Thursday, 12 June 2014

2014 mid-season review and State of the Union



I've always thought that people who say things like "how it can be June already?" are tremendously boring and should be socially excluded. At the risk of joining them and Ballbag Barrett in the "no mates" club I really am confused that we're halfway through the season - and that we're midway through June.

So, half the season down - three wins, zero draws and eight losses. Hasn't it been fun? Not 'fun' in the traditional sense of winning games, kicking high scores and playing for a spot in the top eight but light years ahead of the bankrupt organisation (in most senses) that we were at the mid-point of 2013. A healthy cash injection from the league helped on one front, Peter Jackson's manhunt of Paul Roos on another. We're still shit, but we're closer than ever to becoming 'ordinary' - and at the risk of being accused of lacking ambition I'll have that right now.

As it's turned out we're pretty much exactly where I expected us to be. Three wins is probably reasonable considering I didn't expect us to beat any of the teams we did but thought we'd do over some of St Kilda, GWS, Gold Coast or Footscray. In fact we're probably ahead considering the now pre-season claim that I'd be happy with four wins and a percentage of 80. Which seemed reasonable then, but we've come so far since the first couple of weeks of the season that I'd rather do better than 1-10 in the second half of the year.

The most important fact is that we've only been hacked to shreds once so far. One time too many, but by this time last year we'd lost games by (please do not read on if you are vulnerable to post traumatic stress) 79, 148, 94, 61, 60, 90, 95 and 83. Why in god's name did any of us go on through that period? In the end the second half of the season wasn't much better, so you might have forgiven Roos if he'd spent the first 11 games of this season presiding over the side getting butchered, but he's managed to stop that from happening so the cheque's in the mail Paul. It hasn't always been pretty but we're in the business of "avoiding being thrashed" not keeping journalists happy.

It's hard to argue that even though we're still clearly nothing better than a lower midcard team at least the enjoyment factor is back for the first time since the weeks leading up to 186. Unlike most of 2012 and 2013 we go into games legitimately thinking we're a chance rather than relying on the idea of a remarkable upset or another team committing suicide in epic fashion to give us a chance to win - which we would no doubt spurn anyway. There is actually a reason for normal people who aren't rusted on freaks to start watching again, and that's good for everyone.

A few people have become nervous after Monday, but it was the equivalent of cutting yourself to make sure you're still alive. Our score was horrible but for all the vitriol being flung at Roos by the "we want entertainment" types it's not like we weren't trying to go forward we just weren't very good at it. That will come, so I've been told...

I can't deny the fact that we're the lowest scoring team in the league scares me a bit. I know our points against has had larger cutbacks than the federal budget, and I know that he started with the back line in Sydney, defence wins premierships etc... but I'm still worried about the prospect of losing games we should win because we only kick seven goals. We showed against Port that we've got it in us to get decent scores against good sides, so therefore we should be able to do the same against rubbish ones but it's hardly a given.

Still, there's nothing more than pride and building for the future to play for from here. Had we won two of the close games (take your pick) we'd be right in the mix to fall into 8th and lose an elimination final by 10 goals - but that's not important now. It's about making sure the players we want to keep are all over the gameplan, getting more games into 'the kids', convincing certain people to sign on the dotted line and snagging a few more cheap wins towards the end of the year so we can go into 2015 with actual confidence rather than the pumped up, fraudulent swagger that we've put on at the start of the last few seasons.

And so, being boring and returning to the format from previous years have at it comrades. Your views will vary.

Buy, hold, sell


Buy

Rohan Bail - One of the many I was trying to railroad out the door early in the season, but has proven himself to be a worthwhile soldier in the last few weeks. He's never going to win the Brownlow but every premiership side has got role-players who make you think "how did he get there?" when you look back later. Not suggesting he's going to become a premiership player any time soon (not with us at least) but he would fit the mould. The issue we've got at the moment is to not have half of a side of these players.

Lynden Dunn - Not quite the undisputed #1 success story of the season considering he finished 6th in last year's Best and Fairest (which is admittedly like finishing sixth at the Redcliffe trots on a Wednesday night) but he has continued to be a revelation in the backline. If you look hard enough you'll find me writing him off (in fact don't even bother looking, it's in last year's mid-season review) but in my defence at this point last year I was in a foul mood and trying to sack almost everyone.

Max Gawn - Only has to wait another couple of years for Jamar to fall over and his stock will go through the roof. You only have to look at the tap to Bernie Vince in the Richmond game to know that he's the future. At some point in the near future he's going to get the chance to be first ruck regularly and it will be glorious.

Alex Georgiou - Is clearly not going to play 200 games, but proved himself competent in defence over the first few weeks when we were still absolutely no good so he should earn a permanent upgrade to the senior list soon and have a decent career as a third or fourth string defender. Long term investment.

