Sunday, 29 June 2008

It's Miller Time

Well, I'm back. Welcome to Australia and all that. Luckily they didn't find what I had strapped to my lower instestine and I got through customs in time to see yet another in a long series of insipid performances and losses. Hold on? What do you mean we won? Oh, that's right you heard me - WE WON A FREAKING GAME! AGAINST A TEAM WHO NOT A COMPLETE BASKET CASE LIKE FREO! Remember when that used to happen a lot? Me neither, Queen's Birthday last year was the last time we rolled a team that was even halfway entrenched in the top 8.

All I wanted was a consistent four quarter effort, and to avoid going five goals down in the first five minutes like last week. When Brown outmanoeuvred Warnock in the square 45 seconds in for the first goal it looked as if it was going to be a long, long, long day. I don't know about you but every time a gun opposition forward kicks a goal early I start to have visions of Tony Modra banging home 10 against us in 1999. Strangely enough when one of our players gets on a roll I don't often think the same thing.

So, when the first quarter ended and Brad Miller had three goals in a 19pt lead I thought that we could only go backwards. After his early goal Brown was well held, and Garland had Bradshaw under control but it was always threatening to explode in our faces and end in tragedy. In reality the early success of our backline owed far more to the midfield than it did to anyone else. Jamar and Johnson were breaking even in the centre and the likes of McLean, Dunn and Jones were doing enough to keep the ball out of the Brisbane forward 50. Jones, however, botched pretty much every kick he had in the first half so don't come here expecting to see me singing his praises even if he is still winning our player of the year.

When Sylvia kicked his second five minutes into the second even I, the most negative bastard alive, started to wonder whether we might be primed for an upset. The next couple of minutes were spent hammering the Brisbane defence with little reward other than a Miller missed set shot. Then suddenly the ball was down the other end, the umpires were pulling dubious free kicks out of their arse and we'd copped three goals in three minutes. Somewhere in the mix of all this Brock McLean went down like he'd been shot and I'm sure everyone had the same minor nervous breakdown as me. Luckily The Brock looks injury in the face and spits because he'd return after half time.

We were almost gifted a goal late in the second when the Lions botched their interchange and Paul Wheatley was given a set shot 40m out directly in front. Despite that farcical set play that they insist on doing where he tries to bury one from outside 50 (it's worked about twice in five years) you'd hardly have him kicking for your life and he butchered it. That said it all about our day to that point really, the chance to put Brisbane away handed to us on a platter and botched. We hadn't really played much of a second quarter, but thanks to Brisbane fumbling several chances to add more goals at the end of the quarter we were still in front. Special mention, if you will, to Jonathan Brown's last attempt which hit the post with such force that I was hoping it'd snap off and fly straight into the Lions cheersquad.

So, half time and a three point lead. We've led at halftime this year (once maybe - including practice matches), but against a team with the twin towers of terror Brown and Bradshaw up front, a team who had flogged us by ten goals about two months ago you had the feeling that we couldn't possibly hold on. Who was going to kick the goals? Garland and Warnock were battling hard in defence, with Whelan providing a vintage game to assist them and Brad Green was constantly appearing on the last line of defence taking saving marks but could we plug the flow enough to hold on? Or would it be another repeat of the Hawthorn game where the lesser lights of their forward line dragged them over the line while we couldn't kick a winning score.

Of course it wasn't just the increased effort on our behalf that helped us to a winning position. Brisbane served up a kicking efficiency of 55%, and that's even without the allegedly laser-like disposal of Travis Johnstone (© some crackheads on the Melbourne forums) assisting them. To put it simply they were shit. We certainly applied the same sort of good pressure that we've shown in patches since the Hawthorn match, but clearly the Lions didn't turn up to play and it cost them. Their record on the MCG since they lost that Grand Final to Port has been abysmal, and they showed why today.

Chris Johnson was going nuts racking up possessions around the defensive 50. He botched a few, and fell victim to a handful of smothers but it was easily his best game yet. The most important factor was that he played with a confidence that most of our side have been lacking so far this year. Yes we seriously overused the ball at times today and caused turnovers, but at the same time some of the running football was enough to make a man crack half a Ballarat. If that's what Bailey wants this team to do then he's got my vote. Also worth a mention is Lynden Dunn who did another great tagging job - who saw that coming a couple of years ago when he was wandering around in the forward line?

So, the first six minutes of the third were your standard arm-wrestle. At least we didn't roll over and die like many (me?) had expected. We finally got our own dodgy decision from the umpires when Bate was paid one right in front of goal, and despite doing his best to miss it extended the margin again. Thank you Melbourne, enough teasing now just lose already. Oh, Bruce has kicked one? And Sylvia too? I'm excited! Brisbane also kicked an obvious point that was ruled out on the full - that won't come back to play a part will it? Surely not. Just when it looked like we were a chance of burning the Lions off again we copped two late goals to cut the margin back to eight points at the last change. Tense? Nervous? You bet. Had I been sitting next to one of these "Oh we must lose so we can have #1 pick!" clowns I probably would have punched them in the face.

So, Q4 then. We copped the first goal, then Green replied, then Brown came to life and kicked two to put the Roys/Bears/Lions in front for the first time since the 9 minute mark of the first quarter. Handshakes all around and a quiet departure? Bollocks to that, Col Sylvia bobbed up for his 4th to put us in front before THE CELEBRATOR kicked his 2nd to make it a bit more comfortable. Then of course we died in the arse again - questionable umpiring aside (HOW DO YOU NOT SEE AARON DAVEY GET BELTED YOU CRUNTS?) Brown and Bradshaw x2 goaled to put us away for good. Old mate in front of me relaxed and stretched out waiting for the final siren, then as the minutes ticked past 30 and those without radios started to have a bit of a cry Cam Bruce walked through half the Brisbane defence, told Dunn to get out of the way and kicked the wobbliest goal you'll ever see in your life to get us back into it. Four minutes of hammering the line later a long ball dropped into the square and Miller of all people took a corker of a mark to put us in front.

