Sunday, 16 April 2017

Touching cloth

In July 2014 I wrote a post entitled "A return to traditional values" after yet another debacle of a loss against Fremantle, where it was suggested that we could wheel out whatever coach we liked and it wouldn't matter because Ross Lyon "has got us on a leash like we're at a fetish club". In 2017 it's new coach, same result.

The numbers don’t lie, Lyon is now 15-1 against us since that we got his coaching career off to a hot start in Round 1, 2007. Even last year when we had Jesse Hogan manually removing Zac Dawson from contests like he was shifting a cardboard cut-out we unconvincingly wobbled to victory against a four win team. Now both Hogan and Dawson were gone, and our forward line reverted to the toothless, directionless rabble of the pre-Hulk years. Our most potent tall forward turned out to be The Spencil. I love that guy, but if that was the case no bloody wonder we unexpectedly lost.

Indeed it was unexpected, even I thought things would get uncomfortably close but that we'd eventually get over the line. It was meant to be an afternoon free of the myriad pressures of relocating to an actual god honest house for the first time in my life, instead I was left trying not to blow a gasket, before eventually blowing a gasket. Moving is a painful process, and I should know because I've done it enough, so if there was ever a day to put my hand up, admit defeat and stay home this was it. But I desperately covet that Nathan Jones bobblehead doll, and even though I've passed the Florence Nightingale stage of having to hover over the club like a typhoid patient that may die at any moment without constant attention the idea of not being there to see games live still affects me emotionally.

So, down went the sticky tape and off I went for the last time from Demonblog Towers IX. A location that covered the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons, making it probably my most successful residence since my return to Southbank (Towers VII) from the end of 2010 through 2012. From now getting to the footy is going to a baffling and traumatic ordeal, but it's not like I'm going to stop going so I'll just have to deal with the consequences.

Because my entire life’s philosophy is based on making things harder than they need to be, I ratcheted up the degree of difficulty by taking my kid to her first game. It was as much because I felt guilty leaving Mrs. D at home to deal with her in a half-packed house while I escaped the chaos as anything. My footy life started with a win and has gone 238-4-363 since, maybe she’ll enjoy the reverse and turn defeat into great things. Like refusing to get involved in footy, or risking being struck from my will by supporting GWS. Ironically that 2014 post about Freo owning us so comprehensively that our players should have had anchors tattooed their foreheads came the week she was born and I shamefully snuck out of the hospital to watch. At least just under three years later when we lost to the Dockers again we scored more than 50.

Some may think this was a cynical attempt to get her off to a good start with a win, like when Dom Cassisi retired the week Port played us at near rock-bottom because he knew he'd go out on a high, but you and I have been through enough to know that no win is guaranteed in my book. It was more the happy set of coincidences with the moving, what I thought would be a pitiful crowd (and didn’t I pay for that later by sitting in the car park for 30 minutes waiting for people to merge from eight different directions), and my mum agreeing to make her latest surprise return to the fold to act as babysitter in case little Hashtag lost interest and started screaming at the big screen to play Peppa Pig instead. This came in handy deep in the last quarter when I started to suffer internal combustion from the tension of the comeback and the knowledge that we were going to find a way to stuff it up.

The lessons about being over-confident against supposedly lesser sides still hasn’t been learnt by everyone. The players might have taken heed, but there were still queues of fans who deep down must have known a disaster was on the cards but tried to be outwardly butch and suggest we'd romp to victory. Even with their win over the reigning premiers a week earlier I tried to console myself that young teams might be able to pull that sort of shit off at home but it never translates away. Which is how you think when you follow a side that made the surprise to instant let-down transition legendary. In fact I was packing it from the moment Freo won, and probably would still have been if they’d lost. New eras and new coaches be buggered, we are still a mental outfit and finally got what we deserved from the Carlton game.

World War III might be about to break out, but on Saturday 15 April 2017 the organisation on the highest level of alert was the Kent Kingsley Klub after we missed two chances (including Tomas Bugg of all people nearly screwing one through from the pocket), only for Freo to go down the other end and kick a goal from the boundary line through Shane Kersten. He never got another, instead we were tormented by the Unmade Bed Cam McCarthy and a running cavalcade of unsung goalkickers and players you’ve never heard of but who will probably be collectively nominated for the Rising Star this week.

When Hannan missed a relatively easy set shot it looked like another round of last week’s peg-leg style goalkicking was on the cards. We dragged it back to a reasonable level by the end, generally by having the shots from barely outside goalsquare range, and if we had to grab the lead back then lose it again I’m glad we got in front via a set shot and lost by missing a speculative long range bomb rather than the other way around.

