Monday, 10 August 2020

Sequel just as good as the original

Somewhere in Australia there's a lunatic doing the maths to see if we can use shorter quarters and reduced breaks to play a 34 game home and away season. I beg you to use all your influence to stamp this idea out. It's all well and good having games at 5pm on a Friday when you're a neutral, but my already strained nervous system can't cope with four day breaks. I hadn't even seen an All The Goals video before we were naming a new side for the next game. Thank god we won twice, I can see how this sort of schedule could send people over the edge.

Nor do I want a shorter season, 22 games in somewhere between 22 and 24 rounds works perfectly for me. In any event, the way this match turned out should be more than enough to convince anyone that the longer the break the better. We got going eventually, but at first it was a classic battle between our usual cavalcade of turnovers, rushed decisions and wacky forward entries against a team trying to play the Geelong dinky chippy game with the none of the required disposal skills.

It had all the elements of a dead-set confirmed slopfest, but for the second time in four days we kept things interesting by improving as the game went on. Again, a few top class players, superior fitness and a full bench won out, allowing us to scream away in the last quarter and win by plenty. The big finish would have kept a few neutrals watching. Lucky, otherwise they'd have missed The Bounce and would be absolutely kicking themselves now.

Due to the NQR start time of 6.10pm on a Sunday I was left watching all this on my phone, having to make all sorts of compromises and AFL fixture style alterations to make sure I didn't have to listen on the radio. I'd have to check the archives but I don't think I've heard the first quarter on the radio since picking the first date with my now wife over the start of a game against Freo in 2010 and I'm not inclined to start again now. Last quarters when the game is lost fine, but I'm too nervy for it when the game is in any way in the balance. Especially while driving. Even at a time where traffic is at a post-horse and cart low it's still an invitation to get excited and put my car into a river. To be comfortable I need to see what's happening, and if I can't oversee it from high in the stands, TV coverage is the next best thing.

My timing was impeccable, pulling up in the carpark a minute before the bounce. I don't know if this was really within the spirit of Stage 4 restrictions. There was permitted activity involved (and I've got a piece of paper to prove it so no point lagging me into the Corona Cops) but I was still waiting for Brett Sutton to pop up from the back seat and garrotte me with a face mask. I watched quarters 2 through 4 in more open spaces, while at the same time North was being enveloped into a cocoon of horror. Maybe there's something in these short turnarounds after all?

All's well that ended well, but there was plenty of frustration to work through before the latest spirit-lifting last quarter rampage. Given how well we've finished games this year I still struggle to comprehend how they (positive mention = we, negative mention = they) went within touching distance of one of history's great cockups against the Blues. The only possible explanation is that the players were still getting back into it after the break, otherwise the Darren Burgess method is definitely having an effect. The best thing about this is that if players can see results they might be more open to working hard over summer again and coming back for a real season with all the benefits we expected this year.

If we expected players to struggle off a four day break, I assume the umpires had done an SANFL game that afternoon because they were making it up as they went. Hard game to officiate, rules more complicated than a brain surgery manual etc... but who knows what game they were watching here. It worked in the favour of our quick disposal that 'handball' was defined as the hand contacting the ball (Richmond jokes on a postcard to the usual address) in any fashion, allowing us to reintroduce the flick pass. On the other hand, we were slow to adapt to the idea that you just burrow straight into an opponent with your head and win a free.

The tone of the evening was set with an unnecessary, administrative free at the opening bounce. This one went our way, many others did not, including a reversal on Harmes for the lightest of retaliation to being clobbered around the head in a marking contest. I know there's a war on niggle, but how about the slightest respect to the fact that they're playing a competitive game where even one wrong turn or bad landing can end a career. I can understand why vandenBerg was wrong Adelaide, even if it was right up my alley, but there was nothing in this worth using the "stamp this out" over.

Speaking of AVB, there was so little time between games that he turned up with his head pre-bandaged. I was hoping he'd loaded the headband with a weapon like an old school wrestler, but alas no. Maybe, like Viney he was suffering from a delayed concussion, a type that only came on at the start of the first quarter, because he gave away the second goal with the most ludicrous crossing of the mark since Jim Stynes. There I was in my car, all alone, yelling at somebody 1000km away like Basil Fawlty shouting "Is this a piece of your brain?" at the cranky old tart.

