How often has it happened that a few hours before a game I've been completely disinterested and wondering whether there wasn’t something more important I could be doing instead. Then three minutes before the bounce I'm about to go the big David Parkin style vom all over the place. Is it just me? Surely not.
Well, I wasn't planning to go the vom a'la that kid at the Richmond game last year for a pre-season match played under 'experimental' rules anytime soon, but in honour of it being the first proper match in front of our very own eyes this year pre-match angst and anxiety came early and at 3pm just as I crossed the road a bicycle courier nearly bowled me over ploughing through a red light and I found myself hurling uncouth abuse at him. That sort of thing doesn’t happen outside footy season. It certainly hasn't happened on that intersection since last year when an argument with a junkie in a Carlton hat ended with him being told that no Carlton fan was ever going to get a cent from me. Obviously they should all do what J**d does and get a job mopping the floor at Visy for 500k a year.
So, how did we end up at Docklands in the second week proper of the pre-season, and not Mt. Gambier or Cairns like we usually do? For those of you who have spent the last fortnight being shot at by death squads in Libya here's a short recap.
We qualified for the quarter final - and never has the idea of "making the quarters" been as discredited as it is in this tournament - by virtue of rising above the worst new rules ever invented to win not just one, but two games in Adelaide for the first time since It Wasn't Me by Shaggy was number one (no really, and what followed it is even more dated) and Essendon got in by sneaking a draw against St Kilda which they proceeded to celebrate like they'd just won World War II. For the first time in his life Steven Milne was right when he politely informed them that they had in fact actually not won and were making fools of themselves.
With the Bombers also having ruthlessly dispatched the spoon-elect Lions they topped their group and caused every depressed red and black wearing freak in the country to shudder with glee at the prospect of a Hird led revival carrying them to a flag this year.
But you would celebrate a pre-season win of sorts if you were a 'big' side who has done bugger all for the best part of a decade. I'd rather have played St Kilda, because like us they're used to being shit and winning nothing. Nobody is going to run around with their arms aloft like they’d just won the Olympic 100m sprint if we win a meaningless game. Essendon are our sporting equivalent of that fantastic video of Gadaffi giving an interview in his car and talking about the rain. Once feared regional strongmen, capable of great damage, now reduced to sitting in the metaphorical car holding a philosophical umbrella and rambling like sad old bagladies about past, and perceived future, glories.
I expect that after 22 years of winning absolutely nothing there'd be a few mild scenes of joy if we won a pre-season cup, and you'll have to wait another season at least for that, and you’d buy the DVD just to watch it once and stash it away never to be viewed again, but let’s not treat the novelty rules gimmick cup like it means anything in the grand scheme of things. Do I need to show you pictures of Carlton fans/supporters going off their collective norgs after a NAB Cup victory shortly before turning in seasons that would have made the Brisbane Bears go red with shame. That won’t be necessary, especially because one of those years they won 3.5 games and two of them were against us.
The most distressing thing about pre-season games is having to pay to watch them. At least you used to get a discount if you were a club member. Then Docklands came along and it was generosity out, corporate greed and $25 hot dogs in. Hooray then for one of the major sponsors realising that nobody cares and handing out free tickets to anybody who'd have them. If I'd had to pay for what we watched tonight I might very well have taken the Medallion Club approach and started reading a book five minutes in.
What did happen to discounts for club members? I notice AFL Members can walk in the door for free but the people who support the clubs directly get dicked. My theory is that the cut price offers got the boot once they stopped having to bribe people to go and watch this sort of garbage at Waverley. It can't have helped playing the game on a Thursday night but discounts for the 50,000 odd combined members of the two clubs might have helped them pull a crowd slightly bigger than what North get for a match against Freo.
Our fans won't go to Etihad at the best of times (and isn't the home game against the Eagles there going to be an uplifting experience) but even with the "ZOMG! We are back!" factor amongst the Bombers fans there were still less people in the stadium than who have boffed the St Kilda girl. I'm not complaining mind you, 40,000 at Docklands is like 350,000 at any real stadium. More than happy to sit anywhere, not have to wait nineteen hours to do anything and avoid being crushed to death trying to get out of the vile place.
