I've had enough of testing ourselves against the best in the league. We tried, we failed, bring back the other horrible teams so we can at least enjoy a competitive match before the spirit of our squad is completely squashed to the point where they're easy prey for anyone. It's something of a dramatic overreaction to two games against last year's beaten grand finalists and a side who could quite conceivably be playing against them at the end of the year but it's disheartening to see us looking as outmatched against the big teams as we did last year.
I expect we're meant to pretend that keeping the damage to under 40 points represents some sort of moral victory. Last year when we lost to them by five goals and kicked 5.8.38 it was hailed as a major step forward even without Franklin having played three quarters. And at the time it was, because we were just a few weeks removed from regular 80+ point defeats against the good and not so good of the league alike, but a year on with the side having undergone further redevelopment and expectations having risen from 'nil' to 'few' it was deflating to watch us crumble so drastically.
After the horror start some ground was recovered in the third quarter but even if we ignore the fact that the Swans had lost players to injury (because that's usually a trigger for teams to waffle us) it still came after they'd started preserving themselves for next week and switched to comedy forwards-in-the-backline mode - which was about as successful as us trying it seriously with Howe, but at least they weren't being serious. Also didn't hurt that the 15 MFC players who had been shell-shocked in the first half suddenly realised that they didn't want to play for the Casey side who had done stuff all a few hours earlier and started throwing caution to the wind again.
It really was a horrible performance which looked like everyone both on and off-field went in knowing they were going to lose and trying to minimise the damage. After a couple of things went wrong early everyone - and I mean everyone - went into their shell and decided that it was better to score 50 and lose by 40 than score 70 and lose by 10 goals. It made it look like we hadn't moved forward an inch from last year - and we'll still need two more wins and some close losses to even come close.
You would think we would easily go 2-15 or better for the rest of the year - especially with games against three of the four teams currently below us to come - and a reasonable run of matches against flaky teams in the middle of the year but then again we did cark it in spectacular fashion in the second half of last season so that can't be ruled out either. And our record against bottom four teams has almost been as bad as our record against top four teams over the last couple of years.
There was about three minutes of total domination early on where most of the side were playing without terror. In one of only two moments of excitement for the entire first half we came down the middle of the ground, Hogan smashed a pack to buggery and almost held the mark but we managed to get the ball on the lead to Kennedy-Harris in the pocket... who kicked off a night best generously described as 'disappointing' by dropping a sitter. Kicking to a lead makes me happy, kicking to a lead in the pocket makes me nervous, kicking to a lead in the pocket then seeing a player drop it cold under no pressure makes me want to rip out a seat and hurl it at the turf.
In spite of JFK's hand-eye coordination starting to resemble his namesake on one particular afternoon in Texas we might have gotten away with it. The ball eventually bounced out to vandenBerg who had all day to turn around a measure his shot but kicked off the main theme of the evening by panicking, throwing it on his boot in haste and missing. Sydney went down the other end, Pyke kicked a goal and any inclination we had for daring play was quelled until the game was well and truly over.
Don't you feel slightly cheated that they can turn a Canadian rugby player into a near Norm Smith medallist while we've been busy ruining the careers of a string of highly rated youngsters? I'd ask for a priority pick but what's the point? I guess fans of the clubs who were shithouse in the early 90's must have felt the same watching Jim Stynes running around winning Brownlows as they were on the bottom of the ladder - but since the draft started being taken seriously in the mid 90's no team - with Richmond a clear second - has stuffed it as frequently as we have.
Even though we've had 500 top draft picks our half-forward line is still under investigation to determine whether it exists. If Dawes was fit going on I'd be surprised, and he got hurt as well so that was about it for him all night - unless you were the coaching staff and left him on the ground for the rest of the game while a reasonable if not perfect replacement was trotting up and down the sideline waiting for a shot at redemption.
Hogan will always push up the ground, and I'm fine with that but what's the point in him (or Dawes circa 2014) doing all that work unless there's somebody for him to kick it to? He did nothing in the first half on Saturday night but he can't be accused of not trying hard. It's been happening all year though, the number of times he's led up the wing and taken a mark only to turn around and see his options are small forwards is ridiculous. If Dawes or Watts could take contested marks to save themselves he could stay at home and be the target, but instead he's forced to roost the ball to Jeff Garlett with a much bigger defender right on top of him - Garlett has taken one screamer this year, he's not Jeremy Howe and it's not a sustainable tactic.
