Monday 4 July 2016

The malady lingers

And it came to pass that there would be no belting run to the finals, no last month of tension as we clung to the coat-tails of infinitely better sides, and sadly no vanguard tank-led paramilitary invasion of Geelong for the final round. We don't deserve to be any closer to the eight, but in a year where the top weren't screaming away from the rest at light speed we'd have at least enjoyed a few more weeks of having our hopes and dreams strung along. Expand the finals? No thanks, let's do this the right way or not at all.

There is, as the flying lawnmower reminds us, no need to be upset. Our football department has created a masterplan in Microsoft Project and they're currently working through it methodically. At least unlike 2009 this one isn't going to end in a scandal that requires the hard drive to be buried under Mt Donna Buang. We hope. They are building a list and a style for 2017 and beyond. There's no guarantee we'll get there, and knowing our luck whatever they've designed will suddenly be superseded by some other fancy gameplan developed by Al Clarkson but for now all we can do is hope.

Now that the impossible dream is off the agenda we can work on the dual tasks of developing our young players and positioning the club as a good place to play. I'm not ruling out a dual swiping of the face of the taxi industry Hurley and Hibberd from Essendon (we've signed enough Collingwood players, lets move on through the league) plus Hogan signing on but we'd want to get to the end of the year without falling to pieces to convince players who have enjoyed nowt but misery for years that we're worth a few years. [Editor's note - to be entirely honest I have no idea who Hibberd is]

I think we can safely say that giants steps have been taken this year. We're only one short of last year's winning tally, and though our last eight games have been putrid for five years (7-33 for 17.5% compared to 22.7% for the entire season 2011-15) even if we only matched that total it's impossible not to be impressed with the players we've developed this year - including Watts and Gawn who have both gone through the roof. We're not sitting in a position like 2010/11 where the moment a couple of older players go the roof will cave in.

Try telling me this at about 2pm yesterday when I was desperately trying to force myself out the door and towards the MCG. My inspiration for the non-MFC elements of this season has been practically zero anyway, and after a fortnight where we first kicked four goals in aquatic conditions then didn't play at all I absolutely knew I had better things to be doing than leaving the house to watch us play. Every year there's at least one week where I'll have an existential crisis about whether it's all worth it or not. There's always something that makes it worthwhile, even if you know full well that your time would be better spent with friends and/or family. In the end huddling in distress at the footy always wins.

My mood was not helped by having to wait until 3.20pm even though it was the only game on all day just so Channel 7 Adelaide could run it into their news. When the election came along and ensured that it would be the one bulletin of the year they wouldn't need to artificially create an audience for we should have applied to reschedule the game to 1.10. It might be because I'm becoming old and decrepit, but these days any game later than that is an inconvenience. I'd play at 9am Saturday and get on with the rest of the weekend if it was allowed.

After that moral panic the last thing I needed was to watch a painful, fun-free performance where we had to manufacture every goal via a 300 step process that bores everyone to tears. To reaffirm my commitment to this year's cause (am all in on the future) I needed to see razzle and dazzle. For half an hour we got it by the truck load, not so much for the rest but nor did we disgrace ourselves against a much better side. If you were looking for encouragement from the election cast your eye down the Senate results and a find a party that's no hope of ever winning anything but marginally increased their performance.

The Crows are by some distance a better team than us. They've got more forward options, more star players, defenders who you wouldn't recognise in the street but are actually quite good and Kyle Cheney. A victory was unlikely, but we consistently live in hope of stupid things happening. After all if St Kilda, Carlton and Collingwood can all beat Geelong then go tits up again straight after there's hope for all of us to pull of a ludicrous upset yet.

Our run of games where we dominated the early stages before plunging into despair when the other side got the ball finally came to an end. Because the Crows got it and started kicking goals right from the start. Gawn was getting plenty of taps, but none of our players could get near them. Nathan Jones was in fierce competition with Watts for best on ground but when it came to hoovering up centre bounce ruckwork, coming down from the top floor with force like a bowling ball dropped down a lift shaft the first quarter was all Adelaide. And most of the third and fourth quarters too. Our cause was not helped by Jack Viney looking like he was about 25% fit after a hamstring scare late in the week. Though they can't have been too worried given that Pedersen was the emergency. Viney has such massive heart that he rose above the handicap of being crocked to play a good game but it didn't do much for our chances of winning.

