Saturday 30 May 2015

Strange medicine in the desert

When the history of our 2015 season is written we'll look back and regret appointing Clark Griswold as tour manager. So far we've been interstate three times, opened up leads totalling 78 points then gone on to lose by 131.

There was a suggestion that we were a chance based on Port's form in the last few weeks, the players they had missing and our improved form in beating the Bulldogs but when it comes to the Dees it's best not to be fooled. As before last week I thought we could at least make a game of it (and that ended well) but resolved not to get sucked in by media hysteria over their sudden 'loss of form'. That might be cause three losses in a month would represent a good one for us, but losses to Brisbane and Richmond aside they're still the team who made Hawthorn look stupid in the first quarter a few weeks ago - and with our record of playing individual mediocre players into form who better to do it for an entire team?

Then there's our horrendous record backing up after victories. Since the last time we won two in a row we've followed victory with defeat 13 times straight at an average of 39 points. At the risk of coming across as a David King style figure who just hurls endless numbers around to look as if I know what I'm talking about it should be noted that the quality of opposition varies greatly, but last year (Gold Coast, Bulldogs, Port, North) we had it down to a manageable 21 point average whereas this season (GWS, Freo, Port) it's out to 58. What does it all mean? For starters it's confirmation that the bottom five is where we'll belong until we can stop turning to dust under heat from the best sides but also that if we somehow manage to bring the house down by rolling the Pies next week you might want to avoid the inevitable disappointment and blood letting when St Kilda beat us.

That they were only above us on percentage was irrelevant but for the first 20 minutes both sides carried on like the week before. We were the vastly superior side who had weathered a serious challenge from the Bulldogs and run away with victory and they were the fading rabble who had been done over by Richmond.

There were various signs that it was meant to be our day, and Port were clearly rattled. Hogan got the first with a well-taken set shot which came courtesy of Justin Westhoff running 30m in a circle and Jay Schultz needlessly saw a goal ruled out by holding on to Dunn as the ball flew over their heads in the sort of scenario that you'd think only we could get involved with.

The undisputed highlight that didn't involve Port necking themselves was when The All-New Spencil received an intelligent pass from Toumpas and converted with one of the most unconvincing set shots of all time. The way his leg swung across to connect with the ball was reminiscent of celebrity Dees fan The Grim Reaper swinging a scythe.

It was, briefly at least, total domination and the only disappointment is that we didn't totally smother them when we had the chance. Further breathing space was created when Lumumba crumbed a goal before doing his best Adam Goodes impersonation only for the commentators to completely miss the point and describe him as merely "excited". If you can't bet on it Sportsbet/Fox Footy's Matthew Campbell is not interested, but no doubt by the end of the week they'll have some sort of market up to make money out of racial unrest.

Personally I didn't mind the Goodes dance moves just because it livened up an otherwise shithouse game and gave us something to talk about while the Swans were failing to do us a favour and win by 191. The reaction was predictable enough, Herald Sun readers hated it, Guardian readers loved it and troublemakers like me who love any time footy fans are provoked into outrage were just happy to see people punching on. Don't know why anyone would care but can't we all just come to the agreement that booing is stupid if you're over 11-years-old and that there'd be far less ambiguity if people just yelled out their abuse - and if there's nothing racist about your dislike for him then there won't be a problem will there?

While $cully (99%) and Boomer Harvey (1%) are still going I've not got enough bile left to join this debate on either side, but I enjoyed the Lumumba cameo almost as much as the goal. There had definitely been some sort of memo to commentators not to say anything about post-goal indigenous choreography (possibly in the light of everyone with a microphone anywhere near them jumping in with both feet last night, except Bruce McAvaney who was obviously looking down when the action happened because halfway through what was likely to be the most talked about moment of the season he started pondering whether Goodes would hold his place in the side) because when Garlett did his own routine after kicking a goal later they simply described it as 'exuberance' as if acknowledging the nature of it would set off race riots.

