Monday, 19 June 2017

This machine kills finalists

It's taken three and a half years of slowly building from the bottom up, but at last people are finally starting to dislike us. For all the ridiculous claims that we might win a flag this year I won't believe anything of the sort until they hate us. For now it's more passing disgust than the sort of deep loathing you only get from dominating September, but that will do in the interim. One thing is for sure, the era of congratulatory text messages and heart-warming endings akin to a film where the kid with no arms wins a high school basketball game are over and there's starting to be genuine spite towards us. And thank god for that.

The idea that we're suddenly premiership contenders is a classic piece of Microwave Media from the same people who will be slaughtering us in a few weeks. It's good for a few clicks and one former [team name] legend [full name] believes the Dees can win the premiership" story in each major media outlet, but I don't think many Melbourne fans are joining in. More power to you if you're a believer, but I'd like to concentrate on first making the eight, then winning a final before we get too far ahead of ourselves.

Still, did you find yourself wondering what it would be like at least once today? How to avoid dying from a heart attack at the siren, then time your run from a non-ground level seat to the fence for the presentations and the chance to absolutely molest a player over the fence in celebration? I think after that I'd just go outside, sit down against a tree in Yarra Park and have a big old cry.

For now let's concentrate on the present, and what was arguably our best win since 2006. Mind you it didn't have much competition. Sydney 2010 was more shockingly brutal, and Essendon 2012 more likely to induce a heart attack, but this was the total package. It was four quarters of a perfectly set up side executing their plan so well that accomplished opposition flew the white flag - complete with an ad hoc pre-match psychological warfare operation on a par with the one that deceived Germany as to the location of the D-Day landings.

If that impressively violent Sydney win (and when Bruce McAvaney breathlessly screamed "The Dees are going to be something" he forget to add "a complete disaster for years to come") is the measuring stick then you must acknowledge that we're in an infinitely better place today. The list is younger, many of the players are unsociable bruisers, and other than the odd dickhead sending the media open letters to the coach we’re achieving a level of off-field stability not seen for god knows how many years. It doesn't automatically translate to success, or might flame out agonisingly short like St Kilda, but even if it doesn't work from here it will take some amazingly revisionist history to pretend the signs weren't there.

While beating the Bulldogs on their home ground was fantastic but feasible, the margin and the way we got to it blew my head off. It's not hard to be surprised when you're still so badly affected by a tragic win/loss record that you're still not at the point where you can go into every game believing we're a chance. Even after Sydney provided a handy blueprint on how to put them away it still seemed unlikely - at least to me - that we'd topple them. Because I'm still in the self-sabotaging phase of trying to find all the reasons why we won't follow through on our promise.

Me of little faith thought we'd either fail to execute Sydney's plan (even though we'd already done a successful cover version of somebody else's ploy a few weeks ago in cleaning up Rory Sloane), or that the Dogs would emerge through a banner reading PLAN B before stomping us from Doug Hawkins Wing to Chris Grant Pocket and back again. Instead I went in debating if a player could still qualify as a Kingsley after nearly being best on ground in a Grand Final, and watched us hold a side to 0.1 in a first quarter for the first time since 1994.

It was a welcome change from my recent record on Level 4 at Docklands. We might have won there three times since the end of 2015 none of them came while I was sitting upstairs. It's where I'd taken in most of the famous 22 straight losses, ever since Ben Holland kicked four and Jace Bode debuted. In the grand scheme of things it didn't mean anything, but blame the psychological trauma of the Mark Neeld era for introducing me to omens and mysticism.

After watching Watts' winner on Queen's Birthday about 97 times via a multitude of broadcasters we knew that beating strugglers wouldn't mean anything if we went to water here. There was also plenty on the line for the Dogs too given how significantly they'd shit the bed against Sydney. It was already a rare MFC vs Footscray game that had something to float the boat of neutrals, before your favourite irritant and mine Tomas Bugg proved yet again that form is temporary but niggle is forever when he tossed a pre-match comedy hand grenade into the mix.

With speculation rife about who we'd use to try and recapture Sydney's success of stopping their run by tagging the buggery out of Double J Jeff Jarrett, Watts and Bugg teamed up for this novelty Instagram post. As payment for coming up with the 2018 membership campaign (unless it's superseded with 'jump on the bandwagon you glory hunting bastards, we've just won a flag') I'll take a version with my name on it signed by Twisted Steel and Sex Appeal themselves.
One media outlet hilariously asked if he 'revealed a tactical move', as if it was Shane Ellen tweeting that he'd be at full forward before the 1997 Grand Final. It was nothing more than good clean fun, with a high degree of difficulty considering he would have looked like a right dickhead if we'd lost. When Melksham went to JJ at the first bounce the gimmick post was an afterthought, then all the Bulldogs players started trying to biff Bugg anyway as if he'd been pictured washing his car with Ted Whitten’s jumper.

Let me preface this by saying I would allow the surgical extraction of at least one of my bollocks for the chance to do what the Dogs did last year, but if they fell for that provocation it is final proof that they were a good ordinary team who rode a great run to glory and will now return to obscurity. And I'm thrilled they did, because it involved $cully being rorted out of a 50 in the dying seconds of a thrilling prelim.

Maybe none of them saw it and they just wanted to punch Bugg for the sake of it? They wouldn't be the first team he's annoyed to the point of madness. Perhaps he delivered a delightfully ribald sledge that kicked things off independent of any social media activity. Either way, he might have lost the ability to accurately kick a set shot the moment I cursed him against North but has delivered novelties by the truck load since joining us. This had nothing on his award winning performance against Richmond last year, but was more welcome than the fancy post-goal handshake he did with Petracca against the Pies. He's not an automatic first 22 player, but I can't help love him. Opposition fans may disagree, and you're well within your rights. If I knew who any of your fringe players were I'd probably dislike some of them too.

Once the first round of light-hearted biff subsided we got a brutal scrap where everyone was desperately flinging themselves at the footy, and the pressure was causing all sorts of flubbed kicks and clangers. At first it looked like nobody was going to kick a goal. We were getting the ball forward often enough but weren't able to capitalise, and it was obvious very early that the Dogs attack was firing on zero cylinders.

They hadn't yet been tipped into full mental collapse and retreat, but I still knew we wanted it far more, and just needed to take enough opportunities to make sure the effort being expended to torment the Dogs wasn't going to waste. If we'd gone through all that and conceded three goals in three minutes I might have had a breakdown in Row X. My psychologist, cardiologist and parole officer need not have worried - eventually Garlett found Tyson with a pinpoint pass inside 50 and we were away, never to look back. We got an assist from Nathan Jones accidentally assassinating Lin Jong's ACL with a smother, and even at a score of 6-1 the game was already ours to lose.

For the second week in a row opposition fans turned purple in the face screaming about how badly they were being rolled by the umpires. This elicited significantly less sympathy than it did from the Pies, because a) Footscray got so many dodgy frees last year it became a meme, and b) it's hard to take people's claims of a rort seriously when their side is throwing the ball around like they're the British and Irish Lions. I look forward to our perceived recent good run coming back to haunt us next week when we're turned over good and proper in Perth and left howling about how unfair it is.

My highlight was the Dogs being rolled out of a goal when it was said to have hit the post, followed by vision so inconclusive the best they could do was hit pause just as the ball - represented here by a blurry yellow blob - was flying past the camera. Then in the second quarter Harmes kicked a goal that Bulldogs players were convinced they'd touched, and not only did it avoid on the spot scrutiny but the game started again before the video ref could launch a wildcat pre-bounce review. Everything is, at last and probably not for long, coming up Melbourne.

Absurdly we got to 35-2 in front before the Bulldogs kicked a goal, and it wasn't for want of trying on their behalf. They got the ball down there enough, it's just that they had no idea how to work it through our steel-trap defence. This is a rare feeling. I've seen a few Melbourne backlines that had no earthly idea what they were doing, and many others that battled bravely but were eventually overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers. Rarely since we last played finals have I seen a defensive demolition job as comprehensive as this, especially against a finalist. It eventually took a bloke throwing ball at boot from a pack to get them on the board, because they sure as shit weren't going to craft an attractive one.

