Sunday, 26 March 2017

Awakenings

While many were searching for the instructions to their oven when the fixture landed us against St Kilda at Etihad Stadium in Round 1 I was secretly chuffed. What better opponent and venue than a combination of the two (with apologies to North and Subiaco) that have unmercifully taunted us for a decade? Especially considering it would have been easy to write off as the same old shit if we'd lost. I know we've got a world class reputation for sooking after Round 1 (until 2015 when we started winning every year) but as long as we avoided a humiliating loss there wasn't much potential damage to us. Instead we won handsomely and everyone cancelled whatever they were meant to be doing in September.

Nine years, 11 months and 26 days ago we walked into the MCG an outside premiership contender and left on the road to ruin, now for the love of all that is holy please let it be that we've exited Bizzaro MCG on the road to at least one big, fuck off life-affirming moment of salvation. The two games were so opposite that we even had a great first quarter in 2007 before dying in the arse, while tonight we did our best work in the last three. If the reverse form line holds this should mean we finish top four this year, win two flags in a row, have a couple of down years and then spend a few years unlucky not to be premiers.

After floating through the pre-season games with disinterest and steadfastly refusing to get involved in anything the 17 other clubs were up to the footy bug hit me again during the Friday night Bulldogs/Collingwood game. As the regrettably Lynden Dunn-less Pies peddled furiously while the Dogs went through the motions and just did enough to win the importance of watching your team play an honest to god competitive game for premiership points became clear again. Until yesterday afternoon I didn't even know what time we were playing today, then suddenly 20 hours before our game began I started to feel that crushing sense of dread that you can only get from being a Melbourne fan. Others try to imitate it, but none can duplicate it.

Some of it may have come down to crushing jealously about the Dogs flag. I'm still happy for them, after all I even shelved my usual routine of going for interstate clubs against Victorians so nobody I knew would be happy, but it just struck me that thousands of Dogs fans were watching their team play at last knowing that ultimately it didn't matter a shit if they lost because they'd seen a flag. At least everyone except the poor bastard who had a heart attack halfway through the game and woke up in ICU to discover they'd won. That will happen to me one day, except I'll wake up to discover we've lost and have to be restrained from pulling the plug on myself.

The practice games were nice casual kickarounds now it meant something, even if we had to traipse to the worst place on earth (at least since they closed the rat-infested suburban shitholes) for near inevitable defeat. There was nothing inevitable about it on paper, but the combination of playing that team at that ground made thinking about winning a stretch too far. Last year we had two outings against them there where we had some reasonable times but couldn't maintain it all day and eventually lost comfortably, so dragging it across four quarters wasn't completely out of the question but I just couldn't picture it.

No matter what happened in the end I can see an attraction to the way they play, even if their captain has a mullet and a moustache that makes him look like an extra in a Crimestoppers re-enactment. No wonder we're being pitched against them in the discussion about the next big thing, even though we all know we're just playing for the right to lose four Grand Finals in a row to GWS. Beware - the last time we were in a discussion like this Richmond arrived first, then promptly turned around and came back to Misery Town again. Appropriately we don't play the Saints again under Round 21, probably our last game against a finals contender before finishing against Brisbane and Collingwood, so you've only got to wait just under five months for the shock reverse that costs us our finals hopes.

My struggles to get involved in season 2017 almost came back to haunt me when on Friday morning I started to panic about not being able to get in due to a huge walk-up crowd (or being stuck in a traditional Docklands eight hour queue just to scan my ticket) and thought I'd pay whatever Ticketmaster wanted to reserve my member's ticket. Apparently a day and a half before the game there were no general admission tickets left, but I was welcome to fork out $50 if I really wanted to attend. Bollocks to that. No doubt I'd have found something if I'd kept checking, or would have just been able to walk in to the back row when the gates opened but fortunately one of my many beloved mystery benefactors slung me a free ticket. If it was our match I'd have tried to scan in on my membership anyway, because I really want that Nathan Jones bobblehead doll they're offering if you go to nine home games. It will either form the basis for the statue of him that I'm going to erect when he retires or replace it when the fundraising drive stalls.

