Sunday, 29 June 2014

Life education

As a Melbourne Football Club supporter you may have been experiencing certain 'feelings' this season. These may be unusual to you, especially if you're not old enough to remember back to the last time when we weren't the punch-line to every football joke.

Odd sensations may include brief stirrings of pride, moderate lashings of disgust (which you will note is a change from the almost weekly helpings of self-loathing of the last two years), occasional excitement and the feeling that for the first time in years you might keel over and die at any moment while watching your side play.

The last one is certainly not your mind playing tricks, for a team still on target to become the lowest scoring side in the history of 22 game seasons we've developed an astonishing habit for being involved in thrilling games.

In a few years all anybody will remember will be sending half the Adelaide Oval home early and the collective orgasm of the Essendon finish, but we've now lost five games by under 20 points - more than any season since 2002, and with plenty of time to overtake that year via another heartbreaking defeat. There's nothing I like better than a comparison between 2014 and the recent past to try and convince myself not to self-harm, and the stats show that we only had six in total across the last seasons - padded by two in the last three weeks of the Todd Viney post-186 era.

Unfortunately nearly getting there counts for precisely fuck all when they're compiling the ladder, but at least it's another example of how our lives as football supporters have improved significantly in recent times. We're still in football's third world, but are at least moving towards respectability. Unfortunately like any good third world country we've still got multiple ways to disgrace ourselves just when you thought things were starting to improve.

I'm angry that we mounted that great comeback only to throw it all away, but not even remotely as angry as I would have been if the comeback had never happened. I'm also loving the fact that everybody else is bleeding as well. Not just because it makes me feel better, but we've just had a loss against another flotsam/jetsam team which has sunk us within a game and percentage of the wooden spoon and the 'prized' #1 pick yet people are spewing vitriol at umpires and pointing fingers at individual players as if we've just lost a prelim rather than organising an open top bus down Swan Street to celebrate.

Watching St Kilda fans gleefully punt Brisbane home against North reminds me of 'us' in previous years, but while we're only one win and percentage clear of them security guards are being deployed to AAMI Park in case somebody throws a Molotov Cocktail through the window. Good. There's unrealistic fans who expect their club to make the finals no matter what, and those who are always poised at the edge of a window ready to jump out but the other 90% of us (and yes, I do consider myself to be removed from the two extremes as much as I may exhibit their traits sometimes) are entitled to demand higher standards and an end to four quarters of vaudeville football. You can't play Essendon every week and give up six goal leads safe in the knowledge that the opposition will probably spontaneously combust.

If nothing else at least today was the death of honourable losses to other also-ran teams. Last year people would have been upset at losing a game in those circumstances but also frantically trying to justify why it was at least better than the 13 shithouse performances which came before it. Now there's murder in the air and as furious as I am about losing I love that people want blood for the right reasons now, not just because we were hoping to lose by 40 instead of 80 and win the attempted tackles count.

The reality is that brief moments of lucidity where we slash from one end to the other in three or four kicks aside we're still a terrible team, and our role at the heart of the most competitive wooden spoon battle in years is well deserved. The positive thing is that you can at least take heart out of these defeats - it's starting to become clear that without a miracle we're not going to vault into the eight next year but when scientists at the MFC Institute solve the mystery of how to stop teams totally destroying us in the space of 15 minutes quality of life will improve even further.

If this game was played last year and we were that far behind there's no way we'd have got close let alone back in front. We'd have just banged through a few consolation goals in the last quarter, got the margin down to 30 and patted ourselves on the back for 'fighting' even though we were toilet for 75% of the game. The toilet ratio has been reduced to 50% of the game this year, but you're still not going to get any further than racking up a few novelty wins a year playing like that.

I'm thrilled at the way we recovered from 40 minutes of being complete garbage, but the issues are still there for everyone to see. In the last three weeks we've been second worst in the league at stoppages and worst for winning contested ball, so that's about as helpful as going six goals behind in the second quarter. Jamar and Gawn played the best ruck-duo game for all us year but were getting stuff all from our midfield, which for all our frottage over its improvement compared to last year is still actually not all that good compared to pretty much every other side in the league. Whisper it quietly but Tyson and Viney have been found out a bit in that time - but I've got every confidence that they will both bounce back to play many, MANY good games for us in the next decade.

There's not much to be said about Docklands but considering how rancid we were at winning clearances I can only think that the roof saved us from being totally wiped out in a trench warfare match. Not to mention keeping fresh legs for the inevitable massacre against Freo in Darwin next Saturday night. Meanwhile the next time you hear a commentator say something foolish like "at least the fans are warm in here" remember that he's probably not sat in the outer for 10 years. The place has got more holes than swiss cheese, and the wind blows right through it. By the first bounce I couldn't even feel my feet.

