Sunday 19 February 2012

Waiting for the great leap forward

"Work hard for three years" said the portly Mao Zedong as he launched the titular great leap, "and be happy for a thousand". Shortly afterwards, as agriculture was sacrificed for industry in a ill-fated attempt at matching western production, 40 million Chinese enjoyed the happiness that only starvation can bring.

There's no record of what Adelaide Strategy and Innovation Coach Dean Bailey's first words were before he embarked on a similar attempt at revolutionising a failure over a few short years. "What have I got myself in for?" came a bit later (half time, Round 1 2008 to be precise) and "this place is stuffed" even later than that (three quarter time, Round 1 2008).

Three years should have been enough. 2010 was hardly cause for celebration but the fact that we pushed a wildcard finals claim to within three weeks of the end of the season, including that magic day when we tore Sydney to shreds, led most of us to believe that the bad times were over and Baileyball was about to become the newest forward press style 'next big thing' in footy. How wrong can you be?

It wasn't just our fans who were getting overly excited, flash back to last year's pre-NAB Cup preview and have another chortle at the people's champion Hutchy declaring us a red hot finals side and an outsider for the Grand Final.

Mind you even halfway through the year we were playing supposed "elimination final" matches against Richmond while the pundits debated who would be the better side as we jointly went on to dominate footy many years into the future. To Richmond's credit they mightn't have gone on to any remarkable feats but at least five weeks later they weren't losing by 31 goals.

Russian airlines aside has the bottom ever fallen out of something so rapidly? We'll never know what went on behind the scenes last year (and I'll take either a real expose of the events of 2011 or any rumours you've just made up) but whatever it was it must have made Rudd vs Gillard look like the love match that stopped a nation. Whether it was the fault of the players, the coaches or the administrators is up for debate and depends on which internet nutbag you're reading.

This internet nutbag has no idea, I'm just happy to wipe the slate clean and start again. Let us all forget that we're just five complete games from 186. Five games before that we were beating Richmond to become the next big thing. Then in that case who in god's name knows what's going to happen this season? The atmosphere of the place has certainly taken a turn for the better since Neeld turned up but if the atmosphere is as bad as seems it was last year even the Reverend Jim Jones would have lightened the mood significantly.

We've got six games to navigate before the first bounce and while NAB Cup form should be completely ignored in any sane and rational analysis I choose to ignore that very sensible advice and draw conclusions based solely on what happens between the first bounce in Saturday night's hot three way on the Gold Coast and the final siren of our yet to be scheduled final match depending on who makes the NAB Cup final (presumably not us).

In between then we have the second leg of the three-way, Collingwood at Docklands (enjoy that, it might never happen again), Hawthorn at Docklands (where they've belted us in every pre-season game there yet) and then whoever at wherever. Presumably after playing two in a row in the city we're an absolute certainty to wind up in Victor Harbour or Omeo in the last week for the traditional "somebody's done their knee on a gravel centre square" match.

So that brings us neatly to Saturday night. Carrara Stadium (trading under some corporate name) at 6.10 against the Suns, then immediately after against the Lions. Sometime before the first bounce everyone should make the time to sit in a quiet room and chant "it's only the NAB Cup, it's only the NAB Cup" to themselves a few times lest we get a) overexcited at tonking some garbage or b) suicidal that we didn't beat them by enough or even, god forbid, lost.

And that's just the Gold Coast game. I can understand a bit of angst if we don't win that (not that it matters a jot) but imagine the implications for Round 1 if we put in a shocker against the Lions too? Forget the fact that there will be kids that you'll never hear from again playing for both sides and positional switches that will make the tankfest against Richmond look like it was a Grand Final the MFC universe will absolutely explode and declare that we're absolute certainties to get done over against the Lions when it really counts.

Not here they won't. We might have won both matches at this stage last year but fat lot of good that did us, so conversely what do I care if we lose both this time? I'm much more interested in the week after when we go up against the Pies and even more interested in a fortnight after when it's Hawthorn presumably working towards full strength for Round 1. Not getting bitter and twisted in any way at a contest where you cop a free for the ball trickling out of bounds - unless the umpire gets confused and calls for a ball-in.

Look at GWS on Saturday night. Two creditable performances over 40 minutes each against much weakened sides and suddenly they're "not so bad" afterall. Cobblers, I seem to remember Gold Coast beating Sydney in the novelty matches last year and the next thing you knew they were losing to Carlton by 20 goals. It's absolutely meaningless, and while I've always thought GWS will sadly win at least one game this year it didn't make me think they were going to win two. If we lose a game by over a goal and somebody applies Footy Maths which sees us assumed to be worse than the Giants I'll throw something.

