Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Don't forget: you're here forever

The person who said "the darkest hour comes before the dawn" failed to factor in what it's like following Melbourne. At least this year when they send out a finals ticket brochure the day after we're eliminated you'll get it in June.

Yes, we're back to our safe place of teetering on the brink of crisis. After a glorious week of being Victoria's #1 team we've served up a pair of steamy turds that have left us better off than only St Kilda, Footscray and Carlton - all of who we're a red hot chance of losing to later in the year. Cue chaos, with a large faction of supporters trying to hang, draw and quarter the coach lining up against a minority dissenting opinion that suggests we should have been satisfied with briefly challenging the premiers before folding like umbrellas in the last quarter.

I'm not voting for either side. The entire Melbourne experience has flattened me so much that it's hard to get wildly excited one way or the other. What I do know is that we kicked eight goals for the night, played in front of 10,000 less people than last year and were generally dragged around the nose like a farm animal. That it was against a side in hot form is only partial comfort after watching us play like Mark Neeld was holding Simon Goodwin hostage a'la Max Walker in The 12th Man.

It was one of those uncomfortably ugly but not entirely disastrous performances that inflames passions, but for now can we retain some shred of dignity and not turn the place into a war zone requiring intervention by the United Nations? Things have gone very badly since 20 minutes into the Hawthorn game, but in the next four weeks we play Essendon, St Kilda, Gold Coast and Carlton - four teams in varying states of terrible form. Don't be the person left without any effigies to torch on Sunday 20 May when we've really stuffed things up.

It's not a ringing endorsement, but at least this was a better performance than against the Hawks. Conversely, this result has done more to harpoon my belief in this team going anywhere quickly. I was prepared to give them a week to regroup, nobody has worn the Veil of Negativity better than me but even I thought the outpouring of grief after one insipid defeat was well over the top. When AFL360 rip out the dramatic video package of distressed and/or angry fans you know you're in trouble. Which always seems cruel to the people pictured, unless they support other clubs then it is tremendous viewing.

There was much consternation over the suggestion in this article that you shouldn't let your kids follow Melbourne. I disagree entirely, it's important to develop a siege mentality at the earliest possible age. At least if you can't convince them to follow you into disaster then at least steer them away from footy entirely and make sure no other team benefits. Then when we can't replace the pokies money and are relocated to Penang you can spend more quality time with your children.

Now I want the scrutiny. The club itself should clam up and get on with business, and supporters should take a deep breath, but give me all the media exposes and slow motion insights into where it went wrong. I didn't think we'd beat Richmond, even when we got to within a goal in the third quarter, but while it was nothing near the worst defeat of the last few years the performance was so stagnant and lacking in creativity that you lose confidence in beating any team that matters. It made me wonder if I'd overrated us as a fringe finals contender. The people who were roped into thinking we'd finish top four must be hearing that famous line "ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" Serves you right, nothing realistically suggested we'd take the great leap forward this year.

Last week's Melbourne Member Meltdown led to a lot of club personalities being prematurely wheeled out to talk about our 'brand' and what the 'narrative' is/was/should be. It all came off like a tremendous wank, give me the David Brent free experience. The days of Mick Malthouse looking like he was about to garrotte Mark Stevens with his own microphone cord are over, but spare me these chintzy catchphrases that are supposed to give the impression that everything's under control but make it look more like it's not. There's no point in them whipping themselves publicly again - not that there was last week - so I'm happy for them to work the fictional PR line that this was a half-decent performance if that's what it takes to focus for the Bombers on Saturday.

After all that (and changes in the coaching box which are probably not nearly as drastic as the guy who hosts the club's official podcast makes it out to be) I was hoping that we might get into the spirit of Anzac Day by playing I Was Only 19 while all the well-regarded juniors that we've ruined by drafting them did a lap of the oval. Port would have had to agree to let Trengove, Toumpas and Watts come over for it but it would have been a great chance to heal. Remember the Friday night in 2004 where they paraded past players around the ground so we'd forget about all the board turmoil then Neita kicked nine? More of that please. After that game Neale Daniher said: "I'm really happy for our supporters to be able to witness a Melbourne team really firing up. It was a great night for the club. The players did a bit of soul-searching after last week and they knew we were better than that" and it would be dandy if we could do something to encourage the incumbent to say the same next week.

