Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Maximum Force

Liz has defied my annual predictions to kick on through another season in her quest to stay alive long enough to win a Dees flag but our long Queen's Birthday nightmare is mercifully over. The last time we beat them on this day a airborne beer can almost knocked Russell Robertson over at the final siren and we've seen unimaginable levels of slurry since, so now that Pies are sinking like a stone just as we're fumbling our way into mid-table mediocrity here's to the first step towards correcting this hideous historical record.

We've played better this year, including the first time around against the Pies, and nothing much has changed for them since our first meeting other than a baffling win over Geelong but since then they've hit the skids even more violently, suffering a plague of injuries and enjoying a brewing feud between Buckley and Cloke that's threatening to make the coach's anti-Harry O stance look tame in comparison. Whatever Cloke's done on top of playing a rancid 18 months it must have been spectacular, because after flogging us for seven goals on the same day last year you have to wonder why they even bothered picking him last week only to drop him again before another chance to fill his boots. He's been as useful as a piss soaked rug this year but Buckley has obviously shelved 'horses for courses' and adopted 'horses behind white sheets'.

If they weren't going to exploit our dearth of true tall defenders by leaving him there and hoping for the best the next tactic off the rank was a bizarre hybrid between picking three ruckmen to try and take on the Beard To Be Feared and smaller players who were meant to exploit our notoriously elastic defence. Buckley was absolutely right to be terrified of Gawn but the triple ruckmen tactic merely spurred Maximum on to his best game since the heavyweight title fight against Goldstein. Once we kept the ball away from them the second option left them looking slow and toothless, which must have been similar to what it was like to defend against us from 2012-2015.

Just because they were playing without a forward line didn't mean I could easily be convinced we'd win. There must have been many times in the last nine seasons where even the most pessimistic Pie entered Queen's Birthday knowing there was no possible way they could lose. For me to feel like that I'd need them to lose not only their forwards but their midfielders, defenders and the keys to their training facilities.

It was another week where we dominated the first few minutes and looked like world beaters as long as the other lot didn't get a kick. I've seen games where we've been two goals behind before we got a possession and this should have been the belated revenge for them. After Viney toe-poked the first we enjoyed several minutes of complete dominance which should have generated at least one more goal if not for our haphazard kicking inside 50. We're dying for a second convincing overhead marking option to go alongside Hogan but a hybrid of Doug Wade, Gordon Coventry and Peter McKenna wouldn't have been able to deal with 'passes' that barely went five metres before skimming along the ground. Once we gave them half an excuse to roll over and die they did it with glee but not until we'd given ourselves a scare.

The advantage from our midfield was completely wasted when the Pies got their first decent touch of the day several minutes in and bounded down the other end in the traditional manner to find Mason Cox plucking the ball from over Oscar McDonald's shoulder. On a weekend where St Kilda's Tim Membrey threatened to escape the Kingsley Kompound by kicking five goals against somebody other than us there was an elevated alert level that this guy was going to put in a claim by exploiting his height advantage to boot half a dozen. Fortunately we cut off the supply, and while he's a cracking mark and a reasonable kick for an import he's about as useful in a loose ball situation as 2003-2008 Mark Jamar blindfolded, spun around three times and forced to jump over a broomstick.

After years of disinterest in tactics I sat there and deliberately observed what happened when we turned the ball over. Watch out Jade Rawlings, I've cracked the blindingly obvious. The problem is turning it over after the play has been set up by defenders on the move, they get the ball, storm forward and if we don't either score or stop the ball in its tracks that's where they're so far forward that the other lot can dash back past them towards goal. There was one point where McDonald Sr legged off, turned it over and started ambling back while it flew over his head towards Neville Jetta trying to grapple with much larger men. There was one perfect example featuring Jayden Hunt bursting through the middle and hoofing it aimlessly inside 50 into the arms of a waiting Collingwood player who exploited the way everyone had pushed up the ground to put it straight back over his head. It's a good thing the Pies were so inept going forward or we'd have had another afternoon of bleeding goals. Watch out against good teams.

