Monday, 6 July 2020

Tora Tora Toilet

NB: I’ve had to write the first draft of this post on a phone, which is more complicated than trying to find a forward inside the Melbourne 50. Please excuse any errors, which will be corrected when I get back on a computer.

Remember all the players who were good enough to make it onto an AFL list but lacked the finishing touch to become stars? That is our entire club right now. Unkind people would call us ‘league cloggers’. We haven’t won convincingly for over a year but aren’t rotten enough to be thumped. This both denies us hope of short-term success and the comfort of being so bad that losing feels inevitable. This is not mid-table mediocrity. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s worse.

We can’t even comfort ourselves with the idea of draft picks, having flogged our top selection to North on the assumption that 2019 was the blip and we’d rocket back up the ladder. At the time it seemed like a fair gamble, and could still turn out alright if Luke Jackson sidesteps his scheduled Melbourning and turns into Jeff White, but at the moment the phrase ‘tits up’ comes to mind. Fortunately, only the deranged advocate for relegation from the AFL, so they’ll either have to kill us or wait for our Halley’s Comet style return to respectability. We’ll just hang around seeing years tick off our lives while we wait for a great leap forward that may never come.

I never thought I’d be an advocate for a shorter season, but based on what we’ve seen since quarter time of the Carlton game they could do us a favour by pulling up stumps now. Even you’re locked inside your house with a Corona Death Squad hovering outside there’s got to be something you’d rather be watching on Netflix, YouTube or Porkfest.com than our games. Those who are able to remove themselves from this season are the smart ones. Sadly, many of you are like me and can’t look away.

Were I a fan of Brisbane, who I note have avoided turning their breakthrough season into a death spiral plummet, I’d want the season to run the full 17 weeks plus finals. For us, if the season was binned now or they paid the also rans to go into recess for the rest of the year we’d at least be able to bask in the happy memories of... the Adelaide practice match and one quarter against Carlton. Having this much fun should be illegal.

Comparing our current plight to the Neeld/Craig era is still a bit dramatic. Sure, you knew where you stood when Troy Davis was at full forward (e.g. in a cavernous hole), but we’re light years ahead of those awful, noncompetitive performances. That’s part of what makes you want to kick your TV in, even if this would struggle to make the top 200 losses of your lifetime.

Even on a day where we did so many comedy clangers that Channel 7 should have replaced the phoney crowd noise with the Benny Hill music we found a way to look competent for about 25% of the game, and avoided being thrashed for the rest. It helped that Richmond players were going down at a rate faster than the invasion of Normandy, but for the second week in a row we did enough to cling to a successful side without ever being in control. The misery doesn’t come from what happened on Sunday, it’s about the feeling that the penny isn’t going to re-drop any time soon. Maybe 2021? Maybe never. Not this year, that’s for sure.

It would be a lot easier to take this sense of inertia with a generous spirit if our post-2017 recruits hadn’t cost us three first round picks and christ knows how much free agent money. Everything was done in the best possible taste, and none of it has truly backfired (unless you believe Hogan would have stayed upright longer than May in 2019, which I don’t) but it’s all come to nothing . On paper we should have a lot going for us, but we’re back to playing the same bleak footy that was done out of necessity in Roos’ first season to make sure we didn’t get thumped every week. A year where we only avoided the wooden spoon on percentage. 

Seven years of development and a global catastrophe later we’re back, only without the awful lead-in act that made people think better of a couple of seasons where we were as boring as batshit and each goal was a miracle. Coming from the lowest of low bases we accepted it then, with this list it’s criminal. 

Which is not to say it’s a premiership winning side (barring a Footscray 2016 style miracle run), but it’s better than what we’re seeing. If Leon Cameron was worried about crashing the GWS Ferrari, Goodwin’s got to have some sort of half-arsed fancy car (for sponsorship reasons, let’s call it a Jaguar) skidding sideways across the median strip and into the path of oncoming traffic. I think the most important components of our list have a couple of years to get it together again, and you can never rule out a miracle, but it’s hard to see a road back to the eight from here. Stranger things have happened I suppose.

