Monday, 26 May 2008

Someday This War's Gonna End

I'm not used to writing reports on honourable losses. Usually there's some sort of angle that I can hide behind to at least come up with a catchy headline. This week I've got nothing. From the Rejected Headlines Department, I had "Pork A Hawk" all ready to go if we'd gotten up, but that one's gone in the vault for future years now. Many years in the future by the looks of it.

Yes, Hawthorn. Remember them? It shouldn't be hard to, they only beat us to the bejesus belt in round one. For some reason they get to play us again eight rounds later whereas they don't meet Geelong until Round 17. That being the same round in which we play North Melbourne who we already met in round 4. How does that work? How does anything work in this brave era of the AFL and their determination to expand both the league and the rule book to a completely unworkable size? I suspect that the AFL Commission use similar methods to solve both issues - each involving a blindfolded Andrew Demetriou flinging darts at a board.

Speaking of Hawthorn, it dawned on me yesterday - about a year too late - that we were the first to see them in their current resurgent glory. It was the first round of the 2007 NAB Cup at the worst stadium outside of sub-Saharan Africa (and while you're on Farcebook don't forget to become a fan of Demonblog.. for no particular reason) and we were red hot favourites to tonk a Hawthorn side which had done nothing for about five years. We had made the finals three years in a row and some were even talking us up as Victoria's best chance of winning a flag. We were shite. Actually the most disturbing thing about that game is the fact that I gave Chris Johnson BOG honors. Just how badly WERE we doing?

Fast forward through 2007 (yes, for god's sake please do) and into 2008. That game wasn't just a mere blip on the radar, it turned out that the two sides were going in drastically opposite directions. Some has-been politician is trying to ship us interstate and they're being talked about as the next big thing. Such is life.

So, the second half against Freo, and the first quarter against Adelaide last week showed signs that we had come a very, VERY long way since Round One this year - if not fallen a long way from the 2006 finals. The last three quarters at Football Park, on the other hand, showed that we were still chest high in a pile of footballing shite. If you were a betting man you'd guess that against the unbeaten Hawthorn, with two of the best forwards in the competition and more than a handful of useful cameo performers, that you were going to get the MFC side from Round 1 or 2 who refused to put any pressure on and turned the ball over at every opportunity en route to depressingly large beatings.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Neitz lap of honor pre-match. With the highlights on the big screen and the great man going around in the car it was all rather emotional. I must admit that it didn't get me 'in there' like the aftermath of Daniher's last game - this one had a little bit more dignity in it's leadup - but it still felt horrible to watch him go around for the last time. Other than the odd match or moment of brilliance I barely remember anything that happened before the 1997 season, so both Daniher and Neitz were defining characters in my decade of slow descent into madness following this club. It's just a shame that more people didn't show up to see it, but more on that later. Credit to the Hawthorn crowd for standing up to applaud his career - he's never going to make an AFL Hall of Fame but in the massively contradictory world of the Melbourne Football Club he joins the likes of Lyon, Stynes and Flower as absolute legends who never won a Premiership. Steven Armstrong and Trent Ormond-Allen have though if that's any comfort. Then he took the boys aside in a huddle before the match and addressed them for a minute or two. I'd love to know what he said, but it was obvious how much respect he commands amongst that group by how fired up they were right from the first bounce. A true legend, and hopefully somebody who is going to stay around the club well into the future.

With the skipper retired, Rivers injured (*sob*), Carroll supposedly out hurt rather than having been dropped, and White a late withdrawal due to a back complaint we were always going to be outgunned in the talls department. Garland, Warnock and Frawley battled hard against Adelaide last week for little reward so what were they supposed to do against the freaks up front for the Hawks? Well, believe it or not we were quite good.

Not quite good in the sense of last week's firing of a couple of shots and then going down like a Russian apartment block, but actually good and competitive. Even when they weren't cheap shotting superstars behind the play our midfielders were running riot like men possessed. Obviously the video of Collingwood's performance on Friday night had been given a massive run over the weekend, because the likes of Jones, McLean and the world's angriest man looked like they were on drugs (as opposed to the Hawthorn forward line who.. [Snip! - Legal]). Robertson slotted the first goal from a difficult angle, and then missed one that was relatively easy - which said it all about our season.

