Monday, 18 July 2016

The sadness will last forever

Happy birthday! The combined age of the great losing streaks of the #fistedforever era is now 32 (Football Park x12, St Kilda x10, North Melbourne x10). And the good news is you can celebrate twice more before the end of the year. We blow out the candles to celebrate 12 nihilistic years at Subiaco this week, then in Round 20 it's time to jump on a bouncy castle in the backyard for 10 years of futility against Hawthorn. What's the point of the David King driven digital malarkey in the Fox Sports Lab if they're not going to scientifically demonstrate that no team has been remotely as mental over a decade since Tom Wills first put to paper and suggested inventing a new sport.

So, another decade long quest to beat somebody ends in disgrace. Who honestly didn't see that coming? Only the mentalists who set betting markets and sent us out as red-hot favourites. There must be Demons all over the country who used their insider trading knowledge of our reputation as the masters of disaster to secure spots for their kids at the poshest schools in the land. If you studied raw numbers you might have come to the conclusion that we'd win, if you'd watched Melbourne play at Etihad Stadium in the last 10 years - or at all in the last few seasons - it would have been blindingly obvious what was coming next.

It may come as a surprise to you that we've won 52 home and away matches since 2007 (if you value your stability it's best not to sit down and tally up the L column), and in this time just 14 of them have been as part of at least two in a row. So, that's 38 times where we've lost straight after a win. I have no time in my life to compare this to another club, mainly because you'd have excellent luck finding one with the same record as us now that we've started to pull away from Fitzroy 1987 - 1996, but I'll bet Jesse Hogan's dicky back that any other club operating at 5.2 wins a season would still find time to give their supporters a minimum fortnight of joy here or there without relying on the bye.

I finally following somebody through a turnstile at an AFL venue who could operate a barcode reader was a good omen. They even managed to get in without turning the ticket over three times or trying to walk through while the gate was still locked. I've never been a believer in omens, superstition or fate but following Melbourne has started to alter the way I think to the point where by 2019 I'll be going to games wearing onions around my neck and wielding an oversized religious relic.

When you're winning the losers look miserable, and for the second time this year we kicked away to an early lead against the Saints. The difference was that last time we made them look absolutely second rate for five minutes before plummeting down the plughole, this time our opening two goals punished rampantly inefficient kicking for goal. I wasn't turning them back.

If they'd been nice enough to keep punting the ball aimlessly into Hunt's hands all day that would have been fantastic. The first goal started with him taking an uncontested mark dead centre of the ground just inside the defensive 50 and flinging off like a brutally tormented, Alice band wearing, greyhound. If they'd done that all day we'd have won by an outrageous amount, but for all those who lament coaches never having a Plan B you just had to watch the way they didn't give him 10 metres of clear field to run through across the last three quarters. Maybe that was their Plan A and we just got lucky the first time? Either way they've watched the Criterion Collection of great Jayden Hunt runs and made sure he wasn't going to pull the same thing off against them.

The second goal also came as a result of the Saints going nowhere near an opponent, Matt Jones is best described as a role player but even he couldn't fail to find a target when given so much time to wheel around in the midfield, look up and kick to Petracca's lead. Knowing our luck only one of them will be there in five years and it won't be the guy wearing #5. I haven't felt this way about a draftee for years. Maybe since Brad Green in 2000. Even Hogan didn't give me the same kind of thrills whenever he went near the ball in his first season, and he was kicking goals at what counted for us as an astronomic rate. Every time Petracca goes near the ball I have heart palpitations from excessive glee - and whenever somebody else goes near the ball in his immediate presence and risks being captured in one of those mean spirited, evil tackles. The only reason he didn't have more than one yesterday was the quarter and a half where we couldn't get near an opponent. Nothing at all to do with him, because in my eyes he is perfect.

