Monday, 16 May 2016

Throw your hate in the ring

Next time Fox Footy play that ad where the coaches are asked which games don't matter feel free to scream MELBOURNE VS WESTERN BULLDOGS - ROUND 8 at the TV. Everything week is a learning experience, every week we don't play like drug addicts is a step closer to glory etc... etc... but by full time this was as close to an inconsequential result as you're likely to get at this point of the season. The Bulldogs confirmed that they're top four contenders and we now know we're at best mid-table placeholders - all of which we were pretty sure about at 3.19pm Sunday.

Defeat was cosmic punishment for being happy that we were in the eight on Friday night as if that counted for anything. We can always do with a good news story so there was nothing wrong with being happy about it, but who better to end our most recent post-Round 1 stint in the eight than the Bulldogs - the last time we were in it properly they brought things to a shuddering halt by unexpectedly thrashing us and a few weeks later we were off to Kardinia Park for the ultimate in rectal examinations.

It was terrifically generous to us to only lose by 32 but there was nothing worth dropping your bundle over. A better side exposed our fragile defence (across all parts of the ground) against swashbuckling counter-attack and beat us up around the contest but unless you expected to play finals this year it was exactly what you would have expected to happen.

If the AFL ever introduces a weather report style 'feels like' column to official records this one felt like we lost by about 10 goals so I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. The Dogs certainly did their bit for us by torching multiple easy opportunities with wayward kicking into the 50. There is a suspicion that if it had been played at Docklands we'd have copped the same kind of battering they gave us at the end of last year, but it wasn't so let's swallow our bile and move forward towards next week with the hope of unleashing an uncompromising explosion of total vengeance on a wounded opponent.

A lot of people thought the Bulldogs would go sour enough playing in the great outdoors that we could beat them, but that was a bit extreme for me. I thought we could hang around long enough to be annoying but victory was a bit far-fetched. There was a concern they'd undo us with a more advanced version of the way St Kilda played and there were notable similarities between the two games. Both times we were irresistible for the first few minutes before grinding to a halt the moment the other side were able to get their hands on the ball and find more loose players that they knew what to do with. Hooray for zones and all that dazzling tactical magic but teams being "out" against us will have been added to the Oxford Dictionary by the end of the year if we go on against good sides like this.

Finding a Bulldogs player on his own was like reading an entry level Where's Wally. It was impossible not to spot them dotted all over the MCG, running in waves without opposition other than a defender sprinting back from a 20 metre disadvantage to try and cover them. Whatever zonal shit we were doing only lacked Nick Riewoldt confusing the bejesus out of the defence by running in and out of it for the entire first half before anyone made a change.

There was a string of numpty umpiring decisions which threatened to send several of our fans home via a defibrillator but the way we were going the Bulldogs should have been deliberately giving them away on the wing and using our attempts at attacking as their springboard towards goal. I'm not going to provide a 40 point run-down of all the haywire decisions because the last thing I want to do is end up on the same side as the Adelaide fans who decided that they'd been cost victory by an umpire who'd done everything except set up September 11.

Sometimes the wheel of umpiring spins violently against you, and it probably seems to happen to us more because a) we lose most of the time and b) the level of perceived rorts need to be about 75% higher than expected before fans of the side getting them will admit they've been lucky. This time we got hosed but the idea that particular umpires or 'the system' are out to get you is over the top. If the AFL was going to start rigging games they wouldn't be bothered trying to prop up the Bulldogs.

The idea that they'd end up being slaughtered by the decisions just because there was so much publicity about their luck the week before was nothing more than hopeful wankery. They love ducking into a tackle and getting a free for it but good luck to them for exploiting the situation. After years spent launching clumsy attempts to rort the draft and salary cap sucked in to us for not joining in what is clearly a winning tactic. See also handballs on the umpire's blind-side that don't actually go anywhere near the hand.

The wheel does what the wheel wants but I was more concerned by the bit during the first quarter with the game still on the line that where we had a 17% kicking efficiency. Not to mention the number of players we usually rely on who were well down on their luck.

