Sunday, 19 June 2016

All at sea


"It's easy to grin when your ship comes in and you've got Collingwood beat, but the team worthwhile is the team who can smile after a day playing shit in the sleet" - Judge Elihu Smails.

In our last couple of weeks of mid-table mediocrity this year before we slowly sink back to the lower reaches of the ladder I still haven't come to grips with it. This morning as I wheeled around the supermarket - for once not waiting until after the game to run through people with a trolley as a form of therapy - with a Melbourne beanie plonked on my child's head without her permission an old man stopped me to ask "are the Demons happy today?" After scanning the question for sarcasm I answered "we haven't played yet but..." and had to stop myself from automatically doing a self-deprecating line about how we're completely shithouse. He got me too early, a few hours later after we'd been beaten to a soggy pulp by a bigger, badder and better organised side I've have had plenty of loathing to make him regret his attempt at folkesy chat.

Even then I understood we were unlikely to end the day happy, the Swans might have been thrashed by GWS last week and temporarily forgotten how to play against Richmond recently but even with a side packed full of people you've never heard of the other half were more than a match for us. There was an outrageously outside chance of an upset but it was more realistically a chance to see how far we could push them and to bank any sort of small wins that were on offer. Any hope that the forecast rain would play into our hands went out the door when showers became a biblical flood second only to the one Sydney had already handled three weeks ago. They knew exactly what to do, and like that night against Gold Coast the longer the game went and the moister the opposition became the better they got.

Attempts to make our record at the SCG part of the story failed when you looked deeper into our 10 year winless streak and realised we've only played there twice in that time. As disappointing as our men overboard capitulation was this time it was at least a step forward from our last appearance where an otherwise hapless Irishman plundered us for two goals and the media was on such high alert for Neeld News that Fox Sports reported he was going to be sacked in his first season based on a parody Caroline Wilson Twitter account.

Whether or not we could beat the Swans on any ground in Australia is debatable but we didn't give ourselves much chance playing the conditions like there was absolutely nothing wrong. The waves gently lapping at their feet should have been a dead giveaway that another approach was required but I get the feeling the people in charge are already looking well beyond this year and weren't all that concerned. Don't know what relentlessly plugging on with a toothless attacking strategy for four goals does to help us in 2017 and beyond but it must mean something to somebody. I feel like they've identified what they want us to do in the future and are plowing on regardless even when the opposition or conditions don't suit.

Usually that means refusing to accept that teams are bounding from one end to the other and kicking goals from the line, this time it was declining to change anything based on the knowledge that it was going to piss down raining all day other than occasionally dropping Chris Dawes into defence as if he was going to take huge saving marks. If Tom McDonald trying to switch across goal to Sizzle Jr with a wet ball was the only instance of a player going about it like a dry day you'd just put it down to his weekly howler but considering the way individuals and the team tried to play for the first three quarters until they realised resistance was futile I refuse to believe they weren't under orders to plow on regardless of the rain.

With Casey playing yesterday they would have been limited as to who was available but you'd hope they'd consulted a long range forecast before picking the side to determine who they'd take as the travelling emergency and made some concession for the fact that it was going to pelt down from first bounce to final siren. Dawes has done nothing wrong since coming back but it would have been a great result for team balance for him to suffer 'illness' overnight so a smaller player could come in. Knowing our flair for disorganisation we probably only had a ruckman in reserve.

Speaking of people quite literally out of water what's the point of playing vandenBerg forward in those conditions? He's either not 100% this year or I was actually right about him having peaked in his first season. Like Magner, Tapscott and god knows how many other midfielders we've ruined by playing them as a fish out of water half forward if he can't play where he's supposed to then he shouldn't be in the side. He can take a decent grab forward and kick a goal normally but today it was just wasting everyone's time. Remember when we got him because he was a massive accumulator of the ball? Commentators around the country are fit to burst at not getting the chance to drop his 50-something possession game into commentary four times a week.

For those with long memories the conditions were a lot like when we beat them there in early 1998 and Jeff White celebrated by attempting to crack Craig Smoker's head open with a water bottle to feast on the goo inside.

The difference that day was that Tony Lockett was a late withdrawal, while this time we still had to contend with Lance Franklin. It shouldn't have been a good day for somebody that size but even though he was reasonably well held and spent a lot of time cracking the shits Jesse Hogan style when things didn't go his way he couldn't be stopped forever and kicked four. It's unlikely to have changed the result if he wasn't there, they were a better organised side and well suited to thumping the bejesus out of us until we tapped out.

