Sunday 12 April 2015

Division required

In affectionate remembrance of The Feelgood Factor
Which died at Manuka Oval on 11 April 2015
Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances
N.B - The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Brunton Avenue

Melbourne fans, welcome back to your comfort zone. Cling once more to our warm and familiar status as a doormat of the competition. Find your productivity at work improved by not having every second person stop you to talk footy, and confirm your travel plans for September. Our week long respectability bender has come to a screaming half and all that's left are the memories and a crushing hangover.

Given that we've not won two games in a row since the afternoon when we became the next big thing both the rational and irrational parts of my brain were in agreement that there would be some kind of embarrassing reverse in Canberra. Nothing conclusive had been proven from a single victory, other than the fact that nobody parties like us over a regulation win, and as much as I desperately wanted to win again there was also the crippling anxiety of knowing we'd be exposed as frauds before long.

We've been through the boom and bust cycle enough over the last few years, so the only thing putting me in a worse mood is that as part of the AFL's conspiracy to get the franchises a win early in the season came at the hands of my most hated club. It's far more fashionable to despise Collingwood or to grapple with an Essendon fan in line outside Richmond Station but I hate everything about the Giants except a) when they gave Junior McDonald a game, b) any player we get from them later and c) their Moscow, Moscow style song. The rest makes me violently ill even before you-know-who gets involved.

So given the opposition and our toxic performance in the second half you'd think I'd have gone completely off my rocker and ended up in a psychiatric hospital yesterday afternoon... but no, against the odds I crashed through the anger phase by kicking a chair over after the 7th or 8th effortless goal during the third quarter and on the highly relevant five stages of grief scale it was de(e)pression early in the last term and acceptance by the next ad break. This is our role, to have nothing better than one night stands with glory before everything goes tits up again shortly after.

You can wheel in as many players from other clubs and draftees as possible but the club is still mental. They have donation options to give money to taking kids to games, to boost our recruiting or to buy the latest and greatest in equipment but where's the option to put money towards bringing the world's greatest sports psychologists in to sort this joint out. In the meantime I implore you to continue treating any sort of victory like a grand final or you'll lose the plot and do something stupid like take up rugby union.

Having seen the disaster rapidly unfold from the comfort of my own loungeroom (now with one less chair) it's clear that I was right to spend the week expecting the rug to be yanked from under us, but there was still enough winning glee hanging around for me to waste a vital tip in the hotly contested Footy Maths Tipping Institute League suggesting we'd win by 10.

During the first quarter when the Giants were playing like they'd swapped Leon Cameron for Leon Klinghoffer it seemed like a reasonable tip. The Melbourne Football Club was in its sixth consecutive quarter of looking like a proper team, and I started to wonder "is this how Hawthorn fans feel?" Up until the bit where our dreams were dropped into a vat of acid the answer was "yes".

For the second week in a row we'd opened up the sort of lead that is simultaneously comfortable and terrifying. The Giants couldn't have been playing any worse at the start so it was unlikely that we were going to run away with it but from five goals in front my negativity only stretched as far as losing a thriller. Then darkness. The same sort of lifeless, pride-free performance that you've seen time and time again over the last decade - an inability to put up even token resistance as the opposition piles on goal after goal. Last week we got away with it, this time we.. err.. didn't - and in spectacular fashion.

Finally the Giants had their revenge for that magical day when we kicked 12 in the last quarter and Max Gawn (remember him?) killed a novelty wig wanker, and an entire commentary box climaxed as one while pretending that a side running riot around a group of witches hats had some sort of implications on the finals race.

Is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all or would you rather we'd started badly and slowly ebbed away to a 55 point loss over the afternoon? I suppose that as a Melbourne fan you'd have to be objective and say that at least we got to see a taste of slashing football but that hardly detracts from the nightmare which followed.

We'd ended last week running away with victory after turning back a furious charge by the Suns (who as it now turns out are complete wank) and the first quarter yesterday was more of the same. The Giants were so badly bamboozled that they reverted to the rudderless side we knew, loved and were once capable of beating. I'm not sure it's ever been said before on these pages but our four goal lead at quarter time didn't nearly tell the full story of how we'd dominated them.

