Last week I was accused, not without some justification, that an unnerving air of positivity had crept in to this page. How, an unnamed punter asked, can you possibly start acting like you're enjoying football when you're writing for a blog named after a song by the world renowned miserablist Morrissey?
Good point, there was a worrying tone of joy seeping through. I was sucked in like a moron again based on nothing more than pounding the Freo thirds and some crackpot slop merchants who haven't gone near being good since I was born. Who didn't see tonight's fiasco coming? Other than me. I have a feeling that tipping us to win by 62 points may come back to haunt me in the event of an end of year tiebreaker being required in our office competition...
Funny how in the space of two and a half hours you can suffer such a wild mood swing. Not about anything important mind you but that's the lot of the sports fan. This week, against nearly 30 years of hard evidence that proves I'm no good at it I decided to try positivity. Not just after a game, not just while thumping fat fingers across a keyboard in my sordid grief hole at 3am but for the entire week.
"Are you going to win?" asked the office tipsters who know nothing but seem to win every year. Any other week I'd say either "No, we are garbage" or at least talk it down to the point where there were a million excuses why we'd get done by Gold Coast. They were assured that yes, this time we were a certainty and I harboured no (outward) doubts. It felt good too. Fast forward to 4pm yesterday, sitting there at my desk making a mockery of the concept of 'casual Friday' by wearing a footy jumper when a senior, very senior manager wandered past and started mocking me about the presumed massive defeat we were going to suffer. "Cementhead is back in the midfield!" he said in a statement that you'll never hear anybody make about Patrick Dangerfield. "Come and see me on Monday and I'll tell you all the reasons why you were wrong" I gamely ventured, starting to worry for the first time whether I'd set myself up for utter Maric style depression by being sucked in even after claiming that I never would again after the Collingwood shambles.
During my brief sunshine + rainbows phase which lasted from last Saturday night until about 7.42pm Friday I chose to ignore all the signs that we were likely to lose. It was a crucial game, at Docklands, against a Victorian side who were not Richmond or Essendon, we had just come off a good win in front of a big crowd and we were wearing that horrible white away strip which is only marginally better than our long binned silver monstrosity.
To somebody thinking rationally, or at least like a depression syndrome affected Melbourne fan, they were all fairly good signs that we were going to turn in a performance of rare garbage. But no, instead I chose to channel the spirit of one of history's greatest motivators to convince myself that all of these factors weren't necessarily a bad thing, they were a good thing. Despite the results and the fact that we stunk the joint up for long periods against North and St Kilda, considering the players on offer we were a million miles in front of that last night, and surely it was time to step up at least and beat one of the other seven Victorian teams who we haven't toppled since Carlton put in less effort than you'd have otherwise expected (otherwise known as [CENSORED BY LEGAL DEPARTMENT] in the last round of 2007. I've moved four house times since then, can you see why this is so hard for me to get my head around?
So yes, I expect that at 9am Monday morning I'll have somebody who I can't tell to piss off and throw a stapler at without being unemployed by the end of the day wandering past my desk for an in-depth discussion of "Cementhead" and friends cornholing us. Maybe he'll even tell me who Cementhead is before I walk off in a huff and kick the photocopier.
Shoulders must have slumped collectively in the Channel 7 box about fifteen seconds after the first bounce when it became apparent to everybody that the match was going to be anything but a Friday night classic and would probably end up with everybody turning over to episodes of Air Crash Investigation by the end of the first quarter. When they put together the fixture at the start of the year they must have had high hopes for this as a battle between Prelim Final specialists and rising stars. They got their wish but I don't think they expected it to be Prelim Final specialists coming off a horrible start to the year against a side that go from rising stars one week to a VFA Division 2 side the next.
Unfortunately for ponytailed executives everywhere they got us on an off week, and win or lose the quality of the game based on the first quarter alone probably stuffed our chances of getting more than one token Friday game next season. They have paid a billion dollars for the rights to show it after all, they're not going to take a risk on potential sliders vs bipolar freaks in front of 12,500 people because everyone else (and I'm looking at our fans here) refuses to go to Etihad and will sit at home watching the live telecast instead.