That left us two goals down and for the second week in a row, suckers were being handed an even break. As exclusively revealed last week we did our best to support Majak Daw's comeback tour, gifting him the first goal. It came from Lever trying an ill-advised one-handed mark mid-jostle, but after hanging shit on him last week for punching everything instead of trying to take the grab I can't complain too much. Our man went on to play one of his better games for us, while Daw never went close to another goal. Neither did 20 of his teammates, with one man accounting for their last four on his own.

Conversely, we had plenty of people getting into scoring positions. It was hard not to as North sprayed kicks like a busted wang. We were doing likewise in front of goal, in another wasteful start. Unlike Carlton and Freo we've never kicked one goal in a game in my lifetime, but you still always want to get on the board just to make sure. The way scoring is going we've probably only got one season before they engineer every game to be a 141-140 shootout so time's running out to be the first team to go all day without scoring a goal since the 1960s.

After missing one opportunity early, Pickett came to the rescue with one of his trademark quick shufflin' dance-steps and an exquisite snap. The highlight was how he ended up practically horizontal as he connected. The lowlight was surprise return Spargo not being rewarded for a textbook holding the ball tackle in the lead-up. Later, Petracca was taken to ground and somehow got away with putting ball on boot while lying on his back, which was rubbish but at least he disposed of it eventually. I'm sure there's some slow-motion Zapruder style footage showing that the North bloke got his hand to it just before he hit the ground (and if anyone's going to go out of their way to highlight it just to make a point it'll be siege mentality loving Roos fans).

It should be noted that the opportunity never even existed if The Weid didn't contest so strongly for a dump kick to the top of the square. Many weeks in the recent past that would have been chopped off and they would have gone the other way at warp speed. He had an average night with the set shots but still got two goals and provided a great target, especially when he was treating his opponent with contempt during the second quarter. We need to see him against a few more top defenders but he seems to relish being the #1 forward.

The old #1 forward, formerly the #1 defender, Tom McSizzle was thrown a lifeline by Gawn's injury, and free from the position that has tormented him for 18 months he played his best game in ages. He roamed hither and yon, took contested marks and pulled off some important tackles in the forward 50. It was a lot like the job he did in 2017 when Gawn was out. Hopefully this means he'll take to 2021 like 2018 and kick a shitload of goals.

In Maximum's absence, hitouts were again shown to mean fuck all and nothing. Turns out no team has won after having 10 or fewer since 1997. We had seven and sufferd no ill-effects. At least we acknowledge that they exist, according to the AFL website it's the stat that dare not speak its name.


About time this simplistic figure is binned. The design of the AFL's stats area is terrible (e.g pressing up and down arrows to sort a column instead of just clicking the bloody column), but respect for providing more stats to choose from. There is now a baffling (but exciting) array of ways to slice the pie, none of which will convince you that the humble hitout is worth getting excited over.

If your ruckman doesn't take huge marks, contest on the ground and kick like a smaller man shoot him and just play any old tall in the centre. Why even bother with a tall, I saw James Harmes create a goal from a centre bounce once. Gawn's value is about so much more than what he does in the middle.

I would not have any other ruckman, but you can have anyone jump at the bounce (when the umpire isn't skewing it off at right angles) as long as the midfielders can get to where it drops. The number of perfect tap > grab on the full > sprint towards the forward line moments is nowhere near high enough to justify all the tossing over raw hitout numbers. I have no idea if there's data to back it up but I'd argue that the result of a boundary throw-in is far more important to whether you score or not. Over to you Champion Data.

McDonald and Jackson did their job by contesting with Goldstein/Daw at stoppages and making themselves useful around the ground. Jackson even marked one of our traditional Jamar/Gawn "just boot it at the ruckman" kick-ins. It probably helped that North's campaign to keep the ball away from us meant there were bugger all stoppages around the ground, nullifying Goldstein's advantage where it might have caused us issues.

