Going to Casey Fields is a ropey idea at the best of times, even VFL games usually end up with somebody tearing the front off their car in one of the many treacherous ditches and potholes in the 72 different parking lots across the complex. But what else are you going to do, catch the train? Even with the club being nice enough to put on a shuttle bus it would still involve catching a train to Cranbourne Station to get it.
The worst thing about the place - and let's be entirely clear with this, I'm happy that we had a game somewhere near the Melbourne metropolitan area and not in Broome so all whinging is relative - is that driving in usually doesn't leave too many mental scars. Every time you do it you think "that wasn't too bad, I'll be fine getting out" and two hours later, having foolishly stayed to the very end of a Casey vs Frankston slopfest you're stuck 50 cars deep, having to indulge in death defying manouevres to force your way into a line of traffic with people who are acting like they're escaping the Fall of Saigon.
So I saw nothing wrong with it taking five minutes to move 500m an hour before the first bounce (100m a minute would seem a luxury later on), and handing over $5 to be directed towards Carpark 8d next to the long jump pit where a man in an orange vest who had clearly lost the will to live in the conditions directed to me to go down a 'ramp' made out of grass and wedge myself up against a barbed wire fence with a large mound of earth behind it. How could anything go wrong under the circumstances? But we'll return to that later, apparently there was a football match on.
I can quite confidently use the term 'apparently', because even though I stood there for four quarters my mind was more preoccupied with either having conversations that had nothing to do with football (because who's concentrating on a NAB Cup dead rubber as if it means something?) or trying not to topple over from sunstroke due to the dire situation of not owning any shorts which would be acceptable to wear out of the house, even in Cranbourne East.
What I do remember, shortly before entering an altered state of consciousness, was that we were bloody good in the first quarter. Bloody, bloody good. St Kilda were rubbish, but that was partly of our making thanks to the sort of pressure and tackling that you see for one quarter once every month and wonder why they can't play like that all the time. It's never usually our first quarter, where we're more likely to kick one token goal after we're four goals down in tribute to our fallen leader Dean Bailey, so you could have been excused for becoming excited when we opened up a four goal lead featuring both a pisstake banana from Casey Fields specialist Shannon Byrnes AND our first NAB Cup 9pt gimmick goal since Emo Maric in 2011 (if you're into that kind of thing). Had Dwayne Russell been there he would have probably embarassed himself becoming over excited about it.
We were even winning clearances, mainly thanks to Rodan who is already spitting in the face of my conspiracy theory that he was going to play as sub every week due to his allegedly advancing age. It's worrying that in the games I've seen - which is not saying much - he's been the only person other than Jones capable of clearing the ball (maybe McKenzie for some good old fashioned country style hoof) out of the middle. Trengove is around somewhere, and just like ladies everywhere I'm prepared to wait for Jack Viney to come of age, but it's still nerve wracking thinking about what's going to happen if Jones hurts himself. How come when Moloney was good at this in 2010/2011 Jones lost the plot , and then when Jones came back to life last year Moloney moved himself to the scrapheap? Next thing Viney will erupt like Mt. Vesuvius and Jones will end up playing alongside Brad Miller at Heidelberg.
It's a mark of just how dire the situation has got that even when we were four goals up in the first quarter, admittedly kicking with some sort of a breeze, I was thinking "I wonder how we're going to stuff this up". It's got to the point where I can't even imagine us beating non-Victorian teams who aren't Richmond or Essendon now - which conveniently ignores the fact that we did just that against Collingwood at this time last year, and didn't that end well for us?
Admittedly the Saints couldn't have been any worse to start with, so the only way was up for them and hello, what's this it's your friend and mine the Melbourne FC Farcequarter. The official report says that the wind was still going strong in the second quarter, and while I'd dispute that standing down that end the guy who wrote it was being paid to watch and take notice so I'll believe him (though they don't always get it right if the Sellar 'exclusives' in this article are anything to go by). Either way, breeze or not we got the sort of performance that usually comes immediately at the start of a third term, with the opposition having the time of their lives in the middle of the ground, winning clearance after clearance, after clearance and going forward with what was once referred to as gay abandon while our poor defence stands there being butchered through no fault of their own.
Taking anything out of this game is nearly suicidal considering the weather, the not entirely serious team selections and the rules devised via the use of a blindfold and a dartboard but it would be nice to stop a team at two or three goals in a row once or twice instead of letting them kick seven. I'd love to tell you what happened during the quarter, but as my interest lies solely with what our players do there's not a great deal to say considering they barely touched it for just over 20 minutes. Jamar sure got a lot of hitouts but christ knows who they were going to, because whoever it was they weren't wearing red and blue.
