Saturday 4 June 2016

Water, water everywhere so let's all have a drink

Last week we were charitably allowed to hide a terrible performance behind being a young side, but even in conditions that all but confirmed we'd kick what passed for a big score for us 2012-14 this was a far more pleasing representation of where we might be at. You can either blame the conditions or natural attrition for dragging the Hawks down to our level but even though they were a terrifically ordinary side who'd be lucky to beat anyone in the top eight on that performance at least their win wasn't set up from lightning transition and a thousand goals from the square.

It wasn't quite the Poseidon Adventure conditions that Gold Coast and Sydney played in later but the sludge helped ensure we weren't dragged into a shootout we weren't equipped to participate in. We've shown that we can take vulnerable teams for big scores but other than the wind assisted extravaganza of scoring in Hobart all other available evidence says we're not going to win if we let the other side kick goals at will. Even with their forward line looking like a homebrand version of the one that's done so much damage over the last few years you can have Juice Newton, Isaac Weetra and a man in a lobster suit down there and they'll kick goals if the rest of your defence is spread as wide as we were in Alice Springs.

The greatest threat to our security is opposition players rampaging forward in superior numbers and the early stages of this game was unnecessarily similar to most of our other losses. We dominated possession and looked like a reasonable side with ball in hand but the moment it went the other way they were roaming free with our players struggling to keep up.

The difference was that Hawthorn are prepared with finals in mind, and knowing that September games are unlikely to be played under such conditions they clearly hadn't bothered to prepare for wet weather and were appropriately terrible for the first 15 minutes. We couldn't turn our early domination into a score, and they should have one of their own the first time they could break free of defence but made a hash of it and provided first Dawes then Petracca opportunities to kick continue the International Year of the Tap-In with goals from the square. A two goal lead was an unexpected turn of events, but as much as I'd never have said it out loud we kicked the first two goals against them in Round 7 last year and went on to lose by 105 so it paid to stay on guard.

Once we were two goals up I wish it had rained harder, because the last thing we needed was for a football match to break out amidst the slop. Their chances of even getting a serious shot at a fourth straight flag are rapidly flying out the window but they're still a better side than us so anything which levelled the playing the field the better. 

What Hawthorn had over us in the conditions was an uncanny ability to make a speculative hoof off the ground work. I love an aimless kick off the ground and think contrary to the thinking of anybody who actually knows about football that there should be more of it these days but this was the kind of day where it became an art form and there must have been 10 times where somebody violently thrashed the ball off the deck and it landed straight in the arms of a team mate. Their relentless tackling and ability to handle marks in the conditions were far more important factors in the eventual win but those kicks luckily finding targets didn't help.

Given that we were being given a surprise reprieve from what felt like a lost cause until the first bounce it was an excellent time to kick off the real main event that we'd all come for. Not only was the return of Jack Trengove an excellent good news story it also provided a welcome restart for the CSIRO research into the broken chromosome that forces broadcasting professionals to add an unnecessary second 'r' to his name.

This was an ugly look for Fox Footy. And they spelt Jack's name wrong too.
He didn't get the kind of response coming off the bench that they might have hoped for by starting them there, slipping on almost unnoticed and getting the sort of polite applause that you'd expect for somebody scoring a century in a Sheffield Shield match rather than wild scenes. That was ok, he knows how we feel. After the slow start you'd expect from somebody who hasn't played a senior game in 800 days he ended up playing pretty well. It was a good day for a slow player but at the same time a reasonable trial for his future.

Our lead didn't last long, after 10 minutes of nobody scoring our quick pair of goals reminded Hawthorn that even in inclement weather there's no way they should be losing to us and they responded with three goals in a row.

We continue to struggle in defence, McDonald Sr had another 50/50 game and his brother did a few nice things but is still greener than Kermit the Frog. He showed an aptitude for winning contested possessions and I'm confident that he will become a decent defender but take him to a lower level, put him on the most dangerous forward every week and give him an intense course in one-on-one defending then welcome him back for another go later in the season. Jetta continued his good form, but the best way we could avoid demolition was to stop the ball going down there to start with. Frost did a few dodgy things but was ok, and after we all called for him to be played in defence instead of forward you couldn't get too upset if he had a few early nerves doing it in a real game. Still, if you can bet on anyone making a Fitzpatrick style tunnel ball howler next week back him. Is Fitzpatrick still alive? I remember a breathless newspaper back page in the off-season that suggested he was their secret forward weapon.