For all the clinking of champagne glasses once we'd done stripping them off their dignity it was not the first quarter of a finals aspirant. Both sides were ripping into each other in close but even when players had all the time in the world they were making outrageous errors. The best featured Howe landing a kick in the defensive 50 (remember when he went to the Pies under the promise of never playing in defence?) right into Watts' hands 20 metres out. He was booed throughout the day, which I was thought was rather uncharitable when the more compassionate reaction would have been to sympathise with him about his career choices. He later flew for a massive screamer and it was a shame he didn't pull it in because hard won experience taught us that was usually the prelude to him turning the ball over. I expected him to play the role of the guy who'd taken a dozen intercept marks against us last year without anyone trying to come up with another way to go inside 50 but that was one of the only times he jumped all day.

After banging through goals from all sorts of obtuse angles throughout the year Watts did his best for the rock bottom standard of football on display by missing almost the easiest set shot he's had. He recovered well to play a good game and now even on his down weeks we don't automatically expect them to spiral into month long periods of self-denunciation. It's odd that we still put so much feeling into what happened to him on his debut but the number of people during the week who suggested one of their key motivations was for him to rip the Pies apart suggests that like a certain orange clad turncoat who is probably going to have the last laugh by winning a flag we will not forgive quickly. At least somebody who was there has finally come out and admitted that his teammates let him down by not wading in and punching on to defend his honour. Can you imagine any circumstances under which Viney, Bugg, Hogan, Gawn, the modern Nathan Jones etc.. wouldn't react to the same situation by doing something that would cost them at least several thousands of dollars in fines? My god we've stuffed up in so many ways over the last decade. If you had to do a Stalinesque airbrushing of all the disappointing moments of the decade there wouldn't be much left to reflect on.

When we were two goals down at quarter time and threatening to be beaten by another cavalcade of goals scored from a foot out I was sitting there cursing everything and everything under my breath. At one point I found myself issuing a series of threats and didn't know if they were levelled at our players, their players or the umpires. I was just feeling touchy at the prospect of stuffing up another game as favourites, another game where opposition fans had spent the whole week explaining what a certainty we were to try and comfort themselves when the inevitable came. For me there was no inevitable, only the feeling that we 'should' win and a scoreboard demonstrating that we might not.

The tide turned for good after quarter time when we stopped Sidebottom and Treloar getting the ball. After a few rocky weeks notorious agitator Bugg was doing a bang up job on the former, holding him to one kick for the entire second quarter. Against Richmond he sent an entire club fans and all bonkers, this time his wonderfully anti-social scrag job caused the improbably named Steele to pot his teammates post-game for not caring enough. After they managed to worm their way out of crisis the last time we beat them surely even Eddie McGuire going down an icy slide can't provide enough of a distraction now.

Freed to do whatever we damn well pleased we pulled out an outrageous (by our standards) kicking efficiency in the high 80s in the second quarter. It was lovely to field something approaching a half-forward line, Kent got back in form and Kennedy returned from the VFL to run up and down the 'flanks' taking marks and getting easy kicks - not cheap kicks, easy because he'd scooted off on his opponent effortlessly. Kent especially was excellent, and if that means Garlett waits a few more weeks to get back in the side then bad luck.

Our demise against the sides that have destroyed us on the rebound this year can be traced not only to turnovers in attack but our inability to defend kick-ins, so as the Pies packed up for the day in the we managed to find the solution to both issues simultaneously by kicking goals left, right and glorious centre most times we went inside 50. Collingwood could have picked 18 ruckmen and Gawn would still have run them to a standstill, after quarter time Vince's non-stop cavalcade of touches started to have some impact and though we had a tendency to get excited with the game of keeping's off by over-handballing there was one from Jetta that was close to the finest handball I've ever seen - it shot off diagonally like a rocket to a teammate running past and smashed open what would have otherwise led to another stoppage.

The fun started with Jack Trengove kicking the first goal of the quarter, but while he took the mark and converted the shot it came courtesy of Maximum's towering presence in the contest and the desire of his all-hands opponent to vigorously molest him instead of trying to spoil or mark the ball. It flew over the top into Jack's arms and the game was about to tip violently on its side.