The one St Kilda player I couldn't miss was Beau Wilkes, because yet again he decided that despite being unbelievably mediocre against 16 other sides in the competition he'd save up a dominant performance for the day he plays us. Apparently he's changed his name, and obviously that fooled us because surely having the shit kicked out of you by Beau Wilkes/Meister once can be considered unlucky and twice foolish, but three times is just rude. If he can keep his AFL career alive that long without playing us I'll see you at the MCG at 4.40pm on Saturday 22 June for the day he kicks 14 against us.
Byrnes was fairly good again without setting the world on fire, and Gillies looks solid down back (without the thousand yard stare of somebody who has been there for a few years) but I'm not sold on Pedersen yet. He did nowt in the ruck, dropped a couple of sitters via both kick and handball and missed his only shot on goal. If he's supposed to be replacing the SME I don't see it yet, but am prepared to give it time.
If he's not to be the ruckman/forward that we're all dreaming of (though he is clearly popular with the ladies, which should be good for memberships) for Round 1 then surely Sellar's surprise goalkicking exploits of the last fortnight have won him that gig. It might not last, and Port won't make the same mistake twice and let him run riot in R1 unless he's set to be their Beau Wilkes style random kryptonite player, but at the moment I'd rather Sellar up front and The Spencil to either of them in the ruck - and when did you think I'd ever say that? Credit too to Sellar for providing the only highlight of the second quarter when he mastered the elements in spectacular fashion by starting a shot for goal from 20m out in Williamstown and managing to have it come back on the breeze for a goal. Not only has he started kicking goals, he's also started controlling the weather.
We got back into it in the third quarter (i.e stemmed the bleeding) but the damage had already been done. Just like our last game against them we were great in one quarter, dire in another and average in the remainder. Yet again one quarter out of four had completely killed us as happened so many times last year. In a stat frighteningly similar to plenty of games last year we actually won the inside 50's (and won them well too, 44-38) but too often it was just hoof and hope stuff which either ended up straight into the hands of a defender or out in the pocket where it could do no harm. Just give me one day where we kick to a lead and it's not a complete accident where somebody just happens to be running forward when a shanked kick lands in their arms.
If we are going to bomb it long to the square every time a'la 2012 somebody's going to have to crumb. As much as Australia can unite in our hatred for Stephen Milne the stuff he and Milera were doing today almost gave me the horn. There was one moment where a kick was going through for a point, so Milera jumped and instead of trying some ridiculous overhead mark that he wasn't capable of in a million years he just batted it down to his teammate running past. Whoever it was managed to miss but it was magic. Down the other end (though it was actually down the same end) we had one crumbed goal snapped out of a pack by.. Sellar. Why is it always left to our talls? Last year Mitch Clark was our best crumber in the first half of the year before Blease turned up and now Sellar is having to do it. If we're not careful we'll have more matches like the second Brisbane game where we win the inside 50's and lose by ten goals.
As usual there were signs, but I'm sick of signs I want a big fuck off billboard. With Dawes and Clark back in there maybe we can get the forward structure required to not have to rely on crumb but at the moment it seems to me like we get it out of defence ok (with the odd massive cockup), and get it into the midfield but that's where it goes horribly wrong and we end up belting it inside 50 because there's nobody left on the half-forward line. Easy enough to say from here but fix the centre clearances and the half-forward line issue and we might actually be half decent.
There was a bit of life in us during the last quarter but we were already too far behind, and everyone who hadn't done a runner to beat the traffic was more interested in laughing at Kosi than anything going on in the other 99% of the field. Highlights included Riewoldt doing a grand captains gesture and slamming on the brakes so he could 'overtake him' and kick an easy confidence boosting goal, then using his new found confidence to run through Colin Garland after a mark in almost reportable fashion. It seemed that there was an even split amongst St Kilda fans of men who wanted to throttle him and woman who were being creepily overprotective of him. Long live the classic novelty players.
With the alleged crowd of 5000 (seemed pretty accurate) having thinned out noticably by the final siren, as the more sensible members of society fled to their cars to avoid being dragged into total Lord of the Flies style anarchy, I fooled myself into thinking that maybe - just maybe - a swift exit could be possible. After all they've clearly upgraded the parking since I was last there a year and a half ago, so how hard could it be?
Unfortunately the Casey Fields complex has been set out as if created by a five-year-old playing SimCity, with random shit dropped everywhere. A car park here, an athletics track there, another car park next to some tennis courts and a bunch of houses for 'working families' or people who are growing shitloads of covert dope (available in the Sim City: South East Suburbs expansion pack). It all adds up to an experience that must resemble what it was like to drive out of Waverley Park when there were 80,000 people there.
