Saturday 25 February 2012

Lukewarm three-way action

Saturday night and the rules are shite, but at least there was no Dwayne Russell to be seen. Ok so Danny Frawley was involved, and ok being a tightwad meant I had to traipse halfway across Melbourne to find a friendly Foxtel connection without having to put up with idiots in pubs BUT it's footy so I'll deal with it.

God forbid we ever play a pre-season Round 1 game in Melbourne again (five years and counting...) but even if you're forced to watch the game on TV - something I'm sure many people are looking forward to this year, until Dwayne turns up - anything looks good when you've spent the whole season trying to get back into cricket for the first time in a decade only to be backstabbed by the return of Brett "Carted" Lee. Even the three-way format with the suspect changes is better than that. Well the menage is ok anyway, I can understand why they have to do that to fit 18 teams in without byes, but I could do with PROPER RULES.

How long do you think the enthusiasm lasted?

Game 1 vs Gold Coast
... until precisely a minute and a half into this match.

With vast swathes of what is allegedly our "best 22" either sitting on the bench, in the stands or in another timezone expectations were already rock bottom before the game began and we were duly treated to an exhibition of garbage football the likes of which would not be seen again until about an hour later.

Even with the weather causing havoc, the Psychic Friends Connection both wearing the dreaded green vest and the aforementioned rotation policy playing havoc with any chance of a cohesive team you'd probably have expected us to win anyway. And if we didn't? Well who gives a rats - and I've got rock solid written evidence to prove that I was never going to get overly excited no matter what happened.

It became abundantly clear from the first two minutes that we weren't in for a classic, but has there ever actually been a classic in a pre-season match other than maybe a final or two? No, they're shit for a reason. It would be easy to blame the rules that nobody except the AFL likes but the two teams were just as culpable. Both sides had their own reasons for being rubbish, it was just that Fox Footy Channel gave everyone a chance to watch in - and in the true spirit of Melbourne FC gave the Facebook punters their chance to go right off. Which brings me to a brand new segment here at Demonblog...

There's one who's pulled the pin already. Don't panic yet mate, we can get a lot worse than this. Thought I'd better hide the name before people continue the trend of the entire off-season and start threatening legal action and/or lagging me into the MFC because they think I'm an employee. It should be pointed out, as if the content and image of a man jamming a fork in a toaster didn't give it away, that I am most certainly not. If you really must you can complain via email or Twitter but frankly unless you're the legal counsel for a certain St Kilda forward and are demanding a retraction of several statements made over the last few years then you're not likely to get much joy.

Anyway for the first few minutes the massed, prone to exaggeration, armies of Facebook and the internet should have been on their feet proclaiming a bold new era of success. Personally we'd have had to have won by over 50 for me to go well over the top and try to find signs where they didn't actually exist.

For the first few minutes at least it was total domination. Clark made Warnock look stupid and kicked the first goal then proceeded to take advantage of the fact that they never played together by engaging in 35 minutes of 'light hearted' abuse with him. You can't help but feel that Warnock will be a lot busier than Clark this year and on a much lighter paypacket. Sucked in. But ultimately better than playing at Casey 20 times.

When Jones kicked another without reply your heart rate might have jumped to approximately 1bpm more than its usual rate. Especially considering he couldn't have ducked any more into the allegedly 'high' tackle if he'd tried. Please, it's pre-season for the umpires too.

Indeed for the first ten minutes Gold Coast were lucky to have taken the ball across the centre line, all this with Fitzpatrick as our ruckman. He wasn't bad, but the one who stood out in the first few minutes was the elf-like Tynan. Either way we were hardly putting out our best team and were still doing them comfortably. Forward 50 entries were haphazard at best but we're all used to that, Neeld's not a miracle worker. Next you'll want him to give us decent kick-ins.

Shame then that the first time Gold Coast went inside 50 they kicked a goal, and then did it again. Mind you the first one was a bit of a shambles, coming as it did from a combination of Bennell not having any idea where his opponent was and the umpire blowing the whistle to pay the mark so quickly that he missed the bloke then dropping it.

Despite the belated comeback by the Suns we might have had more. Clark was impressive considering how the delivery was coming in with no rhyme or reason, but surprise, surprise when the ball hit the ground inside 50 there wasn't even the remotest hint of crumb. Not a cracker. Davey lurked around there a bit in the second half, and could have won the game in the dying seconds, but other than that there was very little. Am I correct in saying Neville Jetta is injured? If so can they try Bennell down there where he can't do as much damage. Either that or give us '04 edition Davey back and watch him snap some goals out of his arse. The people want it - and if they can't have Kevin Rudd give them something to keep their spirits up.

With the scores level at half time and with Jamar and Moloney both coming on I half expected us to run over the top of them. Sadly the other half expected that we'd somehow throw it away. Hello Melbourne. We could have won it in the dying seconds but no harm done, no need to get the razorblades out and start a campaign to sack Neeld. Do as the Dalai Lama would have you do and show a moderate disinterest in practice matches.

