Sunday 13 July 2014

5.6.36 - The number of the beast

If it feels like you saw this game before that's probably because it was an almost exact replica of last Saturday night in Darwin, and it wasn't much good then either. With a week to revise our tactics and enjoy the serenity of not playing against a side who has graduated from Strangulation Football University while we're still staggering around drunk in a toga at O-Week.

Not that playing Geelong should be much more of a comfort considering what they've done to us in recent years, but safe in the knowledge that they've gone from being a great team to a good team in the last year I thought we might at least give them some nervy moments. Even a replay of the North game where we annoy them until the third quarter before imploding would have been nice, but instead it was Freo in Darwin Redux.

Both games featured a five minute period at the start of the match where we matched it with the opposition but were too inept to complete scoring opportunities handed to us on a plate then didn't kick a goal at all in the first quarter. Then once the opposition realised that we weren't good enough to compete they unloaded a ruthless burst in the second quarter to put us away. Both times we managed to restrict the damage to aggravated GBH rather than a total pulverising despite kicking an embarrassingly low score. And neither game did anything for my enjoyment of season 2014.

The only difference between the two weeks was that the first one took place in unseasonable (for us, not Darwin) humidity and the second was played on the coldest day of the year so far. Several times during the afternoon bright sunshine came out, but like a Grimes family injury you were never more than five minutes away from pelting rain. It was so cold that the community service message on the scoreboard was changed to read "In the event of a major emergency you may be required to eat members of an Uruguayan rugby team for your own survival."

Notwithstanding the fact that I've seen some toxic performances against the Cats in recent years (which has been fantastic karma for my behaviour towards the locals at the final siren of Round 20, 2005) it was the final blow to the extreme feelgood factor which was unleashed by the Essendon game. The Fremantle game mortally wounded it, this match saw the life support system switched off.

The grim death march to the off-season has officially started. Admittedly it makes a big change to have it begin in Round 17 rather than Round 8 (2012) or Round 2 (2013), but having enjoyed the majority of the season so far I feel like I'm going to revert to my default state of watching the rest of it through my fingers as it turns ugly.

It also means that time is running out for comparing everything to the 2012/13 disasters - which is terrible news for me because that'll be about 75% of my material gone, but to kick off the last six weeks of the Carnival of Comparison I'd like to point out that almost one year to the day (364 days to be precise) we played pretty much the exact same game in the wet against the Cats at Kardinia Park. That's not to say we haven't improved (our percentage was 54.0 that week and is 71.8 now, down from a peak of 78.5 after the Essendon game) but only up to the level of a really bad team.

As will be demonstrated later in this post we're set to achieve our rightful place as one of the most boring teams in the modern era - scoring at roughly the same rate as the 1921 wooden spooner - but there are reasons to be cheerful. Or at least the hope that there will be in the not too distant future. For now we've got to get through the last six weeks of the season with a squad that has hit the wall physically and mentally in brutal fashion over the last two weeks.

The upside is that as deflating as the last two weeks have been neither game will be remembered in a decade - but when 2014 is remembered we'll always have the Adelaide Oval, Pedo's sealer against Carlton, Richmond stuffing up the Hafey game and the last two minutes of Essendon. Remember in the afterglow of the Bombers game where I fooled myself into believing that we had achieved comfortable middle class status? Well last night we were a couple of minutes away from 17th place when Brisbane almost toppled the Eagles.

Ever since that glorious Sunday evening the last month has had a real 2012/13 stink about it. Other than the 30 minutes against the Bulldogs when we came back from the dead by playing on instinct and brief, fruitless flashes of mediocrity against North we've been horrible. The fact that we've played two top four contenders and one almost certain finalist in that time has helped us escape criticism, but imagine for a minute Mark Neeld had managed to avoid answering his phone long enough to avoid the sack. Think of the shit he'd have copped for being involved in novelty videos with Sesame Street characters in the middle of two consecutive 11 goal losses where we scored under 40? Even before things turned 'nasty' last year there would have been lynch mobs chasing him down the street.

