Sunday, 8 May 2016

How I learned to stop worrying and love the long bomb



If you didn't already know that this season is off its face we still found ourselves still on the verge of the eight after ballsing it up last week. Then with a travelling record worse than Aeroflot we ended up against a vulnerable opposition on their home deck after a 120 point loss and people were still having serious conversations about how the team who lost couldn't make the finals.

The only thing most bizarre than people using our name and finals in the same sentence without referring to 1959 was that it was still happening after a loss where we'd been cut up like a Christmas turkey. There were several ways we could have followed this surprising level of faith from neutrals, and even though I thought we were a reasonable chance of winning I didn't see it turning into a cart-wheeling smashing which produced our biggest score outside of Victoria since 1994, and anywhere since 2004. The odd year out is 2014, a season so boring that we've achieved 57% of that year's total score in seven weeks.

Football continues to hold its weekly frustrations but we're so much more interesting to watch now it's hard to come to terms with how any of us got through those shit years - and even though we barely ever scored 2014 wasn't even close to the worst of them. Can I even start talking like there's no way we could end up back in the mire without at least one finals appearance? Is this tempting fate to a ridiculous degree? It's been too long, I've forgotten how to act as the fan of a team that has gives you a reason to be cheerful more than twice a year.

Somehow we've taken advantage of footy breaking open into a carnival of goals kicked from 15 metres out to become an attacking juggernaut. With the exception of the Essendon loss that spurred us on to the lofty ninth place we now occupy even our losses feature a shitload of goals.  Of course the trade-off for that is that our backline is loose as a goose so we're also conceding plenty but when you're playing like aristocrats why not enjoy it for as long as possible? Last week I said don't believe the hype, but that's just for losses, you should bathe in it after wins.

The second biggest surprise was discovering a TV commentary team that didn't make me want to throw a remote control. The only reason we were playing in the off-beat 5.10pm timeslot was because the AFL had scheduled six games on one day for unclear reasons, and as ours was clearly expected to deliver the lowest rating we ended up with the most obscure commentary team.

This would generally be a cause for concern, because with some of the people they consider their 'stars' you'd hate to see what the fill-ins are like, but it turned out to be an excellent thing. The SEN All Stars of Matt Granland and Brett Thomas are several times better than any of the other options on offer because they called the game instead of forcing in pre-prepared gags, screaming like a house was burning down, cracking gags at each other's expense or continually moaning about the rules. The only unusual aspect of it was hearing them call a game without having to attach a sponsor's name to everything, but there was a moment when we kicked a goal from outside 50 where Granland clearly almost called it an SEN Supergoal before telling us to ring 9429 1116 to win a Bertocchi ham. Fox Sports, free to raise the tone of your games by hiring them permanently.

The aristocracy (on-field and off, isn't that right Dees fans? *quaffs fine wine from a cup made out of a skull*) had to wait in the opening minutes when it looked like we'd come straight from Etihad Stadium without having slept, and were suffering the same sort of criminally loose structure which caused our brutal demise against the Saints. Only this time it was joined by a criminal handball from the returning Colin Garland, setting up a first gamer to goal and give us a brief flash of terror that we were going to suffer the same sort of surprise battering that we'd copped from that St Kilda bloke who's name I've already forgotten.

Tom Lynch looked even more likely to slip us the wrong 'un, reacting to Garlett's spectacular equalising goal with two in the first quarter and two in the second before going missing like the rest of his side. The only thing he did from there was provoke a fight and still get a free kick out of it which was scant consolation for watching his team swirl down the toilet in counter clockwise fashion. He handily won the goalkicking battle against Hogan, but that should not underestimate Jesse's performance putting pressure on, taking marks up the ground and generally belting people out of the way so other forwards could take grabs.

The only shining light to our defence in the first quarter was Jetta, running around like a madman and marking everything that came near him. He was temporarily removed from the game when some great big lummox cleaned him up with a crude bump after a mark but returned to play a pivotal role in holding the Suns back before we could launch the string of attacking raids which killed them off. He just quietly goes about his business every week and he's doing a top job of it almost unnoticed. Otherwise we looked frighteningly vulnerable whenever they went forward, McDonald was doing a reasonable job on Lynch but couldn't hold him single handedly if the ball kept coming down there at speed.