Down the other end Frawley had Hogan covered, but it was no wonder considering how haphazard the entry was and the continued expectation for Chris Dawes to take overhead marks. He can't do that in the dry, what made them think it was a sensible idea today? He was ok for a first-up performance and we may as well persist with him instead of Pedersen for a few weeks to see if he can kick goals in better conditions. Next week would be a great start as long as people can kick to his strengths instead of expecting him to be taking Gawn style overhead grabs.

People booing Chip after he'd won a flag was about as useful as calling $cully a prick after he'd won millions of dollars (without remotely the same passion) but people went through the pantomime motions anyway. He should have stashed a replica of the 2015 Premiership Cup somewhere then waved it over his head in celebration.

The Gold Coast game had been a fiesta of long bombs into the forward line, but that night we'd had crumb galore and conditions conducive to forwards holding marks. Now with our actual crumbers mostly absent it was left to much larger players to do the job and nobody was taking marks. Almost literally, at one stage late in the first quarter we only had seven in total. It wasn't a day for it but Hawthorn were doing a much better job of linking up around the ground by foot while we were desperately trying to handball our way out of trouble. As well as Tyson and Jones were doing in the middle this usually ended with us going around in circles instead of into attack - ending most of the time with a forced punt landing in the arms of a Hawk on the half-back line. And the bastards were holding them all, we'd have dropped 50% of the same tumbling kicks.

Maybe it was Viney's absence that opened the door for Tyson to have one of his best games (like how Moloney's demise allowed Jones to take over in 2013, because we can only have one top shelf midfielder at a time you know) but it would have been a grand day for Jack. Lucky he broke his knuckle anyway (not really, considering it will keep him out for several more weeks than the suspension would have) because otherwise it would have been a huge own goal to get suspended for this game considering how much he would have benefited from Gawn's domination in the ruck.

They should have had a fourth straight after but missed an absolute sitter, a trend that would continue for the rest of the day and keep us in the game until we finally crumbled halfway through the last quarter. In the last 15 minutes of the first quarter the respective disposal efficiencies of the sides went in gone in opposite directions almost as violently as the fortunes of the two sides after our 2007 NAB Cup game. We tried to be too cute in the rain, they were just hacking the ball off the ground and it was working for them.

I never expected a big score, and in the circumstances 62 to three quarter time was good before we gave up in the last but it wasn't like we were getting much help from the forward line. Garlett wasn't very good last week, and even worse this time. Everything he did turned brown, including a marking contest in the second quarter where he flew and pulled out halfway. It looked like the Hawthorn player rolled him with the classic psychological warfare technique of calling "mine" with the ball in flight. The one or two goals he's usually good for no matter what the circumstances weren't forthcoming and he continued to a truly dreadful performance capped off with a last quarter effort running into an open goal and kicking out on the full.

Even though we'd curbed many of the defensive fiascoes that turned the Port game into a disaster it started to look like an old school shambles was on the cards in the final minutes of the first quarter. We'd lost the ability to retain possession, instead taking to aimless hoofery and running about like headless poultry. When they kicked the first goal of the second quarter after 30 seconds I was convinced that we'd be lucky to keep the margin under 10 goals, so under the circumstances it should probably be declared an 'honourable loss' if anyone can still bring themselves to play that game.

After that goal our defence might have cracked under any decent pressure, but other than Gunston and a couple of nobodies who were busy filling out application forms to become a Kingsley they didn't have it in them to run away from us. Once we'd held them out for a few minutes we launched a comeback, and a nice comeback it was too.

Hogan's lone contribution from a set-shot showed he was 'on' if he could have got the ball in hand more, then vandenBerg kicked the second, before Tyson continued a golden quarter and Kent put us in front by stuffing one home from close range. This was very much unexpected, but it was so obvious the Hawks were not at their best I didn't know how to take it. We were reeling in a 5th to 8th side not a top four contender. Our cause was helped by Gawn winning the ruck duals and allowing us to at least break even in the centre clearances but with a side still largely consisting of premiership players the eventual 109-68 tackle count showed they were at least up for it defensively even if not operating at full capacity elsewhere.

Even when we got back in front in the dying seconds of the half I didn't like our chances of holding it. That's what happens when you've lost every game against a team for 10 years, there's no point of reference for how to beat them. Last time we beat them Neitz kicked six and broke the club goalkicking record, now he works for them. At least unlike North we get another shot at them at the end of the year, and by then we'll have played St Kilda a second time so it will probably be a playoff to avoid ending the decade not having beaten three different teams. What a poxy 10 years it's been.

