Monday 8 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. I got in trouble with the misses (hawk fan) for asking too loudly, while walking down for a kick with the kids, why she wasn't happy. Worked out they're used to winning flags so a win courtesy of soft frees to Rough (which I may have mentioned ) just doesn't cut it.

  2. One of your best Adam. It scares me how close your thought patterns are to mine.

  3. Just re-watched the 3rd quarter-exhilarating stuff. A reason to keep living......almost.


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