Monday, 12 May 2014

Temporary respectability adjustment

If I may break into the usual schedule of paranoia, conspiracy theories and horribly outdated pop culture references I'd like to open with something particularly relevant to this week and talk about my mum. There's probably old content being rehashed here, but isn't every second post I make just the same reheated "woe is us" lament from previous weeks?

As a single mother I'm sure she was horrified when I suddenly decided to get into the game in the late 80's. With a tiny pool of people who would take me to games she was always going to be trapped into having me drag her along eventually. Where was my dad in all this you ask? Good question, and one worthy of several obscenity heavy posts unrelated to footy. Incidentally it recently came to my attention that he was in charge of the VFL's 1987 marketing campaign, so that practically explains my entire adult life other than the whereabouts of 32 years of birthday presents. If you're out there reading feel free to contribute by clicking an ad or something.

Anyway, let's save all that nonsense for my therapist and get back to business. I got to go to a handful of games early in 1990 thanks to the parents of school chums who followed opposition sides and took me when my side played theirs - even in those days when we were 'good' nobody else in my class ever seemed to follow the Dees - but eventually 'pushy child' and 'no further handball options' came together and she was forced to humour me with an afternoon at the MCG. It didn't entirely go to plan...


... but at least we seem to have won the Little League and presumably somebody somewhere was cursing the name of umpire Goldspink for being at fault. In other news who remembers NatWest Bank ever operating in Australia? Notwithstanding the fact that scoring 10.13.73 would be a cause for celebration now the way we played that day we should have been sponsored by the Nugan Hand Bank.

I wasn't daunted by this minor setback (though I bloody well should have been), and as the Dees went on an eight game winning streak on the way to the finals she was forced to take me to the MCG several more times. It just got worse in 1991 as Jakovich fever hit like the Ebola virus and I settled in for every game at the MCG and Waverley because she wouldn't take me to any of the creaky, scumbag filled suburban grounds. Even Waverley got the arse when they started charging for the bus from the train station. To her credit she didn't even crack the sads when I'd come home after the game and replay both senior and reserves matches in the hallway of the dinky little flat we lived in. Jakovich would usually kick about 32 goals in each match.

Early in the 1995 season I lost interest in leaving the house for pretty much any reason let alone football, and confined myself to the television/radio for the rest of the year before almost entirely giving up in '96 and most of '97. She must have been thrilled at not having to fork out scarce money on watching slop. By the time I grew up moved out of home she was finally off the hook, and it took her years to start going again. She got into it when she did, taking up a membership and keeping the faith through the high level bullshit of the 08/09 spoon seasons - including that memorable day we came back against Freo and she got so tense that her back locked up and she couldn't move for 20 minutes after the game. Which was funny at the time, until I suffered a similar ailment a few years later when we beat Essendon and I couldn't leave Row LL for 20 minutes because my legs had ceased operating.

Through what was in retrospect a relatively decent 2011 she started to lose interest, often leaving games halfway through no matter what the score was, and made it halfway through Round 1 2012 before famously declaring an early verdict on the Neeld era by saying she was bored, going home and never coming back. Had things turned out differently it might have been the last game she ever went to. In early 2013 mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully she caught it early enough that it wasn't life-threatening, but it still required surgery and a course of chemo that left her with a Nathan Jones style cue-ball.

Fortunately she also had Nathan Jones style courage to go along with it. Despite my continued suggestions that she take time off work, put her feet up and rest she kept living her life as if she didn't have to regularly roll in to Peter Mac to be hooked up to a black back full of weapons grade chemicals. She wasn't even phased after the very first batch of the stuff caused some kind of allergic reaction which caused her to stop breathing and led to nurses charging from everywhere to hit the emergency stop button. Had it been me hooked up to the thing that would probably have been the last straw for me before I turned into a nervous wreck, but she just kept going with barely a word of complaint even though she must have been feeling terrible.

Right in the middle of all this there was also the small matter of my impending wedding, and to a far lesser degree my football team being an outstanding shambles. Looking back at posts from around that time there is certainly an even more depressed than usual feeling about them. At the time it was just a weekend distraction but it'd have been nice for something positive to happen. I think at one point I was more stressed than her. One day after she'd had chemo and was right in the zone where she should have been curled up in a ball feeling awful I called her to check up and she was on a treadmill at the gym. Between her refusal to let the situation get her down and the amazing work Mrs. Demonblog did making sure the wedding went off without a hitch (my main contributions were creating a reasonable knockoff of the Footy Record as an event program and showing up on the day) I am lucky to have two amazing women in my life.

