Sunday 6 August 2017

Australian Capsizing Team

And there went season 2017, over the fence and into the distance like somebody legging it from a bedroom window when the husband turns up unexpectedly. I'm not going to throw my copy of the Bradbury Plan into the sea just yet, because without going too far outside the realms of credibility we can still squeak in even with one loss in the next three, but to be realistic last week did us in and this was the second last nail in the coffin. Delay your dreams of seeing us lose an elimination final for yet another year.

Since Roos turned up bearing respectability we've had a habit of falling to bits late in the season. In 2014 it happened about 10 games out, in 2015 five, and in 2106 two. Which is why I was hopeful that this time, having not played our entire side since the first second of the pre-season onwards, that we might at least get into September before it all became too much. It was going that way after smothering Port, then we put on a doomsday double at the two windiest grounds in the country and now footballing death feels imminent again.

Even allowing for GWS' ordinary form over the last few weeks I was budgeting for somewhere around a five goal loss. So if you refuse to acknowledge any goals kicked by $cully, or take off the outrageous freebie given to Shane Mumford to cover up an umpire's inability to throw the ball straight up in the air we just about made it. It's funny how these things work out, if we'd pushed them all day and crumbled in the final term to lose by the same margin I'd probably be full of confidence about next week, but get wiped out in the first quarter and display a second consecutive inability to score freely in perfect attacking conditions and it becomes head in the oven stuff.

Deep down I know it's over, but at the same time the way this club goes about its business who could rule out unexpectedly falling into seventh or eighth by stomping St Kilda, Brisbane and Collingwood into dust? While there's life there's hope, but I'm not falling for that again. It's taken so much emotional effort to believe until now that I'm officially crossing the floor. I halfheartedly did the same after Sydney, but this is for real. Anything we get from here is a bonus, and if we fail I'm not blaming injuries or a young list, we just didn't have the ticker when it counted. The foundation is in, go out and get the finishing touches.

As I expected a loss by not much less than what actually happened, this game further exposed how ridiculous our loss in Tasmania was. Talk about Multicultural Round, we're like a down on their luck country who finally gets a break after years of being run into the ground and still finds a way to piss it up the wall. The #fistedforever (2007-2016) era may now have been officially replaced by the Midtable Mediocrity era (2017-), but who didn't think there was something horrible coming our way when Champion Data rated us a better than 80% chance of finishing in the eight. You can take the team out of the fist, but you can't take the fist out of the team.

I miss AFLW already, somewhere I can watch a Melbourne team and only be moderately upset if they lose. Now I'm set for another week where scant work is done until Wednesday because I've got my head in my hands, involuntarily screaming and crying "WHY?" This is why I keep my ticket for Round 19, 2011 attached to my desk, as a reality check that it can always get worse.

My first instinct is a tip a table over, tell everyone to get fucked and like some of our players pack up for the rest of the season, but I can't help but Hatewatch the last three rounds in person. As soul crushing as it may be to show up for R23 after losing to Brisbane, I'll do anything to avoid another round of the rubbish served up by Fox Footy today. From Gerard Healy playing Deledio the GWS theme song on his phone with the most self-satisfied grin since legging it for Sydney, to a cameraman/director combination who were clearly operating the zoom button under the influence of LSD it was a disaster from start to finish.

It was the sort of coverage you write off as an amusing sideline if you win, but which seems like a crime against humanity during a loss. What about Mark Riccuito insisting several times without any detectable irony that we were "due" for a win because we'd gone WLWL recently. He also refused to take the hint of the E in Hibberd's name and called him "Hibbard" all day.

The most infuriating thing was the comically over the top effort to assure everyone that we might make a comeback, insisting we had to 'get a move on' right down to the last quarter when we were seven goals behind and had kicked seven for the day. It was reminiscent of when Kerry Packer called Mark Nicholas to berate him for suggesting a one-dayer was 'over' well before it was, because he wanted people to stay watching in the hope of a miracle win. If you bought the equivalent TV time and made such patently false claims about a product the ACCC would have your guts for garters. Even Anthony Hudson joined in, and he's usually the most sensible full-time caller on television.