In the middle of all this James Harmes was playing like Gary Ablett and Gary Ablett was playing like James Harmes. While the one with a Brownlow was struggling to get a kick our man was racked up 12 touches, and even if half of them didn't hit the target it was still quite the quarter. The 14 touches he had for the rest of the game were of significantly higher value and he ended up as one our best players.

Long time readers will remember way back to the 2010/11 days of Thank God For Brad Green, and all these years later we've got Thank God For Max Gawn. He was doing a solid if unspectacular job early in the ruck but continues to be one of the greatest exponents of the pack mark 20 metres from goal in the competition. After a quarter where we'd had plenty of attacks (amongst a massive 75 inside 50s for the day) but wasted most of them with horrible delivery, and were pointing towards one of our famous one goal quarters he turned up with another screamer to keep us within two goals.

If Watts is the guy you want marking on the boundary line (though he played like he was under general anaesthetic tonight), and Hogan's the one you want left alone with a hapless defender ready to be dismissed with ease, Maximum is the man for plucking the ball out of the middle of a nest of opposition players. This makes sense because he's enormous, but it's one thing to be larger than everyone else it's another to actually hold the thing, and another again to convert the set shots regularly.

It was one of those quarters that makes a mockery of my long held belief that if you just kick the ball down there we'll eventually score enough to win. The next three quarters proved quite the opposite, as the long range hoof was used in neat conjunction with the goal-line tap-in to deliver football gold. The idea of kicking 24 goals despite Hogan only having one and Watts none would be a bit outrageous, but that didn't account for eight different multiple goalkickers amongst 13 in total.

The start of the second quarter still lacked any indication of the wonderful stomping that was on the cards. We'd at least settled down and weren't letting them find so much space. The pressure that began to cause them trouble didn't go completely unanswered, but what's the point in pressure when you've got a player like Clayton Oliver handy? His form at the start of the year was no fluke, and he continued to demonstrate that he operates in his own Hamburglar Standard Time zone. The way he'd gather in traffic and wait a split second longer than other players to find the right handball option was so obscene it should be restricted to adult viewing only. At one point he was storming towards the greatest performance ever by a player without registering one kick but by the end we were so dominant that he couldn't help but pick up three.

When Jarrad Grant turned up unexpectedly for a goal it was a shock to me. Who even knew he was still playing, let alone outside the Bulldogs VFL team? He's already an associate of the Kingsleys, having taken us for three goals in that disgraceful loss to the Dogs late last year and there was a major sinking feeling when I realised he might have been about to take advantage of us again. He went on to do nothing else and they were so rattled by the end that he was playing in the midfield. No wonder Rodney Eade looked so forlorn in the coaches' box, he'd recruited him twice.

Positive form was also being shown by Jayden Hunt, for players who loved having a bounce nobody could beat the Gold Coast defender who spent the entire game doing it for fun but Hunt (who fits in neatly alongside Kent and Pedo in names you can't yell out without having your hard drive seized) was driving attacks when he did it instead of desperately trying to find an option in defence. Wagner was good too, even if it was his turn to deliver the second of the goals our defence is mandated to the concede through farcical play every week.

The problem with the sixth most prestigious commentary team was that it also meant the six most prestigious production crew, and unlike the callers they delivered exactly what you'd expect. In the first quarter Tom Lynch kicked a goal where the camera panned up to catch it at its apex only for nobody to bother putting the camera down to see it go through or switching to another camera. There was one point where they were in the middle of a replay when the umpire called 'play on' in the background so we got another slow motion replay of the same thing, and later when Ben Kennedy crumbed one out from the pack we were so zoomed in that you could only rely on the call and his reaction to know it had gone through and not deflected off a herd of migrating wildebeasts on the line. 
No wonder when Hogan shinned a quick snap 'over the line' with major questions over whether it had gone through or not they didn't bother calling for a video replay, all the monitors were probably showing the blue screen of death.

