Sunday, 1 March 2020

A better class of loser - 2020 season preview

First things first, can we hold hands and pledge that if we lose the first two games without being disgraced that we'll restrain from forming a digital lynch mob to hunt down Simon Goodwin? They're not going to sack him after Round 2, and even if we're left clambering out of a Grand Canyon style ditch the season won't be over.

When we lose to Freo the next week and go 0-3, I'll be happy to leap into a sinkhole beside you. Maybe if the first two losses have an average losing margin of 50 I'll consider it, but between the hardest road trip in the game and the losing Grand Finalists. I don't think 0-2 is in itself a reason to drop our collective bundle down a disused mine shaft.

Now that's out of the way, hello and welcome to a new decade. If 1990 was time for Guru, perhaps 2020 will be time for Melbourne. Time, at least, to get back on track after celebrating becoming the next big thing by veering into the desert like Bourke and Wills on ice. Anything beyond the stability of not being bloody awful will be welcome. I've been within touching distance of success and have developed a taste for it. Your pass mark may vary, unless we're clobbered by injury I'll be satisfied with just making the eight then not going immediately tits up.

We hold the quality to at the very least play finals. Doesn't mean we will, there's a lot that needs to go right first. Either way I doubt we'll do it comfortably - say, for instance, finishing top four - because nothing in the world of Melbourne comes easily. More likely, a season long slog that sees us in the mix for the eight with two games to play.

I thought it might all go down to a game in Hobart last year, now I'm nearly certain of it. Either that or we're 16th in Round 12 and the members vote to fold. This is a season where quite literally anything could happen - we could be 21-0 only for the world to be consumed by virus. I remain skeptical of ever winning anything beyond an AFLX trophy that looked like it came from a Year 7 art project but am willing to dream.

Now for your annual guide on investing hard earned emotion on the the MFC stock exchange.

Buy, Hold, Sell
Buy

Harley Bennell - The calf could go up like the Hindenberg at any moment but for once just back the fairytale, no matter how lucky he'll be just to play one game.

Mitch Brown - Sure, why not. Our forward line will probably be in such amazing disarray that he'll be a regular, and once Gawn collides with Jackson and they both miss the rest of the season somebody's going to have to play in the ruck.

Bayley Fritsch - Forward Fritsch was the only good to come of our slow, pathetic slide into irrelevance at the end of 2019. He naturally knows where to go and what to do. Is also likely to take Mark of the Year so let him never be sent into defence again.

Luke Jackson and Kysaiah Pickett - May as well bet the house on them, not like we've ever buried high draft picks with unrealistic expectations before.

Jake Melksham - Reduced price due to his injury woes last year, but in a poxy side he was doing everything before getting hurt. Pivotal to us putting up big scores.

Clayton Oliver - You wouldn't know it from the early returns but I'm convinced this will be the year he'll start kicking more and will go from a possession gathering machine to a dead set superstar. State of Origin was a toss but I hope missing out on the Victorian team is used to bait him into bigger and better things.

Christian Petracca - Like a modern day Jack Watts he may top out at good and never cross the threshold to (cliche alert) elite, but I'm incredibly confident that as long as we avoid doing something stupid like play him in a forward pocket that this will be his (double cliche alert) breakout season. Certainly started in the right fashion. As long as it doesn't encourage coaches to tag the buggery out of him. There's this ludicrous theory that Dustin Martin would be as good as he is today if we'd drafted him when actually he'd have been found floating in a river by 2015. CP5 could be the alternate that puts that conversation to bed. Or he could be traded for peanuts to Port Adelaide.

Trent Rivers - A good kick who can play in multiple positions and (allegedly) reads the ball well. Sign me up with undue haste. No need to rush him into the seniors, but on paper all signs point to yes. But on paper *unfurls list of all our top 20 selections since 2000*...

Christian Salem - Already highly valued, but now we're going to play with wingers for the first time in years his link play may propel us to great heights.

Tom Sparrow - So much water under the bridge since those first two games of 2019 that I can't remember what he did. I do know he wasn't terrible, but will need proof of life at Casey before considering him for the seniors. The Arden Street game suggested a future life as a midfielder, and he looked capable of doing it.

Aaron vandenBerg - I'm astonished that he was fit in time for the first practice game, and he duly went around trying to snap every opposition player he could find in two. How long it will last is anyone's guess, but he did some delightful things in and around the midfield in 2018, so as long as they resist the urge to waste him as a forward again he'll be worth your money.

