Tuesday, 15 June 2021

A farce to be reckoned with

Last time we played Collingwood I stole the name of a popular reality program to call the review Million Dollar Fisting. And here we are a year (on the football calendar) later, having lost a mil being forced to play interstate, then conceding four premiership points by firmly whopping the entire arm up our own choc box after 10 minutes then leaning back to make sure it was in. That time they ended up playing finals, this year we almost certainly will. Funny old game.

The good news is that we'll be writing off the entire financial loss as a contribution to the Kingsley Institute, where down on their luck players and clubs alike come for a chance at redemption. It's easy to get self-pitying after our second upset loss in a month, but there can't have ever been a league leader at this stage of the season that has given so many suckers so many even breaks. We got away with it against GWS, St Kilda, Hawthorn, and North and could unconvincingly deflect blame for the Crows loss to the umpire, but this was just a fair and square bollocks performance.

In Adelaide, we played badly enough to let a team playing out of their skin kick a decent score but still had enough good performers to nearly fall over the line. This was drizzling shit against a team fielding more random names than Nintendo International Cricket, including one who did the worst kick from a standing start since the Spencil against North 2009. They arguably still should have won by more.

Even after a 1-6 start, it's not like the Pies have been complete piss, but I doubt we'd have started such hot Queen's Birthday favourites since 2005. It's nice to be thought of positively, but I didn't take well to the pressure of having to wait until 3.20pm Monday to find out how well we'd cope. That's why I, unexpectedly the fan of an 11-1 team, spent a long weekend bricking it about losing. Imagine a world where you could go into a game fully confident of winning in a canter. All those years where Pies fans could have had their life savings (jokes on a postcard to the Stereotype Department, PO Box 999 in your capital city) on the result of Queen's Birthday, then we get the chance to ruin their special occasion and put in a half-arse performance that leads to disaster. Why would you follow anyone else?

You can have all the excuses you like about the venue, the emotion of Collingwood's players after their coach hari-kari'ed himself midweek, and players tired after half a season at the top of the ladder, but ultimately we were outworked, outplayed and got we deserved. Publicly available tipping results show that I expected to win, but you will note the conservative projected margin. This is nothing new, we could play Fitzroy 1996 and I'd worry about disaster. My psychological issues have no impact on professional players, but there's enough evidence that this team still can't be trusted. The 11 wins in 13 games are welcome, they don't buy confidence. 

So, while Footscray's bye temporarily keeps us atop the ladder, we flubbed a golden chance to reach the break looking like a serious contender. Having never been in this situation before, I don't know how concerned I'm supposed to be. We could do to Essendon what we did to the Dogs, or it could be the start of the mid-season collapse that has happened in almost every good season of my supporting life. Might be better to get it out of the way, the only time it didn't happen was 2005, when we saved it for the end of the year and went from top to losing an Elimination Final.

Give me all the "it'll be fine" you like, but now I'm desperate to get to the next game and get some validation. Stuff the bye, let's make Gerard Healy's dreams come true and play again at 5.10pm on Thursday in front of an empty MCG. My nerves can't wait nearly two weeks to find out what happens next. Don't forget we come home with the worst month of fixturing known to man, we're 99% sure of playing finals but top four is starting to look wobbly. In a world where we mow down top four teams then lose to dreck, ladder predictors are hardly an exact science but I had a bash for the first time this year and it ended in us finishing sixth and playing an Elimination Final against Richmond. Which would be quite the occasion, but a bit of a letdown after starting 9-0.

For those of a more cheerful persuasion, I hope you're a better judge than the Collingwood fans who spent last week in self-preservation mode, batting back every suggestion of an upset by claiming they'd be thrashed. We've all done it. The difference is when we were 16th on the ladder we were usually right. I could understand them thinking we'd win, but the idea that we were going to suddenly pile on an enormous score just because we were on top of the ladder is like ignoring context and automatically giving votes to whoever gets the most possessions.

There's good news for fans of historical omens. The only other decent season we've had since 2007 saw us thumped in this game. Collingwood had a far better side that day, but kicking the shit out of them in 2016 (yes this really happened) and falling over the line via brief Jack Watts redemption story the next year didn't do us much good. It seems appropriate that the second of those was undone in the rematch, with a mid-table Collingwood side full of people you've never heard of taking advantage of us failing to turn up for a big occasion.

How big an occasion this was is debatable, a game that recently drew crowds of 83k and 74k shunted to a half-full SCG, while a cast less-famous than Celebrity Apprentice (I only know because my daughter watches it, I swear) went down the slide at the MCG in front of nobody but the great Neale Daniher and Channel 7's fake crowd noise machine. The game itself was barely more special than when we tonked them at Adelaide Oval in front of 5000 people last year. It was a triumph for fundraising, and for everyone who's bust a gut propping up Buckley for years when A. Random would have been sacked well before nearly winning a Grand Final, but otherwise an absolute fiasco in every department. 

As you may have already guessed it's welcome to the baby out with bathwater edition of Demonblog, overreacting to a horrible performance while conveniently ignoring six very good recent quarters against premiership contenders. It's not like we were going to finish the year with one loss but if we restrict our defeats to the top 15 of the ladder that would be a start.

We've given up so many leads this year that the old 'are they on?' test across the opening minutes is no longer valid, but things still looked suspect from the start, with Gawn struggling to beat a fourth game ruckman to the taps, Oliver unsighted, and the ball quickly escaping through the side door towards their forward line. This was no one-off, the whole thing was a bit like Carlton, only with our escape routes from defence superglued shut and no match-winning cameos from forwards. 

No forwards at all as it turned out, with Pickett, Fritsch, McSizzle and Weid combining for 1.3 - and even that goal was a snap from the square. I know that in living memory we've tarnished this occasion by kicking 3.10.28, but this was as toothless a forward performance as you'll ever get from a good side. Even last year's 4.8 against Port included two from Weideman. This time the entire unit was cactus. To be fair they were trying to deal with some of the most wooden-legged delivery of all time, but a few more contests would have been nice. Pickett was hesitant, Fritsch blanketed and McDonald playing like somebody expecting to come off the ground and find he'd just missed the birth of his child.

Alas, as mean as it is to kick somebody when they're down, a lot of the focus will fall on Weideman playing the worst game of his life. One of our forwards playing all four quarters and failing to register a kick happened as recently as 2017 to Mitch Hannan in Hobart, but he was a first-year player who didn't go through a lengthy 'when are they going to give him a game?' saga before being picked. This was Weideman's 49th game over six seasons, and his fifth this year where he's done nowt. 

In fact, after being very good in the middle of last year, he fell off the cliff in the last month there, so that's three goals in nine games - two of which came in a minute against Footscray. Talk about Cairns killing off our 2020 season, I think it might have done in his entire career. He was averaging two goals a game before that and has never been seen again. Now his confidence is clearly shot to pieces, and I hate seeing it. At this rate he's doomed to be compared to that Geelong final for the rest of his lift but those 24 touches look a long way away.

Nobody's going to self-report that they're out of form and ask to be dropped, so it's in no way his fault, but playing Weid after two poor weeks did smack a bit of lowly opposition arrogance. Maybe this was a time to introduce horses for courses and play with one less tall. Whether Melksham, Chandler (who may as well change his name to Chandler (Unused) after another afternoon of 100% tracksuit time), Bedford or *insert name here* would have made a difference to the result is up for debate. I don't suppose we expected to deliver the ball so badly. Considering how many kicks landed with a defender on the full, ground level players might have been irrelevant anyway. 

I can only imagine the sort of reception Weideman's getting from the weirdos (see, for example, the reaction to this comedy Facebook post, which could be offered as sworn evidence in court against the idea we're all upper-class twits), and don't intend to pile on like I might have as an immature turd a few years ago. He'll be dropped and somebody called Brown will get their chance to impress. For now I'm still right with Ben, but hopefully the VFL gets going next weekend and they both stake a claim. 

Wing and prayer forward play was not required for the first goal, set up by one of their rare dud kicks in defence and one of our equally rare attempts at forward pressure. Perhaps the rarest of all was Fritsch finding space to step around an opponent and land a lovely pass with Anal-Bullet. ANB smashed through the set shot and Bayley disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle for the next hour. 

Opening the scoring with a set shot was a false dawn, with the vast majority of our few goals coming from open play. Same as last week, so don't tell me there's not work to do with our forward structure. We usually find a way to kick a decent score, but like expecting Lever and May to air traffic control us out of trouble at the other end every week, it's a high-risk route to a premiership challenge.

The Bullet almost had the second too, rolling through an attempted pass that I could see McDonald touch on the way past from Victoria. Based on no immediate review or histrionics from commentators I thought we about to get away with murder. Unfortunately "they review everything" is not just a cliche and the ARC played narc, leaving ANB doing the traditional 'kick goal/leave field' move and sitting down in time to see his goal being taken away.

Those few seconds before crossing of flag and deleting of five points were as good as it got. This signs of doom weren't far behind, with a quick forward entry causing Hunt to hang off Darcy Cameron like he was abseiling, gifting them the reply. One of them would go on to a career-best day. Try to guess which.

Having already handed James Hird his last coaching win, and now adding Buckley to the collection, I thought Michael Voss would be fuming that he didn't do the same against us. Turns out he only beat Melbourne in his second last game. The Kingsley Institute will investigate that right after working out how Cameron and Brody Mihocek, went from three goals combined across the last month to playing like Franklin and Roughead. I know until last week the Pies attacked like Paul Roos and Ross Lyon had launched a joint takeover but this was ridiculous. 

You can complain about our defence until you're sore, I'll keep whinging about how easily the ball gets down there. Who knows what we've got up our sleeve, but the danger of being (relatively) red-hot in the first half of the year is that everyone's seen how it's done and gets a chance to combat it. Top teams will read from the book of Rowdy Roddy Piper and say "just when you think you know the answers, I change the questions", let's see if we've got the plums to go down that route, or back the system that has delivered wins but also provided half the league an opportunity to knock us over.

That goal kicked off a few minutes where they did everything but score more, and we looked in some sort of trouble. The misses, which peaked at 1.5 early in the second quarter, gave hope that they were going repeat their 1.11 in three quarters against Geelong and let us build a match-winning lead, wonky forward line or not. Sadly, at this point we are not Geelong.