It was one of the weirder first quarters I've been involved with, and thank god I chickened out on half-hearted plans to be there live. Remember that game in Canberra against the Giants three years ago when we went from 31 points in front in the second quarter to 45 behind by the end? Why waste time spreading that sort of thing over four quarters, we embraced the vision of AFLX (and will probably be roped into playing it if we miss the eight for god's sake) by compacting triumph and tragedy into half an hour.

Incidentally, what's with the obscure way we're fixtured against GWS? Not sure I want to see more of them considering they're going to murder everyone for years to come, but in the era where you can play the same team a few weeks apart this was our first meeting since Round 1 last year. Which was our second game against them in a row, after not playing them since Round 2, when we'd just played them in Round 21 2014. If this trend continues I expect to be the visitor for their first home game next year, complete with $cully personally unfurling the premiership flag while laughing heartily for the first time in his life.

For the first few minutes we were genuinely the better side, getting plenty of the ball and putting Giants players under immense pressure. I allowed myself to get a little bit excited when the third goal to nil went through against the wind. Which was swiftly followed with the usual MFC response to anything that makes you happy.

The first goal was the best, going almost straight out of the middle after the first bounce for Jones to find Gawn unmarked 40 metres out in a way that would have made me kick the proverbial cat from here to Holbrook if it was us who'd let an enormous man slip inside 50 unattended. It didn't all go our way before the second and third goals, they attacked and had a couple of chances but were haphazard at it. Fortunately for the surprising number of Giants fans present (and the 8000 theatregoers wearing the merchandise of other teams) they cracked us open with novelty goals, then used them as a platform to deliver an old fashioned MFC trouncing.

When first Neal-Bullen, (pretty good when things were going well but practically unseen after they got on top), then Tyson (gets lots of the ball, doesn't do much with it) added the second and third from close range there was the off chance that we might get away with this. After all the Giants had started to reintroduce some of their stars, but were still forced to rely on plodders and soon to be Steven Armstrong style accidental premiership players like Matt De Boer. They had their three top goalkickers out - but what have we learnt over the years about the egalitarian MFC commitment to letting players of all abilities or stages of their career take the piss out of us?

For now Goodwin obviously though Plan A was going so well that he could afford to tear up the envelopes containing the alternatives and scatter them out the window towards the Jack Fingleton Scoreboard. Then just as the paper caught the breeze, the Giants decided to show up and spent the next 45 minutes slapping us until their hands collectively swelled. They then put their feet up, eased through the second half and reinvigorated their season while leaving us looking like an unmade bed.

First they came with the novelty goals, and I did nothing because how are you supposed to stop them? The first was at least a lovely finish from a tough angle, one of those that callers instantly declare a "goal of the year contender" before they're forgotten by Wednesday. Then who else but Turncoat Tom tormented us with a floaty, shitty kick that took a zany bounce just as Sizzle Jr was shepherding it through for a point. Poor Oscar is just an honest young defender trying to make his way in the game and he has that happen to him. Why do bad people get all the luck?

The third goal was half novelty, and half a taste of things to come. When Harry Hindenberg was inserted into the GWS side who didn't think he was going to do us in? Picked almost specifically to play the 'stand at one end and don't move' role that I dreamt about McDonald doing last week, he found himself in acres of space on the boundary line to take a handball and put them back in front. You don't usually need the Bureau of Meteorology's help to know where the tide's going in one of our games, and this was the point where it irreversibly turned against us.

Then they came with the rampant avalanche of goals, and I did nothing because if our players weren't going to why should anybody else? The coach sure wasn't interested, never succumbing to the temptation to swing Watts or McDonald behind the ball when it started getting hairy. From here the next five goals to end the quarter all blend into one, and I've got no care in going back to work out how each one was crafted. What I know is that our pressure at stoppages dipped to levels that would require a power micro-telescope to detect, and nobody was capable of or willing to put a hand on a Giant as they merrily skipped past.

