Monday 22 June 2015

Road Warriors

In an act of treason so stark I'm expecting Tony Abbott to knock on the door and revoke my citizenship I submitted my margin tipping this week with Geelong running out comfortable winners to the tune of 102 points. And I thought that was optimistic. That's what being an overly emotionally invested Melbourne fan will do to you. Two reasonable enough losses (if you're into that sort of thing) and suddenly the idea of IN: Dawes, Spencer, M. Jones, Bail causes you to rush off and start blending Nembutal smoothies.

Well you would too if you'd been through what I have at Kardinia Park. Many of you no doubt have suffered similar or worse. I first went there in 1999 and had to convince a total stranger that it wasn't wise for her to take on an entire terrace of locals and things haven't got much better since. Uncharacteristically, smack in the middle of all the horror is what I regard as my favourite win of all time. Why not watch it now? No need for me, I've seen it about 213 times and still crack the sads when Phil Read gets pinged for deliberate.

Since that day it's been slim pickings at best. A draw that I didn't bother to take the day off work to see and a serious of brutalities capped off by the day which blew the club into thousands of pieces that are only now seemingly (because we won) being pieced together and identified by the use of sophisticated forensic DNA techniques. Last time I went we kicked four goals, it pissed down raining on my head all day and it was considered a reasonable result because we only lost by 68. Grim times indeed.

So when I woke this morning after a fitful night's sleep it's probably lucky that I had to go to Geelong for work before the game anyway because (whisper it quietly) at the slightest provocation I may very well have pulled the pin. It just seemed like a ludicrous way to spend a Sunday afternoon. At least when Burke and Wills set off from Royal Park carrying an oak table and a Chinese gong they did it with full confidence of survival. I expected to catch the train to Geelong then float home on the tides.

The Geelong of today bears scant resemblance to the side who ripped us to shreds that fateful day in 2011 then did similar to Gold Coast the next week in what must be the greatest power fortnight in VFL/AFL history, but it should still not be underestimated how massive this win was. So much the better that it came from four well played quarters instead of from throwing caution to the wind after going five goals down. You'll take a win anywhere you can get it but it's refreshing to want to watch an entire replay instead of skipping straight to the last quarter. We saw similar in the win against the Bulldogs, but the difference was this came on a ground where we are traditionally wank, with a side chock full of battlers, kids galore out of necessity and after being (rightfully) murdered by the entire football world for the shoddy communication which cost us the game last week.

It also came with the entire football world watching on courtesy of the AFL's brave (and as it turns out surprisingly not foolish) decision to include us in the only game of the day. I thought the idea was to maintain ratings right into the 6pm news by putting on one of those pulverisations that people perversely watch to the end just to see how bad it'll get, but it appears that the match was broadcast on Fox Footy and so there was actually no reason for it to start so late. Did Channel 7 even bother to show it into Melbourne or were they showing Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii for the third time this month? It might have cost us some casual viewers, but those who did watch got to see a great redemption story instead of a merciless beating - and it was probably only nervy Geelong fans who were left flipping over to Postcards on Channel 9 when it all got a bit too much at the end.

Didn't look like it was going to be anything less than a debacle early on. We'd managed to get through the first 10 minutes without any goals being kicked - which is more of a fourth quarter thing for us - but even though Gawn was laying out centre clearances on a platter and Selwood was struggling to get within the same postcode of the ball courtesy of Jack Viney's mean spirited tag there was still a 186 flavour about it all when they kicked the first two goals. For me anyway, my tipping point between "in it" and "20 goal loss pending" is frighteningly narrow. The concern quickly became that Daniel Motlop would take over where Steve Johnson (off a cliff since the Cats turned back two first round picks for him in a sentimental decision that they will neck themselves over one day) left off in 2011 and tear us to shreds. He got a lot of the ball but only one more goal - which was one less than an unheralded second game Demon with a initials reminiscent of a group of right-wing extremists.