Having to go through the Pies (who will no doubt have a far better team than they did last Saturday night) and Hawthorn means we almost certainly won't be making the NAB Cup final no matter what so it doesn't matter a jot if we win both games as long as Neeld and his newly expanded team of 5000 coaches get what they want out of the evening.

Everybody wants a win but don't be one of these people who spazzes out unnecessarily (and if you're going to please do it on the Facebook page so I can get screenshots). What's more important is that they've got a month to work out which rookies are going to get a start early in the season, the final makeup of the forward line and whether Grimes can get through a month without being hurt. I can't guarantee I won't kick something (the season's first appearance of the metaphorical cat) or give it some of this but by the time I've had five minutes to think about it I'm confident that I can deal with pretty much anything (barring injury or Watts in a back pocket) that I see out there.

Right, so have I successfully dampened your enthusiasm for the first game of the season yet? Totally ruined your Saturday night? You're probably going to watch Iron Chef instead now but there are still some storylines to be played out. Will Warnock play for the Suns and who will he line up on? Hopefully Clark stitches him up a treat just to give some indication (disclaimer: even in a novelty game) that he's ready to go off chops this year. The aforementioned rookie question will also go some way to being answered (and I'm dying to see Leigh Williams in action) and we'll get our first look at GRIMGOVE as captains. What's the bet they play one in each game?

So, set your expectations to MEDIUM and come with me for the launch of a brand new twice yearly feature;

The Demonblog 46
Now that Mike Sheahan has retired I expecte that he'll be able to openly declare his love of the Dees and will be happy to come on board and write this column next year, but for now here's my personal ranking of the list from top to bottom based on importance to our side this year. Your views may vary significantly so feel free to let rip with the Y U MAD? comments so that I may duly ignore them.

1. James Frawley
Face facts we're still going to cop a bunch of inside 50's this year. He marks, he spoils, he runs it out of the backline, he storms out the centre occassionally and kicks a goal. Will never win an award for public speaking but my god what a player. One of the very few (maybe only) players who would walk straight into any other team in the competition.

2. Colin Sylvia
Forget for a minute his round 1 suspension for early morning shenanigans, there's 21 more games to make up for that, and get roped in as I am to the idea that alongside your more traditional midfielders he's going to finally perfect the art of running around like a lunatic both kicking and setting up goals. He's excelled at it once or twice a season, and while nobody need get excited and slap down a Brownlow bet if he can do it five or six times that could be five more wins in the bank. And five wins in the bank... is more than we had for 18 months combined at one point.

3. Mark Jamar
Granted Fremantle have had Sandilands dominating the middle every year and it's never helped them get anywhere even remotely close to a flag, but in the context of where we're at he's still absolutely vital. The Experience is a more than capable backup in the middle, and in all reality has better skills when he gets the ball but you can't beat the Russian for sheer presence around the ground.

Also if we're in any way serious about breaking out of the bottom division for good he'll be a key target for the kick-outs but not the only one. At least we know that barely anybody in the league is going to outmuscle him in the marking dual, now to get somebody who can take the ball away when it hits the ground. And that brings us neatly to..

4. Jack Trengove
Undoubtedly trending towards being a gun, but how's he going to handle the extra attention? A breakout season would be crucial to us not relying almost solely on Moloney for centre clearances, which was one of the major reasons we were more often than not belted out of the middle for most of 2011.

How he handles the additional attention - and how his teammates protect him - will say a lot about where we're going as a group and other various footballing cliches.

5. Brent Moloney
It almost seems rude to rank the Best and Fairest winner below an inexperienced kid - even if he has been made captain - but I dream of a season where Beamer is part of a thriving midfield unit and not the standout in a barely functioning punching bag.

Has a lot to show on the leadership front after being given the arse in the Stalinist purge of the senior players but I'm not sure he's the kind of guy who needs a title to lead, he just does it. Would the captaincy have been wasted on him anyway? Don't ask me I still think titles and leadership groups are an epic wank.

Needs to keep doing what he did last year (his blank during 186 aside) and provide additional cover for kids like Trengove and Gysberts. Can be very damaging but not if too much is left to too few.

6. Jack Grimes
Provided he goes back to his pre-injury (the last one) position off the half-back line Grime Time could be absolutely crucial to our season. Think Aaron Davey in 2009 but not surrounded by a shit team being encouraged to lose by 40,000 people. On paper the idea of him linking up with the likes of Trengove who then turns around to kick at a Clark/Watts/Jurrah/Howe etc.. forward line is enough to give you the horn.

