Monday, 22 May 2017

Stranglewank Sunday

First there was death, then came taxes, and now life's third great inevitability is that North will beat us at every opportunity until the end of time. At least if we had to suffer a 16th consecutive loss dating back to when we were good, we got the steak knives of two thwarted comebacks and one of the most incoherent umpiring displays ever caught on tape.

There can't be anyone with a lower 'heart-attack inducing tension to disinterest in blaming the umpires' ratio than me, but this was an afternoon that had it all. While I'm prepared to concede that we carried half a dozen passengers and flubbed a golden chance to win, has there ever been a finer moment of umpiring insanity than Michael Hibberd being pinged for 'deliberate' in the middle of a frantic last quarter when his handball deflected straight off the hand of an opposition player? Perhaps whatever Salem was pinged for on the Olympic Stand wing in the last quarter, or Bugg being picked up and thrown to the ground after a mark for no reward, or Vince being punched in the guts right in front of an umpire, or (insert your favourites here).

It seems like more disaster tourist opposition fans read this than locals, so there is undoubtedly a triumphant North fan screaming in disgust that they got turned over on a couple of dodgy decisions. For the benefit of that person I hope somebody with even more spare time than me sits through the replay and creates a compilation of all the remarkable howlers and squibbed decisions. In the week where the first female umpire was appointed (providing a huge boost to people in the crowd who think they're funny, and commentators who patronisingly name female goal umpires but have no idea who any of the men are), maybe it was part of a gigantic conspiracy to make it clear that gender isn't important when it comes to standing where your vision is most impeded and making uneducated guesses.

One day we'll absorb four quarters of battery from the Wheel of Umpiring and deliver the sort of triumphant, backs to the wall win that leaves people hanging over the race yelling "TAKE THAT OFF US YOU BASTARDS!" as the umpires leave. This could have been that day, having given them one near five goal start and one near four goal start we were back to two points behind midway through the last quarter. Perhaps if we'd taken the lead we'd have merrily stomped away with it, but without the attacking power to take advantage when we had the momentum the Roos were able to steady a second time and hold on to win. The only consolation I took out of it was not having to watch in person as they beat us by a point for the fourth time since 1999.

The insanity of a dozen different decisions aside, it's wonderful that Goodwin seemingly has the nous to rescue a terrible start, but how about we stop getting ourselves into these cavernous holes in the first place? There's no suggestion or evidence that our senior coach is a deviant, but whoever's setting up these ridiculous near-death comebacks to get their rocks off is reaching levels of depravity not seen since the mid-90s when my mum discovered a naked man humping the bejesus out of the roof of her car.

Since Round 11 2014 that is now 12 times we have gone at least four goals down in a game, then dragged the margin back to under six points. That figure is not even counting days like Round 20 2015 when we won the third quarter against Footscray 33-2 and still lost by 98. It's still a low percentage of games played, but Ted Bundy didn't kill someone every day either. If you avoid the temptation to move the goalposts and nudge in games like St Kilda where we fell a point short of the strictest interpretation of the stranglewank, the only time we've won from that position until last week was Round 13, 2004 against Essendon. Ergo going four goals behind in a game is not a scenario that's going to lead to a wealth of success. It's now the third time it's happened against North, replacing one point wins as their key method of humiliating us.

My horror is not confined to the umpiring, or unnecessarily leaving ourselves with a mountain to climb yet again, or even just losing to North for the 11th consecutive year. It's that not even slightly deep down I knew there was a tremendous let-down coming after the great win in Adelaide. Now that we're mid-table mediocrities it's just what we do. Which is a step up from the past, but that's not much consolation now. We've become so famous for folding as favourites against incompetent hacks that Hillary Clinton should be invited to become #1 ticketholder.

As much as it feels like it, I refuse to believe that players consciously return from a win like that and go into the next game with their guard down. Like a fan of old time religion I can only go on by comforting myself with the belief that there are supernatural forces at play. For instance, when I saw a teaser for a major feature on Christian Petracca in the Sunday papers I knew he'd barely get a kick. What I couldn't predict was that it would come courtesy of a blanket job from some previously unknown player with a none-more-Melbourne name like Thurston Shitbag the Third.

We are developing a good side - if they can restrict themselves to minor injuries in the future - but it's still staggeringly star free. There's a few on the horizon, but for now too much is left to too few. Petracca was one of many who fell to earth after the highs of Adelaide, but at least in his case it wasn't due to being punched in the guts.

To their credit North weren't standing for any of the shit that got us going in the middle quarters last week, but we did plenty of damage to ourselves at the same time. For all his wizardry at masterminding three comebacks in three weeks Goodwin was off his chop starting Sizzle in the forward line at the first bounce. I can see where he was coming from in wanting another tall down there, and it worked a treat as a surprise move last week but doing it again was like Japan coming back for another shot at Pearl Harbour the next day. He bobbed around like a fish out of water for the first quarter while the rest of the defence were being flayed at the other end, and it was only when they stuck him back where he's supposed to be that we started playing properly.

For the first five minutes we barely looked likely to kick a goal, but fortunately neither did they. It was an opening of such a rock-bottom standard that I was hoping a banner reading 'GENERALLY TERRIBLE FOOTBALL' would unfurl from the roof of the Olympic Stand and both sides would be sent home with two points. They had a couple of shots, and so did we, but the sloppy kicking and careless handballing deserved nothing more than a few token singles. The shit kicking went both ways, but only we had the outrageous padding of stats via useless over-handballing. Not surprisingly when we found space and started kicking in the second quarter things got infinitely better.

What the Roos had that we didn't was chains of possessions that moved them forward in a positive direction, rarely leaving the guy with the ball pulling up, wondering what to do next and either desperately handballing it to anyone in the vicinity from either side or attempting a suicidal kick into the middle of the ground. We played a starring role in letting them do this, by often having the player who was on the guy next in the handball chain come off his man and towards the ball carrier while somebody else was already pressuring him, leaving the second guy goalside on his own and ready to thump the ball forward.

Other than McDonald Jr, who shed of his brother's support quickly developed a look of terror that Cale Morton would be proud of, our defence held up reasonably well considering how easily the ball was getting down there. Frost, Jetta and Hibberd all had their moments of untidyness, but people who expect defenders to operate at 100% disposal efficiency are weirder than the ones who yell "just kick it" at everything. There were plenty of opportunities for people to shout that while we were being pressured into a circle of handballs, but usually when somebody did accede to the crowd's request they missed the target or landed it straight on the head of a North defender. Handball is not the enemy, trying to play the game entirely within confined spaces is.

How could we be in this situation again just two weeks after the Hawthorn game? The more times you see Plan B working, the more it highlights how wonky Plan A has been. This time North had the Veil of Negativity thrown over us like a blanket, and we reverted to the usual panicked reaction to any sort of pressure. Theoretically we should come home like a freight train late in the season when we run into clubs that have given up and will let us rampage from one end to the other, but look how well that's worked for us at the end of the last two seasons.

You can't use it as an excuse for everything, but it's perfectly valid to say the injuries have killed us - we didn't even need another true forward yesterday, just to have Gawn floating through the forward 50 and unleashing aerial terror on their defenders would have been more than enough. For all the propaganda about the death of the ruckman he'd have come in handy there too. It's true that we turned Goldstein's 60+ hitouts into a win in the clearances, but if you went back and watched each tap I suggest the times he got a free hit to a midfielder had more impact than most of ours. Pedersen was excellent at battling away when he lost the taps, kicked goals and was handy around the ground, but once you remove any possibility of a dainty backhander straight into the arms of a charging midfielder you lose the chance of something magic happening. Last week we got away with it via a mean-spirited, brute force attack on their best midfielder, and did reasonably well in the middle again this time but were second rate by far around the ground - and effectively played without a forward line.

When they kicked their third goal in four minutes to go 21-3 in front I knew I'd seen this film before, and didn't like it any of the other times either. Every time they went forward they looked like scoring, while our best key defender was at the other end trying to make something of desperation bombs inside 50 with help from Weideman who looked about a likely to take a contested mark as me, Watts who was having one of those days where he's forced to be the focal point and doesn't think much of it, and Garlett who hasn't taken a hanger since his first game for us and was nowhere near it at ground level either. Any wonder players when they weren't blindly thumping it down there, players would often stream towards goal then stop and do anything other than kick it inside 50. If only there was an alternative method for forwards to receive the ball from their teammates:

[this is where I would embed a video on how to lead in Australian rules football - but there doesn't appear to be one so use your imagination. Melbourne fans, this may not be easy.]

Pedersen showed why he's got life in him as a forward even when Gawn/Spencer return by kicking the steadier, but like the Hawthorn game all over again it looked like we'd walked right into a trap and they knew everything we were going to do. The crowd were already getting antsy about the umpiring when we copped two more goals in two minutes towards the end of the quarter, and if there's anything that will cause fans to go more troppo than usual about frees it's when their team is playing like they've consumed rat poison.

Nobody was immune from the disease, but while the stat lines of Jones and Tyson are almost identical (right down to disposal efficiency) the impact of the captain was so much more important. I've had enough of Tyson, he racks up possessions galore so he'll be a protected species on Thursday night, but his attacking impact is next to none. Which would be fine if he was doing anything impressive defensively either. He has played a lot of good games, and even qualified for the votes two weeks ago, but if the team as a whole is going to pick and choose when to turn up it's time to drop the bomb and demonstrate that nobody is safe. At this point I would honestly prefer to give Jake Milkshake a go after two BOGs as a midfielder for Casey, and let Tyson battle his way back in via the gravel grounds of the VFL.

The only surprise of the first quarter was that we didn't concede a goal right at the end, but it wasn't without trying. Jarrad Waite - perhaps at a loss because he couldn't find Tom McDonald to headbutt again - missed a chance deep in Demon Time to extend the margin beyond 30 points and all but kill us off. He was about the only North tall not to prosper, and if we had to go down to anyone I'm secretly glad it was a guy with goofy hair wearing an obscure number and not Waite.

Despite that last miss I was already cursing myself for going to the effort of turning up when half the players hadn't. This is where I'll take up arms to defend a guy like Neville Jetta, or even Pedersen no matter what people at the club think of him, because they will run themselves into the ground every week to try and get the job done. God love Watts - and I long ago decided to take the rough with the smooth here - but he just didn't fancy it. To be fair he did have to contend with having a defender riding him so vigorously at every contest that he might get a wildcard to the Melbourne Cup.

My enjoyment of the game wasn't helped by a persistent, suspect rumbling in the stomach that suggested bad tidings were on the way. Like so many other times where I've gone to a game thinking I'm about to become violently ill it turned out to be nothing more than sporting anxiety which disappeared not long after the final siren.

There was certainly no expectation of a blockbuster comeback, after all I've seen plenty more times where we've merrily wandered to our doom than ones where we've shown any sort of fighting spirit, but at least if we got our weekly disastrous quarter out of the way early there was time for our weekly good quarter to cancel it out. When a plane flew over the ground I was hoping the Royal Flying Doctors were going to parachute a psychologist towards our quarter time huddle in the spirit of somebody delivering the cup on Grand Final day. The anxiety runs so deep at this club that the only solution is to isolate the water supply for our part of AAMI Park and pump it full of lithium. If nobody's interested in the old-fashioned methods of players lying on a couch and pouring out their inner thoughts to a clipboard-wielding psychologist then some light bioterrorism might be the only way to get things done.

Whoever's in charge of the matchday entertainment must have hesitated for a second before playing the upbeat power ballad, but given that Hogan's Heroes had just featured a guy landing on his head while trying to take a screamer he probably thought nothing else could go wrong and followed the script. I wish they'd turned the LP over and played the power ballad's B-Side "It's Time To Raise A Yelp".

Surprisingly even without the speakers blaring out sarcastic lyrical encouragement - which from the time I was in the forward pocket of the Pink Lady's right foot I can tell you is impossible to hear from ground level - we did in fact have a tremendous bash in the second quarter. Quite literally in fact, during one of the most entertainingly spiteful 30 minutes of footy you'll see this decade. The widespread violence - which ended with only one suspension, and you can guess which team that player was from - didn't kick off immediately. We were first sparked by a pair of goals from the briefly super impressive Mitch Hannan, who played a golden pair of quarters in the middle of the game. He's done a few nice things this year, but this was the first time he really shook the life out of a game. Just to prove he could do more than one thing he also set up two goals. As did Tyson apparently, but I've made my decision there and I'm standing by it.

