.. incorporating the not-at-all famous Demonblog State of the Union address
"Don't worry, boys, we'll weather this storm of approval and come out as hated as ever." - Saul Alinsky
So the pre-season started with an uncharacteristic air of optimism around the place (Neeld, the Clark heist etc..) and ended in large swathes of our fanbase having to be restrained from self harm before everything was well and truly put into perspective in the week before the real stuff started.
That's Melbourne for you. Never a dull moment. Except when we're involving ourselves in two goal first halves and playing like Sydney under heavy sedation. That's when you could be forgiven for turning up coked to the eyeballs to try and get through it all.
Of course that era's over now isn't it? Rumours in dark corners and laneways still have it that we're on a one way ride to the stratosphere of Australian Rules Football. Well perhaps we are, but we're not getting there this year and even before the rollercoaster pre-season we were never going to be. Not yet. Patience is a virtue. Steel yourself for a heady mix of joy, desperation, frustration and legal trouble over the next few years.
There's a neat split between people who think the pre-season means absolutely nothing, citing numerous examples of ludicrous NAB Cup and practice match results to back it up, and people who scream that a game is a game no matter what, we've practically played our best available 22 for the last two matches and been stuffed so we'd may as well just accept that we're going to be absolute pants this year.
Personally I've got a foot in either camp, but if there's one thing that unite all of us it's that we're in it together. For better or worse, richer or poorer etc.. etc.. Some may have jumped off out of sheer frustration/a pathological need to support a winnin team but if they hadn't gone after '07-'09 then I expect they're pretty much rusted on now. Either way I don't expect you'd be reading this as one of the rats abandoning the sinking ship then you'll probably object to being called a FILTHY POLTROON every second paragraph.
No, they're all cowering behind their sofas or cheering on the Melbourne Storm exclusively. Now it's just you, me and 30,000 fellow sufferers. And this is us. Every year for the last 40 we've been going off a first floor balcony. Well, the last 23 seasons in my case - god help those of you who had to live through the 70's and are now being rewarded with this era.
Surely the end is nigh in one way or another.
I'm not by any stretch of the imagination expecting us to make the finals this year but for the collective sanity of all of us it would good to see some proper signs, not the dinky little ones that I've been holding close to my heart for the last five years. And this does not included flogging interstate teams by 15 goals only to get tonked by pretty much every Victorian side in the following weeks. Look at North, nobody wants to finish ninth two years in a row but at least they can go into a season thinking they're on the up. That's what I want next year. Or now if possible but no pressure.
If you're still desperate for some sort of miracle season that puts the plot of The Club to shame please consider the fact that 186 was just six premiership matches ago. Using pure Footy Maths we're as far away from 186 as we are from playing our Round 6 match on Saturday 5 May against Geelong at Kardinia Park and.. oh shit.
But it couldn't happen again could it? Of course not. Chances are we'll still get tonked by something approaching ten goals but there's something different about now compared to when that shattered rump of a side went out and got fed into the second biggest shredder in league history. What it is I'm not entirely sure considering that on Saturday Clark, Magner and Neeld (+ 5000 assistants) will be the only new faces on offer.
Let's not forget that even after 186 we only fell over the line against Gold Coast and lost to both Richmond and Port - not to mention being belted handily by Carlton and the Eagles. We've all got varying degrees of questions about the recruiting over the last few years but that's a matter to debate with past administrations, the current one has inherited something in only marginally better shape than the one Bailey did and they've got to have some time to work out how to get to the best out of it.
In a way it's almost a shame that our first game is an eminently winnable clash with the Lions at the MCG. Firstly there's going to be the Mitch Clark circus, which is ok as long as he plays a decent game, then there's the possibility of utter fan meltdown if we don't win - and because it would take a brave person to publicly go The Neeld Corporation after Round 1 you can expect that it'll be the usual scapegoats who take a kicking for all our failings.
Step forth Watts, Morton, Bennell and wear a helmet because fairly or not you are going to get hammered by our fans if things go wrong this year. The default setting of the internet is that everything is shit and that we know better (god knows I'm willing to put my hand up and admit to being part of the problem not the solution).
Fortunately the only place that reality and internet nutbaggery collide is when footy players open Twitter accounts and allow the community a hotline to abusing them. There's a good reason why Morton ditched Twitter, Bennell is amongst a handful of players who never went near it and Watts is probably banned from reading his @ messages by the club psychologist. We can mash keyboards to our hearts content (and memo to all involved: we will) but there are highly paid professionals putting this production together so give it some time.
Yes, I know I said the same thing during the darker days of Baileyball but it's true. This time I reserve the right to lose my mind at the end of the year but not a second before then. I go into this season expecting 'development' (CLICHE) and anything better is a bonus.
Of course if we do win against the Lions it'll be all smiles happy days and ridiculously overblown expectations like just after the Collingwood game. Until the next downer when it'll be back to the picket line with SACK EVERYONE banners. Even if all goes well this year there are going to be some downers so prepare yourself for it now so it's not such a shock when they do come. Maybe there'll be one in the first round? Either way try not to totally embarass yourself.