For god's sake could somebody just make a proper lead in the sort of area that radio commentators refer to as "practically right in front", which is anywhere not hard on the boundary line. It happens about once a week now, which is up on the rate from the last couple of years but we're never going to be an average team let alone a good one until we start presenting decent options. I half watch about three non-MFC games a week and pay a total of about one quarter attention but even then it seems every time I look up somebody's screaming down the middle and taking a chest mark. Remember when Michie and Dawes teamed up to do just that in Round 23 last year? It gave me hope that with Hogan around we'd see more, but no. I understand we're trying to get 'slingshot' (cliche) goals but that's not happening either so alternative options would be great before it breaks down into total anarchy. I'm all for the long bomb onto somebody's head but just a casual chest mark on a reasonable angle would be dandy - even if it's to Garlett who's more likely than not to miss it.
Speaking of Howe he'd probably help the situation by providing an awesome contested mark option but he's marooned in defence performing some unclear task which leads to him having about one good game a month. He should have signed a new contract after the Richmond game. I expect after the last fortnight he'll be backtracking on his "I want to stay" comments as fast as he did on his agent's attempts to whore his services out to the rest of the competition. He is totally wasted in defence, and if it wasn't for a coach who we're all in love with then there would be general unrest about it. He's almost not worth picking as a defender so unless you're doing a reverse Rivers/Frawley and playing him out of position in his last year just because it's ridiculous to only use him as a 'break in case of emergency' forward when we're six goals down in the third quarter. I'm not saying we should pay him billions but when he's taking screamers and kicking goals for Carlton next year the time he's spent permanently down back is going to look like a tremendous waste of talent.
We really were so diabolical going forward that it was embarrassing. The defence was holding reasonably strong considering Kurt Tippett was threatening to kick 10 but any good work they did was quickly rubbed out by moving the ball at glacial speed. It can't be a coincidence that we've kicked several goals this year straight out of the centre bounce (and conceded a few too but that's par for the course) because when we do get the ball inside 50 quickly it generally leads to a score.
It took a first gamer to finally get us on the board. Billy Stretch's ice cold set-shot finish was a thing of beauty, putting him into that rare club - Melbourne players who began their career with 100% kicking efficiency. And the other rare club. His disposals went downhill as the night went on but it was still an encouraging display which showed he has the nouse to get to where the ball is and he must be given plenty more opportunities throughout the year.
I've shamefully used disposal efficiency in arguments before (usually while defending All-Australian defender Tom McDonald) but if you need a further example of why you shouldn't judge anything based on it comes from Jake Spencer. The Spencil finished the night with 100% efficiency - consisting of one kick and eight handballs to a standing target which provided next to no offensive benefits. He tries his heart out but there has to be some balance between heart and benefit to the team. I didn't mind seeing him picked but to have him effectively go one out for four quarters was just wacky. He's a reasonable tap ruckman but once the ball hits the ground it's like playing one short no matter how much heart he shows with chasing and tackling. Nic Nat turned that into an All Australian season, but that was more to do with the contents of Gerard Healy's pants than anything else. He's also more often than not had the benefit of a killer midfield at West Coast so they can afford to play a ruckman who can't do anything else.
When statistics prove a point I'm happy to go with them, and there was an outrageous moment where he led our tackle and clearance numbers right into the second quarter. In the end he had 10 possessions but with five from free kicks. I know he couldn't play as a forward if his life depended on it but surely in this era of football you can't carry a sole ruckman who has one kick a week. We all had high hopes for Gawn - and there must be something going on behind the scenes with him - but even though he hasn't starred this year I'd much rather stake money on his future than Spencer's. It was a worthy experiment but it didn't work - he's all heart and no impact.
We do still have a reasonable ruckman in Mark Jamar. He's hardly been an offensive powerhouse this year but when has he ever? At least he's had better than one kick in a game for the last couple of years. It seemed that he was being rested when he was 'dropped' on Thursday night but I sit down to watch Casey play on Saturday afternoon and there he is playing practically a full game on the frozen tundra of Casey Fields. What did that achieve? Some Channel 7 bloke said they were 'managing his gametime' but it seemed a weird way of doing it.