In the good times the star of the show was undoubtedly the previously much maligned King of Sizzle, Tom McDonald who not only managed to find himself on the end of a chain of accurate, penetrating (cliche) kicks to boot the first goal and bring his tally up to three in three games after none in the first 60 but then went down the other end and executed the best spoil of modern times - including Grimes in Adelaide last year - to deny Jeremy Cameron. He'd continue to comfortably beat Cameron throughout the afternoon, unfortunately when they got a run on the Giants had goalkickers coming out the yin yang and we didn't have enough in us to stop them all.

Mr. Spoil bounced back after giving away a questionable free kick (the first of many, but let's not get into umpiring conspiracies here they didn't stop us getting five goals in front and were barely in a factor in our demise) which gifted them the first shot for the day only for Rhys Palmer to give everyone a boost by shanking it out on the full in spectacular fashion. How we laughed as it sliced into crowd, setting up one of several Giants who would have the last laugh on us a couple of hours later.

We laughed even harder when $cully fell flat on his arse later in the quarter. Even if we'd won (hah) he'd still have the last laugh as an average player making millions for being in the right place at the right time, but are TV commentators really blind enough not to understand why fans still hate his guts? "Will Sam Frost get the same reaction?" said the usually sensible Anthony Hudson. Well obviously he won't considering a) Giants fans probably don't know who he is anyway and b) fair trades between clubs are far removed from cowardly midnight escapes to chase filthy money.

Sadly when it all went wrong he got an actual rather than financial free kick and stuck it right up us by adding a goal in the carnage followed by his most beaming smile since the day he went to 'check the facilities' at GWS and came out with a few million in the bank. Neutral and journalists who think we'll forgive and forget any time soon are on one. Until trade week 2017 when in the last five minutes we swap pick 56 for him and everyone will be expected to pretend he's a good bloke again. Not me, I'll put together league tables which exclude any score he's involved with.

Of the numerous players who went missing when it turned ugly in the second half Dean Kent may have had the most spectacular fall. He was everywhere during the good times, kicking a fantastic goal on an astute tap down from Dawes (not as good as Watts to Garlett last week though), contributing around the ground and doing what he does best by missing set shots. Then near on bugger all after that. At first I was regretting that I'd opted for JFK over him in my proposed changes, by the end.. well by the end it wouldn't have mattered one way or the other because 18 players went overboard in the third quarter so how much difference could one small forward have made?

Much of the early dominance came via rebounding out of defence, and looking back there were plenty of worrying signs in the middle of the ground even as we were joyously kicking away to what has is no longer anywhere near a match-winning lead. I'll excuse Vince for looking rusty in his first proper game of the season, and Jones for getting squashed once after carrying the club on his shoulders for three years but there was very little else going on and seemingly no interest in changing the mix while we were winning. As it turns out there was equally no interest in altering things when we started losing but that's another story.

When the ball was pinging through the middle at a million miles an hour as Giants players stood around looking confused everyone seemed to be a winner, but at stoppages the only winners in the early going were Viney and Jamar. Jack continued his excellent tagging work and was threatening to snap somebody into two with a tackle but seemed much more careful with the ball this time - as the day went on he reverted back to throw ball at foot and hope for the best but so did everyone else. Jamar was also important early, and was on top of Mumford in the battle of men built like blocks of flats but didn't have anywhere near enough support. Eventually he had to take matters into his own hands and nab a goal straight out of the ruck in one of the largest pieces of crumb we've seen in recent years.

That didn't last either, but at least he was vital in getting us to the point where we could stuff it up in spectacular fashion. It should come as no surprise to anybody who begrudgingly sat through our last nightmare against the Giants that things started to turn in their favour when they had a player go off injured. In this case it was their back-up ruckman, and as much as the commentators tried to tell us how it would be horrible for Mumford to have to go on his own for the rest of the day all Melbourne fans must have said "oh shit, here we go again". Next time we play them they'll sub somebody off after a minute and flog us anyway.