There were still plenty of opportunities to score at our end. Not long after Harmes kicked our second, McDonald ran into the sort of open goal he'd usually finish with his eyes closed and sprayed it horribly. Considering how easily they were moving it from one end to the other, any shot that didn't end in a goal was in danger of becoming an opportunity. I presume it's still the narrowest ground in the league, but surely five metres doesn't account for the difference between this and trapping Footscray behind the Great Wall of Melbourne at Docklands. I'd love to point the finger at the venue but it will have to get in a queue behind about eight other factors.

Their string of blown opportunities left us in front against a team who'd only kicked one goal, which was - on paper - a good thing. Maybe it was because the contents of my stomach were dropping like a faulty lift but it didn't feel sustainable. I cared not for all the times Collingwood has put in a hot first quarter then gone to pieces - including on the same ground a few weeks ago - nothing we did suggested a team playing at its best.

We could still win, and as hindsight showed there was much worse to come in the second quarter, but it was like watching a lower intensity replay of last week. We didn't get as far behind this time, and launched another mini-stranglewank comeback, but couldn't keep it up. Even the good fortune of Langdon being paid a mark that was near enough to before the siren that the umpire couldn't tell the difference (and more on umpires not being able to tell the difference later) ended in no score. Bemused by the unusual scenario of being allowed to run around a certain distance despite the quarter being over he kicked it out on the full. 

Stuff the lead, it was still a terrible quarter where you'd struggle to pick out anyone having a serious influence. Still, we've been in worse situations against worse sides already this year so you couldn't rule out a correction. I may have secretly thought the tide had turned when we plowed straight out of the middle for Oliver to kick a goal 30 seconds after the restart. Immediately after, there was another golden chance, this time with Pickett doing a perfect lead only for the ball to bounce off his chest like it was a trampoline. The way our forwards were going he'd probably have kicked a 20 metre sideways pass to an opponent anyway. 

Instead of having another shot on goal, we went and conceded the next four. The first was the textbook example of the difference between the two forward lines - with one forward using a block of dubious legality to keep Lever at bay and allow his teammate to mark in the square. And so he should, most of the time you'll get away with it. Like their opening goal, the most important thing is to actually make the contest in the first place.

There was an element of luck to some of it, witness the blind kick inside 50 that landed perfectly in the arms of a forward, but we had plenty of chances too. Now the team that started 1.5 looked clinical, and by the time some bootleg Oskar Baker lookalike fended off Oliver to kick another, the air around me was turning blue. Spirits were not lifted by Tom Sparrow trying to kick a 70 metre drop punt after the siren, I was cursing anyone and everything involved.

Fox Footy's half-time analysis of Lyon, Brown and Riewoldt was infinitely more sensible than Channel 7's call (which at various times had the game at the MCG and on Sunday, wishful thinking on both counts), and while they've played about 1000 games more than me and should know better I wasn't buying the idea of a subconscious mental dip because a bye was on the horizon. Looked more like a team set up to perfection comfortably leading around opposition that didn't like playing on the ground, and couldn't/wouldn't take advantage of chances to take control. I'll buy they were tired, but the idea that they were deep-down dreaming about the week off seems like cobblers.

The great metaphorical wrist-slashing was temporarily delayed by a third quarter comeback, but not before we nearly let in another goal in the first minute, to a player standing in acres of space on his own inside 50. I was ready to punch on before the kick missed, but like the reverse of Pickett's dropped mark in the second quarter this near-death experience prompted us to play sensibly for a while. I didn't rate Gawn's game highly by his standards, but he had a great few minutes in kicking a goal, then setting up another with an intercept mark. When Fritsch emerged from witness protection for the third we were inexplicably in front. I didn't understand and could scarcely believe it but wasn't going to say no.

It was so much like Collingwood in the second quarter that we should have also kicked four in a row. McDonald got a free from one of our only decent forward 50 contests of the day but hit the post. Never mind though, the momentum was definitely going our way now. The only thing that could possibly stop us was the umpire paying a mark right in front of Collingwood's goal after May had already juggled it. Pointing out stupid things Brian Taylor says is like shooting fish in a barrel at this point, but he was conspicuous in his absence on this one after spending the preceding hour in amazement at the umpires doing routine things like bouncing the ball. 

With the commentary coming from Channel 7's studio in Melbourne anyway it's a shame he didn't pull a vocal cord doing the Big Freeze. They could have made the popular late change of OUT: Buffoonery, IN: Jason Bennett. I've got plenty of problems with their other callers (and let's not forget some of the shrieking lunatics on Fox), but can just about stand any of them when they're not in the orbit of the worst comedy character since Mrs Browns Boys.

Anyway, being rorted by another suspect decision to the right of screen in an interstate game was fun. Again, I'd say if you create enough one-on-one chances you'll eventually get the benefit of the doubt so good luck to them for taking advantage of the red-hot guess.

Jackson got that goal back soon enough, but it was the last we'd kick until the game was all but shot. In a real Demontime stitch up they went back ahead with 30 seconds left. The lead had already changed about seven times so it was hardly a fatal blow, but in a game of limited scoring I was into whatever psychological advantages were available. Mind you, we wouldn't have conceded the goal in the first place if we'd been able to keep the ball from flying down the other end after Oliver missed a set shot a few seconds earlier.

After rolling over and dying several weeks in a row earlier in the year, Collingwood's last quarter against the Crows convinced me this wasn't going to end in a Hawthorn style landslide. Sure they only kicked one goal in the final term last week, but the way we were going it felt like one goal would be a stretch. And it was. In another world, we might have taken them out of the equation and romped to victory. Even a repeat of last week would have done, just to avoid the banana skin and prove Burgessball is still valid. But in this safe space where you don't have to be permanently chipper about every win, let's not forget that even Hawthorn didn't fall to bits until they'd kicked a goal, then dropped a sitter of a mark in the square. 

With Bucks signing off his last address like the crescendo of an inspirational midday movie, they just carried on where they'd left off. I hope he retrospectively ruins the moment with a controversial season-ending victory over them in his next job, for now he must be the first full-time coach since god knows when to depart after two consecutive wins. Maybe somebody died of pleurisy mid-season in 1922 but it can't have happened often.

We were still up to our necks in this game, and could have taken his Gordon Bombay impression out of the equation by steamrolling to an infamous victory. Soon enough the only thing up to our necks was sewage five feet high and rising. Adelaide was a rank performance but at least it had the Oliver masterclass, this lacked anyone (on our side anyway) taking control and trying to drag their teammates with them. The ball went straight down their end and stayed there for a few minutes for a point and a miss. 

Had we taken advantage of this to regroup and win it would be big laughs at Collingwood's expense, instead we necked ourselves with probably our worst conceded goal of the year, gutted like a fish on yet another turnover, with Scott Pendlebury left standing 30 metres on his own in the middle of the ground like he's some first gamer, then our new fiend Darcy Cameron an equally significant distance from an opponent inside 50. I thought they might try and bring back the spirit of QB2018 by picking Mason Cox, but why pick a single bloke who randomly kicked six against us when you can have out of form players combine for seven.

That told you everything you needed to know about where this game was headed. As did Pickett becoming one of the few players ever to be caught taking excess steps while wheeling around for a snap. Umpires usually let them get away with it but this was ridiculous, he was halfway to the safety of Fortress Showgrounds by the time he was pinched, and still didn't look as if he was about to have a shot. This was one of the few times yelling "just bloody kick it" would have been valid. He did a couple of important things off the ball and furthered his quest to give away the most unrealistic marking attempt frees in history but otherwise had as ordinary a day as the rest of his chums inside 50. 

Speaking of that great venue just a few kilometres from where this rubbish was taking place, I can understand why this was at the SCG instead. If the NSW government was paying to host the game they were always going to want it at the iconic stadium. Which is a shame for us, considering we've been shit there for years, not winning in any convincing fashion since the night I saw a gentleman going up on his lady friend in the bushes (so to speak) during 2005.

Whatever the venue did to us, I hope we got a fair chunk of whatever they paid to host, partially offsetting a fortnight where we've blown a comfortable profit, for the first time through no fault of our own. Hard to see what NSW got out of it other than a lot of Victorians taking advantage of the fact that you could travel there but not 26km from your house. It's not like they were going to turn it into a non-stop ad for tourism like the NT, we're all pretty much across what's in Sydney by now. Bit of water, large bridge etc... You weren't going to show us anything new here. So they didn't. Which makes you wonder why they paid for it in the first place. And further makes you wonder if they did pay, or did we get roped into this for the gate reciepts?

God knows if any of them would have paid for the privilege, but if NSW didn't want the game it seems every state and territory other than the one that was supposed to pay us premium bunce last week was happy to let Victorian sides in. Off teams went for games in Adelaide, Cairns, Hobart and Perth, but try getting into Alice Springs without them redirecting the plane to East Timor. Geelong had to live in a hotel before leaving Victoria, then hang out in an Adelaide Oval cricket net for a couple of hours before the game and a) still won, b) seemingly didn't pay SA back by giving them Coronavirus. Let's see if we do get another game into the NT this year, or whether it's all-in on the theory that they were happy to save their money.

We hung on for a few minutes after that dreadful hot knife through butter goal, before Sparrow got pinched holding the ball and they kicked what seemed like - and in the end was - the sealer. Sparrow was very good last week, this time not so much. Certainly helped solve the question of who's going to get the arse for Viney. Double J dismissed any idea that he'd be the one to go, playing (relative to the joint burning down around him), one of his best games yet. 

With the game all but lost we activated Gus Hiddink 2006 mode, going for broke after stuffing up all the earlier opportunities to win. We still couldn't kick a real goal, only pinching one off the back of a pack through Langdon to make it two the difference with three and a half minutes to go. Given that if we were in the same situation I'd be convinced of a loss I tried to be positive and hope for a ludicrous comeback. Then we cooked ourselves by turning several opportunities into a solitary point. 

