Saturday 8 March 2014

So. Your car is kaput. And your girlfriend is gone. And thine house they have sold.

It's back in your box for the dreamers, fantasists and criminally insane amongst the Melbourne community. The verdict is in and when compared to the best sides in the competition we're still terrible.

In the grand scheme of things that's no big deal. If you didn't already know that Hawthorn are operating in another universe to us then you should probably be on medication if you're not already, but if nothing else at least getting the living bejesus kicked out of us by the Hawks should hush up the deluded individuals who kept claiming that we were a monty to slip into the eight. Might still happen, and if it does I'll personally write a letter of apology to each and every one of them on Demonblog brand perfumed note paper.

For yes, when tested against the nearly fully intact defending premiers we failed miserably. What you take out of it is up to you, but to me it looked a lot like our last game against Hawthorn which caused Neeld to finally get the sack after teetering on the brink for a few weeks. The key differences were a) this time didn't mean anything and b) we couldn't even capitalise on them giving up in the last few minutes to bring the margin back under the ton with a few cheap ones.

Point A is the most important, it really didn't mean anything - and maybe in a game like this coaches don't make the same moves they'd make at 20, 30, 60 or 90 points down because they're preparing for the future rather than trying to save face on the day - and that's what's keeping me from getting a bit silly and starting to think that we're doomed again. Usually people who believe that everything that happens in the pre-season is accurate guide to exactly what's going to happen in the season proper are the same people who act like pro wrestling is real, but it doesn't mean that when you see an abortion like today unfold slowly in front of your eyes that you don't end up shifting nervously, adjusting your top collar and wiping sweat from the brow.

Even though Hawthorn have ripped through the pre-season with reckless, violent abandon it was still a king sized reality check. Probably better than we play the premiers and get smashed than lose to Gold Coast or the equivalent like we did last year, but it's still going to lead to me spending the next two weeks waking up in the middle of the night screaming "it didn't mean anything, it didn't mean anything" then having to explain to Mrs. Demonblog that I was talking about football and not some harlot.

Ask me again when if we tonk St Kilda from pillar to post, but I reserve the right to be one of 'those' people who take pre-season too seriously until then. I usually pay scant interest to the goings on at other clubs, but when I saw the Saints had scored 106 points in losing narrowly to Port the first thing I did was try and find out who was playing for them because if they score 106 against us with the state our forward line is in they will win handsomely. I'm glad to say that both Hayes and Montagna (both suspended for Round 1) were amongst their best, but still if our fringe players don't run their guts out at Docklands we are extremely vulnerable to a screwjob.

Being turned inside out was an apt way to end a week which since Thursday night has seen the return of THE FEAR with a terrible vengeance. When Lenny Hayes biffed some idiot from GWS was subsequently added to the arm-length list of Saints players unavailable for Round 1 it became clear to me that as long as we could get through to about 10pm on the 22nd without suffering a black death style injury crisis or an MFC 2011-13 variety confidence crisis that we should actually win and win comfortably. Even playing on the barely concealed carpark roof at Docklands couldn't harm us this time - if we could neatly sidestep disaster for longer than any Melbourne team since 2010.

The dread of going into a game expecting to win causes lower case 'fear'. The sort that only comes from following a team who have traditionally been so lousy that starting as favourite is more of an indicator that you're going to be disappointed than pleased. We might have started favourite in Round 1 last year (HAH!) but for the first time since the original GWS Carnival of Hate the St Kilda game was set up for us to go in expecting either a win or a psychologically crippling defeat. Last year I just thought we'd beat Port, but I could have handled losing if we hadn't folded like a house of cards instead. If we'd lost to GWS on that day I'd have laid down on Brunton Avenue immediately after it was opened at the discretion of the police operational commander.

Everything turned out ok that day, as we set a standard of petulance that jilted Collingwood fans who suddenly hate Dale Thomas can only dream of (run your tears into a premiership cup you greedy bastards) by hurling abuse at a young man several times richer than you and I combined. What fun we had after they gave us a taste of the big fear by kicking the first three goals before sanity prevailed. 'We' won, $cully made a mint for doing nothing, GWS locked away pick 1 in the draft, everyone went home happy.

Conversely THE FEAR is what came midway through last year when we were financially bleeding from every orifice like an Ebola patient and all hope appeared lost. It was the point where it seemed it would take another five years of ugly, criminal, draft pick chasing football just to rebuild us into a mediocre mid-table side. You may remember this was the point where I became extremely morose, decided the club was going to fold soon and had to be restrained from throwing myself down the stairs of the Ponsford Stand. Then, the late great Andrew Demetriou showed up with a fistful of cash, Paul Roos took a slice of it equivalent to the GDP of Botswana and we (or least I) decided to put the days of FEAR behind us.