Garlett got a couple of goals but was practically anonymous otherwise and Hogan was kicking like Heather Mills McCartney but the most crucial comedown was from Gawn. Just when people started to float crazy theories about him winning the Brownlow he put in what may have been his worst game ever. The MFC Media Curse strikes again. He got plenty of taps but has either hit the wall physically from shouldering so much of the load or was carrying illness/injury because it was nothing like the high-marking, possessing demanding ruck machine we've seen so far this year. He got to a lot of contests but either dropped the mark or looked like he was having all sorts of trouble hauling his meaty frame off the ground. This is not good timing before the high profile (for me anyway) return of the SME next week, and if the newly re-signed and soon to be life member Spencil is called up for a mystery appearance this week I'll be convinced something dodgy is going on.

I've felt like Pedersen has spent an inordinate time in the ruck ever since the Richmond game, especially in first quarters, and while Gawn's time on ground numbers don't bear this out (82% this week was only his third least of the year, with the highest 89% in Hobart) but give us the % of bounces/ball-ups contested and Pedersen has surely done plenty more than you'd expect. He's a reasonable back-up, but he's no Maximum. I'm surprised he got such negative reviews in some circles because I thought he had a really good first half, and even when he faded in the second he set up that Oliver goal from the wonky snap with a lightning quick handball.

You can't expect too much from the kids but that goal aside Oliver finally came unstuck against a side who were tackling everything (whether or not the ball was actually in possession was irrelevant) but even as he gently came down to earth there was a moment during the second quarter where his Wizard of Space and Time routine came off perfectly, standing in the middle of the pack while a storm raged around him and handballing to a teammate in the open.

If the Hamburglar is a master of making something happen in the middle of chaos Petracca will be the king of storming through tight spaces and he played a more than reasonable game considering how many experienced teammates were MIA. After he kicked that goal in the first quarter right in front of me (have we got to the point where I don't need to link that phrase to the Adelaide fan whinging?) I properly understood why they call him Truck. It's not just because of his plus sized legs or the loose association with his surname, he just moves through people effortlessly. One of his kicks was better associated with the sort of truck that pumps sewerage but at this point that's no drama because I'll wear the odd-blunder for the opportunity to develop him.

The famous curse might have been expected to clean Harmes up as well after he won the Rising Star nomination but it didn't do him too much damage. For obvious reasons he didn't have same impact as in a free-wheeling extravaganza where we kicked Gold Coast to death but it wasn't a total flame-out either. Hunt and Wagner came down more violently after each making a good start to their career, but each is worth persisting with for now.

We were blatantly outclassed from early in the first quarter, and whenever we gave the ball away there was an instant terror watching their players run into space unattended but for the purposes of being positive I'm prepared to take hanging around like a bad smell until the third quarter as a positive. It was 21 points at quarter time and we were only losing by 38 before the last minute "everyone's given up" goal so as much as it felt like the Bulldogs should have had our head stuffed down the toilet we never truly caved.

For a time in the second quarter we were genuinely threatening, before it came to a screaming halt when a 50 metre penalty gifted them a goal. They didn't get another one for the rest of the half but we were still trailing behind at every turn and looked highly unlikely to mount any real challenge.

There might not have been any game left to play in the second half if the misunderstanding at the end of the quarter wasn't sorted out. The crowd was already touchy about the umpiring when a clear holding the ball ended with the umpire either pointing the wrong way or gesturing that he was giving a 50 to us in a way that made it look like the Dogs had been given the free. Unlike Turkish soccer fans we're smart enough not to burn our ground down because it would probably end with us playing at Etihad Stadium but at that point it might have gone close. Forget hovercrafts, fireworks, hip hop dancing and Kiss Cam - nothing gets a crowd going more than an umpire pointing the wrong way.

After a brief lull at the start of the third they killed us off with three goals in a row and to be entirely honest this was the point where I lost interest. We were threatening to put up a score like the worst days of the Neeld/original Roos eras, the Dogs were trotting around in first gear and while Hogan was fulfilling the prophecy of every commentator by missing set shots somebody called Jack Redpath who probably works at a McCafe drive-through in his spare time was playing like he's the one who should be getting paid a million dollars.