Another factor which cost us today was that unlike all our other wins this year the opposition actually took their chances in front of goal. The self-harm era is (temporarily) over. More than anything that's what eventually sank us, we'd done all the hard work from the end of the second quarter to three quarter time (excluding the bit in the third quarter where they looked like they were going to steamroll us again) to get back in the game but for once couldn't rely on the opposition leaving the door wide open with poxy kicking on goal. Ironically in the end the final blow didn't come from a set shot but from some bloke kicking one out of his arse in goal of the year fashion from the pocket, but of course even the most speculative of over the shoulder kicks would be on target today - that's just the way it was going.

We're developing a reasonable rivalry with the Dogs. We're both dirt poor teams mired at the bottom of the ladder, trying desperately to climb over the other one to get out of the slurry. To spice it up there's been a reasonable amount of agro the last few times we've played them too. If natural progression takes it course - and knowing us it probably won't - we should be battling them on the way up the ladder for the next few years. Looking back at last year now it seems odd that we beat them then when we were total junk but have lost twice this year during the brave new era. Apart from Watts and Fitz running riot up front how did we manage it?

I can't have been the only one looking back at that game, surely Nicholson was only picked because of the surprisingly good tagging job he did on Griffin that night. Forget that Griffin wasn't even playing and that it was the only game last year where he wasn't awful. What a mystifying selection. At least Barry, despite never having done anything spectacular in the VFL, was picked with an eye to the future before being left on the bench for three quarters. Nicho might be able to run fast, but he can take a leaf out of the footy players of the semi-pro era and take his talents to the Stawell Gift. The second half of 2012 will be as good as it gets for him because he's got nothing to offer a proper AFL team. What about the bit where he was streaming through the middle with a free man 20m in front inside 50 and instead panic bombed to a contest? I nearly broke my foot on the seat in front of me. Writing off players on this blog has led to several amazing career comebacks, so here's to another one.

That's not just to single out fringe players, after the first five minutes when Pedo kicked the goal and we got it forward a few more times for no reward - generally due to an absence of crumb - we were absolutely terrible all over the ground. Howe and Frawley were rock solid in defence, but we'd stop dead when we got the ball, eventually see it go out of bounds or end in a ball up and would get butchered in the clearance. And the less said about Bernie Vince's howler late in the first quarter the better. If that had been Tom McDonald every internet forum in the world (and not just the MFC ones) would have melted down.

Other than Vince's fiasco the low point of the massacre was the Rohan Bail deliberate. Now in a way I actually agree that it should have been paid, he got the ball and just took off towards the line like there was nothing else he wanted to do - but unless you're going to give that all the time then get stuffed. The 'he was under pressure' rule seems to save everyone else (other Dustin Martin who saved himself the run and just handballed it through from 20m out then complained when he got pinged), so he would have gotten away with it 9 times out of 10. The worst thing wasn't that goal but the fact that we copped two more for the rest of the afternoon because players were too shitscared to rush it through. Disappointingly the Bulldogs never even gave us the chance to get on our high-horse by rushing a behind in similar fashion, but that's as much our fault for never getting the ball down there or allowing them to rebound pressure-free with the greatest of ease.

We necked ourselves plenty of times too. There were at least two times in the first half when players had marks 50m out from goal and tried to be cute about what they were doing. As much as I loved Jamar's game up forward (and thank god they're finally doing it to give Gawn more time on the ball) when he marked on a semi-difficult angle (for a ruckman at least) in the first quarter why did he think kicking it 10m sideways to Rohan Bail was going to have any more benefit than just pinging it at the goal? As it was we got nothing. Terlich, thrown into the defensive forward role that killed Magner and almost put Dunn and Tapscott away, did the same in the second when he tried a pinpoint pass inside 50 when he had both Jamar and Gawn standing on the line awaiting his call. Suffice to say we got nothing out of either opportunity, and possibly allowed the ball to go down the other end for a goal almost straight away after one of them.

As they kicked the shit out of us in that second quarter the Dogs never seemed to be that much better a side, just one who were smart enough to take advantage of our horrible play. Which was very much like what North did to us last week as well. While all this was going on there was a noticeable lack of interest by our players in getting into space, unless it was as part of a switch that would often wind up with the last man in the line looking up and finding not a soul to kick to. This usually led to disaster.

