Saturday, 27 March 2010

No mas, No mas...

... That's what Roberto Duran said halfway through the eighth round of his fight with Sugar Ray Leonard when he lost interest in life and quit the fight.

About ten minutes into the third quarter today I was thinking the same thing about season 2010.

Every year you like to think that things are going to get better, that you're a flag/finals/not-spoon contender (delete as applicable) and that no matter how the dubious pre-season form looked that come the first bounce of round one everything will be ok. "Sydney never win pre-season games!" we cry as if that has any bearing on our performance. We went into the MCG this afternoon saying "I'll take a six goal loss" but somewhere deep down wondered what would happen if we pulled off a R1 1997 style miracle upset. By 2.10pm the butterflies were in the stomach and you almost convinced yourself that we could win. Then we got thrashed.

Last year I came on after round one, told it like it was and got slaughtered by everybody for being too negative. Well kids, hold on because it's going to be a bumpy ride from here. There were positives, and we'll get to them somewhere in the middle of the discussion about fork-toaster interfaces, but BY JOVE there are some worrying signs as well.

Best on ground in the first half was clearly the guy who did the motorcycle jumping before the match. Didn't think it looked particuarly impressive when they were setting it up, but bloody hell what a nutcase when he got up there. Especially for a guy doing his first public trick since stacking it and busting half the bones in his body last year. Makes our injuries look pissweak in comparison. Thought I heard them say he was a Melbourne member too - which would probably explain why he was there in the first place - and that fact alone almost snuck him into the votes the way we were going.

You knew today wasn't going to be one to trouble the highlight reel when Spencer went to FF at the first bounce. Sure he booted a couple in that intra-club match a few weeks ago but let's be serious for a minute here. Did we really need another tall forward? Do they have that little confidence in Miller and Bate? (well, as it turns out..) I'd much rather have seen Maric down there, and in hindsight two of the moves I've called for over the last couple of years - Davey and Dunn into the forward line - were failures. But what did I ever know?

As it was Flash almost had the first goal, and just like that pre-season match against Essendon a few weeks ago we dominated the first couple of minutes without capitalising on it. Green also could have had one but his allegedly perfect set shot skills deserted him as they have pretty much every time since he got the reputation as a deadly set shot.

And then just like in the Essendon match when the opposition realised that they were playing against a pox side they fired up and put us to the sword. The problem this time was that we were getting it forward, but every time it went anywhere near our forward line the play would break down and Hawthorn would go forward and score. So far, so 2007-2009. Other first quarter bombs included Grimes in the middle, Miller killing Bate in a marking contest and the over-reliance on Strauss as a defensive playmaker.

We were ridiculously bad going inside fifty. I'd love to see stats on what the average quarter time score is for an AFL team in the last couple of years, because by my count that's the fifth time since Bailey took over that we haven't kicked a goal in the first quarter. Add to that TEN more games where we've only had one in the opening term. That is a damning, purely ridiculous stat. By way of comparison, and I'm not even sure it means anything, Daniher only had 7 scoreless first terms in 9.5 years.

The longer the quarter went on the worse we got. Eventually we weren't even getting inside 50 before they got it back out again. And after we'd struggled for what seemed like hours to get the ball out of the Hawks backline they'd get the thing and just score at will even with kids and first gamers. Thank christ they didn't have Franklin, Rioli, Batemen or any decent ruckmen or we'd have been slaughtered. After the first three minutes which we had dominated Hawthorn just smashed us from pillar to post for the next ten minutes. The only respite we had from them bitch slapping us was when Green was carried off after getting crunched. Thank christ he was alright because when he went down I was all ready for hari-kari if we had another top ten player go down with a serious injury.

The break enabled us to regroup and.. serve up pretty much the same slop as the last three years. We tried to flood them out of the game but in a classic piece of AFL coaching it was done without a goal on the board. No surprises that eventually our clueless gameplan ended in shambles. It's a fair mark of confidence to give a first gamer the kick-in duties against the best kick-in defenders in the competition, and to his credit Strauss got it right a couple of times but the worrying thing was when the person he kicked it to had no idea what to do next and went back to him. No surprises when it eventually went horribly wrong and ended in an Australia's Funniest Home Videos style goal. He's not ready yet, and could do with a couple of weeks back at Casey to hone his game. Then there was SCULLGOVE - more on them later.

