Saturday 1 March 2014

Live from the slag heap

At about half time of Round 6 2008 I vowed never to watch another game in a pub or similar while within the Commonwealth of Australia. There's a certain novelty to doing it overseas, especially in the era before dodgy streaming came along and allowed us to watch almost anything anywhere we like (including - at the time of writing - winter sports from Kvitfjell and a Rincon vs River Andorra basketball match), but the idea of choosing to spend time amongst 'the people' in a bar with a perfectly good Foxtel connection at home is, to me, almost obscene.

So when my city dwelling, non-pay TV subscribing, Geelong supporting chum suggested getting together to watch the game my answer should have been "not on your life, I'll be on my couch" rather than "well, I hear Crown has a ritzy new sports bar..." Because Crown does not have a ritzy new sports bar, they have some derelict old room which probably used to house a craps table which they've 'jazzed up' by installing some TV screens

The casino is like Chadstone: The Fashion Capital, it's been updated and redesigned so many times in the last few years that if you don't go there for a few months you won't know what you're doing. My idea of the layout is still based on the disaster strewn three weeks when I worked there in August/September 2000. I was young, troubled, and quit after having a nervous breakdown just before the end of basic training a'la Full Metal Jacket but at least we were playing good football at the time.

Eventually I asked for directions and was directed into the casino itself, where as if to set the tone for a depressing evening I walked past a duo playing a cover of Wonderwall to a clearly disinterested audience who had no respect for the multitasking efforts the woman standing up, singing, playing the drum with one hand (well, she was just hitting it occasionally) and shaking a tambourine.

Then just to the right of the lonely middle aged women playing $2.50 games just to get some conversation with the dealer I found the imaginatively named 'sports bar'. Or more accurately I heard where it was from the sound of a room full of drunken New Zealanders hooting their lungs out over the goings on in some insignificant rugby match.

When it hit 7pm it became clear that the rugby crunts weren't done yet, and that our game would be confined to a secondary screen made up of four individual televisions stuck together to leave a black line running through the picture both vertically and horizontally. It was too late to pull out and go home, but at least in this insignificant corner of the most depressing place in Melbourne (previous winner: Ponsford Stand 2012/13) they had thought to leave the TV next to us on One HD so we were also able to watch an episode of Cops with no sound.

Due to the crossover with the whoever vs who cares rugby extravaganza we were also denied commentary of our game for most of the first quarter. I felt bad muttering under my breath about it just in case it suddenly burst into full Dolby Digital Dwayne, but at least even when he's reminding you of what's happened "if you've just joined us" every five minutes you get the crowd noise and some atmosphere. Instead we got to hear 15 minutes of post-match scrum talk in case the full-to-the-brim Kiwis rioted, and it made it impossible to get into our game at first. In fact I have no idea why Jesse Hogan got that free kick in the first quarter, because at the time my eyes had wandered over to the other TV to see a scofflaw being pinned to the ground by the Fort Lauderdale PD. This was not my finest night as a footy fan.

Luckily in the 15 minutes where we were sans Matt Campbell we did have a drunken rugby fan who had decided that he also loved the Cats. Not surprisingly he didn't last past the first quarter, but in that time we were treated to the activities of the first quarter of a practice match at a suburban ground being treated like the last five minutes of a grand final. When Geelong wobbled through a point he jumped to his feet and yelled "Behind! Oh well, next time mate, come on, HA HA!", then declared that Steve Johnson "used to be good, but now it's past it you know, because it like you know goes that way you know?"

We were just ignoring him by this point, and even my Geelong supporting friend who has been far and wide to watch the Cats wanted to glass him, but when the commentary came on he got a new lease of life repeating player names unconvincingly seconds after the commentators said them. Had he not racked off I may have had to go and sit in the car on the Crown rooftop listening to SEN instead.

As for the game itself, for there was apparently one on in the midst of all this other bollocks, if you're the kind of person who likes those charts which show we'd win 5000 gold medals if we had the same population as China then you'd have loved it. Despite having half the inside 50's we almost made a game of it - and if Fitzpatrick's shot at a nine-pointer had rolled through at the end the last 90 seconds would have been interesting - so if we'd had the same amount we'd have won by 20 goals or something right? It's a lovely theory, but it fails to take into account that teams do not consistently win games like this. If we'd pulled it off last night it would have been a nice "remember the time when..." but there'd still be questions marks all over the place about how we're going to go when the real stuff starts.

