not even help other sides, two of his best games this year were the Adelaide and Footscray losses. There's a reason why he's just won the Coaches' Award, and will go close to winning the Brownlow. Spoiler alert - we got in first.

Oliver is so good that you know a party's about to break out when he starts kicking goals as well. After a passage of play inside our 50 so scrubby that suburban teams would spit on it, including much ground level scrap, Gawn trying to duck into his opponent for a free, one Brisbane player missing a kick off the ground and rolling the ball through Pickett's hands instead, a smother, Brayshaw booting the ball straight up in the air, an attempted spoil that went in the opposite direction to where it was intended and two Brisbane throws, Clayton eventually said "stand back peasants" and did it himself, walking through a wank-handed tackle and snapping from 30 metres out. Marvellous stuff. Never before has a player with hair that resembles two minute noodles done so many great things.

Again, you'd like to have sat back and enjoyed the majesty of that goal, but we worked our hardest to give it straight back. When Cameron got a third, I half wanted to scour the record books for other great bags against us in finals, but was too scared in case he set the new record. The post-1987 winner is seven by jointly shared by Jason Dunstall in the '88 Grand Final, Gary Ablett in the '89 Semi and Craig Sholl in the 2000 Prelim. I prefer the third one because we still won by 50 points. In the end, Charlie was restricted to five and they didn't go close to winning. Operation successful, patient dead.

This extravaganza of free scoring had me worried. In a week where Carlton made light of the AFL's attempts to artificially increase scoring by sacking their coach for not being defensive enough, I didn't think it our job to provide an exciting finals spectacle. Given that all our losses this year have been by a combined 47 points, there's no doubting we've done well in defence, but it's telling that three losses coincided with our three lowest scores of the year. Then there was Adelaide version one, a game historians will be absolutely baffled by in years to come.

Some sanity was reintroduced with the last goal of the quarter. It was born of a screamer from Luke Jackson, who is ever so slightly pulling back from looking like Weird Al in UHF, directly set up by a pass from Brown, then finished by Langdon from an NQR angle. Like Oliver, this is not what we pay Ed to do, so any goals are a bonus - especially since he hadn't kicked one since the middle of the year. The real reason we got him is to fang up and down the wing like a greyhound for four quarters, and he did that exceptionally well here. His second half of the year hasn't been as good as the first, but he was super important in getting us out of jail a few times on Saturday night.

So, an eight point lead. It was hardly the 2018 Elimination Final for dominant opening terms, but a decent nerve settler. Brisbane were playing reasonably well, their ruckman was doing enough against Gawn, and they had the most dangerous forward on the ground, so the lead proved we weren't ruffled by the occasion. In the end, it lacked the Hannan moment of the Geelong final (and can anything bar you-know-what compare with that release of pressure?) but we won by more. A very good opposition was dismantled piece by piece, and even when they had the better of the game never went close to seriously troubling us. The word of the day is professionalism - not one you associated with us in the days of tax bills being found in drawers, shameless match-fixing, and sacking coaches at the drop of a hat.

If the first quarter was uncomfortably high scoring, the second was far more palatable. In that we kept scoring and they stopped dead. It started, as usual, with Oliver, who set up Fritsch's first. Sure, they got the next one, much for the excitement of chip-scoffing locals, because Lever wobbled on the mark and gave away a 50, but the rest of the quarter was pure Melbourne. It was so pure Melbourne that we turned near total domination into a string of missed opportunities. Finally, after Jackson x2 and Langdon had kicked points, a temporary goal rush tipped things in our favour. That man Oliver put the first one on a plate for Pickett, then the thinking man’s 11 possession player Spargo clamped a textbook inside 50 tackle and we were away.

The rest of the quarter looked like the best of Melbourne 2021. Gawn had taken control after an early scare against the Big O, Oliver and Petracca were doing Oliver and Petracca things, and when the other side got the ball in their defensive 50 they looked up to see a great wall of players that left them nothing to do except kick 14.5 metres for no obvious benefit or thump it long to either be spoiled out of bounds or hoovered up with the greatest of ease. 