The only key things to note from the second half were that Lynden Dunn's moustache looks even more like Hitler's when his hair is wet and that if Bartram can kick straight (after the umpire ludicrously enquired if he wanted to shoot for 9 from 75m out on the boundary line) then maybe anything can happen in real games. It should also be noted that Bartram had 100% efficiency on his disposals - all of them kicks. Maybe the tide is turning now that he's one of the 25 people in the leadership group?

I was impressed by Magner and Tynan. Magner didn't set the world alight when he got the ball but at least he seemed to be a natural at getting it in the first place. See also Matthew Bate, so nearly a Bulldog now a midfielder, who can clearly get his hands on it. Now he's just got to work on delivering to somebody not just blindly hoofing it down field/out on the full. He's got a month to work on it but I liked what I saw tonight.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
No this doesn't count as an official vote. Michael Evans and Kyle Cheney still the only men to take maximum votes on debut in a match that matters.

5 - James Magner
4 - Mitch Clark
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Matthew Bate
1 - Josh Tynan

Match 2 vs Brisbane
So at 0-1, and with security guards dispatched to Neeld's house in case an angry, Facebook inspired, pitchfork wielding mob turned up and burned the Volvo he received gratis from our sponsors, we returned immediately with a tweaked lineup to take on the Lions.

Now, if you thought the first game was bad you hadn't seen anything yet. While it should be said for the 20th time since 01/01/12 that nothing you see in a pre-season game should be taken seriously - especially the first night - we were utterly putrid for the first ten minutes. It seemed that nobody had any interest in going short and every time we got the ball in the midfield it was just long bombs forward that more often than not went nowhere.

One place they didn't go was into our forward line and for much of the glorified 'half' it looked like we were about to without a forward 50 entry. Stats freaks everywhere would have been reaching for the record books, if anybody bothered to keep in-depth stats of this rubbish. One thing nobody will be collecting is the Name A Game DVD of it that's for sure. I've heard the master copy is already being used to prop up a chair at Sports Delivered HQ.

For fans of early season umpiring shenanigans there was another cracker when Jonathan Brown clotheslined Rivers only for the umpire to point in the wrong direction and confuse everyone. Their pre-season too. I know the feeling, just writing about games again is taxing me and I'm merely a porkie sat behind a keyboard.

Eventually we got it somewhere near the Brisbane goal, courtesy of the Lions going backwards inside 50, but couldn't even manage a score. The good thing was that as ludicrously terrible as we were coming out of the 50 the Lions were just as bad going in. Cue 20 minutes of the ball pinballing back and forth with nobody having any idea what to do with it before Frawley had a rare cock-up, the umpires chose not to pay a Lions player stuffing it up trying to play on and they got the only goal of the half.

We couldn't even get the ball for most of the half so the fact that we went in just seven points down was nigh on criminal. But who's complaining? Scoring nothing isn't ideal but we've just lived through four years of Baileyball so going through twenty minutes with a score of zero is second nature to us..

Good luck finding anybody who deserved credit from the first half, except for Bate who once again found himself on the end of it every five seconds in the middle. I've got my doubts that he can do anything with it other than throw the ball on the boot and hope for the best but despite the fact that his kicks were wonky we were so bad in the first half that he was still our best on ground. It was that bad. Let's just say the Plate vote tally was pretty much reset to zero at 'half' time with it all to play for.

Interesting broadcasting fact, even in the absence of Old Firestarter Russell it looks as if Green will be known only as "former captain Brad Green" in every match this year. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't great. Nobody really was though. Watts, Macdonald and Bennell were ordinary all night and Clark did nothing of substance (or anything full stop really) in the second match but give me them under real rules for four quarters and let's make judgements then.

The first ten minutes of the second half neatly mirrored the first but with some more inside 50's for us to stuff up. We should have had a free goal when Chenee Stiller double fist pumped the ball into the point post - and therefore out of bounds - in the forward pocket but the wheel of umpiring random decisions sadly spun against us. Thank god we don't have to put up with this bollocks rule for another year. They'll try and bring it in for real one day they will, and I hope we've won a flag by then so I can put the hand up and walk away from the game comfortably.

What would have been a scandalously bad quarter in a real game was rendered to nearly useless half and a half by the fact that the game was meaningless. Of course losing the first match alone probably stuffs up our chances of making the NAB Cup final but so far so like every other year since 1989. All this means is that we're 100% certain to be playing in Port Lincoln in the last week and somebody will probably graze a knee while sliding across a supermarket carpark of a ground littered with dog turds.

Finally after switching play for the first time all night Sylvia kicked a goal, and despite it being the worst game of football you'll ever see Brisbane's willing participation in it being shit meant that we were only two points down.