My nerves about what was going to happen weren't helped by the fact that the stadium had the humid atmosphere of a greenhouse, and that due to the very un-MFC at Docklands sized crowd I was surrounded by people on all sides. There's probably evidence to suggest the seats are wider than they are at the MCG and I'm just complaining because of confirmation bias but it always feels that the Etihad Stadium version are a lot narrower and more uncomfortable. Even worse when the people next door practically have their sweat dripping onto to you. It was a small price to pay for keeping the roof closed and not going through a first half where players had to shield their eyes from sun randomly covering the ground. Still, at half time I had to go for fresh air before I expired.

If I was disinterested it had nothing on St Kilda, who opted not to do an on-ground warm-up before the bounce and instead entered the arena late and will presumably be fined. Ironically this was just after they ran a rah rah video trying to get people to make donations towards rebuilding Moorabbin. At one point I clearly saw Bernie Vince walk over to the umpires and ask "where are they?" Turns out they were just taking their sweet time, and as much as I was hoping it would backfire on them when we kicked four goals in the first four minutes it was hard to argue with the results at quarter time. Maybe they should have copped three fines and won comfortably?

I didn't think we were going to win, which was psychologically handy when we were playing like tripe at the end of the first quarter. At least I couldn't jump off, because I'd never really been on. All I wanted was a signal that we really are set for at worst comfortable mid-table mediocrity. We've already had proof that we can't have as good a run with injury as last year (and there was more to come) so I was less concerned with Vince, Lewis and even Jones than the players I'm expecting to be the vanguard of our 2019 premiership tilt. At quarter time there was precious little sign of them, and we simply looked like the same terrified side who would have moments of sublime magic but spent the rest of the game trying to make the ball somebody else's problem. From there the Clayton Oliver superhero era began, and very little went wrong after that.

Conceding the first goal of the season within 90 seconds was no great concern, at least this year it didn't come from our best fiend $cully. While we weren't necessarily playing badly in the first few minutes before the Saints avalanche came we were falling victim to their manic pressure, leading to all sorts of horrible dinky little handballs that put teammates under pressure. A classic Garlett goal where hung out the back and stormed in with nobody around him restored the lead, but there were already concerning signs. I wasn't much enamoured with Jordan Lewis early, he wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination but didn't seem to be handling their pressure well. I'm pleased to report that he ended up playing a really good game, it probably took him a bit to adjust to not playing alongside multi-time premiership stars and considering we paid practically zero for him it will be hard for that deal not to pay off in spades.

The other half of the new recruits (via a year on the couch) Jake Melksham wasn't bad. He had a few iffy moments but probably provided more than you would have got from Grimes in the same role. Obviously with our defence dropping like flies he's not going to be under any real selection pressure any time soon, and will do for now but doesn't really strike me as the sort of player who'll be in the side every week if we ever put together a serious bash at the top four. As always more than happy to be proven wrong, and he's welcome to lift up his jumper to reveal a t-shirt abusing me on the Grand Final dais when I hopefully get this wrong. I won't see it, I'll be on out the back with paramedics performing CPR.

After an even first 15 minutes where neither side looked like kicking a big score the fun started courtesy of who else but Riewoldt. I still haven't recovered from that extravaganza of aerobic capacity last year where he ran our entire backline big and small into the ground, now here he was cropping up for multiple first quarter goals again. Once he retires we'll beat this lot every time. He must have been fuming in those years when Beau Wilkes/Maister would clean us up, it would have cost Riewoldt about 35 career goals.