My glee at making life so difficult for them wasn't just about the way the backmen set up, or how players were running from 40 metres away to spoil or make a contest, but the brutal way we hunted them whenever they had the ball. It was the gang tackles, the smothers and the general all-round nastiness. Some sour opposition fans had the gall to talk about how many 'shit blokes' we had, as if that was a bad thing. I have been waiting years for this sort of angry, anti-social (but ultimately lovable) team to replace our cute, fluffy and not at all ruthless list of fancyboys. It's not just the low-level thuggery and pantomime villains like Bugg, but players made of iron like Viney or Oliver cannoning into packs with no real concern for their own physical well-being, or some goofball failing to do his homework on Petracca and trying to take him on in front of goal. Whisper it very gently, and remind me of this moment when I’ve got my head in the oven again in a few weeks but I really think we’re going to be ok.

For all the shit I've hung on the defensive structures this year, it was as comprehensive a smothering as I can remember. We've won by more and scored more freely, but this was a full-scale pillow to the face job. There's something to be said for playing against a toothless forward line featuring more one hit wonders than Stock, Aitken and Waterman, but that hasn't stopped us from conceding scores hand over fist in the past.

Michael Hibberd has been an incredible recruit, Sam Frost had a few dodgy disposals but has been mighty in the contest, and Oscar McDonald played the game of his short career. And unless you're an All-Australian selector you know all about how good Jetta is. I was happiest at McDonald's game, even after prefacing it by disclaimers of it being the most apology laden omission of all time, I got more complaints than the Tiger Airways customer feedback department last week for suggesting he might need to make way for heigh balance if Gawn or Spencer returned. Fortunately the theory that we'd be too top heavy with both of them in was never tested, and once again we got away without playing a recognised ruckman.

Finally somebody finally identified that Sizzle Sr in the middle and Pedersen forward was the winning combination, and while McDonald didn't win all that many hitouts he's an animal when the ball hits the ground and snuck forward for a pair of goals in as well. I have a deep fondness for The Spencil, and look forward to him becoming the all-time lowest games/years played life member at the end of 2018, but unless we're lining against one of the top ruckmen in the comp and are worried about endlessly perfect taps I'd almost prefer McDonald as our second ruck from here.

Meanwhile Pedersen was freed to go forward for the majority of the match and played what might have been the best game of his career. His rocky career with us started on debut, and has involved him going out of favour with multiple coaches several times but I will die screaming in a ditch to defend his overall contribution. I don't want to get into the idea of trades having winners and losers again (though how well did the Salem, Tyson, Hunt trifecta do yesterday?), but via several twists and turns we can confirm now that we did pretty well out of the McLean to Carlton trade.

Remember when we thought we'd robbed the Blues blind early in Gysberts' career while McLean was languishing in the VFL, only for him to return for three handy seasons at the end of his career while Gysberts was squashed flat under the weight of an epic Melbourning? Then once we'd squeezed every last drop of blood out of the kid (and he was so slight that there might not have been much in there to start with) we flogged him to North for a guy that used to work at Bunnings. It started badly, but we've ended up with a solid contributor out of it. Long live the man with footy's most NQR nickname.

Because I'm horribly scarred by a multitude of bad experiences I thought "here we go" when the Dogs got their first. It didn't matter how far we were in front, we'd started to ease up on the strangulation and had only kicked one for the quarter. That used to be a good quarter for us. Then Mitch Hannan crumbed one through a crowd to restore a near six goal lead and I was temporarily allowed to breathe again. It was such a momentous day out that Hannan even avoided being cut down by the MFC Media Curse. Maybe it missed because the story was only on the AFLPA website instead of a major newspaper, but where it would usually descend like a gas throughout the stadium and envelope anyone who'd just had the merest hint of publicity, he instead further pulled ahead of Dean Kent in the running for the job as a quick half-forward. Bad news for Ben Kennedy too, now well deep in the queue at Casey and waiting patiently for his call to progress.

Immediately after Hannan's goal footy's #1 agitator engaged in a spot of classic Buggery with the Bulldogs captain, then went down like a sack of spuds under the retaliation to get another kick. He finally converted a set shot, and of course it took until he'd nicked one in controversial fashion for him to be truly relaxed, and the Bulldogs were in significant trouble. We were 40 up with five minutes to go in the first half, and it was an appropriate time for 'Cape Grim' to be displayed as a sponsor around the fence. Conversely I was in Cape Horn.

Footy karma quickly paid us back for Bugg's acrobatic tumble as the Bulldogs went straight down the other end and cancelled the second goal out. This incited some more jostling which was about 25% as angry as that in the North game, but when they got another goal quickly after I thought we'd accidentally awakened their fighting spirit. After five weeks of complaining about giving up four goal leads before showing up to play how ironic would it have been to throw away a margin ? Ironically the only team we've crumbled against this year is Richmond, who are fast developing a North 2013 style reputation for falling to bits from winning positions. It all points to playing them in a final for the first time since World War II, somebody storming back from five goals down in the last quarter and me undergoing urgent defibrillation.

There was more than enough time for us to perform our special move of conceding another goal, so when we had the ball in the middle of the ground in the dying seconds I was comfortable running the clock down so they didn't get another chance. That defeatist attitude was exposed when Oliver found Watts wide on the boundary line for a set shot after the siren. Even with 15,000 peasants howling at him, and the person operating the siren hitting it a second time during his run-up he is having such a nerveless, calm time of things at the moment that he managed to 9-iron it into the far corner of the goal, just out of the despairing lunge of a Dogs player. This caused Jake Stringer - who had already belted Nifty Nev in the guts - to try and 'start' a fight with Jack Viney by grabbing the jumper and walking backwards until his teammates could arrive and stop him from having to actually take Viney on. Hitting him in the head would be the least productive sporting punch since Marc Rosset was forced to retire from the Hopman Cup after whacking the wall.

A 33 point margin wasn't enough to calm me. It was a nice start, but we shouldn't know more than anyone how quickly leads can be overhauled these days. Still, it was a relatively relaxed half time with not a single fingernail chewed. I even started to believe - at least for one afternoon - when Watts took a big grab in the square within the first couple of minutes to extend the lead back to nearly 40.

The Dogs didn't look any more likely to consistently break through our defence than they had in the first half, so even when Goldenballs Boyd bobbed up for one in the middle of the quarter it only made me moderately nervous. This was soon corrected when Salem trotted to 50 before thumping one over the top of the Bulldogs defence, and when Garlett confused the bejesus out of his opponent to mark in the clear and kick another we were as good as home. Or if you could convince yourself there was a way for the Bulldogs to start kicking goals, setting us up for a shocking turnaround. No need to worry, when Milkshake took a break from tormenting his opponent to throw in some crumb people were ready to storm the ground and mount him.

Of course, you can't go too long with a classic Melbourne debacle breaking out, and we soon gifted them a goal with a farcical defensive mix-up. The Bulldogs were struggling so badly to score we can consider it a charitable donation. It was only a minor setback, soon Bugg ramped up the comic effect of his pre-game shenanigans by kicking his second to cancel that one out. Even with Hunt and Jones both off injured it was going to take some kind of collapse for us to give up a lead from here. But as much as times have changed for the better for both teams since 2013 how could I forget that nearly disastrous night where we almost blew a massive lead against them in the last 15 minutes and I found a dead mouse under the seat in front? The two sides bore little resemblance to that night but the scars run deep.

With the margin hovering dangerously close to the Chris Sullivan Line (for clarification that's 46, so you need 47 to go over it. I have not yet determined if on the line is good enough to be comfortable) against a proper team for the first time in years I thought we might get one more and be left agonisingly close. Then as if to prove everything was flowing our way we managed to not only turn back a Bulldogs attack deep in Demon Time, but converted it into two goals of our own.