Not surprisingly Jamar and Johnson were butchered in the ruck all day, but when the ball hit the deck we were nothing short of sublime. Special mention has to go to the quality moment just after the first bounce when Moloney (the angriest man alive) knocked Franklin over and then just as he got up Jones did him in as well. We copped a free-kick but it was worth it just to make a point and listen to the twats in poo-brown behind me lose the plot. The pressure was magnificent and rattled the Hawks early. We quickly surrended a three goal lead, then goals for Wonaeamirri (who we shall, henceforth, refer to only as THE CELEBRATOR!), Robertson put us in front in what was easily our best first quarter of the season. When Holland (quoth my own mother "I didn't even know he still played for us") marked THE CELEBRATOR's shot on the line and goaled in the early stages of the second it was time to start wondering where exactly this match was going.

For the best part of the first half we not only owned the centre of the ground but controlled the backline too. Garland, Frawley and Warnock (the Jurassic Pack III? - see also Seecamp/Ingerson/Shanahan and Rivers/Carroll/Whelan) punched a mile above their weight against an infinitely better forward line, while McDonald did a decent job on Rioli and Brad Green played the loose man in defence role perfectly. We were still a bit sloppy around the ground, as you'd expect from the bottom team in the competition, but Hawthorn were equally bad. With a fit and firing forward line we might have put up a decent score by half time, as it was we were left with Robertson and Holland as the talls with various other players chipping in occasionally. That's not going to win you matches. Paul Johnson chipped in for a goal from a 50m penalty (or was it a downfield free?) that put us 13pts up 17m into the second quarter and (relatively speaking) flying.

The two absolute standouts of the first half were Brock McLean - who had 20 by the break as well as a bunch of tackles - and Matthew Bate who was so far removed from the man we saw in the first half of the Fremantle match that I'm suggesting a Fine Cotton scandal-esque switching of players midway through the season. Miller was good again as a lead up CHF (maybe, 99 games later he's cracked it..), Davey chased hard and Bruce got a lot of it even though I'd not sure he was THAT effective when he did. Simon Buckley also got a shitload of it but doesn't impress me at all - maybe it's worth giving Yze his last shot at Bucks' expense? Afterall Queen's Birthday is coming up and we may as well give both he and Holland one last chance to dominate the Pies before they retire.

As the second quarter drew to a close Hawthorn started to assert their natural dominance. Luckily for us they missed four gettable chances at goal and kept us in front at half time. A big "sucked in" to all the people who tried to win the cheap money by having a Hawthorn/Hawthorn half-time/full-time double. May you have also backed Geelong, Footscray, Chelsea and the Australian Test Side you greedy bastards.

Away Crowd Watch
I have long held a theory that Hawthorn has the most mad supporters. I've rarely ever seen violence or particuarly bad behaviour at one of their games, but the numbers of eye-rolling, tell-tale lobotomy scar, talk to themselves for four quarters freaks that they pull is amazing. Yesterday the guy behind me got so aroused every time Franklin went near the ball I was worried that he was going to start involuntarily tapping me on the shoulder. Fair play too, I'd go nuts if we had the new Allen Jakovich playing for us as well, but for god's sake try to retain some dignity. They may as well be sponsored by Mount Franklin for the amount of grown men in the stands who crack an Ararat when he gets a touch.

Just like they used to (still do?) have "dry" areas, they should have "shut the fuck up" areas where the odd comment is allowed but anyone who sits there and does their own Continuous Call commentary of the game is thrown out headfirst. This also goes for people who rabbit on like they're having an actual conversation with the players. Knowing that we were never going to hold onto the lead yesterday it was amusing to hear the knob behind us panicking and starting to carry on imaginary conversations with the entire Hawthorn squad.

Now, I don't think anyone expected us to win from 9pts in front at half time. I know I didn't. You don't have to be the world's most negative and depressed football supporter like I am to see that even though we were playing well that they were capable of lifting their game so far above ours it wasn't funny. It seemed to me that our containment of their forwards was akin to holding back an exploding volcano with an umbrella - brave but ultimately useless. When Franklin kicked the first of the quarter and Roughead had a shot a couple of minutes later it looked as if we were about to be barrelled by the lava a'la the citizens of Pompeii.