So what I'm getting at here, in a more roundabout fashion than would seem absolutely necessary, is that I took mum to the Field of Women last night. We were in the feet, right at the top of the Ponsford Stand end goalsquare looking up at my beloved stand and wondering how some utterly shithouse companies could afford a corporate box at the MCG. And no, it was not in the exact spot where the Bulldogs got that last goal courtesy of a novelty bounce so I'm not taking the blame.

It was a happy coincidence that the event took place during a Melbourne game, but I would have gone anyway even if it was GWS vs Gold Coast (at the MCG for some reason) to show how proud I was of her and the way she beat it (hopefully forever) without wavering, let alone totally falling apart like I probably would have in the situation. It wasn't just that, but also saying thanks for looking after me when I was quite frankly insane during my teenage years.

Once we'd assembled ourselves into something resembling the East German traffic light symbol there was a lot of standing about, but I must say that other than the crocodile near-tears of rage you get when you really go right off your nut (Port Adelaide or North Melbourne 2007) or when a great victory is snatched from your grasp in the last second (Collingwood 2010) when they showed the video packages on the big screen I probably went closer to shedding one at a footy match than at any other time in my life. I'm not one prone to emotion but it was a powerful experience (CLICHE) being in the middle of all those people who had similar experiences - not all of which turned out as well as ours has so far.

The only issue was that you could barely hear what the people on the stage were saying (especially considering we were as close to the stands as you can get), which was an issue given that what was being said was more for our benefit than the 125 people in the stands. Bad news for the people who were trying to give speeches where nobody could hear them and didn't know when to clap, cheer, cry or wave a mini torch around in the sky. It was still worthwhile though, considering that all the money raised went to BCNA. There is no doubt that in your life you have at least one amazing woman like the ones I do, or you are one yourself, so it's never a bad time to donate to a great cause.

After all that sports seemed to be a load of old tosh in comparison, but given that there was an hour between them kicking us off the ground and the game starting I still had time to take up a spot in that lovely stand (and no, I didn't make my mother climb all the way up to Row LL) and start nervously dreaming about two wins in a row for the first time since that bizarre 2011 season. We could have done it too if we'd held our nerve a little better and had a bit of luck.

If last week demonstrated that footy could lead you to the brink of a massive heart attack then leave you delirious with joy, this was the evil bizzaro version where your emotions are toyed, your vital organs are torn out and waved in front of your eyes but you don't get the fairytale ending. Even more than 24 hours later I still feel shit about the loss because a win then would have done wonders for us, but at the same time at least it shows us (players and fans alike) what the heartbreak of losing a thriller feels like again. Now we've seen it from both sides, let's make sure that we're at least in a position to have our heart broken rather than just turning up to get thrashed.

As I've said more than once this season I feel alive again. Having gone to almost every MCG game over the last few years there were so many times where we'd lose by 40 or 50 points and I went away not happy or sad but pretty much over it from the time I reached Richmond Station to the point where I sat down to write a post expecting to keep it 2005 era short then got all fired up again and pressed publish at 3.22am on a Monday morning.

This time I've been kicking the metaphorical cat for over 24 hours and thinking about Matt Jones' miss on the run more times than is good for my mental health. What if he'd converted? Should he have been pinched for running too far anyway? Was the Bulldogs player smart enough to do a quick calculation in his head and decide to deliberately back stay on Salem (?) in the square because he knew Jones was more likely to want to handball over the top than kick on the run after a big sprint that late in the game (and yes, remember the sub rule and interchange cap exist so that players are exhausted at the end of games for some reason)? I've not been this troubled by an individual piece of MFC play for years, and overall that can only be a good sign.

We're coming from a low base, and admittedly we did beat the Bulldogs first time around last year so in some ways it is a step backwards, but at least now when we play other bad teams we're sticking with them and not just making it look respectable by booting five goals in the last quarter when they're all limbering up their vocal cords to sing the theme song. Last year if we'd lost to the Bulldogs in that fashion we'd be slapping ourselves on the back and congratulating everyone on a job well done even though it was a winnable game. Now expectations have risen and we feel like we should have done better against a team who are right in our bracket. Let's save the self-congratulations and slaps on the back for decent performances against good teams - and brace for impact because there's a lot of them on the horizon after the next fortnight.

