Sunday, 10 July 2016

Steamy wonder

We've won in Darwin, we've beaten Freo again and with seven games left we've matched what we did last year. With any luck we're going to narrowly beat a weak field for our best season of the decade, so all smiles and happy days. Not that last night's game left me any wiser about where we'll be next year. All I know is that barring some outrageous scenario involving an active volcano we're at least going to be ok for a few years - no worse than mid-table mediocrity, with hope in our hearts for greater things.

It was a game we were expected to win 'on paper' (the scariest place of all) where we started hot favourites against a battered side enjoying their own version of our 2007 plummet into irrelevance. If I was a betting man I'd have had money on the Dockers just in case. But not with the agency who did the market updates before the game and suggested that we'd go well coming off the bye. Even though contrary to popular belief we played (and lost) last week it was reasonable to send us in as favourites, but the great modifier was Darwin. The fuel light was blinking furiously before three quarter time last week, now we were playing in near 30 degree heat with a reasonably unchanged lineup. As it turns out thank god we did our best work in the first half before sexy football drowned in an ocean of humidity and sweat. Whether Freo were good enough to ever challenge I'm not sure, but I'm glad we didn't have to find out.

Even with the season turned into little more than a fight to stay above Collingwood, the nerves still got to me. An hour before the bounce I started to feel like I'd had a pint of Adelaide tap water. I considered whether it was caused by trying to calm myself earlier in the day by taking to my garden with such a high concentration of weedkiller that Union Carbide sent a telegram of congratulations, but I've felt this way enough times over the last decade to recognise the stomach-churning feeling of sporting anticipation. Scientists at the Pond's Institute recently discovered that when you're expecting to win the rate of churn is at least 200% higher, most likely leading to my eventual death in a seat at the MCG.

Being the most off-Broadway game of the week we got the caller who is so obscure that he never gets to appear on screen. Surely the Olympics are his opportunity to show his actual face, rather than being seen in a profile photo that looks like his head has been Photoshopped in. Dwayne declaring the dressage to be "crazy good!" will be his big opportunity. Any time they wheel in somebody who tries to call the game rather than getting involved in Brian Taylor-esque bullshit 'banter' is a win, but he did fall into the trap of only preparing one fun fact about Mitch White and ended up telling us several dozen times about how it was just his second game. That Mitch went near it enough time for that stat to become a cliche in the space of four quarters was a good sign for his career.

Presumably next to him (if he's allowed to sit in the same studio as the 'big' hitters) Dermott Brereton was blathering on like you do when you're alone in the car. As a fellow sufferer of the syndrome where you know exactly what you want to say but end up confusing the bejesus out of anyone listening I feel a certain kinship with him. During the second quarter when we started to run the Dockers around for sport he delved into a long, philosophical discussion about the sort of mental strain it would be putting their players under. Mate, Nathan Jones has played in 158 losses - I'm sure Jonathon Griffin is more worried about why his first name has an O in it than one night playing a traffic cone. Later in the evening he suggested a Dockers goal was due to "the superior numerical outnumber" - which if you use a Derm to English dictionary meant they had more players around the ball than we did.

More so than for the continued novelty of winning I just wanted to avoid losing so I didn't have to hear another week of people threatening to self-harm if we ever sold a game again. For the first couple of minutes I was readying myself to switch off the internet, remove the SIM card from my phone and wear a pair of noise-cancelling headphones everywhere until 3.20pm next Sunday. Within the first minute a quick kick forward allowed Maggie Taberner to run onto a loose ball and roll one in from the boundary. That was fine, I've matured to the point where I can concede the first goal without going into cardiac arrest, but when he took a mark and lined up for the second almost straight after I was frantically searching for Google Images for appropriate photos of Kent Kingsley. He missed the lot and was rarely seen again, missing his chance for an invitation to sit next to the likes of Gavin Mitchell (5 goals, R2 1999) and Ian Perrie (6 goals, R12 2003) at Kent's annual gala banquet.

Speaking of Kents, the one you want to be associated with demonstrated his ability to work in confined spaces by extracting our first goal from a pack like he was Clark Kent changing into Superman in a phone booth. Even when they went back in front courtesy of a player spinning out of a contest like he was in a video game, leaving all our players clutching at thin, sweaty air, my nerves had settled. I don't know what difference the one goal made but you could just tell between Kent's goal and the spinny thing that we were going to be the better side. We got an assist when Pavlich, barely holding on in the style of Neitz 2007, marked 20 metres out and tried to charitably gift his teammate a goal only to deliver a hospital handball that allowed the returning White (joining the greats like Dunn, Bate and Hunt as holders of 2-0 career win/loss records) to get in the way.