Once again, though, we fought back to put them on the ropes. The Celebrator got another one before Dutchy Mania ran riot and the big man went right through his bag of tricks and not only kicked one from the boundary line but also achieved the signficantly more difficult task of nailing one from 20m out directly in front. That was the point where I started to wonder if this was going to be the Miracle on Brunton Avenue. How about no? After being held goalless for the best part of three quarters Mark Williams and Cyril Rioli decided to bob up and kick a goal each to put the Hawks back in front before we got stitched up by one of those moments that you just have to throw your hands up in the air and ask "what are we supposed to do?" about. Franklin marks 50m on the boundary line and slots one without even raising a sweat. He's an f'ing freak, it's no wonder that 10,000 people rub themselves when his picture comes up on the scoreboard.

So, to three quarter time and we're finally behind. Now they put us to the sword and run away with it right? Wrong again. Jones and Davey both goaled to put us back in front at the 6 minute mark. After being quiet during the third Brock is amping it up again and starting to cause damage. Unfortunately on the other side of the equation Chance Bateman was going absolutely nuts and carving us to shreds. Clint Bartram did a masterful job on McLeod last week but he just couldn't handle Bateman in the second half and on his way to racking up 28 touches Chance pretty much torched any hope we had of getting up.

However, at this moment we were still in it. Tim Clarke kicked a goal and Cam Bruce replied a couple of minutes later to put us back in front. Unfortunately that's where it all ended. Rioli got another one and Davey missed a very gettable shot before being stitched up for an in-the back decision that was either "unfortunate" or "the worst one since Scott Chisholm got done in the square against Hawthorn in '99" (Get the DVD off Name A Game, we win by a point) depending on your point of view. A couple of brave Hawthorn fans suggested that it was a 100% correct decision, but unfortunately as they were wearing the biggest blinkers ever at the time they fell over the edge of the Olympic Stand after the final siren and died. I like to console myself by believing that he would have missed the kick anyway, but it would have put us back within a goal and made things interesting.

As it was we'd lost Robertson with a corky and Holland had dislocated his shoulder so our forward line, already stretched to unnatural limits, was a complete shambles. Davey was pretty much playing full-forward and while he battled his arse off we weren't going to be able to come back if they got a couple of quick goals. And guess what they did? Arse. Two more to the surprisingly (!?) restrained Mark Williams and we were toast.

The guard of honor by both teams at the end of the game for Neita was a nice touch. Much respect to the Hawks for indulging us.

And now for something completely different - here's some angst..

Home Crowd Watch
What home crowd? Where was everybody. We were only farewelling one of our greatest ever players at a home game - what else did people need to get to the ground? Yet we would have been lucky to have 15,000 of the 40k crowd. It was an absolute disgrace. It's no wonder that when peanuts like Jeff Kennett say stupid things about clubs moving that a good deal of people think it's not such a bad idea.

Richmond have been total wank for 20 years, but do you think that there would be a seat in the house if Richo pulled the pin tomorrow? That club is the model for loyalty in supporters as far as I'm concerned. Yes, a great deal of them are seriously mentally unbalanced and that probably explains why they cling so dearly to a lost cause but could you imagine where we'd be if we'd played finals a handful of times in two decades? My god we've had two bad seasons in a row and suddenly everybody has walked away.

Then in a fortnight suddenly everyone will remember that they're massive Melbourne fans just in time for Queen's Birthday. Does it really take a public holiday to get people to come out? Do we have 25,000 supporters who are all working on Sunday and can't possibly make it? Bollocks we do, it's just that a lot of people who claim to support us are as weak as buggery.

And you know what really annoys the shit out of me about this. One day we're going to make a Grand Final again. God knows when, but it'll happen. On that day when we're all thrown to the wolves trying to get hold of the handful of tickets that the AFL deigns to hand out to the 'little people', you and I probably won't get in. We'll be forced to sit at home and watch what could be our greatest moment ever on television while the ground is full of corporates and sham fans who never sat through the bad times. Doesn't it make you sick?

A friend of mine who is an Essendon fan never tires of telling me that at the 2000 Grand Final he sat next to one person who left at half time because they were 'bored', and saw another one a couple of rows in front of him read a book for four quarters. I mean for god's sake they gave 4 tickets to the GF to one of our fans yesterday - what good are they going to be? Are you not almost morally bound to wait until Grand Final week and give those tickets to supporters of one of the competing clubs? The whole setup makes me sick.

