Thursday, 16 February 2017

The first season of the rest of your life - 2017 season preview


It's refreshing, if not potentially fatal, to enter a season wracked with fear and doubt for the right reasons. From a position of 100% terror a few short seasons ago now it's more of a 50/50 split with hopefulness. These days I'm concerned about the club humiliating itself by not living up to expectations, rather than just worrying about pure, base level shambles. It's an interesting point of view for a side about to launch a new coach, and who lost their last game by 20 goals

A year of banging away my memoirs while simultaneously riding the wave of a finals tilt that made it to the last fortnight of the season, left me psychologically battered. Like him from Moby Dick I remain in danger of being driven bonkers by the quest to see some sort of success before toppling over and dying from a surprise heart attack before my 40th birthday. My best effort to disengaged was not going to the AGM for the first time in about seven years. As anyone who's ever been to one knows I didn't miss much. The first time I spewed hateful comments at umpires during a women's game it became obvious that I've got no chance.

In fact the first sign that I wasn't making any decent progress was just after New Year when I started panicking that I wouldn't be able to get a ticket to see the pre-season game against Footscray at the Western Oval. What if their fans with the biggest footy horn since St Kilda post-1966 snapped up all the tickets and none of our fans could get in? Who would they hang shit on about not winning flags for the first time since 1955? Not surprisingly when tickets came out there were no dramas, but Ticketmaster did refuse to let me buy one for the game against Carlton at Casey. Imagine if I can't get in there and don't have to go to Cranbourne, wouldn't that be a pity?

The last time we played - if that's the best way to describe the latest outrage at Kardinia Park - the idea of the Bulldogs winning a premiership was only marginally less fanciful than us doing it. Since then we've wheeled in one four time premiership player (the last time we had four premierships on our list in total must have been the early 80s when Barassi tried stacking the list with ex-North and Carlton players) and added another ex-Essendonian who's had a year off due to being pumped full of Elephant Juice, while not losing much except Lynden Dunn who I still pine for daily but had become spare parts.

We turned up at the draft halfway, picked a few randoms then did likewise in the rookie draft. All of that was just the warmup to the most traditional event on the MFC calendar 'player suffers a pre-season injury'. This time they managed to get it over with before Christmas, but paid homage to the long standing 'don't flip your calendar until you hear somebody's hurt themselves' tradition by keeping it quiet until early in the new year.

In the the sort of event that you conveniently choose to look for the positives in when you support the coach the players were carted off on a special forces style bonding camp where they were kept awake all night, presumably sworn at as if Neeld was still in charge, and forced to go on grim death marches while carrying bags of construction material. The end result was Dom Tyson lightly doing his knee, and in one of the most MFC twists of all time Christian Salem took the concept of training the house down far too literally and knocked himself out with a falling brick. That's what you get for putting this guy in charge of the program:


After two seasons of running our best players into the ground during the pre-season matches it makes sense to smash them pre-Christmas this time then rotate them through the three Jailbait Series games. Hopefully this time the season doesn't end in half the squad desperately grasping for the finish line just as things start getting interesting. Especially considering how our run home should set up a decent finish if everyone stays upright.

When we're swinging into Round 23 like pirates, decapitating Collingwood to such a degree that even Eddie McGuire has to recognise that Buckley's had enough, en route to the drought-breaking finals appearance your 10-year-old kids need to see before they give up and start following Footscray, I will admit it was all genius. Until then the whole thing seems a bit 'Nigel Smart scurries over hot coals' for my liking.

Nathan Jones suggested the camp was an excellent experience that would hold the boys in good stead, and who am I to doubt him? Unless they slipped some light brainwashing in after the sleep deprivation and forced marches in the hope nobody would notice. He certainly didn't look like he'd called the Grimes/Trengove Captaincy Chatline for advice on how to look upbeat for the media when you're actually dead inside. The proof will not necessarily be in the pudding, it might have been the worst thing ever and we play well or vice versa - let's just put the brick at the bottom of the backpack next time eh?