Sanity was briefly restored by the Spencil, marking at the top of the square and converting a kick that none of us were 100% confident of. In the international history of Dockers and docking, that should have started the footballing equivalent of this:



... but to paraphrase baseball coach Casey Stengel, the football public want to see goals and our defence are doing everything they can to help. It wasn’t just their inability to clear the ball for 20 minutes of the third quarter (punctuated only by brief trips back to the centre after goals), or the numerous howlers by hand or foot but the way they still look like they have no idea where they’re supposed to go when the other team have the ball. It’s very easy to play forward against Melbourne, just run into acres of space, put your hand up and wait your turn. Players should be able to take a ticket like a supermarket deli as they enter 50. We’ve obviously had much worse times defensively, but that was usually because we were subject to brute force entries where you could stand anywhere and it didn’t matter because the ball was always down there anyway. Now we have raised expectations and it’s killing me watching a second year of what feels to the untrained eye like a gigantic technical flaw going unchecked.

I don’t purport to know enough about tactics or football in general to start a futile Sack Rawlings Facebook page, but for the second year in a row having players woefully out of position when defending any attack launched at more than walking speed is costing us. Last year it usually happened when the defenders pushed up, turned the ball over and were left trying to work out where the damn zone started and finished but this time it’s just open slather chaos whenever the ball exits the attacking 50. It’s not solely the fault of the backmen, free players run in waves all down the ground while they are desperately trying to organise who’s supposed to be standing where. By the time it arrives they’ve run around in circles so much that the other side are gleefully queuing up to take a mark. There was a moment yesterday that I wish I could have taken a photo of, and which I hope will be shown on any number of footy analysis shows that I'll be refusing to watch this week, where four Freo players were standing on their own inside 50 with their hands in the air and not a Melbournian in sight. If somebody got a picture it would become as iconic in the history of Melbourne vs Freo games as that one from 2013 where three of our players contested a mark against each other. I’d say this is just what the Dockers do to us – and have been since that fateful night in ’99 when Tony Modra ripped us a new ringpiece at the MCG – but it happened last week, and about 10 different times in 2016.

The next thing you knew Tyson took advantage of a 50 metre penalty to kick out on the full, and not long after we were two goals down. Nervous adjustment of collars commenced across the MCG, as 20,000 people said "here we go again" at once. For all the inaccuracy it is an indisputable fact that we've been better at Etihad Stadium than our home ground so far this year, and we haven't played any particularly good sides at the 'G yet. How's your confidence level going? Mine was never that high to begin with. The second goal showed how important it is to find a real-life superstar who can consistently do ridiculous things, Fyfe going back with the flight of the ball and marking despite a concerted effort by Dean Kent to try and spoil by spinning around and ramming Fyfe in the breadbasket with his buttocks. Talk about relying on the top end of your team to carry the rest - they had five players with less than 10 disposals to our one, and it didn't do them any harm.

Just as I was about to lose all hope we got one of those centre bounce moments that make life worthwhile, Spencer taking advantage of Freo's 2nd string ruckman performing one of the worst run and jump combinations at a ball since 1897 to effortlessly smack it into the hands of The Hamburglar, who kicked long and for the first and possibly last time all day found one of our forwards in front and winning a contested mark. Watts converted, and I mistakenly thought we were back in town. As much as I love Jack, and have come to accept that he will have moments where it looks like he's taking things too easily, even I cracked the sads when he followed up this goal with a lazy snap towards an unguarded goalsquare soon after. That opportunity was set up by Garlett, who has been fantastic so far this year after a rocky second half of 2016, and his work to make the opportunity deserved more than a casual ping around the corner.

Going into quarter time three points down shouldn't have been an issue, but given all the times I've seen Freo beat us at the MCG I could hear sirens blaring and see red lights pulsing everywhere. Could we not just have a day where everything goes right and we stomp a side from siren to siren four times? It doesn't even have to be the elusive 100 point win, just 60 or so will do. Arguably we did this against Brisbane and Collingwood last year, but even then there were large patches of slurry - especially in the Lions match where we fell into the age old trap of trying to play like millionaires when not even remotely qualified.

It was a day for false dawns, when Harmes put us back in front at the start of the second quarter I thought - not for the first or last time - that we'd put everything back in place and were going to romp to a comfortable victory. By the end of the quarter it looked like that again, but not before our loose goose backline gave up more easy goals. In the middle of their first two, Kent kicked one from the boundary line after eventually convincing a photographer to piss off out of his way, proving that some players are better kicking from ludicrous angles with the pressure removed rather than directly in front. The kick came from a moment that was so ridiculous we will probably steal it, somebody called E. Hughes desperately trying to kick the ball forward from a pack and accidentally putting it on out on the full closer to goal than where he started. Give up a pick in the high 20s for that man.

As if to say "stop complaining about free players inside 50, we can concede goals any way you like" the reply came when the ball was pulled back from the boundary line for the very unforward-like David Mundy to hold his ground and mark against Jetta (his weekly appearance as the last line of defence) and a quickly closing Sizzle McDonald. I resolved to stop being sucked in by goals, because we'd only give them back the moment Freo got the ball in any sort of open space. Of course the moment I lowered my expectations we began to romp away to a comfortable lead. Then when they went back up we died in the arse.