The most underrated player on the field was, as always, Neville Jetta. This has to be the year where other clubs and the media finally realise how good Nifty is. He was almighty in defence again, especially in the first half, getting us out of plenty of tight spots. Is he still one concussion away from retirement? Because I don't think I can live without him. For now I could easily live without Oscar McDonald, who is lucky being a backman at Melbourne this year has a higher fatality rate than climbing Mt Everest because he definitely needs extra seasoning at Casey. His brother unloads a few howlers that make him a whipping boy for people who have moved on from Jack Watts but the good far outweighs the bad. At the moment Oscar is reasonably good in the contest and in the air but his disposal fills me with terror. I'm in no way writing him off for the future, and realise that if Senior is injured then he'll practically be in charge of the defence, but I'm not ready to fully embrace him yet.

I was thrilled that Joel Smith was picked after a promising pre-season (and we can always do with further proof that we've gone beyond the nightmare father/son era of Chris Johnson and Michael Clark), and he was playing really well until he necked himself. Or more accurately until Riewoldt necked him - proving that he doesn't have to kick goals to cause pain. Unfortunately the way he blew his shoulder to shreds he won't be seen for a while but I'm reasonably confident in him being a good long term prospect. That wasn't much good to us here, and copping one of the great arsey goals of recent times didn't help my mood.

Earlier in the quarter a Saints player had seen the ball sit up in front of him and decided to just whack buggery out of it from mid-air and it was fantastic because it narrowly missed, now less so was the ball almost rolling out of bounds and the player who kept it in running on to get a handball in the square, then tapping it to himself, gathering it running away from goal and kicking over his head. Even better than it happened in the last 30 seconds of the quarter after we'd spent 10 minutes being plugged from arsehole to elbow. At four goals behind my excitement levels were wavering, but if nothing else I was back in my most comfortable place with completely deflated expectations.

You wouldn't know it from the AFL website video - and at least unlike Thursday night it's working - but Jack Watts kicked the first goal of the second quarter to keep us alive. They'll write a dozen articles speculating about his place in the side, but his goals can't even make the highlight reel. How can any goals miss out? As a Melbourne fan you might not always have been sure in recent years, but isn't that what we're paying to watch? Fortunately when he marked 20 metres out he resisted the temptation to try a dinky handball over the top to either of the players running towards goal, because the way we were going we all know how that would have turned out. It's even smarter to go back and take the kick when he's the best set shot in the team. We'd already suffered a fiasco where Lewis had tried the old Paul Wheatley handoff (later successfully executed by Gawn/Vince) with Jayden Hunt only for the ball to spill loose, the last thing we needed was to blow another chance trying to be cute.

The first comeback didn't last long, who else but Riewoldt trotting into an open goal when the ball dropped into his hands after a marking contest. With one defender gone and the Saints rattling through easy goals like they were playing Melbourne Classic I was nearly tempted to curl up under the seat and have a cry when it was revealed that Gawn was in the rooms having his back looked at. With not much more information than that I pictured him in traction for six weeks. This would obviously be a long-term disaster, but more importantly in the short term would have left Watts as the only ruckman in our side part-time or otherwise. He battles gamely when he does it, but we can't rely on that for more than a few minutes at a time.

Then Gawn re-emerged, bouncing off the ropes like Rocky mounting his triumphant comeback against Clubber Lang and beating the holy bejesus out of the Saints for the next three quarters with nary a hint of trouble from his Shagger's Back. The ban on third man up - which I admit to not having once thought about all day while busy howling in glee/anger at the umpires ignoring holding the ball in both directions - would have benefited him, and it probably helped that the umpire was throwing the ball up in the middle due to the turf being shite after an Adele concert. Lucky she got in before this game so I could still use the gag about breaking our record for depressing the largest crowd at Etihad Stadium.

At four goals down again I was feeling seedy, before the super impressive Mitch Hannan delivered lightning crumb so quick that the ball bobbled around in his hands before he could get it to boot. He kicked the goal, and a bloody nice one it was too, but it was created by Hogan's forward pressure as he tormented a St Kilda defender. Maybe it's that winning at Docklands feeling but I really felt like he was one of us today. Poor bastard.