I've got reasonable confidence in this season, and you'll love my wishy-washy predicted ladder position, but there are still concerns. There is no way in hell we can have as good a run with injuries as last year, and without adequate backup for Gawn it's god help us all if he gets hurt. Not all that convinced by the depth in the forward line or defence either. How did we get to a point where you can be confident that we've got midfielders in supply but hold grave concerns over the other ends?

I think we'll go reasonably well, and hopefully tee off on a couple of sides to really give people something to go gooey over. But if we don't make the eight then don't self-harm, we had the youngest list in the competition last year and won't be much higher this time. If it doesn't all come together this year then we've got time, as long there's no explosive decompression incident like 186 that tears the place apart, there's no need to panic if gratification is delayed.

All you can do is have faith that the worst times have passed. I can't imagine what my reaction would be if this new dawn ends like the last one and we plummeted back into disgrace. I don't even want to ponder it because the idea is too horrible, at least give us a few Carlton style token finals appearances that are guaranteed not to go anywhere but buy a few years of enjoyment before we start trying to lynch the coach and rebuild again.

Buy, Hold, Sell

Back after a lengthy absence (due to my inability to complete a mid-season review in 2016), what would be Australia's most controversial column if filed by somebody with even the remotest hint of credibility. It's where we advise you which players to invest in on our All Ordinaries Index and who will just end up as paper being swept off the exchange floor at the end of the season.

Before considering the investment advice below please read the product disclosure statement (e.g. last time this was done in mid-2015 I told you to sell Jayden Hunt and buy Lynden Dunn).

BUY

Angus Brayshaw
- I said buy him in massive quantities in 2015, only for his 2016 to be ruined by novelty injuries like having a footy forcefully kicked into his bonce. Nevertheless while you might have taken a bath on your portfolio by holding him last year I'm even more convinced than ever that he's going to pay major dividends. So sell your house and dump the lot on him at a reduced price before he costs more than Berkshire Hathaway.

Sam Frost - I'm not saying he's going to be the lynchpin of our defence for years to come, and *spoiler alert* I only have him as a maybe in my best 22 BUT he showed a lot in the second half of the year in defence. Buy low, sell high.

Max Gawn - We are living on the edge of disaster by not having any serious backup, but if you're going to play one guy in the ruck 95% of the time then that's the risk you take I suppose. Last year the only thing that stopped him, other than a couple of weeks where he looked like he was about to die from over-exertion, was third men up jumping over the top of him. Now they're gone and he is going to tap everything that comes near him.

Jayden Hunt - There's always the off-chance that his debut season of glory won't translate long term, and there was a game where after his first dashing run St Kilda successfully stopped him ever having a trot again - but I think we'll go alright here.

Neville Jetta - It's a risky bet because he's always one head clash (knowing our luck it will be with Angus Brayshaw) away from disaster but I'm willing to bet that this is year the rest of the league finally acknowledges him as one of the best small forwards around.

Dion Johnstone - Available at a discount price, I like his forward pressure chops. If he can kick goals then it's good times all around. No pressure to perform immediately though.

Tom McDonald - Unlike Sam Frost, I am suggesting this is the lynch pin of our defence for years to come. Yes, he flubs the occasional kick. No, it does not define his role in the team. Now that we've got more players who can kick when they go down there he shouldn't have to do it as much, but is still capable of some thumping long distance roosts if required.

Christian Petracca - 🎵 Take my hand, take my whole life too 🎵 etc... etc... Last year he turned up, and did a few nice things like the spinnerooni goal against Collingwood and generally warmed us up for what's going to be a career spent executing death by a thousand cuts on the rest of the competition. I want more, and feel moderately cheated that we're a season behind due to the knee injury. My favourite part of his off-season review was:

He just played with that flair and carefree approach, which is a great way to play. We’re not trying to bind that up too much – we’re just trying to find a little bit of balance with it.

Balance be buggered, give him full creative freedom and watch the magic unfold.

