Sunday 27 March 2005

Q: Are we not men? A: We are Demons!

Until 6.15pm tonight I was still generally unconcerned with the 2005 AFL Premiership season. At that exact moment my stomach dropped, my heart rate went up at least 25% and I legitimately started to sweat. The bug had finally hit me again. Suddenly the prospect of hearing other supporters sing their club song in my general presence went from an uncomfortable prospect to a complete phobia.

The general mood of paranoia and suspicion didn't lighten when I arrived at the MCG to find queues a mile long, even for those of us with memberships and it took me a good 10 minutes of standing in line to even get in the door. Then I discovered that the bottom deck of the Southern Stand has suddenly become reserved tickets only, and for tonight the top deck was packed solid. I arrived at the top just in time for the second half of the Troy Broadbridge tribute. Now I may be the most cynical and bitter person alive but I can quite honestly say that even I had a tear in my eye by the time David Neitz appeared on the screen.

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By the time they actually did the minutes silence (running the standard AFL length of 35 seconds - idiots), I had already gone back down the stairs, got a passout and moved all the way to the bottom deck of the Ponsford Stand. And given the amount of time between the tribute and the silence it turned out to be one of the more poorly observed ones I've ever seen. That's not to say it was deliberate, but I think at first when they announced for people to stand for a minutes silence and the national anthem people expected the anthem to come first and treated it with contempt accordingly. Then 20 seconds in everyone realised what was happening and shut up. I heard one peanut yell out "Go Demons" in the distance but the people around me were nothing more than respectful. Good for them.

The return to the Ponsford was nice. Back of the bottom deck is looking like the place to be this season, with a good view of the field and a nice television screen in front of you switched to the Channel 9/10/whoever coverage rather than the MCG scoreboard channel and their farcical advertisements, promotions, contests and Vodafone Fan Cams.

"What about the game?" I hear you scream. Well, I suppose we could mention that. It started nicely with Brent Moloney opening his account for the club with the first goal, but after that things started to turn a bit nasty as James Hird ripped us to shreds down the members side wing for the first 15 minutes.

Heffernan and Brown came and went but the Essendon captain was treating us like his personal bitch - until Cameron Bruce stepped in and laid the smack down in emphatic fashion. With Hird out of the game the Essendon dream started to unfurl rapidly as their Lloyd-less forward line struggled to do anything right. As I said before the game when I saw Damien Cupido lining up at full-forward "If we can't beat a team with him as their major goalkicking option we may as well pull the pin on the season now" and that's the way it turned out. He's still shite.

Scott Lucas bobbed up every now and then but the rest of them were handily subdued by a revitalised backline led, unpredictably, by Ryan Ferguson who mocked the fact that he hadn't played a league game for 18 months and marshalled the defence superbly. Ably assisted by the once more impressive Jared Rivers, and Matthew Whelan we looked better in that department than we have since the Ingerson/Seecamp/Shanahan dream team of 1998.

At this point I'd like to direct a colossal whinge towards two groups of people. One are the idiots who boo loudly when an opposition player rushes a behind yet applaud their own side doing it as if it's the greatest tactical manouever ever invented. I'm aware that being a one sided prick is what sports is all about but let's not go completely wild about it eh? The other are the female supporters who just let rip with blood curdling, high pitched, top of the voice screams whenever their team kicks a goal. I'm 100% for women in football, don't worry about that, but have some consideration for the rest of us. Football matches are tense enough on their own without the prospect of receiving a migraine headache because Aaron Henneman kicks a goal. Ladies, they're bringing your whole side down - I plead with you to indulge in heart to heart conversations with your fellow supporters and convince them to scream obscenities instead like the rest of us. Thank christ the one sitting next to us went to spread the love somewhere else in the second half.

After going into the first quarter two points behind the forward/midfield combination started to feed off the backline and added six goals to three to give us a 20pt lead at the long break. Another whinge about the 'new' MCG is that you can't hear the siren in the Ponsford. For the first three quarters it was only when the players voluntarily walked that you knew it was over. I was dreading the prospect of a close game where the final siren went without us knowing it, and having to gauge the reaction of the crowd and players to see what the hell had happened. Thankfully by the time we'd increased the margin by 19 points at 3/4 time it was clearly not to be.

Some of you may remember a game in 1991 when we led the Bombers by 41 at the last change, kicked the first goal of the last quarter and then somehow managed to lose by a point to a Gavin Wanganeen goal after the siren. I certainly do. Ever since that day I have been unable to relax until we are at least four goals in front at the 20 minute mark of the last quarter. It wasn't until Adem Yze kicked his 4th with 12 minutes left and the margin blew out to 40 that I relaxed.

With the result wrapped up long before the final siren all that was left was to let rip with the "Unbridled Passion" remix of the Melbourne theme song, complete with jumping up and down and fist pumping. Not one other person in my section was making any effort to sing it so everyone started looking at me instead. Legitimately embarrassing - this particular piece of performance art is meant to complement the more standard versions of the tune rather than eclipse them. Next game I'm putting the balaclava on, and we'll see what they think then.

In the end it turns out there was only 45,000 people there, which shocked the hell out of me because the place looked absolutely packed everywhere but the top of the Ponsford. I'd hate to think what it'll look like on Queens Birthday against Collingwood. We may even have to, gasp, sit next to one of their toothless fans.

Now for the first installment of the " Player of the Year" - where I hand out the votes on a whim. You may disagree - but it doesn't matter.

5 - Brent Moloney
4 - Ryan Ferguson
3 - Cameron Bruce
2 - Adem Yze
1 - Jared Rivers

Credit to Brad Miller for marking anything that went near him. Russell Robertson was handy as well, doing some decent work in the field of harassing, blocking and scragging even when he wasn't picking up possessions. Guy Rigoni wasn't bad either for somebody who we've all written off on seven different occasions.

On the other hand Colin Sylvia was on the ground for ages and showed very little until the game was blown out in the last quarter, and Travis Johnstone did nothing until he gave it to the mutants in the Essendon cheersquad after kicking his goal. David Neitz continued his recent trend of going missing - which worries me greatly.

The final humiliation for Essendon fans came outside the ground as a harmless kick-to-kick ended with a chip pass going horribly astray and bouncing right underneath a Route 129 tram. There was a seconds silence as the entire stop turned around to see if we were about to witness a potential derailment scenario - then a giant CRUNCH echoed across the night sky as the ball was assimilated underneath with extreme prejudice. The tram stayed on the rails but the ball was never seen again - we presume it finally fell out somewhere around Exhibition Street. The poor Essendon bogan children were suitably sad. We just laughed.

Footy is back. For this week at least I am overjoyed. More news, views and reactions throughout the week. Next week - Melbourne vs Footscray, Saturday at Docklands. I like our chances...

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