For once we were dominating another side in the midfield - and whatever's happened to Freo to get them to the point where that can happen is not important. Between Gawn, Viney, Jones, Tyson doing Hamburglar style pauses when he got the ball before finding an option and Vince returning from the dead after initially going off with a shin injury we were too much for them to handle.

The game turned on Kent's second goal, but while he finished it the assist went to Freo's Blakely (I hated his song in 1990 and he's not got much better) for handballing into space under pressure, and to Gawn who swept through like a much smaller man, gathered in traffic and lobbed a handball over the top for Kent to run on to. Deano still had to walk around a defender before snapping it, but including the turnover it was a well-constructed goal which was prompted the floodgates to open. At least as much as floodgates ever open when we're involved.

From just under 13 minutes to go in the quarter when that goal went through we added 3.5 to nothing, with Watts so dominant than even Hogan was clearing out and letting him menace defenders on his way to three goals. There was nothing wrong with the rest of his game, but the way Jack has a habit of racing to three or four in the first half then not kicking any more suggests an actual +5 bag can't be far away when we finally start punching shit out of bottom division sides. The mark for his second goal was made more special by the afters of Gawn laughing at the Freo player for being beaten so easily. Maximum later challenged Jamar sitting on the ground with Leigh Colbert for greatest interview by a Melbourne ruckman in Darwin by suggesting he'd acclimatised for the conditions by "putting the heater on all week".

I'm assuming the reason the umpires were wearing the word 'Arbitraro' on their back had something to do with Multicultural Round, but it might as well have been Gaelic for "we're here to deliberately confuse the shit out of you with a series of random decisions", because in an evening where they battled to ignore as many obvious free kicks as possible Jesse Hogan's first came from him deliberately running into Zac Dawson's arms and appealing like he was Terry Alderman. Shortly afterwards Petracca split a man's nose open with his knee in a ridiculously unrealistic attempt to mark and got away with it. With decisions like it was hard to get angry when Pavlich was gifted a goal for a fictional push in the back or when a boundary umpire guessed that the ball bounced off Jack Viney's foot and out on the full.

The reason I like to sit in the middle of nowhere at games is so, like Derm, I can say whatever comes into my head out loud without it being taken the wrong way. The dangers of letting others hear your internal monologue was no better demonstrated than when my wife walked around the corner just in time for me to say "Let's kill somebody. I just want to kill somebody" as Watts' third goal went through to make the margin 27. Later as she was sitting on the couch taking absolutely no notice of what was going on I muttered "Horny" when I meant "Hungry" and received the appropriate expression of disdain.

We were dominant, but I wasn't comfortable yet. Freo couldn't have been playing any worse and we stuffed up a string of chances to add another goal late in the quarter when they were lying on the ropes taking the sort of blows without going down that would make a boxing referee step in and end the fight. In previous years that would have been us, except we'd have been knocked out 10 minutes in and they'd have kept hitting us. Our last six scores against the Dockers, spread across Subiaco, the MCG and Darwin just make sure there was no regional bias, were 40, 40, 38, 34, 50 and 54. We were trending the right way, but to be on 41 at quarter time was quite the weight off the shoulders. Didn't mean we wouldn't end on 41, but even if we had a scoreless last three quarters it would already have been better than roughly 480 minutes of performances against a side who usually treat us like a boa constrictor killing an ocelot.

The early returns suggested that if we could keep getting the ball inside 50 the Dockers were going to leak like a sieve. But as the game went on and we started to open a landslide lead in that stat we stopped taking advantage of their scared and paranoid defence. Much congestion inside 50 and missed opportunities meant that after quarter time we had to slog for our goals again instead of them coming easy. Leaving purple body parts sprayed across the top end would have been preferable, but when their attack was MFC 2014-esque in its ineptitude and dysfunction we could afford to draw away slowly instead of spectacularly.

You can only take on who you're presented with, but it was Tom McDonald's best game in ages. As the last line of defence to a practically non-existent forward line it wasn't the series of easy marks that impressed but what he did with the ball after that. God help us if they decide that playing him effectively as a loose man is a reasonable idea against St Kilda. For fans of pursuing him down the street yelling obscenities about perceived failures, he finally delivered his much anticipated clanger of the week late in the last quarter.

