Monday, 30 April 2018

Randy Salvage


Above: An important cargo barely saved from ruin. Not pictured - Melbourne Football Club.

After an unnecessarily hysterical media focus on our capitulation against Hawthorn, we sure got away with being nothing more than enthusiastic battlers for three quarters against Richmond. It helped that attention immediately switched to the Anzac Day game, then immediately towards the new round. There was no time to think deeply about how badly Richmond bottled us up, you just had to accept the company line that the effort was good enough and move on to Essendon.

Effort is great, but Terry Wallace's famous spray got it right. Everyone focuses on "I'll spew up!", but I'd like to print out signage with the second the bit where he says: "Fantastic effort, but what does a fucking fantastic effort mean? It doesn't get us anything. We don't get diddly squat" and stick it up in the changerooms.

For a half against the Bombers it looked like we were going down the same path as Tuesday night, trying our guts out but being hung by a lack of speed and system - and this time against much worse opposition. Then Essendon come out after half time, said "that will do us" and died in the arse. Maybe that was all part of the plan, adopting Muhammed Ali in Zaire style rope-a-dope techniques to tire them out so we could take advantage? That's just the kind of insane scenario you'd only get at this club. That and a player missing a game because he's been bitten by a dog.

For almost my entire supporting life the Melbourne Football Club has been untrustworthy. Both times we've played finals three seasons in a row since I showed up we've gone out meekly every time. Other than that it's either been up and down like a rollercoaster or just completely down to the point where you never got your expectations up long enough for them to be harpooned. At least in the Neeld/Craig plunge n' plummet era you knew where you were. I just didn't like being there without a paddle.

The lack of trust extends both across seasons (and sometimes decades), into individual games. This was one of those days where you get teased that something terrifically bad is going to happen before out of nowhere we start playing properly and emerge with our dignity intact. It wasn't quite a stranglewank, but it sat spiritually in the same neighbourhood. And it ended in a comfortable win, so honestly who's got anything to complain about? At least until next week.

At first the game was the sort of congestion fest that makes people want to change all the rules, as if you can engineer nine amazing games a week when there's about four good teams in the league, and we were lucky that Essendon was entirely incapable of taking advantage of their ability to get the ball into space and dash off towards goal. You'd like to think that we'd have overrun them when they stopped dead in the second half anyway, but the further you go behind the higher stakes everything becomes. You can't play Russian roulette every week and expect not to wind up dead.

It was our good fortune that they were left on the side of the road carrying a jerry can. Victory is not even tainted in the slightest by us having the extra day off (because you'd have to work bloody hard to taint any four points we get), but we'll have to wait until next week to discover if the form shown in the second half is transferable on the same ground against equally generic mid-table opposition.

We had one more defeat in us before every game became life or death stuff, but defeat here would have meant having to win the next three to realistically stay in the hunt. Essendon was in the same spot, but without looking at their run home I'd wager it doesn't resemble legging it through a minefield like ours does so they could afford to slightly more comfortably absorb a loss. They won't look it at that way, but nobody has done more work in the study of how to manipulate a fixture to fall into the lower realms of the top eight than me. Keep reading to discover where to pick up your free Bradbury Plan 2018 wallchart.

Even though we might have seen our season for all intents and purposes ended after six games, is that necessarily a bad thing? Under the expanded wildcard finals system of the future you'll be able to start the season 2-4 and amble back to 11-11 by the last round and still make it. Games like this won't even be worth leaving the house for. Is anyone - other than spectacle chasers and neutrals - satisfied at the idea of the losing team of this game still being well in range to play finals without having to go on a seriously impressive run of wins? What a wank.

If it came down to a first past the post vote I'd rather them do silly shit to the rules than introduce wildcards. Extra finals spots would suit us down to the ground, but any competition that allows a team from below halfway to have a shot at winning the title is not worth watching. How about we turn some of the undoubted talent on this list into a glorious string of victories that set us up to make what will probably be the last real top eight before things get silly and/or American? After yesterday this is still a semi-realistic possibility.

The light blue Studio 54 disco jumper evokes a party atmosphere, but the first quarter was like a nightclub where everyone had taken a bad batch of gear. The first minute featured the same insane pressure in the packs as Tuesday night, before predictably Essendon went forward for a score the very first time they extracted the ball into clear space. I'd have been disappointed, but by now I've come to expect that this is how we'll play every week. The only question is whether the opposition are good enough to take advantage - the problem being that sets you up to fail against the best teams and is vulnerable to bad days out against the others.