It was going poorly but have I ever told you how much I fancy Neville Jetta? He was almighty in defence, usually in the right place at the right time and doing his bit for propping us up by regularly taking on much larger opponents. There was a discussion on the radio last week where they were talking about the dearth of small defenders across the league and I almost stacked my car screaming "NIFTY!" repeatedly towards my dashboard.

Against the prevailing public view I also thought McDonald was very good after getting his contractually obligated goal-gifting howler out of the way early. He should never be able to kick in again, after Wagner's missed kick rolled through the points ("DELIBERATE!" screamed several hundred people with visible lobotomy scars) he did the right thing in trying to keep the ball moving but with predictable results. Without Dunn to launch cannon kicks outside 50 and Gawn not looking likely to take his usual high standard of get out of jail marks it was no wonder that by the end they had midfielders doing it. A lot of his kicks skim the boundary between genius and disaster but more often than not they come off nicely, though the goal he kicked in the last quarter barely made up for all the ones we concede while the defenders are pulled right up the ground then forced to run back like greyhounds leaping from the starting gate.

Even when defenders weren't expected to engage in the 100m sprint after we lost the ball Garland was not good. When he got dropped the first time this year I was blinded by love and the desire for all the survivors of our nightmare years to come out as winners in the end but even I could see he was miles off yesterday. Remember at the end of last year when he hadn't signed a new contract and there were hot rumours afoot that he was going to retire? I wonder if there was some truth in it. I wouldn't blame him for wanting to try and stick around to take part in a reasonably successful team after being a part of so much slop but he doesn't seem to be operating at full capacity. Some would argue that he's only ever had one good season but I run tearfully from the room when hurtful suggestions like that are made - if neither he or Dunn can stretch their career out long enough to get back in the finals then Jones will be our last hope.

At the end of the game Roos suggested we could have done with another tall defender. Do Dunn or Oscar McDonald count? If so I'm sure they'll be willing to have a bash. Whatever the answer was Viv Michie didn't represent it. I've got no idea who decided he was a defender but it didn't work. Why invent roles for fringe players when we've got so many in a winning VFL side who could do with a run? If he was picked as a midfielder then play him as one, and if there isn't a spot for him then bad luck. At one point he got lost at a contest inside 50 which cost us a goal and was given a fearsome spray from Oliver but can you really blame him when he's not going what he's used to? They might have been hoping he'd pull off the same sort of surprising success that Matt Jones was in a similar role before he was injured but at least do it in the Reserves first.

Just like the St Kilda game it was a great day for players to yell at each other. Even Hogan and Maximum were seeing engaging in a free exchange of views at one point. You can see Jesse is frustrated (and he's never been shy about cracking the shits in public) but for all the excellent work he's done in recent weeks marking up the ground and making goals for teammates he might want to chill out with some mood music before the game. If you're easily frustrated this is the worst place to play, and Freo are heading towards second with the added bonus of a six hour round-trips every fortnight. I'm patiently awaiting the Mitch Clark style screwjob where we think he's on the way home before he ends up following his hot Docklands form to its natural conclusion by signing for St Kilda.

At the start of year he was being slandered by all and sundry for his set shots based on one obscure effort in a pre-season game and responded by kicking goals from everywhere. Now just when people started to get comfortable he's started missing them again, which is a shame because they are usually set up by heaving defenders out of the way in such a beautiful fashion that it deserves a goal. The good news for him is that he's already created such a spectacular bidding war that he'll get a million dollars a year somewhere even if he dips below 50%, which must be a nice position to occupy.

He finally converted one in the last quarter for our second in a row, then in iconic Melbourne fashion the ball bounced straight out of the middle and through the goal at the other end. That seems to happen to him a lot, and I hope he uses it as his excuse for leaving because I for one will believe it 100% no matter how much we really know it involves an enormous cheque.