It was appropriate that Tom McDonald kicked it. Never before has a player embraced my gimmicks so warmly, and on the same ground where he formed the lethal forward combination with Dean Kent in R23 2014 he steamed down the middle of the 50 on a golden lead then converted the set shot. He'd already played in the ruck and in defence, now he was kicking goals – banging through a set shot from 40 metres out after the siren was the icing on the cake of a Stefan Martin Experience-esque afternoon of total football.

Most of our side had never seen a 46+ point lead at three quarter time (not in their favour anyway), but appropriately enough on a day where the word 'Buggery' was trending across the Docklands precinct there was no Crossing The Line ceremony, we just got on with the job via a quick early scare.

The whole point of the line is that you're supposed to be confident when we lead by more than that, because it's now been 25 years since we've blown a game from a position of strength like that in the last quarter. But with Hunt, Watts, Jones and now Jetta under an injury cloud I still treated their first goal as a major concern. Whatever Jones had done to his hip it hadn't stopped him from delivering an epic spoil deep in the third quarter, charging down a Dogs player patiently waiting to mark the ball inside 50 and thumping it across the line. Imagine one day the league gets it wish, penalises players for the last touch out of bounds and we lose the joy of people violently thumping the ball across the line? I do not accept more marking contests as an acceptable substitution.

That goal was all the Dogs were good for though, and as time ran down without them kicking any more I was able to sit back and enjoy the magic. Like Pedersen standing his ground and taking a blockbuster contested mark against a hapless opponent, before showing what a good bloke he was by handing Hannan a freebie as he went past. By the time the ball landed in the square and took a novelty bounce back into McDonald's hand to stuff the ball through an open goal we were nearly 10 goals up and at last I was fully relaxed. The demolition job was complete, and we move onto the next phase of the Bloody Hell, What Just Happened There? national tour.

You'd think there would be no way anyone could be unhappy about what happened yesterday. Even I, who have been accused of excessive negativity from people up and down the credibility scale, allowed myself to be uproariously happy. So when I got in the car to hear advance notice of an upcoming Chris from Camberwell call (because Mark Fine understands that Chris has become such a cult figure that promoting in advance means people will contact everyone they know and tell them to tune in) I thought this had to be the moment where our tortured long distance relationship would pay off and I'd finally hear him unplug the helium, stick in the laughing gas and say something positive.

Instead, after 45 minutes on hold all he could muster was a passionate declaration that "of course" we wouldn’t play Gawn in Perth, and that it was obviously that Spencer would be picked. This came several hours after Goodwin had announced Gawn a certain starter, and even when Chris was interrupted with the audio of the coach saying just that he plowed on regardless as if Goodwin's comments were being played at a frequency too high for him to hear.

Then, in the wake of a near 10 goal win against the defending premier, on a ground where we have been traditionally pus, which left us out of the top four on percentage after missing two of our key talls for most of the season he cut a passionate promo about how much we’re missing Aaron vandenBerg. It was unnecessary misery, but very much on brand for him to be pining for fringe players as if they were Gary Ablett. I've no doubt many people feel the same way about me, but while Chris was an enjoyable novelty when we were shit it’s time to retire the gimmick now. Whoever is taking a massive belt from a balloon just before going on air and doing these novelty calls must pack it in.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Michael Hibberd
4 - Cameron Pedersen
3 - Oscar McDonald
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to almost everyone - but specifically Hannan, Jetta, T. McDonald, Tyson and Watts

Leaderboard
Now it starts getting interesting, Hibberd nearly drew level with the Hamburglar only for Oliver's work in confined spaces to pocket him one vote that maintained a narrow lead. They must now be the red hot favourites, and Hibberd's campaign to walk in and pocket the Seecamp in his first season is working a treat. In the minors Hannan is unlucky not to extend his lead in the Hilton, but with a settled side looking likely to keep rookies at bay from here he might have done enough. Surprisingly Pedersen now leads the Stynes, but now that he's down to 13.25 hitouts per game I don't like his chances of staying above the 10pg qualifying line once Gawn returns. Still, we are living in ridiculously interesting times.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
When I started this feature we kicked so few goals that it was easy to instantly identify which of the five you enjoyed most. Now we're scoring over 100 freely, have a percentage of 115.7 and I'm spoilt for choice. It was quantity over quality this week, so nobody's challenging The Hamburglar for overall supremacy. I'll opt for Watts' finish at the end of the second quarter, just for the surgical precision with which he landed it in the back corner despite the siren operator hitting the button like he was on Sale Of The Century.


Well done to the Dogs on realising they were sure losers in this contest and taking a week off writing corny 'jokes'. I think that's what happened anyway, because at least last year when they were potting us for being rich fops you could see where they were roughly aiming towards comedy. This involved an exorcism gag, which might have had something to do with the film but could have been made clearer with a graphic of a girl's head spinning 360 as she tells a priest to GAGF. Minus points for using Os that look suspiciously like zeroes.

On the other hand our banner had not one but two rhyming sides, both of which scanned perfectly and didn't feature couplets that landed with a clunking sound as if they'd been lobbed out of a fifth story window. Extra credit for including 'storming', which I think is a delightfully underappreciated word. Dees 11-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch (incorporating Matchday Experience Watch)

Coincidentally just as we've started winning at Docklands and it's become more convenient for me to get there than the MCG I've become increasing fond of the place. The only real issue, other than a death trap walk back to the station, is that there's only limited space in which to retreat to if you're trying to avoid people. Even as far back as you can get, there was still a kid sitting right in front. Unlike several of our games there last year I didn't have to self-exclude to a more remote spot to stop from blowing my top in front of impressionable youth, because even with 15,000 spare seats in the stadium about the only place you could go without anyone nearby was the restricted viewing area that replaces your vision of half the ground with a concrete block.

Happily we delivered such a comprehensive siren-to-siren performance that there was no need for tantrums. Even the moderately boisterous fellow travellers sitting next to me, who I thought were a $1.01 chance of yelling "fuck" into a child's ear were never provoked into offensive behaviour. If the future of sitting near people involves demoralising them to the point where they stay silent for four quarters then I might be tempted to come back to society.

On top of solid gold football we were also kept amused by a raft of 'matchday experience' innovations. Parading a dog around the ground is old hat now, so what I really enjoyed was the message 'all the music played today was selected by Western Bulldogs players' being flashed on the big screen 15 minutes into a quarter. When for obvious reasons no music was being played. It was an oddly generic message even when there was music on, at least whether they pick the songs or not our players have their names next to the tracks so they can be held accountable. It felt like the biggest lie since St Kilda piped in the noise of people singing a dirge version of their theme song.

The action went up a notch at half time, when we were treated to the welcome reintroduction of a Voice Of The G style video game challenge. It promised to be a wonderful flashback to the days where people didn't know how to play the driving games and crashed non-stop for five minutes. Except that nobody had thought to set it up so that the feed of the game could be seen on the big screen. Instead we got a side shot of two 12-year-olds holding controllers. Then neither of them could work out how to get the game started, and even after a waiting Nintendo staffer leapt in to try and help none of them could get the game going. Hell of a promo for the system. Match The Emoji was the worst thing we've ever done, but even that looked like Citizen Kane compared to this debacle. How could the MCG get a feed of people cluelessly playing the old AFL games to a nil-all draw on the big screen in 1999 but now not only we couldn't see it but the kids couldn't play it either.

The problem with this stuff is that it's tone deaf to the mood of the crowd and how the game is going. Did Russell Robertson still have to invite people to Run Like A Demon on the night we were being torn asunder by Essendon? Run Like A Demon Into Oncoming Traffic perhaps. This time they had a pre-scheduled three quarter time promotion showing a graphic of a man holding a bulldog on his head as if he was self-inflicting a canine teabag, then asked the crowd to mug for the camera. Naturally kids and weirdos went for it, but as the cameras scanned around 75% of Bulldogs fans were in shock.

