Sunday, 1 July 2012

Taking the clunge

Now that the carnival (of hate) is over it's comforting to welcome back the Melbourne Football Club I remember so clearly. One that allows the opposition to run free all over the ground with their players 20m clear on their own inside 50, features 'forwards' (makeshift or otherwise) never, ever, EVER lead for the ball inside 50 and who only crack 50 points due to junktime slop goals. They had better start to get this right soon because there's not much longer where you'll be able to mark down wins against the 'new' sides as almost certain victories.

The good news is that if you're keen on hiding behind excuses we had an ok one today in the loss of Clark and Davey during the week and Jamar/Jones before the match. If you're going with that defence then you've got my best wishes because you do have a point BUT in the interests of looking towards next year and the near future I'm choosing to gloss over that and concentrate on the fact that even when they were in we were carrying at least half a team of players who aren't capable of helping drag a club to its feet and that has next to no obvious depth now that injuries have started to bite.

Of course we were all foolishly seduced by a handful of encouraging performances, if you didn't take any good sign you could get as a footy fan you'd end up banging off the walls in a mental aslyum, but surely we were insane to think that the loss of Clark alone wasn't going to pitch us back into the bottom division of the Laughing Stock League. Then take out our only proper ruckman and best midfielder (by our standards) as well and we were always going to be back above only the heartless corporate franchises in that famous league. Back where we belong I'd say.

At least Jones is allegedly only out for a week (how many times have we heard that and not seen the person again for six months?) but it's going to become very obvious, very quickly if it hasn't already how much Clark's mystery foot injury is going to damage any chance we've got of putting together decent scores or springing anything but the most unlikely of upsets for the rest of the year. Not just because he's the only decent forward we've got and our best crumber (which reflects more poorly on the rest of the list and recruiting than anything else) but also our next best option as a ruckman. Which is fine when Jamar's playing, but when he's one of the mystery outs then the fact that Mitch is everything to everyone becomes even more evident.

We were also denied the sub-plot of the Clark return to the Gabba after that brief, financially driven unpleasantness last year but I don't expect Lions fans would care that much considering he was leaving anyway so what did they care where he ended up? More likely that Freo fans would be booing if they hadn't set themselves on fire at having to put up with Ross Lyon's coaching. Either way it wouldn't have had any of the entertainment value of the carnival of hatred last week, but I guess old mate with the $6 mil in his bank account had the last laugh there as well when fate's sniper bullet whizzed past him and hit the other 'controversial highly paid recruit' instead.

So the man who does it all (including often turning up in the backline when all else is lost) is gone and we mourn his loss for the rest of the year with a river of tears, but it's no excuse for everyone else to give up as well - and that includes the coaching staff. Ok, so you've got three absolute first choice players out of the side and another who had just put in a decent performance - albeit against a team 78 points shitter than us - and you've been forced out of necessity to play The Spencil for the first time since Round 14, 2010, four games off a serious knee injury but what in the name of dutch buggery were they doing with Watts in the first quarter?

I don't know whether I'm getting everything arse around, and this is one of the times you'd love to be able to fire a few questions off at the press conference, but are we grooming Watts to become a killer, key position full back anytime soon? I wouldn't have thought so. I thought he was just down there because a) he was learning how to play as a forward or more likely b) because he's the only 'defender' we've got who can be relied upon to hit a target by foot more than 50% of the time - not because we're about to throw Frawley into the 'forward line' (or what we pass off as one) experiment and need Watts to line up on Jack Riewoldt next week.

I'll be charitable and say that it was a genuine attempt at some sort of tactical genius, and that both the mystery outs were legitimate rather than the product of realising we could finish about Footscray if they keep playing like they have been for the last month but I doubt others will be so kind. Doesn't really matter if it wasn't because you can get away with murder in this competition and nobody will bat an eyelid - but you'd want to watch out that you don't give the league any chance to take your draft picks away and give them to Gold Coast to try and prop them up for a few more weeks.