(NB: I've got no problems with them doing novelty videos. Nobody seems to have a problem when they're teaching schoolkids to read or high fiving kids in the carpark at Uluru, and neither of them contribute to what happens on game day. Maybe we should have shacked up with the Muppets instead of Sesame Street, but the "why don't you practice how to kick instead?" crowd are taking a pretty simplistic view of things. The least you can do when your club loses every week (12 of our current players are in the worst win/loss records in the competition) is give the players the opportunity to do 'something else' rather than treating them like inmates in a Soviet gulag)

Of course the scenario above is a trick, because in the first half of last year we'd have scored 36 and still lost the match by 20 goals, so considering how substandard our list is Roos gets plenty of credit for massaging a decent run out of them for 10 weeks - but it doesn't mean we don't still get to ask critical questions about what's going on. This can't become an Essendon fan/James Hird cult of personality where everything he does is genius even when it's practically the same as what the last guy did but with less injectable substances purchased in Tijuana.

He's feeling the strain of it all too, you could see it at the start of yesterday's press conference when he was rubbing his face like an Essendon doping victim trying to brush imaginary bugs off his skin. I don't blame him, because getting this team back up to standard must be like Fitzcarraldo trying to haul a boat over a mountain, but he's right into the footy equivalent of political leaders saying it's not their fault because the last administration stuffed things up so much. Which they may very well have, but the clock is ticking on how long that's going to be a good excuse.

His suggestion in yesterday's press conference that plenty of players weren't up for it seemed to be 100% correct, but it's a bit farcical to come out and blame the players' traumatic past for packing up at five goals down when we've had two comebacks from exactly the same position in the last six weeks.

I'm not here to defend the Mark Neeld era (impossible task), but we were all happy to hang him high for the sins of the players so we should at least ask the question of what the coaching team are doing to get the players up. Mark it down that he said in this press conference that it's his job to make sure they come out against Port firing on all cylinders, so look out to see what the reaction is if/when they belt us.

I'm not expecting him to conduct a North Korean style self-denunciation session but players didn't seem to attempting self-harm at 30 points down against Essendon or Footscray, so bringing it up now seems to be grasping at straws. At the risk of the Herald Sun printing a DEMON FANS TURN ON ROOS story (because they will print pretty much anything), was this Roos deflecting attention from weird situations like Selwood running riot for the entire first quarter without intervention or making Terlich the substitute with no obvious benefit? The Selwood debacle was raised but nobody followed up with a supplementary question asking why it took the entire first quarter to realise this and make the chance. Or maybe they did, the AFL are still too cheap to introduce a boom mic to press conference and it sounds as if they're asking questions from inside a pit.

As frustrated as I am at least now we try different things during a game, which is a significant difference to the recent past where the same set-up who were being butchered five minutes were still copping it at the 25 minute mark of the last quarter, and I still think he's got them going in the right direction, but the last fortnight shows that our previous coach didn't have a monopoly on presiding over rank, heartless performances - just that he wasn't street smart, experienced or beloved by all enough to talk his way out of them. There's also probably a significant difference in the reviewing style between the two - less screaming in people's faces that they're "weak c**ts" is probably a positive step.

This week it was Frawley back (presumably in an attempt to pump up his contract value and maximise the compensation), Dunn forward and at last a full game for The Pornographer Aidan Riley. Frawley wasn't terrible, but his performance would have hardly sparked a bidding war amongst 17 other clubs. Dunn didn't do anything in the forward line, and when he had a set shot it was revealed that he sadly no longer does his ludicrously elaborate hop/skip/jump routine. He deserved to miss for that reason alone - bring back the Dunn shuffle.

I was happiest with Riley, who was really good as an inside midfielder. He made a couple of high profile blunders, but if you shot one Melbourne player for every outrageous clanger you'd be topping up with the Casey Scorpions within two weeks. They've got to keep playing him based on that performance. He ran out of legs a bit in the end but considering the serious injury he was coming back from that's to be expected. I'm a fan.

