Thursday, 13 February 2014

Welcome to my vendetta - 2014 season preview

Hope may spring eternal, but you should not let it. Hear the unspoken words, "if you're ugly, forget it" - TISM

There's very little about summer to recommend it over more civilised seasons such as winter, but if nothing else at least it's a valuable rest period for those of us who have put near enough to all our sporting eggs in the one basket. A good opportunity to reduce blood pressure levels from 'dangerous' to 'troubling', and to detox from six months of eating overpriced and violently unhealthy food prepared under a dubious hygeine regime by hungover teenagers.

As a Melbourne fan you might even have started to enjoy time without football. Your friends and close relations will have noticed that you're not as morbidly depressed, swear less in front of children and more often than not have time for them on a Sunday. That all ends tomorrow night. You've had your fun, it's time to banish such counter-revolutionary thoughts and get back on the front lines. You owe it to the club which has given you so much (NB: may depend on your age) to buy a membership of some variety and at least try and fake enthusiasm for the first month before giving up again.

Whisper it quietly but I'm even looking forward to it. Sure last season was mentally draining at times (and I've got 22 match 'review' posts to prove it, including two by guests to prove it wasn't just me) but hand me the Kaiser's spicy kransky (NOT produced by a hungover teenager), show me to my seat in Row LL of the Ponsford Stand (within sniper rifle range of the reserved seat I'm actually paying for) and let me do it all again - hopefully this time with a different beginning, middle and end.

It doesn't matter how many times we've rebooted in the last few years, the goal for 2014 is simply to avoid abject failure. It's my unfortunate duty to inform you that we're not going to win the flag, but the same goes for 15 other teams and two sets of franchise customers. The goal is to get as close to actual, real life heartbreak as possible without getting too close a'la 1987 and ending up traumatised by it 25 years later. It's unlikely that this will become an issue in 2014.

A look back into the Demonblog archives shows that for the last two seasons I've waited until after the NAB Cup to write this post, but that seems like cheating. What's the point in hiding behind the "I don't actually know what I'm talking about?" defence when you've seen four practice match losses. You may as well make ridiculous predictions and float ludicrous theories sight unseen then hope for the best.


For coverage of what happened between the end of Round 23 and the end of the rookie draft, including hello Paul Roos, thanks for staying Jack Watts and goodbye Colin Sylvia, read this. After that post the dark months of December and January were reasonably quiet, Mitch Clark, Jesse Hogan and Colin Garland got hurt and several players were described as 'flying' or 'training the house down' without a hint of irony. At least this time we weren't embroiled in any legal scandals.

Personally my highlight of the summer, apart from the most successful Demonbracket tournament yet, was a column by Peter Jackson in the season review Heartbeat magazine that I'm guessing hardly anybody read. A cruel observer would suggest that the heartbeat stopped long ago, but I was struck by something he said. After quite rightly pointing out (in not so many words) that we were totally wank last year he went on to say:

The challenge now for this club is what we do about it. We can rationalise the situation, or we can accept the reality of our situation, meet that reality head-on and do something about it.

I choose to interpret that as saying it's time to stop playing the victim and start acting like we've got some pride. It's also saying (as far as I'm concerned, I am verballing him here) that it's time to shelve the suggestion that we've got a divine right to powerhouse status because we had a good run under Norm Smith 60 years ago. That's all good stuff - and you can read about it in great depth here - but it's got stuff all relevance to the position we're in now.

The simple fact of the matter is that whether you like it or not we are in football's third world, and have probably missed our chance to ever graduate to its first world. So that leaves us in the battle royale for spots in the second so that when the grim reaper comes around looking for clubs to chop, merge or relocate we're well in the clear.

We start this season as the league's reigning shambles and #1 charity case (excluding clubs actually owned by the league) and until respect is earned we deserve to be sitting on the kids' table. Of course we're going to continue to be scheduled at dud times against dud teams while nobody wants to watch us on TV or in person. Even Queen's Birthday, our annual free kick from Collingwood and the league, has seen attendance plummet from 76k to 64k and then down to 51k in the last three seasons, what do you expect the AFL to do? Of course they're not putting us on Friday night when it can be reasonably assumed, based on the last couple of years, that we'll be six goals down at quarter time and half the audience will switch off.