Leaping to any outrageous conclusions based on a game against a top four side played under such watery conditions is dangerous, but you can't help but notice that even in a monsoon we did our best work almost entirely unrewarded for the first few minutes then let the other side take over. We've now done that indoor, outdoor, in rain, sun, multiple states and one territory. Better than the alternative of being five goals down at quarter time I suppose but still frustrating. On a day where you're unlikely to deliver sexy link-up play from defence - though the Swans managed it a few times - or rely on your tall forwards to kick all the goals it starts and ends with the midfield, and when they were battered into submission that was curtains for us.

Who knows what would have happened in reasonable conditions, they might have exploited our loose defence to feed Franklin 15 goals or by removing their chance to tackle us a second after we got the ball every time it might have allowed Gawn and the usual suspects to go forward quickly and find Hogan one out with defenders.

Bright sunshine might have removed the chance for every fringe player in Sydney's side to enjoy the game of their life against us. Weeks after being troubled by a Port player called Dougal now we were letting a Toby enjoy the time of his life. Then there was Dean Towers, usually only known for the similarity of his name to Demonblog Towers and for not being particularly useful playing his finest game ever. There were half a dozen of them, including one who looked like Gareth Keenan from The Office and another with a headband/filthy moustache combination that made him look like a rugby league player from 1982, relishing the freedom of playing against a side who only half know what they're doing in normal combinations sinking like a stone in the wet. If there hadn't been so many options to choose from it might have been the first time we ever saw a new member of the Kingsley Klub inducted at sea.

When we benefited from the domination of Gawn at stoppages to spend the first 10 minutes camped inside their 50 you could take it two ways - either we were playing well or were wasting chances to get scores on the board before the Swans got their hands on the ball. Of course it was the latter, it's always the latter. When nine inside 50s only delivered one goal, admittedly a very attractive one from Petracca, you could tell that nobody was going to take marks or find enough space to crumb enough goals to win so they would have to be created by brute force only. This is not our strong suit, we want lovely loping dashes down the ground ending with Hogan in a one-on-one contest or a loose ball spilling free in the square to be rammed home from point blank range. The Swans weren't having any of that shit, successfully loading our forward 50 with enough players to remove any chance of finding space. Even that was barely necessary considering how uncomfortable we were at moving the ball down the ground.

The most frustrating thing was an almost complete refusal to kick the ball off the ground. Of course the moment somebody tried it they were pinged for kicking in danger, but after seeing how successful Hawthorn had been in either creating quick opportunities inside 50 or pushing the ball forward for a teammate god knows why we didn't join in. It was a refusal to accept the reality of the conditions second only to Sam Frost costing us the first goal by storming out of defence and trying to take a bounce. He did some reasonable work and I'm not writing him off as a defender on the strength of this by any means but that was so farcical he should have to write an open letter of apology to any Melbourne fan who travelled from another state to watch.

Once they'd got their first goal the remainder of the quarter was spent with the ball camped in front of our goal with nobody having any bloody idea how to get it past centre. This was the point where neutrals could nip out and start mowing the lawn because it was obvious that the game wasn't getting any better from there. The only question was how long we could hold the Swans out before they started battering us.

Any benefits from Kurt Tippett's demise were wasted as Gawn tapped everything only for the mids who could their hands on it to be besieged from all angles a second later. We were doing well to the get to the ball, as Sydney's world record tackle count demonstrates, but with everyone piling on the packs that didn't leave anyone on the outside and we'd just sludge around in circles until the Swans finally took control.

As horrible as it was, and it got worse, at least you could take heart at the fact that in the not too distant past we used to play like that in the dry. One day we kicked three goals at Etihad Stadium when the only weather issue was getting the sun in your eyes but 2013 is the footy equivalent of parents chastising their kids for not eating broccoli because there's starving kids on the other side of the planet, the comparisons feel powerful but mean nothing in the end. In three seasons we've come a million miles, and though we had multiple excuses for being tonked today it doesn't detract from achieving the Bailey Quarter Grand Slam of one in each term - and only just getting the last one.

By half time we were only on two goals, and while we held the Swans relatively well to keep them to two for the quarter when you had Trengove trying to kick set shots from 40 metres out that he would have struggled with before missing two full seasons you could see where it was eventually going to go. He had a really good start before running out of gas at the end, and after that sort of break is that any surprise given how much effort must have been required to push on through those conditions.