We remained wasteful in attack (the more things change...) but with North shanking kicks up and down the ground it looked like it was our game to lose. Foxtel may as well have told players to stay home and put on a digitally altered tape of Wednesday night.

This time when a player had ball in hand to the left of screen at the siren nobody caused it to be reversed via excessive manly shoving. I'd taken to much of the quarter, especially the wacky umpiring, with an air of calm, but it was lucky I was still in the car when we conceded deep in DemonTime or I'd have kicked something. The moment the clock hits 1:30 we should go into full time-wasting mode to avoid conceding.

Letting that goal in (seemingly) wasted what had been a decent fightback after conceding the first two. When I was considering face-planting my car horn and making a scene in public, how was I supposed to know that they'd only kick two more goals?

I was confident that we were the better side, but that doesn't mean much if you don't put the game away. Especially when you often struggle to convert for long periods like we do. I don't want to ever see that Geelong game again but that's a perfect example of how to have a side on the rack all day and nearly pay for not killing them off. If either team was going to run out a game better under these circumstances it was us, but that's no good if you're three goals down at the last change and spraying forward entries as if drunk.

A nine point deficit was troubling, but once again everything the game started to slowly turn in our favour after the break. Maybe, like an artificial intelligence bot, we're learning to adapt. Maybe North are just unreconstructed rubbish. Either way, after losing all but one game to them for the last 15 years I wasn't going to rest until they were dead, buried and six feet under.

In my supporting life we've lost to the Roos by under 10 points eight times. Imagine how hard we'd have had to work to lose this by under a goal if it had been played - as originally scheduled - in Hobart? North fans may disagree, but imagine how much worse the quality of the contest would have been if it was played in their hurricane wind conditions and not in a normal stadium? Go on about quality of the game all you like but the AFL doesn't do themselves any favours playing multiple matches every year on grounds that make the conditions at Casey Fields seem reasonable.

It took a few minutes to get warmed up, before the sort of Lever intercept and dash out of defence that we bought him for began a chain that ended in The Weid pissing off his opponent with the greatest of ease in the square. He displayed Big Forward Energy with two more big marks in the next few minutes. Both missed but North were on the run. The problem was that we were still losing, and one lucky kick or horror turnover could wipe out half a quarter of dominance.

Shame he missed the second one because it meant not getting full value for a heat-seeking missile Petracca tackle in the build-up. Or for Spargo continuing his unexpected rise from the dead to set the kick up perfectly for his lead. Charleston set up the Weid's second shot as well, forming the most unexpectedly successful duo since Phils Collins and Bailey.

You have to adjust for quality of opposition but there were not many passengers. The fringe were in their element against lowly opposition, not only was Spargo playing one of his best games, Sparrow and Rivers also staked their claim for more opportunities. I marginally preferred Sparrow's contribution, but Rivers has shown that he's far more than just a fluffer to try and keep Jackson happy.

Despite a performance that deserved a multiple goal lead, it took until the last five minutes to finally get in front. The lead that we wouldn't give back came from a Marty Hore-esque long-distance mortar by the much improved Brayshaw, who celebrated by imitating a golf swing. Ultimately I'd rather Viney, but you'd think Gus' manager was sitting at home doing calculations about how much money he can make shopping his client to other clubs. This season has demonstrated that he's got to play right in the guts, and us much as I'd like to have him in reserve I could understand if he wanted to go and be The Man somewhere else.

Then, obviously, because we'd held them scoreless for the entire quarter and just blown a perfectly good chance, we let them go down the other end and kick a goal with 50 seconds left. DemonTime detectors across the country blew a gasket, and probably hadn't returned to normal levels when we pulled off the unlikely scenario of reversing it. Not a vandenBerg style reverse (but who wasn't scanning to make sure he was nowhere the play when the mark was taken?), but a real life reply goal to restore the lead. After Weid's early set shots there was nothing certain about him kicking from 20 metres in front, but he capped a 50% genius, 50% wasteful half by getting full value for another genuine key position mark.