At this point everyone was tiptoeing through the tulips, and even if even professional punters everywhere were plunging their entire fortune on us to lose it was a positive start. Other than Jetta giving away the first goal with a wild handball our overuse of the idea was working, free players roamed everywhere and crucially we weren't running through a variety of ways to commit kooky turnovers. Even better the Saints kept being denied what shouldn't be paid as marks but are every other week. At least they were taking the marks, after the first quarter it felt like every player on their team was flying over two of our players to grab one. Hogan and Gawn tried to get to contests but usually they were stuck out the back thanks to poor delivery or the Saints boobytrapping their path to the ball with eight players - and more power to them for being smart about rumbling our key aerial threats.

It was a welcome return for Angus Brayshaw, who avoided suffering another concussion courtesy of some sort of novelty injury to his face like being hit by a panicking bird trapped under the roof. He picked up the pace of the game like his season hasn't been destroyed by injury ever since that fateful tackle three seconds into the first pre-season game. His disposal was rusty but he was in everything - a similar combination to Jack Viney in his first two seasons, which is a reasonable career path to be following.

For all the good times it was not a great day for Nathan Jones. If we had a Man of the Decade award (P.S - we should) he'd win, but there was one handball in the first quarter that was of such hospital-like quality that somebody should have held a telethon for it. Didn't matter, when Watts first took a gift in the square then gave one off to vandenBerg (but why is he always forward?) we were four goals to one up and flying.

They were still allowing us to play on at every opportunity, and there was nothing better constructed than the last one to Hogan. He treated some random like Zac Dawson to finish it off, but its genesis was with the red hot first quarter duo of Watts and Kent. Neither of them carried it on for four quarters, but this was so delightful it was worth at least one quarter of inactivity. Watts marked, and with the verbally abusive Western Australian charging past him along the boundary line he shot off one of our rare handballs that didn't require several follow-ups to gain two metres, Kent sprinted past the desperate grasp of an opponent, took a bounce and for probably the only time all day left Hogan able to play to his strength of shoving bastards out of the way then doing his hair after he'd taken the grab.

What a lovely quarter it was, but I still sat there thinking "well, we're not going to kick 24 are we?" St Kilda might have got three goals amongst our six, but on the whole they had to work for them. They might have missed a metric shitload of chances during the day but unlike last time we didn't gift wrap them goals galore by leaving multiple players standing on their own inside 50. Except at the start of the third quarter where we went a long way to losing the game by doing exactly that.

There had to be a lull somewhere, and for us it was called the second quarter. This year was starting to prove wrong that old adage that you can't trust us when we have a good first quarter. We started the year with five goals against GWS then kicked one in the next two quarters, but since then we've gone 6-5 against Collingwood and 5-6 against Richmond in consecutive weeks then 5-5 and 6-3 vs Brisbane and Freo. At least you knew where you stood when we were five goals down at the first break.

Statistically there's nothing to prove the original theory correct, but your heart is still in your mouth whenever we do well early in a game. Even if it doesn't eventually happen you're expecting to leave with a nasty taste in your mouth. This time it was back to following a relative shitload of goals with nil. I don't know why the Vice President was wasting his time at Carlton vs West Coast, our team has a lot in common with his hair - everyone wants to believe it's real, but we all know it's fake.

Allowing the other team to get the ball is always where it goes wrong for us, and as they weren't all that keen in giving it back our lot just hand to stand there providing navigational waypoints which led St Kilda players to goal. The first sign things were about to go arse over was that we didn't kick a goal for the first eight minutes. Neither did they, but after the free-wheeling run of the first quarter everything now looked like horribly difficult slog. They'd worked us out, and now that the clamps were on we had nothing to do except panic handball eight times because there was nobody to kick to. We didn't have the calm players to steer us through the danger, and let's be frank we're not going anywhere with a backline featuring White, M. Jones and Grimes. The other half of Grimgove got a shitload of touches against a very bad team last week, but I fear he will prove too comprehensively Melbourned to rescue for anything more than an experienced depth player now. What a cruel and stupid sport this is.

