At the risk of sounding like somebody who has actually become excited by a NAB Cup game I actually became slightly excited during last night's NAB Cup game.
Just slightly mind you, there's no need to order the commemorative t-shirt yet. In fact given the mockery of the sport that the NAB Cup is I'd be hard pressed to stay around for the trophy presentation if we won it. Not only did they bizarrely retain the comical out of bounds rule but the league's Infinite Wisdom Committee also decided to introduce team selection rules so arcane that nobody was actually sure who was eligible to be in the game at any given time.
SURELY we get something resembling a real game starting next week? Even if the NAB Cup rulebook says they've got to play under these rules until the end it wouldn't be the first time the league has changed something on a whim. Remember the concussion rule? That came in at about ten minutes notice.
In a competition where games in Mandurah, Alice Springs and Wangaratta are being promoted as serious then in one case not even been played because Air Essendon is the shittest flight option since Air Australia there's really no need to keep going under novelty rules. Ok they've got to keep the 9 pointer because NAB have paid to have their name spruiked every time somebody kicks one but unless we're instituting the Home Hardware Confusing Video Replay or the Pizza Hut Mystifying Out Of Bounds Decision then get back to the original variety and let teams prepare properly for the real season.
No, what we'll get instead is team lineups where you've got a starting 18, a bench, some subs and then some mystery players who are named to play in the second half but may or may not actually end up appearing. Not that you'd know from one moment to another who's on the bench considering they never announced any of the substitutions on the big screen at the game and the radio callers were flat out trying to get the names of the players who they could see right let alone attempting to explain the status of Jai Sheahan to a bemused audience.
Now that we've got the obligatory pot shots at the league out of the way how about that football? The most pleasing thing about firing a shot in football's most overrated rivalry (note: they could not care less about us except when we steal their football department) isn't that we won, it's that we went so well against them before they all but introduced cue to rack in the second half.
Having shown up expecting to be belted by at least ten goals based on the named sides it was an unexpected surprise to see us dominate the first few minutes. Mind you we did that against Gold Coast and that ended up with people trying to throw themselves from windows over the result.
Notwithstanding the fact that "bruise free football" is the most laboured catchphrases in footy there was clearly an intent last night to go out and hit hard. The Magpie midfield Fancy Boys got away a couple of times but for more of the first half they were being scragged, harassed, sat on or thrown into the thinly veiled concrete surface with malice. This is obviously what we want but it happened occassionally last year as well so forgive me if I don't get entirely excited yet until it's repeated on a regular basis.
What I do reserve the right to get excited about far too early is the Magner/Couch combo. Now, the usual disclaimers apply about them doing it in the real season and/or potentially being 'found out' (CLICHE) the more they play but on early form they're going to be absolute steals. Magner is a near certainty to play in Round 1 based on the last couple of weeks and Couch won't be far behind him. You can see why Neeld and co gave up the opportunity to pick two 18-year-olds who they'd have to wait at least a year to see any benefit from and instead opted for a pair of mid-20's bruisers. Still wouldn't have been nice if they could've found a place for Freddie Clutterbuck in there as well but you can't get everything you want.
Before we get into fulsome praise for everyone and indulge in far too early speculation about the point which Pies fans will try to sack Buckley (either of them) there are a few issues to be considered.
Joel Mac regained ground in the second half after a comically bad start but his chances of a Round 1 berth are about the same as Darren Kowal without an injury crisis cutting swathes through our backline before the end of the month. Even Demonblog's own Troy Davis showed more, not to mention Tom McDonald's brief cameo. As I've said previously I was probably one of a handful of people who thought he was any good last year but he's done his chances of being on the list next year no favours in the first fortnight of the season.
Davey might still be recovering from his injury but was largely unseen in the first half before being subbed out. He's barely fired a shot in the first two rounds of this tournament and doesn't appear to be the CRUMB option that I'd hoped he would be. He's been down there a couple of times but usually when the ball hits the deck there's nobody around. Five touches and I'm not entirely convinced he'll be there come Round 1 either.
Then there's Watts, who had another decidedly average game capped off with being on the end of a classic Mick Malthouse spray on the radio. Careful Jack, the last guy who copped one of those from Mick has had his career ended by having to play for Richmond, that could be you. He didn't even have the bad weather to blame for it this time. I've still got a childlike faith in him becoming a superstar (how good was the tap over the back for Petterd? Good enough to guarantee him a game against Brisbane? Maybe not) but it's going to get ugly if he doesn't start killing it soon.
