Monday 7 May 2018

Keep a lid on things

They say footy is dying, but we've just won two games under a roof in a jumper that looks like a 1980s cocaine binge, so as far as I'm concerned the party has only just started.

Not only that, but yesterday's win was our fourth (4th! IVth!) in a row at Docklands. Cast your mind back to those long, fruitless years of being beaten there by anything between 2 and 122 points and imagine there would be a time where you'd almost prefer playing there over the MCG. The solution is simple, an enormous infrastructure program to build a roof on every ground in Australia.

I'm not sure why the idea of covering up appeals to me so much, other than it coinciding with us winning. Maybe it's lifestyle related, if you've ever seen my skin colour you'll know that natural light has been my enemy since 1981. Turning the sport into an indoor pursuit certainly didn't do anything for the people who fret about game quality, with St Kilda's non-stop extravaganza of suicidal football proving that you can't legislate against stupidity.

Whatever the reason for this fetish, I encourage governments across the country to work towards never having to see a shadow on an AFL ground again. Don't even waste money on retractability, bolt them up tighter than a nuclear submarine. I'm prepared to resist changes to scoring, number of players on the field or anything to do with zones but outdoor footy can do one. It's like camping, once man discovered how to live in houses isn't hanging out in a forest taking the piss?

One tradition I'm not giving up on is my dislike of St Kilda, now entering its 20th season. It all started after sitting next to their cheersquad at the 1998 Semi Final, and after a lull where I felt sorry for them losing two Grand Finals by a whisker that old feeling is back. Not that they've done anything wrong to me, it's just that now Footscray and Richmond have found success only two of the great, old school VFL disappointments remain and I need to be sure they're not going to leave us alone by winning a flag first. The best way to be certain is for them to keep losing. Nothing personal Saints fans, it's just that there's two clubs left in the lifeboat, and if it takes eating you to survive I'll do it.

After a period where the clubs seemed neck-and-neck, current indications suggest that there's no hope of them winning the big one in the near future. Which is only marginally less than our chances, but at least it means company when every other Victorian footy fan is at a premiership reunion. There's a baseball statistic called 'Wins Above Replacement', which measures the worth of a player against a generic alternative - a term which could be used to describe most of St Kilda's list. When the extended benches came in on Thursday night they'd named Clark, Battle, Marshall and Paton, which looked like the sort of team lineup you'd see in an unlicensed video game, like when Nintendo International Cricket replaced Craig McDermott with the immortal C. McDirt.

The joke will well and truly be on me when the World War II themed line of Marshall, Battle and Paton run top three in a Norm Smith Medal, but for now I'm confident in saying our nobodies are better than their nobodies. Besides, the list of scenarios where the joke will be on me is now about 4km long. Having an advantage in the obscure players is fine if you're battling for spots at the back of the field, but we are aiming just a little bit higher than that. But not much higher yet, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

With not even a remote chance of winning a flag this year unless about 150 top players across the league fall victim to a pandemic I'm back to being willing to settle for a token finals appearance. After the Hawthorn and Richmond games I'd have settled for stuffing up the value of the draft pick traded to the Crows, but now that we've ticked the first two boxes in our four week tour through the league's most mediocre sides I firmly believe once more than we can reach the giddy heights of... err... seventh.

Now that we've won it's easy to look back and say that the result was obvious before the bounce, but who would dare trust the Dees? Confidence was shaky until the third quarter last week, but this is the sort of game that a team in our position just has to win. And that we did. There was an assist from the opposition playing like they were off their faces, but enough of it was our own doing that I can now be sure we won't finish in the bottom four. Now to work on maximising our position in the top 14.

Knowing that Gawn would lead anyone they put against him a merry dance, and fully aware that their forward line had about as much power as a Yugoslavian automobile, St Kilda's masterplan was to tag Clayton Oliver to buggery. His opponent spent five minutes delivering what looked like filthy verbals, and this worked a treat for about five minutes until it became obvious that you couldn't run a tag close enough to stop him from getting the ball in packs. At first the tactic looked like a winner, Oliver gave away a free, then conceded one of those electrifying administrative 50s, before bursting back life by setting up Mitch Hannan for a mark inside 50 with what looked to the naked eye like a rushed kick but was probably deep genius. He went on to 22 touches in the first half and 36 for the game. Many of them were handballs, but most of those were delightful so play on.

