Sunday, 24 March 2019

Extraordinary people doing bloody ordinary things

At some point in the near future, rising sea levels will submerge the tiny island of Tuvalu and leave it uninhabitable. The only group in more danger from global warming is the Melbourne Football Club, having ended consecutive warm weather games like Burke and Wills.

Even if temperatures had been halved West Coast would have still thrashed us, and we'd probably had been beaten here too but I need a distraction from the realities of following an underdone team that was out of gas by half time of Round 1. Let's reconvene after a night game next week and decide whether conditions were to blame (and the number of players who ended the game looking like they needed to go on a drip suggest they didn't help), we were a finals flash in the pan that has to endure a cooldown season before really going for it in 2020, or there's a classic MFC self-sabotage campaign in our future.

Nobody loses as the home favourite more often than us, so while it's usually safe to follow the bookies because they've got the most to lose it was insane sending us in as odds on favourites and a 30-something point handicap. Shareholders of the companies involved should call an Extraordinary General Meeting and sack everyone involved. Your money is not safe in the hands of anybody who didn't accept the likelihood of us delivering a fiasco.

Against all available evidence I still thought we'd win - a long history of going up like the Challenger under expectation, three key players who'd only appeared in a half-arsed second practice game, Jack Watts a dead certainty to have the game of his life, and Port fielding four first gamers likely to wind up playing Rock Paper Scissors to decide who gets the Rising Star nomination. Not to mention the painful memories of our last Round 1 game against Port, where we arrived at the MCG having beaten them two weeks earlier in a NAB Cup game, and left in fully crisis mode, with red faced people yelling obscenities over the fence. Fortunately no matter how flat we now it's a very different time, with the only thread between the two games being us copping a not so dry root from Justin Westhoff.

Given the extent of our casualty list, now including Lewis after injuring his hamstring late in the week, there weren't many options other than to play all of Jones, Melksham and Viney. Returns were mixed, with Melksham arguably our best before going missing along with everyone else in the last quarter, Viney 'better for the run' (e.g. couldn't get near it but we're hopeful for the future), and Jones playing perhaps the worst game of his life - highlighted by a spectacular blunder at the start of the last quarter that almost caused the internet to collapse under the weight of people rushing to force him into retirement.

I was surprised at how off the pace Viney was, even returning on scant preparation from a 'corked iliotibial band'. Or as they'd have put it if they weren't trying to sound intellectual - 'knee'. I'd like to think that he's working towards full fitness rather than being troubled by his band, but given that it looks like Dr. Phil Nietschke is overseeing our injury list (including his son Aaron) he'll probably be out for the next 21 weeks. But with Midfield vandenBerg also hurt who else were we going to play? Everything you need to know about our rapidly thinning depth is that the emergencies were a ruckman, two defenders, and a forward who would up replacing a defender. Crazy Name, Crazy Guy Kolodjashnij hasn't played a game yet, and Stretch is a handy cog in the wheel at best. Depth is great until you scratch the surface and realise all that's below is a collection of Hail Marys.

Hunt was probably meant to play forward, but when Lewis blew up we parachuted Sparrow into attack and stuck with the role Jayden is best known for. I understand that in the circumstances he had to defend, but I'd like a look at him in attack. He had one delightful turbo run that set up a goal, but was otherwise wasteful with his disposals and is only just hanging on to a spot.

We often play first quarters that defy the laws of football, gravity or both, and this was a special. By the end I thought we should be a mile ahead, despite most of our A grade players being MIA, but could also see very clearly how we'd probably lose. I wasn't being completely negative, expecting defeat to come via a thriller, not a heat-induced collapse.

In the early minutes of the all new rules intended to boost scoring, nobody could score. Viney spurned the first chance by hoofing a free out on the full, before we looked the far more likely side to get a run on. Our ball movement was quick we had players running free, and Port were fumbling and going to ground like they were completely spooked at playing a team tipped by many otherwise sensible media figures to win the flag. Of course, these are the same figures who have successfully set us up and can now do "did Melbourne get ahead of themselves?" articles when they were the ones who hyped us to start with.

At four goals to one things were looking up. Tom McSizzle was responsible for two of them, before struggling to get near it for the rest of the game. First he towered over two defenders to take a molto bene pass from Melksham, and later returned the favour by marking in the pocket, and doing an overly cute nine metre pass to the 'Shake, who was called to play on and fortunately snapped the goal. Between those Sparrow joined the illustrious goal with the second kick club via a tap-in from the square, Brayshaw kicked a set shot, and everything was coming up Melbourne.

When McMilkshake did their Harlem Globetrotters shit for an almost immediate response to Port's first goal I made the horrible, fatal mistake of wondering how much we could win by. That assumed Port would continue to go about it like they were trying to flee Saigon across an ice rink. Terrible move. By half time we were barely holding on, having spent most of the second quarter taking the sort of unprotected blows that would have seen a boxing match stopped.

The tide began turning when Neal-Bullen missed a set shot, leading to Port going down the other end and kicking an arsey steadying goal as the direct result of us using a non-qualified ruckman at a defensive throw-in. The Bullet got another chance not long after when a defender flubbed the ball straight into his arms in almost the exact same spot. He missed again, about 15 of his teammates went "right, that'll do us for today", and other than a couple of minutes at the start of the third quarter nary a shot was fired again.

Saddest case of all was Max Gawn, niggled to within an inch of his life in his 100th game without any obvious intervention from his teammates. I wouldn't want to fight Patrick Ryder either, but somebody could have sacrificed themselves to a low-level flag-flying grapple. It's not like Ryder was the only one belting him either, some much more fightable character gave one Max in the guts on the way past and left him sprawled on the ground with zero retaliation. Have we learned nothing since Queen's Birthday 2009? I know we have, because at various times in the last few years we've had players willing to punch on (relatively speaking) for their teammates. Now just as expectations peaked we let one of our most vital weapons get thumped by everyone who ran past him.

This time we got 15 minutes of glory before toppling over, but otherwise the ruck scenario was like a straight replay of the Preliminary Final, as a pair of quality ruckmen double-teamed the bejesus out of Max. On the occasion of rolling him for the second consecutive game, Scott Lycett is now officially Gawn's kryptonite. He probably smuggled the files revealing how the Eagles did it up his jumper when he left. There's no point to holding the secrets anymore, they're out there for everyone to see and we'd be negligent not to be working on a counter-counter program to make sure he can have an impact.

In retrospect we might have played Preuss in the second ruckman role he was specifically recruited for. I presume he was left as an emergency because they were worried about him dying in the heat, floundering in the wet, or falling victim to a gruesome tropical mixture of the two. After he went to pieces in hot weather against Richmond I can understand their concerns about playing him in similar conditions, but that blowout was the direct result of trying to play him in the Gawn role where he rucked all day. We'll never know if it would have made a difference but it goes to show our all eggs in one basket approach to the ruck is a massive risk.

The rain had come and gone well before the first bounce (from the sky anyway, players were falling on their arses left, right and centre until half time), but once they left Preuss out on Thursday the die was cast. Coaches have spent 100 years removing tall players wen the conditions didn't suit, even one who just got a lucrative extension isn't going to open himself to ridicule (a'la the John Longmire/Mark Seaby incident in R1, 2011) by going the other way.

I'm not yet sure (but keen to find out) if Preuss justifies selection by what he brings outside of ruck contests, but where I think a professional second ruckman comes in handy is for inside 50 stoppages at either end. For the last couple of years we've often gotten away with emergency ruckmen in the middle because of the strength of the players at their feet, but it's a totally different proposition at attacking or defending stoppages without Gawn. There was a moment against Gold Coast about three years ago that set the standard for inside 50 ruckwork, as he hit a perfect tap over his head for Viney to run past and kick the goal. It's probably not the last time we had an effective tap near goal but it must be close.

Down the other end, Weideman took to his fill-in role like they hadn't bothered to put him through even the most rudimentary defensive stoppage course. He was beaten all ends up at a throw-in that led their first goal, and in the second got so confused at taking a bounce in front of Port's goal with no opposition that he hit it straight to a Port player. Preuss may have ended the day receiving Hydralite in the same way Stevie Nicks used to take cocaine but he'd have at least known what to do both those times. Otherwise, why did we recruit him?

Preuss may never be a number one, but the one time we've played him as Max's second banana (against Collingwood) he looked good. Big difference when it starts raining, but early in the season if we can't get away with playing him, Weid and McDonald I'll go hee. If we can't play three now then one will have to go when it starts raining. It won't be McDonald that means you can either have Weid who can't ruck but is out of contract and might piss off somewhere he can play every week, or Preuss who can ruck but is limited as a forward. I didn't hate Weideman's game today, but surely trying flying contested chest marks with zero arm extension went out when we delisted Brad Miller. When he went to the ball in a contest he pulled down the best contested mark of the day. More of the good stuff, less of the bad stuff.

Speaking of Queen's Birthday 2009, it was good see Watts finally start hitting people. All it took to encourage him was an off-season from hell, with his various fetishes turning him into a cult figure even before video footage emerged of him snorting fake gak off a pair of bristols. I wish we'd staged a controlled leak of his Facebook messages and sent him to Oktoberfest to get loaded five years ago. First he whacked Jones around the chops, then lightly shirt-fronted Oliver, before just turning his attention to strangling the whole team by cutting off a dozen scoring opportunities.

Some dickhead on the radio said: "Melbourne fans aren't even booing Watts, I don't know if that says more about him or them", which fails to understand the complex relationship between the parties. Even after he'd clobbered Jones and Oliver people could do no more than the most half-hearted noise of dis-affirmation, because the majority of us wish him well. There stands were probably dotted with the sort of anti-social nuffies who always wanted him to fail, but the majority of fans would wish him no ill-will.

Of course on this occasion we'd preferred he had flashbacks to the last coach to play him as a full-time defender and put in a stinker, but serves us right for kicking to him more times than when he was on our list. He's second only to Lynden Dunn on the list of ex-Melbourne players I want to do well (apologies to the SME, who I am now obliged to dump due to the arrival of his assassin Steven May), but let's settle down on declaring that he's the next big thing again based on one game merrily intercepting shit kicks when his career is littered with Round 1 false starts.

