Wednesday 27 November 2013

Tramp the dirt down – waving goodbye to the worst season of your life

Please note: this post was pasted together from the bones of several posts during the last month and a half that never went anywhere and then tied together with a flimsy premise. It even incorporates some of a failed post about the Neeld exit from the middle of the year, so for that reason if it goes nowhere fast, repeats other posts or flat out contradicts itself then we apologise.

A casual observer might have concluded that Melbourne’s season ended when the beatings did, on the evening of Sunday 1 September, but when does a footy year really come to an end? When can you put to rest the trauma of a derelict campaign and start concentrating fully on the next one?  Is it when your team is eliminated, when the Grand Final is over, or when the last players have been turfed off your list and the cleansing period of drafting begins? Or none of the above.

Here in the 'overly emotionally invested' wing of the Rest Home for Tragic Supporters (otherwise known as Demonblog Towers VIII) I've convinced myself that there's no such thing as an off-season, and that the previous year does not officially end until the next season's playing list is complete - senior and rookie. That at 11am this morning we were still neck deep in the 2012/13 Chainsaw Massacre, and that it was only when the confirmation came through that Neville Jetta would be returning as the last player on our rookie list for 2013/14 that the coffin lid was finally nailed shut and we ended a season the likes of which have not seen by any Melbourne supporter aged under 107 years old. Which is ironically precisely the average age of our fan base.

So now that it's all over on any scale you care to use we can gather in the (so far at least) safety and security of the 2013/14 season and finally, symbolically at least, put last year to rest. There's every possible chance that the horrors of the past will rise zombie-like to violently dismember us, so I recommend enjoying these few weeks of clarity and hope before somebody does their knee at training or our entire leadership group is implicated in an international slavery ring.

Now we know exactly who will be playing for us, coaching us and paying to have their name on our jumper next season we can finally move on. Or at least we can after I force you to sit through one last recap of...

How we got here

(Please note - if you can't bear to go through another round of this topic and would like to skip straight to the Roos era now would be a good opportunity to press PAGE DOWN several times)

"Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it" said some guy once (was it Dwayne Russell?), and while I'm not proposing a forensic examination of the last two years I think the close of another momentous chapter in the MFC Dark Ages - one where for most of it we were seemingly run like a Manilla whorehouse - deserves an official farewell

It's odd to look back now to the start of Neeld's reign and see that it happened less than 24 hours after Ross Lyon did the bolt to Freo. I tried to be positive in the face of everybody saying "Mark who?" and suggesting that we were incompetent for not being the ones doing dodgy deals behind St Kilda's back (and perhaps they were right), but one particular line comparing the price we'd have had to pay Lyon vs the relatively cheap and cheerful (?) Neeld almost came back to haunt me this year.

"Talk to me when Jay Van Berlo, Justin Bollenhagen and Freo are waving a premiership cup around" I said. Well, wrong players but very nearly the right result and a win for the idea of giving coaches ridiculous amounts of money to try and buy success. Not that we didn't try exactly that with Clarkson and (presumably) Malthouse, but obviously they had too much sense to get involved with us.

Now that it's gone horribly wrong everyone can jump on the bandwagon and pretend they thought it was a bad idea from the start, except for the fool who wrote this on Saturday 17 September 2011:

If you wanted a coach who you'd heard of, and who you have happy memories of during his playing days then bad luck, but if you wanted somebody who is going to take no shite from his players and will hopefully do a great line in verbally destroying journalists in press conferences around the country then here's the good times, and here's the hill, let them roll.

He's as cold as ice, willing to hack and slice.

In the end we (or at least some of us) got we wanted. A coach who would hold players upside down out of windows by their ankles for failing to obey his commands. Everyone will deny it now, but just like a 'ruthless cull' of the list was demanded during 2012 (and didn't that work wonders) the vast majority of people assumed 186 was an anomaly and that with a new man in charge we would go back to being at worst a reasonable mid-table team. This was even before Jim Stynes' book came out and torched the previous previous administration for running a holiday camp where the players could do whatever they liked - imagine if we'd known that then, there wouldn't have been a dry seat in the house.

When we eventually got the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket it seemed like only the usual Facebook malcontents ("Why didn't you get Paul Roos instead?") saw that it would end in tragedy - and don't they look like visionaries now. In the end, just like in the movie, it all went wrong for the tyrannical leader when he was killed by own men. To tie the two together even further it would be nice if one day the source of his friction with Jack Watts turned out to have been related to the use of the repeated phrase "what's your major malfunction numbnuts?"

So, half a season later as he has started to take his first tentative steps to reintegrate into the community we can only honestly wish Neeld all the best in his future endeavours. After all, having called for Ted Bundy to be let loose in a room full of college girls right off the bat I was still foolishly clinging to the hope of it all working until about halfway through the first quarter of Round 1 this year. No doubt the fickle finger of fate will eye gouge us and he'll mastermind our downfall in the 2023 Preliminary Final then run a lap of the stadium flicking V's at our fans while being showered in spit. But good luck for the future and all that - and if you're reading Mark I am still interested in carrying your first tell all bucket tipping interview!