Before the game I'd discovered a terrifying substance called Etihad Stadium Secret Salt, and for the first few minutes of the game I was winding myself up to get very salty indeed. They started as they meant to go on with a horrible miss from a set shot, then did what they should have tried more of and kicked a goal from a stupid angle. That it was set up by traditional slow starter Lever missing a tennis style overhead smash then trying to smother the St Kilda's player's arms instead of his feet didn't help. He got better, the Saints got worse.

After toiling away for several minutes to finally put ball through the correct stick, the Saints ripped a page out of our playbook by giving it back via old man Spargo about 30 seconds later. The later Brisbane vs Collingwood game apparently saved the gravely ill sport of Australian rules football, but these goals formed part of a period where Docklands was the entertainment capital of the universe. Their cancelled goal was almost uncancelled straight back out of the middle, but a set shot that barely went through for a point was turned into Gawn marking in the square just seconds later.

There was some nervousness given his recent record, but instead of running towards the boundary line and kicking it over his head he decided he was too close to miss and casually slotted it. Then from the very next bounce we went forward again where a goalmouth scramble ended with Hogan doing a FIFA International Soccer '98 style spinny move to kick his first and give us an early break.

The focus will be on St Kilda's gormless goalkicking, but the real story was outrageously poor decision making and inability to hit us where we were vulnerable. It played into our hands that they seemed even slower than us, but there were several times when we were wide open for the taking and the attack broke down with a shonky disposal. How many times was the path to our goal illuminated like a runway but they either couldn't hit a target or completely missed four guys running down the opposite wing. In the first quarter they'd often switch to their advantage, then for the rest of the game we either stopped them or they clammed up and kept kicking to packs. For once this didn't disadvantage us, we looked more likely to take contested marks around the ground and were pretty ruthless at ground level.

Quick transition out of attack was not our friend - and our forward pressure wasn't terrific other than a few celebrated ruthless tackles - but credit to the Saints for the way they often worked the ball into the open from a pack. The problem was that they'd do all the hard work to extract it, then miss the final target required to unlock the vault and walk it into goal. It was a good advertisement for handball, much to the chagrin of commentators who get nervous when they see an imbalance in the disposals. There are absolutely times where you can over-handball (e.g. one of our famous one metre 'effective disposals' to a player with an opponent hanging off them) - but at one point St Kilda had about nine flawless ones in a row before stuffing it up with a panic kick.

I respect that everyone in a commentary box (and most outside it) know more about the game than me, but we should demand a higher level of analysis from professionals than 'here is two numbers, one is higher than the other so that proves XYZ' unless you're talking about score. You don't want to go too far and replace any semblance of The Vibe with ruthless statistical analysis but take us one level deeper. Don't insult our intelligence, hitouts are not a reliable indicator of anything, inside 50s are a fraud, free kick numbers mean stuff all without the context of what they were and what was missed. For example, as far as I'm aware any handball that reaches its target is considered effective - slice one layer further and tell me how many of these allowed the play to continue and how many just led to the receiver being tackled or driven out of bounds.

Then there's the old chestnut of goalkicking, where even the smartest people in the game continue to fall for the "if they'd kicked 5.1 instead of 1.5 they'd be winning" fiction. The science on that is settled, time to pick it out of the cliche files and shred it. I wish there was a university masters course that I could do to fully understand how footy works, just so I could do a thesis debunking this idea.

We weren't that far ahead at quarter time, but you could see the wind quickly going out of their sails. If there's any team you should keep your end up against it's us considering how vulnerable we are to conceding six goals in 10 minutes. Or in St Kilda's case one goal made up entirely of behinds. The old 'out the back' goal even made a welcome return when McDonald Sr launched a long bomb towards Petracca and it bounced off the gravel and sat up for him absolutely perfectly. He had so much time that he nearly fumbled it on the last grab before trotting into an open goal.

The best bit about the first quarter was Angus Brayshaw running riot. He's found  a permanent spot now and made the most of it. His disposal is a bit wobbly, and there was one farcical attempt at a running bounce that went horribly wrong but otherwise he was safe as houses. More of that please.

Even after Jetta found Hogan in acres of space for a reverse DemonTime goal with 20 seconds left I wasn't comfortable with a 14 point gap, but I haven't been anything near comfortable since the day we were seven goals in front of Gold Coast at the first break. Even that game had a brief period where it looked like they'd overhaul us. This didn't, they continued to play like arseholes and it was reasonably comfortable for the rest of the day.

The shits kept on coming when a free kick from Dom Tyson holding the ball (drink!) right in front was missed, then a 50 from Petracca probably offering to insert his recovering digit in the umpire's eyeball went wide as well. We should have turned the third miss into a goal courtesy of a Lever - Oliver - Harmes - Melksham end-to-end play but the disease was catching and Milkshake sprayed it.

After 10 minutes of peg-leg kicking it ironically took Tom McDonald to finally show everyone how to take the perfect set shot. There's a small sect of people who treat him like he's instantly replaceable, but the insanity of that viewpoint was demonstrated when the Forward Sizzle experience went off like a suspect package. I'm ambivalent about his impact outside either of the 50s (including the latest round of him mysteriously playing on a wing) but it became abundantly clear why he can be so valuable in attack when he bolted through four defenders to run onto Lewis' up and under chip kick. It was the sort of angle players had been missing from all day but he lobbed it through with no drama.

His simple, accurate set shot kicking creates an odd couple pairing with Hogan, who generally converts but makes the process look as hard as Chinese math. Then almost immediately after he took advantage of a 50% crap Petracca set shot and 50% St Kilda forgetting how to defend to mark on the line and set up Jones right in front. As his leg went back to pass it back towards the centre at the captain my Sizzle supporting life flashed before my eyes, but the kick could not have been any more precise. He's like a new man when he steps inside the forward 50. If you're not yet convinced I invite you to test the stability of Petracca's finger by swivelling on it.

At four goals up we were still vulnerable if they got a run on. Enter Neville Jetta, pining for his old clashes with Nick Riewoldt by running into the path of the much larger McCartin and clashing heads. Fair enough there was plenty of concern for McCartin's battered scone, but what the commentators didn't pick up on is that Jetta was also one major concussion away from retirement a few years ago. God knows how the science works, but maybe because he's avoided one for so long he gets a freebie thrown in.

Nev got back up, refused to go off and played on, but being forced into retirement while trying to stop a much larger St Kilda player marking would have been a fitting way to end his second life as a defender. What are the odds that two players with such histories with head knocks would clang into each other? All it lacked for the full CTExperience was Brayshaw trotting in to check on his fallen teammate, tripping over and copping somebody's knee flush to the face.

Having watched another forward struggle to live up to the unrealistic expectations of being #1 pick, I had some sympathy for McCartin. Especially when he had to go off to consume bulk sugar when his diabetes started playing up. Even Jack Watts never had to deal with that. Mind you, nor to my knowledge did Jack Fitzpatrick who had the same affliction. With the game lost he was packed away for his own safety, and for my sanity as I pondered a surprising return from a diabetic coma and acquired brain injury to boot the winning goal after the siren.

They did get their goal in the end, from a range that was impossible to miss from, before it was rubbed out by a smart Tyson kick off a step from 40 metres. It was a lovely goal, set up with a nice handball from Oliver, but didn't change my view that I could do without him - especially when Viney is ready to return. I maintain that his stat line doesn't tell an accurate story but he's still a handy depth player. We'll never stop hearing hindsight moaning about Josh Kelly, but it was a sane trade for where we were at then. If we'd picked Kelly he'd either be floundering at Casey by now or traded to Port Adelaide. Instead he may turn out to play a much greater role for football as the enemy within at GWS by blowing their salary cap and eventually forcing them to rely on discards like Dylan Buckley as they slide down the ladder and into liquidation.

After a 14 point lead at quarter time extended to 28 at half time we should mathematically have won by 64 but I was just happy to be in a position where it would take a disaster of major proportions to lose. It wasn't out of the question, if you give teams enough opportunities they're eventually going to start converting some of them. Whether it would be enough to kick five more goals than us for the half was yet to be determined.

The pleasing thing about the first half was the confirmation that our defence seems to be coming together at last, at least against battling teams with non-existent forward lines. From being the easiest to score against, with everyone standing in a different time zone to each other it has started to look much more cohesive recently. Sizzle Jr is doing the most no frills backman job since Jamie Shanahan, Hibberd has come good after a slow start, Jetta finally got over the unpunished attempt murder by the Brisbane player, and Lever has been much improved since half time last week. There are still the odd moments where they're found completely at sea, but that's usually when we're fried on an end-to-end fast break. If we can slow the opposition forward entries down and ensure Nifty isn't regularly trying to spoil a man twice his size the profits should start flowing in.

