Wednesday, 23 March 2005

It's time

Three days and counting until our opening game of 2005. If previous experience has taught us anything you can pretty much write off the significance of Saturday night, because if we lose we'll have a bumper year and if we win we'll finish 14th and score more priority picks. Maybe it's the product of coming off a good season but if we lose by under 6 goals I won't be turning blue in the face and leaning over the race to try and slap the entire backline around the head.

But what will happen? When it comes to the Melbourne Football Club I'd be lying if I said I had any idea. Sure the signs are there - but you heard that before 2001 and 2003 as well didn't you? Well this time I believe it. This year we will back up for the first time in god knows how long and crack the Top 8 again. It's a suicidal call to stake your reputation on, but luckily I never had one to begin with.

Having said this I'm not going to go completely wild and declare that we're going to pick up where we left off last year (pre-collapse) and win the AFL Premiership. On this note I present the official Every Day Is Like Sunday 2005 season preview.

Backline
Jared Rivers. It's all about Jared Rivers. Decent support may come from Nicholson - who is still suspect against quick players - and Ryan Ferguson and Daniel Bell are getting better all the time but for us to have any chance of surviving matches against sides with profilic key forwards we must, MUST, have Rivers in the side and playing well. The one advantage of having a backman win the Rising Star competition is that he won't instantly end up in every opposition teams pre-match plans as somebody to stop like a midfielder or forward would.

Then there's Nathan Carroll. He's got a lot of mileage out of wrecking Barry Hall in the last game of 2003 because he's done sweet FA since. Will probably score a couple of games throughout the year, must do something this time or will end up as the new Chris Lamb - without the overwhelming public support.

I am, however, supremely confident in the contributions of Matthew Whelan, Clint Bizzell and Nathan Brown. If the ball hits the deck inside defensive 50 I'm alright, but when it's bombed in that the blood pressure starts to rise ever so much. I'd like to think that we could pull one of those outrageous attacking tactics where no matter how much they score we try to score more. But we can't.

Midfield
Sure it'll take an injury crisis of black death proportions to put a dent in this department but the importance of our centre players can't be stressed enough. Replace Yze and Bruce, watch McLean suffer second year syndrome, see the much hyped Sylvia and Moloney not show their full potential and look at Phil Read/Simon Godfrey lose the plot completely and it's all over for us. We may as well withdraw halfway through the year and join the Diamond Valley League.

However it would take the biggest black magic voodoo conspiracy theory in the history of AFL/VFL football for all that to happen, and with able support from the likes of Brown and Bizzell running out of the backline, and with Brad Green and Aaron Davey playing more important midfield roles it looks as if we'll have one of the better group of running players in the competition. I suppose you may as well fit Travis Johnstone in there somewhere. I'm resigned to him breaking out a few cameo best on ground performances, going missing for the other 18 weeks and ending up getting traded to Carlton amongst gnashing of teeth and furious protests from the people who have been telling us that "this is his year" since 1999.

My opinion of James McDonald is delayed pending the performance of his brother in the edition of Fox Footy's "Lovematch" where he is playing to win me a $1000 Harvey Norman gift voucher. If he loses expect to hear loud boos everytime #23 touches the ball, but if I wins expect a post calling on JM to be the next captain.

Forwards
Controversially I'm putting a giant question mark on this section. David Neitz is always good for goals but he's getting on, and as was proved during his form slump and subsequent injury at the end of last year there is no ready made replacement for him at full-forward if something happens. It's a good thing that goals come out of our midfield in decent numbers because for all the good things they do during the four quarters Robertson, Green and Davey are all capable of going missing and ending up with 0 goals.

Brad Miller was a revelation at CHF last year but he needs to kick more goals this year. Ben Holland was decidedly average, and despite his hefty paycheck may find himself squeezed out if Paul Johnson or Nick Smith kill it in the reserves.

In my uneducated opinion, if Neitz fails to kick 50 goals for the season and we don't locate another goalkicking source then we are in trouble. And what about when he retires? Ick, I don't want to think about it.

Rucks
If Jeff White survives his traditional injury scare and the new ruck rules he will be vital. But as every article about Melbourne in the last four years has pointed out - if he has a shocker of a year so do the club. All I will say is thank god we cheated the salary cap to get him. Given that we lost a couple of draft picks where we would have probably picked more Cockatoo-Collins brother style duds I'm prepared to go back in history and do it all over again. Mark Jamar is a more than capable back up, but nothing compares to the original.

Others
Brief commentary on the rest of our list,

Steven Armstrong - Forgot he was still on the list. Not a bad player but could see a lot of the Trevor Barker Oval in Sandringham this year.

Lynden Dunn - How the hell should I know? If human sacrifice could guarantee high draft picks would be superstars I'd have already done it.

Chris Heffernan - I'm sure he'll be there or there abouts. Risks becoming a massive heel to the MFC fanbase if he doesn't start dominating soon.

Cameron Hunter - Has apparently bulked up - which was not difficult given that in his debut season he had the physique of a cancer patient with AIDS and a heroin habit. Despite the ever dubious 'project player' tag, this could be his last year. Feed him some Quarter Pounders I say.

Chris Johnson - People who know about this sort of thing say that he's getting better all the time. Good. Let's keep it low-key then.

Shannon Motlop - Set to be part of either a September fairytale or a Sandringham VFL Premiership. Clearly the best choice of the discarded players available to join us, but time will tell whether or not he's still got what it takes to play league football.

Michael Newton - No relation to Bert, and no senior games this year.

Guy Rigoni - Lucky to avoid getting the arse at the end of the last two seasons. I've got nothing against the idea of him rocking up for a few cameo roles throughout the year, but his long-term future is cloudy. Let's just say I wouldn't be buying a new house if I was him.

Brendan Van Schaik - Who? Top name though - I'll support him just because of that. According to the OS he's a ruckman. See you in 2006!

Daniel Ward - Rapidly sliding out of favor. I'd be surprised if they didn't try and flog him during the last trade period. I've always quite liked him but I don't see him as anything more than fringe this season.

Matthew Warnock - Quick defender. The two sweetest words I have ever heard.

Luke Williams - What are you still doing here? Sorry Luke but trains to Sandringham depart from Platforms 9 and 10. I'd like to say he will not appear in the senior side unless we hit rock bottom and will play anyone (see, closing rounds of 2003) but when I looked up and saw him waltzing down the wing in the Wizard Cup game against Carlton I got a shudder right through my body. Expect a picketline outside the MCG by round 6.

The Vibe
The Broadbridge factor is questionable. I don't buy this line about them "playing for him". No matter how emotional the situation is, and how much well all want them to do well to honor his memory, you can't paper over cracks for 22 weeks with good intentions alone. Make no mistake the cracks are there.

If you take into account the three grafted wins against the worst of sides in the competition in the weeks leading to our dramatic 2004 collapse we haven't beaten a decent team for the last 8 competitive matches. This season we knocked over the Llane Spaandermann-tastic Brisbane Lions reserves in the Wizard Cup and were then lucky to get within four goals of a rejuvenated but still dubious Carlton side. The signs are there, but whether they develop into full blown footballing hysteria is to be seen.

On the other hand, membership is rising and there's some danger that we may achieve financial stability within the next few years. Things are looking good, we just need to make sure that everything doesn't go down the toilet with a rotten season. Cross your fingers, CROSS THEM HARD. Let's do this thing...

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