Monday, 7 September 2015

Lifting the veil

And so the Melbourne Football Club walked once more into the Valley of Death, with one player for every consecutive defeat at the ground, a coaching staff who had unexpectedly discovered the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse knocking on the door in the last few weeks and about 8000 dedicated mentalists who are fully committed to going down with the ship one day.

The last game of the home and away season is so often treated with contempt by one or more of the competing clubs that it's hard to tell what's going to happen. Unless you've followed our recent record in these games, then you'd have a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. We can't all have the good fortune of running into a Ross Lyon finals side in Round 23 you know.

So we had history against us, not to mention the regrettable fact that the Giants are a better side and the fact the game was being played at a venue which traditionally causes Melbourne players to burst into tears as they pull into the car park. Our 22 consecutive losses at the ground 'only' ranks equal 11th amongst the worst runs in league history, but with all factors combined it was enough to convince most people that all GWS had to do was simply show up to collect one last win of the season for their legion of fans.

(Note - this is the bit where I'd usually crack wise about it being a legion to the strictest definition of 5000 people, but when you've just wheeled out your lowest home state crowd since 1996 it's probably best to avoid throwing stones).

Fortunately what might have otherwise been a last round snoozefest on a par with classics like Fremantle 2012 or North 2014 was enlivened in advance by the off-field storylines. Where would we be without the drama? Imagine having to actually concentrate on the footy, you'd go mental.

The first was Howe's 100th game (wouldn't have made it if I'd had my way), and the loose talk during the week about him wanting to stay. Rubbish, and after his performance I'm sure we'll be accepting any reasonable offers. Also from the contract speculation files came the midweek suggestions that both Garland and Toumpas were about to sign new deals, but the most remarkable contract news came courtesy of one that didn't exist. In the week where he'd demonstrated his capabilities as a league footballer by getting the ball 39 times Daniel Cross 'retired'.

At first it seemed like positive news, who could begrudge a well-regarded 249 game player the opportunity to choose his own time of departure? Until you actually read the story and it turns out he'd retired because in a nice way we'd sacked him. Which was sad. I accept the need to move on, and the view given by the coach that it's better somebody goes out playing good footy than toiling away in the reserves but my first instinct was that it was the wrong thing to do. We still need the leadership, we still need players who go out and hunt the ball and there's hardly a cavalcade of stars who we need to clear spots for on our senior list. So what's the harm in keeping him on a one-year contract and tapping him on the shoulder when there's a rookie ready to step up in Round 11 next season?

Moving him on - or into an off-field role - is hardly going to tear a hole in the club but for somebody who has had more impact on players and fans in under 40 games than anyone in recent memory it seemed a shoddy way to say goodbye. Obviously how it played out (other than the concussion) was better than waiting until after the game then doing him in behind the scenes, but it still seemed unnecessarily hasty considering we'll probably remain in slow rebuild mode next year.

At least if he had to go out he did it in the most spectacular fashion, Dangerfielding himself on the rocky Docklands surface then returning to a heroes welcome after first giving the crowd a thumbs up on the stretcher. As you would be no doubt be aware there's nothing I love more than a real life scenario that closely resembles professional wrestling, and this was the AFL's equivalent of Mick Foley going off/through the cage then returning legitimately so dazed that he didn't know what was going on to play his part in the finish. In years past he would have stormed back on the ground and taken a huge mark to bring the crowd to their feet, but in this safety focused era he had to confine himself to taking plaudits from the audience while sitting on the bench.

What a man, and what an image of him being chaired off with his son on Brayshaw's shoulders. One of the great MFC shots, if only somebody would Photoshop in at least a semblance of a crowd behind them.
As far as MFC careers go Brad Green's was far more illustrious, but for chairings Cross and Son certainly beat the time tragic figures Grimgove stood too far apart and almost tore the former captain's knackers in half. Just look at Brad's face, he's puffing wind rapidly because he knows his testicles are being torn asunder but he doesn't want to create a scene.

During all this our very good friend Mark Jamar must have been looking on startled, having practically been written out of history in the last 12 weeks. Where was his opportunity to cap 13 seasons of toil and struggle by going off under his own steam let alone atop somebody's shoulder. I'm comfortable that he probably wanted to play for Casey in a final instead of in a meaningless game with only a marginally smaller crowd, but some acknowledgement of his career would at least be polite. Hopefully he doesn't suffer the same fate as Garry Baker, who only found out he'd been delisted when he sat through jumper presentation night and realised he wasn't getting one when they got to #54 and he hadn't been called up yet.

Another storyline to keep the internet on the verge of meltdown was Watts mysteriously being dropped on Thursday night, just before the sort of free and easy game you'd think he'd absolutely dominate. As it turns out it looks like he's off as well, with scuttlebutt suggesting that he told the club he'd be asking for a trade and in Carlton fashion we said "well, we're not risking getting stuck with you if you do an ACL". The only difference being that we didn't go on to have a press conference about it then beat Melbourne a few days later.