It was officially the reverse Queen's Birthday 2007, where we were the lowly side springing an upset against a contender. It lacked the theatre of somebody throwing a can at Russell Robertson after he kicked seven but emotionally I was on the same page as that black and white would-be assassin. Having spent four quarters yelling things that would get you arrested in public, I rage quit on the last 25 seconds. Apparently, they kicked another goal. Good for them. It's almost as cowardly to turn off the TV before the end as it is to walk out of the ground (much easier though), but I just don't like watching other people be happy. 

The additional impact of the Buckley wankfest was too much for me. He's never done anything to me (though playing Darcy Moore forward against West Coast was almost the worst non-MFC coaching move of the modern era), but the carry on like he's going into retirement with a terminal illness was too much. Earlier the SCG gave him a commemorative piece of turf, which I'm sure will take pride of place in his garage, under a pile of old newspapers and the tennis racquet he broke COVID curfews with.

Anyone would have cut off an extremity to be 11-2 before the season but you've still got the right to spend the bye week feeling flat as a tack. In the last month, we've lost to two lowly sides and beaten two premiership contenders. Until the AFL introduces the McIntyre Final 18 this shouldn't be a problem for us in September (and yes, we'll get there in some fashion, no need for a top eight Bradbury Plan yet) but you'd think any of Richmond, Geelong, Footscray or Brisbane would be gagging for another shot at us. Considering the power of our uphill skiing so far in 2021 we might beat Geelong then lose a prelim to South Morang.  

We are now a fringe top four side, which is still better than anyone could have hoped for but still feels like a pisstake after loose talk about being Grand Final certainties. More fool me for starting to believe. One thing I won't do is get sooky if the same media who have gently tugged us off for three months do a full turn now. It's a moot point because I don't intend to consume any football media this week but may they be as savage as possible. Question everything, say meaningless things like "what's in their DNA?" and "what do they stand for?" I might be excessively old-school but give me a siege mentality scenario when players are told "see, everyone expects you to go tits up under the pressure, what are you going to do about it?" 

It's amazing how quickly you can get on with life when you don't have to spend an hour getting home (though, to be fair, I haven't seen a loss in person for 22 months so should probably cherish that while it lasts). After utilising half time to do my washing I, like Melbourne as favourites, had a lot of folding to do. There was a good hour of silent fuming and I still feel like kicking the virtual cat now, but what are you going to do? We played a shocker and the long-term implications won't be known for weeks, no point getting hung up on it. Save your arson attempts for when we do a North 2016 and turn top after Round 12 into barely making the eight.

But while you can be as brave as you like in the immediate aftermath, the brain knows what the heart really feels, and that's why I woke up at 3am stressing about the season potentially going down the gurgler. I'm not cut out for great expectations, just give me a top four spot from here, and if that means playing an interstate final stiff shit to us. 

Unfortunately, unlike losing to a team you'd be lucky to have ever met a fan of (South Australian residents, you have my sympathies), every Pies fan you know will come out of the woodwork to flog themselves over this. And so they should. Take your medicine, and if our side is any good there'll be a chance for revenge at the end of the season.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
Nil deserved, but if that was a reason for not giving votes some years would have had a very sparse leaderboard.

5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Luke Jackson
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - James Jordon
1 - Christian Salem

Apologies to Gawn, May for everything other than conceding the goals, Harmes and ANB, all of who might have snuck in for a cheap one at the end.

On a generally shite day there's a bit of action going on. Petracca keeps eating into the overall lead, Salem solidifies his position in the Seecamp, Jackson gets closer to Gawn on votes but is still under the hitout qualifying mark, and at long last we have a contest in the Hilton. Welcome James Jordon, edged into the apologies a few times in good performances, but one of the first bodies to wash up on shore intact after this disaster. I'm sure he'll always remember the game that put him in the lead, the rest of us would like the tapes incinerated.

35 - Clayton Oliver
28 - Christian Petracca
19 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
17 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - Tom McDonald
12 - Luke Jackson, Jake Lever
11 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Steven May
7 - James Harmes, Ed Langdon
6 - Bayley Fritsch
4 - Charlie Spargo
3 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd
2 - Jayden Hunt, James Jordon (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Adam Tomlinson 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
It's got to be Oliver at the start of the second quarter. Mainly because so many of our goals were workmanlike and dull. Only Petracca's goal from the pocket in the second quarter even went close. The Hamburglar wins a comprehensive arm massage, focusing on the area that opposition midfielders clutch on to at every stoppage like their lives depend on it. Pickett against St Kilda still holds the overall lead.

Next Week
Well, not quite next week but all these years later I think the 'Next Week/The week after that' gag has been done to death. Eventually it's Essendon, who will presumably have just pushed their 'next big thing' status a little further up the road by rooting Hawthorn. And won't they be spoiling for a chance to go from one end of the ladder to the other and stitch us up too? At this point, it's not clear whether the game will be played at the MCG, Docklands, or Maralinga, but it should not matter. Even if they play half in Cairns and the other at the SCG I'm going into full crisis mode if we don't react.

Brown (one of them) for Weideman and Viney for Sparrow may be the least controversial changes ever proposed. If these changes don't work I give up, but whoever comes into the forward line has to get a couple of weeks to get comfortable. We've still got a premiership to win here, no more piss farting around.

Will we win? At this point how the bloody hell should I know?  

IN: B. Brown, Viney
OUT: Sparrow, Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: None, everyone else has some runs on the board.
UNLUCKY: Whichever Brown misses, and everyone sitting on their arse because the VFL's off.

Final Thoughts
I only realised after the siren that I'd watched the whole game wearing the famous 'tanks for the memories' t-shirt. I can assure you this won't happen again, not because of mysticism or gypsy curses, but because it's flat-out ludicrous to be using one of the rarest pieces of MFC merchandise in existence for casual wear. It has now been officially retired into the memorabilia wing (e.g. two large plastic buckets) of Demonblog Towers. 

Now, unless you're professionally affiliated to the Melbourne Football Club, go away, slip into somebody comfortable, and come back Saturday week to see if any lessons have been learned.

Standard 'post delayed' notification

Let's be fair, unless you're a neutral or a Pies fan cruising by to piss yourself laughing at our expense nobody is hanging out for a review of that game. I'll get around to a report by Tuesday morning.

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.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Dees go to 11

Given that entire 100 game careers start and end within nine years, it's no great revelation to say that a lot can change in that time. It's been that long so I first planned to use this headline, as we were plummeting towards an 0-11 start in 2012. There was even a Tufnel-referencing Facebook Comment of the Week video (before all the comments became about political correctness by defeated men who look like the cast of Don's Party), thankfully rendered obsolete by an improbable Round 9 win against high-flying - in all senses of the word as it turns out - Essendon.

Now all these years and multiple false starts later we are widely acknowledged as the best team in the competition, will end another week as premiership favourites, and the headline can be revived for good rather than evil. We stuffed up the chance of using it for an 11-0 start, but rumbling two premiership contenders in consecutive prime time fixtures will do as a consolation prize for losing in Adelaide.

That this is only the third time we've gone to 11 since 2006 is a cause for national shame, but at the moment our past indiscretions are irrelevant. To people who matter anyway, I'm still troubled by results from the early 90s. As one sage individual put it on breakfast TV over the weekend, nobody's ever won a premiership in June. But, offensive interventions by the footy gods aside, we've never been in a better position to have a go. The best thing is that for everybody playing out of their skin there things that can be improved. By christ(ian), is this really happening? I need to go back and read some Neeld era reviews to avoid getting ahead of myself.

Despite this uncharacteristic outbreak of optimism, I assure you that spiritually I'm shitting through the eye of a needle. There's no way people who have seen a flag feel like this, but when every chance could be your last, the pressure to finish the job is excessive. God knows how St Kilda fans survived those Grand Finals without being carted off to the funny farm. Better them than me, but maybe the true meaning of life won't become obvious until we too have pissed away a golden opportunity at immortality. Alternatively, do a Footscray/Geelong 2007 and get the hard work over in the Prelim before cruising to victory in the big one. Right now I'll take a repeat of any Grand Final winning scenario from 1898 to 2020, up to and including it being played at the Gabba or Waverley.

Against a side that had won seven in a row, I was prepared to make excuses for defeat. Unless we ran up the white flag and conceded 30 seconds in like the Port game last year, a loss would have left me exactly where the previous Friday ended, considering secret Bradbury Plans to make sure we wouldn't finish ninth. Now, via a ropey first half, I didn't see a farce, now I'm a believer.

Having to pull back leads against the good, bad and ugly of the competition is going to backfire on us eventually, but there's no better feeling when it comes off. 20 points is just short of stranglewank territory but there's still a rush from dicing with death before finishing in ecstasy. The final margin was similar to that against North, but the emotions are poles apart. Running away from the wooden spooners elect was a relief, dismantling a premiership contender who looked to have cracked our code in the first half was several million times better. 

It means nothing unless there's a repeat in September but we've now beaten 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and the reigning premier. The only sides in the eight unconquered are Port, who didn't demonstrate any of their famous flakiness while walloping us last year, and West Coast who we don't play until Round 21. Can I mention again that a) things are shaping up very nicely, and b) I'm not psychologically coping (NB: in a sporting sense, this is not a real-life cry for help) well with that.

Like the jumper 'clash'/empty stadium conundrum last week, who knows what would have happened if the game had been played as scheduled in Alice Springs. Maybe we'd have won by more, maybe we'd have lost by 187. The difference this time is that while most of us went to bed happy to get the points in any state that would have us, the Chief Financial Officer was probably having to be restrained from throwing himself into the shredder over the loss of $700-800,000. The people of Sydney were slightly more receptive to our charms than when 1000 of them combined turned up for last year's two game stand at Fortress Showgrounds, but with the yet to be disclosed crowd stuffed on one wing I don't think the gate receipts are going to cover much more than our Minibar bill. 

When the league dragged their feet on announcing the fixture for this week I held out some hope that we'd adopted Mafia tactics to convince the NT government to let us in. More likely they're happy that they didn't have to pay for Alice Springs to get more mentions in the Victorian media than the other 51 weeks of the year combined. No doubt a later game's going to be moved there, we'll get paid anyway and everyone will be happy. Obviously, the authors of the Fat Chance Report, calling for an AFL team in the NT, were so busy printing copies at Officeworks that they missed the news, releasing it on the same day that the game meant to showcase football in the territory didn't happen. The league is currently scrutinising this proposal before filing it next to Los Angeles Crocodiles.