There was no thought to trying to slow the game down and get some control back, the rare times we did get the ball in the open we tried to bash forward with brute force only to see it ping back the other way at warp speed. At one point there was even a textbook turnover by Frost where all his compatriots had pushed up so far that when the ball landed with a GWS player he was spoilt for choice on who to kick it to, and they marched from one end to the other unchallenged.

What I don't get is if say Frost is charging into attack why Jetta, Hibberd, Oscar, Salem etc... all have to be level with or in front of him. Surely somebody stays back safe in the knowledge that if the guy has any decent space he's going to kick it (though can you really be sure with this group? If there's a teammate within 30 metres they're valid handball targets), so you're either not going to be involved in the play from there or are going to be called upon to mop up? Especially - ESPECIALLY - when the guy with the ball is somebody with a reasonable track record for flunking kicks. If you're going to use Frost (or in the past McDonald, O) in this role have contingencies ready for when it goes wrong. TV, web and print journalists, I know you're out there - please analyse this phenomenon in depth, with circles drawn around players to explain things, and tell me I'm not making it up.

The last 10 minutes were a blur, as GWS continued to attack in waves while we stood about admiring them for it. Is that what having 'outside runners' looks like? Where's Jimmy Toumpas when you need him? (spoiler: the SANFL) We've got grunt out the yin yang, but no wonder we're so reliant on defenders pushing up and launching attacks considering how few midfielders are likely to get into space and run. I'm not sold on the 'bounces' stat meaning anything, but it's telling that our top midfielder (Hunt is first overall with is 27) is Jay Kennedy-Harris with... four. And for mids who've played most of the season Tyson is 'top' on two. We've had the fourth least in the competition, and the fourth least against - which must make for exciting viewing for neutrals.

Speaking of stats, there was much made of us being thrashed in the tackle count. Which said a lot for the Giants after the first few minutes until packing it away in the last, and for the number of times we had players grasping at thin air or half tackling before it was powered out of. At the risk of turning this into a David King style 'all stats, no vibe' extravaganza we're actually the #4 tackling side in the competition. Didn't look like it today, but I suppose it's hard to rack up numbers when the opposition don't let you get within tackling range.

As the conditions for Stranglewank Mode was activated I thought we might still get away with it, but with not a hint of a roadblock thrown in GWS' way they couldn't help but set up an unbeatable lead. Losing because of a pox first quarter is familiar, but doing it after going three goals up in the wind was an unexpected touch of paradise. As much as GWS rank second only to M****n K****s in sports teams I hate, it was downright charitable of them to give us those. Like fox hunters giving their prey a sporting head start before releasing hounds to tear them apart.

In another case of quality commentary, much time was spent guffawing about how GWS didn't need the Cameron/Patton/Greene goalkicking combo after all. Unlike Ricciuto's award winning rollercoaster theory they were clearly playing for laughs, but nobody even thought to chuck in the obvious statement that "you can't play Melbourne every week". Cameron/Patton would probably have kicked 13 between them, but at the same time at least having some big bastards to concentrate on might have focused us on where to defend, instead of allowing half a dozen smaller players to run around unchallenged. Perhaps not, the way we were letting them belt forward in numbers you could have played an octogenarian and a confused Belgian backpacker down there and still kicked a winning score.

"Wait until you've had a go with the wind!" cried people who hadn't watched us toil pitifully both with and without it in Hobart last week. Cobblers. We didn't have the forward structure or attacking plan to take advantage either time. We might have gone into total lockdown mode after those first three goals, but if the Giants had come back to win anyway everyone would be slaughtering Goodwin for being negative and not going on with it when we had the advantage. It's a tough life being a coach, he can expect his mail from loonies to rocket back to levels akin to when the guy cut up his membership because of Kennedy-Harris.

The only noticeable change at the start of the second quarter was that the Giants stopped piling forward by the dozen and kicking goals, quite content to stick a player behind the ball and defend their lead. Crucially unlike us last week they used a big player who could take marks and make contests - hooray for Jordan Lewis telling people what to do, and where to go, but when it comes down the opposition thumping kicks inside 50 by the dozen I'd prefer a player who can get in the way to one passing out complex tactical instructions.

