Monday 28 February 2005

Seasick, yet still docked

For the first time since that fateful one day in September the jumper was ON, the scarf was ON (although it didn't last long), the balaclava was just for show and league football in Melbourne was back. Well, something resembling league football anyway. 17,000 fans 'packed' into Australia's most overrated stadium for Wizard Cup Quarter Final action. My traditional feud with Yuppie Stadium continued as the first entrance to level three that I could find was wrapped up in the red and white tape so beloved at that ground with a sign indicating that the entire top level was closed. I don't want to say that the place is run like a brothel or anything but I walked around the next corner straight into the open third level where a couple of thousand people were already seated. Enough said. I can't stand the lower decks at that place, they do nothing for me and if you end up sitting above the Medallion Club you might end up having a nervous breakdown at the sight of people watching the golf as I did last season.

I sat down in my seat, two rows from the front, started taking deep breaths and telling myself that the game didn't count for much and it didn't matter what happened but as the first half wore on I started to sweat a little. I know that the backline was without Nicholson and Rivers, our two key defenders, but the ease with which Fevola and The Big Fat Ugly Kid (copyright Carlton fans - so don't write in) ripped the likes of Bell and Ferguson apart was outrageous. I'm aware that neither of them is being groomed to play key defensive roles for this season at least but I cringe at the thought of the "big" two of our already slightly wonky backline going down with long term injuries during the year. Could get ugly if today's two pronged Carlton attack was anything to go by. Bring back Chris Lamb - call up Bratislava, Slovakia or whatever European city he's touring now and ask him to come back as cover. Who could resist the urge to play alongside Justin Blumfield in another big Sandringham premiership? Sure this happens to me before every season but it was noticeable today - we were touched up like a 17-year-old on a ** ***** end-of-season trip.

The other worrying trend right across the game was inaccurate kicking for goal. It's been going on for a couple of years now but the number of set shots we missed today was painful. Even usually reliable suspects like Neitz (yes, he was actually out there) and Green were spraying it everywhere. There's nothing I hate more (well there is, and believe me you'll hear about it as the season goes on) than wasteful kicking at goal. I understand it if you're kicking from the carpark, 50 metres out on the boundary line - though even Phil Read managed to nail one of those against Essendon - but when you see professional players paid for little more than their ability to kick goals marking 30m out and just sneaking it in for a point you've got to wonder what's going on. I'd love to have a look at the goalkicking accuracy stats from the last five years, I doubt you'll find us in the top eight of any year. I've just walked in the door and turned on the replay to find our goalkicking labelled as "atrocious". How true. The backline was under siege but on several occasions they held up in the face of the Carlton barrage only to see the ball go down the other end of the ground and land in the hands of a forward who did his best to keep it as far away from the newly extended big sticks as possible. There's nothing more irritating than that. Of the goals we scored most were tap-ins from the goalsquare, then there was the Robertson one where the ball was clearly out of bounds from a smother before he snapped the 6 pointer. I have a stat I like to look at in these situations labelled "legitimate goals" - this is where we take out all the goals from dodgy free kicks, total flukes and opposition cockups and come up with a more accurate picture of things. On this soon to be famous statistic the Blues wiped the floor with us. They fully deserved their victory. I grew so bored during the halftime break as the Auskick kiddies ran around that I took a picture of my shoe.

Despite all this an air of calm came over me when I looked down to see Luke Williams run down the wing past me. I thought to myself that no match where he was on the ground could be considered that important. He even found time to have a shot at goal and miss it wildly like everybody else on the day. He did, lest we forget, play his greatest of 48 games at Optus Oval against the Blues in 2001 where he ran riot and we won by seven points. Today there was to be no repeat. Guy Rigoni would have been sitting in the dugout looking at what he's behind in the pecking order and silently shedding a tear. I'm sure Peter Walsh's trade to Port Adelaide had a lot to do with him wanting to return to SA but I'm not convinced he still isn't better than a few players on our list.

