Monday, 22 June 2009

Special Brisbane Preview

(This was written for the BigFooty Brisbane board. Preserved here for the sake of history.)

Greetings fellow Australians,

Before I start writing about Melbourne and getting depressed I wish to alarm you with a simple fact. You are the last team in the country who we are last start winners against. Twice if you count the pre-season. Doesn’t seem right does it? Especially in a week where we’re still the biggest laughing stock in the competition despite North Melbourne kicking three goals and ‘parting ways’ with their coach. In fact it seems such a long, long time ago since we spent the best part of the last minute buried in your forward line at the MCG waiting for it to all go horribly wrong.

These days there’s one hell of a black cloud hanging over us. I've seen worse - if you ever want a laugh go back and read the Melbourne board between Round 1 and Round 3, 2008. It was like a slaughterhouse. But back then, and every week since, we've had that old chestnut of rebuilding to fall back on. Hope springs eternal and all that. Then all of a sudden like a flash it‘s become like interviewing the survivors of a nuclear holocaust. Suddenly people have started to ask "what if we don't get better?" Various contributors have suddenly started developing the forum version of a thousand yard stare. They've seen too much suffering. In twenty years people will be having flashbacks to Brad Dick tearing us to shreds in the wet on Queen's Birthday.

Just a few short weeks ago there was a sense of enormous optimism surrounding Melbourne. We’d signed a 30 year deal with Casey to give us a training base for the first time in two decades, we’d run Geelong, Footscray, West Coast and Hawthorn close in ‘honourable’ performances and announced that Jack Watts was going to make his debut. Our fans had even erupted into open civil war when it appeared that we might win five games and ‘avoid’ the priority pick at the end of the year.

All the talk was about how we were turning the corner and were ready to start winning again. Not too much winning of course, as much as they deny it there’s no doubt that the pin would be pulled rapidly if we were on the verge of missing out on two top picks, but at least enough to make it interesting towards the end of the year. Imagine, a R22 blockbuster between the 21-0 Saints and 4-17 Demons where somehow we conspire to win and miss out on the priority pick.

Realistically it started to go wrong in the third quarter the first time around against St. Kilda, but everyone expected that. "As long as we go hard against the Pies" everyone said. Then they announced the coming of Watts and you'd be forgiven for thinking that all of a sudden we’d become raging premiership favourites. The Pies kick the first five and market confidence in the Melbourne Football Club went down faster than a Russian apartment block. "Never mind" they cried. "We can match Essendon". Oh yes we could – for about 20 minutes in the middle of the second quarter..

For a few beautiful minutes it looked, once again, like we’d turned a corner. First the Jacks - Grimes and Watts - kicked their first goals in league footy and then the man who should have CULT FIGURE tattooed across his forehead, Liam Jurrah brought both sides of the crowd together with a memorable first goal. He’d already had his first kick in footy touched on the line, which was thoroughly unromantic, but had shown enough early to convince you he wasn’t far from opening his account. When he did it was a thing of beauty. You’ve seen the replay a thousand times. It was hardly goal of the year material, but at the moment we’ll take anything even moderately exciting. Best debut goal I’ve seen in person since Andrew Lamprill in 1992 – and look how well he did for himself.

Of course as is our way we then copped a goal straight after and it was all downhill from there. Never mind the fact that we got mauled in the free kick count. It wasn’t the umpires that caused us to spend the first ten minutes of the third quarter with our entire team camped inside the Essendon defensive 50. We’d rebound it or concede a point there would absolutely nobody down the ground to kick it to. Cue the ball going straight back in again. Then, in the ultimate insult, the Bombers managed to find a spare player to pass to inside 50. Bailey tried to play this down in the post-match press conference as an attempt by the players to clear the ball because we were having trouble getting it out of the defensive 50. Sadly no journalist had the coconuts to ask him at what point the coach tells somebody – one player at least – to get forward of the centre in case the ball goes near them. Having one player make some sort of contest in the centre, albeit a 3 on 1 with no chance of success, beats the ball landing in Dustin Fletcher’s giraffe like arms and being pumped back into attack time and time again.

That’s Melbourne 2008/09 for you. I’m not one to turn on a coach (after all I remember Hawthorn fans calling for Clarkson’s head after they failed to score for a quarter and a half at the Gabba) but honestly who comes up with that sort of rubbish? Either you cocked it up in the box, or you should be roasting players alive on the sidelines for sheer stupidity.

So then, how about Saturday night? To go into depth about how you’re going to beat us would be dangerous. We could be here until three minutes before the bounce. So let’s take the much shorter route and look at the ways we could beat you. No really, there are a few. You know your side, so let’s talk about mine.

I’d hate to have been in the same room as Daniel Bradshaw when he found out that Nathan Carroll had been delisted. He must have been absolutely inconsolable. After all who’s he going to kick 9 on now? Take your choice of Matthew Warnock, James Frawley and Jared Rivers. All three have been a consistent highlight of our year. Warnock was on the fast train to unemployment when Bailey took over and ended up coming fourth in the 2008 B&F. Despite this most people still wouldn’t know who he was if it hadn’t been for the farcical attempts to use him as bait to land his brother from Fremantle at the end of last year.