Like so many times under Roos it took until we were staring down the barrel before we threw caution to the wind and started playing freely. In an earlier post I did an analysis of all the times we went at least four goals down before launching a comeback when he was coach, and it was a ridiculous amount with as bad a winning strike rate as you'd expect. The issue was always that we'd clatter on a few goals and look irresistible for 15 minutes then get nervy again the moment we got close. To prove that we just may be at the start of something big we went on with it this time.

It helped that the Saints disappeared off the face of the earth. The team who'd brutalised us in the first quarter could now barely get near us as we played keepings off. Until this point I'd thought we could have got more out of Spencer as a forward than Weideman, but you couldn't argue with the violence and venom of his kick on the run for the goal that reduced the margin to less than 18. He'd barely received the handball from Jones when he absolutely crushed it through from 40 metres. Still wasn't crazy about him overall today, but you sense that as he gains experience he's going to unleash hell in a couple of seasons. Now that we've won we may as well persist with him next week and see what he can do against the Blues. Last year he did chuff all against them, but I'm still grumpy that they even played him in the wet.

Improbably before you knew it we were in front after Jetta was clotheslined had won a free kick for being clotheslined. He took the set shot well for somebody who used to be a forward but hasn't kicked more than one in a season since 2011. We weren't playing all that well, it was just that St Kilda had died in the steamy atmosphere. The Saints didn't do any of the light speed slingshot shit they stitched us up with x2 in 2016, and they didn't have much of a chance when we wouldn't give them the ball. We took this to ridiculous levels in the last couple of minutes, if you didn't see the game and are judging performances on stats alone it's best to reduce the disposals of anyone in our defence by about 10% to compensate for their festival of side-to-side dink in the last two minutes.

After Hogan took a contested pack mark to extend the lead to eight (and if he's going to add massive grabs to throwing defenders out of the way in one-on-one contests then I'm going to go into a glee coma before Queen's Birthday) we tried to run out 120 seconds by lobbing the ball back and forth. It was a reasonably sound idea, after six goals in a row the last thing we wanted to do was concede one but of course 120 seconds of effective disposal was well beyond us. We got away with it, ironically after one more chance to attack courtesy of our mistake giving the ball to the Saints, who made a mistake of their own, and half time could comfortably be spent wondering what in god's name we'd just seen and whether it was sustainable.

I fully expected St Kilda to regroup, come out playing like the first quarter and be back in front within five minutes, but no. New recipe Melbourne just kept going, with Hannan pulling off another piece of crumb that must have made Dean Kent tense up and realise he might be heading towards Cranbourne next week. Hannan was great, after all he was a last start Etihad Stadium winner in the VFL Grand Final which is more than you could say for all the players we had appearing for Casey that day, where have we been hiding him all pre-season? Was it a calculated ruse to keep him out under the guise of his off-season shoulder surgery (and missing teeth) so we could unexpectedly spring him here? We did that two years ago with Brayshaw, and it worked well there too. Next thing Garlett's crumbing front and square off the pack and we're almost five goals in front after five minutes of the second half.

While a realistic person would have thought "great, we've got heaps of time to do them slowly" I was thinking "oh shit, this is leaving too long for a comeback". Because I'm neurotic. We were a player down, it was so humid that steam was about to rise from the turf like the gates of hell were located directly underneath the ground and the only reason our shaky backline wasn't causing trouble was because we wouldn't give St Kilda the ball. Damn right I was still worried. When Brayshaw got another I relaxed a bit, before Riewoldt managed to finally deliver a steadier at the other end by flukily shinning the ball through.

My nerves were calmed, not for good but at least temporarily, by a remarkable Christian Petracca set shot. Him learning to kick these has been the highlight of the season so far, and this was a special. Reminiscent of Jake Spencer on debut against North in 2009 he dropped the ball cold on his run-up, but unlike that day the umpire didn't call play on so he just scooped it up, continued his run-in and slammed it home from 50 metres out before taking off in celebration.