As for this game, it was too tedious to go through moment by moment. They didn’t recapture any form and we couldn’t stay close enough to nearly thieve a win like Geelong. Result - a much better team toying with us while playing at 60% of their capacity. They got four points, Channel 7 got the Richmond boost to their ratings, the AFL got another game closer to finishing the season, and we got the chance to complain about everything from players, to coaches and umpires.

Like a low-rent version of the Carlton game, all the best action was in the first quarter, where we kicked three (3, III, 2+1) goals. This is what a side who kicked astronomical modern footy scores two years ago has been reduced to. Didn’t look like we were in for much of an afternoon when Tom Lynch marked in front of goal within a couple of minutes without a defender anywhere near him. Handy player, I’d try and have somebody guard him. On it went for the rest of the game, any time they went inside 50 quickly they’d have loose players. If it wasn’t to mark they were there for an easy pass. 

You can blame the defenders, and they’re not my favourite people at the moment, but I’d also like to point fingers at everyone who contributes to the ball rocketing in there at a million miles an hour. Forwards who don’t lock the ball in with pressure, midfielders who can’t tackle anybody running past them for shit, coaches who seemingly roll out the welcome mat to opposition sides every week. 

There were only two good reasons to watch the first quarter. One was Christian Petracca continuing his ascent to superstardom, racking up an improbable 14 disposals, most of which ended with us in a better position. This is important, you can have as many touches as you like, but if they all end with somebody a metre away waiting to be pounced on what’s the point?

He set the first goal up in combination with Pickett, the only other reason to be cheerful. A much appreciated bit of forward pressure ended with the ball going to Truck, then to Hannan for a nifty finish from the boundary line that got us back on level terms. After last week I was just happy to kick a goal in the opening term. Fans of goalless quarters didn’t have long to wait.

Other than the feeling that they’d get a shot for every forward 50 entry, we weren’t all that bad. Certainly gave ourselves every chance to win if we could string multiple quarters together. There was an even a lovely coast-to-coast goal, the sort that suits us perfectly because it never involves the opposition getting their hands on it. If you took away all the opposition players we’d be laughing.

I generally thought Melksham had one of the least impressive two goal appearances of recent times, but when we finally got him loose out the back to boot the goal from the square I got Big Perth Energy. Hard to reconcile the feeling of getting back in front that day with where we’re at now, both as a club and the human race, but  there you go. Melk later tried to dummy past a player, and when his opponent failed to fall for the cunning plan he just ran into him with an elbow to the head, gave away the free and a 50. Looks to have lost it, but if Hibberd can stage a miracle recovery so can he.

We’re used to umpires making it up on the spot, especially in a week where the AFL bowed to moaning from Al Clarkson to be more ruthless on holding the ball, but the fun police were out in force when Pickett tried to take a Shaun Smith-esque screamer on the wing. He sliced right through the Richmond players to only collide with a teammate and nearly got a hand on it, only to be pinged for an ‘unrealistic attempt’. 

Given that we all know the new ‘interpretation’ of holding the ball will be forgotten in three weeks, come back in Round 15, then disappear again in September, any danger we can put this anti-spectacle nonsense in the bin? Given that you can knee somebody in the base of the skull if you do mark it who cares if somebody has an optimistic go at taking mark of the year, as long as there’s no major interference you’re just being boring by penalising it.

For the second week in a row it was a nearly day for Pickett. He only had five touches but was as lively as fuck. About time we had somebody who was unpredictable in a positive way. When he did get the ball he did nice things with it, and his forward pressure shits on anything we’ve done recently. Saw less and less of it as the game went on but should be a shit hot player if we don’t coach the joy of life out of him.

Speaking of ClarkoBall, it came back to haunt us in the second quarter when Petracca copped an Acting Football League holding the ball for not convincingly fake punching the ball in a tackle. Indeed it was the worst thespian performance since Houseboat Horror, but given that he’d had about 0.5 seconds to get rid of it I’m not sure that should have mattered. Fine if you’re going to be ruthless on holding the ball, just don’t judge it on how wooden a player’s acting is. Later Dustin Martin had the ball for about four times as long, got tackled and they called play on. Because they’re just making it up as they go. 

