This season I've had all sorts of trouble opening my mind to the possibilities of a glorious future instead of expecting dreadful misery on a weekly basis. I'm no closer to knowing which way it's going to go after today, except that if it's the former it won't be happening this year, but there was no better example of frazzled my brain has become trying to compute all this than when I was sitting around and pondering the Melbourne Football Club (as I tend to do about 18 hours a day, never discovering any great insights) last Monday night, and high on the mediocre feat of winning two games in a row I got ahead of myself and started thinking we were on the verge of a major breakthrough. Then the dark clouds began to descend, "what if Simon Goodwin has no idea how to coach? What if we get to the brink of great things this year and he stuffs it up?" This was pure madness for so many reasons but it shows that automatic assumption of impending doom is like muscle memory, it will take years of rehabilitation to fix me.
You know you're on a serious stress trip when the dreams start. This morning I had one where I'd entered an egg eating competition, then after meticulously planning for it the written rules arrived and I decided that it was all too complicated and declined to participate. Obviously the competition was the AFL, the preparation was the off-season and the surprise withdrawal represented increased expectations and the my terror that we were about to be exposed as frauds. I'm ready to sleep soundly tonight, back in my safe place with diminished expectations.
We just needed one more sign that everything was going to be alright, but all the elements for a fiasco were present - we were favourites, at Docklands, having just beaten equal or marginally better sides and after a week where our players had been plastered across the media like we we'd stormed the top four. When I walked in and the boundary line signs were helpfully advising MELBOURNE HOME GAME as if that was a good thing that should indicated it was going to be a weird afternoon.
If the MFC Media Curse is a real thing (and it is) this week must have been its apex, has a team outside the eight ever had so much coverage? By midweek otherwise sensible people were labelling us a sneaky chance of making the eight and Jack Viney had suffered the greatest verballing since Glenn Bartlett turning us into the New York Yankees when people had practically decided he'd claimed we'd win the flag.
We contributed to the carnival atmosphere by unleashing Christian Petracca with the now mandatory "here's the moment he found out" video filmed from the pervy spy-cam in Roos' office, and the rest of the week was occupied with stories implying he was the second coming. As outsiders went off their nut we were reasonably restrained instead of turning it into Jack Watts 2.0, and while he didn't arrive, raise hell and leave like Oliver in Round 1 he did a few nice things and is welcome to stay around and build towards world domination.
Petracca was always coming in this week after his VFL form but he probably helped drag a few through the gate to our annual 'home' game at the much maligned Etihad Stadium. It's an unavoidable fact of AFL fixturing that MCG clubs have to play home games there (and it's hard to take the moral high ground when we flog two other home games to the Northern Territory for mad cash), but unless you're the overjoyed Chief Financial Officer who only has to write a cheque for roughly 7k under break-even rather than 25k at the GWS game is there anyone who understands the logic of how we ended up playing a tenant club? Last time that happened North Melbourne beat us by 20 goals and we kicked three, so at least things are looking up on that front.
We all love money, in nice piles or in lovely clanky bits of loose change, but we've got MCG games this year against Adelaide, Brisbane and Gold Coast. Surely one of those, preferably one of the first two, could have been relied upon to draw enough to avoid us having to mortgage the Bentleigh Club to cover costs? We got 18,000 against the Lions in 2014 for a throwaway end of season game after five mostly putrid losses in a row, so don't tell me we couldn't get that again in Round 9. Best not complain too loudly now or they'll move that game as well.
After our first fortnight of unabated happiness in years without having to rely on a bye to fill one of the weeks I desperately wanted to believe we'd win, and had almost managed to convince myself by the first bounce but not quite and remained at a Cold War level of alert. In 10 years we've won 48 premiership games and lost 148, the odds are always in favour of disaster.
After a week of having my fragile emotions toyed with, the internal turmoil caused by expectations colliding with an old time defensive capitulation was enough to set me right off. Somehow by the first bounce I'd ended up sitting in the middle of strangers, and for the first time in my life had to self-exclude and move to a more secluded part of the stadium during the game because I was behaving so badly. Unfortunately the place only goes back to Row X, which is about 20 short of what I needed to really express the way this game made me feel without causing a scene.