The first came from Petracca, the master of manoeuvring in confined spaces, then after Viney missed the gift of a rare 100m penalty and Freo stuffed up a pair of chances for a steadier we played what passed for a golden five minutes but still wouldn't have been spat at by a good side. Two of the three goals had Garlett's fingerprints all over them, setting up the first and kicking the last after another predatory chase/tackle inside 50. Now we had them spooked, and the 15 players they had who were relying heavily on the other seven to carry them were shitting themselves with or without ball. All it lacked was either one killer blow, or at least getting to half-time with the big lead intact.

The whole game was MFC Gold, from losing while favourite, to being beaten by the Dockers at the MCG, but their final goal of the quarter was the moment most worthy of instant elevation to the long since shuttered club Hall of Fame. We’d just put together one of the least impressive seven goal quarters you’ll ever see, but it was seven goals nonetheless that opened a 27 point margin heading towards half time. Realising this our players went into shutdown mode with what must have been two minutes to go, but unable to pull off enough clean disposals in a row to run down the clock they turned the ball over. Freo, being an equally inept team, then fell apart trying to attack and gave the ball back to us with free players streaming forward everywhere – for once our Achilles heel situation working for us – and after some hesitation when the players wondered if they still had the green light to try and attack they walked right into a rope-a-dope scenario. The attack petered out due to a lack of proper targets, Freo whipped down the other end, found Lachie Neale standing in the middle of three Melbournians like he was the middle point of a triangle, and he kicked what turned out to be a reasonably crucial goal after the siren. I didn’t see the ad for Melbourne Experiences today, after the Carlton game they must have realised it would seem sarcastic.

It was a great day for professional Josh Tynan lookalike Neale. After 96 games we enabled the first four goal haul of his career. He only kicked seven all of last year, but we’re here to help players make lifelong memories. Arguably even worse was allowing David Mundy – sent forward presumably because like Vince they’ve lost interest in him as a midfielder – to rack up only his second three goal performance in 255 games. I’d love an unusual player to kick four for us – other than Daniel Ward inexplicably doing it against Brisbane 15 years ago, a youthful Nathan Jones against the Lions in 2008 and Sam Blease’s mysterious five against St Kilda it’s hard to come up with many irregular goalkicking performances by our lot. One day Petracca’s going to kick six or Hunt will unload four long distance bombs, and then you’ll know we’ve made it.

It’s simplistic to blame Jordan Lewis and Jesse Hogan for playing a part in the result by not being there, but it’s not without some merit. Of course it didn’t look like they were required when we were opening up a near five goal lead, but we could have done with Lewis’ experience when the tide turned against us in the third quarter and Hogan as a target full stop. Even if Jesse wasn’t kicking goals he would have been marauding the half-forward line getting involved and setting up others. Instead he was sitting in the stands, probably fanging for a gasper and cursing the MCG’s no smoking policy.

It’s not the smoking, I wouldn’t care if he was cycling uppers, downers, steroids and substances usually only found in oven cleaner if he was playing well, but I still just don’t trust him. When he signed the contract extension I thought that would be all I'd need to fully embrace him as one of ours, but the punch – which was admittedly light on, played up for all it was worth and not worth more than a week – has unleashed the beast again. Maybe this is what happens when you’re landed with a player who is anointed as the chosen one. It might just be a defensive stance so that if he turns out to be serviceable, or dicks us and returns to Perth in a couple of years I won’t feel as hurt. This is not an SEN style provocative statement to try and get publicity and boost my audience, as much as he (incoming cliché alert) straightens us up and draws heat away from other forwards there’s just something that doesn’t sit right with me. I would appreciate if he could wait until he’s back and firing to send over payslips demonstrating that he could easily afford to have me killed.

While writing this in an otherwise empty house, with a computer that won't connect to the internet so I can post the damn thing, I followed Tom Lynch of Gold Coast rattling home five first half goals against Carlton. That’s who I dream of, somebody who treats Blues defenders with contempt by thrashing the pants off them, not petulantly lashing out at the most pissweak provocation ever. It's hardly a controversial decision to say I’d have Lynch in a second, but that’s not going to happen. If we’re going to pick at the corpse of Gold Coast – who after all their trials will probably still reach success before us – what I would very much like to do it swipe the SME Killer Steven May and stick him in our backline. I can't explain why, but I have a major fetish for that guy.

While Hogan and Lewis might be at fault in their own way for what happened – though like umpires screwing you on days where you give away a dozen goals from turnovers, they can’t be blamed for those who did play stuffing it up from a winning position – you can’t lay any of the blame for this on Gawn. Once we went from "oh shit knee" to "oh good hamstring" then back to "oh shit hamstring" and found out he was gone for 12 weeks we had to confront the reality that this was going to open the door for Jake Spencer to become the man. Which admittedly he was well on the way to doing before Maximum stormed into the team like a runaway elephant in mid-2015. People forget this, and instead concentrate on him dropping the ball in his run-up in 2009 or scuffing one of the worst kicks ever along the ground against GWS in Canberra in 2012. Jake's come a long way from there, and while he lost the hitout battle against Sandilands here I thought he played his role really well and chipped in with Gawn-esque goals.

