Saturday, 23 February 2013

Casual Friday

New season, and 'new Blogger' is not even 'new' any more, but it is still rubbish, so please forgive any random spaces or times where it has decided that I'd like to change font without direction.

Well, hello (officially) to season 2013 and isn't good to have footy back? In these trying times we need now, more than ever, a sport with its moral compass firmly pointed in the right direction.

It's been 176 days since we limped to the end of last season in such laughable fashion that Freo couldn't even encourage us to kick enough goals to 'win' them a home final - and it seems like it's taken about about ten times that. From the Tankquiry (not guilty thanks), to successfully managing to smuggle Viney through customs as a second round pick, delisting or trading every man and his dog, picking up two players thanks to some dubious GWS draft rules, bringing in players from quite literally all over the globe and 26 more editions of the Tankquiry, eventually leading to its conclusion (again, not guilty. Just though I'd mention that) I'm not sure we've ever had a busier off-season other than the merger year.

Frankly I've had trouble wrapping my head around it all. Where are Morton and Bennell to yell at? Why aren't we freeing Ricky Petterd anymore? And who else is terminally glum that the Stefan Martin Experience is now no longer with us? In their place we've gone out and got what must be one of the most diverse, and let's be entirely honest, bizarre recruiting classes since Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol.

Will it work? Well, at the risk of gouging a hole in our 2013 membership drive I'm unfortunately here to tell you that we're not going to win the premiership. This revelation may come as some sort of shock to you, so you might want to sit down for the next bit as well. The chances are we're not going to make the finals either. But that's not what they were all recruited for  - not this year anyway, but it would be a bonus (*hint*) - and as much as human nature says I want it now now now now now the proof will come in a couple of years. "Get stuffed with long term plans" I hear you say, and my heart says the same - but there's a reason they roped in well regarded senior players, invested in Jesse Hogan a year before he's eligible to play and didn't trade pick four for Trent Croad.

The main goal for 2013 is obviously to win as many games of football as possible, but given that not every team who finished above us is going to gift us games by playing as if under heavy sedation a'la Essendon we've got to resign ourselves to the fact that winning more games than we lose would be an outstanding achievement considering what happened last year. Lofty ambitions aside, the real goal should be to not get humiliated like we did against Sydney, and to start being a chance in more games during the last quarter instead of getting five goals behind and then plodding to the finish line content not to be thrashed. Me? Lofty goals can blow me, I'm still sticking with a strong 13th being as good as finishing 8th.

What a world we live in when 13th is considered 'not all that bad', but put down thy fork and step away from the toaster it's not all that bad. Brisbane finished 13th last year and won ten games - so a return to eight wins and some big bastard outdoor, side of a freeway sized billboard signs that we're pointing in the right direction will do me nicely.

So, this odyssey that will eventually lead to us winning a premiership in 2029 (write it down) began at your favourite ground and mine (*cough* *spit*) Docklands. A ground where, on the one night of the year when nobody has any idea who half the players on their own team are or who is actually playing, they decided on not putting any team or player information up on the scoreboard. Which was helpful to those of you who wanted to know anything about what was going on at the game you probably paid to get into to. Customer experience has never been a high priority at that place, as you can see whenever you're unlucky enough to have to buy a ticket from one of their surly counter staff.

Want to know who is actually playing? Tough luck! Who had been subbed off (was there a sub rule in action? They're all shit no matter which competition they're in) or god forbid who from game one wasn't playing in game two? Swivel! They did, however, offer an 'amusing' video of a seagull walking around which was worth the price of admission alone (if the price was $0.20) even if you had just spent a game and a half trying to work out who Dean Terlich was and if he was even playing because nobody could be arsed asking for a team sheet.

Stadium issues aside it was good to finally see the Citizens on Patrol in the red and blue to confirm that yes, we did actually sign all these people and it wasn't just an odd dream. Ok, proof before my eyes that we really did effectively trade Cale Morton for David Rodan (not saying it was a bad idea) was good, but I couldn't help feeling that I preferred this lukewarm three way concept a lot more when we were playing in Adelaide or the Gold Coast. I'd go to every game in Melbourne anyway just because I'm a tremendous loser, but these contests are such a tremendous toss that they really don't deserved to be held up as legitimate matches and played at real stadiums. Nobody wants their players to do a knee on a thinly veiled carpark in Morwell, but they're probably just as likely to do it on one in Docklands - and we can avoid having to sit through shit sandwich rules like last touch out of bounds frees and nine point goals, which haven't been interesting since Paul Wheatley. People in the country will love that sort of stuff as long as they can see a couple of semi-famous players doing it.