Credit also goes to Langdon, whose kick inside to Weid could not have been better weighted. He didn't get the chance to miss a goal of his own in comical fashion this week, but otherwise it was one of his better games for us. Tomlinson was less damaging but solid in defence, as we discovered the level of team that our recruits can comfortably beat. Now to do it against some good sides. Still not sure that's what I want Tomlinson doing forever but it's working for now.

Things were still too close for comfort, but when the North guy crocked his shoulder early in the third term I finally accepted that for once an opposition side losing a player would work for us. Still took us half the quarter to get a goal. As much as I thought we'd come home with a wet sail I don't think you could have done anything to convince me that we were going to end up scoring 92. Later, the Roos gave up like they'd had a pre-match address from Sally Robbins and party time erupted. But not yet. We also got an assist from their shambolic forward, including a bloke storming to 50 and deciding to neither a) take a shot, b) draw a defender, or c) kick to the advantage of a forward in space, torching a red-hot chance to level the scores.

If you believe North was a chance - and if you've ever watched Melbourne you'll have been worried that they'd out-run us with a man less on the bench - that botch was pivotal. We shot down the other end for Pickett to put a lovely kick on the chest of Forward Fritsch, roaming his customary position on the left side of the 50. I can see why Alan Richardson didn't name him as the player to kick for his life but he has a habit of kicking the ones you don't expect him to, creating an 11 point turnaround and finally giving us breathing space.

I'd have been upset to cave in from this position, but even more so after fill-in captain Melksham (as our bold decision to only name a captain and vice-captain backfired when both were injured in the same week) extended the margin to 16. I'd have chosen May as the fill-in. Captaining a wreck like Gold Coast should be the perfect apprenticeship for looking after us. Who cares if he got on the beers last year (when you still could) and yelled at Sam Frost, he just exudes passion. Never mind, the Milkshake is 1-0 so we've got nothing to complain about there.

Just when it looked like we'd killed them off I think I heard the 'Hello Melbourne' jingle in the background and North bounced straight out of the middle for the response. Unusually we responded to their response by doing our own turbo exit from the centre square, with Petracca (swoon) walking through several players and launching a long bomb from 50. Was there a shepherd on the line? Probably, but consider it payback for all the frees conceded by North players leading into us with their head. As the game went on we adapted and started doing it as well, ensuring that fans of both sides would be able to whinge about umpiring.

Appropriately, the goal was a joint production between Truck and Oliver, who were both incredible again. Oliver is very, very, very good but Petracca has genuine superstar qualities. Everyone got sick of trying to get Americans involved in footy when that famous bloke lost interest, but if you want to get the Yanks sliding off their seats again send them a package of Petracca's spelunking exploits. There is no confined space that he won't charge through, and there is practically nothing the opposition can do to stop him. They all know what's he's up to now and he still gets away with it. Every once in awhile he'll get caught, but when he gets the ball in traffic you're guaranteed that he'll either get through or fight to the death before being caught. Between them, he and the Burglar could be our [insert name of highly successful duo from another club] for years to come.

When it briefly looked like we'd bust out of the middle and kick another things were starting to get ridiculous, before more predictably the ball ended in the hands of a North forward inside 50. Now that time had ticked under 90 seconds I thought he was an absolute certainty but it came off the boot flatter than a shit carter's hat. With another North player going down to the rooms, this time after an eye poke (paging Dr. Jonathan Brown), it was time for the Darren Burgess short-breaks theory to come to life.

I remained confident that North didn't have enough in the tank to overhaul a 16 point margin but I've seen us give up more against less. Like Adelaide - again - we were certainly far enough in front to look like buffoons if we didn't win. And exactly like that game there was nothing to worry about, procession mode was about to be unleashed in South Australia for the second time in a week. Considering how many years we spent being humiliated in Adelaide I'd have been more likely to believe we'd play a home game against North there than deliver consecutive fourth quarter monsterings. This truly is the weirdest season.

When another North player was knocked goofy in a marking contest and we went down the other end for a weird, side-footed finish by Spargo you felt deep down (though you wouldn't dare say out loud) that we couldn't possibly lose. You could finally afford to go public when McDonald extended the margin to 28 straight after. I'd have blown up if we'd conceded the same holding the ball in defence, but it made up for some of the dross paid against us in the first half.