The key difference between this week and last week is that we actually had some players worthy of getting in the votes. Chris Dawes is an easy target, and if you just looked at his stats you'd probably say he had an average game but some of the stuff he did yesterday which don't count towards Supercoach scores was fantastic. I loved his charge into the centre at the first bounce to lay a tackle, his tap-ons of loose balls and his hard running to get to contests. If we ever give him some help up forward instead of surrounding him with converted defenders, resting ruckmen and no crumbers EVER he'll be a good attacking weapon. He even held marks in the wet that he'd probably have dropped in the dry two weeks ago.

He could have contributed more by kicking goals, but the way we're going that's far too much to ask. Having said that I'm more frustrated at our lack of forward pressure than I am at not kicking goals in the first place. If we could learn to lock the ball inside 50 for more than two seconds at a time the repeat attacks would surely lead to more goals. Crumbers would help, but what are the chances? It's ludicrous how often we attack fruitlessly only to see the ball swept down the other end in a few seconds, and I'm well aware that I go on about this every week - because it happens every week.

Like last week Geelong spent the first quarter keeping us in the game with poor kicking at goal and around the field, but with scant resistance on offer they eventually decided to follow the script and beat our brains out instead. Despite botching our best chances in the forward line via indecision/general shiteness and handing them chance after chance with faulty kicking in defence they left the door slightly open for us at quarter time.

It wasn't until the second quarter when they steamrolled us, and it was looking like a goalless half until Howe took advantage of a patented RoosSwitch™ to get two in a row. Forget that the second one was a gift for some vague off the ball incident, it's heartening to see that we've got players who can change ends and make an impact. Maybe we should play him forward again for the rest of the season to try and spark something in our forward line/give Dawes some help. At least the option is there, which is nice.

My favourite part of the second quarter was when matchups broke down to such a ridiculous degree that Jamar ended up trying to stop Motlop taking a mark. Unfortunately it came down to a battle of speed rather than bulk and he was beaten, but why was he in that situation in the first place? Whoever was supposed to be on Motlop was nowhere to be seen.

Having discovered that the Ponsford Stand was colder than the North Pole I made use of my reserved seat for the first time in god knows how long, and after a half of throwing my arms up in the air in frustration and cursing the heavens I got up to go and drown my sorrows in a floppy MCG hotdog only to discover that the corporate box right behind me was filled to the brim with all the injured/rested players. Lucky I didn't bring the #fistedforever banner along.

I thought it would make the rest of the game slightly uncomfortable, like watching an execution while sitting with the victim's family, but just as the Lubemobile fleet was pulling up outside and readying for a 100 point thrashing we played a third quarter that was probably how the whole game was intended to go. The highlight was undoubtedly Jack Viney demonstrating his commitment to the cause by driving Joel Selwood temporarily bonkers with a tagging job. It's the second time in a few weeks he's tagged somebody to buggery, which is fine because we know that he's being groomed for greater things. His disposal efficiency is still questionable, but AT LEAST HE CARES. We should have either started with Viney vs Selwood or used McKenzie (who did a reasonable job on him in the second) as the very competent tagger he is.

I can only assume the idea that we'd be up four goals to two at half time was why dour defender Dean Terlich was named as sub. He was probably intended to come on and contribute to saving the day by engineering a double scoreless large quarter and a brave 29-28 MFC victory. Shame then that the damage was well and truly done before Deano had the chance to take his tracksuit pants off.

No sub would have been able to make a difference considering how shithouse the second quarter was, but I'm not entirely sure how he was supposed to contribute as a sub. I'm glad he took the bullet and ensured that Riley could play a full game, but surely we'd have got more out of Kennedy-Harris or (god forbid) Blease running around for a quarter?

