Sunday, 23 March 2014

Postcards from Three Mile Island



If you've ever lamented that you weren't old enough to enjoy the 'glory days' of the VFA Second Division then fear not, because I'm sure what we witnessed last night would have compared favourably to any 1980's Camberwell vs Geelong West game played in front of 350 people.

The noble sport of Australian rules football was in no way the winner last night, but other than the unlikely event of a draw every home and away match has to end with somebody getting four points no matter how ugly the game gets. Sadly last night, in a contest that resembled the last two Dodos in existence being pitted against each other in a steel cage match, for the third season in a row we weren't able to take advantage of what appeared to be a favourable draw and get the season off

More power to St Kilda, they had a putrid off-season full of dramas (for once none of them sexual) and pushed it all aside to get the job done. Neutrals would have hated it, I hated watching it, but they did what they had to do to win a slopfest and good luck to them for it. Oh for a player like Nick Riewoldt in our side, one who visibly drags his teammates up a level when he's on. Ironically we've held him quite well for the last few years, only to let him run riot just when we had our best chance of beating the Saints but that's what champions do. One day we'll develop some and recapture that feeling.

I've had enough of getting my hopes of a Round 1 victory up for three months based on the opposition looking ripe for the picking on paper. Next year if we don't get drawn against at least a mid-table side I'm going to stop getting suckered in and just expect right of the bat that we're going to lose no matter how many misfortunes the opposition suffer in the lead up to the game. Not that we didn't have our own share of disasters, but even without a forward line I still thought they'd come off worse than us. Midfielders can be forwards but forwards can't be midfielders etc.. But it doesn't help if you don't take your chances or continually try to score through a completely over-matched set of 'forwards'. Even when midfielders were buying the proverbial lottery ticket and roosting shots at goal we didn't even have the talls to get back on the line and make a contest of it if the ball fell short. And the less said about our crumb the better.

This year I even took extra precautions in trying to lift any curse which I may have inadvertently brought upon the Melbourne Football Club by my own actions. Regular readers may remember that on the way to Round 1, 2007 - the night our spectacular fall from grace began - I accidentally insulted a hairdresser by innocently implying that hairdressing school wasn't on the same level as a 'real school'. It didn't go down well, leading to much silence in the car ride to the MCG and 90 minutes later the MFC were halfway down the garbage chute of history.

Now, I'm not the sort of person to believe in curses, but as St Kilda players started dropped like flies a couple of weeks ago and it became fairly clear that we were going to start red hot favourites (how cute) I thought I'd better do something to try and contribute. So I fired up kiva.org (the site where you lend money to business people in poor countries) and looked for a hairdresser to sponsor. There were several options, but eventually I went for Fanny from Colombia for no other reason than the fact her name was Fanny. The repayment schedule on my loan has her paying me back the pittance I tipped in at some point during April 2016, and I assumed that as we were going to win (no thanks to my curse busting) that she'll be able to keep the money because we'll be busy unfurling the premiership flag in that month.

Well, it didn't work. So basically I spent $25 for the good of humanity, which is probably worthwhile in the grand scheme of things but does stuff all for my actual interest in life which is seeing the Melbourne Football Club win more games than they lose - at least at the end of Round 1. In the spirit of all things that I've chosen to support during my life her fundraising efforts to buy a new curling iron aren't going so well, so there's still time for you to chip in to Team Fanny and just like the Dees we can all lose our money together.

Anyway, for the sake of new readers or people who may have accidentally stumbled upon this post the TL:DR on the rest of it is that despite many people getting ridiculously overheated due to Roos and deciding that we were going to have an immediate resurgence, and despite the opposition suffering a team selection crisis which just about topped us we still managed to lose. The side-to-side possession happy dink didn't work out too badly, and the midfield were operating on a new planet compared to last year but an almost total lack of competent forward play and St Kilda's ability to take chances when presented to them (apart from the guy who hit the post from 5m out) were the difference in deciding the winner of the Toxic Waste Challenge Cup.

St Kilda's eventual success was especially impressive considering that for the first half of the opening quarter we actually looked like kicking the living bejesus out of them. As far as Etihad Stadium performances go we've seen it before. Remember Fremantle 2012 when we matched them for the whole first quarter before quality won out. Had we started like the Saints did we'd have caved in at the 10 minute mark and been down five goals at quarter time, but despite having a skeleton staff midfield they gradually reigned us in, stopped gifting us goals with horrible turnovers and decided to put some pressure on. Result - after 15 minutes they were scoreless but by the end of the first quarter should have been in front.

Given that I was expecting very little in the way of quality football this season - due to both our list and the side-to-side Paul Roos brand dink - I can't join in the chorus of violent disapproval just because we lost to one of the other teams in the flotsam/jetsam division. What annoys me more than losing to St Kilda is that after 15 minutes we had our knee on their throat but couldn't kill them off.

Not that it ever got much better quality wise, but St Kilda were all over the bloody shop in the first few minutes. Witness the wild, aimless, Demonesque clearance that gifted Toumpas the first goal of the game. Marvel at the way Terlich strolled through them to kick the second. Then nothing. I'm not blaming him by any stretch of the imagination, but you have to wonder what would have happened if Vince hadn't hit the post twice with what would have been the third goal to no score. At least Bernard made the distance when he took shots from 50m out, which is more than be said for some of his compatriots.

Part of my surprising calm about this result is because I understand the ridiculous scenario of having to play a forward line including Pedersen, Bail, Byrnes, Toumpas and Fitzpatrick (surely Jeremy Howe wasn't out there), not to mention the limitations caused by losing Fitzpatrick permanently and McDonald for most of the second half. Doesn't mean we still couldn't have won if we'd taken our chances to put them away early.

Suddenly St Kilda realise that they're playing a team with no attacking power and force us to aimlessly bomb the ball in towards hopelessly outgunned, makeshift forwards who can't for the life of them take an overhead mark and the momentum shifted. Their patched up midfield was at least breaking even, if not beating us, and we were stuffed. We'd hang around until the end of the game but realistically once they got three goals in front we were never going to catch them.

With the forwards struggling to get the ball without hapless Saints defenders kicking it to them, it took visionaries like Vince and Tyson to make the decision to stop trying to make Jimmy Toumpas take Gary Ablett Senior style pack marks and just do it themselves, but by the time we put the ball in the hands of midfielders who could make the distance from outside 50 and gave them the chance to just have a ping it was too late.

I wish we'd played JKH right from the start instead of as the sub. He look a bit out of place when he did come on, but during that first quarter when we were racking up inside 50's galore but allowing St Kilda to clear them easily it would have been nice to have had a bit of crumb and/or put some defensive pressure on them. It was clear that when the heat was on they would cock it up - and sometimes when there wasn't any heat one - but how many times did they miss a kick or a let off a loose handball that we could/should have taken advantage of? At the other end they had no such issues.

Despite handing back the advantage late in the first quarter then serving up an 0.8 slopfest in the second where we missed a number of decent chances (JUST HAVE A SHOT FOR GOD'S SAKE PEDO, EVERY KICK MAY BE YOUR LAST) there were a lot of signs of a reasonable football club lurking just under the surface. The midfield was better than last year, although that's not exactly difficult, and while it's hard to tell against a side who'd lost their best players to injury, suspension and North the early results on Vince, Tyson and Watts were good. Michie and Cross not so much, but neither a complete disaster either.

I was especially impressed with Watts, and if he can play like that every week he'll send plenty of detractors to their graves. He 'only' had 27 touches - which is nothing under our new possession happy system - but they were almost always executed beautifully. He still looks like he's not all that fussed what happens around him but who cares if he's going at 96% efficiency? Let's see if he can do similar next week with West Coast wise to him, but it was still arguably his best game for us.

Then there's Nathan Jones. What more can you say except that it was another sensational performance by the three time Jakovich Medal winner. I expected that he'd be shunted out of the limelight a bit this year with all these other midfield types coming in, but maybe it's freed him up a bit more? His attack on the footy and ability to get the ball in traffic were worth showing up for alone.

Speaking of people who do a lot of work in the middle of the ground I'm prepared to stand on my own and risk social exclusion by saying that I thought the much maligned Jake Spencer was great. I'm not even basing it on his shitload of ruck taps, because as anyone who watches Melbourne knows we've not managed to get two in a row to go to one of our players since the day Jamar and Moloney tore Adelaide to shreds while Neil Craig sat back with his feet up on the desk and watched in awe BUT he just works his arse off and I begrudgingly love him for it. Clearly he wouldn't have lasted this long if he didn't cover his shortcomings with effort, but nine tackles shows how desperate he was to make a difference last night. There was also one kick where he hit a pinpoint target and I almost fell off my seat. Warning - may feature in the votes. He probably still doesn't play in front of Jamar/Gawn at the moment, but as I always say he's a worthy backup.

Down back we weren't too bad, though McDonald being crocked did stretch us a bit and allow Riewoldt to run riot. Given the chance to enjoy his favourite past-time of roughing up rubbish players and teenagers, Lynden Dunn continued his renaissance as a defender. Again, let's see it happen next week as well against a better team but I'm happy with him down there at the moment. Frawley wasn't terrible, but for somebody who made a big deal of wanting to wait and see where the team's going before he commits to a new contract (if you're reading Chip, I still love you, please sign immediately for a large sum of money) he didn't exactly play one of this best.

So if all these areas were working well, how did we lose? Well it doesn't help when you come across a guy like Riewoldt. While it was all coming unstuck up front for us, he ripped us to shreds in the second half. If we'd had Dawes he might have helped us a bit, but we'd still have been badly lacking forwards for him to kick it to. You have to wonder what would have happened if either Hogan or one of Gawn/Jamar had been down there to provide a target and somebody capable of crumbing had been at their feet when the ball hit the ground.

Aimless hoofing inside 50 can work if you've got players capable of getting the ball (which will come as no surprise to Rohan Bail who just kept kicking it at the forward 50 and hoping for the best) but bless his heart for trying Pedo would be lucky to kick 10 goals for the season if he played every game in the role he was in tonight. Even the equally maligned Shannon Byrnes has climbed above him in the Scapegoat League courtesy of his two goals. It didn't help when Fitzpatrick (who had done nothing anyway) went off and it left Pedo doing ruckwork as well.

The disappointment of the 0.8 second quarter was tempered by the fact that we didn't even have eight scoring shots in a half some times last year, so if we could get it together on that front we were still a huge chance. When Byrnes cropped up out of oblivion to kick his first at the start of the third it looked like we were going to avoid the sort of Q3 collapse which ruined so us so many times over the last few years. Alas no. The difficulty we had in getting the ball through the sticks for that goal should have been an indication of the fiasco that was about to follow, and after another period of seven or eight minutes where we couldn't land a blow up forward they stacked on four goals in five minutes. That's the return of the MFC I remember.

While the game was anything but quality at least it featured two teams belting the suitcase out of each other in the last quarter. Again we got the first goal quickly to give us some hope of a grandstand comeback before we were drawn back into brutal trench warfare. When there was one point scored in about 10 minutes I can imagine commentators everywhere were doing a Drew Morphett and sooking about how much they hated having to call the game. In reality it was probably the most interesting part of the whole match, and we were still an outside chance of running over the top if we could find a reliable source of goals. Just when it started to look like he was going to put in a Round 1 goalkicking performance reminiscent of Troy Longmuir's 0.5 in 1999 Vince finally landed a long bomb to keep the margin within reach but that was about as good as it got.

We just couldn't find enough options inside 50, and the ones we did have couldn't get the job done if you gave them a week to do it. We never even remotely looked like a threatening side up front after the first 10 minutes. Nobody was expecting this lineup to menace St Kilda's defence, but we didn't have to make it so easy for them. Without going too far outside the boundaries of credibility I feel that even James Sellar and Juice Newton would have come in handy.

Howe played one his worst games ever for us, but when was he ever given the chance to do what he does best and stand on somebody's head? The last time we were at Docklands he was taking screamers and landing on his head over the boundary line. Last night he had two marks, neither of them contested - only the 10th time in 57 games that he hasn't had one. This time he looked miserable. Was he ok? God knows food poisoning is about the only ailment that we haven't had a player go down from this season, so somebody's due to eat a suspect taco before too long.

In the end the margin was probably about right. We might have won the disposal count (means nothing this year) and the inside 50's (only marginally more topical) but we had the chance to strangle them at birth in the first quarter and didn't take it, and when we played an old-school 10 minutes of capsize football during the third quarter they took full advantage.

The most important thing is to not completely go over the top about this result and started forming an orderly queue for the suicide booth. If the Saints had died in the last 10 minutes (not even figuratively, if they had actually keeled over) and we'd run over the top to snatch a one point win the only difference it would make other than the much missed feeling of actually seeing the side win is that it would have removed the fearful prospect of going 0-22 from the table. Without the forwards playing it's impossible to work out exactly where we're at, but it was always going to be either 16th, 17th or 18th so what have we lost? It's not like we've got any dignity to give after the last couple of years.

I'm not pretending that I didn't think - nay sadly expect - that we were going to win but it's not like we've been in sparkling pre-season form. The Richmond game was pleasant, but proved absolutely nothing due to being played in a pressure-free environment. This was a lot more like Geelong in Alice Springs if that's any comfort to you, but either way it's nothing to kill yourself over. People are acting like we've gone in as premiership fancies and been beaten by Eley Park.

Some of the reactions were ludicrous. If you needed a win against a fellow member of the Cannon Fodder Club to convince you that Melbourne were worth giving your money to or going out of your way to follow this year then may I suggest that you weren't all that interested in the first place? Continual round 1 losses are great for the sort of people who desperately need an excuse to scab out on their club. Somebody even described it as the worst of the last three Round 1 debacles. What a load of cobblers. This was a disappointing loss, but last year's capitulation against Port was a club killing apocalypse of epic proportions. If it makes you feel better to hammer out some abusive tweets @melbournefc or go off like a pork chop on Facebook then go for it, but I'm not quite sure what you're expecting from 2014. If you were fooled into thinking that Roos coming in meant instant success then you got what you deserved.

The panic and despair had a touch of the Kamp Krusty "Ladies and gentlemen, I've been to Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and I can say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together." about it. We all want wins, and even I can spot that we were deficient in several areas tonight, but bloody hell there's no need to try and outdo everyone else to be the most shocked or outraged. This was a setback but it's by no means the end of the world.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Nathan Jones (normal service resumed)
4 - Jack Watts
3 - Lynden Dunn (Leader: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
2 - Dom Tyson
1 - Jake Spencer (Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

Apologies to Vince, Grimes, Trengove and Georgiou.

Crowd Watch
More than 30,000 was a decent showing given the standing of the two sides. Obviously Round 1 helps (the place would have been half empty for the same fixture in Round 15), and does the fact that thousands of Melbourne fans put aside their hatred for Etihad Stadium and the Melbourne Football Club itself to show up in their 2005 members scarves and storm out before three quarter time muttering about how they'd been hard done by and would never come back.

The relatively tight fit in the cheap seats meant having to fraternise with several Saints fans who were getting well chippy considering they were winning a points decision over one of the most notorious shipwrecks in the game. If you can find somebody below you on the pecking order never miss the opportunity to stick your foot in their throat. Now, to find somebody for us to do that to...

Stat my bitch up
Time to bring back one of my favourite stats - Melbourne has now lost 17 straight at Docklands, 16 at Football Park (now thankfully shuttered up and left to the rats), 14 at Subiaco and one at the Adelaide Oval for 48 in total at these grounds. If it wasn't for our two wins against Port in Darwin that would surely be some sort of world record for directionally based incompetence.

Also for what it's worth 17 points represents our fifth 'best' loss since the last few weeks of 2010, which says a lot about the garbage that we've been through since then.

Banner Watch
1-0 to Melbourne on the only ladder we're half a chance of winning at. We had the jaunty little book design and a slogan on one side, while St Kilda had some primary school looking letters and a sponsor's ad stuck awkwardly in the middle of the other. I feel like we can finish top four in this prestigious competition.

In memorium
Terrible business the Dean Bailey stuff. It's incomprehensible to think that you could find out something was wrong with you in December and be gone mid-March, but it's downright rude that it happened to the guy just when he was about to get his career back on track after serving penalties as the Tankquiry's scapegoat. No matter what you thought of his time at Melbourne who wasn't secretly going for Adelaide in that 2012 Preliminary Final just for his sake?

This isn't the time to rewrite history and pretend I thought he should never have been sacked. After all the disadvantage I have is that in the right column of this page is a link to every post written since 2005, and what was said then will remain on the public record forever. It's been popular to suggest that the predicament the club finds itself in now might not have happened if he'd stayed, but to be fair it might not have happened if we'd appointed a different coach to succeed him either. We'll never know. It almost seems rude to discuss football now that he's passed away. By all accounts he was a great guy, and he did give me the thumbs up when I yelled "Go Dees" as he walked past me outside the MCG one day so who am I to argue?

However, at the risk of doing what everyone likes to do in a tragedy and making it about myself I feel like his passing almost certainly means we'll never hear the true, inside story of 186. Last year I privately floated the idea of writing a book about that game, the lead-up and its aftermath. I even downloaded a dodgy torrent of the game to watch as part of my research but couldn't bring myself to watch it. Jim Stynes' side of the story is partially (very partially) told in his book, and yes there are about 100 different people on my list to speak to that are still alive, but you have to feel that as long as it didn't burn any bridges in his current job that Bails would have diplomatically tossed a few hand grenades into the mix and given a decent account of what happened that week.

I wish now, as you do, that I'd at least thrown it out there at the time. Sent an email or a letter to Adelaide saying "how about it?" if only to get a rejection and know he wasn't interested. Then he got sick and I thought it was hardly the time to be pestering somebody to tell their story, now it's too late. Which is not just sad because of some writing project that would no doubt have been abandoned halfway through anyway, but you expect that when your prospective interviewee is 47 years old that you've got a good 25 years to get around to it. May he rest in peace.