Hold

Administration - Bartlett has provided stability but I reckon that's about as good as you'll get from him. Better than being a chaotic nutter I suppose, but as much as you think McGuire and Koch are wankers from an outside perspective, imagine the benefit their clubs get from being associated with big hitter media personalities. Meanwhile, Pert somehow minimised our financial issues last year so I'm ready to embrace him for that reason. Together they and the board MUST make some real progress on the inner city training base this year or I'll have zero faith in it ever happening.

Angus Brayshaw - My biggest disappointment of 2019. His high Brownlow Medal finish was ludicrous and the result of a broken voting system, but nevertheless he was much better than the blind kickin', turnover machine he became last year. Must improve. He's got it in him though so could be worth a few bucks.

Kade Chandler - In the limited exposure of one garbage match that nobody else seemed to care about, he looked ok. Not sure where he fits in the grand scheme but I'm willing to have another look this year.

Kyle Dunkley - Enjoyed his cameo appearances in the second half of the year, interested in seeing what happens next. Could go either way.

Max Gawn - Worth so much that there's not much further his value can increase, and with an interrupted pre-season don't expect miracles. Is still almost the most valuable player we have. The taps are nice, but how many time shas his marking around the ground got us out of trouble? And he's way better by foot than anyone of that size deserves to be. Can't see any ill-effects from being lumped with the captaincy.

Simon Goodwin - There's nothing to be gained from jumping at shadows, but the board's four year plan means he's in more trouble than the early settlers if we're near the bottom six weeks in. After a big drop in value in 2018 this investment could have you scrambling for change down the back of the couch if it doesn't come off. Also, as much as I want to back him for footy reasons, I was turned off by the Hell and Back video where he put his feet up on Jason Taylor's couch.

Mitch Hannan - A handy player to have around, and could do a bit of damage if he gets a chance, but last season has cost him his spot in the pecking order. We'll always have The Big Run against Geelong.

James Harmes - One of my favourite players but trod water (along with so many others) after being immense in the second half of 2018. It was good water to tread but remember the weeks when he was tagging people into oblivion and picking up 20+ disposals of his own? Did he ever get played in that role last year or were we just so putrid that it didn't look like there was any defensive pressure on offer. Apparently going to play more in defence this year which I don't like the sound of.

Marty Hore - I reckon he's the new Nifty Nev. Unfortunately for him Nev isn't going anywhere soon. Time is on his side so maybe an investment for the future.

Neville Jetta - I'm still not sure the published Best and Fairest results that had him scoring two votes in seven games were correct. It was certainly his worst season since the Roos rebirth, but if multiple coaches were marking players out of 10, that's a hell of a lot of zeroes. Surely somebody accidentally defamed him by leaving off a digit. He's such a gentleman that he won't launch legal action but we're keen on a recount. Until then first priority is get him fit and playing more than seven games.

Nathan Jones - The end of a colossal career is nigh, but I'm not selling him under any circumstances. I'll frame my share certificates after he's gone. Could do a bit of a damage this year if they play him forward. For the love of christ do not send him to defence.

Ed Langdon - Has his tongue on display more than Gene Simmons but we won't hold that against him. Is lightning fast but purportedly a 50/50 proposition when kicking. Doesn't sound like the answer to all our problems but I'm willing to give it a go and hope for the best.

Jake Lever - Did nowt last year, so we have to look back to that magic day where he tonked his old side in Alice Springs to see what we paid draft picks out the wazoo for. Was the slow start in 2018 because he was coming to terms with our style, or did he just run into the Crows when they were a shambling, psychologically disturbed wreck then do his knee before anyone noticed it was fluke?

Jay Lockhart - Showed a bit last year for somebody plucked from the VFL at the last moment, and will benefit tremendously from a full AFL pre-season. Not head over heels convinced he'll be a star but should be a handy depth player. Lengthy delays to this post also allows me to comment on them using him as a defender in the first pre-season game. Average opposition but he looked comfortable, and you know that half our backline will be hurt by Round 4 so he should get a go in that role. Speaking of injured backmen....

Steve May - I'll punch on with anyone to defend his honour but how about a few weeks without being suspended and/or hurt? Nobody will ever watch the second Collingwood game (or, to be fair, the first one) again but the first quarter he played was exactly why we recruited him. Problem was an hour later he was sitting on the bench with a burst hammy. The upside is bigger than Ben Hur.

Tom McDonald - Other than being Mitch Clarked when he was on his way to 10 against Carlton, a thoroughly disappointing season up in front of goal. He didn't look to be enjoying himself, and I'll be buggered if he wasn't playing injured, but also had to contend with delivery from the midfielders that was flatter than a plateful of piss. Kick it to his advantage more than once a month and he should make the most of it.

