Sunday 29 June 2014

Life education

As a Melbourne Football Club supporter you may have been experiencing certain 'feelings' this season. These may be unusual to you, especially if you're not old enough to remember back to the last time when we weren't the punch-line to every football joke.

Odd sensations may include brief stirrings of pride, moderate lashings of disgust (which you will note is a change from the almost weekly helpings of self-loathing of the last two years), occasional excitement and the feeling that for the first time in years you might keel over and die at any moment while watching your side play.

The last one is certainly not your mind playing tricks, for a team still on target to become the lowest scoring side in the history of 22 game seasons we've developed an astonishing habit for being involved in thrilling games.

In a few years all anybody will remember will be sending half the Adelaide Oval home early and the collective orgasm of the Essendon finish, but we've now lost five games by under 20 points - more than any season since 2002, and with plenty of time to overtake that year via another heartbreaking defeat. There's nothing I like better than a comparison between 2014 and the recent past to try and convince myself not to self-harm, and the stats show that we only had six in total across the last seasons - padded by two in the last three weeks of the Todd Viney post-186 era.

Unfortunately nearly getting there counts for precisely fuck all when they're compiling the ladder, but at least it's another example of how our lives as football supporters have improved significantly in recent times. We're still in football's third world, but are at least moving towards respectability. Unfortunately like any good third world country we've still got multiple ways to disgrace ourselves just when you thought things were starting to improve.

I'm angry that we mounted that great comeback only to throw it all away, but not even remotely as angry as I would have been if the comeback had never happened. I'm also loving the fact that everybody else is bleeding as well. Not just because it makes me feel better, but we've just had a loss against another flotsam/jetsam team which has sunk us within a game and percentage of the wooden spoon and the 'prized' #1 pick yet people are spewing vitriol at umpires and pointing fingers at individual players as if we've just lost a prelim rather than organising an open top bus down Swan Street to celebrate.

Watching St Kilda fans gleefully punt Brisbane home against North reminds me of 'us' in previous years, but while we're only one win and percentage clear of them security guards are being deployed to AAMI Park in case somebody throws a Molotov Cocktail through the window. Good. There's unrealistic fans who expect their club to make the finals no matter what, and those who are always poised at the edge of a window ready to jump out but the other 90% of us (and yes, I do consider myself to be removed from the two extremes as much as I may exhibit their traits sometimes) are entitled to demand higher standards and an end to four quarters of vaudeville football. You can't play Essendon every week and give up six goal leads safe in the knowledge that the opposition will probably spontaneously combust.

If nothing else at least today was the death of honourable losses to other also-ran teams. Last year people would have been upset at losing a game in those circumstances but also frantically trying to justify why it was at least better than the 13 shithouse performances which came before it. Now there's murder in the air and as furious as I am about losing I love that people want blood for the right reasons now, not just because we were hoping to lose by 40 instead of 80 and win the attempted tackles count.

The reality is that brief moments of lucidity where we slash from one end to the other in three or four kicks aside we're still a terrible team, and our role at the heart of the most competitive wooden spoon battle in years is well deserved. The positive thing is that you can at least take heart out of these defeats - it's starting to become clear that without a miracle we're not going to vault into the eight next year but when scientists at the MFC Institute solve the mystery of how to stop teams totally destroying us in the space of 15 minutes quality of life will improve even further.

If this game was played last year and we were that far behind there's no way we'd have got close let alone back in front. We'd have just banged through a few consolation goals in the last quarter, got the margin down to 30 and patted ourselves on the back for 'fighting' even though we were toilet for 75% of the game. The toilet ratio has been reduced to 50% of the game this year, but you're still not going to get any further than racking up a few novelty wins a year playing like that.

I'm thrilled at the way we recovered from 40 minutes of being complete garbage, but the issues are still there for everyone to see. In the last three weeks we've been second worst in the league at stoppages and worst for winning contested ball, so that's about as helpful as going six goals behind in the second quarter. Jamar and Gawn played the best ruck-duo game for all us year but were getting stuff all from our midfield, which for all our frottage over its improvement compared to last year is still actually not all that good compared to pretty much every other side in the league. Whisper it quietly but Tyson and Viney have been found out a bit in that time - but I've got every confidence that they will both bounce back to play many, MANY good games for us in the next decade.

There's not much to be said about Docklands but considering how rancid we were at winning clearances I can only think that the roof saved us from being totally wiped out in a trench warfare match. Not to mention keeping fresh legs for the inevitable massacre against Freo in Darwin next Saturday night. Meanwhile the next time you hear a commentator say something foolish like "at least the fans are warm in here" remember that he's probably not sat in the outer for 10 years. The place has got more holes than swiss cheese, and the wind blows right through it. By the first bounce I couldn't even feel my feet.

Another factor which cost us today was that unlike all our other wins this year the opposition actually took their chances in front of goal. The self-harm era is (temporarily) over. More than anything that's what eventually sank us, we'd done all the hard work from the end of the second quarter to three quarter time (excluding the bit in the third quarter where they looked like they were going to steamroll us again) to get back in the game but for once couldn't rely on the opposition leaving the door wide open with poxy kicking on goal. Ironically in the end the final blow didn't come from a set shot but from some bloke kicking one out of his arse in goal of the year fashion from the pocket, but of course even the most speculative of over the shoulder kicks would be on target today - that's just the way it was going.

We're developing a reasonable rivalry with the Dogs. We're both dirt poor teams mired at the bottom of the ladder, trying desperately to climb over the other one to get out of the slurry. To spice it up there's been a reasonable amount of agro the last few times we've played them too. If natural progression takes it course - and knowing us it probably won't - we should be battling them on the way up the ladder for the next few years. Looking back at last year now it seems odd that we beat them then when we were total junk but have lost twice this year during the brave new era. Apart from Watts and Fitz running riot up front how did we manage it?