Joel Smith - Allegedly close to getting a game last year, which was a surprise to me because I thought he was some sort of protected species rookie who you weren't allowed to play. From the limited VFL games I saw last year he looked a likely type. Has come in just too late for the era when he'd have been gifted a game, but will undoubtedly play seniors this year.

Tim Smith - Like his fellow Smith I liked the look of Timbo in the VFL. You can never have enough marking forwards, so I reckon he might get a start relatively early in the year. His nickname is 'Bull', and we hope he's not as badly Melbourne as Tapscott was.

Jake Spencer - On his way to the lowest games/years on list ratio of any life member, and given that he's our only other senior ruckman you may as well drop a few bucks on him just in case Gawn goes down. Then at least you'll have money to pay for psychological care.

Jack Viney - Barring injury and a lengthy suspension for caving an Ebert's head in out of frustration he can only get better. Labelling anyone our future captain is worse than a death sentence, but in this case I have no hesitation in saying that he will not only replace Jones when Chunk is good and ready but will dominate for years to come. Now watch him come down with a rare flesh eating virus.

P.S - I'm not at all for having multiple captains, but if we had to he's the only one I'd want to share the job with Jones.

Sam Weideman - Showed decent signs while still looking raw in the last few weeks of 2016. Will certainly play a lot of games this year, and we have high hopes for his goalkicking.

HOLD

Tomas Bugg - My favourite irritant. Form is temporary, niggle is forever. I have high hopes that he'll be an important player but you can't rely on being an agent provocateur forever. Here's hoping that he at least plays against Richmond so he can send their cheersquad and 'Jon' Ralph bonkers again.

Lachlan Filipovic - Never invest in a rookie ruckman. Sure, he's got the same name as an MMA superstar and some great floppy hair but let's give him time. They're mental if he doesn't get to come out at Casey Fields to this:


Jeff Garlett - With apologies to the mystery skin infection he suffered at the Adelaide Oval last year, his second half of the season was relatively poxy. That's what you get with enigmatic players, he might kick 50 goals this year but I'm a bit wary about him. Has a spot sewn up for Round 1, but would want to hope Dion Johnstone doesn't develop an appetite for goals in the VFL.

Mitch Hannan - Looks good, took a ripper of a hanger, highlights package is solid. Will it translate to the AFL? No bloody idea. Ask me again in six months.

James Harmes - Had a few good games last year, most notably the Gold Coast game where he played like Gary Ablett for a quarter, and definitely has a spot on our list for the foreseeable future but not sure on his ceiling.

Michael Hibberd - Like Jake Melksham before him my criminal disregard for players from other clubs means I'd never even heard of him until he was linked to us. Supposed to be good, but it would be cheating to give a opinion. It's no slight on him that I'm so criminally under-researched, but the only way I'd know I was standing next to him would be from the radioactive glow that he got from Essendon pumping him full of plutonium.

Jesse Hogan - Will still cost you a fortune even after fizzing out at light-speed in the last month of 2015. Let this not suggest that I'm saying he won't do well, or that he's a poor investment but can you be sure that he'll live up to our lofty expectations next year? Canny investors may wish to pile on in the hope that his price will go through the roof in the long-term. Personally the reason I don't play the actual stock market is the same reason I was no good at cricket or tennis - no bloody patience.

Liam Hulett - It's bad news for him that we seem to be finding forwards everywhere for the first time in years - but barring injury he should get a go this year. I'm conservative so not willing to take a punt on him, but you may wish to take the bet.

Nathan Jones - I'd have had him in the same spot last year, convinced that he can only push things so far before he either finally suffers an injury or is eclipsed by our emerging midfield. And here he is defending his fifth Allen Jakovich Medal. I'm still cautious, there will be a statue of him after his retirement (even if it has to be in my backyard) but this might be the year he goes from almighty to just really good. Hope he wins a sixth Jako to stick it up me.