I don’t have full time figures, but at the half he'd had many less hitouts than Sandi but almost as many to advantage so I’m confident in saying he will massacre some lesser ruckmen over the next three months if he stays fit. And if he doesn't stay fit, well that serves us right for drafting rookie ruckmen with years of development required instead of plonking a mature body ruck on the rookie list just in case. Even if he stays fit and totally loses form what are they going to do? King and Filipovic are nowhere near ready, and as game as Watts is at the bounces you can’t string that out for more than a few minutes at a time. In Spencil we trust. Just always have a player running past for the optional handball when he gets it.

We've got more trouble than players needlessly getting themselves rubbed out. Both Tyson and Vince have both got the Heather Mills-McCartneys, and Viney still can’t get near it a month into the season. Despite Jones doing an ok job on him Fyfe still killed us, and I'd have used Viney on him instead. He needs something to help him break out of his funk, and if somebody had to be dragged around in Fyfe's wake we may as well have used the guy that needed to be taken to where the ball was rather than wasting Jones. There’s already talk about a staged exit from the joint-captaincy, which is stupid if it's not working the best thing to do is just pretend we’re going on as normal until the end of the year and let Jones do everything. He’s used to that.

Neale’s goal scared me to death. I’m generally a nervy character when defending any lead under the Chris Sullivan Line (and even then it doesn’t become real until the last quarter) but there was a definite sense that it shifted things. That shouldn't have translated through a 20 minute break, but it did and how. I didn’t know a surprise Heritage Round had been declared, but it was an unwanted flashback to the days when Neeld’s motivational speeches made the team run out after half time to be violently mowed down the moment the siren went.

Harmes, who has been very good the last two weeks after I whinged about them picking him, had a chance to cancel out the late goal at the start of the third, but after he missed one of those American bombs that obliterates everything for miles dropped on us, leaving Freo to mercilessly shell bedraggled survivors for the next 30 minutes. Speaking of returning to traditional values, it's been a while since I've seen us so panicky and inept at extracting the ball from defence on such a grand scale. Usually we get slaughtered on the rebound but this time the Dockers expertly executed a press so heavy that we never got the chance to turn it over on the run because we were pinned down inside 50 and unable to exit with anything more than a big, terrified hoof which usually came straight back. Whenever Freo kicked a goal I thought that at least it gave us the chance to escape from defence and craft something, but the moment the ball crossed halfway it was on for young and old inside 50 again.

After their first two goals we had a chance to reply, and as we were still in front Kent's sloppy handball to the goalsquare which rolled over before Watts could get a foot to it was received with big smiles and all-round "oops, sorry!" because it looked like we were turning the corner. Turning straight into an ambush as it turns out, the ball went down the other end and stayed there. There was an element of luck in the rampage - how many times did they get a novelty bounce in their favour? - but like we briefly found out against Geelong you make your own luck with insane pressure. We went to water under it and they merrily ran around yelling Heave Ho until we were as good as dead.

We were so loose that at one point they worked a goal courtesy of three different kicks to spare players increasingly close to goal. The only surprise was that they didn’t also have somebody standing alone on the line for the cheap handball over the top. We were like a frightened caterpillar, curling into a ball to protect itself only for a big boot to come down and squash it anyway. By halfway through the quarter they were in front, which was distressing enough, and by the end four goals in front after kicking eight in a row. If it wasn't Round 4 there would have been a riot.

I remained hopeful, if not confident, that we could pull off a comeback but it should never have got to that in the first place. When they were walking all over us it looked like the Grimgove era where the other side would get a roll on and nobody stepped up to take control and settle the team down - which is ironic because the leadership group had about 50% of the list in it those years. I'm not surprised considering Jones had his hands full trying to quell Fyfe and Viney is on another planet at the moment. Could I say again, with no prejudice against Viney who I do love dearly, how much I hate the idea of co-captains?

Both ends were going so badly that I'm surprised we didn't rip out the old T. McDonald to full forward move for the last quarter to try and get somebody down there to take a mark using the element of surprise. Even Frost, who was very good one-on-one but got lost in the same black hole as everyone else when the ball came in quickly, would have provided a target that nobody else was offering. Turns out that wasn't necessary, first Watts and then gloriously Spencer turned out for big marks right in front of goal in the first couple of minutes and the comeback was on. Then it was off/on/off/on/off again. In the classic Melbourne style we mounted our comeback on death or glory footy, then when we got close enough reverted back to doing what had got us so far behind in the first place.

