Monday 9 June 2014

Damn Yankees

Once upon a time I used to get narky when Collingwood fans would mock us with the suggestion that Queen's Birthday was "our Grand Final", but for want of any meaningful success or other high-drawing games over the last few years we might as well admit that it is.

Today especially had all the elements, the hint of a large crowd (and in the end more people there were more people in the ground today who cared about the game than an actual Grand Final), wall-to-wall media coverage of our players and an air of "anything could happen" hope. Most importantly you could tell it was a Grand Final because Melbourne put in a shithouse performance.

It's also a key sign that we're involved in a big game when the President or another key administrator does an interview, gets high on the idea of boosting the crowd and is rolled into making some outrageous statement about how big this club 'could' be. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. The poor bastard probably had a 45 minute interview, made the rookie mistake of throwing in one off-hand comment about how he wants us to be Victoria's version the New York Yankees and suddenly that's the only thing anybody takes from it. But more on that later.

The first step on every Queen's Birthday Monday, before hope briefly flourishes and is then extinguished, is to make sure that Her Majesty hasn't 'gone in the night' and that we're not actually playing King's Birthday again for the first time since 1951. It's not her birthday anyway, but it does seem rude to be celebrating a public holiday (no matter how cheap) in the name of somebody who passed away just hours before. With due respect to our head of state she's not a young lady, and once she goes there will be three men in line. From there it would take a King Ralph (this guy, not Jon) style tragedy to put a woman back in the top job. Here at Demonblog we're backing the royal family's answer to Maia Westrupp the #52 in line Zenouska Mowatt.

The point (eventually) being that if by the time we get to Monday 8 June 2015 her majesty has pulled the pin (voluntarily or otherwise) then the last Queen's Birthday match you will ever see in your life involved us kicking 3.10.28. What a fitting tribute to her lengthy reign. While I foolishly had my hopes up that we could extend the Pies (who let's not forget had won seven in a row) I certainly didn't see that final scoreline coming, especially 22 seconds in after Nathan Jones kicked what I suspect is the quickest first quarter goal I've ever seen by a Melbourne player. From there we kicked the ball through the big sticks three more times all day, one of them didn't count and somehow I find myself abjectly disappointed by a final margin I'd have gleefully taken before the day began.

The difference between this year and Queen's Birthday matches 2008-2013 was that there was at least a slight element of fear amongst opposition fans. It didn't seem realistic that we'd win but at least unlike last year (where we scored 39) when Neeld was 99% along the plank with sharks circling underneath and the only question was how much we'd get beaten by there was at least an outside chance of a boilover.

I first smelt the fear when heckled by a Pies fan while walking to the ground. In the genteel surroundings of Kew Junction a flag-carrying black and white nutbag spotted me from across the road and yelled something indecipherable with a look of hate in his eyes. My first instinct was to yell back a stream of obscenities and tell him to put the bloody flag away because he's a grown man not an eight-year-old but what's the point? It's like going to a rally of racists (where you'll probably find several Pies fans) and trying to reason with them. Let the lower rungs of society (whoever they support) do whatever gets them through the day - I also walked past 10,000 other Collingwood fans today who didn't act like filth so I'm not trying to perpetuate hackneyed stereotypes here.

Nutbags aside now that they've won Pies fans will deny they were worried, remind us that they've won a flag recently and crack some rib-tickler about snow season but there's no doubt it was there and after that first goal it was bubbling up. When Vince hoofed the ball out of the middle at the start and Jones kicked the goal there was a collective intake of breath amongst the opposition because at that point - 0.22 of Q1 - we looked right up for it. And that we were, even when they dominated the next few minutes after the goal our pressure was good and the defence was holding up nicely even if we started kicking like we had peg legs.