The scoreboard was ticking over, but there was no killer blow that might have convinced Brisbane to pack up before half time. We did get the last through Fritsch, pushing the margin over 30, and into 'won't we look like dickheads if this goes south?' territory. Given what happened last week, and the last time we played the Lions, I wasn’t ready to crack the champers and start making plans for my free weekend just yet, but it was a fair platform to work off. May as well have been one point the difference considering how my stomach was going. Good things are not allowed to happen to us. It’s written somewhere in the constitution next to the bit about being a sovereign citizen.

Statistically, you're probably bugger all chance of losing from that far ahead at half time, but all of a sudden I developed an interest in mysticiscm and thought we might be due karmic payback for last week. They say there are no atheists in a foxhole, and likewise it's only when I'm under the pump for sporting reasons that this sort of nonsense starts to seem real. I also couldn't help flashing back to recovering from a similar margin to beat Carlton 21 years ago. Sure, teams scored almost 25 points a game more then, so it makes less sense that it would happen now, but this was no time for sensible, rational thinking.

And then we went goalless for a quarter. This isn’t as bad as it sounds when you consider they only got two, but at the time it caused serious touching of cloth. Things would have looked a lot better if Brown had kicked the first goal. His Inspector Gadget style reach to take it deserved better, but from a range he'd usually cover with his eyes closed, his run-up from centre half-back failed, the kick banged into the post, and the Lions remained alive. Our defence still had them under control, and our old friend Cameron hadn’t been seen for a while, but even with scores at 50 year lows you're still vulnerable to blowing a lead. Once we negotiate a centre bounce, the opposition has to break through the strongest defence since the Battle of Stalingrad, but we’re vulnerable to quick breaks from the centre. Several times over if the Geelong game was anything to go by.

The second knee-head interface of the evening cost Luke Jackson teeth both false and real, as he paid tribute to the return of CM Punk by taking a GTS. I thought he came back with a novelty backup mouthguard that looked like the comedy false teeth Daryl Somers used to wear on Hey Hey It's Saturday, but on closer inspection it's just that the black bit of the design blends into his mouth. He wasn't self-conscious about it, ending the game proudly showing the gap to all and sundry, much to the horror of whoever is in charge of convincing parents to let their kids play the game.

Not for the first time at this venue we were hampered by an unpaid free kick. This time it went in our favour, but we might have been better off had they spotted a red-hot holding the ball in the middle of the ground. Instead of the ball having to be kicked into a crowded forward 50, it kept moving forward at speed and ended in Cameron's fourth. 

started in our favour, but we might have been better served if a red-hot holding the ball in the middle of the ground was paid and they’d had to kick into a crowded forward 50. Instead, it kept moving forward and Cameron ended up with a fourth. That wasn't worth entering ‘here we go’ territory. The goal they got five minutes later was. Other than being a handy player, the only other fun fact I know about Huge McLuggage is that he can’t kick a set shot to save himself. So naturally, cometh the hour, cometh the stitch up, and he cut the margin to less than 20 points. Now I was stressing. As it turns out, needlessly. The way we were defending Brisbane would have had to play until Sunday night to cover our score. That’s why I’m not upset at Smith conceding five, somebody’s going to get them, may as well all come from one source instead of five guys kicking one each.

Until then I'd sat comfortably, now the tension became too heavy and I had to stand. Cue 30 minutes of wandering the room and talking to myself like the deranged. All the classic locations were ticked off, side of the couch, back of the couch, on the treadmill, but never in front of the couch, you don't want to risk accidentally pulling a cord out and shutting the Megawall down at a crucial moment.

With my heart rate approach defibrillator territory, there was a late chance for Fritsch to kick a settler. He left me tormented throughout the three quarter time break by missing, but quickly made up for it after the restart. Now we were back to the half time margin and surely, SURELY, nothing could go wrong. Other than them responding two minutes later. But then world's greatest fourth quarter goalkicker Fritsch did the same and my emotions were fluctuating at a rapid rate. I was almost willing to go with the idea of winning... until Cameron got his fifth. It was an Acting Football League masterclass on the same level as Harrison Petty's timewasting against West Coast, initiating the wrestle, then gladly taking the free when the umpire only spotted Smith's contact.