It's a mark of how offensive season 2013 was that people (myself included) are starting to look back in fondness towards 2012 as if it were something other than total sewage. Somehow a year featuring death, a sponsorship debacle of titanic proportions, serious injury, trouble with the law and four wins (three of them against what were effectively TAC Cup teams) seems like a reasonable, hope filled campaign compared to 2013 where everyone came out alive (albeit many with shattered reputations), nobody ended up in the clink (nobody still on the list anyway) but we only won twice and became a subsidiary of the league.

At least there was a brief flash of militarisation by our fans (compared to our usual pissweak standards anyway) the likes not seen since the great Gutnick Wars of the early 2000's. Under Bailey even 186 was met with mouth agape shock rather than the near lynching of everybody involved in the less catchy but equally heartbreaking outrage of 148.

It was that night against Essendon that Neeld's grave was dug, and he was only saved then by our inability to sack him and several others without going on bended knee to our paymasters for the cash to do it. But was that the point when 2013 officially became a lost cause? Probably not.

One theory, slightly more advanced from the now prevalent 'when we hired Mark Neeld' one, is that the final nail in the coffin came when we lost Green, Moloney and Rivers en masse and replaced them with the United Nations of spare part players a'la One Piece A Time style.

Others would say that everything went tits up when we were 21-0 down against Port early in Round 1, but even then we battled back to be eight points down late in the first quarter - and let's not forget the first couple of rounds of the season featured numerous games where sides would concede the first three goals and come back to win. I'll never watch the game again to find out, but was there a 'sliding doors' moment which could have changed everything? History shows that we were still only 20 points down with five minutes to go in the last quarter. Had we done something to stop Paul Stewart getting the last goal would everything have turned out differently? Probably not.

Odd things seemed to happen to us at half time over the last couple of years, and while this was hardly the gold standard for third quarter collapses (which would come over the next two weeks), our performance in getting violently rumbled by Port in that third term came at a point which totally shattered any sort of fragile confidence which had been built up over the pre-season (where, let's not forget, we had already beaten Port who were still expected to be totally rubbish at this time).

As the roof continued to cave in through the second half the blood pressure of our fans shot to a dangerously high level, and the fact that we only ended up losing the last term by 15 points was irrelevant in the end. Cue chaos, and wave goodbye to any remote hope we had of dismissing it as an unlucky afternoon and starting the season over a week later against the Bombers (laughably as it seems now our bunnies at the time) as every man and his dog (including an old man who had surely seen much worse over the years) took to hurling abuse at the players as they left the field..

While at the time I identified with the people going troppo over the race (and was admittedly yelling much worse stuff high in the Ponsford Stand without the decency or courage to do it in the vicinity of the players) it seems to me like our insane reaction to that one - admittedly awful - loss sealed everyone's fate. If we'd played Essendon first and lost by 75 points and then to Port the week after - presumably not by 148 - I'm not sure it would have ultimately spared Neeld his grisly fate but it might have slowed his decline from the Super G Downhill Slalom into a gentle cross country ramble.

What would otherwise have been a simple case of "oh well, the Dees are shit again. Carry on as normal" was picked up by every media outlet under the sun thanks to the sexy footage of red faced abusers and next thing you know it's welcome to Frenzyville. Suddenly we're trying to 'own the controversy' by doing double page "come on, we're not that bad" spreads in the press and allowing the cameras to film a pre-match speech where at least 50% of the team looked like they were pondering ways to escape the room without being killed. If we'd beaten Essendon it would have all looked like a masterstroke, but instead it just compounded the humiliation of them wiping the floor with us in record fashion.

That night put Neeld away more than any other, and by the time the bloodletting finished the floor of the club looked like an abattoir. The grim reaper came for almost everyone from the top down, from executives to board members, recruiters, assistant coaches, players, trumpeteers and god knows who else. If there'd been an open market on player movements we'd probably have sold half the list to Woodville West Torrens and started again.

By mid-season we were effectively under AFL control, and despite all the work done to free us of debt under Jim Stynes nervy types like me started to feel that we were closer to going bust in 2013 than we were at the start of Debt Demolition. Which was, quite frankly, bollocks. Back then the Gold Coast and West Sydney were still available for somebody to be shipped off to and the AFL hadn't yet committed to a nine-game a week broadcasting arrangement. They could - and would - have probably relocated us or merged us off without a second thought if it wasn't for Jim mobilising the club and stemming the bleeding but surely now we're safe for a while. Or so I'd like to convince myself.

Nevertheless it seemed like we'd still found a way to throw everything out the window and put ourselves back on the long march towards footy's gas chamber. We've been given a chance at stability now, and the idea of a merger or relocation does still seem fanciful at the moment, but it's not a blank cheque to go on limping about being a charity case.