As now seems traditional for interstate matches I'd been forced to pay for all my days out at the footy by babysitting while the game was on. This doesn't usually prove much of an issue considering the kid either chumbles around the place doing her own thing or sits there looking bemused as I go from sitting to standing 19 times a quarter. Today I managed to unlock a great parenting achievement, when halfway through the second quarter just as we'd hit the lead she ran in carrying a book and instead of taking my eyes off the unfolding drama I manage to deliver a word perfect rendition of it while never taking my eyes off the TV. I expect the Department of Human Services will be on the phone any minute now.

After we'd hit the lead courtesy of Tyson and Stretch adding to the long range shooting party with a kick on the run and a set shot respectively that Hogan 'miss' would have calmed my nerves. Now we were playing better, working our way up the field with the ball and more importantly keeping it out of their hands but needed to punch home the advantage.

We were continually reminded that the Suns were missing several players through injury or suspension, assisted by endless shots of them all tooling away on their phone. When they lost more players through injury during the game it was like we were being lured into a trap, how many other times have teams losing players inspired them to do great things against us? The tide of history is absolutely turning in our favour because we didn't let it stop us this time.

A life affirming rampage was not in our grasp yet, three goals in a row put them back in the box seat and I'd gone from perched on the edge of the couch ready to plummet off at the slightest provocation to sitting back looking like a sidelined Gold Coast player right down to the grim facial expressions and reliance on my phone to stay sane. Were I not acting as a responsible adult swearing would have been required, but instead I sat there clenching my jaw and willing us towards victory. We'd still been the better team that quarter, and our pressure was starting to cause them to crumble we just had to stop Lynch from kicking 10 and make sure Ablett didn't fire up.

Then the game turned again, Jones tonked through another long goal, Gawn won a dodgy free in front of goal and just snuck it in, then Kent stormed through a tackle with utter contempt to kick another and we were back in front at half time. It was solid reward for effort, but even if we were the better team I was so wary of them opening up and scoring freely if you'd told me the score ended 160-87 and Hogan wouldn't kick another one I'd have had my house on Gold Coast being the 73 point winners.

That's when the fun started, and it was generated from the midfielders. Like last week our major problem was when the other side got the ball, so the best way to stop that was by dominating possession and even better if it ended with us kicking goals. It started almost immediately courtesy of a Gawn set play tap over the head that landed in the arms of Jack Viney to storm to 50 and whack it home (as opposed to some of you who were probably whacking it at home immediately after), only to prove himself a surprisingly versatile goal-kicker by kicking one on the run from the other side almost immediately.

In the middle of the two goals a well-behaved Bugg saved our bacon with a desperate lunge to rush a behind, and that was when carnage poked its head around the corner and was ushered in to make a rare welcome appearance at a Melbourne game. It was like we'd found the 'procession mode' cheat code for a video game, another Gawn tap hit Jones for the third, followed by Harmes and Vince in quick succession. Kennedy came out of the cold after doing nothing all day and we had six in half a quarter. After a first quarter where we converted a fraction of inside 50s into scores now we were just slamming goals through for fun, and there was nothing that the guy who loved to have a bounce could do about it other than look up as the ball flew over his head eight times in 18 minutes.

When Petracca gifted Harmes his goal I took off around the house on a Lumumba style high-stepping celebration, and the pressure which I'd unfairly let fester all week after the Saints defeat exploded in a shower of joyful sparks. By the end of the quarter I was boiling hot again, not from rage like the previous Saturday but from having done so much jumping around in glee at the spectacle of a Melbourne side kicking goals freely without them being part of a blistering comeback after we'd found ourselves a million points down. It did not matter how battered they were, we have sat through enough tripe that we deserve at least one day of vicious retribution against any sort of opposition.