Does the joy of winning a flag really wash away that quickly? Let's ask the 73-year-old who rang the radio this afternoon to say she was so disgusted that she walked out halfway through the last quarter. You wait quite literally all your adult life for a flag and 12 competitive games later you're trampling people to get out because we've thrashed you. Get a grip you ungrateful bastards. These are the sort of people who win the lottery and bankrupt themselves within two years. Footscray should be the perfect case study of how to act after the drought is broken, and I promise that if we ever win one and are on the verge of missing the eight and are 45 points down at three quarter time against a traditionally shit team less than a year later I will still be sitting there with a beaming smile, mentally replaying the entire Grand Final.

Next week
It's off to Perth for the ultimate umpiring correction, and if we're going to have one last desperate attempt at slaying the Subiaco beast before the lights go out there at least we're showing up in what passes for us as red hot form.

Gawn's impending return makes it complicated, as do potential injuries to Jones, Watts and Jetta. Not to mention Oscar making himself absolutely undroppable for any reason this time. What I will say is that while Gawn might have been anointed as a sure starter, Goodwin didn’t say where. It might be too early for trick plays, but could he go forward alongside Pedersen (especially if Watts misses) while McDonald continues to play in the middle? Maximum gets his plus sized hand back in relieving for 10 minutes at a time, he's there as an option if we’re being massacred in the middle, and suddenly the Eagles defence has to death with an added sense of death from above terror while he's leaping all over them.

Given the trifecta of six day breaks (6-6-6 eh?) I'm going to suggest Jones is respectfully given a week to relax before coming back a week later to stitch his brother up the next Friday night, but that Watts, Hunt and Jetta will play. There's no science to any of that, it's just a guess. Considering how worried I was about height balance last week this change makes no sense, but the side effect of getting better is that it's harder to decide who doesn't play. I wasn't crazy about Anal Bullet's game, and really want Stretch back in the side soon, but prepared to give ANB another week for his contribution to the overall package.

IN: Gawn
OUT: Jones (inj)
LUCKY: Neal-Bullen
UNLUCKY: Kennedy (destined to be forever unlucky), Trengove (unfortunately I think we're done here), Spencer (on track to become the lowest games/years played ratio life member of any club ever)

Was it worth it?
Very much so, even considering a train ride home where the guy opposite was shovelling foul smelling food into his gob for 40 minutes while his mum watched highlights of Jeremy Howe's biggest Collingwood marks out loud on a mobile phone while gushing about how great he is. Luckily she didn't try and involve me in the conversation, or I'd have had to be a killjoy and remind her that the biggest screamer of all time is only worth as much as a chest mark on the half-back flank if the following possession is sprayed like an out of control garden hose.

Final thoughts
Funny how your attitude towards players improves when things are going well, when we were eviscerated by Sydney in 2012 I said this.


That was only about 50% sour grapes at being a horrible side, there were genuinely a dozen players on the list that I didn't trust to do the hard work required to get us back to respectability. Also at that point I was battling against the tide to try and remain positive on the coach, a philosophy which lasted under about half time of Round 1 2013 when I started to wish for global thermonuclear war to break out before the final siren. But enough of the miserable past, back to visualising a glorious future where we win so much that people begin to despise us, and our eventual collapse is celebrated like the fall of the Berlin Wall. No matter what happens for the rest of the year keep your eyes on the real prize - the 2018/19/20/21/22 five-peat.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Standard "this post is delayed" notification



Well blimey that was unexpected. Unfortunately the anti-social work hours I now keep mean there's no chance of a completed post before Monday afternoon for any Sunday game starting later than 1.10pm.

Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link at some time before 2359 AEST Monday 19/06/2017. And until then feel free to jog my memory with your favourites moments from the game or the biff.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The slaves will grow wings and overthrow their masters

For a week where we didn't play a game there was no shortage of excitement going on. What better way to end it than with another bonkers comeback in front of 70,000 people plus a side-serving of wacky umpiring that left Pies fans angrier than at any time since they biffed Nathan Jones' dad.

First our much needed break from the emotional rollercoaster of the first half of the season was interrupted by Taylor Adams (86 games, 0 finals, none on the horizon) suggesting Lynden Dunn is having the time of his life being at a successful club. It was a reasonably pissweak controversy, but added an extra touch of pantomime level spite to the game. What I'm sure he actually meant was that after years of eating pork and beans with us in struggletown Dunn is happy to end his career at a club who earn a tidy profit just for turning the lights on. And more power to him. Given that we forced him onto the scrapheap I'm glad that Collingwood's 'recruit everyone' strategy opened the door for another go.

Of course to the more anti-social, and quite frankly loopy, factions of our support it was as if Dunn himself had resigned his life membership then punched a log on a portrait of Norm Smith. Instead he retained a dignified silence because - unlike Howe - his heart will be with us long after he's finished running down the clock by improving the quality of Collingwood's defence.

Once the resulting media frenzy had died down - mainly after Bernie Vince pointed out Adams' own disappointing career record - we played another round of Australia's favourite dinner table debating topic - did Melbourne commit a tremendous disaster by trading the pick that became Josh Kelly for Tyson, Salem, and as it turns out Hunt? On the surface of it you'd see Kelly playing purportedly some of the best football in the league and think that we did. If you choose to ignore that he's set to piss off to the highest bidder at the end of the year, and assume we wouldn't have drafted either Matthew Scharenberg or Nathan Freeman instead and got six games out of them combined over 3.5 seasons. Or can say with certainty that his development would have gone the same way with us - because there's a fair body of evidence to suggest we'd have wrecked him like so many other victims.

If you're the sort of person who has to treat every trade like a win/loss proposition (about time for another round of Watts vs Naitanui don't you think?) you might make a snap decision that Tyson is on-and-off like the proverbial, Salem can't safely convey bricks in a backpack and Hunt's lovely turbo runs often come a cropper if anyone stands in his way and decide that we did indeed make a tremendous blunder. And you'd be a dickhead. I'm happy for the Giants to be declared the winners of the deal if that's what it takes to drive clicks to websites, but consider where we were at then and now, and ask if we could afford to take the risk of throwing another kid into the shark tank and expect him to swim. Toumpas had already gone from Smiling Jimmy to Brooding Fearful Jimmy in the space of one season inside the worst midfield ever to breathe air. Getting two for the price of one (with Hunt as a late arriving special gift) still seems like good sense to me. I've got my issues with Tyson this year, and Salem has been very solid with the odd flash of brilliance, but we've effectively had thre best 22 players from it. This may come as a surprise to journos, but in some fields a 49%-51% loss can still be a win.

Speaking of Hunt, everyone at Demonblog.com would like to congratulate him for achieving the boyhood dream and beating Cathy Freeman in a race at Scienceworks. As if to prove that the #fistedforever era must be slowly dying away he didn't blow a hammy or end up suing them after breaking his back.

Finally we went into the crucial weekend involving ourselves in the most ridiculous extended teams scenario ever. Jake Spencer was selected in the squad at 4pm Friday, four hours after we announced he definitely wouldn't play. I bet that little ruse gave Nathan Buckley a sleepless night, wondering if we were going to spring a massive surprise and... pick him in the final side one day, 23 hours and 40 minutes before the first bounce. I can only assume it had something to do with listing him as an emergency, which became completely pointless when he appeared for Casey on Saturday anyway. We must be getting to the point where the emergency is no longer necessary and you can just pick whoever you want off the list as a replacement - if not a complete soccer style scenario where you don't know anything until the final team is released an hour before the start.

In the middle of all of this, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom accidentally flicked through her copy of 'Losing as Favourite - The MFC Method' and nearly dropped an unloseable election to a Robert Walls impersonator. I've not had a bye week this exiting for years.