With a couple of minor exceptions I've been an unashamed Neeld fan from day 1, and the Watts vs Brown debacle is going right up there with Clark into the ruck when we were in the game against Hawthorn at the top of the list of things he's done to give me the shits in terrific fashion. That's fine, life would be very boring if you agreed with everything the coaches do, but I'm cracking the sads about it now. Everything else about the game was so boring and forgettable that I expect I'll have forgotten by this time tomorrow.

Assuming everything pre-match was legitimate you can't blame the coaches for some of the circumstances. They couldn't help three key senior players going down before the match, including your best midfielder and only proper ruckman, and they couldn't help that Tom McDonald became the latest victim of the MFC Media Attention curse five minutes in the first quarter but fark me to a standstill who thought playing a non-defender on Jonathan Brown was a good idea? It was up there with Fev on Fraser Gehrig without the all important element of being designed as a humiliating punishment. And was about equally as successful. Ironically enough the day that happened we played and lost at the Gabba and I went out afterwards and got absolutely off my tits with a complete stranger.

The shambles of a matchup was hardly Watts' fault, considering that's not where he's meant to be playing and nobody else seemed very interested in giving him a hand, but those last two goals of the first quarter absolutely knifed us after we'd scrapped so hard to get back into the game in the middle of the quarter. I don't care if we're rubbish this year, any benefits he was going to get for the future from being beaten up by a gigantic man are negligible compared to the chance for the side to play properly and get some more confidence into the side. Our chances of getting out of the bottom three are almost nil if Footscray can win one more game so let's be serious.

And what a scrap it was to get back into it. Nothing gets done easily around here. Even when we were doing alright moving the ball around, which didn't last long, the whole quarter's attacking effort was just hoofing it to the top of the square and hoping that a forward line including three (3) defenders and more often than not The Spencil would somehow prevail. It didn't. The fact that we got in any way 'back into it' midway through the quarter was a testament to the fact that they we got it in there so many times, not to having any decent targets to kick at OR the ability to kick it decently at the non-decent targets.

You're never going to beat any half decent side playing like unless they have the foulest of off-nights and forget how to kick straight like Essendon. It now appears that Brisbane are actually quite good (well, better than us at least) and crucially were taking their chances when we laid them out on a platter so none of the elements for an upset were present and from when that last goal of the first quarter went through the result was only going to go one way.

I'd have thought that the grim struggle that was our attempts to kick goals might have convinced them to give Watts another go up front. We were certainly never going to win spending ten minutes pushing forward towards our line like trench warfare only to bleed goals out of the centre 45 seconds after kicking one. Watts was still pretty good for the rest of the game and is a far better competitor than anyone who doesn't follow us gives him credit for but they've got rocks in their head if they think that first quarter shambles did anything for his 'development' as a forward - and that our barely functioning forward line was doing anything for the confidence of the players in it or the ones kicking at it.

We all got a bit excited by tonking some rubbish last week but clearly it's not as easy to get a run on against a real side as it is against a bunch of kids and broken down ex-stars - and for all our dominance in the middle of the first quarter it can't be hidden that the goals came from Blease hoofing one from distance, a scrambled goal by noted non-forward Jordie McKenzie and finally a Sylvia mark totally outstretched over his head rather than from any sort of decent kick/lead interface. If we couldn't score with that much service when were we ever going to? So why not try a guy who has previously taken a few good contested marks up forward, and has been taking them in the backline for the last month, up front and see what happens? Once you're five goals down you're not going to win without kicking goals so when you get to that point and it's obviously not going to be a high scoring shootout let's tear open the famous Plan B envelope.

Considering who we were missing it was hardly the recipe for a high scoring game anyway but any danger of making it interesting? Obviously not when they blew us away in the second quarter in the face of token resistance and a forward structure which seemed to expect Magner to be taking huge pack marks as if he was Jeremy Howe while everyone else who could possibly play the role of a marking forward (e.g Jeremy Howe) was strung out around the ground being run off their legs by Brisbane players.