The pessimist in me - always fighting a pitched battle with the 5% of my brain devoted to childlike enthusiasm and sense of belief - decided then that our winter of discontent was undoubtedly going to continue and that it had been a stupid idea to come all this way just to see another royal shafting. Then high atop the footballing slagheap diamonds were unexpectedly discovered. Not that we didn't have some good fortune - witness the second goal where Tyson (in his best game of the year by far) had to step through a pair of Geelong defenders to slot it from the goal line and the third to Neal-Bullen where we did everything we possibly could to stuff it up before ANB got his second. Not entirely sure why he dribbled it through instead of just running up to the line and kicking the bloody ball into the Barwon River (which I assume is somewhere just behind the ground) but it went through so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Even better than it came courtesy of Harry O doing exactly what we pay him for and going for a run down the wing then roosting it long to a free player. Which is a big step up from Queen's Birthday where he was high on "fuck you Buckley" trying to take an entire team on single-handedly.

At the same time while we had some luck - not too much though, it took until the last quarter for a comedy bounce even moderately close to the Montagna one last week to go our way - we also benefited from ice-cold set shot kicking all day and there's nothing lucky about that. Imagine a world where Jeff Garlett seals the game from 30m directly in front, and with nothing better to do keep thinking about it for another two weeks until we play again. It's hard to take the piss out of the Blues in a week where they've finally won another game but thanks very much again for sending him over for the draft equivalent of a three-pack of CD's and a can of Pepsi Max.

But Jeff (never, ever Jeffy) and his sealer was still a million miles away at this point. First we had to navigate through the brief but thrilling period when Gawn and Spencer were playing like Justin and Simon Madden. Clearances are about as misleading a stat as inside 50's or 'ranking points' but centre clearances the likes of which they were putting on for our midfielders early were a thing of beauty - and to state the obvious you would much prefer the ball going forward rather than backwards at that point. I've got no idea what actually constitutes a centre clearance but there should be a gold variety for when it's pumped inside 50 straight away.

The only issue seemed to be the lack of a powerful marking option up front. For the second week in a row Howe was nowhere to be seen before turning up later with crucial goals, and other than one screaming pack mark Dawes seemed unlikely to get off the ground. Gawn was playing the game of his life taking massive grabs around the ground and even laying a crunching tackle to a potential goalkicker but seemed unlikely up front and as a result we had plenty of attacks early on that went nowhere. At least we were getting the ball down there though, which if you've watched as many Melbourne games live as I have often appears harder than learning Finnish - and anything we were losing by Max not doing a Lance (never Buddy) Franklin impersonation was more than made up for him pretending to be Dean Cox elsewhere.

Oh to have had Hogan out there with the amount of high balls being dealt with effortlessly by Geelong's defence. He'd have killed three of them in marking contests by half time. The fact that we won anyway probably indicates that if you have access to a time machine probably best not to go back and try and nurse his hamstring through the week (can I suggest instead ensuring that post-186 we sack Schwab as well as Bailey. Then fast-forward to the coaching selection process and shred Neeld's resume as it comes off the fax machine) but it just seemed like a day made for him to kick another bag of five plus. Never mind, plenty more of that to come after he and Brayshaw sign joint 10 year, $30 million deals.

When Matt Jones - who had one of his better games of the last couple of years - snapped a goal and Maximum did briefly channel Franklin and drill a set shot I was practically left mouth agape on the concrete terrace. This was not real life. It certainly wasn't the Melbourne Football Club I know and love (?). Fortunately the equivalent of cutting myself to know I was still alive came a few minutes later when after having finally put the brakes on us in the middle of the ground Geelong capitalised on the only thing we do better than giving goals back after kicking one and snuck one with 30 seconds left to cut the margin to a more respectable 13 points. Nevertheless we had kicked 5.2 in an opening quarter, which was not only our best first term since Round 5, 2013 against Brisbane (we lost anyway) but higher than our entire four quarter score the last time we played at the ground. So no matter how it went from there at least we had that going for us.