I'm all for practice matches, and if you're going to play them properly under the same rules you would for the regular season then I'm there at Princes Park with bells on it - but the moment the first ball rolls over the line causing umpires field and boundary to confer deeply as to whether or not it's a free kick the whole thing loses me. Just what we need in the game, more interpretations on grey areas for the umpires to make and for the crowd to go off their tits about. Super stuff. Incidentally Melbourne haven't won a premiership since the VFL re-introduced the boundary throw-in for all out of bounds, so maybe we should consider lobbying to bring it back?

It's nearly impossible to draw any sort of real conclusions out of these Wobbie's World games, but what I can tell you is that hard working, industrial, factory worker style players are still the order of the day. We absolutely have 'exciting' players (Toumpas, Viney, Hogan for starters) but we're sorely lacking exciting players. There's no doubt Jeremy Howe will stand on everybody's head again and earn 15 mark of the year nominations but in the grand scheme of things the greatest mark of all time is worth as much as a chest mark on the wing with nobody near you and does not win you games single handedly. But keep taking them anyway sir.

There's nothing wrong with a Soviet style emphasis on physical conditioning, hard work and ideological purity but one of these days we're either going to have to win something playing like this (and I'm prepared to give it time) or find somebody with a bit of electricity about them to stop everyone falling into a coma from boredom. Tell me seriously, how much you miss Liam Jurrah? Not the broken down 2012 edition with personal problems and injury woes out the yin yang, the one who made footy worthwhile in 2009 when we were very much trying to win games during the second half of the year but not quite managing it. The Liam Jurrah who came back from injury to kick another 20 goals the next year, then followed it up with 40 more in 2011 before falling off the face of the earth. Ok so he wasn't all that keen on defending, chasing or any of that popular modern footy stuff but he at least gave us something to get wide eyed about.

Davey used to be the same, but he's a shell of his former self now. After going from training the house up, to training it back down during the pre-season he just didn't look up to it. Sylvia is guaranteed to play one game this year that makes us all collectively coo over the possibility of him doing it every week before he doesn't, and we're probably good for one more magic Jack Watts moment of blind turning around nobody before he's converted permanently into a solid, dependable backman but other than that set yourself for another year of workmanlike performances. When the Richmond guy did the blind turn tonight I almost teared up at the memory of that Watts goal, and when Majak Daw pushed his opponent off and still managed to kick the goal despite three sets of fans collectively jizzing across the stadium I could almost have become depressed at the cruelty of it all if I hadn't invested (CLICHE) so heavily in Neeld.

Despite all my handwringing and Gen Y style demands for instant entertainment it is fair to say that in the end not only were the matches meaningless (which is the sort of thing you say when your side has played and lost two) but so is worrying about the fact that none of our players are green boot wearing, handstanding dickheads. They've started to weed out the fancy boys and are working hard to convert the rest into solid citizens, and that's all that matters in the end. In Neeld we trust.

As for the matches themselves, well the two blended in so much that it's hard to remember what happened in each one. This is not the kind of thing you want to see when you're committing the time to read this post (and I thank you for that) but I really couldn't give a stuff what happened as long as didn't go scoreless and nobody seriously injured themselves. Mission accomplished.

The inclusion of every man and his dog from other clubs aside there was a lot of 2012 Melbourne about it, the key difference being that both sides of our squad, new and old, seem to have spent the summer at the Scully's Sister Terracotta Tan Salon. I know it's summer but Jesus they were brown. Except Sam Blease.

I'd like to say that the various hues of brown were what put me off, but in all honesty my contribution to the evening was a total shambles from start to end. Having already forgotten how to watch football having not seen more than ten minutes since the Grand Final (other than the Fox Footy replays of the Essendon fourth quarter and the third in the Scully Carnival of Hate so many times I knew what happened before it happened), I found myself sitting on the dreaded first level after assuming that they wouldn't even bother evening the top level. As it turns out it was not only open but sparsely populated in a wonderful way by people who could actually see what was happening over the other side of the ground.