As far as I was concerned it was game on, and given some of the shots we'd missed (including Gawn failing to relive the spirit of Kardinia Park by missing everything from the boundary), I didn't hold out much hope for Petracca kicking the sealer from hard on the boundary line. Without the additional degree of difficulty from some numptie, middle-finger waving Port nutbag screeching at him over the fence, he just casually went back and smashed it through. I was a touch less casual about it, dancing back and forth behind the couch, throwing punches in the air like this bloke, and shouting "oh you beautiful man!" as it crossed the line. And he is. God, I remember days when I'd watch this side get carved up like a Christmas turkey and lament how every other shit side seemed to have at least one superstar while we were girt by slop. Now we've got five All Australians, the Rising Star, and hopefully a Brownlow winner. I almost don't know what to do with myself.

The final nail in the coffin came from Petracca again, and at last my battered central nervous system was cleared to relax. As was Simon Goodwin's, showing everybody who he thinks our four top players are by taking Gawn, May, Oliver and Petracca off as insurance against tragic late injuries. This idea was validated when ANB stacked into the fence and temporarily looked like he'd done himself a mischief. 

And... err... that was it. No goals after the siren, no total commotion, no pressure on commentators to say anything that would be replayed over and over again for the next week. Just a good, solid, honest victory, and a week off to ponder which buttock you're going to get a premiership tattoo on.

In lieu of a controversial finish, Ed Langdon decided to fire things up by shelving his Nicest Man Alive tag and shovelling shit in the direction of Ross Lyon:

Hope Ed sarcastically dedicates his first premiership to Roscoe, then wears the medal as his headband the first time we play Carlton.

Comrades, everything is going well. I'm under more pressure than a deep sea diver whenever we're playing, but the rest of the time things are quite enjoyable. Any chance of dragging that feeling out for another three weeks? We would, as Hunter S. Thompson said, be fools not to ride this strange torpedo to the end.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Tom Sparrow
1 - Ed Langdon

First division apologies to Brayshaw, Fritsch, Gawn, May and Neal-Bullen 

Leaderboard
With two to play, it's over. The avoidance of a third game means Oliver now has an unsurmountable lead. That's also great news for Jake Lever, who cannot now be caught for the Seecamp, an award that's been going so long Nathan Carroll, Ryan Ferguson and Matthew Whelan are on the honour roll. Congratulations to both winners, Oliver's third Jakovich leaves him two behind Nathan Jones, the only other man to win the award multiple times.

The other awards are still in the balance. Jordon is defending his Hilton lead grimly despite two weeks with his feet up on the bench. If somebody other than Bowey snatches it off him, then something very weird has happened at selection. Maximum remains on target for Stynes #8, but the man I still can't bring myself to call 'Dogga' remains within range, and is still above the qualifying mark, so could snatch it yet.

And, back for its second appearance (not counting the retrospective award in 2006, or the fact that I just flat out ignored the 2005 final), it's the oft-forgotten Best Finals Player award. Three years later and I've still not come up with a player to name it after. Probably because by Round 5, 2019 it didn't look like it would ever be relevant again. This one is simple enough that even I can't botch it - Oliver got five votes this week, therefore Oliver leads.

65 - Clayton Oliver (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year, LEADER: Finals Player of the Year)
52 - Christian Petracca
38 - Jake Lever (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
24 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
22 - Tom McDonald
21 - Luke Jackson 
20 - Steven May
17 - Christian Salem
13 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Ed Langdon
9 - Bayley Fritsch, Harrison Petty
7 - James Harmes, Alex Neal-Bullen
6 - Angus Brayshaw, Jack Viney
5 - Jayden Hunt, Charlie Spargo
3 - Michael Hibberd,
2 - James Jordon (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jake Bowey

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
With all due respect to Petracca from the boundary, I can't go past Pickett's barnstorming run and conversion from outrageous angle in the first quarter. He kicked it from almost the exact spot as that deliberate, removing any last semblance of curse from that decision which we haven't already killed by finishing top and winning a final. Will that make me shut up about not being paid the free? No, it will not. 

For the weekly prize, Pickett wins unlimited free play on the lockdown hub Daytona USA machine. Not my fault if it ends in him doing an ankle from excess acceleration.

There was some talk on the Twitter machine about whether it replaced Maximum's goal as the clubhouse leader for the overall award. If you were doing a top five - and next year I might keep a rolling leaderboard to spark public debate - it would be up there for degree of difficulty and occasion, but I still prefer the St Kilda one for confined space spelunkage. And you'll have to kick the winning goal in a Grand Final to beat Max at Kardinia Park.