Then even when deliberately playing defensively, the Giants found a way to snatch a goal from a forward 50 stoppage. From 10 minutes into the first quarter until 10 minutes into the last there can't have many teams who'd been less threatening inside 20 metres than we were today. We couldn't keep it down there until the game was shot, Garlett was anonymous, and best of luck trying to reel in a six goal deficit like that - much less while simultaneously watching opposition players run around in acres of space.

The plug was back in, ensuring we at least weren't going to concede another eight into the wind and give 186 a shake, but in stark contrast to the put-on excitement about a potential comeback from the commentators it was obvious that we didn't know what we were doing. I don't know if we failed to take lessons from last week's impotent performance, or if we just didn't have the players to execute. I'd have thought it would be obvious that hammering long kicks to the square was going to end in disaster again, but at the same time chipping it around until you find a better option wasn't going to get us much further when a) there was usually nobody to chip it to, b) if there was they had a Giants' player up their clacker, and c) our chances of hitting the target by foot were next to nil.

For the umpteenth week in a row the only tall forward we had who looked remotely like taking a mark in scoring position was our full back. Which is probably why they weren't game to do the sensible thing and park McDonald inside defensive 50 at the first bounce and leave him at the same end all day. If we'd done that we might not have kicked three goals in the first quarter, but we might not have conceded eight either. Mind you, the way the Giants manufactured the last five goals they'd probably have just manoeuvred around him and gone on their merry way.

With the Giants quite happy to rely on their +1 backline to compete against our barely existing forwards, the second quarter was exactly the sort of torrid struggle you'd expect. We got plenty of the ball, and went forward often enough (in fact we had more inside 50s for the day, just in case you needed further proof that stat is a turd) but with no idea how to craft an attack it was usually for naught. McDonald did one fantastic lead/mark/goal combination, but other than that it was like an army coming to a wall and just aimlessly shooting into it. We didn't even get into position to pull off the same sort of arsey flukes that got them going, with our master of mystery Garlett showing why he shouldn't be allowed within a continent of the All Australian team by going missing, and the surprisingly novelty goal happy Melksham barely around until the last quarter.

Other than the obvious finals implications, what I'm most looking forward to next week is finding out whether we've made kicking goals look so difficult the last two weeks because we've got no idea how to play with the wind, or whether we've hit the point where several players reach physical and mental exhaustion simultaneously. For instance, I would be astonished if Petracca was operating at 100%. He's played a great season but looks tired. Here's to him proving me wrong by having 35 touches and kicking five. I've got my questions about Hibberd as well, he was much better this week than last but I reckon he's starting to feel it. Hunt too, after playing every game he's now had two weeks where he didn't look anywhere near his best.

Until the very end of the quarter the goals were neatly spaced out, and just in case anyone was mad enough to think we could be close enough at the last quarter to mount a storming comeback with the wind the next two went to GWS. You could have assembled the world's greatest salesmen and got them to spout the same fanciful bollocks about us still being a chance as the commentary team (Et tu, Huddo?) and you wouldn't have convinced me there was a chance. The belt stayed on, there was to be no Stranglewank on this occasion. Even if ASADA had turned up and Lachie Whitfield (who as this tweet quite rightly points out looks like he should be a Trump child) instinctively legged it over the fence, and into the streets of Canberra it wouldn't have helped. They had too much quality, while we're still just an industrial outfit plodding away and hoping for the best.

After using the strong weather advantage to score one less goal, we were turned over by the most administrative free kick since teams were cleaned up in the early days of interchange infringements for not filling the paperwork in properly. It's fanciful to blame the umpires for a defeat like this, but GWS was all but gifted a goal here...
It's bad enough that teams have to nominate who's going to take part in the ruck, instead of just letting them work it out themselves and penalising any team that has more than one contest it. But to penalise a player who had the ball bounce into him after the throw was affected by the wind is the biggest loogie in the face of the spirit of the game since the Gold Coast player had a shot on goal against us last year and was pinged for deliberate. There should be a museum set up to celebrate the worst decisions ever made on an AFL field - not the ones where the umpires may have been unsighted, but situations like this where some power hungry kent has unnecessarily decided to get involved just to look like they're doing something. Nobody will care, but this decision should be torn apart in every media outlet in Australia.