There was very little else to what was going on. Mostly a lot of smothers, a lot of out of bounds where nobody knew what the umpire would do and Dermott Brereton chuckling away to himself as if somebody was feeding comedy routines to him through his headset. It's surprising that Anthony Hudson didn't excuse himself from the booth and dive head first into the goalsquare without a snorkel after spending the day in a small room with Shaw and Brereton. At least 'Derm' should be applauded for steadfastly calling Franklin "Lance" all day. Shaw sounds like somebody who doesn't know his microphone is on. Their favourite line was several variations on "I love the rule but not how it's applied", which is the 21st century version of "communism is a good idea in theory". Could be worse, if Dwayne was involved he'd have still been risking a heart attack trying to make you think it was a great game 20 minutes into the last quarter.

Was there still a footy game on? I'd lost interest. We've played some matches over the years that could be used as a humane form of capital punishment but this was one of the most boring events I've ever seen. A low scoring game where every goal is crucial can be beautiful under some circumstances, this was not. The first time Roos played the Swans we kicked 5.8 and lost by 31 and nobody was all that concerned, this was just total failure to drop anchor in the conditions. Maybe if my side was the one playing with the slightest hint that they knew what they were doing in the wet I would have had more enthusiasm. At least you knew our lot were trying, just that they were completely outmatched for skill, tactics, pressure and interest in the work of the Bureau of Meteorology.

One of the few elements of interest was whether we could achieve the full house of novelty free kicks against. All we needed was somebody to be done for shaking the goalpost to go alongside a slide, a deliberate, kicking in danger and an illegal tackle. On days like this only the hardest heart (or Brad Scott) would pursue the umpires, and the Swans got rolled for their share of kooky decisions as well, but playing on a day like this shows what a farce the sliding rule is. Players go for the loose ball, they hit somebody's legs at any velocity and get pinched. All this just because a couple of people in a full-bore contact sport broke a leg. What an over-reaction, especially considering you can still ram your knee through somebody's skull legally while attempting a mark. If somebody cannons through another player's legs recklessly deal with it, don't cause players deliberately tripping over each other to become the next front-line of cheating once ducking's been taken care of. 

In a week where we introduced four umpires why stop there, field one for every player and see if we can get 44 different interpretations of the same incident. The problem is that the game is so complicated we'll never be free of spending more time talking about decisions and interpretations than the game itself. If you sat 10 people in a room and asked them to rewrite the rules of soccer they'd come out after a day with a unanimously agreed code of laws, if you did the same with this game the whole thing would be called off after an hour when seven of the attendees were dead with chair legs sticking out of their eye-sockets.

Tell you what won't require a complex series of interpretations to determine, and that's Bernie Vince getting himself rubbed out again for needlessly elbowing somebody in the head. What a waste going into a game against your old side where football history dictates you'll do well.

With the rain still falling and Nathan Jones continually forced to wipe bits of earth off his otherwise shiny bonce the second half was always going to be endured rather than enjoyed. In the circumstances all they had to do was keep in our proximity whenever we got the ball and we wouldn't be able to kick the required score to overhaul them. Aimlessly bombing the ball forward and hoping forwards would take fully outstretched fingertip marks is a high risk strategy at the best of times, and while it might have led to a multitude of goals against the Suns the difference between playing them and Sydney is like us playing ourselves under Neeld. Throw in the weather and if we hadn't traded our first round pick somebody would be accusing us of tanking.

Further proof that basic level stats are usually completely useless came at the end of the game when it was revealed we'd spent more time in attack. Fat lot of good that did us. How much of that percentage was made up of us kicking the ball into Jared McVeigh's waiting arms with nobody near him? The Fox Sports stat-o-metre must have been out of order, how could we be in front when the entire day was spent with our forward line in defence trying to clog up the Swans only to win the ball and find nobody further afield? It was complete shit to watch, and if it wasn't for Petracca crafting a goal with one of his beautiful, malicious tackles which he can clamp on in an instant like a mousetrap going off I'd have made like a corporate patron on Grand Final Day and started reading a book.

Mathematically we were still in it at three quarter time, but there was no earthly way in which we could bridge that gap without the entire Swans side plunging through a sinkhole. The tension lasted about a minute before they got their first goal and from there it turned into a battle between Fairstar the Fun Ship and the USS Ticonderoga. They began to dash over the top of the water in the manner of a popular religious figure while we were flopping around like a horse thrown off an oil rig into the North Sea. Finally after three quarters of having to semi-battle for their goals they unlocked the secret to success and started piling on them effortlessly while we looked unlikely to score anything.

We were heading rapidly towards our lowest interstate score since Neil Balme got the arse for presiding over 3.9.27 against Port Adelaide in 1997. Hogan managed to get one that vaulted it above that, causing Neil to boot his television in and promoting it to 'only' our 10th lowest score since 1980. What an achievement. Roos actually won overall, two of the four losses that were previously equal 10th were knocked out - leaving him with one less on the list. Remember when we had a decent average score? We're still better off that everyone below us, but that's not saying much considering most of them are utter shite.

