Monday, 21 July 2014

Quicksand Incorporated

The process of following Melbourne remains weird and - for roughly 40 minutes a month - wonderful.

On a weekend where we pulled back from the brink after a fortnight of garbage football, almost toppled the same top four contender for the second time this year and equalled our record for the most losses by under 20 points since 1977 we also found ourselves firmly back in the 'race' for the wooden spoon - with only the positive (in a way) effect on our percentage from all those close losses keeping us above Brisbane and St Kilda. Somebody out there is probably celebrating this turn of events and punting us towards the spoon.

How wonderful the world seemed after the Essendon game when we were trading our cardboard box for a one bedroom flat in the outer suburbs, now we're relying on beating Brisbane/GWS or on St Kilda's disinterest in climbing off the bottom to save us from the indignity of yet another last place finish. Ironically we're only seven percentage points away from the mark I said I'd be happy with us achieving pre-season, but at that point I was still assuming we'd have won two games maximum by July 1 when the liquidators showed up. Now that respectability has been dangled in front of us several times I want more of it.

I'm not sure how to feel about this week's result. Options include joy at rescuing ourselves from two terrible performances, pride at almost winning, disappointment at not being able to finish the job, outright hostility at the fact we let ourselves get five goals down again and suspicion over shonky umpiring. Best to take a bit out of each of them, stew until Wednesday then take a much needed break next weekend before Shambles Clash 2014 against the Lions.

At least we did our bit for the AFL's most unpopular theme round, "Shit Teams Having A Go Week". Carlton started it against the only team mentally flakier than us, St Kilda upped the ante to ridiculous levels by pulverising Fremantle and GWS (*spit*) nearly toppled Geelong. Later on Sunday Footscray would join in by nearly beating Essendon, but even though the wheels have 3/4 fallen off at Port I still don't think anybody thought us ready, willing or capable of joining in the fun based on our performances against Froe and Geelong. But then again who would have expected Fremantle to neck themselves in such spectacular fashion this week? I'm not convinced that isn't part of some nefarious Bond villain style scheme by Ross Lyon, but at least he's nice enough to do this sort of thing against his old side so they can have a win.

I expected us to put up a reasonable fight, at least for the first few minutes, and god damn it they nearly proved everything I said about them last week wrong by winning but it would be nice if the next step in our evolution is to stop going five goals down before launching furious comebacks. If the Fremantle and Geelong games were mirror images of each other this was the Bulldogs match all over again. Kick the first goal, go five behind, turn it on from the last few minutes of the second quarter to the end of the third then clam up again in the last, go behind to a late late goal and waste the last two minutes on fruitless, panicked attack.

Similarly in both games we got flogged to death by the rubbish umpiring decisions going overwhelmingly against us, but both times we could very easily have taken it in our stride and still won if we had a bit more composure. Remember the glee you felt in the past when we still managed to win despite being the victims of heinous officiating? It can happen, and for that reason I'm not going to throw paint at AFL House or spend the next fortnight abusing umpires - they didn't help us, but we were at least equally culpable for our own demise.

The one thing this week had in common with all our recent matches is that we started the game with a bit of life, and at first it looked like we were capable of matching them. Eventually Port - who will be lucky to even make the eight let alone the top four if they keep playing like this - shambled their way to a big lead off the back of our comedy turnovers and inability to kick easy goals, but at least the intent was there. And we got two goals in the first quarter for the first time in a month, which isn't much of an achievement for most teams of the 21st century (or most of the 20th century) but is a big step for us.

While we still spend most of the game stopping, starting or kicking it to the opposition the bare minimum that we can do to combat this is to put pressure on - and even though we contrived to lose the tackle count heavily despite not having many more possessions there were some stand-out moments that warmed my cold, cold, red and blue heart.

Even the two sitters that McKenzie and Riley missed in the first quarter were generated by us doing things that we don't usually do enough. Jordie won his free after we managed to create repeat stoppages inside forward 50 and actually put some pressure on the opposition for the first time in god knows how long, and my new favourite player Aidan Riley laid a running tackle on a defender that Aaron Davey himself would have been proud of. If we can't get our forwards to apply forward pressure I'm happy enough for taggers and the front-line soldiers to do it instead - as long as somebody does.

It's one thing improving on keeping the ball inside our forward 50 once we finally get it there, but we're still vulnerable from kick-ins. Note the difference between the pressure we put Port under via those stoppages and Riley's tackle and compare to the wide open spaces they trotted off into after the McKenzie miss where the ball was back down the other end in about 15 seconds.

Loose as a goose structural issues aside I couldn't possibly fault the intent in the first half. Even as Port started to get on top we were at least making them earn it - I especially enjoyed the performance of Riley (six tackles in the first quarter alone - some of an eye-watering brutality) and Tapscott (smashing some clown straight down the middle just for the fun of it) who were going around with a look in their eye as if they'd just been teleported into the middle of a prison riot unarmed and were fighting to survive. The first goal to Tapscott came primarily thanks to Riley's efforts to tackle two different Port players within 10 seconds at the other end of the ground. He ran out of gas in the second quarter, and in the MFC spirit he kicks like he's got a peg leg but I'm happy to carry one or two players like that as long as they make up for it with insane competitiveness then I'm into it.