Speaking of Jack Redvers Watts, remember the people who told us that all our troubles were over when he got the boot? That a new standard of amazing professionalism would sweep over the club in his absence? Looks to me like we're still prone to losing games via being completely mental for a quarter or two. You couldn't question that the players were having a bash for most of the night - especially the first quarter - but whatever amazing steps we were supposed to have taken on the training track don't mean anything if you play the game like you're trying to set the world record for the most players that can be stuffed into one part of the ground simultaneously. There's no point in litigating the Watts case again, but I still think he'd have come in handy this year.

More than 24 hours later I feel a lot better about how good Richmond are compared to us. It's a sobering reminder that we're not going to unexpectedly challenge for a flag, but my goal was to make the eight so I'll be willing to settle for that as a first step. It's not like we didn't have chances to score, but in a flashback to the year when Dawes was our leading goalkicker under a ruthlessly defensive coaching regime we made it look so complicated that you wanted to gouge your eyes out.

The issue of needing a Jesse Hogan up the ground and another one inside 50 reared its ugly head again. He played an excellent game, but when he was in attack nobody could get the ball to him, and when he ventured down-field to take marks and provide a link in the chain there was nobody to go to next.

I thought Sam Weideman had a whole-hearted crack, and like that Adelaide game last year his pressure at ground level is fantastic but he couldn't hold a mark running at the ball for shit (though he did manage to pull down a good one going away from it) so we were left unnecessarily contesting for the ball at ground level, when we should have been quickly going deep into attack. His rucking was surprisingly competent so I'm happy to give him another go, but I can't wait for Tom McSizzle to get back down there so Hogan can afford to shift up the ground (possibly not all the way to the half-back flank Baileyball style), or provide a second big target to aim at.

Even when we were attacking continually in the first quarter you could feel it was one of those days where the other side would shortly regain their senses and start playing keepings off. It was the same story that we've seen many times over the last couple of seasons, if we could get the ball to the middle of the ground we could get it inside 50 but the delivery was ordinary, and the structure on the other end were tracking somewhere between lacking and non-existent. It led to rushed chances at best, and only a slight delay before conceding a score.

If Richmond got the ball inside their 50 it was lights out, we were lucky if it escaped without a goal being kicked within five minutes. I liked the defence as individuals, though the system fell apart a few times, but what I hated was the one-dimensional way of moving the ball up the ground. Over and over again we hoofed it down the line for no reward. The idea of a heat-map is a bit gimmicky (except when Josh Wagner's drew a cock and balls against North), but our second quarter one was a horror story.
Any danger of a switch? No, it was just whacking it down the line at Gawn and hoping for the best. This just fed more Richmond opportunities, and we were lucky that they spectacularly cocked up a number of opportunities in the first half. Oscar was doing a good on Riewoldt, Lever was playing his best game yet, and Hibberd was on top form for almost the first time all year but about the only time we went into the middle was when a panicked kick out of a pack bobbled in that direction. Tyson made a horrible mess of one attempt in the third quarter, but at least he tried. Why you would get into a position where a turnover merchant is the only guy trying to change directions in the backline is an entirely different matter.

What happened to bursting out of defensive 50 and finding a player - usually Garlett - running into the 50 on his own? That is the most comfortable of all goals, instead of the trial by ordeal process we went through last night. You will note that the best we looked all night was when Hogan went forward, but that the moment Richmond managed to get the ball back inside their forward 50 his impact was negated and he had to go back to roaming up the ground to get involved.

Then there was the clearances, where Gawn spanked his opponent in the desperately overrated hitout stat but Richmond still managed to spirit the ball away more overall and twice as much in the middle. At one stage the Tigers ruckman, and it may have been the backup, didn't even bother to contest the tap and we still only narrowly avoided them getting it straight out of the middle. Oliver and Jones were fine, and The Hamburglar especially played one massive quarter, but where does the blame for the armchair ride going to waste sit? Is it with the guy tapping, or the people he's supposed to be tapping to. The sooner we get Viney back the better, as long as it's not another rush job that crocks his foot.