They had plenty more scoring shots and should have pulled away again early in the third, missing several opportunities before we got one of the stranger goals of the season. Hogan was left galloping into an open goal and a quick handball from vandenBerg, decided to take a bounce instead of just smashing it through from five metres out and over-ran the ball as it stuck in the ground only for his opponent to run past it too after which an inadvertent backheel from Jesse setting up Kent, who was so surprised that he nearly missed with his snap through an unguarded goal. It was rancid football but it ended with the right result so there was there was nothing to argue about.

When they turned the ball over in defence with a Melbourne-esque attempted pass across the 50 which landed in Petracca's arms and ended in Jones kicking a goal we were almost two in front and building a neat buffer. We had plenty of players still not operating at 100% but with Bernie Vince winning the battle with Sam Mitchell it was not completely inconceivable that we might hold on well into the last quarter. Then we conceded the last of the third quarter to level the scores and only added two more points for the day as the Hawks wandered off almost unchallenged.

We had some good old fashioned fun at the start of the last quarter when for the second time in three weeks a first gamer took advantage of our generous good nature and interest in fair play by robbing us blind out of a free kick by falling to the ground when tackled. The same umpire who later reported Bernie Vince on a guess that he'd hit somebody was happy to pay it guarantee us another week of people waffling on about the rules in every single media outlet. I still think it's our own fault for not getting involved, what I find more offensive are the high contact or in the back frees for offences which have no impact on the play. A tackle is 95% done, the ball is being released and a hand brushes somebody's ear etc... Adding yet another interpretation is suicidal but in an ideal world I'd let those go and concentrate on the ones that cause real trouble.

The first gamer had the good grace to miss the kick from right in front and it was refreshing to see Clarko not going out of his way to defend it in the press conference. That's the kind of thing you can get away with after four flags but if Mark Neeld had done it the assembled media would have charged out of the room so quickly to file stories on what a shit bloke he was that the poor bastard would have been toppled from his seat by the force of the breeze.

Harmes could have put us back in front but missed a set shot and that was it. By the time we got our second point at the end they'd kicked three goals to unconvincingly pull away to victory. They'd already shut the exits on our rebounding from defensive 50 and without being able to get into the open we couldn't even go forward with speculative kicks any more.

I'm not sure what I learned from any of it other than that it's great to be alive again and feel like results actually mean something. That sense of urgency is projected to last for two more weeks before we re-enter the wide world of dead rubbers. I reckon we've got 3/4 wins left in us at most and it's not going to be long before we're setting up for 2017 - and the good news is that without a first round pick we can do whatever experimental shit we like without being investigated.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Dom Tyson
4 - Bernie Vince
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Jack Watts

Most apologies to Gawn and Jetta. Others to Dawes, Hunt, T. McDonald, Trengove and vandenBerg.

The four time leader closes to within one BOG of the lead - can he make it five? All signs point to yes. Realistically nobody below Vince is going to win from here, but with a maximum of 55 votes still on offer the dreaded dotted line won't be officially ruling contenders out of the Jakovich running for a few weeks yet.

No moves in the minors, Vince is officially DQed from the Seecamp as of now and that leaves Nifty in the box seat while in the minors Petracca is plugging away at Oliver so I wouldn't rule out a late season overtaking.

25 - Jack Viney
21 - Nathan Jones
19 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
16 - Jack Watts
13 - 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)
6 - Billy Stretch
4 - Ben Kennedy, Christian Petracca, Christian Salem
2 - Tomas Bugg, James Harmes, Matt Jones, Heritier Lumumba, Tom McDonald
1 - Dean Kent, Cameron Pedersen

Hawthorn are the only side to ever conquer the otherwise unstoppable Demon juggernaut in this prize and they came with another high budget effort featuring a giant image of Josh Gibson for his 200th game. Oddly it just said "Josh Gibson - 200 games" with none of the usual superlatives about how great they'd been. It was an attractive effort, but good luck beating ours on a week where we went with this touch of class on the side wines ads would usually go
If there's ever a TAFE course on banner making the bottom line in that photo should be held up as the gold standard in kerning and leading. It is actually perfect. I enjoyed the other side as well, with cartoon flames down either side for the annual use of the 'turn up the heat' line. Hawthorn's Hollywood style production values will carry them to victory over many teams this year and they'll be kicking themselves not to have run into the Brisbane game banner with the names of rich benefactors. 15-1-0 Melbourne for the season.

Crowd Watch
It was my dream that somebody with nothing going for them other than following a successful football team would taunt me about premierships but alas no. Mainly because the rain had caused the top of the Ponsford to go from a haven for lunatics and the abusive to the family stand as people abandoned the damp, leaving kids everywhere. One of whom I was accidentally a bad influence to when Petracca opted to pass to Watts instead of kick the goal himself only for Jack to spray it out on the full and I yelled "JUST FUCKING KICK IT" at the exact moment the child ended up standing next to me on the way down the stairs.