They got a goal back after Neville Jetta exercised surprise at having to take on somebody his own side and was beaten in a marking contest by Travis Varcoe but in another example of how things are starting to turn in our favour we were the ones who cancelled out a goal immediately after it was kicked. As Hogan booted it he was tossed to the ground and emerged from the ensuing light melee with his shirt torn into an off-the-shoulder number. He loves playing a ripped jumper and went around in it for about 10 minutes before a change, sadly not finishing it off by tearing it to bits in the style of the less famous Hulk Hogan:
How destroyed does a shirt have to become before you're ordered off the ground to change it because it's reducing the ability of opponents to tackle? What about if you're totally stripped of your jumper in a fight then run off, collect the ball, shrug a couple of attempted tackles because there's nothing to grasp and kick a goal? Forget this shithouse Channel 9 show where the bushfire survivors have to decide whether or not to give money to a woman without hands, this is the moral dilemma that will split the nation.

We've been following the saga of umpires refusing to recall bounces all year, and there was a cracker when one of them completely skewed the ball away from both ruckmen only for Gawn to continue his one man party atmosphere by jumping up and punching it viciously towards our goal. The visibly deflated umpire tried to take some of the heat off his own shitty bounce by chastising Max (and there was a second where you he was definitely trying to think of a reason to pay a free) but considering a few weeks ago a violently off-centre bounced was called play on and Max ended up being clawed in the face what did they expect him to do?

We levelled the scores through Petracca kicking one of the most satisfying goals of recent times. After Ben Kennedy gathered a loose ball and ran away from one of his ex-teammates he fired a short handball to Truck with his back turned to goal, only for him to spin around and stab the ball onto his foot to roll it through. Just quietly I think this guy is going to be ok. Always remain on guard against a disaster but if his knee injury caused him to lose anything he must have been ready to walk in and rip the competition apart in his first season.

There was no looking back from there, with another quality goal immediately after. It wasn't set up particularly well, playing on from a free kick 50 metres out the ball was handballed towards but Gawn running into the square. It fell short and pitched towards goal but sat up just enough for Max to thump it out of mid-air without taking possession. While it was unfolding I had my heart in my mouth waiting for it to roll through before it got to him or bounce off his knee but it could not have sat up better for his lusty blow. The only downside was that it was towards our cheersquad so there was no glee to be had like the time he thumped it at a GWS customer wearing a comedy wig.

Given how much both sides loved pushing their defenders up the ground it was a surprise they didn't end up running into each other on the way and posing for a commemorative photo like workers breaking through a tunnel, but if somebody had to be booting goals from right in front thank god it was us. That's two weeks in a row where we've got better at defending fast-breaks as the day went on, and whatever we've done other than a) play in the wet and b) play a team who's lost the plot keep doing it.

The next one came from a classic Nathan Jones second effort, dropping a mark then winning a free by recovering to bring his opponent to ground with a judo style armdrag. The ball fell to Petracca, who found that wonderful hirsute man Gawn, then Kent to run into another open goal. Maximum was not only involved again in the last one but kicked it himself, leaping high to pluck a bouncing ball then turning towards goal on his way down and stuffing it on his boot for some of the most extreme sized crumb you've ever seen. When we win I watch the highlights and for some reason BT responded with words to the effect of "open up another popper", which presumably relates to something said in commentary before the goal but comes off like he's accusing him of being into amyl nitrate. (NB: In the comments I'm told this was in relation to Max's pop-up cafe. Every Day Is Like Sunday - demonblog.com would like to not apologise to Brian Taylor because we knew he was talking tripe even if we didn't know what he meant)

I felt the crushing weight of supporting Melbourne at half time and though we'd turned our quarter time issues into a 26 point lead I was so tense it felt like somebody was jamming needles into my lower back. I could have done with opening another popper myself to loosen up the muscles in my lower half. Playing footy is a healthy pastime, supporting it is most certainly not and if you take things to heart like I do then we're both on a downhill run to an early grave.