Making us wait an extra day for what is now only our second biggest game of the year provided extra time for something else wild and wacky to happen. In the end the novelties, including the now traditional parade of a varying grade of celebrities going down a slide for a good cause, came to an end and regrettably we had to play football. Against a side who'd rebounded from peril to mid-table mediocrity with three wins in a row, as favourites, and with a solid footing in the eight on offer for a win. It felt like with Gawn's imminent return, and Hogan not much further behind, that victory here would set us up for a real life crack at the eight from a good position instead of a 2010/16 style Mighty Ducks run.

Didn't mean I had any confidence though. Sorry to those of you who believe in yogic flying and sending good karma but while I knew we could win it, I didn't have any faith that we would. The idea of Melbourne winning a big game is still completely foreign to me. I'm still scarred from Adam Oxley having about 15 intercept marks a few years ago, and with our penchant for hit and hope kicking I expected Jeremy Howe to set a world record that would never be challenged.

We did our best to help, setting up a Mark of the Year that was unlike him in that it came while his side were winning, but very much like him in that he immediately turned it over. Then for the next five minutes all we did was provide a Hogan's Heroes style high marking exhibition series by punting it in his general vicinity instead of anywhere else on the field.

I couldn't help but get a little bit of a thrill from the mark, like muscle memory from when I deeply enjoyed him doing that rather than just admiring it from afar. He's only operating at about 10% on the $cully Treachery Index so I can't muster up enough dislike to refuse to acknowledge a screamer like that, and for all the piss-taking of his oft wonky kicking we could probably do with him in our defence today. If only we'd managed to sell him the same "sure, we'll play you in the forward line" magic beans as Buckley. Now here's to him becoming the modern day Other Nathan Brown, watching his old side scoot away to become regular finalists while he bumps around the lower mid-table before retiring to spruik the betting odds. The good news for him (and perhaps us) is that soon you'll only need to be lower mid-table to play finals.

Howe has done enough since going to Collingwood to avoid being a Kingsley contender, and I was less concerned about our exes cleaning us up than any number of players you'd never heard of or their premiership players. If we had to go down I'd much rather it have been to Dunn, who they were mad not to pick in the first few weeks when struggling. Still, as much as I love him it's not going to get them far (see also Chris Mayne and Daniel Wells) unless they make the eight in the next couple of years or the McIntyre Final 16 is introduced.

One thing Dunn knows, as well as how to deliver an abusive spray while manning the mark, is being cheated by an umpiring decision after the siren on Queen's Birthday. It even happened at the same end as last year, and in Tom McDonald the recipient was a forward of similar quality to Travis Cloke. This is not just me being magnanimous in victory, or towards one of my favourite players of the late dark ages, but that had to be one of the worst free kicks ever. If anything he punched the hand in the marking contest, which is not remotely the same as chopping the arms and would set a frighteningly degree of difficulty for defenders if you paid it everywhere. Mind you, I just read a neutral account which called it an obvious free - so if there's a court case feel free to get that person to testify instead of me.

It was our second consecutive goal courtesy of a wonky decision. First Watts had played up contact in a marking contest to a degree that would make you turn the air blue with obscene language had it happened against us. These goals were the difference in getting us in front at quarter time, and by the time you read this you'll have heard several dozen times over on every medium (with the complainant's prerogative invoked to artfully dodge examples of where bad umpiring went the other way) how the Pies fell victim to an enormous conspiracy. Why you'd conspire against the biggest team in the state for the benefit of one of the smallest I'm not sure - but if any club is going to be involved in sinister Freemasonry or the Illuminati it's probably us.

It's an unfortunate fact of this game that sometimes one team has a shit run, and thank god for once it happened in our favour. No doubt readers who follow other teams will recall a day where their club played Collingwood and were seemingly ransacked by the umpiring. Nobody except us seemed to care when we were on the receiving end of some of the loopiest decisions of recent times against North (never forget), but when it happens on a big stage to a club that singlehandedly props up the Victorian media Law and Order: AFL breaks out and we have to see every decision/non-decision scrutisined forensically. But only the ones that went against them.

The reaction from Pies fans was a lot like us going off after the Roos game, with just as many of the sort of defamatory posts about individual umpires that will eventually get somebody sued but also heaps more input from b-grade celebrities. The difference between the two games was that we bravely fought the power against perceived rorts and bridged a four goal gap (though that was probably nothing to do with the umpiring, it's just what we do), while the Pies collapsed in the second half like their towels had been laced with ether. The ether bunny came just at the right time, after they made us look like the Melbourne you recently knew and deeply loathed during the second quarter.

Until then we hadn't looked 'off' in the style of Hawthorn or North, but nor did we look particularly 'on'. The people who claim they can divine the result of a game from how the team goes about the first five minutes would have been lost on this one. We were certainly trying hard, but just didn't have anyone convincing to kick to up front. Down the other end the Pies had Levi Greenwood giving us a scare by playing forward like Malcolm Blight for the first 15 minutes.

He only converted once from two shots, before we got the first of a number of goals from Pies turnovers. It's fun to slaughter the umpires for everything, but feel free to also have a look at the way we were handed scores like this on a platter. More accurately we were handed the platter, and almost spilt it everywhere as Sizzle Sr's attempt to set up a free Bugg from a range that even he couldn't miss from at the moment ended in a loose handball bobbling around in the goalsquare and threatening to roll through for a point that would have featured in every blooper reel under the sun. Fortunately it sat up just enough for the agitator - who'd gone for maximum niggle before the first bounce by trying to take on two Pies players at the same time - to slide in and boot it through. We should have known then that nothing was going to come easily.

Even after Garlett got his first we were far from convincing, but then again the same thing had happened last year before we regained our equilibrium and realised the Pies were ripe for a thrashing so there was no need to worry just yet. At least no more than you usually do. Which for me is the equivalent of somebody trapped down a coal mine.

The two dodgy late goals didn't tell us anything more than we already knew, this was two mid-table mediocrities throwing limp punches and trying to stay alive long enough to make the eight where this year it feels like anything could happen. If you think the premiers coming from 7th last year was obscure I wouldn't be surprised if there's a double secret 10 team wildcard lightning premiership which leads to the Brisbane Lions winning the flag in 2017. On a day where we started within reasonable distance of 5th and 17th nothing was out of the question.

After being neither here nor there in the first quarter, but doing just enough to get in front courtesy of suspect frees the traditional collapse unexpectedly came in the second quarter. After first Watts failed to take advantage of Dunn necking himself with a deliberate so bad even he didn't complain, then Bugg missed a set shot that would have taken the margin over two goals and we spent the next 20 minutes allowing the Pies to do as they pleased. There were times where we only avoided conceding more goals because they had so many spare options inside 50 they didn't know which one to kick to, and we were being squashed flat by their pressure around the ball.

The problem was the players who we wanted to get a touch - Viney, Oliver, Lewis etc... - couldn't, and instead it was falling on the nervy likes of Neal-Bullen to try and create scores through a makeshift forward line, without turning it over and watching the Pies sprint the other way in waves. Their forward line was not much better (though if Pies fans really don't want Darcy Moore I'd be happy to give him a go at dad's other old club), but sheer weight of numbers eventually put us away. It was the same as us in the second half - especially after Pedersen went forward - we didn't have a proper focal point but couldn't help but force through a few goals eventually.

It was a textbook collapse under pressure, forced to operate entirely in confined spaces we started panic handballing in circles to anyone who'd take it and couldn't get the ball into any decent open space to create attacks. It cannot be understated how important Hunt is, in the first quarter he was barreling down the ground unchallenged like escaped livestock and making things happen, but when they shut the gate in the second he was nowhere to be seen. With apologies to Hibberd, who was very good again and to Frost who had a moment in the third quarter where he sprinted more explosively out of a contest than any man that large ever has before, when Hunt's run went so did everyone elses. We were back to plodding ball movement out of defence, complete with the tell-tale multiple turns of a backman's head as he realises his only option is to kick to a contest. This was terrible news for Oscar McDonald, who had a cow of a time with his disposals in the first half before recovering to play a key role in keeping it tight at the back when things got hairy.