The centre of Australia may have been replaced by the back blocks of Sydney, but we finally got to wear the jumper and it was a corker. It's not my place to interpret the meaning, but as good as the front was, the back was spectacular. One day a team is just going to adopt a full-time indigenous jumper, and I'd be happy if we got in first and permanently adopted this as the rear of ours. It's even handily designed to fit the sponsor logo at the bottom AND offer space to sell another spot at the top. Given we've already been involved in this good news story, being the first club (?) to have an indigenous presence on the jumper every week would be fantastic. If it's a step too far for us, I offer the idea free of charge to Gold Coast, who must eventually get serious and stop dressing like a McDonald's franchise.

If we had to play anywhere for free, the Showgrounds were the next best option. No tremendous cash payment, but a flawless record against neutral sides. To be fair, we did only wobble past Gold Coast before tonking a rotten Hawthorn, but it's a great leap forward compared to earlier games there against GWS. Remember starting underdogs against an 0-17 side and giving them their only win of the season? It's better if you don't, leave the historical misery to me and concentrate on what's good right now.

The difference in our third National Pandemic Cup match on the ground was that we were playing a top team. This promised to be a daunting challenge, but so did last Friday night and we handled that without any major drama. This time there was a serious challenge that left us having to execute another high-risk comeback, but the end result was the same, a (relatively) stress-free last few minutes, another four points, and further confirmation that players you already knew were good are very good indeed.

In scenes reminiscent of Round 1, 2019, the other side started playing angry and we looked spooked. The majority of them couldn't maintain the rage after half time, but in the opening minutes they were the most aggrieved Queenslanders since the man from the succulent Chinese meal. Like that fateful Port game, the primary assassination target was Max Gawn. They should have sent a better hitman, merely winding him with a big bump before he recovered to play his best game since Hawthorn.

Brisbane's attempt to unsettle us with biff backfired when pissweak high contact 60 metres away saw Fritsch gifted the opening goal from the top of the square. When I'm elected to replace Steve Hocking players will be able to do that all day without sanction, but for now, stiff shit and thanks for the six points. Channel 7's fake crowd flipped out over this and continued to go nuts for the rest of the night. After employing a subtle, inoffensive backing track last week, they cranked up the digital excitement to levels not seen since Laurie Lawrence in Seoul (P.S - I vote we adopt Laurie's "stuff the silver, we come here for the gold" as our slogan for the rest of the year). 

Seems they only went for the quiet option last week before it would have seemed silly to play frenzy.mp3 in an empty stadium. Which is a shame, because with the entire audience parked in the same part of the ground they'd have got a decent authentic atmosphere by turning off the soundtrack to AFL99 and letting the live crowd tell the story.

We've got a few players that could handle themselves in a scrap, but after a brief flirtation with serious niggle under Roos, it's not really our go anymore. Not that it needs to be, but if anyone was going to see the red and blue mist it was Steven May, holder of multiple suspensions for whacking Brisbane players. After hitting one of them at the first available opportunity in a pre-season game (and not to open old tribunal wounds, but bullshit that was worth a week) he's shown admirable restraint, but the old fashioned aggro is still bubbling away under the surface.

If he was ever going to flip out and start distributing shirtfronts again, it was in a first half where it looked like our league leading backline had finally been rumbled. The commentators were keen to act like they were witnessing the end of a brief but glorious era of defensive dominance, but I would suggest letting the ball fling down there at pace was to blame. Compare to the second half, when Brisbane was reduced to attacking on our terms and their forwards couldn't catch COVID in a quarantine hotel.

In 20 years people will be watching clips of Pickett crumb on the YouTube equivalent, but the low-key most exciting thing about this year is watching the opposition lose the will to live when the ball is locked at our end and they have no idea how to clear it. They could sell behind the goals footage at Club X and there'd be a queue around the block. Forget spoils and one percenters (still haven't worked out what they are), when this comes off it's a work of art. Takes some work though, requiring us to get the ball down our end, the forwards to make a contest, and everyone to combine in an animal defensive effort when the ball hits the ground. Then if they still get it we stick up the Berlin Wall and dare them to break through without turning it over.

We were not near our best early. None of McDonald, Weid or Fritsch (gift goal aside) was seriously contesting marking duels, and further up the ground Oliver was being relatively well covered. So if the forwards weren't going to take pack-busting marks the next best option was crumb. In this case, from the unlikely source of Max Gawn. Given that he's the fourth tallest man ever to play a league game, his gather and kick in one motion was probably one of the most nimble finishes by such a huge man in AFL history. Hard enough to do when you're a regulation crumber, nearly bloody impossible at 6ft 8.

That had us ahead by seven, but the lead was tenuous. Eric Hipwood - who provoked a great May/Frost stoush in 2019 - had already panicked Lever into giving away one goal from a free, and when he marked in a better spot I had visions of him kicking a bag before dashing off to impersonate Rafa Nadal at a tennis-themed birthday party. He hit the post and kicked another 0.3 by the end of the night. That was retrospectively good, but when he and Daniher were grabbing everything that came near them and some other bloke was kicking goals out of his arse from all angles it looked like their forwards were going to more damage than our misfiring forward line could cover. In the end, we somehow nearly scored 100, and the purported 'best attack in the league' (didn't we just play them last week?) only got to 75. I'm almost at the point of trusting the process but years of mental scars aren't going away in three months.

Nearly 10 years after Baileyball was run out of Melbourne, it returned to haunt us in the shape of crumb king Zac Bailey, whose four goal haul against Richmond a fortnight ago is the only thing stopping him from being instantly nominated for a Kingsley. Just our luck to swat away a team where every second person has the first name Bailey last week, then run into somebody with it as a surname having the time of his life. His second was the sort of lucky goal worth it's weight in gold, sitting up for him to boot out of the air for their second in a row.

While we were under siege, only offering a Weideman shot for no score at the other end, there was one moment that should be blown up to the same size as Father Ted kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse and displayed as an example of what's right in 2021. This Spargo highlights package is much deserved, but watch the mark in the second clip for an example of getting your team out of jail.

At that point we were down seven contested marks to nil and being pushed around like lightweights. I won't claim it turned the entire game, given that we were still shite for another 30 minutes, but it was a brilliant, brave grab. I've been sitting on the screenshot of Gawn saying "poor Spargs" ever since that ill-fated pre-season documentary, but there is no need for it this year. He's not doing anything that will be noticed outside the MFC bubble - though the above tweet should help - but is quietly putting together a very good season. 

Spargo is not Dustin Martin, and nor should you expect him to be, and will still have up and down games due to being 21-years-old, but when he gets the ball his decision making is off the charts. You watch on TV and scream at them for not kicking to a loose player then realise they probably couldn't see him from ground level. Charleston sees them. Hopefully I joined his fan club early enough to get a membership number in the top 10.

Also from the role player playing their role to perfection files (might need to workshop the name), Anal-Bullet has been important too. I'm not qualified to explain why, but the vibe is good. His disposal efficiency on Friday night was not, but I'll allow more latitude for a sprayed handball in close or a quick kick from a pack than a flat-out, pressure-free shank. Brayshaw and Petty have both been tarred with that brush, but were very good again. The bucket-handed Petty is especially promising as the third defender.

After 15 minutes of being second best I could almost handle going into quarter time two goals down, so allowing Hipwood another shot deep in DemonTime had me reaching for the pen to start writing us off. He missed, and I put the sharp object down, but when they got a goal 40 seconds after the restart things started to look grim again. Our reply was one for the defensive rebound fanatics, with a loose kick from a centre break falling into Lever's arms, and after a free to Gawn, Lachie Neale was caught holding onto Petracca's arm like he was trying to clamber into a lifeboat. Maybe he was getting ahead of his duties on Brownlow night and trying to hand the medal to this year's winner now? 

According to James Brayshaw, who looked sensible compared to BT for a while, Petracca had "explosive wheels to get this trip". Is there Channel 7 mode on Google Translate? Yes, he's got a burst of speed that you could describe as 'explosive wheels' if you didn't want to use normal words, but unless he was expected to run around the man on the mark and sprint to 30 metres out before kicking it's hard to see how this was relevant. Instead, he just kicked a conventional drop punt, paying tribute to Matthew Bate by launching from right on top of the Telstra 5G logo.

So now we were back to where we started the quarter, which wasn't such a bad place to be. Enter Petracca again, reminding us after a couple of weeks of mass-frottage over Clayton Oliver that he's also one of the shit-hottest players in the game. Without him the next goal probably doesn't happen, using the famous explosive wheels to dash onto a loose ball, swatting off a tackle with contempt, then launching a long-distance handball into the middle of the ground. Harmes and Sparrow also did brilliantly here, both were standing in space and calling for it, but the moment it went towards Sparrow, Harmes took off around the back to be next in line, setting up Fritsch to pick Jordon's pocket at the top of the square.

It felt like the game was turning in our favour, which is why conceding the next two goals gave me the shits. Lever didn't like the blatant block that allowed them the first one, but more power to the guy who took advantage of the fact that you've just got to make it half look like you were legitimately trying to be in the contest. We should do more of it - see Brown and McDonald against Sydney. The second goal was less controversial, as important as he is Salem has still not recovered his earlier form and was nailed holding the ball right in front of goal.

In an outbreak of goals from the middle, we got this one straight back, before they quickly restored the 20 point lead. It left us back where we started from, but at least we got to hear Brayshaw scream "Lukey Jack!", the strangest thing a commentator has called a Melbourne player since "Slick Fritsch". Is it too much to ask that blokey bullshit be confined to the radio where it belongs? In the same way everyone with a mullet will look back in 20 years and realise their horrible mistake, future generations are going to piss themselves laughing at us for allowing the biggest sport in the country to be called like this. 

