Does it feel a bit like the rock has rolled all the way back down the hill and we're about to start hauling it up there again? It certainly does to me, but if there's any upside to a scenario like that it means that everyone pushing together is better than the bloody thing getting halfway up then cannonballing out of control down the hill and killing everybody in its path a'la Round 18 2011 to Round 23 2012.
As much as analysing, then over analysing all the debacles that we've been through in that time (and indeed since the second quarter of Round 1, 2007) has become a national sport that we (not so subtly aided by bored journalists) have all set gold medal standards in it's time to stop and hit the reset button instead of spending the rest of our lives searching through the rubble for the black box recorder which will explain it all. We exploded on takeoff, investigatiors still can't work it out, move on.
Sure we'll look back on days like 186 with the same sort of horrified fondness that war veterans look back on the day half their unit stepped on landmines, and yes every time Jeremy Howe's Mark of the Year award winning hanger is shown we'll be reminded that we were losing by A LOT at the time and would go on to lose by A LOT MORE but this is now officially the past. It might wind up as an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary but the moment the Tankquiry verdict landed (not guilty!) the book was finally and officially closed on the Dean Bailey era.
As far as I'm concerned this is Mark Neeld's first season. He graciously held back on ordering the firing squad to show up and kill everyone when he first walked through the door - quite fairly deducing that what wasn't a bad team at times in 2011 could possibly be massaged towards similar, if not better, performances in 2012. They couldn't, and the long awaited spree of executions couldn't be held back any longer.
So, it's farewell to so many of the classic whipping boys and enigmas of our side and welcome to the 'recycled player' recruiting spree of the new millenium. Note that when we do it it's a "scattergun approach" and when Richmond do it it's "OMG, TIGERS 4 THA FLAG!" (Herald Sun 01/11/12), but that's because despite on most measurements actually being worse than us over the last decade they've managed to develop some exciting players to wheel in the Troy Chaplin's and Ricky Petterd's of the world next to as complimentary figures, whereas we've got a lot of good AFL players, who are sometimes not injured and might be very good one day.
In refusing to compare the two the journos do have a point, they may find a way to cock it up royally at some point in the future but right now they do have a better team to add experienced players to in a push for the finals. Whereas a few hundred metres up Brunton Avenue we're trying to cope with integrating a million draft picks from the last few years into a side which has just lost five of the nine on our list who have played more than a hundred games - and even of the ones remaining there are big questions over the top two. It's not "scattergun", it's a rescue mission on a failed football experiment.
So, with that in mind and the well documented disinterest in some of our players to do what was asked of them under successive coaching regimes I'm happy with what we've done. Ask me again in five years if swapping Jordan Gysberts for Cameron Pedersen was a good idea (watch out for initial impressions, remember how we thought we'd hosed Carlton on the original Gysberts deal?) or effectively trading ex-pick four Cale Morton for dodgy kneed veteran David Rodan and I'll give you a solid answer but if it means floppy haired fancy boys (including, regrettably, the SME and his Morrissey quiff) who couldn't give a rats get the boot and hardened professionals are introduced then I'm all for it. So Moloney has gone to Brisbane and is all of a sudden partying like it's 2011 again? Good for him, was he going to do it for us again? Not if last year was anything to go by, so best of luck but I'm not going to slash my wrists if he takes them into the finals. Maybe one day we'll get the karmic payback and use free agency to sign somebody who had no interest at their old club then fires up once they're set free.
My expectations are set back to rock bottom (though I picked us to finish 13th last year so I'm not sure how high they are), so forgive me for not taking up pitchfork and molotov cocktail if we're not all of a sudden contending for the top eight this year. With a little luck I can see how we could be hanging around on the edge of it come Round 8 but no doubt we're losing at least three in a row when we play Freo in Perth, Hawthorn and Collingwood going into the bye and then it's up and down for the rest of the year.
Nobody wants to go back to the start again after we've been slopping around in the undercard for years, but even though I'm sure if I went back and read last year's pre-season post I was probably saying the same things sometimes you've got to do an insurance job and rebuild. Last time we did it we got some shoddy builders in and the whole thing fell down again, and there's no guarantee it won't happen this time but at least this off-season we haven't (yet)...