By the time Viney kicked the third goal in 10 minutes it was on. Quite literally, the quarter had already turned into a free-for-all where the umpires had not the slightest inclination to step in and wrest control back so everyone just went for it and left the MRP to mop things up. Christian Salem got a week for elbowing some bloke in the head, which was fair enough. Except when you hold it up against Ben Cunnington whacking Bernie Vince with a short one to the gut and only getting a $1000 fine. At least that's an admission it was the wrong thing to do, which must have come as a surprise to the umpire who was looking directly at the punch and let play go on. It was especially irritating that they wouldn't make a call of something that happened right in front of them, when an unsighted umpire clearly received a signal from the guy on the boundary before paying a free during the first quarter.

I bear no ill-will towards Cunnington, not only was it a ripper of a punch but he did it with such a gleeful look on his face that if a Melbourne player had done the same I'd have already put the picture on a t-shirt. Look at him, he's having the time of his life.

This incident highlighted the importance of listening to the radio, at first I thought Vince had taken to the spirit of the Acting Football League and gone down a little freely. Just as I was about to defame him through various mediums it was reported that he was on the bench going the old dry heave. I had to concede that it was unlikely he'd go to those lengths to put it on.

It was a great quarter of aggro, and in a rare moment of understanding what the public want to see nobody else was reported. This was a remarkable stuff up by the MRP when they could have used the quarter to fund the entire next trip to Shanghai - with everyone in business class instead of half the players up the back eating peanuts and dealing with the dickhead in front putting his seat back every five seconds. Good for them, for all the "won't somebody think of the children" mass moral panic it was all good fun where they all shook hands at the end instead of offering to settle it in a pub parking lot a'la Port and Adelaide at the Ramsgate.

This is what modern footy is lacking, intense personal feuds. I can't remember if I've written this in recent weeks or just thought it, but a search for 'demonblog Brent Staker' showing no results from 2017 suggests that the topic of people who should have held bloodlust for their opponents but got over it unnecessarily quickly hasn't be raised. We're trying to keep the game alive by feuding with $cully, but it's not the same if it doesn't happen on field and when the other party is too dignified to respond.

Things were going so well for us in the post-biff era that even when North seemingly killed us off again with two goals in the middle of the quarter we hit back with three in five minutes - including an absolute cannon job on the run from Sam Frost - to get within three points. In the grandest spirit of a Melbourne FC comeback that's where it stopped. With plenty of time left we were all over them but couldn't find another goal to get in front at the half. Still, we'd been given a second life so I was prepared to write off what happened in the first quarter and start again. Then for the first 15 minutes of the third quarter we were handed an even smellier version of what had happened at that end the first time around. Is there a gas leak in our rooms?

Unlike last week where we stormed back to get within touching distance at the break then rode a tactical masterstroke to keep rolling immediately after, this time there was another white flag job that gave North an almost uncontested 3.4 to nothing. It's a testament to how far we've come since Neeld and Early Roos that we made scoring look so impossible and still escaped with 13.12.90.

A Jetta goal - his third of the season, which is as many as he had in total dating back to 2012 - stemmed the bleeding. For about 90 seconds until they got forward and found Brown for his third of the quarter. Just to prove the earlier quarter antics were macho bullshit there wasn't a hint of nastiness here. Maybe that's why we started so badly, everyone was out looking for a punch-up and forgot to play footy. By the time they remembered that it was more important to win on the scoreboard than in the fine totals - or not as the MRP would have it. You have to feel for Bernie Vince, not only was he being punched in the breadbasket for no reward but he'd just paid $1000 for being propelled into an umpire and now it was open slather and do whatever you feel like.

There were two last chances to get something out of the quarter, and both fell to Bugg. He was already discovering what James Harmes now knew, that nobody succeeds as the defensive forward for long before their career flashes before their eyes, and he'd done little except act as agent provocateur during the fights before taking a mark practically right in front. In the ultimate curse/unnecessarily trying to appear knowledgeable I turned to somebody I barely knew and said "he's a reasonably good set shot" (because before this he was) only for him to miss that and three more before the end of the game.

Bugg should have kicked another after the siren, but it wasn't entirely his fault that he missed given that post-mark he'd practically been picked up and bodyslammed after a decent period that confirmed it was no way part of the marking contest. What should have been a 50 right to the line and a much needed freebie after being vigorously violated all day was instead deemed to be perfectly legal. At which point you were within your rights to ask if the North defender be penalised for garrotting him with a length of electrical cord. It left us 22 points behind and needing everything to go right to be a chance. After looking likely to concede every time the ball was quickly sent inside their 50 I didn't like our chances of restricting them to no more than one goal for the quarter AND piling on four or five of our own.

It was City of Casey day, where we furiously played up our commitment to their region while simultaneously doing everything we can to shift focus towards the eastern suburbs, and the lady who was wheeled out to give the crowd a pep talk about how it's great to go to Cranbourne should have been asked to address the huddle, because half of them will be reacquainting themselves with 160 Berwick-Cranbourne Rd, Cranbourne East VIC 3977 if they carry on like this. The only thing saving them from wholesale slaughter is that a) half our list are in traction, b) we mounted another spirited comeback for half a quarter and c) let's be fair they were pretty good last week.

After North missed a chance to finish us off in the first minute we came alive again. There must have been something about that end, because we played like numpties towards the city both times and twice launched comebacks towards Punt Road. A 10 minute period of domination, including two more Bugg behinds, capped off by a clutch goal by Lewis from the boundary reduced the margin to two and the fans were going right off their nut. Everyone around me was jumping in the air for goals and high-fiving each other while I sat there grim faced, knowing too well that history suggested that one way or the other we'd lose.

To ensure that nobody forgot the umpires were there, one of them went for the jackpot by paying this masterpiece of muppetry. Thrill to the vision of Salem's arm sliding moderately towards the shoulder of a player who is rugby tackling him without the ball and being pinged for a high tackle. Put this on replay for a few hours and see if you don't end up realising life is futile, giving all your possessions away and joining the Hare Krishnas.

Still, even with that absolute disgrace we were storming home - and it didn't stop us from kicking the next goal. The only question was whether we'd get in front first before a horrific turnover let them stroll unchallenged into an open goal. It was a timely goal for Lewis, his stats look alright but he didn't do much. He's good in patches, and the leadership when not hitting people cannot be denied, but I will be astonished if he lasts until the end of his three year contract.

The stranglewankist's day was done, we'd got close enough for him to achieve ecstasy so the result didn't matter. For me it was the most disappointing sexual transaction since Herman Rockefeller. The remnants of our forward line must belong to a good union, because after an hour's work they clocked off. Free of any concern about us running over the top North were able to kick two goals to put the game away, and sitting there like a joyless fuck instead of joining in the excitement of the comeback was justified.

Kent partially recovered another horrendous day post-internet frenzy with a goal to reduce the margin to eight, but I had no confidence. They had already all but broken us before that, so another two goals within a couple of minutes was too much to ask for. What a shithouse time for Richmond to steal North's mantle as the league's great choke artists, otherwise I can only assume Weideman would have somehow turned on the performance of his life to kick both and carry us over the line. Then a minute after Kent's goal we let one in at the other end, and even the most fertile imagination couldn't get us back from there. The second last goal had already prompted a flood of Demons to stand up and escape as one, and after this one the last few minutes looked like that GWS game at Docklands where nobody turned up.

They'd already long won before Brown took a mark on the edge of the 50 and found an innovative way of rorting the clock. After the guy who practically leaned on the fence and waited for time to expire last year, North are making an art out of this. Brown already takes long run-ups, and this had him back to the defensive side of the centre circle. Which in a close game is genius, because you get 30 seconds to walk back as far as you can, then you start your run-in and take another 20. If he'd got halfway through the 'run up' then turned around and kicked backwards to a teammate it would have provoked the fans around me into leaping the fence and punching on, but knowing the game was shot I'd have loved it. There's a reason that he's my second favourite non-MFC connected player behind Steven May (yes please).

For the first time in a long time I had a genuine jealousy towards Essendon, who had just poleaxed West Coast over the other side of town. Everyone knows the Eagles are as wobbly in Melbourne as we are outside of it, so you might have expected the Bombers to win - but did you expect them to cartwheel to a comfortable win where the game was over at half time? Have we done that against a team even remotely in contention for the finals since Sydney 2010? The real goal is to win consistently, but along the way could we please create happy memories that involve wrecking teams? On ladder position North probably only ranked alongside Gold Coast or Collingwood last year, so even if we'd won by 10 goals it wouldn't have been an epoch making victory, but I'm dying to unexpectedly destroy somebody. Or in the case of games against North win by any sort of margin from 1 up.

The good news is that it's not all over yet - at least for another couple of weeks - the ladder is packed tighter than the anus of a drug smuggler, to the point where we're two games from the top four and one game from 17th. If we stay afloat long enough to get Gawn and Hogan back (or even Spencer/Tim Smith), and avoid anyone else being carted off in pieces, we can still get somewhere this year. Last year we were a game closer to the eight at this stage, but with competition off its face and everyone from 1st to 17th beating each other there is plenty of scope to stay in the race even if we only win one of the next two. Two would be preferable, none will be the sign to pull the shades down, play any remaining kids on the list and hope for better luck in 2018.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Michael Hibberd
4 - Mitch Hannan
3 - Sam Frost
2 - Cameron Pedersen
1 - Neville Jetta

Apologies to Jones, Salem, Wagner and Oliver who might have snuck in to the last spot.

Not a cracker at the top of the table this week, with none of the top six scoring a vote. Hibberd's BOG gives us a new co-leader in the Seecamp, $15 chance Hannan has knocked NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER out of the Hilton race, and despite one of the all-time great statistical thumpings Pedersen draws level in the Stynes. It should be noted that Watts remains in the running for the Stynes, but will need to double his current average of 5.4 hitouts per game.

20 - Clayton Oliver
13 - Jack Viney
12 - Jack Watts
11 - Michael Hibberd (CO-LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Jayden Hunt (CO-LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Jeff Garlett
8 - Sam Frost
7 - Neville Jetta, Christian Petracca
6 - James Harmes, Nathan Jones
5 - Christian Salem
4 - Mitch Hannan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
3 - Dom Tyson, Bernie Vince
2 – Max Gawn (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Cameron Pedersen (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jordan Lewis, Dean Kent
1 – Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Arise Sam Frost, unlucky not to get a nomination for his snatch 'n grab goal against the Pies last year, he's finally on the honour roll courtesy of a artillery like finish from outside 50. It's not just that he converted from long distance, but the height the ball got off the boot and his Brian Wilson-esque arms aloft celebration. Also helped that it capped off the original comeback.
Despite a week of killjoys and dull humans trying to falsely claim that Oliver hit the post in Adelaide he still leads overall, but for the weekly prize Sam wins an awkward dinner date with his namesake off The Bachelor. Is there any evidence in recorded history of people with the exact same name marrying? Even better, when you've got a name like Sam that can go male or female you could have a boy and a girl both called Sam Jr.

In another blow to this already under the pump segment I arrived too late to see the traditional rotation of banner, and sat on the wrong side to see the messages on the front. Not for the first time this year Twitter has saved the day, revealing ours to have a message that initially reads like something the Lionheart Lisa doll would say before you spot the #1 and realise that it's an inspirational message for Jesse Hogan.

The view of the horrific North effort came courtesy of that bloke who does the Bulldogs banners, risking the ultimate pot/kettle scenario by accusing somebody else of not being able to concisely sell their message. We are thankful that it was captured for posterity, because it must be one of the worst slogans ever committed to crepe paper. Would anyone seriously put their name to this? Even the sort of person to write a 'humorous' slogan about themselves.

Here we are at the mighty MCG. 
Let's go out and kick snags like Har-Vey 

Thank god they separated Har and Vey so we knew how it was supposed to work. It's good to know that even in retirement, and with only the faintest grasp of how to rhyme, Har-Vey still stalks us at every step. Dees 8-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch
As a ruthless individualist it's not often that anyone else gets a mention on here, but regular readers will remember The Optimist from several posts over the years (as opposed to The Mystery Benefactor, who is a totally different character). I went with him to the AFL Members area, which is risky because it practically guarantees you'll have to put up with opposition supporters. He was nice enough to arrange a guest pass for me, which would have come in handy if the lady supervising the entrance had the remotest interest in checking your ticket as you went through. In the end the only benefit was scanning in on my membership and the extra ticket to rort the attendance figure and stay eligible for the Nathan Jones bobblehead doll - which has now been built up to such a level that it cannot possibly meet expectations. The least it can do is save us some money by providing a model for the 'LOYALTY' statue that will be built for him when he retires.

