Sunday, 4 August 2019

Everybody Hurts


Please note: This image is provided for novelty purposes only. I don't want to tell Nathan Jones it's over, I want to warmly embrace him and ensure that he's never allowed to escape the crushing weight of a club that often disappoints.

Last night we had more chance of beating the Tamil Tigers than the Richmond Tigers, so we'll get back to on-field performance later, let's start by focusing on the human toll of defeat.

My thoughts and prayers are with the club's Chief Financial Officer, who will have to be restrained from putting his head in the Chief Financial Oven. Imagine the glee at the start of the year when we were given back-to-back home games against the biggest clubs in Victoria (piss off Essendon) during what promised to be an exciting finals race, only for the team to crash to earth like a poisoned pigeon, all the MCG car parks to shut and for it to rain. And who knows what what happen next Saturday. Lucky we can't afford to have the gas on.

That 37,000 still turned up to see a soggy battle of titans vs minnows is a testament to the human spirit. Also to Richmond fans wanting a calm night at the footy and a guaranteed win. Our supporters voted with their feet, either staying away in droves or hiding in the bar all night to drink themselves into a coma. One of our loyalists won a fancy car but the way this season's going she probably wrapped it around a tree on the way home.

The focus of the week was Nathan Jones, the greatest warrior of the modern era, whose career (with us?) is sliding to an undignified end. You can't get too upset about reports of contract negotiations going poorly given it was leaked by interested parties for maximum impact at a time where fans are ready to punch on about anything, but it's undeniable that after nearly a decade of warrior-like performances he's beginning to go gently into the good night.

He's no more of a liability that Lewis or Vince were when they started sliding so there's definitely a year left in him but the end is nigh. There was the odd patch of beauty last night - e.g. the pass to Fritsch inside 50 during the first quarter - but it's clear they don't want him in the midfield anymore and he's only just going while playing behind the ball. Even as our forward line drops one-by-one there's no interest in giving him a go up there so I'm not surprised they're only offering a one year contract. I choose to assume that offering him KFC wages was just the starting point for negotiations and that once the parties stop leaking to the press against each other they'll find a happy medium that allows Chunk to finish his career with us and go out with his human rights intact.

I understand the circle of footballing life and wouldn't hand out a two year contract just because he's beloved (not without triggers weighted towards the club anyway), but the idea that we've either run out of money or are going to in the next couple of years is concerning. Imagine this doesn't go well and Jones exits seeing Lever and May getting enormous money to play about 10 games in two years. That's the kind of scenario that ends in ill feeling.

Morally it's comparable to James McDonald's messy departure, but realistically there's a big difference in where the respective Melbourne sides are at - and not just because we're 3.5 wins behind 2010. Then we were shovelling the last of the older 2004-2006 era players out the door at speed in the hope that we could stack the side with kids and win everything. This time we don't have kids, and if you give me the option between another year for Lewis or Jones then I'm backing self-interest over premierships. Surely we can't axe both our over 30s in one ageist swoop. If so, watch your back Neville Jetta because you're next.

Obviously I'm driven purely by sentiment. It's hard not to be when Jones arguably holds the most tragic record of any league footballer ever. Six men have seen more losses, but all have played least 40 games more, two won flags and another a Brownlow. Spiritually Jones is of the same ilk as early St Kilda players Ted Hall and Bill Matthews, who went 1-72 and 2-78 respectively. At least Jones has made a dollar out of the game, Bill and Ted's Shithouse Adventure would have been for the love of the game before they went back to working in a mercury factory on Monday morning.

So count me in for the Save Jones faction, but not blindly so. If there's no compromise on the length of the deal and they won't take triggers beyond one season I'm not going to handcuff myself to a goalpost. Of course you'd ask for two years but after everything he's been through then surely he'd be accepting of one more. If not let him go to Gold Coast (if they're interested) and I'll knife anyone who boos him. If this sad turn of events does unfold it would be nice if his 300th game fell in Victoria and I could go any pay tribute. Alternatively, if he lands at a club that's even the remotest chance of winning the flag I'll be going for them to win the lot.

Anyway, there was a footy game last night. Not one worthy of taking up too much of your time discussing. We didn't get close enough to become emotionally invested and didn't lose by enough against a good team (albeit one miles down on their best form) to get angry about. It was just another box ticked in the absurdly extended 2020 pre-season. I snapped when we rolled over in the last few minutes against the Saints, this was just greeted with resignation like the six goal losses of the Neeld/Craig and early Roos eras.