Six goals down at quarter time and I presume had there been any Melbourne fans sitting anywhere near us we would have heard the deafening sound of deflating expectations. Nobody seriously expected to win, and only the most optimistic/deluded think we're anything other than a bottom four side, but if the coaching staff and club are going to keep bandying around the word "competitive" they'll want to make sure that the side actually is at some point. Preferably in the first term, not the last ten minutes when we're ten goals behind. In my wildest dreams I would never have expected us to be in front at the first change, but bloody hell within a couple of goals would have been nice. It's not to say they weren't trying hard, but.. Well who knows what they were doing. Enthusiasm can only take you so far.

I thought the backline, with the exception of Rivers, was pretty ordinary early on but as usual - broken record time - if the ball goes down there enough they will get scored heavily against. Joel Mac had a pox first half (but recovered late), and Frawley's kicking terrifies me. Would love to see Garland down there again at some point. Not sure about Bennell at the moment either - he veered wildly between promising and awful in the second half of last season and has provided much more of the latter so far this year.

Luckily Hawthorn lost the ability to kick straight early in the second quarter or we would have been completely smashed (more so..) Finally Petterd got the ball 30m out on a relatively good angle.. and botched the kick. We almost got the 7pt play, and goal of the year, when Hawthorn botched the kick-in and Davey smashed one out of the air but he missed and we stayed on zero. Every time this happens I sit there and say "you know what, one of these days we're not going to kick a goal at all", knowing full well that it's almost impossible not to get at least one eventually. We went close in that Adelaide game last season, and today it looked bloody likely for a while. ONE DAY IT WILL HAPPEN MARK MY WORDS, and that's the day when there will be ritual suicide on the ground after the second siren (please stay off the centre square).

The forward setup and delivery was so god damn awful today that I'm surprised we even got a mark inside 50. Bate and Miller were having a nightmare, Spencer isn't a forward's cornhole and Petterd couldn't get anywhere near it. Dunn was there but wasn't offering much. I'm hereby suspending the action faction I started to campaign for his future - it's mostly to do with the ridiculous porno mo he's sporting in his profile picture this year, I'm not sure I can see that on the big screen every week for a year. Besides, he's a tremendously entertaining figure at Casey where you can stand on the fence and hear him swear loudly.

What made it worse was that every single goal Hawthorn kicked caused the guy sitting in front of us to jump to his feet like a teenage girl at a Miley Cyrus concert. That's fine if you're young and impressionable but this guy was middle aged and balding. He was a pleasant enough guy, and eventually apologised profusely when he realised how fucking annoying he was but bloody hell how low is the bar when you're getting UAA for slamming home goals against the worst team in the world? Same goes for that Scottish clown who always calls SEN and was on at half time talking up how the Hawks were heading straight for the top four. Deserved to cop a boot fair up the kilt for that load of old bollocks. The Port fans at Football Park last year had the right idea, as they smashed us to pieces in the second quarter the people around me just clapped politely. They knew full well that they were getting charity goals against a naff side.

Eventually after what seemed like years, and probably actually was, Jamar went forward and instantly did what Spencer will never do in a thousand years - took a contested mark and converted the goal. Glorious. Have I told you recently how much I love the Russian? Feel free to go back and drag out old posts from 2003-2008 where I slaughter him for being terrible, there were a lot of them, but right now he's one of my favourite players. We looked better for a couple of minutes after the Jamar goal but surprise, surprise it all fell apart and Hawthorn got two goals to take a 56 point lead into half time. Shades of R1 2008 all over again. Like that day we kicked one goal in the first half but were 15 points closer. Today we'd at least kicked a point more, 1.5 then, 1.6 now. As that crackhead bloke from Matchbox 20 once said, "let's see how far we've come". The answer is obviously not very far.

