Sunday 27 April 2014

Huddled masses yearning to breathe free

If there's not an unwritten rule which bans you from being (relatively) happy about the result a game where your side scores 38 points then there really should be. However, as much as it puts me on the same level as people who slow down to get a good luck at gruesome accidents on the freeway last night that we me. I was  - please direct hate mail and accusations of tanking to the usual address - quite content with our performance.

It should be pointed out that I'm not trying to be wacky here. This isn't an attempt to generate controversy and get people to leave abusive anonymous comments because I've run out of ways to describe a loss and need to do something different. I really do feel, deep in my red and blue pacemaker powered heart that while we've still got problems up and down the yin yang that we did brilliantly to hold a far superior side as well as we did.

Obviously if we had to lose by 31 points (which I'm sure many of us would have taken before the bounce) I'd rather it was 69-100 instead of 38-69, but before we delve into the usual litany of things that are still horribly wrong with our side let's look at some of the positives. Here's one..

That's right. Not once in 2013. NOT ONCE. Not one time in 22 matches of competitive Australian Rules Football did we manage to restrict a team to less than 90 points - and while we were conceding +90 every week we were often putting up scores similar to 5.8.38 so at least we're making progress in one aspect of the game. Eight points isn't much in a game of football, but the gulf in class between the 38 we scored last night and the 30 we scored at Kardinia Park last season is ridiculous.

Reasons to be cheerful #2 - Nathan Jones. I don't think it's much of a spoiler to reveal that he gets five votes again. I may as well just copy and paste 5 - Nathan Jones on every new post, and I'd say it was getting tedious seeing him dominate the votes every week, but watching Jones every week almost makes leaving the house to see the Dees worthwhile. He's got no chance of making the All-Australian team as a midfielder from a bottom four side as his name is not Ablett but if they don't at least humour us and put him on the shortlist then the selection committee should be dropped into the same shark tank as the rules committee.

Meanwhile I'm astonished at how good Dunn has been this year. I often liked the guy against popular opinion (won't claim that I always did in case there's 25 posts in the archives where I'm trying to get him sacked) but his performance has gone through the roof this year. Watch for it to all go horribly wrong now that people are starting to notice OR watch him exercise his right as a free agent to wave us cheerio and take off elsewhere.

Speaking of astonished, was Pedo born again courtesy of that arsey goal of the year candidate against Carlton? He was hardly flawless this week, but compared to most of his other performances since we recruited him he was sensational. I still get nervous whenever he's seen marauding towards the forward line, but he was good around the ground and even held his own in the ruck.

In other good news Vince turned up in style for the first time since Round 1 (28 kicks!), Matt Jones played his best game for a long time, Jamar did fairly well on return even if I'm still desperately waiting for Gawn to come back and snatch the top job, Cross demonstrates that sometimes recruiting older players can work and Salem showed plenty in his quarter and a half even if previous experience shows that he'll probably start as sub again next week and drop off the face of the earth by 2015.

The most important thing for me was keeping them goalless in the second quarter. We looked horrible for the first 10 minutes of the game - and also conceding the cheapest charity goal of all time to the star of Celebrity Culpable Driving - then fought back to look right at home for a few minutes before giving it all away in the last few minutes and going in 20 points behind. It would have been very easy to then show up for the second quarter, cop a few more howling umpiring decisions (Jetta getting done HTB after having the ball for 0.1 seconds, Viney being tackled around the ankles, god knows what else) and gone into half time 45 points behinds. Instead we kept them to three points, and while we only managed one goal ourselves it was still a step up.

It's not as rare a feat as it sounds - we managed to keep sides goalless twice in 2012 - Round 19 vs Gold Coast (Q1) and Round 21  vs GWS (Q3) but with respect to the fact that both sides have streaked past us since they were both effectively junior clubs at the time - so you've got to go back to the third quarter of Round 11, 2011 against Essendon (the night Dean Bailey punched the roof and we thought that we would make the finals) for us doing it against a proper team. Since that night we've been held goalless in quarters ourselves (drum roll please) 22 times! What an outrageous figure. We're lucky they haven't put the shutters up and forced us into a promotion/relegation playoff against Box Hill.