Jeremy Howe - I suppose there's always the chance that he's going to end up in Brad Miller style "neither here nor there" hell, shuffled between the forward line and back line so much that he never looks truly comfortable in either but I think he's shown enough forward in the last couple of years to ensure that even if it all goes tits up in defence he's got a long career ahead of him. Fun fact - Jeremy is renowned for his high marking.

Neville Jetta - Like Bail I was lobbying for them to deactivate his AAMI Park access card and put his belongings in a box outside the front door a few weeks ago, but he's stuck it right up me with his performances over the last few weeks. It helps when you play as if your football life depends on it, but he might finally have found his place.

Nathan Jones - Blue chip stock, buy it until you go broke. I had some fear that he was going to be crowded out a bit by having decent midfielders put around him this year but has continued to risk back injury on a weekly basis carrying the side. Luckily it doesn't weigh as much as it did last year. Contract ends after 2015 so look forward to all sorts of "will he/won't he" bullshit next year.

Jay Kennedy-Harris - Solid first half a season even if he's been sub for almost 50% of it, but the Adelaide game showed exactly what he'll be capable of next year when some other kid will be forced to don the green vest and ride an exercise bike for three quarters. Buy low, sell high.

Cameron Pedersen - I would like the record to show that in last year's mid-season review I told you to hold on him, which might have been the greatest vote of confidence he got in all of last year considering somebody (Craig? Roos? Neeld via fax? Other?) basically told him he was shithouse at the end of 2013. Has been an absolute revelation this season after we freed him from the grim, no glory duty of trying to prop up our forward line in Round 1.

Christian Salem - Got lost in the crowd on Monday, and still clearly can't play four quarters but has shown plenty so far when he does get the ball. We've seen too much thwarted promise to get over excited just yet but I humbly suggest that by this time next year he'll be a worthy addition to any portfolio.

Dom Tyson - For want of a better term he's been 'exposed' by taggers twice so far this year, but on balance has been absolutely fantastic for somebody of such limited experience. We will get many, many more years enjoyment out of him and isn't it nice to know that we have more than one person worth tagging again? If you bought in on him before the season started then you're looking at a handy return over the long run.

Bernie Vince - While I feel like he's got plenty more to offer that we haven't seen yet the idea that we could have held on to Sylvia for another year and waited patiently for his one or two great games a year instead almost makes me ill. What we need now is consistency. Some Sylvia flash once in a while would be nice, but I'd rather have 11 games of solid Bernard than 10 of average Colin with one great one thrown in.

Jack Viney - His kicking occasionally worries me, but there's plenty of time to get that right. Even then wouldn't you trade some disposal efficiency for a player who attacks every ball like it owes him money? Last year we had players jumping away from the ball as if it were a loose grenade, so I'll take Jack any day of the week.

Paul Roos - He stands accused of destroying football this week by the exact same people who complain about congestion, but there was no congestion so who knows what these people actually want? No matter what crimes he's being put on trial for there's no doubt that he's at least brought confidence back to a group of players who spent most of last year looking as if they were being forced to play footy at gunpoint.

The Administration - Yankee Fiasco aside they're doing a great job of first delivering Roos then getting us back on reasonable financial footing. I will forgive loose talk about Collins Street for the greater good.

Hold

Dom Barry - On the verge of dumping my holdings in him just in the hope that it will spark a revival. Was always a long term prospect and has kicked a few goals in the VFL but has he ever even remotely pressed for selection? There's still time for him to turn up and run around kicking goals out of his arse like 2012 Sam Blease.

Mitch Clisby - Upgraded to the senior list, emergency for the Bulldogs game after a string of decent performances for Casey, now injured for two weeks. Showed a bit late last year and will undoubtedly get another go later this year.

Daniel Cross - Has been absolutely fantastic so far this year and must go on next year but obviously if we're going to continue with the stock market angle you would think that this year will be the peak of his powers for us and then it's all downhill from there. May he do a Dustin Fletcher and play on until he's 43.

Chris Dawes - Always gives 100%, and you can be absolutely certain that he's emotionally invested in the cause up to his neck but I need more games like that one against Hawthorn last year or Adelaide this year where he totally ran riot.

Jack Fitzpatrick - Had a purple patch of form at just the right time last year and won himself a contract extension but has since gone on to do stuff all. Has all the time in the world (or more precisely until the end of 2015) to come back and make an impact, but the resurgence of Pedersen has at least temporarily stuffed him up. I still think the Stefan Martin Experience would have done what he does better, but it's a perfect time to say that as he's played his first good game with Brisbane.

James Frawley - Has been up and down as a forward, but has done much better than I first expected. However I refuse to invest a dollar given that we're still no closer to finding out whether he's staying or not. You may wish to bet on him leaving and sell now instead of finding your stock worthless at the end of the season.

