Sunday 13 May 2018

Slip, slap slop

If the Gold Coast Suns are in the news, you know something's gone horribly wrong. First it was players on drugs, now they've been accused of acting as a branch of Pauline Hanson's One Nation. The polite thing to do would have been to forfeit this game to us while the investigation continued, and it took three quarters but in the end that's precisely what they did.

The Suns were terrible, but at least nobody saw it. An alleged 6060 was the lowest crowd at any AFL game at the Gabba. The previous record was for us against Brisbane in Round 22, 1991 so it's hard to put forward a case for us making any contribution to Queensland football beyond giving The Spencil a job for nine years. Sure it's not their home ground, but after the Suns have been hither and yon in the first seven weeks of the season you'd think their fans might relish the chance to see a game 80km down the road. Apparently not, even with a significant number of touring Melbourne fans present the tiny audience barely stretched around the lower level of the ground. Soon they'll be begging for that guy who had to return his membership after hurting Gary Ablett's feelings to come back.

The audience was 4.5 people shy of exactly half of what turned up for our 2011 game against them in Brisbane, and even that was suspiciously stacked with schoolkids and free ticket neutrals. Now they couldn't even give seats away, as demonstrated by the vast swathes of unoccupied corporate seats. It probably didn't help that the rugby leaguists were playing a double header featuring both the Titans and Broncos just down the road - and the Brisbane Lions were on TV about three hours later. Considering they've played on every other ground in the country over the last few weeks they should have gone for a double header of their own and made this the curtain raiser to GWS/West Coast because the stands were empty there too.

The best thing about Gold Coast - and there are not many - is that they've hired a fat coach. I too often hear the Carlton theme song playing while walking down the street, so appreciate affirmative action on behalf of the portly gent. Let's not forget that Stuart Dew should be our coach now, only stopped (or saved, depending on how you look at it) from being Roos' successor because Sydney wouldn't let him out of his contract. I'd have loved to be run by somebody who looks like he's going to have Pizza Hut deliver to the coaches' box. The only other heavy coach I can think of is Neil Balme, so like record defeats we could have had the two leaders with the highest BMIs in league history.

I know what an ill club looks like, and this lot need Florence Nightingale and/or euthanasia. Earlier in the day their reserves went goalless, which was a cause for great hilarity until the seniors kicked their first goal after 20 seconds, much to the delight of the 135 members in attendance. That was a setback, but we were soon down the other end menacing their defenders and endless repeat inside 50s became the theme of the day. They couldn't clear the ball effectively, we couldn't put it through the big sticks and by this point there were probably more people in the stands than watching on TV.

Finally after three behinds, including Gawn missing from hard on the boundary because nobody was there to hang shit on him from over the fence, the extraordinarily generous Sam Weideman set up the extraordinarily old Charlie Spargo for the first. It was another weird Weid game where he did nice looking things when he got it, but didn't get it enough. He was certainly kind enough to hand off about four goals to teammates but I'd like to see him get greedy and start snaffling a few for himself.

After struggling mightily to convert for the first 10 minutes, the next one came immediately from the bounce. Jones got a free and unleashed a kick straight down the middle of the 50 where the thinking man's Coleman Medallist Tom McDonald casually stepped in front of his opponent to grab the mark. He's so good at set shots now that I started to suffer a strange phenomenon during this game, my expectation of him kicking accurately is so high that I'm even more nervous about him having shots than a regular player because the implication is that any result other than a goal would be a grave waste of a chance.

McSizzle got the next one too, a suicidal Suns kick across defence was intercepted by Neal-Bullen, who missed Hannan standing on his own in the square and went wider instead. McDonald had to make the most of it from an angle and checksided it through for the second under heavy pressure even before Hannan could stop reacting negatively to being ignored in the first place.

The turnover was the sort of bonkers disposal that made you think the Suns were terrible and there was no way we could possibly lose to them, but it also only opened an eight point lead. Then they got the next goal and the prospect of punching ourselves out and being caught on the break loomed large. As all this was happening I was trying to act as the sole responsible adult to a near four year old who declared my hovering over the television and yelling "silly", but then wanted to join in when I responded to the follow up goal - ironically caused by an old school Tommy Mac turnover in defence - by jumping up and down on the spot theatrically.