So, that's a lot of pressure on McDonald and Viney. I'm sure Jack will be fine, but I'm starting to get worried that the Sizzle Forward Experience won't carry on its promising start. There's no evidence from the pre-season to suggest that, but look at everyone else who has gone backwards from last year. Hunt is off, Petracca is treading water, Hibberd has been down on last season, Garlett has gone missing in all the losses, Salem is on and off like a tap, Jetta is not himself, and Neal-Bullen is offering a cut price $cully service of running a lot but having little actual impact. Then you get Dean Kent unexpectedly reviving his career only to be injured again.

Then there's Harmes, who is a competent bit part player, Tyson who I have little faith in and Stretch who we bear no ill will towards but played one of the worst games I've ever seen by a Melbourne player. He looked completely overwhelmed, and as much as I'm usually in favour of giving a player a couple of shots before giving them the boot if he's in the selected side on Friday night I will break things.

To be fair to Goodwin this is only the fourth time he's presided over a Bailey Quarter ("that's a one goal opener if you're just joining us" - Dwayne) but three of them have now come since Round 16 last year and the only one in a win was narrowly against Carlton. In his first 14 games we averaged 101.5 points, but since that shitbox Sydney game the last time we stunk up prime time football it's down to 81.1 - including the 123 against North two weeks ago that's the highest score he's ever coached. There's a common armchair theory that he had a plan which has been found out. I don't think you can be that simplistic about it, but there's definitely something off chops going on with our scoring compared to the first half of 2017.

If nothing else the first quarter was intense, but there's only so far ferocity can get you before you have to match it with the appropriate structure. What happened to the daring raids through the middle that we were doing at our best last year? This was football so cautious that we should be sponsored by Worksafe. It was like they were just trying to stick with the Tigers for as long as possible in the hope that something would go wrong for them and let us nick in for a cheap win. It was Ugly, defeatist bullshit from a side that should - at least at its top end - be much better than that. Whether they are or not will be demonstrated in the next 30 days.

There was plenty of finger pointing towards the umpires, but in a game of 732 disposals and probably 150 other opportunities to get a kick I'd contend that a good side should be able to rise above a few howlers. Particular decisions might not make it is easy, but don't represent the crucial factor in a game where you play like arseholes anyway. Besides, I thought they were all over the place in every direction. Witness for instance Melksham's much celebrated second goal which was such a charity job that it should have been delivered via parachute by the Red Cross.

If anything could be said of the umpiring it was that Dustin Martin clearly gets an additional 20% bonus time to dispose of the ball, but I say let's find a player like that and start reaping the benefits. Somebody who leaves umpires awestruck and opponents terrified before they even turn up to the ground, knowing that he can wreck them anywhere from the defensive 50 to the goal-line. He is tremendously overexposed, and that ad of him punching on with all and sundry inside a train is one of the shittest things I've ever seen, but what a player. How can you not enjoy him stuffing his arm into an opponent and having them fly off like Street Fighter II: Championship Edition?

Of course, if we'd drafted him he'd have turned out to be the mental case that his first couple of seasons suggested. I have it on good authority that he credits much of his supernova rise over the last few seasons to work with Richmond's mindfulness guru, to the point where she now works with all players as a matter of course. We're probably still operating under the Neeld era macho bullshit fiction that if players are glum they can have a chat to a coach. MFC HQ connected readers - I see that we do have a sports psychologist on staff, how about a look into what he does instead of another press conference where poor old Nathan Jones is wheeled out to apologise.

If any Richmond fans were aggrieved by the Melksham goal, they didn't have to wait long to get the reply. The ball went straight back into their attack from the next bounce, and we made it out as far as the wing before Stretch boosted was what undoubtedly the worst game of his career into the stratosphere by turning it over and allowing them to get one back. That left us 'just' 20 points behind at half time, but having kicked three goals in our last five quarters. When you're running at less than 1.0 goals per quarter have a good hard look at yourselves.

I was having a miserable old time, and didn't expect it to get any better in the third quarter but against the odds we launched a token comeback. With Hogan allowed to be a target, and Oliver firing, the ball was kept out of Richmond's clutches for long enough to get to within a goal. Then after 10 minutes of battering the door down, and actually getting some reward for once, we let them go down the other end and effortlessly bang through a steadier. They missed another golden opportunity not long after, before Milkshake broke the trend of the evening and got one against the run of play. We weren't out of it, but nor were we anywhere near in it.