In the week where my years of moaning about the need for a sports psychologist to sort us out was vindicated when Jack Viney credited one with his rise to fame hopefully Jack's going to pocket massive referral bonuses for sending teammates there too. A bulk session on how to cope with being overwhelming favourites would probably come in handy at some point this week.

The Bulldogs were very good, though they'd want to fire up their forward line delivery against better sides, and in the end we took no major damage. We've still got mid-table mediocrity to rest our weary heads on and you can remove any twisted fantasies about ending the decade of disaster with an uplifting finals appearance. Don't cancel your September wedding yet, take the discount price and for bonus points give your friends and loved ones the shits by scheduling it on Grand Final day.

From here we can expect wins against teams at or below our level (and the dreaded veil of negativity is ready to drop from the ceiling like balloons if next week doesn't go well) and turmoil against the best sides in the competition. I'm comfortable with that for now, but at the same time will not rule out surprise outbreaks of grim, gloomy and/or grisly behaviour.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
After trying to fit about 10 in last week this one was far less clear, and though it feels foolish including two members of the defence but here we are. The ball was certainly down there enough. If I was just going by stats I'd have to put Tyson in but while I applaud him for getting 32 touches and 12 contested possessions I don't remember many of them coming to anything.

5 - Neville Jetta
4 - Jack Viney
--- Distance ---
3 - Jack Watts
2 - Billy Stretch
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Jones, Pedersen, Petracca, Tyson and Vince who might have got one of the last two.

Leaderboard

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


Our cheersquad made a second banner for the Pink Lady participants to march through, they held up another in the series of hokey gags for the sort of people who laugh when a ballkid stumbles at the Australian Open. If you hadn't heard we're all filthy rich this was the day for you, which is the best page of the Big Book 'o Footy Stereotypes. The unclear allegation which we assume is directed at us is false anyway, the only thing negative we're really worried about is a return to kicking 3.6.24 across four quarters.

Given that Carlton once had their players run through a Telechoice ad there's still something to be said for a good old fashioned slogan but god I just find the winking at the camera attempts to be amusing cringeworthy on the same level as an Australian sketch comedy show. If the point of comedy is to punch up not down they're obviously going to have a pop at our fans not our footy team but I wish somebody had told me there was a three house minimum in 1988 when the rest of my school followed Hawthorn. 

With an extra point for the Pink Lady banner the Dees move to 11-1-0 for the season.

Stat My Bitch Up
Congratulations to Jack Viney, who topped off another important game by breaking James McDonald's record for the most tackles in a match after a reign of just over 10 years. There was more focus on Tom Liberatore equaling the league record of 19, but what do we care about that?

Crowd Watch
What a poor week it was to sit in the reserved seats. When umpiring decisions go against us to the point where people are screaming for absolutely everything no matter how ridiculous I simultaneously get cultural cringe and a counter-productive secret desire for it to keep happening to see how far people can be pushed before they'd snap.

The guy next to me was closest to erupting, with veins bulging in his forehead and the kind of indecipherable screaming that I'd indulged in against St Kilda when this sort of performance was still a novelty. He also did a lot of leaping to his feet and turning around, which must have been uncomfortable for the poor person sitting behind him. If being right behind somebody like that is the sort of lottery you enter sitting in the reserved section then I'm back to Row MM next week - or as far up the Ponsford as it takes to get at least 10 rows and one bay away from any other human.

When we gave away the 50 for standing in the epicentre of the protected zone near the end of the second quarter he went right off, leaping to his feet again to scream about league conspiracies and how the umpires were on the take. After silently mocking him the umpire pointing the wrong way united us and we were both going off our nut simultaneously.

All it lacked was a contentious deliberate out of bounds decision against us like the one St Kilda got in Perth and small pockets of rioting would have broken out.