Down back you'd have been hard pressed to know Jeremy Howe was even playing - and he went on to do absolutely nothing for the day except drop a few marks because the degree of difficulty was too low. Fortunately he didn't take advantage of everybody's rock hard state to sign a massive contract extension during the week as we - or more accurately another club - can probably get him for half the price now. Mind you it's not like we did anything to get him into the game, but going merrily to the grave without question seemed to be a key feature of the performance.

It wasn't necessarily that everything was going right for us, it's that everything was going wrong for them so there was always a danger of a comeback once they regrouped. It would have been good to put a side away for the first time in god knows how long considering we'd faded out to a certain degree in the second half of all four competitive games played so far this year but when you've spent a years lucky to kick 10 goals in a game one week of scoring 117 doesn't mean you've suddenly learnt to kill sides off.

Usually I'd put these fade-outs down to psychological illnesses caused by playing in a losing cause for so long but considering so many players are now is it a fitness issue? I know most of them played all three practice matches but if they're exhausted after that we might as well shut the place down. They bounced back in the last quarter against the Suns when challenged but I'm many of them looked fried in the third and were probably running on winning adrenaline alone by that point. Take the easy way out and blame the Paleo diet even if like me you've no bloody idea what it is.

Though it seemed we should have led by even more at quarter time and that the reverse was going tt come at any moment even I lifted an eyebrow in excitement when Hogan got the first goal of the second term. Ignore the umpire guessing he'd marked it when it may very well have hit the ground because in true Melbourne fashion we allowed them to kick a goal straight out of the middle to make it for it. After grafting away to keep them to a goalless quarter it was proven that the most reliable attacking option for a team playing us is to get to a centre bounce and watch magic unfold.

Once we conceded that goal the tide began turning rapidly against us and it was only rancid kicking for goal which stopped them from catching us even earlier. Between Garlett's arsey snap and Newton's goal right at the end we put on a great trial of what was to come after half time by barely getting our hands on the ball.

Unfortunately by the time I'd adjusted to Fox Footy's long distance camera work we only had two goals left in us. The game in Ballarat that Hutchy filmed on his mobile phone looked better than this. Do we get blamed for the (presumably) horrible TV ratings due to the handful of neutrals who gave it a chance before turning off when they found it was being shot on a long lens from Queanbeyan. To contribute to the carnival atmosphere there was one point where they momentarily went to a break while Neville Jetta was having a kick. During the third quarter I was wishing they'd stuck with the Sam Querrey vs Feliciano Lopez clay court tennis match that had been turfed off Fox Sports at 3-2 in the first set so our game would come on. No idea how Sam and Feliciano got on, but in tennis parlance I think we lost 6-1, 7-5, 0-6, 0-6, 0-6.

When their 15 minute spell of pressure came to nowt due to Kent/Garlett-esque set shot kicking and Newton kicked his goal against the run of play it seemed like the tide was running so strongly in our favour that it was ok to believe again. When the behind-the-goal replay showed a quarter of the GWS cheersquad (one person) having a tantrum as the ball went through that confirmed it. She probably found out that she was the only person in the ground who had actually paid for their ticket. How I mocked her at the time (while simultaneously trying to weld the MFC lid down) but ultimately there's another figure related to the Giants who had the last laugh - I expect even Sheedy was sitting at home laughing manically while we went the way of Leon.

A hard fought goal that should have set us up perfectly going into half time was rendered useless thirty seconds later when we gifted them another goal straight out of the middle in the time honoured tradition. It's easily said after the disaster but in retrospect I wish we'd gone into full Classic Roos defensive mode after the goal considering how they'd been well on top before it.

Of course being ultra-defensive doesn't usually work when the opposition clear from the centre in four seconds unless you relocate the forwards into the defensive 50, and no coach is going to do that unless there's 20 seconds left in the game, but even just holding it in the middle for a repeat stoppage would have been preferable to watching them sweep forward and kick the goal which ultimately tilted the game in their direction. Unfortunately none of this could have been considered as about 20 minutes later we discovered that the Plan B envelope was still going around in circles on the baggage carousel at Canberra Airport.

