Monday, 21 September 2020

Broken bones and bruised feelings


... and in the immortal words of Kevin Bloody Wilson, "It was over." The slender chance that Footscray would unexpectedly choke were dashed, leaving us ninth for the second time in four years and empty-handed like every season since 1964.

I've been waiting 30 years for a coach to stride in, sweep me off my feet, and carry me away to a better life like Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman. For at least one more year the part of Richard Gere will not be played by Simon Goodwin, who took a mid-table mediocrity team to the ultimate mid-table mediocrity finish - exactly halfway down the ladder.

This would be a great time to get angry about the coach, especially on a day where he's being walloped up and down the internet based on a context-free quote about not talking about strategy during the shutdown, but I haven't got the heart. At this stage of Melbourne, I'm not sure Norm Smith would have much luck turning us into a contender, we are destined to be a punchline for the remainder of time.

As disappointing as it is to miss out in the last round again, there is a strange serenity about it. For me anyway, you're welcome to go off your tits if you want. I was far more hurt by the two day Festival of Farce in 2017 because of all the pain that had come before it. The combination of the Collingwood and West Coast/Adelaide games was the ultimate in kicking the fans when they were down.

The last two seasons have both been shit in their own special ways, but at least the four week run where we finally got it right in 2018 allows us some fond memories from recent years. Unlike 2017 when you wondered if we'd blown the best chance we'd ever have of playing finals again. It doesn't feel like that this time. Now that it's over, it feels silly to have put so much mental energy into another wasted season but that's just what I do.

For me this finish wasn't even in the ballpark of losing to the Bears in the last game of 1995. And for those who were in 1976, obviously nowhere near as traumatic as being tipped out by a draw (also involving Footscray). Before that, you have to go back to 1949 for a last round near-miss, and as we'd won a flag the year before I think most fans would have been philosophical about that.

Obviously all the talk is how we stuffed it up across those two games in Cairns. Seems that way, but can you be entirely certain with this club that we wouldn't have won one or both of those then lost to GWS and/or Essendon? It's another reason why the end of 2018 is remembered so fondly, it was one of the few times we exceeded expectations. 

After all the discussion of the Bradbury Plan, and the requirement of other clubs to stack it ahead of us so we could sneak in, it was apt that it came down to just that scenario. St Kilda and Collingwood had already shut the gate on us, we'd just held on in the face of a Force 10 Farce to do the right thing against the Bombers, now it all relied on Fremantle beating Footscray. I was trying not to get my hopes up, but was simultaneously ready to start heaving and hoing around the house like a madman if they won. In the end it was Heave No, but not without them stringing us along for a half.

Part of the reason I can be so calm about the result is that I barely saw any of it. About 40 minutes before the bounce, just as I was building myself up to peak anticipation of Freo being beaten by a goal after the siren, my daughter took a huge bump off the monkey bars and was left clutching her wrist like Sean Charles. I've done many unscrupulous things to follow Melbourne over the years, but leaving a child in pain to watch a third-party game (albeit one with major implications) was several thousand steps too far, so off we went to hospital. 

On the way, I listened to the dying minutes of the Sydney/Geelong game, still half-thinking that the result was relevant to us. Playing Geelong instead of West Coast would have certainly been a big up yours to all the cowards who said they didn't want to play finals because we were a near certainty to lose to West Coast. We're an absolute certainty not to win the premiership every year we play, why even turn up for Round 1? 

The Swans were the first underdog to have a brave bash and go down, losing by six points. I'm glad if anyone had to lose that way it was them and not the Dockers. Even though Sydney had just shown that a side in their last game of the year didn't need to go out and lose miserably (only if they're called Gold Coast and want to get priority picks 1-15), I still never seriously expected Freo to win. That also helped me cope with the inevitable result.  

Once Michael Walters went out injured I was already mentally writing them off, and when Matt Taberner joined in as a late withdrawal my faith in them springing an upset were reduced to rubble. Considering their outs and the Bulldogs not being the sort of side who'd blow the golden opportunity of a 'win and in' game, I fully expected Footscray to be 30-0 up at quarter time and go on to an effortless win. They got there, it just took a bit more work than expected.  

Concievably, Taberner's absence could have opened the door for Jesse Hogan to do us a solid and kick a match-winning bag, but after exercising the leg for the first time all season a week ago he was restricted to one goal and proved little help. Still wish him well and would have him back in a second.

Competing medical priorities meant I only saw about 15 minutes of play, including the end of the first quarter and the start of the second. Other than that it was snatched looks at scores on the AFL app. This was fine under the circumstances, I cannot begin to imagine what it would have been like if we'd been the ones playing to win a spot. 

The few minutes I saw coincided with the time Freo looked like a half-chance of winning. They were clearly never the better side, but seemed like they might hang around to keep things interesting until the last quarter. When they went seven points up - prompting Fox Footy to throw to a shot of half our list watching while Mitch Hannan tucked into dinner - I thought we might have been onto something. Without the sound on, not wanting to be put on a negligent parent list if a doctor walked in at that moment, I had no idea they were not making much use of the wind. Should have seen them home strongly in the last quarter, unfortunately by then they'd lost interest.

