Monday, 15 July 2019

Same old story



When you're having a bad season there's nothing like the games where you might win but probably won't. As such, this contest was greeted with all the excitement of a trip to the dentist and ended equally as painfully.

In these circumstances advantage goes to the confirmed mid-table mediocrity. Anybody who's seen us start as favourite in similar circumstances would know this doesn't always translate to a win, but it was hard to picture a way we were going to win with a list full of battered players who are as desperate to wrap things up and get on with next year as the rest of us.

They could have caught the opposition unaware and made a pre-2020 statement by kicking a massive score, but given we were playing without a forward line I suppose it was a bit too much to ask for a win so massive it put the Fitzroy Bulldogs back on the agenda.

So in the end it was another defeat that means stuff all to our season. How very 2007-2009 and 2011-2015. I felt like three seasons of being close to - or god forbid once IN - the finals would give me an insatiable taste for being in the running but the overwhelming sense of being in limbo feels like a homecoming. Cast your mind back to Round 17, 2015, where we lost by kicking a sad six goals and were left on five wins with Carlton and Gold Coast immediately below us. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 2015 we ripped out a surprise, organisation lifting win against Collingwood the next week, picked up another win in the last round and were pretty happy with ourselves. This year we might get to seven if we're lucky, but it's a hell of a comedown from a pair of finals wins in front of 180,000 people.

When you're left fighting to win seven games and possibly avoid the bottom three you've got troubles, so even though Footscray has spent most of the time bobbing up and down doing nothing since winning a flag it felt right that they won here. What a long way down either of the wins over them last year, now we're just adrift and floating aimlessly to the end of the season. Too many injuries, too few inside 50s that hit forwards even when we had them and too much tossing off over contested footy at the expense of everything else.

I'd say you can't play Carlton every week, but by next Sunday night they'll have beaten Gold Coast and gone above us on the ladder so perhaps we should be happy to have played three winning quarters against them. That's not a great advertisement for the year, but you'd have to be emerging from a coma not to realise that this campaign has been shithouse from day 1 of pre-season training.

Compared to some years five wins is still a tally to be grateful about, but given that none have been by more than four goals and our total winning margin against the two (current) bottom teams is five points you can't help but get a bit grim. But you've got to play out the season, and the mark of a group nearly squashed flat with adversity is how they carry themselves to the line. Yesterday we lost due to having all the poise of a horny teenager about to get laid for the first time but at least we tried for four quarters. That's literally all that's left to cling on to.

I was never worried about a thrashing, the Dogs are hardly an attacking juggernaut and we'd finally got our Round 1 backline on the park in Round 17. My key concern was kicking the lowest Australian football score ever under a roof. To say we had no came in with no forward line would be an understatement. Not only was McDonald fully crocked for the season but Weideman lost his chance to be #1 when he went down hurt as well.

We've spent years trying to play without half-forwards but this was the full enchilada. Given how our scoring has been this year (now up to 73 per game. Which, if you're wondering, is still shit) with a full complement of talls to pick from there were two options - find an alternative avenue to goal or kick 2.6.24. I didn't foresee a third option, the emergence - temporary anyway - of a new tall forward.

If Preuss/Weid was an unlikely combination, the double take when I discovered Harrison Petty was down there nearly caused whiplash. In all the joy of getting Lever and Jetta back I didn't even notice he was still in the side. By the end we might have lost, and he was nowhere to be seen in the last quarter, but he might have just found a way to keep himself in the side without having to wait for defenders to get injured or suspended.

Good thing he unexpectedly dropped in and kicked three, because even those only helped us to a paltry nine goals. RIP after one week to my theory of Channel 7 getting all the adds they wanted if they pitted mid-table and lower sides against each other.

Sadly, at the other end of the spectrum Preuss had his #freerickypetterd moment a week later than expected and couldn't get near it in attack. I'm not laying the blame entirely on him, he was only supposed to be a pinch hitting forward not the leader of the pack.

Still thought he was good when he got a chance in the ruck, but given that Max isn't going anywhere it will have the people who recruited Preuss in the first place nervously adjusting their collars and thinking it might not work as well as expected. I say keep going, but like a Trump fan who is too far down the rabbit hole to admit their man is a bit rapey I've gone too hard on the Preuss for the 1s campaign to pull back now. Otherwise don't mess around, flip him to a team that could do with a #1 ruckman (Essendon?), recruit the Spencil as a backup and let's move on.