So you can either pretend we're the victims of a giant conspiracy and declare war on the football world armed only with a rolled up soggy newspaper, or you can accept reality and admit that to a great degree our destiny is in our own hands. It's not just on-field performance that will help us wave goodbye to the other third world slops and start moving on up.

In his speech at the AGM Jackson was diplomatic in pointing out that he wasn't ordering the 12,000 members who have dropped off in the last two years to get back on board, but is it really too much to ask for them to make a contribution? Direct debit $33.16 a month for the cheapest 'full' membership and do your bit rather than hiding behind the bushes throwing hand grenades and big noting yourself on Facebook about how you haven't signed up. If you have half an interest about this club being a going concern in the future and can afford it then pay up or shut up. Even if you live interstate or overseas there are options to at least put a few dollars in the club's pocket and give our numbers a much needed boost. Membership figures are the most abused set of numbers in the world, but unfortunately they matter to corporates no matter how many ring-ins are counted in the end figure.

Our 2013 financial shambles wasn't just the result of a drop off in membership, but it didn't help. Sponsorship and corporate hospitality also bombed, there's the small matter of the $500k not guilty tax + associated legal costs and the money spent sacking everyone. Getting people to sign up and actually go to games would help, but there were a lot of other 'one off' costs (for god's sake I hope they were one off) that won't be on the balance sheet next year. With the debt taken on to merge with buy the Bentleigh Club being chipped away at and the asset itself only likely to go up in value there is help on the way, but it doesn't mean you can sit on your wallet and pretend that you're contributing to turning us around.

We may be flogging at least one game interstate every season for years to come, but as much as it pains me to say it the second game introduced for this year is - sadly - a necessity. As long as it doesn't go beyond two except in the gravest of emergency circumstances, and as long as the plan is to revert to one at the earliest possible opportunity then I can accept it through gritted teeth just to put a few hundred thousand more dollars in the bank. The AFL's not going to put their hand in their pocket forever.

It's all well and good to look at this from position of the hopelessly addicted and wonder why everyone else wasn't still showing up 23 weeks into the worst season on record, but that doesn't work in the real world. The first step out of the sewer is to get a competitive football club on the park, and to do it soon. Call me an incurable romantic, but I think we can manage it this year.

I'm not suggesting any great leap forward in our finishing position (my projected ladder will show that clearly), but I feel like with a moderately decent run with injuries we can at least achieve footballing respectability. This coming from the person who thought Dean Bailey would turn things around in 2008 and who that Mark Neeld could do likewise until three-quarter time in Round 1 last year. I know I said I'd never get fooled again, but surely it's not too ridiculous to expect some moderate improvement on the horseshit we sat through for the last two years.

To their credit nobody at the club is trying to force the idea of a renaissance (slow burning or otherwise) down our throats, and even with the need to flog as many memberships as possible they're being subtle about how we're going to go. But if the Demon Store isn't going to set up a vat of foaming Paul Roos brand kool-aid on Brunton Avenue I'm going to brew my own batch. Mid-Table by 2015 - that's my motto, and on the way to that unambitious goal I'm willing to pull the sack over my own head and believe that this year will at least be tolerable, if not always enjoyable.

Mediocrity is probably out of our grasp in the short term, but I want to believe that at the very least in 2014 we'll climb off our knees and at take beatings with a "thank you sir, may I have another?" stoicism rather than on our knees with tears streaming down the face. I feel like we've got a reasonable team on paper. Not one worthy of a serious crack at the eight, but one that should win a handful of games against mid-table sides and at least three or four when we play the other flotsam and jetsam.

Defence
It's hard to believe that parts of our defence could be considered the most successful in the side when we've lost by more than 100 points seven times since 2008, but I'm convinced that Frawley, Garland and McDonald represent the best triple treat down back since Ingerson/Seecamp/Shahanan in 1998.

So why did we still concede over 117 points a game last year? The big three had their injury worries as various times, but they were all there when Essendon flogged us (and Gillies too - how many tall forwards did we think the Bombers were going to field?) and were also on field the next week when West Coast murdered us in the third quarter (though Gillies had been shelved permanently by then) so I refuse to blame that.

The problem was that when the big three were one-on-one with an opponent they were fine, but when the ball hit the ground we were murdered. It's not necessarily the job of the talls to control the ball on the ground as well as in the air, but whoever's job it was they weren't doing it. Terlich did better than expected and Dunn played probably his best season yet, but we were last in the league for contested possessions inside defensive 50 by so far that it should have been illegal. The midfielders can take their share of the blame for that as well, but if we're not going to get the ball when it hits the deck inside defensive 50 then what's the point in fixing the midfield in the first place?

