Sunday 19 April 2015

Malaise forever

Supporting Melbourne is like a prequel to Groundhog Day starring the crew of the Hindenburg. Every time the organisation seems to be comfortably afloat we find ourselves plummeting to the ground in flames. Then it all happens again.

After levitating through the days after the Gold Coast win in a fashion not dissimilar to North Melbourne’s dirigible banner, last week was our latest 'oh the humanity' moment, and the pandemic outbreak of The Fear was something not seen since.. well, the last time we rolled over and died against the Giants.

For most fans The Fear is a weary resignation to never seeing a premiership in their lifetime, but for hopeless addicts such as oneself it's an all-encompassing terror that the club will shut down before any of my vital organs and I'll be forced to find a more sensible and rewarding distraction from real life.

The evidence is growing that it would not be such a bad turn of events if we were to be set free from what consumes us but delivers so little joy in return, but you know full well that shortly after we've gone our separate ways each of us will find something else to obsess over. If you're far enough down the supporter rabbit hole to read pages like this then it's in your DNA to be obsessive about something. Your substitute might be rugby league, soccer, tournament scrabble or heroin but the chances are you'll finish torn up and spat out in the end. Alternatively you'll find a club that gives you premierships galore and I'll wind up secretary of some dubious VAFA entity claiming to be the continuation of the Melbourne Football Club - and we'll never win anything there either. Either way for better or worse it won't be the same.

My life as a supporter since 2007 (especially post-186) is dotted with shameful moments of addiction but I'm so far gone now that nothing short of medical incarceration can stop me. I'm not a completely horrible person, I'll miss a game for births, deaths, marriages or serious illness and no doubt child-rearing will trip me up at some point too but otherwise please accept my apologies for your event as I'll be in the Ponsford Stand swearing liberally under my breath.

Whatever friends, family and colleagues think about this they generally keep it to themselves, which is probably a good thing because I can only imagine the whispers once I'm out of the room. I admire those of you who have the willpower to choose somebody's pointless non-milestone birthday party over a pointless Round 14 loss without holding it against them. Likewise good luck to those of you who can bear to leave at 3/4 time to catch the early train or stay at home in the first place and take your kids to the park when the eighth straight goal goes through but it is my self-imposed destiny to go down with the ship every week.

We've all done well to get this far (no doubt that Geelong weirdo who dresses as a cat would have given up years ago if they'd been through the same) so we might as well press on against the tide for as long as possible. Once the elderly are gone and an entire generation of kids have decided to follow Hawthorn instead it might just be us left, so let's use the time we have together well. Fans of miserable clubs never die, they just fade away.

As much as I tried to play down my disappointment in last week's game the strong sense of footballing misery also known as Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome ended up slowly ruining my entire week. I was comfortable with defeat on Monday but the longer the week went on the angrier I got about it, which makes absolutely no sense. Even after resolving not to get roped in by the Crows on the back of wins against North at their worst and a mid-table at best Collingwood it still seemed likely that they would pulverise us first before getting on with losing to the good sides.

So on the balance of things you'd think I'd be pleased to push them into the last quarter, and I suppose deep down there is some 'pride' that they dug in during difficult conditions and didn't totally roll over again but it seems stupid to be applauding honourable losses when we're 11-57 in the last three and a bit seasons. They're certainly better than dishonourable losses - and god knows we've had a few hundred of those - but there is still so much about our performances that resembles
early GWS/Gold Coast when they had the excuse of teams made up of 21 teenagers and Josh Fraser.

The never-ending rebuild goes on, but at least yesterday reassured me that we can beat the lesser sides and give most of the others a good game on our best day. Now the Bulldogs are suddenly the next big thing I'm not even sure who the lesser sides actually are - probably St Kilda, Carlton and whoever else loses to us.