Truck can’t be far from getting the +25% superstar time bonus from umpires, it’s just a question of whether he’ll be playing for us when it happens. He was so good in the first quarter, the only properly creative player on our side. Given that he ended it on pace for 56 disposals you knew he wasn’t going to go like that all day, but he was somebody you could rely on to make things happen when he got it. A lot of his disposals were by hand, but they were usually to a positive position where we should have (and sometimes did) make it worthwhile. Compare to Brayshaw, Oliver and Viney, who kicked like Larry, Moe and Curly.

After Pickett drilled a beautiful pass to Forward Fritch for a rare-Reverse DemonTime goal we were only a point behind. Felt about as genuine as our lead against Geelong but it’s good to be in the mix. At least, it was until we went scoreless for most of the second term while they kicked four goals. Game over, thanks for your time.

It wasn’t like we didn’t have chances, we went forward often enough but once again got chuff all reward. I really liked McDonald pushing up the ground, but what was the point unless he had somebody to kick to? Fritch and Hannan are fine if you can get them in space but they’re not going to take towering contested marks. If you could afford to waste Petracca you’d put him down there because he can take a one-on-one contested mark but it would be negligent not to have another tall down there. Even just for the chance of bringing the ball to ground so Pickett, Melksham et al can swoop on it.

Strangely enough, once they stopped Truck from getting the ball every five seconds that was the end of us. Bit of a problem when you have one properly creative player who can get through traffic and your next best playmaker (cliche) is a seven foot ruckman.

Given his size, Gawn bats well above his average for hitting targets by foot, which is why I’m not begrudging him one colossal cock-up in defence. I don’t concentrate on enough opposition games to know, but surely he has a ridiculously high percentage of his marks and disposals in the defensive 50. Which would not be such a problem if we hadn’t invested so much in actual defenders, all of who are desperate to punch the ball out of bounds instead of marking it. Desperation is good but from my uneducated perspective it looks like they’re getting in each other’s way.

The only thing more offensive than watching us slide miserably to our doom again was Channel 7’s Crowd-Fake-O-Matic being cranked up to 11. When footy came back they were doing tasteful background sounds that you could almost ignore, a month later the DJ has set grandfinalthriller.mp3 to repeat and ducked out for a smoke. The end result was a relatively simple intercept mark by Tom McDonald being greeted by a similarly frenzied reaction to Hannan against Geelong 2018. I too was glad to see McSizzle grip one, but there’s a big difference between screamer.wav (roar) and interceptonthewing.m4a (gentle, Sheffield Shield style applause). 

I could do without any of the fake noises. Hopefully there’s enough interstate fans of Victorian clubs to render it unnecessary for the next few weeks. As the chances of anybody in Victoria seeing a game live this year dip to near zero I’d rather they play the Grand Final at Manuka Oval than play cheap and nasty Winamp noise over vision of an empty MCG. Alternatively, do something for the community and play it at a frequency that blocks out Brian Taylor’s voice.

A 25 point deficit at half time was enough for me to know where this was going. They were on 45 points and I wasn’t convinced we could catch up, even if they didn’t score again. We narrowly covered it, the only problem was their five second half goals.

Like so many others, the game was lost in a few minutes of madness. The worse this year gets, and it hasn’t been that bad so there’s plenty of room for manoeuvre, the more likely you are to hear the piss taken out of us for the To Hell and Back documentary. What everyone missed is the clue in the title, it wasn’t that we’d escaped hell, it was that we were going back there.

All things considered, a two goal apiece third quarter wasn’t bad. Not very threatening either. Part of me was secretly hoping they’d belt us so we’d get something to go crazy about. Stupid way to think but that’s being a footy fan for you. Another part wanted to crack the shits about the players, but every time they cut to the shot of their unattended bags and talked about how they were flying to Sydney immediately after the game I felt bad. How are you supposed to play under those circumstances? I’m surprised nobody tried to avoid going into the hub by punching an opponent in the gob. Odds on May would have done it if we were playing Brisbane. 