In the end we only lost the second half by seven points despite plenty of players having fallen into the same pit that journos are asking their press conference questions from. I thought Neville Jetta was actually quite good, so I'm not entirely sure why they took him off for Terlich. A straight swap is fine when the game is in the balance, but don't tell me there weren't 10 players more worthy of being dragged than Nifty Nev. There's been no suggestion that he's injured so I'm calling bullshit on this one. Maybe they botched their substituting and took the wrong man off a'la Tyson vs Gold Coast.

On the plus side Garland stopped Bartel from wrecking us, so it was good to see him back in some good form, and Pedersen continued to battle hard. I cracked the sads when Gawn got dropped, but I concede now that in the rain it would have been foolished to play both of them and Jamar - and Pedo has done so well this year that he has to stay. If we could create a hybrid of Pedo's around the ground play and Gawn's taps we'd be laughing.

Geelong clearly no longer cared in the last quarter, so that probably saved us a bit, but plenty of our players look tired. Time to give Tyson a week off to put his feet up, and try some of our 'other' players. He's not the only one who could do with a rest, Watts could probably do with some time off as well - but given the amount of scrutiny he gets that'll end up with us on the front page of the papers. I swear he's physically NQR, he hasn't fired a shot since his shagger's back flamed up against North. If he needs to be put on the shelf to get him right for the future there's never been a better time than now. If we're still allowed to do that without being accused of tanking.

Speaking of disasters somebody needs to have a chat with Bernie Vince about whatever he's had done to his head. It was the most ludicrous MFC hair moment since Lynden Dunn's mo. First Evans, then McDonald, now Vince - forget videos with Big Bird I'm more concerned about our players doing stupid things with their hair in their spare time. If Tyson messes with his luscious locks in his week off I'll go on strike.

In the end we got the result that was expected and which we deserved. Yet again there were dodgy umpiring decisions all over the place, but suspect holding the ball calls don't mean players can't run into space and to provide an option for their teammates for the other 85% of the time. Or leave their opponents to run riot into space up and down the ground. Or to take marks and then wait for the entire opposition to get back between them and the target before kicking.

Work in progress. Slow work in progress.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal Votes
5 - Aidan Riley
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Chris Dawes
2 - Colin Garland
1 - Neville Jetta

Apologies will not be offered as any gentleman player would refuse them. Nevertheless Jeremy Howe challenged Nev for the last one.

30 votes left, so everyone behind Pedersen is now out of the running - and Jones looks to have banked enough votes in the first half of the year to get him over the line again. With our defence looking all over the place you would think that future Cat James Frawley wouldn't be able to reel in Dunn's 15 vote lead in the Seecamp from here.

With the Hilton still in a state of disarray the tantalising prospect of Jesse Hogan (or another first gamer) making his debut in the last month of the season, winning AND still being eligible to win next year is still on the cards. It would be a fiasco befitting the state of the competition this year.

As for the ruckmen Jamar might have put in a stinker, but he effectively won it two weeks ago with his performance forward against the Dogs. Gawn (or god forbid Fitzpatrick) is one BOG away from stealing a share of it, but he's hardly going to do that playing for Casey every second week is he?

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

Stat My Bitch Up
In the all excitement of last week I forgot the PPG update - and a week later it's not pretty at all. We're now down to 60.68, but the good news is that I've been relying on an unreliable stat the whole time and we're not actually the lowest scoring team in a 20+ game season (1945 and 1968-) just yet - the original GWS team still hold that dubious honour.

1266 - 63.3ppg - North Melbourne (1968)
1270 - 57.72ppg - GWS (2012)
1305 - 65.25ppg - St Kilda (1945)
1415 - 70.75ppg - Geelong (1945)
1452 - 66.00ppg - Fitzroy (1996)
1455 - 66.13ppg - Melbourne (2013)
1477 - 67.13ppg - Melbourne (1997)
1509 - 68.59ppg - Gold Coast (2012)
1513 - 68.77ppg - South Melbourne (1972)
1524 - 69.27ppg - GWS (2013)

The way it's going we're well on track for second place, unless we can overhaul the 38 point lead St Kilda has on us (63.06ppg) and throw them under the bus instead. No need to get excited, chances are we'll still be in third. Here's our final position based on the points-per-game average of the last six matches. Apart from draft picks this is basically all we've got to play for now.