High Best and Fairest finish notwithstanding, I'm still not entirely convinced by Terlich. I feel like while he was a perfectly good player in a bad team that if we're any good in two years he won't be there. Still, he's got the runs on the board and deserves his chance to prove me wrong. Clisby is another option, having done reasonably well late last year. There's also Tapscott who, if we're lucky, will be sent back into defence where he did his best work instead of being played as half-forward flanker for little gain. Question marks hang over James Strauss who hasn't shown much since coming back from that horrid broken leg. He's likely to get his chance this year but time must be running out.

The black cloud hanging over our defence this year will be whether Frawley is going to go for gold somewhere else at the end of the year. That's ok for now, let's not get too much of a complex about it just yet. Don't get sucked into the idea that just because $cully screwed us in an underhanded fashion that every potential free-agent is a villain, because the whole point of free agency is that the players have put in a decent shift before considering their options. At a conservative estimate Chip will have played more than 130 games at the end of next year, and for most of it he's been down there mopping up for others. I'm still no fan of free agency, but get used to it - if the tables were turned and we were swiping him from another club there would be shagging in the streets to celebrate.

He could have done a major scab move by going to Gold Coast as an uncontracted player in 2011 after his All-Australian season but he didn't, and we've said thanks by delivering non-stop junk ever since. If we're still garbage in six months why wouldn't he be open to offers from better clubs? Especially if he sees Sylvia or Rivers playing in a grand final after enjoying another year trying to push shit up a hill with us. Again, it's all about gaining respect.

Of course the romantic in me says that every player should be like Robbie Flower and go down with the ship, but that's not how things work. At least we can make staying worth his while with a huge contract, he looked to be hating life early last season and if there was an open transfer market I've got no doubt he would have been somewhere else five weeks in. We've got 22 weeks to make it convince him (personally, professionally or financially) to hang around. The argument that he's only a restricted free agent and we could keep him/force him into the draft is a nice one - and bloody hell I'd love it if we were the first club to do that - but it's never happened yet. There's no need to force him at gunpoint into any hasty decisions, but it will be interesting to see what happens if his form is either well below or well above expectation in the first half of the year. In the meantime try the old "can I have your autograph?/is actually a contract" routine and see if he physically attacks you.

All things considered I think that if the midfield and forwards do their bit to stop the rot that will assist - for obvious reasons - in the process of not conceding almost 2700 points, but we're still vulnerable to injuries. It already looks like Alex Georgiou will push in front of Pedersen in the pecking order (when he comes off the rookie list to replace the injured Riley) but if he doesn't translate his SANFL form then what? Howe? Watts? What about doubling our efforts to keep the bloody ball away from there and not allowing the opposition to go from one end of the field to the other in five seconds flat 50 times a week?

As the #1 ticket holder of the Defenders Union Fan Club I'll be keeping a close eye on this storyline and assign to blame to anybody but the defenders if we get flogged again.

Midfield
If we're going to achieve the modest aim of not being a punching bag, the first step is to unburden Nathan Jones from the responsibility of doing it all single handedly every week. With respect to Jack Viney, who showed plenty when fit and will just get better, and Matt Jones who was one of the few success stories of the first half of 2013 it's no secret that there wasn't much else in the tank.

Injuries didn't help, Trengove was clearly not right for the entire year (the allegations in the Herald Sun article about skinfold targets changing half way through the pre-season throw another farce on the bonfire) and with Jordie McKenzie lost to injury for great swathes of the year we just gave up and didn't both tagging anyone half the time. Cue being beaten to a pulp in the middle most weeks, much less around the ground. People actually broke into applause at times when we strung three kicks together.

So this year if you take the two Jones', Viney, assume Trengove is getting over his ailments, add Vince and Cross as almost certain starters for Round 1, assume natural progression for Toumpas and add Tyson/Michie/Salem in the near future and at least we've got options to work with.

I'll throw Watts into this conversation as well considering he's supposed to be playing in the middle too. Considering his last start featured him leading majestically AND having midfielders kick the ball to him for the one of the rare times in his career as a forward I'm kind of sad that he's not going to be doing it again, but at least we know if our forwards all cark it (again) like they have before the first pre-season game that he'll be able to take their place with some success.