It shows how well they thought Melksham was going that after James Harmes probably did the best job in the traditionally graveyard-like defensive forward position since the Ricky Petterd era, they sent him back in the last quarter and Milkshake forward. He almost kicked a goal from the same spot where Pedersen kicked the sealer against Carlton in 2015, but that may have been his only touch for the quarter. No doubt Harmes has rolled himself into playing the forward role for the next few weeks until they lose interest and send some other victim down there to wither and die. On the other hand I’m happy to explore alternatives to Jake the Snake. Suffice to say his role in the comeback was minimal. He might go well in bruise free slopfests where he gets two hours to size up every disposal, but under heavy pressure there were no lovely tap-ons and not much lovely anything else.

Freo were on the run again, courtesy of a Hunt-style long bomb from Petracca, and even as we couldn't help but gift them opportunities they were stressed out under the weight of the comeback and didn't take advantage. But I knew they would eventually. Weideman had played more like Weetra all day, so when he got a free kick right in front of goal I think everyone knew what was coming next. Having been so accurate from set shots until now he was so surprised at getting a kick that he missed. Sam has got a lot of time to develop, but without Hogan (who should punch himself next for missing two games where we were dying for a target) to take the focus away from him has looked way out of his depth.

He shouldn’t have even been playing given how much better Tim Smith was last week. Goodwin said Smith was dropped because they were doing “something else” with the forward line. Apparently that was the innovative move of kicking long to Garlett against two defenders or just plain old roosting it as long inside 50 as possible straight to a defender. Harmes conquering the death seat was the only success, and that was just a straight swap of him (and occasionally Bugg, but that didn’t bring much) into the role that has killed Brayshaw rather than anything to do with the talls. I don’t give a rats what the behind the scenes explanation is, they flubbed this decision and Weid needs to go back to the VFL and get some form before coming back for another go. He’s a 19-year-old key position forward, senior experience is great but there’s no need to force it on him unnecessarily. If not Smith I’d have gladly had Pedersen in that role, but clearly he’s seen as nothing more than spare parts and will undoubtedly be chopped at the end of the year.

Garlett expertly created another goal to get us back within a kick with plenty of time left, only for the ball to ping straight out of the middle and to some mystery man called Brady Gray, who may very well have been another player appearing under an assumed name for all I know, for the instant reply. I knew it still wasn't over, but it felt like it. If they got the ball forward they scored, we had no such guarantees. Salem kept us afloat with a well taken kick along the ground, but deep in my Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome diseased heart I knew we were still going to lose even if we got in front.

In the middle of all this, with my tension reaching absurd levels at the thought of us pulling off another ridiculously undeserved comeback, I heard a commotion to my left and looked over to see some kid bawling his eyes out after royally necking himself trying to run up the stairs. A few years ago when I was a confirmed shit bloke without any parental instinct I might have told the kid to hush up because there was a thriller afoot, but now here I was like Hulk Hogan in Mr. Nanny trying to get him to identify where his parents and/or legal guardians were so I could let them know. Fortunately they were right in front of us, so it didn’t take long to alert them and get back to my seat. For some reason, probably related to the tension of the last quarter, I gave the kid a pat on the shoulder and said something like "hope you’re alright buddy" on the way back up the stairs. It was literally the first time in my life I’ve ever called anyone ‘buddy’ (what’s wrong with 'Lance'?), and I hope it’s the last. By the end I was considering adopting the same position on the stairs and having a sob too.

I hadn’t been listening to the radio all day, thinking to myself at the start that it should be unnecessary to have to know how much time there is left in any quarter, but the tension of being within a kick prompted me to remember that I had it in my bag. With no earphones I was forced to adopt the old radio to ear look like it was 1985. It was still tuned to the Tobin Brothers after I'd had to find an alternative to escape Liam Pickering on SEN last week, and do you think those miserable arseholes ever once said how long there was to go? This is not the era of the Channel 10 five minute warning, we know you have access to the TV coverage, just give us a hint every once in a while. At one point Gerard Whateley, who I quite like other than his strange fetish for a horse, said something happened "as security guards start ringing the MCG". Just give me the god damn time pal. I stand by previous comments, probably made after that St Kilda debacle that killed Jimmy Toumpas’ career, that while I never want the players to know exactly how long is left I as a fan want to know to the second. Even the countdown clock on the fence that's supposed to run down to the last minute now didn't appear. Even fence sponsors don't want to be involved with us?

After struggling to get a touch all day, and already missing one set shot from practically the same angle, Viney showed that while he might be desperately out of form he’s still a calm character by marking one of Neal-Bullen's few accurate kicks and converting to put us in front. Which was ace, but I just knew there was more to come. Obviously it was too early to stack the backline, but if we could win out of the centre and keep the ball down our end we’d be fine. The concern was that the moment it crossed halfway towards Freo’s goal we were horribly vulnerable. It would have been a good time for Spencer to get any sort of tap, to advantage or not, but the Dockers won it and the countdown to disappointment began.