The only thing worse than needlessly conceding that goal going into half time was that it fell to one of the most unpleasant looking characters of recent years. Cameron McCarthy certainly appears to be a reasonable player who worked hard to give the Giants a forward target while Tom Mc was flogging Cameron, and he ultimately took full advantage of the avalanche to kick three goals so good luck to him but he has a face likely to scare children. He's taken the despised Lynden Dunn moustache look to frightening new levels of depravity by also introducing a Michael Hurley style taxi driver basher haircut and having the mo droop at either end.

If he moved into your neighbourhood you'd definitely consult a particular register of previously convicted offenders to make sure he wasn't on it. Our legal department would like to point out you most certainly won't find him on there, but you will probably see a few familiar names from the various football codes. He will probably go on to kick more goals than Jesse Hogan in the end, because we are destined never to have nice things.

Still, even after conceding a goal to a guy who looks like the teenagers awkwardly loitering around the Magistrates Court we had a handy lead. It would take a lead of about 15 goals to make me comfortable at half time but it was better than being 27 behind. It was a reasonable insurance policy to keep us in the game until the end as long as we didn't do anything stupid like concede nine goals to one in the third quarter.

They had been much better in the second quarter, but then again we had Tyson, Jones and Howe barely getting a touch and Vince still running himself back into form so it's not like there wasn't potential for improvement at our end. It just didn't happen, and while we stood back and enjoyed the fireworks the Giants trotted around unchallenged doing whatever they wanted.

At the time I didn't know that we hadn't torched such a half-time margin since being 34 up against the Bulldogs at half time in Round 12, 2000 then losing by 25 (I was there but have obviously wiped it from my memory) but it still seemed like a rarity. Turns out to be only the 12th time we've ever done it. By way of comparison this was more like Round 17, 1997 when we were inexplicably 30 points in front of the Pies at half time then lost by 52. I remember that one better, for I was listening to it on the radio at home and threw things - 18 years later nothing has changed.

Given that I am only concerned when we're getting the football or stopping the other team getting it there's not a great deal to say about the third quarter. What angered me was that for 30 minutes we seemingly continued to do exactly the same thing while they tore us to shreds. I don't know if there were tactical shifts made which didn't pay off because we'd lost the plot or the Giants were too rampant but it didn't look that way. Considering that they were breaking out of the centre with the greatest of ease I never saw anything more adventurous than a low-key Harry O appearance. Any chance of throwing Dawes, Watts or even Hogan through there to knock a few people around and reassert our dominance? Might not have worked but it was an much chance at Jamar battling manfully with Mumford only for the ball to fall into the hands of an on-rushing opponent every time.

Realistically they were on such a high that it would't have helped if we had all 18 players take up religion and sing the chorus of Dropkick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts Of Life in the centre square but from the perspective of somebody who barely cares for footy tactics until the point where we'd conceding goals hand-over-fist was anybody put behind the ball to try and stem the tide? I know last week I was demanding that we stop messing around with Jack Watts and play him one position but in the event of an emergency why not send him down back for a few minutes to play as a loose man and calm things down? It's never a role he should play for four quarters but after the fifth goal in rapid succession trying anything would have been preferable.

No idea what Howe was supposed to be doing yesterday (and not sure if he did either) but even though he was having a mare what better man to have roaming free in the event of a non-stop aerial bombardment? Instead he gets left wandering around on a half-back flank unable to get a kick and by the time he did have a simple marking opportunity he was so surprised that he dropped it. Perhaps the coaches thought that we did such a good job answering challenges last week without doing anything drastic that we might as well adopt the same tactics. Which was fine after 1, 2, 3 and 4 goals and questionable after 5, 6 and 7 but a total bust from there.

We're well used to debacles by now so seeing a side run riot against us is hardly surprising but seeing us roll over and die no matter how many new players are introduced is disheartening. Speaking of new players the fizz on the ones who were so good last week was spectacular. The fizz on the new players who were so good last week was spectacular. Brayshaw is excused as the sub, Hogan is excused for being good, vandenBerg was ok at getting it but not so bad at disposing of it, Newton average at best considering goals and time off ground, Lumumba ordinary, Frost rubbish and Garlett a total bomb except for his crumb deluxe goal - admittedly that's what we pay him for but The Big Steal doesn't seem so immense this week.