Whisper it at an almost inaudible volume but we could have done with him in our defence today. Frost carried on like his nightmare Prelim game has never ended, Oscar looked permanently worried, and Hore failed to inspire much confidence. May is an obvious in (if he can restrain himself from flying to Brisbane training and shirtfronting somebody) but the question is which of the shaky defenders he replaces. Immediate thought is Frost, but I'm almost tempted to give him another go just for his pace. But not tempted enough, Hore gets a second chance while we turn to Dave Misson and tap our watches impatiently as Lever's projected return date continues to go backwards. Dave won't see it, he'll be tending to the next critically injured player who mysteriously gets hurts during training.

I didn't think Hibberd was much chop either. I had him as a hold in the pre-season markets, but am panicking and hitting sell after this. Was ok running with the ball, but defensively concerning. With Hunt running at 50.0% disposal efficiency and Nev quietly going about his business, the shining light of the backline was Salem. If you're looking for a positive stat, his 30 kicks were the most for us since Travis Johnstone had 37 against a Carlton side rolling out the red carpet in the 2007 tanking game. For legitimate games where the opposition were trying, it sits alongside an Adem Yze performance for games in the 2000s. He was certainly the only one I trusted to extract the ball via foot. You wouldn't be welcome in this side without unleashing a few dodgy kicks, but most of them today were positive and did the right thing. It's just a shame that he had to have so many because it kept coming back.

Our commitment to participating in the first half ended with ANB's second miss. That would have had us five goals to one up and perhaps propelled us to keep things together. Maybe even landed a fatal blow to the Power. Or, based on the way the physical condition of our group went south later in the game while Port continued to run as if they'd done pre-season in the Simpson Desert it might have just been setting us up for an even more embarrassing capitulation.

Maybe the weather played zero part and we're just flaky, because there was a lot of the much milder Round 21 Sydney game about it (built up an early lead, wasted chances before going to bits and conceding a lead we couldn't run down). All the focus is rightly on those two glorious Friday night finals, but think back to how difficult we made things look against the Swans that day and consider that we might have just got on a run at the right time in the last few weeks before disappearing back into the field again like a two wins less successful 2016 Bulldogs. Dark thoughts like this are why I have no regrets paying good money to go to Perth, because I'm not convinced we'll ever make it that far again before being shipped to Tasmania in 2023.

There's an obsession with 'lineal improvement' (and if you're in the media do say lineal, because it makes you sound like a mathemagician) that assumes because we've improved every year since the 2013 sewer season that it will naturally carry on until we've won a flag. Bollocks. This is a good, young list that did some beautiful work last year, but we're still an unfinished product. I hope like hell the finish comes this year and we all look back and shake our heads at getting upset about a limp Round 1 loss, but there's no god given guarantee to crash through footy's glass ceiling and come out with a flag or two. Ask St Kilda, if you can find any of their fans that haven't leapt from a window.

The last few minutes of the opening quarter were spent with Port throwing everything at us but missing, until the only person called Todd who isn't in the Flanders family goalled from a free that cut the margin to 11. What a waste of dominance, I pay zero attention to the goings on at other clubs but I just had a Clayton Oliver style sixth sense that we weren't going to have the legs to run the game out. Both pre-season losses featured strong comebacks in warm weather when the game was lost, so it wasn't inconceivable that we might slip, slop and slap our way to four points but The Fear had me in a stranglehold. I just couldn't picture us doing anything better than narrowly holding on to win a thriller.

Quarter time was a good opportunity to reset, get somebody to accidentally drop a knee to the balls of one of the Port players who'd been harassing Gawn and get back to what we'd been doing so well at the start, but we didn't. Further signs of our impending distress were offered by Justin Westhoff marking over half our backline for his first goal. Remember being pleased that Charlie Dixon was out? Well, you didn't take into account a six year anniversary celebration from the guy who fingered us on the day Neeld's music died.

It helped Port's case that they'd stopped playing like they were drunk, and once their four debutantes got a sniff of how easy playing against Melbourne is they turned into the Daniher Brothers. Meanwhile it was our turn to lose the plot, including a classic moment where the ball was sailing high out on the full and Frost decided to shove his opponent in the back anyway. His uncaged circus animal runs out of defence were one of the highlights of last season, but Christ On A Bike almost everything he did today was worthy of official whipping boy status.

We got one back via Fritsch (he's here, he's there, he's every fucking where) popping up in the forward line to mark over defenders who obviously didn't expect him to materialise, but that brief outbreak of sanity was only temporary. Like the first quarter they missed a whole bunch of chances against scant resistance. There was no run left, and the ball would exit defence only to come straight back in again. Also, that most irritating of Melbourne moves was back, where three players would go pressure crazy and try to envelope one opponent, leaving two others a simple handball away from dashing off towards goal on their own. This has happened so much in the last year that I can only think the coaches are happy that the benefits of mass stalkage outweigh the negatives of piss easy ball movement towards a defence held together by sticky tape. From the cheap seats I wholeheartedly disagree.

After Fritsch's goal we conceded 3.3 and an out on the full to bugger all, before the miracle that should have inspired us to run away with a 10 goal win. The surprisingly impressive Corey Wagner kicked it to Melksham inside 50, who then made the weird decision of passing to Petracca. He generally couldn't kick a set shot if his life depended on it, but in it went from distance - and if he could do that it should have inspired greatness amongst his teammates. All we got in response was a wasted purple patch before half time, with two misses from hurried shots that left us three points down.

Considering how badly we'd shit the bed during the second quarter, a three point deficit at the break was almost acceptable, if you didn't know deep down that they'd run the game out better. We couldn't get Sydney from a similar position when they lost two players to injury, what hope did we have here? None going on the first two minutes of the third quarter, as Port banged the door down while we attempted to extract the ball with shambling tactics that would have been laughed off a suburban ground. Melksham made a statement by laying a earth shaking tackle on a player heading at express speed towards the forward 50, only for us to concede from the subsequent stoppage anyway.

Then, five bizarre minutes that teased if Port knew the answers we'd changed the questions. First the Melksham/Petracca combo worked in reverse, and Truck set up Melk. It was well within his range, but he inexplicably kicked to a free Jones in a worse position. Fortunately the skipper not only marked (this will become relevant later) but converted to calm things down a bit. Melk then got his goal back, with Hunt's best run of the day setting it up, and after a horribly skewed bounce wasn't recalled we went forward for your textbook 6-6-6 mark for Weideman and his now extended mitts. He converted, the lead was back out over a goal and just maybe vital lessons had been learnt that were going to carry us to victory.

That would be no. King Finger Westhoff marked over our defenders like they were garden gnomes, and a second in a row left us behind again. The brief period of lucidity was over, and it was back to being led around like we were on a leash. Again, who was mad enough to allow people to bet on Port getting within 30 points of us? I should have followed my intuition that we were no more than a couple of goals better at our best and paid off Demonblog Towers in one go. Where was even the remotest respect that Port were above us on the ladder last year until Round 20? We had more fun than they did in September (though I can't speak for Watts), but even playing on our home ground - where our pre-finals record was average - there was no way we were a five goal better side.

Despite all that, we might have had an undeserved three quarter time lead if a lusty Petracca snap went through. Instead Port went the other way and were gifted a goal when a clearly broken Clayton Oliver - a man not built for these conditions - went north/south instead of east/west or some such technical breach of the rules and saw the ball marched to the square. It was a terrible goal to give away, at a stage where I still thought the fatigue gap might close in the last quarter as Port began to tire as well. Which they might have if we'd forced them into more two minutes of exertion before melting like an ice cream on the face of the sun.

There were brief periods of excitement, but for most of the day it looked like us at our worst last year. Which is still a lot better than our worst the last time Port cleaned us up in an opening round, but it hurts more when ongoing success is within touching distance. Our entries into any sort of crowded forward line are still diabolical. I still don't know how we ended up the highest scoring team in the comp last year, it's like when a player wins the Coleman Medal with 60 goals.

I'm reliably informed we were never seriously in for Andrew Gaff because the belief is that contested ball is king and fancy outside run doesn't work if you don't get the ball in the first place. There's something about that, just ask Jimmy Toumpas, but geez I could have done with some lovely galloping down the wing in the style of Robbie Flower today. Inevitably it would have died in the arse when we entered 50 anyway, but it would have provided cheap thrills in the interim.

I'm not one to leave games early, but if I'd known that a Brayshaw point midway through the third quarter would be our last score I'd have gladly aimed for the early train (either on it, or clutching the overhead wiring). The end came swiftly and, for those of us who have cherished Nathan Jones' contributions over the years, horribly. Needing to quickly cancel out that late goal to have any hope, and already getting away with a missed shot at the other end, Tom McDonald hit a perfect cross-field pass (the sort he was stereotyped for botching as a defender) and Jones was so shocked that it was on target he tried playing on before fully taking control and spilt the mark. Disarray mode activated.

Unlike Herschelle Gibbs he can't be directly blamed for dropping the World Cup/Round 1, because no doubt we'd have been beaten anyway, but failing to score at all (from that passage play, and as it turns out the whole quarter) was our final agreement to surrender. Sparrow ended up with it and had a quick punt at goal, but guess who cut it off. Once Port went down the other end, Westhoff took the piss out of us in the traditional manner with another mark and goal, and we were officially rooted I took solace in fantasy, thinking back to a pair of similar game-saving Watts marks in defence against the Bulldogs in 2013 and Gold Coast in 2016. Both times he'd played a key role forward before getting back to defend in the dying minutes.

From there it was death by a thousand cuts. We had perhaps one more opportunity to score, while Port did as they pleased. After a day of silently gnashing my teeth to the point where they're still sore now, I finally erupted when Frost got caught holding the ball, then casually kicked it away like it wasn't the most obvious free kick of all time. Things were said on Twitter that in light of recent media coverage about abuse of players I quickly deleted.

You can use statistics to rort any finding you like, but it's telling that our tackle count of 53 is the 5th lowest of the finals contender years (2017-2019). Worst by a mile was the prelim, second worst the R23, 2017 'none in the first 10 minutes' DEBACLE, though to be fair the other two were wins so who knows what it all means. I do know all three of the losses involved the white flag being hoisted high.

