Monday, 14 August 2017

The dream shall never die (but I might)

If the people of Guam think it's stressful waiting for missiles to land on their nature strip they should try being a Melbourne fan in the week of an important game. No matter what happens we're heading towards our best season since 2006, but the way everyone went off chops this week you'd think Schwab/Neeld 2017 has been elected President.

Like the MFC legend who flipped his lid at the end of a benign loss to Fremantle in 2012 and screamed "I CAN'T TAKE THIS FUCKING CLUB ANYMORE", then kicked shit out of the stairs as he stormed out, the tension was amplified by having something nice in our hands before it slipped away. No matter what else happens, at least we've come to the point where finals drama is killing us, not just the surprise of nearly winning a game.

The thing was, it hadn't actually slipped away. There was plenty of life left in our season, but by Friday the Veil of Negativity that has hovered low to the ground like a UFO all season finally smothered everything in its path. As we turned a 40 point lead into four with 19 minutes to play in the last quarter I was fully invested in it, ready to drape it over my eyes and jump into the sea. All's well that ends well.

The mass outbreak of trauma can't just have been about GWS demolishing us inside 15 malicious minutes because that was no great surprise. Not many people - and certainly not me - took comfort in the fact that we'd be in the same position if we'd done as expected and lost to Port then beaten North. It's just that for two weeks in a row we looked incapable of kicking a winning score, so there was a creeping sense of dread that the season was going to fade away lamely like last year. Even Christian Salem escaping what initially looked like a serious injury (then being dropped anyway) didn't cheer us up, before the frenzy took a predictable detour via Melway reference JW666, where everything is Jack Watts' fault and people want to trade him to Richmond for pick 37.

Things started going our way when it was confirmed that Nick Riewoldt was out. After wrecking us regularly for years that was a handy exclusion, even if it opened the door for any number of people you've never heard of to do a Beau Wilkes style Kingsley number on us. I'm sure when the season Riewoldt will arrange to meet Neville Jetta somewhere late at night (a'la the epic 1992 Hoyle vs Deane dunk contest) and give Nifty one last chance to try and heroically spoil him in a one-on-one contest.

The depression session heated up again when the first draft of the teams arrived on Thursday night. Brayshaw was a welcome return, though at the time nobody could have seen him playing so well and coming off on the winning side of a head clash. On the other hand, Salem and Frost were out in the initial cull, with journalists confirming within two hours that Watts would be joining them. Why they had to wait until Friday to reveal this in a press conference instead of either doing it Thursday night or in the final teams on Friday I'm not sure, but two months after everyone lauded his alleged arrival on Queen's Birthday (about 30 games late) he was being stuffed headfirst into the recycling bin again. Life wasn't meant to be easy.

The final spiral into insanity began with people talking seriously about losing to Brisbane more than a week before playing them - and well in advance of them thumping Gold Coast on Saturday night. It's not out of the question, and privately we're all worried about the same thing, but what about concentrating on one perceived debacle at a time? Then a source with a famous surname and as much credibility as a 15-year-old forum wanker suggested Jesse Hogan is about to demand a trade back to Perth and the internet exploded in a shower of sparks.

Never mind that the story has been doing the rounds for months, we were in such a heightened state of awareness that it caused ripples not seen since he bought a house in Perth last year and we instantly decided he was going to dick us. Then it would have ripped the heart out of the place, but considering the arsehole of a run he's had this year cashing in now might be a win/win. After all who wouldn't want to go back to square one with Freo and lose by 100 every few weeks? At least he'd be able to enjoy the traditional surprise wins over us at the 'G. As long as we were adequately compensated and not just bent over by a contracted player I don't see it as a Carnival of Hate scenario unless he exits by wiping the sweat from his plums with the 1964 premiership flag (if somebody hasn't stolen it). I'd be morally uncomfortable if we did trade him after everything that's happened, but it may be the best thing for everyone. To calm myself I'd go into my garden and engrave his name on the honour roll of fallen post-Neitz forwards alongside Newton, Miller, Clark and Dawes.

I've not been to the snow since about 1986, but by the time the final teams came out I was just about ready to drive to Falls Creek and shelter in a chalet until the weekend was over. There was no escaping the veil's fabric tentacles, even Corey Maynard became the first player to score Jakovich votes on debut then get dropped. By Sunday I was so tightly wound that doing something like kicking six goals to one in the first quarter then losing might have done me in.

Considering the Saints pulled off a heroic (and helpful) win against the Eagles last week, while we were rubbish for all but the first 10 minutes it felt weird to start favourites. But it always feels like that when you've come from where we have, and still have a nasty habit of plummeting to the ground face first whenever expectations are raised. At quarter time the bookies looked like geniuses, before dear old flat-footed and confused Melbourne re-emerged.

It was reminiscent of the Port win, dashing off to a big lead early then being forced to defend it when the opposition bothered to show up. The difference was that day our success was built on scaring them shitless with manic pressure, whereas this came off the back of St Kilda unsuccessfully playing to a frenetic pace, going for it at a million miles an hour like fumbling horny teenagers with no idea what they were doing. They looked the far more likely side in the opening minutes, but went about moving the ball as if they'd all been chroming for an hour before the bounce and stuffed up numerous chances.

After a few minutes of insanely eager football where everyone was trying to one-up each other on artistic merit for turning the ball over things calmed down, much to our advantage. In a game with the bare minimum of stoppages Gawn was tonked in the hitouts for once, but as the ball was continually in play for most of the first quarter except when we'd just kicked a goal that didn't matter. Viney was reasonably held, but between Jones playing a vintage game, and Oliver getting his hands on everything the Saints had no idea how to stop us. Once again Plan A - now with McSizzle back in defence stopping everything that came near him - worked a treat, and this week didn't self-destruct at three goals to nil.

I enter every game genuinely scared that we won't kick any so three unanswered is a bonus, even if as we discovered in Canberra it's no sure-fire indication of success. Certainly makes a welcome change from going 25 points down and then having to claw our way back, and the inevitable Saints comeback proved correct what seemed like an outrageous quarter time statement that a five goal lead was "insurance". One day we'll go on with it. Imagine the warm feelings of a Sydney fan on Saturday watching their side go 80 points up at half time? What a wonderful world it would be to leave a 104 point win upset that you only added another four goals to the margin in the second half.

It was all well and good taking advantages of St Kilda's attempts to set the land speed record while they ironically let Jayden Hunt loose to steam the ball out of defence for the first time in weeks, but somebody still had to kick the goals. That remains my concern going into the last two weeks, I think we can get the ball enough to consistently do everything except get in a position to have shots. To calm my nerves we were handed the first on a platter, when Viney and Tyson engaged in a bit of "you first, no you..." vaudeville that tricked a Saints player into giving away a 50. Like the ball pivoting into Oliver's hands from a wonky ball-up it was probably correct to the letter of the law, but just the sort of unnecessary, administrative bullshit that drives people mad.

That stroke of luck cured the Saints of their compulsion to play insane, break-neck footy. Because for the best part of the next 20 minutes they barely got their hands on it save for one goal to a forward hanging out the back waiting for scraps. Meanwhile down the other end James Harmes - with hair veering dangerously towards an Andy Lovell style mullet - was playing some sort of quarter. The suggestion that it was best game yet ignores a smashing performance against Gold Coast last year where he looked more like Ablett than the real deal, but this was on a far more important stage.

He was lucky not to get the arse after last week, and repaid the faith of the selectors x3. I reserve the right to go on and off him weekly, but there's something momentous about a life-long Demon fan born in 1995 being part of this revival. His generation are the ones who have never seen anything other than some middle of the road finals performances pre-puberty. Most eventually told their parents to piss off and stop trying to make them go to the footy. Now he can influence our future, and has an infectious look of delight whenever he does.

His first goal came courtesy of a screaming pack mark, the sort that you'd never have backed our small forward line to pull off but ended up being vital in both the first and last quarters. Even better that it came in the middle of two defenders, from the sort of hopefully high ball that we usually see chopped off and instantly taken the other way.

The long ball was significantly less successful in the middle two quarters, with Saints defenders queuing up to chop kicks off. Speaking of chopping things, Jake Carlisle has moved from lines of gear to lines of fabric as he sported what looked suspiciously like the old three-quarter length sleeves that the Australian Fashion League once threatened to fine Adem Yze for. I can't tell if they were rolled up or he's actually had a custom job done, but it's a good look, there should be more of it, and the AFL owes Yze a written apology for persecuting him over it.

Smilin' Jimmy H got the third too, in a rare scenario where he started the attacking opportunity from the wing and ended up converting it. After a perfect kick bounced off the chest of the out-of-sorts Garlett, Harmes kept running inside 50, took an intelligent handball from Neal-Bullen when the Bullet could have blazed away from the pocket, walked around a defender and kicked it from the top of the square. Things were looking up, but there's a difference in perception between crushing a team that are being terrified out of picking up the ball, and one that simply can't get a kick. With the latter you know there's every chance they're going to get a run on at some point. They did, but not yet.

At 19-1 I was experiencing positive feelings again, until the entire ground collectively held its breath when Angus Brayshaw collided with Koby Stevens (who knew he was still playing, let alone at St Kilda). My expectations for him were low considering what he's been through and how long he's been out of the team, so after an excellent start it was absolutely taking the piss for him to crack heads with someone before quarter time. You could tell he hated wearing the helmet from the way he'd rip it off every time he went to the bench, but good thing he had it on or we might be here lamenting a medically enforced retirement. Maybe he pulled that classic 80s masked wrestler trick and loaded it with a foreign object?

As he went down I was almost at the 'shake your fist at the sky and denounce organised religion' stage of grief, before he finally enjoyed some luck and emerged unscathed while the other guy was eliminated from the game with concussion. The way his last two seasons have gone I'm surprised he didn't survive the initial contact then crumple to the ground when Gawn gave him a plus-sized pat on the head after.

The best part - other than him not suffering another head injury - was that he never flinched after. For the rest of the game he was backing into packs and throwing himself at the ball like there was nothing wrong. He ended up playing a very good game, much better than you'd expect from somebody out of the senior team for so long. Given that we were using Wagner on the wing at times (who wasn't bad, but how far are you going to get doing that?) we could still do with somebody quick on the outside, but at last the inside mids are sorted. In fact we've got too many, which is why Maynard's stay only lasted a week. Dare I say time to try and flip Tyson elsewhere to help find some pace?

