Monday, 20 August 2018

You're going home in a cosmic ambience


There you have it Demons fans. Fellow travellers and sufferers of the virus. The dismissal of the monkeys, albatrosses and millstones that have been weighing us down since Round 1, 2007 is complete. Now to work on the ones dating back to 1964. We're only marginally closer to winning a flag than a week ago, but at least now we've got a ticket in the lottery and belief that we can turn over top teams.

The joy that our fans are feeling over this seemingly minor achievement must seem strange to supporters of good clubs. But when you've spent the best part of 12 years being humiliated at every turn there's something special about not only qualifying for the finals again but doing it in front of a crowd so anti-social that it's surprising they didn't do 60 seconds of applause for Andrew Gaff whenever Angus Brayshaw got the ball. This might be the finals talking, but it's got a claim to our greatest interstate win.

If we had to go through the disappointment of last week then it seems worthwhile now. It would have been much cleaner to have steamrolled Sydney in the last quarter and gone to Perth knowing we couldn't be beaten, but then we wouldn't have just obtained a lifetime of memories would we? The real reason I wanted it to happen last week was to be there in person as we cartwheeled over the Rubicon, but all's well that ends well. Going off like a pork chop in front of my TV acted as an adequate substitute.

What a weekend of hair-raising thrills, spills and gastric distress. Short on confidence about us winning two in a row in Perth for the first time since 2000 my focus was still on how others could do the work for us. It felt defeatist, but going straight off the Super Bradbury how to vote card just in case was the sensible way to look at it. Surely you know by now that when it comes to this club expect the worst and take anything else as a bonus.

I've taken more notice of neutral games in the last fortnight than any time for years, and the first port of call was Richmond beating Essendon. They made hard work of it by resting three players and allowing the Bombers to launch a furious comeback that nearly got up. Fortunately it didn't, so that was one contender wiped out and the focus turned to Port Adelaide. A top eight fixture all season they've had a MFC nightmare style run over the last couple of weeks, first beaten by a goal umpiring howler, then a goal after the siren. What do you expect when you recruit 10% of our 2013 senior list? Now they just needed to lose to Collingwood and our game both became 'win and in' AND kept the door ajar to losing both and falling in default. So while trying to avoid mingling with another parents at a four year old birthday I find they're three goals up in the first quarter. Lucky there was no better place to be for unhealthy comfort food.

Meanwhile at our old friend Kardinia Park, Freo did their bit for keeping Geelong's percentage down by holding a quarter time lead. Then like any good waterfront workers they went home early, conceding the last 23 (!) goals of the game. With Gold Coast still to come for the Cats that was bad news for any scenario that ended with us fighting them for 8th. As that game went into perverse "how far can they go with this?" territory, Collingwood were stuttering to a 13 point lead at three-quarter time. It would have been just the sort of thing they'd do to screw us, but they couldn't help but batter a rapidly disintegrating Port and won easily. Good club, never said a word against them.

In theory Port and GWS could combine for a 300 point swing against us and knock us out on percentage, but even I'm not deranged enough to contemplate that. Once I'd shamefully punted the old enemy (circa 1964) home and Sydney beat GWS to break away from the pack, I became convinced that we had to win it off our own bat rather than hope for others to stack ahead of us. Which was easier said than done going first to Perth, then back to the MCG for potential last day of the season "AGUEROOOOOOO" style dying seconds heartbreak.

The stress of having to consider something as wonderful as leaving WA with the most crucial four points in over a decade was enough to cause my innards to going into crisis mode. The liquification doesn't seem so bad now that it's been replaced by a feeling of euphoria, but the sort of physical and mental sporting trauma I've experienced since Friday night might have chopped months - if not years - from my life. Best get on with winning flags before I cark it then. For now I was fondly remembering those much maligned mammoth wins against bottom sides that seemed pointless when we couldn't beat anyone good, but which set up the monster percentage that has us in the eight no matter what happens next week.

It's difficult to win a flag if you don't make the finals to begin with. It sounds bland, but that's what makes today so important. We would 100% have been filling a gap if the 2016 Mighty Ducks Finish had come off, might not have been much better last year, and most likely won't get past the first week this time but at least we're there. No need to fast forward 12 months and be huddled around ladder predictors drawing up scenarios about how to get in for the first time. That distressing subplot has been dismissed. As has the great "you haven't beaten anyone inside the eight" debacle. Will second on their home deck do? It certainly will for me, and I'll worry about our record against the other seven sides still in contention later.