Discussion of the last quarter can start and end at Harmes kicking the first goal to give us some way outside hope of pulling off a famous comeback. Instead I sat there sullenly doing my impression of this guy:
If you were a glass half full person you'd say at least they were saving their legs for Sunday. What I saw, when not furiously pounding away on my phone in a failed attempt to make myself feel better, was another occasion where we whipped out our alternative logo of a white cross on a white background. Even Richmond fans were starting to get bored by the end, leaving Adelaide supporters the most engaged as they celebrated the implications of our plummeting percentage on the traded first round pick. My favourite part - and there weren't many to choose from - was when we set up the rare minus one point play by allowing Richmond to respond to Weideman kicking OOF by going straight down the other end for a point.

It's not over yet, and to be fair other than an unexpectedly shithouse percentage we're only one win behind where I thought we'd be. But like going five goals behind in a game and just falling short of a comeback, when you leave yourself down in the hole and having to work on Bradbury Plan calculations five games into the season then don't be surprised if the end result is the wrong one.

Not that you'd know it from all the dull people trying to shorten the season, lengthen the draft, abolish the draw and generally pull themselves over the NFL, but this could be the most even season in years. With apologies to Carlton and Brisbane, the middle of the table is a spectacular battle royale at the moment. Some teams are going to die in the arse by the end (e.g. us) but not before a brutal series of unexpected results and swinging wildly from one end of the battle to the other. Maybe the random results mean that a team will be able to scab into the eight on percentage at 11-11, but if we take 12-10 as the absolute minimum that means we have to go 10-7 from here via trips to Geelong, Adelaide and Perth in the last few weeks of the year. Fat fucking chance.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
I have no confidence in these votes. For the second consecutive week nobody really deserved them.

5 - Jesse Hogan
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Oscar McDonald
1 - Michael Hibberd

Apologies to Lever, Gawn, Jones or Wagner who narrowly missed the veil of voting negativity that was draped over the entire squad.

The midfielders vs everyone else battle continues to rate, with the tag team battle now Gawn/Hogan vs Oliver/Jones. Everyone else is a BOG and a bit away and not looking like getting any closer. After five games Hibberd, Jetta and Hunt haven't repeated (or Viney/McDonald, but I think they can be excused), Petracca and Garlett are just going and Pedersen is playing for Casey because that's just what we do with him when we've run out of ideas.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Melksham had near enough to 50.1% of our goals, so I'm going to opt for his bendy snap at the start. Remember that? When you had some remote hope of this game turning out well? It was actually a very nice goal, and given that the rest of the game shouldn't be allowed to sully it, I'm going to declare it the clubhouse leader for the award.

For his weekly prize Jake wins a full DNA testing session from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to work out whether or not Essendon injected him with Mad Cow Disease.

Every other year the classy joint banner has led to a draw. It was a lovely banner this year too, except for the Richmond cheersquad peanut who showed up to hold it dressed in a head to toe yellow and black striped suit with a comedy wig on. Which is fine when you're playing anyone else, but it's entirely NQR to do it when you're participating in a ceremony meant to honour people who have fought for their country and in great numbers died.

To be fair he did at least take his novelty hat off for the playing of the Last Post, but when he turned up like that somebody should have told him to have a spell from banner duties. I'm hardly Bruce Ruxton for ruthlessly enforcing Anzac Day standards, but you've got to treat the event with some sort of dignity instead of carrying on like you're the King of Moomba. So, due to fielding an ineligible player Richmond were disqualified from this round. Full points to the Dees, who are now 5-0 for the year and a chance for the perfect season for the first time in years.

Crowd watch
A mystery benefactor smuggled me into the AFL Members, and while I appreciate his patronage there was an apprehension about having to sit amongst Richmond fans. It's bad enough watching opposition fans have fun at any game, let alone when they've just won the flag. When I sat down to find that our group of three was literally the only Demon representation anywhere to be seen I set the clock for how long it would take for somebody to do the old "at least I've seen my team win a flag" chestnut. There's no comeback to that - at least in the immediate season after they won - leaving you to either a) take the moral high ground and congratulate your adversary on their success, or b) get personal. I wish I was an a) person but I am actually very much b).

A Richmond fan extracting the piss about premiership droughts is like a sudden lottery winner walking the streets kicking begging bowls away from leprosy victims, but to the credit of those around us it never happened. Maybe because the handful of Melbourne fans present were all too gloomy to get involved in an argument with anyone other than our own players and/or coaching staff. If I was a Richmond fan - and until last year I'd probably have fit in - the challenge would have been to put a new spin on it, by waiting for a Melburnian to make comment about the Nathan Broad/free-range norgs controversy then asking "how many of your players have been in trouble over a photo of a premiership medallion?"