The only problem is that he's reached 'that' point where everybody's just expecting him to hurt himself ten minutes after he steps onto the field. Moloney, Rivers and Petterd have risen above their own injury battles (for now..) and it's his turn to have some luck. Looking forward to him making it to the point where I stop wincing in anticipation of shattered bone every time he touches the ball.

7. Colin Garland
Frawley can't do it all down back. Another previous injury victim he has become one of the standouts in a backline which has been under siege for years. Brings the additional benefit of actually being able to dispose of the thing properly as well, a luxury we'd have considered nearly beyond us during the reign of Al Nicholson.

8. Jack Watts
The vital link between our, supposedly, much improved (but not much vaunted because that always means 'underperfoming') midfield and our, supposedly, much improved Clark infused forward line. Was good last year but he's still got a long way to go. At least he's proven to be durable so far - has he missed with injury yet?

Potential to absolutely smash it this year with a bigger body and better players around him. Would like to see him belt somebody at some point and at least cop a reprimand if not a couple of weeks. Now that Reece Conca has shown us that you can serve your suspension in the pre-season why not start this week?

9. Jordie McKenzie
If he stays fit he's an absolute crucial element of this side and yet another winner in a long line to have come off the rookie list.

It's hard to quantify exactly why he's so crucial to our side. It isn't just the tackles but it's an almost effortless ability to get the ball out of tight situations. His disposal isn't anything to write home about but at least he knows his limitations and handballs it most of the time instead of trying to hit 40 metre passes by foot. He's never going to win the Brownlow but do we care? I certainly don't.

10. Nathan Jones
Had his best patch of the season after Bailey got the arse (not that I'm suggesting the two are in any way connected) and if he can continue into this year he'll be another cog in the rebirth of our midfield. Ability to kick goals absolutely crucial, especially when they come out of the middle and from clearances like many of his do.

Had his career high for disposals (almost four per game more than 2010) and goals last season. Can offer plenty but whether or not he does is a coin toss. I'm prepared to go into bat for him for now.

11. Mitch Clark
The mystery man. The good news is that his mere presence might make him one of our most important players even if he's not the man who ends up kicking the majority of the goals. As long as he's dragging defenders away from Jurrah/Howe/Watts etc.. do we even care if he's the highest paid decoy in history? NO.

12. Stefan Martin
Not only is the Experience more than capable as a backup to Jamar, with better skills around the ground, he's also a decent forward option and can go back into defence if required. Our foremost practitioner of total football can pretty much do it all, which is impressive considering that this time last year his career was hanging on by a thread. Will be handy in the middle but also capable of doing some damage elsewhere.

13. Brad Green
Very fashionable amongst our supporters to completely ignore his winning 2010 season and instead concentrate on the rollercoaster like 2011 campaign. So the captaincy didn't work. But what did last year? Like everyone else he was good when we were good and putrid when we weren't. So what, I'm not going to hold it against him.

Surely he's got two or three years left in him if he can get into the right team. Whether that's us or he takes the opportunity to become the first MFC player to leg it under the cover of unconditional free agency. Wouldn't blame him for leaving to be honest, some of the vitriol towards him is an absolute farce given what he's done over the years. Can still make a difference whether he's deep forward or up the ground but I wouldn't be surprised if his final act ends up walking from the ground flicking V's at the fans for their gross disloyalty.

14. Luke Tapscott
Well dangerous coming out of defence. In combination with Grimes offers us some hope of getting our kick-ins right for the first time in a decade. Also provides a bit of... well, let's let Tim Lane explain more. Crucial to our chances of clearing the ball out of the backline without having to go through ten minute periods of the backline being pounded unmercifully.

15. Liam Jurrah
This could go anywhere. Either he's going to thrive under the new forward line structure and not having to be our key attacking target or he's going to get lost in the mix. Still well and truly entrenched in the best side but needs consistency. Also Neeld highly unlikely to allow him to ignore the defensive side of the game in favour of the spectacular.

16. Jared Rivers
Surprised everyone in finishing 2nd in the Best and Fairest, but considering the sort of season we had I'm surprised they didn't troll us by giving it to The Spencil. Still a crucial member of the defence but surely everyone bar the B&F voting panel surely acknowledges that he's slipped well behind the Frawley/Garland (FRAWLAND) combination.