Colin Garland - Has been alright since he came back, but hasn't shown anything special yet. Maybe that's a good sign - last year we were losing by 80 and I was raving about how well the defence stood up now they're a bit more anonymous.

Jack Grimes - Played a couple of good games but so far his peak was in 2012 and he's just been a solid citizen ever since. At the moment I'd just be happy for him to get through the season without a serious injury.

James Harmes - Haven't seen enough (anything) of him yet to make comment but we've got a habit of chucking rookies after one year so watch your back kid.

Jesse Hogan - Like a stock that you get a tip on via email from an account registered in the Cayman Islands there's probably money to be made here if you've got brass balls. I, on the other hand, am as conservative as the day is long and refuse to believe he's ever going to play until he plays a match for premiership points.

Jayden Hunt - See Harmes, James but without the potential axe hanging over him due to being on the senior list. Also suffering from a 4-6 week injury, which usually means he won't be seen again for two seasons.

Mark Jamar - Seemed back to his 2010 form a few weeks ago but the clock is ticking. He can definitely help out over the next couple of years but as I said above in relation to Gawn I feel like we've got to start the transition soon. Maximum should be ready to be the starting ruck for Round 1 next year, and if that means MJ plays as a forward for a while then that's fine.

Matt Jones - Solid but unspectacular. Not sure we shouldn't start looking elsewhere but I'm not going to form a picket line if we keep selecting him. Having said that he's got a contract extension to 2016 so he's probably not going anywhere.

Dean Kent - From a rocky start where I was about to form a picket line if they kept selecting him I got into Kent by the end of last year and enjoyed his two matches this season before injured. He's no solid gold certainty for the future but he could be the answer in the short term to the fact that our forward line is full of enormous, lumbering men who can't crumb for shit.

Max King - Looked reasonable in the NAB Cup considering he was so green but is a million miles or one massive injury crisis away from the seniors. Vulnerable as a rookie, and currently injured, but will probably get another six years to prove himself under the Mark Jamar 2003-2010 rule.

Tom McDonald - Is usually a magnificent one-on-one defender, but I feared for the former Demonbracket Grand Champion when he was getting murdered by that bloke from the Gold Coast .To an extent I lay the issues that everyone slags him off about at the feet of the coaches - why would you keep using him to switch when you know he's prone to novelty kicking? Having said all this I'd very much like for him to re-sign and have a massive crack at a second Demonbracket title in 2015.

Jordie McKenzie - I really do love Jordie, and he's doing plenty in the VFL but can't get a game in the seniors. What's it all mean? Cross seems to have snagged the tagger's job for now but he's not going to be there forever (unless he follows my suggestion and plays to 43) so there's plenty of time for him to get back in the side and stay there. Bring back that glorious day when he had two kicks and 26 handballs.

Viv Michie - Didn't do a great deal in the games he played, and has been up and down in the VFL since returning from a broken jaw but has plenty of time in front of him. It's a sign of the improvement we've made that we didn't just persist with him at the start of the year because we felt like we had to.

Aiden Riley - Looked good in his first game and will get more opportunities. With Cross on the scene he's probably fighting for a spot with McKenzie.

Jake Spencer - Certainly worth keeping around as a backup, though I'm not entirely sure the two year contract extension was entirely necessary when one would probably have done for now. As much as I enjoy his cameos because of the way he chases people around like an angry giraffe it's also clear that when Jamar and Gawn (not to mention Pedo) came in the quality of our ruckwork increased significantly.

Dean Terlich - Rated as a 'buy' at this time last year I still feel like he's holding a spot waiting for somebody better to come along and take it but is a solid enough option in the meantime.

Jimmy Toumpas - No idea what's going on here. Plays two decent games in the seniors, goes back to the VFL and puts in a stinker. Still plenty of time to achieve potential but not yet the straight out slam dunk selection that we all assumed he would be.

Jack Trengove - The captaincy fiasco didn't help but he had been treading water for two years before injured. In that first NAB Cup game he seemed to be back to his best but the moment the real stuff started he looked like he was running around in quicksand again. Here's hoping that whatever work he's having done now gets him back on track for next year.

Jack Watts - The most volatile stock on offer, investing in Jack is like investing in Bitcoin - your money could go anywhere. He seems to spend his whole life on double secret probation, but I've made it my mission to stop judging him so harshly and just sit back and enjoy the good times when they come even if they're not as often as one might like. Give us 200 games, show up at past players functions and charm the ladies and we'll enjoy a few good moments.

Sell


Sam Blease - It's the age old story, just when I declare somebody to be my favourite player their career hits the skids in epic fashion. Now seemingly being groomed as a running defender for some reason when we're crying out for a quick forward who can kick goals on the run. I've still got faith in him

Shannon Byrnes - Out of contract and out of luck with an ill-timed injury. He must be kicking himself watching Pedo dig himself out a hole with an industrial strength excavator while he sits on the sidelines waiting for the axe to fall. Thanks for your time, but I dare say if we had a long list of rookies crying out for a game he might be invited to fall on his sword.