The goal that started the rot came in ridiculous circumstances, with Brayshaw tackled for what should have been one of the most obvious holding the ball decisions in history only to get away with it when after being dragged to the ground and half rolled over he managed to connect ball to foot. Ironically in getting away with it we immediately conceded a goal, so it would have been better if he'd been nicked to start with. Footy fans are so stupid that even after St Kilda kicked what they might not have had they been forced to start with the ball in the middle of the ground people were still howling their little hearts out about how badly they'd been done over. At that point I just wanted to win to spite them. Any win is a good win, but days when you know you've gotten away with murder and can enjoy the other lot losing their mind over injustice is at another level. The eveners would come later.

That goal was it for us for the next 40 minutes of game time. After initially struggling to take advantage of their major pressure advantage they piled on another two in the next five minutes as we (on and off-field) became more frazzled. I know the Saints have been mucus in several games this year but I really liked the way they played. Maybe we just make it easy for them. The bit I liked was the subtle shepherds they'd create just by the way they ran. I'd rather attend my own funeral than watch a replay of the last three quarters, but there were dozens of times where one player would sprint between the gap of the ball-carrier and our usually hapless defender with the perfect timing that he didn't have to do anything but carry on up-field and it would give his teammate enough time to get rid of it.

It was lucky the Saints started playing properly, or the piped in crowd noise that tried to simulate the atmosphere would have sounded even faker. Before the first bounce they'd tried to encourage everyone into a Port Adelaide style singalong by playing the most laconic version of their theme song that's ever been recorded. Any club who tries to pull this sort of shit off needs to understand that Victorians aren't singing along to anything unless their side wins. They ended up doing that as well, by which time I was pushing through people standing on the stairs trying to clap along with no thought to decorum or contributing to a better society.

The joy the found in missing easy opportunities kept us alive, and when Petracca lined up what should have been a simple shot we could have ridden out the light scare to be back in front with a couple of minutes left. He unnecessarily ran back further than Jesse Hogan to kick from 25 metres out and hit the post. They went the other way where Jarryn Geary (previous career goal tally - 21 in 135 games) kicked a goal. That wouldn't have been so bad if we'd been able to ride out the last minute without conceding another one, which worked until about 10 seconds left when a boundary throw-in was tapped into the open, and Geary turned up for the most bizarre and twisted quickfire double since Tom McDonald vs North Melbourne in Round 23, 2014. That's where seats would have been kicked if I wasn't busy curling my toes up and seething.

Now we certainly weren't going to score 24 goals. I'd have been happy to get 10. Remember the early days of the season where everyone thought footy was awesome because of the new deliberate rule (just before they got back to hanging shit on it at every opportunity) and we were a high scoring juggernaut? I've lost faith in that idea now. At least for this season, there's a lot to like for the future. We're much better off than we used to be, but in the immortal words of Dwayne Russell "if you're just joining us" it's almost impossible not to be more interesting than we under Neeld, Craig and Roos season one.

After a goalless quarter and that double blow at the end there must have been an in-depth strategy discussion at half time about how we could hit reset and return to 18 players running loose and doing whatever they wanted. Unfortunately when we pulled the lever on the time machine it took us back to Round 6, and our nightmare memories of the Saints piling forward in their dozens while our defenders puffed their lungs out trying to chase them. Either that or somebody make the conscious decision to let every bastard run free inside 50, as if this hadn't undone us like an Allen key the first time around.

Only St Kilda's willingness to give the ratings for the 6pm Channel 7 news a hand by keeping us alive left the door ajar long enough for the bizarre comeback at the end of the third. They spent 15 minutes teeing off on us across all parts of the ground but kept missing chances. Even Maximum was struggling to properly dominate the centre bounces, probably because one of the umpires was so bad at bouncing the ball that he was having to reach down to get it at its highest point. Then Garlett showed up for the first time since the opening goal, and Gawn took one of those massive forward marks that make me pine for Spencer to give him more time forward. So that was a turn for the better, followed by Jack Viney doing one of the most Jack Viney things ever by running back into a pack to mark with no concern for his physical well-being. He was much too far out for it to be realistic, but hoisted a long range mortar as if directly imported from the international armaments black market to cut the margin to 11.