If there was anything to this game outside of getting close and accidentally discovering a prospective forward, it was the long awaited first meeting of our backline outside the rehab group. Lever and Jetta were rusty as fuck, Hibberd and Frost put on their usual high octane, high risk performances and Gawn may as well be counted amongst them for all his cameo appearances, but the main event was May and Salem. Now that's a combination to spark joy. I don't care about what Josh Kelly does with his life or that May got on the piss while in rehab, this is a combination for dedicating your life to with an almost religious fervour.

The defenders' reunion nearly ended as quickly as the Jetta-less one on Queen's Birthday. I've watched enough episodes of Air Crash Investigation to see a midair collision coming, and it didn't take long before Lever and Frost tried to do a cover version of the Tenerife Disaster by trying to intercept the same kick. They survived the impact, but at the cost of leaving a Dogs player to snap through an unguarded goal.

He let us off the hook by missing, the first of three wide open goals they flubbed from a similar spot in the first quarter. We were also favoured by a failed attempt to play on after marking directly in front of goal. This was a surprise, the article about their recent poor conversion should have set off a reverse media curse that ended with a final score of 16.1.

It was very charitable of them to keep us in it, even with the Kingsley Manor lights flicking on and off like they were calling for help. First we let in one of two goals to somebody called 'Roarke' who looks like a fringe Home and Away character and before yesterday had one goal since 2015, then Josh Schache joined in and Kent was karted off in an ambulance.

'Roarke' (surely not his birth name) was at the high end of the Dogs' silly haircut faction. At least his long blonde locks invoked memories of Warwick Capper, unlike the several of his teammates getting about with mullets. You couldn't be a Melbourne fan if you weren't into irony and self-deprecation but while it's one thing to have joke hair for the two hours a week you're on TV where's your dignity for the other 166? I didn't like Lynden Dunn's pissy moustache and I'm not crazy about whatever Oliver's doing with his barnet, but if any of our players ever appear with a mullet I'll write him off immediately. I'd rather somebody with neck tatts because you know they're in it for the long haul.

Things were much as expected, we weren't leaking goals at any great rate but were struggling mightily to kick them. Hunt took one good forward 50 mark and continued his good work from the Blues game, but otherwise we were always in full hit and hope territory.

We still dragged the margin back to one at quarter time courtesy of a pair of rarities. First a goal from a forward 50 stoppage without Gawn in the ruck, as Petty's (?) contest ended with Lewis (??) bustling through the pack and striking a lovely soccered goal. Then almost as strangely, Christian Petracca converted a set shot. As he lined up a graphic said he was 8.6 for the season and I instinctively yelled "LIES!" at the TV. But through it went, only for him to even the ledger by missing an easier one in the last quarter.

My favourite bit of the first quarter was the 10 minutes when Petracca was in everything. I was watching with another member of the faithful who pointed out there was no chance he'd play that way for four quarters. Even I wasn't mad enough to believe that, but would three quarters be too much to ask for? Apparently yes, as his stats look ok but his impact was reduced to next to nothing. I like Trucking and I like to Truck but one of our many off-season projects should be devising a way to keep him involved all day. Otherwise he's heading into Jack Watts territory, years of being serviceable but inconsistent before being traded to Port Adelaide.

Speaking of the 2014 AFL National Draft I'm increasingly suspect that they're going to turf Brayshaw at the end of the season. Show me the deal and I'll tell you if I'm for or against it, but if it addresses any of our other glaring deficiencies sign me up. They don't seem keen on playing him in the guts, so what's the point of having him there at all. Mind you, if he was going to be sold better to fatten his price with the same sort of bulk possessions that unexpectedly vaulted him to third in the Brownlow so maybe it's just the usual Melbourne style ruining of a promising career.

When Sam Lloyd kicked two to start the second quarter a call came through live from the ambulance letting us know that they'd just had to sedate Kent before he did a blanket induction on the entire Bulldogs list. We didn't look likely to kick another two goals for the day so it could have been a match-winning break, before another rare moment, the back-to-back first career goalkickers. First Petty, then Dunkley.