If Hogan had kicked his goal at the start of the last quarter it might have made things interesting but realistically we'd necked ourselves in the last few minutes of the third quarter when they kicked the last three goals to not a sliver of resistance. We managed to get another goal and only lose the second half by 72 but all the confidence gained a week ago was now undone and most of the team looked like they were going through the motions only because we weren't allowed to officially concede and catch an earlier flight home.

The real winners are the AFL and their plan to get GWS off to a great start by fixturing them against the bottom two teams. What an amazing coincidence that Gold Coast ended up with exactly the same start - at least we momentarily interfered with the plot last week. What another remarkable stroke of luck it is that they'd managed to get the Giants 2-0 going into a Sydney derby next weekend. Remarkable. People who are into conspiracy theories are often dickheads, but when it's my theory everything about it is sound. I usually avoid Victorian teams like the plague but good on St Kilda for fighting the power last night and at least ruining half the plot.

If nothing else has come from the Giants whacking us at every opportunity at least games against them have joined the rivalry against Collingwood as being built on one-sided hatred (from us) and one-sided football (from them). The Footscray and Essendon games might give us more exciting outcomes but footy is much spicier when there are personal issues - even if only one side cares.

Burn the tapes and move on.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Tom McDonald
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Jesse Hogan
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Mark Jamar

Apologies to Cross who was narrowly tipped out for the last vote. At half time I would have had 10 in here, by the end it was down to one and even then neither of them probably deserved it.

Remarkable scenes at the top of the leaderboard as possibly the first key defender ever to lead extends the gap to over one full BOG performance. At the same time remember James Magner was on 10 after his first two games and what happened to him. Look out for Tom to be recommissioned as a defensive forward by Round 10 and a VFL player by 2017.

10 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Jack Viney, Jack Watts
3 - Jeff Garlett, Jesse Hogan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
2 - Nathan Jones, Christian Salem
1 - Mark Jamar (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ben Newton

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Somebody must have read my comments about there being too many goals to choose from last week and thought I was suggesting this was a bad thing.

Considering we returned to scoring bugger again there were a few reasonable contenders this week. Special consideration to Dawes-to-Kent-Alley Oop, Garlett from the pocket and Newton causing pandemonium amongst the orange clad club shifters but I can't go past the wonderful simplicity of Jamar's super size crumb. He judged the flight of a wonky throw-in better, grabbed it out of mid air hoofed it through and momentarily life couldn't have been any better.

Last week's nominee (Dom Tyson with many assists) still the overall leader though.

Amazingly the GWS cheersquad (Chairman: Gil) have reverted to using O's instead of 0's in line with the rest of the English speaking world. It was still a disappointing effort considering the sort of money they've got available to them - it should be dripping with gold. Better that they don't spend it all I suppose, that's AFL money which could be be better spent bailing us out again in a couple of years. We still won on font and a reasonable slogan which quite correctly pointed out that you should watch out for a team with a point to prove. Unfortunately that was the other lot. 2-0 Dees.

Crowd Watch
It seemed unlikely that on any fair count the crowd would top the 7311 we got there against Sydney before the then Chief Minister of the ACT threw our contract in the bin, but in accordance with the GWS Crowd Manipulation Act of 2012 it was inflated in line with official Treasury Department projections and they managed to get it up to 7700. Maybe they won't be relocating to the ACT permanently any time soon.

It sounded like there were significantly more Melbourne fans there, because obviously most of the neutrals in the crowd realise that cheering GWS is like declaring your loyalty to Vichy France but by the end even they'd turned on us too. I don't blame them, if I saw a side put in that sort of limp performance against a hated franchise I'd treat them with contempt as well.

Capital Corner (formerly Matchday Experience Watch)
Would you even bother putting on spectacle for the transient audience of local neutrals, visitors who were still (briefly) high on victory and a handful of franchise customers? Whatever it was it didn't qualify for the television broadcast because we were busy being treated to the Home Matchday Experience of Tony Shaw guffawing away to himself and talking less sense than Dwayne Russell.