What I hope is that we're not too rigid and that they change things around once in a while. Why not throw Clark or Howe into the middle for one centre bounce randomly just for something different? If we're still going to lose more than we win can we go at least go down with some variety instead of grimly trudging off to the gallows doing exactly the same thing for four quarters every week like last year?

Forwards

Who knows what to expect from this lot considering we never even got to see Dawes/Clark in the same place last year (and that's conservative compared to our forward injury list for tomorrow night) and the ludicrous level of expectation on Jesse Hogan, not quite at Watts '09 level yet but close, can only end badly. I'm not as concerned with their ability as actually getting them in the same team - to see these three at one end and the three defensive titans at the other just once seems like a goal worth starting a charity fund to promote.

Of course you have to get the ball to them first, and we were reasonable enough at converting when we actually did that, but the problems was that it happened at record low levels. Some of our inside 50 figures should have seen us expelled from the competition (didn't we have a glorious time in the rain at Kardinia Park?), and like most other aspects of this season you have to think that we couldn't possibly fail to improve at this without there being a corruption scandal involved.

To me the half-forward line is even more important than the talls inside 50. How many times did we struggle to get the ball to the edge of the 50 last year only for the attack to break down? Next thing you know we're at the other end defending our goal. I thought Dawes did well getting the ball when he did get on the park, but he was basically alone at half-forward. Tapscott as a forward doesn't work, and this is why I'm hoping Watts and Howe will be used as half-forward flanker/midfielders so they can contribute to both getting it out of the middle AND getting it towards Clark/Hogan quickly enough for them to be able to lead (god forbid) or at least jump at the ball without having seven defenders covering them.

As for the smaller forwards I'm still convinced of the merits of Blease as a forward, but Kent was ok at the end of last season so he's got claims too. Dom Barry might be another option after a season playing in the VFL and there's no doubt Jay Kennedy-Harris will get a go at some point this year (and quite possibly quickly), so here's to finally getting a decent small forward option for the first time since god knows when. Also, defensive pressure please. Once we battle our guts out to get the ball down there let's at least put some pressure on the defense instead of allowing them to sweep it out five seconds later.

Rucks
Jamar deserves first crack at the starting ruckman spot with what looks like (on paper) a midfield with depth underneath him for the first in a couple of seasons, but given that it's a year of transition anyway can we please move towards Gawn as #1 sooner rather than later?

Apparently not if this article is anything to go by, where he's talked about like a bit part player instead of the future top man. I'm interested in the claims in the same article that when Clark plays he will ruck. That's my dream, but it's also my nightmare because all that leaping up and down can't possibly be good for his foot - maybe just play safe with him for the first few weeks this year and think about easing him into the ruck late in the season?

With respect to the Russian, he'll be 31 at the end of the season and has only played 15 of more games in a year twice in his career. He's still got something to offer but I'm volunteering to work on the Clark/Gawn 2015 campaign.


I became an unashamed Jake Spencer fan last year, but that more to do with him being the only player who would run more than two metres to block for his teammates most weeks. I'm happy enough to have him there as a backup because at least he's proven that he cares but the idea floated that he's in front of Gawn is insane. We already roped Maximum into signing a new contract last year only to leave him in the reserves for a month near the end of the season just because, and now he's allegedly starting four deep in the running to be our first ruck this season. No thanks.

Next off the rank are Fitzpatrick, who admittedly hasn't had too many opportunities to ruck in the ones since we realised he was a half decent forward, and at a last resort Max King who in the spirit of John Meesen may not actually exist.

Recruits

We gave up more (in total) for Dom Tyson, Bernie Vince and Viv Michie (+ Cross and Riley for free) than we did for our recruits last year, but it doesn't take a massive leap of faith to expect that what we've done this time will reap far greater rewards. I'll still take up arms to defend the recruitment of Chris Dawes, but even Byrnes, Gillies, Pedersen and Rodan themselves would probably put their hand up to admit they didn't offer all that much combined - and the only one who will be there next year is Pedo thanks mainly to rampant sniffing of glue when contracts were being handed out in late 2012.