Perhaps the finest aspect of this victory, even more so than taking (and conceding) two four goal leads and the ballsy way we held on in the last quarter, was that three field umpires finally walked into an Eagles game and didn't obediently hand them the game on a platter. Of course West Coast had to win the free kick count or the stadium would blow up, but for the first quarter and at various points throughout this enchanted afternoon we genuinely got away with doing a few dodgy things. About time. In the circumstances that would have been welcomed anywhere, but even better when you can make 50,000 people who have had a white male style run of entitlement squeal like pigs. Some are still sitting in their seats at Perth Stadium now, howling at the moon.

It goes without saying that there will be a full viewing of the replay during the week, but as I wanted to get this post out ASAP to capture the moment I'm just going to have to rely on scattered highlights and my highly unreliable memories of what happened. If something illegal had happened during the game I wouldn't be able to testify in court, it all just seems like a beautiful blur. The chaos I unleashed while watching was more than the usual interstate game ritual of hovering over my TV and shrieking like a banshee turned up to 20. It wasn't just one random screech of glee that accompanied McSizzle's winner at Subiaco, this was quite literally four wall-to-wall quarters of riding every possession like my life depended on it. All this while spending the first half acting as the responsible adult in charge of a small child, which is just as bad an idea as it sounds in the circumstances.

I couldn't entirely rule out the idea of us winning, but after being made to look silly last week it just seemed like such an un-Melbourne thing to do. One Bertocchi ham from the SEN prize cupboard to Garry Lyon for doing his bit in the wake of the Sydney defeat by calling us mentally weak. In many ways he was quite right, and of course everyone from the President down had to defend our position, but you know it provided a handy motivation for the troops to rally around. Especially in the absence of Hogan, whose season ending foot injury (and pull the other leg that he only developed that last week) meant missing yet another of the great wins of the last few years. I'm not suggesting trading him to Freo (and why would you go anyway?), but we've got quite the record for pulling off bonkers wins in his absence.

To replace him  and the dumped Garlett - we rolled the dice on a forward structure that added Hannan and Kent to the obvious return of Melksham and opted for Sam Weideman to replace Hogan. I'm not off The Weid under any circumstances, but was terrified at the prospect of him struggling to make an impact as Tom McDonald's second banana. No such drama, he had equal career high disposals, marks and if Champion Data is tracking it pack crashings. A couple of loose roosts at goal from inside 50 might have been handled better, but overall he played his role to perfection. Hannan too proved the selectors right, and while Kent was barely seen in the first quarter and only dropped in occasionally from there he saved his best for last.

For those of you who subscribe to the theory that you can tell whether we're on in the first couple of minutes this game was right up your alley. We looked confident with the ball and were thumping them with tackles at every opportunity. I've seen us come back from more than four goals down to challenge too many times to get worried if Plan A doesn't work, but in this case it was paying off like Adelaide in Alice.

For once we weren't the ones forced to mount the blistering comeback. It was the Eagles who had to do it twice. For only the second time in the recorded history of the Stranglewank (and I know that's one stat Champion Data isn't across) a team reduced a -24 gap to -6 or less twice in one game, following on from us on Queen's Birthday 2015. That day all our forward moves were cut off by Adam Oxley, today the game opened with similar from Barass. We haven't been screwed so badly by somebody with that name since 1965. You'd almost think we were playing with a Lockett, Ablett, McDonald forward line with the way the ball was still being hoofed in there at the start. Nevertheless, the Eagles were rattled and we eventually found alternative routes around their numerous tall defenders.

The best thing about the first goal is that it came from a strong Gawn mark, and after a couple of weeks where he looked like he was about to keel over and die from exhaustion when doing anything other than racking up hitouts this was a welcome return to versatility. We got exactly what was needed against the Swans, an extra tall popping up randomly in defence and the forward line to take marks and generally create havoc. He also did some eye-watering ground level stuff that somebody with his giraffe like height shouldn't be able to. Surely nobody that size has ever been able to pick up a ball in traffic and generally hit targets so cleanly. The next best thing about the opener was that Hannan marked his return to the senior side by effortlessly plonking through a set shot, far better than the comedy capers we put on last week.