He's reported to have been going around to players in the rooms after the game looking like he was "saying goodbye", which sounds fairly decisive though I'm not sure how much stock to put in that considering he'll be necking slabs with them on Mad Monday and tucking into a Chicken Kiev alongside them at the Best and Fairest before any deals are done. At least he'll get an invite, I'm half expecting that Jamar shows up in his tux and looks at the seating chart to to find it says HOWE, JEREMY (table 21) then skips to JETTA, NEVILLE (table 32) and ends up having dinner at the food court KFC.

There would be something sad about seeing Jack go. Like many Melbourne fans I've spun the Wheel of Watts on a near weekly basis since Queen's Birthday 2008 and got a different result every time. Eventually this year it seemed that the best thing for him to do would be to get out of Victoria and find a quieter footy market where he could get on with playing footy untouched by scrutiny, but even as his form tapered off at the end of the year I returned to the position that playing for us is about as high-profile as playing for Gold Coast (especially if you believe this sub-Buzzfeed farce of an article which goes out of its way to manipulate the figures to tell us something we all know) so he might as well stay. Besides, the kids like him and once Howe goes there won't be much else for them to get into (other than, hopefully, winning more games of football).

After over 100 spins of the wheel which never quite landed on either JACKPOT or BANKRUPT I came back to the view that we should just let him roll in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health and see what happens. He's never going to win the Brownlow but at the same time nor is he going to be pictured wheeling through lines of gak or delivering blistering Nick Kyrgios style sledges to opponents, so couldn't we do with a solid citizen that can (usually) kick straight? But if his heart isn't in it then let's all move on, let him go the way of so many others at other clubs. Personally I hope he succeeds but the path is littered with carnage. Just don't start on the fantasy that things would have worked out if we'd picked Nic Nat instead.

All this was head-spinning enough in the lead-up to what should have otherwise been a casual day out at the footy with a few hundred other devotees, then as if to taunt us rumours break out that Hogan's got hamstring problems in the rooms but is going to play anyway. At this point I'm sure you, like me, remembered his random outbreaks of soreness during the year and started to ponder the worst hamstring related injury possible. Off the bone, out of the leg and into the vacant third level? That's the sort of question you wrestle with as a Melbourne fan on permanent Farce Watch. He played and he survived, but I must admit when he nursed that first shot on goal with about 10% power and failed to make the distance from 40 metres out there was much nervous adjustment of collar as I expected him to be having scans at the Epworth by half time.

With all these off-field antics taking precedence, an inconsequential Human Centipede vs Franchise empty arena match almost seemed like a waste of time - and for the first 15 minutes of the first quarter it was. Our first quarters for the last month have been practically illegal, and turning two set shots into 0.0 it was threatening to erupt into ultimate Melbourne when they flipped the game on us and dominated for a few minutes before kicking two goals. Fortunately that's where it temporarily ended, and we got scored almost as many majors in two minutes as we had in the entire last month of first quarters.

It wasn't without some drama but we got there in the end. It might have helped that GWS were showing scant interest, but who cares when you're in our situation? By my count since the last time we won at this stadium we've had 83 different players try and fail to get us another victory. That's a terrifying 6.2% of all players to appear for the Melbourne Football Club since 1897. While Jack Watts was left to say his goodbyes after 14 consecutive losses at the place Oscar McDonald and Mitch White sat back and laughed, having conquered the mountain at their first attempt.

The result eventually turned out alright, but at first our tactics seemed depressingly familiar. Even in a Round 23 bruise-free classic we were obsessed with going backwards, especially Grimes who has been so comprehensively Melbourned that there's no doubt he'll be joining Blease, Emo Maric and Petterd in a class action against the club for crushing their hopes and dreams. Metres gained is the buzz stat of the year, and he must have been about 400m in the negative at one point during the first quarter. It was good when he took a mark inside 50 and had to have a shot because at least it forced to him to kick forward. It's not his fault, we've just crushed his spirit and self-confidence.

The result of a throwaway match shouldn't have seemed so important, but after seeing the last 20 of the 22 losses in person (I'm living in my sixth different house since the last win, which says as much about me as the Dees) the idea of going through another summer wondering if we'd ever win there again was unsatisfying. I missed the first two while overseas, listening to Russell Robertson snap his achilles in an internet cafe in Singapore then 'enjoying' defeat to the Tigers live from Malaysia, but have felt every bump since - from the relative highs of failing to topple St Kilda because of a timekeeping fiasco to North flogging us by 20 goals - and this was as good an opportunity as any to finally do it by taking advantage of the disinterest of others.

The sides were on a relatively equal footing, we both had four players of under 10 games and were both carrying a player who is 100% leaving in the vain hope that they might change their mind and grace us with their presence in the future. The difference was that while we had a monster ruckman who taps everything they had a pair of cannon fodder battlers who Gawn walked on all day, quite literally early on when he gave away a free in the first quarter for sticking a boot through his hapless opponent. He still looked tired, if only we had another ruckman who could have used one more game to say goodbye? I noticed that when it became clear just how overmatched the Giants were in the centre that Dunn was thrown in there a backup when he wasn't returning to his roots as a pinch-hit forward. He had no idea what he was doing, but then again neither did the other guy so it all worked out in the end. Real Round 23 stuff.

