Saturday, 13 April 2019

The comeback is on

The emotional rollercoaster ride continues. From being resigned to the death of our season at the first bounce, to being forcibly perked up by Braydon Preuss playing like Hulk Hogan, then reaching for poison halfway through the second quarter, this turned into the life-giving, spirit of '06 victory that I desperately hoped for but was too scared to believe in.

In order to concentrate on the morale and confidence benefits of this victory, let's briefly skim over Sydney being steaming turd. They've been a safe 'keep the flag out of Victoria so I don't have to hear about it' contender for 15 years and haven't won less than eight games since 1994 but finally look ready to take a turn in struggletown. Their flimsy rucks were swept away by a Gawnslide, the forwards had no idea how to take advantage of our terrified backline, and their defence extracted the ball from defence in a way that would make you light fires if you hadn't just seen two flags in 15 years.

It started both very poorly, and very well. After some manly jostling between Oliver/Viney and Callum Sinclair - who was probably reminding them how he got lucky when we passed on drafting him - the first few minutes were spent camped around Sydney's 50 with the Swans doing everything but kick a goal. One shot was touched through on the line and another snapped out on the full from close range. This was no good for my blood pressure, already elevated by having to watch on a 35 minute delay and not being able to nervously peruse Twitter to reassure myself other fans were also having a disappointing supporting experience.

Then, almost literally out of nowhere, Charlie Spargo of all people burst off the half back line, had as many bounces as our entire team did against Essendon (one), and hit a perfect pass to Milkshake in the middle of the ground. He set up Petracca (via a wobbly handball) to run to 50 and kick the goal, and I can't have been the only one openly yelling about why we'd ever expected him to play as a contested marking target near goal.

For loudmouthed amateurs like me, any week where the stuff that you've banged on about is not only tried but succeeds is a great one. It wasn't just half-forward Petracca, see also the introduction of Braydon Preuss, a colossal figure in the forward line that allowed everyone in his orbit to do good things. Sure, any kick five metres to either side of him was easy pickings for his opponent, but in the greatest tradition of the Australian rules cliche his mere presence straightened us up. It probably won't work against good sides, but in the interim it was the most exciting forward cameo since Tom McDonald kicked five against West Coast.

If it's a Brent Heaver-esque one hit wonder performance, we'll always have his first kick in a Melbourne jumper. With one of the boundary umpires suffering from a crippling arm injury that only allowed him to throw the ball in half the normal distance, the world's beefiest man ran off his clearly confused opposite number, gathered the ball on the full, kept running into the pocket and snapped across his body for the goal. It was one of the most remarkable things you'll ever see, and well worth several repeat viewings:
In none-more-Melbourne fashion he kicked a second goal then spent half of the second off with a dicky shoulder. Hold for the late change next week when he's OUT: amputated arm (4-6 weeks). Injury issues aside, he returned to generate another goal from a forward 50 stoppage later - about as many as we got from everyone not called Gawn in the whole of 2018. Meanwhile, for the people who whop off over contested possession, let the record show that of his 11 possessions, 10 (TEN) of them were contested. What a beast, christ knows why they got spooked over one bad practice game and refused to play him for three weeks.

The second goal had me all fired up, ignoring the obvious comparison to doing likewise against Port for 20 minutes then capsizing. The competing theory was that the Swans are almost as bad at playing their home ground as we are, and it's no surprise we eventually overcame them. It might not have required overcoming if Gawn's near total dominance in the ruck was backed up by his midfielders. If they'd got their hands on more of his taps we might have put the game away early, but like so many times before we left the door ajar and the opposition kicked it in.

Given that we won, what I'm most pleased about is how we realised halfway through the second quarter that another outrageous opposition score was on the way and did something about it. Compare the pre and post-comeback trials of Oscar McDonald, a guy so low on confidence that even he knows he wouldn't be playing if not for injuries. When Heeney took a mark on him in the second quarter he looked like he wanted to be swallowed by one of the many gaping chasms in the SCG surface. He was barely spotted after that, which is the best you can hope for with a key defender (though truth be told he missed the last quarter with concussion, so that helped...)