We'd been almost five goals down when they'd missed a third chance in a row midway through the quarter, now I wanted to punish them for not putting us away when they had the chance. We might have had it back under a goal if Hogan's last shot hadn't been allegedly touched on the line, just when we could have done with a video umpiring howler going our way. Still, we were back in it and that looked highly unlikely a few minutes earlier.

McDonald played an excellent game, taking the sort of intercept marks that WILL make you miss him if he dicks us - a prospect that grows stronger every week - and at one point delivered an all-time 40 metre great kick out of defence which fell exactly where he wanted it. Like that guy who landed the ball in the tyres at the GWS game and won a motza it was perfect. But if one time Kingsley nominee Tim Membrey hadn't hit the post with an absolute sitter at the end of the quarter I might have joined the internet's popular anti-Sizzle campaign. A Melbourne player not knowing how much time is left in a quarter at Etihad Stadium is old hat, but when he tried to unnecessarily dance around Riewoldt (?) with 20 seconds left instead of just belting is as far away from goal as possible I was ready to go into an emotional meltdown.

He got away with it courtesy of Membrey spurning his chance to join Beau Wilkes and Brad Dick as two time Klub inductees, and we stayed alive into three quarter time. More importantly we stayed alive in the race to nudge ahead of North Melbourne for eighth, as they wobble to the finish like Todd Rixon on Pot Luck.

A fortnight ago I was refusing to countenance such ridiculous ideas, but one win over an anchorless Freo and North continuing to turn a 9-0 start into garbage the idea that we had something to play for was enough to talk me through the door at Docklands. Who am I kidding, I'd have been there anyway.

They were a better side around the ground, and fully deserved to win by the final margin. It didn't mean we couldn't have pulled off a major smash and grab, once we got within a goal it was on. All my complaints that we lacked that one extra forward marking option to take the heat off Hogan were still valid, but we were back in a position to pinch it via the highwayiest of highway robberies. More likely I expected us to get in front and hold on until the last five seconds, but we didn't even get the chance.

Like the bookies, radio commentators were roped in by the Dees hook, line and sinker. I usually wouldn't force somebody to listen to 3AW for any reason unless they were being interrogated and waterboarding was out of the question, but the only other option was an FM call featuring Brian Taylor screeching like an escapee from an insane asylum while the other guy kept reminding us that we hadn't won at Docklands since 2006 (!) when we beat St Kilda in an Elimination Final (!!). That was the sort of fact checking that led me to battle with reception which sounded like it was coming through a kid's walkie talkie from the Galapagos Islands - and to an entire commentary box deciding that we would storm over the top in the last 20 minutes.

I struggle to buy the post-Darwin fatigue theory, but if one person had mentioned it as a counter-point to the unanimous love-in it would have proven they'd done their research. It would have also calmed me, because nothing makes me more nervous than people thinking we're going to win. It's one thing to have some ruthless bookmakers working a vast conspiracy to have us favourites pre-match, but we'd just come back from five goals down and were still behind. The expectation weighed so heavily me on I started to get the same sensation as when I go in tall buildings, one that makes me want to get as close to the floor as possible. If you are in a position of media power could you please always suggest we're going to lose no matter what for the sake of my well-being?

Against the overwhelming physical sensation to get off the edge of my seat and watch the rest of the game on concrete I stayed upright. As we immediately went forward from the bounce and the whistle went with Hogan at the front of a tussle I looked up at the roof (which is really close to your face when you sit in the back row), closed my eyes and silently brought both fists up to my shoulders in a gesture of triumph. It was the exact same spot he'd missed his eighth from when we played them earlier in the year, but his run-up was better now and... oh it was paid against him. Oh and he was reported. I was too far away and so close to having a stroke out of excitement, panic and/or desperation that I missed the bit where he responded to being mounted like a camel by elbowing the St Kilda player in the face. He's been threatening to burst from frustration all year, the only surprise was that it took this long and wasn't directed towards a teammate.