The Hawthorn fans who'd been forced up there as the only undercover general admission seats left in the stand must have seen some fantastic glory in recent years but still celebrated beating minnows with a Dwayne Russell-esque level of excitement for a nothing match.

Amongst all the other teenyboppers who sought refuge were a horny couple who couldn't get their hands off each other for the entire first half and were never seen again after the second quarter. You do the math.

Speaking of slippery surfaces within the MCG it was surprising that nobody went for a sixer down the stairs. With all the accumulated grime from only cleaning them once a year the addition of rain made traipsing up and down them like trying to drive through an oil slick. There weren't enough yellow "caution, wet surface" signs in the world to stop somebody going flying somewhere. When Hawthorn beat us in 2010 I kicked one of those things across the bottom deck of the Ponsford, could have done with it today. I wouldn't be surprised if at least one patron took inspiration from all the players deliberately ducking into tackles to deliberately 'slip' and try to hit the MCC for a payout.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It was not a day for the spectacular, and as much as I liked the perfect transition from one end to other that ended in the Watts goal for sheer thrills and spills I've got to pick Kent's lusty stab from the square after the ball bounced loose and sat up perfectly for him after Dawes' fresh air shot. Apologies to his other goal after the ball fortuitously bounced to him after Hogan's misadventures in attempting a bounce running into an open goal on a wet day.

Kent wins the weekly prize of a lovely lunch in Kyabram with Garry Lyon and a mystery female companion. Garlett retains the season lead and we hope he will return to his core business of kicking exciting goals soon because otherwise he's going to be aiming for the rare double of kicking the VFL Goal of the Year too.

Next Week
Let's not get prematurely excited about having beaten the Pies once, they're a lot better than they were the first time and have given up on ludicrous moves like playing Pendlebury on the half-back flank. No doubt Travis Cloke will use this week as his warm-up before banging through another seven against us and fading back into obscurity. Between him and that large American fellow we'd better not let them get the ball down there too much or we'll be ridiculously vulnerable in the air. 

It's a genuine 50/50 game, and as we didn't shit ourselves on the big stage against Richmond here's to more of the same. The whole world will be watching so let's fire at least one more provocative shot before fading into obscurity.

Are Casey even playing this week, or is the VFL taking another round off for an Under 19's representative game against American Samoa? The following changes are taken into account without knowing who they're playing, where or when. Dunn might not be the long-term answer in defence but let's not pretend that next week is just another game, it doesn't have to be 'our grand final' any more but I want to keep the fantasy of possibly playing finals alive for one more week before it's ruthlessly snuffed out by Sydney, Adelaide or both. We need experience and the sort of hateful character who will revel in trying to stuff the Pies.

Garlett has been basically non-competitive the last two weeks so I'm comfortable with letting him know that he's not an automatic selection. Kennedy's got to come back in the hope of the classic "roll your old side" performance that we'll no doubt get from Howe after he was such a steaming pile of shite in our first meeting.

Obviously we could win but there's never any telling which version of this club is going to show up. At least now there's some mystery rather than simply knowing you're automatically going to see bad football.

IN: Dunn, Kennedy
OUT: Garlett, O. McDonald (omit)
UNLUCKY: NFI without waiting for the Casey game. At least Weideman has slowed down a bit which should stop them doing something ridiculous like using his family connections to debut him in an attempt of flog more tickets.

Pendant Publishing
This is your weekly reminder that there's a book set to be delivered in late November. I'm heartened by the number of people who think that the whole thing is an elaborate practical joke, but it is real and it's fabulous. Even with judicious editing and rewriting of posts the first draft up to the end of last week's game was 60 pages over my limit, so I guarantee you will never got better value for money in a bulky publication other than from free delivery of the Yellow Pages.

Was it worth it?
It was. Miserable, dark, rainy days like this are my favourite thing in the world so I was legitimately delighted to be outside in it even if I only discovered a hole in my shoe while trudging across wet grass and got to enjoy a soaked foot for the rest of the day. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Final Thoughts
It was an inoffensive performance that left us hovering in the twilight zone between knowing we're not 'good' and knowing we're not terrible but not being sure which one we're closer to. If the reduction in easy goals was down to tactics rather than the weather then that's a good start for the rest of the year. Let's see how it goes next week against a side who have already had a warm-up run against us.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with those changes.
    Also Howe may not be rolling us this week, may not even play.


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