As Kent kicked his third, from a set shot you wouldn't have had somebody else's house on him converting, we were beyond a total score of 54, the lead was 43 points and barring a major catastrophe the game was won. We could live through Petracca and Matt Jones both slicing perfectly good chances out on the full because in the last minute the other Jones wandered through Freo's Swiss cheese defence to kick one of those lovely goals he likes to kick on the run and leave us in an almost impenetrable position.

The lesser known Jones had a couple of high profile blunders, also costing us a goal with a turnover in the third quarter, but he's been reasonable this year when not injured so I'm prepared to write it off as a bad night. Petracca was ok when he got it but is starting to look a bit tired. There was still one moment when he clamped a vicious, bear hug tackle on an opponent without the slightest warning. Like swimming in shark infested waters, if you gather the ball in his vicinity you get what you deserve. There was also one pass to Hogan which was kicked with so much vicious force that it bounced off his chest and probably left the imprint of a Sherrin on Jesse's chest to remember him by.

In a rare outbreak of optimism I went into half time absolutely convinced we were going to win. Even if fatigue took hold and Freo's practice of having players stick their heads into a bucket of ice water (including the guy who had been bleeding profusely. I'm no virologist but that doesn't seem right) inspired them, I was comfortable they weren't playing well enough to bridge the gap. Turns out I was right, but try telling me that midway through the last quarter when I was nervously standing right over the TV, talking to myself like Derm and reverting to my default status of fretting about nightmare defeat.

I always thought that if they didn't announce an extension of the Northern Territory deal this week there might have been something in the rumours that their government was going to give us the arse. We waited almost as late as possible to announce it, but when Peter Jackson appeared at half-time in an out of character polo shirt, with sweat pooling on what remains the most attractive bald head on the planet I knew exactly what he was there for.

He tried to talk up the two year, two games a season extension as a chance to play in front of a mountain in Alice Springs and attempted to reassure fans that they still get into two games in Melbourne to make up for it. This was all very noble, but we all know he really wanted to say "we're doing this because we're skint". Either way you could hear the sound of remote controls being lobbed at the TV across the country (or perhaps not, given that only 99k were watching) as people lamented the idea.

My views on this uncomfortable but necessary deal have been covered in every other post for an NT game since 2012, but even if you were happy to hold a bake sale to help us turn down the Territory's mad money (I'm assuming we got the same deal or better) you still had to enjoy the CEO justifying our poor record in the NT by pointing out that we've been rubbish everywhere else as well. In a week where Roos played down our Darwin issues with the reminder that we can't play at a stadium 15 minutes away from the MCG it was a refreshing change from the old go-to explanation about tanking being at fault for everything.

Being convinced we're going to win is one thing, but it's not permanent. There's a big difference between 'convinced' and 'certain'. When they kicked the first goal of the third quarter I started to get unnecessarily antsy. It was already obvious in the first few minutes that we had blown ourselves out with the intensity of the first half, and a better team might have taken advantage. Nevertheless when Hogan kicked two in a row and the margin extended over 50 I thought that the boats had been stopped so successfully that they were still going to let us get to the last change above the Chris Sullivan Line even as we dramatically down-shifted towards neutral.

The second Hogan goal was his enjoyable. Left one-on-one with Dawson he extended the arms and shoved him away with the greatest of ease before taking the mark. Zac's been shot for years, but Roscoe seems to like him. Once they swapped him for some no-name homebrand defender Hogan was much better held for the rest of the night. If Freo are going to do a highlights package of all the times his goals are wasted by us switching off from the centre bounce we should do one of Dawson in defence and ask "Jesse, do you REALLY think things will be much better there?"

It was good see the much lamented and 100% Melbourned Jack Grimes back in the side, and while it took him a while to get going and stop shanking kicks like Neeld was back in charge he came good the longer the game went. He was one of the few players who actually got better in the second half as the game spiralled into a NEAFL contest. It was encouraging but the biggest result might have been towards securing his start at another club next year. Sadly, I'm afraid that like the other half of Grimgove if he stays with us it will be as spare parts. Like Garland and Dunn (obviously N. Jones is excluded from this discussion for still being an almighty warrior in the Spartan tradition) I want them both to be there and flourishing when we finally get it right but we'll be lucky to get one of four at this rate.

Also maligned (by me), but not in such immediate danger is Aaron vandenBerg - and I'm happy that he's finally playing more in the middle instead of occupying the Luke Tapscott Memorial half-forward flank death seat. He was good, but I'm not adverse to rotating him out so we can have a look at some of the other fringe players. Quite frankly I'm pining for Alex Neal-Bullen.