The first half demonstrated why I won't survive any game more important than an Elimination Final. It left me sweating, flustered and with the clenched jaw of an untreated Tetanus victim. Hopefully if we ever get to that point I'll have come to terms with the fact that goals are no longer so rare that they need to be cherished/feared accordingly - and hopefully we'll have developed a way of stopping teams operating convoys of players down the ground unchallenged.
Actual offensive behaviour is very unlike me, I'm more of an under the breath mutterer and it wasn't like I was having any engagement with other fans it was just the muttering had become open yelling due to frustration. Last year I sat in practically the same place during our humiliating performance against the Western Bulldogs and the day passed with only a few loose obscenities while today I yelled "fuck" absolutely more times than is necessary in public. Even after relocating for the second half the only two people in the vicinity would have definitely contacted the offensive behaviour hotline in the first 20 minutes of the third quarter if the number had ever been displayed. Then the blood vessel of my brain that controls sporting anger popped and I was able to ride out the rest of the game like a law abiding citizen.
The most obscene thing about today is that I've not seen us a batter a team like we did in the first five minutes for years. We were dominant at the clearances, the ball was locked in our forward line and with Bugg's kick to Hogan the second goal was the most unlikely perfect kick to a lead since Viv Michie set up Chris Dawes in Round 23, 2014. The problem was as soon as the Saints got their hands on the ball they started flinging it from one end to the other at lightning speed and kicking simple goals. This set us off on a terrifying ghost train ride where they did the same thing about 18 times more with only the flimsiest of resistance.
It was like somebody watched the tape of the North Melbourne game during the week and decided that even though scoring that day was heavily wind assisted that they'd try to make a point of winning a high scoring extravaganza. Under a roof with only the variable crosswinds that come from building the most porous indoor stadium on the face of earth we brought our best forward in a generation but not surprisingly failed in an attempt to come out on top in a shoot-out. Defence was not important, it was like we were trying to win 150-140 and who cares if defenders aggressively pushing forward as we attacked only to stand flat footed while the ball flew back over their heads.
The most notable recipient of one of the loosest defensive efforts in recent times was Nick Riewoldt, and why would you go near somebody who'd kicked 660 career goals? We're lucky he didn't take advantage of our satanic defending to end the day on 666. He ran up and down the ground all day, wandering inside 50 on his own and more than once enjoying the benefits of our chaotic structure to find himself against a brave but desperately outmatched Neville Jetta. He had three goals in the first half and it was another in the long catalogue of games where he's helped drag his side over the line.
Ironically after it was a performance against Riewoldt that put Tom McSizzle on the map in 2013 he came out of today beaten to a pulp, but while I'd be the last person to try my hand at tactical analysis I feel like different players were supposed to pick him up depending on what part of the ground he was in. It's doubtful that Nifty Nev was one of them but that shows you how wrong it went, and by dashing into the midfield and back forward again Riewoldt found himself free, leaving our players pointing and yelling at each other after the fact.
If that's my excuse for Riewoldt running free it doesn't explain the rest of them. Roos tried to talk down 'effort' as the issue and put it all down to the system but it seemed like a neat 50/50 split to me. The term 'out the back' has reached page one of the official AFL Cliche Guide but it has never been more in vogue, and on the day a swashbuckling Baileyball style finally hit the jackpot in a Melbourne game we were the victims. How many goals did we concede from within 30 metres? Practically all of them, and we remained powerless to stop the Saints for the rest of the day.
After blowing our early lead through defensive indifference the Saints gave us a second life by gifting us goals in exactly the same fashion. It was getting ridiculous, and if they hadn't got their act together it would have been a 200 all draw. Does all this dashing into open goals equal 'good' football? Don't ask me I'm a Melbourne fan., I have no idea what good football looks like.
After Frost's second goal he and most of his teammates went missing, we deployed our traditional response to kicking a goal by giving it straight back and barely fired another shot while somehow finding ourselves with a decent score. The dam walls broke with three goals in three minutes at the start of the second quarter, and the problem with a game where teams are slashing from end to end whenever they get the ball is that if you don't get the ball you don't get your chance to participate.
It might not have been so bad if the midfield hadn't gone missing. Maximum was only narrowing winning in the ruck but was nowhere near as dominant as he had been, Viney was quieter and Tyson had completely gone missing. Not to mention that further forward Kent and Garlett barely went near it - and provided little pressure on the Saints when they got it in defence and set up for another hop/skip/jump down the field for a goal. Where if they found any defenders they would be all at sea, including Harry O who continued to promote my theory that he is fine when the going's good but is incapable of lifting a struggling side.