Harmes had a rest and gave somebody else - popular trade bait Tyson and a St Kilda player whose name I care not to learn - a turn, before reappearing for number three. He ran around somebody again for this one, showing off the ball Mick McGuane style first before taking an unnecessary bounce and running into goal from 35 metres out. Of course I didn't think was going to last, but I did allow myself to fantasise for a bit and wonder what it would be like to make a statement by violently destroying another mid-table team. Big mistake, never let your guard down.

In a quarter where we registered our most inside 50s since Gold Coast 2016, Pedersen chucked another one in right at the end and the radio callers (led by the Andy Maher "I'm never going to tell you how long there is left in a quarter because I don't like countdown clocks" Experience) were so incredulous at our performance that they asked three times whether there was a wind blowing to one end. Of course there wasn't, as if we'd have kicked six with the aid of a strong breeze.

Quarter time put the brakes on our unstoppable scoring rampage, and though St Kilda were still finding innovative ways to avoid kicking goals - including one passage that the Three Stooges would have rejected as too improbable - they were playing a lot better. There was finally some pressure on us, Hunt was belatedly stopped from trotting off half-back with turbo mode enabled and their crackdown on Oliver was second in severity only to the umpires pinching him for a throw at every opportunity.

Nevertheless, we might have stopped scoring but the Saints didn't look like doing any better. There was no sign of the Tim Membrey who'd tormented us last year, just somebody with the same name who'd adopted an unpleasant skinhead 'n tatts gimmick that won't be looked back on fondly. I'm sure in real life he loves all the people of the world, but at the moment he looks like somebody you'd give a wide berth to on a train. They missed a shot in the early seconds, then for the next 10 minutes we were the only team who looked like scoring. Harmes sprayed a chance at his fourth - briefly threatening a bag that would make McDonald in Perth look pedestrian - before eventually Petracca found Gawn standing a mile on his own 40 metres from goal. Any suggestion that there was a distinct wind advantage was dismissed when he hoofed it through with ease.

The Saints were in such a state of disarray that you could afford to laugh heartily at Josh Bruce roving his own ball from a contest, turning to face goal under no pressure and snapping across the face out on the full. He'd been held up in the contest by Oscar McDonald, who played arguably his best game for us yet. Put him on whatever program beefed his brother up and he's going to go alright. There will be a few super blunders here and there - because it's what the McDonald family do - and you wouldn't trust him one-on-one much of the time but he just instinctively knows where to go and what to do. I'd like to find a contested mark animal so we can play his brother up front.

After Jack Billings - who'd somehow lost the use of one of his eyes - kicked a goal the usual dread came in despite still being six goals in front. Now we were going to throw away our season from a mile in front, against a team with one man off concussed and another playing through a disability. Then in a situation that usually only happens to us, we wrecked their hard fought goal straight out of the centre. I thought the Harmes/Anal-Bullet combination might crush their spirit but sadly no, and we disappeared for the next 10 minutes while they got their tails up by kicking a couple of goals.

The last thing I want in a game against us is for anyone to get a run on, because we generally concede four goals before coming to our senses. The first one said it all about the difference between the quarters - the Saints tried everything they could to stuff it up by hand before finally belting it long to the square, where Carlisle was marauding forward and brought the ball to ground for a crumber. Given the state of our tall forwards I've got no idea why they didn't leave him up there for the rest of the game. Maybe they were worried Tom McDonald would do likewise and rip them to shreds with his un-Demonlike tendency to run straight at a footy kicked inside 50.

Enter the man with the most NQR nickname in footy, Cameron Pedersen. The most beloved spare parts player in recent memory, and the ultimate winner of the McLean to Carlton trade. There's no shame in declaring your love for him, we all know he's probably going to spend 10 weeks minimum at Casey every year and won't play like this every week but what an honest individual. He doesn't kick an outrageous number of goals, but does have a knack for finding it 40 metres out on a slight angle and usually converts. Even he knows he'll probably get the boot at some point when more name brand players are ready to come back, but whisper it quietly I'd almost prefer him at the moment to players being paid a shitload more. What a long road since Round 1, 2012 when everyone wrote him off. Now if he doesn't get a contract extension the receptionist will take her phone off the hook.

It was refreshing to stitch somebody else up in the last minute, even more so because it was set up by Melksham marking under pressure, then dishing off to Hunt, who capped a half of good old fashioned piss-bolting by charging through the middle and finding Pedersen in a different area code to any defenders. A viewing of the replay reveals that your mate and mine Dwayne greeted the goal by saying "momentum with the Demons". Which would have been great if the half time siren hadn't just gone.

For the second time I thought that might have put them away, especially after dominating the last 15 minutes of the quarter and coming out with the margin exactly as it was at the first break. Just when our fans were getting a bit too complacent, starting to wear broad smiles instead of scowls, along came the third quarter. For the first time the Saints not only looked dangerous, but a much better side. This is where it started to get ropey, and fortunately I'd been too nervous to eat anything because I'd have parked it on the Saints fans in front.

At the same time they were running rings around us we were treated to a display of wacky umpiring that almost made up for the red and blue spot specials that we liberally profited from on Queen's Birthday. The angst was such that one well-known Demon loyalist journo was moved to tweet that one particular umpire - name and all - was "on the take". You can get away with saying it in the stands - and thousands do - but I would advise not putting writing it on a public forum for thousands to see. At least cloak your defamation a bit, because for all the accusations about umpires wanting to make it about themselves what better way than being the first to take somebody for a payout via legal action?

Max Gawn was more creative, being pinched on the rule of the week for having an arm that wasn't bent enough in ruck contests. Somebody was mysteriously done for the same thing in the GWS/Bulldogs game so the Reverse Murali must have been AFL Rule of the Week™. The man who once said he prepared for Darwin by leaving the heater on risked funding the rules committee end of season piss-up by responding with this:
Now there's a man who can give Clayton Oliver advice on how to write funny tweets, what a hilarious gag to post a picture of a book that small. As if all the AFL rules can be stuffed into a publication that small, where's the 776 pages of appendices covering exclusions, caveats, interpretations and stuff that they made up over lunch on Wednesday?

Perhaps Max wouldn't feel so aggrieved if he didn't spend every week having his face clawed at or punched by opponents in ruck duels for no reward? I'm surprised he's never ended a game puffed up like Billings from opponents who can't get near his hands desperately swinging around the eyes instead.

Technically the fun started with a Vince turnover, making sure that as Lewis was having one of his better games for us that there was only one man people were trying to retire on the spot. But after giving up that goal we held firm for the next few minutes, and even kicked the reply through Melksham. That led to a period of weird activities, where first Oscar McDonald had to instinctively pull out a goalkeeper style save from an ungainly snap, then Pedersen made amends for giving the ball up in the first place by touching a shot through while still sitting on the ground. We were fortunate twice, but the St Kilda goals were coming. Three in about three minutes in fact, including two thumped from long distance Melksham style and you have no idea what my innards were doing. My organs were ready to double down when they ended up with a set shot in the last few seconds. God bless the siren operator, who hit the button just as Membrey was running in and clearly put him off.

It was still too close for comfort, late in the quarter several of our players were walking around with hands either on hips or head looking spent. To say I was scared would be an understatement, especially when Skinhead Membrey almost immediately completed the rare seven point play across two different quarters in the first minute. It wasn't just the score that was worrying me, after earlier seeing a plonker in a Trump for President t-shirt and now being done over by an extra from the cast of Romper Stomper I thought the MCG might replace people in yellow tracksuits ringing the boundary in the final minutes with torch carrying fascists.

It would have been so very Melbourne to lose from there with the season on the line, but like Port we held firm and kept them out long enough to recover. After a rotten day Garlett turned up for the first time to kick a set shot steadier which took it back into double figures. That was the signal for St Kilda to pull the fire alarm and evacuate season 2017, they wouldn't kick another goal until the game was well over.

The last quarter belonged to the previously unseen, Mitch Hannan had a week of rest after his zero kick game against North and he hadn't done a whole lot more in the preceding three quarters yesterday before first setting up Garlett and then kicking two of his own. To get to his goals we first had to go through a magnificent defensive effort. With the margin still 10 and the shakes continuing (on and off-field) Hibberd ran back into the path of potential death to get a spoil in, colliding with Oscar at the same and leaving them both on the ground. Two defenders down, a loose ball spilt into the open right in front of their goal.

After being flogged up and down the country for not going hard at a ball in the last seconds of the North game, Lewis flew in with the ultimate defensive gather, getting down low enough to avoid being tackled, but staying high enough to avoid crashing into his opponent's legs. He picked it up, bounced off his opponent's midriff, and handballed to Nifty Nev. The ball found its way to Pedersen on the boundary line for saving mark and we could breathe again.

That was the decisive moment, and not long after Jetta got involved again, perfectly riding a tackle to eventually contribute to Hannan's first set shot. It was by no means an easy kick, but he made it work. Then from the next bounce fill-in ruckman Pedersen delivered the ruck tap of his life, allowing Tyson to kick long inside 50 where Hannan took a pack mark in exactly the same spot. I don't trust anything in red and blue, so I thought "there's no way he'll kick two in a row" but there you go. I was censured afterwards for ignoring the big mark and claiming it was Pedersen's goal, but it was and nothing you say will make me change my mind.

That was effectively it. After taking a massive grab on the defensive goal line one minute, Gawn did likewise down the other end and tried to give Weideman a chance to get involved but he missed. The Weid is just not ready yet, he did lay one blockbuster tackle early but can't get near it otherwise. In any other season you'd just play him anyway because either a) who cares in the last month, or b) draft picks but we can't afford to carry him with everything on the line. I hope he stays in and kicks six next week but still have nightmare visions of him flailing about in the wet against Carlton at the same time last year so perhaps it would be better to wheel in somebody with more experience.

It was a good thing I'd chucked SEN for the Tobins at three quarter time in frustration at the refusal to give updates on how much time was left, because I'd have still been shitting it royally at the 26 minute mark if I didn't know there was only three minutes to go. Especially when the Saints kicked another accidental goal after Josh Bruce stuffed up a bounce running into goal before the ball rolled out to a teammate as he was tackled. Imagine that was the game winning goal? I'd make contact with overhead electrical wires.