This new found willingness to crush, kill and destroy from a team who a week before had looked like they'd rather be drinking Pina Colada's in Tahiti had Port a bit nervy, and they started to botch simple kicks, handballs began to go astray and easy marks were dropped. Any top quality team (or Richmond) would have taken advantage of this, but just as the Fox Footy cameras cut to a cranky Ken Hinkley in the coaches box, complete with stereotype busting window reflection of a Port fan quaffing a champers, we went to sea in the traditional manner and let them ream us for a few minutes while everyone in red and blue white ran around in circles like they were on the deck of the Costa Concordia.

Not that 'certain decisions' helped us. At one point Nathan Jones got decked with an elbow to the head and a goal was then kicked over his lifeless corpse. His assailant will get suspended (update: or apparently he won't) but that didn't help us at the time. We're highly adept at costing ourselves goals by pissweak attempts at a bump or by leaving players on their own in the square for the easy handball over the top, we don't need lazy umpiring to help us do it.

As the second quarter went on and Port pulled further away it was fair to say that my incessant "Blease for the 1's (and not as sub)" campaign wasn't looking like a huge success. At least he found himself on the end of some crumb at one point, which is more than you can say for most of our list, and as the day went on both he and Kennedy-Harris showed why they need to be kept in the side for the rest of the year. Couldn't we do with some run and chase at the moment? Kent didn't do badly either, and it was refreshing to see three quick players on the field at the same time amongst all the plodders.

The best thing about Blease - apart from him deploying his special move of sprinting through the middle to kick a goal - were his defensive efforts, previously sorely lacking. Three tackles aren't all that many (though it is twice his career average) but it's more that he was also chasing and harassing effectively. I've still got no idea what constitutes a one percenter, but apparently he didn't have any, which is bullshit.

But - temporarily at least - back to Port. Once they settled down and realised that no matter what they did we'd just give them the ball back within 10 seconds anyway they settled and it started to look a lot like the last couple of weeks all over again. Admittedly it also looked like the Essendon and Footscray games, but what were the odds that we had it in us to launch a third blockbuster comeback from 30 points down? Pretty good as it turned out, but before we got there we had to enjoy the spectacle of conceding a rebound goal after Pedersen took a mark outside 50, Dawes told him to kick it one way, he kicked it the other and it was instantly whisked the other way for a score.

Then, just when the lifeboats were being readied and the orchestra were preparing to go under while playing It's A Grand Old Flag something unexpected and mystical happened as just like in the Bulldogs game we suddenly decided to start playing like we were [insert name of whoever the premiership favourite is this week]. It all started with Bernie Vince having a dust-up with Chad Cornes. He had been held well to that point and didn't end up having a great day by any means, but once the crowd started getting into him he fed off their hate (I would like to think so anyway, but maybe I've been watching too much wrestling) and helped spark the comeback. For the next quarter we were irresistible, running to space, linking up by hand and foot, taking calculated risks instead of handballing at somebody's feet, kicking goals etc.. etc.. All the stuff we don't usually do, so that was nice. It's always pleasant to peer the window and see what it must be like to follow another team.

A large part of the third quarter comeback was thanks to Watts' work mopping up Port slop in defence. He hadn't done much to that point other than one pissweak attempt at a bump (at least he tried) and fantastic kick inside 50, but in the third quarter he looked sensational. Of course in the end he'd wind up 'giving away' the 'free kick' which cost us the lead at three-quarter time, but I'm not going to hold that against him. He even wandered back down into attack and kicked the goal which gave us the lead. I've given up on trying to work out where he's going to end up playing in the future - but at least like Howe and Frawley (for the next five games) he's flexible enough to be used in different roles.

Unfortunately his goal - the third in five minutes - was the cue for Port to tighten up again and we didn't kick another goal for a quarter. Which is nothing for us when the scores are close, but it's usually the first quarter where we can't manage one. On the other hand if you take out the questionable Wingard free we didn't let them get a legitimate one from 14 minutes into the second quarter until 15 minutes in the last quarter - so swings and roundabouts, 'attacks' and defences, Neelds' and Roos'.

By three-quarter time I wanted to win as much to stuff up Dom Cassisi's farewell as anything. No offence to the guy, who I have nothing in the slightest against and who I've probably given about 23 seconds thought to in my life before yesterday, but everyone knows he chose to retire this week so he could play in a guaranteed win. Which he did, so good luck to him, but it would have been nice to stitch up his plan and then give him the guard of honour on the way off the field. It would have been especially cruel after that almost certain goal that he was jibbed out of by a novelty bounce, but I'd have taken it.

Alas with baffling decisions flying left right and centre we couldn't hold on. Tyson topped off his (spoiler) BOG return to form with a goal to put us back in front before we gave it away with first a traditionally shambolic defensive calamity, then by leaving Dunn isolated inside 50 against Schultz. There was still time if we were good enough (CLICHE) but we weren't (ABSOLUTE FACT). With the game on the line everyone shit themselves - Jones played on ludicrously from a free, Grimes kicked it out on the full with two players free and another four points went begging.