Speaking of membership rewards, I was going to pick up the footy cards at the membership shack (and what a structure it is, screw the tents of old, this thing is bigger than the first place I lived in when I moved out of home) before the game, but the line was stretching out the door and the clock was ticking uncomfortably close to the bounce. Either a lot of people have ticked off three home games and were collecting the cards, or they were all claiming to have lost their card after putting it in the blender after the Hawthorn game.

I don't recall too many times since the Ponsford and Olympic rebuilds that I've sat so low to the ground at the MCG, and I didn't think much of it. There was one lone nutter sitting at the top of the Ponsford, and I kept glancing longingly towards him. For the 2005 Elimination Final I was a couple of rows from the Punt Road end goals, and the night we tried to neck ourselves in the last quarter against the Bulldogs in 2013 I was smuggled into the ground floor reserved seats in the Olympic. Was also in that spot for the Carnival Of Hate, but that was not a day for paying close interest to the play. I can't rule it out entirely, but I don't ever remember watching a Melbourne game from this spot in the Southern Stand. The only memory of being in that spot or near to it was taking advantage of free last quarter entry to go to the end of either this or this Richmond/Adelaide game in the early 90s. What an era of youthful exuberance, now I wouldn't cross the road to watch a game not involving us.

For a game where they were a near certainty of springing an upset, North fans didn't show up in any great numbers. I did see this all-time legend, as first mentioned in these parts during the 2008 pre-season:

He didn't look any different to when he stormed out in disgust on the day Colin Sylvia debuted without having a touch, right down to some weird, stringy dreadlock type hair. His post-match carpark BBQ would have been a much happier - albeit darker - experience this time. I expect he would be a riot to sit around, but around us it was an overwhelming majority to the Dees. Apparently it was the fourth biggest home and away crowd ever against North, no thanks to their fans.

The solitary exception was some mouthy hillbilly behind us who probably had his horse and cart tied to a pillar on Brunton Avenue. As he sparred with our supporters in the first quarter I was looking for my Crowd Watch Bingo card to tick off 'fist fight between spectators', but ironically as the game went feral in the second quarter he disappeared. It was bad news for those of us trying to hit a five figure word count for the first time, and caused me to make an idiot of myself by losing track of who was saying what and accidentally heckling a Melbourne fan for yelling a joke that was so mystifying it's likely to end up on a Carlton banner.

Once he disappeared, best on ground was the lady behind us who tried desperately to stop people from swearing at the height of umpiring and folding like a house of cards anxiety in the third quarter. At least people waited after half time when the kids in front of us were moved before going right off. Even while the players were bashing the suitcase out of each other - some more overtly than others - people were reasonably well behaved, but once the children went it was no holds barred abuse that she had no hope of holding back. Mainly because the punters were too busy spewing world class invective to hear her complaining. The word 'fuck' was very much trending within the MCG yesterday.

Accident and Emergency
In all the excitement of blowing comebacks left, right and centre I forgot to mention Jesse Hogan. Talk about having a shithouse run, nobody should go through what he has within a decade let alone a few weeks. When my mum of all people called me to break the news my mind instantly went to the worse case scenario, and I'm glad somebody told me what the story was instead of seeing the cavalcade of "oh Jesse" and "fuck no, Jesse" context-free posts on Twitter that made it sound like he'd died, but it sounds like the best possible scenario in the circumstances. Apparently they're counting on having him back in a few weeks, and may I say that even if he returns with only one ball that will be more than many players we've fielded over the years.

Matchday Experience Watch
This is an important community service message. When you are at an away game and wearing the colours of another club, you are never going to win anything on the big screen. Middle aged women are especially guilty of this, including the pair of North fanatics standing on the fence who vigorously got into the spirit of Run Like A Demon without realising the subtle hint in its name. They lost their dignity and won nothing, which is a lot like following Melbourne.

Wildcard Wankfest
I'm there for the Melbourne Football Club until the last dog dies, but at last the Australian Football League may have invented a way to maximise my free time by killing off all interest in the remainder of the competition. Very soon - possibly this year considering their record of making things up on the spot - we'll have a Spectacle Week between the end of the home and away and the finals where ordinary teams will play sudden death games for the right to make the 'finals'. It was heartwarming when the Bulldogs won the flag from 7th, this makes me want to get down to Harbour Esplanade and spew across the AFL's foyer.

Change does not necessarily frighten me. When I was a kid people saying things like "this is not the game I grew up with" related to interstate teams. A great Demon fan who has spent almost 50 years watching us lose regularly had the job of driving a tram adorned in West Coast collateral during the 1991 Grand Final Parade. He reports that the crowd were so hostile towards anything in the colours of a non-Victorian side that he was spat at and had shit thrown at him while the crowd vigorously suggested he piss off 'home' as if he'd been imported from Perth just to make one trip across Princes Bridge. I could never understand what everyone was so concerned about, even at 10-years-old I could see that foreigners winning flags was preferable to anyone I knew being happy.

Since then there's been much change - more umpires, the finals expanding to six, then eight teams and various interpretations of how it would work, killing Fitzroy, introducing two real clubs and two plastic franchises. There's also been about 4200 rule changes in the last 15 years, as the AFL continually tinker with the game like a clueless home handyman who eventually blows himself up by digging through cables.
Now the venerable 22 game fixture is nearly dead, and in its place we're either going to get the 666 system where everyone plays once (or laughably, plays once unless you've got a blockbuster rival who you get a second go against) then splits off into groups to do whatever - or an arguably even worse idea, letting 1-6 in on merit then having a Razzle Dazzle Weekend where 7th to 10th go to town for the last two finals spots. A situation that last year would have led to the 15-7 Western Bulldogs putting their season on the line against a 10-12 Port Adelaide - who nudged us out on percentage. That's what we're talking about here, making changes to allow sides who can't even win half the games they play a chance at winning a premiership. Jesus Fucking Christ, Australian Football League how do I hate you, let me count the ways. Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but was the great pre-finals bye just a set-up to establish a week in the calendar for these games?

I'm not the best character witness for why the idea of a wildcard weekend - not to be confused with a Wide World of Sports Wild Winter Weekend - is such a stupid idea. The game itself is still going alright - in spite of constant meddling, not because of it - but after my interest in the competition itself bobbed up and down (like this) over the years, the pressure of following Melbourne eventually became too much and I had no emotion left for anyone else. Now Port Adelaide vs Gold Coast in Outer Mongolia means as much to me as test cricket, it's nice background noise and I'm interested in the end result, but couldn't give a rats how they got there.

Nobody can clearly articulate what splitting teams into three groups of six after 17 rounds is supposed to achieve other than vague promises of 'excitement', but it doesn't offend me nearly as much as the wildcard. Maybe because the teams involved would still have to win their way through across five games instead of rewarding numerous confirmed mid-table mediocrities for being exceedingly ordinary. The alternative is a dead set abortion of an idea, thought up in a boardroom to lure the sort of people who have changed teams during their adult life. Some of you are enthusiastically for it - and god knows after what we've been through I should be clutching at any opportunity to perform a Steven Bradbury style flop into the 'eight' - and I'm sure you're good people, but you're wrong.

Of course they know we'll watch anyway, so they may as well take a punt on selling to the latent market of people ready to burst from behind the bushes and declare an interest in the game if they could just get one more week of excitement. Meanwhile when Brisbane plays Carlton in Round 23 the entire country will still duck out to the shops. They could be playing for draft picks, giving us the unique scenario of 44 players going hell for leather to try and get their teams better players with which to replace them.

The worst thing about any tinkering with the fixture is the suggestion that we have to do it to make things fair. Some stooge journalist on the AFL website said the only way to make it 'fair' would be to have a 17 game season where you play everyone once. Even though some teams will play more home games than away. Which can be corrected the next year, but it still doesn't make each season 'fair'. The current situation is not 'fair', but can anyone deny that more often than not the Grand Final is played between deserving clubs. Besides, who are the nutters trying to impose fairness on a game where people hold their breath as the ball bounces towards goal, not knowing whether it's going to roll straight through for a goal, or take an obscure bounce and end with the kicker being pinged for deliberate?

Supporters of the concept can't decide whether it's for fairness, excitement or both. That's not important, the reasoning will no doubt change every few weeks to suit the narrative. Like when the substitute was either supposed to be to stop teams being disadvantaged through an early injury or to slow players down late in games depending on which way the wind was blowing. What a contradictory organisation, trying as hard as they can to deliver artificial spectacle while also deliberately trying to tire the competitors out. Why don't we invite the Harlem Globetrotters to be an expansion team, relocate somebody to the Great Moscow Circus and play the Grand Final in the whale enclosure at Sea World? If all that and a night Grand Final doesn't attract a million new viewers from the northern states we can go back to the 1900 format that discarded the results after 14 weeks and allowed us to win the flag from sixth.

Even a top eight was suspect when half the league were getting in, one of the few sensible things the league has done since expanding to 18 teams (other than writing us enormous cheques) was to leave the finals alone. Now even a top nine doesn't seem so bad - at least that's keeping it to one extra side and protecting 7th - and that's probably what they're buttering us up for. The place is run by slimy characters who look like politicians, where better to pinch an idea from than Canberra and float the idea of something jaw-droppingly moronic, only to give something slightly better and watch people call it ice cream. May as well just let the whole league in and play a Wizard Cup style September knockout. What would be more exciting than a 3-19 team getting the chance to fluke their way to the Grand Final?

Our fearless leader Gil, who I initially thought was better than Demetriou even though he's never covered up our tanking, says he's surprised at how much support there was from clubs. Well golly gee whizz, I wonder why clubs would do whatever they're told when two are owned by the league, and about five others who'd be forced to hock their box for cash on Grey Street if equalisation payments ended. To be fair, the way this is being reported is like a whole bunch of CEOs are for it (and if the world's greatest bald head is one of them then I'd like to hear from him) when it might simply be a case that he expected nobody to be into it but found a quarter of clubs pulling his chair out and saying "what a good idea sir".

The catch 22 is that while on one hand I want this to fail so spectacularly that the AFL becomes a rolling administrative farce like the A-League, we'd be towards the head of the queue for the electric chair if the arse dropped out of the industry so you have to at least hope things remain at the same level. Which will no doubt be taken as an overwhelming endorsement of wildcards, night grand finals, shorter games, removing draws and any other stupid shit they come up in the endless journey towards making the game 'better' in some undefined way. While we're at it we may as well introduce NRL style mid-season Origin and International games so the best players spend five weeks a season away playing exhibition games.

There's no point saying "we must fight this", because we are plankton and they'll do whatever they like anyway. Until now I was ambivalent about making the finals this year, especially after all the injuries/general misfortune, but now I cannot wait another season. We must make the pure version of the finals one more time before this abortion of an idea is introduced. If we finish seventh next year and lose to 10th I'll punch on.

Next Week
We're going to the NT to get paid, and if we're lucky also keep our head above water in the great mid-table battle royale by beating the Suns. They'll be coming off a Shanghai - Gold Coast - Alice Springs journey, which sounds more like the path of an cocaine shipment than a footy fixture. You would think that even with a week off to recover from their international ordeal that we should win, but you have to assume that we won't. If you're a gambler you'd at least have a bit on them as security against us losing there for the fourth consecutive time.

God only knows how low the crowd will get. Even when Port Adelaide attracted as many tourists as we did the crowd only averaged 5222. Now we've lost all the aura of being the great entertainers from the last three quarters of the Crows game, and the Suns will bring about 30 people (an impressive 10% of their fanbase) so this could challenge 2015's record low of 4866. That's not our concern, on a crowd of 5000 we're being paid $120 a head to appear. Given the competitors and the 4.30 Saturday afternoon timeslot it remains a shocking waste of taxpayer money which can't have much more life in it, but for now who are we to complain while the cheques are still rolling in?

Even though Casey finally broke the shackles of taking on our nickname and beat the top team (is there side that was relegated from the VFA in 1987 that they can lose to next week to really get that MFC feeling? No, because there's a state game that about 45 people care about - where for some unclear reason there are still two games being played. In further proof that the VFL is the worst puppet competition ever, the Northern Blues aren't one of them, then have the bye the week after) I've got no confidence in our depth, so it's hard to decide on widespread changes. So with nothing more to go on than a match report and some arbitrarily selected 'best' players I'm going to take a punt on a couple of novelty selections:

In the sensible choices Harmes gets another shot in the defensive forward graveyard at the expense of Bugg and Kennedy replaces Kent. Then it gets silly - Trengove wasn't even in the VFL bests but I'm willing to give him one last spin, and if it doesn't work out then we can all shake hands and part ways before he joins the Gysberts/Cook/Toumpas/Grimes class action (headed up by their lawyer Thomas J. Scully III) for ruining his promising career. I'm also prepared to give King a go (even if I'm not yet confident whether his first name is Max or Mitch), because with due respect to Weideman's inexperience and the whole-hearted ruck effort of Pedersen/Watts/McDonald we couldn't do any worse with an inexperienced player in the middle - and it will free the three backups to do what they're specifically trained for. At the risk of dropping him under the 10 hitout average required for eligibility in the Stynes, Pedersen showed more forward yesterday than the Weid has all year so better to rely on the midfield to keep us afloat at the taps and play a forward (and not a converted defender) as a target.