Still, as far as efficiency measures go 16 scores and a couple of OOFs from 31 times inside 50 is far better than anything produced by the Australian manufacturing industry recently. The margin may have been nine closer than what it would have been in a normal match thanks to our first three supergoal performance since 2005, but at the same time Geelong botched more than one decent chance by trying to go for nine instead of playing sensibly so who knows how it would have ended up under real rules? We certainly got more value for our 31 inside 50's in hot, windy Alice Springs than we did for our 19 on a cold day down at Kardinia Park where it quite frankly pissed down all afternoon and we kicked three goals in total.

To have almost 100 more disposals for the match yet register half as many inside 50's BUT still almost force a thrilling finish is such a bizarre set of circumstances that I'm still trying to come to terms with it now. The backline dink certainly had a lot to do with the possession count, and that's more of a worry than it seemed when we were slicing and dicing Richmond. You can have a million more kicks and handballs but if they're all inside defensive 50 because you can't clear the ball then it's not even worth discussing like it's a good thing. It can be a good thing, and don't let me forget that I thought (think?) we'll only win four or five games this year, but no matter how close we got last night I still feel like something was wrong with it all.

Having said that Geelong did have a reasonably good side in, and I suppose that even if they did gleefully take about eight goals from our suicidal turnovers we didn't do too badly. Adding a half-forward line and giving players somebody to kick to up the ground instead of always having to dink from side-to-side will help. We had that against Richmond, so I suppose it's not completely out of the question.

At least, unlike the last several times we've played Geelong, we looked like a league standard side for a majority of the four quarters. The issue with forwards might be solved by the inclusion of Dawes and Clark (stop laughing, he's coming back eventually), but I can see the queue forming now to pot the sideways kicking that everyone was frothing over a fortnight ago. Keep calm for now, it's currently 1-1 for the season - which is actually a reasonable record for anything we're involved in. At least this week The Spencil wasn't involved, and everyone else was taking their turn to cock up royally while trying to hit pinpoint passes across goal.

Blaming the breeze for some of the kicking debacles is fine, but wind is not like the polar ice caps - it's going to be with us for a while yet. There's every possible chance that we'll play several of 22 games for premiership points this season (not to mention the Grand Final) with a wind blowing across the ground, and unless we've either got Plan B - and as far as fans are concerned no team ever does - or the players are going to become the sharpest shooters around it's going to end in tragedy many times before September unless options present themselves in the middle of the ground and around half-forward.

Jesse Hogan taking marks on a half-back flank and looking up to find nobody in front of him provide more shades of the worst moments of Baileyball when it was Jack Watts doing the same thing, but like the difference between Matthew Knights and James Hird we'll all go to our graves defending anything Roos does while remembering the exact same done under Bailey as being horrible. And how good was he? Great marking and not afraid to bump and scrag his opponents, which is a nice touch. His set shot technique will cause nightmares, but at least he kicked straight when he had one. Now, let's just work on getting him within scoring range and kicking it to him there.

At times we did play reasonably good football. Almost everyone, except my new footballing crush Alex Georgiou who disposed at 100%, took their chance to make an embarassing gaffe but on the whole they were downright reasonable at getting the ball from stoppages, and for turning back attacks from Geelong.

We started reasonably, but fell in a giant hole in the middle of the first quarter as Geelong started to treat us like it was 186 all over again. Suddenly any optimism that had come from the Richmond performance was starting to ebb away and the prospect of not only being terrible but playing ugly looking, comical error strewn football flashed before my eyes. Obviously I was panicking far too early, you'd be mad to match any judgements just yet, and naturally when we flew back to grab the lead in the second quarter I suddenly decided that we were good all over again and would probably make the eight. Because I am a football fan and therefore an idiot.

The midfield has certainly been improved a million times over. Look at the way it doesn't all sit on the shoulders of Nathan Jones any more, and how with the likes of Tyson, Cross, Vince and Michie have just walked in and look like they've been there for years. We all knew Bernard was a good player, but Tyson has been the standout so far. People are trying to judge him on the fact that we gave up pick 2  - while conveniently forgetting that we also got pick 9/Christian Salem - but on the strength of the last two games he would have been worth that alone. It's not just the 29 touches, but the seven tackles that caught my eye. There's no doubt that he's an automatic selection for Round 1 now, and I start to worry for Matt Jones that his career has peaked and he'll be left as a bit part player from now on.

It wasn't all positive news though, having been roped in to buying stock in Rohan Bail courtesy of some dodgy dealings in the Etihad Stadium boiler room I'm now desperately trying to sell again before the price hits rock bottom. Possibly not his fault when he's being used in the old defensive forward role which sent James Magner and very nearly Lynden Dunn to their grave over the last few years, but still if he's not contributing to moving the ball forward or kicking goals then I'm not interested.