Declan Keilty - Wouldn't know him if he robbed me in the street. We wish him well.

Ben Kennedy - Started well before levelling off in the middle of the season, but definitely still plenty to offer. Not sure if he's got a spot every week though.

Jay Kennedy-Harris - Fresh from his recent victory in the Demonbracket 2017 #Sizzle Award it would be unkind to suggest I don't have any faith in JFK, but I do wonder. He's definitely not a small forward, and that's not an issue because we've found a couple of those elsewhere, and he did have a great game as a midfielder/half-forward against Adelaide a couple of years ago. Could go either way.

Dean Kent - Love the Kent, and really enjoy watching him play but he's a bit up and down. Needs more consistency this year, and a few more filthy outbursts that are broadcast through effects mics would also be welcome.

Jordan Lewis - Comes in near the top of his game, so while ultimately the only way is down we can get a few good years out of him first. Worth monitoring in the early stages to work out whether we can get the full three years out of him, or if there will be a negotiated exit whenever we play Hawthorn for the first time in 2019. Should be useful in the short term, and it's certainly a step up in quality from the last group of people we drafted just to crack open their skulls and extract the sweet premiership flavoured goop.

Corey Maynard - Haven't watched the NBL since the Victoria Titans were around so I can't comment on his basketball career, and he hasn't had much a footy one yet. What I will say is that Joel Smith was the last off-Broadway rookie we recruited and he seems to be turning out quite nicely, so hopefully this does as well.

Oscar McDonald - After a rocky start where he was clearly getting games on experience rather than performance he came good at the end of the season - most notably against Hawthorn on the day the Mighty Ducks Finish was born. Still don't know if it's going to translate, and I hope he's bulked up a bit in the off-season but should go alright.

Pat McKenna - Is your annual entrant who I know absolutely nothing about, except that he joins the Tyson, Frost, Bugg club of being a better person for no longer taking directions from GWS.

Jake Melksham - Unlike Hibberd I've had a year to get used to who he is, but feel he might have missed the boat a bit by not getting in the side and becoming established. It's a bit concerning that his highlights package is only 123 seconds, and at least 10 of those are titles or a mysterious shot of him walking and pointing. There's also a lot of him either kicking goals or setting them up, and the latter at least makes sense if we're going to play the same system where the defenders push so far up the ground that they can kick inside 50. Based on the 113 seconds I've seen I'd rather him doing it than Tom McDonald let me tell you.

Alex Neal-Bullen - I like him, don't think the last coach did. There didn't seem to be any move to get rid of him in the trade period, so hopefully Goodwin is keener. He reminds me of Cale Morton, in that I'd like to see him play forward more often as not convinced he'll crack it as a midfielder but seems to have a sense for goals.

Clayton Oliver - The modern day Sam Blease, a man who cannot help but be involved in weird situations and always looks like he's about to die during training. I'm certainly not holding his alleged pisswreck driving against him, who amongst us didn't have at least one morning on their Ps frantically trying to calculate if we were still over 0.00? Call me back for some good old fashioned outrage when he's found swerving down the wrong side of the Westgate Freeway. Based on the small sample size of last year when he played 60% of every game and fell out of favour with Roos for six weeks he has got 'it'. Whether he takes 'it' to the next level or not is the question, but witness

Christian Salem - The inability to adhere to reasonable occupational health and safety standards when filling a backpack aside, on paper he should be ready to accelerate from the mundane and into the fast lane. But how can we be sure with all the injuries? Looks good when he plays but has gone 12/10/8 games across his three seasons. A risky investment that you may argue will pay off in spades later.

Billy Stretch - Really liked his performances last year, just wondering if a fit, masonry-free Salem causes him issues. Should be right, but when you follow this club always be on guard for an unexpected fiasco.

Dom Tyson - Back in form last year, just in time to be crippled at our Special Operations Group concentration training camp. Has plenty more to offer and you can never have enough good players, but I suspect your Brayshaws and Olivers of the world are going to become more vital by the end of next year.