It had been so long since we'd got to three-quarter time with the margin beyond the Chris Sullivan Line, and I was looking forward to feet up relaxation right through three-quarter time before eking out a slightly bigger win by full time. Then we conceded a goal right on the siren to bring it back to 44, leaving me instantly forgetting all the barnstorming magic that had just unfolded and wondering instead about delivering an epic cock-up that would be talked about for years.

When they kicked the first of the last quarter I became convinced there was a world's best practice disaster on the cards before Pedersen showed up to kick two in a row, taking the pressure off and signalling that it was time to rip open metaphorical crates of champagne and pour them over each other like the end of a Formula 1 race.

We didn't even have to confine ourselves to just winning, or to throwing a couple of extra goals on the margin this was now a contest of how badly we could thump them, and that was a feeling I hadn't enjoyed for a while. Even the Carnival of Hate had done its best work by three-quarter time before petering out to nothing except non-stop abuse towards one particular player. We didn't get as many inside 50's in either game but the twin Adelaide/Fremantle demolition jobs in 2011 were the closest parallels, hopefully not ending with our last round trip to Kardinia Park ending in record breaking porkage. In fact I'd like to retain the fantasy that we could be playing for a spot in the finals that afternoon for as long as possible.

Petracca kept getting better through the game, and was starting to play some really good football by the last quarter when he threw in a couple of goals to top it off. The first was yet another long distance roost, before providing balance with one from right in front straight after. Harmes, Pedersen and Garlett all got their third each in quick succession and outrageously with 10 minutes of playing time left we were actually storming towards a triple figure margin for the first time since tonking Carlton in 2004.

Once Viney was removed from the game after taking a light blow to the head from a stray hip, and Gawn had been sent to relax in the forward line our relentless march to glory was halted but it hardly mattered. They got the sort of last minute patronising pat on the head junk time goals that we've become so famous for over the years, much to the disinterest of the locals who had been drowned out by the travelling fans all night.

Appropriately there was a business-like atmosphere at full time, with no histrionics (I had enough in my loungeroom for everyone) and nobody dancing about like they'd won the flag. I suppose the players had expended so much joy celebrating 24 goals that when the siren went there was nothing left to do but shake hands, walk off, belt out the theme song with ferocity and move to the next battle.

It was such a pleasing second half rampage that even though the Suns slammed the brakes on in the last few minutes and avoided complete ignominy two fans ended up arguing over the race with Gary Ablett. Maybe if the Suns management didn't force the players to stay out there autographing footys to give to the fans when they'd just been thumped they could have gotten off without the captain having to grapple with local oafs. We hope his response was to tell them that if they didn't like it they should go back to being Brisbane fans.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
What glory to have such an impossible decision to make, and as much as it just looks like taking the easy route and picking the guy who had the most touches I thought the captain was immense again. Kicking goals, directing traffic and generally running around with hope in his heart that he might still be there when we hit the jackpot.

5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - James Harmes
1 - Max Gawn

The biggest apologies of all go to Jetta, all game I was sitting there thinking it would be criminal if his contribution to the side went unrecognised then when sitting to do the votes couldn't quite fit him in. Who'd be anything but a midfielder by the looks of it?

Major apologies to Hunt, Pedersen and Vince who were all in the running, and also to Bugg, Petracca, Tyson, Vince and Wagner who weren't but were still very good. By the end there were very few who didn't hadn't played a good game.

Leaderboard
The four time winner is slowly closing the lead at the top, but Viney continues to defy our previous history of father/son selections to retain a big lead in his back-to-back campaign. He's probably just about officially covered Tom Kavanagh, Michael Clarke, Shane Burgmann and Chris Johnson now. If you combined all four careers.

Meanwhile Maximum is one vote away from being declared the provisional winner of the Stynes. Even if Spencer played the rest of the season from here he's not scoring 15 votes.