I was still not over my outrage at the official record of this important match being sullied by a future star of the competition being referred to as "Lukey Jack" when Brisbane was down the other end kicking the reply to the reply. How you can pay advantage 10 metres ahead of where a ruck free happened when nobody yet knew who had done what I'm not sure, but advantage that man Bailey again and sorry to my neighbours, who may have heard the phrase "for fuck's sake" shouted at top volume. The old blood pressure was peaking off the charts when we spent the next couple of minutes desperately trying to stop them kicking another.

We're not Essendon 2000, there's going to be more than one loss this year, and better against the good teams now than in September but I was still feeling a bit flat. The margin was not insurmountable, but it seemed likely that even if we got our forward line going they'd score enough to hold on. What, as usual, do I know?

After a first half where he'd barely gone near it, Tom McDonald started the second as he meant to go on, kicking what seems like one of our rare goals from a forward 50 stoppage. Somebody will find a stat that disproves this, but it just feels like we don't get as many of these as we should. For the first few minutes there was 100% sizzle content on offer, including him deploying a mysterious goo from a yellow tube on the front of his jumper. Presumably it helps marking, and that's what's responsible for his improvement this year either every player in the league should buy in bulk. Now wait for the AFL to ban it.

On a rare off night for his set shots he missed another chance, but was directly involved in the next goal, courtesy of off the ball shenanigans with Dayne (surely not a real first name) Zorko. Add him to the list of people who, like Toby Greene, are such amazing heels that they become good for football. Never underestimate the impact to the culture of the game of players that you tune in just to see lose. Ask Richmond fans, who have won everything under the sun but are still shirty about the time Tom Bugg shhhed them. The competition needs more of it, but don't be the dickhead who takes things too far and gets arrested.

Other than being a general pest, Zorko's contribution to the angry atmosphere was needlessly delivering a forearm smash to McSizzle off the ball, giving away a downfield free that led to a crucial goal. Sizzle risked a reverse by throwing him to the ground, then unusually yelled abuse in his face before offering a hand to help him up in the same motion. I wonder if he subconsciously realised that he was risking a reversal so tried to take the heat off with a spot of Gentlemania. "Trying to work out who's been reported," said Brayshaw, who I now regret ever saying nice things about. Do you reckon maybe the guy standing the mark of the free kick? When Brian Taylor of all people has to explain what's happening to you something's gone horribly wrong. 

As far as on-field skullduggery goes, it was a step-up from Lachie Neale making this NQR face at Melksham after a spot of manly jostling in the first quarter. Very undignified from a Brownlow Medallist but enjoyable nonetheless. At the other end of the success scale, let's also have more Rhys Mathieson, who invited ridicule by referring to himself as Brisbane's 'barometer' during the week only to be relegated to substitute. Much shit was hung on him but perhaps he had a point, they won when he was playing and lost after he was dropped.

While the rest of our side play the Showgrounds like the Field of Dreams, it's not been a happy hunting ground for the Milkshake. Last year he managed to find one of the 250 people in the crowd to have an argument with, and battled to five touches on Friday. Might have had something to do with the role he was playing, maybe he is just regrettably continuing a slide that's been going since the injury against Gold Coast two years ago. He got the last laugh on Zorko here, it's less certain whether he'll still be in the side for any September rematch.

Pickett's goal, intercepting a handball and rolling the ball through a crowd, reduced the margin to less than 10. Given our response last time we got that close I wasn't ready to buy-in yet, but all the signs were there. We were back to playing like 2021 Melbourne and Brisbane were as helpless as any of the other sides kindly offered a lead before being run down. Except they kicked the next goal, seemingly confirming all my dark suspicions. Of course it had to come through Zorko, whose joy at getting one back lasted all of 30 seconds. We romped out of the middle, Petracca snatched a ball out of the air and flirted with tripping over his feet for a millisecond before banging through a monster goal on the run. Stiff shit Dayne, enjoy writing a cheque for $2000.

It didn't take long for the next to arrive, a touch fortunate given that Harmes nearly botched a quick handball, and ANB only just got the ball to boot while being swung in tackle. That led to more Spargo gold, intelligently tapping down to McDonald, who scooted through and cut the margin to a point. Now even if we lost I could be satisfied that we'd had a red hot go. Brisbane did get another goal, but again we didn't let them keep it for more than a minute before responding. We missed a pair of chances to take the lead late, but had done a fantastic job to get going again.

After a month of half-paced, wobbly at best final quarters, I wanted to believe that Burgessball (a much more popular form of 'ball' than the forwards on the half-back line model employed by the original Bailey) was going to strike again. If we kept playing like the third quarter superior fitness wouldn't be needed, it was just a case of whether we could convert enough chances to outweigh the inevitable at the other end. What seemed inevitable anyway, in the end they only got one more goal, and that was a low-key garbage time job that Charlie Cameron couldn't even be bothered to celebrate with a half-arse, sad motorcycle rev. All he had to do was raise the hands a little higher and hold them closer to his face and it would have resembled this popular GIF:

As it often did on the night, all the fun started with Gawn. Oscar McInerney has done as well as anyone ex-Casey, except possibly Bayley Fritsch, and played in as many finals as our entire club in 15 years but he was brutalised in the ruck contests all night. Here Maximum got the party started by gently dismissing him at the opening bounce and heaving a long kick to Pickett. This time his set shot was bang on, the lead extended to seven, and I was simultaneously buzzing and bricking it at the idea of having to defend another narrow lead.

After a couple of half-chances that might have got the Lions back into it, McDonald's next was a thing of beauty. For goals created via handball out of the backline this was a better team doing their cover of Salem sinking Essendon in 2014. Oliver, Lever, Petty, Neal-Bullen, Sparrow, Rivers and Hibberd were all involved in phone booth style congestion, before Jordon broke into the clear and set up ANB's second effort. He roosted it to McDonald, who nearly knocked it past the defender and ended up goalside, before gathering, ignored Petracca yelling at him for a pass, spun out of a tackle and kicked the goal. Trac was still complaining until he turned around and realised it had gone through.

Everyone who had a hand in it deserves credit, but the finish was class. Taylor Walker might have something to say about it, but I haven't seen anyone come back from the dead like this since Weekend at Bernies II. 

Unlike 2019s less ambiguous Corey Wagner heatmap, McDonald's was an inkblot test for how much of a sicko you are. Either you see a protein powered bicep or an upside-down cock and ball. 

A minute later ANB, Petracca and McDonald combined for another goal. It was clear that Brisbane had given up, a ball rolled to Sparrow's feet at the top of the 50, and without an opponent for miles he could afford to fumble, take a handball from Weideman, run around and thump it through from 50. With eight minutes to play we could easily have given away a 20 point lead, but had the pedal firmly stuck on the floor looking for the exclamation point goal. Spargo and Petracca both missed before The Bullet got reward for a fantastic last quarter. I'm dutybound to point out that this passage of play also involved Spargo fending somebody off.

When the Weid had another go right at the end I so dearly wanted him to kick it. Was hardly going to be the feelgood equivalent of Harley Bennell on the same ground a year ago (and how well did that end?) but I wanted something to go right for him. He'd already been stooged once in the last quarter when a touched ball landed perfectly for him directly in front of goal, and even though I'd already crossed the floor to the Ben Brown Party mid-match, it still would have been nice for Sam to get one. It's hard watching somebody's confidence bleeding everywhere while everyone else is in the midst of a glory era. Then he kicked it out on the full.

You can't fault Weid's effort, and there's a sense that it's going to click eventually, but goals from marks inside 50 are crucial, so I'm going with the guy who has a proven history of taking grabs and kicking straight. If that causes Sam to leave so be it. I want him to stay and be a dangerous forward like he was for a few weeks last year, but we've got a red hot chance to win a flag, so a week after suggesting mutually beneficial trades, now all we are saying is give #50 a chance.

His miss was about as disappointing as the last quarter got, which proves how enjoyable it was. I'm not going to pile in on anyone for not believing we're going to win the flag, but it's delightful how the great unwashed are switching from patronising us to actively disliking our presence at the top of the ladder. Let them hate so long as they fear.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Charlie Spargo
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Harmes, Jordon, May, Petty, Rivers and Sparrow

Oliver gives up a sliver of his lead, but still holds a commanding gap at the top. If Petracca outscores him at this rate it'll take another 10 games to catch up. I can't see it happening but it'll be fun to watch. Alternatively, he could go for the biggest win in history, the 27 vote Nathan Jones landslide of 2012. He won by 21 the next year, so even though he's all but been forgotten now, anyone caught disparaging his overall contribution will be thrown from a window.

In the minors, Gawn not only strengthened his lead, but Jackson has lost eligibility due to being down to a 9.3 hitout average. I'm not willing to declare a provisional winner yet but we can't be far away. Nothing for the defenders or the rising stars this week but there are serious discussions underway about whether the Hilton will be awarded by the committee's discretion if no eligible players score votes. This means I'll have to go back and make an arbitrary decision about 2005 as well. 

32 - Clayton Oliver
23 - Christian Petracca
19 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
16 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - Tom McDonald
12 - Jake Lever
11 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Steven May
8 - Luke Jackson
7 - James Harmes, Ed Langdon
6 - Bayley Fritsch
4 - Charlie Spargo
3 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd
2 - Jayden Hunt, Adam Tomlinson 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
You get plenty of nominees in weeks where the set shot is all but abandoned for goals from open play. As much as I loved Gawn supersize crumb, McDonald's storming run in the third quarter, Pickett's intercept, Petracca's in the third, and Neal-Bullen's sealer, but it's hard not to give it to Sizzle for the handball fiesta and Truck burning snap. Usher the kids from the room, pour yourself a stiff drink, and enjoy this in all its glory.

We've already given Tom a shitload of meat in weekly prizes this year, but have some more. Bring it home on the plane and let's see if we can plunge Victoria into another biosecurity disaster. As good as this was, I'm still on Pickett vs St. Kilda for the overall lead. 

Crowd Watch
I've been off Channel 10 ever since they lied about the afternoon repeats of Prisoner coming back after the 1996 school holidays, so can't think how I ended up watching their Friday night news. I thought their reporter's claim that the AFL had wheeled Kevin Sheedy out to do the promotional rounds during the week improbable but it turned out to be 100% truer than Chanel 10's voiceover in 1996. Sheeds even invented something special for the occasion, telling bemused rugby leaguists that "It’s an AFL mid-season grand final and I don’t know whether Sydney people understand that." So there you have it, make room in the trophy cabinet alongside the AFLX Group B title, we're the mid-season premiers. 