Two weeks ago I nailed the changes to the letter (which was easy because it was one in, one out) but this time there's about a 100-1 chance of that happening.

IN: Harmes, King, Kennedy, Stretch, Trengove
OUT: Bugg, Kent, Weideman, Tyson (omit), Salem (susp)
LUCKY: O. McDonald, Vince
UNLUCKY: Melksham (two BOGs in a row in the VFL when not suspended - but if you're not going to play him as a midfielder in the 1s what's the point in picking him?)

Was it worth it?
For the first time this century a new Simpsons episode spoke to me. It was perfect timing, because in my emotional state I'd have seen anything as a sign from a higher power, but it was an apt time for the suggestion that in life everyone finds "their Homer", something that consumes their life and derails them from achieving their potential. Here I am 10.5 years into going out of my way to watch this club, and now I'm so far down the path of insanity that I can't think of any other way to live. It's like playing the same Tattslotto numbers more than once, and being locked into having to do it every week for the rest of your life just in case.

I've dodged social engagements from family reunions, to engagements and birthdays, and can never again seriously consider jobs that involve the weekend. And for what? The odd fleeting moment of all-consuming excitement, and the vague promise of future success. What more have I got than those of you who freely give into real life don't? In a way wouldn't it be more exciting to work weekends, and spend 22 weeks a year trying to dodge spoilers so I can watch late on replay? Or more sensibly, just accept that sometimes you're going to see a final score and have to work out how we got there later.

Can I please just have one flag before retirement age/inevitable mid 40s fatal heart attack so I can let go a bit? Probably not. However I go it had better not be so sudden that I miss out on the chance to pass the final "was it worth it" verdict on my time with the MFC. Then when it's all over take my ashes to Row MM of the Ponsford Stand and hurl them down the stairs around sections Q32-Q33. Preferably while there's a game on so the handful of assembled punters up there are forced to take some of me home with them.

Final thoughts
After escaping the demolition derby of the MCG carpark, where use of turn indicators and common courtesy are both optional, I was in the middle of Hate Driving home when I got a reminder of how some things are more serious than whether or not your football team is a flaky mess. You know when you see a train stopped and there's a fire engine next to it that it's not for positive reasons, but what I didn't expect to see as I went past the truck was a tarp covering the poor bastard who had been hit by the train accidentally or otherwise. It seemed rude to think about footy for the rest of the trip...

... then I woke up this morning, threw perspective out the window and wrote one of the longest posts ever. The scars run deep.

Standard "this post is delayed" notification

Good morning friends, if you are reading this I have either died or haven't had time to write the post yet. Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link at some time before 2359 AEST Monday 22/05/2017.

UPDATE - If you'd like your favourite umpiring howler from yesterday included please tweet or leave a comment on this post. Defamatory allegations towards officials can sadly not be published.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Whale Oil Beef Hooked

If you're as old as me you'll probably remember an entertaining season we once played called 1998. It also featured a promising start, before we fell off the face of the earth in the middle of the season via a pair of unholy beltings at the MCG. This year we've had thrillers rather than thrashings, but as they were to worse teams it all balances out for the purposes of the story.

I can't remember if everyone wrote us off - after all the media had so little interest until late in the season that one week 'Leon Chelly' got a mention in the paper - but being prone to sporting stress even at 16-years-old I was certainly feeling the tension. Winning in Perth wasn't as far-fetched then as it seems now that we haven't done it in 13 years, but the idea of toppling the Eagles was still ridiculous. Then a team featuring Mark Bradly, Donald Cockatoo-Collins and a lot of other players who you probably do want to remember pulled off a ludicrous upset. If I hadn't lost the VHS somewhere I'd pause writing this, fire up Hotter Than Hell and relive the whole thing via the recollections of Todd Viney from his kitchen.

Back then, when our website looked like this and nobody dared try to operate a 24-hour sports talk radio station, there was probably some sort of supporter discord after those losses, but unless you happened to know a fellow Melbourne fan you probably kept it to yourself. I certainly did, despite a search of ancient MFC websites that reveals I did try to set up some sort of forum in the late 90s it wasn't until 2002 that I actively sought out the views of others. Three years later Big Footy recruited me to write a blog and here we are a million words and no flags later.

That year we also had a new coach, but the difference was there was zero expectation as it followed a putrid four win season, coming off a solid attempt to vote ourselves out of existence. We were just happy to still be alive. The point (surprisingly there is one) is that you really had to go out of your way to make a public statement of disappointment in your club. The gold standard for fan outrage will always be chicken hearts and manure dumped on the doorstep of Punt Road, now all you have to do is target your tantrum at an outlet that is starved for publicity and it will become famous.
The guy waving a white flag against Gold Coast was a master of prop comedy, this yellow streaked coward should be issued his refund and banned for life unless he's prepared to make full disclosures at the MFC Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Let me guess, the missed membership years included either or both of 2012 and 2013.

It was probably one of the worst timed tantrums ever. Like when a fan started a Sack Bailey Facebook page that got some media publicity only for us to roll Fremantle by 95 points the same week. Or earlier that year when I went off on one about our tepid loss to West Coast, only to nearly steamroll Adelaide by the ton. We've all been there, but it's when you start making it personal that you risk coming off as a dickhead.

No doubt the writer - whose only sensible decision was to keep their name secret - is claiming credit for helping lever Kennedy-Harris out of the squad. There is equally no question that he will be on the phone to the membership department on Monday morning claiming he lost his card and needs a new one issued. Anyone who tries that this week should be forced to provide a handwriting sample that can be matched against the letter. I'm still suspicious that it's a Protocols of the Elders of Zion style false flag attack to make us look bad, but until further evidence comes to light or the writer publicly confesses all we can do is take it at face value.

I don't understand how anyone (presumably) sat through the up-and-down pre-186 part of 2011, the apocalypse itself, the entire Neeld/Craig era and two years under Roos where we had to go to the ends of the earth just to kick a single goal and what finally triggers him to lose the plot is the coach picking JFK for one week too many. One win against Hawthorn in a decade and people suddenly start going into convulsions when we revert to type. I wasn't happy - and indeed am still not happy about it a week and a win later - but short of nonces, murderers and all other actually terrible people there's nothing worse than a grandstander. Cut your card up, flush it down the toilet, put it in your Nutri Bullet and drink it like a smoothie if you must, but going to the media to try and get publicity for your attempts to bring down a seven game coach is the sign of a deeply NQR individual. At least Goodwin got through seven games before this happened, remember when people were trying to sack Bailey after two and Neeld eight months before coaching his first? They might have had a point on the second one.

If this poltroon had been a member for the best part of 25 years as claimed he'd be well aware of the Spirit of '98 significance of going to Adelaide on a seemingly hopeless mission, but once we'd reeled their lead in and built a five goal gap of our own I was thinking of something slightly more recent. Namely that bonkers 2002 semi final against the Crows where we went from a mile down, to a mile up, to preparing for Mad Monday in the space of two hours. In the end the only thing the two nights had in common was that I watched both on TV, but this time was not provoked into throwing a remote towards the screen (fortunately inaccurately) to protest the side keeling over in the last quarter.

I'm determined never to fall into the trap of prematurely trying to kill a coach off. I guarantee to complain about at least one thing he does every week, but even in the darkest days of you-know-who presiding over total disaster I held on for one season and half a game before losing faith. To ensure perspective I still have my ticket for 186 on the wall at work as a reminder that things can always be worse. Which is probably why by midday each day Monday to Friday I'm acting like this:
Even allowing for Adelaide playing a first quarter into the wind last week that we'd be ashamed of at our worst, I refused to even consider the prospect of exiting South Australia with four premiership points. I doubted we'd even be able to escape with a sliver of our dignity intact, but here we are in the afterglow of the third in a trilogy of epoch-making victories since the start of the Roos era. Oddly enough none of them - Geelong 2015, Hawthorn 2016 or this - have been achieved after Jesse Hogan was a late withdrawal. This has to be more of a coincidence than our version of that strange phenomenon where early Gold Coast would play better when Ablett wasn't there to have 50 touches. In Hogan's absence our forward line effectively ceased to function, but led by a third string ruckman who shouldn't be playing, a professional irritant, and a defender sent forward to get amongst it because nobody else looked likely we scored 107 points and won in glorious fashion. Football. Bloody hell.

It was fair enough for Hogan to pull out if he was ill, especially after the run he's had recently, but I know I wasn't the only one who had a minor nervous breakdown when Weideman replaced him after doing chuff all in the VFL since being dropped. The obvious point was "who else are you going to play in that role?" and the obvious response was to come up with a new plan that didn't rely on key forwards. He still hasn't cracked the secret of getting the ball in dangerous positions inside 50 against an adult defence, but you'd have to be a hard-hearted bastard not to have appreciated his defensive effort in this game. When Hogan's right he's an automatic demotion to the VFL to work on earning his return, but he played a fantastic defensive game last night.

You didn't have to go back to '98 or '02 to recognise what happened in the first five minutes. The projected battering we were supposed to receive from the Pedersen vs Sam Jacobs match-up certainly happened on paper, but in another blow to anyone taking hitouts seriously we usually had somebody at the fall of the ball to make sure no real damage was done. And thank christ for that after a string of games where we tried to go on as if there'd be a puff of smoke and Gawn would magically appear to deliver a sweet tap. Jacobs had 74 hitouts, and he could have them because our midfield were winning everything once it hit the ground. Not many players have had that many hitouts in a game, and I'm sure none have ever done it when their side has been so comprehensively turned over. Match reports talk like it's amazing how they lost when had that many, but I guarantee you Don Pyke (and how fun is that name to say?) isn't giving him a big pat on the back and telling him how desperately unlucky he was.

With Bernie Vince celebrating his 200th game by using Rory Sloane to do a cover version of the day he tormented Dangerfield we dominated the play for a single point. Any chance he can do that sort of role against somebody other than an ex-teammate? Because I much preferred it to how he's been playing in defence. He got a hand from various teammates plowing in and (legally) belting Sloane as well, especially the resurgent Viney who looks like he'd open doors for little old ladies and help the blind to see but has a raging case of white line fever that will eventually see him pass Nathan Jones as our most fined player. Early in the game as he was going out of his way to jostle with anyone who came near I thought he was an absolute certainty to be writing the AFL a cheque early next week. Turns out that won't be required because so few Crows players were up for the fight.

Without Hogan the forward line looked like it wouldn't even get a chance to fire blanks, because they'd never get the ball to start with. Watts tried hard to be a target but died badly in the circumstances, especially before we tore a hole in Adelaide's defence and were forced to rely on the old panic bomb to 20 metres out. T. McDonald snuck forward for the first set shot, which went about as well as you'd expect, and it was only when we did the surprise Sizzle Switch for good after half time that the Crows started to be properly troubled by our long kicks. For we now spent the opening minutes desperately trying to create space for somebody to take a mark, only for the ball to ping down the other end for Jacobs to take a McEvoy-esque ruckman's grab against half our defence. Good guy Sauce realised that us conceding goals in this situation is become cliched and missed a sitter. It was not the first piss easy shot the Crows would spray as they briefly looked like running away, before crumbling in spectacular fashion.

Speaking of crumb related activities, without a winning forward structure in sight we had to first rely on a Crows defender putting a howler of a kick straight down Jones' throat, and then the ultimate spare parts man Cam Pedersen to gather the ball in a pack and kick the second goal. Neither was well worked, but I'm about eight premierships in my lifetime away from rejecting goals in any fashion. This was going well, we'd weathered our own initial score-free success to come back and get two goals in front.

We were holding our own in the middle, and tackling anything that moved. As long as it didn't break into a free-flowing, high scoring extravaganza we'd at least get a couple of good quarters before Adelaide realised what was going on, resumed bouncing from end to end at warp speed and crushed us like a bug. Or apparently not. Maybe it's because I wasn't perched high in the stands and one step ahead of the play, but even allowing for Fox Sports' obsession with extreme closeups it didn't look there was as many opposition players pouring down the ground with their arms in the air and not a Demon within a kilometre.