The City End was not kind to us either time, leaving the game to devolve back into a shit sandwich during the third quarter but it didn't matter because no end was kind to the ruckman heavy Pies. When Jones kicked the first I was almost convinced that we were going to win, which is the worst possible state for your physical health because you know how broken-hearted you'll be if you lose from there. When the Pies finally got another goal I have no idea which direction my tension levels were going in but I'm sure they were nearly fatal. This led to 15 minutes where we began to neck ourselves with wonky disposals, and if they'd kicked one more goal it might have caused us to get a bit nervy. Then after they'd been rewarded with nothing but points Hogan ghosted in from the side of a marking contest, took a strong overhead grab, did his shaky run-up, kicked the goal and they were stuffed again. Good. I wasn't ready to accept they were stuffed but for all intents and purposes it was over.

Maybe it was because Collingwood's forward line was so awful but it was a great day out for both Frost and Oscar McDonald. Tom had another 50/50 day split between great moments of triumph and shattering moments of disgrace but it was easily the best game his brother has played so far. Do it again next week against a good side before I get really interested but bulk him up a bit more and he should be handy - still want us to go out and buy a ready made product though. Frost also showed plenty and as much as I want Dunn back in when fit we may as well keep persisting with Sam if he plays like this.

After wobbling unconvincingly through the third quarter to be 31 points in front I knew deep down that we weren't going to lose but couldn't believe it in case we made a hash of things and I ended up sleeping under the seat out of disappointment. When they turned our first attack of the quarter into a player wandering into an open goal at the other end my alert level shot through the roof. There was no need to be upset, another Punt Road End avalanche was about to unfold just metres in front of me.

They ended up beating us in inside 50s and marks inside 50 but god don't we know the feeling of days where those two stats mean NOTHING. The first one at least, I can't remember a time where we outmarked anyone inside 50 during a loss for about five years. Just so you knew everything was going to be alright Kent kicked a set shot to cancel the first goal out, then a combination of Dawes, vandenBerg (wearing a white patch on his face like somebody who'd just had surgery to remove skin cancer) and Watts kicked what even I nearly had to admit was the sealer. Even though we could do with another target inside 50 Dawes was very good up the ground, allowing Hogan more time to stay back and create carnage where it really counted. I can't remember if it led to a goal or a point but there was one point where he even took a huge, arms fully outstretched mark in defence to save a terrible kick. There's nothing like stitching your old team up, shame Harry O has gone missing with a mystery 'concussion' so he didn't get the chance to join in. Kennedy did, kicking the official sealer to cap off an excellent comeback.

There was already a party atmosphere before the last goal, which featured Hogan quite legally shirtfronting somebody and Petracca piffing the ball at his boot in the middle of a tackle only for it to miraculously find who else but Gawn standing on his own and he stuffed through his third. Remember when we waited seven seasons for Jamar to have six kicks in a game? Max had 13 and 14 handballs for god's sake. By my count it's the most touches by a Melbourne ruckman since Jeff White had 28 in 2004. Jeff was a great player, but Max is a different sort of beast and if he gets injured I may need to be locked away for my own well-being.

It wasn't necessary to sully an otherwise great day with the Trumpeteer but on a day where almost everything went right you could ignore the fact that it's impossible to hear what's on the speakers from ground level let along brass instrumentals from the other end of the ground and pretend his parping caused the Pies player lining up for a shot at that very moment to miss.

Gawn was handed a trophy for best on ground and flexed it like a dumbbell and Jones told a cameraman to piss off out of the circle so they could sing the song. It was a great day out. We even enjoyed Hogan taunting Jesse White for shirking a marking contest, which makes a difference from little more than a year ago when it was Jack Watts on the end of the same treatment. Either things are either looking up or compounding Collingwood's misery is so much fun that it just feels that way.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
If I was a brave man I'd have had Bugg in the votes instead of Vince for the tagging job in the second quarter when the game was on the line, but deep down I'm a coward and can't go against +40 possessions. Also sorely tempted by Tyson in the last spot thanks to the nine tackles but yellow streaked poltroonery wins out. Your views may vary.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Dean Kent
1 - Bernie Vince

Major apologies to Bugg and Tyson. Other high level apologies to Dawes, Frost, Hogan, Jetta, Kennedy, the McDonald family, Trengove, Viney and Watts

Leaderboard
Significant scenes at the top of the table where the four time champion nabs a share of the lead, while Gawn draws to within one as the top three clear out from the field. In the minors Oliver must now be nervously looking over his shoulder at Petracca whirling around to kick goals, taking contested marks and tackling everything in sight. In the next few weeks we'll find out if we're set for an exciting finish on the AFL ladder where it really counts, but readers of this august publication can be sure of a cracking run to the line in every award other than the Stynes.