Other than once in a lifetime games like North in Hobart we are not a team equipped to take part in a shootout, and it looked like that's where we were heading in the first few minutes. The Crows would fling the ball into attack as quickly as they could in the hope that our inexperienced talls would do something stupid, leading to a series of lightning handballs as we desperately tried to work our way out. Generally they handled the repeat entries quite well, but best of luck holding a side out for long if you're relying on Frost and the McDonalds trying to extract the ball by hand with Crows players a metre away in all directions.

For once this season it's hard to blame the defence considering the ball was being pinged straight at them from the midfield, but while McDonald T's marking was great during the game he cost us the first goal with a wild punch that forced Frost to try and gather a rolling ball like Rocky chasing the chicken (without the triumphant ending). Frost did some good things, many of them involving running like the wind, but at this stage in his career as a defender I'd rather he didn't have to deal with tricky balls bouncing in novelty directions.

After we copped a second not long after I wrongly surmised that a total catastrophe was on the way. We were saved by a Hogan goal, but like at least a third of the ones he's kicked this season it was conceded straight back out of the middle. If Freo aren't putting together a greatest hits package of all the times his work has been completely wasted from the next centre bounce they're not as keen on getting him as I thought. Forget when he goes into defence in the last two minutes of quarters to try and stop us being scored against, he should relocate himself there whenever he kicks a goal.

We weren't doing too badly considering Viney was absent and Vince was having a shocker, but against a more experienced side with a better spread of established players we spent the whole first quarter metaphorically kicking into the wind. It took the return of Jeff Garlett, picked more for what we know he can do than what he actually did in two games at Casey, to get us back on track. For a good side the Crows loved a shambolic turnover, and I'd be as happy to see them win a flag as anyone (anyone but GWS) but they're not going to get there playing like this. One of the great games of Watts' career was helped along by having the ball kicked straight at him in the middle of the ground, and after Stretch ignored the free man running inside 50 and instead bombed long to Garlett against two defenders Jeff (not under any earthly circumstances 'Jeffy') picked their pocket and recovered to kick it from a metre out on an obscure angle.

When he missed another a snap at the end of the quarter we were 17 points down, which was hardly fatal but nor did it look much like a golden quarter was brewing. There were a couple of times where Hogan was killed by terrible kicks inside 50 (more for Freo's highlights montage), but without a second decent tall marking option I doubted our capacity to kick a high enough score to beat them. Watts was great, but even though he kicked three goals his best work happened outside 50. On the other hand Dawes was terrible - it was probably the worst game he's played for us, and while I've given up on him taking marks overhead if he's not taking them on the chest either then it's time to move on. He did one sweet novelty handball to set up a goal and a whole lot of nothing else.

Given how many terrible quarters have started with hideous blunders over the years it was nice to get one in our favour for once. After completely torching Watts standing on his own in the square for an eternity Hogan inadvertently made the goal by pulling the kick and leaving it to drop right to an Adelaide player. He then tried some stupid short 10m kick only for it land in Garlett's hands as gift wrapped crumb for him to snap his second.

With that goal it was all aboard the Melbourne train, departing on the next platform over from the one Dawes was waiting on to head for Cranbourne, as we got a lovely glimpse of what we're going to have a lot of fun with once this side gets older and all avoid being Melbourne. It's rare that in an eight goal quarter the goals wouldn't be the highlight, but in this case it was all about Jayden Hunt. Who'd have thought that the recruitment of premiership winner Harry O would end with him merely being the warm-up act for a kid who spent two full years in the reserves before debuting? His run off half-back was enough to make you giddy, especially as it all looked like it was happening at 1.5x speed.

There was one intercept mark where he hit the ground and took full advantage of an inadvertent screen from a teammate running the other way to dash along the boundary line and around two Crows before getting his kick away. It was a thing of beauty. Even better that it led to a goal, with Garlett marking almost right in front before dinking the riskiest smart-arse handball of all time to an on-rushing Kennedy to finish from the line. With that we were in front. It didn't last long but it was a fair comeback.