The Swans missed some good chances, but I was thrilled that we managed to drag them into a guerrilla war instead of just flat out getting murdered as we did most weeks during 2013. Bad news for neutrals and Channel 7's ratings but they can all get stuffed. Of course it would be nice to be involved a swashbuckling, high scoring extravaganza but look at we're we've come from and enjoy it for what it is - not getting beaten to a pulp. It was also particularly exciting gradually driving Franklin insane and watching him engage in biff, cost his team with stupid free kicks and give away a 50m penalty. In the end he's got $10 million and was probably driving to $cully's house to roll around in banknotes when he crashed into all the cars but I don't even recall him looking so frustrated against us before - and we've held him relatively well over the years. May he bring the Swans down from the inside like we all hoped he would to GWS.

Congratulations to McDonald for doing well on him (other than the goal from the BS free kick) and Georgiou for punching him in the face and getting away with it (for now) despite the hapless umpire looking right at the incident - which Franklin did play up as if he'd been hit the head with a sledgehammer rather than a limp bitchslap. When he was replaced by Goodes has there even been a substitution with a greater gulf between respected team player and self-obsessed mercenary? It is highly unlikely. Though at the same time if it doesn't work out in Sydney and he wants to take a significant pay cut next year I think I'd probably have him considering Jesse Hogan has apparently died.

I'm sure that after a week of other games that were either of a good viewing standard or at least close the influential "change the rules, everything is stuffed" lobby will have the quarter on rewind at the old folks home, but was it really so bad? Maybe I'm looking at it through rose tinted glasses because a) we were up to our necks in it and b) won it, but surely sometimes an arm-wrestle can be beautiful. People who despise soccer and therefore equate low scoring with tedium will never believe it, but sometimes even a nil-all draw can be beautiful. When the scores are low every goal means so much more, and shite umpiring was doing far more damage to the game on the night than rucks, mauls or whatever the problem of the day is according to Leigh Matthews - a man who has developed far more interest in the rulebook now than when he was going around king hitting people during his playing days.

For all that positivity it's hard to ignore the fact that we did struggle royally to score a measly five goals for the whole game. Yet again our inability to work the ball from one end of the ground to the other without stuffing up a kick or a handball somewhere around the half-back line haunted us, and unlike last week Frawley and Dawes were having rotten games up front so we weren't able to take advantage of limited chances. While we were forced to fight for every opportunity, down the other end our loose as a goose defence was allowing Sydney players to roam free. Twice we fell victim to one of my most hated things in football (and I've got a lot), players about to take a long distance set shot then realising we've let one of their teammates get a million miles clear on a better angle inside 50.

We fall victim to this so often and it makes me want to kick the seat in front of me/my television in. It's one thing if the 'better option' is on the boundary line and they wind up as unlikely to kick the goal, but we are always letting players get 30/40m out on their own and on simple angles and it shits me to tears. Perhaps if we did the same once in a while I'd be ok with it, but whenever we have a shot on goal from 50m on the boundary line we're forced to hoof it hopefully at goal and watch it get punched through because we've forgotten to get talls back on the line.

As noted our general play around the ground was hardly something to write home about and I'm certainly not endorsing some of the slop that was dished up when we had the ball. I fear that in addition to players sent to an unfamiliar position out of necessity (Frawley) and those dipping in and out of form on a weekly basis (Howe) that we've got too many in the side who just aren't good enough. You could get away with one or two of Byrnes, Bail, Jetta, Georgiou and Terlich (Pedersen temporarily promoted to the next division) but it's impossible to carry them all when we're so lacking in superstars to cover for them with their own acts. In addition to kids like Kennedy-Harris who are still trying to come to terms with the senior game we're sorely lacking class players. Not sure where we're going to find them, but at this point we've got to start having a proper look at the likes of Clisby, Toumpas, Blease and Strauss - and it's possibly a last look on the final two before we shuffle them off to Richmond.

Then there's Jack Watts. Oh dear. We might have gone in front in the first quarter if he'd held a simple mark, and in one breath you could hear every Melbournefans in the stadium go from cheering to groaning and openly swearing in front of children. Here's a live graph of the Jack Watts Fan Confidence Index during the game. Spot the point where he missed the mark.

(Melbourne FC there's a free match day promotion for you - hooking fans up to either a lie detector, a heart-rate monitor, or an election debate style worm and showing the results on the big screen during the game. It will be better than that heinous Chemist Warehouse three card monte gimmick. You're welcome.)