From there the only moment of interest left until one of Milkshake's final trademark bombs from outside 50 was Jetta making his first mistake in about two seasons by giving away a 50 in the last couple of minutes when the game was well over. I was already miles away thinking about next week - but only as far as that.

With free tickets dashed off to anybody born overseas that wanted one we generated plenty of interest, and unlike the bad old days where we'd have Members Appreciation Day then lose by 87 points (incidentally brace yourself because Members Appreciation Day is next week) our new fans went home happy. They'd seen everything from sublime, dashing football to stopping dead as if shot. First time Melbourne viewers even got to question the future of a high draft pick. The only thing missing was some weirdo hurling abuse at Jack Watts for going to a private school. And knowing our fans he was probably still copping it when not playing.

Welcome curious internationals, it's about time we started signing people up as they walk through customs. For 10 years I've been hearing "oh I went for St Kilda/Richmond because that's where I lived when I moved to Australia" and have said to probably two dozen people "but that's in Melbourne, why didn't you go for us?" in a way that suggested it was actually a sensible thing to do, not an invitation to be sad every week.

I wouldn't expect the full contingent to be back for our glamour clash with the Lions, but if you were thinking of getting involved now would be an excellent time to jump on the bandwagon. Your money is as good as any of the poltroons who have hidden in a ditch for years and have only just remembered where their allegiances lie. And if you are a new fan who has somehow found this page via an accidental Google search for the love of god treat the club like it's a new entity and don't read the archives.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Cameron Pedersen
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - James Harmes
1 - Jordan Lewis

Top level apologies to Brayshaw, Jetta and Oscar McSizzle who contended for the last spots. Also to Hibberd, Hunt, Tom McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Tyson and Wagner.

Leaderboard
The Hamburglar snatches a decisive lead, but because we are now factoring in at least one extra game after Round 23 the line of death only shifts up a couple of points. If you're willing to find a way where we make the Grand Final, the good news is the line doesn't yet exist and anybody who hasn't scored a vote yet can grab a share of the title with seven straight BOGs. Would be a reasonable way to end the year...

35 - Clayton Oliver
28 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
25 - Jack Viney
21 - Neville Jetta
20 - Nathan Jones, Christian Petracca
------- If anybody below this line wins we've probably made the Grand Final -------
16 - Jayden Hunt, Tom McDonald
13 - Jeff Garlett
12 - Sam Frost, Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Watts
10 - Cameron Pedersen
9 - Christian Salem
8 - James Harmes, Jordan Lewis
7 - Dom Tyson
5 - Oscar McDonald, Jake Melksham
4 - Mitch Hannan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year), Bernie Vince
2 - Dean Kent, Corey Maynard, Alex Neal-Bullen, Josh Wagner
1 - Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I've got some love for the Harmes goal where he walked around a defender, and for comic value you can't beat the Viney freebie that started the first quarter avalanche, but on a day where the spectacular made way for workmanlike I can't go past Hannan's first clutch set shot. After doing not much more than the game that got him 'rested' it was an excellent time to make an impact.

It's all been downhill for weekly sponsors since Jayden Hunt won a trip to the secretive owl sanctuary, so Hannan wins the right to play for a club sitting inside the eight with two rounds to go and destiny in its own hands. What more could anyone ask for? McDonald against West Coast still leads the overall race.


It's a controversial viewpoint, but the Saints have the best font in the league. It's thick, it stands out on crepe paper, it looks great. The main side was for Nathan Brown's 150th games (how? Did he get a percentage from the other two Nathan Browns?), where the top line exploded before the team ran out and briefly threatened to have him getting 'Ongratulations' before running repairs kept it together. Bonus points for recovering from disaster, but minus points on the curtain penalty, and for a message on the back about Riewoldt's last home game with such tight leading that you had to give yourself a migraine working out what it said. I did a Twitter search for 'St Kilda Banner' to review it again, but all I found was Essendon fans having a sooky whinge from a month ago. Use your imagination.

On the other hand, ours had a lovely Michael Hibberd illustration, a gold 100, and enough space between lines that you could read it without suffering an acquired brain injury.

Spectacular #WelcomeGame banner by @DeeArmy today! Congratulations on 100 games, @M_Hibberd1 @melbournefc #afldeessaints pic.twitter.com/fQ0KI8XSip
Dees 19-1-0 for the season. Brisbane's not going to beat us, so the Pies are the only danger of ruining the perfect regular season. IF we play finals I hope the banner just says 'BLIMEY!'
Crowd watch
Even if your motives are pure, giving out 20,000 free tickets is still open season for wankers to have a go. Including desperate shock-jocks from Channel 10, an organisation that has gone completely tits up because they forgot that building a following is a key part of staying in business. And how is 1377 MTR doing these days?

Whether the 53,000 crowd was boosted by ring-ins, neutrals enjoying a rare sunny day, or just two sets of fans desperately clinging onto the dream of being waffled in the first week of the finals it was a full 29,000 higher than our last game against them at the MCG, and the highest home and away crowd vs St Kilda since 2004. It's a bit racial to assume that every non-European in the place was at their first game, but there was still a sizeable contingent of people gamely clutching flags who you know were making their debut because they were having a good time before the bounce. Those who have been around are usually doubled over with mystery stomach pains in the last 30 minutes before the bounce. Or is that just me?

Amidst this cosmopolitan extravaganza one MCC member has become the first Melbourne fan to 'go viral' for the right reasons since the guy who waved a white flag against Gold Coast by having a BYO cheese and biscuits session in their seat. Tucking into what was incorrectly referred to as a 'platter' isn't my go, but it has provided a remarkable level of joy to people who gladly spend $13 on floppy chips and a half-cooked 'meat' pie that is lucky not to explode everywhere the moment you take it out of the wrapper.

Even landfill journalism websites took notice, misunderstanding "so Melbourne" comments as a comment about the city's culture, not the perception that our fans are all wine tasting, tartan rug covered ponces. I say well done to the cheese enthusiasts, once again we're being connected to a stereotype of class and elegance. Other clubs can recruit the kid that ate the watermelon at the BBL or some obese slop merchant tucking into a roast chicken from Coles and we'll continue to draw from the elite of society.

Meanwhile I see the crack MCG security guards failed to notice that they were carrying a knife. Doesn't that fill you with confidence? I wish I'd known you could do that 2012-2014, I could have spent the games cutting myself waiting for us to kick goals. At least this was the variety that would barely make a dent in butter, at the SCG you can practically bring a machete through the gate and best of luck to you.
The cheese appreciation society must have known it was a slow week for crowd watch content otherwise. The guy in front who stood and up and sat down on every Saints goal as if he had a carrot shelved in his arse was about the only other highlight. It was one of those days where you sit in mixed company, nothing offensive happens and you think "I could do this every week". Then the next time you end up with some sweating lunatic behind you who inadvertently spits on your neck whenever there's a controversial umpiring decision.

Next week
Trust us to play the bottom team in a make-or-break game just as they hit some form. I can't wait for the amazing irony when years of being the Stefan Martin Experience's PR department he sinks us (again).

In a reasonably competitive race to win/avoid the spoon - hopefully the former in this case - any of them, North or Carlton would be the best last placed team since West Coast finished with 77% in 2010. Nobody's finished last with five wins since Brisbane in '98, but at least they were polite enough to lose to us by 95 on the way. What I'm trying to say is be afraid, be very afraid. We should win, but having ticked off one in a row as favourites I wouldn't want to revert to lazy first quarters now. Crush their spirit early, crush it often.

What I'm most worried about is a repeat of Round 22 last year where multiple players ran out of gas at the same time. Mind you playing a tall forward line in the rain didn't help much either. I suspect Petracca is about to curl up in a ball with fatigue and go to sleep on the half-forward line, but it would be a huge call to rest him at this point of the season. Just give him a light week on the track, stick him up forward and hope for the best.

The temptation is to rush Watts back in for Weideman, and if you foolishly put me in charge I'd probably panic and do it even though Jack reportedly didn't do much for Casey. I suppose you could bring Frost back and use him and Sizzle in attack or defence as required throughout the day. As ineffectual as the Weid was, I don't think they'll mess with a winning formula. For once I'm too scared to be decisive in my team selections. Roll on 1730hrs Friday night when the final teams are released and we get some certainty. No matter what it's shithouse news for my employer, because after a week of being too depressed about footy to concentrate now I'm too nervous.

IN/OUT: No change or Frost in/Weideman out
LUCKY: Weideman
UNLUCKY: Frost, Kennedy (copy and paste endlessly), Watts

Elsewhere the Bradbury Plan is still in full effect. If we win both the remaining games who cares, but just like the first quarter today the more insurance policies you can get your hands on the better. We can be fairly sure that Essendon will beat the Suns, making the decisive games Footscray vs Port and GWS vs West Coast on Saturday. I'm still not comfortable wanting the Giants to win, so this will be the last time in 2017 I'll be doing that. The Eagles barely beat Carlton at home, so you'd assume they were going to come a cropper here but who would know with this pisstake of a season? I'm more interested in the game at Novelty Stadium in Ballarat, where Port might do us a solid by toppling the Dogs.

Is it safe?

Regrettably there's no realistic way to be confirmed finalists entering Round 23. Even if we win, both the above games go the right way and Essendon somehow find a way to neck themselves against Gold Coast. If Hawthorn ride the Luke Hodge celebrations to beat the Dogs on the Friday of the last round we will still rely on West Coast losing to Adelaide on Sunday if we don't beat the Pies on Saturday. I'm already having nightmares about Mason Cox kicking seven and Howe gleefully sticking it up us with 230 intercept marks. Of course it will end in Lynden Dunn tearfully executing his contractual duties by kicking the winning goal, and I will remain in my seat at the MCG until security has to force me out via court order. Alternatively we can lose next week and still have some path to September, so no matter what happens you've got another fortnight of this.