Thanks to the Crows doing a Melbourne and blowing numerous shots on goal we got to quarter time in front. At two goals to one the match wasn't going to win any awards for quality, but we had them covered in practically every aspect of the game other than getting first hands to the ball at a stoppage and scoring freely. That would do me for now, considering I had nightmare visions of turning up and being 50-1 down at quarter time. Given their stock of tall forwards and our slightly ropey defence it was as good as a win. Until we actually did win, and at this point that seemed as likely as a UFO landing in the middle of Adelaide Oval.

My highlight of the first quarter was another athletic display in defence from Sam Frost. I knew from that day in Ballarat when he chased a much smaller Bulldogs player from one end to the other that he was quick, but you can't fault his unbridled enthusiasm. I'm sure he's right on top of team rules, set plays and all that other bullshit but to the naked eye he just runs around doing things on instinct like an animal that's just broken loose from the zoo. I'm having tremendous fun watching him this year and look forward to much more in the future.

The lead didn't last long. Betts briefly slipped the now traditional Jetta demolition job to kick a freak goal, before McDonald Sr. flubbed a kick coming out of defence and it was starting to turn sour. Other than Sloane, who was being persecuted by Vince and a cast of anti-social young men everywhere he went, they finally started to play like they wanted to, while we reverted to the terrified panic handballers of the first quarter against Hawthorn.

We had a reasonable run with the umpires, but there was one free as the Crows started to take advantage that proved this is a village competition that will never be made perfect by rule changes and razzle dazzle interpretations. Two of ours hit a perfect tackle, brought the player to ground, then were pinged for gently rolling into his back after he was already no chance of getting it clear. Say it with me again, if it doesn't impact the actual contest or the player's ability to get/dispose of the ball then who gives a fat rat's clacker? I know 'we' are trying to avoid stoppages at all costs, but this is bureaucratic madness. And I am the AFL's equivalent of the person who writes letters to the paper saying stupid things like "this is political correctness gone mad!"

Shortly after this insane decision one of the field umpires was forced out of the game when Vince - now revelling in his villainy - inadvertently knocked seven shades of shit out him at the centre bounce. If it was the guy who paid that free the failed concussion test came too late. Not only was the emergency umpire - who as a South Australian was naturally named 'Rowan' - called upon to officiate the rest of the game, which was good news for players who wanted to indulge in light wrestling and not have a bloke in tracksuit pants tell them off, but when another ump pulled out at three quarter time due to a bad case of cramp we had possibly the first two umpire quarter since the 1992 Grand Final. The standard of officiating didn't get any worse, but after the first three quarters there wasn't much further down for it to go.

On this night the wheel of umpiring managed to fight the natural gravitational pull of an interstate crowd going off their tit for everything to spin in our favour. The undisputed highlight was when we committed about five illegal acts from one end of the ground to the other, then ended up getting a free right in front of goal. The locals were not happy, but but they never are. It's hard to feel sorry for them after 25 years of enjoying mob rule.

As the Crows bombed through five goals in a row to open a near 30 point lead no wacky umpiring could save us. After spending the first quarter and a bit hovering over my TV I was back to a resigned slump on the couch, thinking "here we go again". Just because it's my comfortable place doesn't mean I like being there. The famous Veil of Negativity has been threatening to drop for weeks - not helped by munters sending whiny letters to the media - and it was on the phone to air traffic control for clearance into Adelaide Airport before we regained control and began a famous match-winning run of goals. In previous years we'd have been 10 goals down and flicking through the Yellow Pages for counselling services by half time, in this case I was soon back on my feet and nervously pacing around the living room. This time I'd mysteriously ended up holding a pestle, which was lucky not to fly out of my hands into in the television at several times during the middle two quarters.

For once stuffing a bunch of players behind the ball and trying to drop anchor for a few minutes worked. Usually it leads to them ducking around us via the side gate, while we're left winning turnovers then returning the ball as there's nobody to kick to. First Bugg - seemingly thrown into the cursed defensive forward position that gave James Harmes a week of glory before being dropped - steered through a crucial set shot, then the wonky Crows backline gifted us another and the margin was back under 20. It didn't feel deserved, but in reality it was just reward for working our arse off to put the brakes on them.

Surprise goalkicking sensation Bugg got another, courtesy of a lovely Oliver kick to Jordan Lewis' advantage, and Lewis shrugging off a half-hearted attempt at a tackle. By half time it was only 10, as we began to run them around in circles until most Crows players looked thoroughly fed-up with the game. After years of teams doing it to us the most satisfying thing about mid-table mediocrity is the rare days where we psychologically dominate another team until they collapse in a sobbing heap. So much the better if it sends 40,000 of their supporters home unhappy. To prove everything was going our way we didn't even concede a goal in the last minute, though that was entirely down to a Crows miss rather than anything we did right.

This is the bit where Simon Goodwin comes to the fore, finds the address of whoever wrote that letter and leaves a flaming bag of turd on his doorstep. Considering we had all the momentum before the break he might have rested on his laurels, gone out with exactly the same set-up and watched the Crows quickly restore the balance. If the game kept being played like it was in the first quarter we'd have needed to keep it to 50-40 to win, and even allowing for several of Adelaide's star forwards playing like scrubs we didn't have that in us. So, recognising that we might very well concede but wouldn't win without improving our scoring he sacrificed Tom McDonald from defence and played him as centre half-forward with sexy results.

Unlike Hunt forward in the second half against Hawthorn this wasn't a panic move, but a well calculated one that paid off in spades. He provided the contest that Weideman couldn't, and heaped more pressure on the Adelaide defence. If they'd continued to get the ball forward every five seconds it might have backfired badly, but the combination of our midfield hoovering up everything Jacobs went near, and the forwards helping keep the ball in front of goal meant the Crows barely got a kick for the full quarter. Even when they did go forward Hibberd was mopping up everything that came near him, and Frost was making a nuisance of himself against Walker, Jenkins and all the other Adelaide forwards who we don't care enough about to learn their names.

After they missed a golden chance to kill our momentum, we went the other way and kicked a goal to bring it under six points. McDonald made it look difficult by dancing hither and yon before finishing, but it was made by Jayden Hunt necking himself in spectacular fashion by charging full pelt - which in case is like watching in fast forward - right into Sam Jacobs. It was like the classic era of Rugby League, when front row forwards would plow into their opposite number, then stagger around with a major concussion for the rest of the game. Only this time there was a significant size difference, and Hunt was out cold before he hit the ground. If you absolutely have to be driven off the field in a motorised cart wearing a neck brace it was exactly the sort of brave effort you'd want to have made to get you there.

Fortunately he was ok, waving to the crowd on the way off, before being shown in high spirits in the dressing room not long after. The same patron who continually hijacked the effects mic when we beat Port there last year was back again, kindly making owl noises as a gesture of solidarity to our fallen comrade. Hunt later posted an Instagram story that I have no idea how to link to because I am old, where he encouraged the rest of the team to sip on a Nippy's chocolate milk as concussion medicine, then finished the video by laughing maniacally into his phone. What a legend.

Losing our spark off half-back might have proven an issue if the Crows didn't respectfully respond to his loss by falling off the face of the planet. At half time Taylor Walker was shown going through written instructions with his midfield, and it must have been a piece of paper that just said FOLD LIKE A HOUSE OF CARDS. McDonald got another one immediately after, setting off the second greatest quickfire double of his career after he combined with Dean Kent twice in a minute during the last game of 2014 to enter the off-season as our most potent forward. I love that Frost is going so well we can afford to use him as a break in case of emergency forward option.

Now we were in front, and because there was the best part of two quarters left we had to go on with it. First a Bugg contested mark (!) set up Petracca, Pedersen and Garlett to raffle a goal without an Adelaide player in sight, then The Hamburglar kicked what had better win Goal of the Year or I will chuck shit at AFL House. In exactly the spot that Eddie Betts goals cause Dwayne Russell to shoot the zip off his pants into orbit, he battled alongside Mitch Hannan to beat a pair of Crows to the ball, turned inside towards the boundary, then kicked some sort of reverse banana from an impossible angle with a defender desperately trying to smother.

The lead was now only 14, with plenty of time left, but the goal made me so happy that I jumped up and down on the spot in joy for about 30 seconds. It was a lot like Garlett vs Richmond last year, but the difference was then he was 40 metres out and had huge swathes of goal face to work with while Oliver was threading the eye of the needle. If it was a complete fluke don't tell me, because I won't acknowledge it. The goal was only part of his contribution - he had about as many possessions as against the Hawks but they were of so much more attacking benefit this time. Other sides will come for him soon, and if he can get through that he's heading towards glory.

It was another recovery from more than four goals down, once again fulfilling the deviant needs of whichever member of the coaching panel has the horn for comebacks. Whenever they cut to the coaches box I was hoping we'd get a clue by seeing somebody trying to cover up with a laptop or a notebook. The culprit remains at large, but if as suspected he only truly gets his jollies when we go within seconds of blacking out before achieving total ecstasy this was a rare time where the tactic actually worked. Like the St Kilda game it's probably because we launched the comeback early enough that there was no thought of getting narrowly in front then trying to massage our way to the final siren.

The McDonald show continued as he set up the next two goals, leaving us 26 points in front and rubbing our eyes to make sure it was real life and not just fantasy. Mother's Day has wrecked my chance of #watchingthereplay, and my step-by-step account of the process that got us to that point will be full of holes because as we ruthlessly put them to the sword I was having an out of body experience. Talk about emotions, that was better than nearly anything footy related I've been involved with other than thrilling wins.

Even when Adelaide got a fluky late goal to reduce the margin to 20 and give us all nightmare flashbacks to the Richmond game, things were going so well that we powered out of the middle again for the instant reply courtesy of Petracca using his strength to rip the ball away from a Crows player and set up Viney. I was still terrified that this was all just setting us up for a horror last quarter collapse, after all we were still nowhere near the much vaunted Chris Sullivan Line. We never are, and that doesn't stop us from occasionally winning but you can understand why I'm not bursting with faith.

The only thing more outrageous than simultaneously responding to an opposition goal and kicking one deep into the quarter was that we were the ones having another shot when the siren went. Even if Garlett had kicked it I still wouldn't have been confident, but it would have helped. Turns out it wasn't necessary, Adelaide had packed up for the night and we were free to do as we pleased.

We were given a leg-up early in the last quarter by one of the two surviving field umpires paying the ugliest deliberate decision since the guy who was pinged having a shot on goal. I'm not going to say it was 'wrong', because with the way the AFL sets the rules he probably did exactly the right thing, but what a mean-spirited way to treat players by penalising them for making a split second decision like that when the ball was bouncing around randomly. I was thrilled that we got it, but had it been one of our players copping it in that situation there would have been blood smeared down the front of my TV. It's still hard to understand why where the player takes the kick from is determined by the angle the ball was rushed on, but despite being stuck in the pocket Garlett converted and the margin was back to more than five goals.

If Adelaide's spirit hadn't already been broken that decision did them in permanently. Not that I was calling it yet, there was more than enough time for us to collapse and let them start scoring for fun like they had against almost every other team they've played this year. Realistically it was never going to happen, but I never fully relaxed until there was three minutes to go. The pain runs deep.

Kent got the next, rescuing what was probably the worst post-internet frenzy game since we spent weeks advocating for Ricky Petterd in 2012 only for him to get picked and play an absolute mare against Hawthorn that his MFC career never recovered from. In the end Deano managed to pad his stats enough to make it look like a decent performance, but he's got to do more than he offered last night. A bit of defensive pressure wouldn't go astray, but I'm prepared to overlook almost anything after a win like this and give him another chance next week.

The margin was nearly 40 by the opening minutes, and as much as I'd have loved to press on an absolutely massacre them that was wishful thinking. At least once again after they'd worked their arse off for a goal we went down and kicked the reply immediately after. You don't get a finer psychological blow than that. From there everyone might as well have negotiated a margin and gone home, because junk time was officially declared. I was happy to get out without anyone else being injured, and with several minutes to drink in the glory of springing a tremendous surprise.

At the risk of sounding like the most miserable person alive it won't mean squat if we don't go on with it next week. This was another Beyond 2000 style glimpse into the future of the MFC - a hard tackling, hard running, hard spoiling football machine. It's just that I don't have any faith yet that they'll be able to do it two weeks in a row.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
This was brutally hard, because even the team not showing up for half a quarter is about two quarters better than any other game this year. There were contributors out the yin yang, and it's not fair that they can't all get a vote. I'm sure the far more generous best and fairest system will see them rewarded where it actually matters.

5 - Jack Viney
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Bernie Vince
2 - Michael Hibberd
1 - Christian Petracca

The most apologies to Jones, and then in descending order T. McDonald, Frost, Jetta, Pedersen, Salem and Bugg.