It was deflating, and it's not the first time it's happened this year either. It wasn't just the mark though, he just seems to be going through the motions at the moment. It looks like he gets to the right place all the time but can't have any serious impact on the game. What a tease that St Kilda game was, possibly assisted by the Saints bringing a midfield just as poor as ours - now against both good teams and average teams he looks all at sea. Last night he only had five kicks - and that's the one thing that he does at a constantly elite (CLICHE) level.

Can he be fixed? Well it depends what you mean how you define 'fixed'. I'd given up on the idea of him becoming an out-and-out superstar ages ago and was quite content for him to just roll out 200 career games as a solid citizen and subject of endless 'what if?' discussions for the next 50 years, but at this rate he's going to be run out of town on a rail before he even makes 100. The pitchfork wielding masses - a loose alliance of the people who have been waiting for him with a baseball bat since 2007 and those who patiently held on until now - are certainly coming from him after the last couple of weeks and while I have sympathy with them I also don't want to lose faith in my version of the future. Because I'm an idiot.

There's next to no doubt that if he does end up with a better team he can look good flouncing around the edges and take advantage of other great players instead of being expected to be one himself, but it's sad to finally come to the realisation that this might not work out. I'm sure I'll fall in and out of love with him seven more times before the end of the year but all of a sudden the question is what we'd get for him in a trade - surely nobody's going higher than pick 20. Wait for him to go to Carlton and dominate after copping exactly the same of foul invective from Malthouse that he crumbled under when it was delivered by the Reject Shop Mick who used to coach us.

What's sad is that if you could take the heart of Spencer, Pedersen or Bail and merge it with the skills of Watts you'd have a superstar - but instead we're left with half a list who try but aren't AFL standard and players like this who have good physical attributes and natural talent but quite possibly couldn't give a stuff if the stopped playing tomorrow. Look at Jack Viney, he can't kick for shit yet but we still love him because he almost gets killed five times a game - maybe Watts should just try that for one or two weeks and see if he likes it.

In a low scoring game that goal would have helped too, he is a beautifully accurate kick when he marks inside 50 so I'm assuming he'd have given us the lead. Instead, and this is not something I'm laying at his feet because he's got enough to deal with, we get one more goal in the second quarter and two for the half. Nobody is winning a game of football with two goals in the half, but even though we only took two points off the lead with all that effort in the second quarter at least it kept us in the game, which is all you can ask for in our situation.

We didn't stay in touch for long. Franklin came alive briefly before 'hurting his knee', setting up a goal before getting the red vest and a cosy blanket to wrap himself in on the bench, and even though we matched their first goal with one of our own the Swans were clearly not going to get mired in jungle warfare for the rest of the game and let us win 41-40. We only lost the quarter three goals to two, but signs were definitely ominous. It was clear to all but the most irrational dreamer/psychopath that there was no way we were going to rampage home from 24 points down to win, and true to form we didn't - but it would have been nice to keep the fantasy going a bit longer than the 40 seconds it took the Swans to kick the first goal.

A total whitewash it was not, though it threatened to be a few times in the last term, and at least you can go home dreaming of a bright future for Christian Salem until he falls into the same hole as every other prized recruit of the last five years. This was a danger game for another West Coast style massacre, and at least we came out of it relatively unscathed. You don't have to be happy that we only scored 38, and nor should you be, but there will be more than enough time to wail about everything that's wrong with us (possibly as early as next week) so why not pull the wool over your own eyes for a bit and try to look at the positives?

No, that's boring let's go throw a Molotov Cocktail at the Demon Megastore instead.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Lynden Dunn
3 - Matt Jones
2 - Cameron Pedersen
1 - Bernie Vince

Apologies to McDonald, Cross, Jamar and Salem for his cameo.

The committee has temporarily suspended Frawley from the Seecamp, pending him going back into defence and staying there for the rest of the season. Not that it matters at the moment considering he's not going to win it anyway if Dunn keeps playing out of his skin.

As for Pedersen I've got no idea if he's eligible for any of the minor awards at the moment, the whole process is in total Neeld style disarray other than the near certainty that Jones will have it all wrapped up by Queen's Birthday.