There should have been a second shortly after, with Oliver taking advantage of a diabolical turnover in the middle to launch a long shot that landed almost on the goal line before bouncing away. Because I was looking for any reason to say "here we go again", that seemed like just the sort of bad luck that would come back to haunt us. Next thing you knew Weideman had a contested mark and converted another set shot so there was still something to be said for beating fate and our own tragic history and making this game count.

I don't know if we caught the Eagles by surprise with our chase and tackle early, but they were rushing to turn it over at every opportunity. Now that we had a team rattled it was important to finish them off, just like the Alice Springs gold standard for crushing a team's spirit by quarter time. One tackle that certainly surprised was Oscar McDonald flattening Jack Darling, caused him to be knocked loopy when his head hit the turf. Nothing wrong with the tackle, grow softer grass. To the untrained eye this and Scott Lycett limping off with a knee complaint were both favourable to our chances. Two opposition players injured in the first quarter, where have we seen that before? Lycett returned to be persecuted within an inch of his life by Gawn, but the man who could have standing in our forward line if not for a) sex romping and b) the avant garde selection of Lucas Cook was finished for the day. And thank god for that, I never factored key players going off injured in any version of the Bradbury Plan.

When the third goal was initially created by Oliver falling on his arse while trying to kick and we were through more than half the quarter without an Eagles score I did start to think things might be about to go our way. Even the previously unknown WA commentator rolled out because nobody else would fly to Perth saying "the Dees can do no wrong!" as the unbelievably improved Harmes stuffed his kick home didn't initially come back to haunt us. Three goals to nil was not to be sniffed at, but after doing likewise in the first quarter of the Port game and losing I wasn't calling Dial a Champagne yet. But there may have been slight raising of eyebrows when McDonald kicked the fourth for 26-0. If A. Random Commentator wasn't going to get us I was, saying to my beloved "we'll have to work hard to stuff this up". What a stupid statement, there was about 3.5 quarters left to hold a four goal lead, plenty of time to do something outrageous.

One aspect of the first quarter that absolutely gave me the horn was Aaron vandenBerg being freed from playing as a defensive forward to actually do midfieldery things. He was very good at it, as you'd expect from somebody who is actually a midfielder. From one foot on the scrapheap a few weeks ago he's bought himself another contract on the strength of this performance alone. Sure he did elbow somebody in the head, but hopefully if he goes it's only for a week. If not he can consider himself a great martyr to the cause. It says something for our recruiting that him, Fritsch and Hannan are headed towards the finals and none look out of place. It took us a few years to get top 10 draft picks right, now we're just plucking useful players from the minor leagues at will.

As all these mystery goals were going through and Eagles attacks continually crashed on the rocks of our defence, I was exhibiting the early signs of going troppo. Hopping from one foot to another, pacing forward towards the TV and then stepping back into my optimal viewing position, spinning around whenever something happened that I didn't like and generally screaming at the TV like an arsehole to the point where I had to apologise to my daughter because she thought I was yelling at her. There goes Father of Year, I'll have to settle for finals tickets instead.

It all seemed a bit too easy, like one of those games where the other side put us under siege the moment they get their hands on the ball. At first without Darling they had no idea what to do in attack, but gradually found their feet and started to make trouble. Their first goal was the signal for the smalls to start giving us the shits, with a midfield turnover ending in one little man confusing the bejesus out of both Frost and McDonald to snap from close range.

If that was all we let in I could still call the quarter an unqualified success, but two more before quarter time cut the margin to 10 and left me both literally and almost figuratively with the shits. The margin wasn't unwelcome, but nor was it reward for effort considering how well we were moving the ball and how often we were going inside 50. The main problem was as ever, speculative long kicks into the 50 that we weren't equipped to deal with.

It looked like the party was over at the start of the second when the Eagles were piling forward and repeatedly putting our defenders under pressure. They were up to it, with our man Sam Frost pulling in a great pack mark to defuse one opportunity. For 10 minutes there was nowt but points on offer, and while the score was struggling to go up my blood pressure must have been reaching epic proportions. While Channel 7 was admirably restrained in not talking about the live ladder every five seconds, my mind was re-calculating scenarios about what needed to happen here, there and everywhere. Here was the most important, and the contents of my stomach moved a bit further back to where they were supposed to be as Brayshaw got one against the run of play.