The rich cultural history of Melbourne FC failure got another entry via only our 11th scoreless last term since World War II. If it's any consolation (It isn't - editor) we didn't lose by 122 like the previous one. May as well have, if only to ensure expectations are completely deflated and we can go back to playing like we're just one of the chasing teams and not some amazing outfit destined to smash everyone on route to a premiership.

Any more games like this and I'm going to make sure I'm working every weekend until September.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Jake Melksham
3 - James Harmes
--- Daylight ---
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Corey Wagner

Several contended for one vote, but given that even how the players above him barely deserved to score I'll give Wagner the nod for exceeding expectations.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Not only were we restricted to what now seems like a paltry nine goals, but barely any of them had any sense of razzle dazzle about them. For this reason I'd like to pay tribute to Christian Petracca for sinking a set shot that I gave him absolutely no chance of converting. For the weekly prize Christian takes home a damp towel to apply to his sunburnt forehead.

In at least one discipline the perfect season is on. Ours had a pretty Maximum 100th game graphic, and though it jinxed him with the description of "greatest showman" before he was niggled to buggery it still wins.

You've always got to be generous to interstate sides given their reduced capacity, but I was still not keen on Port's effort due to the complete lack of centring. The next was hanging to the left, a graphic sat out on the right with an unusual amount of space to the margin. It went:

Oak Plus (massive space) CFG 
Robbie (unnecessarily wide space) Gray
200 (normal size space) games

Originally I thought they were saying that their sponsors were Oak plus CFG (which sounds like one of the the gases that necked the ozone layer), but turns out there is a drink called Oak Plus. Maybe Oak has discovered an extra ingredient that makes iced coffee taste better than toxic water pumped from a reactor at Chernobyl. 1-0 Dees.

Crowd Watch
Interstate opposition or not I wasn't mucking around, heading directly for dear old Row MM of the Ponsford where there was acres of space for free expression without a Richmond fan randomly spawning and punching me in the head. A couple of other people followed my lead, but had the respect for free range viewing to stay at the other end of the bay and never try to interact.

Since discovering the Cluedo passage betwixt Ponsford and Olympic stands, I've moved from one to the other at half time whenever I feel nervous. Which would be almost every game except when we were 75 points up against Gold Coast. There were a bunch more people in the Olympic, but I still felt the need to try something else to provoke a cosmic change of luck.

This landed me behind all the people who'd scored free tickets for the Welcome Game. It was heartening to see the guys in front waving flags and doing pro-Dees Instagram posts for the benefit of their countrymen back home, but even they stood up and walked out halfway through the last quarter. Obviously they realised their time in this great country is limited and there was no point wasting 15 minutes of it watching 22 men wobble around like they were suffering simultaneous medical emergencies. After a fast start against St Kilda two years ago, the Welcome Game is starting to achieve Member Appreciation Day levels of letting people down.

Next Week
Technically I could go to Kardinia Park, but if I can't attend every game in Victoria then I don't see the point in going out of my way to visit a stadium that has offered me little else than torment for 20 years. Put me in a corporate box and I'll think about it, but buggered if I'm standing on that terrace again, listening to our fans go full siege-mentality and act like animals to try and combat the locals. No thanks, see you on my couch.

It would be easy to go into full retreat, especially after Geelong knocked off Collingwood, but I'm not ready to concede yet. Let's see what lessons are learnt, and what benefit we get from not playing in +30 degree heat. Not like the Cats played particularly well in beating a traditionally slow starting side. They are absolutely gettable, and thank god for that because I don't fancy climbing out of an 0-2 ditch. To do this we'll have to win for the third time at Kardinia Park in 31 years, which seems like a portent of near certain defeat but we live in hope of a vicious response.

Given that vandenBerg, Smith (both of them) and now Lewis have all been hurt since our last practice match, the stocks are rapidly thinning. My changes might leave us a bit top heavy, but bugger it we don't do crumb at the best of times so how much worse could it get?

IN: May, Preuss
OUT: Frost, Sparrow (omit)
LUCKY: Hore, Hunt, Jones
UNLUCKY: Stretch (+ Sparrow, who was reasonable on debut but goes out for team imbalance)

Was it worth it?
Even less so than traipsing to the other side of the continent to watch us go tits up in a prelim. Complete bloody waste of time, and a great advertisement for curling up on the coach with a blanket over my head. I've got eight games in person left in me this year, here's to going home from some of them happy.

Final Thoughts
No need to bury yourself alive in the backyard just yet, but maybe head down to Bunnings and collect a shovel just in case. 2018 was so even that four teams missed the eight with 12 wins, and the upset results today make it even more likely that there will be a similar Royal Rumble for the eight this year. Never think one win doesn't matter - now we need to go 12-9 with a top four draw just to have a chance to miss on percentage. I'm still calm that it might happen, but suggest we either need to be a minimum of 3-3 after six rounds or pull down the blinds. Don't forget our last five weeks include West Coast, Collingwood, Richmond, Sydney and North Melbourne in bloody Hobart of all places. Today was crucial and we fell apart at just the wrong time.

For now I will not accept any propaganda about how we lost first up last year and still made a prelim. That was followed by softball games against a ratshit Brisbane, and a not yet competent North. This time we've got Geelong, Essendon and Sydney on the horizon, including trips to grounds like Kardinia Park and the SCG where we are traditionally fecal. Round 1 will either be the all important wake-up call, or it's going to take some real Indiana Jones shit just to make the eight, much less the highly vaunted (not by me) top four.

As a public service we offer you the chance to choose your own adventure to end this post. Either:

The Positive Ending
If it all goes wrong this year we can blame injuries, work on fixing the obvious deficiencies, get Lever and May playing together and have a massive ping at it out of nowhere next year. Did Richmond make the eight before winning the flag?

The Neither Here Nor There Ending
It's not going to be hot like this every week, and by the time the polar ice caps have melted, there's a whole in the Ozone layer the side of Texas, and it's 30 degrees year round we'll have gone right through our premiership cycle and probably come out empty handed.

The Negative Ending
We've still got our first round draft pick.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

I did but see her premiership window pass by

On a rare Casey Fields day where it wasn't 38 degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius, and without hurricane force gales blowing diagonally across the ground we still witnessed one of the great natural disasters of recent times.

It was foolish to celebrate the Bulldogs victory as if it set up a 'win and in' scenario without properly studying the percentage implications, but turns out we were never a chance of winning by one, let alone the required 27. Not the first time there's been a last round game involving Adelaide where our hope of making the finals rested on the margin, but definitely the first where we've been knocked out after registering a record low score.

Once the Crows comfortably beat GWS last week - obviously in second gear and saving their best stuff for us - we should have realised that the odds of rumbling the best attacking and defending team in the competition by five goals were astronomic. But after two years of narrowly missing out on finals you had to delude yourself that there was a chance of making the conference system look even worse with a win by somewhere near the required amount. It's bad enough being the fourth best team in the comp and missing out on a four team finals system (pending Carlton beating Footscray by around six goals and overtaking our shattered percentage), but to do it with a 5-2 record would have been vulgar.

Given the apocalypse that was about to unfold, I'm pleased to report we followed all applicable Melbourne AFLW stereotypes and registered a wasted inside 50 within the first few seconds. In a sign of things to come it crawled to about 45 metres, was pinged straight back out and the Crows were off to the races. Via the first of several thousand shocking turnovers we gifted them their first shot, and even before it missed I was willing to concede there was no earthly way that Adelaide were going to lose by five goals.

As a tactical imbecile I concede something might have been going on with zones, but hard to understand how in a game where we needed goals, goals and more goals our leading goalkicker was roaming the midfield trying to get a kick for what seemed like the first time ever. Our forward entries are ramshackle at the best of times, try doing it with your full forward perfecting her deer/headlight interface in an unfamiliar role up the ground. She got touches in the wrong spot, Zanker didn't get touches at all, and it looked at best like a comfortable loss before developing into a total wipeout.

From the early minutes it was clear that if any team was ever going to score zero in an AFLW game it was us, with the Crows quite content to stop us from scoring by stacking the backline. Problem was they couldn't help scoring at the same time, and to nobody's surprise the first time they went deep into their forward line (an area we'd fail to reach for about an hour) we copped a lame, low-speed goal from a defensive stoppage. A giant picture of Max GAWN should have dropped from the sky at this point, because we were finished. The team may as well have walked off and got straight into Mad Monday (courtesy of classic Casey Fields sponsor Lurline Liquor). In some ways it looked like they'd started pre-match, in the greatest MFC last round tradition.

It was going so badly that even when Channel 7 tried to talk to Bianca Jakobsson on the boundary line the audio failed. Which is a shame, because she looks like somebody who'd swear a lot, and even at that stage our predicament deserved multiple Ss, an F, and several dozen Cs. The third goal went in not long after, and everything had officially gone tits up. It was 0-21 at quarter time, none of our inside 50s looked even remotely like scoring, and I would have preferred to spend the rest of the day watching alternative angles of kids using the head of racist senators to crack their eggs.

We were unlikely to score 22 for the rest of the game, much less enough to challenge Adelaide's percentage. To keep people watching they talked up a mystery breeze allegedly blowing to our end, but you wouldn't know it from the Crows going straight back on the attack. Or from our score being 0.0.0 at the end of the quarter. Via a couple of thwarted chances to kick-start things with a score of any variety, we were so rattled that the ball went from the wing to the half-back line and Paxman was pinched for running too far with nobody in the vicinity. Oh well, at least it removed the prospect of a Spirit of '76 finals exit when the Freo/North game ended in a draw.

When Channel 7's commentary packed it in out of protest at the quality of our performance we enjoyed several minutes of crowd noise, sadly without audio of Mick Stinear expressing his displeasure at being a three-time bridesmaid floating through. Here's his brother Scott to explain our remaining hopes of making the finals:

The commentary came back just in time for Adelaide's fifth goal to no score, and this was rapidly entering female 186 territory. Putting Cunningham where she was supposed to be finally led to an inside 50 mark, but instead of just hammering away at the square in hope of it being rushed through for a point she tried a fancy pass, it was intercepted, and we hit half time on zero. It was the third time an AFLW team had made half time without a score, behind Carlton and Fremantle in 2018. If it's any consolation that could be this year's Grand Final.