After the varying fortunes of the first quarter, and poor old Grimes gifting them a goal by dropping a sitter, we found ourselves level. We could have better, but compared to the first quarters in recent weeks it was almost worthy of a standing ovation. The second quarter started much like the first had, with both sides playing like they were involved a local thirds game. Still we seemed to be playing the better football, and it's not often you can say that. The problem was that for all the dominance in the contest it still looked like we were more vulnerable to conceding goals from wacky turnovers than of our attack doing enough. Hogan is all present but as usual he was lacking a second option so defenders converged on him whenever the ball went inside 50.

Not that either side could convert the chances they had, until the Giants got one and convinced me that we were going to crash to a shocking loss. Because it was Round 23 and my nerves were shot to shit. Even a day later I'm still getting tense watching highlights, I'm a hopeless addict and won't know what to do with myself on weekends. Except next week when as part of the traditional "do what your wife tells you to" payoff for spending six months watching footy I'm off for a weekend at some place called Jolly Farm. Might sneak a look at the first weekend of the Exhibition Series, but when it comes down to it I don't really give a shit.

The best bit about the second quarter - before we started kicking goals - was that any questions about the integrity of the final round of voting for the Jakovich Medal were quashed when Viney started running riot around the packs. Vince and McDonald were also among the best, but Jack had done more than enough to confirm that he couldn't be beaten. He has had an amazing second half of the season and is a well deserved winner. This was the sort of Slopfest that he's genetically built for, and he took full advantage.

At the other end of the prominence scale, Mitch White was having a surprisingly assured debut. For somebody who never seemed to be banging the door down for selection (if like me you base all your decisions on VFL match reports) he probably couldn't have picked a better day to get his eye in when the opposition couldn't give a stuff. Not that the circumstances of the game detract from his performance, he was good with ball in hand and hard around the packs. He's unlikely to be an automatic selection but we should see him during the pre-season and in a few senior games next year. In the world of rookies Harmes was also fantastic, taking screamers and kicking goals. Again I'd like to see him do it in a real game, but it capped off some encouraging performances over the last few weeks.

Considering he did nothing else except take a screamer and cost us a goal with the subsequent turnover it should be noted that it was a calm set shot finish from the boundary by Howe that got us going again. I cursed him openly after the turnover, but he could still do a bit of damage in the forward line of another club. He's another one I'd be sad to lose, but not nearly as sad as Garland (potentially) or Watts.

We still couldn't get rid of GWS though, never giving them the excuse they were looking for to pack up, put their comfy slippers on and drink cocktails from a deckchair for the rest of the afternoon. At some point if we didn't put them away they were going to have no alternative but to actually have a go and win.

The domination around the ground continued through the first half of the third quarter without us being able to put them away. A captains special on the run from Jones and Grimes' surprising set shot briefly opened up an advantage but the Giants were still hanging around like a bad smell. It was only in the dying minutes of the quarter that we finally managed to stick it to them. Newton kicked two goals in a row and almost managing to set off the NBA Jam style "He's on Fire" with a third before Hogan all but put them away with a set shot after the siren which proved the only leg issues he had were an even wackier than usual run-up.

I say 'all but', because it would have been the ultimate in #fistedforever if we'd stuffed up a four goal lead against a nobody team in front of an empty stadium and that still seemed like an option. Gawn was winning all the taps, Viney, Vince and Jones were dominating and McDonald had kept Cameron quiet all day but the nervous part of me said there was still something satanic in our near future, something to really send us into the off-season with our head in the oven. When they got the first of the quarter after a minute my blood pressure was on the rise, and when professional Cameron Hunter impersonator Cameron McCarthy ran into an open goal it was about to go through the roof. Fortunately he was playing the sort of game that even we'd drop you after (if it wasn't the last round) and by missing from right in front he blew the chance to bring his side back to within two goals with plenty of time on the clock and a psychologically fragile opposition who could crack at any minute.

After they took advantage of Cross being knocked out (and I'm not saying they should have stopped and kicked the ball out of play or anything, but no need to pay the free kick for chopped arms first eh umpire? No need to have a surface with any give in it eh Etihad Stadium? And various other conspiracies) to bundle home a third goal of the quarter to keep them in it I was absolutely shitting it - and I wasn't the only one, there might have only been a handful of people present but we were going mental because any win remains golden, and most of the Melburnians on scene must have been well aware that the ultimate curse was on its last legs without anyone ever having to take a piss around the boundary line to drive it out.

Having finally realised midway through the third quarter that it was a great time to start attacking instead of going backwards we continued looked like winners everywhere but on the scoreboard. I was still guarded against a debacle, especially after the break while Cross did his best Captain Lance Murdock impression as he was carted from the ground. Maybe the break helped halt any chance they had of a comeback, and it didn't much harm Cross who was back within minutes. They had one last chance to stay in the game but missed before Harmes sent his stock further through the roof with the winning goal and the last five minutes were spent enjoying the death of a curse. Even having to listen to the dreaded trumpeteer was worthwhile for what it represented, new life at a ground that has taken more victims than Typhoid.