That - goal and dance - were about as good as it got. Pedersen was really good again but he missed an opportunity to lay the boots in further. He was set up by Hogan who was relatively mind-blowing in a game where we didn't look like scoring for 2.5 quarters. It's not just the goals he kicks, but the ones he sets up - now for the love of god just get the ball down there more and profit. Can't do it all on his own though - Pedersen has tried hard the last few weeks but Howe was unsighted and with Watts spending plenty of time in defence (for god's sake) there was one point where Hulk pushed up the ground and had to aim at Spencer inside 50. Not surprisingly that didn't work, Spencil is playing out of his skin (and how good was that tackle?) but even if he eventually proves to be a handy all-day ruckman he's about as likely to become a convincing forward target as I am.

Port regained ground late in the quarter but they still looked shaky up front, and until the dying seconds we were enjoying the tantalising prospect of taking them into quarter time without a goal. Not suggesting that conceding one after the siren was the catalyst for what happened soon after but it certainly didn't help - and after a first quarter where everything went against them of course converting from a difficult angle was the first sign their luck was changing. It was a frustrating way to end a great quarter but we still had a lot going for us. Until the siren sounded for the start of the second quarter.

Sure we got the first goal via Hogan (*swoon*) soccering through with a fortunate bounce, but then in a move so typical of Melbourne that it should be named out of us we went and gave it back straight away courtesy of a Sizzle/Fitzpatrick (looked good last week, less so this time but still worth persisting with even if they gave up and put him forward by the end) combination howler. The way we lost it straight out of the middle was a curtain-raiser for what was to come a few minutes later.

At one point Robbie Gray was crunched and appeared to be injured. He wasn't, but what difference would it have made anyway? MFC quiz for new readers - when an opposition side loses one or more players to serious injury during a game do the Demons?

a) Capitalise with brutal force
b) Take some advantage no matter how small
c) Sink without trace

Send your answers on a postcard to "Melbourne vs Greater Western Sydney Giants, Round 21 2014", PO Box 666 in your capital city.

Then even though Jones and vandenBerg who had been in the best during the first quarter had gone missing, Garlett got two in a row to open up what should be a comfortable gap but then everybody else went AWOL as well. In the next few minutes our centre-bounces completely fell apart and Port kicked six goals while we could barely get a touch. It was absolutely nobody's finest hour, and Garland was the only one who came out it with any credit, but Dunn was especially heinous in costing us one goal with a ridiculous kick-in straight down the middle of the ground and then another with an unnecessary free kick. He's been good enough this year, probably not as good as the first half of last year but still important but his performance from when Port started their run onwards was probably his worst since going into defence midway through 2013.

A key factor in the three wins this year has been absorbing comebacks then bouncing back off the ropes swinging but this was just brutal. Even when Spencer got his hand to a tap the midfield were being obliterated and it would be back inside Port's forward 50 within seconds. All I wanted after the second or third one was for somebody to fly through at the drop of a ball, hit it at a million miles an hour and get buried for another ball-up just to slow things down but we couldn't get close. With his older and more experienced teammates nowhere to be seen Brayshaw tried to fly the flag with a few trademark brutal tackles but how much do you want him to do? It was just horrid, and when Watts was seen putting in half hearted attempts at tackles (as part of his grand total of zero for the day) I could feel forums everywhere having to upgrade their hosting package to cope with all the traffic. The kid is unfairly buried sometime but he doesn't do himself any favours either.

It goes without saying that if we'd managed to get to half time without conceding the last two - including one novelty rolling goal to Westhoff that could very well have bounced elsewhere - we'd have been in a better position but it was just so demoralising. It's ok to lose more than you win in our situation but this is the sort of capsize that we're supposed to have implemented plans on-and-off field to address. Forget playing the top shelf like Hawthorn and Fremantle when we were stuffed anyway this is the second time it's happened when we were in a winning position within two months.