Mitch Clark - An adventurous investor would ride out this hitting $0.00 and hope for a surprise comeback next year. I am in no way an adventurous investor - your highly priced stocks in Dreamboat Mitch are unfortunately now just so much paper being swept from the exchange floor.

Michael Evans - Has one more year of his contract to bring back the feelgood factor of that day against GWS where he was an integral part of the great 12 goal final quarter. Has just been used as a tagger in the VFL which is never a good sign - especially with Cross a dead certainty to go again next year.

Daniel Nicholson - His contract status is some sort of national secret, but even allowing for all the excesses of the Neeld era I refuse to believe that this isn't his last year. Had a brief run where he looked like he was going to be a success but was no good last year and hasn't gone near it this season yet.

James Strauss - Definitely out of contract this year and unseen since a couple of token appearances at the last of season. In more trouble than the early settlers.

Luke Tapscott - Remember this guy? More importantly remember his first few games when he was playing off the half-back line? That's as good as it's got so far unfortunately. Marooned at the other end of the ground for most of last year he never hit any great heights as a forward yet they still seem to be trying to develop him as one in the VFL. Would love to see him in the backline again. Out of contract and personally I'd give him another chance, but could be in trouble.

Maia Westrupp - Footy's equivalent to a penny stock. Low risk, not much chance of making a huge profit. I maintain that in the one training session I went to in my life approximately one year ago that he actually looked like a natural in the drills, and I presume he gets at least one more year at Casey because he's not on the list but don't hold your breath on this front.

Tarot Card Corner


I'm reasonably happy with my pre-season ladder. Other than falling into the same trap as everyone else and deciding that Port would be no better than average (10th), Richmond would make the finals (7th) and Carlton would contend (9th) there aren't nearly as many clangers as last year. There's still plenty of time for Gold Coast to fall to 13th as predicted. As usual the contenders are bracketed to make clear that they could end up anywhere in that band by the end of the year.

Here's the updated version. Pre-season prediction in brackets. The major difference is wide extensions to the brackets at the top and bottom of the competition which indicate how even the race for the top and the 'race' for the bottom are.

1 - Sydney (3)
2 - Hawthorn (1)
3 - Collingwood (5)
4 - Port Adelaide (10)
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5 - Fremantle (2)
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6 - North Melbourne (4)
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7 - Essendon (8)
8 - Geelong (6)
9 - Gold Coast (13)
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10 - Adelaide (10)
11 - Carlton (9)
12 - West Coast (12)
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13 - Richmond (7)
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14 - Footscray (14)
15 - Melbourne (16)
16 - Brisbane (15)
17 - Greater Western Sydney (17)
18 - St Kilda (18)

Next Year
The question of who's going to come on board at Roos' right hand man and eventual successor is more likely to cause fights at a dinner party than abortion, religion and climate change combined so I put myself firmly in the firing line by saying I'm interested in Michael Voss. Old enough to have done it with moderate enough success but young enough to learn from his debacles and go on to have a lengthy spell. There's been a lot of talk about Cameron Ling but his connection to Brian Taylor and Luke Darcy makes me uncomfortable.

As for the list I've got three off going plus Clark with Jetta to be promoted. So that leaves us with a net loss of three on the senior list - four if Frawley goes - without having to push the shaky ground players off the cliff.

SAFE
Chris Dawes, Lynden Dunn, Colin Garland, Max Gawn, Alex Georgiou, Jack Grimes, Jeremy Howe, Jesse Hogan, Mark Jamar, Matt Jones, Nathan Jones, Jay Kennedy-Harris, Dean Kent, Viv Michie, Cameron Pedersen, Christian Salem, Jake Spencer, Jimmy Toumpas, Jack Trengove, Dom Tyson, Bernie Vince, Jack Viney, Jack Watts

SAFE IF INTERESTED
Rohan Bail, Daniel Cross, James Frawley, Neville Jetta, Tom McDonald, Dean Terlich

SAFE DUE TO CONTRACT STATUS
Michael Evans, Jayden Hunt, Jack Fitzpatrick

PROBABLY SAFE
Dom Barry, Mitch Clisby, James Harmes, Max King, Jordie McKenzie, Aiden Riley

SHAKY GROUND
Sam Blease, Luke Tapscott

AS GOOD AS GONE
Shannon Byrnes, Daniel Nicholson, James Strauss

ACTUALLY GONE
Mitch Clark

Final thoughts
Things are moving in the right direction, but you only need to ask a Richmond fan to step off the tracks and out of the way of the 5.32 to Epping for them to explain that the tide can turn in an instant. Enjoy the ride but remain vigilant at all times.

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