We stayed to enjoy the winning feeling, warmly applauded Cross off and... that was it. All those weeks of tension, drama and psychological torture over. Hopefully this year we can ease our way into the off-season and aren't scandalised when Terlich and A. Rookie turn up to Mad Monday dressed as Fred and Rose West.

It's all over now, breathe easy and eagerly await the release of the 2016 fixture. Now, onto more important matters...

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Bernie Vince
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Tom McDonald
1 - James Harmes

Apologies to Cross, Garland, Garlett, Gawn, Hogan, Newton, Salem and White

Leaderboard
Both McDonald and Vince did enough to tie Viney.. if Jack had subbed himself out after five minutes instead of being close to best on ground again. It was a great way to complete a storming second half of the season.

By half time he was home, with there being little chance of him dropping out of the top two votes, and while he was passed for the maximum score by Bernard in the second half and McDonald also polled four was more than enough to get home after starting the year a $15 chance. It makes him the longest priced winner since pre-season odds were first presented in 2009, but considering Nathan Jones has lifted three in that time as red hot favourite it's not surprising.

What a battle the Jakovich was this season, possibly the best ever. First McDonald gave hope to fans of defence everywhere by opening up a huge early lead with four BOGs and votes in the first seven games before Travis Cloke temporarily wrecked him.

As McSizzle dropped back to the field Vince was next to challenge, picking up three BOGs in a row between rounds 10 and 12 but even though he was arguably the most important of them all with 20 votes in wins compared to 10 for Viney and eight for McDonald he only managed eight votes from rounds 13 to 22 to leave himself at best a chance of sharing the medal.

As Vince was winding down the Viney campaign began in earnest, overturning a nine point deficit the last time we won a game before yesterday to charge him over the collapsed bodies of his teammates. He polled in all but two games after Round 10, and withstood the second coming of Sizzle to successfully defend his lead in the last round.

And so, for the 11th time we award the most prestigious medallion in football. One day the great man himself will return to personally drape it over the neck of the champion, but for now Jack will just have to accept our best intentions. After three consecutive wins by Nathan Jones a new chapter in football royalty is written:



44 - Jack Viney (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
40 - Tom McDonald (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Bernie Vince
30 - Nathan Jones
25 - Jesse Hogan (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
17 - Angus Brayshaw, Jack Watts
16 - Daniel Cross
11 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Cameron Pedersen
10 - Jeff Garlett, Aaron vandenBerg
7 - Chris Dawes, Dom Tyson
6 - Viv Michie, Christian Salem
5 - Colin Garland, Ben Newton
4 - Lynden Dunn, Neville Jetta
3 - James Harmes
2 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Jack Grimes, Jeremy Howe, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Mark Jamar, Matt Jones, Alex Neal-Bullen, Jake Spencer

Apparently the electoral system used for the Best and Fairest rewards performance rather than just showing up, so he could snatch victory despite missing so many games. It will be a belter of a contest, with Jones, McDonald and Cross (which would be hilarious) having played every game, with Vince one less. I'm not writing any of the first three off, or Hogan in a rort to try and convince him to sign a 10 year contract, but Bernard seems a safe choice for the Bluey.

Meanwhile for some unknown bloody reason I'd given Gawn an extra four votes on the leaderboard after the North game. This has been corrected as part of a midweek audit. Thank god all the other scores were right so we didn't end up in the Supreme Court.



What a great day it is for this segment when the actual banner uses the same format as the logo for this segment, which is no surprise considering that the logo was kindly supplied by the Demon Army's own @demonsbeth. Not that there's any sort of John Laws style Cash for Comment outrages involved with the judging in this segment, it's just that the aforementioned army have kept dishing out curtain-free quality for the last few years no matter how closely our football resembled the aftermath of a nuclear armageddon.

And so, with one defeat in the segment's inaugural season our team shot for glory in year two and I'm proud to say they've achieved it. While general banner standards in the league have sunk to lows not seen since the days that a thin layer of tissue paper was held over either side of the race for players to run through (North's dirigible and Carlton's absurd curtain the main offenders) the perfect season has been achieved.

We provided another strongly kerned effort with a quality inset image of Jeremy Howe, which was duly rotated to show all 850 people in the ground both sides while the Giants fell into the St Kilda trap of creating something so see-through that you can't properly make out what it says on either side. Dees win, and with the score draw for the joint ANZAC Day banner, two women's game victories and one other random win that I can't remember that's 25-1-0 for the season. Congratulations to all involved and good luck again next year.