21 - Jack Viney
14 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Nathan Jones
9 - Jesse Hogan, Bernie Vince
8 - Jack Watts
6 - Clayton Oliver (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
5 - Dom Tyson
4 - Ben Kennedy, Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
2 - James Harmes, Matt Jones, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Tomas Bugg, Neville Jetta, Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Cameron Pedersen


There was high chance of a boilover here, we had a nicely designed, well kerned non-milestone interstate effort but with an even lovelier font and the inclusion of graphics the Gold Coast one would have got up for a rare non-MFC win until I realised it had a curtain so large you could fly an Airbus through it. Obviously in the franchise draft the Giants had first selection and chose 'being able to play footy', leaving the Suns having to take 'making attractive banners'. Dees 9-1-0 for the season.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
What a wonderful world it has become when you have to sit down and watch the highlights to make a decision because there are so many contenders. In the old days it was a case of picking the least sludgy of five and moving on, now we've become The Entertainers in a surprisingly non-sarcastic fashion and there's contenders pouring in from every angle.

With apologies to either of the results of perfect Gawn taps, Pedersen's gather and throw on boot in the last quarter the long bombs from Petracca or Tyson and Petracca's second where he ran onto a loose ball, gathered and finished in the blink of an eye the winner has to be our first of the evening.


Garlett waited under a ball that had been fisted in the air (finally a fisting in our favour), fumbled it as it came down, gathered running towards the boundary with his back to goal, ran around and looked for an option before deciding "bugger this I'll do it myself" and snapping around the corner. He retains the overall lead for his inside out goal against the Tigers but for his weekly prize wins the chance to take a screamer off the back of a whale at SeaWorld from a ball kicked by former Demon and later CEO of the Gold Coast City Council Dale Dickson before leaving the region.

Next Week
The Bulldogs continue to play like a top four team, but on the MCG who knows what will happen to them? You'd think that they'll hear a week of "if you want to win finals..." and will come out appropriately fired up. At least by playing a good side you can be sure they won't be taken lightly no matter what happens. I bet they pick Tom Boyd just to try and exploit our defence and the bastard kicks eight. Any chance we can get Jack Fitzpatrick back from Hawthorn on loan to thump him again? After a week where they were carried over the line by decisions some have described as dodgy here's to a massive overcorrection next week where they can't get a free no matter what.

It's hard to make changes after such a monumental victory, so as a fit Salem is a certainty the only victim is Michie. He wasn't terrible but I'm not convinced his VFL form will ever permanently translate to the big time. He's welcome to return for another go later in the year but for now let's get at least one defender back in before playing a good side.

At half time there were a few in the cooking pot, but by the end the lid was so far off the pot that I'm prepared to turn a blind eye to several issues including Kennedy not having done anything since the Pies game. Like almost everyone else he came good and there's no need for any sort of violent hack and slash yet.

IN: Salem
OUT: Michie (omit)
LUCKY: Nil by full time but Oliver's elbow to future teammate Dion Prestia's head might not be viewed fondly by the "down with this sort of thing, careful now" authorities.
UNLUCKY: Brayshaw, Trengove, Neal-Bullen, Dunn, Lumumba, every man and his dog

Final Thoughts
The weight of expectation is still not doing any favours to my already overworked central nervous system but it's a a damn sight better than the alternative. The best we've been at this stage at any year of the past decade was three wins and a draw, and our totals have now covered off 2008/2013, drawing level with 2009/2012/2014.

In this round last year we lost to Hawthorn by 105 points and completed the unprecedented hat-trick of scoring exactly 50 three weeks in a row. We've still got to guard against debacles like the Essendon game but look how far we've come in just under 365 days. Could it just be that for the first time in years the signs aren't written in invisible ink?

3 comments:

  1. Carn the mighty Dees

    ReplyDelete
  2. PartTimeZombie9 May 2016 at 10:31

    You omitted the most important point of the whole story:
    What was the book you recited from memory?
    Was it Dr. Suess' ABC? I can still remember the whole thing 12 years or so after I've needed to:
    Big A little a what begins with A?
    Aunt Annie's alligator A A A.
    Also Melbourne were very good.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "the AFL had scheduled six games on one day for unclear reasons" - because Mother's Day which traditionally has terrible attendances

    ReplyDelete