25 - Nathan Jones, Jack Viney
24 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
16 - Jack Watts
14 - Bernie Vince
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)
7 - Christian Petracca
6 - Billy Stretch
4 - Ben Kennedy, Christian Salem
3 - Dean Kent
2 - Tomas Bugg, James Harmes, Matt Jones, Heritier Lumumba, Tom McDonald
1 - Cameron Pedersen


Nobody wants banners like the St Kilda see through ones that look as if they were produced by a Grade 1 arts and crafts class but the art of banner making is like the Olympics of old where the spirit of competing is thought of highly and that's why I didn't think much of Collingwood's effort. It said all the right things about charity but looked like it had come straight off a giant banner sized printing press. Where was the love? Where was the hand-crafting? On the other hand ours had buildings on it that were to scale. How could you not love that? I'm even prepared to forgive a kerning disaster on the words 'proud partner'. 16-1-0 Melbourne for the season.

Crowd Watch
The total closure of the car park wouldn't have helped but 60k felt way under what we should have got through the gate. Two losses in a row can't have been good for the numbers either but it goes to show how much the attendance for this game is dictated by the way Collingwood are going. It was 6000 less than last year when they were in the top four and we'd just lost to Port by 10 goals, and the worst since 2013 when only 50k showed up because we were playing like the biggest pack of arseholes under the sun (or in my case because I was on my honeymoon). By our standards it's still good money, and on top of the two NT games and our turn to be the home side for the Anzac Eve match we should still get a reasonable financial result this year but the Pies being shit and the game being live on TV can't account for the entire 15k lost from the biggest recent crowd in 2011. Maybe they all remembered our 6-53 last quarter that day and vowed never to go back until we won one? Come home comrades.

In honour of the days before the MND Big Freeze where we were forced to come up with our own pre-match entertainment and disgraced the club with concepts like private school marching bands and opera singers I decided to reintroduce the well-received Schwab blazer as seen during our first win against the Pies last season. It drew just the sort of sneering and confused reactions that I was trying to get, including one person who asked "are we sponsored by Xavier now?" as if the whole place isn't run by private schools and somebody else who yelled "GO HAILEYBURY" at me after the game. I wish, there was no blazers when I was striving to join Rohan Connolly and Justin Murphy on the podium of Hawthorn Secondary College's greatest alumni.

It was a good day to return to the reserved seats, having been there when the Bulldogs slapped us about until their hands swelled it was interesting to see how people reacted to the idea of winning. Turns out it was with just as much complaining about the umpiring. Even when we started to get a few dodgy ones people were acting like the weight of a giant conspiracy had been lifted from their shoulders. I don't mind it, not just because there's the potential for quality Crowd Watch content when people off their nut, but Jesus can we try to be magnanimous about some decisions? Remember - it is possible for your team to give away frees sometimes. Sadly the only person who disgraced themselves was me, forgetting I was in mixed company including a child two seats down by yelling "there's a giraffe sized man on his own in the fucking square!" as Cox wandered around untroubled in front of goal.

The much maligned genre of half-time entertainment was done no favours by a "kids, show us your goal celebration" competition (although no prizes appeared to have been handed out). Several deeply confused adults decided to join in, and one who wanted to get their kid involved against their will made a scene by holding a clearly terrified infant in the air and shaking them like an English nanny. There was no indication of what team they followed but I bet it wasn't us. This was regrettably followed by an MFC 'dance cam' for what I believe was the first time, encouraging adults to join in the 'fun' of making dickheads of themselves in front of a big crowd. Hopefully like most of our fans in attendance this was the only time it will appear all season.