In his own grouchy way Mick's got a point, he's shown enough potential now it's time to actually do something. What I would like him to go is belt somebody or get fined for wrestling, show a bit of oomph instead of just going through the motions. He should have done it last week like Conca and served two for doing a piledriver on Jaeger O'Meara before returning triumphantly for Round 1.
He'll probably be saved by golden child status and the fact that Jurrah won't be match fit yet. Still, great news for the enormous retards who have been willing him to fail since day one. Call me when NicNat or Hurley are actual superstars instead of slightly more promising prospects. Hopefully Neeld does what Bailey should have done to Morton before the rot set in and corners him for an all-out, spit flying, verbal assault where he's invited to fit in or fornicate off to Casey.
But other than those three, and Bennell who I have completely lost interest in, everyone who played a decent amount in the first half gets a tick. Not sure if Howe was injured or they were just overly keen to take him off but he was absolutely mighty in the first quarter and a half. What's not to like about him? Strong overhead, fearless, kicks goals and can deliver the ball. Yes please. Was practically our best on ground when he went off and will hopefully get four quarters next week.
Petterd was also in everything early on. For somebody at risk of being squeezed out of the side by our newly (allegedly) riches laden forward line he's done enough the last couple of games to show why he's worth a spot. Dunn wasn't bad when he came on later (except for that shithouse snap when he had two hours to walk into goal) but he'll start below Ricky on the mid-sized forwards depth chart unless he does something remarkable (like shave) in the next fortnight.
Even though they had a novelty Irishmen and a bunch of players you'd never heard of going around there was still more than enough quality out there for us to get a decent grasp of where we're at. I'm still not confident that we're going to storm into the 8 and be the next big thing just yet but at least we should still tonk a few of the rubbish sides on the way to our 9th/10th placed finish.
Admittedly that's just what we did last year but if there's any justice in the world we'll finally beat some Victorian sides who aren't Essendon or Richmond. Footscray and St Kilda have to be ripe for the picking, and we're still in the same bracket as North, but I think what all Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome sufferers could all do with is a big old upset win against one of the big guns. In Neeld we trust.
The getting of the ball does not appear to be a problem at the moment, and eventually the kicking it long into the forward line came off but there was still something concerningly wonky about our forward structure in the first half. I take it nobody in the competition kicks to leading forwards anymore but it's going to get somewhat predictable if every forward 50 entry is just a big old heave towards the goals.
You can tell that they're keen on that tactic just by the fact that the Stefan Martin Experience has been sent down there nearly permanently despite the fact that we've got 200 other forwards. They want big bastards and they want to boot it at them. Now if only we can find somebody to sweep it off the deck and kick goals from there we'll be quids in. At least the midfield is good for a few goals, and if your Jones/Moloney/Trengove types can boot a few each week it will make up somewhat for the no-crumb policy.
At the other end I don't remember the kick-ins being a disaster which, like when you don't notice the umpires, is a good sign. Though to be honest half the time when Collingwood were in attack I lost interest and started looking at Twitter so anything could have happened. Pre-season eh?
We nearly made it to half time with the lead until a botched Sellar kick stuffed up everyone who had us in a HT/FT double (but if you bet on the NAB Cup you deserve whatever you get and should consult professional help) and put the Pies back in front. No harm done, he did a couple of wacky things but was generally good - and if he's even half decent we got him at a cheap as chips price so it will be worth it.
The wheel of baffling team changes span at half time (not that you'd know if you were at the ground) and came out in our favour with Reid/Swan/Maxwell/Fasolo/Jolly/Cloke going off for them and Jamar/Davey/Tynan/Howe for us. Not to detract from the performances of Jamar and Howe but the switches came out in our favour. Good luck getting that sort of advantage in a real game.
And what a curious game we were left with after the break. We progressively made more swaps through the half yet still failed to use three players while the Pies demonstrated how little interest they had when they ended up with two Irishmen and an American going around.
And all of a sudden, like Juice against North, for 15 minutes we were the greatest thing ever to set foot on the Docklands 'turf'. It took ten minutes for us to kick the first goal of the quarter (well better than the average) and from there the Pies couldn't get near us. Even their real players. Flowing moves, good defence and goals coming out the yin yang. It couldn't last, and it didn't last. Next thing you know the Pies have kicked one real goal and one novelty goal and we were pretty much back to where we started.