How we will look upon days like this in the future (which decade hasn't yet been decided) and laugh.

Hair Watch
Bernie Vince somewhat rescued his look by balancing out the cut rather than going for the reverse Morrissey back of head quiff again, but no matter what he did with the hair he wouldn't have been able to top Jasper Pittard for looking silly. As if being called Jasper isn't bad enough he's sporting some weird moustache despite otherwise having the face of a 13-year-old girl. It is several hundred times worse than Dunn's effort of recent years because it is clearly not being worn with any sense of irony.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Dom Tyson
4 - Mark Jamar
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Jordie McKenzie

Apologies to Bail, Frawley, Howe, Pedersen, Riley, Viney and Watts.

Leaderboard
With the maximum (remember him?) votes available now down to 25, Tyson's slight gain on Jones is enough to keep him in the hunt for the major award for another couple of weeks. Everyone below the dotted line is out of the running.

Howe might have snuck in for the single vote, but it wouldn't have really helped him in the Seecamp - which is bad news for all those who took the 500-1 "any other player" option at the start of the year. Meanwhile Jamar has shot out to a nearly unbeatable lead in the Stynes, and the race for the Hilton remains about as interesting as an evening's viewing on Channel 10.

41 - Nathan Jones
29 - Dom Tyson
27 - Lynden Dunn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
20 - Daniel Cross
16 - Chris Dawes, Jack Viney
----------------------
14 - Bernie Vince
12 - James Frawley
10 - Jeremy Howe
9 - Mark Jamar (Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Cameron Pedersen
8 - Neville Jetta, Tom McDonald
7 - Matt Jones
6 - Jack Watts
5 - 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 - Jordie McKenzie, Jake Spencer

Stat My Bitch Up
We narrowly beat our average for the season, causing a rise of +0.49ppg to 61.17. As per the table posted last week this still leaves us second last in a 20+ game season, and needing 46ppg to remain above GWS 2012. You would think that this shouldn't be too difficult but there's no telling which Melbourne is going to show up from week to another. Whichever one it is you can be sure they're not going to score more than 100 points - we are now only a 26 game streak without a ton, our longest since 1921.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
No change at the top of the leaderboard. The Big 10 from the Essendon game remain in the box seat for the end of season prize. As for this week, at the risk of courting controversy I'm relegating Bail's arsey but still fantastic goal from the pocket to runner-up in favour of Blease's big run through the middle. An assist to all of Howe, McDonald, Jones and Frawley for playing a part but only Sam wins the weekly prize of a tour through the disused Holden plant at Elizabeth conducted by South Australia's own Peter Walsh.

For once there was a few contenders to pick from - credits also to long goals from Tapscott/Watts and the JKH goal on the run. If we kick this many attractive goals while only scoring 69 imagine the sort of entertainment we'd be putting on if we were scoring more than 100?


While I enjoyed the Dom Cassisi caricature on the Port banner it was otherwise an uninspiring effort. Congratulations to our side for a solid effort which acknowledged not only multicultural round but also our long suffering (other than the last time we played there) South Australian members. Demons win on "who travelled furthest to get there" tiebreaker to go 17-0.

Crowd Watch
When you're in the 99% crowd majority always ensure that you act as if you've been rorted by the umps all day even when you've been getting a fantastic run and they let you kick a goal even after one of your players has knocked out an opponent. So much bronx. So many grown men leaping to their feet and contorting their faces as if they're in legitimate pain. So many adults giving the finger. There's not enough poison gas in the world.

Next Time
Given that we're all 'tired' (players and fans included) this randomly placed week off probably comes at the right time, then straight back to the 'race' for/to avoid the wooden spoon. There's every possible chance we're going to lose to Brisbane - especially because it's at Docklands - but you would think (in the spirit of the Tankquiry) that St Kilda will be quite happy with the morale boosting win over Freo and will have scant interest in jeopardising picks 1 or 2 by winning again.

As for changes I take the footy fan's prerogative to selectively ignore form in the VFL to suit my own prejudices - if Harmes had got another 40 touches yesterday I'd be demanding rookie elevations, but because Nicholson did it then they don't count.

I'm going to say no change (with Grimes very lucky), but that's conditional on Tapscott being fit and Vince not getting suspended. If they are I'll have Michie and Jones back in. I've seen some suggestion that Cross might be fit again in two weeks, and if he is obviously he comes straight back in as well.

If we're going down to the Lions I hope it's as the result of the Stefan Martin Experience having 75 hitouts and kicking six.

Final Thoughts
Every time I start to get maudlin about how this season has gone since the magic of the Essendon match I try to remind myself how far we've come. It's like reasoning with yourself that it's better to have Smallpox than Ebola, but the fact remains that before this season started I would have crawled over broken glass to get three losses by 10 points or less.

No comments:

Post a Comment