The excitement of draw might have scored us another game next season but with our record in Friday night games ending with one stirring victory over a pox side who had the bottom falling out already and two thrashings where we were outplayed handily should see us permanently marooned in the North/Port 4.40pm Sunday shift next year - and don't you just love ending your weekend on that sort of a performance? At least if we cock it up on Friday you've got some chance of rescuing it before having to front up again on Monday.
What became blindingly obvious right from the start was that the Dogs had sat down and looked at everything which we did predictably and decide to force us to try something else. That's when I really start to get nervous, when we're expected to reach for page two of the playbook, it never ends well. Mainly because usually they get to the book, open it up and find out that all the other pages have been torn up.
They weren't going to be fooled by us starting Jamar forward and the Experience in the middle. They knew exactly who we were going to tap it to each and every time, so on the rare occasions that one of them did beat Hudson or Liam Jones (supplementary question - who is Liam Jones?) to the tap and it went anywhere near Moloney he had three people leap on top of him and any danger of a quick centre break was lost. Trengove and McKenzie were good but they couldn't get anything happening at the centre bounces while Scully was being tagged to buggery and handling it about as well as you'd expect a 20-year-old kid to. Don't forget that it was the Bulldogs who he got 39 touches, a Rising Star nomination and 3 Brownlow Votes against last year - they weren't going to fall for that again.
To be entirely fair the Dogs outplayed us in nearly every category, though the stats would lie and show it as being more even that it actually was, but they were hardly playing the sort of game that would get them anywhere against a decent side. In the first few minutes as they missed targets and generally slopped it up coming out of their backline I thought "surely we can't lose to this lot?" After all they'd only beaten Adelaide and Gold Coast, and even we'd flogged them during randomly occurring weeks of glory. Apparently we can - and how. They've got a decent run in so good luck to them if they build on last night and make the finals, they're the Victorian side with a tragic history of failure that you can afford to get behind because they're not St Kilda. Otherwise come September I'll be the biggest Eagles/Swans/Dockers fan alive.
Worst thing was that even though we weren't winning it out of the centre with any ease, or at all most of the time, we legitimately outplayed them for the first few minutes. The Jurrahcane and Jamar both missed goals they would have kicked with their eyes closed last year, but despite Barry Hall running around making Frawley look stupid despite being 30 years his senior when Watts booted that snap I started to think that everything was going to be alright.
When you follow Melbourne there is rarely, if ever, a time in the first quarter when you should start to think that everything is going to be alright. Make sure your children understand this so they can grow up good red and blue citizens, vigilant for impending disaster at all times. From the moment Jack made us all swoon with his booming goal we walked straight into a trap and played on their terms. Hall missed after a rubbish free then two minutes later after we'd been unable to move it across halfway he got another chance when he made Frawley and Strauss look stupid by marking right in the middle of them. Chip killed him after quarter time but the damage was well and truly done by then, despite the bright (or at least brightish, considering we were getting humped in the centre) start we went into quarter time two goals behind.
At least one of them was pure quality/sheer arse highlight reel stuff so I won't lie and say I didn't enjoy Cooney's wild swipe of the boot that sent the ball flying through from 30m out. He should have had it on the lead anyway after one our traditional turnover/leave everyone inside 50 ten metres on their own set-plays but the kick towards him was rubbish and boom in it went. For once it would probably have been better if he had marked it.
What I enjoyed far less was Ed Barlow having a shot to put them put them even further in front right at the end of the quarter. Notwithstanding the fact that Barlow has somehow managed to become a starting player in my rapidly failing Supercoach team, if we're going to start copping goals from him you'd might as well shut up shop. Luckily he reverted to type after taking the piss out of the Suns last week and botched it but the signs were already there that we weren't going to get anywhere near the same Melbourne who had been so good after the seven minute mark against the Tigers. This week it was our turn to put the feet up from that point and make a couple of token comeback attempts throughout the afternoon.
