Monday 31 March 2014

Mo Slurry, Mo Problems

Who'd be associated with the Melbourne Football Club? The player who shagged a witch as part of the 1964 premiership celebrations has got a lot to answer for. Imagine a world where almost every player over 6'5" is missing for some reason, Maximum Gawn is seconds away from a comeback then does his hammy, and on the merciful verge of winter we end up having to play West Coast in what is effectively Perth weather.

Not that Maximum on his own or a surprise Sunday hurricane tearing the MCG apart could have saved us, but either of them might have made the afternoon at least slightly more tolerable. The sad thing is that at times while West Coast darted from end to end, capitalising on the most farcical of turnovers, I sat there thinking that despite all that we still looked so much better than last year - which says more about how violently offensive 2013 was rather than any great improvement so far in 2014.

Fleeting moments of reasonable, league standard football and two mighty efforts by Nathan Jones and Daniel Cross aside this was sadly the Melbourne FC that you have come to know and loathe - the one that is legitimately no fun to watch. Slow moving, low scoring and wandering the vast expanses of the MCG aimlessly hoping for the opposition to suffer 22 serious injuries so we could win by forfeit.

I backed myself into a corner by trying to be optimistic last week, and if anything's going to set me off it should be a 93 point loss where we struggle to get four goals, but by this point I'm so deadened to assault and battery that it seems like the opposition are quite literally flogging a dead horse. There's no surprises left, and had we not conceded the two late goals and managed to get out with 'only' an 80 point loss I might have even been 'happy' (relatively speaking) about the last three quarters.

The natural reaction to yesterday should be to take up thy flaming pitchfork and storm AAMI Park, but I'm struggling to maintain the rage. Luckily there are thousands of others who can take my place on the barricades, call for sackings and big note themselves by ringing SEN to announce that they're resigning their membership.

Which is not to say that I enjoyed my Sunday at the home of football in the slightest. For the vast majority of the game we played horrible football, what crowd were there nearly rioted at some of the backwards dink and the prospect of not winning a single match for the season suddenly looms large on the horizon but I'm psychologically broken to the point where just yelling obscenities at the roof of the Ponsford Stand during the game is enough to satisfy me.

Everyone, including many of our players it seems, knew we were going to lose and it was just a case of whether it would be an honourable six goals, a dishonourable 10 goals or yet another criminal ton in our depressing recent history. We might have narrowly avoided triple figures, but any hope of an honourable death went out the window in the first few minutes. They battered us from the first bounce but couldn't take advantage on the scoreboard, which in the real world would have been a great time to either nick one ourselves or do something to slow them down and at least restrict them to a handful of goals in the first quarter if we weren't going to kick one ourselves. Instead we gifted them their first with a horror turnover handball from Nathan Jones (spoiler: he bounced back), they got the second one very quickly after and by quarter time we were 40 points down. 

Why does this happen so often to us? Even in their first few seasons Gold Coast and GWS would often play league standard first quarters and scare the opposition before class won out over enthusiasm and they got flogged. Whereas across several versions of this 'young' but not completely inexperienced list we've been at least four goals down nine times in the last 46 games. Not that four goals is a fatal gap, but it is when you've been playing without a proper forward line for the best part of a year.

We have occasionally put the wind up a superior opponent (i.e any other team). Witness, for instance, last year's game against West Coast - the infamous standing ovation match - where after two massacres to open the season we kept the margin at half time to 10 points courtesy of sheer effort before they wised up and crushed us in the third quarter en route to a 95 point win.

It's easy to blame a lack of competent tall forwards (thought it would help), but you have to get the ball down there first and most of the time we couldn't link up long enough to give the 'forwards' a chance without them having several Eagles defenders in the way. Every once in a while somebody would actually run for a team-mate with the ball, said team-mate would spot them and it looked magnificent. Didn't happen very often though. They were more likely to all stand still then watch as the player with the ball tried to thread the eye of a needle with disappointing results.

At the other end West Coast were demonstrating exactly what you can do with a bunch of tall forwards and a team capable of getting it to them (not to mention an opposition almost going out of their way to turn the ball over every 25 seconds). You could almost hear 15,000 people yell the name Lucas Cook at once when Darling had the first shot at goal for the game. Do you think that in the rare moments when the ball wasn't down there that Darling, Naitanui and Callum Sinclair spent their time expressing relief to each other that we opted out of drafting all three of them in recent years? At quarter time they probably all exchanged high fives with Jamie Bennell, enjoying his greatest ever moment on the MCG courtesy of us giving him the sack.

Strangely enough the only one of their talls who didn't get amongst the goals early was Dean Cox, who started the game matched up by Lynden Dunn who he is about two foot taller than. It looked ridiculous, but was obviously cosmic penance for all the 18-year-olds Lynden's abused (so to speak) over the years. Dunn played another good game, which is often an unpopular opinion to express, but it's not hard to look good in a side like this.

Speaking of talls, it was a bleak day for those of us who have stood firm in the Watts camp during the great "should we have drafted NicNat" debate. I'm fully aware that if we'd picked him that he would have already fled back to Perth anyway, and maintain that he's had the armchair ride of the century by coming in under the wing of a monster like Cox but it's hard to deny that he at least makes things happen. Watts, on the other hand, discovered that it's far harder to take the piss against a proper midfield. He tried, but contrast NicNat tapping the ball down cleverly in the square to create a goalscoring opportunity against Watts dropping the easiest chest mark of all time and it's nervous adjustment of collars all round.
Not that there was a great deal of buzz around the crowd to start with, but by the end of the quarter with the Eagles defenders queuing up to join in the goalkicking party, the place was as flat as a tack. At least there was something to be learnt from their dominance - the tally of three goals from key forwards or ruckmen and three from 'others' shows that you don't have to rely entirely on talls to kick goals. If you feed other players and give them the chance to run at goal you can manufacture scores. Instead we were left trying to move the ball bit by bit like a chess piece to find forwards who didn't exist or were drastically outmatched.

As one shambolic exchange in the second quarter showed, chipping it around to find a target instead of just hoofing it to a contest is fine but it can end in tears. Pedo might not be Kurt Tippett, but he was miles free and on a lead which was ignored. Instead we do five dinky little kicks in a row to barely any ground, turn it over and cop a goal at the other end. The lightning speed at which the ball went down the other end implied that the majority of our players were forward of the ball when we turned it over, so there would have been plenty of players there to contest it.

The moment that said it all about our performance in the first half was when (leading goalkicker) Shannon Byrnes had a one-on-one in front of goal, lost the ball in the sun and ran about five metres away from it. Had the Eagles defender not taken the conservative approach and punched the ball out of bounds Byrnes would have booked his spot on bloopers programs for years to come. Fun fact - until the last quarter Byrnes was right in the running to become the first MFC player to kick all our goals in a goal in a game since 1914 - which would have been quite the feather in his cap, and a moment to go alongside a premiership in his career scrapbook.

Brief moments of lucidity aside we were so badly beaten up in the first half that I felt like I needed to watch 186 again to understand how a team could be beaten any worse. We probably shouldn't have had our goal either, I'm sure Pedo (if I use his name enough times Pete Townsend will miraculously appear) threw it as he was tackled. The sympathy vote obviously came out in our favour when they let Byrnes' goal stand.

At least at the start of the third quarter Roos tried something different, swapping Pedo and Dunn. Last year we'd have just gone merrily to our grave, doing the same thing for four quarters. By the end of the game both of them were in the backline where they're probably both best suited, but it was at least an attempt to change things around. With the hole we'd gotten ourselves into a SWAT team couldn't have bailed us out, but I appreciated the effort. The only thing that I've have done differently would be to make the sub earlier. It was hardly going to get any worse and we weren't actually doing all that badly in getting the ball forward for it to be swept down the other end within 10 seconds.

While we were 'better' in the third quarter - comparing one four goal to one quarter with another - there were still seat kicking moments of farce and shambles during the second half. What about Trengove having a shot from 50 where he was never going to make the distance in a million years and not one MFC player on the line for the ball drop? To nobody's surprise it was easily mopped up by the West Coast defenders, and we probably conceded a goal 30 seconds later if the rest of the game was anything to go by.

To be fair Howe and Pedersen were both off the ground at that point, and Fitzpatrick had been subbed off after being totally blanked by Glass but obviously if you have somebody down there you're a chance of at least bringing the ball to ground. Dunn tried to get there late, but even if he'd managed to halve the contest there wouldn't have been anybody at the fall of the ball. Stuff like this kills me.

They were down a man for the last three quarters, so no wonder that come the last quarter they let us kick a couple of goals to at least keep the margin under the ton for the first time in Round 2 since we 'only' lost to Hawthorn by 45 in 2011. Still, even though it was marginally better than when we played the Eagles here in Round 3 last year it was still shite and should finally convince people that even key forwards can't save us from the bottom three this year - if not the bottom one.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Dean Terlich
2 - Dom Tyson
1 - Lynden Dunn

Apologies to Toumpas, who is playing the Tapscott 2013 role of being a half-forward flanker despite not being a half-forward flanker and is doing a half decent job of it given the circumstances.

10 - Nathan Jones 
4 - Daniel Cross, Lynden Dunn (Leader: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Dom Tyson, Jack Watts
3 - Dean Terlich
1 - Jake Spencer (Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

Crowd Watch
Not sure if it's a permanent new MCG feature, but it didn't seem like the best day to run a 'guess the crowd via Twitter' competition. Somehow the end number didn't turn out too badly, but with the Ponsford Stand sparsely populated I only had to go as far as row AA instead of the usual LL to get well away from humans.

The 'send a selfie to the scoreboard' gimmick was so dramatically undersubscribed that at one point they put a couple of Eagles fans up. Either nobody was interested in outing themselves as a Melbourne fan, the person monitoring the hashtag walked out after being abused 250 times a minute or nobody could connect to the MCG's shithouse 3G connection long enough to upload a photo.

In other scoreboard news, and I really wish that my phone battery hadn't rapidly been dying so I could have done something more useful than take notice of this rubbish, some poor woman was chosen to play in a competition where she had to pick the correct logo. She did, won nothing and got told "we'll be giving out cash prizes in future weeks, so make sure you come back." I can't believe we've become a test market for horrible promotions.

In the end I'm surprised they managed to get 22,000 people - or at least managed to massage the figures vigorously - but is it any surprise that there have been disappointing crowds in several games this year? It's no surprise that people have eventually wised up to the fact that they can watch live for free on television instead of trudging to the ground to pay a fortune for rancid food and be surrounded by freaks. It's not just us, other games are suffering as well, but of course other than the rusted-on freaks like yours truly thousands of people aren't going to bother leaving the house to watch this sort of garbage when even people too cheap to buy Foxtel can see it live.

In other news, the kids were let back on at half time this week instead of middle aged fat men playing AFL 9's, but it soon became clear that in all the games other the main one which ran through the middle of the ground the behind posts had been removed and you could only kick a goal (or nothing). What a load of bollocks. Aren't we allowed to disappoint kids by awarding them minor scores anymore? Surely that's better than getting nothing at all? I also lifted my head from my hands long enough to see one of those shit bloke Auskick umpires who marks the ball when it flies at him just because he wants to get a touch. Should be banned for life.

Banner Watch
2-0 to the Demons here. The Eagles' banner had a nice font, well-spaced letters and nothing outrageous and bizarre but lost points for the curtains which were opened as the players ran out so they could walk through. What's the point? I'd argue that there's no point at all and that we should abolish the idea of the banner, but if you're going to install measures to let you re-use the things at least make the players exert some effort to get through - even a raised arm that pushes the gimmicked section out of the way. This was just lazy.