Then there was Frost, the second of the well-deserved scapegoats from last week's insanity laden defensive effort. He played the same sort of game on Franklin as he did in scoring a rare two votes last year, not completely putting Lance (never Buddy) out of business, but pushing him far enough away from goal that he was left trying to kick 60 metre bombs like it's 2008. The further out the better, leaving Franklin 2.8 against us in these two starts. He has a curious career record against us, we're the only opposition he's played against more than 10 times but has more behinds than goals. He may never have lost to Melbourne until Thursday night, but his 43.46 in 16 games against us compares favourably to the 70.35 he's tormented Essendon with in the same number of starts.

Like Oscar, Frost probably doesn't make Round 23 either if Lever and May are fit, but it was a welcome return to form. My highlight was later in the game when he reacted to missing a ground ball because of a turning circle like the QE2, only to follow up with a desperate lunge to keep it away from an opponent on the boundary line. To prove that once fans lose interest you can't do anything right, he was subsequently criticised for risking giving away a below the knee contact free - welcome to Club Cale Morton, where you'll never be allowed to do anything good ever again until you're traded for pick 88.

Life would have been a lot easier if we'd taken the hint from kicking the first two goals and went on to win by 150. Instead we conceded the next two in quick succession, the second from a free kick so soft it was almost invertebrate, continuing the proud tradition of rooting us whenever the prime time TV cameras turn up.

There was a second goal to Preuss - born from a perfect tap from Gawn to Jones and finishing in a Mason Cox-esque mark where he was simply too large to spoil - that left us four points up with five minutes to play. That would have been a fair indication of the state of the game to that stage, before bleeding three quick goals, including to somebody called Jordan Dawson who'd played eight games in three years and was threatening to Kingsley us.

To say I was flattened by the extended DemonTime finish to the quarter would be an understatement. It didn't help my deep psychological scarring that watching on delay meant no quarter time break, just fast forwarding straight to the start of the second to try and catch up on the live coverage by the end of half time. Breaks are an annoyance when you have to sit through them, but it's only when you don't that you realise how vital they are for your mental health as a supporter.

Conceding the first chance of the second quarter immediately from the bounce didn't do much for my enjoyment of either life or the 6-6-6 system. I started to wonder if the midweek propaganda about how all our woes are actually the fault of the midfield were correct. Fortunately Franklin missed a sitter, giving us the opportunity to go down the other end for what could generously be described as a steadier for Harmes. His goal prompted everything to turn to shit for a few minutes, leaving the life support plug for our season teetering precariously out of the socket. First Kingsley kontender Dawson bobbed up again, before popular whipping boy Sizzle Jr conceded a mark to Zak Jones - who sort of resembles Nathan, but with more of a sunken faced, ratty, suburban drug dealer look.

That goal, and the general tribulations of Oscar, saddened me to the point where I was almost ready to do my traditional gesture of surrender and sit down instead of hovering above the TV yelling and gesticulating wildly. Then the half-forward flankers (not rhyming slang) of my dreams Petracca and Melksham set up the more respectable looking Jones to drag us ever so slightly away from the precipice. It was a beautifully constructed goal too, with first Tom McSizzle taking a strong overhead mark, then Melk splitting the pack with a near screamer, allowing Truck to gather and intelligently spot Jones on his own instead of blazing away at goal.

That was Jones' easy goal, followed by a ripper from the pocket as he ran onto a loose ball, beat the despairing lunge of his brother and cut the margin to 11. From the verge of death we were now well and truly back in it. Then Melksham got one from almost the same spot - with the additional degree of difficulty from fumbling a few times before picking up the ball and thumping it through. This would have been more of a major event if we hadn't proceeded to cop a reply immediately from the middle.

It was almost the last time the Swans did anything in the centre, with the Gawn n' Everyone show taking over. Simon Goodwin loves 'connection' almost as much as Dean Bailey liked saying 'competitive', and he would have been chuffed at Maximum and the mids finally getting on the same page in the middle. As we've previously discussed, hitouts are one of the great bullshit stats but if we hadn't turned a 73-13 advantage into something it would have been as bad as the Kardinia Park inside 50s debacle.

Viney was the next to kick a goal on the run from the left side pocket, high on bloodlust from having just necked some bastard in a crunching tackle, and we were back within a goal. Via two Sydney misses deep in DemonTime we got to the break in a much better shape than we had any right to be 20 minutes earlier. I'd certainly stopped trying to ring the Ecuadorian embassy in London to see if they had any vacancies.