It was an arsehole of a day but at least we've got a week for the players to dry out and the coaches to work out what went wrong. Based on the number of times we've failed to learn our lessons this year I wouldn't be too confident about the second one. 

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Bernie Vince
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Christian Petracca

Apologies to Watts, Kent, Viney, T. McDonald, Jetta and Tyson.

Leaderboard
We continue to have joint leaders, but this week it's Maximum atop the pile with Jones instead of Viney. With Vince and Watts picking up votes as well that leaves the major award wide open. There's at most 45 votes for any one player to grab so Dean Terlich can hold hope in his heart for a few more weeks even if he's realistically got as much chance of winning this as we do of making the eight. In the minors there's no change for the defenders but Petracca is starting to rapidly gain ground on The Hamburglar for the Hilton and I'd be backing Truck from here.

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


On a day where both banners were nearly torn to shreds by the conditions this might have been a nil-all draw. They just stayed upright, and let me tell you it's a good thing I can't find a picture of the Swans banner anywhere to judge it properly (was too distracted by all the holes when they showed it on TV) because the flip side of ours featured a sponsored ad masquerading as a gag about Sydney's lockout laws. When did we become Footscray? 17-1-0 Melbourne for the season by default.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Thanks for making this one easy you BASTARDS. I was really struggling all those times where we kicked decent scores. Christian Petracca is proving to be the new Jeff Garlett style perennial nominee, winning another nomination for his hefty snap of a waterlogged ball for the first goal. For his weekly prize he'll have a hairdryer applied to his soaking barnet by former president Gabriel Szondy. Garlett retains the clubhouse lead and probably wins a free call-up back to the side.

Stat My Bitch Up
The old 0/1 goal first quarters are the foundation that this segment was built on - and today seems like as good a time as any to update the list of them since 2007:

Neale Daniher - 2 from 13 (15.38%)
Mark Riley - 2 from 9 (22.22%)
Dean Bailey - 24 from 83 (28.91%)
Todd Viney - 1 from 5 (20%)
Mark Neeld - 14 from 33 (42.42%)
Neil Craig - 3 from 11 (27.27%)
Paul Roos - 18 from 57 (31.57%)

So depending on what methodology you use either Neeld, Bailey or Roos is king. Who knows what you'd get if you added the other three quarters as well. Even I don't have enough time to do that. At least this week.

Next Week
Climb every mountain, ford every stream. We've got a week and a bit left where we're even an outside hope of making the eight so keep your mental fortitude strong for one more game. Then you can spend the rest of the year hanging over the race yelling or refusing to participate instead of wasting your time on this sort of rubbish.

Next Week + 1
Now that we've discovered we can't play against premiership contenders in maritime conditions let's find out what we can do against future Elimination Final losers in what we presume will be the dry. My guess is a repeat of the Hawthorn game where we give them a reasonable scare but can't sustain it over four quarters. That will be the end of our outrageously optimistic finals expectations but who would have guessed we'd be able to drag them out this far?

I'm not inclined to launch total nuclear annihilation at the selection table because it's hard to judge on this performance how much of Queen's Birthday was us and how much was the Pies being garbage. We might as well give most of the same side a go against a real team before deciding to make wholesale alterations. People who are better connected than me will know if anyone needs an extra week off to recover from trench foot.

Casey won by plenty, but the VFL is such a crackhead competition that who would know exactly what that meant unless you saw it with your own eyes. The Spencil kicked four so interpret the quality of the opposition as you wish. I know Angus Brayshaw got through without suffering another novelty concussion from a pool table falling out of the sky so I'll give him a go. Doesn't sound like Garlett tore the house down but with one chance left to keep the impossible dream alive this is no time to try and be cute.

IN: Brayshaw, Garlett
OUT: Vince (susp), vandenBerg (omit)
LUCKY: Kennedy, Oliver
UNLUCKY: Hulett (will get his chance before the end of the year, probably when Hogan finally snaps and hits someone), Grimes, Harmes, M. Jones, Neal-Bullen

Publishing Chat
I've run out of ways to creatively flog the book, so why not just pre-order now and beat the July 1 price rise? I bet you can't wait to relive this game numerous times.

Final Thoughts
Can't play Collingwood every week. If we go 4-5 from here and win 10 games you can't argue with the overall progress of the season but we're still not going anywhere unless we start beating good sides - and no GWS before they were famous doesn't count. All you can do is have faith in 'the process', even if 'the process' has been fatally flawed so many times in the past that it's becoming mentally tiring.

1 comment:

  1. No State of the Union this year?

    ReplyDelete