Matchday Experience Watch
Knowing that it was going to a real friends and family day - and thank god for the Cross entourage adding a few more to the gate - we obviously didn't go out of our way to make it an all out festival of razzle dazzle. Not that you'd have known if they had from where I was sitting, I've softened on the ground in the last couple of years (especially now that we've won a bloody game there) but they've opted for the bizarre concept of not showing the same feed on the big screen and on the TVs for people sitting up the back of the first row so whatever big screen antics we put on at the breaks it's not like more than a handful of people would have seen it anyway.

We imported the Melbourne Music gimmick, and for the first time I heard that Angus Brayshaw's selection was Stuart Kellett's walk-on music. Which raised my spirits even though it was probably not actually a tribute to a middle of the road darts player.

Maybe Etihad Stadium just didn't bother for the occasions and broadcast the Fox Footy feed on the big screen, but the reason we were provided televisions with that feed was because we couldn't see the main screen from any angle. I suspect there were different pictures being shown by the fact that the people in front of me were going insane over replays of free kicks while we schlubs at the back were still waiting for the 'host broadcaster' to show it.

An unintentional bonus of this odd broadcasting decision was that it was a big win for people like me who always want to see a countdown clock but are vehemently against letting the players know exactly how much time there is left. As usual the radio was pretending they didn't know how much time there was left even though they were watching the same feed.

The Round 23 CBF began with Russell Robertson handing over hosting duties for the last edition of Howie's Hangers to Channel 9 sports reporter Clint Stanaway. Robbo obviously knew full well from his bump during the Legends Game that somebody was a high chance of putting themselves in a wheelchair by trying to take a screamer on top of a thinly veiled carpark so he wasn't having any part of it. Like Mitch White, Clint could treat his debut as a trial run considering nobody was there to see him but seemed to have taken over Robbo's mantle with aplomb, albeit temporarily. Fortunately for the amateurs in overalls nobody went at a high ball with the same vigour as Daniel Cross so none were knocked out landing on the concrete surface. We remain litigation free for another year, and with Howe going elsewhere the segment name is up for review. Vote 1 Gawn's Grabs.

Crowd Watch


Obviously we failed in our application to have the traditional GWS +40% crowd adjustment applied to an away game because we not only beat the record for the worst crowd ever at the venue but absolutely thrashed it, cutting a massive 3568 off the 12,500 who had reluctantly shown up to see Chris Connolly's Fremantle poleaxe Peter Rohde's Western Bulldogs in Round 7 2003's clash of ex-Demons who would eventually become sacked coaches.

If it wasn't for the Exhibition Series taking over this week our fans would no doubt be copping the blame for the record low crowd, but anybody who properly examined the audience could see that the bottom level was reasonably well patronised and it was actually level two that was nearly empty. So, like the Grand Final I blame corporates for ruining things.

Even though we've got some realistic arguments as to why it wasn't our fault - Father's Day can't have helped on top of everything else - and how the deck was stacked against us it's still a bit sad that it's come to this. Part of me is thrilled to be involved in a record, but I was hoping we'd at least manage five figures. It must have cost us a fortune, but there'd be significant questions to be asked of the administration if they hadn't budgeted for little more than 10k when the fixture came out. The idea that it might have cost us over a quarter of the profits of the Northern Territory games is obscene but we've only got ourselves to blame for being so horrible over the years that 25,000 people would rather stay home and listen to Dwayne Russell than show up and watch us play in person at an unsuitable venue.

Everyone knows Melbourne fans don't like the place and resent playing a home game there but we got 35,000 against Sydney in Round 20, 2004 when we were were a top four side (though not for long) so obviously people will put their hatred of the venue to one side if the club is on a roll. We got 28k against them next year, but after that the home game crowds against interstate clubs are average at best. Considering some of our results, the 18k against Brisbane last year seems downright reasonable - except that it was because everyone turned up expecting a win and were instead treated to collapse and a Roos soliloquy about the lasting effects of the Tankquiry. The Lions should invite him to come and give their administrators a chat so they don't feel so bad about giving up picks 1 and 2.

With so few people in the stadium it wasn't a totally unpleasant experience, and was one of the rare occasions where you could walk to Southern Cross Station without having to worry that somebody will yell fire and you'll get trampled to death in the dangerously unsafe walkway they've created by putting office buildings on every available inch of space in the area.

It's a horrible place to go when there's a crowd of over 30,000 but it performed well enough with 9000 other than the top level being closed. I assume that not having to staff that level means significantly lower costs paid for by the club, and would crack the shits if I found out we were still paying the same but the stadium were cheerily saving a buck by putting the locks on. At least if you spread 9000 people around the MCG you could be assured of your personal space and several thousand seats to yourself.

Only at Docklands could you go to a game with 9000 people and still be stuck having to sit next to a man in double denim who is up for a chat. Sadly at any ground I go to I'm likely to be stuck behind somebody too stupid to operate a barcode reader, or people who failed to bring enough money to pay for a hot dog and inexplicably don't carry a card to use as an emergency backup.

At least before Double Denim showed up the guy sitting next to me was keeping to himself, scoffing chocolate bars and watching a film on his phone for the entire first half before disappearing for good.