Even our first score was shambolic, finally getting the ball to the square but still not looking like scoring, until Tyla Hanks did a handball that was either a panicked attempt at finding a teammate or was just trying to register a score in case we didn't get another. Getting your first point five minutes into the third quarter was unfortunate, but it was hard not to be impressed by the Crows playing out of their skin. Watching this you wondered how we'd beaten them in both the two previous seasons.

At some stage Adelaide had to pack all their best players away and let us get a few cheap ones (or as it turns out.. one), but they were taking their time. Obviously playing the second team in Conference B is expected to be even easier than squashing us, so they could afford to play this out until the last quarter and treat that like a training drill instead. The Crows' score crossed the half-century in appropriately shambolic fashion, with a play-on into traffic, followed by a handball that bamboozled a teammate in the square, but still sat up for her to toe-poke through from the line. The words farce and shambles came to mind.

In a limited market, the third quarter was the best viewing of the day. Mainly because we scored, though it still left us on 0.1.1 at the last break. It probably wouldn't have gone in anyway, but an extra ounce of piss was taken as one of our players burst onto the ball inside 50 with nobody ahead of her just as the siren went.

Three-quarter time was spent perusing the record books, and discovering that no AFLW team had ever gone goalless. Which is a surprise considering some of the low-scoring mismatches. This was our chance to make history. Nine sides, including us in that first ever game against Brisbane, have finished with one. The race was on to beat the Lions' 1.2.8 from earlier this year and avoid the lowest score in the history of the competition.

Jason Bennett is a tremendously underrated commentator, and should be elevated to their senior lineup immediately, but it was Dwayne-esque to open the last quarter suggesting we were "81 points away from a Preliminary Final, so that dream looks to be gone" without a hint of irony. You reckon? I was hoping we might realise the Crows had too many on the ground, call a headcount, win 1-0 and still miss the finals.

Ironically after sitting through 3.5 quarters of slurry I stepped out of the room just as we kicked our goal, alerted to come back only by 'thank christ for that' level cheers from the crowd. The wonders of being able to rewind live TV allowed me to see Chantel Emonson of all people get forward and do what the attacking players couldn't. It left us a point beneath the record low, and based on only having two set shots all day I wasn't confident of another.

About only the fight left came from Lily Mithen trying to start a scrap and get a Crows player suspended for the finals. They responded by bouncing away from the conflict to kick another goal and go 10 up. What a blow to the reputation of Conference A. It was a dead-set rooting, but we narrowly got to the equal worst score ever when an Adelaide defender kindly stepped back over the line to boost our score to a whopping 1.2.8. After all that we were only two points short of our previous low score, a 1.4.10 in that Brisbane game at Casey. Suffice to say we got more value from our one goal at Casey Fields in pissing rain that day, than we did from this unbelievable shit show.

2019 Daisy Pearce Medal
There's a lot of pressure in assigning votes that could shape the final destination of a medal on a game where we played the part of a small town wiped out by an erupting volcano. I take no responsibility for any changes to the leaderboard based on these votes.

5 - Elise O'Dea
4 - Meg Downie
3 - Lily Mithen
2 - Maddie Gay
1 - Karen Paxman

Insincere apologies to Cordner and Cunningham, who could have both got into the lower end of the votes even though nobody deserved any.

Final leaderboard
In the end, Paxman takes advantage of the Total of Eclipse of Lauren Pearce to repeat as champion. Congratulations on a second win in this prestigious award, as the hopes of ruck fans everywhere now switch to the men's competition in the hope that Max Gawn can break through.

20 - Karen Paxman
18 - Elise O'Dea, Lauren Pearce
10 - Lily Mithen
9 - Tegan Cunningham, Maddison/Maddie/Maddy Gay
4 - Harriet Cordner, Meg Downie, Aleisha Newman
3 - Bianca Jakobsson
2 - Tyla Hanks, Kate Hore, Eden Zanker

Final thoughts
Margin of massacre and the idiocy of conferences aside, the fact that we lost to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd best teams in the competition suggests that if you don't beat the big teams then you'll pay the price at the end of the season. There's more margin for error in the men's game, but let it be a lesson to them as well.

With more new teams being introduced next season, and the inevitable player losses to them, the task of winning a flag becomes even harder. With Daisy coming back after a year (if she does), and multiple other important players not getting any younger I reckon the window has slammed shut with a vengeance. There are certainly some good players to build around, but the degree of difficulty ratchets up an extra level every season. Can't see us contending for a few years after this happening, but will still be watching with interest. Now, in the nicest possible way, on to the main event...

Monday, 11 March 2019

Bring spare undies - 2019 season preview

I don't want to cause a commotion but at the conclusion of the 2018 AFL premiership season, the fourth best team in the land was the Melbourne Football Club (yes, that one). After flipping the Bradbury Plan on its head and qualifying off our own bat we delivered two of the most memorable wins of my life then flew too close to the sun and died at the second last hurdle.

No prizes for fourth though, and we enter the season with legitimate expectation of a title challenge for the first time since 2007 - the year that launched the titular Great Deepression. Best to ignore the winless pre-season and just carry on like nothing's happened since we exploded in a shower of sparks on Saturday 20 September. Because as far as competitive matches go it hasn't.

Every campaign since 2016 has ended in full scale capitulation, but they've been arriving later each time. This probably means we're going to lose a Grand Final in heartbreaking fashion before capturing the not-at-all-inevitable flag. I can't picture how ultimate success would look, but what a time to be alive that we can even worry about suffering a St Kilda style stitch up where we spend years missing by narrow margins. You might have known where you stood during the AD (after dignity) years, but it wasn't nearly as much fun as being a competent and profitable sporting organisation.

Buy, hold, sell

Likely an accident, but last year my fearless predictions were reasonably good last year. Other than suggesting Balic would be a better recruit than Viv Michie and suggesting vandenBerg was finished (how was I supposed to know they'd play him to his strengths again?) I got a few right. Strap yourself in for more accurate indications of how our list will go:


Toby Bedford - A contender for the always contentious small forward position, and I'm willing to fall right into the trap of a draft profile that lists his strengths as "getting in front of contests and being clean and dangerous around goals".

Angus Brayshaw - Many who loaded up on him early in his career did their dough panic selling when he started to suffer novelty head injuries every five seconds, but those who remained calm are now cashing in. The surprise Brownlow bronze has elevated his value to record prices, but we think he can go higher. In a week where fellow concussion fanatic Patrick McCartin has gone down with his eighth head injury and one bump could end it all it's a risky investment but the returns could be spectacular.

Bayley Fritsch - In years to come football scholars will study how we managed to turn a state league goalsneak into a league standard wingman/runner midway through his first season. Mr. Total Football will continue to unexpectedly pop up in various parts of the field like a Whack-A-Mole game, and should get through a full season instead of being mysteriously dropped for the last match of the year.

Max Gawn - Having an understudy for the first time in years may reduce Maximum's overall impact, while also adding years to his career, but I like to think Preuss will give him a much needed rest and provide the opportunity for cameo forward appearances that will drive fear through backmen up and down the country.

Marty Hore - Has to bide his time waiting for one of the other defenders to topple over, but will absolutely play at some point. Hasn't been anything other than a solid player in the practice matches, without showing anything spectacular, but with Lever out until god knows when there's a spot for a defender.

Neville Jetta - I don't know if he's going to improve any further, but my love for Nev is so strong that I will buy into him no matter the result.

Steven May - I've waited years for this and I'm not going to contemplate it being anything other than magic. Did something a bit silly in a practice match and might be rubbed out for Round 1, but what did you expect?

Tom McDonald - Minor AFLX dodging surgery notwithstanding, should be our full forward from Round 1 and will be aiming for at least another 50 goal season. Massive piss on at Demonblog Towers when his goal average crosses 1.00 per game. Didn't excel in either of the JLT games but still managed to blag three goals, which is a reasonable haul when not in peak forward form.

Jake Melksham - Pivotal to our occasionally non-existent half forward line. Got through one pre-season reserves game unscathed and will walk into the Round 1 team.

Clayton Oliver - Continues to do things that suggest like Sam Blease he is actually from another planet, only this time sent to amaze rather than amuse. Stock yet to peak, mortgage your house and invest heavily in his sixth sense ball-getting abilities.

Braydon Preuss - Despite his appearance suggesting otherwise, the only supremacy he'll be delivering this season will be in the ruck. I was sceptical about how he was going to fit alongside Gawn, but based on one practice match where the video didn't work for a quarter of the game he's my new idol. The less said about the second game where he played without Gawn the better. As long as Maximum remains upright he should be ok, but I've started to realise why he may not have been keen to wait for Goldstein to retire so he can become #1 at North.

Christian Salem - A fascinating character, rarely flashy but usually playing his role effectively. Now more than 12 months without dropping bricks on his own head. New contract, high importance for rebounding if we're going to cop an excessive number of inside 50s every week.

Joel Smith - Started the year unlikely to play in Round 1, and ended practice match season looking like the medium sized forward of your dreams. Is gearing up to attempt a speccy that will rival his dad's Mark of the Century for either the actual grab, or the carnage when he crashes to earth.

Sam Weideman - Hardly dominant in the pre-season, but still backing him to go on with the form shown in the last few weeks of 2018. I don't want to run down Hogan just because he's left but say yes to forwards who are interested in taking overhead marks instead of ones who just want it roosted over the head. However, be wary when the discovery of the marking forwards means everyone just hoofs the ball to the square and hopes for the best.


Oskar Baker - Footy's foremost Danny Bonaduce impersonator was on the verge of a token appearance towards the end of the season before injured, and though we value industrial grunt far more than pace down the wing I'd like to think we'll give him a go at some point. Alternatively, will be one of those players who'd have walked a game in our darkest days but never gets to play in a good side due to lack of opportunity. Not on the injury lists but still couldn't crack it for a start in the pre-season, which can't be a good sign.

Austin Bradtke and Guy Walker - May as well be the same person for all I know. Both could do with the year of seasoning in the VFL but unless there's an injury crisis how are they going to fit into the Casey side? Always thought they should have kept the VFL Reserves and merged it with the TAC Cup so you could give the kids experience playing against older players.

Kade Chandler - Another small pressure forward, this one a rookie so only holding a one year contract. Clearly the build is on to the post-Garlett era of crumb, and Chandler will be given time to develop in the VFL before he's required at higher levels. You have to really stuff up as a rookie to get the Tijuana after one season, so presumably plenty of time for him to get into the swing of things.