Just the two behinds in the second quarter then. Another exciting day for the dwindling contingent of Melbourne fans everywhere. Garland and Rivers tried hard up front but neither of them is going to kick more than one or two goals a week against sides who aren't absolute garbage so unless we can find some other options it's going to get ugly as the weeks go on. There will be a queue of people from here to Mildura to kick Matthew Bate for not getting a touch in the first quarter, and that's fine but how good were his contested marks at the end of the game? Could he not have been played at FF at some point? He's never going to kick ten but at least unlike Rivers it's his natural habitat - same with Dunn who was just wandering around down back doing nothing in particular when he's one of the few players we've got who, on his day, can lead out and kick goals. Surely he's a better option than Tapscott? There's been experimental and there's being too experimental. Even if Tapscott did rort the umpire into giving him a terrible free in the first quarter he did very little else, and if there's no spot for him in the backline then he's got to go back to Casey. He's young, he'll get many more chances.

But why would you have anybody who can lead in our forward line? They'd feel well out of place. It's no wonder that on the rare occasion somebody does get out on a lead that the ball is booted over his head, because nobody ever expects them to be leading in the first place. Either that or they're leading out to the boundary line and either marking 65m out on the fence or having it kicked out on the full at their feet. If you're going to have bandaid solutions like Bail and Magner down there they have to lead because they're not going to take huge pack marks - and there's no bloody point booting it on top of their head with two defenders all over them.

Rivers and Garland too might have had their successes over the last few weeks but they're fill-ins at the moment. Garland is probably more chance of playing down there long term than Rivers, and probably will for the rest of the year, but unless we can develop some other options OR find another way of creating chances then we'll be back to kicking five goals a week for the rest of the year and maybe racking up a couple of decent scores against GWS and Gold Coast if we're lucky.

The fact that we had more inside 50's and had our score doubled should scare everyone. Imagine what happens on the days we play really good teams and can't get it forward? If the rest of this year is anything to go by there's only one thing we're doing if it's not scoring - and that's conceding. Ok if you're comfortable with ten goal losses but there are a lot better teams than Brisbane going around and we could concede a lot more, a lot more quickly if we're not careful.

We got the first goal of the third quarter to at least stay within miracle distance but in true MFC fashion that drought breaking goal - our first since 20 minutes into the first quarter - was followed by one at the other end seconds later. For the second time this year Pearce Hanley was taking the piss out of us kicking goals on the run and generally playing like the sort of fully developed, quality footballer that we can't even find within Australia let alone plucking from far away lands.

It can't hurt Brisbane's kids that they're surrounded by the likes of Black, Brown and up until this year Luke Power - champion players who will perform week in, week out even as all is crumbling around them. We just don't have any of those and no bloody wonder that the fringe players struggle to do anything in that environment. You don't have to have won a premiership to achieve that status, and you don't have to be an absolute champion of the game like Matthew Pavlich, but oh for one lone superstar who can inspire those around him to better things or just do it himself if nobody else will. How do Collingwood get away with playing Jamie Elliot, Simon Buckley, Jackson Paine, Marley Williams and Caolan Mooney in the same side? Because they're surrounded by champions. If you put those five (actually I don't want Buckley back, make it four) into our side they'd be wandering around looking stupid and hoofing it straight out on the full with every touch.

No shit we haven't got the senior players to carry kids and hacks and still win ten in a row but have we got senior players who can carry anything? Not without Clark, Jamar and Jones in the side and with Moloney still suffering a mystery drop in form of epic fashion. We all hope that Watts, Grimes, Trengove, Jack Viney and [compensation picks x2] will do it in the future, but if they don't then we'll be having the same conversation in five years time while the club slowly bleeds to death.

Back in the present junk time was duly declared halfway through the third quarter and truth be told I lost complete interest in what was going on. Sat there watching the whole thing but it was just so terrible it was hard to take an interest - the only legitimate highlight of the last three quarters was the The SME roving his own tap in the centre and going forward in a fashion that would have made the commentators whack off openly if he was Nic Nat.

He was bloody good too The Experience (relatively speaking anyway). I'm not just saying this because he's my favourite player but he was one of the few proper winners we had this afternoon. The quicker we can team him up with Jamar again the better because not having that proper second option has killed us this year, and he's just a smart player. No superstar by any stretch but he knows what to do when the ball is around. Certainly a better option as a ruckman than The Spencil, who might try his heart out but is just not good enough and will almost certainly be given the boot at the end of the year. I'd rather have gone with SME/Sellar as a stop gap combination and, god forbid, picked Bennell instead.