It was so very Melbourne to have that first goal within the first few minutes but reach the 20 minute mark of the second quarter without getting another. Enter the beard to be feared Maximum Gawn and a goal which put several of our alleged 'small forwards' from the last couple of years to shame. Then Watts kicked off a purple patch from late in the second quarter to the end of the third by bundling one home from the square to at least keep us in it. In a stalemate between what we wanted to do (kick more) and what we usually do (give the goal straight back out of the middle) we got to half-time without any more goals at either end and were left with a sneaky chance.

Finally, just like the Essendon game, when there was nothing left to lose we started playing on and getting the ball forward quickly and it caused Footscray to momentarily forget what they were doing and start playing like us instead and by the footballing equivalent of driving to St Kilda via Adelaide we eventually got back in the game. There was a minor detour in the third quarter when they got two in a row and it looked like our bubble had been burst, but thanks to Dawes (great kicks but for god's sake please learn to take marks with your arms in front of you) kicking that clutch goal at the end of the third the ball was back in our court.

Thanks also to the umpires for getting at least one thing right for the day and spotting Liberatore's blatant (and bizarre) throw in front of goal. The way they were going today (and that's both ways Bulldogs fans, direct your hate mail elsewhere) there was absolutely no guarantee that they'd pay a free kick if you splattered them with bloody after cutting an opponent's leg off with a chainsaw

It was probably our best quarter of the year, and it was because they started to play fearlessly. Maybe you can't do that all the time, but it would be nice to do it before we're a mile behind. There were still ropey moments, but as a shining example of what the good life looks like there was more than time where Watts got the ball and waited just long enough for you to think he'd lost the plot and was going to get done for holding the ball (fat chance in this game unless you actually do just stand there motionless like Tyson, but go with me) before releasing a beautiful little handball to somebody on the outside. Forget what he does when he hasn't got the ball (i.e falling over), just get the thing to him in space and he'll probably do the rest.

Unfortunately the three-quarter time break gave the Dogs plenty of time to get their head straight, and when they did our death or glory spirit was gone. Things were certainly better than they were in the first half - how could they not be? - but there was still a lot of stop/start play, hospital handballs and fumbling at crucial moments. We got screwed by the umpiring in the end, but they're the same court jesters who had given Jetta a free for putting his head down and charging straight at his opponent so it was hardly one way traffic in the rorts department. The Jetta decision + 50 (and if I was a Dogs player I'd have called the umpire a prick for that as well) gave us a seven point lead so we've really only got ourselves to blame for throwing it away from there.

Even though they'd cut the gap back it was still anybody's game (CLICHE) before the miracle goal, but it seemed to me we'd shot our load during the great comeback and had nothing left. Barry was providing some good energy, and had a couple of solid defensive contributions, but even after Grimes' goal gave us the lead a few minutes earlier I still wasn't convinced we could hold on. At this point two Melbourne fans in front of me got up and left. Dickheads. Of course in true Melbourne fashion by the time they'd reached the stairs we'd let the Dogs go straight out of the centre and cancel out our goal. So MFC. That was always a danger at every centre bounce considering they looked likely to go inside 50 from almost every one.

It would have been a great time to block them up in the middle of the ground, but alas it was not to be and that familiar sinking feeling was back. It's not like we didn't have time to rescue the game in the last few minutes, and it's a shame that Watts picked that crucial moment in the last quarter to give society's lowest rung the chance to hang it on him by unloading his worst kick on goal in years. At least he got in space to take a mark before the shot, once Bontempelli (great name) got the goal our inability to get a single shot off at goal when a draw at the least was on offer says it all about our outrageous lack of firepower up front.

There's still so much work to be done, and I'm not even sure you can say the frames of the house are up yet but at least we've employed one of those guys with a STOP/SLOW sign out front and have hired an architect with a reputation for building ugly but highly functional structures.

Radio Free Docklands
Before the game Andy "Youse Blokes" Maher spent valuable time waffling on about how he doesn't want to know how much time there is to go in the game and slaughtering Channel 7's callers in the Brisbane/North game (or as it should be known, Saturday Night SMEfever II) for continuously mentioning through the last few minutes. Which is fair enough, because a) on TV we can see for ourselves how much time there is left and b) Channel 7's Saturday night team is poon heavy, but as if it was a political crusade SEN then proceeded to spent three quarters refusing to give any update of how long there was to go..