Though a defensive shambles led to us conceding the first goal and we always looked like a rubber band stretched to its full elasticity and ready to snap, there was a surprise early lead. Lewis used his years of cunning to milk a free kick in front of goal, Corey Wagner did one of the best crumb jobs of the season (by our players anyway), and Jones dropped a perfect pass on Fritsch inside 50 for a three goal to one lead. This was unexpected, but I'd been roped in by the first quarter of a Melbourne/Richmond game once this year and we kicked two goals for the rest of the game so wasn't getting prematurely excited.

The Tigers were being violently dragged down to our level but it still always felt like they were seconds from finishing us off. They got there in the end, not with a struggle but by sheer class winning out against industrial strength slop. It helped them to have a big name Gold Coast recruit who was able to play and a genuine multi-discipline superstar like Dustin Martin. Plus about 15 other players who would walk straight into our team at the moment. Many of them would also come in handy the movable feast of misery that is our best 22.

On the other hand we'd be lucky if Richmond took anyone other than Gawn based on last night's performances. If they were smart they'd use Fritsch as a forward, but otherwise not many would be attractive to a top four side. Which is sad because if you think about we're still technically one for the next few weeks. Everybody loves Oliver but he had plenty of touches that were either flubbed or had little impact, Harmes battled, and Frost did 25% fun things and played like an escaped mental patient the rest of the time. I think the Tiges would happily stick with what they've got.

One of the few reasons I went out of my way to get to this game was to see Preuss play live at least once this season, and oh my wasn't that an experience. The two ruckmen experiment plumbed new depths but I'm still going to come to his defence and ask why in the name of Dutch buggery they didn't take him out of the side when it became clear there would be rain. Fair enough on Thursday night you need a replacement for the permanently injured Tim Smith and don't trust the long range forecast, but by 5pm Saturday I'm sure the radar gave a fair indication of what was heading towards the MCG.

Anal-Bullet has had a cow of a season but if we were in any way interested in having a go at winning (and I'm not convinced we were) bringing him in would have been a much safer bet. I'm all for protecting Max at this stage of the year but Petty can jump, let him do the remainder of the ruckwork. Last year I saw Harmes contest a centre bounce and we got a goal out of it, give him another go. The midfield had enough trouble getting to Gawn's silver service taps, what was it going to matter if we lost the ruck battles? Might have even prompted them to go at the contest a bit harder.

Instead after one VFL game where he didn't even play as a forward we reintroduced a guy who has been smashing records for dropping uncontested marks and sent him out to play in the rain. Negligent is a strong word but if you were going to launch Tankquiry 2019 you'd ask questions about this. Maybe they told ANB he was going to be playing and he sprinted off down Brunton Avenue in terror?

When Old Moustache Lips butterfingered everything that came near him in the dry it was clear the situation wasn't going to improve post-precipitation. When not clutching onto an opponent for dear life he was decent enough at tapping the ball but couldn't take an overhead mark for shit and was beyond useless at ground level. At one stage just after the rain stopped there was a high kick towards him in defence and I involuntarily yelped in fear watching him sit under it because I knew what was coming next. Somehow we escaped without conceding a goal.

The evening was also one in the eye for Preuss fanatics like me who have said "at least he's a good ruckman" as he gave away multiple frees for jostling in ruck contests. They weren't even "that's ruckcraft big boy" style spins of the Wheel of Umpiring, he was just clamping on and hoping nobody noticed what I could see from Row MM. Plenty of time to get him going but at this stage he's nowhere near our forward line in 2020. If we can use our rapidly diminishing salary cap room to find a forward who can ruck respectability I say buy him.

The difference between your garden variety ruckman and Maximum is that Gawn not only excels at ruckmanly activities, he is also a rock solid pack mark and kicks the ball better than some of our much shorter players. This is probably why more than once somebody panicked and handballed to him in traffic, including deep in defence. He's good but that's extracting bucket loads of piss. Max worked his arse off to be in position to chop off Richmond attacks and was yet again our most influential player. He is an absolute general and I'm firming on him as captain next year. That's too unorthodox a move for us and the best I can hope for is a joint ticket with Viney.