With no time left to do a Steele Sidebottom style half-nude wander of the streets they all had to go to Sydney, where we hope their close confinement will lead to a Coronavirus style outbreak of understanding and - dare we say it - connection. Surely they get their own room for the full five weeks, it would be bad enough having to share a room on a weekend trip, I’d be ready to punch on midway through the first week if I had to room with anybody.

I’ll assume the concern about being whisked away from family, friends and significant legovers is why nobody launched a round of flag-flying push ‘n shove when Fritsch was clobbered at the end of the quarter. Was hardly Barry Hall vs Brent Staker but would have been a good opportunity to show they cared. Under normal circumstances I’d be irritated, this season I can understand why people wouldn’t want to waste money on fines.

Most weeks kicking the first goal would have been welcome, but because you knew we weren’t going to come back and win all it got us was prime cut buffoonery from Big Turd. Until I discovered the joy of watching Channel 7 games in a small picture-in-picture window on mute I’d heard enough of him to know that he loves theatrically declaring a comeback is on just so he can do put on comedy routines with other callers who don’t agree. 

It’s almost as tedious as his waffling about teams that didn’t want extended breaks not using them, and declaring that ‘next goal wins’ in any close game. GEE GOD BOY WOW is the 2018 Elimination/Semi Finals of commentary, one bright shining moment in an otherwise unsavoury existence. The only benefit to 7 going well over the top on their fake noise was that it nearly drowned him out a couple of times. Now that their contract has been extended there is, sadly, no getting rid of him.

Speaking of people with contracts that you seemingly can’t get rid of, it was interesting to hear from the Chairman during the week that we’re not in as deep financial shit as first expected. Could almost be an opportunity to negotiate a settlement with a coach if one was required. 

I’ve almost completely lost faith now but am still not at the stage of demanding sacking. The good news is that the coach himself has inadvertently set a timeframe for things to get better. I’d rather put my head in a blender than watch a press conference, but he is reported to have said... 

“It’s frustrating for our supporters, players and coaches - now we need to fix it. We’ve got a great opportunity now, with five weeks away, to do that.”

... so I’m setting a countdown clock to go RIGHT OFF in five weeks time if things are the same. The excuse of being interstate has been removed, it’s not like he promised that things will be better but I still reserve the right to hold it against him if they’re not. Given that we can’t obsess over phantom drafts this year I’ll be researching the league’s up and coming assistant coaches.

Even if you didn’t watch the game, it’s obvious by this point that we lost. After the two goals that set up an outside chance of nicking it we shambled around for a few minutes before conceding a mark in front of goal after the barest contest.

That was enough from me, I listened to the rest on radio while driving to a family gathering(NB: five guests only you filthy narc). They had fake crowd noise too, which makes more sense when you can’t see the empty stands but still sounds ridiculous. I don’t know if they were more reserved in their soundtrack or if they were going for realism and playing the sound of a disinterested crowd wading through the junkiest of junk time.

Sounds like the only important moment I missed was Oliver winning a free directly after a Hannan goal, kicking it straight to a Richmond player and instantly gifting them the reply. Only Melbourne could turn a goal that left them an outside chance of victory AND a free into the other side’s sealer. Can’t see how I can avoid seeing such a tremendous fiasco somewhere but I won’t actively be seeking it out.

Hard to believe we got so close. Maybe in the same way that collapsing scores helped us become the best attacking team in the comp two years ago (yes, that really happened), the stripping back of goals to the bare minimum in shortened games might keep us in games for longer than we deserve. Certainly did last week, nearly landing one of the most inexplicable wins of modern times, and while we were never a chance of overrunning them here things stayed just close enough to avoid mass-media scrutiny. 

Somebody’s got to forensically rip us apart eventually, forget prime time specials about Peter Falconio, Channel 7 should do a two hour investigation of why we’re such a rudderless shambles. Maybe they can find a panel of experts to prove that it’s not the coaches’ fault, or to at least apportion a percentage of blame between him, the players, and the royal shaft of our off-season fitness campaign being wasted. 