So often we manage to turn a promising, free scoring first quarter (which by our standards is anything above three goals) into a shit sandwich by half time and if you're a miserable, silently fuming bastard like me it looked as if we were set for similar when the goals dried up. Again it didn't help that we'd bomb the ball forward with nobody there there to mark and Garlett (at the time) anonymous at ground level. It appeared that for all our earlier dominance in the centre of the ground, for Dunn holding Hawkins well (and biffing him at one point in his continuing quest to become the most reported MFC player ever) and the amount of times we were getting the ball forward that it would all come to nowt eventually when the Cats realised who they were playing and got out of first gear.

They got the first goal of the quarter and cut the margin to five but we still stood up manfully under early pressure and countered well. There was the odd clanger but even when we were handballing ourselves in circles down back we'd seem to get away with it. At the other end Vince delivered CRUMB to make your eyes water, and Garlett added his (spoiler alert) weekly Goal of the Year nominee but naturally when it came to the last couple of minutes of the quarter we did the So Melbourne thing and conceded a goal. At least we managed to get through the next 90 seconds without copping another and if it wasn't for that late Hawkins goal we'd have effectively broken even and probably deserved better because Geelong were looking very confused as to what was going on.

If Selwood eventually escaped Viney's clutches I couldn't rule out a GWS/Port style collapse in the second half but there seemed to be an added resilience - dare I say a desire to stick it up everyone (including the fans) who mocked their putrid last 40 seconds at Docklands. Joyously Selwood only ever briefly got free for the rest of the game, and instead the football world (those who hadn't been watching closely enough until now) were about to be introduced to his natural successor Angus Brayshaw.

I'd spent the whole day waiting for it to all go tits up, and when they got the first of the third quarter it seemed like as good a time as any to start panicking. My body temperature was already rising to dangerous levels courtesy of several layers of clothes worn in anticipation of much colder temperatures and natural tension from the idea that if everything went our way we might somehow manage to smash-and-grab a win then get out of town alive. Enter Brayshaw, who got on the end of a perfect pass from Selwood, set off on a storming, imperious dash down the middle and found The Spencil of all people to beat two defenders in an overhead marking dual. It was not the last magnificent thing Angus did for the game, but it was the only one that ended in a gangly ruckman marking and goalling.

If you watch the replay forget Sandy Roberts calling him "Big Max" (because, you see they're both tall. At least he didn't call him Leanne Cock - and a word of warning don't search for Leanne Cock video on Google on your work computer or you will get the above result and nine others with penetration in the preview image as if "Leanne" is the sort of name that lends itself to erotica) and look at Jared Rivers' face afterwards. He is quite clearly heartbroken that Jake Spencer of all people has just stitched him up in a contest. Amongst all the ex-MFC players going around elsewhere I'd rate Rivers behind only the SME and Kyle Cheney as people I want to do well (Petterd, Blease, Bennell in the running for fourth and fifth place) at their new clubs but it was still wonderful to watch him get stitched up by this unfashionable, giraffe like creature who has spent most of his footballing life on the frozen tundra of Casey Fields yet will still probably end up playing long enough to become a Life Member.

With Brayshaw running around racking up touches at will and encouraging thousands to name their first born ANGUS (whether boy or girl) you knew things were going to plan when even Matt Jones (much maligned) not only got a second goal but survived a video review to confirm it. Then Garlett crumbed another and it became not a case of "can we win this" but "how can we stuff this up?" Because, after all we have got Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome flowing through our veins. It would have been fantastic to kick away and put up a Chris Sullivan Line defying 46+ point lead at the last change but life wasn't meant to be easy and within a few minutes we were behind again. At which point I obviously deduced again that we were stuffed again only for us to get back in front courtesy of ANB's third (!!!) after more Brayshaw magic (take all my money) and Gawn picking up and dishing off a quick handball to him like he isn't 8 foot tall. After an inauspicious debut last week which prompted me to try and drop him Neal-Bullen looked like he was having the time of his life and more power to him. If I'm going to be proven wrong I'd like it to be for players jumping out of their skin and delivering classic hits.

Naturally they got one back late, and for the 13th time this afternoon I decided we were shot. Then Howe turned up for almost the first time all day (though he had set up Garlett's great goal with a fierce contest to prove that he really was trying and would still like to get paid a motza by somebody next year) and continued the trend from last week by threading a difficult set shot from the boundary. No idea if it boosted player morale, I just silently fist pumped and got on with clenching vital parts of my anatomy out of tension.