Here comes the defending champion. After a quite frankly shithouse opening to the season Viney has gone ballistic in the last three weeks and has shot back into contention. Unfortunately for him he's got to get past the Hamburglar, who has opened up a gap of more than one full BOG on his closest rivals. No movement in the minor awards, and still nobody's claimed a vote in the race for the Hilton. Could we be looking at a repeat of 2005 when nobody was eligible?

Perhaps the unluckiest player is Pedersen, he's well over the qualification mark to be eligible for the Stynes and only needs two votes to claim a share but is trapped in the apologies every week.

20 - Clayton Oliver
13 - Jack Viney
12 - Jack Watts
11 - Jayden Hunt (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Jeff Garlett
7 - Christian Petracca
6 - James Harmes, Michael Hibberd, Neville Jetta, Nathan Jones
5 - Sam Frost, Christian Salem
3 - Dom Tyson, Bernie Vince
2 – Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jordan Lewis, Dean Kent
1 – Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The judging panel convened in the carpark of Bell Street Maccas at 1:05am and were on their way again at 1.06. There has never been a more popular winner, and with apologies to Jack Watts vs Geelong we have a new clubhouse leader. If I was a betting agency I'd go for some free publicity and announce we were paying out now on him winning.

Good luck to anyone on the list who has designs on beating this, you will have to unload a bicycle kick from inside the centre square while standing on somebody's shoulders at Shaun Smith height before coming down and planting your boot right into an opponent's cock a'la Dom Tyson on that Crows player with the Top Deck hair.

Slow motion does it no justice, so I'm hoping to replace this with a full speed version eventually.
For the weekly prize he wins $2,000,000 of insurance on his golden hands, and a pair of padded oven gloves to wear at all times when not engaging in football duties.

Fox Sports must agree with the lady off the Footy Show that banners should be abolished, because they steadfastly refused to show the front of either team's effort. Instead we got the rear of ours thanking SA members for their support (and god knows they went through a lifetime of slurry before Adelaide Oval opened), while the Crows one had an ad for some typically Adelaide sounding company that probably has a CEO with another classic SA name like Heinz Von Stieglitz.

Fortunately thanks to Twitter we know that ours had a lovely graphic of Bernie Vince, some attractive silver numbers and a winning V theme. On the other hand a search for 'Adelaide banner' brings up nothing from the last four days, and 'Crows banner' features nowt but Newcastle United fans and Americans who are keen on Christ. Even Googling for 'Adelaide Cheer Squad' to at least try and pretend this award is judged fairly gave me Port fans as the top result. Dees 7-1-0 for the season.

Capitalism Corner
Just as it looked like I'd be able to snap up the rights for the back of the jumper on the cheap, iSelect decided they were so happy with what they got out of sponsoring our AFLW team that they'd double down and throw cash at the men as well. You can't entirely trust a company that used to employ Brian Taylor to do live TV ads, but the results speak for themselves so far. The logo looked good on the back of the hideous away jumpers. Not sure how it will go on blue, but as long as there's money changing hands it doesn't matter. Here's to another sweet deal like when we were sponsored by Progressive (this image may be relevant to your sickest fantasies) and I got a $50 MFC member payout just for renewing an existing policy that was about to run out.

Next Week
After conquering the city of Adelaide, Docklands Stadium, Hawthorn, and St Kilda there are only two great losing streaks dating back to the glory years of the #fistedforever era. One is Subiaco, where we've got one more shot this year before it closes, and the other is North. Who would probably close to if they played a decade like us.

For the love of all that is good in the world can this week be spent reminding the players not to get ahead of themselves? I don't know who Channel 7 annoyed to have to broadcast us at 3.20pm on a Sunday, but against the odds their news might get a decent lead-in after all from neutrals turning on to see if we get too comfortable after a glorious win and shit the bed as favourites yet again. On paper we should waffle them, but they do have a list almost entirely populated by potential Kingsleys, and I can't bring myself to believe we'll be able to turn being dominated in the ruck to our advantage like this again two weeks in a row.

My changes are being submitted in advance of Casey playing - if they are, there must be a state game or a random bye coming around soon (UPDATE: For god's sake, there is actually a bye week in a fortnight so non-AFL players can take on the WAFL. Could the represented players not just miss a week NRL Origin style so we can carry on with the important stuff?) - but there's not many moves to make anyway.

I'm assuming that even though Hunt was furthering his status as the funniest character since Sam Blease (except in this case I think he means it) by chatting up women and tucking into free food in the dressing room less than an hour after being poleaxed that he will miss because we don't want another scenario like Daniel Bell suing the pants off us. Here's to him summoning the power of the owl to bust through the concussion tests and play, because he's hard to replace. Naturally Hogan returns, he's only banned from games where we need to pull off an outrageous upset.

IN: Hogan, Stretch
OUT: Hunt (inj), Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: Hannan, Kent
UNLUCKY: Kennedy every week

Final thoughts
There cannot be a more bizarre and baffling experience in world sport than following us. Imagine a glorious future where you can be reasonably sure which version of the team is going to show up? For now it's upper mid-table mediocrity, and all the random, unexplained shit that entails. Which as much as you might forget it sometimes is better than when we could be absolutely sure they were going to turn up and be bulldozed every week.

Sometimes you just want footy to go away for a few weeks, sometimes you're desperate to charge into the next battle. Guess which one it is this week...

Monday, 8 May 2017

But then the demon, much too soon, returned one Sunday afternoon

Ever had a week where everything feels significantly more difficult than it should be? Where you spend seven days wading through a swamp, waiting for the hail of bullets to commence at any moment? I've had about 52 of those in a row, and where some people would find solace in their footy team starting favourites against a decaying giant I went to the MCG in a state of terror, fully aware that nobody plays the sick, the tired, the poor or the huddled masses into form better than us.

Other than West Coast, who play the MCG almost as badly as we do Subiaco, almost everyone else has had a go at eviscerating the Hawks this year, but I just knew that wasn't our lot. There will be a time (hopefully not too long into the future) where we'll go into games like this confident of carpet bombing nervous teams, but for now the best you can hope for is the odd surprise smashing like the first Gold Coast game last year, and accept that life wasn't meant to be easy.

So I might not have expected to beat the rotting hulk of one of the greatest sides ever, but nor did I expect to show up and be five goals down at quarter time. How did we cope with a team who have spent the season so far plunging into a cavernous hole after half time? By racing to throw ourselves into the void first, allowing them to build up the sort of second half lead that teams rarely give away. That doesn't mean we couldn't have won - and god damn it we nearly did - but it should never have got to that point. I suppose I'm meant to clap like a seal at the effort to get back into it, and sagely point out that we're a young team and these things will happen etc.. etc.. but this is what you're going to get if you insist on playing one quarter a week, and it wasn't always 'the kids' who were at fault when things went badly.

Could somebody with access to the world's most robust statistical database please calculate what percentage of comebacks from 24 of more points down lead to the team getting within a goal and still losing - and feel free to exclude MFC results if you don't want to tilt the figures unnecessarily. Two years ago I suggested that somebody intimately involved with the Melbourne Football Club had an auto-erotic asphyxiation style sexual fetish for watching us launch hopeless comebacks, and after seeing it happen three times already this year I'm pretty sure Paul Roos wasn't the stranglewank enthusiast after all.

Considering we've beaten the Hawks once in 11 years I should be used to it, but after the way they played last week this should have been a free kick if we had any hope of staying alive long enough to get Gawn back, find a best 22 that can play four quarters and pull off a storming Spirit of '87 style run at the finals only to cock it up against wooden spooners Collingwood in the last round. There's no point getting too upset, after all we have got a percentage of 106.7 despite losing more games than we've won, so as much as mid-table mediocrity currently feels like a pair of testicles plonked on the eyelids it still represents progress. It's just that now we expect more, and as such the failures feel like death.

I've delayed writing this just long enough to enjoy one of those classic shockjock moments that SEN relies on in lieu of employing a publicity department.
... and he's got a point, but there's never been an example of how far we've come in the last couple of years. Three quarters yesterday was shite, and three quarters against Essendon weren't much better. We're the kings of one quarter footy, but even the rest is significantly better than what we were seeing two years ago. There's big issues with the rush to handball everything instantly, but we're still a work in progress. I wouldn't be falling for concocted media witch hunts yet. At least wait until we offer Nathan Buckley the same service on Queen's Birthday that we did James Hird and temporarily extend his coaching career with a shock loss.

I was already in a general state of disarray before arriving, and managed to time my run so poorly that I walked into the ground 70 minutes before the bounce. Talk about matchday experience, they could at least put an old game on the screen to give those of us who've completely stuffed up our timing something to do other than sit there wondering where our lives went wrong. I should have used this extra time to walk around to the Ponsford, but thought that as long as I was paying for the Redlegs area I might as well give it a go. By the time we make a Grand Final I'll have spent so much on guaranteeing a ticket that I would have been able to rent a superbox with all the luxury options.

With quite literally nothing else to do, and a mobile phone battery that had to be nursed gently to the end of the day, I gazed at the beauty of the Ponsford and counted 34 people in it. What amateurs, the last person was only 14 rows from the front. I foolishly thought that by staying amongst the faithful I might get some good Crowd Watch material to make up for not going last week. This 'man of the people' routine lasted until half time, where after an hour having to hold my tongue due to two kids in the immediate vicinity I could no longer stifle my urge to carry on like an escaped mental patient.

As I sat there watching us go down the gurgler without a yelp in the first quarter, my mind wandered to another game I'd watched from the exact same seat. On Sunday 13 July, 2014 I also froze my tits off after misjudging the conditions, and saw us kick 5.6.36 against Geelong in a game where Aidan Riley, Chris Dawes and Colin Garland got votes. There is no doubt we've come a long, long way from there. It would be hard not to. I wondered if I'd have even been there if we were still playing like that. Probably not, because the club itself would probably have been relegated to the VFL. Otherwise of course I would be, in some sick, masochistic and perverted way it was more comfortable going to the footy knowing we were oozing Chernobyl style toxic sludge and should be put down for the sake of the community at large.

No matter how bad it got yesterday it's preferable to watch now, because unlike then even when we're terrible there's something building. It won't come in time for Vince, Lewis or probably Jones but it's bubbling away in the slow cooker. The issue is that there's a much heavier psychological toll when things don't go as expected. Back then you were just happy when somebody hit a target, much less kicked one of our handful of weekly goals. Now you think they should be doing better, so every wonky kick or one metre handball to a guy about to be slaughtered is like a dagger to the heart. I don't think I'm cut out for this caper. Having never won anything it's hard to know what it feels like to see your team crash back to earth, but if you're going to be one of these people who bails out on their team for being shit (also known as Collingwood fans) it would almost be better to stick with it through the worst times, then step away during the mid-table mediocrity years.

I'm grudgingly accepting of the usual excuses about experience, and as you'll recall if you've been with us all season I didn't expect great things this season anyway, but what angered me was how we just let them merrily punt the ball around amongst themselves. We let everyone do that, including Hawthorn on several hundred occasions, but those with a long memory may recall how well a free and easy, uncontested game worked for the Hawks when they were winning more flags in a row than we've had since 1960.

If ever there was a day to make them work to win the ball this was it, and if we could have landed some tasty blows in the first quarter they might have decided they'd had enough and enacted damage control mode. Instead we gave them unnecessary oxygen and paid for it. Considering all that it's amazing we got as close as we did, and because football fans blow with the wind there's no doubt that had we managed to force one more goal from that last inside 50 the tone of this report would be at least 90% rosier.

Ironically even when we did force them to kick to a pack they rumbled us in the contested mark game. I was not at all surprised to see that before this week we had the least in the competition - which is not helped by the absence of two ruckmen and Hogan for three weeks but still troubles me. We were actually above season average with 11 yesterday, but Hawthorn were one of two clubs a single mark in front of us for the season and didn't have much trouble pulling them down from everywhere. Like young players patiently sitting by the phone waiting for a call from the NAB Rising Star committee after playing us, Tim O'Brien must be eagerly expecting Kent Kingsley himself to phone through an update as to where he's moved to on the Klub waiting list because we made him look like a million bucks.

For the first time since he left to play in the forward line of a club going places I thought Jeremy Howe might have been handy. At least he could take the grab before kicking it out on the full. In fact we could have done with a reliable pack mark at both ends of the ground. Suddenly I'm wishing we had two of him again, maybe I'm not taking this season as well as I thought.

You know who else takes great contested marks? The Devil.

Never mind that the ball was nowhere in sight, yesterday this would have been called play on.