And though he was probably continuing his vendetta over not getting our coaching job in 2008 and punting Brisbane home, Sheeds turned up, and according to a Demonblog correspondent "said bugger all to anyone; but diligently marked all goals and behinds in the Record". I reckon the pen was pressed with a tinge of despair whenever we kicked one.

Next Week
In a major improvement on 2020, Queen's Birthday is going to be played. Unfortunately, instead of 70,000 at the MCG, there'll be two men and a dog watching at the SCG, waiting for King Wally Lewis to go down the Big Freeze slide. I just hope that whatever the New South Wales government has paid to host that plenty of it trickles down to us.

In a world where our biggest wins at Sydney Showgrounds are against Hawthorn, Brisbane and Gold Coast, nothing's surprising anymore, but the distance between our games at the SCG against teams other than Sydney must be some sort of record. It started with Essendon in 1904 (locals half-interested), then Geelong in 1981 (locals half-interested), and now Collingwood in 2021 (locals ?). See you there again in 2062 after the alien invasion. Could also be the next time we're this good, so cherish it while you can.

For a few years we went into Queen's Birthday with absolutely no chance of winning, and based on the respective ladder positions of the sides you'd like to think this is our opportunity for a guaranteed four points. Even before Collingwood beat the Crows I wasn't going to get comfortable, now I'm left hoping they've gotten it out of their system and will show up ready to be plunged back into horrible reality.

There are people paid more than me (e.g. anything above $0) to work out how to best use footballers in a structure, and it is their duty to get Jack Viney back into this side without persecuting Sparrow or Jordon. The only way I'll accept the latter is if he's 'managed' as a first year senior player, but that hardly seems necessary on a 10 day break. Instead I'm chopping Melksham and let them sort it out. 

More obviously, to me if not the selectors, is Brown. If we were playing for mid-table mediocrity (see Carlton or St. Kilda) I'd say just keep playing Weideman and see what happens, but we're over the halfway mark of a season where we're 99.9% guaranteed to play finals and are neck deep in the race for the top four (if not top two). We've got to find our preferred combination down there soon. Besides, imagine the odd couple of 0% meat and 100% meat forming the tall forward division of a premiership team? Catering at the victory party would be shithouse, but what a story. If we can't get Brown going at full pelt - and he looked pretty good against Sydney - then it might just be a case of picking whoever provides the best blocking for the rest of them.

IN: B. Brown, Viney
OUT: Melksham, Weideman (omit)
UNLUCKY: Everyone at Casey who can't push a case for selection.

(UPDATE - One week out of the limelight and I immediately forgot Ed Langdon. Apologies to Ed. Obviously he comes back in. Christ only knows who for, I spent enough time trying to work this out the first time, I've got no life force left now).

After the Adelaide debacle I'm going back to an evidence-based approach, thinking we should win but waiting for confirmation that there will be no huge letdown. I did not like our old recruiting target Jamie Elliott kicking six against Adelaide, let's hope shown his hand and we'll be ready for him. Same goes for the rest of them, half of who are so obscure they can only be identified by dental records. This is the new Melbourne, we've changed, choff, choff, choff, I'm still going in with the self-defence technique of believing it could go either way.

Sale of the Century
After a couple of weeks rest from shameless plugging of my new book, I've unwittingly wandered into a media circus. After 16 years of carefully trying to hide my face, you may have seen me talking all things Dees on the Channel 9 Today Show on Saturday morning. If you missed it stiff shit, but be assured I didn't make a dick of myself. Also, good timing that it's the first time in 20 years I've only got one chin.

I think that's as far as TV appearances go, but look out for a few radio spots in an attempt to capitalise on us being the hottest team in the game for the first time since about 1964. Should you not be into lining Amazon's pockets, there's a list of other online retailers here. As far as I know the hard copies are still on track for shops in about a month, and not on some ship that's been hijacked by pirates off the coast of Borneo. Wait for the epic stitch of bookstores still shut and books locked in warehouse. Anyway, buy now or buy later, you'll have a whale of a time, and in the unlikely event of a flag this year I'll come around to your house with a texta and amend the title. 

Final Thoughts
If you've still got an office to go into, I suggest ordering a fan of an inferior club to kneel before your feet at 9.01am on Monday. There's no possible way that can backfire.

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Bouncing back

As somebody who won't trust a three quarter time lead under 47 points, it's no surprise that our first loss in 10 weeks left me in a dark place, scouring the fixture for enough wins to guarantee eighth place. It's an undignified way to live, but after 30+ year of letdowns that's where I'm at.

Unexpectedly, one of the four wins required came on Friday night, effectively cancelling out last week and leaving us where I thought we'd be after Round 11 anyway. To clarify, that's where I thought we'd be two weeks ago, not at the start of the year. Anyone who'd tried to sell you a 10-1 record at the halfway mark would have been banged up in an insane asylum until after the Richmond game.

It's official, we are the world's first uphill skiers. After offering the Crows so many breaks they couldn't help but win, the follow-up was to casually disassemble a side that had not only replaced us at the top of the ladder, but clobbered two pox sides that we'd struggled to put away. The Fear means I'm naturally hesitant to come out of a secure underground bunker and get excited, but the lid may have done a couple of orbits.

Other than being first and second on the ladder and both having female presidents, there was very little in common between us and the Dogs. Best defence vs best attack, no home training facility vs free land from the government, lengthy drought unbroken vs broken, and for fans of symbolism in advertising - luxury cars/banking vs pet food/cryptocurrency exchange with a vaguely dildoesque logo. We took Big Crypto's money too but have wisely kept them in the background since. Footy clubs can't be snippy about who's paying them (in this case, hopefully in AUD and not some coin they made up on their lunchbreak) but for gravitas, this deal ranks somewhere between Snowy Mountain Water and Snowdeli.

In a world where no team has ever had their best 18 available by this point of the year, injuries are no excuse, but the absence of Adam Treloar can't have hurt our chances. For my purposes, it was more important that neither the Stefan Martin Experience or Mitch Hannan played. I've got nothing but positive feelings for the pair, but even though it's only happened a handful of times in living memory the prospect of ex-players going nuts against us frightens me. There's plenty of them out there at the moment, but we've dodged Kent, Frawley, Sizzle Jr and Tyson, took care of Frost, and won't have to face Howe or Preuss due to injury. Presuming Harley Bennell doesn't nominate for the mid-season draft, the pressure to do a Brent Grgic may fall on Jesse Hogan, as long as Round 16 falls in one of his limited fit weeks.

One of the great ex-player games was famously by the SME himself. With his post-trade career flatlining, he came to what was then known as Graveyard Docklands and revived his career in an afternoon. The man we plucked from obscurity, played in every part of the ground then chucked for fringe picks has done well to stretch his career this far, but at nearly 35-years-old everyone knows he's just doing a one year lap of honour at the Dogs before retiring. You'd think Gawn would batter him but given that Brent Harvey kicked a career best six goals against us in about his 420th game you wouldn't rule anything out.

Regardless of who was in or out, we did bloody well to react to letting Adelaide have everything their way. As a total coward I didn't expect to win, but was keen on the response. No drama in the end, like Richmond without the shaky start we slowly strangled a top side to death and won without challenge. This was a return to what made us good in the first place, setting up the Great Wall of Melbourne in the middle of the ground, and slowing their forward entries down to a glacial pace.

It was one memorable win that people won't be able to falsely claim they were at in years to come. With The Big One spreading like a Clayton Oliver clearance, Victoria shut down again (for political discussion on this topic please refer to your uncle's Facebook posts, not this page), causing the unexpected return of the Empty Stadium Match. It feels like we played plenty of these last year, but there were only four behind closed doors games. To be fair we did play in front of a few crowds so meagre that the league didn't bother to give a real crowd, just tossing out estimates like 250, 350 and 750. That feels like a lifetime ago now, except that we're about to play Brisbane in Junee with an audience of 27 curious locals who stopped to watch while walking the dog. 

I'm a big fan of the Butterfly effect, so reject any idea that it's "a shame people weren't allowed to see" this game. Maybe things would have gone as well (or better) with a crowd, but as we can be sure the game wouldn't have played out kick-for-kick like it did on Friday night, I reckon stick with the option that ended in us winning easily.

Before we could get on with discovering if our life force had been sucked out by cowardly umpiring, there was the small matter of what we were going to wear. As much as I'd like to blame the AFL for everything, it is reportedly our fault that the indigenous week jumper was DQed at the last minute for clashing with the Footscray version. They told us a month ago that it was too similar, and in a Collingwood attempt at projecting Big Club Energy we didn't bother to appeal until this week. It seems the AFL is still not half as scared of us as they are of Edd.... err... [insert interim Collingwood president here] because we went back into our normal home jumper.

I can't see how it was any more of a clash than Collingwood and Essendon on Anzac Day, but life goes on, and we'll wear it next week instead. Have it for the first game back in Victoria with fans too for all it bothers me. Because he'd rather be burnt at the stake like Joan Of Arc than cross 'key stakeholders', James Brayshaw tried to claim that the mix-up was nobody's fault because they were designed before this week's fixtures were decided. Which is fine, except that we've known that it would be Melbourne vs Footscray in Round 11 since December so let's just put it down as a general cock-up instead of trying to find an alibi for everyone involved.

Speaking of inconsistency, I'm sure every Melbourne fan was ready to kick buggery out of an inanimate object when we were pinged for an 'insufficient intent' the first time a ball rolled over the line. Assuming it wasn't the same umpire who chickened out last week I'm prepared to accept that this guy made the right call (under the current rules) and not get too upset about it. Besides, bit different in the first quarter and not with 30 seconds left in a thriller. Later, Gawn was called to play on for the sin of walking straight back on his mark like you're supposed to. Like every other year since 1897, umpiring is in disarray but the ladder at the halfway point of the season would suggest that overall it's working for us.