Not long after the break McSizzle got a free and levelled the scores. It was his only goal of the night but still his best performance of the year. I'd rather he start kicking goals left, right and centre again but playing a part in them is just as important. It's what makes Melksham so underrated, twice this year he's had four goal assists in a game - a feat only previously achieved by Melbourne players eight times since 2003. There's a big gap between those 10 (Melksham x2, Petracca x2, Jones, Jetta, Wonaeamirri, Brayshaw, Petracca, Weideman and Hogan once each) and the 62 players who have had three. One day somebody will have five, and I'll put on the biggest obscure statistical celebration since the first time in his career Mark Jamar had five kicks.

Again the lead didn't last long, but in contrast to the Essendon game it didn't feel like we were entirely powerless to stop the opposition scoring when they got the ball. What really scared me is that we were playing like we'd turned a corner, but our window for error was now so small that even the narrowest loss, caused either by a defensive howler or kooky umpiring, would be fatal.

Enter Petracca again, walking through a defender, then kicking a snap from 40 while being swung around by the jumper. Here's a way to make the Fox Sports Lab useful, get somebody in a white coat to work out whether the force of the swing created a greater connection (thanks Simon) with the ball and helped him cover the distance. It was the high point of a performance where he was used to his strengths and looked so much better. A genuine night to put fear into opposition players and coaches again. Harmes was so impressed by the goal that he eye gouged him while doing some seppo bullshit during the celebrations. Surprisingly Christian's eyeball didn't pop out and fall into one of the several dozen SCG divots.

Petracca's goal drew scores level again, before new pressure forward sensation Hunt put us ahead. This ushered in a great few minutes where he kicked a second, then necked an almost certain Swans goal on the fast break (which caused terrible flashbacks to Essendon players waltzing past red and blue traffic cones until owl energy carried Hunt far enough to affect the kick).  By three quarter time - via another Franklin miss from distance - we'd set up our first Stranglewank scenario of the year to take a 14 point lead. I don't know where it came from and didn't feel we deserved to be that far ahead, but wasn't going to turn it down.

Because I've not updated the list since Round 2 last year, here are the updated WANK FILES - games where the margin got to 24 before being reduced to six points or less.

FOR (WINS)
  • Round 13, 2014 vs Essendon (-33 at 3m Q3, +1 FT)
  • Round 1, 2017 vs St Kilda (-24 at 4m Q2, +30 FT)
  • Round 8, 2017 vs Adelaide (-28 at 17m Q2, +41 FT)
  • Round 10, 2017 vs Gold Coast (-24 at 20 Q2, +35 FT)
  • Round 11, 2017 vs Collingwood (-28 at 9m Q2, +4 FT)
  • Round 3, 2018 vs North Melbourne (-24 at 13m Q1, +37 FT)
  • Round 4, 2019 vs Sydney (Huzzah)

FOR (LOSSES)
  • Round 11, 2014 vs Port Adelaide (-26 at 13m Q1, +10 at 17m Q3, -20 FT)
  • Round 15, 2014 vs Footscray (-35 at 11m Q2, +6 at 6m Q4, -6 FT)
  • Round 19, 2015 vs North Melbourne (-34 at 29m Q1, -2 at 26m Q3, -35 FT)
  • Round 3, 2016 vs North Melbourne (-42 at 20m Q1, -5 FT)
  • Round 10, 2016 vs Collingwood (-24 at 24m Q1, +5 10m Q2, -25 9m Q3, level 19m Q3, -25 FT)
  • Round 15, 2016 vs Essendon (-24 at 30m Q3, -2 at 17m Q4, -9 FT)
  • Round 7, 2017 vs Hawthorn (-27 at 29m Q1, -3 FT)
  • Round 9, 2017 vs North Melbourne (-26 at 31m Q1, -2 at 13m Q4, -14 FT)
  • Round 1, 2018 vs Geelong (-27 at 35m Q2, -3 FT)
  • Round 12, 2018 vs Collingwood (-26 at 19m Q1, -5 at 13m Q2, -42 FT)
AGAINST (WINS)
  • Round 7, 2014 vs Adelaide (+ 36 18m Q2, +3 FT)
  • Round 21, 2017 vs St Kilda (+39 at 10m Q2, +4 1m Q4, +24 FT)
  • Round 2, 2018 vs Brisbane (+25 at 27m Q1, +6 8m Q4, +26 FT)
  • Round 22, 2018 vs West Coast (+26 at 18m Q1, +6 17m Q2, +27 at 5m Q3, +3 at 15m Q4, +17 FT)
AGAINST (LOSSES)