Fortunately the cause for leaping about comically (at least to a kid, I was too nervous to have any fun) was quickly flipped on its head when we cartwheeled out of the centre for ANB to reply seconds later. By then Junior had already lost interest and wandered off, ducking back in periodically to ask if the footy was over yet so she could watch Peppa Pig.

After an NQR quarter where we dominated and kicked goals but still only led narrowly it was incredibly lucky that the siren went seconds before a Gold Coast player deep inside 50 could get boot to ball. We'll never know if he'd have snapped through the goals as casually without full knowledge that it wouldn't count. Even without that going through in time it was still hard to know what to make of it, we were obviously the much better side and had a far greater spread of players but while I couldn't see how we could lose to them I wasn't convinced we'd win either. At the time I didn't know that we were going to eventually overwhelm them with outrageous number of inside 50s. For now it just looked like we'd waste chances out the yin yang and be regularly hit on the counter.

There were ups and downs to being the lowest priority of the six Saturday games. We got the guy they consider to be the lowest on the commentary totem pole, but who should be commended for calling the game properly and not hyperventilating for four quarters BT/Dwayne style. They should be the ones relegated to Melbourne vs Gold Coast in front of friends and family while the likes of Papalia, Bennett or almost anyone else do the big games. They don't do anything that bogans like, and that's as good an endorsement as you can get.

On the other hand the director was off his or her face, persisting with ridiculous closeups which meant a ball would fly off-screen and the camera would barely get to where it went before it was on the move again. More than once a disposal led to a moment of terror because you had no idea who was on the other end. They were also keen on showing replays of free kicks while the game went on, without at least putting up a picture-in-picture of the live action. You'd think they were aware that only a tiny fraction of people cared. Also it's not the fault of the team doing this game, but somebody at Fox Footy probably should have thought about launching an ad with a shotgun related punchline the day after a major gun crime tragedy.

For the first half of the second term we didn't look much like winners, much less 70 point winners. I don't know if Sizzle Sr was even on the ground for most of it, because otherwise the obvious thing would have been to aim every attack at him. Instead he was nowhere to be seen, while Hogan was further up the ground trying hard to get involved. It can only help for the future that players like Hogan and Gawn can go all day, or that Clayton Oliver can be best on ground (spoiler!) on 75% of game time.

There was a sense - incorrect as it turns out - that we were going to stuff this up. After handing them the lead via a rare errant Oscar kick and a silly 50 from Hibberd, Neal-Bullen had the chance to kick through an unguarded goal but to continue his recent nervy run he missed. Had we not recovered to win by a lot I may have driven to the airport to pelt him with eggs on arrival. The poor bastard's blunder even made the infamously shit AFL website highlights, where they don't even bother to serve up all the goals but here's a guy doing a humiliating miss. When you're hot you're hot, and when you're not you're not.

People who like to complain about why football is allegedly no good these days may wish to direct their focus on a free kick paid against James Harmes during this quarter. He ran back against the flight of the ball, perfectly spoiled an opponent who was falling backwards anyway in an attempt to take the grab, and as the momentum caused our man to brush him on the way through a free kick was paid. If his follow through had landed him on top of the Brisbane man, impeding his ability to get up and contend for the ball fair enough, but this was ridiculous. People seem to want more frees to be paid, but as I've said before if the incidental contact doesn't impact on the player don't call it. I've given up trying to keep the number of interpretations for umpires down, it's always going to be a crap shoot so let's do something for the players.

For the sake of balance there was an arguably even worse free in the last quarter when Jetta ran into a guy who was doing nothing more than going for the ball and received given a free for low contact. It was about time Nifty had something go right for him at the Gabba, earlier in the year a Brisbane player had gotten away with trying to murder him, and this time a Suns player ran past and punched him in the dick.

If the state of Queensland has a hate on for Jetta, I'd be surprised if Harmes didn't request a trade to play there. Our only better interstate performance of recent years was the 73 point win against the Suns two years ago, and both times he's had one of the best games of his career. You have to adjust for the quality of the opposition, but this was by some distance his best game of the year. Speaking of maligned players, it was easily the Jordan Lewis' finest appearance all year, and one of the best of the last two seasons. He was rock solid in defence, setting up numerous scoring opportunities and almost flawless with the ball. Still not convinced he's got enough petrol in the tank to get him past the end of this year, but it was a welcome return to form. We hope that for both of them the good times continue against better organised sides.