A moment please for the guy standing right in front of me during this stirring comeback. He wasn't as bad as the woman dancing an Irish jig whenever Geelong kicked a goal (wow, you kicked a goal against Melbourne, why not consider a tattoo?) but as they started reeling us in his body language became a series of jerks, nervous tics and almost shadowing of the play. When there was a big tackle his arms would go up, when they took a mark on the lead he pushed his body forward and when Hawkins kicked a goal he did a little dance. I stood there wondering if this is what I'd look like if I stood up to watch every game? Then I realised how sore my legs were from standing on concrete all day and came to the conclusion that sitting down is far more civilised.

The Teeny Bopper "support the boys no matter what" faction will still be horrified to know that an 11 point lead going into the last quarter meant nothing more to me than the chance to lose tragically by one in the dying seconds. Even when Jones kicked the dictionary definition captain's goal in the opening seconds it didn't seem decisive enough yet. Then Howe kicked another set shot from the boundary, Stretch converted from 40m out right in front and suddenly it dawned on me that we were actually a chance.

Which was utterly foolish because it prompted the Cats to launch a serious of furious attacks, but fortunately they had temporarily forgotten how to kick straight and we got away with it. It seems that Tom Hawkins was the last hope for their fans because when he missed a set shot 10 minutes in for some unknown bloody reason out went the Geelong fans in droves. Obviously they hadn't watched last week to understand that if any team is going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in hilarious fashion that it would be us. Also never mind that a triple-premiership champion was about to be chaired off in his 300th game, it must be too hard to fathom losing to the Dees for some. It wasn't quite the sea of humanity as the Crows fans trampling each other to get to the exits when we beat them at the Adelaide Oval last but it did seem entirely premature. You've won three flags, cop a loss and clap off a champ. Never mind, we were nice enough to temporary halt our own wild scenes to do it for the poltroons who couldn't be bothered staying.

Even more when out the door when Vince capped off another spanking performance with a goal (you know if Fyfe would just do the right thing and get rubbed out Bernard could win the Brownlow. If you didn't lose your house on backing the Cats at the seemingly generous $1.10 you could do worse than the $251 they've offering on him at the moment) and it suddenly dawned on me that we were going to do it. A week after humiliation, with what somebody (possibly me) might have described as the worst ins in AFL history, on a ground other than the MCG. Now perhaps they had an excuse, but people walking out after a missed set shot halfway through the quarter should be thrown into the bay.

Unfortunately while no other side can turn a goal into an opposition goal quicker than us Bernie's goal actually managed to provoke two from Geelong which is a rare feat. The first one was expected but when Selwood finally broke free of the Viney and goalled on the run for another 30 seconds later it cut the margin to 16 points with eight minutes of game time left and The Fear returned. Plenty of weirdo locals were still filing down the ramp and out of the ground at this point, either oblivious to the fact that their team was coming home at a million miles an hour against notoriously fragile opposition or just completely disinterested in the process. Fortunately they were right to go, for just as Selwood looked like he was going to lead an all-time classic comeback his head then spontaneously started blowing a gusher (the Geelong doctor better get used to that if Dangerfield is coming to town next year) and he spent most of the next few minutes going on and off the ground to be patched up while we calmed things.

After our timekeepers went out on a wildcat strike last week nobody was taking any chances, and once Selwood's goal went through Watts moved himself into defence and started gesturing for teammates to join him. Given that that there was still plenty of time left I started to have convulsions about what would happen if we tried to shut the game down too early this time, sat back waiting for them, conceded two kick goals then shit ourselves and lost. It doesn't bear thinking about now but at the time it was a dreadful nightmare. We got away with it though, and even managed to get forward for Garlett to mark and make sure of it with a goal. At the time I in no way thought it made sure of it and refused to accept we were going to win until there was less minutes on the clock than goals required.