100ppg - 71.40
90ppg - 68.68
80ppg - 65.95
70ppg - 63.22
60ppg - 60.50
50ppg - 57.77
45ppg - 56.40

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Obviously there was no challenge to the Big 10 vs Essendon for overall leadership of this prestigious award, but congratulations yet again to Bernie Vince for winning the weekly award for the umpteenth time for his quick kick on goal in the last quarter. What a pisstake to introduce this award in the year where we kick

For the weekly prize Bernard wins an Apple Newton to help him arrange his schedule, take advantage of all the great prizes he's won as part of this segment throughout the year and find a new hairdresser.

Crowd Watch
At the risk of being sued has there ever been a more suspect crowd figure than the one announced yesterday? I know when it rains more people are huddled up the back, and at Melbourne home games thousands head straight to the bar to drink themselves to a standstill but the claim that there were 36,000 people there must have been the result of a typo or a rogue scoreboard operator. There's no possible way that was correct, and the crowd who were there were quite right to gasp in amazement when it came up.

Sitting amongst the handful of people in the Redlegs section at least provided some proper Crowd Watch antics for the first time all season. In the immediate vicinity were an old lady who thought we were being rorted by the umpires, a few other lone weirdos like me and one very angry individual just across the aisle. He was sitting next to somebody but they never seemed to interact. I can understand why after enjoying (and I really was enjoying it) his first half performance where he would just yell one word demands of the umpire.

"BALL! HELD! HIGH! ARGH!" he would scream in short, sharp bursts with a tone of voice resembling Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket. I've got no doubt that I was getting a preview of myself in 25 years - middle aged, with a hood pulled right up, body tilted forward with tension and a voice that sounded drenched in the misery of knowing you're never going to get to enjoy premiership success. So that's something to look forward to.

Much like the team he did his best work in the first 15 minutes, and only randomly vented his spleen until half time - at which point he must have realised the futility of it all and kept quiet. Which would have been the end of the fun if the MCG hadn't adopted an open borders policy when the rains came at half time and let a bunch of Geelong fans in to our reserved area as if there wasn't 15,000 seats in the general admission area of the Southern Stand where they could have gone instead.

I'm not taking the moral highground given that I've not been there for years, but the point of paying extra to sit in an area with no opposition fans deserves some respect. Try sneaking into the AFL or MCC Members sections and you'll probably wake up in a bathtub of ice without your kidney, but a reserve section 1/4 full of the sort of fans who usually just bend over and cop anything? No problems, just let anybody in.

Anyway, most of these interlopers were at least well behaved and restrained themselves from rubbing in the fact that their team is significantly better than ours - but there was one guy who was the exact opposite of Future Adam who eventually tipped him over the edge. They were both middle aged, but this guy obviously went through years of bitterness and thwarted ambitions before 2007 came along and an enormous weight was lifted off his shoulders. He sat bolt upright (which is almost compulsory considering the Tiger Airways-esque gap between seats), with his little headset radio on, cheerily punting his team home.

It took until midway through the last quarter for Future Adam to lose the plot at the guy, who was one row down and about four seats across. The family in front of me had gone home one minute into the last quarter when Geelong kicked a goal (why did they even wait through 3/4 time?) so they missed the action, but all of a sudden out of nowhere a perfectly innocent "Come on Cats!" set F.A off and he started screaming at him/mocking him "GO CATS! COME ON CATS! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! YOU'RE NOT EVEN SUPPOSED TO BE HERE SO SHUT UP!"