Shannon Byrnes grew on me as the game went on, given that he was the only thing even moderately approaching a half-forward line that we had, but I fail to see how he will play more than 10 games for us this year. Blease was also marauding around the HFF, but even though I've supported him non-stop for years I don't feel like he does enough for long enough to justify being an automatic starter. When he gets it and goes for a gallop it's thrilling, but for the position we're in we need the boring four quarter stuff as well. Is he a chance to go back to a HBF? I'd rather we put Tapscott back down there but at least quick running could help us clear the ball instead of getting stuck in traffic jams going from side to side until inevitably cocking it up.

As for Daniel Nicholson, no thanks - especially not as a defender. I can't believe James Bartel was even bothering to engage in trash talk with him, I'd have written down the URL to my Wikipedia profile, told him to read it then refused to engage in any more conversation.

Also it goes without saying that neither Dom Barry or Max King are anywhere near ready for the seniors just yet, so no knock on them yet but if either gets a surprise Isaac Weetra style free pass to Round 1 then I'll start a picket line out the front of AAMI Park.

I'm not sure we've learnt anything yet. If this style of play is going to work against the shit teams and fail against the good sides then at least that's a step up from the past couple of years. We deserve to see a couple of slashing performances throughout the year, and if that means losing by five goals to Geelong and Hawthorn then I'll be happy when the season wraps up.

Uniform watch (in the absence of Banner Watch)

Was it just me or were the numbers on Daniel Cross' jumper really far apart? Is it because 8 is such a fat number that they have to set it well away from 1? I don't recall Brad Green ever having such an issue.

The Lid

Like the underpants at a Miley Cyrus concert the lid was on and off again about seven times in two hours. By the end it was just sitting on top of the pot obeying the natural laws of gravity, not being forced down but not threatening to fly off and enter orbit either.

Crowd Watch
I can't believe we're playing a game for premiership points at that place. If somebody's willing to pay us for it then let the good times roll, but it can't help but rate as the dinkiest place that league football has been played since all of 3500 people bothered to turn up for the glamour Footscray vs St Kilda match in Yallourn during 1952.

It was a nice touch that they had a Subway at one end of the ground. Were the prices inflated by about 500% a'la Red Rooster at the MCG?

2014 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
5 - Dom Tyson
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Jeremy Howe
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Alex Georgiou

Apologies to Vince, Dunn, N. Jones, McDonald, Clisby, Michie and whoever else you thought deserved to be in there.

Leaderboard (Incorporating intra-club votes by our correspondent @demonsbeth)
With two time defending champion Nathan Jones trapped in 'apologies to' hell as an actual midfield shows up to surround him we go into the last game of the pre-season ready to crown a new man as the 7th PPPfPSP winner since the coveted award was first presented to Aaron Davey in 2008.

The spanner in the works for Tyson is that having played the last two matches there's no telling whether he'll even be risked on the community tennis court style surface at Casey, leaving the door open for one of eight to snatch victory or for Jesse Hogan to continue his sparkling form at the ground and pocket half a plate with a best on ground performance.

7 - Dom Tyson
6 - Jay Kennedy-Harris
5 - Jeremy Howe, Jack Trengove
4 - Daniel Cross, Jimmy Toumpas, Bernie Vince
3 - Rohan Bail, Sam Blease
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Alex Georgiou, Dean Kent

Next Week
Hawthorn at Casey Fields, and at least (as far as I can tell at the moment) it's not going to be 35 like it was when we played St Kilda there last year. This should mean more than a handful of people stay for the VFL match (yes, we are curtain jerking for a seconds game, which is apt) and

It will be nice to be tested against a good side again, and while there's no hope in the world of us actually winning against what will probably be as close to their full strength Round 1 team as possible there's plenty to work on from last night.

Was it worth it?
Quite frankly I struggled throughout. I'm not sure whether it was the viewing environment, the standard of play, the fact that we went from good to bad to good to bad every ten seconds or just the knowledge that I was going to have to pay $18 for parking but for the first time in a long time - even when we were getting flogged on a weekly basis - I wasn't getting any buzz from the game. I require a supplements program immediately.

Final Thoughts
I will spend the next week waking in the middle of the night, sweating profusely at the thought of losing to St Kilda. They couldn't have anything else going wrong for them at the moment, and I know it shouldn't count, but our combined record in round 1, against them and at Docklands is so putrid that I refuse to bring myself to believe we're even half a chance of winning. If they could suffer a few more injuries, a couple of suspensions and another off-field crisis in the next two weeks that would be dandy.


  1. Hogan was given the free because he was being held onto by Rivers. If we can find a way to stop the players going to sleep for 10 minute periods, and stop kicking backwards in defensive 50, we'll give it a good shake this year.

  2. Also I got immense satisfaction watching Jesse Hogan towelling up Jared Rivers.


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