Without a radio I was already lost, distracted by the women behind me orgasmically shrieking the names of Melbourne players every time one of them got a kick (until one of the rookies got it and the stunned silence revealed that they had no idea who he was) and trying to field work phone calls for five minutes during the first half. By the time I was ready to watch the game it was already nearly halfway over. Like T20 cricket there was no flow to it, no chance for the game to go into a lull and then re-group and far from the non-stop festival of excitement that should create it was just dull. What the NAB Cup and T20 also have in common is that they both ultimately mean nothing in their sports and are just there for the benefit of the TV broadcaster. Next year I hope we're drawn to play in Singapore.

I did pay attention to enough of it to notice that our midfield was once again being carried on the shoulders of one Mr. N Jones - your reigning Allen Jakovich Medallist, who is looking more of a steal at $2.50 for this year's edition than ever - and to a lesser extent Jordie McKenzie who was offering A-grade grunt and tackle and D-grade disposal, but at least tries his heart out every time. We were flayed in the clearances, but that won't come as a surprise to anybody who has watched us play recently. More time into Toumpas and Viney plus the return of Trengove should help, and I thought Rodan and Byrnes were both good (though Byrnes dropped out of it after a while) but neither of them is a long term option. What we need right now is a one man wrecking crew who can drag his teammates up, and no pressure but I'm looking at you J. Viney (not to be confused with Jay Viney).

None of Jamar, Pedersen or Spencer were particuarly impressive in the ruck all night and it makes me wonder whether Clark will find himself in there more and more this year. Fair enough too if we can cover his absence up forward, because some of his work last year during brief stints was the best we'd seen since the hey day of Jeff White but somebody's still going to have to kick goals and tonight our most impressive forward was a kid who's not allowed to play for us all.

Ok so Howe kicked more goals (and, AND, converted two easy set shots in a row) but how much did you love Hogan? Two weeks after I made it and his entrance video already needs an update. What a crock that kids like that aren't allowed to play. I know that if he was then he'd have been in the draft with everyone else and we probably wouldn't have got him anyway but we're not talking about 15-year-old Tim Watson style debuts here, clubs can't just pluck children off the street, give them a number and send them off to be massacred in front of baying hordes. If they're so intent on introducing 57 varieties of the sub rule maybe they should bring another sub in strictly for a player aged 16 or 17 and let them play a quarter here or there throughout the year.

Sure it'll make team selection and working out what's going on in a match more complicated than ever, but that's what they want so let's go hog wild and get the kids involved - see also O'Meara at Gold Coast who would have walked into that team from Round 1 last year. What are we wasting them in Reserves games for? They're still playing footy with their allegedly brittle bones and fragile teenage mental states. They're also probably still cleaning up the ladies off the field as well, so treat them like adults and give the clubs some credit that they won't burn them out. Image if O'Meara had gone to Essendon, they'd have been able to pump him full of monkey glands but not play him in a league match. Allegedly.

You will note that I previously had no strong opinions on this topic until seeing Hogan in action. Roll on 2014. Forward line not much chop otherwise with the exception of Howe's two minute cameo. There's no way I'd write Dawes off on the basis of one Mickey Mouse game, and I'll allow for his injury, but I'm not entirely sure what he was doing before he got hurt. It's not like we kick to leading forwards anyway, so he's going to have to start taking overhead marks at some point or the relationship is going to end in tragedy. Unless, like Mitch Clark last year we assume he's going to be the world's most expensive decoy and then he turns out to be good.

The backline did what they always do, repel a bunch of attacks and make a couple of notable cock-ups that everyone remembers more than the good stuff. Ok, so Tom McDonald might have cost us a goal with a horrific botch, but don't blame me for it - you don't have to look too far back in the annals of history to find Melbourne players having momentary lapses of brain.

Despite it being a grim slog for the full 40+ minutes we did have our moments. They were moving the ball better out of defence and onto the wings, but that's where it broke down just as it did all last year. Half forward needs more Dreamboat Mitch and needs it soon. In the end we might have won it but for Dean Kent hesitating on handballing off for somebody to bomb a nine pointer. Knowing our luck he'd have handballed it and the siren would have gone either way, so at least he kicked the goal.

In the spirit of that Oscar Pistoriou/Valentine's Day joke that everyone was claiming as their own ten minutes after he shot his door in I don't suppose I can be the first to point out that we were actually morally victorious (this is not another Oscar gag) despite the NAB Cup'ified score with the nine point goal? Inspiring it was not, but this is the pre-season version of a team who twatted us by 54 points late last year, so it's something to be able to stay with them for the whole game isn't it? Yes, that's why Port Adelaide are suddenly red hot finals contenders for tonking St Kilda in 40 degree heat.


Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes

Match 1

5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Jordie McKenzie
3 - Jesse Hogan
2 - David Rodan
1 - Jeremy Howe

Having drawn the death slot, forced to play two games in a row, our chances of making the finals of this god-forsaken tournament were all but shot before the Richmond game even started. Do you really want to make the final anyway? I understand the euphoria over winning something at last when the Dees lifted the '87 night final, but that's because they still hadn't made the finals in 23 seasons. Could you really get excited about a pre-season final? No you couldn't, and the good news is that you won't have again - just like 1990 to 2012.

Having almost pinched the game against North we might have come out and played a few decent minutes against the Tigers before retreating into our shell, but even with a raft of new players (I guess, nobody bothered to TELL US THIS unless you were on Twitter and could get 3G reception with the network heaving at the seams under the weight of 12 people trying to use it) the Melbourne you know and love were back - and so was one of my favourite special moves. It's almost time for us to level up on the "Kick it on top of Joel Macdonald's head running across goal with three defenders on him" move. I might have a sick fascination with Joel Mac and be prepared to violently defend him most times, but am I missing something and is this actually his fault? It seems to happen all the time, and especially at Docklands. Is he calling for it inappropriately, is he too slow to get away form the defenders or are his teammates muppets? Whatever's causing it it's gives me the shits and caused my first foul mouthed outburst of the season much to the consternation of the granny sitting in front.

Another classic MFC move which you'll instantly recognise was only kicking one goal in what effectively amounted to a quarter, and even that was from a 50, as Jesse Hogan discovered what it's really like to play full forward at Melbourne and have nine out of 10 forward entries directed at the top of your outstretched fingertips or feet with two opposition players al over you, no other forwards within the same postcode and about as much chance of CRUMB as peace in the Middle East. There was something comforting, albeit rage inducing, about it all.


If Teen Idol Jimmy Toumpas hadn't already endeared himself to everyone with his winning smile, seeming lack of apprenhension at being drafted by us and by signing a contract extension sight unseen he certainly hit maximum cult figure status for me last night on two fronts. One was his cheery pre-match handshake with Chris Newman. While most players would be bumping each other and throwing in a few choice sledges from the Patrick McGinnity playbook, our Toump was indulging in an unprecedented spectacle of modern etiquette (GENTLEMANIA!) on the wing and I for one loved it.

Also propelling him to high level gimmick status was his goalkicking run-up. We've seen the stuttery, running on the spot technique before (Dunn used to do a version before we marooned him in defence to man the torpedoes for the rest of his natural life) but never done with such grace and elegance. The football world will fall in love with him and so will you.

The brief Toump led revival fizzled out soon enough and Richmond, who were taking it all much more seriously that we were - and lest we forget had already played a full game against the Indigenous All Stars - ran away with it. But there was still time for my undoubted highlight of the game - if not the night - when Frawley knocked himself out (NOT AT ALL A HIGHLIGHT) and Lynden Dunn ran over, reached past the trainers who were hauling a dazed Frawley off the ground and offered Chip a comforting... pat on the head. Which must have come as a comfort to the man who had just cannoned his scone directly into that of Jack Riewoldt.

This life threatening fopar spurred Dunn into action in the second match and he followed up by unleashing an uber-torp into the middle of the ground from a kick-in (because we still can't kick in and there was no better otion) and then getting into a fight with some Richmond player who had floppy Beethoven style hair (EDIT: Apparently it was Tyrone Vickery. Know the name, couldn't pick the guy out of a police lineup before last night).

Then the match was over and we were out of the damned tournament. What a crying shame. What do you mean we have to keep playing in it?

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
 
Match 2

5 - Nathan Jones

4 - Jack Watts
3 - Jimmy Toumpas
2 - Jack Grimes
1 - Lynden Dunn

Leaderboard

Good news for Shannon Byrnes, everyone says he was BOG in the intra-club game but nobody can produce a 4-3-2-1 so I'm giving him the votes but everyone else gets chuff all until those other four votes are filled.


10 - Nathan Jones
5 - Shannon Byrnes
4 - Jordie McKenzie, Jack Watts
3 - Jesse Hogan, Jimmy Toumpas
2 - Jack Grimes, David Rodan
1 - Lynden Dunn, Jeremy Howe

And, err, that's pretty much it. Luckily if you've been here before you know you've not come to hear about footy, you've come for the nutbags. If I'd known the top level was open before sitting down I'd probably have had 25 rows between myself and the next person, but crammed into the bottom level a few rows from the front was a solid introduction to 'the people' of the NAB Cup.