It's like we're trying to suck the ball towards our goal to launch lightning counter-attacks, except that usually once we get the ball in defence there's no bastard to kick to. For all the naive Owl Energy enthusiasm of Jayden Hunt there's no point in him smashing through the defence if he turns it straight over.  How I'd love to enjoy at least one day where we played like teams do against us, with half their squad patiently waiting for a turnover, then cartwheeling down the ground arms with aloft, waiting their turn to get a disposal. Nothing has changed on this front since 2016. If we were still running into open goals going the other way you'd accept it as a trade off, but I don't fancy having to physically and mentally break teams like this before opening up the scoring every week.

Theoretically the return of Tom McDonald should have provided a decent target, except that for the first half we took the only player we've got who can lead at the ball and/or take a contested mark and played him in some weird defender/wingman/space filler role that played to none of his strengths. The bit in the first quarter where he passed the ball 15 metres along the defensive 50 to Hogan, who then had nobody to kick it to, said it all about our ongoing struggle to create scoring opportunities. Maybe instead of railing against rule changes designed to artificially increase the number of goals I should be embracing them out of sheer self interest? Then you look at the way our defence has been bent out of position several dozen times this year and realise that no, clagging the game up is probably overall best for business.

To nobody's surprise, when McDonald went forward in the second half it worked a treat. He stuffed his one chance at a bullet lead by running back towards goal Hogan style just as Weideman was set to stick it on his tit, but otherwise it worked for me. After what Hulk did up the ground against Richmond I'd rather we freed him to roam and left Sizzle at home to aim at, but it was a good start to what should be a productive partnership. Unless it turns out we rushed McDonald back too quickly, and running around on a thin strip of turf atop a parking lot roof leaves him as the new Mitch Clark.

All's well that ends well, but I suspect letting the opposition get so much run is going to come back to haunt us eventually. It wasn't even their stars doing us in, we gave Dyson Heppell miles of space but a lot of the damage was being done by a first gamer with the absolutely absurd, Clutterbuck-esque name of Kobe Mutch, and some other bloke who sounded through wonky AM radio like he was called Gaddafi. Like the real Libyan strongman he met a grisly end, but not before giving us plenty to worry about.

Another one goal first quarter was a concern, especially when the opposition were missing opportunities all over the place. When we battled against the tide to keep them to one in the first 20 minutes before Hannan got the first I thought it might have been the start of something big, before conceding the second almost immediately after. We were wide open to suffer the usual avalanche of uncontested goals, but Essendon didn't have it in them to deliver and eventually paid the price. By the end of the quarter we'd somewhat started to level things out, and it was our turn to miss a couple of golden opportunities.

The second quarter started better, with Gawn missing another shot from right in front before Charlie Spargo added to what had already been a good debut with his first. I've had no time to take more than a cursory interest in the VFL this season, so his debut caught me by surprise. On Thursday night I thought it was a token effort to find a warm body who'd had an extra few days break, but he used all the experience from looking like James Harmes' 35-year-old father to put in a confident, assured performance. He never looked out of place, and even chucked in some niggle against Brendan Goddard - which always goes down a treat. Let's see it a few more times before we get really excited, after all Michael Evans did once get votes on debut at the same venue and look what happened to him - but it was as solid a debut as you could hope for.

For all the excitement of seeing a young (?) man kick his first AFL goal via perfectly judged crumb, we'd probably have been better off if he'd missed considering we then turned off and allowed them to kick a pair immediately after. The first was one of those classic goals that make you overreact and think there's no way your team can win, a player marking, being called to play on immediately and still having time to turn around and snap the goal. The second was even worse, a wave of players surging out the backline, leaving everyone in disco blue trailing sadly behind. Maybe that was the fast break that put them all away? In that case it was genius.

When the margin got out to 16 points I was starting to browse Effigies 'R Us to see if they had a Goodwin model available, before our old mate Joe Daniher did us a solid by being pinged holding the ball, allowing Melksham to finally set up an 'out the back' goal with a pinpoint 40 metre pass to Spargo for his second. The Milkshake then made the next one as well, dropping a perfect pass on Hannan 40 metres out directly in front. Not only a perfect pass, but perfect positioning. And crucially, shithouse defending. After a slow start this has been a golden week for Melksham, with the return of McDonald (and to be fair, the improved performance of Weideman) it was like playing with a half-forward line again.

It was a good day for the less well-known forwards. When Fritsch turned up in Round 1 looking entirely comfortable in senior company, I thought Hannan was a certainty to wind up in the Magner/vandenBerg file of one season wonders. What I failed to take into account was what would happen if you removed Garlett. Let's see them together a few more times before declaring it a winning combo, but on this day they were both fantastic. The guy sitting next to me insisted that we had to pick "Jeffy" (bah) "because he can win games". Which is true, but while I'm not entirely off him I'd prefer the four quarter contribution of Frannan than the occasional burst with ball in hand and not much else.