Of course he was frustrated, he plays for us. Also after looting them for 12 goals in two starts under the roof he only had one, so no wonder after being already narrowly denied a goal he finally snapped The good news was that there was just enough plausible deniability about whether it was an unfortunate attempt to shrug an opponent off or if he was trying to cave his head in that he got away with a fine. Watch us all treat him escaping suspension as a great thing, then next Sunday morning he'll be appearing at a press conference alongside with Cameron McCarthy announcing he's been convinced to stay in Perth until we agree to trade him. He'll know Freo love him when he lifts the duvet at the hotel and find a mysterious purple bag containing $1000 in unmarked bills.

That was the end of us. By the time Kennedy cropped up for one of his rare appearances all day they'd kicked 3.5. There was still little interest in kicking straight, but our rudderless collection of running defenders were keen to provide as many opportunities as possible. The Saints got two in a row, with the second one coming courtesy of two players wandering through most of our defence without anyone being able to lay a tackle. It was the tired furious air-grabbing of a side who are right on their physical and/or mental limit. It was then that I knew no miracles would be forthcoming and that there would be no Kickstarter to raise the funds to drive this down the highway without a heavy rigid licence in Round 23. Rest In Peace season 2016.

The open invitation for any other defenders who wanted to pad their goalkicking stats was answered by somebody improbably called Dylan Roberton, who turned up from wherever he usually lives to tonk through his 13th goal in 96 games. That left us with 10 minutes of feeling like we'd been robbed, but actually knowing that we'd been beaten by a better prepared and hungrier side. It's impossible to accurately compare an overall tackle count, but the only time we've had less this year were against Essendon, and Port in Alice where it was no wonder considering we spent all day 30 metres away from an opponent watching him trot into an open goal.

We got what we deserved. You can't go around rolling out three point quarters and expect to get anything other than the odd miracle victory. We blew our chance at miracles by losing that infamous game against them two years ago. On the upside we did follow that defeat by unexpectedly winning at Kardinia Park, so maybe there's some hope for us at Subiaco. Nah.

Whoever tweets the highlights of Roos' press conference is so good at verballing him that they should join the police force. It's nice that they try to give something to fans who can't be arsed sitting down and watching the whole thing, but posting one which implied like he thought we lost was because St Kilda had been mentored by Ross Lyon indicated that the coach had swiped his/her parking spot during the week and they were trying to square up. What he was actually arguing was that their top level leaders were operating on another planet to ours because of their experiences in the Roscoe era. You can debate the merits of that, though he was right about a lack of calm senior players, but he wasn't trying to suggest that the reason Tim Membrey opens us up like a tuna can every time was directly the result of a coach who'd done the $cully for a shitload of cash well before he arrived. People just wanted to punch on in despair, and where better to direct your anxiety than the internet?

It's all character building. If you're building the character of Charles Manson.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Bernie Vince
2 - Tom McDonald
1 - Dean Kent

Apologies to Watts, Jetta, Gawn and Brayshaw.

Leaderboard
It's on again. Two weeks after the skipper looked to have Jakovich #5 in his fictional trophy cabinet the master's apprentice is back with a vengeance. With the leader failing to score this week the famous dotted line claims 11 different players via attrition alone, and four more will go next week if they fail to score. In the minors there's no movement in the Seecamp but for the first time all year we have a new leader in the Hilton. I'm not ruling out The Hamburglar coming back for another shot before the end of the season but Petracca looks like running away with it from here. In the Stynes, The Spencil could theoretically come in and win with six straight BOGs.

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


One of the great barnstorming wins of our time, as our side put out a design for Jack Grimes' 100th game that was not only stylishly designed and attractively kerned but also contained a classic Frank Grimes reference to warm the hearts of Simpsons nerds everywhere. Over the other side St Kilda had heeded my advice to stop making see-through banners that ended up obscuring the text on either side, but are still working with a font from 1988 that leaves them in the bottom division of crepe paperists. 20-1-0 for the season. 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Usually I opt for the flashy snaps, the arsey rollers from the boundary line or anything by Jeff Garlett. Today I'm going to go with a set shot for possibly the first time since Salem vs Essendon and choose Jack Viney's furious in the third quarter. In the absence of a Russell Robertson Medal for Mark of the Year this is as much for the brave grab as the goal, but it was still well finished from right on his limit. He receives the week prize of a lesson in serving and/or volleying from his dad, as well as a signed affidavit from Boris Becker stating that he's never even met Todd much less lost a tennis match to him.