Sounds like the Pies fans behaved themselves instead of king hitting members of Nathan Jones' family outside the ground, but given that there was only about 5000 of them left by the final siren the threat of civil disorder was significantly lessened. For some reason their cheersquad continued to wave flags around after the final siren as if nothing bad had happened, including hilariously one person going hog wild swinging the "We Hear Your Fear" banner as if they hadn't just lost by 50 points. They must have had super-sensitive hearing that can pick up sound from years ago.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
After a few weeks of routine, bog standard goals (and not many of them) it was refreshing to get a number of contenders. With apologies to Gawn absolutely STUFFING the loose ball through with the kick out of mid-air or when he delivered probably the greatest piece of crumb by a man his size in league history I can't go past Petracca's spin and stab which you can enjoy on repeat until the end of time courtesy of the AFL's Twitter account (pro tip - go the desktop version of Twitter and turn off their retweets for a much more enjoyable experience that doesn't feature random interludes of other teams spurting out glib Triple M catchphrases like "get around him"):
Christian wins the weekly prize of an afternoon at Werribee Open Range Zoo with Ezra Poyas, and let me tell you I enjoyed this one so much that it was one party trick away from contending for line honours.

Any hope that Jeff Garlett could do the AFL/VFL double was wrecked when Casey kicked two goals on Saturday, but even if nothing else has gone right for him since he signed his new contract at least he's still got the clubhouse lead.

Next Week
The improbable, outrageous scenario of us challenging for the finals lives on. If we lose the next two I'm extinguishing the pilot light but for now let's keep dreaming. Sydney weren't much good against GWS but the way those bastards are playing does that provide any clues? We haven't been to the SCG in years but at least the absence of Tippett gives us some chance of ganging up on Franklin and stopping him from kicking nine. The problem is even if we hold him they've got other goalkickers coming out their arse, and even though they somehow contrived to lose to Richmond I can't see anything in this for us.

I will opt to go without changes. Casey had a game shown on TV just at the right time for us to see an absolutely toxic performance where nobody gave a reasonable account of themselves so let's just stick with this lot again and hope for lightning to strike twice.

IN: Nil
OUT: Nil
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: Garlett (on overall form, not VFL form), Pedersen (lost his place in the queue)

Pillock Talk
Did I mention there's a book coming out in early December? With about three months left until pre-orders close I'm thrilled that around 75 copies have been claimed, because at the rate people are pumping out landfill sports books that end up in The Book Grocer 20 minutes after publication that number alone will probably get me in a top 10 chart somewhere.

The more the merrier, and even though a sudden shift in the exchange rate could see this become my version of Blue Monday where it actually costs me money to produce each copy I suggest you buy early and often. Pre-order now and confirm your copy of what is sure to become a sought after collector's item when the Herald Sun discover how many times I've potted them and do a front cover expose on me like that Q&A bloke - and the skeletons in my closet are much sexier than his.

Was it worth it?
Undoubtedly and unashamedly, even if the blazer gimmick started to fall flat in the second half when my ears started to feel like they were going to drop off and I really wished I'd turned up wearing some sort of hood and/or a charity beanie. Maybe it because I went to the station via a round of triumphant Demon Shop purchasing but there wasn't even outrageous agro and "when did you last win a flag?" mockery at Jolimont. Three trains in a row came, spirited everyone away and those of us who counted went home happy.

Final Thoughts
Let's not go over the top based on a moderately spanking win over a side bereft of everything but off-field drama but it just feels we're capable of so much more. Throw in more experience, an extra tall defender, one more marking forward (bonus points if they're also a convincing ruckman), refining our style so we don't concede 10 goals a week 'out the back' against good sides and 2015 edition Angus Brayshaw without the novelty concussions and we should (SHOULD) get it right eventually. The next step is to beat a top side and we've got plenty of chances at that in the next few weeks.

3 comments:

  1. Just in relation to the Pies fans behaving themselves, there was an incident where the police were called in (I counted 8 officers in addition to at least two dozen security guards) at gate 4 after the match.
    I didn't see what happened, only the aftermath, but I'm going to assume a Collingwood fan whacked somebody.

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  2. In regards to BT's "open up another popper" he actually said "pop-up" in reference to the fact that apparently Gawn runs a pop-up coffee shop out of his garage, and they mentioned that about 5 times throughout the broadcast.

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  3. I am a little perplexed - where was Harmes? No mention in the Thursday club text about him being dropped (they only mentioned Jeffy) and no mention of him being injured...? Have I missed something!? I know his last 2 weeks weren't as good as prior but no mention at all?

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