For those of you unable to watch the video because you've gone blind poking your own eyes out in frustration at watching Melbourne, let the record show a man was pinged for being 'third man up' without ever leaving the ground. Like the E in Hibberd what more of a hint do you need? In fact he never even attacked the ball, it bounced into him. If it had pitched up, hit him in the cock Hans Moleman style and they still paid the free it would have been the pinnacle of #claytonoliverdoesfunnythings. It could only happen to the Hamburglar, but this was not even remotely funny.

I'd like to think if it was close enough to goal where the kick was a certainty that our Clayton would have treated the umpire like a Carlton fan. His restraint was wasted when the goal was kicked anyway. We got it back not too long after, but as we won't be involved it's my dream that the Grand Final is decided on something that technical and petty and the AFL ceases to exist in its current form.

The same dull umpires who paid that free later failed to spot Shane Mumford clocking Max Gawn in the head. When the Match Review Panel are considering whether or not to suspend him, I hope there's an Umpire Review Panel trying to work out how three field umpires could miss it. Poor Max, remember last year when an askew bounce caused him to be clawed in the face and the umpires didn't give a shit then either?

To be fair to Mumford he did have the opportunity to murder him with his elbow, and pulled out so it 'just' became a solid shoulder to the bonce. I could care less if he's suspended as long as there's an inquest into why we didn't get a free. Unlike later when Melksham gave a Giants player a light nudge to the head, and the guy responded by shaking it off and carrying on, Max went down like a stricken oil tanker. Given that he'd just had the ball you'd think a minimum of two umpires would have been looking right at him. What did they think happened, a surprise heart attack?

We'd calmed the game down, but ended up kicking as many goals against the wind as with it. No wonder we've been so much better at Etihad Stadium this year, we need to play under a roof every week. I expect this is why Corey Maynard had such a promising debut, a year playing in the Cranbourne hurricane belt must have come in handy. As for the rest of the team, maybe they haven't spent enough time there? No doubt we're going to Hobart again after two thrillers, so maybe like that year Port started preparing to play us in Darwin weeks out (and subsequently lost two games by a total of around 300 points a few weeks later) we could rotate some of our most important players through Casey Fields so they can get used to being colder than a witch's tit in extreme winds.

To be even the remotest chance in the last quarter we needed to kick some goals against the wind, but more importantly not shatter into a thousand pieces every time the Giants went forward. This led to Tom McDonald belatedly returning to defence, where for all the traditional criticism about some dodgy disposals he showed exactly why we miss him down there. In one quarter he took more contested marks in the defensive 50 than Frost or Oscar have in the last month combined. I love him as a forward, but if we don't get somebody else who can take a grab for next year then he almost has to go back. Frost is good at unnecessarily spoiling, Sizzle Jr does a good loose intercept mark, and Hibberd is good at piss bolting up the field, but none of them are going to take saving grabs. Even if the kicks sometimes end in tragedy I'll take one major malfunction a game over 10 boundary throw-ins 20m from our goal because we had to thump it over the line instead of clearing.

I don't think the Giants had fully extended the banana lounge and reclined yet, so there's got to be some credit for the much better way we defended the wind this time. Shame the result was already well over, and we were simply playing to avoid being blown away. They did get the first two goals, but again there was some space between them instead of it being a production line of goal > bounce > goal. Eventually Watts turned up for the first time all day to take a strong mark and just get the distance, before Gawn set up Neal-Bullen with the perfect 'no midfielders required' play, roving his own tap and thumping it inside 50. If Nic Nat did that etc... etc...