I'm not sure if we were supposed to be able to sit on the Level 1 wing, or if the attendant had just been told to turn a blind eye like a finals side whose captain has been caught driving pissed. Either way the view was reasonable, but the freezing wind blowing through the gate behind me and straight up my clacker because of the shithouse design of the stadium was less enticing.

I would also like to take this time to apologise to the Footscray Football Club (trading as Western Bulldogs), who I accused of deliberately branding all the nanny state announcements on big screens around the ground. I am now aware that as per the picture above that they do it for all 'home' clubs.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Like our playing list this blog has been in utter disarray for the past few weeks, and as we've all stumbled towards the end of the season like victims of radiation poisoning I've been going on about how time is running out for somebody to beat Garlett. Unfortunately this fails to take into account that Nathan Jones had already snatched the lead off him with this audacious banana on the run against St Kilda.



Nobody beat that today, but for the weekly award I'm going to have to go with Hogan's monster mark and subsequent torp into the top deck. It's probably more about the mark than the goal itself but it was hard to beat for sheer excitement value. The way he adjusted the ball in hand on his way to the goal-line was just asking for it to slip away and roll through for a point but he managed to keep everything in place and not blow his hamstring into orbit with the over-exaggerated finish so somebody make a GIF of it immediately and let's all watch it on repeat until he wins the Rising Star on Wednesday night.

Stat My Bitch Up
With all the momentum at three-quarter time it seemed plausible that we might get the 110 points required to elevate the season to 'just' our fifth lowest of the 22 game era, but sadly it wasn't to be and we ended on an average score of 71.5ppg for the season. Which is not great, but while it was seven points behind 2012 it also involved us conceding 38 less goals so that's not to be taken lightly. In terms of percentage our 76.95 was 'only' our 12th lowest in a 22 game season, and in the end we only took a hit of about 4% from our lost month.

We managed to score more than Brisbane (+33) and Carlton (+55), and to concede less than the five teams below us. It would help if we can develop another reasonable tall forward option/find a ruckman who can kick goals, and can get more goals out of the midfield. There was a massive drop-off after Hogan (44 goals) and Garlett (40) to Jones (12), Dawes and Vince (11 each), so there's plenty to work with if we can give the top two more help. Nevertheless that's 84 goals we didn't have last year, so a big win on both fronts and thanks again to Carlton for swapping Garlett for a Shopper Docket discount. Let's try and flog them Dawes for pick 2.

Next Week The off-season
While the annual eight team exhibition series is played out over the next month we'll be preparing for the following milestone events in a time of the year we like to call Springtime for Melbourne:

Delistings
Now that Casey have celebrated their return to the finals with the traditional dead parrot routine there's no need to wait for the traditional round of 'thanks but no thanks' massacres. I can't understand why the contract status (years, not dollars) for every player isn't publicly available information but while it's not there's still going to be some confusion about which fringe players are likely to get the chop and which will sneak through for another year as cover.

With all our rookies and the as yet unseen Jayden Hunt seemingly doing enough to survive, and the players we're going to lose to trades I suggest the following result:

OUT: Fitzpatrick (death by tunnel-ball), Jamar ('retired'), McKenzie, Terlich, Riley (this will make me sad)
LUCKY: Bail (I'm convinced he signed for two years last season, not Terlich), M. Jones (one year left)

I'd be surprised if we didn't have the salary cap room to pay-out one of the 'lucky' two and send them on their way, but I'm marginally more inclined to keep them around than to use pick 81 on some kid who is equally as likely to make an impact but without any experience.

Free agency/trading
Everyone knows Howe is gone, and has been for months so there's no need to be coy about it. The joke will be on me when he does sign again now and I have to furiously backtrack, but I'm suggesting the only way he'll end up back with us next year is if everyone else lost interest with his shambolic post-screamer kick yesterday. If you take out the aerial activities and the obscure special talent of slotting goals from outrageous angles at Etihad Stadium he's just an ok player and I'm going to suggest he ends up at Carlton. Brisbane could do with both a goalkicker and somebody who can defend in a crisis, not to mention the media coverage benefits in an otherwise disinterested market, but I can't see it happening unless the AFL chip in a few million because they know he'll get them on the back page of the Courier Mail.

The complication to trying to get a decent pick out of this is that the either the Blues or Lions could swipe him gratis in the pre-season draft. All of this will cost us if Howe wants to go to either of those clubs, but could work in our favour if we can trade him elsewhere. I'm going to suggest that the deal takes most of the trade period and manage to rort the Blues out of a pick in the mid 20's. He's just the sort of flashy player that Carlton will think they can turn into a superstar.

Now we expect Watts to go as well, and as much as the experience with the Blues giving us pick 11 for Brock McLean suggests we should get similar here you only get one trade deal in a lifetime where the other party had been in the carpark huffing paint from a plastic bag for hours beforehand. Without getting into complications like adding players or hot three way deals I'd suggest we're likely to get a 15-20 pick and the joy of watching him run riot elsewhere.