Maybe the jumpers were also part of the Butterfly effect, and had players not seen the familiar design out of the corner of their eye we wouldn't have flown out of the middle faster than the Starship Enterprise for a goal after 17 seconds? I was already in the 'centre clearances save lives' community, and hope you'll join me after seeing Gawn walk around an inexperienced opponent and thump it forward, eventually ending in Harmes running into an open goal with his man in a different postcode. 

The goal came so quickly that Channel 7's ACME Fake Noise machine hadn't been properly revved up yet, giving us surround sound coverage of players going nuts in celebration. The digital crowd back later but was so subtle that it made me wonder whether I was just imagining it. This is a good thing, for all the shit poured on the idea they've got it to a background level that will help people who are scared of silence and not annoy the shit out of the rest of us. Meanwhile, the roof provided acoustics Van Halen would bar up over, letting us hear a satisfying Tom Moody six style *THUD* whenever ball hit boot.

Harmes' goal started an evening that brought back fond memories of late 2018, simultaneously tagging an important player into the ground while picking up key possessions of his own. This time the victim was Tom Liberatore, not only an important midfielder but wearer of tattoos so offbeat that they're almost good (compare to Josh Bruce, who has the visual representation of 'dance like nobody's watching' across his legs). With him out of the picture we were free to concentrate on Bontempelli, Macrae etc... Fair group of players, didn't do them much good in the end.

One of the key figures in stopping them from waltzing down the ground unchallenged was Angus Brayshaw. I've been accused of running a campaign against him, but let the record show that recently there has been nothing but praise for his Jetta-esque courage in taking on contests that could end in a career-threatening head knock. It's loose-as-a-goose disposal that concerns me, and while his defensive patrolling of the wing 'only' led to 13 touches, he played his most influential game of the year. Anybody who tries to convince you that players ratings and rankings points tell you everything you need to know about a performance is insane. This was a performance that would have sent me home happy if I wasn't there already.

Things weren't universally going our way, but further reward came with the second goal when a smother by Jordon - who continues to be a defensive animal - opened the door for Petracca to kick the cover off a snap. This prompted the return of Channel 7 Fancam, a usually pointless idea that was brought to life by this quality City Wars content: 

You can tell the Kayo Minis aren't being put together in South Australia because this was inexplicably left in the highlights package despite offering nothing except laughs.

After last week I wasn't declaring victory on a two goal lead four minutes into the opening quarter, but it was clearly an improvement. Then karmic payback for the Fancam incident came about 15 seconds late, when the Dogs burst out of the middle for a goal. At the time I was bleeding but it turned out to be so rare that it didn't matter.

A decade of rule changes has done nothing more than created the second lowest scoring full season in modern history, but the 6-6-6 rule is one of the few changes that helps promote goals. Problem is that after the first bounce of a quarter you need somebody to kick one first, usually after 15 minutes of the ball being stuck in the middle of the ground while TV executives shed a silent tear. As Channel 7's new Friday night glamour team, we almost did our bit, cannoning out of the middle for a shot to cancel out their cancellation. 

Sadly for fans of ads (Channel 7) or awkward silences where the commentators don't speak (Channel 7 via Foxtel/Kayo) it missed, but the much-appreciated major was not far behind. They barely got it outside 50 before a clearly spooked Libba Jr looked up to see nowt but Melbourne jumpers and tried a suicidal kick across the ground, ending with McSizzle putting the ball down Fritsch's throat at the top of the square. He was so startled at being as good as right in front for once that he ramped up the degree of difficulty by playing on from 10 metres out. All's well that end's well, but my heart was in my mouth at the time.

Footscray got their second goal around this time but our pressure was clearly affecting them. Can't play St. Kilda every week. After a couple of minutes where Charleston Spargo picked up possessions at Gary Ablett pace, Fritsch was on the end of another gift botched kick across ground. These are the goals we didn't get last week, because the opposition didn't need to do risky switches, simply kicking it to one of the COVID test length queues of players on their own up the ground.

The Spargo Minutes peaked when he set the most delightful kick to the top of the square for Weideman. It couldn't have been better delivered to him if it came via a butler carrying an ornate platter. He dropped it cold, part of a rotten first half that saw him marking like he'd just received a hand transplant from Donald Trump. Double J saved him, crumbing the bejesus out of it, and kicking one of the most severe 'height vs distance to goal' snaps you'll ever see. In another win for ambient sound, the ball landed on an advertising hoarding with the same sound you'd get by driving into the door of your garage.

This brought us to 'if we stuff this up from here it will be embarassing' stage, which is when you know things are going well. But last week we were in exactly the same position in the opening quarter before getting altitude sick and breathing life back in the contest by conceding a couple of late goals. Even if that happened here (spoiler: it did not), the difference in quality of performances was chalk and cheese. 

The round is dedicated to Sir Doug, but when Gawn kicked a sixth in the dying minutes (after the mention of his shaky set-shot kicking, as mandated by the Broadcasting Act 2018) I was about to have an Uncle Doug. Only a nervous one, we've lost from better positions against worse teams. Still, you'd be the tightest arse in the English speaking world if you weren't satisfied with what you'd just seen. I'd say more goals from turnovers in a quarter than we used to kick in four full quarters represents a win for the system. 

I won't claim to have been a card-carrying member of the Simon Goodwin Fan Club at the end of last year, but regardless of whether the Yze/Choke Yourself With A Tie dream team have helped, or our current position is the result of a player-led revolution, if he's going to take all the heat for us playing badly he can have an equal share of credit when it's going well.

If there's anything to be sad about after a high scoring opening quarter it's that history shows it'll probably be our highest scoring quarter of the game. Doesn't mean we won't still win, but I'd love to mug a team from the first bounce and go on with it. However, due to our a ripper backline I'll settle for creating a break early, then winning without excess fanfare. I'd love a wire-to-wire festival of fanfare at some point this season but winning by any means necessary is a fair substitute.

There's nothing left to say about how good Lever and May are, and the latter bounced back wonderfully after being troubled over the last couple of weeks, but a word if I may for Harrison Petty. Watch out if he learns to kick. This is why I felt bad for Adam Tomlinson going down when he did, imagine watching the guy that replaced you either spoiling everything that comes near him or, in one case, jumping over an opponent for a screamer. Sure, at one point he did kick out on the full at right angles but he's rapidly heading in the right direction.

As expected, fans of high scoring footy were left disappointed. Much like Dogs fans, whose side barely broke even in the second quarter before going down without a trace in the third. Which is wonderful in hindsight, but when they got a goal within the first minute I was almost at the point of yelling "here we go". Except this year total collapse under pressure is now only an option rather than a guarantee. This one came from an optimistic blind handball over the head from Salem, who must got overly excited hearing us moan about his absence last week and returning for his worst game of the season. He and Langdon did nowt, it didn't affect the overall team performance. I think this is what being a good team is all about

After Tim English Muffins got another I was touching cloth. The margin was still 15 but I remember another recent game where we were that far in front with eight minutes to go and lost by a point. There was plenty of time for an unwelcome reverse here. Enter the rare scenario of Melbourne cancelling somebody else's goal directly from the bounce. For the second time we created a goal directly from the Bulldog ruckman fresh-airing the bounce, allowing Max to grab it and thump the ball forward. Why was this bloke not playing for Adelaide with 20 seconds left last week?

Gawn's kick found Petracca 55 metres out, whose claim of taking a shot on goal fooled nobody except the Bulldog defence, which allowed McSizzle to trot onto Truck's pass unchallenged. His kick around the corner was flatter than a shit carter's hat but was close enough not to matter. In a classic case of the original goal costing more than it earned, we turned the next bounce - via a brief retreat towards their end - into another goal - emerging from English's goal with a six point profit. It was that man McDonald again, taking a delightful pass from Anal-Bullet (which, incidentally, is the same sort of object now pictured on the back of Footscray's jumper) and kicking a more conventional set shot.

Seconds later we tried to waste two Tom McDonald goals at the same time by giving their small forward (I bet he's not endlessly compared to Cyril Rioli for some reason...) an hour to place his snap, but fortunately he missed. Cue several minutes of Footscray players losing the will to live while trying to find free teammates, ending in the margin blowing out to beyond five goals. Blimey. It started with Pickett harassing his opponent, and ended with him on the end of a pass, via a risky "we've got no other ideas" kick that was turned over in the middle. 

With five minutes left in the half there we could either:

a) Sludge them out and go to the half with a comfortable lead.
b) Bang a few more goals on to completely ruin the contest
c) Remove foot from pedal and allowe them a couple of goals to keep it interesting.

And after avoiding our self-destructive urges in the first quarter, nobody was surprised that the answer was C. I suppose you've got to concede sometime, but if there's anything I'd like more of from this team it's ruthlessness when the opposition are on their knees. When they had the first decent chance after half time, with the game having degenerated back into a World War I style trench battle, there were genuine concerns that they'd sussed us and were going to chip away until the last quarter before overrunning us. 

Enter Bayley Fritsch, or more appropriately, enter Zaine Cordy. Crazy name, crazy guy. He gave away a high tackle free, took out his frustrations by berating Fritsch for allegedly diving, and was still having a big old sook when Bayley walked around him and kicked the goal. It was the no crowd equivalent of that Essendon fan hanging shit at Gawn (then, apparently, being arrested as a suspected car thief) before the goal was kicked anyway.

That set off as close as we were going to get to the floodgates opening. Fritsch caused the fake crowd to go off like a Geiger Counter in Chernobyl by hitting the post, before the Weid came to life with goals from his first two kicks. Hell of a minute, shame the rest wasn't much chop, but given that his greatest performances came in front of combined crowds of 180,000 playing in front of 0 might have been a letdown. 

Clayton Oliver wasn't required to perform single-handed acts of sporting heroism this time, but evidence is mounting that he and Petracca are the most influential duo since air and water. Whatever happens from here I'll be wistfully reminiscing about seeing them play when old and clapped out. I loved Harmes' game, but these two are at the heart of everything we do. Grant Thomas isn't a fan, but if we want the opinion of a coach who was sacked for losing a final to Melbourne, we'll call Stan Alves thanks.