Like the old Italian coot in the car ad who accidentally tosses his Viagra into the street just as a rare legover beckons, we were ready to achieve total ecstasy and couldn't manage it. They got the last three of the quarter, including one to Pavlich which broke down our idea of playing Watts as a loose man in defence to try and avoid conceding by travelling about 11 metres before being marked.

Now I was nervous, we'd lost the quarter by a goal and were well inside the CSL. Under normal circumstances it was still too much for a side who'd been playing so badly to drag back, but we had form on this ground. We'd been two points better off against Port in 2010 before folding like a house of cards. The difference was that night we had to rely on surprise ruckmen like Colin Sylvia because Jamar was on the verge of having to puff on an airline style oxygen mask. This time we had the ultimate 120 minute man Gawn going about his business from the first bounce to last without conceding to exhaustion.

My fraudulent attempts at confidence were long gone. Even when Hogan kicked the first goal of the last quarter to extend the margin back to nearly 40 I remained on guard. If we'd lost there would have been MFC fans forming mercenary armies to invade the Northern Territory and annul the extension. Even as a ruthless pragmatist when it comes to the need to pocket large sums by any means short of bank robbery I had to admit the rest of the quarter wasn't a good advertisement for these games. In the next TV rights deal Foxtel will probably on-sell the rights to One.Tel.

As the goal went through I thought "let's see how long we take to give this one back", and when they went forward immediately from the bounce nobody was less surprised than me. At least this time Jesse got to relax and enjoy his success through two stoppages before we predictably cancelled out his juggling mark and a set shot where the ball looked like it was heading straight into the post before obeying his commands to swing late.

During the week somebody wrote an article lamenting how boring the season was, and how things would be nicely spiced up with a finals wildcard. What absolute balls. This game showed why sometimes fringe finals sides deserve to be just that. The only 'innovation' I could have my arm bent to accept would be the 666 system (what is all this '17-5' nonsense when there's a perfectly good name for it?). At least the draw would semi-equalise without having to do something stupid like cut the number of games. Whatever the solution is (and do we really need one?) increasing the number of finalists would be a major farce. The eight is beautiful and should be protected like a rare species of animal.

A thrilling Footscray vs Richmond game on the other channel ended just in time for the viewing audience to switch over and discover that our match was plodding to a tragically terrible conclusion. We were out on our feet, Freo weren't much better and the last few minutes were a mixture of us running down the clock kicking from side to side and them running down the clock by missing shots on goal. The only thing remotely approaching a highlight was Hogan trying to take a screaming pack mark on the wing, prompting one commentator to say "he's trying to get a car in his driveway at the end of the year" as if he won't be able to buy the entire Australian car manufacturing industry with the first cheque of his new deal.

Ross Lyon's first game as a senior coach was against us on the night the #fistedforever era kicked off (which you can read all about here, literature fans), and with our last opportunity of the decade we finally beat him. He didn't care, no full-time coach has ever gone through the motions with the same level of disinterest as he did last night. Then again, no senior coach of the modern era has had a more disproportionate level of job security to team performance, so why not chill out and just let the rest of the season happen? It wouldn't have been the night for cracking the shits anyway, the coaches' boxes were so small you could have had somebody's eye out with one expressive gesture.

Some people ended the night in gloom, lamenting that we didn't pile on and violently crush them. Others were already anticipating a major let-down against the Saints next week. For now let's relax and come to grips with the idea that not every win needs to be a very special episode which causes fireworks to go off. Didn't we get to this point midway through last year with that dreary, uninspiring win against Brisbane? When we reach the point where the players are visibly bored by singing the song after a routine win you'll know we've made it.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
This was a hard one, a decent spread of potentials but no real standouts. As it turns out the easy option is taken and all the big guns get a run.

5 - Jack Viney
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Jack Watts
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Max Gawn

Major apologies to McDonald, Tyson and Kent. Mid-range apologies to Grimes (second half), Jetta and Stretch. Minor apologies to almost everyone else.

Leaderboard
We're on red alert at the top of the table here. Viney closes the gap by one, but with Watts falling slightly further behind and Gawn unlucky in a competitive field we are now on absolute DEFCON 1 red and blue alert for Nathan Jones to become a five time Jakovich winner (previous victories 2007, 2012, 2013, 2014). Could it become the Nathan Jones Medal one day? I doubt it, he'll have to be content with a statue outside AAMI Park depicting him carrying the club on his shoulders.