It was another ripping day for wacky umpiring. I'm not going to dwell on it too long, if we're going to become a good team (or at least give the illusion of being one) we have to rise above being fisted in the decisions to win anyway. You have to feel for the AFL, they've already spent big money getting the 5000 page manual of interpretations, exclusions and caveats as of last week translated into Mandarin before next week's white elephant Shanghai game (is this the end of our reign as Kaspersky Cup champions?), and now they need to print an amendment explaining how Roughead's two handed shove right into the numbers of Sam Frost to mark directly in front of goal was ok. Sometimes you give the umpire the benefit of the doubt because they might be on the wrong side of a pack, and have a player running past them, but this should have led to play being stopped while a guide dog was led onto the field and strapped to his arm.

That wasn't nearly the worst of them. It cost us a goal, but for a moment where you need a team of scientists to sit down and try to work out the thought process behind the decision there was a moment in the second quarter where one of our players (Hibberd?) dived to collect a loose ball, had a Hawthorn player back into and fall on top of him, only to be pinched for making contact below the legs. Again there was no mystery about it, an umpire looking directly at the contest adjudicated that - to quote the league's own Spirit of the Laws propaganda document - "the player who is making the ball their sole objective", and who is supposed to be "protected against any form of illegal contact" should penalised for trying to gather the ball in the general vicinity of an opponent who couldn't keep his feet and fell into his back. It was like a car crashing into you while you're halfway through reversing out of a parking spot and the insurance company deciding you were at fault.

It was one of those days where Hawthorn fans - and let's be honest we would have done similar if the roles were reversed - will be howling back at our complaints about the umpiring by pointing out we actually won the count. Which misses the point that we're almost entirely complaining about frees that weren't paid. Except for Roughead's two handed shove to the back, and the one he got when Sizzle Sr gently rolled onto his back after the ball had already spilled from a marking contest. Sure, Jetta got away with a desperate throw in front of his own goal and there was some consternation about Hogan's mark at the end, but when the league's stated goal is to keep the ball moving no matter what then dozens of holding the ball decisions will be 'missed' and most everyone - except Clayton Oliver who gets pinched for actual handballs - can casually lob the ball around Rugby Union style.

You'd think a system that encouraged players to throw the ball around would suit us, because the obsession with handball for the sake of handball continued. I'm not taking a general anti-handball "JUST KICK IT! WHY DID YOU KICK IT THERE!?" position, because when it works (e.g. the third quarter) it looks wonderful. But there's a big difference between a handball that unlocks the play, keeps the ball moving into space towards free players, or sets up a switch and one that gains no ground and just exists for players to get rid of it. You can't trust our possession numbers, they're as fraudulent as inside 50s or hitouts. It's like Lloyd Braun in Seinfeld hitting the bell when he makes a sale, only for the company to go out of business because he's completely bonkers and is just making it up. Both end in stressed people screaming SERENITY NOW.

It looked a lot like the first quarter last week (and didn't I pick the wrong game to be unavailable for?), only with the opposition refusing to join us and the umpires in a salute to the butchery industry. Can we play a team who'd played two games in nine days every week? As a keen Nathan Jones advocate since he shot past Moloney and rose to the top of our turdly midfield in 2012 it was painful watching his first quarter. He was probably affected by nightmare Vietnam War style flashbacks to the many other games where we've been dead by quarter time, but I've rarely seen him play worse. He turned it up in the second half - climbing through the hole torn by Viney playing his best game of the year to play a key part in the comeback, but it was not pretty at first. It's not a scenario like Vince where you can see the end rapidly approaching, and I will still cherish the bobblehead figure from showing up to another six home games (PS - I don't think the head will actually bobble, please address your complaints to us rather than the MFC if we've unfairly raised your expectations) but watching him struggle still got me right there in the feelings.

When future 'Forgotten AFL players of the 2010s' Facebook group fodder weren't having the day of their life climbing all over us, the rest of them were trotting off into open space like Lewis and Clark (no connection to Jordan and Mitch) mapping the Oregon Trail. Who'd have thought that a large number of players who went within a few kicks of a fourth Grand Final in a row would run riot when allowed to play the exact game that got them to that level? On the other hand our players spent the first half being pounced on the moment the ball arrived, usually courtesy of a teammate packing it and giving off a one metre handball because he didn't know what else to do, which led to dozens of turnovers and many more flat, shithouse kicks that didn't give anyone except Hawthorn players a chance.

I desperately wanted the win at the end of last year that kept the Mighty Ducks Finish alive to herald the start of the same double turn as that famous 2007 pre-season cup game when they swapped places with us. As they embarked on a nationwide farewell tour, being spanked at every stop while we were hanging around the fringes of the eight I thought it might really have happened. Maybe in the long term it still will, but there's a big difference between our side that saw a (relative) glory era quickly fizz out in a shower of sparks after 2006, and their lot who have struggled this year. Even if you cancelled the flags and put them in our position back then (e.g. where flags are permanently cancelled) I'd have a lot more confidence in Roughead, Burgoyne, Hodge, McEvoy holding up their end long enough to get 'the kids' a start than the fading Neitz, Yze, White, Pickett etc...

Avoiding a fall from top of the bottom is also aided by being able to lure players like Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O'Meara (if he ever plays more than one in a row. And was anyone surprised when the fringe player who replaced him late had the first shot of the game?). Whereas at the end of 2006 we traded for.. err.. nobody. The players who had carried us since 1998 all flamed out at the same time and here we are a decade later still trying to stick the pieces back together after dropping the bloody thing on the floor and watching it shatter several times over.

Other than our near 50% disposal efficiency - boosted by all the panic handballs which hit the target for no overall benefit - and allowing Free Range Hawthorn to set up how they wanted to, the most frustrating thing was the way our forward line operated in a battery hen mode where they were rarely allowed into space. Compare to what Roughead was doing when not enjoying soft frees, leading and generally being a nuisance. Once we learn to regularly get players into the open inside 50 things are going to start moving forward quickly. After a genuinely A-Grade game as a forward with a sore knee, Petracca barely got free, but when he did he made good things happen. Therefore if you want to ridiculously simplistic about it - and I would have it no other way - get him into space more and enjoy the show.

We can't go on relying solely on the hefty bomb to Hogan one-on-one, because that's not only easily killable by a second defender flying over the top but it usually requires us to work the ball from the other end of the ground after turning back an opposition attack. I'm all for a counter attacking masterclass, but doing that with a Swiss Cheese zone (I think that's what it is) seems needlessly unsafe. At the risk of being one of those people who writes to the paper and says things like "for goodness sake, why can't politicians just FIX IT", what we need is a reasonably tall forward with good acceleration who can lead at the ball and give the mids a chance to hit a target with a low kick. Take this person, pair them with Hogan violently manipulating defenders in contests and watch miracles occur. Or we could spend five years developing some random American, get a few good news stories and discover not long after that it's a dud idea. What's Maia Westrupp up to these days?

There must be a method to what we do, but it's not always obvious to the untrained eye. Presumably every team mired in mid-table mediocrity or worse make their fair share of bonehead moves, maybe I should take a season off Melbourne and watch one of them intently for 22 games to see what everyone else is going through. For instance, Garlett is hardly known for his long distance Malcolm Blight-esque goalkicking. So when he's taking a set shot from 40 that falls short how is a Hawthorn ruckman the only man in the vicinity? Still, what do I know about tactics - there was one point in the last quarter where there was as stoppage on the Members' Wing side of our 50 and Cyril Rioli turned around and dashed off towards the bench. Obviously nobody followed him because they knew where he was going, but given that his replacement wouldn't get to the contest in time why not just stop and wait to see if the ball comes your way. Had they got it over the top to him he'd have practically been able to walk to the line from the outer wing, with time to stop for a milkshake. Instead he trotted off with no idea of what was going on behind him.

The result of this tunnel rat style commitment to operating in confined spaces was that we made scoring look practically impossible. Meanwhile down the other end, after Roughead's big shove we spent the rest of the quarter serving them goals on an ornate silver platter.  Pedersen got one, but it was one of only a handful of decent chances in Goodwin's first ever one goal Bailey Quarter. It closely resembled that 5.6.36 Geelong game for attacking impotence, so I suppose in a roundabout way scoring 91 is a triumph.

The man with footy's most NQR nickname was flayed in the ruck contests but did a reasonable job around the ground given his bulk/experience disadvantage to McEvoy, and the fact that he spent the whole week having people give him condescending praise in interviews for his game against Essendon as if he was a Category Z rookie with a prosthetic leg unexpectedly called upon to play while also battling a bout of pneumonia. Gawn would have been handy, not as much for the hitouts as somebody who can instinctively take an overhead mark at either end of the ground. Frost did it in defence, nobody really joined in elsewhere.

The epic saga of our day was not the comeback, but the question of what in god's name the defence were doing whenever a long, high ball arrived inside 50. Most of the time they would all jump for it at once, causing the ball to spill to any number of free Hawks who'd stayed on the ground. Then twice least twice they all thought "shit, I'd better not get in anyone's way" and nobody jumped. Who in god's name is marshalling these people? Was anybody surprised when McEvoy - who has slipped straight into David Hale's role of tormenting us - marked in the dying seconds of the first quarter and kicked the sixth goal? I was already having to heavy breathe like a telephone pervert into my jumper to try and stay warm (while the guy three rows in front of me sat there in a t-shirt and is now presumably dead), conceding another soft goal at the end of a quarter was not doing much for the experience.

Speaking of the backline, what was the point of taking McDonald, T out of defence and playing him as centre bounce ruck during the second quarter? It makes sense when there's a stoppage in defence (get them quick before they're outlawed), but did they expect he was going to have more success than Watts or Pedersen and suddenly start delivering pinpoint Gawn style backhand taps? If Pedersen was off at that stage and we preferred Watts forward you could have put anyone in the centre bounce and we'd have got the same result. Ironically despite being thumped in the hitouts we won more centre clearances, demonstrating once more that what the players do at ground level is infinitely more important than the vast majority of times when one player gets his hand to the ball before another. A perfect tap is gold, everything else is a lottery.

Once we showed up after quarter time things slowly got better, but why make it so hard for ourselves? I can't rule out Hawthorn coming out angry, but who didn't know that was going to happen? Did we expect from personal experience that once a side is 1-5 that they're just going to roll over and die? Not many organisations have psychological drama in its DNA like we do.

Finally after we had two goals - including one corker from Viney on the boundary line, and one where we finally managed to isolate Hogan with some spare parts defender and let him do what he does best - it was hello Ben McEvoy yet again as he marked easily again to kill off the first little comeback and leave us effectively where we'd been at quarter time. At least we'd started to get a bit more space and (incoming cliche alert) spread, instead of everyone standing flat footed waiting for somebody else to do the running. Which was all wonderful but still left us five goals down.

If anyone was ever going to suffer a visit from the all-pervasive MFC media curse it was Jayden Hunt. Not only had he enjoyed a startling amount of publicity after battling the AFL for his right to wear novelty headbands, but he'd just been featured in the paper making the startling claim that he can't go a day without seeing an owl. Not that he needs to see one, they're just all around him. I think Ben Cousins used to have a similar issue with dragons. Did they think to ask Hunt for his views on the fake birds that flap around at the top of the Southern Stand to deter seagulls? Sure one of two newspapers in this town is on strike, but once Rohan Connolly puts his megaphone away and gets back behind the desk I'd love to get more Hunt Owl Updates. Wonder if he's ever seen this one:

The Cult of Hunt (don't say that 10 times quickly in mixed company) is growing so rapidly that the returning Josh Wagner decided to adopt a headband of his own, leading to all sorts of Febey brother style confusion between them. At least when they were both in defence you could understand commentators calling the wrong one, unlike when Kennedy-Harris went for a mark right in front of goal and the radio called him Jetta. When Hunt's first half consisted of being penned in too tight for lightning dashes and a scare about doing his shoulder I could hear Nearer My God To Thee - the official theme song of the Media Curse - but in a win for novelty coaching moves he was sent forward in the second half with great success.

He arrived as a forward at just the right time - though if he's not back in place doing turbo mode sprinting off the HBF next Saturday night then everyone to a man should be sacked - after half time provided time for reflection and the adoption of a new plan to start reeling in a five goal deficit we conceded the first within a minute. Last week they put Mark Neeld on my TV, now we were ripping off one of his most famous moves. I didn't scream or swear, it was back to the glory days of the Neeld era where you almost had to laugh at how silly it was. By the end I was not laughing, and instead consciously making sure my jaw loosened up a bit so I didn't wake this morning with a screaming headache.