Like Preuss, Oscar McDonald was only in the side because our first choice wasn't available and we've got less depth than a fish pond. He was also cruelly exposed. Since winning our last Rising Star nomination in Round 20, 2016 we've run through the gamut of his career from highly promising, to serviceable, to struggling, to a pre-season in the middle of the year, to not being league standard. There's no doubt he tries hard but he's just miles off it, torched on the lead every time the ball went inside Richmond's 50 and unloading some ridiculous attempts at clearing kicks.

Compare him Frost, who did zany things like kicking torps from the last line of defence in the wet but always tries to keep things moving forward. Hibberd too, who had his best game of the year. Frost also did another power handball - the new most thrilling move in football. This time instead of it arcing across to a teammate it went straight at them from a few metres away, risking ripping his mate's hands off like he's been in an industrial accident.

When Lever, who is like a Frost that cost shitloads but doesn't do funny things, landed awkwardly and hobbled off I thought it was another blown knee and was about to self-harm accordingly. Not that he's played all that well since returning but it would be nice to work towards something positive without it being interrupted by personal tragedy.

It was even more on brand for us in season 2019 that the ball was only at that end of the ground for him to be hurt thanks to a blunder by Preuss. People want us to go out and sign the stars from around the league but why would anyone want to join us when you consider the various misfortunes and career malfunctions that have befallen almost every import for the last few years. With a record like this I can't see why they're not queuing up at airports around the country to join us.

  • Mitch Clark - crocked
  • David Rodan - crocked
  • Shannon Byrnes - did an ok job, avoided serious injury and got a job out of it
  • Chris Dawes - sank like a stone
  • Cameron Pedersen - did reasonably well considering
  • Viv Michie - nothing
  • Dom Tyson - burned bright for a year then plateaued
  • Bernie Vince - ok this one was good
  • Daniel Cross - this one too
  • Aidan Riley - one blockbuster tackle, not much else
  • Jeff Garlett - started well, good value given the price
  • Heritier Lumumba - crocked
  • Sam Frost - the greatest survivor
  • Jake Melksham - worked by accident when we got him to be a defender
  • Ben Kennedy - career fizzed out
  • Ben Newton - his too
  • Tom Bugg - on and off, forever to be remembered for belting somebody
  • Michael Hibberd - this worked too, get more Essendon players
  • Pat McKenna - crocked
  • Harley Balic - mentally exhausted
  • Jake Lever - crocked
  • Kade Kolodjashnij - crocked
  • Steven May - crocked

At half time I was having a hard time finding five players who'd be in the frame for votes but we were still only three points behind. If the Pakistani cricket team was involved you'd suggest the handbrake was on for nefarious purposes but it was simply that Richmond's players had no interest in exerting themselves against such non-threatening opposition. Like last week we had the odd burst of form but generally didn't do anything that would help us beat a quality team. Which is why, unlike St Kilda, Richmond put us away well before the last 15 minutes.

The term 'bruise free' is overused but I don't understand how we can end a game played a quarter in soaking rain and still have eight players - including both captains - without a tackle. In the first six weeks of the season combined we had five players with zero tackles, since then the arse has fallen out a bit and we're up to an average of 2.5 a week. Last night - eight in a game with one quarter of solid rain. Somewhere Steve Hocking was absolutely flogging himself with joy.

At half time it started pissing down. Usually sheeting rain and a Scooby Doo Mysteries style fog descending on the ground would help reduce the gap between a good team and strugglers. In this case we went from competitive to splashing around like Eric the Eel in a match race against Kristin Otto. The Tigers were walking on water while we were busy botching everything like... well, like it was dry. Mainly because we didn't bother to adapt to the wet, carrying on like normal and hoping for the best. It was not to be, and over the next 30 minutes Richmond humanely euthanised us without the need to get blood on their hands.

Given that we've barely won a game in the wet for 15 years (Adelaide 2018, Vardy vs Freo in 2004 and ?) there was more chance of peace in the Middle East than us recovering from even that slender margin. When Frost's NQR torp came back for a goal in the opening minutes I thought there was a landslide coming our way. Our final jolt of resistance came from a well-constructed goal by Lewis, who jostled his opponent out of the way to get goal-side then did a half arsed bicycle kick that reduced the margin to less than a goal again. I can't believe he got his leg to do that without the hammies shredding. For all intents and purposes that was it, there weren't many more non-umpire assisted goals for the rest of the game.