I thought we were in substantial trouble before the bounce when the trippers in front of us sang along to Eagle Rock (we may never discuss it again, so can I state for the record how much I hate that song? I would rather they play Rupert Holmes' The Pina Colada Song). Then when they showed the moon on the scoreboard one of them pointed and said "the moooooooon" like he had a brain injury, and as Hardwick walked the boundary after a pre-match interview somebody just lightly said "Dimmmmmmmma" in an ethereal way that was not loud enough for him to hear, but loud enough that they obviously wanted somebody in the area to take notice.

This is why it's best that I sit on my own, or with a handful of likeminded individuals. Especially if people are going to titter at stupid shit yelled by other fans like they're a tennis crowd, and painfully follow deliberate calls by 'humorously' demanding them for everything for the next 45 minutes. By the third quarter I was hoping we'd be pinged for one so they'd be forced to debut new material.

In the end the people in front were fine, the most irritating character was the poon behind us who spent four quarters explaining every aspect of the game to a girl who by her responses had quite clearly seen a game of Australian rules football before and didn't need it laid out like a copy of Footy For Idiots. He was one of those people who should be occupying Row MM, because all he did was either mansplain the sport or talk to himself. And when Harmes took a mark at the start of the game he said, with not even the slightest hint of irony, "is that Jack Watts?". But, he's seen his side win a flag and I haven't so he wins.

Stat My Bitch Up 
A few seasons ago we were looking closely at the tremendous Melbourne stack of the worst win-loss records in the competition. I'm pleased to say that even after the latest pair of outrages that we're down to one full time MFC player in the top 20. The SME, Jeremy Howe and Lynden Dunn all feature but we can't be entirely blamed for them (though with the latter two most of the damage was done here).

Regretfully, the last man standing is Nathan Jones with a 29.01% winning record. More concerning is that he is now just 13 career losses off Robbie Flower for the most by a Melbourne player, and 37 off Kevin Murray for the all-time record. I can't see him playing long enough to reach Murray's 208 from 333 games but Flower's record could go down by Round 23 the way we've been playing recently. That will leave them as the only two players on the list to play in less than 100 wins. This club should be facing charges of crimes against humanity. See you in The Hague.

Matchday Experience watch
Tell you how shit a night I had. How many years have I been coming on here speculating that somebody was going to neck themselves doing Hogan's Heroes? Last night I chose to ignore the segment going on 10 rows right in front of me and missed the second contestant knocking himself out by falling on his head. Reader @chrispyy84 confirms that there actually is a waiver, and it's only a one pager that says you can't sue the footy club or the paint company. Note - the MCC are not involved, so if you slip on the grass in your run-up you may still be eligible for a payoff.. err... payout as long as you disclosed any other health concerns ("health concerns").

The last line - with the superfluously capitalised 'ACKNOWLEDGE' suggests that as long as the parents are satisfied we can do a Little League version, hopefully with the addition of a trampoline for the kids to get on Russell Robertson's back.

They did helpfully show a big screen replay of the neckage just in case Nowicki Carbone hadn't already been notified. My highlight was Robbo immediately shutting the segment down after that and moving onto the next thing before the guy had even regained consciousness. You had to be there to enjoy the way Robertson legged it from the scene with the marking bag still attached to his back, leaving some unlucky third player called 'Wombat' unable to have his chance at acquiring a concussion.

So, if that's the end of Howie's Hangers/Hogan's Heroes we bid it a fond farewell. Roll on Gawn's Gags, where three hapless amateurs are handed a microphone and asked to perform a quick stand up comedy routine. Or Goodwin's Gripes, where supporters line up to hang shit on the coach.

Next week
At least if the axe swings (which it won't) the Casey players have had an extra couple of days off. They were last seen pulling off that classic MFC move of going five goals up at quarter time then dying. But at least they kicked five goals in a quarter, which is three more than the seniors managed in an entire half.

