Friday, 18 February 2005

Saturday Night Palsy

There's a certain point on the calendar where all things football related start to heat up. Sure you might had a summer of wild gossip and rumor on the back page of the Herald-Sun (not that we did..) and some startlingly misleading intra-club matches - in the past you might even have had farcical international challenges played on astroturf inside the Toronto Skydome - but until there's some hint of real competition nobody takes the threat of a looming football season seriously at all. Unfortunately history fails to record the results of the Melbourne FC 1896 pre-season campaign but judging by a first up 17 point win against South Melbourne at the Lake Oval it's fair to say that the boys were all fired up under their new coaching staff and were ready to go.

Of course in the 19th century they weren't lucky enough to have the Escort/Panasonic/Ansett Australia/Wizard/Whatever it's called this year Cup pre-season competition and thus were spared a month of glorified practice matches tarted up as serious competition. Of course in the last few years the Cup has taken a turn for the better with the introduction of all sorts of crazy new rules and laws that nobody, let alone the umpiring staff, can possibly decipher. This is clearly an indication that we are not to take the process seriously or make any judgements on the future of our playing list until well into the regular season. Say.. quarter-time of the first game? That will do. And if last year was anything to go by I'll declare us a lost cause shortly before we win the next 10.

Melbourne open their 2005 Wizard Cup campaign against Brisbane at Cazaly Stadium in Cairns tomorrow night (7.40pm AEST. Live on Fox Footy). The AFL Official Site's match preview is attempting to talk it up as a potential classic - but then again they would wouldn't they? I prefer to look at it as an extended training session held in Far-North Queensland. That said, with eleven Brisbane Premiership players missing from their squad against our relatively small injury list of Nicholson, Read, Smith and Ward we should (should) benefit from the Lions amazing habit of throwing not coming up for first round Wizard Cup games and progress to a match against either Essendon or Carlton at Telstra Dome next week.

Naturally I'm not writing the whole thing off as a wasted exercise - witness, for instance, the performance of Aaron Davey in 2004's competition - but I won't be reaching for the hot towel and razor blades if we don't win by ten goals or (god forbid) actually lose. Conversely if we treat the good people of Cairns to the greatest display of Australian Rules football in history and win by 225 points I won't be breaking open expensive bottles of champagne, putting in for annual leave in September and dusting off a spot on the mantlepiece for my commemorative "MFC 2005 Premiership" medallions. It just doesn't.. mean.. anything. The Lions have made a career of getting knocked out in the first round and they haven't done too badly for themselves in the past few years.

Pre-season cynicism aside I did sit for ten minutes in silence with my hands in my head when we lost that semi-final to Geelong last year. That was different though - when you're sitting on a 1965-2005 record of a couple of night Premierships and two Grand Final floggings you've got to take everything you can get. I saw the words "grand final", got a little bit excited and forgot that it was for a competition where you can play-on if the ball bounces off the post.

Having said all this - and effectively dismissed the entire match as a farce - it will be good to see the side back in action again. I'd like to erase the Essendon finals debacle from my memory as soon as possible. Of course a lot has gone on since then - we've picked up at least one quality player, some highly prized recruits and a few unknown quantities. We also lost a player in circumstances I'm sure need no explanation here. How will it all come together? I've got no idea and am not prepared to make an ill-informed and random judgement yet. Give it a few weeks and we'll come up with something.

Here's to the start of a new season. I promise to go wild when the real stuff starts.

Prediction: Melbourne by 25 points and at least seven seperate threads on the Big Footy forums declaring us Premiership certainties.

P.S - Yes. This is what passes for analysis on this site. Never fear - the links to the real reporters will be up soon.

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