17. Aaron Davey
It's not exactly a last chance thing considering he's got another year left on his contract at the end of this season but I'd love some indication that he's still keen on playing. The suspension in the Richmond game was a debacle and his whole season was played under the cloud of 'injury' and 'disinterest'.

Chances are he's going to start forward, and in the absence of any other obvious CRUMB contenders he'll get first crack at kicking goals. Needs to take it because if Grimes stays fit he won't be seen at the other end of the ground anytime soon and the only other option might be Casey. Neeld has hinted that he's right on board our BRING HIM HOME campaign, let's hope the man himself can rise to the occassion.

18. Jordan Gysberts
Has shown aptitude for racking up possessions, now he has to be damaging and do it consistently. Will get plenty of chances and either way we've already won the McLean trade even if he retires and joins the Jehovah's Witnesses.

19. Jeremy Howe
After an impressive first season he's got more help, and at the same time more competition, up forward. His marking and ability to go up the ground will ensure that he's given more chances than some others. With any luck will benefit from the addition of Clark as much as, if not more, than Jurrah.

20. Rohan Bail
Underrated. Most of the time I'd be hard pressed to tell you exactly what he does but whatever it is I enjoy it. Ruined by injury last year but has plenty to give if he stays fit.

21. Sam Blease
Started well before hitting the wall (and the ground) rather heavily in the Port game. Could go absolutely off his nut this year if we're lucky but might be worth targeting for next year if you're betting on awards.

22. Ricky Petterd
I want to rank him higher because I really like him, and don't forget he could very easily have gone home before last year where Gold Coast would have had him as an instant selection every week but it feels like he's slipping away from the top of the list. Showed a surprise second string to his bow with the tackle frenzy against Richmond but couldn't back it up week after week. Interesting to see what they do with him in the NAB Cup.

23. Cale Morton
When I re-do this list at the end of the year (oh yeah, I'm redoing it at the end of the year) it'll be interesting to see where he lands because either he's going to rescue his career this year or will be so unpopular amongst the fan-base by the end of it that he'll have to go into the witness protection program.

This is the man who had 28 kicks in Round 7, 2009 and 37 possessions the next week. Two years in a row he suffered pre-season injuries but surely a shot finger couldn't explain his apparent total lack of confidence last year. If Bailey was never willing to grab him and scream in his face you can only hope Neeld made it his first order of business. He's got the tools to make it huge but the only question is whether somebody will harness it or if he's going to let his career slip away.

24. Lynden Dunn
See Petterd but without the tackle frenzy. Has done some ok work elsewhere in the ground before (remember Boomer Harvey's rotten acting when he pretended Dunn had belted him?) but is losing ground on our first choice side. Shame considering that 2010 was his best season yet but it's hard to fit him in. Will definitely get chances though. Needs to lose the mo. Nobody's laughing anymore.

25. Clint Bartram
Best 22 for tactical reasons rather than anything he does on the field. Must improve his disposal, but after this long what are the chances? Hopefully less pressure from continual opposition inside 50's will give him more time to get it right. Must be doing something well if he's gotten into the leadership group but it doesn't mean I have to be particularly enthused by him.

26. Matthew Bate
Is supposedly being groomed as a midfielder which will either turn out to be complete genius or one of the greatest debacles in history. Have always liked the guy and wanted him to do well so I'm hoping that I don't end up feeling sorry for him that he didn't end up at Footscray. Surely it can only be good for his very ordinary career win/loss record to stay with us instead of going to the Dogs?

27. Daniel Nicholson
Speed to burn and an absolute cert to be the first off the rookie list. Showed some good signs last season and will play enough matches this year to get a proper look at where he's going. I suspect he starts next year on the senior list.

28. Jamie Bennell
Don't rate him. Has done a little bit here and there over 50 games but never had any consistency. Could potentially be another CRUMB option but I'm not convinced that he's got a position at either end of the ground. Bailey seemed to like him but it's anybody's guess how the new regime feels. One to watch in the pre-season.

29. Neville Jetta
Career stalled after a good pre-season last year but at least unlike Emo Maric he didn't end up being exiled to Richmond. Probably playing for his future this year and must find a position to make his own or he'll be in huge trouble.

30. Tom McDonald
Showed enough at the end of last year to show that he'll be a good player but I can't see him starting in Round 1. Projected to rise up this list over the next 12 months.

31. Joel Macdonald
Ignoring the fact that I'm seemingly the one player who in any way rates him it's more than likely he'll be out the door at the end of the year. Capable backup but can see him being overtaken by others as the season goes on and Team Neeld start looking to the future.