Given the circumstances of her dramatic "against modern football" style walkout in 2012, and the fact that she was trapped there for four quarters because trains weren't running on her line and I'd driven her, I was concerned that mum was going to retrospectively send me to my room during the first quarter when the game descended into stoppage hell. Even as an advocate for the idea that low scoring doesn't necessarily mean bad football I was starting to shift nervously in my seat and think that it was actually ugly to watch.

Thankfully for Channel 7 executives and neutrals it got much better from late in the first quarter onwards, but in a coaching battle between Paul Roos and the guy who described his side's defeat the week before as "too open" it was hardly going to be anything other than a trench warfare slog. The irony is that it not only turned out to be thriller with about 10 lead changes but that we registered our highest score of the year and courtesy of a couple of cheap goals at the end still lost relatively comfortably.

It took its time, and there were about 2500 stoppages which allowed Jamar to run his own club record for hitouts in a game close, but eventually it turned out as good a game as you're going to get between two sides who aren't very good. I thought we were a good shot of winning based on our much improved form this year and the win against them last season, but there were significant differences between this week and our last gasp victory over them at the MCG in Neil Craig's single victory last season.-That night we had Watts and Fitzpatrick running riot up forward and nine others in the side who didn't play this time. Having said that it's debatable whether or not Daniel Nicholson (who did play a surprisingly good game that night) or David Rodan would have helped us this time around considering the way the Bulldogs were tearing us apart in tackles.

Since records have been kept (1987) 11 tackles in a game would get you into our all-time top 20. On Saturday night the Bulldogs had three players hit the mark in one game. It was a match made for tackling, but what a benchmark of intensity for our players to aim for. It's the second time this year we've been on the end of one of the great tackling efforts, but most of the top days on that list were in the wet. This was in slightly slippery conditions where not a drop of rain fell during the match. There was no excuse for it other than the fact that they set out to batter us all night and achieved success. We still should have won, but after romping in the inside 50s for no reward I know exactly how the Crows felt last week. At least we were hitting targets occasionally when we went down there, and we did find avenues to goal other than key forwards but by the time it came to win the bloody thing we lost our nerve. It happens, but let it be a lesson to us not to let it happen again in the future - especially against sides we're battling against for the glory of mid-table mediocrity.

Thank god for a reasonably functioning midfield. Vince has been handy, but Cross and Tyson have been huge gets. One of them will not be around for long, one will hopefully be playing for another decade. Dom dropped off for a couple of weeks after a good early start but has since come back with a vengeance over the last two weeks. With Salem hopefully ready to play a full game next week we're closer than ever before to exposing the space filling, clickbait generating hacks who wrote off the trade on the basis of Josh Kelly having a good game against us. Big deal, most weeks Kelly Clarkson would have a good game against us. As long as they don't both fall down the Jordan Gysberts Memorial Black Hole we can come out of this in front. The GWS guy might turn out to be a wonderful player but even if our two only equal the price of one we've still not lost out - and desperately needed the extra midfield depth.

Nothing else needs to be said about Nathan Jones, he just gets on with the job, but I was happy that Jack Viney played another good game after the drawn-out saga of the last week. Considering his adventures with the tribunal ("booooo, filth") and the appeals board ("legends one and all") you could have forgiven him for going through the motions and getting through the game without being assassinated by the Match Review Panel, but football brutality is in his blood and he was right at home in the slog. Bless everyone who chose to let us get him with a ridiculously low pick. He's got time to tighten up on his disposal, and when he does my god watch out. There are more options than there have been for a long time but he may be my favourite player at the moment.

I thought happy days were officially here again when shortly before half time the Dogs made their sub then seemingly lost Tom Williams to an injury. It was last week all over again (though admittedly we actually played better before the Crows lost their second player), with the key difference being that the Adelaide player Dawes accidentally crippled didn't come back on after half time hobbling like he had a peg leg and stick it to us by kicking three goals. In a week where Brisbane thrilled footy nerds everywhere (*raises hand*) by donning a Brisbane Bears design and invoking the spirit of the late Laurence Schache it was a nice throw-back to the days before interchange when crippled players would be sent back on to stand around in the forward line because they couldn't move any further.

I'm not going to clamber aboard the bandwagon and take the moral highground on getting rorted by the umpires considering we did get one goal from a farcical review and another after Dawes got away with a blatant foul on his opponent immediately before Vince's mark and goal but bloody hell the noble art of officiating was in absolute disarray. We got plenty in the first half and people who think the free kick count should somehow magically equal up are usually certifiably insane (or the coach of Footscray), but who didn't think that there were square ups to come later in the game? We were still in front comfortably at the end, but quality over quantity ended up doing us in. Does 'out on the full' count in the free kicks? If so the stat is even more useless in the big picture than inside 50s.