The last thing I saw was the Bulldogs kicking two in a row - literally, the second one came straight out of the middle - to retake the lead, and that's where I tuned out both figuratively and literally. With more important issues to consider I only saw the odd score on the app across the next two quarters. Things briefly got interesting again when Freo kicked two on either side of half time. Turns out they were their last, sliding to a loss that none of them probably gave the fattest rat's clacker about without much fanfare. And why should they have cared? What did it matter to them if we made the eight?

With the off-field damage fortunately restricted to the most pissweak fracture possible, we were cleared to go home early in the last quarter. All I knew was that the Dockers were three goals down and extremely unlikely to do us a favour. That was the end of the drama, I turned the car on, the radio went "... and the Bulldogs are going to the finals!" and I turned the radio off again. The patient remained in good spirits considering her disastrous afternoon, it would have been rude to get upset over something as frivolous as footy.

Still, once we were home I did sit in the dark and have a quiet think about everything we've been through during this weird season. From the hope of the practice games, to the Corona shutdown, travelling the country like gypsies, having our hopes raised and dashed several times over, all while watching some of the finest individual performers of recent Melbourne history struggle to carry the weakest undercard since Wrestlemania 2.

Obviously we didn't deserve to make it, but the finals are not a merit based system. They don't vote the best teams in, and if they did they'd rarely get to eight. The AFL's wet dream is that we'd turn up for a wildcard match with the Bulldogs next week, but if anything this should prove that the finals need to be contracted more than expanded. For now, eight is fine. There are places to fill, and if you can grab one by any means necessary then take it and hope for the best. 

I'm assuming we'd have lost to the Eagles by about seven goals but you never know. Even if it was a futile journey it would still be some reward for players after the cross-country nonsense they've gone through this season. Think of Steven May, who could be the All Australian full back in a couple of weeks but still hasn't played a final in nearly 10 years. Serves him right for joining us I suppose. I was also keen on the novelty value of Charlie Spargo finishing the year with as many finals under his belt as Fred Fanning.

It's hard to get too upset when I predicted we'd finish 8th (albeit in a bracket up to sixth, implying that I thought we'd make finals) but even in the most shambolic of seasons you do still feel a bit cheated. At this time I can't blame anyone in particular. The coach is a popular target, but for all the learnings and connection waffle I just can't bring myself to join in the kicking. Doesn't mean I'd take a bullet for him but after years of sacking bloodlust has delivered us bugger all I'm not sure I care to participate anymore. Until about half time of Round 1, 2021 when I'll be taking up a collection to pay him out.

So, that's it. Big surprise, the losers lost. All that's left to do is finish off the awards that were left unresolved yesterday, frozen in time like the victims of Mt. Vesuvius...

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal final standings
At the same time as the door shuts on his hopes of playing finals, Oliver's campaign for a third Jako also runs aground. Congratulations to celebrity fingering victim Christian Petracca for grabbing the title, adding it to a Hilton and a Prymke in his virtual trophy cabinet. After mid-table finishes in three of his four seasons (along with a fifth in 2017) he has now etched his name amongst the legends of #fistedforever era Melbourne.

The final total of 19 players polling votes is the lowest of all time, but is arguably not much worse than the 21 of last year considering five less games were played. It was the first year than Nathan Jones has ever failed to poll, while the most significant fall was James Harmes - from 68 votes combined across the last two years to none this year. How did that playing in defence go?

In the minors, Gawn for the Stynes is no surprise. Preuss was the only other player to reach the 10 hitout per game qualifying mark, and with all due respect to Old Comedy Moustache Lips, he could play 150 games and not reach the 30 votes Maximum scored.

May in the Seecamp was perhaps a slight surprise. Not because we didn't think he'd be very good, he polled his arse off in limited games during 2019, but because a) who knew he'd stay fit enough to play almost every minute of every game, and b) smaller and running defenders have owned this competition since 2016. Hard to deny he deserves it, now give him the All-Australian and a top three finish in the Best and Fairest. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he won it.

Which just leaves the Hilton, for most of the second part of the season and a neck-and-neck race between two players on one vote. Which made it slightly better than 2005, when no eligible player  polled, but on par with the 2014 edition that featured Jay Kennedy-Harris winning with two votes. Pleasingly, Trent Rivers came home strongly to unexpectedly capture the title and forever banish the idea that he was only picked to fluff for a higher profile West Australian. If they survive, Kade Chandler and Toby Bedford remain eligible next season due to having played four or less games.

Congratulations to our award winners, and to everyone who polled a vote this year. For those who didn't, try harder next time. 