At the sixth straight goal we looked totally adrift. The defence were doing a reasonably good job in the contest, but were being swamped by repeated batterings. Whoever Ben Crocker and Tom Philips are the seas parted for them to kick goals, and I started to feel cheated at having got my hopes up again. It was silly to ever believe, with Gawn and Hogan we are a better side than the Pies but with our makeshift ruck division and a forward line held together with sticky tape it was no better than a 50/50 proposition. I couldn't understand how we were such raging favourites, we must have had as many players to make Pies fans ask "who?" as we did who only knew Broomhead because of his charismatic surname. You (e.g. me) just felt that the big game players they did have like Pendlebury, Sidebottom and... well that's probably about it these days... would drag them over the line. Then the future arrived.

A comment I saw online yesterday summed it up perfectly - Clayton Oliver might win us a Brownlow, but Petracca will win us a flag. The Hamburglar would likely also play a key role in any prospective premiership, but Truck possesses so much X-Factor that he probably glows in the dark. At the moment he's not going to do it every week, but with respect to the usual warnings about judging talls early in their career thank god St Kilda took McCartin first. As discussed above it's not a win/loss scenario, and both teams might very well end up happy, but given that we had Hogan locked away (at least temporarily) I'm thrilled that we went for the game-winner who arrived nearly ready to go. Even if we had to wait a year thanks to a none-more-Melbourne ACL debacle.

His first goal came after a decent period where we'd finally got some control back by slowing the Pies down and actually getting a touch, and not long after setting up a much needed one to Garlett with an interception. That came almost immediately after the Pies had taken the margin over the now traditional 24 points, before the game went into a holding pattern for a few minutes. We were still close enough to mount a comeback no matter what happened, but more importantly we'd stopped them scoring for fun. Now after a quarter of being pounded at stoppages Oliver was starting to get his hands on it, and once more we were starting to work towards achieving ecstasy after nearly blacking out. They might have to come up with a more family-friendly way of describing it, but surely the good old fashioned MFC Stranglewank has to start attracting media attention now? If you can get somebody to say the unedited version on SEN I'll buy you a Bertocchi ham.

When Petracca took advantage of another error from the increasingly nervous Pies to run to 50 and cut the margin to just over two goals I started to believe. That didn't last long. I'm like the nervous flyer who thinks every noise is a sign the plane is about to plummet out of the sky. I was hoping to at least get to half time a couple of goals down, rip open the Plan B envelope (which has been resealed so many times recently that it will stop sticking down soon) and work out how to at least put the fear of god into them for the benefit of 15,000 once a year fans in their bootleg 'MELBOURNE' scarves.

Then, as if they knew that the veins in my forehead pop out that little bit more in the last two minutes of a quarter we just had to concede in Demon Time. Which was bad enough anyway, much less immediately after kicking two goals in a row to drag ourselves back into the contest.

At this point I became convinced that our comeback luck had run out, and that we'd putt around four goals behind for the rest of the afternoon before returning home to drop digital napalm on every corner of the internet. Based on recent events you should never give up on any Melbourne side who go anything less than six goals down, but because I'm far too emotionally invested in the fortunes of this club I did, and will continue to do so in the future.

The alternative school of thought is to be one of the people who wait until the revival has been successfully completed, pretend that they were never worried and act like you're ere an idiot for being so distressed. Take for instance the flag waver who tweeted me after the game with a lecture on how I should change teams because I thought - quite rightly under any reasonable analysis - the Pies were squashing us with pressure during the second quarter and looked like they'd be deserved winners. It was a surprise diversion from a Twitter feed otherwise full of retweets about members of a certain major religion being terrible.

Maybe as somebody who writes under a series of aliases (this one is popular) I'm just overly sensitive, but it seems reasonably suicidal to tee off on large segments of the community on an account that not only has your real name but proudly trumpets the company you work for. Political unpleasantness aside, I'd be happy to be lectured by anyone on how I should react to watching this side play as long as they agree to sit next to me for a game and enjoy the extravaganza of nervous ticks, involuntary swearing under the breath, and at three quarter time yesterday hands shaking like a lifelong wino who's been off the booze for a week.

Based on an exit poll of the MFC crowd I follow on Twitter I don't think I'm telling you anything you don't already know, but even putting the sneering tone of the advice to one side, how gullible do you have to be to think that just because we won everything is alright and no questions need to be asked? Much like trades, actual games are not a binary decision where WIN = played brilliantly, LOSS = played terribly. Anyone is still entitled to ask how we wound up in a four goal hole before launching a comeback for the fifth straight game.

It doesn't mean you can't savour the win, in fact I encourage you to roll around in it like a pig in mud and post A3 pictures of the umpires to any Pies supporters you know, but the end result doesn't erase the fact that instead of playing a rock bottom, slurry first quarter this week we played a rock bottom, slurry second quarter. Either way the result was the same, leaving us with an enormous mountain to climb and a situation where one more Collingwood goal might have put us away. This is not a healthy way to go about things, but imagine what's going to happen when we start playing four quarters?

The return of Gawn is going to save us from having to think about ruck alternatives, but I was flabbergasted that we tried to get away with Tom McDonald forward again with Pedersen in the ruck when it has been so clear in the last three weeks that the reverse is a better move. Pedersen is a better ruckman, but not to the degree that it will make a significant difference in the middle. However, McDonald is a much worse forward, so playing a realistic marking option up front and still relying on the midfield to get us out of jail at the bounces seems - at least to me as a rank amateur with no understanding of tactics - to be the sensible option. If the midfield lost it wouldn't have mattered which one was in there, best to give ourselves maximum (so to speak) chance of scoring.

Maybe it was a coincidence and the Pies were vulnerable to transverse wobble in the second half anyway, but as soon as McDonald went into the ruck we looked a lot better. Not that much of it was down to his ruckwork. He did his job well in competing and then joining the fight when the ball hit the ground, while Pedersen's presence instantly made our attack look more dangerous. It also coincided with the midfield turning up, and we won the clearances for the quarter despite losing the hitouts in an 18-0 landslide.

The first goal to Harmes cancelled out Moore's one. Then Moore cancelled out Harmes' one that cancelled his original one out. I may have yelled something extremely uncomplimentary about the prospect of Jordan Lewis playing out his full three year contract. Then he starting yelling at Hunt, which means absolutely nothing in the heat of the moment, but isn't going to get you far with fans who are far more interested in the mystical powers of the owl than winning four flags for another club.

At least if we were to get nothing else out of the game, we got to see Hunt win a free, then run 20 metres to collect the ball and take his own advantage. I suppose that's legal, and as we all know anything that keeps the ball moving (even on occasions a big old throw) is good enough for the league, but as exciting as it was it doesn't feel right when the ball flings significantly forward of where the free was paid and the player is able to grab it off the ground and keep going. It's one thing if it's taken as part of the contest, but this was effectively him playing on from a much better spot. Looked good though.

Then the clear momentum shift finally started paying off in goals. Watts got a set shot right on the second attempt, Petracca banked a gift goal after being dumped post-marking contest and it was on. For those of you keeping score on who was at fault for Collingwood losing, that was from another turnover. They got a steadier, but had otherwise stopped. When Frost's turbo charge inside 50 led to Pedersen using natural forward instinct (well I never) to crumb a goal we were back to within six points. Then straight from the next centre bounce Oliver burst out and hit Melksham with a pinpoint pass to put us in front. Who knows what he was doing down there, but it worked a treat this time. It also showed that there's more strings to Oliver's bow than just fancy handballs. He is quite literally a visionary.

Thank christ that Adam Treloar declined to fully participate in the Demon Time experience right on the stroke of three quarter time. We did our best to let him stroll into an open goal but unlike say... Jack Watts... he couldn't convert on the run and we retained the lead. Once more we'd turned a near-death experience into potential victory, but the job wasn't yet complete. Cracking them like an egg in the dying minutes of the third was one thing, but holding it together for another half an hour was another.