No doubt somebody’s reflex blaming Spencil for losing but centre bounce hitouts are as overrated as inside 50s. Blaming a ruckman for a loss because he didn’t win enough hitouts is like blaming the car for a speeding fine. Other than those few magical times when the ruckmen sticks it into a midfielder’s mitts with a perfect hit the whole thing is pot luck to the point where if Spencer goes down we may as well put Tomas Bugg in there and concentrate on what happens at the fall of the ball.

I knew the 10th lead change would not be the last, for a game where we 'only' conceded 106 points my confidence in our ability to keep them out was next to nil. Even when it was going well I said "we'll never get away with playing like this against a good side", and as it turns out we wouldn't get away with against a middling-to-shit one either. We held out for about 60 seconds before Freo went forward in waves again, fresh as if it wasn't the 30 minute mark of the last quarter, and found two players goalside of McDonald and Frost. As Frost's despairing backhand punch towards goal fell short, The Unmade Bed got a touch so light that it's surprising they didn’t go to the video to confirm it, the mask of sanity slipped and I freaked out in front of Junior (my kid, not Oscar McDonald), banging the seat in front of me and yelling “FUCK!” before quickly lying to her that it was all a game and I was having a wonderful time indeed. Meanwhile all my internal organs were about to explode.

Remember last year when some anonymous arsehole was calling rogue video reviews once all the players had gone back to the centre? I presume he was too scared to get involved here because there was so little time left. Still with no idea of how much time there was left (the replay shows 90 seconds), and hands too shaky to manage a change of radio station, the sign of Freo rolling half their side back into defence was a good indication time that it was almost over.

Despite setting up to try and absorb pressure Freo won the clearance, and it ended with one of their players having a shot on goal. In a moment that would have rivalled James McDonald vs Port in 2009 if it had happened to us it rolled wide and was called deliberate. Now, he may very well have been trying to kick it out of bounds because that would waste more time and not give us the ball back, but how you can adjudicate that from a shot towards goal is criminal. This is the second time we've benefited from one of these after the Gold Coast win last year, and on the day it happens to us I will turn beetroot red and probably snap the top of a seat.

We recovered from Vince's NQR decision to kick the ball wide towards the boundary line to force a Dockers player to kick the ball out of bounds on the half-forward flank. It set up Harmes for the last opportunity. Knowing that he was unlikely to find a marking target inside a completely congested 50 and probably not seeing Jetta storming down the middle all on his own he took off, hesitated about whether he really should pass after all just long enough to be put off his kick and missed. Fate and destiny are a crock, but in those milliseconds I knew he'd miss because we just had to lose. It's not his fault, for all he knew there might have been five seconds left and he'd have ended up looking like a poon for running the clock down.

They managed to avoid making a hash of the kick-in and it was clear we were stuffed. Eventually at another stoppage 70 metres out from our goal I had to resort to Twitter, and the ever helpful timecheck posts of @demonsbeth, to find out there was only seven seconds left. First instinct was to cop a ban by hurling the radio off the top deck, but I’d already disgraced myself in front of immediate family so I just conceded it was over, turned the thing off and vowed to nod furiously in agreement the next time a politician tries to defund the ABC. As Kurtis Blow helpfully reminds us whenever we get upset, these are the breaks, but try telling me that at the siren. Thank god for having to be a responsible adult, because I could have kicked an inanimate object to pieces.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
This was so hard. 186 is the gold standard for rancid performances, but even then Jordie McKenzie was the standout alongside four others lucky to get a run. This time I have nothing, everyone who got a vote would be lucky to score one if it was a merit-based system. But it’s not, and keep that in mind when somebody wins the competition by a razor-thin margin. The top three are the most deserving, after that it was a crap shoot.

5 – Jeff Garlett
4 – Clayton Oliver
3 – James Harmes
--- Roll the dice, throw the dart, train a circus animal to make a random selection ---
2 – Christian Petracca
1 – Jake Spencer

Apologies to Frost, Hunt, Jetta, Salem and Watts – all of who could have featured in the 2 or 1 by default.

Leaderboard
With two more players scoring their first votes of the season this leaderboard is looking kookier than ever. Oliver’s lead extends, but the even nature of the competition means even fading favourite Jack Viney is only two and a bit BOGs away with 18 games and a maximum 90 votes left. Based on voting patterns from previous years The Hamburglar and five-time champion Nathan Jones would have to be favourites from here.

Meanwhile Garlett enjoys an unprecedented appearance on the podium, and despite winning his votes today as a forward Harmes still qualifies for the Seecamp at the moment and moves into a tie with Nifty Nev. Any more of playing as a forward and the organising committee will be forced to meet and discuss his eligibility.