After a quarter of things unexpectedly going our way, the first 'IGA - how the locals like it' (and ironically they had their logo on the ball) umpiring decision of the day cost us a goal. In full total football mode vandenBerg flew in for a defensive spoil, only for an umpire standing behind the contest to decide that he didn't have eyes for the ball. Which was an interesting adjudication, followed by the guy who looked dead from the contest leaping to his feet and hammering home a goal from 50. AVB then nicked it straight back out of the centre and no bastard was game to try and take it off him lest he thump them. It was about time one of ours had a hurried snap around the corner that went in, and not straight to the defender waiting in the square.

For all the small forwards we'd picked there didn't look to be much pressure on the Eagles defenders as they merrily turned any forward thrust that didn't end in a score at our end into an opportunity for one at the other. It was like the St Kilda game but against a much better opposition. The difference between the Saints defeat and this was that then we didn't have the bull in a China shop exuberance of Sam Frost to regularly get us out of trouble. Both he and Oscar McDonald were very good, and in fact in the absence of Darling it was more their small forwards that hurt us than anyone else. Luckily if you've got a small forward, we've got a small defender:
Nev later pushed his claims as one of the shining beacons of his generation by engaging in a life or death grapple with his opponent yet somehow finding enough space to take a mark. After some wobbly weeks in the run-in he was very important here, not that you'd know it from the plonkers who do the AFL Player Ratings and had him about fifth bottom. Wash your methodology out with soap.

The game had considerably tightened up - along with my left and right ventricles - but we'd still narrowly increased our quarter time lead. The scene was set for something memorable to happen one way or the other. With a one player advantage, opposition fans were coming out of the woodwork from every angle to assure me that this time everything was going to be alright and that we had the game won. Fans of clubs who have won anything this millennium telling us not to worry is like the smug pricks in industry superfund ads berating their mates for being crap at investing.

Compare the pair - on the left is Lucy. She's a Hawthorn supporter who has banked a lifetime of happy footy memories. On the right is Sophie, she's seen Melbourne win bugger all. Same age, same premiership starting balance. Now Lucy has four flags and Sophie has none. Lucy is convinced the Dees are home, Sophie is not so sure.

Until the final siren the Lucys of the world were the worst people alive. Interested neutrals, did you not understand the immense psychological pressure we were under? The last thing anyone needs in that circumstance is to feel like we're going to look like even bigger knobs for losing. In the end you were right, and I love you dearly for it but next time hush up until it's over.

My scepticism about friends, colleagues and total strangers telling me not to worry so much (hello David King, it took a year but I'm finally enjoying footy) didn't factor in kicking the first two goals of the quarter. The theory that Melksham plays better with Garlett went out the window here, he was brilliant. Maybe just plonk any old small forward in front of him and wait for good things to happen? The first goal was textbook, from Gawn's tap, to Oliver pirouetting through hapless opponents then rushing to get involved again, and Kent's comeback from a slow first half by finding Milkshake with the pass. It was not his best kick of the day, but a slips catch dragged it in to extend the margin to 20 again. Then Melksham set up McDonald, the margin was 27 and we were away again.

Hands up any Melbourne loyalist who thought we were sure to win at this point? Me either. Because we are afflicted by a syndrome that makes us waste goals kicked by McDonald as soon as possible, the game high lead lasted about 30 seconds. The second West Coast Stranglewank was on when they got another straight after, then a third via one of the finest soccer style crosses and finishes you'll ever see. Whenever there's a World Cup on commentators will do a hammy trying to force in references to any goal off the ground, but this perfectly dropped from outside 50 for Rioli to side-foot through in style from the square. I can appreciate it now, at the time I was half-screaming something like "Oh fuck off, they're not going to beat us with that shit are they?" My voice was practically already gone and there was another quarter and a half of this torture to come. If we'd lost and I'd never seen a second of the replay something would have been missed not reliving BT's call of "I can strike it like one of the best international strikers in the world". Pipe down you tool.