I'd like to think that at this point even The Spencil gave up watching the game and started to fumble at the window of the corporate box with his plus sized hands to get it open and watch the potential biff, but the illegal immigrant Cats fan wasn't taking the bait. With the air of a man whose team was 70 points up and who has seen more premierships in the last decade than we will for the rest of our lives he just turned around and smiled at F.A, who was left without a reason to continue the 'argument' and shut up. At least he didn't try to start a fistfight or take the cowardly option of turning around and walking out. He stayed right until the end, and as the siren went we both stood up and went to walk up the aisle at the same time. I let him go first, he needed to go and get some fresh air quickly before he had a heart attack.

Meanwhile speaking of our fans, if we're supposed to be the upper class financially elite supporters of the league why do so many of our number insist on sporting the $2 shop MELBOURNE scarves and beanies? It's undignified. Put your hand in your pocket and support the club instead of being a highly visible tightwad. The club should send people out to intercept wearers of offending garments outside the ground and give them discount vouchers to the Demon Shop.

I have to hand it to our cheersquad for still putting in the effort to make a decent banner when by Thursday they must have known that their Saturday afternoon was going to be spent sitting in pouring rain watching a violent beating. With this hanging over their head they still went the extra yard to deliver another superior effort, complete with a jaunty little cartoon demon logo.

Geelong, on the other hand, introduced us to a bizarre white/fluro green lettering colour scheme where words RANDOMLY changed CASE EVERY few words for no DISCERNIBLE reason. There was no curtain deduction but they do lose points on a code violation for not having the common decency to display both sides to the crowd. Even a full 360ยบ rotation wouldn't have got them into the same timezone as our banner. 16-0 Demons.

Next Week
A few weeks ago we almost (relatively speaking) beat Port Adelaide. No really, we did. We also won last start at the Adelaide Oval. What this adds up to is the Power splitting us in two like an axe through a block of wood. I assume they're going to beat Richmond (update - 4pm Sunday: obviously not. Another fantastic prediction by the accurate one), but they could still do with another pre-finals morale booster against a dud side. Be very afraid.

As for changes good luck. Casey only narrowly beat Bendigo Gold, a side who hasn't won a game all year and recently announced they were folding at the end of the year so it's hardly a ringing endorsement for the potential replacements. Unfortunately having wafer thin depth on the list was always going to get us eventually.

It must be hard to gauge performances against horrible teams (which is ironically how most AFL teams probably feel about playing us), but I was pleased to see James Harmes listed as best on ground. In a blurry screenshot posted by the Casey Twitter account (who also have no idea how to use hashtags) he appears to have had 23 touches to half time. I've lost track of the status of our list, and whether we're still able to promote anybody but he might be a sneaky chance for a promotion in the last few weeks if he keeps this up.

IN: Blease, Clisby, Kennedy-Harris, Gawn, Michie
OUT: Kent, M. Jones, Grimes, Terlich (omit), Tyson (rested)
LUCKY: Bail, Tapscott, Watts, Frawley (under the "if you're not going to be here next year why are we bothering?" rule)

The rest of the year
We're in all sorts now. Not that I expected to win either of the last two games, but they've shown that there's more than a handful of players who have had it with 2014. From here I'd say we'd be lucky to win one of the Brisbane/GWS games and get through matches against Port, Hawthorn, West Coast and North without losing at least one by more than 100.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here. Remember the pre-season preview where I said I didn't care if we finished last with four wins as long as we achieved a percentage of 80? Well, at least we're never going to get back to 80% now so that won't be tested. It's also fair to say I didn't expect the shift in expectations caused by having three wins up in the first nine weeks.

Was it worth it?
Not if you paid more than $0.00 to get in. I can't see why any neutral would have paid $25 minimum to go and watch that knowing exactly what was going to happen given the teams and the conditions - but unless that crowd figure is a total swizz somebody must have. Thanks for your donation.

Final thoughts
Defence is fantastic, and I'm having a much better time this year than last but good luck growing our fanbase by kicking five goals a week. Here's to it all coming good eventually and ushering in a glory era before we end up in another death spiral that ends up another trip on bended knee to the AFL to bail us out again.

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