Hogan was keeping us in it, making the most of a wonky kick to outmark two defenders for his third to stop the rot. We were still not offering much but managed to hold them out for a few minutes until he could kick his fourth. What a man, what a mighty fine man and here's to Freo continuing to stink the joint up so he realises there's no point starting at the bottom again even if you could nip home for mum's lamb roast. Just wait for him to keep putting contract negotiations off into next year while he waits to find out if this season is just a fluke or if they've gone sour.
If you're trying to retain a forward maybe don't let him do all the hard work to kick his fourth goal in a half only to let the opposition cancel it out almost immediately. That it came from a farcical scenario where a boundary throw-in didn't make the distance and a St Kilda player nipped in to steal it is not important, it was our fault for letting it get down there so quickly and his good fortune to read the limp throw.
You can't kill Hulkamania and he returned for a fifth to cap off a marvellous half. God knows the last time we had anyone on that tally at half time but I'm assuming it was Neitz. The problem was that the way St Kilda were kicking goals with an embarrassing ease it didn't promise to count for much unless he either kicked 11 or St Kilda started playing with the same casual attitude to defence as us. It smacked of Round 15, 2004 when a young N. Riewoldt kicked nine goals against us and we were happy for him because Melbourne still won by 10 goals.
The margin was only two goals, and while we were hanging on by Jesse's fingernails there was an entire half-time break to work out an alternative plan to stop them from slicing and dicing us at every opportunity. The best they could come up was sending McDonald with Riewoldt wherever he went. It slowed him down a bit, but he was still dangerous and there were usually five other players loose every time the ball went inside 50. It was appropriate that deep in the last quarter we aimlessly whacked a kick at the square in the hope of our only forward option and found him instead.
As they skipped away merrily, kicking goals at will our defence might have been in total disarray but it would have helped if anyone could have put pressure on them when they were coming out of defence. No bloody wonder they had so many players loose when Hogan was practically the only person trying to hold them up while simultaneously trying to keep us afloat with goals. Petracca did some reasonable defensive work and both Watts and Frost had their moments but it would have been nice if either of Garlett or Kent could have let off a maritime flare so we could have identified where they were and launched a rescue mission.
I've got this far operating on the vibe rather than deep understanding of the game so maybe I'm not across zones, presses or any of that old bollocks but why at one point when we were attacking through the middle of the ground was McDonald roaming down the wing just far enough to be stretched if we turned the ball over but not far enough to actually get involved in the play? The ball was turned over and he's left piss-bolting back in the opposite direction at top speed. Presumably he was following his opponent rather than making a unilateral decision to go forward just for laughs but it seemed unnecessary.
Somebody called Tim Membrey was having the day of his life, and as he kicked his fifth goal Kent Kingsley looked up from his dog lifting its leg on a tree in a distant suburban park and quivered. He saw a familiar logo projected across the sky and knew it was time. He gestured for the assistant who follows him everywhere during Melbourne games to bring him the briefcase handcuffed to the young man's wrist. Pulling a key from his sock he unlocked the case, rolled up his sleeve to confirm the code tattooed on his forearm and confirmed that a new member had been inducted into the Klub. At the time of writing Tim was believed to be involved in an induction ceremony at secluded mountain lair where Brad Dick, Paul Stewart and Beau Wilkes are hitting him with planks of wood while he asks "please sir may I have another?" before they enjoy a DVD marathon of the times they stitched up Melbourne.
Eventually when swearing no longer did the trick I just looked up and yelled indecipherable sounds at the roof. They had 18 uncontested marks inside 50, whether it was effort, system or both that is a vile number worthy of only the worst sides. On the other hand we got almost nothing from several players and still kicked 96 which is either a sign that things weren't that bad or that the guy at the Collingwood game who was complaining about the lack of defence this year had a point. I've got no objections to being involved in games where teams score 100 points (because it's better than when we used to get beaten by 100 points) but any danger we might force a side to make their goals next time instead of letting them bound into goal unattended?
The hope that we'd launch a death or glory comeback in the spirit of 2014 where we seemed to go five goals down then storm back every second week was quickly dashed. The difference was that year defence still existed (though for all the "isn't footy AWESOME this year?" propaganda before this week there has only been one more goal on average per game) and handily considering we didn't have a forward line ours was pretty good. This time there was no chance of keeping them out long enough to claw back a margin like that.