I still think his best move would be to go somewhere where nobody knows his name, but unlike Howe he's under contract so we have to get paid. My inclination is for him to end up enjoying the sun in Brisbane but would fall about laughing if he demanded a trade to one of the 'big' Victorian clubs where there will be 10x as much scrutiny from fans as he got with us. Go to Essendon and enjoy the Stanton treatment of being treated with the contempt by fans until you're caught up in a scandal and suddenly everyone wants to 'back' you. Which will still be a step up from the way some of our supporters have reacted to him over the last few years.

No matter what happens we'll always have the week after 186 when he blind turned nobody and kicked a goal while poor old James Strauss was lying there with a shattered ankle.


We wait for confirmation of the hot rumour about Garland's new contract, and there was also talk last week about Toumpas getting an extra two years which hasn't come to anything yet. I'd be happy to keep both of them, there's no way we'd be getting A* compo for Colin and while he's hardly a star he's a solid presence in a defence that has lost Frawley and Rivers in recent years. If he stays I still think it will have been after wrestling violently with the decision over the last few weeks, so hopefully we can make it worth his while instead of rewarding loyalty by miring him in drama both on and off-field for the rest of his career.

Toumpas has been a bomb so far but if he's interested in sticking around then there's no harm in giving him another two years. It's not like he's done nothing in the last two that would get us any reasonable result in a trade so we might as well persist for at least another year then flog him in a set-to-backfire Garlett style peanuts deal at the end of 2016 once he's officially been Melbourned and joined the lawsuit.

As for who we're going to get in don't hold your breath. We probably have enough money to offer Dangerfield twice the mad money that Geelong are going to spend on him, but would you really pick us at the moment? It seems things are looking up, and we know that despite the early season scragfest that he's good friends with Vince but would you really risk it at the moment if you were him? There's no debate that Geelong represent a far greater chance of a flag no matter what happened this year. Maybe if Adelaide somehow blag their way to a flag this year he'll be more inclined to take a chance, but they won't so fat chance. Besides, if we sign him I'll have to stop making derogatory references to the time Trengove tackled him and his head cracked like an egg.

This article claims we're after Harley Bennell, which would be a good result for football but a great result for people who like to throw words like CULTURE around. What a shift in priorities it would be to get rid of Watts (loved by kids, spends his nights at soup kitchens) for Bennell (loved by drug dealers, spends his nights getting arrested for being blind). I'm into it, we've gone nowhere with good blokes wheel in the anti-social types.

IN: ?
OUT: Howe (Carlton), Watts (Brisbane)
UNCLEAR: Garland, Toumpas

Demonbracket Classic
If you missed the announcement a few weeks ago we'll be holding a 64 player knockout of the players with the least games since 1990. The field currently ends with a play-in game between Scott Chisholm and Matthew Bishop (18 games each) for the 64th spot, but if one of more of our players below that mark get the Tijuana in the next few weeks (and if my projections are correct it'll be Riley) there will be a recalculation of the field.

The Grand Final will be held on the day before the National Draft, and I'll be back in the next few weeks with a finalised field and official tournament dates. In the meantime you can use this page to research your favourites.

Draft
This is our day to shine, where everything looks like a great idea and every player is a steal. The question of free agent compensation for Carlton/Brisbane complicates the picture (and it would be positively rude for any Melbourne fan to complain about either of them having a win here after we benefited from the same broken system when Frawley went) but after vaulting above St Kilda I'll assume we're left with pick eight.

Naturally we're going to pick a midfielder, because we've not got the time to wait for key position draftees. Preferably I'd like one who can kick goals if that's not too much to ask for and hopefully that's Petracca's role in the future, but as a Melbourne fan it may be a surprise to discover you can actually never have too many goals. I like to get all my draft information from people who seem like they know what they're talking about on BigFooty, and as we're now rapidly sliding down the draft order I'm switching my allegiance to one Charlie Curnow (moderately silly name) whose description as a "powerful and athletic tall midfielder who can also have an impact as a key forward" and as such makes me go all watery.

Naturally in the end we'll draft somebody with crippling emotional issues, a peg leg or a past career as an armed robber. I'll take the third one as long as they can play football.

Demonbracket V
Once all the above shenanigans have concluded and we've got lists senior and rookie to work with, we move towards the greatest of all knockout competitions - the fifth Grand Slam. The Best and Fairest will determine the top eight seeds (which could be important in ensuring Hogan doesn't have to warm up by whomping some scrub in the preliminary round), and once we know the NAB Cup fixture for next year I can draw up a timeline that ensures maximum opportunity for players to self-promote themselves on social media without taking focus off the first NAB Challenge game against Gold Coast in Pyongyang.

The exciting thing is that next year there's no clear favourite - we all still love Jones like he's a member of our family but I predict strong challenges from Vince, Hogan and Viney. Likewise you can't discount a run at the title from loveable social media promotion machines McDonald or Gawn. Or Dangerfield, who is also handy on Twitter. It's going to be a grand battle royale, and for the fifth time (really? REALLY? We are all old) a great novelty lead-in to the season proper. Especially after you've spent the summer trying to pretend you care about a test series against the West Indies.