What's the solution? What about weighing the chance of winning a 'random' ballot on how many games somebody has attended? If you've used your membership at every home game in the previous two seasons then you're not assured of a ticket but you're a much higher percentage of getting one than the twat who bought a membership in Round 10 of the second year because you were 9-1.

Coaches Box Watch
I always liked Bailey, and slowly I'm starting to believe that I'm not going to be embarassed for sticking my neck out in support of him right from the start.

On the other side I'm a big fan of Alistair Clarkson, not only because he played for us for about five seconds and not just because the sight of obvious retards calling for him to be shot ten minutes into his coaching career and now fawning over him has been one of the most scandalous transitions this decade. Sure, I think his reaction to the Mark Williams "choke-gate" incident was a little over the top, but I just like the man. Walking out to shake hands with his ex-teammate Neita just before the bounce was a very classy move. Of course nobody could possibly take Dean Laidley's place in my heart, but he's up there.

2008 Allen Jakovich Medal Votes

5 - Brock McLean
4 - Matthew Bate
3 - Brad Green
2 - Austin Wonaeamirri
1 - Brent Moloney

A thousand apologies for Frawley, Garland and Warnock who worked well as a unit but ultimately didn't do enough to squeeze into the votes. Please note that this does not constitute anti-defender bias because as we all know I have a massive man crush on Jared Rivers and have previously sported Jamie Shanahan's number on the back of my jumper. Green, on the other hand, almost got himself killed ten times backing back into the pack and if he's not made the next captain I will have a breakdown.

Other apologies to Davey, Holland, Miller, Bruce, McDonald and Valenti.

No apologies to Buckley. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it doesn't matter if you get it 1000 times if you do nothing with it. Then there's his wild attempts to run around people that NOBODY HAS EVER FALLEN FOR. Gah.

Leaderboard

15 - Brad Green
14 - Nathan Jones
14 - Brock McLean
13 - Cameron Bruce
10 - Austin Wonaeamirri (Leader: 2008 Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
9 - Aaron Davey
9 - Cale Morton
8 - James McDonald
6 - Paul Johnson
6 - Jared Rivers (Leader: 2008 Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Brad Miller
5 - Brent Moloney
4 - Clint Bartram
4 - Matthew Bate
3 - Nathan Carroll
3 - Lynden Dunn
3 - Jeff White
2 - Russell Robertson
1 - Mark Jamar
1 - Shane Valenti

Next Week
St. Kilda at Telstra Dome. If we play like we did Sunday, and they follow on from their vomitous performance against Brisbane, you'd think we were a chance. However this is Melbourne and we are as likely to lose the plot and get trashed as we are to win. I'll be in Singapore listening to it on the AFL website - what the fark am I doing going overseas during footy season? Your guess is as good as mine.

Selection? Well they're talking like Robbo might miss. It seems they say that every second week and he still turns up so I wouldn't put too much currency in it, but I have a radical far-left solution in case he doesn't show. If Rivers is fit we should show some respect to the no-name defence by keeping them down there and picking JR to play forward. In the spirit of Neita going from the backline to kick 631 goals, we may as well give it a crack. If we start getting dominated switch him with Garland to shore it up a bit down back. Many commentators on this site have called for it and now Dean Bailey - because I know you're reading *cough* - you have the chance to make it come true.

Lynden Dunn perhaps? He's got a bit of form up there. I always thought Ryan Ferguson might have gone alright as a forward, though that's purely academic now. Leigh Newton? Sean Charles? Mark Bradly? There's an idea - why don't we have a game between two sides of ex-MFC players from the last ten years? You know I'd be front row central to see Matthew Collins run through Hayden Lamaro.

Laughing Stock Watch

Here's one ladder where we're actually getting better. Would kill for a game against Essendon this week just to either prove our rebirth or condemn us to death once and for all.

14. Melbourne (Last week - 15)
15. Essendon (14)
16. Fremantle (16)

Afterthought Corner
Imagine if you could get paid to write nearly 4000 words of ill-informed under-researched bollocks every week? I should apply for a job with the Herald-Sun.Someday This War's Gonna End

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