Mitch Hannan - A mystery January surgery has knocked him out for the first half of the season. Hopefully we're not in the toilet by the time he returns and he'll have to force his way back into the side. If nothing else we'll always have that sealer against Geelong.

James Harmes - Before he blew his finger up against the Lions there was nothing to suggest he was going to go backwards, but beware the overnight sensation the following season when everyone's had a chance to plan for him.

Michael Hibberd - Definitely not as effective in his second season as 2017, but still a vital cog in the machine. I sense the turn is on, but we should get through this year ok.

Jayden Hunt - Was well down last season, and while off-field issues contributed I'm scared that his brief free-running, owl energy inspired peak has been rumbled by opposition coaches. Will get a chance to recover at some stage. Did some charming things as a forward against Brisbane, before being sent back into defence later in the game. Feels like he should be deployed in attack only for surprise value, not for four quarters.

Jay Kennedy-Harris - The great survivor, coming out of an ACL destroying landing at Casey to emerge with nothing more than bone bruising. Gone for all money halfway through last year but showed enough to get another contract. Won't be a first choice but strikes me as the sort of unspectacular but handy enough player the club will want to keep around just in case there's an injury crisis. The requirement to chop three players minimum might trip him up.

Kade Kolojdashnij - Crazy name, crazy guy. Is a few weeks away, but if fit he promises to add a bit of dash to the midfield/half-back line. Likely to be competing for the same spot as Hunt. Has concussion issues so is probably going to do a triple head clack with Brayshaw and Jetta and retire all three at once.

Jake Lever - In a classic Melbourne twist he was just coming very good before injured, and with May down there should be allowed to play his natural game. Let the intercepts begin (eventually). Would have been a buy if his injury return date wasn't blowing out by the minute.

Oscar McDonald - Much maligned like his brother was when playing a similar role, and unlikely to be swung forward any time soon. The arrival of May should help remove some of the pressure on him but there was much nervous adjustment of collar during his shifty early minutes against the Lions. Again, best to pretend that game didn't happen and move on. Apparently we were playing with 22 and they had 26, which doesn't explain why we were shithouse in the first quarter.

Alex Neal-Bullen - Up and down like a whore's drawers in the first half of the season before coming permanently good towards the end. More of that please.

Aaron Nietschke - The first season ending injury of the year, and with no disrespect to him a far cry from when it used to be top draft picks who'd have their knee pop in an innocuous training session.

Christian Petracca - Likely to do plenty of things that make you go weak at the knees, but also to disappear for large parts of games. His set shots have gone horrible - awesome - horrible, so at least on the MFC 1997-2003 rollercoaster scale we're set to see him dob them from everywhere again. Tempted to upgrade him to a buy based on the pre-season games, but after years of Watts promising the world early then going missing I'm not counting him a success until at least Round 4.

Harrison Petty - I refuse to participate in calling him Harry. Hard to see where he gets a game unless somebody falls over, but was far better against Richmond than during his wobbly debut.

Charlie Spargo - Came from the clouds to show promise last year, peaking with the best game of his young career in the Hawthorn final. If he learns to string quarters together instead of coming and going the small forward role is his, but if he's inconsistent the door is flung open for the others to have a go.

Tom Sparrow - Nothing wrong with picking another hard at it inside midfielder, but don't expect him to play seniors this year. What a luxurious scenario that we can finally give a midfielder time to develop. Anything beyond playing at Casey would be a bonus.

Aaron vandenBerg - Midfield vandenBerg is ace, back to ripping people in two with tackles instead of playing an ineffectual defensive forward role. Also prone to doing stupid things like hitting players as they run past, but the good outweighs the bad. Sell the moment you see him lining up around half forward.

Jack Viney - Love the man, have a distinct lack of trust in his extremities.

The Wagner Brothers - Sound like a mid-80s professional wrestling tag team. Will probably both get the chop in a couple of years but add depth in the meantime.


Sam Frost - Battled hard in the absence of Lever last season, and it would be unfair to remember his dismantling in the Prelim over his escaped giraffe style runs out of defence in previous weeks or telling Joel Selwood to pull his f'ing head in. However, now May has arrived and there's pressure everywhere in the tall defender ranks. Lever's absence may prolong his time in the side, but I predict a winter of discontent, kicking his namesake off the grass at Casey in sub-zero temperatures. Will do a serviceable job if called upon to return to the seniors.

Jeff Garlett - Unless he forces his way into the side quickly hard to see how he survives into 2020, and hasn't been helped by the Shepparton shoulder explosion. Has avoided surgery so won't be held too far into the season, but will begin it behind Charleston Spargo in the pecking order. Point for point I'd prefer Jeff (never, ever Jeffy), but with an eye to the future we should be getting games into Spargo now rather than squeezing the last drops out of that ransack trade with Carlton.

Nathan Jones - Hold thy rotten fruit and tomatoes, he is still very much required but with the emergence of Brayshaw, Harmes et al is not as crucial as days of old. Showed some signs of decline last year, but best days gone or not he's still got a couple of years left in him. Kicked a career high 15 goals last year so there might be something in that.

Declan Keilty - Obviously isn't going to get a fourth year on the list without playing a senior game, so after watching Lever and May both brought in since he was drafted this is his last opportunity to impress. Made surprise ruck appearances in the pre-season but didn't show enough around the ground to justify a senior start.

Jordan Lewis - Like Vince last year the end is nigh but thanks for contributing in the interim.

Corey Maynard - I was very bullish about him at this time last year before he dropped out of the side after Round 1 then missed the rest of the year with injury. Hasn't had a fair go at the top grade but is rapidly sliding down the pecking order. Hoping he gets his chance to impress but now that we're half decent and have to search for players to delist he runs the risk of going at the end of the year if he can't string together some senior games.

Tim Smith - Like the guy and would love him to play more, but not at the expense of any of our other talls. Unless Weid goes back into obscurity there's not going to be much call for the Bull in the seniors, and at 28-years-old I don't know how much longer he's got unless he finds a permanent spot. Might live to fight another day thanks to having a mature body, but would want to do better than his existing record four goals in six games.

Billy Stretch - Cruelly cut down with injury right after playing his best game in forever, and as much as I think he's got something to offer to the squad he might have missed his chance now.

Projected ladder
Emboldened by correctly picking us to make the eight last year I nearly went for gold this year and had us in the top four. After the last two weeks I'm dialling it down a bit as a self-defence mechanism, but still expect us to make the eight. Hopefully more comfortably than last year, but after Richmond at the top I'm delivering the widest bracket in pre-season preview history. After a bunch of teams went 12-10 and missed the eight I predict the greatest battle royal for finals spots ever.

The full top 15 should be competitive, so here's to taking our opportunities to beat the piss out of the bottom two and avenging that 2018 fiasco against St Kilda.

1 - Richmond
2 - West Coast
3 - GWS
4 - Sydney
5 - Melbourne
6 - Collingwood
7 - Adelaide
8 - Essendon
9 - Geelong
10 - North Melbourne
11 - Hawthorn
12 - Brisbane
13 - Port Adelaide
14 - Western Bulldogs
15 - Fremantle
16 - St Kilda
17 - Carlton
18 - Gold Coast

Demonblog's chosen 22
Every year assigning players to exact position becomes even more of an anachronism, but this is how I was raised and by christ it's how I will die. Swap around the forward and defender positions as you like.

B: Frost. May, Jetta
HB: Hibberd, O. McDonald, Salem
C: Fritsch, Oliver, Viney
HF: Neal-Bullen, Weideman, Melksham
F: Spargo, T. McDonald, J. Smith
Foll: Gawn, Brayshaw, Harmes
Int: Petracca, Jones, vandenBerg, Lewis

Lever and Hannan are injured, and I'm going to try and start with Gawn on his own to create that spot for Smith. My bench is pretty stacked, so whether the first player to fall over is a forward, midfield or back there should be a spot for Preuss to come in.

First draft betting markets

Allen Jakovich Medal for Best Overall Player
Defending champion retains the advantage, but with a field full of chasers. Any of the top 10 a red hot chance to win.

$3 - Clayton Oliver
$5.50 - Angus Brayshaw
$7 - James Harmes
$9 - Max Gawn, Jack Viney
$10 - Tom McDonald
$12 - Christian Salem
$15 - Neville Jetta, Jake Melksham, Christian Petracca
$18 - Nathan Jones
$22 - Alex Neal-Bullen
$25 - Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd, Steven May
$27 - Aaron vandenBerg
$40 - Sam Weideman
$45 - Jordan Lewis
$50 - Jayden Hunt, Jake Lever, Braydon Preuss
$70 - Jeff Garlett, Oscar McDonald, Joel Smith, Charlie Spargo
$80 - Mitch Hannan, Kade Kolojdashnij
$90 - Sam Frost
$100 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Billy Stretch, Josh Wagner
$150 - Marty Hore, Corey Maynard, Tim Smith
$250 - Corey Wagner,
$300 - Declan Keilty
$350 - Harrison Petty, Tom Sparrow
$500 - Oskar Baker, Toby Bedford
$750 - Kade Chandler
$3000 - Austin Bradtke, Guy Walker
$5000 - Aaron Nietschke

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
Factor in traditional biases to running defenders and players coming back from injury. Fritsch and T. McDonald likely to be declared ineligible during season.

$4.75 - Christian Salem
$6 - Neville Jetta
$10 - Michael Hibberd, Steven May
$15 - Jordan Lewis
$17 - Jake Lever
$18 - Bayley Fritsch, Jayden Hunt
$20 - Oscar McDonald
$30 - Sam Frost, Tom McDonald
$60 - Marty Hore
$70 - Josh Wagner
$100 - Declan Keilty, Harrison Petty
$200 - Corey Wagner, Joel Smith

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
No players carry over eligibility from 2018. Mid-season draftees will be eligible if they have not previously played AFL football. Less reliance on new players means a higher likelihood of the first zero votes for rookies season since 2005.

$8 - Marty Hore
$12 - Toby Bedford, Oskar Baker, Tom Sparrow
$25 - Declan Keilty
$50 - James Jordon
$100 - Kade Chandler, ANY OTHER PLAYER
$3000 - Aaron Nietschke

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Finally some competition for Maximum, but he retains heavy favouritism. Preuss the only other man even remotely likely to hit the 10 hit out per game qualifying mark.