I suppose now we're all supposed to go back and condemn the rampant outbreak of Buggery at the MCG last Sunday night because we didn't go on to win 20 in a row and the flag after the shhh/punch/push combo that was so popular at the time. The only sad thing was that he had to come out and apologise even after coughing up $1500 for the right to nudge Jack Riewoldt while injured, and it sadly took into account his other anti-social antics as well. He acted reasonably today and probably played his best game so there might be something in it, but what about multi-channel buffoon for hire Danny Frawley suggesting the seeds of our defeat were sown in his antics during the second quarter of a game we went on to win comfortably? No wonder Richmond fans used to spit at him.
At three-quarter time the lead was equal to the biggest I'd ever seen us stuff up, the infamous Chris Sullivan Line game and while winning was absolutely off the agenda in a game where defence was non-existent it was a good time to try and get something to take into next week.
Once I'd officially blown a valve it was possible to try and treat the game like another learning opportunity. No matter what nutbag theories anyone tried to get up during the week we weren't playing finals anyway so like the Essendon game as long as they take something from it the day didn't have to be a total disaster - like for instance avoiding play can to opener against quick, rebounding teams. Having said that I'm sick of having to use everything as a development experience, we're like a uni student who hangs around for a decade spending more time ripping bongs than actually learning anything.
We won the quarter but tellingly they still had more scoring shots, and soon the only interest was how many Hogan would kick. Six was an unusual feeling, and seven was completely uncharted territory. When he marked right in front for what would have been the eighth it was time to the scramble for the record books to work out who last did that for us in a losing side, only for him to be thinking the same thing and somehow manage to kick it out on the full. Still, the last time we played St Kilda at the ground he was being dragged through the mud for one wacky ball drop so 7.1 and one OOF was a reasonable reaction.
For the third year in a row we've got to within touching distance of respectability then flubbed it, but at least this time it came early enough in the season that we might get another go. The good news is that you only have to wait until Sunday 17 July to play them at Etihad Stadium again and see if we learnt anything in two and a half months that we weren't able to in two and a half quarters today. It is highly likely that the entire sum of Melbourne support in the building will be me, the cheersquad and the families of players.
To try and rescue the week from people ringing up and complaining the club should bring out a video like those health insurance ads where a 2016 Melbourne fan meets a 2013 Melbourne fan and tries to explain to them that one day they'll leave a game furious after the side nearly scored 100 and a player kicked seven. We've come a long way, but we are still a shambles at heart.
2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
I never thought somebody could kick seven and not get maximum votes but here we are. Send letterbombs to the usual PO box address in your capital city. Also get involved in threatening behaviour over the one vote but it's not charity out of admiration for last week, especially considering I should take points off for the apology.
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Jesse Hogan
3 - Jack Viney
A gulf the size of the Pacific Ocean
2 - Bernie Vince
1 - Tomas Bugg
Undeserved apologies to any of Jetta, Kennedy, Pedersen, Tyson or Watts who might have got the last one in a raffle.
As part of my bad mood I've disqualified Vince from the Seecamp. When Christian Salem comes to and regains use of his face after running into Jack Viney he will appreciate being vaulted into the lead.
17 - Jack Viney
13 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
9 - Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones, Bernie Vince
8 - Jack Watts
5 - Dom Tyson
4 - Ben Kennedy, Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
3 - Clayton Oliver (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
2 - Matt Jones, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Tomas Bugg, Neville Jetta, Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Cameron Pedersen
Much like St Kilda's football team against Melbourne our cheersquad just could not lose under any circumstances. On the day Riewoldt kicked nine I saw a guy with a jacket which read "ST KILDA CHEERSQUAD OFFICIAL" and if they still have officials they should be voted out at an EGM for not realising that a white see-through background means nobody can read either side. Your colours aren't white, white and white so try one of the others as a backing, or alternatively make like the pre-season game and don't bother to turn up.
It's a good thing the opposition delivered zero effort, because as well as ours was kerned, with the usual strong font and a wine ad on the back for people who have been driven to drink the tenses were all over the shop - from past on the top line to present by the end. Minor issue, Dees win and go 8-1-0 for the season even if I was tempted to take points off for the Bronx cheer given to Nick Riewoldt when he kicked one on the full in the last quarter after a day of beating the living bejesus out of us.