At three-quarter-time, and 31 points behind, I ironically called for a repeat of the 2000 finals series where we had ripped out a comeback from a similar position and I almost threw up in the top deck of the Ponsford Stand (RIP). For the first eight minutes of the quarter the Demons duly delivered and by the halfway mark of the final term we were within a goal. The tide turned again when Carlton kicked a 9point goal and it looked as if the big steal was dead, but when Brent Moloney struck back with a Jesus Christ Supergoal of his own (the aftermath of which is pictured above) the dream lived. Even I, the most strident of pre-season pessimists was starting to get excited at the prospect of a blockbusting come-from-behind victory that would set our season up. Then Carlton lifted again and put the game away. We got back to within ten points in the final couple of minutes but the end result was fairly well signposted by this time. When the only prospect of a win lies with a player kicking a 9 point goal, being poleaxed after the kick and getting another shot at goal you know the horse has already bolted.

James McDonald, Nathan Brown, Brock McLean and Russell Robertson came out of it with credit. Paul Johnson wasn't bad, and Moloney did alright. Bruce and Bizzell were average at best. It's hard to assess those at the lower end of the depth chart in games like this as they're off and on the ground every ten seconds. Jeff White was AWOL for most of the game and I tended to notice Mark Jamar more often. It's fair to say that David Neitz and Aaron Davey were amongst the more disappointing performers on the day. Brad Miller did nothing up forward and ended up in the backline.

As outrageous as it may sound I have some doubts about the future of Neitz. His second half of last season was nothing special and he had the sort of performance today that would see a lesser man sent back to the 2nds. Is this unnecessary panic so early in the season? Perhaps it is, but you can't deny that we need to develop more tall goalkicking options; it became painfully obvious when trialled in the spot late last year that Brad Green will never be it and I think, despite his adventures in the backline today, that Miller is far better suited at CHF. There's some talk of Nick Smith but it's hard to judge on the ten minutes of total game time he enjoyed during his brief stay in the senior side at the end of 2003.

Colin Sylvia may very well be the next messiah but he's yet to show anything in league football. Feel free to think like I do and believe that none of your previous Jesus/Allah saviour types ever performed any miracles in their first two seasons either - but then again they weren't coming back from Osteitis Pubis. The pointless 50m penalty he gave away when we were starting to get on top in the last quarter was absolute rubbish - completely unnecessary and as much as I love players who double as complete pricks I'd rather they keep it to squirrel grips in the pack and casual elbows into the genitals during boundary throw-ins than flattening players who had just legitimately outmarked them in direct view of the umpire.

On the other side Carlton looked impressive at times. I'm still working on my predicted end of season ladder but I've got to give them some credit on their performances so far, even against the Essendon 2nds last week, and put them in the running for a finals spot. Lance Whitnall played out of his skin, though admittedly he wasn't against much. It will interesting to see how he goes throughout the rest of year. That's about as much comment as you're going to get on opposition teams on this site. There's a Carlton blog coming soon - I'm sure they'll have more to say about their club than I ever will. The only thing I will say is that the tactic of giving the cheersquad placards with a phone number on it to ring for memberships was a bit of a failure. Given that it's the kind of tactic that the poverty-line clubs like us would stoop to it was disappointing to see one of the "big four" break it out. I suppose it was designed to show up to the tightarses sitting at home and wavering on whether to buy a membership or not but it looked pretty ordinary in person. One step up from waving a sign with nothing but a sponsor name on it, a'la West Coast fans and Hungry Jacks, but not by much.

So we lost and another crack at the 2nd biggest title in the game is over. I'm not too depressed. As far as second string championships go it hardly ranks against winning the FA Cup or the European Football Championships. Would have nice to see some glory for the first time in god knows how long but yet again it's not to be. Instead of playing Footscray at Telstra Dome next week we'll probably line up against the West Australian Regional Under 13's in Bunbury instead. Roll on Round One - I wouldn't say I was overly enthusiastic after that showing but there's no telling until the legitimate stuff begins.In fact I didn't take any offence at the result until I walked into a supermarket on my way home only for a checkout chick to run from behind the counter and ask me what the score was. "Carlton by 10", I said. She pumped her fists and celebrated loudly before noticing that I hadn't actually bought anything yet and hardly looked amused. "Sorry", she said unconvincingly, and walked off. How depressing.

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