In the season preview the Crows were bracketed for 12th or 13th, and while maybe that underestimated them based on the sacking of a coach when they still have a list dotted with stars I refuse to concede they're anywhere near a top four side. Nevertheless at strength they've still got us covered, and we pushed them to the point where only countless fluffed scoring opportunities and the umpiring Wheel of Fortune spinning violently against us stopped us from being right in the mix at the end so I will begrudgingly accept that this is a 'good thing'.

Of course Adelaide fans, and their coach who sounds like a bit of a weiner, have different views of the umpiring based almost entirely on the magnificent City of Adelaide vs Bernie Vince dual. In the absence of this week's mystery injury victim Jack Viney to the job our Bernard was sacrificed to a tagging role and threw himself into it with the enthusiasm of an assassin programmed Manchurian Candidate style to pose as friend then terminate with extreme prejudice.

His scrag on Old Porcelain Head Dangerfield was the stuff of legend. As far as direct match-ups which pushed the envelope of the law and of good taste it was the best thing I've seen since Ben Holland vs Anthony Rocca on Queen's Birthday 2007 because by three-quarter time it included an added level of spite.

There really is nothing better than a player doing unsociable things against his old club. Even when Shane Woewodin kicked a goal against us and gave it to the crowd it was fantastic - and not undeserved considering how many dickheads were booing him when it was our fault that he was at Collingwood. It's another reason to hate $cully, who won't even give us the theatre we deserve by playing dirty. Vince is therefore the exact opposite and a top bloke who knows the Adelaide fans will have forgiven him next week. However if Jared Rivers ever lays a hand on Jesse Hogan I'll scream the house down.

Bernard couldn't have picked a better target to practice his unsociable football on, because once Dangerfield goes to Geelong the Crows fans will have far more to be bitter about that one afternoon of borderline assault in the rain. The highlight was when he carved him in two with a perfectly legal shirt-front that caused Mark Ricciuito to throw out any pretence he was acting as a broadcaster rather than a Adelaide board member and nearly break down in tears.

Fortunately Danger seems to have had a series of silicon implants since that fateful day in 2011 when Jack Trengove allegedly knocked him out, because he not only played through a severe blown to the knackers but also felt the full force of a Mark Jamar kick to the mid-section which should see the Russian offered a contract by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Later on when somebody ran him into the fence I expected his head to burst and a Mortal Kombat style FATALITY graphic to appear on screen. Wherever Trengove is these days he'll certainly get a shock on Monday afternoon when he finds out he's been suspended for two weeks for the fence incident.

Having spent the afternoon mocking him for crying to the umpire like Ablett vs Jordie McKenzie it is obvious that he's a fine footballer, and had we'd been able to strategically hold a thumb over Trengove's foot x-ray long enough to seal that trade last year I'd be fawning all over him now. No matter what his mind, body and plums went through he won out in the end, his side got the four points and go 3-0 while we remain forever the AFL's Washington Generals. It should also be noted that unlike the coach the man himself clearly had no hard feelings towards his tormentor.

It was amusing hearing the crowd leaping to his defence so strongly when he'll probably ditch them at the end of the year, but we'd have done the same with Frawley until about Round 15, 2014 when it became blatantly obvious that he was just pissing around with us. After that you could have taken to him with a chainsaw and I'd have thought it was a good thing because we should have been concentrating on players who were going to be around the next year.

The big fight special didn't really take off until the second quarter after we'd shot our bolt. We had the first three goals of the game and probably should have had another, but what's three goals these days? Teams seem to be giving up the lead at the start of a game for fun at the moment. I'd like somebody with more time on their hands than me (and there must be one or two of you) to confirm that despite the moral panic about low scoring 'boring' football that there has never been a time since 1897 where going three goals up at the start of a match has been less likely to result in victory.

It took a while for anybody to get around to scoring, which is probably a good sign when we're involved because the chances are that it's going to end a low-scoring slog. We're such a boring side that after scoring 117 in Round 1 our average score after three is 75.33 and sinking rapidly. As we used to say in these parts, Hello Melbourne.

Frost should have had the first goal but instead started a trend for missing sitters that swept through the side by the end of the day. There's no way he's a forward, and he's not more than a serviceable ruckman in short bursts either, so while it's unfortunate that an injury is going to have to force the issue he had to go. I presume Pedersen is the replacement, and while he's hardly Tony Lockett either he's more likely to kick goals. Alternatively how about this plot I came up with at about 4am this morning - it might be completely impossible to implement in modern footy, but my tactical understanding of the game stalled in about 1992 so hear me out - you pick Pedersen and start him in defence with Howe forward. When Jamar goes forward to rest Pedo goes into the ruck and Howe drops back to cover him. It's novel, it's unique, it's probably shithouse.

I think we can get away with Pedersen in defence as long as McDonald and Garland are in form, and we've got to do something to get Howe forward. Can you have him, Dawes, Watts and Hogan in the same forward line? Of course you can as long as they're not all going for the same ball. Dawes and Watts can keep pushing up the ground (god help us we need to take a contested mark) while Hogan takes strong grabs inside 50 (and up the ground to compensate for the others) and Howe puts the fear of god into backmen across the league by planting his boot into their Trachea. I though Howe did well yesterday without being damaging, and when he's forward he can do damage. If you made me choose two of him, Dawes or Watts in the forward line I'd be giving one of the latter two the Route 798 bus timetable. He'll be happy wherever he ends up next.

Everyone knew that a reverse was coming, but for the second week in a row we had the other side on the ropes but failed to even throw a knockout blow let alone land one. Garlett and Kennedy-Harris could have both had a fourth, but after the sharp burst of attacking we reverted to being horrible at moving the ball inside 50. Again we were getting chances because the defenders were so dominant but nobody was capable of taking them.

This week's victim of the Tom McDonald All-Australian World Tour was Taylor Walker, who ended up getting three but could have had 10 with a less attentive defender considering how many times they kicked it at him. T. Mac had one of his characteristic howlers after throwing ball at boot in panic, and he did get pinched once for running too far down the middle of the ground but he has been a revelation this season. Let's see if he can replace Frawley in every aspect on Friday night by continuing Chip's legacy of flogging Jack Riewoldt every time they meet.

It started to look a lot like last week - down to the manic pressure early on - which was worrying when you know how that turned out. It even featured a trademark Garlett set shot howler, the sort of which has seen the price we paid for him at the trade table downgraded from BIG STEAL to QUITE A DISCOUNT and now PROBABLY FAIR PRICE. At least he puts pressure on in play as opposed to Dean Kent who can't kick a goal from a standing start either and is handy in a fight but only had one tackle all day.

We still have too many players who are good at some things and no good at others. Garlett and Kent can't kick set shots, McDonald can't kick at all, Watts can't take contested marks, Dawes can't take overhead marks and Howe can't find a coach (at this club) who will play him forward. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it's one reason we've been shite for so long. Most rebuilds can at least rely on a core of players who are either ready-made stars or have multiple strengths to play off. Our inability to create our own star players is why we've tried so hard to find one from another club, but one thing I can't stand is bad kicking for goal - we get so few shots each week that it's criminal to butcher so many of them. Except when Hogan missed from 20m out directly in front after the world's shimmiest run up, because he can do no wrong in my eyes.

It was party time for anti-Watts fanatics at the end of the first quarter, when after we'd kept them to one goal until then he dropped an absolute sitter which gifted them a second then we conceded a third immediately after. He had an absolute 'mare and no doubt extremists have already burnt a set of goalposts on his front lawn, but is it any coincidence that he's been toilet since Dawes came back, or was Round 1 just another in a long line of teases? Horrid attempt at a mark that it was if I were the defence lawyer I'd point out that it happened in defence and for god's sake keep him out of defence - though I suppose everyone ends up in defensive 50 at some point these days so that's hardly going to work. Either way I'm still happy to go with him until we can find somebody better who is not Jack Fitzpatrick to play the same role.