The fact that we didn't have to cling on in a thriller allowed a couple of minutes to reflect on what a massive achievement this was - and to look to my right and realise that about 150 people had flat out given up and gone home. In the end the siren was almost anti-climactic when it came, the volume having clearly been turned down out of spite. If the players hadn't thrown their hands up in the air I'd have been convinced it was still going. They then played the theme song at a volume so low that it could have only been deliberate. There's no possible way that a stadium which has had that much taxpayer money pumped into it could not having speakers which functioned well enough for the song to at least be audible.

It's understandable that for an away win in a milestone game they were hardly going to turn it up to 11 but the hateful gesture of whoever does the AV at the ground just meant that amongst the group I was with there were about four different versions of the song being sung at the same time and it rapidly descended into total chaos reminiscent of the late Ricky May's 'rendition' of our national anthem at the 1987 SANFL Grand Final.

Boyz II Men style harmonies be buggered, at least we got the chance to sing the bloody thing completely unexpected and on enemy territory. Congratulations to all involved, enjoy your first ballot induction into my MFC wins Hall of Fame and see you at the reunion in a decade when we haven't won there again.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
Garlett can blame Jesse Hogan for smashing through the goalkicking glass ceiling last week. What a world we suddenly live in where even four goals can't get you a vote. He can also blame five of his teammates for having absolute pearlers.

5 - Bernie Vince
4 - Angus Brayshaw
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Max Gawn

Earth sized apologies to Dunn who I really wanted to give a vote to just for being a spiteful individual. He could have had the last spot if it wasn't for Maximum's contribution in getting us going. Significant apologies also to Cross, Garlett, M. Jones, Lumumba, Neal-Bullen, Stretch, Spencer, Tyson and Watts.

Is the Sizzle dream-run over? Will a midfielder swallow this award whole for the 10th of 11 seasons? Well it is a near certainty, but if it's any consolation for Tom unless Salem or Garland come back from the dead after the bye and pick up the full five votes I'm prepared to call him provisional winner for his first Seecamp.

In the minors Brayshaw sticks his head back in front of Hogan in the exciting race for the Hilton and the Stynes has wound up as a three way tie. If Maximum plays like he did today there's no doubt he'll sneak ahead but there's still hope for Jamar to get something out of this season other than a polite letter from Paul Roos and Simon Goodwin asking him to take their hint and retire already.

29 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
27 - Bernie Vince
21 - Nathan Jones
17 - Angus Brayshaw (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
14 - Jesse Hogan
11 - Cameron Pedersen
10 - Jack Viney
9 - Aaron vandenBerg
8 - Jack Watts
7 - Jeff Garlett
6 - Christian Salem
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - 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), Max Gawn (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

I had deep suspicions about the way our banner had a word aligned left at the bottom with nothing to the right of it like a classic old school Demonblog paragraph where I'd forget to finish the thought and CBF proof reading. With a milestone banner on offer there was every chance of the Cats shocking the world with the first away win of the season, then they put up some weird gold thing with about four different fonts and words stuffed in down the side wherever they could fit them. I'm sure Corey Enright found it touching, I was distressed. Dees win - 13-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch
Cats fans are slipping, even when the Dees began to get lippy in the last quarter not a solitary member of the increasingly despondent Geelong supporters (those who stayed for the end) around us chose to rest on the old chestnut and slaughter us for not winning premierships. Most of them stayed silent, other than a guy just to the left of us getting hauled out by the fuzz halfway through the last quarter. There'll always some anti-social maniacs but the generally feeling was of a crowd who have become acutely aware that the greatest ride of their supporting lives is over. Still insanely jealous of them for that.

Matchday Experience Watch
The Enright tribute video featured a fine pisstake of GWS' inflated crowds (no doubt a fine is coming Geelong's way) but also a really obvious typo which begs the question of whether anybody watches these things before they go out. Tributes aside there was not an ounce of razzle dazzle, and like a struggling radio station one of the quarters even had a sponsor. They also had a wild cat like noise after each goal, which would make sense if they were named after Panthers, Jaguars or Cougars rather than a domesticated animal.