With seven games left we have reached the point where anyone without a vote is out. As of this week Cameron Pedersen can still snatch a share of the title with seven BOGs, but depending on selection it could be curtains for all of him, Salem, Bugg and Harry O before the first bounce Sunday.

In the undecided minors Oliver is grimly holding on, because if Petracca has a game where he gets a lot of touches he's going to do a lot of things that arouse me and probably get votes. With all eyes focused on that battle I forget to mention last week that Hunt is also eligible after starting the season a 50-1 shot. Forget the battle to qualify for the exhibition series, this is where the real action is at.

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


In the grandest tradition of the waterfront the Dockers were on strike. Our one had the lovely US flag style coloured lines and no doubt would have won anyway even if Freo fans showed an appropriate interest in tradition. 19-1-0 for the season. 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
In a consistent night for goals where none dared challenge for the title I'm going to continue the trend of first quarter goals getting the nod and go for Kent's quick snap for our first. The Freo player was convinced it was touched but he was kidding himself if he thought TIO Stadium was capable of reviewing anything. Which is ironic for a stadium named after an insurance company. Apologies to vandenBerg in the second after fumbling and juggling multiple times before snapping truly (CLICHE).

Dean looks like a man who'd enjoy a good old fashioned politically incorrect swear, so for the weekly prize we're sending him to the Lightning Ridge Bowling Club on Thursday 21 July to see 2011's End of Year Spectacular host Rodney Rude live on what may still be his "Frogsack" tour.

Garlett was back to pre-VFL struggletown but retains the overall lead. I still think he's got something baffling and outrageous in him in the last few weeks, unless like last year all his nominations are swept into down the train when somebody else sneaks in and nicks it from under his nose.
Next Week
St Kilda at Docklands again. It's another 3.20pm Sunday game - so the win should get about 2000 Melbourne fans to show up. If we can get the game relocated to practically any ground in Australia other than Etihad Stadium we'll win (not Darwin again if at all possible), but for now the only evidence I've got to go on is the slingshot extravaganza earlier in the year where we monstered them for five minutes then copped about 13 goals from the square. Fingers crossed lessons have been learnt and we won't allow Riewoldt to drag our entire defence up the field then have it thrashed back over their head at lightning speed.

Casey are having one of their thousands of byes, so in a week where we run everyone into the ground it's hard to make accurate judgements about who should come in to help manage fatigue. Last time we went straight from Darwin to Etihad Stadium we lost to North by 120 points, but to be fair players being physically tired was the least of our issues in the second part of 2013.

This time I'm definitely picking a proper backup for Gawn so he can spend more time relaxing in the forward line. They'll be shitting themselves at the prospect of Hogan after he's kicked 12 against them in two starts at the Dome so let's stretch their backline further and use the resting ruckman to clear out the space so Hulk can wreck some hapless Dawson-esque patsy in a string of one-on-one contests.

I can't bring myself to drop anyone but I'm not going to rule out Stretch or Petracca being rested. Last week I said White was going to be delisted and he was picked, so what do I know?

IN: Dunn, Spencer
OUT: O. McDonald, Vince (inj)
LUCKY: M. Jones
UNLUCKY: Brayshaw, Oliver, Hulett, Neal-Bullen and anyone else who was good in the 2s against Richmond but now has to sit on their arse because the VFL is a pub competition. Maybe if they came out and said the money from the NT games was going to pay for a Reserves side there'd be less hostility?

The week after that
Two weeks after our last win in Darwin we lost by 31 goals. In two weeks we have to play West Coast in Perth. Think about it. Then remember we might get thrashed, but this time it won't be because the entire club is being run like a Tijuana whorehouse.

Final thoughts
The bonkers season continues. For a year where the top eight is set two months out mid-table looks like an ultimately irrelevant minefield. We're neck and neck with Port for the right to finish three miles ninth, Collingwood has joined us on the same points, all of Richmond, St Kilda and Carlton are one game further back and Gold Coast two behind but starting to find form again. We've won as many games as last year and could still finish anywhere between 9th and 15th. What about seven wins in a row and a finals appearance? If it's good enough for Richmond...

2 comments:

  1. So,I asked Memsahib "why are we playing the bloody Saints at Etihad again "? Because its all bloody bent , she said !

    ReplyDelete
  2. And 'superior numerical outnumber' is added to list of self-indulgent footy redundancies; #1 on this acclaimed list remains 'leg speed'.

    ReplyDelete