There was much made of Dunkley booting a goal over his brother's head, but fair to say the one with 39 disposals, 15 tackles and 3 future Brownlow votes took family honours. Our one shows promise (maybe not 39 disposals worth), but compared to playing Carlton this exposed how far back he's starting from. Again, when he got the ball he knew what to do with it but is well off the AFL pace. He's certainly worth another year of development, but for now looks exactly as you'd expect from a player plucked from nowhere six weeks ago. Like a pre-injury Weid, we may as well give him a run when there's nothing to lose.

Also off the pace, and in this case further than a harness horse with a busted leg, was Mitch Hannan. We all love the 2018 Elimination Final and accept that he's had a difficult year with injury but he's offered little since returning and yesterday was the worst game of the lot. How do you play 78% of a match in modern football and only get three possessions? There's not much in the reserves as a replacement but time for a spell anyway. He's probably haunted by the vision of that bloody ball not rotating one more time against the Blues.

In comparison to crying out for more than the eight combined touches of Dunkley and Hannan, there were 35 from Jones and Neal-Bullen that we could have done with a lot less of. Jones has been prematurely written off in some circles but this is the second time in 2019 I've been moved to say that it's the worst game I can remember him playing. Still worth seeing if he can kick a goal, almost nobody else can.

As for Anal-Bullet, he can't get to the end of this season quickly enough. He has a bash but is just so tentative when he gets the ball. When it's bobbling about inside 50 and you don't have a teammate standing alone in the square nobody's going to hang you for having a shot. Except when your snaps have the power of a man that's had his thigh muscles removed. I can't decide who I'd want snapping for my life less between him and Charlie Spargo.

There were precious few positives, but when Petty got his second I was half tempted to ditch my commitments, sprint out the door and head straight for Docklands. After seeing Jamar and Blease kick five, the idea that I'd miss another unusual player doing it gave me more concern than the actual result. He pulled up after an impressive three. Can take a mark, can kick straight, give me more of that for the rest of the year.

Just when you dared to dream (about a opening a gap on 17th), we were dudded by one of those classic bullshit free kicks that is probably technically correct but makes you want to gouge your eyes out and take up audio description of another sport. As is his want against mortals, Gawn was clobbering every opponent who went near him, so instead of properly contesting a ruck dual one of them just jumped into his outstretched arm and got a free.

I understand that you're not allowed to just push a guy out of the way with a straight arm (though personally I reckon people would go wild if ruckmen could maul each other in the contest) but there's a big difference between that and putting your arm out straight and having the guy jump into it. Add that square up for Jeff White 2005 to the goal they got earlier from a 'play on' 20 metres forward of the ball after all our players had stopped and wonder why Dogs fans sooked so loudly about the umpiring that I started to wonder if Ross Oakley had been right. By the end both sets of fans thought they'd been horribly done by, but Footscray got to console themselves with a win.

Nobody reacts to bullshit frees like Maximum, and he responded with the immortal line "that's ruck craft, big boy" to a hapless whistleblower. Sorry Max, ruck craft doesn't create as many goals as frees in front of goal. Gawn could already be best on ground 22 times in a row and they wouldn't give him the Brownlow so belittling an umpire should completely kill off his chances. Suffice to say the rest of the afternoon was spent with ruckman straight arming each other, but the free was never paid again.

Until that happened we were - somehow - winning the quarter. It only left us still a point behind, which was a pretty good result considering we weren't playing at all well. God help us against the Eagles, Richmond, Collingwood and Bellerive Oval in the next six weeks. Or St Kilda and the Swans come to think of it. Why shouldn't they take their chance to sneak a cheap win by the end of the season as well?

Under the circumstances I was thrilled to get to half time on six goals. I could easily see our all new steel trap defence holding another side to 41 but didn't expect to get anywhere near that ourselves. The backline nearly saved us too, only conceding another four goals for the second half. Which is great, except when you kick 3.8 in response. They started it, opening the third quarter with seven behinds in a row before we wiped out all but one of them in an instant. An experienced defender was so concerned with Harrison Petty of all people he held onto him like somebody trying not to fall off a boat and gave away our seventh goal.