Please note: this is not me being in any way certain that we're going to make it but my consensus ladder prediction now has us finishing seventh and playing either Port or Sydney. If Port win next week then definitely the Swans, but otherwise it will come down to percentage. I'd rather go to Adelaide, but right now I'd go to a final in Damascus so just get us in and we'll work out the travel arrangements later. I'm not even considering the prospect of failing to secure a ticket to the Adelaide Oval/SCG yet, but if I go through all this for us to qualify and can't get in there may be complete mental collapse. MFC employees, I know you're reading so please consider all the good things I said about what you did while the rest of the club was falling apart at the seams and ironically sneak me in as the club psychologist.

Was it worth it?
It certainly was, timing my entry and exit to only be away from home for five hours door-to-door. The footy was good too. At least the first quarter and the last 15 minutes, the rest only existed to get us to the end. My god I was stressed though. Even at the end there was no linking of arms with strangers and singing the song in a variety of foreign languages, because despite the points being in the bag I still felt like ralphing. This is what I expect it feels like to be a low-range drug addict.

In case you missed it
During the week I looked at my 10 most memorable days at the footy for both good and bad reasons. In a surprise twist there were more positive games on the shortlist, possibly because the shit all blends into one toxic sludge. Had we crumbled yesterday there might have been a late inclusion...

Final thoughts
This time last year I emotionally invested everything I had in a miracle finish where we'd still have needed something outrageous in the last round to get in. Now it's right in our hands, we're in the right position, with winnable games and enough potential banana skins for other contenders. The entree has been alright save for a few gritty bits, now bring me a wonderful main course.

Standard "this post is delayed" notification


Another Monday where I'd much rather be writing 10,000 word epics about what went on at the MCG (featuring about 10% actual game content) but am being paid to do otherwise. As Jack Watts and I both know, life wasn't meant to be easy. I'm hoping that in a couple of weeks the delay reason is that I'm queuing at Ticketmaster.

Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link on Monday night. In the meantime send your own lengthy match reviews that I can steal from to get things moving quicker.

Cheerio and Go Dees.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Wish you were here - joy and despair with the MFC since 1989

Now here's a Twitterist who knows what floats my boat.
... which prompted me to think about the worst individual days of my supporting career. I'm only going to include debacles that I attended - meaning losing to Sydney in 1993, the 2002 final against Adelaide, either Grand Final, the Jordan McMahon tankfest, and 148 are all off the agenda. And as I only started watching at the end of 1989 the obvious #1 ticketholder 1987 Prelim is not in the running.

If you'd like to tackle any of the 2005- games in long form we've got something for you here or here, but otherwise let's have at it.

The terrible 10
Apologies to Round 10 1999, Round 17 2000, Round 19 2003Elimination Final 2004, Round 18 2006, Round 12 2007, Round 13 2007Round 19 2008, Round 7 2013, Round 16 2013 and Round 18 2013. There's a heavy bias towards the #fistedforever era in the runners up, because our losing streak at the start of 2007 tipped me over the edge from mildly passionate into complete lunacy.

10. Round 14, 1990 - North Melbourne 31.14.200 d. Melbourne 10.13.73
Remember when you were a kid and going to the footy was fun? Even losing wasn't so bad. But unexpectedly being beaten by 127 in the middle of an otherwise good season, with John Longmire thrashing home 14 goals, was no way to celebrate my first trip to the MCG. There have been worse days there since, but it's a wonder I didn't turn and run a mile after this. Records do not show whether I stayed right until the end but I doubt it.

9. Round 21, 2014 - GWS 15.8.98 d. Melbourne 3.16.34
Because everyone needs a reminder that the Paul Roos era wasn't all good times. He put us on the right path, but we had to get there via some of the most tedious football ever put on. This was a special, 22 players desperately clawing towards the finish line to the point where they were thrashed by a side three men down for the entire second half.

Not only did we play miserable, dull football that you wouldn't look out your window to see, but I got my first (and to date last) warning of ejection from a bored security guard, and went home with a jaw clenched tight like I'd been bitten by a rabid dog. At the time I described it as "a pea-hearted, putrid performance from a club halfway down the S-Bend of the footballing toilet", and that was probably being generous.

8. Round 2, 2010 - Collingwood 12.14.86 d. Melbourne 12.13.85
Any deeply over-committed fan knows that having unexpected victory yanked out of your grasp can be almost as painful as a thrashing. You walk in thinking "I'll take a six goal loss", then by the end when your side has got 35 points closer than expected you're left thinking it's the worst thing to happen since Cyclone Tracy. Or in my case on this day, left with a pair of sunglasses stomped to dust and four skinless knuckles from abusing a Ponsford Stand seat.

It was the day Ricky Petterd played the game of his life, and just failed to top it off with a second left as the ball fell from his fingers right in front of goal. It's not his fault, it would have arguably been worse if he'd taken the mark then missed, but looking down the ground at the ball flying towards him, and knowing how little time was left I instinctively stood up, causing the late sunnies to fall to the floor. As the mark went down, the siren rang, and a Pies fan taunted me to his child by saying "ha ha, he thought they were going to win", the red mists descended, the glasses were trampled, and much to the detriment of my hand a seat was wailed on. Turned out to be a reasonable season, but how was I to know that at the time?

There was an additional moment of panic when I got a text message outside the ground commenting on an awesome tantrum, and thought the TV cameras must have captured me fritzing out. Fortunately it was in regards to Petterd's frustrated beating of the turf, and not my anti-social behaviour.

7. Round 1 2007 - St Kilda 13.15.93 d. Melbourne 9.8.62
Where it all began, the first night of the era that has come to define the 21st century history of the club. Admittedly as much of a shit night as I had, starting with accidentally insulting a hairdresser and going on from there, it didn't feel that bad at the time. In fact when Matthew Whelan shirtfronted somebody in the first quarter it looked like the good times from the 2006 Elimination Final were going to continue. We'd already got two Saints coaches sacked and contributed to a third going, so why not ruin the career of first gamer Ross Lyon before it even started?

The reason it qualifies here is because of what it represents. We were alleged to be Victoria's best hope of a flag. Now I look back to Brock McLean busting his foot, the way almost all the veterans simultaneously hit the wall, and the introduction of a gameplan that was nothing more than panic handball lunacy and it feels like somebody took a major wrong turn at the end of 2006. I'm not sure if we could have been saved, but we might have waited a few weeks before totally imploding.

6. Round 1 2008 - Hawthorn 23.16.154 d. Melbourne 6.14.50
For all the disasters of '07, culminating in that degrading spectacle against Carlton in the last game, I faked hope across the summer leading up to the new season, pretending it had been a necessary correction, and that we were going to recover to at least mid-table. Then the game started. Hawthorn were building to something very special, we were puttering along hopefully with not many changes from the '07 side, and were violently dispatched accordingly. You just have to look at our side to know what a nightmare we were in for. At least I lived around the corner and was home within minutes.

5. Round 2, 1999 - St Kilda 19.16.130 d. Melbourne 13.6.84
My darkest day for fan behaviour. Coming off the grand recovery of '98 and a Round 1 win, I went to Waverley full of vigor, half full of liquor and made a Rex Hunt out of myself. After settling on St Kilda as my most hated team thanks to the conduct of their cheersquad in the previous years' finals (more on that later) I did not take losing to the Tim Watson All-Stars well.

At one point the Footy Record was lobbed off the staircase at the back of the stand, then around the time unbeknownst to me Spider Everitt was saying terrible things about Scott Chisholm's race, some terrible things I said about his footballing ability prompted an elderly Saints fan to stick his nose into my business. Being young, dumb and full of glum I said something so outrageous I refuse to reveal it here, then did a runner when it became clear every St Kilda fan in the vicinity was about to do me in. And I would have deserved it. Never again have I gone to a game pre-boozed, or indulged heavily outside the safety of a corporate box.

4. Round 6, 2007 - Port Adelaide 10.16.76 d. Melbourne 9.17.71
Where the stress of going from premiership contenders to arseholes finally exploded in a shower of sparks, my first great public outburst since punching the bejesus out of a chair after losing to North by a point in 2000.

When the AFL inaugurate their Museum of Howler Decisions I will set up a picket line to make sure the James McDonald deliberate handball 28 minutes into the last quarter is included. Maybe if I finally see a replay it will become clear to me that he really was going for the boundary, but the myth of him being rorted, and my subsequent tantrum has achieved such iconic status that I don't want to be proven wrong. Anyway, part of the issue was that Port had been casually walking the ball over the line all day so it was a fine time to pay one.

As the free was paid I jumped to my feet in the middle deck of the Ponsford Stand, and charged up the steps unloading a defamatory, and to be honest unfair spray about Andrew Demetriou trying to kill us off and how everything was a giant conspiracy. Which was embarrassing, but didn't stop me flipping out in a similar fashion just three weeks later after losing by a point to North. Angry angry young man.

3. Round 1, 2013 - Port Adelaide 19.19.133 d. Melbourne 8.6.54
And now to the podium - three games, three different coaches, three different types of catastrophe. As we've already seen above, there's nothing like a Round 1 disaster to harpoon your emotions. You've spent all summer preparing for something better, trudge here, there and everywhere for meaningless pre-season games, then discover that your side are still putrid.

In this case there was an additional layer of poison on the disgrace lasagne that was Melbourne under Neeld. I'd tried to stay positive throughout 2012, no matter how bad it got I thought the coach had inherited a team in some form of disarray and needed time to put his stamp on it. Even when Fox Sports were roped into reporting he was about to be sacked by a parody Twitter account about eight games into his tenure I didn't want to be the person who goes off too early on a coach then has to crawl back later. In this case the people who refused to get involved from day one (many of them contracted players) were right.

With seven new players - including four ring-ins from other clubs - this was Neeld's team at last. And they were no good. Nobody at the time knew that Port were going to climb off the canvas and almost make the Grand Final, so as they kicked five goals to a point in the third quarter the pressure of 20,000 Demons in the stands began to elevate to dangerous levels. By three-quarter time I knew I was off the coach for good, and the antics at the final siren with people nearly trampling each other to scream in a player's face was a dream for neutrals.

After Essendon humped us like a dog the following week, hurling abuse down the race had become a national sport. By mid-season the MCG introduced a tunnel to shield players as they went off. It was quickly retired, but when somebody tries to give you cliched talk about our fans being ponces I invite you to point out that we were responsible for the tunnel.