- been scabbed on by a top draft pick
- had half the senior squad not bother to follow the assigned training program of a new regime
- had somebody do their knee
- had anybody die
- had anybody arrested
- signed a sponsor who turns out to be a shit bloke
- had an AFL employee accuse our coach of racism
Whether or not this carnival atmosphere (compared to last season anyway) will translate to Sunday 31 March and beyond is anybody's guess. It's been much of the same in the pre-season, brief flashes of good fortune followed by the lights going out for 20 minutes at a time. It cost us the first NAB Cup game, it almost cost us the Port Adelaide game and it certainly cost us the St Kilda and Gold Coast games. None of them were real matches, but for all the things you can ignore due to altered team lineups and pointless experimental rules you can't say we haven't been warned about this. It hurt us last year too and has to be fixed.
The Gold Coast game in particular has struck a chord with the self-harm community. I can understand some stress considering that once again it seems like we were flogged to death out of the midfield and that's what caused our issues but really, if it hadn't been Gold Coast and we hadn't all just assumed we were going to win then everyone would be saying "more of the same" and getting on with their life. We played half a reserves side against their full strength team so you've got every right to raise an eyebrow in concern but it's not got the point where the fact that Port have beaten West Coast and Sydney while we've lost to Gold Coast and beaten the Power reserves means that we're necessarily going down in Round 1. Gives them something pretty major to work on before then but having a proper 'best' 22 on the park will be a nice change to the bits and pieces lineups we've put out so far.
Putting the brakes on opposition sides when they get a run on starts with the midfield, which other than a few cameos here and there from hard working, industrial types like McKenzie and Magner has been a one man Nathan Jones supershow with Fiji's David Rodan as support. The defence has been ok so far, certainly to a standard where if we can avoided being flogged to death out of the midfield every five seconds they might be able to cope with the workload.
Forwards have been promising in some ways. We do tend to fall apart at half-forward or centimetres inside 50 more often that not, but we've never once played with our proper preferred forward structure (whatever that is it involves Clark and Dawes, and so far they've been seen for a total of about five minutes between them) so let's see what happens when they're back and Hogan is regretfully condemned to a season playing on cow paddocks in the VFL. Unfortunately the first time we're going to see this lineup in action (assuming Clark is fit) is Round 1 in a game where we really, REALLY have to win to get the season off to a positive start. I'd have much preferred that we opened up against a good side to get another free practice match + honourable loss in, but really if we can't beat Port at the MCG then tear all this up and throw yourself out of a window.
Still worried about the ruck if Jamar goes down. Dreamboat Mitch can do it (again, if fit) but where does that leave the forward line? Do we end up bombing aimlessly in there hoping that Dawes and.. err.. Howe/Pedersen/Sellar/other can take marks and kick goals? Maybe Watts could be the reverse Rivers and go back to where he belongs? There's still a scarcity of crumb which fills me with dread if the ball hits the ground so somebody's going to have to grasp ball in hands and kick said ball at goal if we're going to register any sort of decent total score for the year.
Not to harp on the past again, but remember last year's 224.236.1580 was our second worst 22 game season EVER (only 1997 was worse) so while it's hardly likely to get worse it's going to need to get a lot better. Excluding 2011 for being a spaz year which made no sense we kicked 272.231.1863 in 2010 and were within touching distance of the finals with a month left so that's the target I want them to aim for - it's only 12.3 goals and 84 total points a game for god's sake. Even Port kicked 243 goals last year, and they won exactly 1.5 games more than us. I'm not even looking at comparisons for our defence across years and other teams, I don't care. Just score more points.