Given how torturous our ball movement was we were lucky to only be a good down at the half. It was real 14th vs 15th stuff, but maybe instead of looking for the coordinates to call an airstrike down on Etihad Stadium we should have remembered what happened last year. That was a slog first half full of mistakes too, before we ran them into the ground in the third quarter. The same thing happened again, almost exactly. In 2017 they were up by two at half time, we kicked eight goals to two in the third quarter and won by 38. This time the margin was six, the goals were seven to one and the margin 36. Both times I'd love to have kicked the shit out of them in the last quarter, but you can't blame the players for clamming up and entering self-preservation mode on such a short turnaround.

I'd like to say I never doubted we were going to win, but I very much did. When goalkicking is made looks so difficult it's hard to see a way that you'll score enough to win, let alone end up topping the century. You can cite historical precedent for suggesting Essendon ran out of legs in the second half, but let's not totally discount our own contribution. Almost immediately as the third quarter started there was a bit more life about us, and some run into space that removed the requirement to start every attack from inside a decompression chamber of 23 players. The forwards didn't get much more space, but at least the delivery put the opposition under pressure instead of merrily booting it to a Daw, Rance etc... (and who'd have thought they'd ever end up in the same example?) to mop up without pressure.

Meanwhile at the other end Essendon's attack was malfunctioning about as much as ours usually does. Like a low-rent version of Hogan on Tuesday night, Daniher couldn't get near the ball inside 50 and started wandering up the ground to find a kick. This left his side almost entirely bereft of targets, and because we knew he couldn't do any damage on the wing it allowed us to set up a wall for them to kick into. Which they did about 25 times in the next hour.

This suited Lever much better than the first half when he was having a 'mare, and whenever the ball hit the ground Jetta latched onto it like a vacuum cleaner. It was an encouraging defensive performance, with Hibberd playing another good game and Sizzle Jr continuing to grow in statue - but perhaps not the best attack to judge them against considering that until junk time we'd still have beaten them with their Anzac Day score included. Still, it should (SHOULD) be enough to take care of everyone we play in the next three weeks other than Tom Lynch. Now, watch your McCartin, Casboult, [insert some Suns player you've never heard of] maligned types go to town on us.

Within five minutes we'd turned a six point deficit into a two goal lead, at last delivering a run of goals without having to concede six in a row first. The way Gawn had been kicking for goal I thought no bloody chance when he marked in the pocket, directly in front of some peanut who was to soon make himself infamous, but true to his goalkicking history of missing the sitters and getting the ones you don't expect he checksided it through effortlessly. Having him rest forward and scare their defenders while Weideman or McDonald took the centre bounces was a winning move.

The third in quick succession came via a solid mark from Fritsch, with an assist from what looked to the naked eye like an exceedingly illegal shepherd from Melksham. The ridiculous nature of umpiring interpretations presumably deemed it was ok because he never took his eyes off the ball. And so it should be, but how stupid when he obviously knew a player was right behind him but would have been pinched if he'd turned around to look at him.

The circumstances of that goal undoubtedly displeased the Jimmy Toumpas looking peasant in the forward pocket who then went right off his face when Maximum was given a dubious free in the exact same spot as his last kick. I can't think of anything worse in life than ending up on television looking like an idiot, hanging over the fence yelling provocative statements at players. His ill-bred conduct was made to look even more ridiculous when Gawn steered the goal through and gave the bloke a casual point. I don't know Max personally, but I feel he definitely would have passive aggressively called the guy 'champ' and/or 'Tiger'.

No doubt the Anti Fun League are already issuing a 'please explain' letter to Max, and he'll be forced to apologise a'la Clayton Oliver to that Carlton goose from last year. Forget your high priced Grand Final Day entertainment, run the sprint then hold a tag team match between Maximum Hamburglar and the Dynamic Dickheads. The Essendon fan was probably one of the same clowns unloading a light smattering of boos whenever Hibberd or Melksham got the ball. Which is impolite when for all any of us know their club might have injected them both with Typhoid.

Essendon's only goal for the third quarter was a real charity job, Salem panicking when unexpectedly called to play on during a kick-in and chipping it straight into the path of an Essendon player. It was just the sort of disaster that we'd be going on about for the next 12 years if it had caused the momentum shift and led to defeat, but as we won we can all laugh about it now.