At 34 points in front at the start of the last quarter it was one of those scenarios where if we were behind I'd be convinced we'd lose (and we would), but because we were in front I was sweating like I was on trial. If we had to tick off one of our key cliches by conceding a goal immediately after kicking one due to the emergency ruckman being in the middle it had to be a Hogan goal that was wasted. It usually is. No wonder he's started to play some centre bounces now, he's buying insurance against them stuffing up his hard work while Gawn is on the bench. This time he was nowhere to be seen, the Saints won the centre clearance and were in a few seconds later.

After lowering his colours twice against St Kilda last year and breaking even at best in the first quarter here Gawn proceeded to give his midfielders one of the great armchair rides. It wasn't Jamar/Moloney vs Adelaide, but only because there were so many more options. At one point 50% of his 40 something hitouts had been to advantage. Many - if not most - of these were going to Clayton Oliver, who rebounded from an ineffectual four touch first quarter to drag St Kilda around for the next three like one of those bags you mop fake clay tennis courts with. By the end he had 36 touches, including 14 contested and nine clearances. But while raw stats are fun the Hamburglar story is nothing without watching him, the number of his 27 handballs that were either performed in confined spaces or shot off so quickly that you wouldn't think he even had time to realise it was going to a teammate was absurd. We already knew we were onto one here, so let's see how he goes now that the rest of the league will start paying close attention. I expect he'll just carry on wrecking people. Go back and watch the over-the-head handball to Jones that delivered the goal at the end of the third quarter. Either he got very lucky that the captain was in the right place at the right time or is a dead set genius. I'm backing the latter.

The reply to the wasted Hogan goal kicked off a purple patch for the Saints, who were rapidly running out of time but it also seemed we were rapidly running out of leg. Lucky they couldn't kick straight, eventually allowing the surprisingly impressive Alex Neal-Bullen to boot the sealer. After being as keen as mustard on Anal-Bullet last year I'd gone off him in the pre-season and admit to complaining when he was picked, but he did really well. It's an added bonus that he's got goal sense and he does remind me a bit of a more robust Cale Morton. One good game is all you need to win me back.

Usually I wouldn't have a bar of opposition players, but given that we'd comfortably sewn the game up it was sad to see Riewoldt go down like a sack of spuds like he'd done his knee late in the quarter. There are players here and there that I enjoy watching, but other than ex-Melbournians who I still pine for (💖 you Stefan) the only two players who I really cared for from other clubs are/were Pavlich and Riewoldt. Is it any wonder that I'd have a thing for them, both 300 game titans who carried their club to within touching distance of glory and will be amongst the greatest players their sides ever produce but never won a premiership. That's a story Melbourne fans can relate to - except we usually can't shepherd people through 200 games let alone 300. I'm bitter that he beats the shit out of us every time, but that's more towards us for letting it happen. I dream of a home grown player still carrying his team on his back at 34. Speaking of his back, I hope the pre-match 'light entertainment' segment where he carried a comedian around wasn't to blame for his later woes.

The second sealer came via another Petracca set shot immediately after Riewoldt was carted off, and we could spend the last few minutes drenched in sweat and joy. For the first time since Adem Yze kicked the sealer in the 2006 Elimination Final and I yelled "Fuck you!" in the face of the St Kilda fan behind me we had toppled the Saints. Plenty of water has gone under the bridge since then - followed by several senior coaches. It's hard to keep up with St Kilda but I think they've been shit, great, shit and good again since then. We've been shit, ok for a little bit, horrendous and ok again. Now to get Subiaco - which only has one year left - and North - which would probably only have one year left if they played like we did to wreck all the hoodoos. Once that's done let's petition the AFL to have a heritage round game at Football Park and try to knock that off as well.

Jordan Lewis must have been secretly bitter about having to go through the cliched first win Gatorade shower after 250 games and four premierships. Better than not going through it because we lost, but he was a good sport and didn't tell them to get stuffed then hide in a utility closet to avoid it. My abiding memory of James Sellar will always be when he heroically declined to participate on the night we beat Essendon in 2013. I enjoyed Joel Smith taking part even with his arm in a sling, unable to properly shield his eyes and probably now suffering permanent damage to his retina as well as his shoulder.