Josh Wagner - Now officially on the senior list you know they like him. I certainly didn't dislike him, he played a few decent games last year, but will not be a first choice player. Has the opportunity to find a spot but will have to win it with a big pre-season or from the VFL.

Jack Watts - Price at an all-time high, but with more scrutiny sure to come and the red hot chance of necking himself in a ruck duel because we forgot to get a proper backup for Gawn terrify me. Pre-season is a fraud but I suspect you'll be able to tell which way this is going to go by Round 1.

SELL

Colin Garland - I really like him, and I want him to do well, but he's had a rough couple of years. With the emergence of Sizzle Jr I don't like his chances of a full time spot until somebody falls over.

Mitch King - We've not had much luck with people called M. King in the last couple of years, first Max got delisted then this one did his knee. Coming back from the knee injury I'm not confident, but we've all been stitched up writing off young ruckmen before.

Heritier Lumumba - You've missed the boat here, should have cashed out after the second concussion mysteriously stretched to the end of the year. Get what you can and donate it to a fashionable international cause.

Cameron Pedersen - It pains me to say it, but I don't think he'll last past this year. After a rocky first couple of years I've grown to love [nickname deleted on legal advice]. I was surprised he only played six games last year, and I'm suspect as to whether he'll get more this time.

Jack Trengove - It's marvellous that he's come back, and I hope he proves me wrong by fighting back to the best 22 and playing for many more years to come, but I just don't like the way this is going. Didn't get much of a run at it last year considering his first game back was understandably nervy, the second quite good and the third a sodden slopfest where we kicked two goals. Would like him to have an opportunity this year, but until the inevitable injuries kick in I'm not sure at whose expense.

Aaron vandenBerg - My suspicions about AVB are not just a running joke, I think he's hit his limit. And if we don't need him as a midfielder he's never going to be anything more than a pinch-hitting forward. Has had a good run until now.

Bernie Vince - This is not anti-Bernard content, but he look like things were turning south at the end of last year. May have a couple of years as a defender left yet, but I'm not 100% confident. No arguments with his Melbourne career so far though.

Mitch White - Has never done anything wrong, just don't think he's going to find a permanent place in this team and predict he'll be off at the end of the year.

Projected ladder
There's barely any imagination in changing the top eight, and Carlton fans will probably punch on but bad luck. I can't be so adventurous as to have us in the eight, but for the first time since boldly predicting a 7th placed finish in 2011 only to end up in a place that smelled like slow death I've got us in the mix.

1 - GWS [*spit*]
2 - Adelaide
----
3 - Sydney
4 - Geelong
5 - Western Bulldogs
----
6 - Hawthorn
7 - West Coast
8 - St Kilda
9 - Melbourne
10 - Port Adelaide
----
11 - Gold Coast
12 - Fremantle
13 - Richmond
14 - Essendon
15 - Collingwood
16 - North
----
17 - Brisbane
18 - Carlton

Demonblog's chosen 22
It matters not that nobody's played to their position since about 1997, you get the general idea if I set them up in this format.

B: Stretch, T. McDonald, Jetta
HB: Hibberd, O. McDonald, Hunt
C: Vince, Viney, Jones
HF: Petracca, Hogan, Kent
F: Watts, Weideman, Garlett
Foll: Gawn, Lewis, Tyson
INT: Brayshaw/Oliver, Kennedy, Pedersen/Frost, Salem

Paul Prmyke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
Thanks to Simon @portglass for heading down to the intraclub game and providing these votes. Of course since they turned the intraclub into a glorified practice session it makes deciding these things far more difficult, so thanks to Simon for having a bash. Top votes here gets Hunt off to a great start, he's only got three more matches to defend the lead. Here's hope he goes on to bigger and better things like previous winners Colin Sylvia, Heritier Lumumba and Jeremy Howe.