My tension level ratcheted another couple of twists towards 'fatal' when we were all over them and Petracca missed two set shots at the start fo the last. Given how well he's kicked them this year you would have bet that at least one would go through, but it's what he did to get the kicks in the first place that should give you cause to lie on the ground and breathe into a paper bag. Then just when it seemed quite likely that the dam walls were about to burst, Bugg was pinched for a 50 that gave Greenwood another chance to play Tony Lockett from directly in front. He missed, we went down the other end, Hannan smashed home some point blank crumb and you thought just maybe we'd done enough. Which you should never do.

If Hannan kicked straight after winning a holding the ball free immediately after I might have even been officially confident. The next thing you know some bloke is casually thumping through a goal from 50 metres out on the boundary line and it's back within a kick. Petracca got another goal to give us breathing space again, before some Collingwood player so obscure even Eddie McGuire doesn't know his name reduced the margin to under six again. My heart could not take this. Even recapping it is too much, I just realised I took a break from writing to bite my fingernails.

It was all set up for either a draw, or Petterd 2010 style heartbreak/seat punching. Or as it turns out a fine win. The last five minutes was one of the finest exhibitions of desperate football you'll ever see, with both teams absolutely ripping the bejesus out of each other to get to the ball. Let's not sully it with free kick chat now shall we? Enjoy it for what it was, players butchering themselves with no thought to their own physical well-being, ending in Melbourne getting the four points. Had it gone the other way I'd have been plenty more sulky.

Just as I was about to expire in my seat Watts found himself set up by a lovely Hibberd spoil, and an Oscar McDonald kick which I'm going to label brilliant rather than fluky, in acres of space on the half-forward flank, able to run to as good as the square before kicking. It was a mighty effort to not only finish on the run, after covering that much ground, 28 minutes into the last quarter but consider also that he'd come into the game under an injury cloud and been off for treatment twice in the first half while looking like he was struggling to move. It also created a soon to be iconic photo where he's standing arms aloft while Howe looks sad in the background.

Not quite as exciting as the goal, but nearly as important in the overall context, was his flying spoil to rush a behind down the other end almost straight after. Talk about a big occasion player waiting for us to provide more big occasions, this is the third time I can remember him winning the game with goals (Bulldogs 2013 and Gold Coast 2016) then going straight down the other end for a crucial defensive intervention.

The handy narrative is that the goal was Jack throwing the monkey off the back and finally conquering Collingwood after years of torment, and I'll take that if it means him kicking the winning goal but let's not forget he's had a reasonable run against them for a few years now. If we have to go back nine years to his ill-fated debut let's not concentrate on the performance of a kid thrown in at the deep end before he was ready to try and spike a crowd, let's instead ask the other 17 players on the field how they feel about not piling it and punching somebody in the head when he was mugged on his first touch?

It was another great day for knowing how much time there was left, including Watts' dash taking him right past some fence advertising saying there was a minute to go. I'm already nearly 100% likely to die in my seat at the MCG so the tension of whether or not we're going to be toppled in a surprise 35 minute quarter is not welcome. As long as we didn't concede immediately from the bounce we'd be fine, and even as Fasolo marked I knew it was too late for them. No matter how quickly he kicked it there wasn't time for the ball to go back to the centre and set up the ultimate replay of that St Kilda fiasco. Given how quickly he lined up and had the shot it was an impressive finish, but all for nothing in the end.

It was quite the night, and finished with a coup de gras from a fan that was only marginally less exciting than Watts' sealer. For the first two and a half quarters a corporate box full of pissed, lippy Pies fans had been acting the goat, and although they went silent in shock during the last quarter the damage had been done. As they sat slumped in their seats after the siren with the window still open he walked past and yelled "STIFF SHIT CUNTS!" It was brief, it was brutal and for all appropriate tsk tsk about children being present/how I'd have said they were the worst humans around if they'd done it to us it was magnificent in context. 🎶 There goes my hero 🎶

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Jayden Hunt
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Christian Salem

Apologies to Frost, Garlett, Hibberd, O. McDonald, Melksham, Oliver, Pedersen, Tyson and Watts (second half)

Leaderboard
Nothing at the top for the Hamburglar in what is - other than his full BOG lead - becoming one of the most competitive Jakovich races ever. This allows Jones to move within striking distance of what would be his sixth trophy, with plenty of contenders just a few solid games away from the top. In the minors, Hunt draws level with Hibberd for the Seecamp while the committee has now officially deemed Harmes ineligible due to too much time spent forward.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
How could you go for anything other than Watts executing his finishing move? Not only did it feature the tension of the Pies most likely bounding the other way from a kick-in to stitch us up if he missed, but also took so long to finish that there was an added layer of tension shovelled on when you expected him to try a pass instead of taking the shot. He had somebody relatively free in the middle who could have done a Ben Brown style time-wasting set-shot routine, but no problems with him kicking at the time or after watching the replay. Can you imagine the scenes if he'd turned it over trying to cut it back into the middle and they went straight down the other end to score? Like Gold Coast last year he delivered the clutch finish, we all went off our tit and everything was right with the world.

When the opposition stoop to making gags about snow you'd think this would be one of the biggest alpine landslides in history. Then ours went up and we'd done one as well. Nevertheless, playing up to a stereotype will always trump trailing along in its wake trying to crack gags even Peter Helliar would turn back as unsuitable. Collingwood lose, but with apologies due to their cheersquad performing the always welcome full rotation before the players appeared, and for their excellent fontage. They can afford it - ours is made with love. Dees 10-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch

It was not a day for craving the close contact of opposition fans, or for being able to escape them by heading right up the back, so I thought I'd take my chances sitting amongst the true believers instead. Light jostling with a North cretin was one thing, but there's more Collingwood fans, so that means a higher proportion of characters who should be exiled from the mainland of Australia. It's not always a guarantee that you'll be surrounded by quality. See for instance the munters trying to get themselves over at Kardinia Park last year by proudly hurling homophobic slurs at Geelong players.

Instead I ended up directly behind the same guy who'd affected my enjoyment of the first quarter of the 2012 Gold Coast avalanche by trying to engage in conversation every five seconds. Thank the footballing lord that he had friends/unwilling victims in front to chat to this time, because there were about 58,000 less seats to move to this time. Other than a minor diplomatic incident where he complained about me kneeing him in the back as if he'd never been lightly brushed by a leg in a tightly packed stadium, the hint was quickly taken that I had no interest in opening dialogue. I was so nervous at three quarter time that he almost received a non-conversational spray over his right shoulder, before we eventually bonded at the final siren over shared joy at ruining the day of the people in the box behind.

The highlight other than the win - and until half time it was the only highlight - was how the educated and sensible Demons faithful showed the rest of the league how to appropriately align the moral compass by booing Howe (strung us along for a year then legged it at the first opportunity) but leaving Dunn (loyal servant in dark times until sacked by us) alone. Nor did anyone - in my area at least - attempt any edgy comedy about Fasolo. That's what happens when you have lower total numbers but a higher overall level of class than anyone else in the league.

Booing is still up there with the most juvenile things you can do in public, but in this case I was happy to hypocritically enjoy it as part of the overall package. Other than the traditional round of applause for Dunn after being clobbered in a brave marking contest - which to be fair even A. Random Player would have got - it wasn't like he got a reception like Junior McDonald at the Carnival of Hate either, but I'm just glad we were able to separate actual sporting villianry from "he play in other jumper, he bad" caveman thinking. When they hold the #fistedforever reunion dinner I will gladly sit on Dunn's table, while hopefully Howe is stuck up the back next to the fire escape.