Surely all this excitement must have convinced a sponsor to fork out megabucks and put their name on the excessively red back of our jumper. Rumour has it we'd turned back several suitors because we had a big money deal ready to go only for that company to pull out at the last minute. I don't know whether that means we're renegotiating with the others or whether they've told us to do one, but it just goes to prove that you can take us out of the #fistedforever decade but you can't stop all the horror. It would have helped if we'd made it to the back pages of the newspaper tomorrow but I suppose the Bombers' big win has stuffed that up. Never mind, we're here we're proud and we're not leaving the eight for a few weeks at least.

Stat My Bitch Up
Congratulations to Neville Jetta and Jack Watts, who rid themselves of 0-15 and 0-16 records at Docklands respectively. Jack has made up for missing the GWS win when we all thought he was about to go into Paul Roos' office and dramatically slap in a trade request. I wonder if that would have been captured on the same sort of pervy hidden camera they use to film kids being told they're playing their first game.

As our beloved stalwart of the dark days, Nathan Jones also holds a rancid record at the place. He's now 3-26 there since his first start in Round 18, 2006. When our finals hopes were damaged by suffering a shock loss to a rock bottom Carlton. But of course there's no relevance to modern history there.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Neville Jetta (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
1 - Jesse Hogan

Apologies to most, but especially Lewis, Hannan and Hunt. Also Vince, Stretch and Neal-Bullen.


The downside of the 'humorous' Bulldogs banners being involved in a premiership is that suddenly everyone thinks they're a comedian. There's urban legend that Carlton paid a marketing company to come up with this sack of shite, wasting money that could have been spent engaging our cheersquad as consultants on how to stick a letter on straight, now the Saints have attempted a bit of light hearted japery which suggested we hadn't won at Etihad Stadium since the presidency of George W Bush.
They're not the only organisation who refuse to acknowledge the Round 23, 2015 win over Greater Western Sydney. An AFL website match report suggested it was our "first win at Etihad Stadium since August 2007". It has become the Australian equivalent of the Americans who are convinced they've seen a movie that doesn't exist, people just cannot process that it happened.

I remember it well, not only for a rare win (and in case you're still sceptical here's video proof. We do not believe this was faked in a Hollywood studio) but because the following Monday morning I was attempting to watch the replay of the last quarter while carrying a bowl of Sultana Bran over a fence to stop my kid running out of the loungeroom, got my foot caught on the way over, lobbed the bowl halfway across the room and ended up lying amidst splinters and twisted wood on the living room floor. As I prepare to leave Demonblog Towers IX and hit double figures (or as it's counted in roman numerals, single figures) there's still time to suffer another major MFC related injury to go alongside that and the time I fell down the stairs while browsing Twitter for footy content.

What I will say for the St Kilda banner is that by selling the rights to an iced coffee company (I would rather drink lye), professionally printing it and engaging the biggest rent-a-crowd in footballing history to help get it aloft they took huge steps forward in design. For the last few years they have had the worst banners in the league, even behind when GWS used to inexplicably use a 0 instead of an O like they were cutting ransom notes out of a newspaper, but now they've taken a step on font and design if not quality of slogans. The Saints cheersquad has written in to assure me that everyone on-field was a paid up member, which I can only accept as correct, but then tried to play up the bit about GWB being about games against them, which is the worst piece of damage control since the incident with Jordan De Goey's dog. The actual writer of the banner subsequently contacted us to suggest it was supposed to say "last time they beat us" so god only knows what the real story is.
On the other hand we put in a solid effort, nothing over the top but just enough to do the job without making fools of ourselves. After dual pre-season disasters where the thing toppled over it was good to get a solid warm-up done for bigger and better things to come. The day we get into misplaced attempts at 'banter' for the sort of people who yell things out at tennis matches or introduce a curtain is the day I retire this feature. 1-0 Dees for the main season, and 2-2 including the pre-season games.