You could tell how the third quarter was going to go when Gawn put the ball down Harmes' throat at the first bounce and we went straight into attack. Of course because McDonald was patrolling the wing our options inside 50 were limited, but it was the thought that counted. The missed chance to kill off their challenge early in the quarter started to look ropey when we conceded the first two goals, but we got the advantage back when Hogan was caught high and goalled.

For the second week in a row a mutant in the crowd gave one of our players an ill-timed verbal from over the fence just before he kicked the goal. The St Kilda variety was smart enough not to hang over the fence, make a Rex Hunt of himself on national television (edit: no he didn't) and have to issue a grovelling apology later. The result on the scoreboard was the same.

Being yelled at by the underprivileged may be the cure to Petracca's goalkicking ills. Remember last year when he was pinging them from everywhere? Was it against Essendon that he was having a shot from the boundary and responded to some tosspot providing free advice, possibly the same one as last week, by turning around with a beaming smile after converting? You'd say that outright abuse doesn't work, and that you'll have to be more clever in your attempts to put a player off at close range, but whoever Newnes is he got the result with this spray before one of the misses.
I dare say he'd have missed even if there was complete silence, we're back to his first season where he was so inaccurate you'd rather have a St Kilda player kicking for your life. It makes no sense that you can go from horrendous inaccuracy, to laser accuracy and back again. Another job for our club psychologist, the hardest working man in sports. He did, however, catch a break when a smothered kick ricocheted perfectly to our advantage and ended up with Harmes trotting into an open goal.

It wasn't all passive aggressive goalkicking for Hogan in the third quarter. In a moment that we best forget quickly, he reacted to the lightest of blows to the throat from Jake Carlisle after a point and sank like a stone. Not the first time the combination of Carlisle and blow have proved controversial, but like Oliver against the Eagles it's best to pretend that the contact caught him so unaware that he stumbled to the ground. The umpire certainly believed it, paying him one of the softest frees you'll ever see. As the incident had taken place inches outside the square he was put on a slight angle, and because Jesse is a diplomat he tried to kick around the corner from 10 metres out and barely got a point.

Our delivery of the rare two point play nearly turned into the even rarer minus four point play when the Saints went the other way and landed the ball 10 metres out from goal. The defence held firm, St Kilda got nothing and the procession was allowed to continue nearly unchallenged. Via another McDonald screamer against multiple defenders (*swoon*) it was going so well that when Melksham tried a lofted pass into the corridor instead of hitting one of his usual savage kicks, Brayshaw was able to fall on his arse, get up to retrieve the ball and still kick the goal.

When Jake Lever stormed past an opponent fast enough to spin him around like a cartoon and intercepted a kick-in, the Chris Sullivan Line beckoned for the first time in almost a year. He did what you'd expect any defender to and hoofed it out on the full, leaving the Saints to go coast-to-coast (cliche!) for a goal with 20 seconds left to bring the margin back under 40. A minute please for the expression on Lever's face after he missed:

The last goal ruined the third leg of winning every quarter by 14, but while victory was far from statistically certain I was still reasonably confident we'd win from six goals up at the last break. Still needed some positive reinforcement early in the last, and after Weideman finally landed a strong overhead mark for a goal before three quarter time, he got a second via the less conventional method of a 50.

It's bad news for those of us with an unswerving dedication to Cameron Pedersen, but Weid had another positive outing as the third of the triple towers. His goals were welcome, but even before that he contested well and is proving a surprisingly competent backup ruckman. To be fair and balanced he only had one kick that wasn't a goal but I'm prepared to overlook that for now. He has the natural talent and there's never been a problem with effort, we've just got to get the ball into his hands more. With Hogan and McDonald expected to kick goals he's free to work anonymously in the background and find his touch at senior level. One day it will rain - unless the roof building program can be accelerated - and we'll be one tall over the limit, but until then I'm happy to look to the future and keep giving him games.

Big laughs were had immediately after the Weideman goal when the umpire delivered the worst unrecalled bounce ever, perfectly favouring Maximum to smash it down the throat of a teammate to set up another. St Kilda fans were already stressed about the umpiring, and if I was them I'd have snuck out at this point and vandalised AFL House while nobody was looking. The rest of their anger was questionable, this was just flat out thievery. Lucky for them the game was already stuffed.