46 - Christian Petracca (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
41 - Clayton Oliver
30 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
28 - Steven May (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
23 - Ed Langdon
13 - Christian Salem
10 - Angus Brayshaw
6 - Michael Hibberd, Trent Rivers (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Sam Weideman
4 - Jake Lever, Adam Tomlinson
2 - Jayden Hunt, Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Brown, Mitch Hannan, Jay Lockhart, Kysaiah Pickett

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
For the first time a player has pulled off the Jakovich/Davey double, with Christian Petracca's scoop 'n thump from obscure angle and distance against GWS named the number one goal of the season. It was one of several nominations he picked up across 17 games, drawing him ever closer to Jeff Garlett's record of 16 weekly nominations. After a year of hotel related weekly prizes, he wins a weekend for two at Fawlty Towers, where the management will remind him of being back at Melbourne.

Scandal Corner
When you're Melbourne it's not enough to just end the season in a disappointing fashion, you may as well throw some off-field scandal in as well. 

The first drama was extraordinarily pissweak, with Max Gawn issuing the least convincing apology in history for Hunt and Petracca engaging in consensual cornholage at the three quarter time huddle. I don't know why it needed to happen, which is probably why I steered clear of playing team sports, but as long as they were both into it (and Petracca guiding the hand up his chuff suggests he was) then no harm done to anything but hand hygiene protocols.  

More consequential was Harley Bennell getting last-minute cabin fever and escaping the hub. At the time of writing there's only speculation about what he was up to so I'm not going to get into that, but it doesn't matter if he was delivering Meals on Wheels to the elderly, a breach is a breach and it's going to cost everyone dearly. He wears a four game suspension at the start of the next year and is suddenly in jeopardy of not being offered a new contract. We pay a full $50,000 fine, with none suspended due to Spargo and Pickett doing a runner earlier in the season. 

Technically if you split the original $25k between Spargo and Pickett and give this one to Harley on his own, he's just eclipsed Nathan Jones' record of $22,750 in career fines in one day.

There's plenty of people who want to delist him after this, I'm not so sure. Not because he hasn't done something stupid after the club gave him a second chance, but because I'm convinced somebody else will take a punt on him after a year of getting his body right and he'll go there and instantly become a regular player. Either way, he's not as certain to be with us next year as he was last week. I hope we give him another go, he's stuffed up but who hasn't. Colin Sylvia kicked his girlfriend in a carpark and we still fawned over him for another five years. 

It's a regrettable incident but as part of my surprisingly zen attitude to today's events I'm not interested in screaming vengeance. According to Gary Pert, Harley "failed to live up to the values of the Melbourne Football Club." I'd say there's no more Melbourne Football Club value than waiting right until the end before making a fool of yourself. 

Next Week
Nah.

Later in the Year
I'll be back with a season review post once everybody's given up on talking about 2020 and are desperate to move on.

Next Year 
Hard to talk about potential delistings and forced retirements when we don't know how big list sizes are going to be. I'm pretty sure that Jones will be tapped on the shoulder, whether he wants to go or not, and that Tom McDonald is going to be given the old Jack Watts "we've run out of ideas, just take him" trade. Jetta may go on just because he's got another year in his contract, why not get paid even if they're not going to pick you?

As for out-of-contract players, the closest I can find to an updated contract thread is this from about three years ago. Not counting players drafted since I think makes the uncontracted players Hibberd, Viney, Hunt, Hannan, Fritsch, Spargo, Petty, Harmes and Oscar McSizzle. Make your own judgements from that list, but I'd keep most of them with Oscar as the sacrificial lamb. Having said that, if Harmes isn't sending his 2018 highlights package to every club in the land and trying to get a trade to somewhere that will play him to his strengths then he is excessively loyal.

I still don't believe Viney will go, and am almost certain the story about him potentially leaving was leaked just to try and convince us to pay him big money. Maybe they 'll make the brave decision not to be blackmailed and will just let him go, but whether that's a sound business decision or not I reckon they'll be too scared that it will provoke civil war and will roll over.

For more recently acquired players, I'd say The Wagnii, Chandler, Jordan and Dunkley will be looking over their shoulders and that Kade Kolodjashnij will be paid out for the last year of his contract, hopefully to get away from football and get his life back together. I expect Mitch Brown has just played his way into another contract and Austin Bradtke will get another year to develop. And we'll see if our pre-season pledge to give Aaron Nietschke another season survives the Corona cuts.

The way other teams have rushed to start delisting the moment their season ends, I wouldn't be surprised if somebody has been given the arse by the time you read this. Thanks to everyone that has had a go over the years, if it's any consolation you won as many flags as Robert Flower, Jim Stynes and David Neitz combined.

Final Thoughts
Melbourne fanatics, thank you for your support for another season. I can't believe this closes the 16th year for this blog. Recently I found a post from 2007 saying I'd lost interest and could other people please start doing guest posts. Obviously nobody responded, I eventually found my mojo again, and here we are many years later, still waiting for the great leap forward.

And to disaster tourist neutrals who follow sides that have made the finals, here's what I say to a premiership cup.

   

2 comments:

  1. Another ""stellar"" year, thanks for mashing the keyboard.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great blog! Sums the year up perfectly.

    ReplyDelete