Once they nudged back into the lead Adelaide would have been further in front had Betts not tried to get himself in the highlight reel by attempting an angled soccer through an open goal only to roll the wrong way. Like any small forward that's the price you pay for the goals that they rip purely out of their arse. In another sign that we were playing in a decidedly non-Melbourne fashion the kick-in from that incident soon landed with that man Hunt, who stormed through the middle leaving an opponent grasping at thin air before kicking his first career goal. For once defenders didn't run 3/4 of the way down the field to leap on him only to still be catching their breath when the reply was kicked. And this is a good thing.

We were rolling when Garlett and Watts kicked more to leave us two goals up and flying. The change in the game was built on stopping them getting the ball. Remember when we MOCKED Mark Neeld unmercifully for suggesting that we were excellent trainers? Well there's still a hint of that around now because no side in the competition plays sexier football when the opposition stand there like traffic cones watching our players blast by them. This sort of thing could never last, and before you knew it the Crows had kicked two to get back in front. Then we kicked two and we were the ones back in front. This was officially a bonkers game. It never got sillier than that, which is probably a bad thing for us because we would have thrived in a chaotic situation where there's no time to think.

At least now I was awake, shaken out of my malaise and fully engaged in what was going on. Just in time for unwelcome throwback to the days where we used to come out of the rooms after half time and spend the first five minutes playing like the coach had just read 21 death sentences (the sub was excused). It was a great day to be celebrating Melbourne's Diversity - Some weeks we're ok, some weeks we're not, some weeks we're SHITE - and this was all of the above in the space of an hour. Forget the Trumpeteer, who was probably tucking into a bottle of red by the middle of the last quarter, we should hire a trombonist to play sad music when we concede a nasty run of goals.

With headline writers across the country furiously debating whether it was too late to throw in a 'Don's Party' headline if Pyke's side steamrolled us on election weekend, the Crows not only cancelled our last two second quarter goals to take back the lead but piled on two more to flip the game back to where it was in the first half. I yelled a sour "kick it properly you dickhead" when Betts took the piss by dinking his first goal through with the lightest of touches, so to keep things interesting he booted his next one into the second deck. Always be careful what you wish for.

The problems were the same for us as they were in the first quarter, multiple players running to the same contest and leaving Crows free, one too many handballs, and hesitation to kick quickly inside 50. The last one was giving me the shits, there were several times where a player would blast through the middle and instead of just hammering it towards Hogan and friends he'd try one more dinky kick or handball out towards the boundary. Maybe there was something tactical in it and attacking diagonally is the next big thing? When we turn into the greatest attacking juggernaut known to man by using that tactic I'll send Simon Goodwin a ham to say sorry for questioning it.

We got a couple of late goals to make it interesting - and the second one to Watts after an over the head handball from Hogan was like a giant billboard flashing *THE FUTURE* - but it looked a lot like the exertions of the second quarter had left us out of gas. There were plenty of hands on hips, and as much as Nifty Nev was celebrating his new contract by dismantling Eddie Betts as usual he was starting to look like he might need rescuing by St John's Ambulance if he had to run too much further.

One particularly optimistic fan rang me at three quarter time to declare we were a certainty. I wasn't conceding defeat yet, but rated us no better than a 50% chance based solely on the second Collingwood game last season where everyone looked like they were about to suffer a sudden outbreak of death before we romped home. Maybe if we hadn't wasted Watts' goal by conceding the last of the quarter less than a minute later I'd have been more convinced of our chances.

We got enough of the ball, and went forward enough in the last quarter to have our chances but just lacked poise and the legs to run them into the ground. Once we knew we were going to lose at least a few different options were floated, including Petracca in the middle and one centre bounce where Dean Kent plowed through the middle and collected a loose ball like a ferret let loose from a chaff bag. It wasn't translating to scores though, while down the other end they had too many options for us to contain. As much as I'm still a Lynden Dunn man I'm comfortable with keeping Frost and McDonald, O down there for educational purposes but don't expect much against sides with multiple key forward options. Even though Jenkins was playing like shite his presence was enough to spook us.