In frustration during the last quarter I did something I swore I'd never do and turned over to the Tobin Brothers in the hope that perhaps Depressed Drew Morphett - the man who has turned sounding like he hates his cushy job to an art form - might actually cater to people like me who want to know exactly what's going on. The Black Cloud was slightly more useful in giving vague "I think there's three minutes" "there must be about a minute left" updates, but it was as if a memo had gone around to all radio broadcasters with instructions to keep listeners in the dark. If people don't want to know how much time there is left they can remove their headphones and sit there in blissful ignorance, don't stuff it up for the rest of us.

Having said that I'll have a sit-down protest if they ever introduce a countdown clock at the ground.

The Clash
Considering all the times we've been forced to don the silver/white/off-white/ivory/beige over the last few years when there hasn't been an obvious jumper clash how did we avoid it today?

Clash jumpers were good enough when we played them a few weeks ago. Does playing under a closed roof somehow make a difference? I wouldn't have thought so.

Nobody should bother trying to decipher AFL clash jumper policy while they continue to let Collingwood boss them around, but the whole concept is in complete disarray. Give everyone a home/away jumper and tell Eddie that if he doesn't like it the Northern Football League would love to include a new team.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jeremy Howe
4 - Mark Jamar
3 - James Frawley
--- a large gap ---
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Jack Grimes

Apologies to Vince, Dunn, Watts, N. Jones and Gawn - any of whom may have emerged from the battle royale for the last two spots with a bit of luck.

Leaderboard
No change at the top, but with a maximum 40 votes for any one player left Jones' magic number continues to shrink. It can't work out what it is, but it's shrinking.

With Dunn's gap in the Seecamp sliced to 17 over Howe he's still the provisional winner but could be set for a few nervy weeks. It's fair to say that the backline will have a lot of work to do next week so either of them could strike a huge blow in the race for their first title.

The Hilton remains untouched pending the arrival of Jesse Hogan to clean it up with 12 goals on debut in the last round, but is heading towards the lowest winning total since Juice Newton

Finally there's some movement in the Stynes, with Jamar winning votes for his forward performance rather than ruck work (despite the large hitout tally), and benefiting from the general apathy of his teammates to take a decisive lead. With the Spencil out for the season and last year's surprise co-winner Puttin' On The Fitz persona non grata thanks to the emergence of Pedo, it now looks like it will be a straight battle between Jamar and Gawn for the last eight weeks of the season. Advantage USSR.

38 - Nathan Jones
27 - Lynden Dunn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
24 - Dom Tyson
20 - Daniel Cross
13 - Chris Dawes
12 -  James Frawley, Bernie Vince
10 - Jeremy Howe
9 - Cameron Pedersen, Jack Viney
6 - Jack Watts
5 - Mark Jamar (Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Neville Jetta
3 - Matt Jones, Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Dean Terlich
2 - Rohan Bail, Jack Grimes, Jay Kennedy-Harris (Leader: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
1 - Jake Spencer

Stat My Bitch Up
The second half 'shootout' lifted our points-per-game by +1.59 to 64.35ppg. We're slowly closing in on Fitzroy 1996 and Melbourne 2013, but there is a significant chance of us throwing away the progress of the last two weeks in the face of the Fremantle defensive masterclass. A score of 40 would bring us back to 62.73, and I fear we'll be lucky to get that.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It would take something remarkable to beat the Big 10 from the Essendon game, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that they retain the lead and will presumably do so for the rest of the season. The good news is that yet again Bernard Vince wins the weekly prize (fishing lessons from Marcus Seecamp off the end of Altona Pier at 2.30am) for his big snap in the third quarter.



With two banners to make this week the Demon Army were clearly stretched and decided not to go for anything fancy. Fair enough too, why would you waste your best on that ground when the players never do? But they still register a solid victory. It was up to the usual standard of font and construction, and while the phrase "fight like hell" was used for perhaps the 300th time there's nothing wrong with recycling the classics.

We'll assume they won the women's game battle as well considering I haven't seen the Bulldogs one, but in the senior game a reasonable Footscray effort fell short due to an uninspiring font and falling into the trap of trying to cram too many words into the traditional rhyme. It stretched to 22 words across six lines from top to bottom which was far too crowded.

The sponsor side had an image (printed, not a hand-crafted cartoon) which is always good for bonus points, but its placement around the text and sponsors logos was a disappointment. With respect to the fact that they're still in transition mode after the Bulldogs administration sacked the old cheersquad for some reason I had to dock points. It looked like there wasn't going to be any poncy curtain work, but sadly at the last minute a lady took to the thing with scissors and the battle was lost. 14-0 Demons.

