Monday 20 July 2015

It's lonely at the top (of the bottom four)

Now I finally know how fans of all the other flotsam and jetsam clubs have felt watching their sides struggling to beat us over the last few years. The good sides haven't had any such trouble, but St Kilda, Carlton et al know very well what it's like to have the relief of winning as favourite coupled with concern that the opposition was so bad that you've missed the opportunity of delivering a battering.

I can't think of a less consequential win against a non-expansion club for years, and that is a very good sign. In our situation any win is worth savouring. Like a $100 note spotted floating in a public toilet four points is still worth shelving your dignity, rolling your sleeves up and delving deep into the muck for.

If you took an objective and analytical view of the game there would be plenty to complain about, and you'd be reading the wrong 'review', but that's not important right now. Let not our inability to take the hint and storm away to a morale boosting victory distract you from the fact that we have just won a game - and for the first time since plodding to a win against GWS at Manuka Oval in Round 21, 2012 a Melbourne Football Club victory was not the sort of event television that ends up as a video package on AFL 360 the next night. Nobody sent congratulatory text messages afterwards, and thank god because our wins are no longer a jaw-dropping surprise even when they come against the worst side in the competition.

This is not to suggest that if you haven't seen the game that anything after quarter time is worth going back and watching (admittedly you could probably skip most of the first quarter as well), but could all the fetishists who are gagging for any opportunity to change the rules and make the game more 'enjoyable' please detail what they'd have done to make bottom vs close enough to an appropriate spectacle.

Back in the days where you could watch your own team live, and if lucky one other game from Sydney or Brisbane on Sunday, discussion about how stuffed the game was had to be confined to newspaper opinion pieces wedged next to the VFA scores. There was scarcely any other forums for people to go on about it, unlike now when we have to fill about 15 different footy TV shows, hundreds of hours of radio and the need for clickbait friendly online newspaper columns.

Whinging about the game not being good any more has been going on since about 1860, but it's gone into overdrive since we've been given the opportunity to watch nine games a week. Neutrals and the media carry on like they're having their eyelids held open mechanically to force them into watching and you can't turn left or right for somebody wanting to introduce razzle dazzle elements to 'improve' the contest. Good luck with that, great teams will always beat up on dud teams and dud teams will always play games against each other where you can hear a feint circus music on repeat in the background. Occasionally you'll get lucky and a slopfest will end in thrilling circumstances, but more often than not it just peters out into insignificance like this game did - and so what?

If you were trying to convert somebody to the sport you wouldn't recommend this match to anyone, but nor would you allow them near an episode of On The Couch where the panel spend 10 minutes pouring petrol on themselves in despair about how terrible things have allegedly become. Being able to watch every game live is a blessing and a curse, in the past nobody would have known how bad it was other than those who were there and a journalist who phoned in his report after spending the last three quarters listening on the radio in The Royal.

There are few clubs who need blockbuster TV rights deals more than us, but even if you slashed the number of teams, introduced zones, removed two players a side and set an interchange cap of one you're still going to 'enjoy' trench warfare games and error-strewn disasters like this - and like a nil-all draw in soccer the lack of overt excitement doesn't mean it can't be interesting to watch if you're emotionally invested. These sort of games are not even a necessary evil, they're a sporting fact of life. The EPL and NFL serve up shit from exotic locations like Jacksonville, Florida and St James' Park, Newcastle on a weekly basis but nobody notices or cares because all the games are on at the same time and you've not interested you've got another option.

People who are clamouring to return the game to some utopian past when everything was 'better' are like a less offensive version of the people who parade around the streets trying to drive out 'foreigners', they all want to go back to the past but can't identify a time that would suit them - and both would find something else to sob about even if they got their way.

In 1996 Kevin Sheedy thought the Olympics were going to topple footy because it wasn't entertaining enough only for crowds to go through the roof, and while sadly nobody's pointing a finger at the IOC now we have only lost 4000 per game from the all-time season average attendance record - and that's with nine games a week on live TV and certain clubs dragging the average down by playing purely for money in front of 4500 people in Alice Springs.