Next Week
The current plan is to go to Perth and play there on Friday week. Both plans are conditional on who gets the sniffles in WA before then, and how quickly the Premier can have them eliminated. Fans from that state have been amongst the most wonderful supporters of this page over the years, and I'd be thrilled if they got the chance to see us play important games without having to put up with local fans, but if there's any doubt over the state's collective respiratory system I'd be happy to go back to Adelaide, where we have a shit hot record in games not decided by players handballing straight out of bounds. 

You could say "a Prelim in Perth, what could possibly go wrong?", but with a better side, not physically cooked by weeks of playing near their peak, and a neutral crowd, we'll never get a better chance to erase the memories of 1994/2018. 

The opposition will be either Geelong or GWS. So much for a) the blockbuster Grand Final against the Cats that last week's result seemed to demand, and b) my theory that they would pummel Port Adelaide and stay on the other side of the draw. I'm still terrified about playing them again, hence the conciliatory tones last week. Surely it will be them, GWS might have just held one for one of the bravest finals you'll ever see, but Sydney were punching their brains into milkshakes by the end. With two injuries and their captain about to be suspended for jostling an umpire and two other injured players, you just can't picture them pulling off another smash and grab job like they did at Kardinia Park a few weeks ago. I certainly hope they do, even if that backfires and ends in them putting us out. If we lose I'll just assume the same would have happened no matter the opposition, and accept that it's better to happen against a team that I've still never met a fan of. 

We know what we're in for against the Cats, the wildcard for a GWS game will be Jesse Hogan. Go back a few years and tell me he's playing his first final on the same day Melbourne begin a campaign to defend top spot, and I'd stab you for suggesting he wasn't lining up for us. To make it to a game against us, not only do the Giants have to spring an upset, he's got to break the habit of the last few years and stay fit for three weeks in a row. If he makes it, imagine the chaos of a battle against the player we chucked him for, with a Grand Final on the line. Extra points for being played on the ground of the side that used pick six on him and got bugger all in return. Freo fans will give him the Lever treatment and show up just to boo. In the short term I wish him nothing but the best, hoping he kicks nine against the Cats before we hold him to 0.0.

Whoever we get next, current form and self-belief of players suggest we should win. So why am I so scared? Scared but also thrilled. This must be what it's like to go skydiving. With an equal chance of the parachute failing to open.

There's no obvious need for changes. Sparrow entered in the most danger and played one of his best games so he's safe in my book. This is continuing bad news for Jordon, who might have to console himself with another night as the sub. If the opposition is Geelong, Smith certainly survives based on his performance in Round 23, if it's GWS somebody might make a case for Hibberd. I'm genuinely conflicted. Not so much about Hunt vs Bowey, unfortunately for Jayden we've demonstrated ability to burst out of defence without him, so I'm sticking with the JB fairytale story. If we made it he would equal Frank Davis 1964 for playing in a Grand Final in his sixth game. Unless you're Marlion Pickett, you'll never do better than Francis Vine, playing in our 1926 flag on debut after being called up on a day's notice.

There are also questions over McDonald, who was not - contrary to cliche - better for the run last week. Other than that one fantastic lead (and subsequent miss) he did two thirds of stuff all and only had four possessions. But we still scored 93 points, and Fritsch got four standing next to him, so I'm prepared to pretend he acts as an important decoy and go with the same formula that got us here in the first place. Let's stick with the same side that delivered the goods this week and hope for the best. The state of my jaw on Sunday morning suggests I may lose more teeth than Luke Jackson by the time it starts.

IN: Nil
OUT: Nil
LUCKY: McDonald
UNLUCKY: Hibberd, Hunt, Jones

Promotional consideration paid for by the following
There's probably about 3000 copies of my book on the shelves of shops that won't be open again by the time the Grand Final has played, but the way it's going the publisher might wear the cost of pulping them Alan Partridge style and putting out an updated edition to reference flag #13. May as well buy the original now and hope it becomes a collector's item. And double down with its big bastard brother, a tome so heavy it will destroy your TV if thrown with enough force.

Final Thoughts
Sit back and relax Dees fans, you've done well. And neutrals, please submit your application to get on the bandwagon using the same permit system that you need to travel interstate. Make a good case for yourself, we're not taking just anybody on this ride. See you post-Prelim, where the tone of this page could look like anything from Woodstock '69 to Woodstock '99.