We must recognise that at some point in the next few years two things are going to happen - massive assistance will stop coming and a fair wedge of our supporter base will start dropping off the perch.
Membership numbers are rubbery enough as it is, but having more names on paper than Footscray and St Kilda isn't going to count for much if we still keep bringing in just 15,000 people every week to see the continuing antics of Silver's Grand Dickhead Circus and it ends in yearly losses of two or three million dollars. We've been given a second life now but don't take it for granted. Brainwash as many impressionable children and migrants to Australia as you possibly can for the good of the club you love.

All these changes are no guarantee of stability and security. It's no promise that by suddenly slicing and dicing coach, CEO, list managers or musicians we're automatically going to be converted into a well-oiled machine which will pump out $3m profits every year. The early signs are good, but it can't all be driven by the administration. From 2014 onwards it's time for every level of this club down to the fans to stop acting like the AFL's version of the Washington Generals, give up being the 'aww shucks' loveable losers of the competition (admittedly I'm often guilty of this) and get mad.

The many reasons for depression aside there were some isolated highlights amidst the carnage of 2013 if you possessed a powerful enough microscope to find them. You could at least claim our wins were interesting. A record final quarter score, a heroic mark in defence by a maligned player having the night of his life which defused one of the great comebacks and, err, that's about it. Didn't we almost have it all? Other than confidence, stability, a midfield, scoring power or an injury list shorter than that seen on a World War I battlefield.

Quite frankly it was pretty much wall-to-wall misery. But by the time Alan Stockdale decided he wanted to be president and was going to get there at the head of a heaving army of Facebook nutters I'd worked myself into a frenzy that we were completely stuffed and that we'd be shoehorned into a shotgun marriage with the Bulldogs by the end of next year.

There was a brief respite from the gloom courtesy of the traditional pressure release of a coach sacking, but it soon washed away. Almost literally in Geelong, then metaphorically when we were thumped by 20 goals in a Docklands 'home' game in front of an 80% away crowd. This was the point where I went totally off my nut and became convinced that the club was all but finished. Because that's just the sort of nervous person I am. If a war breaks out you probably don't want to be next to me in the trenches.

You might have noticed, but the events of the season did weigh on me emotionally. Thank god then that it came to end when it did. Another four weeks and I'd have been at the sort of emotional low where people end up joining cults.

Admittedly the end result of throwing our dignity out the window and allowing the AFL to roll their troops in seems to have been positive so far, but I'm still convinced there's some horrible payback deal coming our way. Roll on four home games in the Northern Territory, one on King Island and several in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

But then, just as the federal government was about to launch an intervention to save our dwindling fan base from total mental collapse, there was a coach. And his name was Roos.

Coaching Corner

On the evening of the last Friday game of the season Our Paul let slip to his Fox Footy chums that he had suddenly done a dramatic about face and had decided that he could possibly see himself coaching us after all. Cue mass dropping of jaw.

After a few anxious days where it was suggested we were about to be swindled out of his signature by Brisbane, West Coast or his own common sense kicking in we actually got away with it. The idea of taking up the ultimate challenge balanced with a contract which required extra pages to fit all the zeroes on it convinced him to take up football's most poisonous chalice. Bless that man.

His appointment, and the almost immediate re-signing of Jack Watts which followed, did cause something which passed for a frenzy amongst our fans. There was even some absurdly optimistic talk about how we were going to make the finals ("If Ken Hinkley can do it with Port etc...") off the back of what was supposed to be the most star studded recruiting spree since North Melbourne under the 10-year-rule. That didn't quite work out as well as expected, but Team Roos did end up doing enough to give us some hope of meaningful progress in the near future.

Of course anything can happen, but if he can even get us inside the top 10 he'll deserve every cent of the millions of dollars we're paying him and his cabal of ex-Swans assistants - including the guy who has switched to coaching forwards from running a newsagent in Bowral - but at least his appointment lifted the dark clouds for a while and encouraged several lapsed members to put their hands in pocket and rejoin. Usually I'd say that if it takes a major signing to get your financial support then you're a bum, but considering the climate we're in then anybody's money is good money.

Everything he's done so far looks and sounds good, but the proof will be in what happens next. Well, maybe not 'next' - only the most impatient supporter can crack the sads if we don't perform next year - but over the next two years minimum. While it couldn't get worse it could very well not get a lot better, and if this appointment doesn't work out then god help us all because you or I could be the only person they can afford to hire as the next coach.

So patience dear comrades, with any luck next year will be the start of the short haul back to base camp before Commander Paul launches the all-out assault on the summit from there. Either that or he'll get bored of us by Round 11, return half his first year's salary then chuff off to the Gold Coast and play golf with Malcolm Blight.