The worst thing was that Sandringham were fielding old mate from America in the ruck so it would have been a great day to send Gawn out to dominate and get some confidence up - instead he ends up floundering in a windy forward line with no bastard being able to get the ball to him. I got bored at quarter time, went to do the vacuuming and never paid more than half attention to the rest of the game so I've got no idea if he got into it but certainly not when I was watching. Nevertheless while I'm all for the "players must earn their spot" philosophy it can't be a blanket rule - and from the outside doesn't appear to be treated as one - Stretch was thrown in at the deep end, Toumpas wasn't listed amongst the best over the last few weeks but they got a chance to show what they could do. I'd rather we did it that way instead of waiting for good VFL standard players to force their way into the side then play one quarter as sub and get dropped again. All we are saying is give Gawn a chance.
Our trouble with getting the ball inside 50 - and at one point we didn't manage it once in 15 minutes - was that we barely ever had a free player when trying to move the ball and were left kicking to contests that we weren't qualified to win. It seemed to me - having failed Football Tactics in my VCE - a combination of the Swans being a perfectly drilled side with all the confidence in the world that they could clean us up and most of our team going into self-preservation mode when they made a few mistakes and the opposition got a run on. Add sore players running up and down on the spot and a coach who'd rather turn a game into guerilla war than try and make bold moves to win it. Go straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect four points.
It wasn't like our lot weren't trying, when there was a loose ball they were as vicious as they have been in any game this year win or lose (exceptions: Vince being more vicious against Adelaide and everyone being heavily sedated against GWS) but when it came to pressure there was nothing to compete with the clamp the Swans put on us whenever we had the ball from a standing start. Plenty of goals are kicked from turnovers - which we couldn't generate - and plenty come from open play but no team has ever won a game courtesy of endless stoppages on the wing no matter how hard they hit their opponents. Apparently Dunn even kneed Goodes for good measure at the end, but he's such an anti-social individual that it was probably done for fun rather than footballing reasons.
It's great that we rescued our defence from disaster last year but it seems the side are so wound up to be negative that it's almost pointless playing with a forward line in the first place. Early on the backline - with the exception of the imperious McDonald - seemed overwhelmed but once they closed down Tippett I thought those of them with an obvious role did an excellent job. Salem in particular has been the revelation of the season. I will waste gigabytes of your data with my complaints about Paul Roos' baffling use of the substitute, but one thing I'll graciously concede is that this has been a masterstroke - he's strong around the ball, can take a contested mark and use the ball when he gets it. If somebody would get free for him to kick it to that would be even better, but he's not alone on that front. Here's to him following the career trajectory Jack Grimes was supposed to and ending up as a solid midfielder instead of a Casey Scorpion.
Not that it cost us while we were busy shooting ourselves in the foot, face and vital organs, but the wheel of umpiring fortune continued to spin against us. This week's highlight was ill-feted boy band member Isaac Heeney winning a free for running into his own teammate. The scoreboard operator, now charged with the duty of interpreting umpiring decisions in the interest of 'fan experience', opted for a guess of 'holding the man' instead of just putting up a question mark which would have made far more sense. We did win the free kick count in the end - and lost every other major stat.
What a horrid first half it was - unless you're a Sydney fan who suddenly rediscovered interest when Lockett showed up - and when we play this ugly, slow football it makes for such an incredibly boring 'fan experience' that just as they've got the membership counter going in the right direction it starts counting down again. I can only imagine the look on the faces of Channel 7 executives as they sat there watching the ratings plummet to the point where it would have been more economically viable to put Naked Gun 2 on instead.
I became so gloomy about my decision to leave home and watch this gash that at half time I relocated from my beloved Ponsford Stand to my long forgotten reserved seat for the first time since mid-2014. The game didn't look much better from there either, but at least I was sitting amongst the chosen people rather than Swans fans who were clearly taking delight in my distress. To cap off a total farce on the way I briefly lost my mind and decided to eat a non-Kaiser MCG hot dog, then after coming to my senses and putting it back I attempted to escape the 'food' store under the turnstile and almost took my head off to the amusement of several slack-jawed yokels standing around watching.