Watts was good too once he was played properly (i.e not on a power forward), you can at least rely on him to have a go in the backline when its under siege for most of the game and the ball is coming in without the slightest bit of pressure on the kicker. What he is not though is the kind of guy to back into a pack with Brown/Franklin/etc.. bearing down on him at a million miles an hour. No drama with that, not everyone is going to be.

There weren't many other winners to be honest. I was happy with Blease's performance coming on as the sub and Nicholson was pretty good too given that he's a fringe player who can run quickly but not kick it properly but most of the others were decidedly average. How many of the people playing today are going forward in their career, how many are standing still and how many are going backwards?

I don't know what's wrong with them other than that too many of them just aren't good enough or are carrying some sort of mystery ailment (physical or mental) which is affecting them. You can't blame a guy like Spencer who was really there a'la Nick Smith in the Freo final because we were perceived to have nothing else but they've got to work out what's wrong with Moloney, because at the moment he's not doing anything that makes him worth signing again even if he wants to stay. I'd love to keep him but they won't be able to justify paying him anything decent, unless it's a one year golden handshake to get us up to the minimum salary cap when we miss out on signing a gun free agent. If he needs to pull out of this year and get himself right to play for us next season then do it, there's nothing to lose. Alternatively if he's going to go then he can keep driving his price down on a weekly basis for all I care.

Trengove also keeps just hanging on. Love the guy with all of it but reckon he'd get dropped if he wasn't captain. Not the first young player to have a drop in form but I'm not even sure what role he's supposed to be playing at the moment - while we're so keen on 'experimenting' for better or worse how about playing him out of the middle and if he gets battered so be it. There's no point just having him wandering around a half back flank doing nothing like he is at the moment.

What a bad week. It hurts when you have all your key flaws exposed at the same time. Plenty of work to be done before next Saturday or Richmond are going to shamefully flog us. Let's move straight onto that one and forget this ever existed. Just like how Geelong have probably forgotten half of the wins that got them to the point they're at now (allegedly about to topple, though we've heard that before) this gets filed alongside so many other disappointing games during our dark ages - another loss when we weren't expected to win, another day with only a handful of highlights by which to remember it. Burn the tapes.

2012 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
Yet another week where ten players could have scored a vote but none could really honestly say they deserved it.

5 - Stefan Martin
4 - Jack Watts
3 - Colin Sylvia
2 - Daniel Nicholson
1 - Sam Blease

Apologies to Jordie McKenzie (next cab off the rank) then daylight to the next level apologies for Macdonald, Bate (last three quarters only), Sellar, Garland, Rivers and Frawley - none of whom went anywhere near getting a vote.

Leaderboard
Watts closes the gap on Jones to just under five BOGs but the leader isn't going to be out forever so I can see the Jakovich winner being provisionally crowned in the next two weeks at this rate. The only thing missing the game has done is stuff up his chance of smashing the all time record for votes in a season.

Elsewhere it's cruel for Jamar to be leapt over in the Stynes voting by the Stefan Martin Experience after one performance but as has been pointed out many times before, the best way to take home one on the minor awards on this site is to be the least worst in a shit performance a couple of times rather than the sixth best in a cracker. It's not fair, but if life was fair Murray Wrensted would have kicked the goal that put Melbourne out of the '88 finals and I'd be following another side right now.

Also Rivers is officially DQ'ed from the Seecamp for playing forward too much so Grimes takes the lead despite the fact that tonight he couldn't have hit the side of a barn by foot or hand.