Brayshaw carving one of the Saints players like a Christmas turkey and leaving him on the bench in the hands of trainers was the final straw for us. Realising that nothing good ever comes of playing a side with multiple players off injured we put the red and blue bins out and declared junk time. The state of the rest of the game can summed up in the unofficial highlights video where the last 16 minutes and 10 seconds are represented by 1.35 of footage.

It's my fantasy that one day we'll pile on the misery against a demoralised side in the last quarter like Hawthorn did to us, but alas no. Earlier in the day I'd looked on with admiration as Richmond phoned it in for three quarters against Freo then piled on eight goals to nil in the final term. Our best last quarters since the off-brand avalanche against GWS in 2013 have been nine and seven goals against Gold Coast, but we still let them kick four and three in response. Give me the total party atmosphere experience where the other team visibly lose the will to live.

The closest fan to me all day was a fellow traveller lone MFC male about six rows away. He sensed that the game was heading for the toilet and pushed off with 10 minutes left. Then a St Kilda fan who had taken to letting his kids drag him around walked through Row X and said: "It doesn't look any better from up here". Bullshit. Your team's performance may might have stunk no matter where you watched from, but at least from the back row wing you'd have had the widest possible angle of it happening. If you're anything like me it won't be any good for your health, because you'll spend the whole game making indecipherable noises of anguish, thinking that players 100m away from the kicker will somehow get the ball.

There was literally nothing left in the game at the end, so you had to make your own fun. The second last dreadful miss by the Saints was precipitated by Jake Lever pretending to tear grass up and throw it at the kicker in the style of Lynden Dunn. It missed anyway, because of course it did, but Lever's antics would have had much more effect if we didn't all know the Docklands surface is spray-painted dirt thinly covering a slab of concrete. Then they capped off a generally shithouse day in front of goal by missing one practically from the top of the square. For the second week in a row we generously gave away a few cheap goals at the end, which in no way will come back to haunt us at the end of a close home and away season.

Being upset that we didn't pile the misery on them at the end is understandable, but embrace that feeling. We're well beyond the point where every win from one point and up is something to hold a street party over. It's now ok to accept the four premiership points but lament a missed opportunity to slaughter somebody. This is progress.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
It was an absolute raffle for the top three, with Hogan possibly losing out on top spot just because of that fiasco with Carlisle and the subsequent rancid effort on goal. There was an even wider blanket thrown over the last two spots, with several players unlucky not to qualify. Most notably it's a welcome return for Brayshaw, scoring two to equal his entire 2016-2017 score in one go. He's now level with the unlikely duo of Dean Terlich and Liam Jurrah with 21 career votes.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Jesse Hogan
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Michael Hibberd

Not many bad players, but also in contention were Jetta, Jones, Lever, Lewis and the Sizzle Brothers. The JJ, LL, MM pattern is not deliberate.

The big three clear out, leaving anybody who hasn't scored a vote yet that fancies themselves (Viney?) requiring the equivalent of four BOGs to nil to catch first place. The dreaded line of elimination is a long way from appearing, but with two non-midfielders amongst the top three this could be the year the Jakovich finally goes to a big man. Or Oliver will make like every other award in the competition and bring it home for the midfielders.

20 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
17 - Jesse Hogan, Clayton Oliver
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
2 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd
1 - Neville Jetta, Cameron Pedersen, Christian Salem

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Typically after a half of slaughtering Dom Tyson to nobody in particular, and demanding that Jack Viney be sent out in a mask to take his place in the second half he bobbed up with a ripper from the boundary line in the second quarter. I may not be entirely keen on him retaining his place in the side, but the good news is that his finish was so good that I'm boosting it in front of Melksham's first vs Richmond to be our clubhouse leader for goal of the year.

Apologies to Hogan's pinball effort in the square during the first quarter, and Oliver waving in junk time by quickly hacking one home like a golfer smashing the ball of a sand bunker early in the last.

For the weekly prize Tom Dyson wins a reprieve at the selection table by people far more mature, informed and calm than me.