Wasn't entirely sure how we managed to end the first quarter two goals down, but at least it was only two goals. Anybody can kick two goals in a minute, and that's precisely what the Dogs did to really make it interesting. First was Garland giving away the 50 which you can probably argue was there but the second was pure filth. Everyone knows that the league hates Jack Trengove because he's the top draft pick who signed on and didn't flirt with taking millions to prop up a shit team in West Sydney that nobody cares about. He's already copped three weeks and two fines this year but the shepherd free against him when Higgins just ran straight into him as he was under the ball was a new low in their vendetta against him (though there might be another phase to come in that feud, more on that later).
It was a vile decision but I'm not going to come on here and bleed too much about it because it was in the same class as Watts doing exactly the same thing at the end of the first quarter last week. Richmond fans would have been sitting on their milk crates, screaming at their black and white televisions about justice being served. Only difference was that Watts strode manfully towards the ball and took it in his stride when he ran straight into his opponent and won the free, whereas Higgins threw his arms up like a hysterical 15-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert and got the free for acting like a little girl. You win some, you lose some. We lost more than a handful tonight but that doesn't excuse the garbage that was served up around the ground.
Saddest storyline of the night was the absolute shocker that Dan Nicholson turned in. Instead of commentators trotting out hackneyed cliche about players joining an "elite club" by kicking a goal with their first kick in league football, how about they start a new list of players who fallen victim to the modern curse of being featured in the papers and then turning out trash? Even worse when it's a kid. It happened to Rivers on Queen's Birthday, though I'm still not blaming him for the 3rd, 4th and 5th Cloke goals, and last night after being profiled in The Age during the day Daniel played like Alistair and almost everything he did had a brown tinge to it.
He certainly wasn't alone, the only difference was that he'd been in the papers and Sylvia, Strauss, Jurrah, Garland, Morton and Bennell hadn't been. Out of that list Sylvia, Jurrah and Garland are easily best 22 and the last two are at least experienced even if they're in shithouse form. It wasn't all their fault though, they were just the ones who either weren't getting their hands on it or were stuffing it up, what about all the handballs in the backline? Absolutely suicidal.
Nearly everybody who went inside the defensive 50 was guilty of it at some point and the Dogs were loving it. It's not like we weren't eventually getting it out of the backline and forward either, but all of a sudden the gigantic hoof inside 50 became our only attacking option and even though it was clearly not working they just kept doing it again and again. Last week there was at least a few decent leads inside 50, today the only marks we took were either contested screamers or somebody being in the right place at the right time when a panicked hoof dropped into their arms. Might have been an opportunity to recognise that Morton has no confidence left in trying to stop goals and to throw him up the ground instead but that's never going to happen so I'd might as well stop calling for it.
For all the failed hoof we did give ourselves a chance at getting back into it with a couple of goals but that was about as good as it got. It Petterd had kicked his goal instead of delivering his second blooper shot on goal at Etihad this year (was it St Kilda or North where he missed the lot from 20m out?) we'd have been back within three goals with another two and a half quarters to sort ourselves out and at least make the Dogs nervous. We even managed to be on the receiving end of one of the great comedy capers moments in history when the spudlike creature Jarrad Grant managed to stuff up the easiest goal in the history of football. Should have taken advantage and dragged ourselves back into it but instead a minute later they came straight out of their backline, down the field in about three kicks and got the goal that the vaudeville shenanigans had denied them.
Then Morton horrifically botched a handball under the pump and it was goodbye to the comeback. Fair enough if he doesn't like being put under pressure but if that's the case AFL Footballer might not be his most suited career. Get a job working as a car park attendant if you're worried about having people put the heat on you. There's probably a thousand people around the country who would at least give you value for their spot on the list with effort alone even if they weren't as allegedly "naturally skilled" as Cale. If you were drafting a team from scratch today is there anybody who'd have him over Jordie McKenzie? I don't want to rush to judge anybody lest they suddenly do a Jamar/Sylvia and come good years later but right now I'd pass up the Sad Panda for any moderately skilled battler of the McKenzie mould.
