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.

3 comments:

  1. I'm wondering if the players are having a sneaky bet on the games. I'm sure Nathan Brown has been spruiking for some betting company who's paying out if your team leads by 24+ points in a match.
    Last two weeks, we've let teams stroll out to 24 points (with a rushed behind or two here or there) and then turned it on. Have we got a few "Ox's" in the team??

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  2. Let's hope it doesn't lead to Round 14 in 1984 all over again, after beating an exhausted Hawthorn convincingly in round 13 and Skeeter Coghlan saying Barassi's 5 year plan was coming to fruition early we were grounded by the Bob Mers the next week. We all believed the time had come.

    I think we will win the flag this year, the wait is over, we must stay humble and endeavour not to get a hard on every time Petracca goes near the ball.

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  3. They still call reception and bag the poor receptionist...

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