In comparison Vince (presumably) steps straight in with a couple of years of his prime left and the other two who we traded for have many years ahead of them. All of them - including the two who we got on a free - address the major issue with the team, the midfield. If Byrnes was recruited to be there for his leadership and standard setting as much as anything, Cross will do the same and hopefully shine on the field as well. If not we didn't pay anything for him, so who gives a continental?

Rookies
Christian Salem comes with good reviews but I'm prepared to let him find his own way to the side. A look back at last year's preview shows that at the time I wanted Toumpas in the team, but in retrospect he was ridiculously overmatched in his first few games. The difference is that in 2013 we entered the season with a wafer thin midfield and this year we've at least bolstered it to the point where we don't need to throw kids to the wolves straight away.

Jay Kennedy-Harris has looked good in the early stages of pre-season, and could be a bolter for Round 1 if he can impress at the expense of Kent and Blease over the next few weeks. I'm promised that he's going to provide CRUMB, which almost seems like a dream after the last couple of seasons. Again, we don't need to force him in before he's ready.

Alex Georgiou could benefit from Garland's injury to get a few games under his belt. We wish him more luck than Gillies had while filling in for McDonald in Round 1 last year. The least we could do would be give him an AFL game and see what happens considering he chucked his job to come and work for us on minimum rookie wage.

As for the rest, Max King might play in the NAB Challenge thingy but when the real stuff starts he would need two of Jamar, Gawn, Spencer, Fitzpatrick and possibly even Clark to fall over in front of him to get a game. No worries there, you don't draft an 18-year-old ruckman who has only played serious footy for a couple of years expecting him to walk into the ones immediately. Then there's Jayden Hunt and James Harmes who will be best confined to the frozen tundra of Casey Fields for a season until we work out if they're any good.

Coaching Corner
While they risk going a bit overboard with tales about how much of a behind-the-scenes wreck we were before Roos came along (mainly because nobody's proven that we're not still one) I'm glad that at last one of my theories has been proven - the debacles of the last few years did send some of our players mental.

It's too late to save Cale Morton's career, but at least the damage has been acknowledged. A popular Neeld conspiracy theory is that he gave the player welfare people the boot and that was the beginning of the end for Liam Jurrah, not to mention the others who stayed behind and enjoyed the glory of being mauled by other teams, the media and fans every week last year.

Way back in July 2012 your correspondent got randomly (?) drawn to go one of those members information/crisis meetings with Neeld and Co, and pretty much fell for the "everything's going to be alright" claptrap. My question of what you do to keep players up when they've played in a huge amount of losses in a short space of time was answered by saying they didn't have shrinks or counsellors at the ready, but they did have a Mental Skills Coach (who I notice was quietly shuffled off at the end of 2012) but that players could always tell their troubles to the coaches. "What if their trouble was with the coaches?" I was too shy to ask, thinking of the assistants because I was still high on Neeld-U-Like brand kool aid at the time.

So we come to the point where we hit Ctrl+F5 again, hoping that if Roos is going to import the type of game-plan that was such a success at the Swans that it's going to have enough twists and turns to ensure that other clubs aren't ready for it and standing around the corner waiting for us with a baseball bat. He's clearly a likeable fellow, and he took copping an errant handball from Jesse Hogan in the knackers (better than the other way around for future father/son recruitment purposes) with good grace. I just hope that if things start badly that we don't end up chasing our losses and ending up with fans queued outside AAMI Park demanding he pays back some of his millions.

As for the rest of his team god only knows. They all come with good reviews, and Daniel McPherson used to a run a newsagency so if you need somebody to explain Super 66 he's your man. The most ridiculous thing revealed at the AGM (even more so than our financial status) was that George Stone used to live in Melbourne and fly to Sydney for Swans training, so surely he'll have the time of his life not being committed to that sort of absurd commute.

Off-Field Antics
Everyone's trying to talk up the latest rule changes as being 'great for fans', but I'll believe that when I see it. Adding even more interpretations for the umpires can't possibly end well. The poor bastards cop hell on a weekly basis as it is, and in all honesty even if there was one rule to adjudicate idiots would be calling Finey's Final Siren to complain that there's a conspiracy against their side, and no doubt we'll still find some way to hate them even if they do get it right.

Then there's the interchange cap, which would be ugly and restrictive enough without the substitute but in addition to it adds a completely unnecessary level of bureaucracy to the game just to engineer outcomes for the benefit of media types who don't actually give a rats about the result as long as they get 'spectacle'. Even the way they're going to police it makes the process look more complicated than operating a nuclear power plant.