In the meantime if you need something to keep you going through the off-season I recommend these glorious videos of him yelling at kids (1, 2, 3). In Paul we trust..

Departures and Arrivals

The idea that the lure of being coached by Roos would see us cut a swathe through the free agency and draft period, signing every superstar of the competition up to and including Lance Franklin was dashed early. By the time we pulled out of our bizarre on and off in a day interest in Dustin Martin it looked like no matter who wore the polo shirt that the club would continue to be stalked by shambles at every turn.

Against the odds we did manage to do some good business in the end - but before we could enter the rebuild of the rebuild of the rebuild of the rebuild via the high stakes world of football diplomacy there was the small matter of trimming/machine gunning large swathes of the list.

The first man out the door was not by our choice, though it's telling that not too many tears have been shed over his departure. We all enjoyed the brief flashes of Colin Sylvia brilliance over the years, but now that he's thrown in two trips to the Northern Territory for cross country flights every fortnight it's ok to admit that the move was best for both parties. Some tried to paint him as a turncoat for leaving, but after almost a decade of toil who can honestly argue against him going from somewhere he's never going to win anything to the second best side in the competition? On the $cully Family Treachery and Piracy Scale it doesn't even rate a 4.0.

I wish his departure had moved me like Rivers' did, but a month later I've almost forgotten he existed. He was (and is - probably to a much better extent at a proper club) a good player who ripped out one or two extraordinary matches every year and a handful of highlights weekly, but you have to move on eventually. How long were we supposed to wait for him to become the player who would lift others up with him? Any chance we had of him surprisingly throwing his lot in with us for life were wrecked by Brian Lake achieving dual premiership/Norm Smith success. Nobody in Sylvia's situation was going to see that and say "well.. at least they'll think well of me as a one club player" and while I don't have a heavy heart about his departure I do wish him well. If can stop a Victorian club winning a flag next year then he's a genius.

Anyway just like Rivers before him he was never going to stay with us considering the position we're in at the moment. It's only ultra-loyalists like Adam Cooney who are (rightfully) hell-bent on going down in their club's history Robbie Flower style for sticking around through the dark years. Rightly or wrongly loyal servants of clubs are usually going to choose one final chance to strike gold over living in the basement with a horrible side. That's the magic of free agency.

Then after the involuntary departure and the retirements of Davey, Macdonald and Rodan there were some swifter, more brutal slicings:

Tom Couch was at the acme of the Juice Newton universe, a player usually amongst the best in the VFL who couldn't translate it to the top level. Not that you'd know considering he didn't get a great go in his first season, but really you just knew it wasn't going to work out. He was handicapped this year by being trapped behind Magner on the rookie list pecking order (for what that was worth), so when the time came for our second promotion later in the year they were always going to give Clisby his chance instead. Exit any chance of a game, and goodbye Tom who has returned to the Collingwood VFL side.

Troy Davis was probably lucky to get two games after being hastily converted to a forward in the twilight of his MFC career, but it's two more games than I'll ever play. Sadly for him he simply couldn't survive three full years on the list for such minimal returns.

Tom Gillies will not recall his time with us fondly. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, if Tom McDonald had been available for the first couple of rounds Gillies might have avoided being in the epicentre of a series of disasters which ultimately caused more job losses than the global financial crisis. Unfortunately for him - but perhaps fortunately for us - even when Frawley was injured he couldn't force his way back into the side and has been banished to the Geelong Football League

Neville Jetta is a useful bit parts player who has never really played all that many really good games (a quick count shows I gave him 11 votes in five seasons), so it was no surprise that after avoiding the first and second round of dumpings that he was finally caught up in clearing space for us to sign a delisted free agent. I'm glad that we got him back in the rookie draft, if only because it's better to have a 40 game player who is familiar with the place than another totally raw kid, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for him to get a game next year unless there's a plague of injuries in front of him.

James Magner may very well have been robbed to have not played more games than he did this year, especially considering what an abortion our midfield was most of the time, but it did raise suspicions that not everything was as it seemed when he not only polled significantly lower than expected in the Liston Trophy but also got rolled by Jesse Hogan in the Casey Best and Fairest. Unfortunately he also decided to pick up the phone when the Herald Sun called and wound up being used by the paper as another opportunity to whack us. His criticisms weren't unwarranted, but it was telling to see them almost shedding tears about the injustice of him getting the boot then forgetting him five days later.

James Sellar gave us a reasonable return considering what we paid for him, and I would probably have been able to make a straight faced case for retaining him for another year given that we dumped tall defenders Davis and Gillies. After all it's not like we've got all that much cover in defence if something goes wrong with the 'big three'. Nevertheless he's gone, and how I wish he'd ended his career kicking that goal of the year against Footscray after being drafted into the side on five minutes' notice. If nothing else we'll always have his highly underrated night out against Essendon in 2012.

Nathan Stark - whoever he was - will hopefully match the feats of fellow one season rookie Cameron Johnston and end up playing high level college football.