After 15 minutes of barely holding them out what do we do after kicking a goal? That's right, give it back about 30 seconds later. I hope Tom McDonald didn't kick something in anger at seeing that. I was certainly on my feet and had the leg poised before thinking better of it after the big boot near the end of the Gold Coast game crippled me for about three days. That was it for third quarter goals. Stiff shit Channel 7, take another zero off your broadcast rights offer.

We ended the quarter taking our turn to miss a bunch of shots, leaving us a goal behind at the last change. Deep down I didn't really care if we won, and now less than 24 hours later I'm not even moderately affected by the result, but at the time it meant something. As they're going to write on my gravestone 'it's the hope that kills you'. I didn't expect to win at the start, in the middle, or for most of the end, but give me a sniff of Grand Theft Four Points and I'm there with my full range of emotions.

If the 0-1 first goal is the Bailey Quarter, this was the Bayley Quarter, as Fritsch both started and ended it. When he got the first to level it up within a couple of minutes it looked like we might even be a chance. It would have been wrong to win but that's never worried me yet.

The beginning of the end was a Petracca set shot. Where was Mr. 9.6 when we could have struck a vital blow early in the last? His grab was a thing of beauty, his kick not so much, and *BOING!* the ball flew down the other end for a goal. I'm not blaming him for the quick transition, but if he's going to take massive grabs I'd rather him do it in the middle of the ground where we seem to lose every aerial contest. If we're not last in the AFL for contested marks outside the 50s I'd be astounded. I'm not even concerned if we take the marks (because as the Jeremy Howe era showed he world's greatest mark means squat if the following disposal is a turnover) but a contest that stops the other side from doing it would be nice.

After dropping into defence to save us all day the next goal came directly from Gawn confusing fantasy and reality and trying to screw a kick around his body from hard on the boundary line. He put it straight out on the full, and after his mates missed every easy shot under the sun Lachie Hunter did a full Hipwood job on us from the boundary. When another followed not long after I'm sure plenty of Melbourne fans stood up and left. They were right about where it was going but there was a bit of a tease to come first.

I like May as a defender so much that he'll probably end up taking a restraining order out on me, but I'm glad they recognised the game was shot and threw him forward instead of just merrily losing. Like Petracca he took a beautiful contested mark but also missed. Nevertheless, what a man. I wish we'd got the chance to wreck his career five years ago before Gold Coast could really put him away.

Ironically, after the opposition spent three quarters spurning simple chances our last chance of salvation disappeared via the same method. First Fritsch saved our bacon by finishing after everyone else had buggered around trying to get somebody else to kick the goal. Which was good.  Then he got a free for being held. Which was also good. Until from not far out on a more than kickable angle he ran around for the quick snap and missed. Which was all kinds of shit.

Sadly, even if he thought time was about to expire 23 minutes into the last quarter it still wouldn't be our worst clock management incident at Docklands Stadium.

This is where watching on TV is no good. They were halfway through a replay of the free then cut back to it flying through for a point, leaving about 0.5 of a second where your brain can't process what's happened and you know something bad has happened but not why. If you're in the ground you can see him running around and shout "nooooooooooooooo" as if it's going to stop him. If it went through we'd be lauding him for it, but he didn't so it was a dumb idea.

There was enough time left if we could get two quick goals, but after scoring at the rate of about one every 13 minutes until then it was going to take something unusual to happen. It did not, the Dogs casually played the remaining time out and remain on the fringes of the finals race, while we're back to scouring draft profiles. For now it's all about breathing deeply and dreaming of a revival next year. I am going to feel SO cheated 12 months down the line when we're still no good.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Steven May
4 - Christian Salem
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Harrison Petty
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Fritsch, Harmes, Hibberd, Lewis, Lockhart, Oliver and Petracca.

Leaderboard
With 30 votes left to play for Maximum clamps that little bit tighter onto the cup. The line of elimination is slowly snaking up the table, ready to swallow everyone from Melksham to Petracca next week.

In the minors, Hore is holding on to the Hilton, but it's all over in the Seecamp. Salem might have given a point back to May but no matter how much work the defenders have to do until the end of the season I can't see him reeling in a further 19 votes. Congratulations to Christian for becoming the second man behind four-time winner James Frawley to capture the award twice.