Any hope that the quickfire double would lead to bigger and better things was dashed fairly quickly, and the rest of the quarter was a throw-back to the third in Hobart where the other lot kept attacking and missing. That was the difference, we were super efficient in only kicking two behinds all day, but it's because we couldn't get the ball into the open inside 50 to have wild pings at goal. It was the first time since Round 2, 1915 that we scored two behinds in a game - and for fans of omens, the occult, and a Nuclear Winter, that was the season we broke a lengthy finals drought before being fucked over by a World War.

The Giants were doing it easily, but tell that to Leon Cameron who thumped a wall when one of his players missed a simple shot on goal. I'd probably like him if he coached anyone else, as a serial mid-game attacker of chairs, couches and all other things non-human I had some sympathy with him here. It was a fitting time for it, in the same week the scabs finally fell off the knuckles on my right hand after the Carlton outburst. Then seconds later when I realised he coaches a side with free players everywhere and will almost certainly win flags before us all solidarity went out the window.

With the game over by any objective measurement, the most troubling part was Christian Salem going off with what initially looked like a serious ankle injury. He returned in the last quarter, and you surely wouldn't risk him in junk time so it must be ok. To add insult to injury, after the tackle slipped down to the ankle and nearly crippled him he was pinged for holding the ball. I hold grave fears for his future if he keeps suffering a wide variety of novelty injuries, the last player I remember who had issues with so many different parts of his body (though he is not recorded as ever having dropped a brick on his head) was Jack Grimes, and look how that turned out.

For those of us left with nothing more than the quest to sandbag our percentage, and punt home Carlton's score against Essendon in the bottom right of screen, it had been a reasonable quarter. Until with five seconds left, almost as late in Demon Time as you can get, when a forward 50 stoppage ended in a Giants player dashing off through our defence and avoiding a couple of half-hearted tackles to stuff the ball through an open goal. This caused me to get a bit philosophical, and yell words to the effect of "why is everything out to get me?" to an empty room. Nobody dared watch with me after last week's profane spectacle.

Despite what the commentators, clearly engaging in a competition to see who could be more outlandish about the prospect of a comeback, would have you believe the last quarter was nothing but an attempt to stem the bleeding on our percentage and get out of Canberra with our dignity intact. That we did, but how much can be attributed to ours choosing to fight to the end or theirs saving themselves for more important matches is debatable.

We won the quarter three goals to one, finally discovering some crumb once all the sting had gone out of the game. Melksham rescued an otherwise ordinary performance with two in quick succession from the square, and until Gawn hit the post late we were on track for our first one behind game since kicking 2.1 against Fitzroy in 1906 and losing by 107. That was all we had going for us, statistical oddities. To say the game hit a lull after the dual Milkshake goals is an understatement, he got them after about six minutes, before the next and final goal was kicked by Maynard about 20 later. The Giants didn't care anymore, a great portion of our side only cared because they realised they might get dropped, and I slumped on my couch with a weary resignation that like last year we might not even get to Round 23 with our finals chance intact.

At least immediately after the siren I had Carlton defending a 10 point lead in the last quarter to console me. Then after unexpectedly opening the lead they did exactly what you'd expect them to and folded like an umbrella. I've had many moments since 2007 where I had to cause to wonder why I put myself through so much emotional stress over this game, and almost being down on my knees begging Levi Casboult of all people to kick a set shot in the last two minutes is up there with the best. He missed, Carlton lost, we're 10th and via a few weird twists and turns it's probably where I expected to be before the year. Doesn't mean I've got to like it though.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
This was a difficult one, a generally flat performance across the board where neither the defence, midfield or forwards turned up as a group. Nobody deserves five votes, but somebody's got to get them. One day we'll beat somebody by 140 and there'll be 12 people deserving of maximum votes who don't get any. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Corey Maynard
1 - Christian Salem

Apologies to T. McDonald, Jetta or Neal-Bullen who might have had either of the last two in the lottery.

In a never before seen ruling, the Jakovich committee has decided to introduce the dotted line BUT to allow a one game buffer for a potential final. If we lose next week it will be back to players inside 10 votes only, but for now the qualifying mark is 12.