My favourite moment - apart from conceding a goal for Dunn brushing a fingernail across Crameri after nearly everything had been let go all night for both sides - was when at one point Watts chased (!) and tackled (!!) Cooney, causing the former Brownlow Medallist to do a full spin and go down on one knee as if he was accepting Jesus as his personal saviour before eventually handballing three weeks later. Play on. It was up there with Terlich being belted and not only failing to receive a free but also lying face down on the turf for about three minutes with the game going on around him as the umpires declined the opportunity to stop the game at any number of stoppages so he could be carted off. Though we did almost score a goal while he was lying there, so in that case I'd have taken it.

Despite these various shenanigans the game itself balanced out nicely during the third quarter, and we eventually got in front despite usually letting them return fire seconds after we scored a goal. They were also kicking them in decidedly un-MFC fashion, like the tap-down from the boundary throw-in that was perfectly crumbed and smacked straight through. We must do that once a season tops.

We still should have won it in the last quarter, but all of a sudden after two weeks of dead eye clutch kicking we suddenly shit ourselves and couldn't convert several chances which might have won it. At the other end the Dogs could (even if one was assisted by a rort) and that was the difference. I'm not going to crucify Jones for his two misses, because even if he had put us seven points in front with five minutes to go we were still always threatening to leak multiple goals. In the end he didn't put us in front and we still leaked the goals. Live and learn.

In the heat of losing, dodgy decisions and Liam Jones' un-Vineyesque cheapshot on Terlich it looks like everyone's decided they hate the Bulldogs but as the second most long suffering fans in Victoria (though St Kilda fans may wish to invoke the quantity vs quality discussion here as well) I feel like I've got an affinity with them. My views on Victorian sides winning flags are well known (not into it), but a few years ago when Footscray were getting close I was always going for them. If I can go for all the interstate sides other than GWS I'm happy to slot the Dogs in to replace them. Not only that, but we're also developing a decent rivalry (of sorts) with them over the last three games. Long may it continue to the mutual benefit of two sides who will be first under the bus when the AFL sends the grim reaper around again.

We might not be winning all that much, and we've got a brutal run of games to come, but the good thing about 2014 is that we are now fully fledged members of the lower-middle class. Last year we were scrapping with GWS several timezones away from everybody else but now you can throw us both in with any of St Kilda, Carlton, Footscray, Brisbane and pending next week's result possibly Richmond. The concern is that unless the Saints score 16 or less in their next game then we're still the lowest scoring team in the competition but at least tonight showed we are starting to manufacture goals from different situations. Good luck with that against the good teams, so for god's sake can we please get Hardwick sacked next week just to firm up our own position in the top 17?

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Dom Tyson
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Mark Jamar

Apologies to Howe, Frawley and Dawes who might have snuck in for the last vote. Several others were reasonable, only a handful were horrible.

Leaderboard
26 - Nathan Jones
14 - Dom Tyson
13 - Lynden Dunn (Leader: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
12 - Daniel Cross
9 - Jack Viney
8 - Chris Dawes, James Frawley
5 - Bernie Vince
4 - Cameron Pedersen, Jack Watts
3 - Matt Jones, Tom McDonald, Dean Terlich
2 - Jeremy Howe, Jay Kennedy-Harris
1 - Jack Grimes, Mark Jamar (Co-Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Neville Jetta, Jake Spencer (Co-Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
No change at the top, with Pedo still in front. The winner of the weekly prize, a full English breakfast with 2000 Grand Final heroes Matthew Collins and Troy Simmonds, is Mark Jamar for his clutch set-shot from the boundary line during the third quarter.

Did you know at one point around 2010 he was the most accurate kick for goal of any player with +50 scoring shots since 1987? I may have mentioned it once or twice. His 65.75% compares favourably to the post-1972 leaderboard. Also of note in that list is the high placing for the oft maligned Watts. If we could only find a way to consistently give him shots on goal that don't involve having to take contested marks firts we'd be laughing. Remember his majestic leading against the Bulldogs in both games last year? I'll never forget it. The positive news is that you can malign Jack until the cows come home (and many will) but now that the Eagles have lost the plot and decided to pay NicNat a million bucks a year for five minutes of excitement every week we're at least equal if not in front on a cost > benefit analysis.