While all the good work had been undone much quicker than last week, we thankfully avoided keeling over and dying on the spot. The Crows got in front quickly enough in the second quarter before we managed to mire them in trench warfare. They still looked more likely to score but our defence was holding up heroically, in stark contrast to the forwards who couldn't get close to it.

We grabbed the lead back when a (delete to match your political views) Watts attempted mark/Watts squibbing a marking contest ended in Hogan waltzing into an open goal but that was it for us. Fortunately we kept them to just one more for the rest of the term, and suddenly it was 2014 all over again where we'd adjust the video game style sliders to 99% defence, 1% attack and grimly hold out under siege while looking less likely to score a goal ourselves than the Yackandandah Auskick All-Stars against Hawthorn.

After all that manic defence, pressure and attack on Patrick Dangerfield's testicles the quarter almost ended with the same sort of farcical scenes as the first when Lumumba - playing his best game of the regular season - chose to try and kick the ball along the boundary under pressure instead of just casually running it over. God knows why but of course it went straight out on the full. Luckily for him Betts missed and he was otherwise very good so it'll be quickly forgotten instead of used as evidence as to why he must be shot at dawn. It should be noted that Kent did something similar late in the game, which might have been understandable if the umpires were red hot (cliche) on deliberate but given they wouldn't pay holding the ball most of the day so what chance did you have of getting pinched for walking over the line? With the way they were going probably around 50/50.

I spent much of the second half lying on the couch nursing a headache caused by general sporting tension, and therefore most of the remaining play was seen sideways. I could see a lot of rain falling, and the Crows gradually pulling away while we sent out a search party to find the six or seven players on our side who had totally disappeared.

When the rain started and we were on 4.6.30 it seemed like we were going to end on a none-more-2014 score like 5.9.39 so at least we did a bit better than that but any hope that our problem for the last couple of years was there not being enough games played in the rain were dashed as the Crows eased away. We weren't too bad considering lack of experience playing in the rain, but nor were 22 Mark McGough style mudlarks suddenly discovered.

Vince vs Dangerfield I reached its logical conclusion earlier than expected when what passes for a footy brawl these days broke out at three quarter time. Nothing was sorted out other than a few thousand dollars into AFL's coffers, but at least it proved that even if Kent can't kick a set shot to save his life that he's the sort of person who'd make a difference in a street fight with a king hit or a cheap shot. I like that about him, it's about all I did like of his performance yesterday but he's young enough to learn to put together four quarter performances as well as being moderately thuggish.

To any normal side the margin at three quarter time wouldn't have been insurmountable considering the rain had stopped, but with heavy legs from slogging through swimming pool conditions for 30 minutes it was going to take a miracle switch of gear for us to get close. After all we'd kicked three goals in five minutes in the first quarter and three over the next two and a half quarters so it was hardly likely but you never know. Until about two minutes in when they kicked a goal and crushed any hope of a memorable finish.

Part of the difference was that they had a classy forward line and we didn't - which could have been said at almost any time over the last few years. Hogan continued to battle but didn't have the support and we only managed one more goal when Garlett padded his otherwise ordinary performance by waltzing through an unguarded square. Best of luck to him, when you;'re in our position you've got to take what you can get - and we're much better served giving him the chance to run and kick than to have deliberate shots from anywhere further than 10m out directly in front.

While we weren't horrible the good signs were limited - Hogan plays like a veteran, Jones bounced back after been squashed last week and played a tough game in the conditions, the defence were all good and a few other players were reasonable without being great. Credit to Jamar for going almost completely solo in the ruck once Frost went off and doing a reasonable job against Jacobs, but for the second week in a row the midfield couldn't take full advantage at centre bounces.

The introduction of Angus Brayshaw proved a highlight because he spent the entire time he was on the ground trying to tear opponents limb-from-limb (seven tackles? Yes please) and also showed some form with the ball in hand - I do believe that if he starts as sub on Friday night I might be hanging over the race screaming foul invective at Roos, Goodwin and anybody else who will listen.

