Saturday, 15 February 2014

Good clean fun



Valentine's Day, what better time to start another chapter in one of Australia’s longest running abusive relationships? At least one of the evil geniuses in the AFL's scheduling department has a sense of humour, celebrating the occasion by throwing together the two teams most likely to cause a fractured relationship/outbreak of self-loathing.

Before getting started on 2014, if you want to catch up on what's happened since the end of last year you can read this (R23 to November) or this (November to last Thursday). While you do that I'll play a round with Darren Kowal (it was the day of love after all), and then we'll get on with hosing down your expectations and fuelling your anxiety that Friday night was a glorious one off.

As much as I tried to convince myself in the months-long lead-up to this game that it meant chuff all - not even accepting the prospect that may actually win - by the time it became clear that ready or not football season was here that old familiar feeling hit me. Tightness in the stomach, shortness of breath, dislike of humanity - The Fear was back, and how I have missed it.

Followers of sensible teams who haven't spent the last two years that the 24 months stuck in a manpit wouldn't understand why this game was deserving of The Fear, and for their sake here's to them never discovering. Even over the last few years the lukewarm three-way NAB Cup format seemed like disposable entertainment where anything that happened could be blamed on the wacky rules and the shortened game meant that you couldn't get beaten too badly. This, on the other hand, was a full four quarters and as Brisbane showed (admittedly with their Reserves team) on Thursday night exposure is a distinct possibility.

A disaster - perhaps not of that magnitude - wouldn't have cause a four wheels off the track derailment of our plans by any stretch of the imagination, but after months of Roosfever it felt like we at least needed to put in an honourable shift to make it all seem real.

Had we been thrashed or fallen victim to the traditional 'play alright for 95% of the game but lose because you concede seven goals in the rest' it would easily have been swept under the rug. We had a drastically depleted lineup, missed almost our entire set of tall forwards/ruckmen, were 'learning a new game plan' and still suffered mental scars aplenty from the fiascos of the last few years.

Losing big wouldn't have exposed the Roos era as a ponzi scheme, but it would still have sown the seeds of doubt in fragile minds. Brisbane might have set a standard for pre-season mauling not seen since Schimma got the sack from North in the early 90's, but they're far enough ahead of us to just about get away with it as long as it doesn't happen again when all the senior players come back. We'd probably have fallen in a heap, with both fans and players uniting in a nervous breakdown while the media rush printed articles telling us how many Congolese kiddies could be fed with the money we're paying Roos.

On the other hand losing in a perfectly reasonable game of football would have looked downright respectable compared to some of the SLOP served up last season. That's what I walked into the ground settling for. You may have noticed that my expectations for 2014 are quite low.

Without Clark, Hogan, Dawes or Fitzpatrick the prospect of kicking one of our obscenely low scores seemed quite reasonable, so as a pre-emptive strike against our fans falling back into the traditional self-loathing, I set out on a day long pro-MFC charm offensive to friends, workmates and strangers alike. Having done so much over the years to make the experience of Melbourne seem several times worse than the actual post-apocalyptic reality I felt that it was time to make people feel good about their choice of football team - just in case they woke up questioning it on Saturday.

So, infused with an almost religious fervour based around the belief that last year - after several false alarms - represented mining grade rock bottom and that we have finally started digging upwards I began repaying my debt to society by perking up anybody seen in the red and blue during the day.

Several polo shirt wearing Dees fans in the street were given a hearty "Go Dees" and a fist pump, and when I stumbled across a workplace discussion which bordered on harassment as a true believer was being mocked for his choice of team I told him not to worry because one day we'd clamber over the bodies of our enemies. Presumably that's gone straight on my HR file.

I wouldn't call it positivity, I was hardly going around revving people up about the prospect of winning but it was still very unlike me. It was certainly over the top for a pre-season match - even if you did have to pay $18 to get in - but as I said in the 'season preview' (phrase used loosely) it's time to get off our knees, wipe away the tears and start acting like we belong again. At least until somebody demonstrates proof of why we shouldn't. The recent past has been traumatic but even if it takes Mrs. Roos conducting a group meditation session over the MCG public address system before our first home game we have to start putting that behind us. Easier said than done when you've just had a win, but when you're in our position you take it where you can get it.