If, like me, you're the sort of person who thinks a 31 point lead at three quarter time is not nearly enough you'll have loved the hapless Essendon player marking inside 50 and playing on just as the siren went. The underrated highlight was the reaction of Jake Lever, whose glee at the cock-up should be zoomed in on and become a GIF that we can rip out whenever anything goes right for us in the future. It was yet another reason why the countdown clock should never be introduced inside the ground.

It would be nice to get it on the radio though, I've been whoring my favours around to all the stations this year and it's like there's a directive not to tell you how much time there is left. All you get is "there's just enough time for another score". Speaking of the radio, I'd like to see SEN do well but what lunatic thought putting Danny Frawley and Adam Cooney in the same commentary box was a good idea? Even before the first bounce the level of buffoonery was so spectacular that I had to turn over to the Tobin Brothers, where even four quarters of David Parkin making self-deprecating comments about being elderly represented the far lesser of two evils. They didn't bother to give time checks either.

At long last a spoiling disaster finally worked in our favour, gifting Hannan what was realistically the match-winner at the start of the last. I still wasn't confident, but up and out the door went about 10,000 Essendon fans as if there was a fire alarm that home fans had priority access to. Good thing to, it ensured the walk back to the station didn't feel like it was about to break into a deadly stampede. Hogan and McDonald got more, the latter from a perfect piece of crumb that made me want to fight his critics in the car park, and I was just about satisfied the result was safe.

I hoped we'd keep them goalless for the last quarter, meaning their only one from the half would come directly from our foul blunder, but it was not to be and they padded their score with four compensations. The Round 6, 1992 panic rule was invoked when Hunt giving away a goal with a silly downfield free kick, but Fritsch replied soon after and I allowed myself to relax at last.

In the end, a good day at the office but not sure how much it translates to the future. Still, for now it did the job. It was our first near death experience of the season and we did what was necessary to come out alive. The only downside is that if we play them in this fixture again next year no matter how deep a hole we're in at half time everyone will be expecting to put them to the sword in the third quarter, leading to the inevitable internet meltdown when it doesn't happen.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
I could have had 10 players in here, and in almost any order. If you don't like it lodge a case with our customer feedback department and we'll get back to you with a response in seven business days.

5 - Mitch Hannan
4 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Max Gawn
1 - Neville Jetta

Apologies to Jones, Hibberd, Brayshaw, O. McDonald and Spargo for narrowly missing out on the votes in a blanket finish.

Leaderboard
Even with different players in the top two spots, the plot still thickens at the top. It's looking increasingly unlikely that anyone outside the top four is going to win this, but we live in hope of somebody completely unexpected ripping out half a dozen BOGs in a row and taking the competition by storm.

For fans of the minors, Fritsch has opened the door for the 2018 Hilton. Based on last year he might almost win it with four.

15 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
14 - Clayton Oliver
13 - Jesse Hogan
12 - Nathan Jones
6 - Jake Melksham
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan, Christian Petracca
4 - Bayley Fritsch (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Oscar McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
3 - Dean Kent
1 - Michael Hibberd, Neville Jetta, Cameron Pedersen, Christian Salem

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Maybe it's the surprise of him finally converting multiple opportunities, but it's hard to go past Gawn's second. The jawing with a nuffy before, and the subtle point to him after were what boosted it past the original. For the weekly prize Max wins a fancy dinner with the Essendon fan so he can slowly and patiently explain all the ways that his life is infinitely superior.

The clubhouse leader remains Melksham's comeback goal around the corner against Richmond.


The Essendon fans around me seemed like sane and rational people, probably because they're the type who sit at the back rather than hanging over the fence trying to provoke athletes who are paid $500,000 a year. That doesn't explain the dumpster fire disaster that the Bombers cheersquad put out here. 'Funny' banners that feature punchlines that Julia Morris wouldn't touch are a scourge on modern football, and this wildcard suggestion that celebrity animal bite victim Christian Petracca was at the snow was no exception.


Now, I'm not precious enough to get excited by them taking the piss out of our players but poorly thought out attempts at comedy grind my gears. I reiterate my offer to ask as a paid slogan consultant to any cheersquad in the competition. You bring me your second rate comedy, I'll edit it so it at least scans properly.

The key issue, as pictured, is that unless Truck has gone overseas there is no snow. I went to Falls Creek in 1987 and have never been back since, but even I know that you can't ski in April. This capped off a day where I turned on AFL Game Day just to cry over Jack Watts' studio appearance and Hamish McLachlan cracked a gag about cheese platters that fell flat on its face, leading to him awkwardly repeating the punchline and still not receiving more than polite, nervous laughter.