The sky is not falling, and even if you do somehow manage to engineer the game to produce more close results it's not going to help players kicking the ball over each other's head or missing handballs two foot away. You're never going to 'fix' the game, it's an imperfect and chaotic sport that in many ways make no sense (just look at the ball for god's sake), and just because you've romanticised the past to be like a music video for Up There Cazaly it doesn't mean that repairing one thing isn't going to break five others. Change what you like, I'm in this game for the Melbourne Football Club not the competition, but be prepared to put your hand up and admit it when everything goes tits up.

Bad neutral games are easily solved, open your front door and go for a walk around the block. When watching my own club I don't care for quality, I care for wins. You love your kids but you don't go to their school concert to enjoy the music. When we were strangling the life out of them in the second quarter without being able to put them away for good my thoughts were hardly on the plight of some poor person who was under house arrest Derryn Hinch style and had dropped their remote control down the back of the couch. Likewise the purists weren't front of mind as we wobbled to the finish line like a very slow greyhound being pursued by another without hind legs - by then they'd presumably all turned over to the Adelaide/Port game and good riddance.

Obviously I wish we'd gone on to stuff them like we briefly threatened during the second quarter, and if that had happened I'd have started playing Pocket Billiards at an Olympic standard in the top deck of the Ponsford Stand. We've been on the end of enough porkings over the year that we deserve to do somebody over with violence, venom and velocity - and at this point anyone will do.

It seems rude to complain about any aspect of a victory but we really should have squashed them, I think after watching Melbourne play live about 100 times over the last decade I'm well suited to comment on what a bad football team looks like, and for those of you looking back on this in 40 years’ time let the record show that Brisbane were very, very bad.

Everyone on their side who hadn't previously played for a highly successful, respected side (e.g. Beams, Christensen and... err... Stefan Martin) went about it as if they've been transplanted onto the MCG as part of a humiliating new reality television show. It’s a good thing they were playing the least threatening opposition available or it would have got spectacularly ugly by the end of the day. We lowered ourselves head first into the quagmire after half time, but fortunately by then the damage had been well and truly done.

If they really wanted to get people to watch they should have left the soccer infrastructure in place from last night and forced the teams to play 11-a-side. It's hard to tell whether the players who kept going arse over on the edges of the pitch still firmly implanted through the middle of the ground were being troubled by it or were just joining in for the general carnival atmosphere of bottom four footy.
It was the classic battle of a side winning plenty of the ball but playing without a forward line (and not even trying to plug the gap with defenders a'la Melbourne 2012/13), against one who can get the ball 66% of the way down the field but then often have no idea what to do next. I'm not trying to victim shame anyone, but if you bought a ticket or sat on your couch expecting a replay of the 1989 Grand Final to break out you got exactly what you deserved.

When it took us a few minutes to get going and the Lions had the first couple of shots on goal I would have started adjusting my collar nervously but it was about four layers of clothes deep due to the arctic conditions. The fear was that we were going to do the same as last week and take so long to wake up that a mentally fragile side would get turn the tables on us.

Fortunately Brisbane were playing such fantastically suicidal football that it would have taken a Melbourne vs Richmond 2009 style commitment to avoiding victory for them to be a chance. They were eager to give the ball back on a platter at every opportunity, and fortunately we were briefly in a position to take advantage. Even with Jones being tagged to within an inch of his life and Vince kicking like Pegleg Pete we put the game away by the quarter.

Obviously the Jesse Hogan show was the star attraction of the first quarter, but credit has to go to Chris Dawes who did exactly what I predicted he would after calling for him to be dropped last week and playing the game of his season. Perhaps it was because the Brisbane players had already decided that they'd be right for the day but he was running and marking at will - and helped set up Hogan's first goal.

Harmes was also important in the first goal, and he played a very encouraging second game for a young rookie. By the last quarter when all 42 players left in the game had lost interest he unloaded a couple of tired hit-and-hope forward entries straight into the arms of Brisbane players but before that he used the ball well. Not only that but he doubled it with solid tackling and pressure that caused a goal during the second quarter. Probably due to be rotated into the hi-vis next week but has had an encouraging start.

Clearances proved to be as useless as ever while the Lions won them hands down (and I know the SME didn't get many taps but the ones who did made me swoon) they were terrible at moving the ball more than twice in the same chain without turning it over (sound familiar?) and kicking into a forward line that may as well have featured six competition winners plucked out of the food court at Indooroopilly Shopping Centre.

It took us until the last 10 minutes to really put them away, first Hogan kicked his second, then Tom McDonald of all people took a big contested grab (not a surprise) and kicked accurately from a difficult angle (very surprising, but probably better than putting him right in front), Hulkamania showed up for a third and Garlett profited from Brayshaw being made out of Kevlar to get another one just before quarter time and seemingly ruin any hope they had of getting back into the game.

It's not that we were that far in front, certainly not in the year of teams blowing five goal leads for fun, but that they were playing so badly. Still, you can't rely on teams going around like that for four quarters, and needed to come out in the second quarter and keep wailing away at them until they totally collapsed. Didn't happen, and if they'd kicked the first goal of the quarter when given a golden opportunity I'd have started to tighten up noticeably. Fortunately their kicking for goal was about as inept as our was last week, or Joe Daniher/Travis Cloke's in any game where they're not playing us.

The last 10 minutes of the first quarter cost the Lions dearly, because from there on they weren't all that much worse than us. Holding a side to one goal for a half and four for a game is a momentous achievement for us (lowest opposition score since Round 5, 1994 against the other Brisbane) but it's not like they didn't have their chances. Still a very good day out for the defence against putrid opposition, with Jeremy Howe back to looking good in defence after the return forward that I demanded earlier in the season came to nowt. Sorry about that.

Alas just when the opposition was wide open and begging to be put out of their misery we had punched ourselves out and were unable to land the final blow. It took 15 minutes to kick our first goal of the quarter, and as the game quickly dissolved into farce we only managed one more at the end - but it was from a Garlett set shot so who am I to argue?

We've been horrible at beating sides below us over the last few years, mainly attacking the 9-14 bracket other than that night Neeld shocked the world when he drove the Reality Bus over Essendon and I forgot how to walk for 20 minutes after the final siren, so when it became clear that we would finally beat a team that we were were supposed to it was not the joy of victory on offer but the excitement of turning the tables and tonking somebody else for once instead of playing the victim. Then we kicked one more goal for the game.

By the third quarter both sides were back on the same level. It was like a low fat version of that day we opened up a 45 point lead at quarter time against Gold Coast then broke even for the rest of the game, we were just lucky that they were totally impotent when going forward. Admittedly I was shitting it when they got the first goal of the last quarter but even though we'd stopped to a crawl by then it just didn't seem feasible that they could kick another three goals to win. And they couldn't. Hogan had to settle for four instead of the 12 that he was threatening to boot at quarter time, but a few weeks ago four represented a ground-breaking achievement so we must be going places after all.

Keeping a group of strugglers at arms' length rather than caving in and handing them a morale boosting win shouldn't be a reason for celebration - but in the last decade we're still several wins below what Fitzroy managed over the same period so I choose to reveal in victory no matter how grimy and/or gritty it may appear.

Having forgotten to bring a radio I was - like a Melbourne player in a game against St Kilda - totally surprised by the siren at the 26 minute mark and didn't know how to react. Usually when the siren goes and a win is confirmed spontaneous parties break out, and would be cause for staying around for multiple playings of the song and leaping on strangers while the players did a lap shaking hands and kissing babies, then remaining in place until they had left the ground. This time it was just a quick round of applause to show appreciation, much relief and out the door.