With the smell of blood in the water, the locals popped big time for Tyson being tackled over the line and blatantly failing to dispose of it properly first, only for the umpire to call it a point. There's nothing better than an overwhelming majority feeling hard done by. At one point the goal umpire had to call a review for a West Coast goal because she'd been run into by multiple players as it went through and they booed that as well. If you told them they'd won Tattslotto and everyone in the stadium was getting a million dollars they'd complain that it wasn't two. I've sat in the MCG reserved seats and realised that I don't like half our fans, if I was a fan in Perth or Adelaide I'd just stay home and watch on TV.

My suspicions that we were eventually going to be exposed were not helped when Hibberd pulled up from a contest looking for all the world like he'd either done or was just about to do a hammy. That's the last thing we need, especially when we're only one foot injury away from a free one. He recovered, but given that he did well to be so effective when he didn't look fit at the first bounce god knows what condition he was in by the end. What this victory also buys us is the chance to rest players if we need to it, giving them two weeks off to get right for the finals. Did I mention the Melbourne Football Club is going to be in the finals?

Not that you'd know it from the pissweak highlights on the AFL website which ignore everything after the Rioli international world striker strike, but the rest of the third quarter was a Channel 7 executive's dream. It burst open for a few minutes while teams kicked goals from everywhere. Stranglewank #2 was complete when the margin was reduced to less than a goal, before Hannan got another immediately from the bounce. Then they did likewise, only for us to reply through McDonald. This time he didn't let anyone ruin his goal because he kicked the next one as well. But in a karmic reminder never to get too excited we leaked the reply to that one immediately instead..

In the carnage and chaos of those few minutes I'd allowed myself to believe again after McDonald's third. Whenever they got the ball into space we were in big trouble, but the backline was holding up well and we had multiple avenues to goal. When West Coast's last goal cut the margin back to eight again at three quarter time I'd swung to complete deflation. Now the chances of us coming out the game looking stupid were sky high. The problem was I'm not sure I could have condemned them even if we had lost - though you never know what sort of wacky way we'd have done it - because you knew they'd given everything up to that point. The forward pressure was shit, but everything else had been just as you'd want it in such an important game. Dare I say the sort of stuff that you can imagine seeing on Grand Final day. By somebody else obviously.

I made two shocking mistakes at three quarter time. One was not recording my blood pressure for posterity, and the other was failing to go viral with a video capturing my antics as the game unfolded. Knowing that I was likely to blow an O-Ring with the biggest force since the Challenger space shuttle, three quarter time was spent sitting on the couch, nervously flicking through Twitter to make sure the rest of the community were as likely to heave as me and trying to calm my nerves by taking deep breaths. What a sight I must have been, acting like a complete poon over a sporting event. But this was my chance to get this much coveted finals appearance in before I step away from full-time supporting, the AFL intervenes to inject spectacle until we die from an overdose, and the finals are expanded to a meaningless 10 team wankfest. I just assumed we'd lose next week, so North being humped by Adelaide on the other channel was no consolation I needed us to get the job done here because another week of this sort of tension might have put me away.

Considering how we'd at worst broken even in the umpiring I was expecting to be kicking into the rorts in the last quarter. Remember 2016 when we stuck with the Eagles all day only to buried under an avalanche of batshit crazy decisions and misinterpretations? That's exactly what I thought would happen here, but maybe somebody obtained photos and is holding them in a Geneva bank vault because there was nothing more than the lightest whiff of hometown umpiring.

With all my expectations set to crumble, kicking the first of the final term came as a surprise. Random Commentator was not wrong when he said "the Demons can sniff September", but like actors and Macbeth you just don't say it out loud. Melksham's goal had its genesis with Salem's first kick of an ice-cold last quarter where he didn't put a foot wrong. The margin was back to 14 and quite frankly I didn't know what to do. The obvious answer was to adopt the brace position, because that prompted the most serious of all their comebacks.

For some reason we tried to save the game from 15 points in front with 25 minutes to go by sending Tom McDonald into defence, and he was nothing more than another red and blue traffic cone for the Eagles to walk around as they kicked three in a row to take the lead. At this point I completely lost it, running into a bedroom, pulling a blanket over my head and screaming most of George Carlin's seven words you can't say on television at the top of my voice. That felt like the killer blow, we'd led all day and were now on the ropes taking punches.