Media Watch
No, I never expected either of Grubby OR Dee Dee to make a guest appearance on here either but please join me in a hearty "stick that up your arse" to whoever at Channel 9 couldn't be bothered waiting for the result and just assumed we'd lose. Welcome the most widely shared Melbourne related news screenshot since Amy Parks told us Dean Bailey had been given the Tijuana from outside AAMI Park.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Who else but Garlett? His goal in the second quarter was not just a thing of beauty because of the way he danced about on the goal-line as if on ice without skates but because of the way he had already been involved once with a handball to Viney then kept going to the square just in time for Howe's strong contest to put it right down his throat. The snap from a shithouse angle was the icing on the cake.

Not to be biased against goals based on when they happened but if he'd done that in the last quarter with the game on the line I'd probably have promoted it to the clubhouse leader. For the moment I still can't go past the casual set shot from the boundary against the Bulldogs but unless a clear winner emerges later in the year I reserve the right to view all the goals before making a final decision and this may very well top the poll. Maybe I'll make it an actual poll and let the readers decide. It would make up for People's Choice player of the year voting that I mooted last year then forgot about until a fortnight ago when it was far too late to start.

Stat My Bitch Up
I had a cracker lined up for this spot, one so depressing that it would make your toes curl. In light of one of the great ballsy four quarter performances that particular statistic has been taken outside, put behind a white sheet and shot dead. All I will say is that our points per game is up to a sky high 74.75 and that my all-time aggregate losing margin in games at Kardinia Park has been reduced to 461.

Next Week
Set yourself free, but on a high. It's probably not too late to book a trip to Darwin if you think we can double down on freak results and topple the Eagles the week after. Hard to decide on changes given the nature of our victory and the fact that the always helpful VFL schedule has Casey with a bye next week (and probably five of seven weeks after that knowing the way that competition is set up).

I respect that Bail is not terrible but he's not the future either so I'm happy to pump a few games into JFK before Kent comes back and he's forced out again. Also with respect to Dawes for playing in a win if Hogan is fit then we cannot have both of them plus Gawn or Spencer in the forward line.

IN: Kennedy-Harris, Hogan
OUT: Bail, Dawes (omit)

Sometime during the week I'll be back with my famous (!?) mid-season preview and will also be recounting the votes to make sure that despite my famous attention to detail there hasn't been any major electoral stuff-ups.

The Literature Lounge
Following on from the lost property debacle of last week an email to Etihad Stadium on Sunday night was (surprise!) not answered and when I eventually got around to calling them there had been no sight of the book left behind due to the shock of our tremendous cockup against the Saints.

Fortunately it's been demonstrated that whinging on the internet isn't just good for trolling the Coles Facebook page in an attempt to get a 10% discount on Cantaloupe and reader djkmordi has made the kind offer to replacing the book gratis from his personal collection. Which is absolutely lovely and believe me it is going to a good home. Are there any obscure MFC books that I might be missing from my collection? I've even got Mark Jackson's magnum opus Jacko: Dumb Like A Fox so if Michael Pickering writes an autobiography make to notify me so I can buy it.

Was it worth it?
By christ yet, every beautiful drop of it. Before the game I wished to spend four quarters standing in pouring rain that would negate every piece of creativity Geelong had in them and turn the game into a brutal sludge. Instead it was lovely and sunny, and not a thing dropped from the sky other than giant, fuck-off sized globules of magic.

Final Thoughts
It feels like we're going to have a lot of up and down over the second half of the season, where gutsy performances are followed up by slop just when you least expect it but at least we're back in the game and have pulled away from the cursed wooden spoon race. Last week was an abomination but once I put the pitchfork down and looked at it rationally at least we were in a game then too. Same as the week before. I hope the Hawthorn loss stands as the rock bottom point of our season and we can do what we were generally unable to in the second half of last year and put the wind up some good teams. Tonking some of the sludge would be nice too. That can all come later, for now have a week toasting one of the gutsiest wins of the club's modern history. You deserve it.

1 comment:

Crack the sads here... (to keep out nuffies, comments will show after approval by the Demonblog ARC)