In the end it was a result that would have satisfied everyone other than Brisbane fans - I'm happy we won, other people are happy that we won and they can still complain, neutrals are happy that neither side will be posing a threat to them in the near future, Gerard Healy can waffle on about changing the rules and journalists can continue to pump out articles like this about how we're going nowhere fast. I can see where Mark Robinson was going with that one, he was setting up for an "I told you so" follow-up if we lost, but even having spent nearly 11 seasons torturing metaphors even I wouldn't have tried to get that headline over. Apparently he's blocked me on Twitter, which is odd because he's in the holy trinity of people who I like against the odds - and against wider public sentiment - alongside Kevin Rudd and Jeff Kennett. Lost causes are in my blood.

What a liberating feeling to be that blasé about victory after so many years of living and dying on every close finish. This must be what being in the mid-table feels like. I do hope your personal doomsday clock has been temporarily wound back a few hours. Our time to dismiss wins like this as inconsequential gash will come, but for now just enjoy not having lost.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jesse Hogan
4 - Chris Dawes
3 - Daniel Cross
2 - Max Gawn
1 - Lynden Dunn

Apologies to vandenBerg (close to the last vote), Howe (likewise), Jetta, Garland, Tyson, Garlett, McDonald and Viney with a special encouragement award to Harmes.

I'm not trying to take the Healy route of fixing the competition to ensure a blockbuster finish, but there was no action in the top five. Vince got plenty of it but was shanking it everywhere, McDonald and Viney were good enough for apologies, Jones battled away and Brayshaw looked tired. Hogan's move into fourth and recapturing of the Hilton lead is the most significant change, but Mitchell White is still in the hunt to storm home and nick the Jakovich with eight BOGs in a row.

The committee are holding an urgent meeting tonight to determine how long McDonald can play forward and remain eligible for the Seecamp. Unlike the new rules for the Stynes (you must average 10 hitouts per game played) defenders come in so many different shapes there's nothing that we can apply as a blanket rule to decide whether or not they've gone forward too much. Fortunately these experiments only ever seem to last a couple of weeks before everything reverts to normal, but it will be full crisis mode if he plays the next two matches forward. I'm leaning towards a certain percentage of games having to be primarily played in defence, but we'll have an official ruling next Sunday.

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

The old school three line slogan on our banner was a welcome alternative to the failed attempts at comedy that other clubs are going for just to get themselves in the paper, but I feel that in the line that ended "Turning a roar into just a meow" could have gone without 'just' and been punchier.

Brisbane have to be encouraged for being the first opposition side I've seen all season who had the courtesy to rotate the banner so all parts of the ground could see both messages. As long-time readers would be aware this is something I've been championing ever since this segment started, and now that we've managed to put poncy curtains out of business hopefully the next thing my banner consultancy business can help with is encouraging everyone to rotate.

We still win in a squeaker though, even though the back of ours featured an ad for fishing. 16-1-0 for the year. St Kilda's cheersquad has NFI so we may as well claim next week's victory in advance - 17-1-0 it is.

Matchday Experience Watch
By this stage of the season there's little new that can be unleashed to surprise us, which is probably a good thing. At least the short quarter meant that old mate on the trumpet was stopped halfway by the siren. As part of our weekly Howie's Hangers report (almost certainly ready to be rebranded as GAWN'S GRABS next year when Howe is a Carlton player, and hopefully given an appropriately Maximum touch by forcing contestants to take crashing pack marks against multiple opponents) I'm pleased to report that one of the contestants almost crippled himself - and equally pleased that Robbo mentioned that he'd had to sign a waiver before participating. Still hoping that a reader will sign up and get a shot of the form so we can see if it covers total maiming and mutilation.