39 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
32 - Clayton Oliver
28 - James Harmes
27 - Christian Salem (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year),
17 - Jack Viney
14 - Jake Melksham
13 - Angus Brayshaw
11 - Marty Hore (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
9 - Nathan Jones, Christian Petracca
--- Abandon all hope ye below here ---
8 - Steven May
7 - Jayden Hunt
6 - Jay Lockhart
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Sam Frost, Tom McDonald, Billy Stretch
2 - Harrison Petty, Corey Wagner
1 - Michael Hibberd

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Forget the four flags, it's Jordan Lewis' time to shine. For all the shit that's been hung on him in the last year of his career (and the second last, and parts of the third last) the goal he created in the first quarter was an A+ crumb from a forward stoppage. It was just the sort of thing we haven't done enough this year. Let's not get over-excited and give him a contract to play as a small forward but it was a welcome cameo. For the weekly prize he wins a Carpet Call voucher so he can get his syrup retouched before launching a full-time media career in 2020.

Marty Hore still leads overall. Which must be some consolation for having a broken collarbone.

The "yay we survived" banner from the Dogs was well received but they need to employ a poet to make sure the lines scan properly because it had less rhythm than a dirty limerick. What I did like was their cheersquad holding retro UP YOURS OAKLEY and NO MERGER signs. Unfortunately that's not the sort banners we're judging the competition on.

The only heartstrings ours tugged at were for people who enjoy kerning, ledding and proper rhyming couplets. Much love to Bulldogs fans everywhere for still having a club (which means bad luck Fitzroy supporters I suppose) but you're shit out of luck in this category.  Dees 15-1-0 for the season.



Sadly in a commentary box featuring Joel Selwood and Leigh Matthews, BT didn't duck into a king hit so an adult could take over. Instead we got to hear about a player called "Preust" all day. Is he any relation to Trengrove, Jarrah, McClean and Maloney?

Meanwhile special comments Selwood was probably responsible for boring several elderly members of the viewing audience to death. He might have been a good enough footy player to jump straight into the seniors but he could do with a season or two in the Reserves before graduating to special comments.

Next Week
Stranger, more remarkable things have happened in the history of human civilisation, but if we beat West Coast my jaw will permanently dislocate from dropping so hard. Wouldn't matter if the game was in Alice Springs, Perth, Melbourne or Timbuktu they're going to dismantle us in a fashion that will make the Prelim look like child's play (and given our plight this year any chance of a media ban on mentioning how spectacularly we shit the bed that day?)

I dipped in and out of the Casey game but there was very little of interest. A side very light on for Melbourne listed players with any experience wobbled along for three and a half quarters before launching a fruitless fightback. Double J James Jordon could get a start by the end of the year but no need to ruin his senior career from day 1 with a lamb to slaughter scenario against the Eagles. Otherwise, nothing came out of it that we haven't seen before. JKH and Corey Wagner get a go to reward VFL form, and will presumably then go straight back out again.

IN: Kennedy-Harris, C. Wagner
OUT: Neal-Bullen, Hannan (omit)
LUCKY: Dunkley
UNLUCKY: Baker, Jordon, J. Wagner, Weideman

Pick whoever you like, it's not going to help. As they say in the classics...



Final thoughts

Get this rubbish season over with.

3 comments:

  1. 11/10 for digging up the I Like Trucking classic!

    Next challenge is to incorporate Ayatollah Khomeni closer...

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    Replies
    1. Nice video, shame about the season https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQamw4xxxHY

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  2. Isn’t it refreshing to have our first choice defence on the park? Salem has been terrific this year and prevented several near-certain goals on Sunday. How dare the commentator suggest that Bontempelli must have stubbed his toe? It was the pressure of the tackle you fool. I also enjoyed seeing Lewis in the midfield. It may not work every week, but he had a better game than some of his played in defence.
    Both teams were beneficiaries of bewildering umpiring decisions. Exhibit A Lloyd’s first goal. The original free kick was soft and then insult was added when Lloyd was allowed to play advantage despite all other players stopping for the whistle.
    I also noticed Lever in attack around the time May had his shot at goal. Might as well throw the kitchen sink.

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