By this time, having watched ghastly football and necked myself on a turnstyle it's lucky I didn't just go home - but duty called. Shortly before my mum gave up going to games or paying particular interest to anything other than the scores she walked out at half time of the Adelaide game where we failed to score a goal until the third quarter and thus managed the rare feat of going to a match and not seeing her side kick one major. I wonder why she lost interest. The only person showing less interest in life was the MCG attendant who paid so little attention to my membership at the entrance 'premium' area that I could have waved a Video Ezy membership card from 1992 and he'd have let me in. Once I got through this rigorous security check and took a seat it was appropriate that the 'Melbourne Experiences' superbox directly behind me was empty with the lights out.
Yes, we did improve in third quarter but I'm still not satisfied. The only thing I got out of it - other than the sense that the fans sitting around me have all given up - was that we might beat Brisbane if we played them next week, and I knew that already.
All that was left was to play for dignity and the Baffling MFC Substitution of the Week™. With the game shot to buggery in the third quarter and Dawes moving like he was waist deep in cement I can't for the life of me understand why they took Pedersen - who had been quite reasonable - off instead of several others. Others, most noticeably Kennedy hadn't fired a shot and Pedersen (I've retired his nickname for being uncouth) was about 50 times more damaging around the ground than Spencer. I'd much rather have played him on his own for a quarter and a half instead of the Spencil to give him a reasonable hitout as a ruckman against proper opponents. If he lost the taps who cares, even when we win the taps we rarely get the ball out anyway. Having seen Spencer's game I'd almost rather giving Fitzpatrick a go next just for the laughs but all of a sudden he's been converted in a defender at Casey so I suppose there's no chance of that.
There was some suggestion that Watts got bronx cheers for his first kick when he came on, but I would suggest it was actually a cheer of encouragement. Of course there's a significant faction of our fanbase who won't be happy until he retires and joins a religious cult but I'd like to think most of us are still not total arseholes. I guess 'cheers' can be interpreted however you like, but based on this tripe I suspect Mark 'Stevo' Stevens would have jumped all over the bronx theory. Where do you want him to warm up you poon, Platform 10 at Richmond Station? I hope Mick Malthouse celebrates his last press conference by paintbrushing the twat until his hand swells up.
In the end Watts wasn't too bad. He wasn't great either, but did enough to make me think he's worth a full game next week. At which point he'll probably be one of 15 players totally out of their depth against Hawthorn and will end up carrying the can for about 13 of them after we get thrashed. At least you can't blame him for us losing this week while he was sitting on the bench - though I expect some will. Speaking of players much maligned I thought Toumpas got better as the game went on - he looked even more terrified than the rest of his teammates for the first half but came out with some credit. Got to persist with him for a few weeks as well, we're not playing for the finals here.
The decision to play the Spencil one out ironically coincided with our best period of the game but I'd argue that he had little or nothing to do with it. If you could genetically splice he and Watts you'd have one great player and one who should be fed into a wood chipper but I don't think science is going to come early enough to save them.
And so in the end we made it respectable for future generations who look at nothing other than the scores. McDonald continued to dominate, Brayshaw killed a few people, Garlett chipped in with his customary two goals and two horrifying misses, Tyson had his best game of the year and Nathan Jones was Nathan Jones. And not a single clue was provided as to what our eventual fate will be.
5 - Tom McDonald
4 - Christian Salem
3 - Dom Tyson
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Jesse Hogan
Apologies to Pedersen (pre-mystifying sub), Vince and Cross who might have snuck into the last spot based on possession count and to Garland who I quite enjoyed despite a couple of high profile blunders.
12 - Nathan Jones
7 - Jesse Hogan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award), Bernie Vince
6 - Christian Salem
5 - Angus Brayshaw, Jeff Garlett
4 - Aaron vandenBerg, Jack Viney, Jack Watts
3 - Viv Michie, Dom Tyson
2 - Heritier Lumumba
1 - Mark Jamar (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ben Newton, Cameron Pedersen (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
Sydney's banner looked nice but their wording was distressing - with 'at' being used twice in three words. You'll find several thousand more serious grammatical crimes in the Demonblog archives but if limited to a total of 15 words even I'd avoid disaster.
Obviously we won, but not just for the reasons you'd expect. Not only was our traditionally well kerned banner turned over to a charity cause for the evening (which is always a winner for me) but the cheersquad also made one for mums to run through beforehand - and instead of phoning it in they made one that was just as well kerned as the main event. Let's pad the figures and put it down as two wins shall we? 6-1-0 Demons.