Crowd Watch
Plenty of Brisbane fans in attendance, presumably because of a rare MCG game and a special "Victorian Members Day" which they decided to celebrate by delivering a completely rancid performance. In keeping with the spirit of the actual match the people sitting around me seemed as if they had been put under heavy sedation beforehand - and the situation didn't get any better from there on. Midway through the last quarter the two Melbourne fans in front of me stood halfway through - with the game not yet won - and pushed off. One of those days.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I did enjoy Garlett finishing off Brayshaw's barge through a tackle, but for sheer unexpected goalkicking joy I'll have to opt for McDonald guiding through a set shot from an angle in the first quarter. He's probably better off not going from right in front, but it was a great mark and a good finish. Not even remotely close to taking the lead from Garlett against Footscray though.

Stat My Bitch Up
After we kicked 50 three weeks in a row earlier this year now we've kicked 60 three weeks in a row. What a baffling club. Thanks to Brisbane kicking a Deemonesque 4.12.36 it didn't put us in any danger but it does see our season average nudge down 0.84 to 71.80ppg. We've now only scored more than Essendon (good to see Joe Daniher revert to type this week and barely manage to land shots on goal in the right postcode) and the hapless Lions, but are at least within five goals of both Gold Coast and Carlton.

As well as passing our win tally from last season, and equalling the total of the two seasons before that, our percentage is 11 points higher than it was at the end of 2014 - but only 0.9 better than it was at this point last season before we wrecked it in the last two months so that's something to look out for. In the field of goalkicking Garlett remains one ahead of Hogan but they've both already plowed past Dawes' slender figure.

Defence is basically the same, with 90.93 points against per game compared to 88.81 (thanks to Brisbane for levelling out the obscene score we conceded against Hawthorn) so statistically we're on the up, to mid-table by the end of 2016.

Next Week
It was hardly a sparkling trial, more like winning the first race at Omeo, so I'm not sure what to take out of it for St Kilda next Sunday afternoon. They necked themselves in Melbourne-esque fashion by throwing the game away early then launching a belated comeback after the game was shot, but I would still favour them to beat us. At least we should get a decent game out of it, and aren't you looking forward to seeing footage of Montagna stitching us up again so soon after it happened?

Poor old Jamar was in the best for Casey and has been for weeks, but he won't get picked. Dawes was a barely convincing ruckman but was so good around the ground that it would be difficult to shift him, and Gawn's in slashing form anyway so he's barely required to take any centre bounces. We must be getting near the point where he either announces his retirement or departure to another club next year so we can give him a farewell game. Probably against Freo in Perth.

Casey won by plenty, but if you base your decisions solely on the best players listed like I do none of the fringe players except Grimes got a mention. One of them was probably the hold-over for today's game but I would have been keen to give any of Toumpas, Riley, Newton or Michie a go. As it is I'm going to opt for Brayshaw to put his feet up for a week after going hell for leather all year and for Riley to come in and hopefully piledrive somebody. Elsewhere Grimes for Kennedy-Harris is hardly a straight swap but we'll live.

IN: Grimes, Riley
OUT: Kennedy-Harris (omit), Brayshaw (rested)
UNLUCKY: Jamar (perennial), Whoever the emergency was this week

Was it worth it?
Yes, yes, yes and a thousand times yes. Wins are beautiful, even when they're plug ugly.

Final Thoughts
Even though we are morally still a bottom four side this gives us some hope of dreaming big and finishing as high as fifth last. If we win next week, and I don't think we will, then finishing as high as 13th is on the agenda. At which point we will discover that the top selections in the draft are the greatest players of their generation and the sixth has leprosy.


  1. Great post. Loved the thought of Derryn with the lost remote.

    Question for Stat My Bitch up. Unless I'm mistaken both Garlett (15 games) and Hogan (13) have kicked at least one goal in every game they've played for us. What is the MFC record for most games without going goalless?

  2. As a Melbourne supporter, I am so starved for wins that each week when I read your blog I jump straight to the "Banner Watch" section. I don't even read it but look straight to the score in bold. I even give a little fist pump when I see we have won. Even worse, as I scroll down the page looking for the score, I find myself getting a little nervous about the result.

    There'll be no complaints from me about Sunday's win


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