Anyway, so after walking around giving motivational speeches all day about why the past should be forgotten when we conceded the first goal without having a possession I thought "here we go again" and started to get a bit depressed. What a fraud I am, just below the surface lurks the same terrified individual as ever - one who can't even stand the idea of losing a game in which Max King is taking on Liam McBean. You get used to losing after a while, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Richmond almost got another goal before we'd had a kick, but as the first quarter went on we started to look like a downright reasonable football side. Other than a couple of times when Richmond got multiple goals and you held your breath waiting for the traditional MFC six goal capsize, we continued to be one.

If nothing else it was great to be in a game of ebb and flow for once, to not give a side a five goal start and then lose by six (or 16). It won't happen every week but anything would be better than last year when it was all ebb and no flow (or the other way around, whichever is worse) for 20 weeks. Alright, we only got one goal for the quarter (Roos Quarter?) but at least we were getting the ball down there and missing shots.

"Here we go again!" you may quite rightly scream. "Remember when we beat Collingwood two years ago and everyone thought good times were on the way?" Well yes I do, including when somebody at the Sunday Herald Sun went back and changed the author of their praise-heavy story to "Staff Writer" after it all went tits up for us later, and I know full well pre-season games should be viewed with caution. That's why I'm not doing cartwheels down the street and draping a PAUL ROOS OUR MASTERMIND banner out the window of Demonblog Towers just yet, but at least Richmond had a reasonable side in.

On that fateful night in 2013 Collingwood were fielding at least one Irishman, an American and quite possibly several players from Western Samoa - and as far as I can remember we won without showing anything absolutely extraordinary. We got excited because that's what football fans do, and we got screwed soon after so let that be a lesson to you but it doesn't mean you can't at least enjoy what you saw us put together on Friday night. Richmond may have been missing Jack Riewoldt, but Frawley would have beaten him senseless like every other time they've played anyway.

I'm not claiming tactical mastermind status, and I won't be starting anytime soon, but my first advice would be that if you're the sort of person who has a coronary whenever your side kicks backwards than you probably should look away now. Personally I think a well-executed switch is one of the most attractive things that can take place on a football field, and with all appropriate caveats about a tiny sample size and the low intensity of the pre-season tonight showed that we can do that.

You only need to look back at some of the ridiculous attempts at doing similar over the last couple of seasons to see the difference. Remember the glory days of Joel Macdonald being the switchee during 2012? The poor bastard would make space then have to stand under a ball which floated to him at barely enough speed to actually remain airborne, only to be picked off by any one of five defenders who had an eternity to see what we were doing and then interfere with it. Then if we did manage to get away with that they'd have nobody to kick it to and would just bomb it hopefully down the line. 90% of the time it looked shithouse, 95% of the time it went wrong.

On the contrary last night they'd patiently work it through traffic via players running hard to get into space, and if they didn't have anyone leading for them they'd just go the other way until something opened up. It means the possession count of our backmen will be padded like nobody's business (and Frawley's agent must be loving that as he adds another $100k to the asking price which we should pay IMMEDIATELY) but it also means midfielders getting a decent chance to get the ball and use it without having to mark like Jeremy Howe or pick the ball off a pack with five opposition players waiting to bury them into the turf.

Not that they weren't good in traffic as well tonight. I swear there were even times when a player would do a no-look handball safe in the knowledge that a teammate would be there.. and they were. By our standards it was remarkable, and if it translates to actual premiership points games then we should have a reasonably fun season struggling manfully to get into the promised land of mid-table mediocrity.

There was a hint of Baileyball about it at times, everyone down back then running forward, but I suppose in retrospect he was just ripping off the tactical trends of the day set by people like Paul Roos. I'm not just saying this because I'm in a good mood but didn't we have some good times in the Baileyball era? A more disciplined version of it would have been nice then, but we can have it now courtesy of a detour down the "kick it out for a throw-in" highway.