2. Round 19, 2011 - Geelong 37.11.233 d. Melbourne 7.5.47
I think we're all across what happened here. 186, the day Schwab leapt from the gallows by shoving Bailey into his place, and a nice train trip to South Geelong Station ruined by footballing ineptitude on a nearly world record scale.

I remember very little, if anything, about the game. My method of watching footy is almost entirely based on what we do with the ball, which is problematic when the opposition are running around carrying it on a string and generally taking the piss. The cruelest part of it was the shock value. If we'd lost by 31 goals in 2012 or 2013 it would have been a major setback, and we'd still be talking about it for years to come, but this was like being shot by a sniper while walking down Flinders Street. Except it wasn't even a clean kill, just a hail of bullets mowing us down like Willem Dafoe in Platoon.

Before the game I ran into the most shabbily dressed, and usually mortally ill looking person in my then office, and when I saw him again after the final siren he described me as looking like I was sick. This coming from the man whose desk/monitor positioning once exposed the banner of a brothel review website. After that I should have gone home and sulked, but was due to go to a Film Festival event and tried to be brave by pushing through instead of letting sports get to me. Halfway through I turned to the people talking behind me and said "could you please shut the fuck up?" Somebody had to cop it, and a pair of dreadlocked crusties were as good as anyone.

1. Round 6, 1992 - Essendon 18.16.124 d. Melbourne 19.9.123
Then there's this, which seems like an incongruous #1 because a) it happened when I was an innocent child, and b) we only lost by a point, but it's all about what it did to me psychologically. When Chris Sullivan (though for years I thought it was Glenn Lovett) kicked the goal to put us 46 points up at the start of the last quarter it looked like a good old fashioned day out at the footy, and that a comfortable win was coming our way. Then the Bombers piled on seven goals in a row, and in the dying seconds Gavin Wanganeen finally kicked a goal to put them in front.

This has destroyed my confidence in leads 46 points or less in the last quarter for the last 25 years, and the pain may never go away. Everything else on this list caused me somewhere between one day and five years of grief, but this has affected me for a quarter of a century. I can't even remember how helpless the players must have looked while the Bombers mowed us down, but I don't need to because I remember Wanganeen kicking the goal which affected my childhood, teenagehood, young adulthood, adulthood and now middle age.

The terrific 10

To balance things for the sunshine and lollipops crowd who hate negativity, here's my best moments. As above I had to be there, so Garry Lyon running riot in the '94 finals, the Jeff White win over the Bulldogs in '05 and all sorts of interstate snatch and grabs fail to qualify

Considering how relatively few contenders there are it was much harder to narrow this list down, and the last 10 years is under-represented. Maybe because before that I knew that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn't the light of an oncoming train.

Apologies to Round 8 19981998 Qualifying Final, 2000 Preliminary Final, Round 18 2004Round 5 2005, 2006 Elimination FinalRound 7 2008, Round 17 2010, Round 7 2011Round 13 2012, Round 13 2014 and Round 20 2016.

10. Round 15, 1997 - Melbourne 18.11.119 d. Carlton 15.10.100
An otherwise forgettable late season win in a nothing game, but the match that reopened my eyes to footy after over two full seasons of sooky teenage refusal to participate. Convinced to go by a Carlton fan, who probably thought there was no chance that the Greg Hutchison-powered Dees could spring an upset, we did just that.

It was good enough as it was, then a Blues fan interrupted my celebrations by poking his finger in my face and yelling "the umpires gave it to you!" From there it was obvious I had to get involved in this stuff again, allowing me to get clamber back on just in time to enjoy the fantastic '98 season.

9. 1989 Elimination Final - Melbourne 17.9.111 d. Collingwood 13.10.88
Where it all began, as a group of Collingwood supporting family friends took me to my first game. They must have thought it would be a real lark, driving home with a lone impressionable child to taunt unmercifully. Then we won. Get stuffed the lot of you. I didn't convince my mum to go to games until mid-next year, but this was the real start of an obsession that last until early '95, and has been going non-stop for 20 years.

8. Round 21, 1993 - Melbourne 26.19.175 d. Richmond 8.6.54
The biggest evisceration I've ever seen us deliver, and at this rate am ever likely to see, with the half unlikely goalkicking duo of Andy Lovell and Allen Jakovich sharing 16 goals. That would be memorable enough if it wasn't for the three quarter time fiasco where I raised my hand to point at something and a seagull dropped a toxic turd right on my finger. It was the second most disgusting moment of my childhood, only behind a trip to the zoo where the apes made me spew by throwing feces at each other.

7. Round 22, 1998 - Melbourne 19.19.133 d. Richmond 8.9.57
This was a master class in schadenfreude, one that will eventually rebound on me when we either a) stuff up the last round in a similar way, or b) the Tigers win a flag and laughing at their misfortune doesn't seem so funny. We went into the last game of '98 on top of the world, in red hot form with a double chance locked in, while Richmond were playing for a spot in the eight. They'd already beaten us earlier in the season, on the day where I accidentally sharted while kicking a rubbish bin in frustration on the way home, and could afford to wear a loss of up to about six goals here and get still displace Essendon. Then we thrashed them to buggery.

From Jeff Farmer taking the uncrowned Mark of the Year in the opening minutes it was a procession, leading to the hilarious scene of grown men crying in the usually butch smuggled booze and dope smoking top of the old Ponsford Stand. This remained funny until 2013 when we lost by 150 and a fan was shown crying on every media outlet in Australia.

6. Round 20, 1991 - Melbourne 20.20.140 d. North Melbourne 13.10.88
The biggest haul of goals by a Melbourne player I've seen, as Allen Jakovich put the exclamation point on his trash to treasure first season by taking the Roos for 11. Sitting in the lower deck of the old Olympic Stand I was in awe, this is the guy who'd done stuff all in two early season appearances, and had practically ruined a footy clinic at my school with his disinterest in being there, now he was tearing a team apart. Not only did he kick 11.7 and one out on the full, but completed the set by being reported for abusive language towards an umpire. We have quite literally never seen anything like it since - including the iconic scissor kick goal - and probably never will again.

5. Round 2, 1998 - Melbourne 19.11.125 d. North Melbourne 15.10.100
If a brave but plodding win over Carlton late in '97 had dragged me back in, this was the wedding ceremony. I'd thrown myself back into things in the off-season, even attending the Family Day where I posed in a photo with Jim Stynes where one of us was a Hall of Fame legend and the other was dressed like a berk.

After a loss to Fremantle, on a day where Dockers fans couldn't even be bothered launching a Carnival of Hate style anti-Jeff White campaign, this was our return to the MCG. It was not yet clear we were going to be a finals side, much less give the prelim a reasonable shake, so there was nothing to indicate that we'd be toppling North with a side that was practically the same except for White and '97 Grand Final scapegoat Jamie Shanahan. But we did have the returning Garry Lyon, launching his last great season by running around like he was a young man again, kicking goals (prompting Sandy Roberts to issue the immortal wonky commentary line "welCOME BACK! Gawwy Lyon!") and opening up a 40 something point lead.

It couldn't last, and it didn't, with North cannoning back to within a kick in the last quarter before a Lyon tackle in the middle, and a David Schwarz goal where he turned at the speed of a cruise ship before kicking from the Olympic Stand boundary line steadied us, and we went on to win comfortably. I'd never been a song singer until then, but was so inspired that I belted it out with the random small child sitting next to me, gave him a high five and would rarely waver from this disastrous lifestyle again.

4. 2000 Qualifying Final - Melbourne 15.6.98 d. Carlton 12.15.87
Breaking a losing streak is one thing, but there's a special feeling that I'm desperate to get back that you only get from racking up a pile of wins in a row. Even better when they lead you into a top four final, with a free pass to the prelim on the line. With eight wins in the last nine (and the only loss by a point - RIP my epidermis) the last team to have properly beaten us were the Blues, and they did it by 98 points as the third leg of our traditional mid-season collapse.

With memories of that debacle still fresh I didn't expect to win here but could be comforted by the likelihood of a second chance. Things looked especially ropey when we were down by 21 points at the last change and Carlton looked far more potent in attack. We'd already had the Ox running into an open goal and displaying the ball to Blues fans, only for their side to kick six of the next seven. Then the comeback unexpectedly arrived and it was magical. Relative unknowns like Brad Green and Cameron Bruce appeared, and we slowly worked ourselves into the lead.

This was another great moment seen from the top of the Ponsford, and I clearly remember my despair when after we'd done everything to get back in front the Blues went straight down our end and kicked a goal. But that was only temporary intermission, we stuffed through two more, Dennis Cometti screamed "THE ROOKIE!!!" when Bruce kicked the sealer and we were one game away from losing to Essendon in the Grand Final.

3. Round 10, 2012 - Melbourne 8.10.58 d. Essendon 6.15.52
The modern day miracle, and one of the most remarkable examples of an opposition necking themselves that you're ever likely to see. We'd lost our first nine under Neeld and there were already coups and revolutions being planned to topple him, while the Bombers were merrily at the top end of the ladder.

Obviously there was no thought given to winning, and so knowing that I was probably in for an unpleasant time with fans of either club I decided for the first time to get as far away from humans as possible by going to Row MM of the Ponsford Stand. This decision was vindicated even before I got up there when first I saw a guy simulating his flange with a 600ml Coke bottle, and then a lunatic tried to engage me in conversation outside the Ponsford Stand TAB.

Perched in the heavens I realised you could see so much more of what was happening off the ball, and witnessed Essendon do everything they could to avoid kicking goals. Whatever drugs they were on must have run out this night. Players would miss sitters, or dash into an open goal and overrun the ball, anything to avoid registering six points. Meanwhile down the other end we had Colin Garland as a makeshift full forward because the coach had read his dossier during the week and discovered he once played there as a kid. I'd have thought you'd read the files when you were appointed coach instead of at 0-9, but whatever.

While the Bombers failed miserably under not much more pressure than we'd put on for the rest of the season, Garland kicked two and we held on to win. Queue wild scenes on the bench, with Stockholm Syndrome suffering players leaping on their coach in celebration, and much more subdued scenes at the top of the Ponsford - where I discovered my legs were temporarily out of order. Not being able to walk downstairs without winding up in a coma I sat up there for the best part of half an hour watching the crowd almost entirely disappear before successfully managing to get out of the place alive.