The most important player in our comeback was the guy who gave away a needless 50 to Hunt for his first goal, and the Owl Fancier was on the end of the next one as well after a chain of handballs out of defence. The difference here was that they were positive handballs that had the purpose of working a player into space. Even at first when they were panicked they were trying to make something. If a Hawthorn player had got a hand in, and turned it into a goal you couldn't be upset with them because they were trying to do the right thing. What shits me is when we have the ball with back to goal in the middle of the ground and go as short as possible backwards by hand, as if the would-be tackler won't just keep going and pressure the new ball-carrier.

Then Garlett got another and against all the odds it was on. I was excited, but barely below the surface I knew exactly how this was going to end. We probably only steamrolled St Kilda because the comeback happened so early in the game that nobody got nervous and went back into their shell. Our record for catching teams and passing them in second halves is rancid, and yet again that would not be a problem if we didn't get ourselves into such ridiculous situations by playing quarters of suburban standard football in the first place.

It was appropriate that our comeback would be halted by another shithouse decision. This time it was probably the interpretations at fault rather than the umpiring, but when McDonald went to ground with Roughead and lightly rolled over his back as the ball fell loose he was pinged and they got their steadier. I'm on record saying this in many non-MFC circumstances, so this is not 100% outrageous bias, but there is nothing worse than players being done for incidental contact that doesn't affect the opponent's chances to get the ball. If the ball had spilt and he'd gone for it by sticking his hand into Roughead's neck and plunging him face first into the turf then fair enough, but they didn't even wait for that to happen before rushing to pay the free. After a first half of letting nearly everything go it was a fine time to start getting technical. Where was this ruthless application of the rules when Joe Daniher was light-heartedly dry-humping a clearly irritated Michael Hibberd last week?

They got another not long after, so as we teetered on the brink again it was an excellent time for Sam Frost to play the quarter of his life. Things change in an instant around here, so he could be back at Casey in a month for all I know but at the moment he is practically the first choice defender. Now watch his toe drop off again. Somebody that tall who can run so fast is a killer asset, and between his closing speed, tackling and ability to leg it out of trouble he temporarily halted Roughead Appreciation Night by giving the Hawks' skipper an arsehole of a time. Wherever he went Frost was there to annoy him, and it was wonderful.

As we started to work into space and make Hawthorn run to catch us rather than the other way around they cracked like an egg. Four goals in the last 10 minutes reduced the margin to a point at three quarter time, effectively cancelling everything we'd done so badly in the first quarter and giving us a fresh start. The way we were going another couple of minutes might have got us more goals. In the midst of all this Pedersen went off for a concussion test, Watts must have been thinking "oh Jesus Christ, here we go again" and somewhere Mitch/Max/Whoever King was getting ready to ring mum and tell her to come to Adelaide next week.

After thinking I'd dressed appropriately for a May afternoon, a violent sideways wind had traumatised me all day, but at three quarter time my shakes and shivers were finally due to extreme nervous tension rather than the conditions. Maybe it was because the Ponsford was better protected, or maybe my screaming blood pressure was keeping me toasty. This was where I realised again why going to the game is so important. Win, lose or draw I had to be there to feel this rather than seeing it second hand through a screen. Even when you're working hard to avoid sitting near people, being in close proximity to them during a run like we had to end the quarter is better than any gear mixed in a bikie's bathtub.

Like so many other times that we've turned on a blistering comeback after getting into frightful trouble, the margin was reeled in with the sort of death or glory footy that even neutrals would be excited by, before we clammed up and lost anyway. It was terrible news for Jeff Garlett, who was taunting Hawthorn players about his three goals just before the last change only to barely get another kick. Not sure I'd be hanging it on many Hawthorn players about doing multiples of things. It's like the pantomime booing of Frawley when a) he's got a flag and b) has never lost to us yet. What about the minority of Hawthorn fans who booed Lewis as if it wasn't their side who'd sacked him. It was Woewodin vs Collingwood in 2003 all over again.

It would be no surprise if Hawthorn had more gas in the tank, having taken five of the first six weeks off. Considering how much time there was to go, conceding another goal in the first minute didn't mean much but what a psychological blow when you're already so nervous your eyelid is twitching. Fortunately Watts clobbered Hodge with a picture perfect tackle inside 50 to cancel it out quickly and give us another life. But by then we'd already lost our mojo. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as the first quarter but other than Frost, still galloping around madly like a giraffe let loose from Werribee Open Range Zoo, we'd stopped moving again. If his shoulder was ok I'd have accepted that the Hunt half-forward move worked when it needed to and put him back down there after Watts' goal.

When they got two goals in a row I was resigned to defeat, and even after Hogan dragged one back with a push only marginally less criminal than Roughead's in the first quarter (that's not what people mean when they demand consistency, but god help the authorities if he'd been pinched for it) I just couldn't see us kicking two more. We'd made scoring one look difficult enough all day without firing off a quick double, but once you get the first then anything can happen. We were given a leg up by Josh Gibson trying a suicidal switch across goal into congestion, which then led to our old mate Frawley having a flashback to playing in a disastrous team and opting to punch to the line under no pressure instead of marking. Hunt bravely kept it in, and stopped Hodge from taking off, before Petracca delivered one of the great passes of our time. It will be forgotten because we lost, but go back and watch how he gathered on the boundary with his back turned to goal, wheeled around, realised Lewis was on his own 40 metres out, changed direction and kicked through two attempted smothers to hit the target with a perfectly weighted kick.

Faced with the double-edged sword of having to make sure he kicked it while simultaneously trying not to waste too much time thinking about it, Lewis' shot was perfect, and finally after the Mediocre Escape against Carlton, and the thwarted Even More Mediocre Escape against Freo we had 58 seconds to pull off a win that would be mentioned in romantic terms for many years to come. We've had so many dud defeats that losing in these circumstances will probably be forgotten by the end of the week.

There was enough time to absorb one Hawthorn attack and counter, but Pedersen and Jones picked an excellent time to execute a proper ruckmanly tap and gather. With a Hawthorn player hanging off him like he was abseiling, Jones managed to tap to Vince, but his handball floated into Hibberd's hands and set him up to be buried in a tackle. He was lucky to get his hand to the ball so we could escape with a ball-up. The magic of taps was again shown to be Fool's Gold when McEvoy hit it straight to Lewis. The first Hail Mary kick forward came back to a solid Frost mark, he kicked it Vince and with acres of space to run into or Salem running past for the handball he inexplicably stopped dead and gave the Hawks a chance to get back into defence. Admittedly his kick to Salem - and Salem's mark - at the top of the centre square were spot on, but by then the only hope we had was for somebody to pull off one of the gigantic pack marks that we've been unsuccessfully trying to set up all year.

Not surprisingly with half a dozen players in the contest nobody was able to take an Inspector Gadget arms still upright grab and the ball spilled out of bounds. Thanks to the magic of a radio station that actually tells you how much time there is to go I knew we were sunk, clinging only to the outrageous outside hope of a comedy finish involving a suspect ruck infringement. There was barely enough time for even that and we were shot. Another so near but so far comeback that we should never have had to contemplate in the first place.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Sam Frost
3 - Dom Tyson
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Jordan Lewis

Apologies to Oliver, Jones (last three quarters only), Hogan, Pedersen, Jetta and Garlett.

16 - Clayton Oliver
12 - Jack Watts
11 - Jayden Hunt (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Jeff Garlett
8 - Jack Viney
6 - James Harmes, Neville Jetta, Nathan Jones, Christian Petracca
5 - Sam Frost, Christian Salem
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Dom Tyson
2 – Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jordan Lewis, Dean Kent
1 – Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With apologies to Jones' goal on the run after being whacked around the chops, and Lewis' clutch set shot with Petracca's assist, it's hard to go past the resurgent co-captain for his goal from the boundary line at the start of the second quarter. The lift Viney gave us lasted for about 30 seconds before we settled back into sludging around via hand and hoping for the best, but it kept me going just as I was ready to close my head in the window of the corporate box behind me. For the weekly prize Jack wins $200 worth of Nubrik bricks with which to construct a brick wall and run through, but Watts vs Geelong remains the clubhouse leader for the overall award.

As one of only two sides ever to register an away win in this competition - and to be fair that was because I was reacting poorly to a Chumbawamba reference on our banner rather than anything they did - the Hawks were an outside chance here. But while they put in a reasonable performance, with one of those gigantic pictures of players that usually floats my boat, I assume ours was a nod to cancer victims and give the points accordingly. Dees 6-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch
Suffice to say the citizens of the Redlegs area didn't think much of the first half umpiring. One guy was becoming so shouty and unhinged that I removed a headphone and adjusted which ear the other was in so I could capture any classic lines. Sadly there were none, just endless frustration and cliched screams like "WHY DON'T YOU JUST KICK IT FOR HIM?" He was far less concerned about swearing in front of children than me, but I knew I had to relocate when McEvoy took the unchallenged mark and in trying to stifle obscenity I let off a noise that caused the kid in front to turn around and look at me like I was a special case. He hadn't flinched once while old mate was going haywire to the left of us, but you make one noise like a dying farm animal and children think you're a nutter.

I was going to move to the Olympic Stand for quick egress to Jolimont Station at the siren, but with 20 minutes to waste waiting for play to resume I dejectedly trudged around for a bit. When I saw people walking up a mystery set of stairs I thought I'd follow and see where they ended up, fully expecting to go up one flight and end up being turned back at the Members. Turns out there's an MCC Bypass from the Olympic to Ponsford Stand. It was like playing MCG Cluedo - I'd just witnessed murder and was now crossing from one side to the other via a secret passageway.

Apparently it's been there for ages, and I'd never taken the hint from the "through to Olympic Stand" sign in the far left corner of the Ponsford before. I always thought that meant you had to go through the MCC, but now that I think about it why would people who have waited 25 years to specifically avoid having to sit with plebs give a continental about transferring between stands? Not to overstate it, but this is a life-changing experience. Now I can easily switch from reserved seat to Ponsford at the drop of a hat instead of scanning in/out and busting through crowds to walk around the ground. It was my most significant discovery at the 'G since Gold Coast 2012 when I accidentally found myself in the AFL Members because they hadn't bothered to protect one of the entrances.

When back in more comfortable - and warmer - surroundings I was able to properly act the goat. Swearing under my breath, slumping on chairs and generally being a bad person without anyone close enough to see it. If a tree falls in the woods etc... I was impressed to see two lunatics had gone many steps further and done my old Row MM trick, including one man who was old enough to know better sitting up there in a shirt and tie with a look on his face like he was having a wonderful time. Because he probably was, there's simply no better place to be than in the heavens, looking down on one set of 18 coloured dots turning the ball over to the other 18 dots.

Next week
After suffering a wind-assisted battering that briefly had them on world record pace for a 186 style debacle, you can only assume Adelaide will return home next weekend and comfort themselves by arranging for 22 severed heads to be returned to Melbourne via registered post. Stranger things have happened than us mysteriously toppling a side who until this week had been ruthlessly slaying everything in their path, in a city where we traditionally play like shambling drunks, but if you don't mind I'll be taking to this challenge in full canned goods and fallout shelter huddling survivalist mode. At least I've got an excuse to not leave the house this time.

I'm not that keen on changes - it wasn't the fringe players that cost us in the first quarter yesterday. Who knows what to make of the VFL anyway, Casey are suffering the inevitable effects of changing their name to Demons immediately after winning a final again for the first time in years and Melksham was their top possession getter. Presumably this means he played in the midfield, so picking him to play off half-back wouldn't make any sense would it? He won't be doing anything next week after being suspended for whacking the same VFL player twice.

So let's keep this simple and forgive Kent for whatever indiscretions he's committed and admit that Kennedy-Harris has shown next to nothing in the last three weeks. I knew JFK wasn't a crumber, he was never in position to take forward 50 marks, and though his best game was against Adelaide as a midfielder in 2014 he doesn't look like he knows where to go to get a kick now. We've all had a few laughs at the expense of Milkshake, but I'd much prefer him in the team. Even ANB can get the ball before turning it over. Jay might have won the inaugural Tom McDonald Sizzle Award for player participation in this year's Demonbracket but I can't take him as a senior player.

IN: Kent
OUT: Kennedy-Harris (omit)
LUCKY: Vince
UNLUCKY: Kennedy, Stretch, Trengove

Was it worth it?
In the grand scheme of things yes. I'm still bitter and twisted about losing but every week is another step towards glory. Any danger we might find a massive chunk of cash behind the sofa to lure Fyfe? Not only will he add the much needed 'this bastard could do anything' factor that we're so sorely missing, but he could also act as a West Australian fluffer for Hogan and be tasked to continually remind Jesse about the benefits of living in Victoria rather than having to take six hour round-trips every second week..

Final thoughts
No matter how bad it gets, remember your life could always be worse: