Sunday, 18 April 2021

Standard 'post delayed' notification

Well bugger me we're 5-0. I bet nobody saw that coming. Alas I have to pay bills so I'm not expecting to have the post up until 17:00 Monday at the earliest. Maybe Tuesday, maybe the next time we lose a game in 2025?

Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link. Send any thoughts on the game via the usual channels and I'll incorporate/shamelessly steal them.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Be still cat

The views of Bad Boy Bubby do not represent that of or the Melbourne Football Club. No animals were hurt in the making of this post except Geelong.

When he met a youngster with ambitions to be an astronaut, the late Prince Philip allegedly said "you'll have to lose some weight". Were he introduced to the finals aspirant Melbourne Football Club, he might have said "you'll have to beat some good teams." 

We may not be there, but we're closer than ever. After three weeks of satisfying but questionable wins over the mediocre and inconsistent we have, in a way, gone one better. The "Who have they beaten?" faction, of which I consider myself an associate member, will point out that Geelong had already lost fair and square to Adelaide, got out of jail against Brisbane via an all-time umpire squib, barely beat Hawthorn and were without Dangerfield and Cameron. This is all true, but reputations still count for something so I'm warmly embracing our win.

Naturally, after so much hurt over the years, the first thought after the siren was how we were going to find a way to lose to Hawthorn next week, but if - unlike me - you could take a minute to savour the present before catastrophising the future, this was a very good win. Certainly a better result than the last time we were involved in major administrative change on the same day as a match against the Cats. The President is gone (long live the President), but whoever was officially in charge at 6pm Sunday afternoon fared 211 points better than poor old Don McLardy a decade ago. More coup chat later, we've got important 'Melbourne winning games' content to get through first.

This was another of the many games I'm going to miss seeing live this year, but stuffed it I won't find a way to watch. Even when my body gives way and I'm strapped into an iron lung I'll be insisting that they prop a screen over my head when Melbourne games are on. Just my luck we'll be five goals clear in a Grand Final and the TV will fall on my head. 

By the standards of the Big Wank about footy being good again (scoring currently .1 per team higher than 2018), the St Kilda game probably had more appeal to neutrals and broadcasters, but I felt much worse about missing this one. It was an impressive win against a side half full of champions (and to be fair, half full of randoms), where we built a lead, withstood a comeback, and came back to win comfortably. You didn't have to be there to enjoy it but I expect it would have added to the experience. Then again, unlike most of the MCG crowd I had a roof over my head, so it wasn't all bad news.

Now that the points are in the bank I can question why I was so worried about Geelong. Obviously the answer was 'because Melbourne are playing', but if I'd bothered to study Geelong's lineup it would have been obvious that half of them didn't deserve to contribute to the fearsome reputation the Cats have built up over the years. For instance, who knew until today that there was a second Guthrie? Apparently, he's been playing for five years and - surprise, surprise - had the game of his life against us in Round 1, 2018. Can't remember, too busy replaying Gawn's kick to win the game over and over in my head.

The only problem with writing them off based on fielding a bunch of people you've never heard of is that, as we're just starting to learn, having a few superstars can make up for shortcomings elsewhere. So the likes of Selwood, Hawkins, and Isaac Smith still remained every possible chance of dicking us. And who would bet against another debacle on the same level as the Zac Tuohy goal after the siren?  

Another reason for concern was our last start against the Cats, where they merrily played dinky keepings off football that restricted us to three goals in the first three quarters. That we almost won that day is still bizarre (would have officially been declared PISS FUNNY if we'd snatched it), but if that's what they did to us when players could still move on the mark who knew what Chris Scott had planned here? Who knows what he's up to full stop, especially now that he's looking like a cult leader. 

Channel 7 would have hoped for more from their big Sunday game, but it should have been obvious to anyone that this wasn't going to be an instant classic. Mostly due to not being played under a roof, it never threatened to be a repeat of that Footscray/Eagles game that everyone cranked it over a few weeks ago. We still lack the forwards to take advantage of the alleged return of the key forward - though in reality teams are averaging all of 0.1 more points per game than 2018 - and Scott tried to further restrict our scoring power by Clayton Oliver into the ground GWS style. That didn't work. 

We've gotten away with it somehow, but most teams are going to struggle when they lose one of their key forwards, so with Jeremy Cameron still crocked, Geelong's hopes of any half-decent score rested on either a) Tom Hawkins playing a blinder, or b) somebody you've never heard of being elevated to the Kingsleys. Hawkins holds a better record against us than any other club, nearly three goals a game, but for most of that time he hasn't had to put up with the attention of Steven May. It took him a while to find a way to combat that threat yesterday, but when he still only finished with two goals from nine the Cats had no viable path to victory.

Perhaps psychically aware that he was about to be assassinated, May looked uncharacteristically nervous early. He took two belting intercept marks but flubbed both kicks straight to the opposition. We got away with it because, for now, we had several defenders operating at their best, while Geelong had one forward target who must have been wondering when one of his teammates was going to have a crack.

The 'tag Oliver' campaign came unstuck almost immediately. It was his kick to the top of the square that allowed Jackson to effectively drop a mark into Petracca's hands as he ran past. Truck kicked the easy goal, then told his opponent all about it without breaking stride. No Melbourne player has deserved to be that arrogant for years, it's a lovely sight. It might have come back to haunt him, but given that at the moment he thinks he's unstoppable and actually is, everything kept coming up Christian. 36 disposals later we had confirmation, as if you needed it, that he is an unstoppable force.

May is in such hot form that even when his bad kicks came off, one that was half-smothered bounced straight to Oliver (tag not pictured) to go inside 50 again. Spargo may never be a superstar, but if you were playing some bullshit AFL video game he would have a tremendous 'vision' rating, because he has an amazing knack for finding teammates standing in obscure spots. Here he took advantage of the man on the mark being stuck in place to run around and pull a sideways kick to Viney, standing in a mile of space. Jack missed, but the construction was a thing of beauty.

This was all part of a hot but inaccurate start, one of three behinds surrounding the unmissable Petracca goal. We couldn't go on like that forever, and eventually conceded the reply to crazy name, crazy haircut Gryan Miers, who took time out from looking like he should be graffiting trains to kick one on the run. That was about the only way they were going to get them unless one of our best defenders did himself a mischief.

Everything BT has ever said except "GEE! GOD! BOY! WOW!" is rubbish, but his fact of the day, that Nathan Jones has never spent one single week of his 298 game career on top of the ladder did make me think about the trauma we've inflicted on Jones. I don't think the statue is going to get up, but we still have to clutch him to our collective bosom when he retires. The last couple of years have been varying degrees of rough but he is a first-ballot nominee, alongside Robbie Flower, to the MFC Commitment Hall of Fame.

Now he's an absolute certainty to play 300, and presumably a few more, giving us extra motivation to beat Hawthorn next week. Imagine going into a holiday (eve) blockbuster against the defending premier unbeaten after five, and with the most popular figure of the last 15 years reaching one of the great milestones. Forget the government returning stadium capacities to 100%, the MCG should bring in temporary seating if that happens. Knowing our luck, COVID will seep out of the hotels just in time for the game to be played behind closed doors.

Maybe Bayley Fritsch was paying respect to the legend when he set up Jones for the second goal. More likely somebody had a word to him during the week (and it bet it was the great Choke Yourself With A Tie), about his ordinary record at shots from the boundary and encouraged him to look for options. Against all odds, Bayley's record for shots from Fritschville actually improved by the final siren. 

Considering how we usually play the wet like all our players were involved in childhood nautical traumas I expected a few dropped marks, but for a few minutes balls were flying off chests and hands at a record rate. The man who, thanks to Kelli Underwood's spur of the moment claims will forever be remembered as 'Slick Fritsch' showed his teammates how to do it, taking a mark that was reminiscent of the glory days of Jeremy Howe. Nothing to do with the elevation, just he immediately turned it over.

In a week where scoring plunged back to pre-COVID levels and Gil was forced to arrange a welfare check at Steve Hocking's house, we survived intense DemonTime pressure to get out of the quarter two goals to one up. It ended in slapstick fashion, with Oliver finding himself on the end of a 50 that took him to the middle of the ground after the siren. Made sense that he at least feigned to take it, after all somebody might have had a brain fade and given away the rare double 50. Once that was off the table he made a bit of a kent of himself by trying to recreate Ben Graham's 105 metre kick only to get absolutely none of it, leaving the ball rolling sadly along the turf.

No harm done, boosting your disposal tally always comes in handy for both winning awards and renegotiating contracts. 

It was a promising opening, though we should have had at least one more goal. You can never demand more than that, no matter how well you've played, because you don't know what happens when the ball goes back to the middle after the first one, but considering Gawn was unbeatable, Petracca untacklable and Oliver untaggable, I'm sure we'd have had it forward again before long. Having survived his first game at Casey, Ben Brown must have been rubbing his hands together in glee at the prospect of getting involved. No pressure or anything but we have been waiting since 1897 for somebody to kick the ton...

For everything that had gone right we weren't far enough in front to be comfortable, and I almost rage quit the game, the season, and my commitment to Australian rules football when May emerged from a contest with Hawkins suffering what looked like a severe case of death. Turns out he'd been caught by an errant elbow in a tackle which had quite frankly, fucked him right up. I felt a bit better once we knew he hadn't done a knee or broken his neck, but he was still left staggering off the ground and straight into an ambulance, with blood pissing from his eye.

The elbow wasn't aimed to hit May in the face, but it also wasn't a necessary thing to do, making it a test case for whether we're still more worried about the consequence than the action. If Dangerfield got three weeks for clubbing somebody out of the game via a bump that was deemed careless, severe impact, high contact this couldn't be far off. But apparently it was, and he got away scot free. I'm not calling for him to crucified out the front of AFL House but you can't just go around swinging elbows and plead accident when one connects.

While Brisbane fans were probably thrilled to see him go down as if hit with a billiard ball in a sock, the commentators didn't notice for about 30 seconds. I take it they're calling the game off the TV like Foxtel. It's the only way you could have missed him lying on the ground for so long. Hawkins went over to apologise, shame the victim couldn't see him due to his fractured eye socket. At least he said sorry for brutalising May, unlike the All-Australian selectors.

After three weeks when Chandler, Baker and Melksham had more chance of getting a blood clot sitting on their arse than from the AstraZeneca vaccine, we became the last club in the competition to use a medical sub. Hardly the ideal circumstances but unlike the other three, Tom Sparrow earned the game he's now credited with. Looking for any excuse as to why we'd lose, I was more concerned by losing our best defender just as we were about to keep Geelong to a Laws of the Game committee killing 4.4.28. Now we had a backline consisting of two talls who have played well this year but you wouldn't trust in one-on-one contests. Turned out alright.

There's no need for a specific media watch segment when BT is calling a game because he'll just talk through his ringpiece all the game, but I enjoyed (as much as possible under the circumstances) his Dr. Dickhead updates on whether May had been ruled out. "We've just heard that Sparrow has come on so there may be a ruling," he cried, as if Sparrow might have just decided to seize the opportunity to activate (*spew*) himself. Soon after, this most unusual fellow described the state of the game like a "bag of sand hanging in the sky", ready to "be split wide open", causing the sand to "spill everywhere". No wonder the mad bastard didn't ponder if one horse-sized duck could beat 100 duck-sized horses. You almost have to admire how he gets paid several dozen times the average national wage to do something he's so bad at.

At first, when the injury report just listed May's condition as purely 'eye' I thought we might be able to fiddle the books and play him next week without having to wait out the 12 day concussion countdown. Once his enormously blown up eye was found to be covering a fractured socket it was confirmed that he'll be out for a month. Confirmation that he was concussed also not great, this being his second in a few weeks. That used to be par for the course for most players, but these days it's almost the trigger to donate your brain to science. On a positive note, if he comes back wearing a helmet it would be the funniest visual since Jason Dunstall did it. Possibly going one step further by wearing a pirate style eye-patch.

May was gone, but still in our favour were conditions that didn't favour talls, Geelong's one-dimensional attack, and Chris Scott's willingness to turn the game into trench warfare even though the best ruckman in the game and one of the better midfielders were giving his lot a bath.

I might have been flying the flag at half-mast for the loss of a key player, but if there was anything that was going to lift the spirits of Melbourne fans again it was Joel Selwood having a whinge after Spargo won a free by ducking into his tackle. Sadly Charleston missed his kick and the chance to rub it in even further. Noticeably, Selwood failed to display the same moral objections when he milked one in similar circumstances a few minutes later.

Tomlinson has vastly exceeded expectations as a defender, but conceding a free to Hawkins at their first meeting left me nervously adjusting my collar at the prospect of another big bag. If mediocre forwards can do it, the good ones are going to join in at some stage. He missed but it still didn't bode well. Instead, some guy with the sort of mullet that you should see you sent to a penal colony got away with dropping a mark, before narrowly sneaking his kick through against a fierce sideways breeze. 

After spending almost two full quarters on top without landing a knockout blow, it was wasteful for the margin to be back under two goals. We didn't have anyone else to blame for not taking better advantage, but looking back from the safety of having won, there was a bit of 2018 Elimination Final about it. That night we jumped to a far greater lead, courtesy of their zero impact forward line torching multiple early chances, but that night their mid-game comeback was also thwarted by a lack of potency.

The steadying influence came from Lachie Henderson, who went into full "you can take the boy out of Carlton..." mode by needlessly pushing Fritsch over after a mark, conceding a 50 that moved the kick from a questionable position in the 3131 district to the square. If Brad Scott was moved to call Brisbane players [censored on legal advice] a few weeks earlier, he'd have had 'words' for Henderson after this. Even more so when Fritsch got another straight out of the middle. It was another delightfully constructed goal, starting with a masterful tap from Gawn into the path of Petracca and Oliver, and a delightful gather by Pickett at half-forward. I love this shit.

While Channel 7 resisted the urge to join the Slick Fritsch phenomenon, there was an on-screen graphic advertising McDonalds (the 'restaurant', not the brothers) advising us that he was 'On The Fritsch'. His named has been misused so much in the last couple of weeks that he may as well change it to Trengove.

We were temporarily back on top, until Geelong got going again via what was deemed a dangerous tackle by Jetta. On the scale of 0 to Neal-Bullen bouncing the Adelaide bloke off the ground like a basketball last year, it was barely a 1 but still cost him $2000. Like the government putting a speed camera in a 40 zone, this must be how the AFL is getting their finances back on track. People love the pub test, and it doesn't pass that Nifty is writing a cheque (and how do they pay the fines? Do you get a penalty notice in the mail?) two grand more expensive than what Hawkins paid for throwing elbows in the vicinity of an opponent's face. 

As the free was being paid, Lever went ballistic in a way that made that it sound like he was about to assault the umpire Phil Carman style. The ump was so concerned for his safety that he had to repeatedly assure Jake that he hadn't done anything wrong. Turns out he was talking to his teammates, and rightly so. He was very good in the absence of May. They don't play anything near the same role but he did well cutting off promising attacks and marshalling his teammates. Nobody who looks like the 13th Duke of Wimborne should be allowed near a club leadership group, even at a traditionally poncy club like Melbourne, but he could force his way in despite the ludicrous bumfluff. 

The Jetta free not only stopped us storming forward with free players everywhere, it kicked off a period where the rules of deliberate out of bounds and holding the ball were not applied to Geelong. Remember when you used to play Daytona USA in the arcade and it would artificially make you go faster if you were too far behind the leader? I think the same technology was on trial here. 

After two minutes of this nonsense we responded in the least Melbourne way possible, kicking the ultimate Reverse DemonTime goal. With 10 seconds left the ball was thumped inside 50, and as players flung it around trying to find somebody with the space to take a shot, I was panicking that they'd run out of time and we'd come up scoreless. Enter spelunking legend Christian Petracca, who barged through so forcefully that the defenders backed off and smacked it through right on the siren. Our salary cap is full now, imagine what it's going to look like when we've got to re-sign him in a couple of years? I predict the buzzword 'godfather offer' will be used liberally (even though 90% of players linked to one recent have found it was an offer they could refuse), North will offer him $4 million a year, and that no matter who he ends up playing for it won't be them.

That goal made the margin 23 points, prompting Oliver to give Joel Selwood a celebratory shove. He adopted an air of "don't you know who I am?" and wandered around for a few seconds looking for somebody to argue with. I'm sure they'd heard of him but didn't seem to care. Whether they've got the right to be up themselves at this stage is questionable, but I still like to know there's no fear left from big names. Personally, I've never been as worried about famous players as much as the nobodies who bob up and wreck us.

Things started to get a bit ridiculous when Pickett crumbed the bejesus out of a Fritsch contest for another just after half time. Melbourne Classic re-emerged when we battled to give it back as fast as possible, Gawn clotheslined a sliding Selwood in the middle, and while he was trapped on the mark Rhys Stanley took the opportunity to sneak forward and mark for a goal. It made up ever so slightly for the hands-down battering he'd endured from Maximum since the first bounce.

But as things were going reasonably well for us, the Anal-Bullet quickly pulled the goal back. Whether he plucked the ball out of Pickett's hand mid-tackle a few seconds earlier or it was thrown to him was of no concern to the umpire. Based on the first half even if they'd been standing over the contest it would have been called play on.

We haven't had it easy once this season, and it got complicated again here. After five minutes of stalemate Geelong finally came to life, kicking three of the next four. Isaac Smith got two, which is coincidentally also many years are left on his contract with Geelong. Not to detract from him still being a handy player but thank christ he didn't take the three years we were offering him. I'm still scarred from the law of diminishing returns with Lewis and can't imagine he'd have been cheap, which would have left us in even more of a financial squeeze in a couple of years. No doubt he'll prove me wrong with a best on ground, 40 touch, seven goal performance that puts us out of the finals in Round 23.

The second of their goals was born from Viney setting Sparrow up with a hospital handball, but it was one of his few errors. Like his dad he's missed the boat on winning Brownlows and being a media darling but is such an important part of our lineup. Imagine how shit it would have been if he were playing on the other side? Helps when good players develop around you rather than being expected to carry the place on your own shoulders. Nathan Jones must be a bit upset at being a couple of years too early to enjoy the same benefit.

My buttocks were clenching at a rapid rate when Gawn added the arsiest captain's goal of all time to his stoppage domination, hoisting a hopeful long bomb towards the square, where Jackson contested enough to allow the ball to roll through untouched. I thought that might have been good enough to get us to three quarter time with the lead intact, before Salem was blocked a mile off the ball to set up Smith's second.

Having been five goals up midway through the quarter, we were now just 12 points up at the last change. No worries as it turns out, but at the time I was reaching for the brown undies. An early goal was much appreciated. It also had a bit of novelty about it, with the Geelong player rushing the ball out of bounds instead of through the points and being rolled for deliberate. As much as I'm an advocate for letting people rush behinds openly - especially now that it's never been easier to clear the ball out of defence - and think the bar for a deliberate should be much higher, but this was just blatant. Hamish McLachlan tried to be nice and suggest he'd missed rushing a point because it was a wet ball, but from the look on his face he knew he'd stuffed up.  

Lovely Ed Langdon, who comes across as the world's nicest man, had to contend with pelting rain and three Geelong players sprinting at him like an NFL defensive line but still converted. A certain commentator was momentarily confused about whether the kick was to cut the gap to six or extend it to 18. The red and blue player kicking for the red and blue team that was leading 63-51 was clearly not enough of a clue.

Runner Shannon Byrnes was so happy about this that he dropped any pretence of being on the field to give messages and joined the world's nicest man for a hug. Bit early to get this excited but if they're happy I'm happy.

Now, with heavy rain coming down I was happy just to waste as much time as possible. Can't tell you how upset I'd have been at them forcing me to sit in the wet when Row MM was empty.

Bayley Fritsch does not worry about small things such as rain. His aerodynamic hairdo remained upright through four quarters, and he even kicked one from the spot he's made famous with his misses to give us further breathing space. Turns out this was the fatal blow, but I was not yet ready to declare victory. On the other hand, Chris Scott looked like he was about to rip open a vat of cyanide and end it all.

We ran 10 vital minutes off the clock without conceding but that doesn't mean I wasn't still sweating up profusely when Hawkins - after being fixed up by Tomlinson for most of the half - finally had one land perfectly to soccer through from the square. 

In comparison to that final this lacked about 60,000 people and 85% of the frenzy, but did feature the continuing adventures of Melbourne players treating Joel Selwood with disrespect. There's never been a better time to remember Sam Frost (who we could now do with courtesy of Damien Hardwick's bonkers player loan scheme, which surely nobody takes seriously and.. oh shit) telling him this...

... the contemporary version was Pickett flattering him in a tackle then offering maximum verbal abuse. Selwood has won as many premierships as Melbourne since 1959, but what does a 19-year-old care? Imagine how much angrier he'd been if he was old enough to be subjected to that shithouse ad with Joel and a taxi driver in every bloody ad break for two years?

I've got nothing personal against Geelong, even considering some of the demolition jobs they've done on us over the years, but it would be nice if they suffered for a while. Since I've been alive they've never won less than seven games in a season. I know life is about winners and losers but it would help their fans develop some perspective lost since winning multiple flags and seeing more investment in their home ground than some other parts of regional Victoria combined. Writing them off is risky, but nice to see them under a bit of pressure for once. 

Pickett's tackle led directly to the goal that really did put it away, with Spargo, Oliver and Melksham doing a bit of "you first sir, no you first sir" before the Milkshake finally booted it as high as he possibly could from a metre out. And that was, pretty much, it. Instead of security guards ringing the ground for the last few minutes they should have sent out garbagemen, because interest across the board dropped to none. We knew we were going to win, so did they, everyone just wanted to get it over with and move on to next week.

And, confounding pre-season predictions that Adem Yze would be our senior coach by now, our first 4-0 start since 1994 was complete. It wasn't quite as exciting as the milestone game that year, which featured Allen Jakovich single-handedly outscoring the Brisbane Bears by 10 points, but when something hasn't happened for 27 years you're dutybound to appreciate it no matter what the circumstances. If you want to be pedantic and refuse to accept the 1994 edition because there was a bye in the middle you'll have to go back to 1990, when we won the first five then did a Melbourne and lost to a 1-4 Sydney.

It's all going well. Maybe a bit too well, but doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. At the same time, I don't want to hear anything about the statistical unlikelihood of missing the finals from this position. We are prone to mysterious dips in form, so if anyone can cock it up from here it's us. Even '94 required a last round win just to finish 7th. I'd love to issue an earth-shattering statement by thrashing somebody, beating a confirmed top four team, or preferably both, but compared to where I thought we would be at this stage I reserve the right to just be satisfied with what we've got..

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jake Lever
1 - Bayley Fritsch

Serious apologies to Langdon and Viney. Normal level apologies to Brayshaw, McDonald, Pickett, Tomlinson, Salem and Hunt.

11 - Clayton Oliver
9 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
8 - Christian Petracca
7 - Kysaiah Pickett
6 - Jake Lever (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Steven May, Christian Salem
3 - Ed Langdon,
2 - Jayden Hunt, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Bayley Fritsch, Charlie Spargo

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
After a couple of weeks of Pickett doing Pickett things, he settled down and just kicked a bog ordinary snap this week, without any fancy steps or backwards running. I'm going to recognise the player who exceeded expectations the most by awarding the weekly prize to Fritsch for the goal in the last quarter. Given the conditions and the state of the game it was a great time to find his range. Like Pickett a few weeks ago, he wins a truckload of hair products to keep his impressive barnet going. Kysaiah remains the clubhouse leader for the St Kilda goal.  

There are some commentators who you secretly enjoy hearing talk shite. Not BT or Dwayne, where the bad drastically outweighs the good, but I secretly love hearing Eddie shoehorn in unnecessary Collingwood references, or Derm going off onto odd tangents that make him sound like he's having a stroke.

The rising star of this world is Jobe Watson, who obviously knows everything about footy - except when it comes to declining mystery injections - but could do with a couple of years honing his special comments craft in the VFL because he's well out of his depth at the moment. Thrillingly, on Friday night he wanted to said something was Sydney's 'standis operatis', when he meant 'modus operandi', so when I saw him doing our game hopes were high for a repeat. Sadly he must have left his Pig Latin phrasebook at home, because his role was reduced to fluffing for 'expert commentator' Nic Natanui, who didn't say a word unless he was specifically asked a question.

Orderly transfer of power watch
Strange how these things work. One week you mention JFK, the next you lose a president. With about 16 hours notice, Glenn Bartlett ended his term as our 21st president with slightly more dignity than POTUS 35, but not without some controversy. 

I thought he might have quit on a 3-0 start just so he could technically go out as an unbeaten president, but because we can't have the slightest bit of success without self-destructive urges kicking in, his departure reportedly involves falling out with the board, and interestingly Simon Goodwin, who has obviously firmed up his position from three weeks ago when he was halfway down the Green Mile. There are forum posts that hint at some sort of scandal but you can find them yourself, I'm not brave enough to annoy a lawyer. He is staying on the board, which suggests he hasn't exactly been caught running guns to Nairobi.

While Bartlett's reign can't be called an unqualified success due to only playing finals once and not delivering the famous training venue, he can point to a more stable financial position than any time since we were the 'rich' ones in the Hawthorn merger. Seems a lot of that is riding on the value of the Bentleigh Club land but no matter what voodoo economics are at work, the heat is certainly off us in the backwards race to be the next defunct Victorian side. 

He was involved in the odd fiasco, like the New York Yankees fiasco, but while he didn't inspire you to take up weapons and fight, his tenure ends with the club in a far better state than many of his predecessors. 

Taking the poison chalice is Kate Roffey, who must have seen nearly everything there is to see after serving on our board since 2013. People who think you can't do anything of importance without a knob will probably complain, but it's telling that she has previous experience working on one of the last 27 rebuilds of Melbourne Park. If all else goes wrong, and she can't convince her tennis friends to bulldoze show court 54 and let us build there, it's time to go for Plan B, white-ant North out of Victoria so and steal Arden Street.

Next Week
A decidedly average Hawthorn in a game I can go to. What could possibly etc...? Like Chris Scott, outside of a couple of random wins and one glorious finals campaign, Clarko has had us on a leash for years. It took until last year, when they had the highest number of unknowns in their side since the Josh Thurgood era, for us to finally treat them with contempt. I don't think they're any better now but am still on high alert for an earth-shattering letdown and not taking anything for granted.

After years of complaining about the time they played Viney and Jones in Round 1 off the back of one VFL practice match, I'm happy to include Ben Brown off the back of one VFL practice match. Aside from having the longest run-up since Cliff Young, he shouldn't have too many conditioning issues as a forward.

Brace for a Kingsley style performance, but given that Hawthorn's forward line is bereft of talls do we even need to replace May? I know Goodwin would rather die than play McDonald in defence, but what about starting him forward, then swinging him down there if required? Gawn can look after McEvoy when he goes forward, and we can see if having another tall next to him helps McDonald get some goals. If not the Weid is looming, where we'll be able to boost his value before he requests a trade to Collingwood at the end of the year.

I thought Sparrow did well when he came on, so he can swap as the sub with Jordon and Double J can put the feet up for a week. My controversial plan to go with Lever/Tomlinson and hope for the best is bad news for Petty. He was reportedly safe as houses in the VFL last week but if you can't just play a raft of tall defenders if not required because they're there. Maybe go for something in the middle and pick Hibberd?

Anyway, no matter who we pick and how good our start has been I reserve the right to sook up in Selwood fashion if we don't win. Suddenly expectations are sky high and my nerves are shredding at a million miles an hour. 

IN: B. Brown. Sparrow
OUT: May (inj), Jordon (to the sub)
LUCKY: Melksham
UNLUCKY: Hibberd, Petty, Sparrow

Self-indulgent content updates section
In retrospect, if I was going to write a TL:DR review of an old game I probably should have chosen something from 1994. Instead, fast-forward 10 years to another season when we were half decent but went home empty-handed, and enjoy this look back at walloping Carlton in 2004. Featuring Cameron Bruce running riot, Tipstar losing millions, and Fev with a haircut that looks sensible in comparison to old fictional first name Gryan.

Final Thoughts
Half the country is talking us up so they can pour shit later for 'getting ahead' of ourselves, the rest refuse to take as seriously because we haven't beaten the Brisbane Lions 2001, 2002 and 2003 premiership sides in consecutive weeks. Nobody can honestly say they know which way this is going, so for now I'm content to lie back and think of September.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Interstate of Disaster

A Melbourne side riding a wave of momentum into an interstate Preliminary Final then running out of gas and kicking no goals in the first half against a side they'd beaten a few weeks earlier. Where have I seen that before? Yes, it's all over for Melbourne AFLW in 2021, our best season yet, featuring a stirring five weeks of brave performances but ultimately ending the same way as every other senior Demon side since 1964.

Only the most demanding of fan would be rude enough to get upset about the women stacking it with a Grand Final on the horizon. Mostly because they gave us so much joy in the lead-up to the fizz-out, but also because unlike the men they didn't concede the first 10 goals. 

In a special, none-more-Melbourne AFLW twist we were played off the park and lucky to only lose by three goals but still registered more scoring shots. Other than the golden run to the finals, I'll remember this season best for turning bulk forward opportunities into minimal goals. This has been a problem for years, but after 25.10 in the first three weeks it looked like we'd cracked the accuracy code. Then we came home with 35.66. Which is a bit disappointing, but considering we made it work between the Collingwood game and yesterday, who am I to argue? 

Though the game was originally announced for Norwood, it turns out nobody had bothered to ask Adelaide Oval if they were free and the game was relocated. This was talked up as good for us because the AO is closer to the dimensions of Fortress Casey. Forget width, our problem was playing on a ground that was enclosed rather than a glorified public park.

Another area where Norwood might have had the advantage was in producing an Australian flag that didn't look like it had been dragged through the Battle of Okinawa. They might have misunderstood the order to fly the flag at half-mast for Phil the Greek and instead sent up something that could only be described as tattered. The only people who get really angry about the flag are the same ones who refer to themselves as 'patriots' and do racism on Facebook, but even I thought this was a bit NQR. May as well have sacked the Julie Anthony tape and invited Roseanne to sing the national anthem while they were at it.

Maybe I was just looking for a controversy to take my mind off what I suspected to be impending disaster. After the last few weeks you'd be bonkers to bet against this side doing something special but the idea of Melbourne qualifying for any typ of Grand Final is so preposterous that I could only see the result going one way. And it did. Not as violently as our prelim in Perth, but both ending with players watching the Grand Final from the couch the next week after never seriously threatening to make a game of it.

We got our season rolling a month ago by applying a fearsome level of pressure to the Crows. This time they adopted the old "let's get them before they get us" philosophy, pouncing on us from the first bounce and not letting the pressure up until the game was well won. Who knows if our players went in tired after five weeks playing out of their skins or just had their life force squeezed out on the day but it didn't take long to see that we were in all sorts of trouble.

While they had almost all the ball in the opening minutes we still chipped in for the first behind. Didn't fancy our chances of defending a 1-0 lead until the siren though. Not that you'd know that from the commentator who yelled "they've got nobody forward" shortly before the ball landed with an Adelaide player on her own inside 50. A backline that spent the day under siege got away with that one but it wasn't long before the Crows were threatening again.

From a purely ruthless view, we should have benefited from the collision that put both Eliza McNamara and Adelaide's captain out of the game with concussion. Eliza came off worse, carried off by trainers looking like she'd just gone 10 rounds with Ronda Rousey. She's had a very good first season and should have many years of improvement ahead of her but those of us looking for any reason why we might win thought there had to be some effect on a team from losing their captain. Apparently not. Probably helps that their side is full of premiership players, and they carried on like nothing was wrong.

The new 12 day rest concussion protocol means Chelsea Randall - former MFC exhibition game star gone on to bigger things - will miss the Grand Final. Here Daisy unsuccessfully trying to cheer her up by saying "oh well, at least now we've both got next week off." Which, as you can see, has gone down like a fart in an elevator.

After a few minutes of scrap where we never went close to scoring, red flags, danger signs, alarms and distress flares were all simultaneously deployed when Adelaide got their first. Cunningham has found second life playing on the ball after her goals dried up, but the dangers of allowing non-defenders into the backline were exposed when her arm dragged across celebrity supplement spokesperson Erin Phillips' shoulder for a free and goal.

In retrospect, after that we may as well have shaken hands and booked an earlier flight, but as strange as it sounds when we only kicked one goal for the day there was a golden chance to equalise shortly long after. That we missed is not so surprising when you consider our final score of 1.9. The ball bounced for Tarrant in the square, but she was off balance when gathering it, and in trying to get past the opponent standing in the way she whomped it into the post. It was probably touched as well, but after the alleged goal umpiring howler in the last Adelaide game we may very well have gotten away with it.

This kicked off a brief period where we looked in the game, and weren't being piled on by a dozen opposition players at every turn, but a series of inside 50s came to nothing. With our forwards pushing up the ground we were left without targets, and responded by just endlessly stuffing the ball down the throat of Crows defenders. For fans of comparisons to the men's game, this was May/Lever vs Freo all over again. 

At odds of $1.01, Karen Paxman was our best player by the length of the straight. It was nowhere near her best individual game, but with teammates going missing as if they'd wandered through the Bermuda Triangle her performance stood out. While others hit their physical and/or emotional limit she plowed on, racking up 10 touches in the first quarter. 

Paxman may be one of the greatest players in the history of the competition but can't do it all, and was caught in front of goal to gift the Crows another chance. They missed, but the manure truck had already reversed into place and was busy burying us neck deep in sheet. Which makes it outrageous that early in the second quarter, despite our All-Australian ruck being thrashed and half the side struggling to get a touch, we could have had the margin back under a kick. Zanker took our first mark inside 50, but her darting eyes betrayed a lack of confidence in converting which was duly proven correct. It left her on 2.8 for the year, the only knock on an otherwise career-best season. She can take heart from the fact that Kate Hore kicked 1.7 in 2019 and has bounced back to be an All Australian who makes TV ads.

Of course, after five minutes of the ball down our end for nothing but points, Adelaide went the other way and kicked their second. We'd done well to restrict them to two goals for the half, but looked so unlikely to get any of our own that even a 10 point margin looked insurmountable. For those with long memories it was better than the last time we played them in a must-win game, when we went to the break behind 5.4 to stuff all. 

In this case there was hope. It was to prove misguided. If the plane home lost gas at the same rate as the players we'd have to recruit a new team next season. Probably better the comedown here with only enthusiasts watching rather than in a standalone Grand Final - especially at the MCG against Collingwood. If nothing else we can take out of this weekend that they lost their prelim in even more heartbreaking circumstances.

When the Crows kicked two goals to put us away midway through the third quarter I was tempted to change my Kayo channel to this:

... but couldn't be mad. This team has given us plenty of enjoyment over the last few weeks, and while you don't want any season to end in shambles you have to fondly remember some of the hard as nails performances they've delivered over the last few weeks. Though there was no lack of effort here they were several steps behind their opponents and were in grave danger of being wiped off the table. Once the result was beyond doubt it was time to activate Operation Save Dignity and ensure the margin didn't get too unsavoury. In a way it worked, we didn't concede any more goals, but nor did we kick any.

The best chance came to Kate Hore, who had battled up the ground all day with nary a sideways look at an opportunity in the forward line. She got a chance when an Adelaide defender was so shocked at having to do some work that she kicked out on the full. A point didn't help much. Nor did one from Shelley Scott, whose tremendous mark was followed by a less tremendous kick that left us on a sad-looking 0.5 at the last change. 

If nothing else we narrowly won the last quarter, albeit against players who were in self-preservation mode to make sure they'd be right for the Grand Final. There was never any chance of a miracle comeback, and shortly after Nigel Carmody called Paxman 'Pacman', the Crows activated party time mode by rolling a novelty goal through from the boundary.

Now that Adelaide knew there was no earthly way they could be beaten they turned off and let us make the margin look far more respectable than we deserved. The last remaining question was whether we'd kick a token goal or be left alongside expansion luminaries like Richmond 2020 and Gold Coast 2021 as sides to finish a game on 0.? We were saved from this added humiliation when Zanker's kick dropped over Hore's head and allowed her to run onto it from the square. It also lifted us above our previous record low score, the 1.0 registered during that 2019 Adelaide fiasco. 

This prompted a too little/too late rally. When Scott was having another go, special commentator Abbey Holmes deviated from cheering on her old club to offer some hope. "Never say never" she said. "Never" replied Scott, as her kick fell short and was touched through. Neither she or Hore got to Cunningham's goal record, both falling one short to end the year. As well as her midweek win in the Colac Sportsmens Club 'Sports Star of the Year' award, Shelley's consolation prize is to now hold our record for most behinds kicked. Which is not something people are going to run on the ground to celebrate a'la Plugger's 1300th goal.

There's no junktime like a finals junktime, and with Adelaide practically standing back and waving us through, Hanks and Parry also added points, extending the score to 1.8. If the game carried on until Wednesday we might have kicked 1.28.34 and won. Time ran out a couple of days early, with another point on the siren somehow leaving us just 18 points behind. 

While any chance of winning flew out the window during the second quarter, I was both confused that we'd got so close and a bit deflated that we hadn't got a few points closer. Which is an appropriate way for a Melbourne season to end. 

2021 Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Karen Paxman
--- Daylight ---
4 - Tyla Hanks
--- Moonlight---
3 - Shelley Scott
2 - Gabrielle Colvin
1 - Lily Mithen

Apologies to Gay, Heath, and Zanker, who might have got anything from 3 to 1 but ended up with none.

Final Leaderboard
The four-peat is complete, with Paxy crossing the line with more than a game in hand. Other than Gawn's six year streak in the closed-shop Stynes, this makes her the first player ever to take home four consecutive awards - beating 2012-2014 Jones in the Jakovich and 2009-2011 Frawley in the Seecamp. I reject the idea that any particular player 'deserves' a premiership, but like Daisy it will be tragic if she never gets a red-hot crack at an AFLW flag. Good thing they've got about 15 between them at state level.

Tyla Hanks' challenge petered out in the last few weeks, but it would be rude not to mention her going from five votes over the last two seasons combined to a strong second place here. Also good to see her Bunnings ad make a comeback just in time for it to stop being relevant again.

In the minors, Eliza McNamara will be pleased to wake up and discover that she's pocketed the Rising Star Award. In addition to the 2022 rookies, Krstel Petrevski, Megan Fitzsimon and anyone else who didn't play this year remains eligible under the new four game or less qualifying rule. 

Finally, Sinead Goldrick will be even more surprised to be named Defender of the Year considering it didn't exist until about two minutes before I typed this. I'm pleased to correct this oversight, and will be retrospectively awarding medals for previous seasons. It was not a highly competitive field, with Libby Birch dropping from 20 votes last year to none, but we did very much enjoy Sinead's Salem-esque runs out of defence.

36 - Karen Paxman (WINNER: Daisy Pearce Medal for Player of the Year)
27 - Tyla Hanks
21 - Lauren Pearce
20 - Lily Mithen
10 - Kate Hore, Shelley Scott
8 - Maddie Gay
6 - Tegan Cunningham, Eden Zanker
5 - Sinead Goldrick (WINNER: Defender of the Year Award)
4 - Daisy Pearce
3 - Eliza McNamara (WINNER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Gabrielle Colvin, Sarah Lampard, Jackie Parry, Casey Sherriff
1 - Alyssa Bannan

Next Year
Now that Zanker is a confirmed midfield ball-winner and Cunningham has gone two years without looking like a dangerous goalkicker, you'd think our key recruiting focus would a tall forward who is ready to go in Round 1, 2022. Scott is always welcome, and Bannan has years of development ahead of her, but we're still lacking somebody who can take contested marks. With limited teams to trade with I don't know where we're going to find one. Any mature age key forwards left in local competitions that fancy a go? 

While we could also use another good ball user in defence, if we can keep all our star players I'd expect to be deep in the finals mix again. Whether we're good enough to win a flag will depend on how much use our fish-pond depth gets, and how the fringe players and kids go.

For fans of drafting for fun names rather than need, I've assessed the potential draft crop (e.g. Googled '2021 AFLW draft prospects' and clicked on this article) and my wishlist includes Makaylah Appleby, Jorja Livingstone, and Peppa Poultney. Fortunately, Gypsy Schirmer will only be available in the SA portion of the draft, reducing any temptation to end up in controversy for referring to her teammates as tramps and thieves.

I don't know if what his contractual status is, but surely after five years of relatively successful coaching, surely Mick Stinear is going to want to have a crack in the men's system. Maybe not, he might think head coaching in a national competition > coaching in the VFL or Under 18s. And he's probably right, but I bet AFL teams don't see it the same way. Either way, he's got every right to be pleased about what he got this year from an inexperienced that has regularly been clobbered by injuries. The mid-season switcheroos with Pearce, Zanker, Cunningham etc... were a big hit, and should form part of any application he puts in for another job.

If he does go I'm sure there will be a huge romantic Daisy For Coach push, but let's not rush into anything. I'm sure as far as much-loved individuals rushed into the top job it won't go a bit James Hird and end in people being injected with Mexican harness racing drugs but you wouldn't want to rush into anything.

Final Thoughts
All things must pass, but it's been an enjoyable ride. The competition still has a way to go but despite adding new teams that have offered two-thirds of bugger the better teams are improving all the time. Must be about time to dilute the talent pool by expanding to 18 sides. May as well follow the Eddie McGuire plan and add sides in Darwin and Tasmania, thinning out the available players to the point where your grandmother has a shot at getting a game.

Anyway, until they get the dud teams going and the era of death, taxes and Melbourne being competitive ends I'm going to have fun watching them. And when they finally drop their bundle and plunge towards the bottom of the ladder, I might not enjoy it as much but will still be watching. Hopefully that's a few years away and we can have a genuine crack at the big one (the AFLW premiership, not COVID-19) again next year. Let's reconvene for another go in 2022.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Retro Review - Round 6, 2004

To me, 2004 seems like it was yesterday. That we're drafting players who were barely alive at the time exposes the fact that it wasn't and I'm just getting old. For Melbourne fans it was neither the best of times or the worst times, but certainly confusing.

From the arrival of Neale Daniher in 1998 until 2003 we had been one of the most inconsistent teams ever to lace up a boot. In his first season (more on that here) Daniher took a side largely made up of the reigning wooden spooners to a Preliminary Final, before that was seemingly exposed as a fluke when we finished the 14th the following year. Which made qualifying for the 2000 Grand Final even more unlikely, at which point we reacted to our best finish since 1964 but immediately dropping to 11th. 

Turns out we were only good every second year, a phenomenon confirmed to exist despite no scientific evidence as to why. In 2002 we were one memorable collapse from another Prelim, and at 2-1 early in the following season it looked like Daniher and Co. had finally cracked the consistency code. Then we finished the year 3-16, albeit with some suspect capitulations late in the year that allowed us to take advantage of an overly generous priority pick system.

I'd come back to the game full time in 1998, and after six seasons of this my nerves were shot. The club was also discovering that being crap every second year didn't help, bleeding money from every orifice and barely improving our membership numbers from 2003 despite missing the prestigious Wizard Cup final by a point.

That pre-season form looked like a swizz after losing the opener to Hawthorn - who hadn't won a practice match of any sort - by 49 points. A year earlier we beat them in the first game and death-spiralled to the bottom of the ladder, this time it was their turn, winning just three more games and avoiding the wooden spoon by 1.0%. They then drafted a pair of kids called Franklin and Roughead and won every trophy under the sun.

In early 2004 everything revolved around 'f' words. And not the usual ones. For us it was form, finances and factions, with shadowy figures still punching shit out of each other over Joe Gutnick's departure three years earlier. As a Hail Mary attempt at unity, a cavalcade of club legends were invited to parade around the ground before Round 2. Not invited, former CEO Ray Ellis, given the Tijuana when a projected 2003 profit turned into a $2.2 million loss. I'd like to hear Ray's side of it but I'm sure his calculations didn't foresee us going from a semi to 15th.

If we'd lost that Friday night, the same people who'd linked arms to sing Kumbaya would have probably ended the night gouging each other's eyes out. Thank god then for David Neitz, who united the MFC family in the most unlikely way, by kicking nine in a thumping win. We soon discovered that Richmond was the only side in the league worse than Hawthorn, but on the night the win was all that mattered.

Turns out, the draw was very kind to us, offering up future 14th place finishers Footscray next. A 10 point win wasn't much to write home about, but it was better than the alternative. It was the beginning of the end for Dogs coach Peter Rohde, whose post-MFC coaching career fared poorly in comparison to say... Al Clarkson.

After our 2003 swan-dive nobody was relaxing over a 2-1 start, before a dead-set rooting of the previously unbeaten Port suggested this latest revival might be real. It was real enough for us to flop into the finals, while Mark Williams regrouped, won the flag and celebrated by choking himself with a tie.

After four games in a row at the MCG (the sort of fixture free kick we'd never get now), the feelgood factor was officially welcomed back with our first interstate win since late 2002. 

It was our only game against Sydney at Stadium Australia, a match that was meant to be played annually, until they realised Collingwood drew better crowds. We did, however, win a cheap and cheerful commemorative cup, which is either next to the 2018 AFLX Pool B championship in the 'it'll have to do" wing of our trophy cabinet, or was left in the domestic terminal of Sydney Airport. As you can see, Brad Miller was thrilled to be involved.

This, at last, brings us to the MCG on Sunday 2 May, 2004. Standing in the road of our fifth straight win was a Carlton side stuffed to the gills with recycled players, a reaction to their disastrous 2003 season. This was as bad as it got for them in 2004, Denis Pagan's recruiting pyramid scheme helped deliver 10 wins, before it all came crashing down and ended in a pair of wooden spoons.

For now, the Blues were doing alright, with a 2-3 record and a last-start 49 point win over West Coast. Having held the Eagles goalless in the first half their backline must have thought they were doing pretty well. A week later the same men were being restrained from grabbing the overhead wires at Jolimont Station after enabling our first 100 point win since late 1993. We wouldn't do it again for another 14 years. Between them we lost by the ton - and once nearly the double ton - nine times.

Despite the statistical significance of this game I'd never seen a minute of it before now. I bought the DVD during Name A Game's final, desperate 'looks like we're stuffed' fire sale about seven years ago, and even after uploading it to YouTube a year ago have only just come to a loose enough end to sit down and watch. And what's the point in doing that without also taking excessively in-depth notes?

As this world class mauling was taking place I was technically at work, though with the statute of limitations likely expired along with the company that employed me (RIP), I can admit to listening to most of it on the radio while sitting under a tree in Royal Park. By 2004 it was too late for setting the VHS, and not early enough for DVR recorders, Foxtel IQ, YouTube highlights or just flat out pirating a copy off a Torrent site, so I just moved on with my life. Would never happen now.

While we went into the match with a perfectly sensible side (the most obscure participant is probably future West Coast premiership player Steven Armstrong), Carlton's is one of the most eclectic selections you'll ever see. Any analysis of a 17-year-old side other than your will reveal a few players you've forgotten but this is ridiculous. Their cast of imports included Jordan Bannister (ex-Essendon), Brett Johnson and Glen Bowyer (ex-Hawthorn), Barnaby French (ex-Port), David Teague and Digby Morrell (ex-North), Heath Scotland (ex-Collingwood) and Nick Stevens (ex-Port, future abuser of women). Homegrown talents include Justin Davies and Jonathon McCormick, both of who I have not the faintest recollection of.

The shambolic state of their list is usually blamed on the draft picks they lost for rorting the salary cap, but they didn't do themselves any favours trading their first three picks in the 2001 draft for Corey McKernan and Justin Murphy (another abuser). Once they got caught fiddling the books an 'any living organism' recruiting policy was introduced, best demonstrated by Pagan dragging a shot to buggery Mick Martyn to exactly 300 games. Sadly Mick's departure at the end of 2003 removed both a rich source of comedy for opposition fans and the last living link to when Allen Jakovich kicked 11.

Today's coverage comes courtesy of original recipe Fox Footy. Your lead commentator is Clinton Grybas, assisted by Wayne Schwass (who hardly gets a word in), with a surprisingly upbeat Gerard Healy doing special comments and Tiffany Cherry on the boundary.

Here, with the future Row MM taking shape behind her, Tiffany predicts how much chance Carlton players have of retaining their dignity.

The legend built-up since his death suggests Grybas is the great lost caller who would have saved us from today's BT inspired nonsense. Based on his occasional breaching of 80% on the Dwayne Russell scale during this game I'm not so sure, but I would prefer him over everyone employed by Channel 7 not called Jason Bennett. Clinton does accurately predict the result from a Melbourne perspective, saying "This is going to be a great match".

While 2004 turned out to be a (relatively) successful year, it was played with one of the worst jumper logos ever. The blue Demon makes this outfit look like it was bought from Victoria Market. Also, iPrimus was also a massive let down after several glorious wearing LG. 

You don't want to hang too much shit on coin tossers in case you get in Eddie McGuire level trouble, but the civilian in charge on this day absolutely launches it. Who knows what would have happened if Neitz or Camporeale (deputising for an injured Kouta) had copped a 20c coin in the eye before the first bounce. He flipped truly, allowing us to kick with the wind.

Maybe that's why Lance Whitnall mysteriously starts the game in Carlton's backline, setting up our first goal by missing a half-volley, allowing Neitz (inexplicably called 'Nicholson' by Grybas), to set Miller up for the first.

After 10+ years of recalled bounces, it's jarring to see play go on after one skews away at a zany angle. With his opposite number too far away to do anything about it, Jeff White punches the shit out of the ball. He was always very good at that. You wouldn't want to try the modern tactic of not contesting a stoppage against him, he'd just wallop it 30 metres forward. As an alternative to the brute force tactics of Jamar (referred to in absentia by Healy as 'J'Mar' as if he's a rapper) and Gawn, the sight of a ruckman leaping like an Atlantic Salmon gives you fuzzy feelings about Luke Jackson's future.

Other than the final score I deliberately didn't research what happened in this game before watching it, but while the ease of that first goal seemed like a giant flashing DANGER sign for the Blues the landslide is slow to arrive. They even cancelled the opening goal, courtesy of Adem Yze being clobbered in the middle of the ground to the complete disinterest of all three field umpires. This prompts Whitnall to forget his recent blunder and taunt Yze. One of them went on to a promising coaching career and the other was last seen hanging around the Broadmeadows greyhounds.

Another 2004 trend that looks ancient now is how much mischief you could get up to after a mark. For instance, Al Nicholson knocking the ball out of Whitnall's hands, before running off with it after the whistle, before Brad Green unconvincingly pretends he doesn't know who he's supposed to give the ball to. These days Lance would have been paid so many 50s that he'd have been kicking for goal on Punt Road Oval.

While, refreshingly, there hasn't been an unnecessary cut to either of the coaches in the first five minutes, we do get the ever-popular sight of a player receiving instructions from a phone straight out of the Telecom 1992 range. 

The message might have been 'kick it at Fevola's ankles', because that's what happens when Support Australian Hip Hop era Fev gets on a perfect lead for no reward. After kicking six the previous week, he has a much more difficult time of it against late inclusion Nathan Carroll (replacing Clint Bizzell). After seven losses to start his career, Chopper is great in his first win, only partially aided by the Blues kicking towards Fev as if blindfolded.

In 2004 commentators were still amazed by players kicking around the corner for goal. Who knows what they'd have thought of Harry McKay doing it from 30 metres out directly in front last week, but considering the sexual ecstasy Grybas reaches when Neitz does it from the boundary, the Fox Footy box may have required emergency window cleaning.

Neita's goal made it 14-7 with 12 minutes to play in the first quarter. For now there were no pointers to the orgy of violence to come. We were regularly going forward but had several opportunities break down because they knew we were going to kick it at Neitz every time. Once we sorted that out it was on for young and old. First cab off the rank was Cameron Bruce, pocketing a clever kick around the corner by rolled-sleeves era Yze for his first of plenty.

That prompts the first cross to a coach, still from a safe distance rather than the graphic closeups they're subjected to now. For Melbourne, the Reverend was joined by Brett Ratten, Choco Royal, Leigh Newton (strange spot for the media manager to sit but what do I know) and blokes yet to be identified:

This is also a time where interchanges were so infrequent they could still be tracked via on-screen graphics. Except this is the only one they show all day, probably excited that for first time in AFL history a Barnaby replaced a Digby.

If anything prompted us to rise up and kick seven shades of shit out of the Blues it was their painfully bad forward 50 entries. We developed an alternative to Neitz, they spent four quarters booting it at Fev and expecting him to play like John Coleman. After their second consecutive blind hoof to a defender, the ball rocketed down the other end, where Aaron Davey's fancy footwork pulled the piss out of multiple opponents before setting up Bruce's second. It was, at last, starting to look ugly.

What better time for our first cross to the Carlton box. Here's Pagan, a looming Sticks and a kindly old grandpa embracing technology while Denis is still grappling with the analogue option.

The romp came on at an enjoyable speed, with Bruce setting up Ben Holland in so much space that he could have walked the ball to the line from 40 metres out, instead gently lobbing it through like a training drill. I know he was much-maligned, but leaving a key forward in this much space suggested Carlton's defence was no good. Bring back Mick Martyn.

With the margin out to 26, and still six minutes to play before quarter time, the crowd was understandably going boonta. 

In a desperate attempt to stop people switching to episodes of Allo Allo on UKTV, Healy tried to convince us that despite the scoreline Carlton hadn't been bad. This, like any suggestion he was going to stay at Melbourne in 1985, was a bald-faced lie. They'd been bobbins, with only long hair/long sleeves Ryan Houlihan and Fevola showing even the slightest resistance.

Even our unheralded players were lining up to have a go, with Nicholson storming (as much as  possible) through the corridor and setting up Simon Godfrey. If he'd landed it there might have been a repeat of the '98 Blues game when a pissed bloke climbed the fence and staggered towards the huddle to have a chat with David Parkin. Sadly his kick was smothered, and Carlton fans were free to keep dreaming of a memorable comeback.

Their first attempt at a revival was foiled by future Rising Star winner Jared Rivers. Sure he beat the worst field of nominees ever, but until injured every five seconds the sky looked the limit. Witness, for instance, the sixth gamer running back against the flight to spoil Fevola, after a lead that had flummoxed Carroll. Neither Rivers nor Carroll were beaten many more times for the afternoon.

Carlton briefly threatened, including forcing a flying goalkeeper save from Nathan Brown that Fox didn't bother to replay. This prompted our runner to come out, dressed in the sort of all-yellow tracksuit popular with heroin addicts at this time. Whatever he said worked, via a wonderfully weighted Travis Johnstone kick coming out of defence we were soon inside 50 again. 

A wild snap by Holland led to a brief, spirited debate on the introduction of four goal umpires, as if that was going to solve anything. Dutchy's next attempt at doing something spectacular saw him fling his boot at a bouncing ball in the pocket, only toe-poke it straight to a defender. Redemption arrived seconds later, winning a free at a boundary throw in, then a 50 from confirmed cockhead Nick Stevens, extending the margin to 30 points.

That was all for the first quarter, with one more kick on the full by Fev the closest anyone went to changing the 39-9 scoreline. The added bonus to building such a strong early lead was imminent rain, with some doomsday preppers in the crowd already donning garbage bags. The lights came on at quarter time but there was never any more than light drizzle, leaving people in ponchos both looking and feeling ludicrous.

One of the joys of watching old games is dated advertising signage. This game came in the period between fixed hoardings and today's digital signage wankfest, offering a scrolling selection of companies that have either gone bust or changed names. National Bank hadn't yet become 'NAB', Metlink told us to 'enjoy the ride' (while we rode Carlton like Might and Power) and Tattersalls were very keen as mustard for us to 'tip online at'. So desperate that they spent $2.3 million on advertising during year and only pulled in $2m of revenue.

This attempt at a national footy tipping competition offered big money prizes and weekly payoffs for picking all eight winners. To which Australia said "that's nice" and went back to playing in the work comp, causing Tipstar to lose $9 million across its first three years. I did my bit, loyally submitting my tips every week and finishing high enough in the final field to feel a bit smug (nobody else cared, and as it turns out there were only 21,000 people playing), but not high enough to win money. However, I didn't go home empty though, pocketing a DVD player for the highest finish at my local newsagent. 

In an early sighting of Gil McLachlan, the AFL's then GM of Commercial Operations planted his head in the sand and said "... the numbers are not necessarily where they might be, but I still think it's been successful". Somehow the competition soldiered on until 2007 before being mercifully put to sleep. Tatts didn't even bother to renew the domain, and it is now occupied by what appears to be an app for betting on Japanese cycling.

Your chances of losing a game from this far in front at quarter time are pretty slim, but we'd be just the sort of club to have a crack. Suspicions that a hot gospel address by Pagan might fire up his team were justified when they spent the first few minutes of the second term hammering towards their goal. Problem was they only had one forward and we knew it. The future Casey Scorpions superstar did nearly kick goal of the year, sticking his foot under a loose ball in the pocket and trying to lift it through the big sticks, rather than just punting it off the ground. Carlton fans went wild, not realising for about five seconds that it was a point. 

The resistance ended in the most slapstick fashion possible, a mid-air collision by two Blues allowing Davey to whisk the ball away and kick a goal on the run. Down the other end, courtesy of Yze booting the ball out of Adrian DeLuca's hands like an NFL kicker, we learn that DeLuca did a pre-season at Melbourne in [year not mentioned]. Considering how badly he kicks this it's a surprise we didn't offer a five year contract. This took the Blues on 1.5, and DeLuca had barely finished pondering what went wrong before the ball was down the other end as if shot from a cannon, for Bruce's third.

At last, the big root was on. Every time they went near their 50 it was an invitation for us pull off a hot knife/butter interface going the other way. My memories of Travis Johnstone are unfairly clouded by his last couple of years but he is sublime here, with a beautiful kick through the middle setting up future escapee Scott Thompson for our eighth in a row. 

The 46 point lead is celebrated by sending out a water carrier with the most unprofessional, bootleg number you'll ever see. Carlton fans should have celebrated by calling Metlink on 131 638 to see what time the early train was leaving.

If there was any difference between the quarters, it's that in the first Carlton could get the ball inside 50 before it was flung the other way at terminal velocity. Now we weren't letting them get past half-forward. Even Godfrey got to have a set shot, and while he kicked it out on the full from directly in front, the escape only got as far as Jeff White. He set up Holland, and in a great moment for fans of player stereotypes Dutchy missed from here:

"Occasionally those sort of things come back to haunt you," says Grybas. Better six points than one, but when you're 48 points up midway through the second quarter a lot more is going to have to go wrong than that. Clinton then starts calling Andrew Walker '1AW' at every opportunity, working an unpaid plug for his radio employer into the call. Bet you Luke Ottens wouldn't have been offered the same treatment.

To make up for Holland missing the unmissable, Davey kicks the unkickable. Most players would be accused of plucking a similar kick out of the pocket directly from their arse but if anyone knew what they were doing from that sort of weird angle it was him. Clinton plugs your chance to see it again on 'The Winners', before talking about their old Foxtel 'Digital Sports Active', where you could press red for different camera angles, or more importantly switch off the commentary and just listen to crowd noise. Given that Foxtel has about a quarter of the subscribers that they did then, this might be an idea to lure people back. No point for games involving Dwayne, you'll still be able to hear him going off over the effects mic.

In addition to the thumping on the scoreboard, it's nice to get a nostalgic wide shot of the Olympic Stand. It was on death row at this point, but men of a certain age will appreciate the ingenuity of toilets where the glass had been carefully broken so you could have a slash and still see the play. 

I'd like to think I wasn't fretting about giving up this lead, but fears would have subsided when Russell Robertson sliced a pass off the side of his boot backwards only for Green to turn it into a goal anyway. If that counted as a goal assist you can never take the stat seriously again. The fans at the ground certainly weren't taking the idea of a Blue revival seriously, greeting their first goal for an hour with a hearty bronx cheer. This arrogance nearly backfired on us when they flew inside 50 from the bounce and... kicked out on the full. Goodbye comeback, goodbye Carlton.

This was another opportunity to practice our lightning transitions, quickly turning their last gasp at respectability into another goal. It was Green again, working his opponent away from a rotten Godfrey kick that went nowhere near its intended target, before slotting another on the run. For his part in the goal Godfrey was rewarded by being dragged.

Given that they'd stopped showing interchanges sinch Morrell/French, I've got no idea who came on for him, but assume it was Phil Read, who played up to stereotypes by being involved in a manly jostle while the teams went off at half time. 

At 77-17 down, and in an era where you had to work hard to be fined for wrestling, the Blues players were probably happy to stay on the field and away from Pagan for as long as possible.

Sensing blood, the Fox Footy cameras hone in on the Carlton race, where they were offered various degrees of feedback. One nutter in a hood is hanging over the race yelling what looks like abuse, while this lady launched a futile attempt to keep their spirits up via clapping, banging the fence, and (much to the delight of the players I'm sure) patting them on the back. These days she'd have been on the Facebook page demanding a spill of the board.

Safe in the knowledge that even we couldn't blow a 10 goal half time lead (and double safe in the knowledge that this happened 17 years ago and we know the result), our prospects of a massive victory are further assisted by Carlton's Trent Sporn succumbing to a foot injury, probably acquired trying to kick one of his teammates at half time.

The sense of cruelty was further reinforced by Bruce's fourth, marking a crappy, floaty kick that could have been cut off by any number of defenders. Then he got another and it was started to feel disappointing that we 'only' won by 105. Hot Karl Norman was having a torrid day, and Bruce extracted further piss by unnecessarily booting the ball from the square into the second deck. This formed part of an exciting couple of years for Karl, who was robbed by a teammate, then showed up to training off chops after a big night out with the same teammate, got a Rising Star nomination a few weeks after this, then only played four games in 2005 before being dropped for good. Footscray asked invited him to pre-season training the next year but he didn't turn up.

In another entry for the 'It's not their day' file, a gilt-edged chance for Carlton's third is lost when Ian Prendergast first drops a mark, and is then inadvertently kicked in the face once he hits the ground. As Ian is now a lawyer there will be no further mockery of his misfortune.

Daniel Ward is not a lawyer, so I can say how much I hate his piss-tipped hair. In 2021 most sensible people have stopped doing this to random patches of their hair and instead decided to reintroduce the mullet, which makes a urine streaked barnet look much better in comparison.

He might have been wearing a golden shower on his head, but Ward helped set up one of the goals of the day, roosting a long kick down the middle for Green to run onto, contemptuously dash away from a trailing opponent and boot on the run from 50. This sets off one of the biggest reactions from the crowd yet, and at 97-17 put our all-time record winning margin against Carlton into play. Not much of an achievement considering it was a) only 81 points, and b) dated back to 1897, but welcome nonetheless. 

After 10 scoreless minutes the Blues finally got a score of some sort. The storyline was obviously how bad Carlton were going but Heath Scotland was still poorly treated by Grybas calling it like the miss of the century when he was on an angle with players in the way. 

I don't think Heath is going to get an apology from Clinton now but I'm willing to officially absolve him of any blame. Unlike these two young Melbourne fanatics, reminding Carlton of their misfortune while sitting behind the lead singer from Korn and a Blues fan contemplating which bridge he's going to jump off.

While Scotland can finally enjoy his freedom 17 years on, he was still guilty of aiding and abeting our next goal. Here Jeff White plucks one straight from the Big Book O' Footy Party Tricks by picking up a half volley and casually booting it through from the pocket. The carnival atmosphere then continued with a free to Neitz at the top of the square, for his first kick since the opening quarter. I'm retrospectively upset that from 109-18 with 9.25 left in the third quarter we didn't challenge our all-time record 141 point win.

You can tell that AFL tactics hadn't gone down the full chippy, dinky kick route yet because Schwass - allowed to get a rare word in after a goal - says our +62 possession count was "equivalent to having four to five extra players on the field". Now a team can have that and it all it means is that they've got NFI what to do with the ball.