Positives to half time? Not many. I was pretty happy with our intensity, but that's only going to get you so far. At some point you are going to need to actually kick something approaching a winning score, and we just - do - not - look - like - doing - that - at - any - time. And it's a pain in the arse because guys like Miller have been threatening to be dangerous for so long that we're just over it. How far away is Watts? Hopefully we can get him down there in a few weeks and start trying to build some sort of new forward line. I don't rate The SME as a magnificent forward, in fact at times he barely qualifies as an average one, but if Jamar is going to ruck 80/90% of the game I'd much rather have Martin in the forward line than Spencer. At least if the defence gets pounded you can switch Stef down there. Is it going to help? God I don't know, but we've got to have some options even if they're decidedly uninspiring.

Brad Green came back for the third term - because he's a gun - but it seems that he was the only person who bothered to show up because Hawthorn went absolutely coco bananas and by the ten minute mark we were 80 points behind. Bad things were about to happen. Open up any old Melbourne forum you like, your 'land, your 'ology, your Big Footy, and look at the threads on there. People are going off their nut. Imagine if Hawthorn had pressed on and beaten us by 120 points? The internet would have collapsed under the weight of distress. The thought is terrifying, especially for those of us who consider ourselves to be moderate in our internet spazzing out (says the guy writing about 20,000 words about the game). Would have been like the end of the world.

The thing was Hawthorn weren't actually that impressive. I certainly wouldn't be rushing to have money on them for the top four. Definately a finals side, especially with the players they have to return, but how many times did we give them the ball on a plate? They're not going to get that every week. And if there's any justice in the world we're not going to give it to teams every week either. Sadly as we all know there is no such thing as justice and we'll continue to be the most generous hosts in the competition for many weeks to come.

Late in the quarter fighter jets flew over the ground as part of the grand prix entertainment. Unfortunately just as it would have been welcomed they failed to open fire on the ground and bomb us all back into the stone age. My highlight of the quarter was McDonald getting away with the most obvious deliberate of all time. It was karmic payback for the criminally bad one he copped in the last 30 seconds of the match against Port in 2007. Lest we forget that being the decision that caused me to go spaz and kick a bin over - happy days. Unfortunately the difference was that day we were fighting for victory and today we were fighting to avoid being 250 points behinds. It's time for that song again - it might be close to the worst track ever recorded but it's apt for us.

We won the last quarter, but that was like starving for two weeks in the desert then being handed a tofu burger. Hawthorn not only put the cue in the rack, they put their feet up on the couch, lit a pipe and had a brandy. At least we took advantage of it, it could have been ugly otherwise. Finally the forward line started looking like something worthwhile of AFL football - Petterd showed that he has inherited Robbo's role of junk time specialist. Additionally Grimes and MacDonald were much better in the second half. Ridiculously had Ricky P kicked the goal on the final siren we'd have avoided being last on the ladder after round one. Providing nobody gets thrashed by ten goals or more in the next couple of days we lost by the same margin as Richmond and only kicked three points less. Cheers Clarko, you're a mate.

Miller got a couple of goals but he was generally awful. The two goals, and a dearth of other forward options, might be all that saves him. I can't remember if he's under contact next year or not but does anybody doubt that if Bailey randomly ends up in conversation with Guy McKenna at some point that he won't casually mention how young Brad is a native Queenslander. Hell, more matches like today and Deano will be trying to find Guy's number to call him and yell TAKE MY GOOD LOOKING BUT USELESS FORWARD PLEASE. Even my mother who has been running the "but he's so attractive" line since 2003 couldn't bring herself to defend him today, and had already walked out in disgust by the time he kicked his second goal.

Davey was pretty ordinary, but it's no surprise that he didn't go near it early on when he was up forward and we couldn't get the ball anywhere near the place. As much as I hate to say it, because it feels like a step backwards, I feel like he needs to go back and do what he did last year. We need some poise in that backline to go with the grunt - Rivers is a pretty good user but only by defender standards. If/when Bennell can do it then let him but sadly Davey is probably more use there than he is forward. Moloney was fairly anonymous (though I'm shocked to see he had 22 touches) and Jones didn't have a great game either.