If everything looks 50% better in a win then it looks about 150% worse in a loss like this. Against the odds I didn't mind Matt Jones but it's time to take Bail outside and put the screen up I think. He had a brief burst of usefulness last year but has offered nothing else this year and is highly unlikely to enjoy a Jetta-esque career revival. After a reasonable start Toumpas also reverted to hapless when they got a run on but I'm willing to stick by him for a couple more weeks - after all it's not like we haven't gifted undeserved games to other high draft picks in the hope that it would help them take off.

It was a lot like the GWS game except with significantly less hatred of the opposition (Choke Yourself With A Tie - never forget) which made it easier to swallow when they began pulverising us. Not to mention that it was almost expected that we'd go backwards considering how lesser sides are carelessly burning through handy leads every week, but it's still hard to swallow that sort of swing in a game based solely on inability to stop the other team winning out of the middle. Thought that might have been a trigger for bringing Viney on at half-time to at least try and clog it up with violence and brutality but alas he was only called upon once we were all but finished.

He did alright considering lack of a warmup game at Casey but (normal service resumes, complaint about use of substitute follows) I wish they'd have been a bit bolder. In the end once the game was well and truly over they took Jetta off which seems wacky at first glance considering Fitzpatrick, Howe and Bail at a minimum had done nothing but even though there was some claims on commentary that it was a line-ball decision between Jet and Puttin' On The Fitz I'll be charitable and suggest they took Nifty off because he hadn't played for a few weeks.

Admittedly we did manage to put the brakes on them for a long time in the third quarter, while simultaneously looking highly unlikely to kick a winning score of our own. It took 15 minutes of toil but at least we got the first goal through the even more unlikely combination of Sizzle and Jones, Matt... and then gave it straight back to them out of the centre at which point I jumped up, turned around and started headbutting my couch in frustration. We are surely the only team capable of initiating a collapse by kicking a goal - around the ground we can hold our own but the centre clearances should be illegal. We managed to hold them back for another five minutes before they belted on a few more at the end of the quarter to really put us away.

Was anyone except me still watching by the last quarter? I accept the argument that we couldn't keep the pressure that served us so well early on all day but if you can't at least keep it going until the end of the second quarter then you've got a problem. Even a reduction in pressure is understandable but to go from 100-0 at that speed can be fatal.

Any minor hope we had of precipitating an unexpected Port Adelaide collapse were ruined when a last ditch effort cost Pedersen what would have otherwise been an open goal. From there the procession continued and the only interest became whether we could create history by landing on exactly 50 for the fourth week in the last five weeks. It would have taken five behinds in a row, and in the end we didn't even have five more scoring shots. Fitzpatrick stabbed one home from close range for our only goal of the quarter while the Power went on their merry way - either neatly played back into contention or lulled into a false sense of security.

What an odd year it has been so far. The last time we veered so wildly between wins and demoralising defeats was 2011, and look how that turned out. Mind you it helps to actually win games in the first place, which hasn't exactly been our forte recently.

Unlike the Hawthorn game it's not worth throwing the tape in the bin and starting again on next week, there are things to take out of it. Off-field we got $600,000 to play in front of less than 5000 people, on-field there was a quarter of solid ball-movement and delivery inside 50 before it went tits up in the traditional manner. A Hogan highlights package would be great viewing and Garland had his best game of the year. I also though Grimes was quite solid considering the shambles he was involved with. I'm not convinced Jones was fit anyway and seemed to get injured midway through but there's lessons to be learned for the players who went missing when the heat was on. The only ones who might want to press delete and hope for better next week are the ones who went missing with heart complaints.

Last week when people were gagging to read about a win I was seriously delayed, this week it's out in good time but nobody will give a fat rat's clacker because we were total gash. What a wonderful world.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jesse Hogan
4 - Angus Brayshaw
3 - Colin Garland
2 - Bernie Vince
1 - Cameron Pedersen

Apologies to M. Jones (!!), Grimes and Spencer none of who deserved a vote but could have snuck in for one due to general indifference.

No movement at the top, and Jones' post-quarter time fade-out represents awesome news for Sizzle who again fails to give ground despite not pocketing a vote himself. In the minors we see vandenBerg toppled from the Hilton lead and replaced by Hogan, but with Brayshaw hot on his trail.