There's no point denying it, with memories of Travis treating Jared Rivers with contempt a couple of years ago still fresh in the mind I was shitting myself when Dunn went on him, but even allowing for the fact that Cloke isn't half the player he was then Dunn has improved about 20 times over and absolutely thrashed him today. One-on-one was a worry but even then Dunn beat him a few times in what was (spoiler) a best on ground performance. He had 20 kicks and 87.5% efficiency and had the most rebound for us 50's in a game since 2011. You never know when it's going to go backwards (see Nathan Carroll 2006) but he's on a career best hot-streak considering he looked all but gone a couple of years ago when he was being used as the sub every week.

While Dunn has been great this year and could very well be in the All-Australian side if he's lucky the Neville Jetta story is probably even more impressive. At least Dunn started to pick up in the second half of last year so there was some hint of what was to come, Jetta had some idiots calling for him to be chopped once and for all after his first game this season and he's bounced back in the best form of his career - including flogging the bejesus out of Jamie Elliott and taking nine marks today. Like everyone else in the Melbourne backline it could go wrong for him at any moment but I'm thrilled to see him bounce back from being delisted to successfully reboot his career by playing fearless, tough football. What about the bit where he kicked straight into the man on the mark then backed it up by storming the bloke and taking him down with a crunching balls and all tackle? Here's to more of that.

So the defence wasn't bad, and despite Tyson getting his first taste of the great Demon Media Curse by being tagged to death the midfield wasn't doing too badly considering what they were up against. Daniel Cross was certainly doing his bit for recruit of the year status by condemning Beams to the same sort of tagging hell as Tyson and effectively keeping him out of the game until the last quarter. With Nathan Jones chugging along doing what he does, Vince playing a good game on Pendlebury and Viney trying his guts out at every contest (even if his disposal was shonky) the midfield were doing well to. That just left the crucial element of scoring enough to win the game, which is where everything began to go horribly wrong.

Even with Frawley, Dawes, Gawn and Pederson working their arse off up and down the ground our attack has rarely looked any more impotent than it did today - and that counts games where we've lost by more than 100 points. The issue was that while the four talls were fine in getting the ball on the half-forward flank they couldn't repeat the trick when they got near the goal and so our decent goal-scoring opportunities were ridiculously few and far between. Whether it was them or the delivery is debatable, but while it's patently obvious that you're never going to win games scoring 28 points I'd suggest you're not going to have too much luck if all your marks inside 50 are taken on the boundary line either.

Eventually it was like everybody stopped expecting us to take a mark inside 50 so they didn't bother trying to kick it in quickly, then eventually even the forwards didn't start running and we slowed to quicksand pace, doing a round 1 and kicking sideways or backwards to try and get something happening. Collingwood weren't having any of that but weren't playing well enough to put us to the sword so the game just plodded along as a stalemate most of the time.

There's no doubt the forwards were trying but they just never looked likely. At half-time Pedo and Frawley were both on world record pace for marks but one took two or three between them in the whole second half. Dawes tried hard without much success, but even with absolutely no hope of crumb in that forward line we stuck with them until the Kennedy-Harris cockup in the last seconds of the third quarter. It was undeserved considering we never looked like kicking a decent score after the first minute, but I think I speak for all the MFC faithful when I say if we'd somehow managed to win the Slurry Cup we'd have been celebrating like it was the greatest game of all. Amongst all this impotence Bernie Vince did perform a piece of classic crumb, but considering there was only a handful of stoppages in front of our goal quick snaps out of the pack were never going to be the route to success.

As pleased as I am that the defensive effort kept Collingwood since 2010 I can't help but get depressed about the forward situation. Assuming the best case scenario with Jesse Hogan is a few token games at the end of the season what have we got in reserve that can boost our chances of kicking a decent score? The best I can do is Kent or Blease so it might be time to give JFK a rest and try one of them instead - and not as the bloody sub either. They're hardly options worth opening the wine cellar for but today clearly showed that we need to get smaller, quicker players who can kick goals near our forward line instead of stacking it with giants.