Rory Taggert's demise surprised some who watch the VFL far more closely than I. Not sure if there was a touch of the Cult of Couch about him, but they swore black and blue that he was going to be an absolute star if we'd retained him. It did seem odd that he'd get the boot after coming off an injury ruined first year to play 17 games for Casey and make it to emergency for the last round then not even get talked about as a rookie list chance. Vale to any chance of a Young Taggert Time headline.

Josh Tynan achieved the rare feat of playing two games at either end of one season, then none in his second before being dumped. He was clearly a victim of the idea that if you couldn't get a game in the 2013 Melbourne side then there must have been something wrong with you.

So with at least some of these young men cut down in their prime before the exchange period (which ran for about as long as the Jurassic Period) began, there was plenty of scope for bolstering our squad with ready made players - and at some point we were linked to every single one of them. At one point we were supposed to be swapping pick 2 for Heath Shaw, and while that was thankfully exposed as journalistic fiction it did look for a time like we'd be forced to use pick 122 just to fill our list.

Then just like that in one quick burst we pocketed Viv Michie, Dom Tyson and Bernie Vince. Proof that patience is a virtue, and good news for fans of players that sound like Downton Abbey characters. Not surprisingly the order of the day was midfielders, midfielders and more midfielders in the hope that eventually we would strike gold - like a man delivering the same sleazy line to a thousand women in the hope that one will sleep with him

First cab off the rank was Michie, who aside from his barmy name was (apparently) a steal at pick 58. I'm not going to pretend I know much about him, and he might have battled injuries to play just one game for the Dockers, but if you were to use pick 58 on a player who won a WAFL Best and Fairest despite only playing 16 games for the year nobody would have a problem with it. So much the better if he's been on the list of a good side for a couple of years under a real coach. Feel free to compare what he does to the future career of Brady Grey who the Dockers picked up with the exchanged pick. At the risk of almost assuring young Brady of a Brownlow Medal I bet we come out on top in this one.

That loosened the shackles, and Vivian was closely followed by what turned out to be a more controversial trade. We'd been whoring pick two out in embarrassing fashion without any takers, then when we got the chance to pocket a former #3 pick AND stay in the top 10 of this year's draft people were still unhappy at the result. Did anybody think we were going to prise Patrick Dangerfield or Nic Nat loose with it?

Alright, we had to give pick 20 away as well - and seemingly at the time that killed any chance of drafting Nathan Jones' brother - but if our supposedly much improved recruiting staff couldn't find a decent player at #9 in what we were reminded every ten seconds was a relatively even draft then we're never going to get it right. Low numbered picks are like heroin, once people get hooked on them they can never give up.

By anointing Josh Kelly (the eventual pick 2) as an all but certain future Brownlow winner journalists have already set us up for a fall if it doesn't work. Which he very well may be - especially because we didn't draft him - but the simple fact is that if Kelly + Cameron McCarthy (who they eventually got at 14 after trading 20 and christ this is confusing) end up as the equal of Tyson + Salem then everybody wins. And if their two are the best players in the league and ours are bloody good for the next decade then yet again everyone wins. There doesn't need to be a clear winner and loser in every deal or draft pick.

First and foremost we're in the business of getting the team out of the cellar, let's leave furious grabbing at a premiership. Now we've got two good young players and it's full steam ahead for Dom, who has taken to the task of being a Melbourne player with such vigour that he showed up for pre-season training injured.

Also consider that a somewhat experienced (albeit seemingly injury prone) player is going to do more for us immediately than two more raw kids - and the point behind all this (and maybe some of Neeld's wackier moves) is to drag the club into the mid-table so we can be an attractive destination for free agents who will (presumably) help lift us into contending for finals eventually.

The last two moves fit perfectly into that philosophy, Bernie Vince for the Sylvia compensation pick and Daniel Cross for nowt. Bernard has got a few years more in the tank than Cross, but the point behind recruiting both of them is to at least make the club look like it's not a complete shambles at the end of this year.

I see where they're coming from with Cross. He'd probably still get a game at the Bulldogs if they hadn't recently found/been gifted several promising midfielders. They've decided to take a different path, and unlike our antics with Bruce and Junior they shuffled Cross off with dignity knowing they already had cover in place rather than assassinating them in the night, to be replaced by overwhelmed cannon fodder.

It's got 'transition to coaching' written all over it, and I don't think he's expecting to be an automatic selection every week next year if 'the kids' start flying. As much as we heard all this last year about Byrnes and Rodan, if he can help their development and prop up our otherwise panic stricken team elsewhere then he's more than welcome. Then again I'm the person who floated the winning theory that Rodan would be sub every week in 2013 so what do I know?