You know you're in for a good night when you walk in to see somebody you know on the big screen wearing a comedy wig and making faces like an ice addict. At least he was there, the crowd was 26,000 but considering how many Sydney fans were in attendance I'd say there would have been a good 5k of ours who decided that they couldn't stand seeing a loss and just didn't bother. They're the smart ones.
There were odd scenes in the first half where the Swans fan in front of me was wearing a scarf which claimed the club was established in 1982. Which is not entirely untrue but at the same time a bald faced lie. When you're winning nobody cares - for a flag I'd happily admit that we merged with University in 1915 and the date of the current club should go from there but until we've won one I'll shank anybody who suggests it.
On the train home I ended up in a carriage full of Swans fans and they were all incredibly jolly - which made me ill.
Matchday Experience Watch
At three-quarter time there was a race between people dressed as New Age Caravans. Russell Robertson should get a raise for the enthusiasm he showed in introducing this with a smile on his face as every Melbourne fan in the stadium not dressed as a caravan was regretting the MCC's decision not to sell cyanide pills. Nobody cared - and the only way they would have shown interest is if there was a big stack and somebody had to go off on a stretcher while in costume - but as always if it's making us then it matters not if a single person was entertained.
Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Congratulations to Billy Stretch for holding the lead by default during the first half but I'm not only a sucker for crumb but also for goals kicked over the head so Jeff Garlett's first (and possibly his first kick of the whole game) not only takes the weekly prize but I'm also promoting him into the lead in the overall prize. Tyson's goal from Round 1 was meaningful and pretty but unless it's something amazing like Salem and Friends vs Essendon team efforts are far less preferable to individual moments of magic.
NB: If McDonald had managed a goal in the last quarter when he walked through half of Sydney's defence (who were admittedly showing half effort) but couldn't take the extra step to get a clear snap on goal then the medal would have been hurled from the stands on the spot.
Stat My Bitch Up
It's the return of everybody's favourite miserablist section. I meant to include this last week but in a demonstration of the complete disarray this page finds itself in the post was published with the headline and nothing beneath it.
After opening the season with a score of 117 we're down to 68.16 after six games. It's still better than the 60.72ppg last year, but not by much. Defensively we've not been much better, 87.83ppg conceded vs 88.81 last year - and all this despite McDonald having an All-Australian calibre season (sadly he plays for Melbourne so he won't even make the shortlist). Look fondly towards the second half of the year and hope that we might see one more +100 score without conceding 250 at the other end.
With the media changing their mind on who's good and who isn't on a weekly basis it seems that we're supposed to think Hawthorn are suddenly rancid because they're 3-3. Even if they're eventually proven to be just that (spoiler: they won't be) the final verdict is not going to come next week because they're going to beat the living bejesus out of us.
The bad news if you're looking for relief is that the Casey game revealed that the players who can't get a game for us couldn't do much better than stay at arms' length of the players who couldn't get a game for St Kilda on their 'home' patch.
Last week I gave Viv Michie three votes and he got dropped so god only knows why you've read this far.
IN: Jamar, Jetta
OUT: Spencer, Kennedy-Harris (omit)
LUCKY: Dawes, Howe (as a defender)
UNLUCKY: Bail was held out of the Casey game in case required at the 'G so he must be close. I'm not enthused by his future but may as well give him a go eventually.
If Dawes is injured then for the love of god get Howe forward. If Tyson is injured then either pick Bail or just forfeit, we'll have the same result in the end.
After some rocky times Matthew Bate is happier than a dog with two dongs. And good luck to him. I want to go to one of his talks and get kicked out for asking about what it was like to sit on the bench in the first half of 186. I'd like to think my support of him to the bitter end contributed to his rapid turnaround in life.
Only for avoiding 'BT', 'Darce' and the rest of the buffoons on Saturday night Channel 7 games who make you pine for Dwayne Russell to do the call. Be careful what you wish for, we'll never be allowed off Foxtel again if we keep putting in performances like that. To top it all off just as I walked out of the safe confines of the 'G it started raining. Let the good times roll.
It's going to be a major letdown when we play a bottom four side again and lose. Fork, meet toaster.