Garlett retains the overall lead, and given that we won't kick any goals at all next week he's set to stay in front into the last five weeks of the season.

Next Week
Now that our season is no more than a statistical oddity (I did the ladder predictor and if we win every remaining game by a point and nobody else plays at all we'll finish second - so that's something) we can start wheeling in players based on potential rather than performance. Maybe we should leave it for a week to try and restrict the damage in Perth as much as possible?

They're going to pulverise us aren't they? The Eagles aren't much chop away from home, but stung by everyone writing them off as a premiership contender they're going to take out their frustrations by downhill skiing over us like Alberto Tomba on the slopes of Lillehammer.

In retrospect I didn't ask for enough changes last week, so this time I'm going right over the top and swinging the axe. The following selections make no sense in terms of team balance but at this stage of the season I've totally lost it and will pick practically anyone to do anything. I've picked three talls on a big ground and I don't care.

IN: Frost, Hulett, Neal-Bullen, Spencer, Stretch
OUT: Kennedy, M. Jones, Grimes, White, Harmes (omit)
LUCKY: Garlett, vandenBerg (get him back in the midfield thanks)
UNLUCKY: Anyone on our list who hasn't been given a token game yet. The time has to be coming for Terlich to get the Troy Davis style fish out of water game as a forward before being delisted.

It took me so long to write this that Hogan had already gotten away with a fine for his bionic elbow, but let the record show that if he'd been wiped out I'd have saved either Harmes or Kennedy.

Also, a reminder that anyone who debuts next week loses eligibility for the 2017 Hilton. Hulett, Weideman etc.. might want to take that into account when choosing how hard they go at training this week.

P.S - After correctly failing to rule out a rest for Stretch last week I'm not putting similar past Petracca this time.

Was it worth it?
If not for the football then certainly for the pre-match features, including "interview with senior coach" (so they don't have to change the graphic if Al goes the way of Scott Watters), driving with Patrick McCartin (though thankfully considering his run of head injuries he was in the passenger seat) and a feature on Josh Bruce's dog.

We also had a ground announcer who welcomed "everyone around Australia", when there were less people in the stadium than the population of Blowhard. This was followed by describing the Etihad Stadium roof as "world famous" before audibly yawning during an announcement.

As much as it pains me to say I don't really mind Etihad Stadium now, except what goes on in the middle of it. The security guard even kindly declined my offer to be metal detected and waved me through in the interests of not having to do any work. But the process of exiting towards Southern Cross remains genuinely uncomfortable. In light of what we'll gently describe as 'security issues' in various western countries the idea of being in a tightly packed, slowly shuffling 500 metre long scrum where one outbreak of consternation will cause a stampede does not appeal. If whether or not to close the roof can become a divisive community issue how can nobody who matters see the potential for drama here?

Of course you get the same packing in to Richmond Station so there's risk everywhere, but if they're going to flog every available inch of real estate around the ground somebody needs to invest in alternative entrances to Southern Cross. What about a bridge running diagonally from the rail yards side to connect with the main bridge? Who am I to give urban planning advice, I'm trying to pick The Spencil.

Final thoughts
Don't give it away and move to a Russian Orthodox monastery at the foothills of the Ural Mountains yet. We're not going to get much further than last year on the win/loss tally but I assure you the platform is being built for something that will at its very worst give us some moderately special thrills. We might have to push waist deep through sewage for the next few weeks, and I'm not convinced we automatically become a finals team next year, but like one of those NASA probes that takes 10 years to land on Mars when we get there it will be amazing.

2 comments:

  1. Hawthorns first ten years had 3 fortnights of wins and the last three rounds of 1935 saw three wins in a row. So if trends can be applied across clubs the Dees should come good in about 50 years time?

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    Replies
    1. That is certainly something to look forward to.

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