The tide turned when SME Killer Steven May - still my favourite non-McDonald full back in the comp - gave away a cheap and pointless free to Hannan in the square 75 metres off the ball. Like the earlier Harmes debacle it was probably a correct decision to the letter of the law, but is that what we really want paid? May then tried to demonstrate that Hannan ducked and inadvertently lightly headbutted the umpire, who fortunately for him didn't take a Graham Carbery vs Phil Carmen style overly dramatic bump. May picked a bad week for it - unless he's trying to get out of going to Shanghai - after Tom Hawkins got rubbed out for swatting an umpire's hand and Ed Curnow will also be in trouble for fondling one at the MCG. None of it should be anything more than a fine, but no doubt they'll want to make an example of somebody and will order him to be broken on the rack. Which is also a fair way to describe the Gold Coast career of Harley Bennell.

Hannan's goal was the first of three in a row, with Oliver setting up another immediately after by winning a free from the bounce and stuffing it right down McDonald's throat at last. Finally we were playing to his strengths. He's already had a gift in the square from Weideman for his third, and followed up here with a belting full-extension overhead mark right in front. It was his worst set shot since the one from 20 metres out against North in Hobart last year, but things were running so severely in his direction that it snuck in.

I'm comfortable with questioning the methods of Simon Goodwin, but Forward Sizzle could be his masterpiece. Sure it came out of necessity last year when nobody else could kick a goal, but it's turned out spectacularly. Surely there can't be another player in history who has gone 59 games without a goal then had two bags of five. With the Sizzle Brothers on fire at either end are we sure we can afford to keep the band together at the end of this year? Their value goes up every week, and we've also got to fit Brayshaw and Jetta in this season - both of who would be rising in value weekly.. Considering the mad money Hogan, Jones, Viney, Gawn, Lever and Oliver at a minimum are on I start to wonder if we might have to start jettisoning some midcarders to pay for it all. For anybody else who is out of contract and a chance of being retained - e.g. Kent, Wagner, Pedersen, Harmes, Vince - I suggest signing anything you're offered without complaint.

After Melksham - who had a touch of the Petraccas in front of goal - missed an opportunity to really dig the knife in we got another sign from the heavens that things were going to go our way. Salem was clattered into by some oversized oaf after marking, and after dismissing the flashbacks to when the brick dropped on his head he took his 50 metre penalty and narrowly dropped the ball over the line from distance. A video review helpfully confirmed that it had gone about half a metre over the line before being touched. That goal should have been it for the first half, but where Gold Coast had been ordinary in the middle all night they chose the right time to win a centre clearance. For the second quarter in a row they were nearly beaten by the clock, but this time managed to stuff a hurried kick through for a point, leaving Salem's goal relatively unscathed.

Interviews with players walking off the ground are rarely worth it, but it was hard not to enjoy four goal hero McSizzle responding to a perfectly banal question about whether the Suns had done anything to surprise us like it had been implied that we'd come in expecting a 200 point win. For somebody who won Demonbracket with a spectacular run of novelty posts it was a magnificently serious performance, proving he's not just versatile with his field positioning.

Things were looking a lot better than they had been before the May free kick, and when Neal-Bullen made amends for his earlier shithouse shot by dribbling one through from the top of the square the margin was inexplicably out to nearly five goals. At last the rising tide was beginning to swamp the Suns. They got a goal back almost immediately, before falling victim to a classic piece of Max Gawn total football. The man can do it anywhere on the ground, and in this case twice in the same passage of play. He contested a boundary throw-in, then ran to the square and took advantage of somebody punching a loose ball towards him to kick the reply to the reply. Three goals in the first three minutes of the quarter and who said footy was getting boring? We did our bit for average scores across the league here by not only kicking 146 but letting in 77. AFL House, send cheques of appreciation courtesy of Brunton Avenue.

McDonald then got his fifth with a quarter and a half left, leaving open the tantalising prospect of him kicking an actual real life bag. Ironically we spent the rest of the game aiming for him inside 50 and everyone else got the goals. After the Ronke Tonk Man did his Darren Cuthbertson impression by kicking seven for the Swans on Friday night the best thing to keep him from becoming overexposed would have been a reconditioned defender banging through 10, but we'll have to wait a bit longer for that. While he was doing this Hogan remained scoreless, but it was as good a scoreless game as you'd get. He covered more ground for the game than anyone, and it was nice to see him rewarded for effort by chipping in for a few when we'd blown the game to buggery in the last.