The abuse asylum
In the nicest possible way I didn't expect to hear from Matt Jones again, but there he was during the week as the subject of an article about players having a shit old time reading their Twitter feed. Whenever the topic comes up I shift nervously and adjust my collar, having written a manifesto about the dark years of a length that the Unabomber would have considered excessive. But for all the gags about Isaac Weetra, and the odd suggestion that a player has no idea what he's doing I'm comfortable that there's not much on here that would go beyond a solid 3.5/10 on the Jack Watts Scale of Online Assassinations.

Now that we've established my moral superiority to the weirdos at the other end of the spectrum (for example this bloke, only a couple of steps below the lapsed member who once received a call from a player asking them to rejoin only to yell down the phone that Mr. X was the reason he wouldn't be renewing) let me set out my view on this. Which I'm sure you've been waiting the best part of however many years footy players have been on Twitter to hear. Nobody's suggesting that (within the bounds of good taste) that you can't crack the shits in whatever fashion you feel appropriate, but is it really necessary to tag the player in? To effectively ring the guy up and tell him he's shit. How does this help the situation? Do you expect the player in question will redouble their efforts because @fudgefactory956 is upset? Or that it will contribute in even the smallest way to improving his mental health or match preparation?

I can't take the figures quoted in the article too seriously, suggesting that in four years he got four compliments about his performance on Twitter and 40 complaints. Surely he's been furiously misquoted there, that's one week for the McDonald brothers. It seems especially low when you consider he played in 12 wins and 49 losses, across some of the fugliest seasons in our history. I'm not going to trawl his mentions to find out, but if got loss than one rude message per loss played in that would be a fantastic ratio.

But what's the point of getting any? Some would say that not addressing the players directly is the coward's way out. Bullshit. You know they generally won't fight back so it's not fair sport. Once we give players the green light to write back and ask "were you baptised at Sea World you fat fuck?" then let the blood run free. They could do that now, but the odds are tilted massively in your favour as an internet lunatic. Look at the Brock McLean Twitter fiasco of 2012 where he decided to have a go back and ended up paying $5000 for delivering one of the greatest own-goals in insult history by suggesting the opposing Twitterist's mum was to blame for him having AIDS. The only worse value for money in the AFL that year was the sum total of Israel Folau's 13 games.

Much of this is on the players too. If you search your own name all bets are off. It doesn't mean what's written is right, but you could have avoided it. If you're a player reading this page then you're consciously opening yourself to a prospect of seeing something you've done slated, but I'm not going to print it out onto A4 paper and drop it off in an envelope at the MFC reception desk for you. Happy to discuss any or all of it with the people involved though if they want - especially $cully, who will land a knockout blow in the first 10 seconds by unfurling his most recent bank statement and pointing to the balance.

I don't know if the drive to read the comments (and as anyone who's ever watched a YouTube video or an online newspaper article knows - never read the comments) is the same drive that helps them become top level athletes, but nobody's yet been able to outline the benefits that subjecting yourself to this insanity brings. It's like Tim Watson printing his home address on the inside cover of the Footy Record in 1985, only not requiring a stamp or a trip to the letterbox. Some players might turn their fame into a free haircut, and when things are going fantastically well you could almost excuse them for a having a peep - but as much as I'm trying not to victim shame here how unbalanced does the ledger have to get before you realise that it's a hindrance to your life and walk away? Long term Twitter followers may recall Cale Morton and Jake Spencer arriving in a blaze of glory and disappearing not long after. I suspect they quickly discovered that it was a sewer - and if my timing is right that was before 186 when people really went feral.

There's a level beyond the direct-to-your-fingertips keyboard hero. The suggestion that people actually rang Jones up to share their views with him is a level of madness even one step beyond the dickheads that call club reception to complain after a loss. Of course it could get a lot worse, assuming whoever opened fire on Travis Cloke's house had a broader issue and wasn't just passing comment on his goalkicking, I assume we're never going to reach the level of fans rushing the field en masse to attack players. Still, that we've never stooped to that level (with the exception of the old lady who tried to throttle a West Coast player with her scarf at Windy Hill in the early 90s, and the North fan who delivered the most limp-wristed punch in recorded history to Daniel Motlop a few years ago) doesn't mean it's open slather to hoe into practically defenceless targets. It's basically the Adam Goodes booing thing again - though ironically with people taking my advice from that time of using words so their intention is obvious - your god given right to do something vs the morality of making an arsehole of yourself.

Related topics
The St Kilda social media manager is probably bobbing up and down in the bay with a fridge attached to his/her ankle for this, but what a legend for writing it in the first place.
The response was predictable, an endless stream of "I pay my membership, I can act like a gibbon". Which is as true as was one section above, but don't sook when somebody dishes it back in the lightest, most innocuous fashion. Until you've worked in any role that involves receiving and/or responding to feedback left on social media platforms, you cannot begin to understand the psychological weight of having to plaster on a digital air-hostess smile and try to be professional when you actually want to tell somebody to shove it up their arse sideways.

I expect the effect magnifies the less control you have over what people are whinging to you about as if you're the CEO. The person behind the keyboard at a footy club is about as far removed from being able to impact your helpful suggestions as is humanely possible. At least when you're teeing off on players they're getting paid good money as part of not being able to fight back (with the exception of minimum wage rookies, who may very well be doing double duty as the club Twitterist), this is the modern day equivalent of ringing reception and blasting Doris.

Next week
Now that we're in the eight and suddenly Docklands specialists the Bulldogs represent a significant challenge. If we win this - and regrettably I still can't bring myself to believe we will - the platform is there for a bash at September. It still is even if we lose, but we've also got to contend with trips to Perth, Hobart, Darwin and Sydney plus danger games against the Swans and Carlton, before getting to what seems on paper a generous last three weeks against St Kilda, Brisbane and the Pies again.

First the Bulldogs, and what a conundrum we find ourselves in at selection. The poor Spencil has returned just in time for Gawn to keep him out of the side again, and while Max is an absolute solid gold certainty when fit and is absolutely crucial to the structure it's going to give us problems trying to work out who makes way. It would have been a lot easier if Sizzle Jr had continued to play with a Morton-esque level of terror instead of turning in probably the best half of his career during the comeback, but with all the apologies in the world he's shunted out for his brother to go back where he should be in defence, and for Pedersen to go forward permanently. Junior has got plenty of time to get back in, as long as he knows it's all about team balance and not going in with an unnecessarily tall defence he will get more chances.

Elsewhere I've had enough of the Bullet for now, he's not a complete write-off but I'm happy to give somebody else a go. That somebody is Billy Stretch, who seemed to be dropped unfairly to the naked eye and has been marooned at Casey ever since. Elsewhere I'm not convinced Harmes and Bugg should be seen in the same forward line, but other than another woeful set shot that he can blame on my famous quote about him being a good finisher Bugg was quite lively. Then again it's hard to chop Harmes when he did the significantly better job against Gold Coast. Either way I'd probably chuck one of them if it meant confirmation that Ben Kennedy has not been applied to some secret second year 'no play' list before being quietly sacked a'la Ben Newton.

IN: Gawn, Stretch
OUT: Neal-Bullen, O. McDonald (omit)
LUCKY: Bugg, Harmes, Lewis, Vince
UNLUCKY: Kennedy, Spencer

Was it worth it?
My word yes. I had an arsehole of a time getting there, had to test my already suspect cardiac fitness by sprinting full pelt to catch two different trains to get home, then spent the entirety of the second one convinced that half the carriage were going to rob me at knife point but this is the kind of game you had to be there for. To be looking right at Watts running into that goal in the end and erupting as one with the faithful was the sort of thing that will stick with me forever. After sitting through so much garbage over the years, wins like this will have to do as a reward before we start ripping teams limb from limb and/or winning finals.

Final thoughts
I have a morbid fear that my time of being able to go to every game no matter what is coming to an end, and that before long I'll probably end up desperately having to avoid spoilers so I can watch games as live in the middle of the night a'la 148. It will be horrific timing, but if that's what it takes to finally get this club going again then I'm comfortable laying down my sporting life as a sacrifice.