Effectively swapping Vince for Sylvia to replace experience with experience seems sensible to me. None of us are getting younger, but he did win a Best and Fairest in a decent team fairly recently - so if we had to lose Sylvia then why not use the pick on a player with a few years left in him instead of rolling the dice on yet another kid or scouring the scrapheap for a replacement a'la Gillies for Rivers. I'm comfortable to sit back and see where this lands us, clearly his heart is still in Adelaide but hopefully he channels that into sticking it up them for letting him go.

As for Aidan Riley I'll admit to knowing absolutely nothing about him other than that he was on the Adelaide list, but anybody nicknamed Pigdog who shares his name with a pornographer must have something going for them even if footy doesn't work out.

Finally, a special mention for Jesse Hogan. Not much needs to be said, just look at the photos. He's a freaking beast, and if he's not in our Round 1 team for whatever reason I may shed a tear. At what point do we get amazingly over excited and sign him to a five year contract extension? The way we're acting about him might be compared to the pre-debut frenzy surrounding Watts, but this couldn't be any different. Imagine what would happen if some Collingwood filth tried roughing Jesse up as he ran onto the ground for the first time? He'd bodyslam them both then drop the leg. Ridiculous overexcitement? Guilty as charged!

Meanwhile back to the fallen, I can only imagine the scenes at Magner's place as he sat in footy limbo with this steady stream of midfielders joining us. After Michie he would have started packing his things into a box, after Tyson he'd have taped it up and arranged a courier, after Vince former electrician Matt Jones would have offered handy advice on how to maximise his efforts with the fork in the toaster - then when we added Cross and Riley as an exclamation mark Matt himself probably started to wonder if he should just cut to the chase and toaster up himself. That's life.

All in all I'd call the exchange period a win on paper. For the sake of dropping seven places in the first round and shifting two picks in the 20's we picked up some players who should at least combine to make a difference. I'll probably change my mind on a weekly basis throughout 2014 but everything we did seems sensible at the moment - which is a new feeling.

The draft(s)

For all the analysis and live television coverage the national draft is like losing your virginity. There’s a tremendous build-up, about 10 seconds of excitement and you often come to regret the other people involved a few years later. Fortunately only one of the two events is preceded by Andrew Demetriou giving a speech that would put a Rotarian to sleep.

Whether Christian Salem, Jay Kennedy-Harris and god’s gift to rhyming slang Jayden Hunt turn out to be good (Frawley), bad (Cook), good for a bit before disappearing off the face of the planet (Morton), shockingly unlucky (Molan), a treacherous dog (you know who) or a mixture of all of the above is – at this point – unknown. 

If history follows the usual pattern Salem will probably be good but not brilliant, JKH will play 50 games over five years before sliding into obscurity and Jhunt will never be heard of again until he’s delisted in two years and everyone declares that it’s a disgrace because he was the next big thing and what's player/coach Jake Spencer doing?

Assuming that Salem was always going to be a top 10 section and will dutifully take his place either across half-back or in our new look midfield fairly quickly (though no need to force him in there before his time like they did with Toumpas) I'm especially interested in JKH, who actually appears to be - god help us all - a crumber and Original Aaron Davey style forward pressure machine. Which will make a significant change from last year, and should provide him a reasonable chance to play next season. 

We certainly didn't pick up anybody else remotely resembling a small forward so the job is his if he wants it. Somebody's going to have to play at the feet of our array of talls, and as much as I love Blease and feel that he should be parked on the attacking side of the centre square and never allowed to cross it he's not exactly a pressure machine (just over one tackle per game this year, down from two in 2012) so he'd better watch his back if Jay gets a run on in the pre-season.

The highlight of the evening, considering we failed to draft any of the players with amusing or insanely complicated names, was right at the end of Foxtel’s red button coverage when a small child commandeered a live microphone and apparently told somebody in the nearby vicinity that he’d shat himself. Unfortunately you can’t record or rewind the red button coverage, so we’ll never know exactly what was said but there’s a task for anybody with connections at Fox Footy - get that audio, it's our generation's version of the Zapruder Film.

Having skipped the pre-season draft due to having a senior list loaded with players unnecessarily under contract thanks to Neeld losing the plot, we went into the rookie draft with a full four picks with which to discover the new Trent Zomer.

First cab off the rank was midfielder (surprise!) James Harmes, the owner of one of the smiliest Twitter profile pictures in history. I'm certainly not discounting a surprise run through the pre-season and appearance in our senior side next year, but ironically he's probably less likely to play than the next two guys we picked just because there are so many mids now in his way.

Second was Max King from Wagga (where else?), who is described as a forward/ruckman in his draft profile but as defensive cover by our recruiting manager. Good thing too, whether he can actually do it is anybody's guess but I wake screaming in the night thinking about what would happen if any combination of Frawley, Garland and McDonald ran into each other and suffered serious injuries.

Next was the owner of one of the least flattering draft profiles in history. For all the waffle about us doing 'Moneyball' recruiting last year this pick must surely rate as more Billy Beane-esque than anything else we've ever done. Quoth Alex Georgiou's coach at Norwood:

"he looks like Mr Bean and he runs like he's running on broken glass and his kick looks awkward"

Despite this, and I can't wait to see him in action, he's supposedly become a gun defender in the SANFL so I'm happy to use an otherwise throwaway pick on him. Assuming that despite being third picked he'll be the first to get a senior game when the inevitable happens to one of our tall backs.

And then there was Neville Jetta. Back it all began in 2009, confirming our final list and allowing us to finally get on with next year. Welcome back Nifty, get stuffed season 2012/13.

Administration Action

Well it's not like we're flush, and the annual balance sheet will probably be delivered on bright red paper, but at least some sort of stability has returned now that everyone's been sacked, the AFL has written us a moderately sized cheque, we've flogged another home game and a single sponsor has signed on for the next three years.

It was looking decidedly ropey at one point during the year. Other than during our speculative campaign to get a priority pick people actually (whisper it quietly) pity us. And not even the false pity from Eddie McGuire and Andrew Newbold when they wanted to give us extra salary cap room to accelerate our demise, real actual pat on the head pity. Which is sad. Long live then the Lynden Dunns and Luke Tapscotts of the world who will at least annoy opposition fans as much as they do our own.

At least we managed to land a new sponsor, and unless their CEO has been making a goose of himself on Facebook we're probably unlikely to have to resort to electrical tape to cover their name at any time in the next three years.

Automative Holdings Group (AHG) claim to be "Australia's largest motoring group" (didn't they just get elected to the Senate?) have apparently been around for 60 years and are an ASX200 listed company. Perhaps because either a) I don't understand the stock market or b) haven't bought a car for years I'd never heard of them before (option C: general ignorance) but anybody who wants to pay $6 million bucks to be seen front and back alongside us is alright by me. It's also a perfect fit for us as they seemingly have absolutely no interest in the western suburbs.

I'm not entirely sure what being associated with on a national stage does for them given that they own and operate car dealerships under other names but it's nice to be listed alongside other big hitters that they support such as Rocky Bay, Western Australia and the Perth Symphony Orchestra.

Of course, being that we're Melbourne fans and are automatically attuned to everything either being an instant disaster or poised to become one, most of the talk immediately following the announcement was about how stupid their logo looked and why they had to plaster their website all over the jumper. Perhaps because they've paid $6,000,000 for the privilege?

The 'look' of sponsorships on jumpers is the most overrated thing around. It's one thing to argue about collars on jumpers (gone), stars on jumpers (gone) and making the players wear blazers at club functions (gone) but really, if even a logo doesn't look good but we've got $2m in the bank every year because of it then who gives a rats?

Unfortunately there's only so much dignity that a sole major sponsor can buy, and by the time AHG came along we'd already agreed to play a second match every year in the Northern Territory. It's being built up as a great expedition to open the game up to Alice Springs, but really it's another cash grab to pay the bills and justify our sponsorship with Tourism NT.

All this is fine, though at the time of writing I'm not sure how much money we're being paid for the extra match, and I recognise that we do need to take drastic action to balance our books (also it's been on the cards all year), but it still seems a step away from waving the white flag. Organising make-up game for 11 game members are fine, this absolutely MUST be the extent of selling games outside of Victoria.

Assuming (considering we'd already proposed it) that this isn't one of the gruesome tasks the AFL are forcing us to undertake to pay for their support, I can handle a second interstate game but it had better be a temporary measure - and the sooner that's confirmed the better but I'm not holding my breath. I'm not insane enough to expect that we'll ever be financially self-sufficient enough to be able to play all our home games where they're supposed to be played, but two a year in a humid climate is hardly ideal but add a third and we're on the slippery slide towards the demise of the club as we know it.

Whether we end up playing in Darwin, Alice Springs or Yuendumu I couldn't give a toss but the long term plan must be to get back to one sold game a season. It even feels defeatist to say that and we should aim for none, but we've got to be realistic. However this is not Hawthorn in Tasmania, it can't be allowed to get out of hand. It MOST certainly cannot extend beyond two except in the most dire of emergency circumstances, and we can't let anybody do it without having to go through the members first.

It's not just for the benefit of fans either, when you're re-signing good players as an at best middling team who have been through horrible times (i.e one J. Frawley) how are you going to sell the idea of playing at TIO Stadium or somewhere called Traeger Park as an attractive idea? You would know exactly what you were getting if you signed for Collingwood or Carlton. If we act like a bush league club players are going to treat us like one and we'll just end up as a conveyor belt of draftees being prepared to go on to better things. This just cannot be allowed to become the norm.

Other than that I'd say our administration in its current form has done a fantastic job so far. The sponsor is locked away, membership is well up, Roos is in the bag and there's a sense of optimism around the place that is probably unjustified given where we've just come from but nevertheless makes a welcome change.

So yay for the Glenn and Pete show, roll on future solvency and let's keep the club where it belongs.

Looking forward: 2014 and beyond

Sorry to harpoon the sense of optimism but next season is still going to be a grim struggle. Things are looking up, but it's not all good news. It never is. Despite the much needed injection of experienced players into our midfield and the assumption that some of our forwards might stay fit all season we did, after all, just come off a two win, 54.1% season so let's not get too excited about what Bernie Vince is going to do about it.

It's not just the middle of the ground where we need vast improvement either. Obsessive fan of our backline that I am even I was horrified by this stat which showed that when the ball hit the ground inside defensive 50 we were criminally disinterested in battling the opposition for it - and it doesn't even take into account all the times that the opposition scored on us without the ball even getting into a contested situation.

The figure doesn't reflect as badly on the big three of Frawley/Garland/McDonald as much as it does our midfielders who probably didn't do enough to help, but what an obscene set of numbers - not only the worst side for contested possessions in defensive 50 but a full, 76 more than the second worst. That should be on the Roos whiteboard with gigantic arrows pointing to it.

At the other end our tall forwards are good on paper if they can stay on the park for more than five minutes (Chris Dawes must be enjoying the MFC's own black cloud following him around), and unlike the defence there are at least a few alternatives if our first choices break down but some crumb would be nice.

Having only picked up one small forward in the entire off-season then god help us all if neither Dean Kent nor JKH come on and the ball ever hits the ground inside 50. I'd have almost consented to going out and signing Robin bloody Nahas for a season if it meant recruiting somebody who could kick a goal on the run. So much the better if it's an arsey snap from the boundary line

As for the midfielders anything could happen after drastic redesign, but I'm still worried about the ruck. Either Jamar was made to look good by an emerging midfield in 2010/11 or bad by a rapidly crumbling one over the last two years, but if we could actually hit one of our own players with a centre square tap more than a handful of times all season that would be good. It'll also be a nice time to start phasing Gawn in as the future #1 if he can stay fit and the powers that be don't decide to maroon him at Casey for half a year again despite being fighting fit.

Overall I'm still not convinced enough teams will get significantly worse enough for us to finish above them in 2014. In a year's time I firmly expect to be sitting here talking about how we swapped pick #2 to GWS for the second year in a row and have received in return a top young prospect with a couple of years under his belt called Tom Scully. And at that time I will spend about 12 hours editing or deleting posts where I slag him off.

It's not all grim news though, while perpetual mediocrities like us will continue to use and abuse high draft picks until they're in their mid 20s so others can pinch (most suffering some superficial damage a'la Alan Partridge's Valentine's Day chocolate oranges) we've only got to make our club look a bit less shambolic to start being the ones who are doing the pinching. Look at Richmond ransacking lists all over the place on the back of a couple of decent campaigns. That could be very well be us, and if we can the system to our advantage instead of picking fringe players from good clubs in the assumption that they'll lift the tone then maybe there's some hope yet. Maybe we've just done that. There's only one way to find out...

So roll on next year and everything it has in store for us both good and bad. It's a mark of just how brutal 2013 was that we could finish last next year, see more wins and a have more enjoyable time watching our team play. But we shouldn't, that's more loveable loser bullshit. I still feel that I'm being optimistic saying we'll finish as 'high' as 16th, but I'm certainly not happy about it.

It's just that I can't make a case for any sides other than St Kilda and GWS finishing below us. Footscray will be around our level but should keep their nose in front and it would take a run of occult style bad luck for Gold Coast to go into reverse now. So that's the teams we were within six wins of (!) last year, what about the rest? Who's a chance of plummeting? Brisbane have been ransacked of future good players, but they've still got the core that has made them a comfortable mid-table side over the last two years. We can all only hope West Coast blow up and fall back towards the bottom again, but it doesn't seem all that likely to me. That only leaves unpredictable off-season explosions like ours in 2007.

Quite frankly for me ladder position really doesn't matter. I know about five seconds ago I suggested we've got to stop being the loveable losers and set ourselves to kick a few people's brains in but if we somehow win six games and finish last next year then I'll rip open the champers. If every team in the competition went 11-11 somebody would still have to finish last, ladder position is not an instant guide to how a team has gone - it's all about wins and percentage, and surely there's no way we can avoid improving on both of those fronts.

Ladder position shouldn't be all that important as long as we win a few games, but it's not like I'll be holding a street party if we struggle back to 4-18, 65% and six games below 16th. Still - the bar has been set so low that it's almost impossible not to see some improvement next year. And if we don't then we might as well torch the place for the insurance and all go our separate ways.

Final Thoughts
Having finally put the evils of the past to rest, I would like to officially open the 2013/14 season with a quote from Hunter S Thompson which I think sums up our position in the football world:

In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile - and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely.

Stay tuned to Twitter for more information about Demonbracket 2014's grand opening in late January. Until then, cheerio and Go Dees.