When the changes cause more issues what knee-jerk reactions will they come up with to reverse the issue? The AFL are the sporting equivalent of the scientists in a movie who develop a lethal virus and then spend the rest two hours trying to wipe it out before it destroys humanity.

As for names on the backs of jumpers I don't care as much as I would have five years ago, but it's definitely a sign that my days as a half-kit wanker are numbered. I struggle to see what the point is, you're not going to be able to read the names from distance and the whole point of watching on TV is that they're saying who the players are anyway (although a night with Brian Taylor will make you question that) but whatever, you've got to let something minor go through to the keeper so you can keep whinging about the rest.

It's certainly not as big a deal as ruining matches by having any players not lucky enough to be endurance athletes keeling over from exhaustion in the last few minutes just to keep Mark Stevens happy, but I'm not entirely sure who it's for other than them. How many more changes do we have to make to try and rope half interested northerners in?

The year ahead
It's obscene that as we enter the 10th year of Demonblog (I still can't come to terms with that) we haven't won in Round 1 since the first home and away match review ever. I notice that back then I claimed to be "generally unconcerned" with the season until about 90 minutes before the match started, which is a significant difference compared to a decade on where I turn off for about two weeks a season and have my heart in my mouth for the rest of the year.

There is a reasonable enough air of calm, but that'll be shattered two minutes into tomorrow night's game when that old feeling returns. Tightness in the chest, eyeballs set to pop out, hopefully not so much head-in-hands as last year. 

In a few weeks we'll probably in a sizeable hole with water up to our knees and rising, so time to enjoy games that don't mean anything while we can. Like a government still blaming the other side three years into their term, whatever short term mismanagement and long term psychological damage was done under the previous regime that there's only so long it can be blamed for things going wrong.

I'm pleased that we've been handed three pre-season games against last year's finalists, because it means we won't have to sit through another mass outbreak of self-doubt if we lose to Port (2012) or Gold Coast (2013). Our actual draw is another thing though, for footballing purposes it's actually brilliant but so were the last two seasons and how did that turn out? St Kilda, West Coast (here) and GWS are all winnable games in the first three weeks - but what happens if we don't win them? Port was supposed to be a certainty last year as well, and our performance destroyed the foundations of the season.

It doesn't get worse for a few weeks after that either. Mid-table Carlton and Gold Coast in Round 4 and 5 before we finally get a real 2013 finalist in Sydney at the MCG on April 26. Even then Adelaide, Footscray, Richmond and Port follow. If we can get some momentum up great, if not watch out. The draw is so stacked in our favour that it never gets all that brutal and there's winnable games every couple of weeks, but what looks like a winnable game now can be anything but once you've been kicked to death a few times and the nerves start creeping back in.

Still, while wins and losses are a decent marker of whether you're just ordinary or complete gash (not to mention helpful for, you know, qualifying for the finals) as long as we get AT LEAST four for the year I won't be concerned as long as many of the 18 losses are competitive. I'm just not settling for four (well, conditionally I am), and but let's be realistic. It's a sad situation that five wins would seem a success but you can't go straight from a shanty town to a nice 4br home in South Yarra without an amazing run of luck.

Ladder position means even less to me, so if we win at least four and have a percentage of no less than 80 then we can finish last for all I care and at least it will be a major improvement. St Kilda managed that percentage last year with five wins, admittedly padded with a big win over a suspiciously understrength Fremantle in the last round (we will assume their $500,000 for not tanking is in the mail) and it didn't stop them from being almost as much of a crisis club as us but let's take baby steps first.

As far as MFC seasons go, the nearest marker to what I would accept is 2007 and five wins for 78.16%. At the time, coming off three finals campaigns in a row, it seemed like the worst thing that had ever happened to us, but now it would almost be cause for a guard of honour by ex-players before the final match of the season. The further we extend beyond that the happier I'll be, to the point where if we finished 10th I'd probably take a week off work to celebrate.

I said earlier that I think the list is reasonable on paper, but like Neeld's famous "but we're good at training..." that counts for absolutely nothing when proper competition begins. Pre-season form is no automatic indicator of what's going to happen later but I'm sure we'll get an idea during the Richmond and Hawthorn games (+ Geelong if you can be bothered going to Alice Springs for it) of whether we've already progressed or are still stuck being great trainers but horrible competitors.