Can we do a Reece Conca and claim Sylvia has served his suspension in the NAB Cup? If you can belt people and serve it pre-season then why not your ban for indulging in early morning shenanigans and missing training sessions for invented sports? Come on Neeld, nobody cares what he did now, time to sweep it under the carpet and concentrate on winning.

The comeback was nearly shortlived as after kicking one goal in 30 minutes the Lions went forward immediately after Sylvia's where Joel Mac cocked up for the tenth time in succession and they crumbed, YES CRUMBED, a goal. Well, what we all thought was a goal anyway until they went to this farce of a video replay system which rorted them out of six points based on the fact that the ball may have scraped one millimetre of the padding on the post. Another winning rule from your friends at AFL House.

If you're going to introduce video replays you're going to have to have cameras everywhere, no just one or two and hope for the best. It might have its place if done right but god help us all if it ends up like cricket where the most obvious decisions are referred to the video because the umpire is too scared that he might make the wrong decision.

Then to make up for the officiating debacle at one end they screwed us out of one by somehow finding a free kick against Sellar even though the Brisbane player slid straight into his head. If some of the rot on offer tonight (and a lot of it in our favour mind you) is indicative of what we'll be seeing this year the umpiring coaches would have to be even more concerned than anything from McKenna/Neeld/Voss. Mystery ruck free kicks are also still very much on the agenda I see, stand by for another season where the whistle goes and two ruckmen both stand there baffled waiting to see which direction the umpire will point in. If he points the right way.

We had our chances to hit the front as the gameturned on its head in the last ten minutes. The Stefan Martin Experience looked lively and a moment where he did some funky Harlem Globetrotters shit with the ball en route to giving away the early free kick of the year convinced the likes of Alistair Lynch that he was actually some sort of Jurrahcane style magician who was likely to do something absolutely outrageous. Err no, he's a good ruckman (never played there once tonight mind) and a capable forward - he's not Cyril Rioli. Still my favourite player though, Experience fans unite.

In the end it was the much-maligned by internet nutbags James Sellar who went forward, won a free - which was paid this time - and kicked truly to put us in-front for what ultimately turned out to be one of the most unfairly stolen victories in history. But for the sake of a philosophical discussion ask yourself this question, if something is without value is it a crime to steal it?

Of course the Lions nearly stole it back. Old mate should have run into an open goal with seconds left but sprayed it across the face to keep us in the hunt for a 'coveted' finals berth if we can clean up Collingwood and Hawthorn (fat chance) over the next two weeks. Really I'm just happy that nobody seriously crocked themselves and whatever Garland did to his back doesn't appear to be super serious. I'm not going to get excited about Grimes' fitness until he can get through a real match though.

Super impressed with Howe when he came in. Rarely if ever went forward but took some good grabs in the middle and was chasing well too. Have to go for Bate as BOG though as despite the occassionally wonky kicking he was the only guy we had who showed anything across both halves of this sawn-off slopfest. Congratulations to Old Bate who sits atop of a Demonblog leaderboard of some description for the first time in his career.

5 - Matthew Bate
4 - Jeremy Howe
3 - Brent Moloney
2 - Jack Grimes
1 - Rohan Bail

Paul Prymke Plate For Pre-Season Performance Leaderboard
7 - Matthew Bate
5 - James Magner
4 - Mitch Clark, Jeremy Howe
3 - Nathan Jones, Brent Moloney
2 - Jack Grimes
1 - Rohan Bail, Josh Tynan

Crowd Watch
Obviously the fact that it was pissing down didn't help but it looked like an A-League crowd. So that'll be called 15,000 by the AFL I suppose. Any Gold Coast fans actually present though? Big noise for Melbourne and Brisbane, mild operatic style applause when the Suns did something. Expansion is smashing it so far.

Next Week
Collingwood, presumably building towards their best side, over four quarters at Docklands (*spit*) and with the spectre of Eddie's unveiled threats to fuck us up hanging over the event. Expect goading from simpleton opposition fans.

Looking forward to see what lineup we put out. There will be still be massively extended squads (probably featuring 72 subs apiece in a late rule change) but somebody's going to have to get the chop/be rested from tonight. They'll still be playing with some fanciful rule changes like the 9 point goal but at least the ball will be able to go out of bounds scot free again. It's also the first, and most likely last, time we'll play the Pies at Docklands so there's that too. Either way feel free to turn up, you hate the ground and it hates you but if I show up and have to sit alone amongst 5000 Pies fans then I'm coming on here next week and giving 5 votes to Scumbag $cully out of pure spite.

Final Thoughts
Nothing that occured tonight is worth getting your undergarments in a twist over. Nothing. Absolutely nil. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Let's start to progressively up our stress levels from next week onwards until going absolutely barking mad when the Lions dick us in Round 1.

The most exciting development of the season so far is that they've finally shelled out for a microphone so you can hear the journo questions. This is the best thing to happen to footy since ever. Now somebody just ask an interesting question.

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