I've picked us to come 14th, which was five wins and a draw in 2012 but given that 13th was 10 wins then god knows how many games a 13th or 14th placed team is supposed to win in the 18th team competition era. I'd take six, be happy with eight, thrilled with ten and would become aroused by anything higher. Given that we play GWS and Gold Coast twice and this might be the last year that they're both no good (i.e banking another 1 and 2 pick before parking the AFL sponsored tank in the garage and going for it) they should (SHOULD) be bankers and god help us all if we go another season without being able to beat Victorian sides other than Richmond or Essendon (but one against each would get us six, so who am I to complain?).
I feel like we can do something this year to set us up for a run at the finals in 2014, but you have to feel some sort of optimism or what's the point of turning up for Round 1? Even if massive depression has set in by Round 2 (see, for instance, 2008) you're trapped by then. Either way I wouldn't get over attached to too many players on our list this year, because I can see another 10+ player turnover after this season via free agency, trading and snapping up delisted players just because they've played a few matches at decent clubs - and if Davey, Sylvia or both leave at the end of their contracts that's more 100+ game players who'll need to replaced from somewhere. Maybe we'll cover all of them in one go by signing Dustin Fletcher?
Blog Administration corner
I'll be away for the Round 10 game vs Hawthorn (Sunday 2 June) and Round 11 game against Collingwood (Monday 10 June) so guest reporters are required. I'll be confirming closer to the date, but if you want to add your name to this list let me know. You can do it however you like as long as you give the votes out in a reasonably sensible fashion. No need for thousands of words of primal scream therapy if you can't be arsed, just some obscure description of the game, the votes and a novelty headline for the record book.
Also a self indulgent reminder that you can support Demonwiki by 'taking an active interest' in the ads on Demonblog. All proceeds go towards hosting the Wiki and its over 6200 pages of MFC information both useful, ridiculously obscure and downright pointless.
Demonblog's favoured 22
(NB: Pay no attention to concepts like the wing and ruck/rovers because nobody else is.)
B: Garland, Frawley, Dunn
HB: Grimes, McDonald, Watts
C: McKenzie, Jones, Trengove
HF: Howe, Dawes, Davey
F: Byrnes, Clark, Sellar
R: Jamar, Viney, Rodan
Int: Toumpas, Nicholson, Blease, Sylvia
If the injured players don't come up make the following alterations. - Pedersen for Clark, Nicholson for Trengove and Magner onto the bench, Macdonald or Pedersen for Blease (which is not at all a straight swap but bad luck). As for the sub I couldn't care less and am refusing to involve myself in a shit rule.
Final betting markets
To save time if you're new to all this, explanations, rules and history of all the awards can be found here. The opening price for each player is in brackets if it's changed since the first draft markets of 20 February.
Allen Jakovich Medal
$2.00 - Nathan Jones ($2.50)
$7 - Jack Grimes ($6)
$10 - Jack Watts
$11 - Mitch Clark ($13), James Frawley
$15 - Jeremy Howe ($18), Colin Sylvia,
$18 - Jordie McKenzie, Jack Viney ($15)
$20 - Tom McDonald, Jack Trengove ($15)
$22 - David Rodan ($65), Jimmy Toumpas
$25 - Shannon Byrnes ($30), Chris Dawes ($22), Colin Garland
$27 - Daniel Nicholson ($35)
$30 - Mark Jamar ($35)
$35 - Aaron Davey, Lynden Dunn ($40), James Magner ($80)
$40 - Sam Blease ($30), Joel Macdonald
$50 - Cameron Pedersen ($40), James Sellar ($100), Luke Tapscott ($55)
$60 - James Strauss ($50), Neville Jetta ($80)
$70 - Rohan Bail ($50), Josh Tynan
$100 - Michael Evans,
$110 - Tom Gillies, Jake Spencer
$125 - Tom Couch, Max Gawn, Dean Terlich ($700)
$250 - Jack Fitzpatrick
$300 - Dominic Barry ($250), Matt Jones ($750), Dean Kent ($750)
$500 - Troy Davis, Rory Taggert ($700)
$1000 - Nathan Stark, Mitch Clisby
Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
$2.80 - James Frawley ($2.50)
$3.50 - Jack Grimes ($4)
$8 - Tom McDonald
$10 - Jack Watts ($15)
$12 - Colin Garland
$20 - Lynden Dunn ($30)
$25 - Joel Macdonald ($20)
$30 - Tom Gillies, Luke Tapscott ($25)
$100 - Troy Davis, Cameron Pedersen ($80), Dean Terlich
$120 - James Sellar ($90)
$150 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
$1000 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER (none of the above receive any votes)
Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award
$5 - Jack Viney ($3)
$9 - Jimmy Toumpas ($8)
$20 - Dean Terlich ($50)
$50 - Dean Kent ($80), Matt Jones ($80)
$70 - Troy Davis
$80 - Dominic Barry ($40), Rory Taggert.