$1.50 - Max Gawn
$12 - Braydon Preuss
$100 - Sam Frost, Tom McDonald
$200 - Declan Keilty, Sam Weideman
$1000 - Austin Bradtke

Will it be worth it?
With a tough first few weeks let's try and resist the temptation to launch sacking campaigns if it doesn't start well. Problem being that we've got a woofer of a run home as well, so early victories are a must if we're not going to be dragged into a finals race requiring spreadsheets, blind faith and punting other teams on to losses for our benefit.

If we can make the eight - and especially the four - the thing that's most in our favour is that it's an open season. Richmond should be the standout squad again, but they've now got Preliminary Final demons to overcome, and other than that as long as we avoid having to go to Perth again it's a wide open field, ripe for the ultimate Bradbury through the pack and to a flag. Or we'll finish 11th. As kids say ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Final thoughts
It seems like yesterday, probably because I can't help but reference it in every post, but this will be the sixth year since our rock bottom nadir of 2013. It's time to shine. But even if we find some obscure way to stuff up our challenge this season - or are cleaned by injuries - the group is young enough for several more dips at gold over the coming years. But a meteor might have blown the earth to buggery by then so I haven't got time to wait, let's win it all now.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

The show goes on

Today's lesson is as follows:



Footy is a strange beast. The game started with my daughter (who I'd exiled to another room with a laptop and Netflix while watching the first part of the doubleheader) declaring she doesn't like footy, and ended with her yelling at the TV along with me, before the siren went and she rejoined the Anti Football League because "they blow a siren". Easy come easy go.

Programming two Melbourne games in a row was a wonderful concept on paper, until I came out of the first game flat as a tack and suspicious of what's to come across the next 20 something weeks. To recover some sort of focus instead of spending the next two hours crying about James Harmes' finger, I took an hour's rest before tucking into this. Especially fully expecting further disappointment from the women playing to stay alive in a criminally unbalanced competition. I won't say memories of the fiasco against the Bulldogs last year still traumatise me, but they were front of mind from first bounce to last.

The game started with a classic administrative farce, as the Bulldogs tried starting two players on the ground who'd been listed on the bench. First an exasperated AFL official pulled one of them up, then realised a second was out there as well. Considering all the other pissweak things frees get paid for it's unusual that we got nothing for the Dogs trying to illegally sneak two players into their starting 16.

All that late re-positioning must have left the Footscray players uncertain about where they were supposed to stand, because within a few a seconds Aleisha Newman was running onto a kick over the top into space. It just left her too much angle to bend it back from, but what's a Melbourne AFLW game without blowing early opportunities? See almost the entire first quarter, including Kate Hore doing the first leg of her Earl Spalding routine for the second behind.

All the play was down our end, but following the usual script we wasted numerous chances to kick a goal. When you have a dominant ruck and a strong midfield it's doubling wasteful not getting the ball back into the middle so they can take advantage. Same goes for the men, and if we had an eSports team they'd probably spend their entire time going the wrong way through the last level of Super Mario and being told the Princess is in another castle.

With the Dogs marooned on 0.0 it was reminiscent of Fremantle last year, where we squashed them flat in the first quarter but didn't put the game away and lost. After kicking two points of her own, Hore set up Scott to spray one as well and we were 0.5. For first time viewers, they weren't feeling the pressure of having to maintain our percentage - because even after winning by a point it has been removed as a factor in last round calculations - this is how we play every week.

After being in everything early, Hore switched to creator for the first goal. She won a holding the ball free, then bombed it to the top of the square for Tegan Cunningham to walk through the defenders and take a towering mark. After watching the men try to do that exact same move several dozen times earlier in the afternoon it was nice that somebody finally pulled it off successfully.

That was the only goal of the first quarter, but an 11-0 lead was a decent platform to work with when a win was all that mattered. So naturally we conceded the reply within 90 seconds of the second quarter, and for all the whinging about umpiring it was from the most obvious push in the back since evolution delivered arms to humans. In another parallel between the genders I felt a lot more comfortable when we kept the ball as far as from the backline as possible.

Then a dumb 50 levelled the scores and I decided - as a coping strategy - that even after two narrow losses to sides above us we didn't deserve to make the finals. It's a generally good side that plays well most of the time, and there would have been no call to sack the coach even if we had lost, but when you miss so many scoring opportunities it's hard to consider yourself unlucky. As if telepathically transferred back in time by 40 minutes (including fast-forwarding through quarter time) this brief period of misery generated a goal, with Newman flicking a handball to Paxman for the lead.

Nearly conceding a goal the umpire missing a blatant throw out of the middle threatened to turn me feral again, before a strong saving mark in front of goal by Patterson stopped me in my tracks. The lead didn't last long anyway, they had a shot on goal that fell short and in the most traditional MFC fashion everyone missed rushing it through, allowing the Dogs player who'd been flattened by her teammate minute before to score from a mark, then clutch at her neck like she'd done it crippled.

Then with 30 seconds left (Lady DemonTime) the Dogs got their fourth goal from five inside 50s via further persecution from the Emerald Isle after Irishwomen gave us so much trouble last week. That must have been some kind of world record scoring ratio. Outrageously they had another shot after the siren, but we were saved from the goal that would have ultimately sunk us by a horrible shank.

Can't help but think the half time feeling in our rooms was "oh shit, here we go again". An atmosphere not helped by the Bulldogs carrying on unchallenged after half time and kicking the next goal too. It was a fine line between survival and disaster, with Maddie Gay's snap around the corner bouncing in the square and almost sitting up to be rushed through. For supporters of conspiracy we were also about 17-5 down in the free kick count.

Just as we reduced the margin to six again there was almost another goal line stuff up, with only the barest of touches rushing the ball when nobody had thought to jump at it. This turned the game, creating the opportunity for Eden Zanker to kick the best set shot in the history of Melbourne AFLW, from 40 metres out on the boundary. This left us one point behind at the last change, and we were set for the most terrifying thing of all for followers of this side - a close game.

Anyone who thought Zanker's goal would be a team lifter was temporarily put back in their box when the Dogs got the first of the last quarter. If we could repeat our dominance of the first quarter we might have overtaken their seven point margin in behinds. The first two legs of the behind powered comeback were completed, handily leaving us five behind and a chance at pulling off the ultimate footy steal, the sort of turnaround that makes you think whoever decided it would be six for a goal and one for a behind was a promotional genius.

In the same 'all or nothing' situation against the Bulldogs last year we were the ones in front until the late goal, and thank christ the script was reversed here. Cunningham's strong mark was one thing, but she's a 50/50 proposition from a set shot so I still had heart in mouth until she delivered the stone cold finish to put us ahead.
Now it was our chance to do a cover version of last year and blow the lead. Via Junior repeating that the umpire was "a wanker" when I got excited and yelled it out, the Dogs went forward and camped the ball in their forward line until the last minute. I couldn't imagine any scenario in which we didn't concede a point, draw the game and get eliminated from the finals race a week early. The team had alternative ideas, pulling out a double tough defensive effort that kept the Dogs at bay, and like Brisbane 2009 we weathered the storm, extracted the ball from the precipice of death, and were actually storming into goal when the siren went. Well bugger me that was unexpected.

Footy is good because the close finishes have so many variables that you don't get in other sports. Obviously a soccer team scoring two goals in injury time or basketballers sinking threes on the buzzer are good, but instead of trying to rope internationals into playing AFLX they should just cut up the last two minutes of every game decided by under a goal in the last 15 years and airdrop them over Shanghai.

We live to fight again.

2019 Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Elise O'Dea
3 - Tegan Cunningham
2 - Maddie/Maddy/Maddison Gay
1 - Lauren Pearce

With either one, two or three games to play it's bad news for those who hoped a ruck would win one of the major awards for the first time. Paxy hit the lead, still plenty of time to play (we hope) for Pearce to topple her.

19 - Karen Paxman
18 - Lauren Pearce
13 - Elise O'Dea
9 - Tegan Cunningham
7 - Maddison Gay/Lily Mithen
4 - Harriet Cordner, Aleisha Newman
3 - Bianca Jakobsson
2 - Tyla Hanks, Kate Hore, Eden Zanker

Ms. Bradbury Plan (updated Sunday afternoon)
Consistent with the rest of the rushed, ill-thought out, and poorly researched posts of this pre-season I initially thought our percentage would  mean an in vs out game against the Crows.

If I'd done my maths I'd have discovered that we needed Adelaide to beat GWS by as little as possible today to keep their percentage within range. Consistent with our game against them, the Giants kept it close for a while before toppling over like a ferry in a typhoon. Now we've got to win by 5-6 goals, which is simply not going to happen.

Even if it does a draw in the Roos/Dockers game would put both through, and in a low scoring competition wouldn't that be something worthy of referral to the newly formed Sport Integrity Australia? After all they will play after our game and know exactly what needs to be done...

Meanwhile, over in the infamous Conference B, Geelong are top with a percentage of 74.2. Good on you AFL.

Next Week
After a week indoors where players were able to hit spectacular long range goals, it's back to the variable breezes of Casey Fields for our latest attempt at making the finals. On the form of the last two weeks beating Adelaide is unlikely, but we've got right up for two big games against Freo and North before falling just short so I'm not ruling it out. After winning by the narrowest of margins here you can pretty much lock in a heartbreaking defeat.

Final Thoughts
Put the Zanker and Cunningham goals at either end of the 2019 AFLW highlights tape. When set shots like that are going in regularly even the hate-watching wankers will struggle to find a problem with women playing (semi) professional footy.

Panic on the streets of Cranbourne

We've put in an injury-riddled pre-season shocker against a team that has been no good for years. Contact your broker and dump every MFC share you hold before it's too late, because by Tuesday morning you won't be able to walk down Collins Street without somebody wearing red and blue landing on you.

Alternatively, take a deep breath, remember that the pre-season is only a rough guide to what happens next, and save all your anxiety for 2012 tribute day against Port at the MCG in Round 1.

As usual I'm taking the middle course between the people dying to hit the button a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and those enjoying an Elon Musk openly puffing on a scoob level of relaxation. There wasn't much to take out of today, but nor was it worth drinking hemlock over.

