Sunday 5 July 2015

Unity and struggle

The time between getting out of my car at the train station and stepping onto the platform seems like an unlikely time for a massive news story to break, but as I sat down on the train Friday morning and instinctively refreshed Twitter it soon became clear that something terrible had happened in Adelaide. In those four or five minutes between leaving my car with no indication of what was to come and finding out what had happened I'd missed the "is this real?" speculation and landed straight at official confirmation.

What a horrifying scenario for any group of family, friends, employees or a wider industry to have to endure. It's not like anybody needed a reminder that family violence is out of hand, but without going into needless speculation about what happened on Friday morning it shows that while women and children are sadly more often than not the victims that this disease can touch any walk of life. Society acted at glacial pace to acknowledge that this sort of thing is happening up and down the country on a daily basis, and is still barely chipping away at the problem. It's not helped by people taking to Ice like Pepsi Max, but focusing on drugs seems to ignore the hundreds of other reasons why it happens.

At this point it should be noted that most of us have conveniently averted our eyes to the violent indiscretions of players on our teams over the years but that's on each of us to deal with. Guilty as charged your honour.

It wasn't long before the predictable "oh people only care because it was a sportsman" and "nobody would be interested if it had happened to XYZ" wanklash kicked off, which any half-hearted search through the recent archives of major newspapers will reveal is complete bollocks. That the murder of a well-known identity would receive significant media coverage shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody with half a brain but the idea that other crimes of the same nature are totally swept under the rug is trying too hard to get yourself over with the "sports are shit" community. It's true that we don't usually immediately learn the names of the other victims before the media cycle moves on, but do we need to? The lessons we need to learn - and continually fail to - are in the circumstances of their passing.

Early indications show Friday's tragedy came from a different direction, but let it shine a light on all cases of family violence. I've no idea what happened in the case of Phil Walsh and to be entirely honest I don't need to, but if anything comes out of it hopefully it raises some awareness amongst areas of society that usually don't care about this sort of thing or enable the behaviour of others.

Once the initial shock subsided, talk turned to how football would go on this weekend. I feel like if a game hadn't already been played on Thursday night they'd have thought about cancelling the whole round, but were forced into going on and had to make a snap decision within a few hours.

You'd think they would have a 'break in case of emergency' playbook that covered this sort of eventuality, but perhaps this was just too weird to be covered. Football went on after other tragedies, but the timing of this one was unprecedented. The deaths of Troy Broadbridge and John McCarthy occurred well out of season and had given everyone involved time to come to terms with what happened before resuming normal business, but this demanded an immediate decision and I think they handled it reasonably well given the circumstances.

If Adelaide wanted to play they could have shuffled the game back a few days and dealt with the flow-on effects, but as they clearly didn't, abandoning the game (I believe the first time an individual senior VFL/AFL match has been called off) and giving each side two points seems like the right thing to do. In the hours of speculation before it was announced that other games would go ahead - and I'd have understood if they didn't - it would have been easy to abuse the people who were asking what it meant for their Supercoach team but I must admit to wondering if we would still get paid for playing in the Northern Territory if the match was canned. At least we didn't get a run down of the odds for the next Adelaide coach from a betting agency, that would have set people right off.

Anyway, I'm barely better qualified to talk about football than social issues so back to the core business. Like most people I'm not feeling it at all this week and watched most of the game in a fog so by my standards I'll be keeping the following review very brief.

It was an adventurous selection decision to bring Hogan back into a winning team without dropping any of the other talls. The idea was sound enough in that the Eagles are rapidly running out of tall defenders and that we should have been able to just hoof the thing down there and watch our forwards pluck it out of the air with the greatest of ease. Reasonable enough, but did they really think that if we didn't take the marks that there were enough forwards (other than Garlett) likely to keep the ball down there or a midfield which could stop the Eagles from swooping down the other end in record-breaking time?

If it had worked it would have been hailed as genius, but it didn't so just put it down as a noble but failed experiment in a game we probably weren't going to win without the aid of a miracle. In the end Dawes had a pretty good game and he's the one I'd have left out so shows what I know, but we still had one tall too many. In retrospect I could probably have done without Howe who didn't even chip in and pad his stats with a couple of crucial goals this week, and (spoiler alert) I think it's time for him to go back to the VFL. If that's what tips him over the edge and causes him to quit then thanks for the hangers and don't come back.

Not that the delivery into the forward line was up to much, but it got to the point where we were more likely to concede a score by going inside 50. We should have got in front then spent the rest of the night kicking from one side of the ground to the other instead of trying to launch more attacks.

If the Skyscraper Plan didn't work the only hope we had was to break even with their midfield and get some goals out of them, but though Gawn battled hard it didn't help that their mids were getting an armchair ride from Nic Nat. The Eagles were clearly the better side in the first quarter and it was only well taken set shots from Tyson and Dawes that kept us hanging around in the hope that they'd crack under pressure like Geelong.

We weren't helped on that front by losing Brayshaw before he'd had a single touch, but like Russell Robertson knocking himself out trying to take a hanger in the Legend's Game the other night, Angus went down doing what he loved - laying a blockbuster tackle. And what a magnificent tackle it was, the sort of thing that you'd watch in an endless GIF loop if it hadn't ended in injury. Neal-Bullen had an excellent game as the replacement - and almost certainly earned himself a start for next week - but losing one of the midfield bulldozers was a major blow. Viney and Jones remained alive and well (though the captain had a scare later), and both played good games, but a third cog would have been helpful.

At least Tyson played a game more to his 2014 standards - albeit with suspect disposal efficiency - and we managed to restrict them from running away with it for three quarters despite it continually looking as if their forwards were going to kick 10 each. Dunn did a reasonable job on Kennedy for most of the game, but there were more worrying signs of Tom McDonald hitting his Nathan Carroll 2006 mid-season patch of black ice. I'd lose confidence too if I was the first defender in five years who saw Travis Cloke kick two goals in a row without a miss but he seems to have lost a bit of confidence. Happens to all of our defenders at some point, you try spending time in that backline and see what happens. His worst moment was a failure to spoil in the second quarter which gifted Kennedy a goal. Unfortunately for him he's in the Jack Watts category of players who can do good things for weeks in a row but will cop a beating the moment his form turns in the opposite direction,

Speaking of Watts I loved his game, absolutely mad for it. They couldn't afford to let himself go forward given how many other talls we had down there and he had a really good game in the middle and around half-back. He's been much better since coming back from the VFL but I'm sure the assassins are perched in the treetops readying themselves to open fire after his next blunder.

Wacky umpiring decisions didn't help us either, but even if they'd all gone our way I guarantee you we'd still have lost in the end, this team just couldn't go with a top four side for four quarters. Fifth to 18th is still the class for us.

We got the first goal of the second quarter and held them out for 15 minutes but it still felt like a rubber band stretched to breaking point. Even when we got two of the next three I refused to believe, and not just in the generally negative way that I always think we're going to throw away a lead, and thought we'd still get thrashed. Was sadly right in the end but it took the Eagles long enough to take the hint and put us away.

We certainly worked hard to stuff it up. Matt Jones (remember - contracted until the end of next year thanks to the most baffling extension ever) did his bit for the depth of the Casey Scorpions by botching a simple chest mark directly in front, and you could sense every Melbourne fan in Australia simultaneously standing up to kick their television/radio/internet device in.

Two goals in the middle of the third quarter got us back in it, but it would still have taken a sudden violent influenza to sweep through West Coast's side for us to get back into it and surprise, surprise after the second we gave it straight back to them out of the middle. Nobody does it faster.

We were close enough at three quarter time that on paper there was an outside chance of victory if we got a run on, but as much as the commentators laughably tried to talk us up as a contender despite having hung on by our fingernails until then it was clear that the Eagles had activated Ultra Power Saving Mode before the game and still had plenty in the tank. As it turns out we had stuff all left, and any remote opportunity of launching a famous comeback was dashed when Dunn petulantly gave away a 50m penalty and created a certain goal with a shove after a mark in the first few minutes.

From there it was party time for West Coast. They didn't even need to go into top gear to run away with a near 10 goal win. Lucas Cook's name continued to be used in vain by all as sex romper Darling racked up five goals and halfway through the quarter we'd given up so much that even when an Eagles player blatantly whacked the ball out of bounds deliberately the players nearest to the ball couldn't be bothered putting in as much as a half-hearted appeal.

As our spirit was broken and they rattled on goal after goal against scant resistance the carnival atmosphere went up a notch as Max Gawn accidentally delivered a UFC style flying knee strike to Nathan Jones' head. Fortunately the captain's bonce is made of the same material they use in bullet proof vests and he seemed ok at the end. If he ever gets hurt there will be nowhere to walk because the streets will be full of Melbourne fan curled up in a ball sucking their thumb.

Late on Bail did his bit for the delisting pact he has signed with M. Jones by dropping a sitter chest mark of his own. Has done very well to play as many games as he has, and while it'll be a step down he should make a decent quid playing reasonably good football in the SANFL or WAFL next year.