When Jordon immediately pinged out of the middle for another shot I was ready to pitch a tent, and though it narrowly fell short, a 36 point lead at the last change was worth getting excited about. For Sullivan Line reasons I wasn't going to open a crate of champers and light cigars, but was reasonably confident. Eight years on I'm not even traumatised by the time we led the Dogs by 44 points halfway through the last quarter and almost lost a game that would have given birth to the Jeremy Howe Line.

The last quarter was played out in a fashion befitting the crowd size. McSizzle's third, generated by the hapless Dogs ruckman not being able to bend down far enough to punch the ball off the ground, made absolutely sure of it five minutes in. With nothing left to lose Footscray got a couple of token goals from the sort of edge-of-your-seat footy that would have come in handy a quarter earlier but it was too little too late. I still wasn't truly comfortable until they needed five goals in five minutes. 

As good as it would have been to plow on and bury them, this was a workmanlike, cue in the rack last quarter that made the finish to the Carlton game look silly in comparison. Both involved a controlled descent to a comfortable victory, this time we'd done infinitely more impressive work to get there in the first place.

The AAMI ad had led me to believe that this would flash on the screen at the final siren. Alas no. It just puttered to an understandably atmosphere free conclusion.

Because Melbourne fans are legally not allowed to be happy for more than a few minutes at a time, the  mysterious appearance of Tom Sparrow as super-sub with a minute left caused some concern. Not to Channel 7, who didn't see fit to immediately tell us Langdon had gone off, or confirm that it was because of a head knock until about an hour later. You can set the stopwatch for a mention of Dr. Gary Zimmerman in every Dogs game but even with two boundary riders in an empty stadium, good luck getting important medical news.  

For reasons best known to the AFL, players who'd been together all week, tested negative to COVID then gone face-to-face with up to 23 opponents for the previous two hours had to put on masks to sing the song. When they were a new thing a year ago I could accept the idea of players 'setting an example' for the community. Now it just looked NQR. Shame Port didn't do more to mock Collingwood by wearing prison bar design masks after their win.

Anyway, as long as our players are singing when they're winning they can do it with Tuckerbag paper sacks over their heads for all I care. Every win is another payment towards a September neck-deep in premiership contention. And this, two months short of the 10th anniversary of 186, is an excellent position to be in. May 2021 continue to be dedicated to more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
Bit of a difference from last week, where some players were getting votes for very ordinary games. Now I could have included about nine.

5 - James Harmes
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Steven May

Apologies to Gawn, Lever, Rivers or Spargo who might have had the last vote.

It's 1-2 for the Magic Twins, but Clayton's got the big break now. Plenty of votes left to be awarded, but barring disaster it's hard to see anyone pulling back this sort of a gap. In the minors, there's a slight tightening at the top of the Seecamp but Salem remains almost a full BOG ahead, and the Hilton race remains unopened halfway through the year.

30 - Clayton Oliver
18 - Christian Petracca
16 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
14 - Tom McDonald
12 - Jake Lever
11 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Steven May
8 - Luke Jackson
7 - James Harmes, Ed Langdon
6 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd
2 - Jayden Hunt, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Charlie Spargo

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
I have a great deal of fondness for James Jordon's defensive efforts but generally wouldn't let him kick for my life. However, his snap that defied the laws of physics was delightful, pocketing him the weekly nomination. He wins an ornate presentation case in which to display highlights of - so far - the most successful Melbourne rookie season since Allen Jakovich. 

Goals against St Kilda have since lost most of their value, but Pickett retains the overall lead for his spinny, turny, kicking over the head extravaganza in Round 2.

Next Week
It looks like the only chance we've got of playing for 'TP' next week is players punching on for Sorbent at Safeway. They're not going to wait until midway through the week to decide if we can go to Alice Springs, so I'm expecting by the time you read this it will have been shifted to either the SCG or our old friend Fortress Showgrounds. For the love of all that is holy, anywhere but Cairns.

With respect to the Northern Territory, I couldn't give a fat rat's clacker if we actually play there, I'm just bleeding that it'll cost us $700,000 in sponsorship money. This seems an excessively large amount to pay for one game to be played, but if they're willing to write the cheques we'll keep cashing them. Who knows what the contract says, but surely if they're the ones stopping us from coming when the rest of the country doesn't have an issue it should be on them to pay up. We're probably playing the long game, not chasing them for $700 large this year because we know it's worth $7 million over the next decade. 

Given that the even more lucrative Queen's Birthday is now also in trouble, the only way to recover some costs from this debacle might be to shift a different home game there. If the MCG will let us, GWS in Round 16 seems the obvious choice. Problem for the NT is that this is only going to get the same level of Friday night promotion if they pay Channel 7 a motza or there's bugger all good alternatives for the 'best' timeslot. At this stage, they might just get away with it, only Geelong/Essendon features a Victorian club and looks like having any finals implications.

The cleanest way to handle this would be for Gary Pert to slap down a dossier full of compromising images of NT politicians (and not the ones they've already sent themselves) and get us an exemption to play there. At the time of writing it hasn't been ruled out entirely so I've got some hope. Losing a game in Alice Springs would not only be a financial disaster, it's also a letdown for people who like to hear barely competent middle aged white men make patronising comments about the local crowd as if they're seeing electricity for the first time. On the other hand, great news our Sydney fans, who can enjoy the novelty of watching a game for premiership points alongside about 650 other people.

Whatever obscure venue it's played at, this game will be a further test of how far we've come this year. Brisbane have risen from the dead in the last few weeks to become serious contenders again, but are still trapped in a Battle Royale for premiership favourtism with us (!), Geelong and Port. There's plenty of time for others to come home with a burst, but at the moment it's looking a lot like 2004, where the lack of truly outstanding teams offers the chance for somebody to come through the pack and pinch a flag. Good timing, I've only been waiting 17 years to avenge our spontaneous combustion at the end of that season. 

After two weeks of getting predictions horrible wrong I'm going back to cautious optimism, thinking we could very well win but will fall just short. If we do lose, and it's still hard to come to terms with that being an unlikely option, may it have the same galvanising effect as the Adelaide debacle. For the first time in years Collingwood will be treating Queen's Birthday as their Grand Final, not the other way around, and I don't want any surprises.

The unavoidable change is the concussed Langdon. This is no good, but considering Friday night was probably the least effective he's been for us it proves we can win comfortably without him. The obvious replacement is Baker, but with no VFL to go off this week I'm basing my decision entirely on one Demonland post and giving Fraser Rosman a go. Sure, the same person says Baker was better in the same game but I'm keen to try the man who will dominate the nightclub scene when it reopens.

Despite Weideman not having a kick until the second half, his 60 seconds of glory compares favourably to Ben Brown barely getting a touch in the seconds a week earlier. As a swinging voter I still don't know which option to support, Brown still seems safer, but I understand it's probably better to persist with the Weid because he'll still be going years after Brown retires. We all like Ben, who seems an exceptionally cheery character in the Langdon mould, but given that we signed him to a four year contract that neither party is probably happy with anymore, maybe we'll find a trade for him at the end of the year? At which point all our other forwards will catch a flesh eating superbug.

Brown was unfairly maligned after the Carlton game, a wet day when we shouldn't have played both he and Weid in the same forward line, and in a game of Sim Selection Committee I'd probably pick him next week. In real life that would be a gigantic loogie in Weideman's face. Hopefully his second half was a confidence booster, otherwise VFL form or not (in the current climate, more accurately VFL or not) I'm switching to the guy with proven career form as a goalkicker.

The success of our midfield here - especially Harmes - is both good and bad news for Jack Viney. He is absolutely crucial to our finals tilt, but now we don't have to rush him back. Give him another week off and hopefully his foot stays attached for the rest of the season. Let's unleash him on Queen's Birthday, at which point he'll be so revved up that several Collingwood midfielders could die.

IN: Rosman
OUT: Langdon (inj), Sparrow (omit)
LUCKY: Melksham, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Sparrow, Viney

Regardless of where this is played, even on the deck of a ship in international waters, it promises to be a cracker. I will now accept that we're a top eight side, but won't start gazing lovingly at the prospect of a double chance unless we win here.

Mid-Season Mania
Unlike most drafts we've been involved with over the last 20 years, nobody's stressed that winning caused us to drop a position. For once we're picking like the best team in the country, which lacks a bit of excitement compared to the National Draft - where it implies you've just won the bloody flag.

Unless you're North, about to snatch a highly rated prospect via loophole, it's hard to take this draft seriously. A handful of teams found regulars last time, but most selections never got a game or flamed out quickly. We have a couple of positions that could do with cover (e.g. tall defenders, running half-backs, mid size half-forwards) and up to two spots to fill but considering draftees aren't going to play in the next couple of weeks anyway, you're left going for kids who are expected to develop for next year, break in case of emergency experienced players, or Marlion Pickett style Hail Marys.

The full list of nominees is available here, and I'm not at all qualified to tell you who we're going to pick but wonder if we might take Wiz Jr. this time, just to park him at Casey for the rest of the year and see how he develops. There's not much else there if you're hoping for romantic ex-MFC connections. The lost Brayshaw brother, the Werribee bloke who trained with us pre-season and Mitch White, but sadly no sign of The Spencil, who is too busy running riot at Doncaster to waste his time hanging out on a rookie list for half a season.

Otherwise, we're left looking for wacky names and anomalies. Including several nominees from club 'none', #108 who spelt Heidelberg wrong, #109, who wrote down an address instead of a club name, #126 who casually refers to his club's competition as 'Adelaide footy league', and plenty of others who are clearly just wasting everyone's time by nominating for a laugh. May whoever we end up with turn out to be the shit hottest player ever to lace up boots.

Final Thoughts
Let me be very clear that I'm still not claiming us as a serious premiership threat but imagine if things go super tits-up in Victoria, the league ends up as a travelling circus again, and our return to the Adelaide Oval is to play a Grand Final. There would be a lot of wrist-slashing over not being able to see it live, but at this stage of my life there would be immense (and I mean IMMENSE) personal satisfaction in seeing us win a flag from anywhere, whether that be the ground, my couch, or an iron lung. We're still not even halfway there yet, but it feels a few percent more possible than last week.