2. 1998 Semi Final - Melbourne 15.17.107 d. St Kilda 7.14.56
The Qualifying Final win against the Crows was memorable for Jeff Farmer's demolition job on Andrew McLeod (and for them coming back to win the flag), but this was the day for me. There's an extra level of glee when you win surrounded by opposition fans - see also the '06 finals against St Kilda and yelling "FUCK YOU!" into the face of an annoying Saints fan when the sealer went in - and this day Ticketmaster Bass rewarded me for skipping class to queue under the Arts Centre by placing me across the aisle from St Kilda's cheersquad.

My hatred of the Saints has dimmed over the years, to the point where I completely gave it away in sympathy after they lost two thrilling grand finals, but this was the day that set it off. From the same people who idolised Nicky Winmar dropping racial slurs about our players, to their "GET UP YOU POOF!" style response to a Febey brother being knee-dropped by Barry Hall this was a new quality of people I'd never run into at a game before. You'd get the odd nuffy, but this was a tribe of people utterly off their face.

After going in behind at quarter time because of inaccurate kicking we slowly dismantled them over the next two quarters, much to the distress of the mutants next door, before unnecessarily piling on goals in the last term for fun. Even better it all happened without Garry Lyon, who should have put his hand up with Jim Stynes instead of having an insane go at playing in '99 and might have played his last game. The victory sent to us to the Prelim with North, and led to one of my favourite newspaper covers of all time. If it's possible to buy a print of the front cover of the sports section I want Sunday 13 September, 1998 - a gleeful Jeff Farmer hugging a suited Lyon with the headline FRIDAY ON THEIR MINDS. The rest of my life was a shambles by this point, but this was a highlight.

1. Round 20, 2005 - Melbourne 14.16.100 d. Geelong 15.9.99
I don't know why this game is so dear to my heart. It ended with an opposition player missing rather than one of ours kicking a goal, only barely kept us alive in the finals race and the Cats turned us over effortlessly in the first final anyway. But there's something about it, possibly my over the top class-warfare spray at the locals after the siren which backfired when their side won three flags shortly after, that brings me back to it whenever a favourite game is discussed.

Maybe it was just being surrounded by hostiles, knowing that any sort of loss would wreck a season that had shown so much promise. Or Phil Read being dudded for a shithouse deliberate in the last quarter. Then the siren went with the ball in Matthew Egan's hands just outside 50, and it was probably the closest I'd ever been at that point to collapsing on the floor with tension. I've never been there for one of our players kicking after the siren, but if it's anything like a regular shot I'll be convinced that there's no way our man will kick it from five metres out directly in front, but any opposition player down to a ruckman or full-back will likely convert from 50 metres out hard on the boundary line.

In this case he missed, we stayed alive, I went off my trolley saying all sorts of foul and offensive things to opposition fans, and Geelong had the last laugh both in the short and long terms.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Australian Capsizing Team

And there went season 2017, over the fence and into the distance like somebody legging it from a bedroom window when the husband turns up unexpectedly. I'm not going to throw my copy of the Bradbury Plan into the sea just yet, because without going too far outside the realms of credibility we can still squeak in even with one loss in the next three, but to be realistic last week did us in and this was the second last nail in the coffin. Delay your dreams of seeing us lose an elimination final for yet another year.

Since Roos turned up bearing respectability we've had a habit of falling to bits late in the season. In 2014 it happened about 10 games out, in 2015 five, and in 2106 two. Which is why I was hopeful that this time, having not played our entire side since the first second of the pre-season onwards, that we might at least get into September before it all became too much. It was going that way after smothering Port, then we put on a doomsday double at the two windiest grounds in the country and now footballing death feels imminent again.

Even allowing for GWS' ordinary form over the last few weeks I was budgeting for somewhere around a five goal loss. So if you refuse to acknowledge any goals kicked by $cully, or take off the outrageous freebie given to Shane Mumford to cover up an umpire's inability to throw the ball straight up in the air we just about made it. It's funny how these things work out, if we'd pushed them all day and crumbled in the final term to lose by the same margin I'd probably be full of confidence about next week, but get wiped out in the first quarter and display a second consecutive inability to score freely in perfect attacking conditions and it becomes head in the oven stuff.

Deep down I know it's over, but at the same time the way this club goes about its business who could rule out unexpectedly falling into seventh or eighth by stomping St Kilda, Brisbane and Collingwood into dust? While there's life there's hope, but I'm not falling for that again. It's taken so much emotional effort to believe until now that I'm officially crossing the floor. I halfheartedly did the same after Sydney, but this is for real. Anything we get from here is a bonus, and if we fail I'm not blaming injuries or a young list, we just didn't have the ticker when it counted. The foundation is in, go out and get the finishing touches.

As I expected a loss by not much less than what actually happened, this game further exposed how ridiculous our loss in Tasmania was. Talk about Multicultural Round, we're like a down on their luck country who finally gets a break after years of being run into the ground and still finds a way to piss it up the wall. The #fistedforever (2007-2016) era may now have been officially replaced by the Midtable Mediocrity era (2017-), but who didn't think there was something horrible coming our way when Champion Data rated us a better than 80% chance of finishing in the eight. You can take the team out of the fist, but you can't take the fist out of the team.

I miss AFLW already, somewhere I can watch a Melbourne team and only be moderately upset if they lose. Now I'm set for another week where scant work is done until Wednesday because I've got my head in my hands, involuntarily screaming and crying "WHY?" This is why I keep my ticket for Round 19, 2011 attached to my desk, as a reality check that it can always get worse.

My first instinct is a tip a table over, tell everyone to get fucked and like some of our players pack up for the rest of the season, but I can't help but Hatewatch the last three rounds in person. As soul crushing as it may be to show up for R23 after losing to Brisbane, I'll do anything to avoid another round of the rubbish served up by Fox Footy today. From Gerard Healy playing Deledio the GWS theme song on his phone with the most self-satisfied grin since legging it for Sydney, to a cameraman/director combination who were clearly operating the zoom button under the influence of LSD it was a disaster from start to finish.

It was the sort of coverage you write off as an amusing sideline if you win, but which seems like a crime against humanity during a loss. What about Mark Riccuito insisting several times without any detectable irony that we were "due" for a win because we'd gone WLWL recently. He also refused to take the hint of the E in Hibberd's name and called him "Hibbard" all day.

The most infuriating thing was the comically over the top effort to assure everyone that we might make a comeback, insisting we had to 'get a move on' right down to the last quarter when we were seven goals behind and had kicked seven for the day. It was reminiscent of when Kerry Packer called Mark Nicholas to berate him for suggesting a one-dayer was 'over' well before it was, because he wanted people to stay watching in the hope of a miracle win. If you bought the equivalent TV time and made such patently false claims about a product the ACCC would have your guts for garters. Even Anthony Hudson joined in, and he's usually the most sensible full-time caller on television.

It was one of the weirder first quarters I've been involved with, and thank god I chickened out on half-hearted plans to be there live. Remember that game in Canberra against the Giants three years ago when we went from 31 points in front in the second quarter to 45 behind by the end? Why waste time spreading that sort of thing over four quarters, we embraced the vision of AFLX (and will probably be roped into playing it if we miss the eight for god's sake) by compacting triumph and tragedy into half an hour.

Incidentally, what's with the obscure way we're fixtured against GWS? Not sure I want to see more of them considering they're going to murder everyone for years to come, but in the era where you can play the same team a few weeks apart this was our first meeting since Round 1 last year. Which was our second game against them in a row, after not playing them since Round 2, when we'd just played them in Round 21 2014. If this trend continues I expect to be the visitor for their first home game next year, complete with $cully personally unfurling the premiership flag while laughing heartily for the first time in his life.

For the first few minutes we were genuinely the better side, getting plenty of the ball and putting Giants players under immense pressure. I allowed myself to get a little bit excited when the third goal to nil went through against the wind. Which was swiftly followed with the usual MFC response to anything that makes you happy.

The first goal was the best, going almost straight out of the middle after the first bounce for Jones to find Gawn unmarked 40 metres out in a way that would have made me kick the proverbial cat from here to Holbrook if it was us who'd let an enormous man slip inside 50 unattended. It didn't all go our way before the second and third goals, they attacked and had a couple of chances but were haphazard at it. Fortunately for the surprising number of Giants fans present (and the 8000 theatregoers wearing the merchandise of other teams) they cracked us open with novelty goals, then used them as a platform to deliver an old fashioned MFC trouncing.

When first Neal-Bullen, (pretty good when things were going well but practically unseen after they got on top), then Tyson (gets lots of the ball, doesn't do much with it) added the second and third from close range there was the off chance that we might get away with this. After all the Giants had started to reintroduce some of their stars, but were still forced to rely on plodders and soon to be Steven Armstrong style accidental premiership players like Matt De Boer. They had their three top goalkickers out - but what have we learnt over the years about the egalitarian MFC commitment to letting players of all abilities or stages of their career take the piss out of us?

For now Goodwin obviously though Plan A was going so well that he could afford to tear up the envelopes containing the alternatives and scatter them out the window towards the Jack Fingleton Scoreboard. Then just as the paper caught the breeze, the Giants decided to show up and spent the next 45 minutes slapping us until their hands collectively swelled. They then put their feet up, eased through the second half and reinvigorated their season while leaving us looking like an unmade bed.

First they came with the novelty goals, and I did nothing because how are you supposed to stop them? The first was at least a lovely finish from a tough angle, one of those that callers instantly declare a "goal of the year contender" before they're forgotten by Wednesday. Then who else but Turncoat Tom tormented us with a floaty, shitty kick that took a zany bounce just as Sizzle Jr was shepherding it through for a point. Poor Oscar is just an honest young defender trying to make his way in the game and he has that happen to him. Why do bad people get all the luck?

The third goal was half novelty, and half a taste of things to come. When Harry Hindenberg was inserted into the GWS side who didn't think he was going to do us in? Picked almost specifically to play the 'stand at one end and don't move' role that I dreamt about McDonald doing last week, he found himself in acres of space on the boundary line to take a handball and put them back in front. You don't usually need the Bureau of Meteorology's help to know where the tide's going in one of our games, and this was the point where it irreversibly turned against us.