The downsides included Dawes failing to doing anything memorable, Dunn playing a good defensive game but not getting enough of the ball, Tyson not showing anything near his 2014 form yet this year and a clear demonstration that we can't play Kent, JFK and Garlett in the same side at the moment.

We're back. In the race to avoid the spoon. What number do I fax the priority pick application to?

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes

Congratulations to Angus Brayshaw who joins Motivational Matthew Bate during 186 as the only player to receive votes after starting as the substitute - and on the occasion of the first of many votes in his MFC career.

5 - Bernie Vince
4 - Tom McDonald
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Heritier Lumumba
1 - Angus Brayshaw

Apologies to Jamar, Hogan, Jetta and Garland


Something odd is happening at the top as the King of Sizzle extends his lead to almost two full best-on-ground performances. Betting was temporarily suspended when he copped a blow to the ribs but he returned to continue his assault on Frawley's 37 votes in 2010, the current best performance by a defender in the 10 year history of the Jakovich. Will it last, or will it be a Nathan Carroll style penthouse to outhouse scenario in the second half of the year (without the eventual spitting of blood at police officers)? Stay tuned to find out.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With a small field to pick from I'll have to opt for Ben Newton off two steps, under pressure after receiving a surprise handball for the first goal of the game.

Clubhouse leader still Tyson in Round 1.

If every team that plays Richmond doing horribly written gags about the microwaving of memberships wasn't bad enough, the noble art of banner making was dealt a further hammer blow by North Melbourne last Sunday afternoon when they replaced the traditional crap slogan and crepe paper with a levitating Mazda curtain - presumably in the name of 'fan engagement' but more likely in the name of 'this is the sort of tripe our cheersquad has served up in the past'.

I respect our cheersquad still going ape week after week around the country when the team has been shithouse for years, I respect that they might not always deliver poetic gold but don't try funky gag slogans either and most of all I respect their kerning - but the day we choose/are forced to add a curtain for players to run through or to replace the banner entirely with a gimmick somebody bought off will be the day when it's time for our crowd to take the moral high ground and formally disband.

Realistically if it wasn't for this segment I could do without the banner entirely, but as long as people want to 'engage' themselves rather than waiting for the clubs to put on hoverbikes and firecrackers then best of luck to them. We've had our fair share of cheersquad controversies over the years (and I'm still waiting for Hocko's autobiography to hit shelves) but at least the club has never toyed with the fragile emotions of people who watch gash football every week by sacking them, removing key duties or switching to an invite only model.

Anyway, before official cheersquads are outlawed and everyone's forced to go rogue like those pisshead Richmond fans there was a banner judging to be had. Adelaide's looked like the label of a $10 wine bottle. 3-0 Dees.

Next Week
Back into the sweet, merciful bosom of the MCG. More importantly thanks to the Anzac Day commemorations we'll be spared 'fan engagement' for another home game. Also unlike say.. the whole of 2014 we've won a home game already so that's one monkey off the back and several hundred to go.

At least Richmond provide a reasonable chance of us not being humiliated on the national stage, and if they thrash us let a thousand think pieces about the Roos legacy bloom. They killed Brisbane, but even we might do that at the moment so I hold out hopes that we can win this. Not holding my breath though.

Michie was best on ground at Casey, so considering our midfield is only just ticking along I'm keen to give them another option. We don't need all three of the small forwards, and in a toss-up between Kent and JFK the angry one loses out.

IN: Pedersen, Michie
OUT: Frost (inj), Kent (omit)
LUCKY: Kennedy-Harris

Final Thoughts
The heartbeat has too many murmurs to be true. We've been worse, but how long are people going to hang around wait for competitiveness to turn into respectability to turn into success? Let's start by battering the suitcase out of Richmond on Friday night.

1 comment:

  1. Thought Kent would be safe just on the basis of the throw at 3.25



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