Again despite the deficit at half time we weren't dead if we could turn it around, but did anybody have any faith that we would? When Gia got the first goal after taking the piss out of Garland, then Nicholson gave the media curse double thumbs up by handing them another to start the term it was all but over. Cue the Disaster Management Plan being swung into immediate action.
When things start to go wrong for us 21 highly paid professionals are suddenly mentally transported to the deck of an overloaded Phillipino ferry which has just hit rocks and started to take on water. Suddenly everybody's running around panicking, pointing randomly and making that they know what everybody else is supposed to be doing while simultaneously trying to throw everybody else out of the way to save themselves. Once the panic has set it then suddenly players start shitting themselves the moment they get the ball before handballing to the guy standing stationary a foot away. At the subsequent bounce everyone will stand around pointing for somebody else to fill a gap which nobody does and they kick a goal from it. Back to the centre and repeat.
Good to that in the middle of all the chaos Trengove followed through with his threat not to change his playing style by doing pretty much exactly the same tackle as he did against Adelaide. Only this time the umpire took a stand for all that is good and decent in the world by not only failing to condemn him for it but also paid a free for holding the ball. It helps that Higgins/Ward/Zeno Tzatzaris/whoever it was doesn't have a head made out of fine china like Dangerfield but if the umpires are going to reward him for it then how in the name of dutch buggery can they turn around and book him for it? Rivers did one too. Again, the recipient isn't going to wobble around like a clown then turn up and kick six next week so no damage done. Either way if they find some reasoning to continue the vendetta against JT then the umpire who paid the free should cop double the suspension for paying it.
Petterd took the near Mark of the Year, and thank god he finished it, but so what? I was there the day Juice took the MOTY against North and we got thrashed then too. Thumping it into the forward line on top of everybody's head had to work at least once. It was telling that it took an epic screamer for somebody to finally pull one in. Sylvia returned from the dead to take a contested mark and goal as well to get us two in a row and launch another half hearted comeback but it didn't last for long, a minute and a half later we gifted them another goal and went into the last nearly six goals down.
Incidentally doesn't it make you want to kick something into shards when a player gathers the ball 20m out and tries to roll it through along the turf despite there being five players in the way? Just once I'd like to see somebody try to just thump the thing over their head a'la Robbo in Perth ten years ago instead of trying to thread the eye of a needle, somehow managing to avoid an oval shaped ball hitting anybody on the way through. It's like sending a soldier onto a WW1 battlefield and having him fire his gun straight into the ground in the hope that it will skim along the mud and skip up to smash a German between the eyes.
If it had been us 33 points in front at the last change I'd have been citing the Chris Sullivan Line and the various times that we'd stuffed up a lead like that to either lose or let the opposition get closer than you're comfortable with. But there is no line with us. We've come back from five goals down at three quarter time to win three times since 1897 (1, 2 and 3) and there's no name you can give to an unexpected occurrence like that.
Watts did his bit for history by kicking the first goal and leaving the door at least slightly ajar but they went down the other end, Rivers gave away a 50 that took them to the line and we were finished. The unfortunate thing, and the killer that really made this difficult to swallow, was that from there they just wiped the floor with us.
Even Jarrad Grant, the dictionary definition of uncoordinated, started taking screamers in the middle of the massacre. It was no Petterd but it was impressive just because it ended in his arms and legs as far apart as they could possibly be without one flying off and landing in the stands. As if the game wasn't already long gone it sent another wave of red and blue clad fans towards the exits. I was particularly impressed by one gent who stopped at the bottom of the stairwell, turned out around to face the big screen and launched a last, desperate act of defiance by thrusting a middle finger towards the replay before walking out.
How about losing one with heads held high at some point (but not against Port)? The only team with a worse average losing margin than us is GC and they've got an excuse. That's what makes this painful. Like an even more extreme version of the Collingwood game you could cop losing but to roll over and get pounded like that is just rude.