We had about seven minutes to not only regain the lead but hold it. In a moment of high domestic drama Junior - who only knows our sporting teams as "blue and red" and "yellow and blue" walked up to the TV, saw the West Coast logo on the screen and said "oh yay, the yellow and blues". I'd forgotten to ask her the key question of whether we were going to win or not before the game, but did notice she was holding some kiddy Disney princess wand and said "could you please turn Melbourne into a finals team?" Whatever she said as this dinky plastic toy was pointed at the screen worked a treat - get her down to training during the week.

There was still work to be done. That goal left us in such a state of disarray that Brayshaw mysteriously ended up back on without his helmet. In a sign that maybe things would work out ok for us he even put on a tackle without a three-banger clacking of heads ending his career. I imagine it would be hard enough for his mum to watch another game at this stadium anyway after what Gaff did to the other son, let alone with Gus comfortably getting around without cranial protection. Good on him, medical advice be buggered there was no time to waste.

Despite the final margin, I am certain that one more goal would have killed us. Without access to a full replay at this time I'm unable to work out just how close we went to conceding it. Like the mental anguish in Geelong that caused me to forget how the game finished I've only just recalled that Melksham got the go-ahead goal before Kent's sealer. That's the sort of condition I was in at the end of this game. All I wanted to do was fast forward to the final siren and know whether we'd won or not. It's been many, many years since I've been on the gear but I remember the effect being similar to what was happening here.

On viewing of the highlights - and it's nice of them to include any of the last three goals instead of just giving up halfway through - I do remember the end-to-end goal that finished with Melksham goalling from an unguarded square to put us in front. It started with Salem, went through Brayshaw, and to Fritsch to rip long down the boundary for Hannan to run onto. The Eagles defenders did a 100% Melbourne and all went towards the man with the ball, allowing Melk to slip unnoticed into the square. He cracked it home, roared towards the cheersquad like a lion and we were ahead again.

With five minutes left there was way too much time to run down with dinky Sydney like kicks, but we gave it a red hot go. It worked well for a minute, before we were eventually forced to go forward for want of any other available dink. Glory be, a West Coast player overran a perfectly easy ground ball, Harmes picks it up and hits a perfect pass to a leading Dean Kent 40 metres out directly in front. Yes, if you have come in a time machine from 2012-2014 we not only made the finals but it came as the direct result of one player leading and another kicking to him. God almighty, it can't have been all that difficult for people to work out back then could it?

Usually in these situations I'd have no faith in anyone's set shot no matter how close they were, but it's funny how your mind works when it's been damaged by football. I instantly went back to the last minute of that game against North Melbourne in Hobart, when coolly sank a set shot to reduce the margin to under a goal. That was the reigning high point of his career until today, and remembering it gave me a weird organised religion style faith that he'd get this one as well. The two shouldn't have even been remotely connected, being that they were two and a half seasons apart and people have done all kinds of scientific work to dispel the idea that 'clutch' players even exist, but through it went and scenes were very much had.

As it flew through I fell to the ground screaming in joy, pounding a reasonably thin floor mat with both palms and quite honestly nearly crying my eyes out. I could actually feel tears coming at a rate of knots before realising we weren't yet safe from two goals in two minutes and a one point defeat which would have sent me to my grave. I regained my composure, and even after the last goal and another round of wild scenes the blubbery had passed, regardless of how overjoyed I actually was. In the event of us ever winning a Grand Final I promise to bawl my eyes out like Max Gawn watching Gilmore Girls.

It was only about half an hour later when the adrenaline had worn off that I realised the pounding of the floor had really hurt my wrist, and it still hurts like buggery whenever I flex it now. Small price to pay to see real-life magic happen. You can only imagine what state any of my limbs would be in if we'd leaked the two quick goals straight after. I didn't mind running the clock down through stoppages in the middle, but was terrified that we were going to feed them with an ill-advised kick into 50 that pinged out the other way at warp speed. If they got to within one goal you knew another would have been coming soon after.

Thank god for the health of my body, mind, soul and household fittings we got away with it. Like the Adelaide game there was an exclamation mark when the Eagles pushed up looking for a goal, and allowed Melksham out the back for the double sealer. Any score was going to do, but he rubbed it in/increased the dramatic tension by taking as much time as possible to kick it.