Cue 2 minutes and 45 seconds of wild scenes as Brisbane got the ball inside 50, forced a boundary throw-in and a ball-up and still couldn't even jag a point to force a draw. The last bounce was with fifteen seconds left and you could just see another heartbreaker coming our way, then somehow the ball came out to the CELEBRATOR who looked up, saw nobody in front of him and went to the races before flipping a handball over the top to BOG Brad Green who was just beaten by the siren as he kicked the goal. In the end it's probably more romantic to have won by 1 instead of 7, but Green definately deserved a second goal - he has been unbelievable this year and surely must get a run as captain next season.

Of course what we lack is an absolute out-and-out superstar. Oh for a Jonathan Brown up front. Even when he wasn't getting the ball he was scaring the shit out of us. The lack of an insane marquee forward like Brown, Pavlich, Fev or Franklin was the only reason that we had to scrap so hard to beat a team that was desperately trying to hand us the match on a platter. Oh for a Neitz 2002-05 slotted into today's lineup, just throwing bastards out of the way and kicking goals. Well, get used to it kids because that's our lot for the rest of the year - Miller has improved out of sight, and Sylvia is showing a bit as a forward at last but we will struggle to kick goals so the emergence of Warnock (beaten by Brown, but not humiliated), Garland (good again) and Martin (solid first game) will be important to any success we're going to have for the rest of the season.

Injury Watch
Saw Brent Moloney with his arm in a sling. Didn't think it was appropriate to point out that his Facebook profile picture makes me him look like he's off his chops (hey, we share a friend ok?) in case he swatted me with the good hand and injured that as well. Or pulled his groin, which is always a danger when he's involved.

Draft Watch
Theoretically this means we might not finish last. As it stands I think we'll beat West Coast, and have a good chance of knocking over Essendon. What does it all mean? Well it means we might be conceding the number 1 pick to West Coast or Fremantle. Does it really matter? If you can't get a gun with one of the top 3 picks then you're on crack or you're Craig Cameron. Which brings us neatly into...

Ruck Watch
Jamar played most of the game in the centre and held his own, while Johnson pinch hit in the ruck and did some great work around the ground (How good was that chasedown and tackle?) Do we still need Jeff White? I think we do, however is there any merit in playing him in the forward line predominantly over the next few weeks? We still need a ruckman, which is what might end up landing us Naitanui anyway even if there are a couple of key position forward prospects pushing into the top 5 selections. There's some talk about getting Warnock from Freo, and now that it appears his brother will buy himself at least one more year on the list that might be a goer. As it stands Johnson is so vastly improved that his spot on the list is cemented, White probably has one more year left in him and Jamar is wobbling IF we can land another ruck. Watch this space.

2008 Allen Jakovich Medal Votes

5 - Brad Green (Our foremost practioner of what the Dutch would call Total Football)
4 - Matthew Whelan (Back to his best, adding composure and poise to an inexperienced backline)
3 - Brad Miller (Playing the football of his life. Confidence is high.)
2 - Chris Johnson (33 touches but plenty in the second half that were butchered. Great to see him have the confidence to be the go to man though)
1 - Paul Johnson (Probably our breakout player of the season so far)

Massive apologies to Sylvia and Wheatley who deserved a point or two but couldn't get a run. You might argue Sylvia to replace Johnson, but in the balance of things I thought Johnno was damaging right across the ground which just nudged him in front of Colin.

Moderate apologies to Bate, Bruce, Davey, Dunn, Garland, Jamar (1 kick, 11 handballs! 25 hitouts though and certainly didn't have his colors lowered) and THE CELEBRATOR.

Leaderboard
23 - Nathan Jones
21 - Brock McLean
20 - Brad Green
18 - Cameron Bruce
14 - Matthew Bate
12 - James McDonald
10 - Austin Wonaeamirri (Leader: 2008 Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
10 - Brad Miller
9 - Aaron Davey
9 - Cale Morton
9 - Paul Johnson
7 - Lynden Dunn
7 - Colin Garland (Leader: 2008 Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
6 - Jared Rivers
5 - Brent Moloney
5 - Chris Johnson
4 - Clint Bartram
4 - Matthew Whelan
3 - Nathan Carroll
3 - Matthew Warnock
3 - Jeff White
3 - Paul Wheatley
2 - Russell Robertson
1 - Mark Jamar
1 - Shane Valenti
1 - Adem Yze

Laughing Stock League
Haven't had one of these for a while, I'd say it looks a bit like this at the moment

13. Port Adelaide
14. Melbourne
15. Fremantle
16. West Coast

Essendon the big movers, and how good is it to be out of the bottom two on at least one ladder?

Crowd Watch
23k. Looked like about 4500 at the first bounce but they came from somewhere. Again we were almost outdrawn by the away fans. And in case you were wondering, that was THE CELEBRATOR's dad sitting with Jim Stynes and not the exiled Zimbabwean opposition leader. Sorry Mr. CELEBRATOR.

Congratulations to the guy in front of me who insisted on calling Brisbane "the Roys" all day. Keep the dream alive sir - it certainly looked like a Fitzroy game crowd. Shame that he had to be an unsufferable crunt in the last quarter when Bradshaw kicked the 'winning' goal. Respect lost, sucked in hard.

Next Week
Nothing. Funny how we've won two games this year and had a week off afterwards both times. After that top of the table Footscray - hoorah! That'll be a test.

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