There wasn't even a hint of Junktime Jurrah when it was all too late. He might still be our leading goalkicker but there's no way he's been playing anywhere near 100% for the last few weeks. Would have thought that if he wasn't right, which anybody could see, the week before the bye going into a game on (near enough to) home soil where he will want to do well would have been the right time to give him a rest. With respect to a much improved effort in the last fortnight he was hardly pivotal last week so we could have used a Dunn, Bate or Emo Maric as cannon fodder for a week while he healed up. Instead he hobbles off with confidence shot and would probably miss if we played next week.
The torture came to an end with Callan Ward taking the piss out of Scully, which was a bit rude considering that they'll be shacked up together in a harbourside mansion in six months time. I think as Ward sold the dummy and ran around him to kick the goal they might have winked at each other and done a secret gesture that only two kids prematurely made millionaires by greed can give. Surely one of them whispered the phrase last uttered at a St Kilda team bonding session, "next year it's you, me and a bunch of 17-year-olds". Fair to say whatever Ward put on top of his contract it's coming off Scully's after Tom being tagged to buggery tonight. Either way they're both going to walk into rooms for the rest of their lives with this playing but if Tom's going to chuck us to become a pin-up idol to the good, law abiding folk of Macquarie Fields then good luck with having a taste of that every week for the next three years with nowt but a bunch of starving orphans as back up. At least with us he can be guaranteed that once a month his teammates might stand up enough to let him get off the leash. Where does logic come into this though? Money talks...
Speaking of contracts, if you were in charge of putting together our list for next year would you pick up the phone today and call Cale Morton's manager, laugh heartily at him for putting contract talks off when he's playing like shite and make a final offer of one year on $20 an hour and a tray full of Quarter Pounders?
As a reward for staying until the end we not only got to see a classic MFC rollover death but we were also treated to a second round of their Freo-lite, track one of the HMAS Pinafore soundtrack, nautical theme song.
Welcome back misery and dark depression, everything feels more comfortable with you enveloping me. I'm going to spend the next two weeks listening to My Chemical Romance albums and having at myself with a ballpoint pen.
2011 Allen Jakovich Medal Votes
The top three are well deserved despite the disaster. Watts was good early and tried hard all night. Howe slides in just in front of Frawley based on Chip making Barry Hall look 15 years younger in the first quarter.
5 - Jordie McKenzie
4 - Jack Trengove
3 - Ricky Petterd
2 - Jack Watts
1 - Jeremy Howe
Apologies to Frawley and the rest can get stuffed.
23 - Colin Sylvia, Brent Moloney
19 - Jack Watts
16 - Mark Jamar (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jordie McKenzie
14 - Stefan Martin
11 - James Frawley (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
10 - Jordan Gysberts, Jared Rivers
9 - Jack Trengove,Joel Macdonald
7 - Colin Garland
6 - Ricky Petterd, Luke Tapscott (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
5 - Rohan Bail
4 - Michael Evans, Brad Green, Tom Scully
3 - Jack Grimes, Liam Jurrah, Nathan Jones
2 - Clint Bartram, Neville Jetta
1 - Jeremy Howe
The regular 42 second minute's silence was generally well observed, but is there any danger we might add the lost 18 seconds one of these days? If you can get people through the half a minute without yelling somebody stupid and getting punched by the person sitting next to them then the next 30 seconds should be a doddle. Wouldn't want to take away from the time that they can spend trying to take our money through Betfair though would we?
One quality Western Suburbs education required for the kid who was interviewed by that filthy fan for hire James Sherry. "How long have you been supporting the Dogs?" asked the ex-children's game show host. "10 years" replies the child who presumably has a god awful name like Jaiyden. "How old are you?" asks the filth and the kid replies "five". Aww, how cute, let's all have one etc.. FFFH then attempted the frankly ludicrous move of asking the crowd to sing Happy Birthday for the kid, but despite the woman in front of me taking a second away from eating a sandwich that smelt like a corpse pulled out of a river to briefly join in before she realised what she was doing the sound of silence echoed across the ground for a second time that night. In the end even the FFFH gave up and after a prolonged camera shot of Kyieran looking silently bamboozled they cut away to something even more family friendly, the live betting odds.