Then they came with the rampant avalanche of goals, and I did nothing because if our players weren't going to why should anybody else? The coach sure wasn't interested, never succumbing to the temptation to swing Watts or McDonald behind the ball when it started getting hairy. From here the next five goals to end the quarter all blend into one, and I've got no care in going back to work out how each one was crafted. What I know is that our pressure at stoppages dipped to levels that would require a power micro-telescope to detect, and nobody was capable of or willing to put a hand on a Giant as they merrily skipped past.

There was no thought to trying to slow the game down and get some control back, the rare times we did get the ball in the open we tried to bash forward with brute force only to see it ping back the other way at warp speed. At one point there was even a textbook turnover by Frost where all his compatriots had pushed up so far that when the ball landed with a GWS player he was spoilt for choice on who to kick it to, and they marched from one end to the other unchallenged.

What I don't get is if say Frost is charging into attack why Jetta, Hibberd, Oscar, Salem etc... all have to be level with or in front of him. Surely somebody stays back safe in the knowledge that if the guy has any decent space he's going to kick it (though can you really be sure with this group? If there's a teammate within 30 metres they're valid handball targets), so you're either not going to be involved in the play from there or are going to be called upon to mop up? Especially - ESPECIALLY - when the guy with the ball is somebody with a reasonable track record for flunking kicks. If you're going to use Frost (or in the past McDonald, O) in this role have contingencies ready for when it goes wrong. TV, web and print journalists, I know you're out there - please analyse this phenomenon in depth, with circles drawn around players to explain things, and tell me I'm not making it up.

The last 10 minutes were a blur, as GWS continued to attack in waves while we stood about admiring them for it. Is that what having 'outside runners' looks like? Where's Jimmy Toumpas when you need him? (spoiler: the SANFL) We've got grunt out the yin yang, but no wonder we're so reliant on defenders pushing up and launching attacks considering how few midfielders are likely to get into space and run. I'm not sold on the 'bounces' stat meaning anything, but it's telling that our top midfielder (Hunt is first overall with is 27) is Jay Kennedy-Harris with... four. And for mids who've played most of the season Tyson is 'top' on two. We've had the fourth least in the competition, and the fourth least against - which must make for exciting viewing for neutrals.

Speaking of stats, there was much made of us being thrashed in the tackle count. Which said a lot for the Giants after the first few minutes until packing it away in the last, and for the number of times we had players grasping at thin air or half tackling before it was powered out of. At the risk of turning this into a David King style 'all stats, no vibe' extravaganza we're actually the #4 tackling side in the competition. Didn't look like it today, but I suppose it's hard to rack up numbers when the opposition don't let you get within tackling range.

As the conditions for Stranglewank Mode was activated I thought we might still get away with it, but with not a hint of a roadblock thrown in GWS' way they couldn't help but set up an unbeatable lead. Losing because of a pox first quarter is familiar, but doing it after going three goals up in the wind was an unexpected touch of paradise. As much as GWS rank second only to M****n K****s in sports teams I hate, it was downright charitable of them to give us those. Like fox hunters giving their prey a sporting head start before releasing hounds to tear them apart.

In another case of quality commentary, much time was spent guffawing about how GWS didn't need the Cameron/Patton/Greene goalkicking combo after all. Unlike Ricciuto's award winning rollercoaster theory they were clearly playing for laughs, but nobody even thought to chuck in the obvious statement that "you can't play Melbourne every week". Cameron/Patton would probably have kicked 13 between them, but at the same time at least having some big bastards to concentrate on might have focused us on where to defend, instead of allowing half a dozen smaller players to run around unchallenged. Perhaps not, the way we were letting them belt forward in numbers you could have played an octogenarian and a confused Belgian backpacker down there and still kicked a winning score.

"Wait until you've had a go with the wind!" cried people who hadn't watched us toil pitifully both with and without it in Hobart last week. Cobblers. We didn't have the forward structure or attacking plan to take advantage either time. We might have gone into total lockdown mode after those first three goals, but if the Giants had come back to win anyway everyone would be slaughtering Goodwin for being negative and not going on with it when we had the advantage. It's a tough life being a coach, he can expect his mail from loonies to rocket back to levels akin to when the guy cut up his membership because of Kennedy-Harris.

The only noticeable change at the start of the second quarter was that the Giants stopped piling forward by the dozen and kicking goals, quite content to stick a player behind the ball and defend their lead. Crucially unlike us last week they used a big player who could take marks and make contests - hooray for Jordan Lewis telling people what to do, and where to go, but when it comes down the opposition thumping kicks inside 50 by the dozen I'd prefer a player who can get in the way to one passing out complex tactical instructions.

Then even when deliberately playing defensively, the Giants found a way to snatch a goal from a forward 50 stoppage. From 10 minutes into the first quarter until 10 minutes into the last there can't have many teams who'd been less threatening inside 20 metres than we were today. We couldn't keep it down there until the game was shot, Garlett was anonymous, and best of luck trying to reel in a six goal deficit like that - much less while simultaneously watching opposition players run around in acres of space.

The plug was back in, ensuring we at least weren't going to concede another eight into the wind and give 186 a shake, but in stark contrast to the put-on excitement about a potential comeback from the commentators it was obvious that we didn't know what we were doing. I don't know if we failed to take lessons from last week's impotent performance, or if we just didn't have the players to execute. I'd have thought it would be obvious that hammering long kicks to the square was going to end in disaster again, but at the same time chipping it around until you find a better option wasn't going to get us much further when a) there was usually nobody to chip it to, b) if there was they had a Giants' player up their clacker, and c) our chances of hitting the target by foot were next to nil.

For the umpteenth week in a row the only tall forward we had who looked remotely like taking a mark in scoring position was our full back. Which is probably why they weren't game to do the sensible thing and park McDonald inside defensive 50 at the first bounce and leave him at the same end all day. If we'd done that we might not have kicked three goals in the first quarter, but we might not have conceded eight either. Mind you, the way the Giants manufactured the last five goals they'd probably have just manoeuvred around him and gone on their merry way.

With the Giants quite happy to rely on their +1 backline to compete against our barely existing forwards, the second quarter was exactly the sort of torrid struggle you'd expect. We got plenty of the ball, and went forward often enough (in fact we had more inside 50s for the day, just in case you needed further proof that stat is a turd) but with no idea how to craft an attack it was usually for naught. McDonald did one fantastic lead/mark/goal combination, but other than that it was like an army coming to a wall and just aimlessly shooting into it. We didn't even get into position to pull off the same sort of arsey flukes that got them going, with our master of mystery Garlett showing why he shouldn't be allowed within a continent of the All Australian team by going missing, and the surprisingly novelty goal happy Melksham barely around until the last quarter.

Other than the obvious finals implications, what I'm most looking forward to next week is finding out whether we've made kicking goals look so difficult the last two weeks because we've got no idea how to play with the wind, or whether we've hit the point where several players reach physical and mental exhaustion simultaneously. For instance, I would be astonished if Petracca was operating at 100%. He's played a great season but looks tired. Here's to him proving me wrong by having 35 touches and kicking five. I've got my questions about Hibberd as well, he was much better this week than last but I reckon he's starting to feel it. Hunt too, after playing every game he's now had two weeks where he didn't look anywhere near his best.

Until the very end of the quarter the goals were neatly spaced out, and just in case anyone was mad enough to think we could be close enough at the last quarter to mount a storming comeback with the wind the next two went to GWS. You could have assembled the world's greatest salesmen and got them to spout the same fanciful bollocks about us still being a chance as the commentary team (Et tu, Huddo?) and you wouldn't have convinced me there was a chance. The belt stayed on, there was to be no Stranglewank on this occasion. Even if ASADA had turned up and Lachie Whitfield (who as this tweet quite rightly points out looks like he should be a Trump child) instinctively legged it over the fence, and into the streets of Canberra it wouldn't have helped. They had too much quality, while we're still just an industrial outfit plodding away and hoping for the best.

After using the strong weather advantage to score one less goal, we were turned over by the most administrative free kick since teams were cleaned up in the early days of interchange infringements for not filling the paperwork in properly. It's fanciful to blame the umpires for a defeat like this, but GWS was all but gifted a goal here...
It's bad enough that teams have to nominate who's going to take part in the ruck, instead of just letting them work it out themselves and penalising any team that has more than one contest it. But to penalise a player who had the ball bounce into him after the throw was affected by the wind is the biggest loogie in the face of the spirit of the game since the Gold Coast player had a shot on goal against us last year and was pinged for deliberate. There should be a museum set up to celebrate the worst decisions ever made on an AFL field - not the ones where the umpires may have been unsighted, but situations like this where some power hungry kent has unnecessarily decided to get involved just to look like they're doing something. Nobody will care, but this decision should be torn apart in every media outlet in Australia.

For those of you unable to watch the video because you've gone blind poking your own eyes out in frustration at watching Melbourne, let the record show a man was pinged for being 'third man up' without ever leaving the ground. Like the E in Hibberd what more of a hint do you need? In fact he never even attacked the ball, it bounced into him. If it had pitched up, hit him in the cock Hans Moleman style and they still paid the free it would have been the pinnacle of #claytonoliverdoesfunnythings. It could only happen to the Hamburglar, but this was not even remotely funny.

I'd like to think if it was close enough to goal where the kick was a certainty that our Clayton would have treated the umpire like a Carlton fan. His restraint was wasted when the goal was kicked anyway. We got it back not too long after, but as we won't be involved it's my dream that the Grand Final is decided on something that technical and petty and the AFL ceases to exist in its current form.

The same dull umpires who paid that free later failed to spot Shane Mumford clocking Max Gawn in the head. When the Match Review Panel are considering whether or not to suspend him, I hope there's an Umpire Review Panel trying to work out how three field umpires could miss it. Poor Max, remember last year when an askew bounce caused him to be clawed in the face and the umpires didn't give a shit then either?

To be fair to Mumford he did have the opportunity to murder him with his elbow, and pulled out so it 'just' became a solid shoulder to the bonce. I could care less if he's suspended as long as there's an inquest into why we didn't get a free. Unlike later when Melksham gave a Giants player a light nudge to the head, and the guy responded by shaking it off and carrying on, Max went down like a stricken oil tanker. Given that he'd just had the ball you'd think a minimum of two umpires would have been looking right at him. What did they think happened, a surprise heart attack?