By the time I made it to my car it was clear that there was no way I was going to get out of there in under half an hour without driving like a tremendous arsehole so I just gave up and sat in my car looking at the mound of earth through the barbed wire fence, sweating like a German hooker and no closer to working out whether we're going to be average, ordinary, the same as last year or utterly 186. Maybe we're 'not a hot weather team' and the moment it gets chilly we'll come good, or maybe our 'controversial' (BUT OFFICIALLY NOT ILLEGAL) antics in 2009 mean we're forever condemned to the 14th to 18th circle of Dante's Inferno. Bring on the stuff that matters and we'll decide just how depressed we're going to be when we wake up on (somewhat appropriately) Monday April 1.
Generic umpire bashing segment
They were shit
I didn't see him deliver any Gentlemania style handshakes today, but it's fair to say that whatever he did he did it with a broad grin. Civilisations will rise and fall waiting for him to take set shots on goal, but so far he appears to be very good at so who cares. It also gives us somebody with a ludicrous set shot style to replace Dunn, who is now marooned in the backline doing the torp kickouts gimmick which will be like the 'boot it to Jamar' tactic, huge for the first two months until everyone realises what we're up to and puts a stop to it.
Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
Based on where I was standing and the condition I was in by the final quarter these votes could be the biggest farce in history. If you were there and you disagree there's every possible chance that you're right. Not much between any of the top ten really but the Demonblog computer has shot out the following.
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - James Magner
3 - David Rodan
2 - Dean Terlich
1 - James Sellar
Half-hearted apologies to Garland, Grimes, Hogan, Howe, Jamar and Nicholson
Even adding live votes from Renmark courtesy of @lockhartbeth where Jones didn't play he's still opened an unassailable lead in this contest (assuming we only play one more practice game or late votes from the intra-club trickle in) and can clear a space on his mantlepiece for another Prymke Plate to go along with his two Jakovich Medals.
15 - Nathan Jones
8 - James Magner
6 - James Sellar
5 - Shannon Byrnes, David Rodan
4 - Jordie McKenzie, Jack Watts
3 - Aaron Davey, Jesse Hogan, Jimmy Toumpas
2 - Jack Grimes, Dean Terlich, Josh Tynan
1 - Troy Davis, Lynden Dunn, Jeremy Howe
My advice to opposition fans playing us this year is to pre-prepare your tanking gags or risk ending up like the guy behind us who just yelled out "where are your tanks?" despite that a) containing no discernable gag and b) not resembling a proper sentence (and god knows if anybody can judge what consistitutes a correct sentence it's somebody who went almost seven years without spell-checking a post). I'm sure in the hands of a skilled craftsman something comic could be said, but it's likely that we're going to be subject to more of the same from the sort of guy who yells "YOU ORANGE/YELLOW/GREEN MAGGOT" and then laughs at his own 'gag'.
In an otherwise carnival atmosphere where either people didn't care, had more fun abusing the umpires or were too busy concentrating on working out what was going on 150m away across the ground to bother sledging their fellow victims of the Casey Killing Fields our friend was also heard to yell in the general direction of some Melbourne fans (possibly us) "Where did you finish last year?", to which the obvious answer would have been "not in the top eight either". I'll take shit from fans of most clubs about being rubbish, even Port, but if you follow St Kilda, Footscray, Fremantle, GWS or Gold Coast then start winning flags or stick it because you're in the same leaky boat we are.
Meanwhile to prove that shit tatts are for everyone, not just footy players, this bird was seen standing next to the woman who had some sort of weird scarf/sign thing that you put your hands in as if it was a pair of oven gloves and then held up in the air.
I think it's a peacock, but it could be the same diseased chicken that Hawthorn based the logo on their jumper from. Either way whatever creature it's supposed to be this thing is either half complete and waiting for some colour or was NOT done under normal tattoo parlour conditions if you know what I mean.
Given the choice I'd have played a top eight side, expected an honourable loss and hoped secretly that we had a win to set us up for Round 1. Instead we play Gold Coast in Southport and - publicly at least - either win and gain nothing or lose and look like dickheads. Having said that the coaches probably don't give a rats who we play and will just carry on with their plan regardless. That's why they're highly paid football professionals and I'm some plonker with a keyboard.
Either way Port are playing Sydney, so as well as the string of minor injuries and suspensions we all hope they suffer let's hope that the Swans utter disinterest in the pre-season (though they did just beat Gold Coast) lulls them into a false sense of security before 31/03 because if we lose to them the internet will explode and by Monday morning you won't be able to walk down any street in the city without one of our fans plummeting out of a window above you.
In other news it's good to see Moloney and Martin reaping the benefits of changing clubs by not only playing in a Grand Final (plastic competition notwithstanding) but also winning at Docklands. Let's hope nobody else gets any ideas at the end of the season.
The moment I got out of the car park my petrol gauge went up one notch and stayed like that all the way back to Demonblog Towers VIII. It's a secret, undocumented feature of the Toyota Yaris where your car thanks you for not smashing it into a barbed wire fence near Cranbourne.