More importantly, if they left making it late enough to know that Petracca wasn't going to play was there not one person capable of whipping up a quick gag about the fact that he'd been chomped on by a canine? I'd have worked in a cheap shot at the NRL and gone with:

JOEL MONAGHAN
THE MEMORIES LINGER
AT LEAST THE DOG

ONLY BIT YOUR FINGER

On the other hand, ours was solid, inoffensive and entirely lacking opposition 'banter' that primary school kids would reject as too simplistic. 6-0 Dees for the season.

Crowd watch
It's difficult to take the moral highground on matchday entertainment when your club puts people in overalls and has them fall on their head in front of 75,000 people but Essendon is nearly at Carlton levels of unconvincingly trying to remind you that they're very much still a powerhouse club. I might have had traumatic flashbacks to the 2000 Grand Final just by Darren Bewick showing up, but it lost some of the terrifying effect when they had him vigorously turning the handle of an air raid siren.

Then, in one of the less well received attempts at a crowd rev-up the ground announcer tried to lead the audience in a soccer style chant of "We are Essendon, say we are Essendon" to the sensible disinterest of everyone in the stadium. There was also a surprise quarter time appearance by somebody dressed as Captain America, who had one line to deliver at the end of the promotion and said it just as the siren went.

As for Docklands itself, it can't be a coincidence that ever since we've started to win there I've started to like the place. The closed roof is a major factor, I might be a traditionalist when it comes to some things but put a lid on every stadium as far as I'm concerned. What holds it back from ever challenging the 'G is the inability to get away from people whenever there's a halfway decent crowd.

Unless you deliberately sit in the restricted viewing area - which I noticed a few weirdos were - you can't escape being in too close proximity to other fans. The Essendonians around me were reasonable enough coves, all too far back to charge the fence and make arseholes of themselves on national television, but I hate having kids right in front of me, especially when it's some junior Charlie Church that turns around and glares when you mutter "JESUS CHRIST!" under your breath. If that causes concern please join me in Row MM one week for the full indecent language experience.

Next week
Now people are going to look at the second half and assume we'll easily beat St Kilda, which is a dangerous way to approach things. They're not very good, but at the same time they did recently give GWS all sorts of trouble so let's not pretend we're playing them in the Sean Charles/Brett Moyle era. We've already made beating North look more difficult than it was in the pre-season, so nothing is a given. What does work in our favour is a surprisingly good recent record at Docklands, where the narrow confines of the car park roof cut out 20 metres of space where teams would otherwise butcher us up and down the wings.

IN: Petracca
OUT: Neal-Bullen (omit)
LUCKY: Tyson, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Pedersen

I thought Harmes was much improved on the last couple of weeks, but wouldn't be surprised if he's rotated out for a rest. Just hope they don't rush Garlett back in, Hannan/Fritsch have to be given a chance to prove this wasn't a fluke. I've enjoyed Garlett over the last few seasons, but he was rotten after the Brisbane game, and by all accounts not much chop at Casey so give the kids their chance.

The All New Bradbury Plan
After six weeks we can start to look at where other results will help and hinder us. Should we win enough games to remain in touch with the eight this list will be regularly updated:

Can win every week - will clearly be above us - Richmond and GWS
Unlikely to be in the battle for 6th - 10th so may as well win - West Coast, Adelaide
Lose against higher teams, beat lower teams, take games off each other - Geelong, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide, Sydney
Preferred result depends on opposition - North Melbourne, Collingwood, Fremantle,
Win against higher teams, lose against lower teams - Gold Coast, Footscray, St Kilda and Essendon
Good value as spoilers only - Brisbane and Carlton

Mind you, this may all be in vain - take a look at the top eight as it stands now and tell me any of them other than North are going to drop out. By Round 11 we'll either be able to identify the preferred Bradbury result in each game or won't care anymore because our season will be cactus.

Was it worth it?
On the balance of things yes, and I hope the Carlton fan who spent 20 minutes on the train telling me about how much she hated Essendon fans appreciated it. For the first five minutes it was cute, for the next several stations I was desperately giving cues that I wanted to get out of the conversation and go back to stressing about the game in my own private way. I've rarely been happier on public transport than when she got off at an intermediate station instead of going all the way to Spencer Street.

Final thoughts
We're only a game under where I thought we'd be after six, but none of the wins have been particularly impressive. That's what makes the next three so important. If we don't win two we're dead no matter what, if we don't win three we deserve to be.

The last word goes to an Essendon fan on the train home, who matter of factly declared: "they were shit". I'm not sure which side she meant, but we were six goals less shit than them and live to fight another day.

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