The end came swiftly after Preuss was bamboozled by a short throw in, allowing his opponent to dash forward and toe poke a goal off the ground. What a long death spiral his season has been in since he took advantage of a similar situation at the SCG and made me go all gooey at the knees. It was one of four surprise goals, along with one thumping kick with a wet ball and two beautifully taken set shots from obscure angles nearly 50 metres out. This is what good teams do. This is not what Melbourne does. We also don't do defending set shots on the goal line, which would have certainly saved one of them from going through.

By the last change we were five goals down and sinking fast. I thought they may have spotted our lack of interest in a tough contest and built their percentage by treating us cruelly, but no they'd had enough too. I can't figure out who pulled the handbrake but either way it allowed us to escape without being vivisected.

Can't think any neutrals were left watching by the point Harrison Petty - who will be a weapon if he adds set shots to his big marking - was lightly punched in the tit and sold it like he'd been attacked with a chainsaw. That helped us score 60, which wasn't bad considering we only got 42 against Richmond in better conditions first time around. Other than being thrashed there was a lack of positives that didn't involve either Gawn or Fritsch. Kyle Dunkley kicked two nice set shots but there wasn't much else going on. Stopping a team from booting away was scant consolation for yet another loss.

There was something for fans of fringe players. Corey Wagner's disposals were iffy but more than once he (legally) interfered in a marking contest to allow a teammate to grab it. That's the sort of thing nobody's going to pick up if they just look at the stats but made a big difference to marking contests we'd have otherwise lost.

JFK wasn't terrible, and certainly knew how to find the ball but suffered from the Melbourne Disease of trying to kick it as far away as quickly as possible without looking where it was going. He'll make decent money playing at a lower level when this is over but is stuck in the fatal ditch between VFL and AFL standard.

I liked what Baker did. He didn't have four quarters in him but hit a couple of good passes and it was nice to see somebody tearing up and down the wing at pace. Must play the last three games for development purposes.

Conversely, there wasn't much for fans of Christian Petracca, who disappeared without a trace. He's alleged to have had 20 touches but I think the Champion Data computer must have been on the fritz. Brayshaw was very poor. He struggled to get a touch, and when he did they weren't any good. What I will say is that he tried to make up for this with defence, leading our otherwise shithouse tackle count. Still not much to say for a #3 draft pick who threatened bigger and better things next year but I appreciate the effort.

Defeat by any margin came to the unrestrained joy of many supporters, who are satisfied that there's now little chance of passing Carlton and our consolation prize for this dreadful season will be pick two. Nevertheless did last night not provide the strongest possible example that we can't pull off Machiavellian schemes when it comes to getting players?

Friday was the 10 year anniversary of the Jordan McMahon fiasco, a result celebrated like a flag by many supporters only for us to pick one rat, and one good bloke who was slower than a wet week and had a foot that cracked like fine china. Pick 3 in that draft, who we'd no doubt have overlooked anyway because he was a bit of rough is a genuine superstar who cleaned our clock last night. No doubt if we'd drafted him Martin would have become the next Ben Cousins in every aspect other than the football but it's nice to imagine finding a talent so natural that even we couldn't ruin it. Forget a draft lottery, the draft is a lottery. I hope we trade down to picks 119, 120 and 121.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Jordan Lewis

Apologies to Frost, Harmes, Viney, Dunkley or Wagner who might have snatched one in the general melee for last spot. Wouldn't have deserved it but if we only gave these out when players earned them there would have been some sad looking leaderboards over the years.

Leaderboard
With 15 votes left to play and Harmes eliminated from contention it's officially down to a two man race. For the second week in a row Maximum has not only sandbagged his lead on the Hamburglar but marginally extended it, leaving him in a near unbeatable position. No change in the minors, with Hore to be declared provisional winner if Lockhart doesn't get votes next week.

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

Crowd Watch (incorporating Matchday Experience Watch)
The next big thing is letting people scan memberships on their mobile phones. That they had to display instructions telling people to turn the brightness up before scanning suggests a long, frustrating future of being stuck behind dickheads who can't work out the process.

Otherwise I have no crowd insights. They didn't sit near me, I didn't sit near them and we were probably all richer for it. Also richer is the lady that won the car via one of the most dignity free spectacles you're ever likely to see, a quarter time waving of placards so fierce it could have prompted an epileptic fit.