If there is only 15 votes left on offer, it's all but down to Oliver, Hibberd or Viney. Two first time winners and a defending champion. The Hamburglar remains favourite, nearly a full game in front of Hibberd. Meanwhile the ex-Essendonian, now set to watch his old side - Neeld and all - play finals while he's sitting on the couch, has all but sewn up the Seecamp. Jetta retains some hope, but it's fading.

In the other minors Pedersen's two hitouts this week leave him on an average of exactly 11 for the season so he's still qualified for the Stynes. Can't see that helping him from here though, there was much debate at committee level about whether Max should be named provisional winner now. We eventually decided to hold for another week. Meanwhile the promising debut of Maynard in an otherwise shithouse team has left Hannan under the pump. Mitch was rested after his zero kick game last week, so we can probably expect to see him back soon for a ding dong finish to the season. At least the awards are interesting, even if the football isn't.

32 - Clayton Oliver
28 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
25 - Jack Viney
21 - Neville Jetta
20 - Christian Petracca
16 - Jayden Hunt, Tom McDonald
15 - Nathan Jones
13 - Jeff Garlett
12 - Sam Frost, Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Watts
------- Abandon all hope ye below here -------
9 - Christian Salem
7 - Jordan Lewis, Dom Tyson
6 - James Harmes, Cameron Pedersen
5 - Oscar McDonald, Jake Melksham
4 - Mitch Hannan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year), Bernie Vince
2 - Dean Kent, Corey Maynard, Alex Neal-Bullen, Josh Wagner
1 - Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Not a lot to choose from, and as I'm not going to watch the highlights ever again to see if there's some subtlety that I missed on one of the others I'll opt for that first lightning Melksham crumb in the last quarter. Arguably GWS had given up by then, but thank god for finally profiting from some havoc in front of their goal instead of merrily hoofing it long to defenders every single time. For the weekly prize Jake wins a seat in the Senate, courtesy of somebody else being turfed out for holding dual citizenship with Liechtenstein.

McDonald against West Coast still leads overall.

Given that our banner featured both 'and' and '&' in quick succession (warning: do not read the previous line again, it may bring on a stroke) I probably would have chosen any decent effort in the world over it. Then GWS unveiled something that had about six different mini-curtains, giving them a 6x curtain penalty and delivering another win to the good guys. Dees 18-1-0 for the season.
Next week
Back at a real stadium, and against a St Kilda side that you actually want to be coming off a win. If West Coast wreck the plan by beating them tomorrow then we may as well hope the Saints go to pieces, but having beaten them once since 2006 I'm not getting too carried away. It will be the perfect farewell to Nick Riewoldt, allowing him 100 hectares of free space whenever he goes near the ball, before he eventually takes Neville Jetta into retirement with him via a knee to the head while marking in the last second, before kicking the winning goal after the siren.

Pending how they go against the Eagles there's nothing to say we can't win, but to keep with the otherwise bleak September outlook I'll just assume we won't. I feel like there should be more changes, and maybe they'll finally surprise us by giving Kennedy another game, but either way if we lose batten down the hatches of your internet connection because there's going to be a major meltdown.

IN: Hannan
OUT: Harmes (omit)
LUCKY: Hunt, Pedersen, Watts
UNLUCKY: Brayshaw, Kennedy, Stretch, Weideman

After that
The Ladder Predictor (still sponsored by Bailey Ladders, years after that stopped being a relevant gag. Unlike the MFC, who will always be one) has had another airing and it's not all terrible news. If we win the next two, the Bulldogs lose to GWS (who will undoubtedly now go back to being shit) and other results go as expected we'll be back into eighth going into the last round. Do you fancy us to win against the Pies? I surely don't, but it does probably leave our fate in our own hands with a trip to either Sydney (yes), Adelaide (yes) or Perth (for god's sake no) on offer.

We don't deserve to make it, but you won't find me complaining if we do. Anyway, I'm expecting that we won't be seeing this segment again next week.

Final thoughts
If there's anything to be said for following a team that's shithouse every week instead of intermittently it's that you know what you're going to get. The stress of being midtable finals contenders is becoming too much for me, and I'd be surprised if I lived until Round 23.

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