  • Round 2, 2015 vs GWS (+30 at 4m Q2, -45 FT)
  • Round 9, 2016 vs Port Adelaide (+24 at 6m Q2, -61 FT)
  • Round 3, 2017 vs Fremantle (+27 at 28m Q2, -2 FT)
  • Round 18, 2018 (+29 at 2m Q4, -2 FT)
Disposal efficiency was approaching record lows, but it didn't matter because every panicked kick towards Sydney's goal that wasn't marked was either fumbled or returned via peg legged disposal. They got the first goal of the final term to give us a momentary scare, before the Weid got a free and converted. It wasn't the best game of his post-Round 22 2018 glory era, but whenever he gets the ball things happen. When he learns how to find it 20 times a game watch out. Is also a red hot set shot kick, which helps.

Like Hogan and McDonald so many times before him, Weideman's goal was wasted by an almost immediate reply out of the middle that cut the margin to less than a goal again. I was back on the highest DEFCON1 alert for a meltdown that would see us be teased with a season saving victory only for the arse to fall out when it mattered.

Here's to the pretty ordinary free Jones got for Selwooding into a tackle, and for the set shot that kept the ship upright. Then to my new idol Preuss for disposing of his opponent at a ball-up in the forward 50, allowing Brayshaw to add the exclamation mark.

We're beyond the point where the first win of the season only exists to ensure we won't go 0-22, but it's still a major psychological barrier to cross. Whether it translates to the good teams we'll need to beat to storm back into the eight I don't know, but am hoping that we've just seen the blueprint for 18 (plus?) games of enjoyment. If we still miss the eight then bad luck us for turning in a bunch of stinkers at the start of the season, but I've got renewed hope that we're going to come out of the season with some happy memories. Onwards and upwards.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Marty Hore

Unlike last week, apologies to lots - in alphabetical order Brayshaw, Fritsch, Frost, Harmes, Hunt, Melksham, Preuss, Salem and Viney.

Leaderboard
Stiff shit NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER voters, we have somebody on the board in every category. It's unlikely that if Gawn keeps playing Preuss is going to catch him, but the other big man is officially in the race for the Stynes with his 13 hitouts.

10 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
9 - Clayton Oliver
7 - Angus Brayshaw, Jake Melksham
5 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Bayley Fritsch, James Harmes, Nathan Jones, Jack Viney
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Marty Hore (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Corey Wagner

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There were several contenders in this game that stood above almost everything else we'd kicked this season, but it's impossible to go past Preuss from the pocket. Sure he took advantage of a non-ruckman at a ridiculously shallow throw and kicked an arsey snap but say hello to your clubhouse leader for goal of the year. Some may argue for Petracca's goal in the third, and they may very well be right but I've got a fetish for cult heroes and am not ashamed to admit it.

For a weekly prize he wins a gigantic tube of whatever oil Franklin had liberally applied to himself before the game.


You'll have to work hard to beat one of our milestone banners. The best look I can get at Sydney's response was for about 0.5 seconds in this tweet, and it seemed as primitive as can be. Celebrating John Longmire's 200th game as coach brings back fond memories of his first, when he failed to grasp the concept of the sub rule and allowed to scrape a draw. Before - it must be said - going on to do what every coach we've had since Norm Smith hasn't.

Besides, our cheersquad gets extra points for having to be prepared for McSizzle to pull out with injury so they would have won anyway. Dees 4-0 for the season.

This segment probably needs a different graphic for Channel 7 games. So...



Regular readers will know I've been in a confirmed mid-life crisis for about two seasons, but at the risk of setting off that bloke who was going to molest your pets for supporting The Spencil my views on Brian Taylor are softening. GEE GOD BOY WOW was the breakthrough in our strained relationship, and now I'm even starting to enjoy the freelance anarchy of Roaming Brian. It won't last, on Friday night he screamed that there was only one goal left in a tight game as if it was a demonstrable scientific fact. If he'd said that when we were less than a goal down with five minutes left I'd be lobbying for a crucifixion.