It doesn't promise to get much better for young Alyix. Next time ask him how many flags Footscray have won, that should be easy enough for kids of any age to get right. Teeing off on a five year old is a new low but that's the sort of rancid mood that this sporting abortion has put me in.
Now - Etihad Stadium, the Corporate Dome, hell on earth call it what you will but last night their food outlets managed to push my hatred of the joint to levels that I couldn't possibly achieve if we played in another 20 straight losses there. Not only were they selling a thinly veiled Dagwood Dog under the utterly ridiculous name of the "Pluto Pup", but when I foolishly decided to buy one of their rancid, floppy hot dogs in a bun that wasn't even intact all the way around they tried to make me pay $0.20 for a tiny sachet of chemical mustard probably manufactured in the former Yugoslavia.
Not content with making you pay $6 for something that costs them less than a dollar, is served by somebody on minimum wage and will repeat on you for days on end they want $0.20 for condiments? Get to shite. The only problem was that walking off in a huff at this randomly introduced policy which didn't exist any of the other four times I've been to that hole this season (including 2 x non MFC games. WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?) I forgot to take my drink with me and when they called me back collect it I had to do a five metre walk of shame back where I'd just had a tantrum. If I was them I'd just have stashed it under the counter and denied all.
Speaking of performances I sadly arrived too late to see the real life bulldog being paraded around the ground and the rumoured appearance of the Hyde St Primary School Band playing a brass heavy version of the theme from Rocky never materialised. When they started asking trivia questions where the options were Kelvin Templeton, Simon Beasley or Danny Del Re I didn't think it was that much of a stretch to just do the right thing and change their name back to Footscray.
Just when you thought the market was shut this performance has put my favourite coach back in the frame for a job in 2012.
If I see Bailey drag Morton aside, put his bald head against Cale's stick figure torso and say the words "Breathe... from your core" at some point before this year is out I'll campaign for both of them to be re-signed on the spot. Problem is for that to happen Morton has to be back in the side again. Brad Gotch could do it on Casey Fields with a hundred curious onlookers but it wouldn't have the same effect.
Also there's one guy in that ad who must surely only have gotten the call up because he looks like Simon Black.
Terror in the Top End (aka the week after next week)
Anyone want to confidently say there's no possible way we can lose to Port? Knowing this lot they'll probably show up and win by 150 and I'll get roped right back into like a total cockhead. Either way if he managed to take his head out of the oven long enough to see the way we played tonight Matthew Primus would think "bloody hell, we're a chance here".
They're such utter garbage that surely even we can't play them into form but the Northern Territory is like the twilight zone, anything could happen.
Pending any particularly storming games from nowhere at Casey the changes for mine are;
IN - Tapscott, Macdonald, Maric
OUT - Morton, Bennell (omit), Jurrah (half inj/half omit, the final victim of the curse of the Drake ad)
Apparently there's some injury concerns over the Experience, so if he's not right then Maximum comes straight back in. Almost time too for Bate to have one last crack at putting together a Brad Miller-esque end of season run which sees him given another chance against all odds. I don't think Dunn is necessarily finished yet but what's he going to add? At least if we're going to go with the idea of thumping it long to the square all the time then Maric will provide a hint o' crumb. If anybody else puts their hand up in the two's (and as I write this Casey are going tits up against Werribee) I could also go without Strauss.
What price one hard fought, fighting performance even in defeat against Hawthorn, Geelong or Carlton? We've been given the biggest fixturing free kick of the year by having the R24 game moved from Football Park to effectively neutral turf at the Adelaide Oval but I will be go off my nut if it turns out not to mean anything by the time we get there.
We deserve a government grant for continually playing shit teams back into form.