11 – Clayton Oliver
9 – Jeff Garlett
6 – James Harmes (CO-LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Neville Jetta (CO-LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Nathan Jones
5 – Christian Salem, Jack Watts
4 – Jayden Hunt
2 – Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Dean Kent, Christian Petracca
1 – Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With apologies to Viney's co-captain's goal at the end and Kent's kick from the boundary line in the second quarter I'm opting for Petracca starting the avalanche by gathering a bouncing ball, rotating in tight space and snapping truly from 35 metres out past a defender rapidly charging him down. For the weekly prize Truck wins a full oil and lube job at that massage place on [practically every corner in suburban Melbourne] that's open suspiciously late and only ever has men emerging from it.


It’s another win to the Dees here for a lovely Jeff Garlett 150th game banner. I’ll even forgive the text crashing into the graphic of him in the left corner because I'm unbelievably biased towards everything we do. Bonus points for keeping sponsors happy  by working a mention of him into the ad on the other side. Maybe get the cheersquad to negotiate the back of jumper sponsor deal?

Freo's effort was not bad, including an old school slogan that referenced us and how they were going to win without going over the top and trying to do humour that an Australian sketch comedy show would turn down. The only issue was that it scanned terribly, and I reiterate my offer to provide a consultancy service to any cheersquad in the competition where I'll edit their novelty slogans so they're not as clunky. My weekly manifestos may be error-riddled, but I'll provide a money back guarantee on three line slogans.

P.S – On the occasion of his milestone I was thrilled to discover Jeff Garlett’s son is called ‘Nason’ – presumably after that Richmond bloke with the worst set of white boy dreadlocks ever seen.

Crowd Watch
There was an outrageously large crowd there for a game against Fremantle, and maybe it was just because I was in traditional enemy territory at the top of the Ponsford with the Dockers cheersquad directly underneath making plenty of noise but it felt like there were a ridiculous proportion of Freo fans around.

The problem with taking normal people to a game is that you’re compelled to sit reasonably close to the front, which means having to be surrounded by strangers talking a tremendous amount of shite. Take for instance, the lady sitting next to me in the first half. I eventually had to move before bringing my family into disrepute by getting into an argument with her. She was of the "just kick it!" school of thought, majoring in breathless panic about any kick that went sideways or god forbid backwards. The switch can end in disaster, and didn’t we collectively hold our breath when The Spencil tried one across goal that nearly rolled through for a point, but if you can’t see the purpose of it or think back to a time when a perfectly executed one has set up a goal-scoring opportunity you're bonkers.

There was a moment of unfortunate karma when after screaming her head off about us kicking sideways, Freo got the ball and did exactly the same to open up five loose players down one side of the ground. The good news for her is that there was also plenty of kicking it long into the 50, usually into the arms of a waiting defender. The worst thing – other than outing herself as a knob by loudly chastising the first Jack Watts error she could find – was when she’d be screeching like a mad fishwife for them to go forward while they were dinking sideways kicks across the defensive 50. It’s one thing to want to try and roost it onto Garlett vs the world, but even somebody as tactically dim as I can see that the last thing you want our defence to do is turn the ball over into the middle of the ground. What a helmet. Better to stay silent (random outbursts notwithstanding) and have people think you're an idiot than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

The many Dockers fans present were well behaved, including the three gentlemen in front who were desperately trying to inject class into the occasion by drinking wine out of plastic glasses, but in a blow to traditional stereotypes it was our lot doing all the stuff you’d accuse opposition fans of being terrible humans for doing. One person held a clearly baffled child up for the benefit of the TV cameras, and another made me look like Father of the Year when he’d jump to his feet and celebrate our goals by screaming with a baby strapped to his chest.

On the way back to the car I’m sure a Fremantle supporter was talking to me when she turned and yelled, “HEY! GO FREO!” across the MCG concourse. I looked to make sure there wasn’t some other sucker standing behind me, but no. God knows why she picked me out of the hundreds of Demons fans miserably trudging out, and obviously I didn’t respond with a venomous spray due to a) being a family man and b) still not being 100% sure it was at me, but if you follow a team that’s been wank for its entire existence and rubbing it in to Melbourne fans (and we’ve only been that way for about 60% of ours) is what floats your boat then god bless. Just don’t be surprised when somebody eventually stuffs a rolled up Footy Record into your gob.

Matchday Experience Watch
I was outraged (relatively speaking) at the allegation that the players don’t choose the songs played under their name in the Melbourne Music segment. This came to light after Neville Jetta’s 'choice' of Working Class Man lit up the MFC Twitter community, now it turns out that it might be a pro wrestling style swizz. If it’s a work I'm not sure how Bernie Vince ends up with Ring of Fire of all songs. At least Nifty got a classic track, I doubt any players give a red hot toss when they’ve got bigger fish to fry but I’d punch on if anyone even alluded to me listening to The Flying Dickheads in front of 30,000 people.