29 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
13 - Nathan Jones
12 - Jesse Hogan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award), Bernie Vince
11 - Cameron Pedersen
9 - Angus Brayshaw, Aaron vandenBerg
7 - Jeff Garlett
6 - Christian Salem
5 - Angus Brayshaw
4 - Jack Viney, Jack Watts
3 - Daniel Cross, Colin Garland, Viv Michie, Dom Tyson
2 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Mark Jamar (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ben Newton, Jake Spencer (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

I managed to completely miss the Power banner but was still ready to declare them the winners due to ours including the phrase "Pedalenko you beauty" which is up there with "It's a Mitsi" for catchphrases that are not going to get over in 2015 no matter what. But it looked nice, albeit seemingly wider than usual. Then it was revealed that Port had run with something suggesting that they win with "no malice", which makes no sense whatsoever - and was eventually ignored when they maliciously rodgered us - surely you want as much malice as possible? This is no time to be noble and sportsmanlike. Dees win in a thriller - 10-1-0 for the season.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
In a week where we returned to only having a handful of contenders there was a surprising number of contenders amongst the eight majors. Hogan from the boundary was lovely, Garlett running on equally so but I'm going to opt for Heritier Lumumba due to a) crumb and b) a failed attempt at contentious cultural dance. Casual Garlett from the boundary line last week remains your clubhouse leader.

Next Week
It's almost impossible to deny the old Mick Malthouse (RIP) charge that this is our Grand Final so I'll go mental if those who appeared to be half interested this week don't come out breathing fire on Monday week. Here's to Watts suffering Vietnam style traumatic flashbacks to his debut and eye-gouging somebody.

The violent nature of our demise today probably cost the club 15,000 squeamish fans off the gate for next Monday, but it will still complete the most lucrative fortnight of our season as long as the Pies don't get rolled by 120 tomorrow afternoon and all their fair-weathers drop off in fear of an embarrassing loss. Pre-purchase your tickets, you may lose tomorrow, but you will not lose a week later.

I really wanted to get Riley back in, but I don't want to get jumpy and massacre the squad after one disappointing loss. If we get belted I'll be calling for OUT: Everyone but for now I'm going to take the rare position of calling for calm. Suffice to say that if Tyson's not quite right and could do with another week of rest - or a decent run in the VFL - I'd be happy to send Riley out to bulldoze anyone he can get near, but I'm not having him come on when we're eight goals down in the third quarters so only interested if he starts.

IN: Tyson
OUT: Bail (omit)
LUCKY: Watts (ordinary way to back up a promising return), Howe (only because I have romantic notions of him taking screamers in front of 80,000 60,000 people) and Toumpas (one step forward, one step back but has to get a few games in a row).

Matchday Experience Watch
God knows what went on in Alice Springs, but who else is living in fear of the sort of extravaganza we're going to put on next week in order to show off in front of 50,000 Pies fans who don't give a shit? Remember the year we signed up with Mt Buller and had snow dumped outside the ground? That was no good for stereotypes but at least we won the match.

I've come up with a novelty promotion that will bring the house down. Get some hapless fool from the crowd, show them 30 seconds of highlights of any random Melbourne game and ask them how much we won by (yes, I know but let's keep it positive). Then depending on what they guess...

Tell me your matchday experience would not be enhanced by hearing that song. It's not like Richmond playing the Jeopardy song for no reason, this has a real competitive element. No, you're right it's a shithouse idea but enjoy having that theme stuck in your head for the next week.

Social Media Strategy Section
Reminder - the long dormant Demonblog Facebook page has been reborn and while it's really good for nothing but posting links you could conceivably use the comments section to flirt with your fellow readers.

Final Thoughts
There are a lot of things we're doing better than last year but it would be crazy to pretend there aren't some things that are worse. We're on exactly the same number of wins as this time last year but our percentage is seven points worse. I've got faith, no matter how blind that we've got at least three more wins left in us but don't shred your priority pick applications yet.

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