I’m keen to see a replay of David King and Derm allegedly going us big time on Foxtel. Sadly I was watching commercial TV, where there was no room for half-time analysis because they had to play a comedy spot featuring children asking the darndest questions to Max Gawn. He generally provides good comedy content, this was a disaster. I’d much rather see King tee off on us, mainly for the comedy value of the time he told us to stop worrying and everything will be ok, and I have no doubt that Brereton knows exactly what he’s talking about, it’s just that he can’t articulate it in less than 5000 words. Which would give us something in common if I knew what I was talking about.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Mitch Hannan

Apologies - not really deserved but could have snagged a vote in the general scrum - to McDonald and Harmes.

Leaderboard
13 - Christian Petracca
12 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
6 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney
4 - Angus Brayshaw, Steven May, Christian Salem
2 - Ed Langdon
1 - Mitch Hannan, Kysaiah Pickett, Trent Rivers (JOINT LEADERS: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
During the week I was lamenting the death of the cheap-as-chips over the top goal from the square, so it was good to see a couple of those. This came at the expense of excitement value and surprise goals from open play. For that reason it’s Mitch Hannan from the boundary, earning his first nomination since THAT goal in 2018. 

It wouldn’t have troubled the clubhouse leader if we had one. We may not have kicked one truly exciting goal yet. For now Petracca’s third quarter steadier vs Carlton is probably in front, but if we don’t end the season with 10 goals better than that we’ll have had an even shitter time than expected.




I’m not one to get involved in tearing down statues (except Leigh Matthews) or being outraged about things, but isn’t the commentator obsession with goal umpire Chelsea Roffey a bit suss? Channel 7’s calling is bad enough at the best of times, but it’s tremendously patronising how they refer to her by name every time she makes a decision. 

Even David Rodan, the only other goal umpire anyone’s known the name of since the dawn of time, doesn’t get the same level of personal attention. Presumably because it’s less of a surprise that an ex-player would become a goal umpire) which happens, you know... never) than a woman doing it. If you’re not going to refer to the decisions of [checks list of goal umpires] Simon Plumridge by name then you’re uncomfortably treating a [checks list of goal umpires again] 16 year veteran like a novelty just because of her gender.

Next Week
National Lampoon’s Pandemic Vacation begins with the frankly bonkers fixture of Gold Coast at the Sydney Showgrounds. If we’re lucky their loss this week will provoke another massive collapse, beginning against us, and we’ll come out on the other side in mid-table, with a game in hand, and an outside chance of doing something this year. I seriously doubt it, and now that the #1 pick everyone was whopping off over is injured the field is clear for the guy we would have picked pre-concessions to rip us to shreds. Here’s to the spirit of our last visit to the ground, when the women were outplayed for most of the game but pulled off a miracle recovery to win shortly before the season was cancelled. The way it’s going we might not even get to this game before the male season goes the same way.

I’m conflicted with my changes because I don’t know where we’re at. I’m pretty sure it’s not a finals team, but also doesn’t feel like time just yet to unload slaughter on an industrial scale. Mind you, this is the team that made about 12 changes combined between rounds 1 and 3 then has the coach lamenting that his players haven’t had much time together so who anything could happen.

It also causes confusion of whether to pick Jones and Jetta. ‘Next premiership team’ is one of the dead-set wank cliches Of the sport but if we’re not going to win this year then is there any point to picking them? I’m opting for once last, desperate swing at recovering the spirit of September ‘18 by saying yes. 

Simon Goodwin can and will disagree, and even if he turns out to be right I’ll still hold it against him. Give it two weeks, and if it doesn’t work allow their careers to die with dignity, send them home to their families, and let the people go mad for them when they’re presented in front of a crowd next year.

Apparently we’re taking 33 players to Sydney, presumably the usual suspects. I predict they’ll be the most ill-fated group of campers since the ones that ran into this guy.




They’ll probably leave Harley Bennell at home to think about all the defensive things he should have been doing. He can ponder them while watching the forwards we do pick have about three tackles between them. 

So we’ve got 11 players to choose from who weren’t involved with this low-speed crash, and I’d like to include a shitload of them. Apart from the aforementioned attempt to inject some not-quite-Robbie Flower in ‘87 spirit by picking the veterans, I just cannot have Lockhart and Smith in defence at the moment. The season will be cactus soon enough, play them then. I accept that you have to develop players in the absence of the VFL you’ve also got to give others a go if they’re not performing. Some would argue the same for Pickett based on only having five touches, but he’s doing everything else right so in that case I’m comfortable letting him develop in the real stuff. Also less chance of a blunder that costs us a goal at that end of the ground.