I feel that the 'raise hell' tag line the club is going with this year could lead to some real fire and brimstone old time religion slogans, leading to anarchy of biblical proportions. I've got no interest in ecumenical matters but it would shit on trying to force a comedy routine into four lines. Failing that, go for the Stone Cold Steve Austin option.


Crowd Watch
There were good signs right from the start, for all the mud I've slung at Etihad Stadium they've introduced a simple innovation which is destined to make my life easier. There are now lines where a stadium attendant will hand scan your ticket. Never again will you have to stand behind some gibbon who doesn't understand that the ticket shaped hole in the gate is where you put the barcode on your ticket. For once take note MCG, this is the wave of the future. It may cost more but customer satisfaction will go through the roof.

After Etihad had done such an efficient job of getting people into the ground it was lucky there was anybody left for the first bounce after St Kilda's pre-match entertainment package. This sort of stuff is like being a politician, people will always look favourably on their own side and think everything the other side puts out is shit but did we really need multiple renditions of the maudlin version of their theme song that sounds as if it should be played while a coffin is being lowered into a grave? To try and lift the mood after having us all reach for the anti-depressants they tried to lure their fans into community singing by piping in realistic sounding atmosphere. Nobody showed much interest until half-heartedly clapping along at the end, and I won't be taking any shit from St Kilda fans about the trumpeteer after that. When the Saints didn't bother to come out for the warm-up the person on the buttons shit themselves and played it again, exposing to anyone who'd been roped in the first time that it was all recorded. There would be a significant crossover between people who thought that was real and people who are roped into Nigerian email scams.

Any tension I have with St Kilda, and to be fair it pretty much all went away when they drew that Grand Final due to a novelty bounce then got flogged in the Lionel Richie replay, stems directly from sitting next to an insane cheersquad in the '98 finals who got a bit racial and thought there was nothing wrong with Barry Hall assaulting a Febey brother. Today there was none of that, and the absolute worst any of the St Kilda fans sitting around me could muster was a half-hearted, deflated "Jesse is a girls' name HUR HUR HUR" in the last quarter. Get that man a job writing banners immediately.

Either the Saints faithful were broken hearted at handing over their most cherished winning streak or like me they were all about to die from heat stress. Maybe it was because I unexpectedly found myself sitting near the fence on the bottom level (and can probably be seen chewing my fingernails during a boundary throw-in), with such a high class of people that even the lady who reads the Channel 7 weather was there. I'd love to say she spent the whole day swearing her head off and issuing random threats to boundary umpires but sadly not.

Also suffering in the humidity were all forms of telecommunications. I missed an entire half of post-goal checks of Dees Twitter swinging to distress to glee and all points in between. It's almost understandable that the 4G network faltered as 40,000 people rushed to their phone simultaneously to write us off, but considering how far out of their way Etihad went to talk up their awesome Wi-Fi network it would have helped if it worked for the entire first half. All I wanted to do was browse the stats and/or check the Sydney/Port score, both issues which could have been solved if they did updates on the screen. Another win for fan experience, but at least it meant I couldn't make a Rex Hunt of myself with premature adjudication about our season.

One thing you always get at Etihad which you don't at the MCG is close brushes with the stars. All mine were with ruckmen, first standing back like the gentleman I am to allow Lachlan (oddly styled as "Lochie" in the season guide - I'm not sure how you get "Loch" out of "Lach" but it's his name so he can do what he likes with it) Filipovic to walk through the crowd, then after the game seeing people mobbing The Spencil to celebrate with him. In classic Spencer style he just sort of looked baffled, but I can report his microphone hair looks even better up close than on TV.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Always nice to start the season with a raft of contenders. As tempted as I am to pick Petracca's set shot where he dropped the ball then casually scooped the it up and bombed it home I'm going to have to opt for Hannan's second piece of delightful crumb at the start of the third quarter, where he scooped the loose ball bouncing off the pack and almost threw it on his boot in a single movement before snapping around the corner. Bonus points for being the 'steadier' we needed after half time to convince everyone, players and fans alike, that we could go on with it.