So far the second half of the year is much like the last. Nobody takes West Coast seriously but they're actually a very reasonable team and we've got three eminently winnable games coming up, so hold off on the panic button for now.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Watts
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Dom Tyson
1 - Jeff Garlett

Apologies to Hogan, Dunn, Vince and Neal-Bullen

Nothing for either of the top two this week so Jones nudges closer to snatching his fifth Jakovich. The Stynes remained hopelessly gridlocked.

29 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
27 - Bernie Vince
24 - Nathan Jones
17 - Angus Brayshaw (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
14 - Jesse Hogan, Jack Viney
13 - Jack Watts
11 - Cameron Pedersen
9 - Aaron vandenBerg
8 - Jeff Garlett
6 - Christian Salem
5 - Dom Tyson
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Colin Garland, Viv Michie
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)

The Finance Feedbag

This is the point where people start losing their mind over playing interstate games. It's not like we're primarily doing it to try and encourage the people of the Northern Territory to take up memberships and spend their hard earned on Demon merchandise - we're doing it for cold hard cash because we're skint. Last year we made $1.2m for the two NT games, and made a profit of $284k. If you've got an alternative away we can raise the required money to take the games back to the MCG then speak up whenever you're ready. If they ever try to shift a third game I'll break shit but for now it's a necessary evil.

We should have tried to get into Hobart before North, but for the near future we're going to have to sell out somewhere. The idea that we should have the game before the bye is sound but the AFL hardly owes us favours when it's our own status as a bottom tier club that forces us to move the games in the first place.

Banner Watch
Cancelled by order of the AFL, and fair enough. Though I notice the moratorium on razzle dazzle and 'fan experience' didn't stretch to a weekend without cheery betting spokespeople telling us how to lose our house on a multi. No surprises there, gambling ads are like cockroaches after a nuclear attack, when everything else is gone they will still be going strong.

Crowd Watch
The Humans of TIO Stadium expended significant energy in trying to get themselves on camera considering there were more people in the ground than watching on television. The pre-match highlights package of other games in Darwin - which completely managed to avoid acknowledging we'd ever played a match let alone the greatest yet - demonstrated that at least two people had got stark bollock naked to run across the ground in previous years. At least nobody lowered themselves to that level, but still the assembled masses didn't have a huge interest in remaining silent for the tribute at the end.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Tempting to go with Garlett yet again but I'll go for something different this week and opt for Jack Viney's front and centre crumb. Should be more of it. Apologies to Spencer's charismatic set shot. Still undecided on which Garlett goal is in the lead overall - his effort against the Bulldogs or Geelong. Will make a snap decision by next week if somebody (preferably Jeff himself) doesn't deliver a clear clubhouse leader against Essendon.

Stat My Bitch Up
Our average is down to 73.61ppg, as long as Essendon score under 80 on Sunday and Brisbane under 100 we'll remain in front of them and Gold Coast's league worst 72.07. Still ordinary company to be keeping but at least we know that scores of over 100 aren't completely impossible

Next Week
It's the crisis hit Essendon (NB: This was written before they play Sunday, so if they win by 20 goals all bets are off), hopefully just needing one firm push over the edge to burst into open pro vs anti-Hird civil warfare. We've got a good record against them in games where they don't beat us by 148 points, so matter how a good side kept us at arms' length last night I'm quietly confident against slop but taking nothing for granted. Considering the scoring rates of the two sides this year if there's rain it might end up as a 20-19 thriller.

I'm not thrilled by the team selection options on offer. Unless somebody was under an injury cloud I can't for the life of me see why JKH was in Darwin and not at Casey Fields (though I'm sure he was happy to avoid Cranbourne on a day officially listed as 'colder than a witch's tit') getting another game under his belt before coming back. Shows that he's close enough to be straight in next week to reduce our forward line to below 'giant' size.

I suspect Brayshaw was set for a rest soon anyway, so even if his injury isn't serious I can see him being left out, and if Harry O's mystery injury wasn't serious/an excuse to quietly leave him out I'll have him back. Not sure Michie or Newton are going to help replace Brayshaw but either of them can gladly take the place of Jones or Bail. There could be rioting if both of them are picked again.

IN: Kennedy-Harris, Lumumba, Michie, Newton
OUT: M. Jones, Bail, Howe (omit), Brayshaw (inj)
LUCKY: Toumpas (one more week then I can't go on), Spencer (not a bad performance but survives only for the lack of a convincing ruck/forward)
OTHER: I note Harmes in the bests at Casey again today. Never seen him play for more than a few seconds but I'm going to treat him like the new Tom Couch and launch a campaign to get him in only for it to backfire spectacularly. Jamar was named best but he could deliver world peace by 6.25pm next Thursday and still not be looked at.

Final Thoughts
Be kind to each other and get off the serious gear.

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