Despite my earlier claims of not ralphing over a pre-season game that's precisely what I spent four quarter almost doing. It was nothing to do with tension mind you, but what it did do was succeed in almost completely taking my attention of the match for the rest of the night while attempting to avoid disgracing myself and causing another rift in the cleaners union when somebody is ordered to clean up after.
Realistically there were two options. Go home and watch the rest of the match live on Fox while lying sideways on my floor trying to keep the beast at bay or give in to the epic power of whatever had poisoned me and spend half an hour with my head in an Etihad Stadium bog. Two problems - one, I would rather stick my head in a public convenience for 30 minutes than listen to Fox Sports commentary when I didn't have to and two anybody who has ever been to a football match in their life knows that football fans treat public bathrooms with sheer contempt and after ten years of the place being cleaned by people who are probably being paid $5 an hour and couldn't be reasonably expected to actually care there's no way I'm putting my head anywhere near that.
Anyway, just talking about it is making me feel ill again - and in a appropriate nod to option one from above I am writing this while lying down on my loungeroom floor - so if I absolutely must let's look at the match itself, what I remember of it anyway and that's that the first quarter was an utter shambles. You know any game is going to be shit when you cop a goal in the first thirty seconds, but when we went from two down to one in front with three in a row I thought the bugs had been ironed out and we were well on the way to a Semi Final for the first time since Adelaide spanked us in '06 and the proto-AFL mobile website spent the whole evening telling me that it was us rampaging to victory only to get home and find out that we'd actually been thumped.
Forget the fact that the midfielders could barely get near it when it hit the deck, Essendon players were running around without an opponent anywhere near them and even when we did manage to get it past half-forward we didn't appear to be playing with a forward line. Bombing it hopefully inside 50 to a two-on-one or a hopelessly outgunned small forward was the theme of the evening.
Meanwhile to nobody's surprise the first time the ball went out of bounds we were treated to half a stadium calling for a free kick in an utter refusal by the public, a'la the people who sat there at the first Grand Final wondering why everybody was leaving before extra time, to follow what the rules are. Not their fault, if the league didn't change them every bloody week there'd be more certainty. And who am I to name and shame people who weren't keeping up, I had to look up who #44 was at one point because I'd forgotten Rohan Bail existed.
I'm well aware that we're going for this swashbucking end-to-end total football stuff, and on the off chance that it actually works properly (once tonight maybe?) it looks magnificent but in scenes as old as time itself we kept winning the ball in the midfield and looking forward to find nobody there. It started early, it kept on going, it makes me want to neck myself. Watts looked good playing out of the square two weeks ago, but tonight he was all at sea further up the ground. Not surprisingly the one time he got a goal was when the ball was on the deck inside 50.
So, just when you thought we'd turned the corner it all went horribly wrong and the Bombers forwards caused our entire backline to shit themselves and turn the ball over at every opportunity. If Hardingham (fake name?) hadn't hit the post after turning Macdonald inside out and making him look stupid we'd have been toast at the first break - and we'd have deserved it to. Criminally after that barrage we almost went into quarter time in a competitive, near healthy, state. First My Chemical Maric joined the hallowed club of MFC 9 point goalkickers (a list which, bizarrely, includes Al Nicholson) then Watts won his free and goalled and the margin was unexpectedly and undeservedly back to within our range.
Of course when you follow Melbourne nothing is so simple as to actually make the comeback, you have to get rorted by the umpires at least once. Cue the poor man's (though clearly better on the night) Davey brother having the goal umpire shepherd his kick through the goals off his plums when it was bang on line to smack into the post for a point. Way to kill the momentum, but bloody hell how many times did we neck ourselves during the quarter?
The obsession with trying to kick nine point goals every farking time when other players were on or they could have run further was one thing, but then to concede one to them which flops over the line with nobody to rush it through was criminal, dumb football. Again we got a late goal to make it respectable via the Jurrahcane but everything already pointed to us either getting done or stealing it in criminal fashion. Our kick-ins were reduced to the same old get out kick to the boundary line 50m out and Essendon players were running around 20m on their own yet somehow managing to outnumber our lot whenever they got the ball.
Yet again they jumped us in the third quarter, and yet again it was only stuffed up chances that kept us in the game. By the time Dunn, looking even more ridiculous than even having dyed his mo darker a'la Hitler/Charlie Chaplin/Ron Mael from Sparks, proved that his run with set shots last year was no fluke we were playing catch up again. And surprise, surprise once again when the quarter ended we were back in the game having dominated the last ten minutes. Emo Maric even gave the slightest hint of a smile when he kicked his third to drag the margin back to ten points. On the strength of his performance so far MCM is straight into my starting 21 + 1 with a bullet. Poor old Aussie Wonaeamirri might never be seen again if Maric keeps going like he has been.
But before football's most depressed player goalled, for about five minutes it was all Jurrah. First he missed an easy snap then made up for it by dancing through half the Bombers defence to kick a goal. His pass to Bate capped off a cracking five minutes, but as he seems to do so often now Old Bate missed and it was all wasted. Given that we were being slaughtered on the inside 50's count, and dare I say it without looking the contested possessions as well, he needed to do better. I've been a long term Bate sympathiser but he's got to do something this year after seven on the list and six since he debuted. I wake in terror during the night after dreaming that he becomes the next Brad Miller and ends his career tortured by unfulfilled promise while kicking Richmond's only goal of a pre-season thrashing.
We should have been able to do ten points in a canter, especially after having an extra week's break, but right from the start Bailey showed a near Paul Roos like level of disinterest in the pre-season by starting the supposedly cutthroat final term with The Spencil at the centre bounce. Apart from one big grab in the back line I will be charitable and just say that it didn't work.
Jamar had been decidedly ordinary around the ground all night, but at least he was winning the taps. I'm all for giving him a rest but surely the first ten minutes of the last term are a good time to play the stars then if it doesn't work you can pack everybody away and start the gruesome experiments. How about when he went up for the contest with Ryder and somehow the Bombers got a goal out of it? I think the ball hit the deck and miraculously bounced right back into Ryder's hands, possibly off somebody's foot, but it still made me pine for the farcical scenes of Sylvia contesting the centre bounce in Darwin last year.
We've got to play him, with the ruck stocks we've got he's always one injury away from being our starter, but I can't be the only one who will be sacrificing live animals to try and get Max Gawn up and going at some point this season. I'm still a bit iffy about them not going out and getting an experienced, big bodied ruckman** in the rookie draft just as cover in case Jamar goes down and nobody else can even get the taps right, but given that Spencer has been promoted to the senior list now - and is presumably here for at least the next two seasons he'd want to give us some sort of signs of life soon. Will we actually live to regret giving Paul Johnson the arse? I never thought I'd say that. Martin looks like next cab off the rank, but he went from end to end tonight and wound up with the grand total of zero kicks.
[** UPDATE - 9.17am. Obviously I forgot that Robert Campbell existed. Look, I was ill ok?]
Also likely to be requesting that the tape of the last quarter is set on fire and thrown off a cliff was Joel Macdonald. He'd been average to ok at best until then but he's prone to playing a shit quarter and my god that was a ripper. The free against him when he ignored Grimes and got pinged trying to dance out of trouble was just the start of it. Then he hit the Clothesline from Hell on somebody, which he'll surely get reported for, then proceeded to get done for another free seconds later.
Nightmare stuff, and considering we'd already been deflated by Mark Williams cheating his way to a mark to get the first goal there would have been MFC stickered 4WD's driving off Central Pier into the water by the thousands had it been a real game. The thing that gave away the fact that he grassed it even before the replay clearly exposed that he was lying through his teeth about having caught it was the guilty way he held the ball up in the air to try and convince the umpire it was legitimate.
Spencer and Macdonald weren't alone though, apart from Jurrah taking mark of the (pre) year, everyone else gave up halfway through the last quarter as well. The only thing that made sitting through that rubbish worthwhile was the rockstar reception that Hird got when they showed him on the screen just before the siren. Yes, a pre-season quarter final win is now worth standing ovations and adulation. I'm sticking with the theory that the first calls to SEN from aggrieved Bombers fans trying to sack him will come by round four.
As tempting as it may be let's not be totally uncomplimentary to Essendon, they certainly deserved it more. When they were cutting us to shreds on either side of our three goal burst early we looked truly awful. Just don't act like you're suddenly the next big thing because you showed a bit. I remember we used to be extremely average (or as the kids say 'shit') in the pre-season even when we were good.
So, I've come home and kicked the metaphorical cat by writing this yet I think I'll be over it tomorrow. Let's talk about panic and drama after Round One when Trent Dennis-Lane kicks nine and Craig Bird has 34 possessions.
The upside tonight is that nobody got hurt, Jones looked good in his first game for the year, all of Strauss/Evans/Howe showed something, there are players to come back, we've been given the necessary short, sharp shock that should help Bailey and co refocus on getting it right for the regular season and that The Spencil is about 200-1 to ever be our starting ruck in the fourth quarter ever again.
Long term readers will know about my feelings on the AFL website. Now, I might be wrong here but have they replaced the play-by-play descriptions on their Match Centre with mindless chat for 15-year-olds?
Thank god, not for the first time, for fanfooty.com.au who despite being a primarily DreamTeam/Supercoach focused site have match logs that put the idiots on millions running the official AFL site to shame.
Paul Prymke Plate for Pre Season Performance votes
The following votes are given with zero confidence, but if I refused to give votes every time I wasn't sure if anybody deserved them there would have been people winning awards on single figure totals over the last four years.
5 - Jack Grimes
4 - Colin Sylvia
3 - Addam Maric
2 - Liam Jurrah
1 - Jack Trengove
Apologies in varying degrees to Bennell, Dunn, Jamar, Jones, Moloney and Rivers.
This is where it starts getting iffy. If we play somewhere sensible next week and either myself or a Demonblog special reporter can do votes the PPPFPSP leaderboard will maintain some integrity. If not the whole thing will be reliant on the almost certainly invented report by some 15-year-old AAP cadet who just named the first five people who he/she could find on the net.
14 – Colin Sylvia
10 - Jack Grimes
5 - Colin Garland
4 - Stefan Martin
4 – Rohan Bail
4 - Liam Jurrah
3 – Tom Scully
3 - Aaron Davey
3 - Mark Jamar
3 - Addam Maric
2 – James Strauss
2 - Neville Jetta
1 – Jared Rivers
1 - Jack Watts
1 - Jack Trengove
Sometime post-draft and pre-Christmas I declared myself sick of football and resolved to take a break. Then I read the Flower, Stynes, Jacko, Barassi, Trish Broadbridge and Schwarz books, a shitload of old newspapers, some 80's records and ancient annual reports. Obsessed? Why yes indeed.
As a result of this furious campaign for historical perspective Demon Wiki is now over 5100 pages and quite frankly most of it is utterly useless unless you're looking for somebody specific or played reserves in 1988 and want to see it acknowledged online.
Is there any point to it all? Not really. Still, feel free to pass the URL onto fellow MFC travellers. I'm comfortable with Demonblog being a deep, dark secret - because let's face it how would you explain this slop to the wider public? - but I'd like more people to know that DW is the comprehensive source of MFC information in the world. Too bloody comprehensive perhaps, but tell that to Keith Goonewardene fans.
Time to start consulting your set of leather bound touring maps for directions to Omeo and Mt Gambier. Or Princes Park if we're lucky. It wouldn't be the first time a "regional challenge" match has been played in the rural centre of Parkville, but it also wouldn't be the first time they've taken the piss and scheduled it for 4pm on a Thursday.
Keeping watching @demonblog on Twitter for your chance to be a special guest reporter if you haven't got anything better to do than go to a game in the middle of the day. First it helped oust Ben Elton's god awful TV show and now it can make you a special guest reporter. Is there anything Twitter can't do?
Was it worth it? Of course not, I'd rather give myself third degree burns with a branding iron than sit through four quarters of that garbage again. It's going to be a long, long grind from here to 2.10pm on Sunday 27 March.