For obvious reasons there weren't many jibes about premierships being exchanged at the train station, but I did manage to get involved in some light civil disorder. If there's one thing I'll ever be murdered over it will be trying to enforce etiquette in a public place, but I didn't think it an unreasonable request for the old kent who walked into the carriage and stopped to keep moving so other people could board. This helpful suggestion was met with a punch to the arm, though it got more elbow that anything so probably did his withered hands more damage. People who are into thuggery don't usually care about the politics of entering a train carriage but here's to him trying the same thing on somebody who's had a few and ending up going home stuck halfway out the door.

Being an Australian male and therefore genetically predisposed to committing violent acts in a public place I turned around for the slightest fraction of a second ready to slap the piss out of him before the concept of a) fighting on a train and b) being arrested for attacking a 60 year old saw sanity prevail. With nothing else left except the nuclear option of strangling him with the headphones he was desperately trying to get in to end the argument I tried to lure others into the melee by cutting a promo about how many people were trying to squeeze past him because he was too lazy to move but the gormless fools just stared instead of joining in. I think they all just thought I was sour because of sports when they actually had nothing to do with it.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It seems the first quarter is the place to go for quality goals, and it was impossible to overlook Petracca's where he took a handball, dipped the shoulder to waltz past a defender then finished from 40 metres out as another one rapidly closed down on him. He wins a spot on the search party trying to work out where Tom Boyd went. I'm guessing the answer is Monaco.

Garlett retains the annual lead, and that's about the only thing he had going for him this week.

Next Week
Brisbane are 1-7, completely crippled, losing star players at a rapid rate and.. oh shit I can see where this is going. Assuming we're going to win, limping over the line will barely keep us in the finals race with another winnable game against Port in Alice Springs to follow but what would be much nicer would be to unleash hell on them. I'll believe it when I see it.

For my changes I'm betting on Vince and Pedersen both getting rubbed out. Is it NQR to bring Frost in as a defender/back-up ruckman? We concede enough goals with the second string rucks in any way so who'll be able to tell the difference? Do we even need the extra defender against Brisbane? It will be our luck that we'll go in too tall and they'll crumb 19 goals.

Also who knows what mysteriously happened to Dean Kent's back, so we'll have to wait for the injury reports to know how bad it was. For now I'll assume he's at least one more week away, but if fit I want him in ASAP. Anal-Bullet is straight in off the back of hot VFL form, and Dunn can take the kick-ins.

*UPDATE - 4pm Monday 16 May - My powers of tribunal prediction are terrible, Vince free, Pedersen fined, Jetta OUT. Nifty should base his defence on the umpire pointing in the wrong direction*

IN: Frost, Dunn, Neal-Bullen
OUT: Garland, Michie (omit), Jetta (suspended)
UNLUCKY: Brayshaw (suffered a second concussion in a row and has had a cow of a run with injury this year), Trengove (it would be a good week to bring him back but I'd rather not look like we're making any charity selections)
PARTS UNKNOWN: Matt Jones (still waiting for a hospital bed?), vandenBerg (whither?)

Was it worth it?
Not particularly, given that we only had two players who were very good and a bunch of people below their best it was an unwelcome return to the days of good sides keeping us at arms' length despite not playing anywhere near their best. The difference is that from 2012-2014 (and even arguably at times of 2015) we'd have been relatively happy with the result, now it's threatening to set off another cavalcade of distress and self-doubt.

Final Thoughts
If offered 4-4 at the start of the year I'd have gleefully clutched it, even if they idea of winning four has been moderately discredit by Carlton doing it in consecutive weeks. They've had the greatest run of crisis clubs that any team has ever enjoyed but still, could you imagine us taking advantage of four different vulnerable opponents without allowing at least one, if not three to get back on their feet?

I admire the way they've entered a season where everybody expects them to be cannon fodder and are battling hard but hope a permanent move into mid-table or above means we won't have to be in that scenario again any time soon. Ask me again how calm I am next week while I'm scaling the outside of an MCG light tower.

2 comments:

  1. Blimey, you must have been sitting near me , i was incandescent with rage with the umps most of the time while Mrs Djkmordi looked the other way with a , he's nothjng to do with me look !

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    1. There was about 200 people around me who fit that description!

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