Spencer, Bate and Miller were abysmal. The other two have form but Bate was astonishgly bad. I choose to believe it's got something to do with Miller the goose crashing into him during the first term. Absolutely nothing he did came off. We've got to keep playing him because he's too good to be running around at Casey, but he'll want to watch the tape of today a couple of times for educational purposes and then throw it into a fire. Ridiculously Spencer managed to rack up a kicking efficiency of 100% when his one decent effort all day - intercepting a kick and delivering inside 50 - came off perfectly. Other than that he was exhibiting spud-like qualities in ways that would make an Irishman blush.

Anyway, if you're feeling poorly about today just think about the guy who had 100 grand on Hawthorn at -59.5 at quarter time. When they were 80 points in front he must have been dusting off the champers and deciding what he was going to do with his extra 87k in the phone betting account. Sucked in you clown. People with more money than brains like that deserve everything they get.

Finally I'd like to announce that due to his performance today I'm provisionally promoting Brad Green to my favourite player. I have manlove for The SME, but poor Brad must have woken up from his coma, looked at the scoreboard and wondered why the hell he didn't take the deal to join Collingwood. Then he came back, went 100%, never dropped his head and probably would have been our best player but for lack of time on ground. That's he's got my vote for our next captain. Legend.

Coaching Corner
I've got my concerns about the way we're going but I'm not going to go "spit at Spud Frawley over the fence" spaz yet. Having said that if we don't improve this year then the famous one year contract extension for Bailey is going to become a massive story. The stated reason for doing it was to avoid the "will they or won't they" media circus halfway through the season, but is it better or worse to have the media on your back than your own fans?

And make no mistake people are going to go off their chop this year if things don't at least seem to be coming good. You can argue all you like about rebuilding but people want to see some tangible improvement, it's not like 1979 where you can hide behind being poor and unable to recruit players. The system gifts you with one or more of the best 20 players in the country every year and you have to make something of that. We might have been unable to get big name players (mainly due to them being TURNCOAT BASTARDS), but we've got so many top twenty picks on our list now that people are going to want to see something soon. Guys like Jones aren't getting any better, and the likes of Dunn and Maric have gigantic question marks above them. Bailey and team can argue they didn't pick some of these guys, but bloody nora let's get serious and say that most of the players we had on the list when they took over haven't improved.

Now, here's a stat for you. Were we to finish last this season Dean Bailey would be the first coach in VFL/AFL history to ever coach three straight full wooden spoon seasons. University (and former Melbourne) coach Gerald Brosnan had three but a year off between the second and third, and Graham Gellie at St Kilda presided over three straight last place finishes in the 80's but only took control of the team in round 4 of the first one. That would make DB the first have a full pre-season with his players for three years and finish last in each of them. Wild. And this in the draft era? For now I'm choosing to drink the Stynes/Schwab KoolAid and believe that something big is going to happen, but I can see why people are starting to turn. Should be fun to see just how crazy the punters go throughout the year - and at what point I flip out and join them in burning effigies a'la Indian cricket fans.

Is anyone still reading this? You deserve a medal, how about a Player Of The Year that none of the players deserve?

2010 Allen Jakovich Medal VOTES OF SHAME
5 - James McDonald
4 - Mark Jamar (Leader: Strawbs O'Dwyer Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
3 - Jordie McKenzie
2 - Brad Green
1 - Jared Rivers (Leader: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)

Apologies to Grimes (second half), Petterd (last quarter), Trengove and Scully

I don't give a rats arse what the newspapers and/or AFL website say, I'm not giving anything to Bruce, Moloney or Davey.

McDonald had 21 touches, won five free tickets and laid ten tackles. His disposals weren't spectacular, but who's were? Mr 100% Spencer? Actually somebody else did deliver at 100%, and that was Jamar. For him to have 11 touches, get all over them right and take 3 contested marks says to me that he's continued his career best form of '09. Now the issue is for him to play more than a handful of games. I found it hard to split the two for the 5 votes but eventually went for seniority. Besides, if I gave my new love child maximum votes there might be a Tiger Woods-esque scandal.