It certainly wasn't a good performance, and we were lucky to lose by single digits. Many players emerged either battered, bruised, whatever the hell happened to Jay Kennedy-Harris, and in one case with their finger fractured to the point where it was sticking out of the skin BUT if I ever get around to publishing my pre-season preview you'll see I think the Lions are a comfortably mid-table side so it's not the catastrophe it would have been a year ago. In fact, it was a lot like beating the Bulldogs three years ago in Craigieburn (of all places) . Team just emerging from the soup beats finalist, everyone gets a bit excited, and hopefully if we only finish 7th we'll go on to win the flag too.

The only concession I'll give to the people who'll go right over the top about this and start getting wearing "the end is nigh" sandwich boards is that it's an even season with any number of contenders for a flag, because at this stage no way we beat Hawthorn '88 or Essendon '00 juggernaut teams. It could be an opportunity to unexpectedly blag our way through to a Grand Final like we should have in the finely balanced 2004 season, but while it might be a blessing that the competition is free of superteams it's probably going to be a curse that the middle of the table will be so tight. Last year four teams went 12-10 and missed the finals, and this year promises to be even more confusing. You'd think we'd be well clear of the pack, but if you too saw the transition from '98 to '99, '00 to '01, and especially '02 to '03 you'll know not to take anything for granted.

Before slipping back into The Fear, I choose to look at the positives. Namely Viney, Jones and Melksham surviving Casey's easy win over the Lions reserves. It promises to be a big year for Casey, with their coach threatening to literally tear the rest of the league a new one:

Not sure what Jones' role is this year, but we could have definitely done with Viney and Milkshake . The usual suspects did their bit in the midfield, but overall it was down on its usual performance. Melksham provides some semblance of a half-forward line, the likes of which were completely absent at Casey. He's also something of a crumbing threat, another feature that went out the window as we left the Melbourne metropolitan area. Then again, right before this North played a game of such low intensity that it would be an insult to call it bruise free football and they're obviously not going to do that again in the real stuff so who knows what to make of any of it. I admire the people who don't even bother watching until premiership points are at stake.

As a tribute to the AFLW game coming up immediately after, we pinched a move directly from their playbook and opened the game with a string of inside 50s that delivered no result, before conceding the first. Only the truly demented seriously fret about letting the opening goal at any time, let alone in this game, but looking back after knowing the result the ease of it was right to set off a few alarms. It took a smart handball from surprise forward Joel Smith to the new Mr. Total Football Bayley Fritsch - who just randomly appears in different parts of the grounds like a holy apparition - to get us going. Fritsch celebrated his return to Casey as a fully-fledged senior playing by rifling through a goal through off a couple of steps. And all was well with the world for a bit.

When this was followed by even more surprise forward Jayden Hunt leading to a perfect vandenBerg kick for the second I did the most foolish thing possible when watching a Melbourne game and relaxed. Hunt got a second, but not before his old chums in defence went through five minutes of playing like they were escaping a natural disaster.

Oscar McDonald was the face of the defence's woes, burnt off for their first goal after a wank-handed attempt at tackling, barely getting away with a shit kick, then gifting Brisbane's second by punching the ball with one arm and putting Eric Hipwood in a headlock with the other. He was immediately removed from that duel, and could be removed from the seniors if he carries on like this. I know he's a popular whipping boy so it feels cruel to mention that our third goal came from him dropping the ball in a tackle, but it happened. Anal-Bullet was another of the 2018 finals crowd having a shocker, back to those very wobbly days early last year when he barely hung on to his spot in the team.

After the all at sea defence cracked and let the Lions walk one in unchallenged, we replied via a free for a push on Weideman that was about 95% less severe than an unpunished one he'd copped five minutes earlier. The umpiring Wheel of Decisions is back for 2019, usually landing against Melbourne or [outsiders - insert your team here].

There was less doubt about the incident that immediately cancelled Weid's goal, with vandenBerg responding to his second holding the ball of the quarter by simultaneously drawing the umpire's attention yelling at him and punching Lachie Neale in the tit as he ran past to give away a no argument 50. I understand White Line Fever, but it was the stupidest thing you'll ever see. He'll either be fined upwards of a thousand bucks or miss Round 1 for the sake of petulance in the first quarter of a practice match. I know players are going to get reported in the play for big bumps or swingin' arms, but this was so pointless the vandWagon should have been parked for the rest of the quarter.

Ironically, AVB was physically involved in their seventh goal as well. His perfectly legal bump to an opponent caused the guy to try and milk a free kick with acting so poor even the umpire couldn't be sucked in, but leading to the ball bouncing past to a player who finished it. We were lucky not to wear an eighth immediately after, with Hibberd refusing to accept that the quarter was in its final minutes and spitting in the face of DemonTime by going for a run through defence that was fraught with danger. It was an apt way to end a decidedly ropey looking quarter, with the only comfort being Gawn marking everything that came near, Petracca's doing soild work around the ball, and the fact that at the same stage last week we were a similar margin ahead of Richmond and thought we'd win the flag unchallenged.

In most ways the second quarter was our best. It certainly was from a scoring perspective. For injuries it was a disaster. First the inevitable major pre-season injury to a senior player, as like a bullet from a book depository JFK was cut down unexpectedly, landing awkwardly and causing his knee to do things no healthy knee should. Off he went on the stretcher, with the assumption that it was either an ACL or a broken leg and he'd never be seen again, only to be pictured walking around the rooms 30 minutes later. I'll wait for the test results before hailing his miracle recovery, he wouldn't be the first knee victim to be on his feet around shortly after the injury and still end up out for a year. Look at Jake Lever, he walked off like he had a minor complaint and now isn't scheduled to return until about Round 10.

Next thing you knew Harmes was fracturing his finger(s), and if I knew what JLT did I'd boycott them. A straight dislocation or break and he'd have been back for Round 1, now he's probably going to need surgery and will be in all sorts for the opening game. Good thing we've got Viney to roll back in, but you'd still rather both of them. (Sunday update - now it appears Harmes will play Round 1. I'm a worse injury reporter than Brian Taylor). Then there's Kennedy-Harris, who may yet go one better than the original JFK and survive the sniper's bullet but probably wasn't in the Round 1 frame anyway. This is not to denigrate his performances this pre-season, the first thing I thought when he hit the deck was what a shame it was for it all to come to a screaming halt when he'd been playing pretty well.

Meanwhile, Preuss did something to his groin the seconds, and with Dr. Phil Nietzchke already out for the season with a knee injury can I point out that it's not too late to ring Aspley and get Jake Spencer back to a) be an emergency ruck option, and b) qualify for his life membership. In the year that the two ruckmen setup returns we're risking disaster only carrying two seasoned options on the list + Weideman (!?) and Keilty (!!!?) as the backups. Spencer may not be your cup of tea, and I don't think anyone likes him as much as me, but having seen how Preuss went solo last week I wish there was a Ben Hudson/Jonathan Giles style journeyman we could have parked on the rookie list just in case either of them topple over.

Before we launched our comeback in earnest, the sides traded goals to open the second quarter. After Hunt of all people showed how to lead in the first term, we returned to the obsessive long bombing to the square that gave us all the shits last year. For all the fun we had tonking slurry teams in the middle of the year it still feels that we ended up the highest scoring team in the competition by luck. What if we've got no further attacking improvement in us and the rule changes designed to enhance scoring just help everyone else catch up? Ponder that for the next two weeks if you dare.

The terror bombing of the goal square has got some merit when you're aiming at McDonald, Weideman and probably either Gawn or Preuss, but when you just thump it to the same spot every time don't be surprised that the opposition know exactly where to run the moment the ball comes off the boot. Like how everyone knew Hogan always wanted it kicked over the top, you need some mystery about the forward entries. So far McDonald certainly hasn't looked like taking massive overhead grabs, and he almost spilled one here before narrowly holding on and converting. What happened to the lovely leads he'd do last year? Last week I could buy them being shut down by a top level defence, but he didn't look at all likely here. After a Bradbury Plan inspired truce late in the season, and two finals performances that would have swept anything under the rug (although, the last three quarters against Geelong weren't exactly an attacking masterclass if we're being honest) let my war on our forward structures recommence.

It was nice to be creating chances, even if we were blowing them, because it meant keeping the ball away from our defence. If nothing else, we were seeing the value of May in the way he instantly shut Hipwood down after those first two goals. He got the bulk of his possessions in the second half, but the only people counting kicks for key defenders are Supercoach Wankers. He was solid, Jetta was lively against Charlie Cameron and Hibberd got a lot of kicks but otherwise there was nothing to fill me with confidence that we're going to improve from being the 9th best defensive side in the league. It wasn't all the fault of the backmen, a lot of it was how often and how easily the ball went down there. I'd almost have Frost over Oscar for Round 1 and the quicker they can work out a replacement for Lewis the better. Like the lost third McDonald brother a couple of high profile blunders are all people remember from his usually on target disposals, but its the ease opposition players go around him that worries me.

Nevertheless, for all this misery Spargo took advantage of strong work by Gawn and the Richmond in Shepparton style comeback was on. At least until Jarryd Lyons - who couldn't get a game at the rock bottom Gold Coast but was content to thump us - pissed off Jetta for a mark and his first of four goals to take their score across 50 midway through the second quarter. It was only a temporary steadier (though there would be much more steadying to come), as the impressive Joel Smith first kicked one of his own, then set up another by standing up in a marking contest, then giving to an Oliver/Brayshaw combination for the goal.

The ball movement between the arcs was still pretty good, but our kicking inside 50 was almost as bad as our defending, and in the first half we were breaking even in the clearances at best before losing them comfortably by the end. Harmes' smashed digit was a factor, but it wasn't the only thing keeping us down. When Petracca executed the first lead since the first quarter to mark 50 metres out I thought "what a waste, may as well have been somebody who can kick straight", but against all odds he put it through.

It was going almost dead on to the script of last week, the team who did all the scoring early packed up in the second quarter and gave the opposition a second life. In Shepparton the half ended as a draw, this time we'd have been ahead if it wasn't for a goal created from an blatant throw that went unpaid. Though to be fair to the umpire with the white cane and assistance dog, Brisbane should never have had the ball down there to begin with after deciding to pack up and start chipping the ball around in defence two minutes before the end of the quarter.