Unfortunately up and down the ground some of the old habits started to creep in. After my years of complaining about players not shepherding it was pleasing to see On The Couch highlight two times when Terlich got left high and dry by his teammates not blocking for him in defence. We're a lot better at doing this than we were the last couple of years but if there's anywhere that you should be trying to lay a bump to give your teammates more time it's in defence - and especially when you've got several players who are prone to comedy kicking mishaps.

The good news was that the Pies were equally as shit. Perhaps we dragged them a little too far down to our level and it would have left us all with a nicer taste in the mouth if both sides had kicked five more goals for the day, but there was no doubt that they were rattled for great swathes of the first three quarters. The number of times they got fantastically lucky with a horrible panicked kick or handball was obscene. That's the sort of stuff that usually goes horribly wrong for us but today seemed to either wind up in their favour or at worst breaking even. To quote noted American special comments man Kurtis Blow - these are the breaks. Would anything have helped us kick a winning score today? I doubt it.

Despite going to half-time on two goals there was still an air of optimism based on the fact that they'd only scored three. Even though I'm willing to concede that by the end the game had become total shite (despite a severe lack of stoppages, so stick that up your arse people who blame congestion for everything) I thought the first half was actually fascinating to watch. As I've said before don't goals mean so much more when there's not many of them being kicked?

Maybe it's just because I was invested in the game and would probably have switched over to The Simpsons if I was watching at home but for a five goal half it was actually fun to watch. The second half, on the other hand, was tripe and without Frawley and Pedo marking everything that came near them our attack was even uglier than it had been in the first half - and my god people reading this in the future it was VERY ugly. Yet we were still in it, and had the Jetta/Vince/umpire handball/goal/no goal/get fucked incident not occurred we'd have been within four points late in the term with everything to play for. I refuse to believe we would have overhauled them but at least it would have made things interesting.

Having not seen any replays, and I seriously doubt I'm going to bother, it seems that the ball was either called back because a) he was off his mark or b) the umpire hadn't seen the handball and thought Vince was just swooping on a loose ball and kicking a goal. If the answer is a) then I think I can handle it (even if Pendlebury did exactly the same thing down the other end 30 seconds later and nobody cared) but if it turns out to be b) I'm going to join Carlton fans in storming AFL HQ tomorrow morning and burning Wayne Campbell's office down. For the self-professed greatest game on earth we do seem to spend a lot of time concentrating on bizarre umpiring interpretations and stuff ups.

It would have been an ever better body-blow had the repeat effort worked when Jetta handballed to Dunn for his flying ping. Surely letting us do exactly the same play twice in a row would have thrown the cat amongst the pigeons at Collingwood and caused them to collapse in a heap. Perhaps not, but it would have been much better than the alternative which was them having one shot on goal for a behind then achieving the fabled seven point play by capitalising on Kennedy-Harris' botched marking attempt to get a goal with 30 seconds left. Which was an ironic considering I'd sat there for 20 minutes whinging about them not bringing him on when we needed a zippier forward, then the moment he shows up he costs us a goal. According to Roos he wasn't even supposed to be at that end of the ground, which really just makes it worse.

We were still in it at three-quarter time but it would have taken a massive implosion from Collingwood at that point to give us a chance. Who'd have thought the last goal we'd see would be the disallowed Vince one? Well, given that we'd only kicked three all day it wasn't the strangest idea ever floated. Once they kicked the first goal of the last quarter it was over, and we ran out the next 25 minutes with listless, excitement free, safety first football with a few missed shots on goal thrown in to torment those of us who stayed. There were not many people who could claim it as their finest hour and I wish to never speak of it again after tonight.

Stat My Bitch Up
One for the nerds (e.g me) today. It was our equal fifth lowest score since 1980, which is wonderful, and the equal lowest I've seen in person alongside North fisting us at Docklands last year. Also the lowest number of free kicks we've received in a game since records have been kept and the second least given to a team in any game (behind Fremantle/Footscray last week) since 2004. No surprise really considering the ball spent most of the game dinking from one side to the other or going backwards but the umpires have clearly decided that the less frees they call every week the less shit they'll cop for getting something wrong. Ask a Carlton fan how that's going if you can stop them from throwing a cinder block through Wayne's window long enough.