Which would usually bring us neatly to the MFC Facebook Comment of the Week but for obvious reasons people have managed to put aside their whinging to pay tribute to Jimmy. And rightly so too. Won't last. I predict that the moment the teams come out there will be banshee style wailing via text and I'll be there to capture it. Not that you'll ever see it if we lose Saturday afternoon because whatever's said before then will be nothing in comparison to that firestorm of doubt.
So, how's this damned season going to play out?
Best case scenario
Win four of the first five, dropping only the inevitable Subiaco debacle. 2-4 from there as the games get harder leaves us 6-5 at the halfway mark. An 8-3 second half of the year sees a 14-8 finish for fifth place and a home final. We win the first one, lose the second and everyone goes home wide-eyed and with a childlike glee at the wonder of football.
We are so calm that we don't even notice them change it to a 0 interchange, 4 sub system at the end of the year with 9 point goals for torpedos and Dwayne Russell as the first AFL Commissioner of Commentary.
More realistic scenario
A bunch of shit that you didn't expect to happen does and we finish somewhere between 8th and 12th <-- INSIGHT.
Moderately shite case scenario
Brisbane beat us in a close one then we're slaughted by the Eagles in Perth. A resurgent Richmond cut us up courtesy of hot performances by Emo Maric and Miller. With the morale of the nervier portions of fan base sinking at a record rate the Neeld Corporation gameplan starts to gel in time for one win of two against the free-falling Saints or Footscray.
From there it's one more win against either Sydney or Essendon and we go into the bye 2-9. At this point more than a handful of people will be either trying to get Mark Neeld and friends sacked or will start doing the calculations that lead to us getting a hundred first round picks and an extra life if we tank like buggery.
We come home with an easier draw, the pieces start to gel and the club avoids the compulsion to implode again. Seven wins leaves us 9-13 and half a game better off than 2011, good for approximately 13th and with a platform to build on for next year.
Worst case scenario
Lose to Brisbane, suffer yet more of an injury crisis, get thrashed by the Eagles and go into an early season freefall which sees us lose to all the good sides and suffer close losses to the other slop teams. We hit the bye 0-12 and everyone's on the verge of topping themselves.
Five wins in the second half of the year, starting with the bottom of the harbour clash against GWS, claw back some respectability and we finish 16th - above just GWS and one of Gold Coast or Port while I miss the last game of the season due to being interned in a mental health ward after being found half naked atop the Brunton Avenue bridge screaming foul obscenities about Adrian Anderson.
To be entirely honest any of the above could happen so you might want to see your doctor by Saturday morning to stock up on every legal pharmaceutical that you can get your hands on.
2012 Demonblog betting markets
First the updated betting markets based on the pre-season. They should be read in conjunction with the pre-season version posted 24 January. Gamble responsibly. Demonblog and BigFooty will not be held responsible for any financial losses incurred by using the following prices to engage in illicit side bets with your friends or workmates.
Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
Jones' successful Paul Prymke Plate for Pre Season Performance campaign sees him installed as favourite in his attempt to become the first ever two time winner.
Last year's champion Moloney remains a firm second favourite due to his proven ability to smash five vote games every once in a while. The people's champion Frawley starts the year as our most important and probably best player but has history against him as no defender has ever won the award before.
The big mover is Magner into 16's while Sylvia and Jurrah have suffered due to their 'troubles' and Neville Jetta dropped out of contention when he entered injury hell.
$3.50 - Nathan Jones
$4 - Brent Moloney
$6 - Jack Trengove, James Frawley
$7 - Mark Jamar
$10 - Jack Watts, Jordie McKenzie
$12 - Brad Green, Mitch Clark
$15 - Jack Grimes, Stefan Martin
$16 - James Magner, Jeremy Howe
$18 - Colin Garland
$20 - Colin Sylvia, Jared Rivers
$25 - Jordan Gysberts, Ricky Petterd
$30 - Aaron Davey, Sam Blease
$35 - Matthew Bate, Luke Tapscott, Lynden Dunn
$40 - Rohan Bail
$50 - Clint Bartram, Cale Morton, Daniel Nicholson
$75 - James Strauss, Jamie Bennell
$80 - Tom Couch
$90 - James Sellar, Joel Macdonald
$100 - Tom McDonald
$135 - Jack Fitzpatrick
$250 - Lucas Cook, Liam Jurrah
$300 - Troy Davis, Josh Tynan
$500 - Rory Taggert, Jake Spencer
$600 - Michael Evans, Kelvin Lawrence
$750 - Jai Sheahan
$1000 - Neville Jetta, Leigh Williams
$10000 - Max Gawn
Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
Frawley eases slightly due to Garland's performance in the pre-season. Joel Macdonald the slider while Sellar is the big mover now that it looks as if he might actually play more than two games.
$2.50 - James Frawley
$4 - Colin Garland
$7 - Jack Grimes
$10 - Jared Rivers
$22 - Joel Macdonald
$25 - Tom McDonald
$30 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
$35 - James Strauss, James Sellar
$50 - Jamie Bennell
$100 - Stefan Martin
$1000 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER (Not one player scores a vote for playing in defence all year).
Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year
After starting at $12 in a field with no standouts Magner has shot to comfortable favouritism. Lucas Cook the slider due to not having been seen once in a senior capacity and [INSERT YOUR OWN JACK DARLING COMMENT HERE].
$2 - James Magner
$8 - Tom McDonald
$12 - Tom Couch
$18 - Lucas Cook, Josh Tynan
$20 - Troy Davis, Jack Fitzpatrick
$30 - Kelvin Lawrence, Rory Taggert
$50 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER (Nobody listed scores a vote)
$75 - Jai Sheahan
$100 - Leigh Williams
Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Jamar now almost unbackable after pre-season showed plans for the Stefan Martin Experience involved more forward time. Be cautious of the SME being disqualified for not spending enough time in the ruck.
$1.50 - Mark Jamar
$9 - Stefan Martin
$30 - Jack Fitzpatrick
$75 - Jake Spencer
$100 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
$1000 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
$10000 - Max Gawn
Demonblog's chosen 21+1
Sylvia was already out for R1 care of his Out Run tribute but injury, legal considerations and no game time have removed three more of his colleagues. The statuses of Tapscott/Morton/Grimes/Magner are still up in the air but I expected the last two to play at least. Would love Tapscott in as well but coming off zero matches this pre-season it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for him to play a couple of warm ups and come back in time to be verbally abused in Perth again.
B: Bartram, Frawley, Rivers
HB: Grimes, Garland, Bail
C: Moloney, Trengove, Jones
HF: Green, Watts, Howe
F: Petterd, Clark, Davey
Foll: Jamar, Magner, McKenzie
I/C: Martin, Bate, Blease
EM: Gysberts, Bennell, Tapscott
IN: Magner, Bate, Dunn
OUT: Jurrah (inj/susp), Tapscott (inj), Gysberts (omit)
On the rise
Improvers from last season should be Blease, Grimes, Gysberts, Howe, Jones, McDonald, Petterd, Tapscott and Trengove. Which is not to say the likes of the Stefan Martin Experience aren't going to get better as well but I'm projecting that the three players who have the most improvement will come out of this lot.
Then there's the rookies who have nothing to improve on so they don't count.
On the chopping block
Various names that are about to be listed might still be contracted after this year but it doesn't mean that we won't try and offload them anyway. In one way or the other a swathe of the following names aren't going to be around next year, so enjoy them while you can. We've got to ditch at least three people off the senior list alone at the end of the season and as I can't see anybody voluntarily retiring this season there's going to be an execution or two to be had.
And the contenders are: Bate, Bennell, Davey, Dunn, Fitzpatrick, Jetta, Jurrah, Macdonald, Morton, Spencer and Sylvia plus Evans and Lawrence on the rookie list.
At an absolute minimum I'm going to say Joel Mac is given a firm handshake with our best wishes for the future and that Neville Jetta's pre-season injury woes might have cost him his spot unless he storms home with a withering run. Next most vulnerable to trade or the axe are Bate, Dunn and Spencer while god only knows what's going to happen to the likes of Jurrah, Morton and Sylvia.
Col could be the most crucial player in this side but not only was he not showing it in the pre-season but now he's missing a sizeable chunk of the real stuff thanks to being cleaned up by that Port goofball. The prospects of a Neeld cut and run after a year to evaluate the list looms large and if we're already going into the first round with two picks (after Jack Viney is claimed) then what's to say he's not going to leap at the chance for another one if somebody's stupid enough to fall for it.
Projected league ladder
How I hope I'm wrong, but last year I said 11th and we finished 13th so at the very least let's hope that reverses. I will take a strong 11th but ideally would like to win 10 games in at least be in the mix with a few weeks to go. Even more ideally I'd like to win the flag but that's not going to happen is it?
Only problem I can see is that we might be getting 'better' but who's getting worse? Everyone knows who the strugglers should be and even then we're not far above. Maybe in game wins but even if you finish 17th six wins about 18th you were still second last.
Somebody will always die out of nowhere a'la Adelaide/Footscray last year so there's always that. I'm backing Essendon for that and still picking them to finish above us. Thumbs up for optimism. I know you're reading Melbourne (no I don't, because you're not) so feel free to prove me wrong.
1 - Hawthorn
2 - Collingwood
3 - Geelong
-- daylight --
4 - West Coast
5 - Carlton
-- making up the numbers --
6 - Fremantle
7 - Adelaide
8 - North Melbourne
9 - Richmond
10 - Sydney
11 - St Kilda
12 - Essendon
13 - Melbourne
-- no chance --
14 - Brisbane
15 - Footscray
16 - Port Adelaide
17 - Gold Coast
18 - GWS
Should you be excited?
Of course you should. Even in our shittest seasons there have been some lifelong memories which have come from watching this club. Some of them have even been good memories. Buy your membership, turn up for Round 1 and try to keep an open mind for at least the first two quarters.