Crowd Watch
This lot really saved the night for me, otherwise I'd have been better off staying home with my $17 and what looked like a blessedly Dwayne free coverage (he wasn't doing the intro on the boundary line either, which is probably good for his own safety now that soccer fans have joined the rest of us in hating him after he said something or other stupid about them.

Best on ground was the Richmond guy two rows in front who celebrated every goal as if it were the sealer in a grand final, even doing some sort of air Gangnam lasoo move with his arms at one point and running out into the aisle to do a little dance. His enthusiasm is to be respected, I know Tiges fans go to an off-season summer camp every year which teaches them how to get their hopes up too much but if I were a Richmond fan and suddenly realised that since the last time I'd seen my club play in a final that the Melbourne Football Club (yes that one, the innocent lot, that's them) had played in six I'd be lying down in the middle of Punt Road.

For all the mockery of his dancing and attempts to start a Richmond *clap* *clap* *clap* on his own you had to give the guy some credit. He didn't appear to be 'special' (if you know what I mean) just overly happy at the footy, which means that he's obviously never had a Twitter account, read a club Facebook page or opened a footy forum before, because that's the sort of shit that will send you on the downward spiral to where you're sneaking out of training courses to press refresh in the hope that you'll get the news that nobody is father-son bidding on Jack Viney.

Not such a positive influence on society was the hateful fat man in front, who not only kept getting his tracksuit pants wedged on the seat and revealing the top of his arse crack but spent the entire second game turning around giving the evil eye to two kids who were yelling out the sort of random shit that kids to. Richmond suck etc.. etc.. There's no doubt that this sweaty behemoth would have just belted the kids if nobody had been looking. He then proceeded to eat multiple hot dogs and swear at a lot of umpiring decisions, interrupting only to hitch up his pants again every once in a while.

Finally just to top off the night, after leaving at half time of the Richmond/North game to avoid the 'crowd' I was befriended by a clearly mentally eccentric Hawthorn fan on Platform 11 of Southern Cross Station. As I walked past he said with legitimate sincerity "sorry about the Dees tonight mate", which was nice mainly because somebody thinking that a pair of pre-season slagheaps like that meaning anything compared to the list of disasters of the last few years was touching in its naivete. I thought I was off the hook when the train turned up, but he followed me and continued to engage in awkward conversation. "What about the tanking" he said, "what did you think of that?"
"What tanking?" I replied, pointing out that we had been convicted of no such thing (and indeed we hadn't) but that just confused him even more and he started talking about his beloved Hawks instead. Apparently they're good things this year, which is hardly an amazing prediction given that they almost won the whole thing last time.
Luckily I was only going from Southern Cross to Flinders Street to connect with another train, so I managed to politely lose him as he started engaging somebody else in talk about footy when they clearly hadn't been and had no idea what he was talking about. The people you meet when you're forced to mingle around public transport...

Next Week
It's been so long I had to look at an old report to see which segment came next. No chance MFC Facebook Comment of the Week is coming back at least until the regular season starts, so next cab of the rank is what we're doing next week and apparently that's playing Port Adelaide in Renmark,

Where in god's name is Renmark I heard you ask? Good question, and one that I would have no idea how to answer if it wasn't for the good people at Wikipedia. Apparently it's 254km east of Adelaide, the highway between Sydney and Adelaide runs through it and there's a population of 4339 - which in my book makes it the idea place to play these half baked training sessions matches. If last year is anything to go by they'll pack away the stupid rules now and start playing sensibly, but anything's possible - they've already flip-flopped on the issue of players suspended in the NAB Cup serving their penalty in it like Reeca Conca did last year, so anything could happen between now and next Sunday afternoon.

Given that a Round 1 win against them is of the utmost importance to our mental health and the stability of the internet I hope we keep it light and interesting but don't overplay the gameplan for the really important match. Yay if we win, and double yay if we don't leave with three shoulder injury victims like our last practice match in South Australia but in the grand scheme or things I couldn't give a toss as long as we're set up for Round 1. Give Hogan another go, but after that pack him away at Casey and let's concentrate on what we're going to do this year.

I felt like there were signs, but I always feel like there are signs.

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