More importantly on a stat front it's horrible news for those of you on #2013watch who are hoping that we might not end up with an even lower average points-per-game this year than last. A few good weeks in a row before this gave us some hope of avoiding record breaking forward line futility for a second consecutive year, but today's fiasco has dropped us back to 61.09ppg. This still leaves us behind the Neeld/Craig figure of 66.13ppg. Thank god our defence is about 76 times better, but bloody hell could we just kick 20 goals against one side at some point to pad the figures? If we play like today again we'll be lucky to kick 20 goals in a month, and whisper it quietly last place is very much still on the cards if we don't pull our finger out soon.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Lynden Dunn
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Neville Jetta
2 - Bernie Vince
1 - Nathan Jones

Apologies to Pedersen who might have snuck in for the last vote and all of Frawley, Bail, Gawn, Dawes, Howe and McDonald who had a dip but didn't deserve votes.

Tyson's trip tagging hell causes him to fall back, with Dunn now suddenly a solid contender to be the first defender ever to win the award. He's also just weeks away from confirming victory in the Seecamp, with Nifty Neville Jetta of all people now the nearest challenger a full 18 votes behind.

32 - Nathan Jones
24 - Dom Tyson
22 - Lynden Dunn (Leader: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
16 - Daniel Cross
9 - Cameron Pedersen, Jack Viney
8 - Chris Dawes, James Frawley
7 - Bernie Vince
5 - Jeremy Howe, Jack Watts
4 - Neville Jetta
3 - Matt Jones, Tom McDonald, Dean Terlich
2 - Rohan Bail, Jay Kennedy-Harris (Leader: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
1 - Jack Grimes, Mark Jamar (Co-Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jake Spencer (Co-Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
In the worst field ever congratulations to Nathan Jones. You know the one. To go along with his three Jakovich medals and two Paul Prymke plate wins Jones receives a tour of Ballarat's Kryal Kastle conducted by locals Darren Jolly, Stewart Gull and Anthony McDonald. Apologies to Bernard Vince for his crumbing effort (and the one he got rorted out of) which warmed the hearts of crumb lovers everywhere.

In keeping with the 'our grand final' theme the banner was a smashing success this week, with top points for the innovative inclusion of cartoon superhero characters. Our banners continue to innovate while others just roll out the same slop that they've been dishing out for the last 10 years so at least that's one aspect of football that we're better than anyone else at.

The Pies banner wasn't a complete washout, which is nice considering that the people who pay $750 to be in the cheersquad (pardon?) don't even get to make it, but minus points for rhyming "band" and "stand", going for the US "onto" instead of the English "on to" and having a punce curtain (only about 1/3 the size of the Carlton one though) for the players to run through. It's an outright poleaxing to the Dees this time. 11-0 for the season and looking unbeatable.

Crowd Watch
In the end we fell short of the 80,000 the club was angling for, but the end result was pretty good considering that when in the depths of despair last year we struggled to 50k. I can hardly point figures at people for not showing up last year considering I was interstate at the time, but it seemed like a decent turnout for our fans. Considering the reputation we've got for being bandwagon scum I'm pleased to report that there were far more Pies fans there in Reject Shop scarves in beanies that say COLLINGWOOD or MELBOURNE instead of the officially licensed ones that say MAGPIES or DEMONS and actually support your club instead of the $2 Shop.

The 'entertainment' (off-field variety) was also infinitely better than it had been two years ago. Not that it would be hard, obviously the Scotch College Marching Band were already booked to play at a yachting regatta so they weren't able to repeat their 'well received' turn in 2012. I'm all for embracing the stereotype of being filthy rich but that was worse than the bugler and the 2011 flag raising gimmick combined.