"It" doesn't have to happen this year, and quite frankly I've come to the view that "it" may never happen at all, but surely it's not too much to ask for to hold our heads high as fans again. The social rejects in your office will still crack snow gags (and they've started early this year thanks to the Winter Olympics) but at some point in the near future you may have something to (metaphorically) spit back in their face. I said it last year, and I repeat it now - what I want is the right to be arrogant again. If we're all supposed to be Scotch College alumni with seven figure salaries then I'd like to start acting like it.

Draft betting markets
As always we will not be held responsible if you lose your house on some ridiculous side-wager involving Aiden Riley. If you're interested in seriously betting on any of the awards below we're required by legislation to inform you that help is available.

Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

5-4-3-2-1 votes in every home and away and finals match. Final pre-season price in brackets.

2005 - Travis Johnstone
2006 - Brock McLean
2007 - Nathan Jones
2008 - Cameron Bruce
2009 - Aaron Davey ($8)
2010 - Brad Green ($4)
2011 - Brent Moloney ($9)
2012 - Nathan Jones [2] ($3.50)
2013 - Nathan Jones [3] ($2.50)

2014 market

Jones rightly starts favourite after two wins in a row, but with more help (allegedly) on the way he doesn't appear to be as much of a dead certainly as he was at this time last season. Hopefully the award will be a bit more thrilling than the last two years where Jones gave up a lead in the first few weeks and then stormed back to win by miles.

$3.50 - Nathan Jones

$5 - Jack Viney
$5.50 - Jack Grimes
$8 - James Frawley
$9 - Jack Trengove, Jack Watts
$12 - Jeremy Howe
$18 - Tom McDonald

$20 - Bernie Vince, Daniel Cross
$25 - Mitch Clark, Colin Garland, Jimmy Toumpas, Jordie McKenzie 
$30 - Chris Dawes, Matt Jones
$35 - Jesse Hogan, Dom Tyson
$40 - Sam Blease, Dean Terlich
$45 - Lynden Dunn,
$50 - Christian Salem, Viv Michie
$70 - Mark Jamar
$90 - Max Gawn, Jack Fitzpatrick
$100 - Michael Evans, Luke Tapscott
$150 - Dean Kent
$200 - Daniel Nicholson
$250 - Rohan Bail, Shannon Byrnes, Mitch Clisby
$300 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Jake Spencer
$400 - Aiden Riley, James Strauss
$500 - Dominic Barry, Cameron Pedersen
$700 - Alex Georgiou
$750 - Jayden Hunt, Neville Jetta
$1000 - James Harmes, Max King

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year

Highest vote getter for a defender. Running defenders who spend too much time in the midfield will be disqualified from receiving the award at the discretion of the committee.

2005 - Nathan Carroll and Ryan Ferguson (shared)
2006 - Jared Rivers
2007 - Paul Wheatley
2008 - Matthew Whelan
2009 - James Frawley ($22)
2010 - James Frawley [2] ($3.50)
2011 - James Frawley [3] ($4)
2012 - Jack Grimes ($7)  
2013 - James Frawley [4] ($2.80)

2014 market

Frawley is the boss and rightfully starts red-hot favourite to take home the Seecamp for the fifth time due to Garland starting the season injured. Watch for midfielders (Cross, Grimes etc..) being disqualified early in the season, and if Watts ends up down there again I'll be battering the panic button.

$2 - Frawley

$5 - McDonald
$7 - Garland
$10 - Grimes, Terlich
$18 - Clisby
$25 - Cross, Dunn
$40 - Pedersen, Tapscott
$50 - Georgiou
$70 - Strauss
$100 - Watts 
$500 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
$1000 - NO ELIGIBLE WINNER

Jeff Hilton Medal for Rising Star of the Year

The highest scoring player in the Jakovich Medal count who has either played zero AFL games before the start of the season OR debuted in the final four games (not including byes) of the preceding season. Known as the Jeff Hilton Rookie of the Year 2005-2011

No 2013 senior players are eligible, with none having debuted in the final four matches of the premiership season and survived. Dominic Barry is the only player senior listed in 2013 to be eligible.

2005 - No players eligible. 