From there it was less Angus Brayshaw's golf swing and more Al Capone clobbering a man's head in with a baseball bat. Petracca continued to make life worth living, effortlessly spinning out of a tackle to set Hannan up with a bullet handball before we ended a five minute period of threatening to kick another by... err... kicking another.

Nothing against North, but after all the times we've been treated like second class citizens late in matches it's arousing to dominate an opposition under any circumstances. I don't care that they're the second worst team in the competition, at this point any victim will do. There was even time for Sparrow to get the first career goal reaction from teammates, who had understandably put Round 1, 2019 out of their minds and forgot that he kicked one on debut. To be fair a few things have gone on since.

The rout (and don't you love that word when we're the router instead of the routee?) was wrapped up with a ripper from the pocket by Oliver that looked a lot like one he did from the same place in 2017. Now that they've got no more use for the Eddie Betts pocket and we're practically a tenant club, any danger of naming that spot after him and mentioning it in every Adelaide Oval game whether he's playing or not?

Thank god we were 57 points in front with 30 seconds left, because after four quarters of stability (and the longest I've ever used the Kayo app without it crashing), the internet connection on my phone reverted to 1G. I'm don't mind being restricted to watching on a small screen but I have nightmares about it buffering in the dying seconds of a thriller. This is not a comment for comedy purposes, I have seriously had dreams where I'm watching a game and it goes into a permanent loading loop. Dream interpreters, please comment with your theories on what this means. It will make a welcome change from endlessly clicking 'report as spam' on submissions (so to speak) from porn sites.

We won. I enjoyed it. Now bring on the good teams. Then if we can't beat them, send in Sydney and Freo.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Jake Lever

Serious apologies to Hibberd, McDonald and Weideman. Also Jackson, May, Pickett, Rivers and Sparrow.

Leaderboard 
In the still likely event of us not playing finals there's 40 points to play for, giving Austin Bradtke some hope of a Burgess Ball style rampant finish. That'll help sort out the Hilton, which is being severely hampered by the contenders being trapped in the apologies every week. Would also help if they were eligible for the automatic vote allowance you get just for being a midfielder.

No changes in the other awards. Petracca's lead is slowly expanding, May remains above water in the Seecamp, and as the only player even eligible, Gawn's seventh Stynes is in the bag. 

33 - Christian Petracca
24 - Clayton Oliver
21 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
11 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
8 - Ed Langdon
7 - Christian Salem
6 - Angus Brashaw, Michael Hibberd, Sam Weideman
2 - Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Hannan, Jake Lever, Jay Lockhart, Kysaiah Pickett (JOINT LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Trent Rivers (JOINT LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year 
Welcome to a new clubhouse leader. And what more appropriate combination to deliver it than Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca? Truck gets the credit for starting and finishing it, but without Oliver's fancy hands in the middle it dies before he gets to take a shot. If I was a North fan I'd be screaming about the block on the line, but I'm not so I can enjoy it immensely.

Context is also important. Viewing from a distance I'm sure we'd have run away with it anyway, but at the time there were serious concerns about wasting our dominance. So apologies to Pickett's first quarter dance masterclass and Oliver's mid-avalanche finish from the pockett, but Petracca is the man. I'm struggling for hotel themed weekly prizes so give the man an extra fluffy pillow or something.

Something that wouldn't have been as good the second time around would be an Eddie/Dwayne/Derm commentary team. I was secretly hoping for a replay of the 'Collingwood 'n Bollocks' show, but had to do with Anthony Hudson, somebody who takes to his role professionally, and with the bare minimum of Triple M style blokey nonsense.

With the ropey state of commentary on Foxtel, I can't understand how they haven't arranged a short-term loan deal for Jason Bennett. Instead, the poor bastard is left sitting on his couch with nothing to do while inferior options are being paid big money to squeeze commentary out of their ringpieces.