Next Week
It's Carlton again, in the marquee timeslot of 3.20pm on Sunday. Good for networks who need a lead-in to the news, shithouse for those of us who like to get the footy over as early as possible and get back to our more rewarding non footy lives. All signs point to us shellacking them, except our recent record against shithouse sides - including Carlton in 2015 and 2016. It could be argued that both those games were at the end of the year when everyone was physically and/or mentally shot, and that we should have no trouble dismissing them even on two days less break and an afternoon playing in Darwin-esque humidity.

So why am I shitting bricks? It's just beyond comprehension that we could be 2-0, especially when you consider how bad we've been in second rounds recently. For those of you who missed it in the pre-season here's the recent tale of woe that we're battling:
  • 2008 - lost by 95
  • 2009 - lost by 53
  • 2010 - lose on a dropped mark in the square with a second left
  • 2011 - turned 19 point half-time lead into a 45 point loss
  • 2012 - lost by 108
  • 2013 - lost by 148
  • 2014 - lost by 93
  • 2015 - turned five goal lead into 56 point loss
  • 2016 - backed up a top Round 1 win by losing to the Essendon Reserves.
All of which means chuff all to what's likely to happen next week, but it does explain why I'm so nervous.

It can't be a good thing when the loss of a first gamer exposes your wafer-thin backline depth, but I struggle to see any direct replacement for Smith. Any of Frost, Hibberd, Wagner or Garland would have been a chance if they hadn't done themselves a varying degree of mischief. Not even really comfortable fielding Sizzle Jr at the moment, but we're just going to have to wear that and hope for the best given the lack of alternatives.

Frost was listed as a 'test' this week so he's probably the best option, but I'm going to assume he won't play and opt for Pedersen. He might not even be required to play the whole game in defence considering how few forwards Carlton have and is a marginally better ruck option than Watts. And if god forbid we do need a defender and he's not working out we can send Watts down there and play Pedersen forward.

The dominance of the midfield is terrible news for Tyson, who will have to wait his turn. I can't find a spot for Kent either, but it shouldn't be too long before somebody is injured or suspended. Incidentally there was a moment where Milkshake made reasonable front-on contact with an opponent. He wasn't hurt, but did hilariously punt the resulting free kick straight on the full. Looked like nothing more than a fine at the absolute worst, but Match Review Panel Lotto will probably put him out for 4-6 weeks. Vince also clobbered somebody in the back of the head, failing to hold off so he could be reported in Round 3 for the fourth year in a row, and could be in trouble. I suppose it's only fair if he goes down, considering at one point he got away with one of the most illegal disposals ever right in front of the umpire. If he's out perhaps bring Tyson in and use Salem in his role?

Meanwhile, if there's anything suspect about Gawn's back they have to play Spencer. We can't risk  a have-a-go fill-in ruckman playing the majority of the game against a side who are generally no good but killed us off quickly last time by dominating the centre. So, after all that it's one change and for the love of god can we please turn up in the first quarter this time?

IN: Pedersen
OUT: Smith (inj)
LUCKY: Weideman, O. McDonald
UNLUCKY: Spencer, Tyson, Kent

Was It Worth It?
By the end I was left looking like a raver in a field at 4am, sweating like Iggy Pop and with a tightly clenched jaw but a sense of euphoria and love for mankind. You're damn right it was worth it, and I hope those of you who couldn't be bothered didn't make it to the GWS game but were there today enjoyed the feeling of lifting a monkey off your back and hurling it into the sea.



Final Thoughts
Like a game of 10 Pin Bowling where you throw a strike in the first frame and briefly wonder if you might roll 300, there was a moment in the afterglow where I wondered if we might actually make the eight. That's as far as my optimism goes, and even that was most likely down to dehydration. There's a lot of ups and downs to come in the next 21 weeks, but the best thing to do to start convincing me that the glorious future is real would be to win comfortably next week. See you back in the same place next Sunday night for bitterness and recrimination.

1 comment:

  1. Great report Adam. We need to know about Petracca's tongue out celebration. Maori blood?

    ReplyDelete