The Bulldogs provided an old-school banner experience which the players then ruined by ducking under it instead of busting through manfully. It was an adequate effort by league standards, but as regular readers of this column will know that's not good enough to beat the top of the league Demons. I know they're still recovering from sacking their cheersquad before the season so I'll reinvestigate when we play them again later in the year. Their font was terribly bland, there was some spacing issues with letters and the minor touches of pink were completely overshadowed by our all-pink background. So, a comfortable win to the Demon Army who extend their unbeaten streak to eight.

Crowd Watch
A potential corporate box angle fell through (which would have allowed me to further boost the crowd figure by signing in three times) and we were instead forced back into the stands, to sit amongst several people who had a laissez faire attitude towards swearing in front of children. Nobody who brought children along seemed to mind though, and the kids were probably loving it so who was I to complain? Not to mention the fact that I may have joined in heartily in the last quarter and kicked a seat with some venom when they got the sealer.

Speaking of the crowd the final figure was clearly boosted by the thousands of people who only showed up for Pink Lady to pissed off home, but when average attendances are bandied around as if they actually mean something at least it gave us a boost.

Several of the Bulldogs fans who did stay around opted to boo Jack Viney, which was interesting. It was up there with the week that James Hird got fined for abusing umpires on The Footy Show then got booed during that week's game by the sort of humanoids who do nothing but complain about umpires. I swear I even heard one lone nutter give one to Daniel Cross, presumably shortly before being throttled to death by a fellow Footscray fan.

Next Week
Even though we played reasonably well I feel like there are changes to be had. We've only got to get through one more game to the bye so I'm not prepared to concede and rest players next week considering that we're going to get brutalised by the best teams in the competition when we come back, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were a few alterations. Interesting that both Clisby and Gawn were there tonight - one player's always going to be held out of the VFL as cover but it's interesting that they had a tall on standby as well. Was Frawley questionable? If so I could certainly see them giving him the fortnight off.

As for Blease I will keep trying to get him back in the side until he's finally called back to his home planet and/or traded elsewhere. So on that note - without factoring in dramatic mid-week injuries or players who are too crocked to walk courtesy of being tackled 72 times:

IN: Blease, Clisby
OUT: Terlich (inj), Byrnes (omit)
UNLUCKY: Riley and McKenzie who both racked up disposals out the yin yang in the VFL but have run into the nightmare scenario of Melbourne finally developing a reasonable midfield. Gawn replaces Frawley if he's not available - I'm not thrilled with it as a straight swap but I'd rather Maximum than Puttin' on the Fitz at the moment.

Is it time to switch Howe and Frawley again? Chip was good up front, but while Howe didn't play badly he did give away at least one goal trying to take Mark of the Year. It's fine to drop them in the forward line or in the middle of the ground but it can cost us badly down back. Also on a purely selfish note I'd like to see him rip Jack Riewoldt to shreds one more time in red and blue before he's doing it in a fecal shade of brown from 2015 onwards.

Was it worth it?
Most certainly it was, for both charitable (did the included match ticket ruin any chance of claiming it as a tax deduction?) and footballing reasons. The end result was painful and we should have won two in a row for the first time since future MFC coach Michael Voss described as an up-and-coming powerhouse in 2011, but the signs are there and stronger than ever. We could still very well finish last, but the gulf in class between 2012/13 and 2014 is astronomical. There are problems, and there will always be problems but when somebody asks me if I think we deserve our place in the league I can say we're closer than ever before.

Final Thoughts
At the time I didn't think the result had caused any long term psychological damage, but I'm told that I then went on to spend the entire night grinding my teeth in my sleep and woke up with a jaw that felt like I'd run into Marley Williams outside a nightclub. Tension is back. It's good to be alive.

2 comments:

  1. As a Dogs supporter and regular reader of the blog, I was determined to actually read every word this week. I may have glazed over for a couple of paragraphs but all in all it was a great review, and the opening was particularly well done. Good on you mate.

    As for the idiot booing Crossy, I can assure you he wasn't throttled to death because we simply don't have the luxury of killing off any supporters, but I'm sure he was provided with the kind of education only a 73 year old Nan from Seddon can provide.

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  2. Good Write up. I think Jamar may have been a bit stiff, I'd argue he was at least 2nd most important man on the ground for us behind Tyson. Not directly related to the voting, but holy crap would it have been a brutal night if we fronted up with Spencer against Minson...

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