With the sun showing up for the first time all day, we continued to pile on the pressure. After a barren afternoon, as part of a barren season where he'd only kicked one goal, reigning Best and Fairest winner Robertson was the next to have a go. 

First he punished himself for a miss by trying to tear his lower jaw off, before getting it right at the second opportunity. That sixth goal to nil for the quarter extended the margin to 97, prompting one Carltonian to offer this verdict on how things were going:

The commentators refer to Fev's 'dirty day', but could not have had any more of a bash with zero help from anyone. He's getting a bit sooky, but so would you playing as the lone forward option of a team playing like the Laurence Angwin All Stars. As a bonus for fans of all persuasions, here he is midway through saying "oh fuck" while in close proximity to Phil Read's buttocks.

Takes Carlton long enough to open their account for the quarter, but it is at least a quality finish. Anonymous since his early trash-talking, Whitnall takes advantage of Carroll being assassinated in a contest to slot it from from a tight angle.

Whitnall's emergence from the witness protection program reduced our chances of crossing the 100 point barrier before three quarter time. For about 15 seconds. And who better to get the instant reply than his old mate Yze? Then, straight out of the next centre bounce Ooze is rebounding from half back line, and I'm inspired to watch more old games to remember him, Johnstone, White etc... at their peak.

They're all made to look a bit better by Carlton's 0.0% pressure rating. Steve Hocking would touch his dong if he saw the way we moved the ball around a series of opponents playing like their feet are stuck in concrete. And considering some of the 'celebrities' who have followed Carlton over the years that was a live possibility. Sadly, our tilt at a record sis further affected by another consolation goal to Whitnall on the siren, leaving us a still not inconsiderable 123-31 in front.

So often games like this peter out in the last quarter - except when we're the ones 92 points behind and the other side goes for mutilation. These teams add another 10 goals combined. The first fell to us, as Holland does much better this time, even with a plastic bag flapping at his ankles and the tantalising offer to save money with Primus Clubcall. 

In the interests of research, I called 1300 789 665. It's still Primus but I didn't stay to discover if they still give 7% of your monthly phone bill to the club. According to 'David Neitz' in the press release, players had already switched. "It's great to know that if we're on the phone to each other talking tactics, we're helping the Club in more ways than one!" somebody in the Primus marketing department said.

We that this game ends in a huge margin, but watching 'live' it's still annoying when the score is continually dragged back from the precipice. This time by Camporeale, who allegedly had 20 possessions but had barely been seen since the coin toss. "That's a highlight!" lies Grybas. 

Somehow Carlton's one goal streak leads to conversation about historic big wins - Schwass kindly chooses to ignore his part in North's 127 point win over us in 1990, but Healy is always there to remind you of how badly Melbourne have done, talking up the 1979 Fitzroy schellacking. He undersells the Lions, crediting them with just 30.30 when they actually kicked (*sob*) 36.22.238. He did, however, correctly remember being dropped the next week, missing us bouncing back to win by five goals. If the Pakistani cricket team did that...

Our next goal should have come via one of the most underrated reckless acts in recent history. Matthew Lappin sees a handball gently floating towards him, and instead of taking possession he boots it out of mid-air, almost taking Brad Green's face off in the process. 

All that saved Green from the same fate that befell Jeff White on the same ground 18 months later is Lappin collecting ball marginally before skull, ensuring all the contact to Brad's face came from his shin. Still an obvious free kick, which makes it so unusual that after a lengthy period of non-deliberation the whistle goes... to pay a mark to the player on the end of Lappin's wild kick.

Further proof that the umps had lost interest came in the form of Wheatley reacting to an innocuous push in the back - which we'd already been given the free for - with a clothesline. The umpire further ruins Campo's day as stand-in skipper by lecturing him that there was no reversal because "you had the ball" as if that made any difference.

At one goal apiece halfway through the quarter, Clin Ton suggests that both teams would be happy to call the game off and take a 92 point margin. Bollocks they would. Carlton maybe, but what side is going to get that far in front and not want to drive for 100? Obviously not schooled in the Kerry Packer method of talking it up no matter how bad things get, he then says "we're treading water here on Fox Footy".

White tried to get things going with a shot on the run from 50, but after kicking on the full he does the classic footy move of pointing at something to try and take the heat off your mistake, before giving up the facade and raising a hand in apology. It was left to the closest thing we had to another ruckman to put us back on the verge of the magic margin. A boundary throw-in lands at the top of the square, where Holland swiped the ball out of mid-air and thumped it through.

In another piece of period umpiring, the advantage rule obviously wasn't fully implemented yet, because two seconds after the whistle went for a free to Armstrong, Robertson casually and wastefully tries to snap the goal from 45 metres only for it to be brought back for Armstrong to have another go. Only, he had such clear disinterest in taking the shot that the Fox cameras switched to Ward five seconds before he 'spontaneously' took a handball. While his kick missed everything, Holland marked it in the pocket, proceeding to hit the post and leave the margin dangling on 99. 

We have never won a game by that margin and weren't starting here, but it took a bit to get going again. Finally Houlihan, still the only effective Carlton player, delivered a decent kick to Fev, and to the boos of sadistic Melbourne fans he reduced the gap to 93. When Davey put on turbo thrusters to immediately set up Armstrong - much more interested this time - for a reply 20 seconds later Fevola must have wondered why he bothered getting out of bed.

Finally, with five minutes left and nothing to play for other than reaching/avoiding the 100 point psychological barrier, it started raining goals. Who knows how many of the 38,799 crowd (sorry for not showing up and making it a round number) were still there by this point, but any Carlton loyalists who stuck around got to see their latest goal cancelled out by three from us in three minutes. First another from Armstrong, before Bruce finally put us over the magic margin with his sixth. 

Even with White and Johnstone packed off to the bench, the slaughter continued unabated. As we discovered that Grybas said "shorts it" years before Dwayne, Robertson set up a seventh for Bruce, making it our biggest ever score against the Blues - and that day we'd had to come from three goals down at the last change.

The most consolation of consolation goals fell to the Blues on the siren, reducing the margin to 'just' 105 points. On a weekend with three games decided by a point, this was our equal 10th biggest win in history.

Shortly after the Carlton fan who'd tried so hard to gee up the boys at half time was seen wiping her nose on her sleeve, we saw this classic banner, taking its place alongside 'BRUCE ALMIGHTY' and one that just had 'DEMONS' written on it in black texta:

For reasons unknown, the coverage then cuts to spycam footage from the rooms that looks like it's been installed by a pervert. Most of the screenshots in this post have come up in ND (No Definition), but this is about as bad as it looked on the original broadcast. I think that's Dipper on the left, but with this quality it could be Harold Holt.

The real cameras make it to the rooms in time for the song, belted out in front of a sign for 'Microsecure Technologies'. We're pleased to say this company is not only still trading (from the fictional sounding suburb of 'Humevale') but that their website looks like it hasn't had an update since 2004. Considering our age profile and the club's habit of dropping dead at the slightest provocation, the Le Pine Funerals sign on the other wall was more appropriate. 

The players don't belt out the theme as much as sign a slower, nearly reggae version, while we a) confirm that it was Dipper seen earlier, and b) Chris Fagan looks at Ben Holland like he's just squeezed out a jam tart.

And on that classy note, coverage for Name A Game customers comes to a screeching halt. We get one last shot of the Reverend triumphantly doing the rounds, alongside Neita, a future premiership player, and one of Flock Of Seagulls doing a live cross  

Finally, while 2004 Foxtel customers had the chance to press red for press conferences (any chance that feature now?), 2021 YouTube suggests I watch a video featuring Damien Barrett. Advantage 2004.

Watching this in isolation, you'd think this sort of defeat would send a cobbled together side into a death spiral, but the Blues returned to the MCG six days later to beat Collingwood. Which is amusing. Even more surprisingly we follow up this record score by losing to the Diamond Valley Under 9s, instead beating West Coast by 49 points, before our winning streak ended the following week at that classic MFC graveyard, Kardinia Park.

From there, the fortunes of the clubs diverged. Carlton veered between the outer fringes of the eight and 15th place before being officially knocked out of the finals race with a month to play. Just as their year ended ours peaked, reaching the top of the ladder after Round 18. Our form in unconvincingly beating last placed Hawthorn should have clued us in to it being a mirage, but nobody cared at the time. They showed the ladder on the MCG screen and due to having low expectations we all went wild.

Meaningless mid-season milestones were all we got, following summit with plummet, missing a double chances by losing the last four games, then being knocked out of the finals at the first hurdle by 8th placed Essendon. 

While it was all laughs at Carlton's expense in May, they had their revenge in Round 21. Desperate to rescue our free-falling season before a last round trip to Perth, we fell victim to a team buoyed by big name inclusions like Adam Bentick and Cory McGrath, losing by five goals. This time I meant to be there, before being stopped in my tracks by one of my worst hangovers ever. Christ knows how I went outside and made it halfway down St Kilda Road by tram before having to escape and spew on the median strip at Commercial Road. This was all the encouragement I needed to go back to the original Demonblog Towers and listen to the horror unfold on the radio. 

But in May 2004 that's all yet to come - and if either set of fans knew what was on the horizon would they have bothered carrying on? - so it's goodbye from us at the MCG. For Clinton Grybas, Wayne Schwass, Gerard Healy and Tiffany Cherry, I'm Adam 1.0. Cheerio and Go Dees.