5 - Jayden Hunt
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Dion Johnstone
1 - Jay Kennedy-Harris

First draft betting markets (NB: updated version from 23 March here)

Allen Jakovich Medal for best overall player
$5 - Jack Viney
$9 - Nathan Jones
$10 - Max Gawn
$16 - Jordan Lewis
$20 - Jack Watts
$25 - Jesse Hogan, Dom Tyson
$35 - Bernie Vince
$40 - Michael Hibberd, Neville Jetta, Tom McDonald
$42 - Jayden Hunt, Christian Petracca
$45 - Angus Brayshaw, Christian Salem
$50 - Dean Kent, Clayton Oliver
$70 - Billy Stretch, Jake Melksham
$80 - Jeff Garlett, James Harmes, Ben Kennedy
$90 - Sam Weideman
$100 - Sam Frost, Aaron vandenBerg
$110 - Tomas Bugg, Oscar McDonald
$125 - Colin Garland, Alex Neal-Bullen, Cameron Pedersen
$150 - Jake Spencer, Josh Wagner
$200 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Jack Trengove, Mitch White
$250 - Mitch Hannan, Tim Smith
$350 - Liam Hulett, Dion Johnstone, Pat McKenna
$400 - Mitch King
$500 - Lachlan Filipovic, Declan Keilty, Joel Smith
$1000 - Corey Maynard
$9999 - Heritier Lumumba

Marcus Seecamp Medal for defender of the year
$7.50 - Neville Jetta, Tom McDonald
$10 - Jayden Hunt
$12 - Bernie Vince
$16 - Michael Hibberd
$20 - Christian Salem
$25 - Billy Stretch
$35 - Sam Frost, Oscar McDonald
$40 - Colin Garland, Jake Melksham
$50 - Josh Wagner
$75 - Mitch White
$100 - Cameron Pedersen
$150 - Tomas Bugg
$200 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
$300 - Declan Keilty
$500 - Jack Watts
$1500 - NO PLAYER ELIGIBLE
$5000 - Heritier Lumumba

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
NB: Sam Weideman remains eligible as he debuted in the last month of the previous season

$5 - Sam Weideman
$10 - Mitch Hannan, Tim Smith
$20 - Liam Hulett
$25 - Mitch King
$50 - Pat McKenna
$70 - Dion Johnstone
$80 - Lachlan Filipovic, Declan Keitly, Joel Smith
$100 - NO PLAYER ELIGIBLE
$500 - Corey Maynard

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year

$1.05 - Max Gawn
$30 - NO PLAYER ELIGIBLE
$50 - Jake Spencer
$80 - Cameron Pedersen
$100 - Lachlan Filipovic, Jack Watts
$125 - Mitch King
$250 - Sam Frost

Will it be worth it?
You would hope so. As above I'm not expecting us to make the eight, but to be involved in a competitive mid-table mediocrity battle royale for the right to thumped by whoever finishes fifth. That will do me for now, let's reconvene next year for "finals or we riot" chat.

Assuming we'll at best win 12 games what I'd really like to do is beat either or both of St Kilda or North, win in Perth and absolutely poleaxe somebody. We got within range against Gold Coast last year before easing up, now to go on with it . I will not be identifying any potential victims, because as we've seen enough times over the last couple of years it's just when you think a massive victory is on the cards that we get beaten by pox teams. Anyone from Adelaide to West Coast will do, I just want that 100+ point win to sit against the nine we've been on the end of since Round 6, 2004.

Administrative Action (incorporating the Paperwork Pond)
This will 100% be there when I start missing games, I can feel it in my bones. So you may be called upon to act as a guest reporter. Please be ready. In the interim I definitely need somebody to do the AFLW games against Footscray and Carlton, I'm struggling to get there as it is without staying for two matches. Please contact me via Twitter, FB  or email. You don't have to go ridiculously over the top with content like I do, because presumably unlike me you're not insane. Just hit all the usual segment gimmicks the rest is yours.

Final thoughts
Take me to the promised land or leave me crumpled under a fold-up seat in Row MM of the Ponsford Stand.

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