24 - Nathan Jones
13 - Lynden Dunn (Leader: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
8 - Daniel Cross, James Frawley
6 - Dom Tyson, Jack Viney
4 - Cameron Pedersen, Jack Watts
3 - Chris Dawes, Matt Jones, Tom McDonald, Dean Terlich
2 - Jeremy Howe
1 - Jack Grimes, Jake Spencer (Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Bernie Vince.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
You have to kick goals to contend for the Flash, and given that we were doing stuff all of that then good luck. So it's still Pedo vs Carlton but we hope Christian Salem enjoys this week's consolation prize of a go-karting session with the Cockatoo-Collins brothers for his follow up from marking contest + snap which lifted spirits everywhere.

A nice traditional battle between two properly constructed banners, with nice fonts, old time motivational messages and no pissweak curtains. Congratulations to the Swans for a strong performance but the Demons go 6-0 on the back of the topical soldier silhouette, ANZAC Day message and a lot less visible sticky tape.

Having said that I was a bit baffled by the "2014-2018" date at the top of our banner which had something to do with a hundred years of the Anzacs. Do the Demon Army know something about an upcoming war that we don't? If total nuclear annihilation has to break out I hope we get one more win first and it breaks out before we play Hawthorn.

Crowd Watch
I can take it or leave it but I find it interesting that the the league/MCG didn't officially acknowledge ANZAC Day. We had it on our banner (see above) but while they were clearly only having one ceremony in every 'market' (*spit*) which is why they went through the whole thing at GWS vs Gold Coast a day late (and will probably do so again in Adelaide today) it seems reasonable to invite some military types along and at least get the crowd to give them a round of applause. Remember that time we played in Darwin while the US Marines watched on? We'd be lucky to get the Naval Reserve to show up and see us at the moment.

Considering there was 24,000 there (surely via furious massaging of figures and creative accountancy) it's frightening how many of them were Sydney fans. Unfortunately as much as slurry football is necessary at times it's is hardly likely to start dragging crowds through the door unless we somehow manage to start winning ugly - and even then I suspect the lure of TV will be too much for most until they're absolutely convinced that they're not being lured into one big con.

Could I also please confirm if the two (!) sets of people sitting in Row LL (I was in row P this time as I was with people, and dragging them to the heavens is downright rude) were inspired by my promotion of what a great place it is to watch footy or whether they were just sampling what it's like to be anti-social. Hopefully Row LL doesn't become the next big thing for football hipsters, there has to be somewhere to go (other than the fact that you're already at an MFC game) if you want peace and quiet at a live sporting event.

Crowd Watch Extra (4.36pm Sunday edition)
Forgot to mention, as if it was crucial, that I ex-Demons Josh Tynan and Rory Taggert were seen enjoying all that the top deck of the Ponsford has to offer. And they were both wearing MFC jumpers like they were regular fans, which is nice considering usually anybody we've delisted goes on Facebook and abuses the club for being a bunch of arseholes.

Blockbuster Corner
Assuming that Channel 7 aren't on the phone to the AFL now threatening all sorts of violence if we're ever featured in a prime-time game again, I'm all for this proposed ANZAC Day eve match against Richmond. The only problem is that I can imagine if Collingwood are against it that the AFL will be successfully strong-armed into turfing the idea. Demetriou isn't for it, but he doesn't like Good Friday either and 12 seconds after he's out of the job a game will be scheduled for that day on 2015 so who gives a rats what he thinks unless he's writing us another cheque?

It's more dangerous for us that McGuire is against it, because marks my words if the AFL ignore his undignified whinging and press ahead he will threaten to pull the Queen's Birthday rug out from under us. Which he can easily do considering it's his rug and they are doing us a favour by letting us have it as a home game every year - but while I'm expecting a negotiated settlement at some point in the next few years which either shifts us out of this game or rotates home/away status it would be nice if we're not just kicked out because Ed's gone beetroot coloured and thrown a tantrum.

Remember when he was going to kick us out of QB just for taking their recruiting manager? Just wait for him to get on the radio and drop a bit of "Well now that they're getting this other blockbuster they don't need Queen's Birthday" if for no other reason than to score some cheap publicity for the show when the comments are replayed everywhere. If Richmond were smart they'd be trying to double their blockbuster by negotiating for the ANZAC eve game against us one line and calling the Pies trying to replace us for QB on the other.