I don't know if we can play all of Hogan, Weideman and Pedersen but I'm willing to try. It's not like whatever we've done recently has worked. Have Hulk and Pedersen rotating between CHF and FF, with the Weid floating around the half-forward flank trying to find some space. It's a tall forward line but they need not all be contesting the same ball, and christ knows the small forwards could try some pressure when the ball hits the ground for once instead of letting it fling off down the other end ASAP. Maybe it will leave us too tall, maybe it will be pioneer a grand new way of playing football and sweep us to a flag?

I've had enough of Vince and Lewis now. If you're comfortable bringing Weideman and Stretch in to play in front of (what you thought would be) more than 80,000 people then you're comfortable trying something new for the future to replace the veterans instead of sandbagging to protect 2018. Critics will suggest that Vince had six clearances, but when Tyson had eight inside 50s you know there's no point debating the basic level, free stats.

IN: Fritsch, Hannan, Pedersen, Frost
OUT: Harmes, Stretch, Vince (omit), Kent (inj)
LUCKY: Garlett, Hunt, Neal-Bullen, Tyson
UNLUCKY: Anyone on our list who is fit

I'd love to drop more players, but for all our alleged new found depth I can't find many alternatives that interest me. If it goes pear shaped in the next month just concede - which shouldn't be hard for this team - and play everyone up to and including Lachlan Filipovic. For now I'll give it one more week, then I'm going troppo.

The whole organisation had better respond. And the best place to do that is on the field. Otherwise the club can collectively settle and stop acting like we're in deep a crisis mode like after the Hawthorn game? Just because the receptionist got a few nutty phone calls and we all acted the goat on Twitter is no reason to jump at shadows. No explanatory interviews on podcasts, no mid-week calls for calm from players. Just don't play like a team of enthusiastic amateurs that met for the first time on their way into the ground.

Essendon were reportedly putrid against Collingwood, with Brendan Goddard spreading the love by arguing with his teammates in the middle of the game. Notwithstanding the fact that we play better at Docklands than our home ground, what's the bet they deliver the ultimate team performance next week and walk off in arm-in-arm as the best mates ever. Alternatively we could find a new avenue to kick goals and crush them unmercifully. In a sick way I'm looking forward to it.

Was it worth it?
Christ on a bicycle no. I left home at 5.40am, finished work at 3pm, did Demonwiki research at the State Library until 5 (including causing a microfilm of Inside Football 1978 to completely unspool and have to be hand wound back on), walked to the G, waited for an hour and half for the bounce, saw us kick two goals in a half, walked back to my car on Spencer Street, got caught in road works and walked back in the door bang on midnight. A fair and reasonable person would have gotten home at 4, done something productive with my family for three hours, yelled at the TV for a bit and gone to bed. I am obviously not a fair and reasonable person as I follow Melbourne.

After a shithouse night all I wanted to do was get in the car and listen to Finey's Final Siren, and at least try to remember the corresponding fixture two years earlier where it was the Richmond fans carrying on like pork chops and trying to sack their coach immediately.

But because Hutchy brand SEN is as dull as dishwater this iconic program has replaced with Rohan Connolly earnestly soldiering through a limp knock-off called The Wash Up. With a generic name like that there wasn't much hope, but as much as I like Rohan (except when I followed him on Twitter and he'd keep getting roped into digital punch-ups with numpties) it lacked that potent mixture of sarcasm and disdain for stupid callers that made FFS the greatest show on Australian radio since Get This. All the heavy lifting had to be done by aggrieved Melbourne fans, most of whom you couldn't hear because the audio levels were at a community radio standard.

Final thoughts
I'm not buying a lynch mob membership yet, but that risks missing out when they're all sold in the next few weeks. By Round 9 we'll either be firmly back amongst the mid-table mediocrities or there will be a smouldering crater where our hopes and dreams used to sit. Failure to launch in the next month may make Chernobyl look like burnt toast. Head to your designated fallout shelter and await further instructions.

Standard "this post is delayed" notification

Hello readers, it's 02:00 and I've probably got another four or five hours of moaning that needs to be done. Add another for editing and it's unlikely there's going to be a post by Wednesday evening. I promise that it will definitely be available by the time you go back to work on Thursday - unless it causes me great personal trauma to write and I drop dead of a stroke on the keyboard. That will at least free me from footy.

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

Cheerio and Go Dees.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Things can only get bitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Our long national nightmare is over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN/OUT: No change
UNLUCKY: Pedersen, Brayshaw

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

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

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

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

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

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