We'll also be back in the next couple of weeks with the annual end of season review post that ties everything together. Just waiting to sign a guest host, and if Joan Rivers doesn't return my calls soon I'm going to move on to the next celebrity on my wishlist and try to get Sam Blease to do it.

Was it worth it?
Obviously the day was well worth it. Unlike last year I won't walk over broken glass to see a win but they're still such a novelty that it's hard to say no to one. Smashing the dreaded Docklands curse was obviously the highlight of the day, but it was a season where we knocked over a few perennial disappointments, so even though we reverted into full victim mode late in the season it's hard to argue the overall result.

Yes, faith wavered badly over the last few weeks as 80% of the side looked like they'd rather be anywhere else, yes we ended up going 2-4 against sides who finished below us on the ladder (admittedly only because winning yesterday added the two St Kilda defeats to that tally so really it's a figure as fraudulent as that 'relevance' article) and yes there is absolutely no guarantee that we won't be back to padding around in the shallow end of the bottom four again next year but there has clearly been progress. It's not progress that is going to vault us into the eight but at least we can approach 2016 without hiding behind the couch.

Way back in the autumnal glory of Round 1 we started ticking off our top 10 greatest losing streaks and managed to knock off four more (Docklands, Kardinia Park, Collingwood and Geelong), should have added St Kilda to the list and didn't get a chance to play at the SCG. Still, there some key horrors remain to be conquered next year:
  • Carrara (9264 days since last win, though to be fair it was shut down for 15 years during this period)
  • 100 point win (4146 - and in that time we've been on the end of eight)
  • Subiaco (4111 - and get on with it, the wrecking balls are moving into place)
  • Player kicks 7+ goals in a game (3678)
  • SCG (3424 - though to be fair we have only played there twice since)
  • Hawthorn (3399)
  • North Melbourne (3306 - including never since they changed their name back to North Melbourne)
  • St Kilda (3287)
Would also like to win two in a row and see somebody kick a decent bag of goals for the first time since David Neitz.

Seven wins can never be considered an overall victory, but in the season preview I quite clearly and very specifically said "six wins and 76.6%" was my personal pass mark so it's hard to whinge about seven and 77% even if we did hit the wall later in the year.

And we did have some good times, remember the glee of the Gold Coast game thinking that we'd found the Magnificent Seven recruits (was down to the magnificent two by season end), Vince tormenting Dangerfield, Hogan tearing future All-Australian defender Alex Rance to ribbons in front of the Friday night lights, running away from the Bulldogs in the last quarter, Kardinia Park, the bye, sludging to a win against Brisbane and rumbling the Pies.

So after a rough month where depression was running at such a level that people (including me) had gone into the ridiculous "shut the club down so I can do something else" foetal position as if there's anything else worth doing, hopefully this victory no matter how inconsequential gives you some breathing space to temporarily enjoy the concept of Australian rules football.

More importantly the club has survived another season, and no matter how large the novelty cheque they have to write to Docklands management this weekend we seemingly remain on a firm enough financial footing to keep us ticking through until the next decade. Every day above ground is a good day.

Final Thoughts
So, here endeth the year where we dragged ourselves a couple of rungs up the ladder from laughing stock to irrelevance. It's certainly a start, and one day you might miss the rush that came whenever digital hillbillies start doing 'humorous' gags about the club and siege mentality broke out but if that means we're consistently playing like a proper football team it will be a small price to pay. We're an easy target, there will still be opportunities to test out your best abuse on people scraping the bottom of society's barrel.

On to 2016, where with any luck we will flush the last nuggets of the #fistedforever down the s-bend of history. It helps when we sell two home games interstate but I managed to get the set again this year, only missing the away match against Hawthorn where we were tonked, and I'm pretty sure everyone I know who is likely to get married or die has already done it but I can't see myself having another relatively trouble-free run next year so stay vigilant in case you're called upon to guest report.

Thanks for your support this week, this year and for the last 11 seasons. Whether you have absurd amounts of time on your hands to be able to read every week or just dip in occasionally it's much appreciated. That's it for 2015 - a season that promised nothing and delivered slightly more. It's taken 136,000 words to try and explain it all when "it was just ok" would probably have done, but as ever we did it all for the glory of love.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks Adam. I've appreciated your efforts.

    ReplyDelete
  2. With apologies to the Book of Ecclesiastes - A Time For Everything

    For Jack.

    To everything there is a season, and a time to for a footballer in a team:
    a time to be drafted, and a time to be traded;
    a time to play, and a time to mark that which is kicked;
    a time to thrill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to be dropped;
    a time to get booed, and a time to lose; a time to win, and a time to move away.

    What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?
    I have seen the talent, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.
    He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the player in their team, so that no supporter can find out the work that God maketh the player a champion from the beginning to the end.
    I know that there is good in him, for us to rejoice, and to do good in his life.
    And also that every player should enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well done Adam. Another impressive season of Demon-self hatred. All warranted. I truly hope you're wrong on Watts.

    ReplyDelete