After a half time break where I realised how much I enjoyed having access to the 60x fast forward button, my actions betrayed secretly wanting to win when 15 seconds into the third the ball flew through a crowd to unexpectedly land in the arms of a Brisbane forward, I yelled "FUCK" and punched the couch. It was such a bullshit goal to concede that I've been upset at it happening to any team in the history of the club, including Fourths, Thirds, Seconds, Lightning Premiership and AFLX squads. Shortly after Angus Brayshaw appeared to kick the ball into his own face, just the sort of novelty injury that's likely to end in him retiring from another major concussion.

The pointless, unrewarded dumping kicks inside 50 continued without anyone looking even half likely to crumb until Smith of all people grabbed one off a pack and snapped around the corner. I thought it was a gag when they put him in the forward line as the Preliminary Final went tits up but he's showing plenty down there. Still, be wary of pre-season form. Remember the year Emo Maric was set to be a breakout star based on two practice matches, got dropped after two games and ended up delisted?

On an otherwise dud day, McSizzle got his second shot at goal from one of the great administrative frees. From a boundary throw-in the ball flew over the ruckmen, and the Brisbane player behind them who it practically landed on was pinched for touching it. It was correct application of a rule that should be shot, buried in a shallow grave and covered in lime. Presumably once it cleared the nominated ruckmen the other 36 players on the ground were meant to run away like a live hand grenade had been tossed into their midst. What if the rucks collided with each other and went to ground, would everyone have to wait for one of them to beat the 10 count and get to the ball before the game could continue? What a farce.

McDonald missed what should have been a sitter for him, and by three quarter time the game diverged from the path of last week by Stuart Dew's mate Lyons kicking a third and fourth to put them comfortably ahead again. When the entire plan is built on winning contested ball we'd better either do that all day or take advantage of the chances we do get, and Oliver spurning a doddle of a snap from the top of the square was unfortunate.

The new 50 metre penalty rule is also causing much grief, with the completely unnecessary ability to play-on before reaching the mark leading to players being pinched for getting too close as the ball-carrier is marched to an arbitrary point down the field where he's supposed to take the kick from. In the Port game, one player 'earned' his second 50 by veering left and crashing into the player running next to him. Apparently you're not even allowed to run next to them, so why doesn't the player who conceded the original penalty just piss off somewhere else and let somebody else stand the mark? Either way, what's AFL season without some bonkers interpretation that sets the world alight until Round 4, is forgotten until Round 17 when they go hard on it for a week, and is then shelved for the finals?

With 30 minutes left, a 19 point deficit, players who looked like they were just trying to get to the end without contracting a surprise bout of Lassa fever, and no visible signs of a comeback my only concerns were avoiding more injuries, and Steven May suppressing his natural instinct for clobbering Brisbane players.

Old habits die hard:

I reckon he got lucky and the bump caught the bloke as high as humanely possible on the torso without collecting him in the head. Maybe a light brush of the jaw, but the impact was in the body. Of course, when the Lions take revenge for the time he killed Stef Martin by producing a doctor's report loaded with concussion speculation that'll do him in. Still, it's walking a fine line to be doing that in a pre-season game. If he does get rubbed out then it's buyer beware for signing somebody with a lengthy record of hitting people for the first time since Byron Pickett.

Things looked even more dire when we didn't have an inside 50 for the first five minutes of the quarter, and even that only came courtesy of a Lions switch that eventually ended in a goal. As it went though I had to reassure myself that our players had lost interest after the injuries. Also that it takes some of the heat off us for Round 1 now that all the journos who lost their mind and tipped us to win the flag will probably be queuing to write articles on why Goodwin should be boiled in oil.

If post-injury malaise was to blame - and now we not only had two players out, but Smith, Jetta and Fritsch hobbling and Petracca clutching his wrist to come - that didn't explain being off in the first quarter. I suppose after being in the unusual position of winning a lot of matches recently it was about time we had a couple of learning experiences to keep everyone grounded.

It took about 10 minutes to go across 50 via our own boot, with Smith busting through the pain barrier to get on the end of a lead then kicking out on the full and going back to hobbling around like the elderly. They must have deduced he couldn't make whatever he'd done any worse, because there was no point leaving him out there otherwise. I would have endorsed the Hardwick strategy of playing short if necessary. He soon made amends for that shithouse first kick by putting one through from a free and we inched closer. If this is how he plays with a sore foot then somebody stomp on it in the rooms before every game.

As Petracca grimaced and grabbed at his wrist I was ready to go and start my car in the garage and watch the rest of the game amongst the fumes, only to be stopped in my tracks by a Brayshaw goal that further reduced the margin. The site of Truck delivering a perfect, unencumbered handball frm the middle then convinced me to turn the ignition off and wait until at least half time of Round 1 before contemplating self-harm again.

After veering away from the path of last week, the ghost of JLT Community Series games past returned when our belated tilt at winning cut the margin to two goals. Neal-Bullen cropped up on the end of a scything kick across goal by Gawn, and when he finished the prospect of what would have undoubtedly been the worst win ever was back on the agenda. The brakes temporarily went on when Hunt, back in his traditional role, tried to run around an opponent after a mark, only to find his opposite number having none of it and wrapping him up for holding the ball. Like our forward entries it's no good doing the same thing every time and expecting that other sides don't do their homework.

Somehow we got forward for another, with Smith barely able to leave the square due to his hobbling but still managing to find a fourth. It was a low stakes rerun of Paul Wheatley in the 2005 Elimination Final, and when we find out on Monday that he's out for the season with a crushed ankle I will put a hex on everyone involved with keeping him on the ground. Still, watching him taking an unchallenged mark because his opponent had wandered up the field was a great advertisement for the old school tactic of parking somebody at full forward and not letting them move. If the full forward stays at home how much damage can their opponent do? Enough to lose the chance at having a bloke roaming the forward 50 on his own and kicking easy goals on the break? Probably, but I'd still like to see somebody try it.

Not that winning mattered - which is what you say when you lose unexpectedly - but any chance of completing a storming revival that swept all the dubious stuff under the rug was finished by Oliver giving away a pointless free at the next centre bounce for lightly whacking his opponent in the guts. This is the sort of pointless macho bullshit that does my head in. Speaking of pointless, this was followed by the umpire seemingly paying a free against Mitch Robinson, then waiting for him to lash out at Lewis in frustration before revealing it was his ball anyway. Lottery.

Brisbane's attempts to finish the game were reminiscent of the years where we'd make finishing any close game a terrifying ordeal (e.g. 1859-2018). After we'd unsuccessfully tried to set up the big mark in front of goal about 45 times they nailed one, only for the guy to do a Simon Eishold style shank out on the full. There was still time to score seven and snatch either a win or a worthless draw (P.S - after last week I did a deep dive into non-premiership matches and found one previous pre-season draw, against Sandhurst in 1934. I'm sure your life has been enriched by this knowledge), except immediately after the big shank we handed them another opportunity which they gleefully accepted.

Brayshaw got one on the siren to somehow restrict the margin to single figures, and I faced Casey Fields and for the second week in a row paid thanks to the cosmic forces that stopped me from leaving the house to watch live. I'd like to say I hope that's not happening towards the MCG in a couple of weeks, but I crave the sensation of a real game so will be there in person to see everything we've worked for go up in a puff of smoke OR receive a life-affirming reminder that good times are on the horizon.

Uniform Watch
Not only does the Jaguar logo looks significantly better on the regular colour jumper, it comes up beautifully when compared to random companies like GFG and SOOW as worn by Port and Brisbane. Whoever's got money to spend is welcome, and for all I know SOOW might be 100x more stable than a luxury car manufacturer but it feels like we're carrying an extra, welcome, touch of class. Apparently SOOW (or SO as it's styled) is "about creating trust in how everyday consumers and enterprises share data openly". Which sounds like the sort of company who'll go missing when they get the bill for their second year of sponsorship.

UPDATE - This is the only prediction I was close to getting right all day. Not only did they fail to make year two, they failed to make month four. As the Brisbane Lions CEO probably said "Soow... you're telling me you've gone into administration". They were actually out the door before this game even happened. Maybe the infinity logo signifies how much they owe creditors?

Media Watch
No Dwayne, no Dermott, no content. Except when they showed a Casey player with a full head of hair kicking a goal and identified him as Preuss.

Poor old Nick Riewoldt went with it ASAP while Dunstall and Huddo held back until it was obvious they'd shown A. Random. Still, as close to a perfect commentary combination as you're going to get on Fox, with the shrieking and buffoonery kept to a minimum. Dunstall does himself a disservice acting like a clown on The Bounce when he is actually one of the better special comments men around.

2019 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Joel Smith
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to Brayshaw, Salem and May.

Final leaderboard
Congratulations to Max, who goes back-to-back, becomes the first player ever to win the Plate twice, and ends a two year run of multiple winners. Can he string it across 22 games and become the first ruckman ever to win the Jakovich? The historical record says no.

10 - Max Gawn
7 - Clayton Oliver
6 - Christian Petracca
5 - Angus Brayshaw, Christian Salem
4 - James Harmes, Braydon Preuss
3 - Joel Smith

Coming this week
Almost exactly the same content promised after the Richmond game - an AFLW report and the finalised pre-season preview. The preview has been as good as finished for a week but I thought it was more prudent to wait until all the practice matches were over so it could include any perspective gained this week. Sadly I have gained too much perspective and will probably go back to drape the veil of negativity over it. At least now I can not only factor in Mitch Hannan's mystery injury, but the unwelcome news that Lever might not play until mid-year. Links in all the usual places when complete.

Next week
If you're a male player, nothing. Except for some last minute high risk training sessions where everyone is requested not to turn too sharply and to instantly give up if they feel a twinge anywhere in their body.

The week after
Watched the second half of the Port game, and while they seemed better than expected North's disinterest in doing anything remotely defensive would have made anyone look good. I'm more confident in winning Round 1 then I am in following with wins in Geelong and Sydney, but against a side who only missed the eight due to an epic collapse and still won 12 games it is anything but a guaranteed win. All those years I moaned about wanting to test ourselves against a good team in Round 1, now expectations are up and I'd be quite happy with playing Gold Coast at home.

Final thoughts
One way or the other everyone except James Harmes will forget this match happened by 6pm on Saturday 23 March. And thank christ for that.