Given that they didn't open the top deck (and fair enough too, even anti-social freaks like me couldn't argue for it this time) I was able/forced to take notice of how the Melbourne fans around me were feeling. Suffice to say they were happy, but my quarter time I'd reversed the role I'd been playing all day. From going around trying to pump up the benefits of doing it tough in the trenches with Our Paul I found instead hosing down the suddenly expectations of the ladies sitting next to me.

I certainly wasn't trying to dampen their enthusiasm about what they were seeing in front of them, because god knows if there's anything our fans deserve it's the chance to be happy, but I felt like I needed to caution a bit against going too far over the top. I must have said "Let's hope they keep doing this when it matters" 10 times in the next three quarters.

The carnival atmosphere was helped by the fact that Bernie Vince and Daniel Cross were amongst the best players on the ground. Going out and getting real life actual midfielders seems to have been a good idea. Tyson and Michie had their moments too, but for the price of a pick in the mid 20's the first two were exactly what you would have wanted from them.

As for the rest of the midfield Trengove and the much maligned Rohan Bail may as well have been new recruits considering how far above their 2013 form they were playing. Trengove was racking up touches everywhere, running like an athlete again instead of an old lady and Bail was working his guts out to get the ball then more often than not (for him) doing something useful with it AND kicking goals. It was one of the better games I've ever seen him play, and I hope for his sake he keeps it up.

We struggled to convert up forward, but it was nice to see several pieces of crumb to compensate for the lack of marking power - and even though he did little else I was beaming with pride when Blease sprinted off and kicked his goal. After quarter time we seemed to realise nobody was in the square and stopped bombing it in there as much. Tactical flexibility? I almost failed to recognise it.

Having seen Howe playing so well as the focal point I'm a bit sad that it's unlikely to happen again, though having said that if Clark ever comes back and Hogan is taking another big defender our Jeremy could (COULD) run riot standing on the heads of third-string defenders throughout the competition. I love that guy, and even if I was to keel over and cark it tomorrow the one thing I'd be able to say on my deathbed that I've enjoyed consistently over the last couple of years has been having him in our team. What a ridiculous steal he'll turn out to be at pick #33.

Speaking of mid-range draft picks (what a segue) Jay Kennedy-Harris looked good. I know Dom Barry had less game time, but even with the year's extra experience in senior football and just over a year's advantage in age he didn't look like he belonged out there yet, while JKH not only possesses a classic MFC name but he appeared to be right at home. On the strength of one game alone I'm prepared to make a ludicrously hasty judgement and promote him past Dean Kent and into my starting lineup for Round 1.

It wasn't a completely perfect performance. Ignoring the lack of forward targets other than Howe, I thought we were far too loose down the other end in allowing Richmond to kick to leads. Maybe it's because I'm so used to us never doing it, but they had a lot of set shots from in and around 50 after kicking to a totally free man. Pedo tried hard up front, and kicked a nice goal, but he's still lacking the ability to be a game changer. Daniel Nicholson, unfortunately, did not undergo the same dramatic change as Rohan Bail and remained very much his 2013 self.

We got smashed in the ruck, but at least with better midfield depth it didn't matter as much. Better to lose the ruck and win the midfield than win the taps and still get killed in the centre. Max King was reasonable enough considering he'd been thrown in the deep end, but didn't I feel like a goose when The Spencil botched that kick which cost us a goal? After a year of championing him as a rough diamond I just knew that when he took the mark on the last line of defence that something horrible was about to happen. Having said that he got the goal back later with a decent set shot, put on another one of his whole hearted chase downs and led the team in tackles with five so I can't be entirely narky with him. Say it along with me - emergency option. Perhaps just never let him kick out of defence again? Somebody run past for the handball maybe? They do it in the middle of the ground, why should defence be any different?

Speaking of dodgy kicking I was promised that Alex Georgiou was going to be a non-stop thrill ride every time he got the ball, but apart from his wonky looking technique he was hitting targets all over the place. Yes please, more of that thanks. He may not be required once Garland's back in the side but at least he showed that his SANFL form wasn't automatically in the "too good for one, not good enough for the other" style of, say, Juice Newton.