Our chances slowly ebbed away, as the Crows took the 'good side' prerogative to gently ease away as we buried ourselves into a string of wasted half chances and panic handballs. It's a shame the last goal came from Matt Jones attempting a running bounce which flung off on an angle and was sent straight back over his head for a goal. He was far from our worst, and unless they finally give in and play Grimes instead of naming him in the squad every week then leaving him at home Jones should get more opportunities to try and win a surprise contact extension. You don't want him playing 20 games next year but he's found a spot that he's done reasonably well at this year when not injured so you can't turn down a backup who instantly knows what he's doing.

The game was long gone but we got a chance at a consolation goal when a Crows player was done for one of the worst deliberately rushed behinds ever. Worst in that no player has rushed a behind under less pressure since the night of Neale Daniher's last game when Nathan Brown turned around and belted one through from 30 metres out to get us out of a tight spot. As it flew across the face of goal with 18 Melbourne players standing in one spot thinking "fuck this, I've had enough" he leapt like a volleyball player and spiked it through the behind posts. Thank god I wasn't watching on TV, because there would have been immense violence when the commentators decided that it was an OUTRAGEOUS decision because he "was under enough pressure".

Let's go inside the AFL's new video review bunker to have a look at just how much pressure he was under...

... so that's Hogan on the far left. He got the free kick for being the nearest man. That's how much pressure he was under. Bet they wouldn't have paid it in a close game though. Meanwhile, it's not just because Hogan stuck the kick into the post, but I don't understand why the spot you kick it from is determined by where it was rushed through. The act of deliberately rushing the ball is the same, so what does it matter which side of the post it was on? Not to say they all need to be taken from the square but, at the risk of coming off even more like a deranged talkback lunatic why not just plonk the person 30m out directly in front and let us enjoy the fun of players missing sitters?

Nobody likes playing the exact same game multiple times in the same season than us (quite literally when we scored 50 three weeks in a row last year), and this the dry version of the Hawthorn game. We'd battled back from an ordinary first quarter with a blistering second quarter of magical bombardment, couldn't go on with it in the third quarter but were still in touch at the last change before our attack packed up and we limped to what could arguably be called a respectable defeat against a far superior team.

We only played one quarter, but as ugly as my mood was before the game by the end of it I just wanted them to move immediately to Darwin and get on with the next one. Every week from here is an investment in our glorious future.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Watts
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Jayden Hunt
2 - Jeff Garlett
1 - Neville Jetta

Apologies to Hogan, Stretch, Tyson, Viney, Petracca and to Tom McDonald for the marks only.

Now this starts to get interesting - the four time winner opens a lead of almost a full BOG on Maximum, more than one on Viney and more than two on Watts. There's 40 votes at most left for the year so it's still quite literally anyone's game, but the dreaded line will begin to appear next week if Jones scores 4 or 5. In the minors Jetta keeps rolling in the race for the Seecamp but Hunt and Stretch loom, while The Hamburglar narrowly holds his lead in the Hilton but the ABC's Antony Green is now projecting Petracca will beat him for it.

32 - Nathan Jones
28 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
25 - Jack Viney
21 - Jack Watts
19 - Bernie Vince
11 - 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

Inspiration free all-round, with a giant Pie ad on the back of Adelaide's. A squeaker for the Dees in one of those late season games that good sides do just enough to win in. 18-1-0 for the season. 

Speaking of cheersquads, were there more Adelaide related flags per capita behind the goal than at any time other than an Olympic opening ceremony?

Crowd Watch
What a surprise that I'd be held up at the gate by somebody who didn't know how to scan their ticket. Am I in some sort of Truman Show style reality show where the producers are deliberately setting out to irritate me on every visit to the MCG? This time the humanoid got the scan right then stood there gawking at the screen while it showed the not even remotely ambiguous command 'GO'.

There were a surprising number of people there in the end, given that during the salute to the United Nations 20 minutes before the game the place looked empty. Indeed it was our second largest non-finals crowd against the Crows in Melbourne ever - which has probably got something to do with handing out more free tickets than GWS to anyone who could produce an international passport. No harm done, if you got people who weren't going to show up anyway at least there's the off-chance one of them might have walked in for the second quarter, been called away before the start of the third and want to come back for more.