For a while it worked well, alright we've had injuries to key players like Garland and ok the rumours are going around that Mitch Clark has lost his foot and replaced it with a prosthetic one a'la Kerry Von Erich, but on balance things were still looking up. I still predicted we'd finish 16th, but as good a third last as you can get. This was less than a month ago.

By 10pm Thursday my confidence about beating St Kilda and ushering in a new era of good times , world peace and free love was at its peak. Then, having avoided the Footy Show like the plague I decided to refresh my Twitter feed and bleakness returned in an instant when it was revealed that Jesse Hogan had crocked his back. Notwithstanding the fact that the news was announced by Damien "Scott Burns to coach" Barrett, the suggestion was that he was gone for up to two months. The club has tried hose that down to "two to three weeks" in carefully prepared statements since, but while I don't believe in curses things are starting to get ridiculous now. The feeling of going through your supporting life cringing while you wait for the next disaster is tiring. It might be entertaining for neutrals who like to watch us do our block, but was it too much to ask for to have a significantly less stressful year where footy became - whisper it quietly - fun again? The answer is apparently YES.

Until we hear the dreaded word 'setback' one injury, especially to a kid who hasn't played a game, shouldn't totally ruin our lives, but it just seems symbolic that it would be Hogan who would get within 20 days of the start of the season then snap in two. You wait for a year for him to play while he rips the VFL apart, the world holds its breath as he hurts his knee only for it to turn out to be minor, he shows up for one game in 2014, puts in a good performance then goes down with stress fucking fractures in his back six days later. That's MFC, that's a quicker than expected return of the #fistedforever hashtag. Fate, destiny and all that is a total crock but I'm craving a small period in my early 30's where I can put my feet on the desk and casually smoke Cuban cigars while basking in the glory of mediocrity instead of howling in agony as things continually go wrong.

Sometimes sporting life just seems so hopeless. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't mean squat, after all it's not like being Ukrainian and having some Russian shits seize large tracts of your country at gunpoint, but don't those of us who have kept going through the grimmest period in many a year deserve something to go our way for once? Obviously not. Get well soon Jesse, I wish to put far too much pressure on you to win the Coleman Medal as soon as possible in the very near future.

Any thoughts that the premature demise of Hulkamania would cause enough people to stay away from Casey Fields and allow me to park somewhere sensible were sadly premature. It was back to my old nemesis, the horse paddock near long jump pit 27b. At least this year the mound of earth which I stared at for 40 minutes while waiting to move my car from paddock to road last year (not to actually get out, that's another issue entirely) had been flattened. With the rate of houses going up in the fields around Casey, err, Fields it will probably be somebody's front yard next year. Today must be the local residents' equivalent of the Grand Prix for people who live in Albert Park. I felt sorry for the poor bastards trying to play tennis while it was all going on.

Almost 10,000 was quite the crowd considering the fact that it was a practice match in the middle of nowhere for most people, it was hot and the match was obviously neutral unfriendly due to the probability that Hawthorn were going to waffle us. I'm surprise (but pleased, obviously) that they threw the gates open for free and didn't charge for parking but both seemed strange decisions in the age of everyone trying to make a buck. Even if the footy clubs couldn't split a token $10 entry (and let's face it, Hawthorn don't need it so just give us the lot) the council missed a golden opportunity to gouge a few dollars out of visitors to the area.

Not sure if the big crowd counts as a good result if nobody's making money out of it, other than the hopelessly overmatched food and drink vendors at the ground who have just put their kids through university based on today's taking, but still an impressive turnout. Roll on somebody suggesting we could play premiership matches there and me stabbing them.

By the end there were about 2000 there, but at least the other 7k gave it a go. Surely nobody expected us to win against what was practically a full strength defending premier, and Roos has been well known for treating the pre-season with contempt, but it's a shame that we couldn't at least put up a morale boosting fight instead of getting mugged by 110 points. Not that we ever win at Casey - having now lost to North, West Coast, St Kilda and Hawthorn there in practice matches - with a high percentage of Demons in attendance it would have given everyone a much needed boost going into Round 1. Driving past the truck that claimed we were on our way to 40,000 members went from "good luck with that" on the way in to "fat chance" on the way out.

From the first bounce for the next 20 minutes we were wank, but it was the same last week and by halfway through the second quarter we were in front - so when Howe got his two goals within 30 seconds towards the end of the term I was momentarily calmed and stopped complaining and almost started enjoying myself. We then proceeded to cop the next 10 goals in a row in an extreme, hardcore, adults only version of the St Kilda game last year. To say we looked helpless against the best in the business would be an understatement, it was like the heavyweight boxing champion on the world backing a homeless man into the corner and pummelling him for two hours.

Other than the centre break, exchange of handballs and kick to Howe for his second the signs were bad right through the first quarter. When we could get the ball we couldn't move it more than a couple of steps before giving it back, and while there weren't as many blatantly obvious cock-ups leading directly to goals as last week that might have had a lot to do with the fact that we were being monstered so comprehensively. It really was like watching 2013 edition Melbourne again, complete with the aimless hoof and hope kicking down the boundary line and opposition transitions going the length of the field quicker than the speed of light.

There was a bit of side-to-side dink but not nearly as much as the last couple of weeks. When it came it was greeted by everyone over 50 in the crowd (and plenty of people younger too) moaning and yelling at them for it. Presumably these were same people who were ready to carry Roos off on their shoulders after the Richmond game. There's nothing wrong with the concept of switching back and forth ad nauseum, but the problem was that when we went from one side to the other we ended up left with nobody to kick to up the ground anyway and may as well have just hoofed it the first time. When we did get it forward and Howe wasn't there then it usually went to waste. I don't care about the future past the end of March, I just want to beat St Kilda so can we please temporarily abandon the Watts For Midfield campaign and get him in the forward line again? At the moment if he gets the ball - and let's be fair he's gone back to square one trying to learn to play as a midfielder - he'll have nobody to kick it to anyway so the net gain of playing him there in the short term is bugger all. Worry about the long term later, he's still a young a man.

Hawthorn might have been advantaged by a slight wind in the first quarter, but what breeze there was had died by the time the second quarter started. Not that anything short of a raging gale would have helped as the Hawks smacked seven shades of shit out of us. We all know that a lot of progress has been made in the playing list - those who aren't injured anyway - but it sure looked a lot like the Melbourne I recently knew and loathed for 90% of last year.

Much like last week, but with more brutality from the opposition, we were just horribly boring to watch. Hawthorn were good, especially in leaving our lot for dust as they ran into open space to get the ball and launch attacks, but I have scant interest in the performance of the opposition. If we're not getting the ball and not stopping the other side from doing it then what's the point? Especially in a practice match. I don't blame large swathes of the crowd for giving up and going home before the end. It will look nice when we're winning, but in the grand tradition of Baileyball when it goes wrong it goes rancid.

We might have caught Richmond on a bad night, but for the last two weeks all the good looking, heart-warming hard running into space we saw that evening has disappeared. Last week we got away with it because we still had Hogan as a get out kicking option, and because we were both efficient and accurate when we went inside 50. Today that was all gone, and with players barely ever running into space - or being allowed to by a ruthless world-class opposition - we just kept thumping the ball up the line and hoping that it would end in mark. It rarely did, but what do you expect when other than Howe your tall forwards are Fitzpatrick (decent inside 50 but hardly a contested mark specialist), Spencer (awkward) and Pedersen (in the warm-up Blease kicked a dinky pass to him from 10m and he dropped it). They'll all have a bash but it's a lineup desperately lacking class against reasonable sides. Whether it's got any against shit sides is going to be tested in the next few weeks.

The midfield never looked like chipping in with goals, and with Blease still desperately out touch we had stuff all avenues to goal or the capability of keeping it inside attacking 50 once it got there. Despite the fact that the game was well and truly stuffed by the time he came on Kennedy-Harris helped a bit on providing an option. Then they started trying to bomb it on top of his head despite the fact that he's about five foot tall. It was a return to the sort of panicked, every man for himself stuff that has given us all the shits for two years.

You expect that Roos knows what he's doing and is suffering the same sort of horrendous luck with injury that in part brought Neeld down (suspend disbelief for a second and pretend that if Clark and Grimes had survived more than five minutes last year that he'd have done enough to learn his lessons and semi-right the ship), and if we were playing Collingwood or Hawthorn again in the first round I'd be prepared to roll with the punches and see what happened - but we've got a relatively easy start to the year and I'd hate to waste it. It's all well and good to talk about patience, but if we conspire to fall apart against St Kilda like we did Port then who knows where the downward spiral takes us? I'm sweating. Hawthorn are practically unbeatable by a bad side, but the idea of winning in Round 1 and at Etihad Stadium is difficult to get my head around, so I'll be expecting a disaster if you don't mind.

By the end the Hawks were taking the piss by playing Josh Gibson as a key forward and it barely dented their momentum. The Spencil got a fourth just for novelty value, but two seconds later the ball was back down the other end with Hawthorn scoring again. Then just when you thought the party atmosphere couldn't get any more exciting we were dealt even more injury trouble.

Having dodged one bullet after N. Jones briefly appeared to have busted his arm/wrist before returning with only a gash on his forehead (as opposed to return to the gash being served up on field) we were instead treated to the sight of Grimes and Frawley cleaning each other up deep in the last quarter when we were already 20 goals behind. At least for once it didn't involve the captain snapped in two and looking at 12 weeks on the sidelines, (remember - you're never more than five minutes away from a Grimes family injury) but considering Chip walked off down the race we can now only assume that we'll never play for us again.

Why not just have Jack Viney wander off and join an apocalyptic sex cult while waiting to be subbed on while we're at it?

The addition of Cameron Bruce as stand-in Hawks coach on the day added another layer of farce on top of the score. Not that I've got anything against him or accuse him of doing anything wrong by us, but after seeing so many of our exes play one good game for their new club against us this is just cosmic mockery.

The Lid
I've found the receipt for the pot and taken it back to the store for a refund.

2014 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
5 - Jeremy Howe
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Lynden Dunn
----- was struggling from the start, but ability to hand out votes comprehensively sapped by this point -----
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Jack Fitzpatrick

Final (?) Leaderboard (unless they spring some surprise intra-club game next week)
10 - Jeremy Howe (congratulations - we think - on lifting your second Demonblog award after the 2011 Hilton)
8 - Daniel Cross 
7 - Dom Tyson
6 - Jay Kennedy-Harris
5 - Jack Trengove
4 - Jimmy Toumpas, Bernie Vince
3 - Rohan Bail, Sam Blease, Lynden Dunn
2 - Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones
1 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Alex Georgiou, Dean Kent

Crowd Watch

It was a worthy experience if you wanted to relive the experience of piling into some urine soaked suburban ground, but having never been anywhere less attractive than Optus Oval it was a bit of a downer. Despite being the most anti-social MFC fan around I'd probably enter the Black Hole of Calcutta to watch the Dees, but being cheek to cheek with the public didn't help my mood as we were getting shafted. Had we been winning I'd probably have been making lifelong friends, but the last time I want to be pitched into Dee Chat with people I don't already know is when we're being ruthlessly tonked.

Not only were total strangers keen to share their views on football with me, but when I wasn't fake smiling and nodding while some bloke wasn't telling me his latest and greatest theory, most of the day was spent trying not to step on diseased urchins crawling around on the ground because their parents couldn't be bothered taking care of them or teaching them to say "excuse me" and/or "please" as they barged past you.

The only upside to our diabolical performance was that by halfway through the third quarter the road outside the ground looked like the parade lap of the Indianapolis 500 so the time spent exiting Casey Fields at the end was reduced by about 75% compared to last year. That also had a lot of people leave early due to the heat and the obvious winner, so god help us all the day that one of these games turns out to be a thriller. We'll be there at midnight.

The problem with the place is that the car park is so decentralised that there's vehicles coming from every direction, putting a couple of poor bastards carrying STOP/SLOW signs under more pressure than an air traffic controller at Heathrow as they attempted to get everyone out without it breaking into violence. The set-up probably works a treat the other 364 days of the year when 100 people are using the parking lot, but thank god they're never going to develop Casey Fields as a league venue (P.S - don't bother on our behalf) because it would be a nightmare to put up with more than once a season.

As for the famous lineup of Casey Fields sponsors since my last visit it was OUT - Lurline Liquor (possibly permanently. Adequately replaced by Hawthorn's Angus Liquorland), IN - In2Ply (something appropriately to do with toilet paper?) and the Anker Concreting sign still unchanged despite the fact that the name has almost completely faded.

Next Week
Nine separate misfortunes will befall nine of our best players.

The week after

A win would certainly help banish fears both big and small, but I've started to brace myself for a let down. St Kilda might be playing with a skeleton staff but if they get the jump on us it could end badly. Either way it's hardly going to be a world class exhibition of the sport so if you're bringing foreign visitors along try and pretend that the fumbling and kicking out on the full is tactical rather than just ineptitude on a national scale.

The 21+1 horseman of the apocalypse
When I first put together my possible Round 1 lineup less than a month ago I thought it was optimistic to include both Clark and Garland, but I didn't expect three others to join them on the injury list. Blease has been useful for about five minutes combined, Kent is nowhere to be seen and as for Gawn I'm not sure if he's even still alive.

I don't make some of these team selection choices lightly, but we are starting to run out of able bodied players who have appeared in more than seven games. Not convinced that Toumpas has done enough to be an automatic selection, and Shannon Byrnes can probably interchange with Bail if you want - either way it's hardly going to inspire the kids.

B: Terlich, McDonald, Georgiou
HB: Dunn, Frawley, Grimes
C: Vince, Tyson, Cross
HF: Watts, Howe, Bail
F: Kennedy-Harris, Fitzpatrick, Pedersen
Foll: Spencer, N. Jones, McKenzie
INT: Viney, M. Jones, Trengove
S: Michie

IN: Bail, Fitzpatrick, Georgiou, Kennedy-Harris, Michie, Pedersen, Spencer, Tyson
OUT: Clark, Dawes, Garland, Hogan, Jamar (inj), Blease, Kent (omit), Gawn (WTF has happened to him?)

Was it worth it?
Not even remotely.

Final Thoughts
Get a kick.

UPDATE - Tuesday 11 March

Final betting markets
The original markets were contained in the season preview written almost a month ago. So much has changed since.

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

You can't help but keep Jones as favourite, but I've eased off on him a bit now that it's clear there are plenty of contenders for votes in the midfield for the first time in years. Most of the top fancies have also eased - especially Jack Viney who has barely been seen this pre-season - with the likes of Vince, Cross and Tyson being tightened up significantly. If you failed to back them before the Richmond game then it's TS for you. Also, you should have taken the $700 on offer for Alex Georgiou shouldn't you?

$5 - Nathan Jones
$7 - Jeremy Howe, Bernie Vince
$9 - Jack Viney
$10 - Dom Tyson
$12 - James Frawley, Jack Grimes
$15 - Daniel Cross, Jack Trengove
$18 - Jack Watts
$25 - Lynden Dunn, Jordie McKenzie
$28 - Tom McDonald
$30 - Chris Dawes, Jimmy Toumpas
$35 - Matt Jones, Viv Michie
$40 - Colin Garland, Dean Terlich
$50 - Mitch Clark
$65 - Sam Blease, Jesse Hogan
$70 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Mark Jamar, Christian Salem
$80 - Max Gawn
$100 - Rohan Bail
$110 - Mitch Clisby, Michael Evans
$120 - Shannon Byrnes, Jay Kennedy-Harris, Luke Tapscott
$150 - Alex Georgiou, Dean Kent
$200 - Daniel Nicholson, Cameron Pedersen, Jake Spencer
$300 - James Strauss
$500 - Dominic Barry, Aiden Riley
$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

Chip comes back to the pack slightly due to the prospect of me being sucked in royally by our running defenders racking up 30 touches a game by dinky kicking from side-to-side. Lynden Dunn is the #1 beneficiary of this process. Georgiou has also firmed up (so to speak) noticeably.

$2.50 - Frawley

$6 - McDonald
$8 - Dunn
$9 - Garland, Terlich
$10 - Grimes
$15 - Georgiou
$16 - Clisby $35 - Cross
$40 - Pedersen, Tapscott
$70 - Strauss
$100 - Watts 

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

The Jesse Hogan injury robs him of red hot favourite status, and with Kennedy-Harris a near certain starter for the early rounds and a potential crumber (I will fall hard for that) Hulkamania can still prevail but he might have to come from behind. Georgiou has come in, as with the two awards above, and no eligible player tightens up slightly at the prospect of none of them getting a vote.

$5 - Jay Kennedy-Harris

$5.50 - Jesse Hogan

$10 - Alex Georgiou
$18 - Christian Salem
$20 - Dominic Barry
$100 - Jayden Hunt
$150 - James Harmes
$300 - Max King

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

With every possible chance of none of these guys picking up a vote no eligible player is suddenly a massive chance, though Fitzpatrick could score another controversial win despite spending the majority of his time up forward. Realistically I should have DQ'ed him last year, but the decision of the panel is final.

$8 - Mark Jamar
$10 - Max Gawn, Jake Spencer
$15 - Jack Fitzpatrick
$20 - Mitch Clark
$100 - Cameron Pedersen
$200 -
$350 - Max King,

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