Goal of the Year
a) The reigning champion will be listed every week.

b) This award needs a player to be named after. Suggestions?
c) No point having a mark version because Howe will eventually win it
d) I totally forgot to introduce this feature last week. Also forgot to mention the woman who was being presented as St Kilda's biggest fan but admitted she only showed up to the match because she'd won the award.

Anyway, nobody should be surprised that the four goals we toiled for this week failed to qualify. The clubhouse leader is Bernard Vince's long bomb against the Saints. If he can hold on until the end of Round 23 he'll win his freedom from the Melbourne Football Club.

Next Week
I'm going to hate losing to these crunts. Not just because of $cully, but because it will leave us two games adrift at the bottom with the possibility that we won't even win two games for the year. Next thing we're playing Kruezer Kup II against Carlton in Round 4 and could be a mile adrift at the bottom. Not that I expected us to be much better, but even if West Coast are significantly better than I rated them (and until they beat somebody good I'm not admitting it) we are burning through yet another favourable draw. Even Sydney, projected as the first 'good' team that we'd play have started poorly. Never fear, we'll get them back in form.

In his post-match comments Roos said the usual "if players don't do the basics they won't play" so you'd think omissions are a certainty but Neeld said that too and it lasted about as long as it took to sit down and realise he wasn't going to be able to field a side if he followed through. Would anyone have noticed?

I can't see them throwing Garland straight in, and assuming that Gawn's never going to play again I can't for the life of me find any meaningful changes amongst the troublesome talls. If Jamar is alright to rush straight back in I'll have him instead of Pedo, but don't expect miracles. I'd be happy if we'd play JFK right from the start and tell Jamar that even if he doesn't mark if that his job is flatten a few GWS players in the hope that we might get some crumb for the first time all year.

IN: Viney, McKenzie
OUT: Michie, Bail
LUCKY: Fitzpatrick, Pedersen

Next Season
I confess that during the week I looked at the Big Footy Drafts and Trading board to get an idea of who we might be picking in seven months. Not that it meant much to me, other than the fact that ironically considering our current predicament it seemed like key position forwards are the flavour of the month. Despite his tremendously generic name I'd have the first guy in this list with the assumption that his bad back would snap in two as he stepped up to the stage on draft night.

Could get more too. If we don't get a priority pick at the end of this - or at least get the option to sell it back to the league for a million - then really, what is the point? I demand the right to slaughter two promising careers a year instead of one. Then there's the compensation for Frawley - which will no doubt turn out to be shite due to us botching his contract and leaving him outside the top 10 highest paid players at the club this year.

What a sad state of affairs to even be considering this stuff before Round 2.

Get Well Reverend

Was it worth it?
Probably not, but at least I only came from Hawthorn to see it. I can't see myself ever giving up, but following this club is doing very little to enhance my lifestyle. The sick part of my brain still enjoys watching us play no matter what, but it would be great to inject some fun back into the weekend.

Now, I'm not going to tell you that you should be front row central every week but at least if you're going to jump off then do it with some dignity. There's no need to call talkback radio, take an ad out in the paper or declare that you're finished to a Twitter account which isn't read by anybody other than a social media team who have stuff all influence over gameplan, team selection or drafting. 

Don't become a Chris from Camberwell style professional miserablist, looking for any opportunity to stick boots into the club publicly. We don't need that, there's enough outsiders trying to send us to an early grave without our own people doing it. We all want to throw our hands up in the air and scream, but at least retain your dignity as you go down the escape slide instead of trying to by the most outraged person.

Final thoughts
The competitive, mid-table, mediocre Melbourne that we all crave is like that bloody plane. It's out there somewhere, but despite several false sightings and conspiracy theories nobody's managed to locate it. At least we're still responsible for Paul Roos' largest coaching loss.


  1. Excellent as usual Adam. I'm going to Western Sydney (Horrible) to watch Melbourne (Horrible). I could be the lone red-faced man at the top of the race.


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