The increased numbers meant having to sit with people in front of me, at least to start with, and what a curious group they were. An Adelaide fan suggested he was from South Australia but that "Richmond are my Melbourne team" (you dickhead), only for the other guy to say that he was from Brisbane but when in Victoria he's a big Hawks man (you successful dickhead). I understand the idea of going to games when you're living in another city but once you're getting into admitting supporting multiple teams you've lost all credibility.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
A warm welcome back to Jeff Garlett and his non-stop cavalcade of novelty goals, and for the one he kicked in the first quarter after taking advantage of the Crows player juggling the mark to slap it forward a few times then kick it from a near 90 degree angle. It was just the sort of shot that you could see him stuffing up after doing all the hard work.

He wins the weekly prize of unneeded extra leg room in exit row seat on the flight to Darwin, but only if he's willing to help in the unlikely event of an emergency (NB: only applies on the plane, not when the game starts). He also keeps the clubhouse lead for his goal against Richmond.

Stat My Bitch Up
Here's a ladder where we're in the eight. Terrifying viewing for the 'other' sides. And people still talk about expanding the finals...
Next Week
I had the feeling that if we won this we were going to stuff it up against the Dockers in Darwin. Now that we've lost I still feel like we'll stuff it up against the Dockers in Darwin. They've had a little run of three win straight wins (imagine three straight wins. Are we the only side not to do that since 2010?) before suffering listless defeat in their last start before the bye. Here's hoping that now there's next to no chance of finishing in the bottom two they'll send a side made up entirely of kids and veterans held together with sticky tape and give us a decent chance at winning. We should beat them anyway, but you never know which version of Melbourne is going to show up so don't bet your house on it.

If it wasn't for the Roos press conference comments suggesting that he was going to pick the "best and fittest" side I'd say it would be time for Gawn to have a rest. Either that has to happen eventually or there will be a week where The Spencil makes a triumphant return so Maximum can hang around in the forward line all day instead.

IN: Brayshaw, Hulett
OUT: Bugg, Dawes (omit)
LUCKY: O. McDonald and Frost (both are terrifying at the moment, but with the season only alive in a mathematical equation that can be interpreted by a NASA supercomputer we may as well persist with them for the sake of experience)
UNLUCKY: Dunn (would prefer him to Oscar but see above), Grimes (they can't even tease picking him for a Saturday game), Oliver, The Spencil, Trengove

Next Year
It's about time to make some outrageous calls on the futures of players. The assumptions made are that we finish now lower than 13th and don't bring in a first round pick via a trade. Therefore that nominally leaves us pick 23, 41, 59, 77 and 95 before the inevitable trading shenanigans.

This might be conservative on the delistings, only knocking out the bare minimum three senior list players and taking the huge assumption that Garland will pull the pin rather than ebb away at Casey for the next two years.

Re-signed: M. Jones, Kent, Max King, O. McDonald, T. McDonald, Pedersen, Trengove, Vince, Wagner, Watts
Delisted: Dawes, Grimes, Michie, Terlich, White
Retired: Garland

NB: The status of Frost, Newton and Tyson is unknown. I would say Newton would be the only potentially in trouble, but personally I like the boy.

Ruthless Capitalism Corner
Progress on the book continues, more than ready to go to press in early October for delivery to your doorstep by the end of November.

I'm thrilled to announce that due to a deal for a limited print-run struck with the good people at AFL Photos I have been able to secure the rights to use the picture on the left on the cover at a reasonable price.

With a combination of having to pay for that and the fact that the AUD is up and down like one of our third quarters I'm still going to put the price up $5 per copy but have decided to leave it for one more week to celebrate this coup. Pre-order by midnight Friday to a) help pay for the classic cover shot (just look at the kid, he knows what's going on), b) save yourself money and c) enjoy the most NQR, TLDR, Farceshambles book in Australian Rules history.

Was it worth it?
The second quarter shook me out of my torpor, so I suppose on the basis of that 30 minutes alone yes. If I hadn't gone I'd just have been miserable about it anyway.

Final thoughts
I remain convinced we're on the right track. There are tiny things holding us back, not to mention playing with the youngest side in the competition, and when those are sorted out then for god's sake let's have at these top eight sides with a vicious intensity.


  1. Is Hunt eligible for the Hilton, Supes?

    1. Yes indeed, but I see Petracca pulling away rapidly in the next few weeks.

  2. Why would Garland retire at 28?


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