Sadly what could have been an outrageous, legitimately entertaining success with the first annual AHG Mascot Race fell short due to the unfortunate conditions in which it was contested. It's a proven statistical fact that you can't beat a mascot race and if you need any convincing get on YouTube, type "Mascot Grand National" in spend the next hour looking at people in silly costumes crashing into each other on an English racecourse.

Unfortunately this was one was clearly not sanctioned by the International Mascot Racing Association, as the Stawell Gift style handicapping system was a bit of a farce in a race that only went for about 50 metres. I might be a mascot racing purist, but I'd like to see them do at least 200m with some obstacles involved. Even the most strident anti-jumps racing campaigner couldn't argue against the Cancer Council penguin and the Nando's chicken being forced over some small hurdles. It's not like the penguin is going to get shot if the person in it breaks a leg. In the end a camel won courtesy of the most ridiculous unpenalised false start since Seinfeld vs Meyer 1994 and was then set upon by other mascots in the traditional manner.

Meanwhile it was good to see that 'the kids' were totally excluded from half-time this week, replaced by that ridiculous Mars Kick to Kick competition (the 'winners' were again all in the first 50 ticket numbers, proving that the whole thing is a swizz), an AFL 9's game featuring adults and some other match featuring middle aged people trying not to have a heart attack on the other side of the ground. Why bother giving the kids an experience of a lifetime when you can make a few bucks and promote 9s by having a game go on without anybody paying the slightest interest?

In the stands it was a delightful afternoon as usual in Row MM, alongside mystery pipes and with bird shit on every seat. The downside to the large (for us) attendance was crowd sprawl meaning it was the first time I've ever sat there and had anybody I didn't know within five rows. Sadly for fans of crowd disorder those at the back were generally well-behaved and there wasn't any potential action other than the woman sitting in front of us taking a few seconds out from doing duckface selfies with her equally ugly partner to turn around mockingly when the Pies started smacking us in the last quarter. As with the nutbag in Kew Junction I was too diplomatic/cowardly to engage.

Sounds like if I'd really wanted to go on an anthropological survey of the flotsam and jetsam of the community it might have been better to sit with the cheersquad and join the melee with a scumbag Pies fan. I'd love an insight into the thought process that goes towards starting a punch-up in celebration at unconvincingly beating Melbourne when even the kings of flat-track bullying West Coast have tonked in more spectacular fashion this year. It's not like the Pies are going to shoot to premiership favouritism on the back of that performance so perhaps just take the win and piss off back to the Gatwick Hotel. No doubt these people show up and make a fool of themselves every week. Do the ground and the authorities give a rats? Probably not.

The West Wing
Other than last year when we were at rock bottom and nobody could be fooled otherwise has there been a recent Queen's Birthday where one of our administrators hasn't come out trying to position us as the next big thing in football? This year it was President Bartlett's chance, wisely waiting until our first game of the year in front of a reasonable crowd to make the rookie mistake of assuming we've got an automatic right to icon status just because we're called Melbourne. Strangely enough nobody ever seems to want to have wide ranging interviews about the future of the Demons and how we're the city's team when we've just played Gold Coast in front of 17,000 people.

It's hard to get too upset about the article because he probably said hundreds of sensible things then got stitched up because of the Yankees line. It's a noble aim to think that one day people will come to Melbourne to see us play, but that sort of view is hardly compatible with a club that is (rightfully I may add given our current situation) selling two of our MCG games interstate every year. We're more a Houston Astros sort of organisation at the moment - with player salaries four times less than the league leaders, not a jot won since 1965 and a recent record for being utter shite.

I would agree with his comments that the logo is too busy but I'm not as violently opposed to it as some. Those figures from the members survey that were leaked online showed that he's not lying about a majority of people favouring it, but what wasn't mentioned is that you only got one choice out of four or five and that the preferential system wasn't in effect. The thread on Demonland which had the actual figures has been neutered to remove them (conspiracy!) but I'm sure the current one it didn't even crack 50%. If you asked people "should we have a new logo? Y/N" I bet it'd actually lose, but it's hardly the most important issue at the moment.