When Hudson was revealed to be sitting with Gerard Healy I expected another round of misery-laden special comments that make you want to contact every high-touch surface in the city but he must have been laid since the Brisbane game because by his standards he was positively brimming with life. Must have just got done pulling his strides up after watching NicNat in the early game.

I'd have loved some post-match analysis beyond the standard post-match player interview, but there was no time for that because Fox Footy had to go straight to The Bounce. Or more accurately, they had to, I closed the app so forcefully it almost gave me a finger injury. I've never been a song fanatic anyway, so unless somebody was going to liven it up by doing a Richmond and grabbing his teammate on the dick I'd rather do without it than watch comedy that Channel 31 would reject as too amateur.

Next Week
Farewell Fortress Adelaide, time to start winning in Queensland. We won't get a better opportunity against Collingwood than catching them on the four day break (presumably after pummelling Adelaide) with a shitload of injuries. Most of me is expecting a Queen's Birthday 2018 style back-from-the-dead bag by Mason Cox, but now that we've sidestepped Daw maybe there's less chance of be Kingsleyed. They should test us by bringing Brad Dick back. Or recruiting Jarrad Grant, who stitched us up at two different clubs and probably doesn't have anything else to do on Saturday.

It's never easy to make changes after a win, but let's not delude ourselves that walloping North means we can live without Viney and Gawn  Maybe Brayshaw got a better run in the middle without Jack there, but no offence Gus I know who I'm saving from the metaphorical burning building. Speaking of midfielders, I'm abandoning the vandWagon at high speed after recent indiscretions.

Also hard to shaft McDonald after such a solid performance, so after playing twice in a week I'll charitably opt to give Jackson a rest instead of running him into the ground. Part of me wants to see him leaping like an Atlantic salmon over Grundy but there'll be plenty of time for that in the future. For now, put the feet up and let the Maximum Sizzle team do the hard work. Where that leaves us for the next game if McDonald continues to do well I have no bloody idea. Nice problem to have though. Could even - whisper it quietly so you don't hurt my feelings - fatten up his trade value if it comes to that.

For once there's as many unlucky as lucky. I want more Bennell in my life, but Spargo exceeded all expectations so I'm giving him another go. And from a position of tactical ignorance I assume Harmes took on a bit of Lockhart's defensive stuff. Didn't look great with the ball but can't argue with the end result of North scoring chuff all after quarter time.

Jones was also halfway out the door when he didn't get a touch in the first term but came good just enough to delay his Thelma and Louise style roadtrip with Nev for another week. I'd also like him to have one more shot at Collingwood. Not sure why this is relevant - not like they've done anything specifically to him - but just feels appropriate. Also, I've been sitting on a Nathan Jonestown Massacre headline for about years and am still hoping for a chance to use it. 

IN: Viney, Gawn
OUT: Jackson (managed), vandenBerg (omit)
LUCKY: Harmes, Jones
UNLUCKY: Bennell, Lockhart

Even with the extra break we'd want to play better than either of the last two weeks to topple the Pies, but it's not as out of the question as it was a couple of weeks ago. I'm still factoring in a 9-11 place finish (not the 9/11 finish of 2017) so won't go troppo if we have a decent bash and lose. However, if we lie down at the first bounce like the Port game it will confirm us as downhill skiiers. Still, better to be skiing downhill that standing at the bottom of the mountain with thumbs up our arses like two weeks ago.

Final Thoughts
I can't remember a time when we have been more mid-table mediocre than right now. Pending the result of the Essendon/Gold Coast blockbuster on Wednesday, we're ninth, have beaten every shit and mid-table team put in front of us and lost to the top sides. Winning this means the Collingwood game isn't make-or-break, but it would be a great time to make a statement against a perceived contender. Either way, by feasting on the carcass of two strugglers we've come a long way from the point where it looked like Goodwin's hotel access card might stop working a couple of weeks ago.

Finally, I would like to announce that since this picture was published I have been grappling with my sexuality:

3 comments:

  1. Pie ferals did beat up Nathan Jones's old man.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Must have just got done pulling his strides up after watching NicNat in the early game." 👏

    ReplyDelete