I'm surprised to go on a couple of forums and see people listing them amongst their worst players. Makes no sense to me but that's democracy for you. Until I'm a celebrity and can order executions at will it'll have to be the way.

Jordie was encouraging despite his farcical name. Looked comfortable for a 4th gamer, laid 11 tackles, used the ball pretty well and even managed to kick his first goal. Sadly for him he misses out on being eligible for the Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year by one week (played in R17 last season).

As for Scullgove I can sense a future of being abused for not slotting them into the votes, but I just couldn't manage it. They were both super impressive but didn't use it well enough for mine to slip into the votes. It was a toss up for one between JR and JT and in the end my sick fascination with defenders won out. Suffice to say they will both be racking up votes by the MILLION in years/weeks to come.

Crowd Watch
There's two things I hate about Hawthorn. One is their fans who don't put a number on the jumper despite the fact that the farking things are MADE FOR IT. There's a big white square there, DO SOMETHING WITH IT. The next is putting the years of membership on the scarf - would make me even more unlikely to wear it if we did that. Now you can add another, on the back of their members hat it says "2010 LOYAL MEMBER". What the hell does that mean? Sure if we did one then half of the members would have be sent one that read 2010 Queen's Birthday Bandwagon Arsehole, but that's not the point. Shambles of a statement to put on a hat.

Speaking of merchandise there was a wild rumor, presented as fact, on the radio at half time that there were bins in the 'G full of our 2010 membership scarves. I can't believe it, especially given that surely nobody went to the effort of actually going to collect the scarf and expected that we would be any good. Still, I love a good conspiracy theory.

AM/FM Watch
Started listening to Triple M, but about five minutes in I realised why I could never take 3AW. Rex Hunt called the first five minutes like it was the last five minutes of a Grand Final. It was pretty painful. Surely the first few minutes of a call are a slow build and unless something truly interesting happens you keep a lid on it. Old Mr "The Girl's Happy" just went off like a porkchop from the first bounce and had absolutely zero chemistry with the rest of the team who conspicuously couldn't help talking about Brian Taylor.

At quarter time I pulled the pin and went to 3AW, but the reception in the ground was atrocious. It was like listening to the BBC World Service from the bottom of a tin mine in the Congo, the one highlight being the bizarre effect it put on Matthew Richardson's voice which made him sound like a boy who has just had his voice break. Remember when they said changing to 693 would make it easier to get reception?

Eventually settled on SEN. Anything that means not having to listen to the ABC. Whatever, it did the job. Except that they were convinced Bennell was Davey. Should have washed their mouths out.

Next Week
Collingwood at the MCG. They should smash us but for the love of Philthy please let us have learnt some lessons from today. Any danger Sylvia might be ready to go?

On a panic scale ranging from Robbie Flower (least worried) to Isaac Weetra (positively terrified) I'm ranking somewhere around Craig Ellis.

Final Thoughts
The Melbourne fan standing in front of me on the train had a hospital tag around his wrist. Fairly apt I would have thought.

6 comments:

  1. Jake Spencer's output today matched his hairstyle... shit.

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  2. Got to remember Jamar probably just played on the weakest ruck division he will face all year. Unless he plays us...

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  3. To be honest I thought his ruckwork was the least interesting thing the Russian did today.

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  4. Agree on your votes completely.

    The think I am most worried about is confidence now. We all know we have potential to be a lot better than we were today. But how on earth do you bounce back from that kind of rubbish?

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  5. I've not had a number on my jumper since Hilton's 22, but the Russian is putting forth a strong case for 40 to be tacked on.
    On another note; watching Collingwood now and us yesterday makes me glad i'll be out bush next weekend to miss the toothless ferals tear us a new one.

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  6. Looking back (and I found myself running away after we were down 13 goals to 1) Jamar has to be the only real highlight (aside from Green's comeback). I really like the idea of him up forward, strong over head, decent kick, huge bloke. Can anyone else see him as a mid-career position swap? Surely Martin is capable in the ruck, and if Johnson can be less of a tard, that could be a good-ish option, at least until Watts hatches from his cocoon.

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