We'd calmed the game down, but ended up kicking as many goals against the wind as with it. No wonder we've been so much better at Etihad Stadium this year, we need to play under a roof every week. I expect this is why Corey Maynard had such a promising debut, a year playing in the Cranbourne hurricane belt must have come in handy. As for the rest of the team, maybe they haven't spent enough time there? No doubt we're going to Hobart again after two thrillers, so maybe like that year Port started preparing to play us in Darwin weeks out (and subsequently lost two games by a total of around 300 points a few weeks later) we could rotate some of our most important players through Casey Fields so they can get used to being colder than a witch's tit in extreme winds.

To be even the remotest chance in the last quarter we needed to kick some goals against the wind, but more importantly not shatter into a thousand pieces every time the Giants went forward. This led to Tom McDonald belatedly returning to defence, where for all the traditional criticism about some dodgy disposals he showed exactly why we miss him down there. In one quarter he took more contested marks in the defensive 50 than Frost or Oscar have in the last month combined. I love him as a forward, but if we don't get somebody else who can take a grab for next year then he almost has to go back. Frost is good at unnecessarily spoiling, Sizzle Jr does a good loose intercept mark, and Hibberd is good at piss bolting up the field, but none of them are going to take saving grabs. Even if the kicks sometimes end in tragedy I'll take one major malfunction a game over 10 boundary throw-ins 20m from our goal because we had to thump it over the line instead of clearing.

I don't think the Giants had fully extended the banana lounge and reclined yet, so there's got to be some credit for the much better way we defended the wind this time. Shame the result was already well over, and we were simply playing to avoid being blown away. They did get the first two goals, but again there was some space between them instead of it being a production line of goal > bounce > goal. Eventually Watts turned up for the first time all day to take a strong mark and just get the distance, before Gawn set up Neal-Bullen with the perfect 'no midfielders required' play, roving his own tap and thumping it inside 50. If Nic Nat did that etc... etc...

Any hope that the quickfire double would lead to bigger and better things was dashed fairly quickly, and the rest of the quarter was a throw-back to the third in Hobart where the other lot kept attacking and missing. That was the difference, we were super efficient in only kicking two behinds all day, but it's because we couldn't get the ball into the open inside 50 to have wild pings at goal. It was the first time since Round 2, 1915 that we scored two behinds in a game - and for fans of omens, the occult, and a Nuclear Winter, that was the season we broke a lengthy finals drought before being fucked over by a World War.

The Giants were doing it easily, but tell that to Leon Cameron who thumped a wall when one of his players missed a simple shot on goal. I'd probably like him if he coached anyone else, as a serial mid-game attacker of chairs, couches and all other things non-human I had some sympathy with him here. It was a fitting time for it, in the same week the scabs finally fell off the knuckles on my right hand after the Carlton outburst. Then seconds later when I realised he coaches a side with free players everywhere and will almost certainly win flags before us all solidarity went out the window.

With the game over by any objective measurement, the most troubling part was Christian Salem going off with what initially looked like a serious ankle injury. He returned in the last quarter, and you surely wouldn't risk him in junk time so it must be ok. To add insult to injury, after the tackle slipped down to the ankle and nearly crippled him he was pinged for holding the ball. I hold grave fears for his future if he keeps suffering a wide variety of novelty injuries, the last player I remember who had issues with so many different parts of his body (though he is not recorded as ever having dropped a brick on his head) was Jack Grimes, and look how that turned out.

For those of us left with nothing more than the quest to sandbag our percentage, and punt home Carlton's score against Essendon in the bottom right of screen, it had been a reasonable quarter. Until with five seconds left, almost as late in Demon Time as you can get, when a forward 50 stoppage ended in a Giants player dashing off through our defence and avoiding a couple of half-hearted tackles to stuff the ball through an open goal. This caused me to get a bit philosophical, and yell words to the effect of "why is everything out to get me?" to an empty room. Nobody dared watch with me after last week's profane spectacle.

Despite what the commentators, clearly engaging in a competition to see who could be more outlandish about the prospect of a comeback, would have you believe the last quarter was nothing but an attempt to stem the bleeding on our percentage and get out of Canberra with our dignity intact. That we did, but how much can be attributed to ours choosing to fight to the end or theirs saving themselves for more important matches is debatable.

We won the quarter three goals to one, finally discovering some crumb once all the sting had gone out of the game. Melksham rescued an otherwise ordinary performance with two in quick succession from the square, and until Gawn hit the post late we were on track for our first one behind game since kicking 2.1 against Fitzroy in 1906 and losing by 107. That was all we had going for us, statistical oddities. To say the game hit a lull after the dual Milkshake goals is an understatement, he got them after about six minutes, before the next and final goal was kicked by Maynard about 20 later. The Giants didn't care anymore, a great portion of our side only cared because they realised they might get dropped, and I slumped on my couch with a weary resignation that like last year we might not even get to Round 23 with our finals chance intact.

At least immediately after the siren I had Carlton defending a 10 point lead in the last quarter to console me. Then after unexpectedly opening the lead they did exactly what you'd expect them to and folded like an umbrella. I've had many moments since 2007 where I had to cause to wonder why I put myself through so much emotional stress over this game, and almost being down on my knees begging Levi Casboult of all people to kick a set shot in the last two minutes is up there with the best. He missed, Carlton lost, we're 10th and via a few weird twists and turns it's probably where I expected to be before the year. Doesn't mean I've got to like it though.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
This was a difficult one, a generally flat performance across the board where neither the defence, midfield or forwards turned up as a group. Nobody deserves five votes, but somebody's got to get them. One day we'll beat somebody by 140 and there'll be 12 people deserving of maximum votes who don't get any. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Corey Maynard
1 - Christian Salem

Apologies to T. McDonald, Jetta or Neal-Bullen who might have had either of the last two in the lottery.

Leaderboard
In a never before seen ruling, the Jakovich committee has decided to introduce the dotted line BUT to allow a one game buffer for a potential final. If we lose next week it will be back to players inside 10 votes only, but for now the qualifying mark is 12.

If there is only 15 votes left on offer, it's all but down to Oliver, Hibberd or Viney. Two first time winners and a defending champion. The Hamburglar remains favourite, nearly a full game in front of Hibberd. Meanwhile the ex-Essendonian, now set to watch his old side - Neeld and all - play finals while he's sitting on the couch, has all but sewn up the Seecamp. Jetta retains some hope, but it's fading.

In the other minors Pedersen's two hitouts this week leave him on an average of exactly 11 for the season so he's still qualified for the Stynes. Can't see that helping him from here though, there was much debate at committee level about whether Max should be named provisional winner now. We eventually decided to hold for another week. Meanwhile the promising debut of Maynard in an otherwise shithouse team has left Hannan under the pump. Mitch was rested after his zero kick game last week, so we can probably expect to see him back soon for a ding dong finish to the season. At least the awards are interesting, even if the football isn't.

32 - Clayton Oliver
28 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
25 - Jack Viney
21 - Neville Jetta
20 - Christian Petracca
16 - Jayden Hunt, Tom McDonald
15 - Nathan Jones
13 - Jeff Garlett
12 - Sam Frost, Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Watts
------- Abandon all hope ye below here -------
9 - Christian Salem
7 - Jordan Lewis, Dom Tyson
6 - James Harmes, Cameron Pedersen
5 - Oscar McDonald, Jake Melksham
4 - Mitch Hannan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year), Bernie Vince
2 - Dean Kent, Corey Maynard, Alex Neal-Bullen, Josh Wagner
1 - Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Not a lot to choose from, and as I'm not going to watch the highlights ever again to see if there's some subtlety that I missed on one of the others I'll opt for that first lightning Melksham crumb in the last quarter. Arguably GWS had given up by then, but thank god for finally profiting from some havoc in front of their goal instead of merrily hoofing it long to defenders every single time. For the weekly prize Jake wins a seat in the Senate, courtesy of somebody else being turfed out for holding dual citizenship with Liechtenstein.

McDonald against West Coast still leads overall.


Given that our banner featured both 'and' and '&' in quick succession (warning: do not read the previous line again, it may bring on a stroke) I probably would have chosen any decent effort in the world over it. Then GWS unveiled something that had about six different mini-curtains, giving them a 6x curtain penalty and delivering another win to the good guys. Dees 18-1-0 for the season.
Next week
Back at a real stadium, and against a St Kilda side that you actually want to be coming off a win. If West Coast wreck the plan by beating them tomorrow then we may as well hope the Saints go to pieces, but having beaten them once since 2006 I'm not getting too carried away. It will be the perfect farewell to Nick Riewoldt, allowing him 100 hectares of free space whenever he goes near the ball, before he eventually takes Neville Jetta into retirement with him via a knee to the head while marking in the last second, before kicking the winning goal after the siren.

Pending how they go against the Eagles there's nothing to say we can't win, but to keep with the otherwise bleak September outlook I'll just assume we won't. I feel like there should be more changes, and maybe they'll finally surprise us by giving Kennedy another game, but either way if we lose batten down the hatches of your internet connection because there's going to be a major meltdown.

IN: Hannan
OUT: Harmes (omit)
LUCKY: Hunt, Pedersen, Watts
UNLUCKY: Brayshaw, Kennedy, Stretch, Weideman

After that
The Ladder Predictor (still sponsored by Bailey Ladders, years after that stopped being a relevant gag. Unlike the MFC, who will always be one) has had another airing and it's not all terrible news. If we win the next two, the Bulldogs lose to GWS (who will undoubtedly now go back to being shit) and other results go as expected we'll be back into eighth going into the last round. Do you fancy us to win against the Pies? I surely don't, but it does probably leave our fate in our own hands with a trip to either Sydney (yes), Adelaide (yes) or Perth (for god's sake no) on offer.

We don't deserve to make it, but you won't find me complaining if we do. Anyway, I'm expecting that we won't be seeing this segment again next week.

Final thoughts
If there's anything to be said for following a team that's shithouse every week instead of intermittently it's that you know what you're going to get. The stress of being midtable finals contenders is becoming too much for me, and I'd be surprised if I lived until Round 23.