Next Week
After the short break comes the long break before the really short break. It's St Kilda at the MCG on Saturday at the NQR time of 4.35pm. Sadly I'll be working during a premiership points game for the first time since the Round 21, 2006 draw against Geelong. Like that day, my best chance of knowing what's going on is sneaky headphone listening to the radio coverage. In the same way the phone goes off at Kingsley Manor whenever an ordinary player turns it on against us, I've activated guest reporter protocols and one of your 25 or so other readers will be in charge.

Now that the monkey is off the back, you'd like to think we're going to get back to the same 2-3 record we had after five games last year. I'm still having trust issues so my hopes are being kept under the stairs until next Saturday night. Pending their game against the half-wonky Hawks on Sunday, I haven't rated the Saints' form this year. They've won games and gone close in Perth, but it's not sustainable and they're going to tumble at some point. Hopefully starting next week.

The problem is after that FIASCO where they beat us to round off three weeks of misery last year how do we know that's not going to happen again? We don't, and the best we can do is face the MCG and pray for the best. Remember that for the first 20 minutes of that game we were dominant in every way and looked like it was going to turn into a poleaxing, so let's have more of that and the mystery three goals in three minutes at the end rather than the dross in the middle.

As for changes, it's a good thing there's an extra break because we had a few come out of last night battered. Especially Preuss, whose shoulder looked semi-rooted after his solid gold first quarter, and Hunt after being flattened with a ripper of a tackle. Assuming they both survive, and there's not another raft of mystery midweek injuries all the action is in the backline.

The complication is that Jetta and Lewis both need to come back (though after three quarters of our defence not playing like they're on the comedy circuit I'm not gagging for Lewis as badly as I was last Friday) and Hore was very good. Josh Wagner can rotate out with some apologies, but the question is how we fit the other two in while also protecting Oscar from being shelled by some complete nobodies. Maybe we don't even need two genuine talls against the Saints and can get away with Hore and Jetta? Otherwise Marty might have to go the Corey Maynard route and get dropped after scoring his first votes.

What I'm going for is the one tall BUT with the 4D option of swinging the surviving McDonald back to defence if some bloke you've never heard of looks like Beau Wilkes-ing us. Otherwise, all the new players this week survive. Stretch didn't excel but played his role with no major cock-ups, and Spargo still can't play four quarters but always has some sort of impact. Bad luck for Lockhart, who falls behind Charleston in the pecking order again despite looking pretty good in his first two games. Spargo also now holds a 15-5 career win/loss record, which makes him our most successful player since about Frank "Bluey" Adams.

IN: Jetta, Lewis
OUT: O. McDonald, J. Wagner (omit)
LUCKY: Hibberd? Hasn't been much chop but has runs on the board.
UNLUCKY: Lockhart

Final Thoughts
What happened in previous years means chuff all now, but going back to 2006 the first win set off a run of five straight victories that entirely removed the bad taste of the opening rounds. Could happen again, but let's wait for a bit more evidence. After all, we were also 1-3 in 2009 and won the spoon, and in 2013 when we were morally the worst team in the competition. Or 2014, which ended in four low scoring, grindhouse victories. The difference is a vastly superior list to the last three examples, and one that would shit on '06 if everyone wasn't injured.

Should we win at least two of the next three, preferably starting next week, I think the early evenness of the competition will work in our favour. I'm not launching a new Bradbury Plan until at least Round 8, but I will admit having a little tinker with the AFL's ladder predictor (good on them for putting it up from Round 1 this year but I'd prefer an Excel version where you can input exact scores if anyone's got one handy) and having us three games out of the eight after Queen's Birthday, getting to touching distance of eighth, then finishing a game and distant percentage 9th.

That's double where I'd have had us last week, so I'm setting it as my benchmark. Anything better than ninth and I'll be happy, anything below will be graded on a sliding scale from 'a bit miserable' to 'head in oven'. All we've done is beaten one fading team, but it has given us life. As we often say around here, every day above ground is a good day.

What a difference six days makes:

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