Next Week
Adelaide are neither here nor there this season, but it's reasonable to assume they will spifflicate us anyway. With any luck they give Taylor Walker another week in the seconds so at least we don't have to face that problem, but either way I can't see us getting this close. As for my changes what follows is an absurd wishlist considering barely anybody these days - much less a Zen maestro like Paul Roos - goes for the gigantic chop of +5 players in one go and we might not have the required players to do such a thing anyway but...

IN: Garland, Blease, Gawn, Strauss, Clisby, Toumpas, Riley
OUT: Byrnes, Kennedy-Harris, Terlich, Bail, Watts, Georgiou and Jetta (omit)

I'd like to split that hailstorm of executions up into a few batches - Byrnes, Bail and Jetta I can do without ever seeing in the seniors again, Terlich and Georgiou are useful soldiers but can do with a break or a run in the 2s, JKH is getting better but could also do with a full game at VFL level and I really don't know what to do with Watts. Part of me wants to keep him for one more chance, but I thought that last week as well. Any chance that we'll finally get a sports psychologist down to the club to try and work out what's going on with him before we turn him into another Cale Morton style lost soul?

It's hardly straight swaps on the ins and outs, but that's not going to matter is it? Maybe throw Jamar down forward for most of the game and let Maximum/Pedo (not a tag team name that Vince McMahon will be buying the rights to anytime soon) take the centre bounces. If Toumpas doesn't play for Casey today due to the knock he got last week (and at the time of writing it's 3.32am so god knows if he is or if he's in a nightclub drinking shots out of the belly-button of an 18-year-old floozy) then I'll give Bail a reprieve just because he tries hard and had a half decent game last week before reverting to type - then give him a handshake, say thanks for everything and send him back to Queensland the week after.

Other options are limited. As much as I've been a McKenzie fan over the years I'm prepared to give Riley a shot against his old team. Nicholson is also on my 'never again' list, Kent is out for another week, Hunt is too young, Evans did nothing in the seniors for two weeks (albeit as sub) and could do with a couple of full games, Barry is a total mystery, Tapscott needs match practice, Spencer isn't required with Pedo filling in admirably and I'd rather try Jamar up forward before returning to Fitzpatrick because at least Russian is a better ruckman if Plan A winds up in the toilet with all our other well thought out plans over the years.

Stat My Bitch Up
If ladder position and wins are your guiding light this season then you're in for a disappointing year. Our percentage of 67.3 is 13% above last year, but we've had a bloody good draw to this point so this is where it gets interesting.

Meanwhile as you may remember (how could you forget?) last year we scored our lowest ever points tally in a 22 game season at an average of 66.13ppg. Well this year we're currently on 54.16 so you would think, assuming that there is no possible way for us to only score 1191 in a season (which would further extend the record by 300 points) improvement is going to come from somewhere. God only knows where tjhat will be when we start running into top five sides who will strangle the bejesus out of us.

The crucial difference is that last year we conceded 122.31ppg and this year it's 'only' 80.5 so that's a significant improvement. Still, if the iPad clutching ball-bag is correct and Jesse Hogan's not coming back any time soon we're going to have to do something about our forward line. Rather than blaming Frawley, Dawes and whoever else is down there I'd rather that we instead started to get the ball to them quickly instead of waiting 25 minutes with every kick forward and giving defences enough time to force them to try and take pack marks. I suppose it would also be nice if we managed to string a few kicks together as well, but that's just being overly optimistic.

Was it worth it?
Yeah, why not.

Final Thoughts
I don't know what to think about this season anymore. I was confident that we could finish third last, win four or five games and come out with a percentage of about 70 but I'm not so sure now, and with Brisbane winning yesterday the dreaded spoon is looming large. For once can we retain some dignity in the second half of the year and not punt home finishing in last place? Now watch us finish 16th, receive a standing ovation from me for playing fairly and then spent the next 10 years yelling abuse at #3 while the first two picks become superstars. Hello Melbourne.


  1. LOL @ Maximum Pedo!
    Want Gawn in the team for this reason!

  2. Not sure if you caught the MCG getting in on hijinks by showing the solitary figure in the Southern stand seated in fron of the "report anti-social behaviour" hotline signage?


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