It would be extraordinarily premature to take last night and project that it means near enough to non-stop good times and great classic hits for the rest of 2014. Almost everything that could go right did, including us holding the element of surprise and Richmond players making some criminal skill errors that would have seen them fit right into our side circa 2013. There will be - you would hope - peaks, but we're due our fair share of troughs as well.

But that's to worry about tomorrow, for now the best thing to do is remember that for one night at least the league's resident jabronis looked like they belonged in senior company. It was apt that considering how many head-in-hands moments we've been involved with over the last few years that we'd seal the win courtesy of a shambolic kicking error by the opposition.

By the end several Richmond fans (not all of them by any stretch of the imagination) had forgotten how utterly meaningless the game was - or at least should have been to them - and started exhibiting all the nervous signs of when your team is about to lose to a side with a significantly lesser reputation. Nervous swearing, cursing the names of various players and floating ridiculous conspiracy theories to explain your team's performance are symptoms we're all guilty of once in a while (weekly in my case) but there's an added desperation when there's the chance that you'll get beaten by slop.

The Tigers! *clap* *clap* *clap* that suddenly burst out of nowhere around Aisle 35 for the first time all game when they got within a goal late was a dead giveaway. As was the flat faced and abusive man sitting in front of us who said "what the fuck are we doing?" about 17 times during the last quarter before getting up and leaving. 

At the end you could hear somebody kicking a door/sign/seat or similar in frustration. It was all quite unnecessary given the circumstances, if you're going to risk breaking your foot at least do it when premiership points are on offer. It's the NAB Novelty Series, not like the year Carlton won 3.5 games and two were against us or when we stuffed up GWS' chances of going through last year unbeaten - save your abuse of inanimate objects for later.

Really, the only downside to the whole night was having to go to Docklands. What a horrid place it is, and the sooner it slides into the water outside the better. I know there's never going to be decent crowds for these games, but for $18 they could have put some effort in 'customer experience'. Without the aid of a radio, and with a rapidly failing phone battery, working out what was actually going on out there was more difficult than ever.

For a start nobody bothered to put the selected teams on the screen, including explanation for why named players didn't turn up. You didn't get the usual 'factfile' on the player kicking for goal (which would have been helpful to those of us who haven't committed Kamdyn McIntosh's name and number to memory yet) and when subs were made you just had to guess who'd gone on or off because they didn't bother announcing it or putting it on the screen. And they wonder why people would choose to sit at home and watch - at least Dwayne Russell will tell you something about what's happening in the middle of all the other nonsense he goes on with.

Personal shambles corner
No matter how much I prepare the same thing happens every year. I'll spot a number, think "who the hell is that?" and look them up only to discover it's somebody who's been there for years. This season's victim was James Strauss (I'm clearly still pining for Emo Maric in #19), who once I remembered existed actually played a solid game. Given that he's a good kick when he gets it he'll probably fit nicely into the new sideways, backwards, sideways again game style.

The Lid

Crowd Watch
The turn-out of 12,000 was hardly a vote of confidence in the pre-season, but considering we struggled to get 13,000 there for a real match last year it's probably not all that bad. At least they made reasonable amounts of noise throughout, unlike the Brisbane/Hawthorn debacle where 5000 people who have seen flags galore in the last 15 years golf clapped a 22 goal result.

I've come to terms with cheersquads in my old age. The members of our one should each get a medal for still putting in over the last couple of years, but can they open a consultancy business for other clubs? The only thing that has been consistently good about the Melbourne Football Club recently has been the font and kerning of our banner. Compare and contrast to some of the absolute abortions put out on a weekly basis but clubs who are alleged to have thousands of fans more than us. Good on whoever for gathers around the crepe paper at Punt Road Oval on a Thursday night for their commitment, but this should have been illegal (as should my phone's zoom setting):



Sadly this shithouse photo barely captures the misuse of "your" (and please don't write in comparing all the grammatical crimes in this post, if I stuck to nine words I'd make sure they were all correct), let alone the wide space between "hear" and "us" and the cheap looking font which must have been bulk purchased in the early 80's.