Usually this segment is used to lambaste the opposition then matter-of-factly point out that ours was better due to superior kerning and award the points to the good guys. This time I'll generously give the Saints some credit, if it wasn't for another example of a weedy font (style tip for the cheersquads - use whatever the crepe paper equivalent of Ctrl + B is) they might have been a contender.

There was also an issue with the unusual command to "play by the crest", a phrase that only appears once on Google (until now) as part of a "triple-play by the Crest Hill catcher" in something inexplicably called 'Pony League Baseball". There was also something weird happening with the very end that looked as if they'd run out of letters and had to construct the final one out of the off-cuts from the rest.

Like the team itself, ours did enough to win without over-extending. It was nothing special, but at least both teams opted for a message supposedly focused towards their own players (note: we are aware that none of them care) instead of rotten attempts at comedy. The Saints even followed our lead and did the polite rotation to all areas of the ground, even if that only revealed an effort-free ad for Pepper Money, the sort of company who sound like they'd hide your money offshore where neither the ATO or you can ever find it again. 7-0 Dees for the season.

Crowd watch (incorporating Matchday Entertainment Watch)
What crowd? I was there an hour early due to the sort of poor timekeeping that is traditional against St Kilda, and waited patiently for a rush of people stuck in the ticket queue that never came. You'd say it was our fans refusing to go there two weeks in a row, except that the Saints only got 14,000 through against GWS in their last start there. The 25,496 was actually perfectly in line with the 25,217 and 25,322 for their home games in 2015 and 2016 and it meant far more leg/swearing room than last week. With no kids around this would have been a great time to finally record the audio of me watching a game alone, before submitting it to the Classification Board for an X rating.

As far as matchday entertainment went it was hard to spot any. Remember when they banned the warm-up so clubs could concentrate on dazzling their fans with amazing spectacle? To their credit the Saints realised nobody cared and didn't even try. Now that you can't even drop a man on his head what's the point? The best they could offer was Kosi touring some kiddy playground cringingly referred to as an "activation zone". When did 'activation' pass from insider marketing wanker speak to something that regular people are supposed to get excited about?

They did have what was promoted as a pre-game 'pep talk' from Alan Richardson that was about as inspiring as the Mark Neeld one before we were pulverised by Essendon. In an inclusive, community minded gesture they had a guy interpreting it with sign language and I think he was using Auslan to tell St Kilda fans they were in deep shit. Then, just as you thought they'd dumped the idea of fake community singing done with a Betty Boo style backing track it got a run just before the first bounce. Nobody joined in, because like Collingwood trying to get that Metallica nonsense up, what works for a 95% partisan crowd of 50,000 in Adelaide has got fuck all chance for a split crowd in a half empty arena.

Whenever talk turns to groundbreaking spectator experience your first thought is Casey Fields, and just when you thought the razzle dazzle was over, they ripped an idea off from the pride of Cranbourne and blared out music after every goal. It was not only unnecessarily loud, but featured the most generic collection of stadium songs ever recorded. By the end of the day the only spaces on my bingo card left unfilled were Song 2 and Zombie Nation. Who is this supposed to keep happy? 98% of football discussion at the moment is complaints about not enough goals being kicked, surely they are rare enough to keep people happy without having to introduce EMF to the mix? Especially when a team is so inaccurate that the odd successful conversion should be treated as a major milestone.

Everything about their presentation was tacky, up to an including a three quarter time promotion where people walked through the stands with prizes written on placards and fans had to shelve their dignity and practically beg them to win. I'm biased, but is it not fair to say no matter how badly we've been doing on-field that we have always been sober and measured in our 'entertainment' (except for the Match The Emoji debacle) instead of trying to make it feel like everyone's having a good time when they're most certainly not.

We've certainly never stooped to promoting a Kiss Cam, and for the benefit of the club employees who read (most likely on their phone in the can in case somebody sees them) I think I speak for everyone by saying don't even think about it at any price. This one didn't even have a sponsor, which I thought was the point of these chintzy segments. We sell paint at quarter time and shoes at three quarter time, with random China Southern promotions thrown in. This was a completely revenue neutral round of people sensibly declining the panting demands of a horny sounding ground announcer to pash on.

I was also unhappy with their NQR spelling of 'hoody' when it should definitely be 'hoodie'. I thought this was an unreasonable stance, until Google confirmed that Hoody is a South Korean singer and a Hoodie is something you wear when robbing 7/11. In another defeat for their fashion range, the club hat was modelled by a player wearing an expression that made it look like he'd just been sprung exiting a brothel.