A few weeks ago I was in Canberra and being a politics nerd went to watch Question Time. When people say they follow football but not any team in particular I think they're generally weirdos but that's how I feel about politics, most of them are bent at right angles but I love watching people yell at each other in an environment where you can be sure nobody's going to get glassed.

As I sat in the Senate gallery watching Penny Wong do her best Nathan Jones impersonation with a heroic captains performance while leading a team full of duds and has-beens I was thinking that if you could find 499 voters willing to put their name to a party with a nice generic name like the Football Fans Party you might very well get elected. With an apathetic electorate willing to throw our vote away on anything these days it would attract support from fans of all codes, and if the Motoring Enthusiastis Party can get in with 17,122 votes I'm sure you could do even better than that even if you just called yourself the Collingwood Party. Sign a few sweet preference deals and start looking for an electorate office.

The prize package for anyone who can pull this scam off is at least six years as your own boss on a base rate of $195,130 plus expenses. You'll probably become a national hate figure for gaming the system like nobody ever has before (the "Sports Party" nearly got elected in WA last time but that's far too generic, I only want to vote for ball sports) but you'll also be enjoying a minimum $1.17m before-tax salary over your stint plus any outrageous pay rises you vote for yourself in the future. Give me a mention in your maiden speech.

Next Week
We're on a tour of the entertainment hotspots of the world. Canberra one week, Adelaide the next, can Atlantic City be far behind? Now that the good times have been well and truly proven a flash in the pan we can admit that the Crows will probably mangle us. They weren't nearly as impressive against Collingwood as they were against North but I'd fall off my couch if we got anywhere near them next Saturday.

As for the team I'm usually one to call in an airstrike on everyone in the wake of performances like this but given that it's only Round 3 I feel like we should exercise some caution and stick with a settled side. There's plenty of time left for slashing changes which leave Casey having to field 13-year-olds. So barring injuries, suspensions or surprise defections to ISIS I'm opting for the very simple...

IN: Pedersen
OUT: Frost

You may feel we need to massacre most of the list and bring in some of those fill-ins that Essendon had behind "break in case of emergency" glass, and I've got some sympathy for your position but you're never going to drop Tyson, Vince, Howe or Jones so it will help immensely if any or all of them get back to their best form next week. This was not a capitulation caused by the bottom four or five players.

The reviews on Dawes' performance seem to vary between uncomplimentary and murderous, and while he went under with everyone else in the end I thought he was very good early on. The argument is that we looked so much better without him that he go and join Jack Grimes in trying to win back his position through the VFL but personally I feel he's still important enough to persist with at least for a few weeks before we bring Puttin' On The Fitz back for another go. We're not going to win so let's just put what we think is the best 22 in and try to get the tactical side of things right instead of panicking.

I have a horrible feeling that Brayshaw is going to get dropped when what should happen is that he's reinstated to the starting lineup. I've got no problems using him as the sub this time because we had a reasonably strong (on paper) lineup but he was a wrecking ball against Gold Coast and we're going to need anti-social brutality by the truck-load to have any chance next week so I want him in there doing suplexes on Dangerfield and Sloane from the first bounce.

The merchandise table
On the left, a present received during the week from my cousin-in-law. Clearly a garage production rather than official AFL licenced merchandised but they could have at least deadened the eyes a bit to make it look like him instead of working off a Steven Stretch sketch from 1989. I'd like to think there are 9999 of these still slowly rotting away in boxes on a dock in Hong Kong. Here's to both manufacturer and subject going bankrupt.

By the fourth quarter I was tempted to start drinking cleaning fluids out of it, but that's what he ($cully, not the giver of the gift) would want me to do. Any word yet of where he's invested his ill-gotten millions and what we can do to make sure the stock price of those companies plunge to record lows?

* Please note, the above picture has been presented in thumbnail format deliberately as I know many of you have small children and I don't want them to become distressed. Speak of the devil and he shall appear.

Final Thoughts
I'm not surprised people are upset after watching that gash, but we play Adelaide, Footscray (resurgent), Richmond (still dangerous), Fremantle, Port (contenders), Hawthorn (imperious) before Queen's Birthday so don't use up all your despair yet. Save some cyanide for me.

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