It's not the first time they've opted for the word 'gunna' on a banner when they've played us either. I know this because I remember flinching the last time as well. We wish them an improved performance throughout the year.

On our side I was quite taken by this outfit. Again, the zoom proved to be basically useless for anything other than encouraging you not to buy products from the HTC Corporation but you get the point.



There were several aspects to this, not only was it worn by a man clearly the wrong side of middle age - giving hope to people like me who wish they could be half-kit wankers for their entire life - but he'd also opted to put the message "Jack Watts. U R A Star.." in the very middle of the jumper before forcing a dodgy looking #4 in the space below the sponsor.

Why didn't he do the opposite? There's plenty of space for a statement below the number, if not above. Ask the Essendon fan (no bloody point trying to take a picture if the above two photos are any indication) who for some reason showed up in a #38 KOMMER jumper and then stood up during quarter/half time breaks slowly looking around as if he was confused/stoned out of his brain.

Finally, and I accept that perhaps only I would notice this, it was a Primus jumper and Watts debuted when Kaspersky were the back of jumper sponsor. All-in-all it very bizarre, but he's one of us so bless him.

2013 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
Now that we're back (for one week at least) to having a reasonable amount of possessions I will not get sucked into just handing out votes to whoever gets the most. But having said that here are some midfielders...

5 - Jack Trengove
4 - Bernie Vince
3 - Rohan Bail
2 - Jeremy Howe
1 - Jay Kennedy Harris

Apologies to Nathan Jones, Daniel Cross, James Frawley, James Strauss and Alex Georgiou amongst others.

Leaderboard (includes votes from last week's 'match simulation' thing)
The upset is well and truly on here. 

6 - Jay Kennedy-Harris
5 - Jack Trengove
4 - Jimmy Toumpas, Bernie Vince
3 - Rohan Bail, Sam Blease
2 - Jeremy Howe, Dom Tyson
1 - Dean Kent

If you'd like to hand out the votes for next Friday's intra-club please let me know. The fate of the plate could depend on it.


Next game
Geelong in Alice Springs, presumably with a much changed lineup to tonight and including the likes of Watts, Dawes, Hogan, Jamar etc.. God only knows what will happen now that they've had a look at what we're into, but as long as we put in another respectable performance and keep moving the ball around then let the good times roll back and forth between here and the Northern Territory.

Was it worth it?
My word yes. Nobody got hurt, nobody got reported, we got a kick. Fans of clubs who have not just won two games in a season will not understand what it meant to see our team scrap a win even in a glorified practice game which has absolutely no bearing on anything other than selling a few memberships (PS - buy one). Richmond will still finish above us on the ladder, but there's cause to push your deepest and darkest thoughts out and dream for at least the next couple of weeks.

Final Thoughts

5 comments:

  1. Great post as usual. Love the commitment to writing epics on meaningless preseason slop.
    Might wanna check the maths on your leaderboard though.

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  2. We will go top 8 if the 730 report comedians get fit together

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  3. Thanks Nick, pleased to have been offered a job as consultant to the RFC cheersquad after botching the leaderboard.

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  4. Great to start the season with a win.
    I initially thought the writing on the jumper was "JACK WATTS BASTARD"!!!
    :-)

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  5. "For a start nobody bothered to put the selected teams on the screen, including explanation for why named players didn't turn up. You didn't get the usual 'factfile' on the player kicking for goal (which would have been helpful to those of us who haven't committed Kamdyn McIntosh's name and number to memory yet) and when subs were made you just had to guess who'd gone on or off because they didn't bother announcing it or putting it on the screen. And they wonder why people would choose to sit at home and watch - at least Dwayne Russell will tell you something about what's happening in the middle of all the other nonsense he goes on with."

    Wrong I'm afraid Adam. At one stage on the telecast, Dwayne announced with certainty that Trengove had been subbed, at the very moment a kick landed in Trengove's arms. He did realise... about 10 minutes later. The other player he announced had been subbed was also on the ground (Blease).

    So you knew as much at the ground as did us playing at home.

    -Higgs

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