2006 - Matthew Bate 
2007 - Michael Newton 
2008 - Cale Morton 
2009 - Jack Grimes ($4 fav) 
2010 - [REVOKED] ($5) 
2011 - Jeremy Howe ($30) 
2012 - Tom McDonald ($8)  
2013 - Jack Viney ($5) 

2014 market

$2 - Jesse Hogan
$9 - Christian Salem
$15 - Jay Kennedy-Harris
$20 - Dominic Barry 
$50 - Alex Georgiou
$100 - Jayden Hunt

$150 - James Harmes
$300 - Max King
$500 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER 


Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Highest scoring player in the overall count who has played primarily as a ruckman during the year. Ruckmen who spend time in the forward or backline will still be eligible at the discretion of the committee. Formerly the Strawbs O'Dwyer Medal between 2008 and 2010. 2005 to 2007 medals were awarded retrospectively for top scoring ruckman in the overall count. 

2005 - Jeff White
2006 - Jeff White [2]
2007 - Jeff White [3]
2008 - Paul Johnson
2009 - Mark Jamar ($3)
2010 - Mark Jamar [2] ($1.50 fav)
2011 - Stefan Martin ($30) 
2012 - Stefan Martin [2] ($9)
2013 - Jack Fitzpatrick ($50) and Max Gawn ($45)

2014 market

$5 - Mark Jamar
$8 - Mitch Clark, Max Gawn
$12 - Jake Spencer
$40 - Jack Fitzpatrick
$200 - Cameron Pedersen
$400 - Max King

$500 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
$1000 - ANY OTHER PLAYER

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance

No markets are set for this one on the basis that votes are handed out in an even more bizarre and arbitrary way than the major awards. Note that this year without the two games on one night format there will (presumably) be five less votes to go around. I've decided that this award is getting a bit dull, so it'll be dramatically relaunched next season. How's that for forward sizzle? Under then, back to the old format.

2008 - Aaron Davey
2009 - Cameron Bruce
2010 - Brad Green
2011 - Colin Sylvia
2012 - Nathan Jones
2013 - Nathan Jones [2]

Leaderboard (votes cast by @demonsbeth at last Friday's match simulation extravaganza)
5 - Jay Kennedy-Harris
4 - Jimmy Toumpas
3 - Sam Blease
2 - Dom Tyson
1 - Dean Kent

Demonblog' chosen 21+1

Disclaimers, as usual, apply. This assumes everyone's fit at the same time (fat chance) and that even if they're not ok for Round 1 that they'll be fit not long afterwards. Actually positions are indicative only, and it's a balance of what I want to happen and what I think will actually happen.

B: Terlich, Frawley, McDonald
HB: Cross, Garland, Grimes
C: Vince, Viney, Trengove
HF: Watts, Dawes, Howe
F: Kent, Clark, Hogan
Foll: Jamar, Jones, McKenzie
INT: Gawn, M. Jones, Dunn
S: Blease

If Clark isn't right for Round 1 then move Fitzpatrick to FF, if Garland is still out then move Dunn into the backline, Frawley to CHB, McDonald to FB and Blease onto the bench with Toumpas as the sub. No doubt by Round 1 the list of "if X then Y" will be about 100 pages long.

Projected ladder

1 - Hawthorn (imaginative!)
2 - Fremantle (equally imaginative!)
3 - Sydney (though surely now that everyone thinks they'll be good they won't be)
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4 - North Melbourne (most popular team to miss the eight the previous year in history)
5 - Collingwood (sadly can't be totally ruled out of another flag tilt)
6 - Geelong (settling in to be the new Sydney, thereabouts every year and never going away)
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7 - Richmond (settling in for a few years in top eight company)
8 - Essendon (impossible to get rid of)
9 - Carlton (reasonable chance of playing finals unfortunately)
10 - Port Adelaide (moderately found out)
11 - Adelaide (plenty at the top end, not so much at the other)
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12 - West Coast (no thanks)
13 - Gold Coast (a strong 13th)
14 - Footscray (better again but still only lower mid-table)
15 - Brisbane (handicapped by being amongst a bunch of half decent team but without too many hacks below them)
-----------------
16 - Melbourne (Who's going at pick three?)
17 - Greater Western Sydney (they will still be delighted with this. Low lying humans one and all - except Junior McDonald and retrospectively Dom Tyson)
18 - St Kilda (so it's CHAOS if we lose Round 1....)

Final thoughts
Last year I was ready to struggle, this year I am ready to win.

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