The Sponsor Shack
Was this a battle between the teams that attract the lowest grade of sponsors in the league? Since 1990 we've displayed a disappeared housing company, a disappeared bottled water company, a disappeared car company that only sold 800 vehicles nationwide over two years and through some translucent sticky tape a company we sacked for race hatred before even playing a game.

St Kilda has had milk, a window company, an online bill payment portal, LED lights, iced coffee, some minor league financial operation and called their training ground the Linen House Centre. For a few years we were sponsored by the same company, and outside of LG it's almost the best deal we've ever had. Forget the Melbourne Hawks, if we'd merged with the Saints during Amalgamationmania in the 80s and 90s no second division corporation in Australia would have been safe short of the Tricontinental Bank.

Now they're moving back to Moorabbin, and because these days nothing is worth existing if you can't make a buck out of it (except as it turns out Kiss Cam) it will be known as RSEA Safety Park. For some reason when you drive past Essendon Airport there's a massive billboard advertising the name of the 'new' ground, which should lead to all sorts of misunderstandings when somebody turns up to watch training and is obliterated by the propeller of a Cessna.

Next week
The unusual fixture of Gold Coast at the Gabba on Saturday afternoon. Given that they can barely pull a crowd at home this should be a real friends and family only atmosphere. I'm unnecessarily bitter that what I thought was going to be a perfect record of attending our only ever game against them at the ground has been nobbled by the Commonwealth Games, to the point where I almost considered flying up just to go 2/2. Surely it will never happen again unless climate change causes Carrara to slide into the ocean.

It's been seven often long years since I finally saw a win at the Gabba on the fourth attempt, sourly complained about a 90 point win not being good enough, and tried to sack the coach less than a week later. The whinging was not without some justification considering how many points other teams put on them later in the year, but admittedly only one us ended the season having lost a game by 31 goals.

Whinging on the internet aside, that was - and obviously remains - our biggest ever win outside the Melbourne metropolitan area. I can't see it going down that path next week, but can absolutely see us winning. A third victory in a row as favourites would be nearly unprecedented, but the way we've gone recently just being favourites three times straight is unusual enough.

The Suns are doing the same lower-mid table mediocrity act that they do every other year, except without Ablett to panic handball to 42 times a game, having travelled everywhere but the Gold Coast this season and not having Tom Lynch available. You would like to think we'd win relatively comfortably, but it's going to take many years of ongoing success (or what passes for it) before I'll go into a game supremely confident.

It looks like Viney will be back, though we really should give him a run at Casey first. There was mid-week club propaganda about how he's raring to go and what a great job the conditioning staff have done, but I'll be prepared to cut him some slack for the first couple of weeks. If his foot snaps again I'll chuck shit.

If neither Viney or Salem are fit somebody's going to have to come in for Neal-Bullen, who is gagging for a run in the 2s. Now that we're comfortable Spargo knows what he's doing what about giving Danny Bonaduce-alike Oskar Baker a start? All I know about him is that he's quick and unlike the real Bonaduce has never thumped a transvestite prostitute - both endearing personal attributes. And he's from Queensland, so it should provide good content for when they do the hidden camera pervo cam telling him he's playing.

IN: Viney, Salem
OUT: Neal-Bullen, Tyson (omit)
UNLUCKY: Pedersen

The All New Bradbury Plan
We're still not in a position to issue clear How-To-Vote card instructions on each game, but wins by Collingwood and North push them into the mid-table royal rumble while St Kilda slip into the dreaded 'spoiler only' category. What we really need is to push one or two of the level three contenders up and another two down. And more importantly to go a minimum of 8-7 for the rest of the season.

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

Was it worth it?
Yes, yes, yes. The margin should have been heaps more in the end, but even if I don't celebrate victory by humping strangers or shredding my throat singing the song I'm still not in a position to complain about near seven goal victories confirmed early in the last quarter.

Final thoughts
Maybe it's the fake euphoria from beating shit teams (the same one that convinces people in sub-zero temperatures to get naked and die), but maybe we can go to Geelong, Adelaide and Perth in the last six weeks and still make the eight. Or maybe it will all go absolutely tits up in the next few weeks and that won't be a factor. For once the cliche is right, let's take it one game at a time.

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