$100 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
$125 - Mitch Clisby, Nathan Stark
Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
$1.25 - Mark Jamar
$18 - Mitch Clark
$25 - Cameron Pedersen ($18), Jake Spencer ($30)
$35 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
$45 - Max Gawn
$50 - Jack Fitzpatrick
$250 - Chris Dawes ($100)
$500 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
As you know Nathan Jones wrapped this up last week, but for the sake of the final leaderboard here are the votes from the Gold Coast game as unwittingly provided by Michael Whiting of afl.com.au.
5 - Jack Watts
4 - Jack Grimes
3 - Mark Jamar
2 - Dean Terlich
1 - James Sellar
15 - Nathan Jones (WINNER: 2013 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance)
9 - Jack Watts
8 - James Magner
7 - James Sellar
5 - Shannon Byrnes, David Rodan
4 - Jack Grimes, Jordie McKenzie
3 - Aaron Davey, Jesse Hogan, Mark Jamar, Dean Terlich, Jimmy Toumpas
2 - Jack Grimes, Josh Tynan
1 - Troy Davis, Lynden Dunn, Jeremy Howe
MFC Power Rankings
Where I rank the standing of the players on our list using a secret formula more closely guarded than that of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Does not necessarily have to follow the order of the Jakovich Medal voting because I say it doesn't. Compare and contrast to the 2012 end of season rankings (last year's final rating in brackets).
1. Nathan Jones (1)
2. Jack Grimes (2)
3. Mitch Clark (3)
4. James Frawley (4)
5. Jack Trengove (9)
6. Jeremy Howe (11)
7. Jack Watts (14)
8. Tom McDonald (5)
9. Jordie McKenzie (6)
10. Colin Garland (7)
11. Jack Viney (NR)
12. Mark Jamar (12)
13. Chris Dawes (NR)
14. Shannon Byrnes (NR)
15. David Rodan (NR)
16. Colin Sylvia (10)
17. Sam Blease (15)
18. Jimmy Toumpas (NR)
19. Aaron Davey (23)
20. Daniel Nicholson (17)
21. Joel Macdonald (19)
22. Lynden Dunn (13)
23. James Sellar (20)
24. James Magner (24)
25. Rohan Bail (16)
26. Cameron Pedersen (NR)
27. Luke Tapscott (25)
28. Neville Jetta (29)
29. Jake Spencer (26)
30. James Strauss (22)
31. Max Gawn (28)
32. Josh Tynan (35)
33. Michael Evans (41)
34. Tom Gillies (NR)
35. Dean Terlich (NR)
36. Tom Couch (32)
37. Jack Fitzpatrick (31)
38. Dominic Barry (NR)
39. Dean Kent (NR)
40. Matt Jones (NR)
41. Troy Davis (38)
42. Rory Taggert (42)
43. Nathan Stark (NR)
44. Mitch Clisby (NR)
Projected final ladder (i.e Made up off the top of my head)
2. Hawthorn (but Hawthorn to win the flag, then start to come apart at the seams)
3. West Coast
9. North Melbourne
11. Brisbane (I've been moderately sucked in by NAB Cup Grand Final form)
13. St Kilda
14. Melbourne (Pick five? Too soon?)
16. Port Adelaide
17. Gold Coast
18 - Greater Western Sydney (more than happy to 'accidentally' pocket another #1 pick I'm sure)
Isn't the world just a better place during footy season?