Aaron Nietschke - After two season ending ACLs the knackery awaits, but being the charitable organisation we are he's been promised another go next year. Give us the Nobel Prize for Footy.

Harrison Petty - His bucket-handed marking was a rare highlight of our slow, inglorious slide to doom at the end of last year. I doubt he's a Round 1 starter but should be able to fill a gap at either end when required.

Joel Smith - In my draft pre-season list he was a 'buy' for showing a bit as a forward before going down, but his mysterious late withdrawal in the first pre-season game has me spooked. In the unlikely event of us not playing him for half a game injured and ruining his season he'll get another go up front.

Charlie Spargo - Still young, but suffered the most severe second year blues since Darren Cuthbertson. Didn't look anywhere near it after a promising but hardly earth-shattering rookie season, and was involved in danger signs at the end of 2019 when they started playing him in obscure roles. It's like when your work puts somebody on 'special projects' and you know they'll be sacked within six months. Limited pre-season exposure suggests he'll go back to being a forward, which is I think better for everyone.

Adam Tomlinson - I have no earthly idea where he fits in but I'm willing to trust the process and see what happens. If nothing else he looks big, and we could do with some presence.

Jack Viney - Got through last year without an injury but was just there. Not like he's playing for his spot but needs to crank it up a notch. His 2016 stats should be his minimum output if we're serious.

Corey Wagner - My favourite of the Wagnii, and I thought he played an underrated first season with us. Not a first XVIII player, but handy depth.

Sam Weideman - It's go time here, the tease at the end of 2018 was followed by endless calamity last year. He'll get opportunities for years to come because of his side and pedigree, but this is the point where you'd want to lock down a spot as a marking, goalkicking forward before we start getting darting eyes towards others who can do the same thing.

Sell

Oskar Baker - I don't know. Runs fast, kicking over short distances not bad, kicking over long distances not great, looks like an adult Danny Bonaduce. I just don't see it coming together.

Toby Bedford - Hard to take anyone called Toby seriously in the first place, but now that Pickett has arrived to be our small forward saviour old Tobes has barely seen his position in the queue improved by the retirement of Garlett. Looked solid in the North game so maybe I'm going early. Prove me wrong Toby. And change your name.

Michael Hibberd - Still best 22 and can contribute but it feels like he's reached the tipping point where it's all downhill from here.

Jayden Hunt - Had a good start to last year before petering out, handy player to have around but is just lacking any defining feature other than pace. Expecting him to spend large swathes of the season at Casey, so hope he wins the Brownlow to spite me.

James Jordan - Double J has been unseen in senior company since the Richmond game in Shepparton, and while he reportedly plugged away well in the twos he is for now an unknown quantity.

Kade Kolodjashnij - I feel for him, but surely it's reached the point where we pack him away for the year, tell him to go and sit on a beach for a couple of months and consider whether he wants to play again next year. If he does, give him a spin, if not I'm sure his brain will thank him and none of us will have the right complain.

Oscar McDonald - All he has to do is wait for Lever and May to go down and he'll get a chance at redemption, but at the moment our last Rising Star nominee is on footy's death row. Forget the defending, doesn't do enough with the ball for modern footy. At least Frost could leg it down the ground before spraying it everywhere, Oscar is at best a 30 metre kick to somebody with an opponent up their clacker. People pile in on him like schoolyard wankers, but based on current output he's got to be in trouble when his contract comes up.

Alex Neal-Bullen - Wasn't much good in the first half of 2018, wasn't much good for most of 2019. I've always been a supporter, and while I'm not suggesting he start packing up his locker in advance I can't see a guaranteed spot in our best side.

Braydon Preuss - If only Aliir Aliir hadn't played five metres off him in Sydney and allowed two delightful goals I might not have got excited. When he played the rest of the season with butterfingered marking attempts and long stints at Casey it looked more like a fluke. Now he's injured, ruining any hope that they were going to use our development team for development and school him as a forward. Hah, like they were going to do that anyway. I haven't entirely written him off but I reckon the club has.

Josh Wagner - Confucious say depth player entering fifth season should beware contents of locker in cardboard box.

Projected ladder
Not a cracker of courage in the top or bottom two here. I rate Gold Coast to be far more competitive but still finish last, and Carlton to suffer a Gieschen style return to reality in the new coach's first full year. The surprises are Footscray in third and the 13-16 bracket, which is full of fallen giants. I'm writing off the Crows to such a degree that they'll probably win the flag. I'm tipping a competitive ladder where the bottom sides win five games minimum.