The players had done all the physical work while I just fretted, but nothing could stop my excitement at the final siren. I took off on a gleeful lap of the house with my arms aloft like a runner crossing the line at the Olympics. The jubilation of our players, however, was temporarily delayed by a stoush between Sir Neville Jetta and some Eagles peanut. Whatever was said must have been good, because Nifty temporarily forgot that he'd just cracked September after 137 games and a delisting and indulged in some manly jostling instead.

I can't think of anything that could have provoked that reaction in those circumstances (instead of, say a sarcastic pat on the head and "better luck next time dickhead") that we won't hear more about later. Once the lads were free from having to defend the great man's honour there was much time for celebration. And it may as well continue for the rest of the week, stuff the GWS game. I was almost tempted to find out what time the plane landed so I could go to the airport and mount Stone Cold Craig Jennings in celebration.

What a weight off the shoulders this is, hopefully the first day of the rest of our lives. I'm just so proud that as much as I'd have taken it they didn't rely on others falling over (well, not in the last week anyway. Love you Port) to get in. They did it with their own hands, and now anything could happen from here.  To paraphrase McDonald's I'M FUCKING LOVING IT.

Melbourne FC administrative staff, press send on the finals brochure mail-out with confidence this time. Receptionist, answer the phone with a spring in your step knowing that there won't be a nutter on the other end. Chris from Camberwell inhale a massive belt of helium. Crownbet take the $50 I had on us to miss the eight and stick it up your arse. Everyone else enjoy the ride, I'll see you in the queue at the Arts Centre Ticketmaster Bass at 9am Monday week.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
If I wasn't so hopped up about the integrity of this award could I'd give everyone a vote just for being part of such a monumental moment. But I can't, so much love to everyone involved but bad luck.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - James Harmes
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jake Melksham
1 - Christian Salem

Major apologies to Hannan, Tom McDonald, Weideman, Frost, Jones vandenBerg, Brayshaw, Tyson and Hibberd.

Leaderboard
Maximum claws two back from Oliver, but time is his enemy and he drops into the position of needing a pair of unchallenged BOGs to grab a share of the title. Not only has The Hamburglar all but sealed victory, this also puts him ahead of Nathan Jones 2014 for the most votes in a season. He's a mastermind, and I'm glad that for once taking a punt on an unusual draft selection paid off in spades.

In the minors Fritsch would basically need somebody to come in and have a Darren Cuthbertson-esque run through the next few weeks to be challenged, and unflappable Christian Salem enters double figures in his quest for a first ever Seecamp.

57 - Clayton Oliver (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- At least two finals needed ---
47 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Abandon all hope ye beyond here ---
29 - Jesse Hogan
23 - Angus Brayshaw
22 - James Harmes
17 - Tom McDonald
16 - Bayley Fritsch (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
14 - Nathan Jones
13 - Jake Melksham
10 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Christian Petracca
8 - Jack Viney
6 - Neville Jetta, Jordan Lewis, Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan
4 - Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald
3 - Dean Kent, Jake Lever, Dom Tyson
2 - Sam Frost
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Joel Smith

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There were more spectacular finishes, but for a heart-in-the-mouth/massive release of tension interface you can't go past Kent's winner. Pending somebody doing something remarkable in a final that will become as iconic an MFC set shot as Jeff White from the boundary line against Footscray. That was a more difficult kick, this one was for instantly higher stakes and he drilled it without an ounce of drama. He might be playing on the same ground for a different side next year, but if so what a gift to remember him by.

For the weekly prize he wins a lifetime of endearing admiration from Melbourne fans everywhere. The clubhouse leader, with time rapidly running out, remains Charlie Spargo in Geelong.


What an incredible capitulation by the Eagles. While our lot carted a shitload of crepe paper, gigantic poles, and enough rope to have alternative uses if it all went horribly wrong 2700 kilometres, the home team emerged from the mouth of a droopy beaked inflatable Eagle into a guard of honour of some flag-waving secessionists. The Eagles have already struck a blow against one footy tradition by replacing their theme song with a soft rock abortion, now this. What an organisation. Dees by default and 21-0 for the year.