Rivers and Frawley have both had their nervous moments this year, but both have also performed admirably in a backline that is usually under siege for most of the game. Rivers kept Franklin goalless in the second half of our clash against Hawthorn, and Frawley was monstered by Matthew Lloyd early on last week before bouncing back and keeping him goalless after quarter time. You’d think Warnock would get Brown and one of the other two would get Bradshaw, but it’ll be interesting to see which way Bailey and crew go if things go wrong.

The wildcard in the backline is the Stefan Martin Experience. After playing solely as a defender in his first fifteen games he’s been seen up forward and in the ruck recently with varying degrees of success. He’s unlikely to do much ruckwork if Jamar returns but don’t bet against him pinch hitting up forward. He’s hardly a natural forward but does boast two completely arsey snaps on the run from the boundary amongst his three career goals and provides a big target if nothing else is working – and it usually isn’t.

Whelan, Bennell and Cheney will take the small forwards and Cale Morton has been used sparing as a loose man in defence throughout the year. Not what I’d call a prudent use of a #4 draft pick but then again what do I know? You’re all familiar with Whelan’s work, but of the other two Bennell is the one to watch out for. Cheney is workmanlike, but the #43 has a little bit of that agile backman flair that keeps things interesting when you’ve got bugger all to be happy about.

This is our constant source of hope and frustration. At various points all of McLean, Moloney, Jones and Green have threatened to become stars. On paper none of them are having a particularly bad season, but together we just can’t seem to get it right. James McDonald is also lurking around, but despite being captain he’s no longer an automatic inclusion.

Aaron Davey has been removed from the forward line with disastrous results for our ability to crumb goals. He’s got a poise that a lot of our players lack when they’re trying to kick 60m running at full pelt, but as we saw last week he can rack up a ton of possessions that don’t have any impact on the opposition.

Your midfield beats ours hands down any day of the week, but what I fear most is Travis Johnstone having a corker. I’m not saying I’d give back Jack Grimes to have TJ back. In fact I was one of the happiest people around when we got rid of him, but just like when he killed us in that first game last year and just how Brent Grgic played his only good game for Geelong against us you know if he’s in he’ll going to have a field day just to make things even more depressing for us. If possible can we please order a few of the ‘laser-like’ kick-ins he used to deliver straight to the opposition?

I’ll also be interested to see how Daniel Rich goes. After last week’s avalanche of “why didn’t we draft Natanui?” posts it can only lead to the same sort of thing. I’m more inclined to ask why we don’t draft more ‘kids’ who have played senior footy before, because I’ll tell you I’d much rather have a Rich than a Morton right now.

Our ruck department is an odd one. Most people rose to applaud when they found out Mark Jamar was going to miss the first ten weeks of the season but in the two games since he returned, before missing again last week, he played the best matches of his life. First he belted Gardiner/King – before being actually belted by King – and then moved on to outpoint Josh Fraser as well.

His counterpart Paul Johnson had his best patch towards the end of last year (who’ll forget THAT chase-down in the MCG game?) but has been disappointing this season. Tagged first with Jake Spencer (not up to it) and then John Meesen (shockingly good before stress fractures) he’s been inconsistent at best. Not so bad in the ruck, but an apparent belief that he’s Chris Judd every time he gets the ball has caused a considerable amount of grief.

Much like last week when Johnson and Martin jumped all over Paddy Ryder on route to an overall win in the hitouts I don’t see having the advantage in numbers helping us a great deal with the way our midfield is playing.

The ultimate Achilles Heel. Even if our backline keeps the usual suspects quiet where are we going to get a winning score from? Sure, we look ok on paper but like an Ikea wardrobe just because all the parts are there it doesn’t mean you can get anything usable out of it. Even if Patfull and Merett weren’t coming back I’m not convinced we could have taken advantage.

Last week was the perfect example of the Melbourne forward line in action. Matthew Bate working his arse off with very little support whatsoever, Robertson alternating between trying to take mark of the year and hoodwinking the umpires into giving him a free and Miller playing in bursts and then going missing for hours on end. Watts, Jetta and Jurrah were there or thereabouts most of the night showing a bit but with nine games between them none was going to be a match winner.

Both Jetta and Addam Maric (you haven't got a monopoly on players with random double D's in their name) have been employed as the professional small forward this year but the redeployment of Davey and absence of Austin Wonaeamirri has absolutely slaughtered us in that area. If the big forwards don’t mark it we rarely capitalise. Thus the low scores, thus the ‘honourable’ losses, thus the frustration.

Jones, Jamar and Warnock are straight back in if they're right. Lynden Dunn has been pressing in the reserves for a few weeks, and Paul Wheatley is due a farewell tour at some point. I'd prefer Maric to Jetta but I think he'll probably get another game. Shane Valenti has also been amongst the bests for Casey recently and might come into contention.

The verdict
I'd love to be bullish and come on to tell you that you're going to get smashed, after all what is Big Footy if its not the home of people making wildly optimistic judgements about their own side, but frankly it's not going to happen. I'd love to go on the Melbourne board on Sunday morning, make like Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack and set off a gigantic party by yelling "Hey everybody, we're all gonna get laid!" but all realistic signs point to a sizeable beating.

Brisbane by 40. Oh go on, you deserve it - have another two goals. Brisbane by 52.

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