Also, it’s time for some statement making omissions. Like Hibberd, Brayshaw came back from the dead to play a good game last week, unlike Hibberd he didn’t keep it going. I don’t understand what he does better as a midfielder than Harmes, and after years of people moaning about Watts (would be a handy forward for us now, get him back at the end of the year) being gifted games I’m not going to be suckered into picking players on their draft number again.

Alas, alongside him must go Melksham, who might have kicked two goals but only had three kicks for the day. Has barely gone near it all year, pre and post shutdown, and needs a week to consider where he’s at. Where better to ponder your future as an ageing player than some bullshit resort in Sydney? Likewise, Hunt is not doing nearly enough to keep his spot. Will also be a great result for commentators, who think he and Langdon are the Febey twins based on the number of times the wrong man was called.

Over the last two weeks Goodwin has obsessed with getting games into this forward structure, but he’s on drugs if he doesn’t see the need for another tall, especially after McDonald played his best game of the year pushing up the ground in the old Hogan role. Whether the best option is the Weid, Brown, or Jackson I have no earthly idea, but I do know that Brown’s time with is us limited, and Jackson (presumably) has heaps, so I’m offering first go to the guy who reverse Kingsleyed in front of 180,000 finals viewers.

Some will have a breakdown at the suggestion of picking Oscar McSizzle. However, our last Rising Star nominee (!!) was solid in Round 1, and like a less emotional version of Jetta/Jones, I’m prepared to give him another go before writing him off for good.

IN: Bennell, Jetta, Jones, O.McDonald, Weideman
OUT: Brayshaw, Hunt, Lockhart, Melksham, Smith (omit)
LUCKY: Lever, Pickett, Rivers
UNLUCKY: Bedford, Brown, Jackson, Neal-Bullen

We’ll lose.

Final Thoughts
It’s a bit lazy to say 2018 was a fluke when we were almost as good in 2017 (barring the last round finals fuckup and the six weeks of freewheeling scoring of ‘18), but one thing I’m pretty sure of is that the impact of the infamous post-season surgeries were way overblown. 

The string of operations might have left us undermanned and unable to run out games 12 months ago, but the dreadful forward play and general mass panic with the ball are now a familiar fixture. I’d just like to know what we’re doing about it. Any chance of somebody else fronting a press conference to try and explain it? Is Alan Richardson still alive? Answers to these questions and many more over the next five weeks, or until somebody gets a fever and they kick us out of New South Wales.

3 comments:

  1. I'll give Brayshaw a chance (you know he's not getting dropped)and would leave Lockhart in, if not for Nifty being a must play. The other 3 are useless.
    I'm not as negative as talk back callers. Nearly beat Geelong while playing like shit and lost to WC at home and a much improved defensive effort from the premiers, Richmond
    Some players need to be told their limitations- Don't try and do the perfect kick, you're not capable- which probably gave up the 5 goals we lost by. Against less capable teams we can win, maybe 7 or 8 for the year
    Still not convinced it's the coach but if he doesn't know how to make average players useful by playing a role, he's got about 7 games before I turn. At that stage I'll probably be the last on the band wagon

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  2. For those who have access to Fox, On The Couch last night had a pretty good analysis that highlighted a lot of our shortcomings in regards to poor decision making on the fly and foot skills. The pessimist in me says the season is already shot and I'm starting the fear the best is starting to behind for Gawn who whilst is doing his best, remember when he was just everywhere on the ground in 2018, almost like magic? I was also totally miffed with the inconsistencies of umpiring holding the ball this week as well

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  3. Unsure if you've done your spell checking yet, but you might want to fix "legovers".

    But yeah, I'm starting to get pretty depressed. I was always a Melksham apologist as I normally like what he does when he gets the ball, but yeah, he needs to go.

    Thoroughly underwhelmed with May and Lever at the moment too.

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