Other than that I'm reasonably happy with everything said other than the suggestion that "passionate people" are telling him we have to include the word 'Melbourne' in the song. There will be murder if they try that. As an exercise go through the song and see how you could possibly manage it without butchering the thing. You can't. You could replace the "Whatta we sing?" bit with "Mel-bourne!" but that's not even officially in the song and would sound horrible. You only have to listen to the new version Adelaide song to know how easy it is to turn a great tune into a shocker.

Anyway best of luck to him, he's not the first to be rolled into suggesting that our name alone should be the catalyst for great things in the last 20 years and he won't be the last. This administration has done good-work so far and I know he's got the club's interests at heart but surely what he would have actually said if it wasn't so politically unsound would be "We're hoping North relocate to Tasmania and St Kilda merge with Footscray so we can live a comfortable middle class existence for the next hundred years."

Next Week
It's the Jobe-less Bombers in the Sunday afternoon graveyard shift. The start time combined with it being an away game and the perception that we're going to kick three goals again (as we very well might) should ensure that there's about 2000 of our fans present.

I'd say we'll give it a fair shake but even though they've been shite for the last few weeks they'll eventually have enough in the tank to beat us. As for changes I desperately need to see Toumpas play a full game. Salem couldn't get near it today so as good as he's been in his brief career so far I'd be happy for him to go back to Casey and smack a few inferior players around before mounting a glorious comeback in the next few weeks. It's a week off for poor old Sam "What a shit trade" Edmund after both Salem and Tyson did stuff all, but we'll have the last laugh in the end.

As for Matt Jones he's played every game since his debut but I don't think we owe him a start any more. He does a few nice things every week but as much as I hate the idea of "he won't play in our next premiership side" (because no such thing exists) we're not playing for the finals so it's time to start giving some other players a go just to see if they're worth persisting with. Like the newly re-signed Spencil I think he'll eventually end up as a depth player so with nothing else to play for send him back to the 2's as a rev-up and give somebody else a bash at it.

IN: Toumpas, Riley, Kent
OUT: Salem, M. Jones, Kennedy-Harris (omit)
UNLUCKY: McKenzie just because I want to have another look at The Pornographer.

Was it worth it?
Not only was it possibly the last Queen's Birthday ever but it marked another year we've gotten away with Collingwood letting us have the gate receipts from a large crowd with no questions asked. Just for that it's always worth whatever level of humiliation we cop from the game. Considering our final score the level isn't too severe today, so let's take the money, burn the master tapes and get on with preparing for next week.

Final Thoughts
Looking at the queues of people slowly shuffling into Richmond Station - even on the less popular entrance over the eastern side of Punt Road - I realised I couldn't join them without having a nervous breakdown and decking somebody. A hatred of large crowds is perfectly compatible with being a Melbourne fan 15 times a year, this wasn't one of them. Even the idea of going four stations on the train with footy fans made me ill.

Instead I decided to recycle a move from the depression sessions of early 2013 when hope was being crushed with a vice-like force and walk home. Fresh air and the chance to listen to Mark Fine treat Chris from Camberwell with contempt then cut him off before his second long-winded and pointless topic, what more could anyone ask for?

It's more than likely that by the end of the season Demonblog Towers VIII (Hawthorn) will be replaced by Demonblog Towers IX (Viewbank) so I will miss the opportunity to get over disappointing results by wandering down Swan Street then through a darkened park with headphones in comfortable in the knowledge that I won't be robbed, stabbed or molested. Once I move to the new location walking's out and piling into Jolimont Station with 10,000 people is back in. How uncouth.

Then again maybe I'll make the full season here. The place was supposed to be finished in February and the last time I looked all it had was a kitchen bench and a bath so who knows when it'll be ready. I'll probably still be in this exact spot when Jesse Hogan is a 35-year-old, 1000 goal, four time premiership player with the Dockers. Everything in my life is currently under construction.

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