As for us I feel we're a fringe top eight team, but am willing to convince myself that we've got enough to just get there. If this ladder comes off, and stranger things have happened, we'll get the away elimination final against the Giants that we narrowly avoided in 2018.

1. West Coast
2. Richmond
----
3. Footscray
4. Collingwood
----
5. GWS
----
6. Geelong
7. Brisbane
8. Melbourne
----
9. Hawthorn
10. North Melbourne
11. St Kilda
12. Port Adelaide
---
13. Sydney
14. Essendon
15. Fremantle
16. Adelaide
---
17. Carlton
18. Gold Coast

Demonblog's chosen 22
Assuming that Gawn and May are both available for Round 1, it's a good side on paper. But has any since since 1897 shepharded its best 22 through to the first game of the season proper without somebody getting injured or suspended?

B: Hore, May, Jetta
HB: Salem, Lever, Hibberd
C: Langdon, Oliver, Petracca
HF: Fritch, T. McDonald, Melksham
F: Jackson, Brown, Pickett
Foll: Gawn, Viney, Harmes
Int: Jones, Brayshaw, vandenBerg, Weideman

If May doesn't play, Petty goes into defence and Tomlinson to the bench. If Gawn doesn't play pray for torrential rain that causes Round 1 to be delayed by a week.

First draft betting markets

Allen Jakovich Medal for Best Player
$3 - Clayton Oliver
$5 - Max Gawn
$6 - Christian Petracca
$9 - Christian Salem
$10 - Jack Viney
$12 - Bayley Fritsch
$15 - James Harmes
$18 - Angus Brayshaw, Jake Melksham
$21 - Tom McDonald
$25 - Nathan Jones, Ed Langdon, Neville Jetta
$30 - Jake Lever, Steven May
$40 - Michael Hibberd
$50 - Aaron vandenBerg
$70 - Jayden Hunt, Adam Tomlinson
$100 - Marty Hore, Sam Weideman
$125 - Kyle Dunkley, Alex Neal-Bullen
$150 - Luke Jackson, Jay Lockhart, Harrison Petty, Corey Wagner
$200 - Mitch Hannan, Oscar McDonald, Joel Smith
$350 - Oskar Baker, Kysaiah Pickett, Josh Wagner
$400 - Mitch Brown, Kade Chandler, Charlie Spargo, Tom Sparrow
$450 - James Jordon
$501 - Toby Bedford, Braydon Preuss, Trent Rivers
$1001 - Harley Bennell, Austin Bradtke, Kade Kolodjashnij
$5001 - Aaron Nietschke

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
$3 - Christian Salem
$8 - Neville Jetta
$11 - Jake Lever, Steven May
$20 - Michael Hibberd
$22 - Marty Hore
$30 - James Harmes
$50 - Adam Tomlinson, Josh Wagner
$100 - Bayley Fritsch, Jayden Hunt, Oscar McDonald
$125 - Trent Rivers
$150 - Tom McDonald, Joel Smith
$200 - Mitch Brown, Jay Lockhart
$500 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
$1000 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
Rule change for 2020 - anybody with four or less games of total AFL experience remains eligible, even if it's not their first season - which is good news for Tom Sparrow.

$6 - Kysaiah Pickett
$8 - Luke Jackson,
$25 - Kade Chandler, Tom Sparrow
$40 - Trent Rivers
$50 - Toby Bedford, James Jordon
$75 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
$500 - Austin Bradtke
$5001 - Aaron Nietschke

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
$1.05 - Max Gawn
$10 - Luke Jackson
$50 - Mitch Brown, Braydon Preuss
$150 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
$200 - ANY OTHER PLAYER, Tom McDonald, Sam Weideman

Will it be worth it
Couldn't be any less worth it than last year. If our ladder position was a song it would have been Bad Company by Bad Company off the album Bad Company. Remember, Carlton finished ahead of us, and had Gold Coast not lost a thriller in the last few weeks they'd have got within striking distance of going ahead of us. Of course, if you remember Melbourne 2009 you'll be well aware that they'd have never let that happen but we didn't even get the chance to take the moral highground and demand they be fined $500k. We were dead set shite, and if this year isn't an improvement of some variety then pull the shutters down and let's all find something else to do next winter.

Final thoughts
Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. We have a good list if fit. Our coach has presided over several weeks of good football in two of his three seasons, and we can keep things together long enough then maybe, JUST MAYBE, we'll get another look at deep September. The feeling of those two finals was unprecendeted, and while we'd have to make a Granny to get the same sort of buzz I'm dying to get that feeling back. Let's have at it sports fans.

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