38 - Nathan Jones
20 - Jack Watts
19 - Mitch Clark
14 - Jeremy Howe
13 - James Magner (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
12 - Jordie McKenzie
10 - Jack Grimes (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Jared Rivers
9 - Tom McDonald
8 - Matthew Bate, Stefan Martin (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
5 - Clint Bartram, James Frawley, Sam Blease
4 - Jack Trengove, Brent Moloney
3 - Mark Jamar, Colin Sylvia
2 - Daniel Nicholson
1 - Rohan Bail, Sam Blease, James Sellar

MFC Facebook Comment of the Week

I'm no bloody good at using Facebook anymore (too old, too many changes to the way it works and timelines can piss right off) but it seems like they didn't even bother to open a thread for people to whinge in today. I'd turn to Twitter for the madness but really other than the people who write to @melbournefc as if it's Mark Neeld reading it and not some poor, underpaid club employee people weren't saying anything that I haven't - just with a few more obscenities. So, for this week I suppose the nutbags have won.

Crowd Watch
I stayed home and yelled obscenities at the television on my own. It's the only way to watch a game if you're not at it, but my god is there any danger that Channel 7 could provide coverage that doesn't look like you're watching from the Canary Islands with a coat hanger for an antenna? Was there something wrong with my television? I've watched a lot of games on Channel 7 this year and don't remember any of them being that unwatchable, especially from long shots where it looked more like a Commodore 64 game than a 21st century sporting broadcast.

It was as watchable as the one and only time I've resorted to an illicit internet rebroadcast of one of our games - with the difference being that I was watching it on an HD TV and not through a browser window with randomly pop up ads for casinos and porn sites.

The quality of the picture was so bad it deserved a commentary team featuring Dwayne Russell and Tony Shaw or the Channel 7 version of horror featuring Hamish McLachlan. We got Bruce/Dennis and Leigh Matthews and they duly delivered the appropriate level of slop by sleazily talking about 50 Shades of Grey (note for future readers, a soft porn paperback beloved by housewives) as if they were panting, raincoated perverts hanging around the Shaft cinema.

I don't blame them for losing interest in a terrible game but maybe something had been said in the AFL Media Association hot tub during the week because in the two quarters I watched of the Geelong vs Port game Dwayne was not heard to scream one foolish catchphrase or declare any inside 50 to be a 'chaos ball'. Which is a first. Maybe they cut a deal that for one week only Bruce and Dennis would talk about anything but football and Dwayne would actually call a game. Apparently the BT/Luke Darcy self-promotional team of terrific wankers weren't involved in these discussions because they carried on last night like pissheads sitting in a shed regardless of the fact that 300,000 odd people were watching.

Next Week
Casey were absolutely flogged on Saturday so I suspect - not having actually been there - that nobody's an absolute certainty BUT even assuming the three mystery injuries become mysteriously uninjured and that McDonald is still driving back to Melbourne next Saturday afternoon (stopping at the Holbrook submarine) I must have Lucas Cook in this team now even if he only half deserves it.

Chances are Richmond are still better than us even if they're not the next big thing that everyone thought a month ago, so let's not get too horny over the Rivers/Garland experiment when there's a potential future player waiting in the wings. He might not come in and dominate straight off but it's hardly a comedy selection a'la Tony Notte for the Eagles that time we thrashed them at the 'G and Morton went wild (hey kids, both these things actually happened). Given that we're playing for 15th at best the time is now. If Jamar can't come back for any reason at least the Experience can play first ruck and Cook can have a bash at being a target. Odds are he'll storm off 20 minutes into the first quarter after having had 50 decent leads ignored a'la Watts when he played forward last year.

Otherwise I'm not particularly keen on anybody else. As much as I'd like to bring back Petterd, if Gold Coast aren't ringing him up every week and suggesting that he comes home then they're even more stupid than originally thought. Still a great man but I've all but given up on him coming back for more than one or two more token matches before we get a third round pick for him. Wish him all the best in his future endeavours, may he smash us like a guitar at some point.

IN: Cook, Davey, Jamar, Jones
OUT: McDonald (inj), Spencer, Bail, Tapscott (omit)

Final Thoughts
Circumstances are conspiring against the stirring second half of the year revival that we're all hoping for (well I am at least) but a lot of players are going to have the proverbial papers stamped in the next few weeks. You can't get rid of everybody but you can play a lot of them in the reserves every week until their contracts run out.

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