The level of seriousness you’d take in choosing your song is probably a good indicator of who's going to be an AFL player and who's going to be a fat porky blogger (it’s a wonder they don’t set the kids this task at draft camp, then automatically DQ anyone who doesn’t just go "play what you want, I don't care"), but how about something to bring the house down instead of Triple J dross that sounds like the vocals are coming from inside the singer’s oven. To any players reading, I will spit in the face of societal norms and go back to regularly wearing a footy jumper bearing the number of the first player to get this played at the MCG:



Ironically that’s also the song from the "Is losing fun? What are you having fun for?" scene from Moneyball, but that’s just a coincidence.

Corporate Corner
No wonder nobody will pay to get their name on the back of our jumper. The other losers in the same position are Gold Coast, and now that they’re officially back in town and everyone loves Rocket Eade again I've no doubt sponsors will be clambering to get to them before us. It’s time to start searching for brands that share the same core values as us – United Airlines, the coal industry, big pharma, Exit International. Somebody with a logo that will still look good in black and white “LOL @ Melbourne” montages on AFL 360 must have a few bucks to spare. Shame you’re not allowed to advertise cigs anymore, we’ve just turned up the perfect spokesman.

Next Week
Richmond may turn out to be significantly better than expected this year, but if there's even a time to rip out an upset victory and set their fans off on another round of despairing talkback calls this is it. It’s silly, and yet again is probably more self-preservation than anything, but my confidence is totally shot. Pre-season I’d have expected us to be in exactly the same position as now – only having lost to St Kilda and beaten Freo – but going into this game on a high against another side in the same boat. Now the Tigers flying (pending a hilarious surprise loss to Brisbane) and we’re back to rifling through drawers trying to consult the instruction manual.

The good news is that search and rescue teams have located the VFL and play starts on Monday, so we might get a decent look at some our other players under real-life conditions for a few weeks until they take a break for a state game or two.

Hogan is an automatic inclusion, and Hibberd will be too as long as he makes it through without tripping on an exposed sprinkler head and breaking his arm. So that’s two definite changes, but as much as it’s tempting to open fire on half a dozen players I'm going to remain calm and restrict myself to two more. The same people who'll tell you Weideman has to play because Hogan is back are probably the same who thought he should play this week before Freo are shit and he can rack up a few goals. He is crying for a spell, and if I don’t see him as OUT on either Thursday or Friday night I'll complain on the internet. I reiterate in case you’re ducking in and out of this post (and I don’t blame you) that it’s not a call on his long term future, it’s just that he needs to get a kick at a lower level.

After Neal-Bullen, Tyson and Vince made a joint bid for the most total disposals for the least effective impact I’m dumping two of them, and only holding Bernard because dumping Melksham means there’s a lack of alternatives to take his place. Tyson can accumulate but has been horrendous this year, it's time to give Brayshaw a proper game in the middle instead of hanging out on a flank desperately trying to get involved.

IN: Hogan, Smith, Hibberd, Brayshaw
OUT: Melksham, Weideman, Neal-Bullen, Tyson (omit)
LUCKY: Hannan, Vince, Viney
UNLUCKY: Pedersen (hey, I just like him alright?)

Was it worth it?
For family bonding and giving my kid a seven year headstart on when I got involved in this ridiculous pastime, yes. For the enjoyment of the sport and any sneaky hopes I had of playing finals absolutely not. As Hashtag had absolutely no idea what was happening on the ground (though she did clap at several appropriate times), her highlights seemed to be trying to push the emergency button in the lift, eating chips and when the siren went off and she called it the horn. If you could introduce the guy writing this in 2017 to the original 2005 model there would nearly be fisticuffs at how much my life has changed. I’d win the fight by TKO when he wound up in a ball sobbing after being told what was going to happen from 2007 on.

Final thoughts
It had been a long time since I'd felt such pent-up rage after a game. But only because of the off-season, because six competitive games ago in Round 22 against Carlton I was several times angrier.
We've played one big burst against St Kilda and Geelong, fallen over the line against the Blues and won three quarters here but lost due to 30 minutes of inattention. I’m not fooled by the 2-0 start, my predicted ladder might already be in MFC third quarter style disarray due to Richmond being good and Hawthorn/Sydney starting poorly but I remain comfortable in predicting we were no better than a 7th to to 11th placed side if everything went right. Which it hasn't, for both controllable and uncontrollable reasons, but this is what’s going to happen for the next couple of years. Mid-table mediocrity feels shithouse at the moment, but it’s a necessary step considering how far back we’re coming from.

What happened yesterday doesn’t shake my belief that we can be very good soon, but not this year.
What we will do is knock off a couple of good teams this season that will give a hint of what’s to come, but we haven’t developed a ruthless killing machine yet. That’s Goodwin and Co’s challenge, they’ve got the parts they just need to assemble them. The goal this year is to get games into the best kids, develop Plan Bs to cover the potential loss of the important spine players and do enough to convince good, ready-made players to sign up for the ride. This was total bullshit, but retain your bundle for now and let’s see how they respond next week.

1 comment: