Friday Night, the gates are low, it's presumably going to rain and of all the places we could have been sent to start the season we're going to Adelaide. Even a match in Wellington a'la 1998 seems like a better proposition, at least we've got a winning record there.
Still, it's only the NAB Cup so does it really matter what happens? Fox Sports didn't even bother to put the right logo in the their promo. You sat through cricket season, you tried to feign an interest in the A-League and/or the NBL for ten minutes, you used the tennis as an excuse to perve on 18-year-old Ukranian girls (female readers, you're better than that) now let's get back to the real stuff and a journey that could very well lead, sometime in the distant future, to the premiership cup being hoisted and tears of joy that should really only be reserved for the conclusion of a world war.
Even I'm starting to get excited about the future, and as you are well aware the only person who is in the same area code as me when it comes to football emo is Maric. Shake the Magic 8-Ball and ask it "will we be good one day?" and it will undoubtedly say "ALL SIGNS POINT TO YES".
But there's no need to go out and pre-purchase your 2011 Grand Final DVD yet, unless you want to watch something crushingly boring and probably involving Collingwood. Despite internet nutbars like Craig Hutchison trying to convince you that we're a legitimate Grand Final contender this year anybody who wasn't dropped on their head as a child can see that we're not quite there yet. But it'll be another decade before I can do the laboured Simple Minds reference in the post title so let's all pretend we're nutbars for now and assume that the year is going to end in glory.
Who knows, maybe the world's foremost ambulance chaser is actually right. If we somehow Bradbury our way to the flag I'll be in hospital recovering a heart attack and will be unable to offer an apology until he leaps out of the bushes with a camera crew and surprises me during a convalescing walk demanding one.
Nothing blander has ever been written, but 2011 could go either way from here. It's seems like a lifetime ago that we lived through the early/mid Daniher era of swinging from one end of the ladder to the other every year like a bunch of bipolar freaks. Now that looks like a magic scenario, anything to get off the bottom at least once every two years and not have to be spoken about in the same breath as Richmond every season.
We've certainly come from worse positions to play finals in the last decade so deep down past the spot where my dark, permanently negative soul would be (sold for $13.50 on Ebay to somebody in Albury during 2001 before they cracked on that sort of thing) and despite fantasies about finding something better to do during winter I desperately want to believe that this year should be all about putting your feet up and drinking cocktails which have been cunningly snuck into the ground inside hollowed out hot-dogs. But for all the 'air hostess smile' fake enthusiasm about the year to come something about us finding a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory still eats away at me. Nurse, the valium please.
I'll be happy with 7th or 8th. Write your own story on acceptable finishes but I'll be more than pleased to play one final. Don't give me any of this shit about Essendon falling to pieces in following years after getting thrashed in one final either. They had a flaky coach, flaky players, and fans that can afford to ring up and abuse the club on SEN every twenty minutes because they work in muddy ditches, fish & chip shops or fish & chip shops in muddy ditches. We're in a much better place and have a coach who might not have proved that he can actually coach yet but has built a team who look like they'd walk through walls for him and who would probably slap a headlock on Matthew Knights and clamp down until his little face turned blue if given half the opportunity.
So, at the moment everything looks good on paper and there are plenty of good news pre-season stories going around about how Tom Scully could win the 3000m Steeplechase at the London Olympics but every side look like world beaters before the first ball of the year is bounced. Pretty soon "John Meesen is training the house down" becomes "John Meesen was never seen again".
Even St Kilda, who have disgraced themselves so many times that they've crossed the Women's Day Line where the media can make up anything they like about them, attribute it "amazed fellow diners" and publish knowing the public will believe it, will tell you that they're fitter, stronger and ready to bore the world shitless with an even more rubbish Temazepam inspired gameplan in 2011.
Then there's the other end of the table, a conversation that mercifully we're no longer involved in and with any luck won't be again for another decade and a half minimum. Everyone knows that West Coast aren't going to win the flag anytime soon but even they'd be looking at their 'form' on the training track and trying to convince themselves that they could sneak into the eight with the proverbial "bit of luck". Unfortunately for them, and for us circa 2008 and 2009, no matter how storming your time trials are, how much somebody can bench-press or how many sleeping pills they can neck before whizzing on a shop window it doesn't meant squat when you spend the next six months landing kick-ins straight on top of opposition forwards or handballing to umpires just because they're wearing pink.
The "any news is good news" pre-season frenzy reached its lowest point when Brisbane came out spruiking the fact that Brett Burton had come on board and helped boost their fitness. Whee, what a wonderful world. Certainly makes up for the fact that you traded your future away for a mountain o' plums. Somewhere even they're trying to justify that the Birdman Factor is going to align with Fev getting out of jail and booting a hundred goals to get them into the finals. Welcome to MFC 2008 territory Lions fans. Where the previous year is written off as an anomaly just long enough for you to get to Round 1 and start losing by a 100 points every third week.
Not to mention that the nature of a league table is, obviously, that somebody has to come first and somebody has to come last. I'm not sure what the actual tiebreakers are in the AFL after match points and percentage (points scored? match record between the tied clubs? Toss a coin? Pub trivia?) but I'm sure there's a massive, arcane rulebook to ensure that there's no way that teams can end up tied for a position at the end of a season. Because, as Tony Abbott once explained to me, that would be communism. So, how would you feel to finish half a game out of the finals and win the spoon? Personally I'd leap out the window.
I don't doubt that we're going to improve, it would be hard not to without a black death style injury crisis or an epic crisis of confidence, but where does that fit with the rest of the competition? The simple, and bloody obvious, equation is that for us to make the eight we need at least one side to drop out. While there might be question marks over Carlton (with any luck soon to become the new Essendon) and Sydney at the very least, Adelaide and North should improve on last year and contend for a spot.
Our best bet is to get down to the TAB and throw a multi on a) the natural improvement of our own young list into b) one of Carlton and the Swans dropping out and c) another 2010 contender suffering the same sort of catastrophic Air Crash Investigation style failure that we had in '07. Then take those winnings down to the cas, slam them on red (+ blue), spin the wheel and hope for the best.
On the off chance that anybody cares/wants to hold it against me at a later date, this is my predicted ladder. It should ensure that not one of the following teams actually finishes in the position which they are listed in. I'm going to stay clear of predicting any major shock failures by last year's contenders but here's hoping that they drop like nine-pins in front of us.
1 - Collingwood (well, how could you not?)
2 - Geelong (one for the road, Chris Scott to be declared a gun shortly before it all falls apart)
3 - St Kilda (only for want of other contenders. Could go as low as 5th, will hopefully get relegated to the Mornington League)
4 - Fremantle (knowing them they could finish last and fail to kick a goal all year. Except when they beat us a'la Carlton 2006)
5 - Hawthorn
6 - Footscray (I under-rate them every year so start polishing the premiership cup)
7 - Melbourne
8 - North Melbourne
9 - Carlton
10 - Adelaide
11 - Sydney (I rate very little between 7th and 11th, could be any combination thereof)
12 - Port Adelaide
13 - Essendon (First talkback callers to turn on Hird - Round 2)
14 - Richmond
15 - Gold Coast
16 - West Coast
17 - Brisbane (Amusingly it CAN get worse for them the following season. Lock in 18th for 2012)
I've plumped for seventh under pressure, but I see us possibly being anywhere between 6th and 11th. Anything outside the 8 would be disappointing, but if it's lower than 11th that will be a major "internet forums go into meltdown" disaster. Similarly fifth or six would be great, but fourth or above a miracle.
There's an air of optimism about the place which hasn't been pierced yet. Could very well happen ten minutes into Round 1 when we're five goals behind the Swans, but nothing has gotten to us yet. The Frawley injury rocked the boat a bit, but the air of mystery about it and his own intense optimism about playing early in the year have clouded the issue so much that is hasn't caused the same sort of widespread panic and looting that it would if [player not named because so I can't be blamed if it does happen] blows his knee to shreds playing a NAB Regional Challenge match in Omeo.
Even the Tom Scully to GWS rumor mill fiesta doesn't seem to be concerning many people. Maybe it's too early in the year for it to seem real, but if we get across Queen's Birthday and he still hasn't signed on the dotted line then we're in big trouble. That might be about the time to get him in for a bit of a "fit in or fark off" talk. Why even bother playing him in the second half of the year if we're not going to win the flag and he won't commit? The last thing I want is to have to go through another Ablett style fiasco where the whole year is conducted under the cloud of "will he/won't he" speculation when everybody knew very well that he very much would and earned a fortune out of it.
Still, that's a drama for later in the year. If we can negotiate our way to Round 1 without losing any more key players it will certainly help the tension. Playing Sydney is a blessing and a curse. It's a more than winnable game but we're going to be judged harshly against the epic beating we put on them at the end of last year. Nobody's expecting another demolition job like but if, god forbid, we lose it will raise a few eyebrows.
It's all about keeping as close to a best 22 as possible out there. Very rarely actually happens, and the 'best' is an evolving beast from week to another but we're still paper thin up forward and in the ruck if injury/suspension starts biting. We looked pretty good early last year (though how badly discredited did the Brisbane win become as the season wore on?) but imagine how much better it would have been if Morton and the Jurrahcane had been involved?
So if Frawley can get back on the track within the first four rounds, everyone avoids serious mystery injuries on gravel country ovals and Sylvia doesn't get sniped behind the play by some talentless hack we should start against the Swans nearly full strength as favourites and beat them. Then what happens for the rest of the year is anybody's guess. Either way it's going to be a long awaited step out of the mundane and into the fast lane. Cross everything you've got no matter how painful it is or if it turns purple.
Demonblog's chosen 21+1
Actual positions are even more discredited than our win over Brisbane so take anything you see here with a pinch of salt. Also I have proven time and time again to have no idea about footy or interest in learning about it so consider that as well when you're packing envelopes full of anthrax and sticking them in the post to Demonblog Towers in sunny downtown Beirut.
The inclusion of Frawley is based on him playing in the first month of the year. Otherwise tag in Warnock.
B: Bartram, Frawley, Garland
HB: Grimes, Rivers, McKenzie
C: Moloney, Scully, Trengove
HF: Sylvia, Bate, Dunn
F: Jurrah, Green, Petterd
Foll: Jamar, Jones, Davey
I/C: Watts, Macdonald, Morton
EM: Bail, Gysberts, Spencer
Apologies to Bennell and Bail who are next in line. The only controversial aspects of that are probably Davey as 'rover' but I couldn't find anywhere else for him and we all know naming somebody as a rover actually means fark all in this day and age, and Martin as the substitute but I'm going for somebody versatile who can go forward, back or into the ruck as required.
I'm also going for Jamar one out in the ruck to start the matches with the Experience coming on as a sub in the 3rd quarter and giving him the chance to rest up for a massive crack at the last. Stupid bloody rule but what are we supposed to do? It's not like the league bothered to consult any of the fans about it anyway, not even with one of their rigged polls where every available option ends up giving them the answer they want.
Start picking holes sports fans, but just bear in mind that the chances of anybody's chosen 21 + 1 making it to the first bounce unscathed, unsuspended and unscandaled is about 500-1.
As for Friday night I'm not even going to consider the great Football Park curse in my prediction, but I'm still only going for us to win one of two. On paper we're better off than Port and arguably Adelaide but with the first round of the cup being played in a structure and under rules clearly put together during an acid binge in the Mojave Desert with the Manson Family anything could happen.
Friday night and I just love complaining...