32. James Sellar
Not drafted just to boost Casey's tall stocks. He might start there but you'd expect him to jump into the senior side pretty early on. No doubt whether he's sent forward or back as soon as the injuries start piling up he'll be given a chance.

33. James Magner
Drafted for a reason after smashing it for Sandringham last season. I'm not expecting a Barlow-esque remarkable debut season and am well prepared to give him time to get it right but is definitely the pick of the new rookies.

34. Lucas Cook
Put in some decent performances in the NAB Cup and for Casey early last year but got injured and his season fell apart. As a forward he's gone one back in the pecking order thanks to Clark and I feel as if the likes of Dunn/Petterd are going to get their chances first before we turn to Lucas. No doubt he'll play at some point this year but I don't think it's going to be early on.

35. Michael Evans
Coming off injury (I do believe) and showed a bit last year but unlikely to play at anytime early in the season. Not against him in any way but he'll have to put in a string of good performances in the VFL and rely on some injury carnage to get himself back in the side.

36. James Strauss
Has done well to recover enough to even be running considering what he went through but I'm not sure if we're going to see much of him in the first half of the season at least.

37. Jack Fitzpatrick
Had a fairly ordinary debut on a very ordinary afternoon against Port but I'm not going to hold that against him. Has jumped two spots up the pecking order with the temporary demises of Gawn and the Spencil so it'll be interesting to see how Neeld's nerve holds on the idea of playing Clark exclusively forward in the event of an injury to Jamar or Martin.

38. Tom Couch
One to watch in the pre-season but I'm treating anything we get out of him, or any of the rookies from here on, as a bonus.

39. Kelvin Lawrence
If neither Davey or Jetta can take up the CRUMB mantle he could be in-line for a game. I'd suggest that if he's even half decent at Casey and we're half rubbish that he'll get a game sooner rather than later. The clock's ticking on his time on the rookie list so he'd want to show something soon.

41. Josh Tynan
Impressed in the intra-club but is unlikely to appear anytime soon.

42. Rory Taggert
Long(ish) term prospect. Even more unlikely.

42. Jai Sheahan
Even more more unlikely.

43. Jake Spencer
On the long term injury list for at least the first eight weeks of the year while he recovers from last year's knee injury. Given that it's the last year of his contract I have no doubt that he'll play later in the year. Is apparently bulking up into a beastly figure which could save his career in the event he can prove ability to get back on field but for now is offering very little. Possibility for a Meesen/Newton style delist/re-rookie at the end of the season.

44. Troy Davis
Still have no idea who he is. Neverthess on the advice of Twitter's @hardcore_1981 I've decided to adopt him as "Demonblog's own" and pay special attention to his performances in the VFL. Also sports a broad grin in his player profile shot which is nice.

45. Leigh Williams
Not quite the ultimate project player (that would be an American/Irish rugby league convert with two heads) but about as close as you get while staying inside the same sport. Just to be entirely clear if you're only just coming to terms with our drafting he's not from the Norwood in South Australia (now home to J. Newton) but the one in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Where he was a defender until halfway through 2010. Anything could happen here.

46. Max Gawn
Missing the whole season through injury sees sink straight to the bottom. Get well soon Maximum.

Demonblog's chosen 21+1
And so with that in mind here's my advanced lineup for the first game. This takes into account the fact that Sylvia is out for Round 1. Otherwise send Gysberts to the bench, Petterd into the emergencies and Morton to Casey Fields.

I reserve the right to make wholesale changes to this at the end of the pre-season.

B: Bartram, Frawley, Rivers
HB: Grimes, Garland, Tapscott
C: Gysberts, Trengove, Jones
HF: Green, Watts, Davey
F: Jurrah, Clark, Howe
Foll: Jamar, Moloney, McKenzie
I/C: Martin, Petterd, Bail
Sub: Blease
EM: Jetta, Nicholson, Morton

Where do we go from here?
Looks like I've been stiffed for the report from the intraclub but I'm not exactly sure how votes would have been handed out for that glorified training session anyway so fair enough, let's start the Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes from this week with a different set of votes for each game.

At the conclusion of the pre-season we'll be back for the final preview/state of the union with updated Demonblog award odds and my hotly awaited (*snort*) ladder predictions. I'll bet you're absolutely gagging for it.

Final thoughts

1 comment:

  1. Good to have footy back and good to have this read back. Agree with your initial lineup apart from a Gysberts/Bate swap.


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