Crowd Watch

Next Week
Speaking of franchises, next week we're back at the MCG to take our victory lap against the Giants. From sooky fans to no fans, in a match that still has some relevance for unexpected reasons. For what it's worth I have us losing (why start showing faith now?), Geelong narrowly pipping us for 7th via a 100+ win over the Suns and a first up blockbuster final against the Pies. If Sydney beat Hawthorn we go there to play them instead, and I'll backflip on everything I said at Kardinia Park about never going into a hostile environment again and travel at the drop of a hat. Either of those scenarios will provide the opportunity to show if we've learned from one of our earlier major cockups. What a wonderful world.

In the afterglow of cracking as close to the impossible dream as we've had in a while it's hard to think about changes. I still reckon Spargo is cooked and don't understand why they picked him this week so he can have a rest. Two weeks off should keep him in good nick if required for the finals but no need to squeeze all the life out of him for the sake of what is effectively a dead rubber. With Casey finally losing - and no wonder when we keep nicking all their players - it's hard to get a decent form line on replacements but I'm opting for niggle and giving Bugg a go.

There is also a case for resting Hibberd as he is so important in defence I'd hate for his hammy to tear out and fling across the MCG like debris in a cyclone. In that case we've got so little in reserve to cover him that you could have either of Pedersen, Wagner or Kennedy-Harris and it's not going to make much of a difference. I think we can win, probably setting up a home final against the loser of Hawthorn/Sydney, but for the first time since about 2013 won't be heartbroken if we don't.

IN: Bugg
OUT: Spargo (rested)
LUCKY: Nil - warriors all.
UNLUCKY: Garlett (not from a selection standpoint, but he's necked his finals chances unless Kent goes kickless next week)

The All New Bradbury Plan


Is no longer relevant. There's an outside case for making the top four but that's not my concern now. Let your ladder predictor skills turn to working out finals permutations, you've earned it.

Final Thoughts
And so, after 313 contests ranging from an AFLX wankfest to practice matches at obscure venues, pre-season cup knockouts and home and away games we're back. A lot has changed since Nick Smith was plucked from obscurity to play Freo at Subiaco on Friday 15 September 2006. Finally, a chance to add to Demonwiki's Most Finals page for the first time.

The path through the last three weeks of 2005 was amazing, but it was off three other recent finals appearances. So, without access to the deep, dark reaches of the internet that were available in 1987 I'd have to say this is the greatest finals qualification moment of the internet era. Which is a relief considering the dead set farcical circumstances that kept us out last year.

Whatever happens from here should be treated as a bonus, but I've just got this feeling that they're going to tease us with something magnificent and we'll still end the season feeling something has been snatched from our hands. It will hurt if it happens, but not even remotely as much having our hearts torn out and shown to us before we died if we'd lost here and ultimately missed out.

It's taken me so long to get this post out that most of you will probably be waking up to it on Monday morning. The feeling is real, the brief Mid-Table Mediocrity period is over, the #fistedforever decade is now only to be studied to ensure we never make the same mistakes again. Welcome to the Fringe Flag Contender era.

3 comments:

  1. Night matches are ok to watch on TV because the kids have gone to bed, but I try not to watch Melbourne on a Sunday afternoon because it brings out the worst in me. I put my faith in AFL.com but was sadly let down; of 16 goals those muppets could only be bothered showing 7 in the “highlights” package. It might have been Hannan’s best game for the club but I’m none the wiser.
    I’m treating the GWS match as the fans’ opportunity to salute the team in case we get sent interstate for the elimination final. However our interstate form this year is none too shabby so don’t write us off…
    I’d still prefer to having Hogan present, but the smaller forward line reduces the chance of us bombing inside 50 AND clearly makes McSizzle the key target.

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  2. Jetta.. Neville was brilliant as always

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  3. Really getting to like Frost. Reminds me of an old Liverpool player, Emlyn Hughes, whose nickname was 'Crazy Horse' because of his lunatic (but many times effective) bursts upfield. Adam, over the last 15 years, your articles have often provided the only sustained enjoyment which goes with supporting the MFC. Even in the darkest time (2013), it has always been a pleasure to share in your suffering. Keep up the great work. PS currently living in Italy but have booked my ticket so I can be in the queue next Tuesday regardless of where we're playing.

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