I've seen enough of these promotions over the years to know you're wasting your time and energy if you're a) not sitting at ground level, b) follow the away team, or c) are in the MCC Members. Doesn't stop people from giving it a red hot go. Even when the camera zoomed on where the car would be going and two potential winners began furious jostling there were still Richmond fans in the top of the Ponsford waving so hard they risked damaging a tendon. The cosmic payback for all the people on ground level who gave themselves a chance of winning the car by sitting on ground level were pissed on from a great height and had to bolt for cover.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
In the week where we celebrate Allen Jakovich's much loved scissor kick against North in '91, it was appropriate that Jordan Lewis joined in with a low velocity cover version from the goal line. Goals out of nowhere are my weakness, and he did so well here that I thought for a second maybe he could fill this job next year. Then I came to my senses. It was a lovely finish and the free he milked earlier was expertly rorted but let's not doing anything silly based on a few zero intensity end of season losses.
Jordan's weekly prize is a lifetime supply of synthetic barnet touch up paint. Even with the Jako tribute it doesn't go close to toppling Marty Hore's bright shining moment at Carrara.

While Richmond had the always popular caricature of a milestone player the font they use is so offensive I can't possibly declare them the winner. It's even worse than when that bloke in their cheersquad turned up for the Anzac commemorations dressed like he was going to a Bucks' Night. Ours was fine, just good enough to win. Suffice to say the Demon Army are also keen to get through the next three weeks and have a much needed rest. Dees 18-1-0 for the season.

If you go back through the archives you'll notice that the scoring for this competition goes up and down like the proverbial. You'd think it would be easy to subtract one draw from the number of rounds played and know how many wins we've had, but apparently not. Let's be serious, even with the near miss last week unless somebody shows up to a solemn event dressed like they're going to a Birdman Rally it's always going to end 21-1-0 at the end of the year.

Next Week
After doing far better than expected against both the Eagles and Richmond I can feel a looming thumping. Collingwood has beaten Gold Coast comfortably and will pick up the bottom of the ladder spare by mercilessly rooting us. Set your clock for a Mason Cox revival where he just stands at the top of the square and converts eight of their 112 inside 50s simply by raising his arms and catching the ball unchallenged. The worst thing is that I'm duty bound to go because I'll 100% miss being at the Sydney game and would rather go to Baghdad than Bellerive so this will be my final in person game for the season. How about something uplifting to go out on? Probably not.

As for changes, there's almost nothing at Casey to work with. The entirety of the AFL listed players in their loss yesterday was Bradtke (project player), Keilty (soon to be delisted player), Hore (soon to be promoted player), Bedford, Chandler, Jordon (kids), Lockhart, Stretch and Josh Wagner. By the look of the stats only Hore made a serious case for promotion, so if May is fit they come back in for Oscar and Preuss.

Two defenders for a one and a ruckman isn't like-for-like but what does that matter now? The way this game will go I reckon the more defenders on field the better. If he's fit May is obvious and Hore should have already been in the side as a replacement for Jetta so they'll do. Hore's best period of the season was when Nifty was out so it was a bonkers decision not to pick him this week - especially with rain in the forecast.

If Lever isn't fit then just pick a name from the remaining players out of a hat. Otherwise no point in doing anything radical just yet, especially given that none of the kids is bashing the door down for a game. Maybe just pick them all for the last two weeks. Unnecessarily introducing a shitload of kids on a Friday night, what could possibly go wrong?

IN: Hore, May
OUT: McDonald, Preuss (omit)
LUCKY: Almost everyone
UNLUCKY: All fit players on the list.

Next Year
Here's an exercise, do your best 22 for next season based entirely on players we've got now and work out how many of them you trust to help us get back to 2018 levels of competitiveness. I couldn't even get to 22 players I was confident having in the side let alone excelling. What in the world is going on?

Was it worth it?
Other than the chance to go to the MCG, even less so than last week. I suppose I'm meant to be happy that we stuck with them for a half but at this stage of the season am struggling to muster up the enthusiasm for anything other than its end. If the pattern of 2007-2017 is repeated I'll spend the finals being bitter and twisted, thankful that it's all over, then by the second week of October will be fanging for the next season to start. I thought going back to shift work would cure me of my obsessive compulsion with this organisation. Apparently not. Might move to North Korea.

Final thoughts
Could very easily have stayed at home gone to bed immediately after the final siren and got on with my life. But noooo I rearranged my life to be there, safe in the knowledge that we were going to lose somewhere between comfortably and heavily. What a dickhead.

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