When you follow Melbourne you should never start to fantasise about anything amazing happening because you'll usually end up being let down. McDonald's fifth sparked the Suns into having a go for the first time since the second quarter and they made things temporarily uncomfortable by kicking three in a row. Maybe we got a bit excited by the margin and started to lose our structure, because the first one came against the unheralded defensive combination of Weideman/Tyson and the third after an absurd block from Spargo. I have no idea why any of these people were within 50 metres of our goal.

With the margin cut in half and still plenty of time to play in the third quarter we were desperately in need of a steadier, and unusually it came from Michael Hibberd. He was on the end of a flowing move from one end to the other and thumped through the much needed goal on the run. It restored  a comfortable four goal gap, and in reality crushed whatever fragile spirit they had left. If the real sun stops all life on earth ceases to exist, if the AFL version does nobody is all that surprised and Spargo paid back the goal he'd given away from a free in full by converting after having his head ripped off in a tackle.

We wasted two more chances through Harmes and Melksham, but all-in-all did well to ride out their brief flourish of resistance and come out looking like winners. A 32 point margin left us in that interesting position where we were short of the certainty of the Chris Sullivan Line, but would have to do something outrageously stupid to lose. I was confident that they couldn't keep the ball out of our attack long enough to kick six goals without reply, but considering we almost lost the Brisbane game by dying in the arse for 20 minutes you weren't going to take anything for granted.

It was ok to relax. At last we detected a team ready to collapse in a screaming heap and took advantage of them. We still conceded a couple of avoidable cheapies late, but eight goals to two partially made up for taking our foot off the gas late for the last two weeks. I suppose after wandering around the country aimlessly like backpackers we're supposed to feel sorry for Gold Coast having to go to China next week. Not in the slightest. Maybe they should have factored the effect of the Commonwealth Games in before gleefully signing up to sell their home game to support Port's oriental wankfest?

Considering the damage that would eventually be wrought on their rag-tag opposition, we started the last term slowly. The first, and what seemed like sealer even though I wasn't ready to trust yet, didn't come for eight minutes until Hogan set up Salem to storm towards goal unhindered and smash it through. If that wasn't good enough to convince you we were home, Brayshaw adding another about 30 seconds later should have done it.

Personally I was still waiting for one more, which eventually came from one of the odder set shot goals you're ever going to see. Hannan marked 40 metres out, and what looked like an attempt to set it up to the top of the square came off a bit too well and he actually set it up to the top of the fence straight through the middle. That was my cue to relax, when we were kicking bizarre goals like that there was no way the Suns were going to unleash a record breaking comeback.

The first step would have been to stop us from going forward every 20 seconds, as we constantly sent it forward to where their defenders were starting to lose the will to live. All of a sudden it started to look like we were going to beat the record for inside 50s in a game (at least since they started counting them in 1998), an idea almost as ludicrous as the day Mogadon Mark Neeld presided over the highest fourth quarter score in club history. This was not a bad fourth quarter score either, with goals flying in from all angles. With Milkshake converting a set shot all it lacked was McDonald putting through five and Petracca converting from anywhere to achieve perfection.

Because my MSDS knows no boundaries there was a close-up (surprise!) showing Brayshaw about to come on in the last few minutes and I was tense that he'd come on too early and we'd lost 71-0 on a head count. I don't even know if the head count is still a valid tactic in 2018, but if any team is ever going to lose a game because of one it'll be us.

Subliminally the players must have known how silly the inside 50 record would have been, because with three to get and plenty of time left they eased off. In the dying seconds Lewis could have hoisted one forward just for the stat but decided to dink it around instead and we had to settle for a share of the 20 year high alongside North Melbourne in a 129 point win over GWS. Even Geelong only had 69 during 186, but that's because they scored from 48 of them.