Crowd Watch
A reasonable crowd for two slop sides on a day where the sane were at home hurling abuse at their television rather than trudging through pouring rain and god knows what else to get to the ground itself. Apparently the women's game had an attendance of 5000, which skews the crowd for the main event considering plenty would have gone home after, but who knows how they arrived at that figure. Did I get counted for showing up with five minutes to go in the third quarter, or did you have to buy a specific ticket?

For some reason two gents in the next bay over were ejected by police and security during the second quarter. There was no indication of potential biff, and at one point the fuzz even looked like they were having a laugh so god knows what they'd done. By the way they were continuing to nurse their label less 600m bottles of 'Coke' as they were walked out my theory is that they were completely blind from 'topping up.

It really is a horrible place. Remember last year when rumours went around that it was burning down and not one person was upset? There's still time to blow it up and start again without having to resort to playing in the outer suburbs.

Women's World
My intentions were to go and watch the full four quarters, until I was informed that I had to go and drop things off at the tip. Which was random, but perhaps the manliest thing I've ever done. It almost came unstuck when I nearly tripped into the refuse pit in the pouring rain while thinking about how much it looked like the place where Alan Partridge's book got pulped. Then part of my car door fell off on the way to park in Docklands. It always promised to be a good day out.

So after these disasters I got there just in time for the last quarter, happily showing up to see Footscray run of gas and fail score while our girls ran riot. There should be more of it, but it's worth remembering that only 10 of the team were Victorian so you're never going to be able to have regular matches with them. It's probably more convenient for clubs to do it once a year, get the good feelings and the kudos for participating without gutting actual, real-life community clubs to create permanent teams that the AFL sides would lose interest in after a month.

I'm glad that we're one the pioneers of it, and hope we keep doing it for a long time, but at the risk of being named in parliament I'd much rather see Casey/Melbourne Reserves curtain-raisers a few times a year. Either way, the players were having a whale of a time and we won so that's a positive.

Next Week
Casey continue to struggle and players are hardly throwing their name into the ring, but nevertheless even though there's not a great deal of excitement about the choices on offer we've got to start trying some of them soon. Greasy Darwin against a team even more adept at boring football than us might not be the time, but considering we haven't got any realistic first game options left you may as well throw 'experienced' players in the deep end and see what happens.

Yesterday our friends the Scorpions were 59-0 down at quarter time, and while they did reasonably well to keep the damage down to a 90 point loss it's hardly encouraging. Karma is finally coming back at us for those years when they'd struggle to make the finals then we'd be shit blokes and remove all the MFC listed players. No wonder none of the Casey listed players are any good now. At least the days are gone where certain senior players celebrate getting dropped because it means they get to play in a win.

Based on nothing else than one match report and my loyalty to occupant of interplanetary craft Blease this are my alterations for what will no doubt be a controlled, fatal smothering by the Dockers.

IN: Tapscott, Blease, Riley, McDonald
OUT: Nicholson, M. Jones, Salem (omit), Terlich (inj)
UNLUCKY: Kennedy-Harris

Surely Jetta's not going to get rubbed out for that pissweak bump that got the Bulldogs players hot under the collar. If he does then JFK can come back as well - I wanted to pick him in the first place but can't find another appropriate out with Kent and Blease in the side. Considering he's done next to nowt in two weeks Kent could make way for him, but I think he earned a few weeks in the side courtesy of that run against Essendon.

Was it worth it?
Going to Docklands is rarely worth it, and during the second quarter I was wishing for a nuclear strike on the place, but even though we stuffed it up in the end I can't argue them having a bash. I refuse to believe neutrals actually hand over money to go to that place though. I'm not sure I'd take a free ticket to a non-MFC game there unless it was to a no-holds-barred pissup in a corporate box.

Final Thoughts
I spent the entire time between leaving the ground and getting to the car being brutalised by hard rain and light hail. Then once I got there I queued for a further five minutes while waiting for the same people who can't work a stadium ticket gate to pay for their parking, only to find that the "$5" at Waterfront City is actually $7.50 if you're using a credit card. Then it was 15 minutes trying to battle my way out of the place against waves of people without rudimentary knowledge of the road rules. Only to get to the end and find out that they'd dumbed parking down to an amazing level by actually having somebody there to swipe your card for you.

As soon as I drove out the gate the clouds parted, the rain stopped and a blinding sun came out. Footballing metaphors on a postcard to the usual address.

1 comment:

  1. "Did I get counted for showing up with five minutes to go in the third quarter, or did you have to buy a specific ticket?"
    The Bulldogs gave away tix to the women's game that got one into the DogsDees game. The crowd was probably inflated by 5-6k of freebies (including mine).

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