Accident and Emergency
On the far less severe but still depressing end of the football tragedies scale came the news (sadly broken by iPad clutching ballbag Bad News Barrett, who probably found it while sifting through a rubbish bin or hiding in hedge) that Mitch Clark was on indefinite leave from the club due to personal issues.

Truth be told I never expected him to play for us again anyway, so it would have been a pleasant surprise to hear anything positive about him. Not that I expected the reason for his departure to be the worrying vague 'personal issues'. My money was on another two month 'setback' followed by retirement at the end of the season due to a crocked foot, but they're claiming that he's physically getting better so make of that what you will.

I'll leave it to others to speculate as to what 'personal issues' means and will simply say get well Mitch (because no doubt he's recovering by reading some random idiot's blog), but if it all ends prematurely we'll always have Essendon 2013, the start of the GWS game where he looked like kicking 10 and a case study in player movements for the ignorant and socially awkward to throw at us when we whinge about $cully winning the flag with the Giants later this year.

Next week
Who would have seen our defender stocks being cut down so quickly? If the King of Sizzle can't play due to his numerous injuries we're basically left with Pedo going back, Tapscott playing drastically undersized against key forwards or just letting it go and we don't get completely pummelled by the Eagles. Here's to Nic Nat going forward and kicking 13 on Terlich just so we can hear about why we should have picked him for the 3000th time.

I haven't got much time for the Eagles this year (now watch them win the flag) but I've got no doubt they will brutalise us anyway. Watch for Jamie Bennell racking up 42 touches. That's our lot at the moment, get used to it. Or the lessons learnt from last night might contribute to a far better performance - stranger things have happened. Either way, try to restrain yourself from giving a standing ovation if we're only 10 points down at half time this year.

IN: Gawn, Viney
OUT: McDonald, Fitzpatrick (inj)
LUCKY: Bail, Pedersen, Byrnes, Kennedy-Harris

Sponsors corner
I know the airline industry is probably laying a bit low at the moment due to the Malaysian fiasco, but it's good to see the jaunty China Southern Airlines logo plastered behind Roosy in the press conference. Let nobody say they don't understand the market they're paying million of dollars to promote themselves in:

http://www.csair.com/en/ad/20110922/20120619-1.html
Oh no.

Administration corner
Obviously if you're reading this you've discovered that Demonblog.com is still necked and redirecting people to a forum. I'm trying to get our glorious founders from BigFooty to fix it, but this is the downside of not owning the domain myself.

Elsewhere one domain that is working is demonwiki.org - and if you haven't visited recently there has been a metric shitload of new and updated information added over the off-season, including plenty from before 1897. Open it up, choose a random page and lose yourself for a while. If you find a page that is really badly written let me know, because I'm trying to update all the stuff I wrote in a hurry five years ago to modern standards.

Praise be to the good people at NLA's Trove for providing scans of hundreds of newspapers. Thanks also to the MFC for allowing me a shot at trawling through their archives for photos and other information.
 
Was it worth it?
As much as I love being back on the footy rollercoaster at this time of the year it's very rare for Round 1 to be worth it for a Melbourne fan in any year since 2005. In 2006 we lost to the eventual wooden spooner (when, any kids who are reading, we were actually good), in 2007 the HMAS Premiership Fancy sprung a leak and sank to the bottom of the ocean, in 2008 we lost by 104 points, in 2009 we weren't actually all that bad by still lost by six goals, in 2010 we were pox again and the less said about the next two years the better.

Even though I did foolishly think/expect us to win, the prospect of a fiasco loomed so large that I'm feeling a remarkable lack of rage. It feels like I should force myself to be more upset than I actually am. Instead of angst towards football I took out my disbelief and self-hatred in the only way I knew how by necking a large pepperoni pizza at midnight.


Final thoughts
Even if we did continue our losing streaks in Round 1, against St Kilda and at Etihad Stadium at least we snapped the one that really matters - allowing Beau Wilkes/Maister to humiliate us.

Footy, it's good (?) to have you back.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for making me feel a bit better bout being a Dees supporter, blog is the best thing going for us at the moment

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  2. Great write-up Adam. I actually thought we'd win this one, and i'm angry.....not at the club, but at myself.

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  3. Thanks for the report Adam. Seems like you've had a big pre-season showing solid early form and now following it up with a terrific first round performance. Obviously you've tinkered with the game plan slightly. While you still play an attractive brand of blog, I was disappointed the MFC facebook comment of the week video has gone from your game.

    After the week-end I'm not looking forward to watching the Demons this year but I am excited about another year of Demonblog. If there was a ladder for blog, I reckon the Demons would be finishing on top.

    ReplyDelete