Even after finally putting a team to the sword there was still a bit of sour regret at conceding the last goal and losing the +70 margin. Still, there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Imagine reaching the stage in your supporting life when you win by 69 points and can find something minor to get upset about? I'm still not sure this is going to translate into beating the good sides, but the way it's going we should give ourselves a decent chance going into that nightmare run home. Onwards and upwards.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Jordan Lewis
3 - James Harmes
2 - Tom McDonald
1 - Nathan Jones

Apologies to - in reverse alphabetical order - Salem, Melksham, O. McDonald, Lever, Jetta, Hogan, Hibberd, Hannan, Gawn and Fritsch

The midfield strikes back, with Oliver's maximum carrying him back past the rucks and forwards to the top of the tree. Jones was the only other of the big four to take a point, leaving three new names to join the race this week. It will now take Jack Viney the equivalent of six BOGs without reply to win the title. Fat chance.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
A refreshing cavalcade of selections to choose from, but with apologies to Hibberd and Salem on the run it's Max Gawn taking a boundary throw-in, running towards the square then holding a man a head and a half shorter than him at bay to kick the goal.

For his second nomination of the year Max wins a framed commemorative poster showing our dual torments of the Suns at the Gabba over the years. They were supposed to have won about four flags by now. Stiff shit.

Tyson on the run vs St Kilda retains the clubhouse lead, possibly quite literally because like a golfer who's already played through the 18th I suspect he won't be on the course next week.

Very well done to the Suns for having a message suggesting we stamp out domestic and family violence. Shame the curtain under it was so enormous that the messages was reduced to about 10 point font at the very top. Ours came on the 'away' horizontal stripes and suggested lifting the intensity and blowing them away. Which we did, so an obvious win for the Demon Army there. 8-0 for the season.

Next week
At least if we flub the last leg of the quaddie it won't give the Blues their first win of the season. Hopefully having caused Essendon fans to go into full meltdown they've got it out of their system and go back to being terrible. To be fair, despite a club record rancid start to the season they weren't exactly Melbourne 2012/13, and we have proven to be worse at the MCG then every other ground we've played on this year so don't include a win in your ladder predictor calculations just yet.

I write before Viney plays his comeback game tomorrow, assuming that no matter how rusty he is we'll pick him unless he has his neck broken by some uncoordinated suburban player. That leaves the matter of who to drop, and it's time for Vendetta 2018 to finally pay off. Tyson was not very good tonight and somebody's got to make way from the midfield. Despite his two goals Anal-Bullet still looked uncomfortable, but it was better than his recent performances but for want of anyone else to pick he can have another go.

I'm 50/50 on Weideman. He has been serviceable, and I think we can carry the three talls but it's possibly time for a respectful, no hard feelings omission. He had four goal assists tonight but still only two kicks. The question is who to pick instead - Garlett is an obvious alternative if he plays well tomorrow. Otherwise the option is to send Fritsch back forward from whatever weird floating thing he was doing tonight and bring in somebody who can play a wing - not keen on Hunt immediately coming back, and don't get any crazy ideas about Wagner doing it again. I fall on the side of picking Jeff (never Jeffy at any level of the game) just in the hope that he'll kick three against his old side like both games last year.

Then there's Harmes potentially being done for a sling tackle that wasn't even deemed vicious enough to pay a free kick for at the time. Surely not.

I'd like to get off to a good start, Carlton have given us all sorts of trouble over the last few years despite being pox so let's not give them any oxygen. More importantly, what second rate matchday entertainment will the Blues put on to try and convince us that they're still a massive club?

IN: Viney
OUT: Tyson (omit)
LUCKY: Neal-Bullen, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Garlett (pending VFL performance), Pedersen (permanent entry)

The All New Bradbury Plan
With tomorrow's games to play there's not much movement in the Plan, other than to move Essendon into the irritant only category. The way the plan works we will want them to beat Geelong next week. But they won't, because they're shit. The marginally more successful of the two franchises are also down a rung this week, dumped into the mid-table mediocrity battle. I'm certain they'll pick up when they get players back, which is a shame. If they could become demoralised by Round 23 instead that would be excellent.

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 -  Adelaide
Lose against higher teams, beat lower teams, take games off each other - Collingwood, Geelong, GWS (),  Hawthorn, North MelbournePort Adelaide and Sydney
Preferred result depends on opposition, usually want a win - Footscray and Fremantle
Win against higher teams, lose against lower teams - Gold Coast
Good value as spoilers only - Brisbane, Carlton, Essendon () and St Kilda

Final thoughts
In the least likely of the last three games we've finally discovered the joy of battering an opponent while waving the white flag. It still pays to remain vigilant, anyone talking up a prospective massive margin against the Blues will be boiled in oil.

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