The reversal of fortune was so very like Melbourne that when the Pies got the first of the last quarter you could have been forgiven for thinking they were going to run over the top. Then we kicked four in a row to break away, which is very unlike us. It's usually either kicking away when we're already six goals in front or banging through a few consolations when we've been well and truly thrashed. Never this. Not surprisingly they did start coming back at the end but it was too late and to what I'm sure was a collective shrug from the Collingwood coaches box we won.
There was a bit of over the top celebration around me at the final siren (with no interest in the fact that the Pies were still kicking for goal) but at least we didn't break as one into a rapturous standing ovation like the Essendonians did in this round last year.
I've no idea what happened to Cook, Lawrence and Sheahan who were named as subs/on the bench/however this rubbish works and were never seen again. Shame because Cook and Lawrence were two of the players I was most keen on seeing in action, one to make sure he's still alive (status unknown) and one to try and introduce some much needed crumb. Maybe they made their travel plans with the same agents as Essendon? Maybe they were all stuck on a train between Melbourne Central and Parliament station like I was for 20 minutes after the game?
Still, plenty of time for novelty players next week. The door to making the final of this thing is marginally ajar but it shouldn't detract from the fact that we need to get real games into our fringe players/kids and soon. Besides, if the reward is a trip to Perth to lose to the Eagles then I'll be more than happy to stay here and get turned over by anybody else at Princes Park. The ladder shows we'd need all sorts of miracles to get in anyway so let's just stick to the plan and damn the result.
Also beware of the AFL being desperate to put a game on in Wangaratta in the last week to make up for the Essendon debacle. Having played two in a row in the city we're every danger of being shipped off to some remote country outpost to put on a show for the locals.
5 - James Magner
4 - Ricky Petterd
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Colin Garland
1 - Colin Sylvia
Apologies to Couch, Frawley, Green, Howe (taken too early), Nicholson and Sellar
Paul Prymke Plate For Pre-Season Performance Leaderboard
10 - James Magner
7 - Matthew Bate
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Mitch Clark, Jeremy Howe, Ricky Petterd
3 - Brent Moloney
2 - Jack Grimes, Colin Garland
1 - Rohan Bail, Josh Tynan, Colin Sylvia
MFC Facebook Comment of the Week
This segment has unfortunately been cancelled due to the very un-Melbourne like levels of optimism being shown. Given that we're now apparently the next big thing and will never lose a match again I'll never get to use this new opening otherwise so here it is anyway.
Surprised that for the first time in living memory they opened Level 3 of Docklands for a meaningless match. Presumably this thinning out the already tiny crowd was why I didn't have to sit next to any proper, stereotyped Pie ferals.
Instead my favourite was the MFC bloke who reached across the poor girl sitting beside him to throw a big high five to another woman every time we kicked a goal. Her in the middle didn't seem impressed, and it was hard to tell whether that's because she followed the Pies or had old mate's armpit jammed into her face every few minutes.
Also correct me if I'm wrong but have the cheersquad ditched *team name* *clap!* *clap!* *clap!* for a Collingwood style Mellllllllllllllllbourne chant? If true I'd suffer from some of the most serious MFC cultural cringe since they tried to unveil the flag while the trumpeteer went about his free form jazz numbers in a velvet jacket.
Stat My Bitch Up
We're now last start winners at both Football Park and Docklands. In practice matches. Also we're still unbeaten against Collingwood ever in Night Series/Pre-Season competition, somehow only ever having played them twice. This useless stat comes to you courtesy of Demon Wiki, your connection for all sorts of stats that you never thought you needed to know.
Hawthorn on Saturday night. They were at relatively decent strength against GWS on Saturday but will probably add total football Franklin to wander up and down the ground persecuting us. God knows what that means for us but considering the demolition job Frawley/Garland/Sellar etc did on Cloke and Dawes (compare and contrast to Queen's Birthday last year) and you can be confident that if we're going to get killed anywhere it won't be by their tall forwards. Doesn't mean that we won't get plugged up elsewhere though.
Also if you're keen on omen bets and assuming that we're going to be supernova in the next couple of years consider the fact that it was against Hawthorn in the 2007 NAB Cup that it all start going horrendously wrong, pitching us into the five year slopfest, so what better time to come out of the doldrums? Maybe not. Roll on Brisbane.
Here's to new dawn #543 finally being the one that doesn't end up with us being knifed us in the back.