In related news maybe I'm still in a foul mood but by christ I'm sick of hearing about the hokey gags on the Bulldogs banners. It's reached the same level of discussion as people bringing up how much they love the New Zealand anthem every time it's played. I appreciate the effort to do something different but the glee neutrals take in them says it all about the utter shit that most teams are serving up.
I've not seen so much red and blue in that place since Jeff Farmer kicked seven and half the crowd were stranded in ticket queues until quarter time. They won't be back for another 16 years but I've confirmed it wasn't just a fluke because nobody was there for the pre-season game but I have actually made my peace with the place. If they'd open the top level for every game, build a second walkway across the railway yards and the league stopped scheduling us to play home games there I'd be prepared to sign a peace treaty. You are more than welcome to continue hating it with a passion.
At least the roof was closed, there's nothing worse than them being suckered into opening it just because the weather's nice outside and we spend two hours with players shielding the sun from their eyes as the run in and out of the shadows.
If the people who sat near me in both halves were doing this segment they'd have plenty of content. Part of the reason I had to go elsewhere at half-time was the kid two doors down who was absolutely loving Jesse Hogan, and having the time of her young life whenever he went near the ball. She was so enthusiastic about our club so there is no reason to ruin a kid's day at that impressionable age by sitting there yelling "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST GET ON SOMEBODY YOU COCKHEAD" for an hour.
Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
As tempting as it was to reward Bugg for selling himself a dummy before kicking a snap I can't go past the aesthetic beauty of Jones storming to 50 and thumping it home during the last quarter. Even if the game was blown to buggery by that point it was the sort of perfect goal you dream about. Petracca might have been involved, but the AFL website highlights don't see fit to include the goal so thanks for that. I tried to watch them full to get a feel for just how loose we were at the point of the goal being kicked but got angry 90 seconds in and skipped to the end trying to find this one.
Apologies also to the Hogan one where he outmarked two players then kicked it from the pocket, his penchant for workmanlike goals leaves him an unlikely contender to ever be nominated for this award but I'd take seven goals from handballs over the top if they were on offer. By popular acclaim Tyson in the last quarter should get an apology as well.
Garlett's inside/out thump from the boundary line against Richmond retains the overall lead but as the weekly winner Jones can return to his roots in the south-east as he pockets the weekly prize of a nine hole extravaganza at Club Keys.
Have a copy of the circus music ready to go, on the same day that their franchise buddies tonked the triple premiers Gold Coast lost by 20 goals. They've thumped into the wall after a hot start to the year, and we've run it into with moderate force after a fortnight so it promises to be a modern classic of the slopfest genre. At least we're not stupid enough to lose to a team a week after they've been thrashed by triple figures are we? Oh right. We may very well snap our winless streak on the Gold Coast dating back to 1990, but don't tell me even after today we're still going to be favourite because that instantly spells disaster.
We've got to get The Hamburglar back in, and I've been wanting to see Anal-Bullet since the first NAB Cup match so I'll have him too thanks. I'm not terrifically enthusiastic for Grimes but if Salem doesn't come up and we don't pick him they might do something insane like select Terlich instead. Maybe Garland or Sizzle Jr to give us another big defender. Does any of this really matter?
The following changes are suggested before Casey play Essendon tomorrow, so if anything outrageous happens please adjust accordingly:
IN: Oliver, Neal-Bullen, Grimes
OUT: Hunt, Harmes (omit), Salem (inj)
LUCKY: Frost (didn't do much other than the two goals and still not convinced we need both him and Pedersen in the same team)
UNLUCKY: Brayshaw, Trengove (bad time to be a midfielder)
Once I looked at the stats I felt bad trying to drop Harmes but going on the vibe again I wasn't thrilled and we've got to get some of the other players through the side even if it is unfairly at the expense of the lower ranked players.
Was it worth it?
Docklands had its way with us again, and for everything unrelated to Jesse Hogan the answer is NO. The question is, if you break a hoodoo and nobody was there is it really over?
You think you feel bad? Do you know the sort of extravaganza I had planned for our official mid-table mediocrity graduation party? We've actually gone up a position today thanks to Gold Coast but nobody seems interested in a celebration. Now what am I going to do with an open top bus, 5000 balloons and a cake shaped like Paul Roos' buttocks?