I can't have been the only one looking back at that game, surely Nicholson was only picked because of the surprisingly good tagging job he did on Griffin that night. Forget that Griffin wasn't even playing and that it was the only game last year where he wasn't awful. What a mystifying selection. At least Barry, despite never having done anything spectacular in the VFL, was picked with an eye to the future before being left on the bench for three quarters. Nicho might be able to run fast, but he can take a leaf out of the footy players of the semi-pro era and take his talents to the Stawell Gift. The second half of 2012 will be as good as it gets for him because he's got nothing to offer a proper AFL team. What about the bit where he was streaming through the middle with a free man 20m in front inside 50 and instead panic bombed to a contest? I nearly broke my foot on the seat in front of me. Writing off players on this blog has led to several amazing career comebacks, so here's to another one.

That's not just to single out fringe players, after the first five minutes when Pedo kicked the goal and we got it forward a few more times for no reward - generally due to an absence of crumb - we were absolutely terrible all over the ground. Howe and Frawley were rock solid in defence, but we'd stop dead when we got the ball, eventually see it go out of bounds or end in a ball up and would get butchered in the clearance. And the less said about Bernie Vince's howler late in the first quarter the better. If that had been Tom McDonald every internet forum in the world (and not just the MFC ones) would have melted down.

Other than Vince's fiasco the low point of the massacre was the Rohan Bail deliberate. Now in a way I actually agree that it should have been paid, he got the ball and just took off towards the line like there was nothing else he wanted to do - but unless you're going to give that all the time then get stuffed. The 'he was under pressure' rule seems to save everyone else (other Dustin Martin who saved himself the run and just handballed it through from 20m out then complained when he got pinged), so he would have gotten away with it 9 times out of 10. The worst thing wasn't that goal but the fact that we copped two more for the rest of the afternoon because players were too shitscared to rush it through. Disappointingly the Bulldogs never even gave us the chance to get on our high-horse by rushing a behind in similar fashion, but that's as much our fault for never getting the ball down there or allowing them to rebound pressure-free with the greatest of ease.

We necked ourselves plenty of times too. There were at least two times in the first half when players had marks 50m out from goal and tried to be cute about what they were doing. As much as I loved Jamar's game up forward (and thank god they're finally doing it to give Gawn more time on the ball) when he marked on a semi-difficult angle (for a ruckman at least) in the first quarter why did he think kicking it 10m sideways to Rohan Bail was going to have any more benefit than just pinging it at the goal? As it was we got nothing. Terlich, thrown into the defensive forward role that killed Magner and almost put Dunn and Tapscott away, did the same in the second when he tried a pinpoint pass inside 50 when he had both Jamar and Gawn standing on the line awaiting his call. Suffice to say we got nothing out of either opportunity, and possibly allowed the ball to go down the other end for a goal almost straight away after one of them.

As they kicked the shit out of us in that second quarter the Dogs never seemed to be that much better a side, just one who were smart enough to take advantage of our horrible play. Which was very much like what North did to us last week as well. While all this was going on there was a noticeable lack of interest by our players in getting into space, unless it was as part of a switch that would often wind up with the last man in the line looking up and finding not a soul to kick to. This usually led to disaster.

It was so very Melbourne to have that first goal within the first few minutes but reach the 20 minute mark of the second quarter without getting another. Enter the beard to be feared Maximum Gawn and a goal which put several of our alleged 'small forwards' from the last couple of years to shame. Then Watts kicked off a purple patch from late in the second quarter to the end of the third by bundling one home from the square to at least keep us in it. In a stalemate between what we wanted to do (kick more) and what we usually do (give the goal straight back out of the middle) we got to half-time without any more goals at either end and were left with a sneaky chance.

Finally, just like the Essendon game, when there was nothing left to lose we started playing on and getting the ball forward quickly and it caused Footscray to momentarily forget what they were doing and start playing like us instead and by the footballing equivalent of driving to St Kilda via Adelaide we eventually got back in the game. There was a minor detour in the third quarter when they got two in a row and it looked like our bubble had been burst, but thanks to Dawes (great kicks but for god's sake please learn to take marks with your arms in front of you) kicking that clutch goal at the end of the third the ball was back in our court.

Thanks also to the umpires for getting at least one thing right for the day and spotting Liberatore's blatant (and bizarre) throw in front of goal. The way they were going today (and that's both ways Bulldogs fans, direct your hate mail elsewhere) there was absolutely no guarantee that they'd pay a free kick if you splattered them with bloody after cutting an opponent's leg off with a chainsaw

It was probably our best quarter of the year, and it was because they started to play fearlessly. Maybe you can't do that all the time, but it would be nice to do it before we're a mile behind. There were still ropey moments, but as a shining example of what the good life looks like there was more than time where Watts got the ball and waited just long enough for you to think he'd lost the plot and was going to get done for holding the ball (fat chance in this game unless you actually do just stand there motionless like Tyson, but go with me) before releasing a beautiful little handball to somebody on the outside. Forget what he does when he hasn't got the ball (i.e falling over), just get the thing to him in space and he'll probably do the rest.

Unfortunately the three-quarter time break gave the Dogs plenty of time to get their head straight, and when they did our death or glory spirit was gone. Things were certainly better than they were in the first half - how could they not be? - but there was still a lot of stop/start play, hospital handballs and fumbling at crucial moments. We got screwed by the umpiring in the end, but they're the same court jesters who had given Jetta a free for putting his head down and charging straight at his opponent so it was hardly one way traffic in the rorts department. The Jetta decision + 50 (and if I was a Dogs player I'd have called the umpire a prick for that as well) gave us a seven point lead so we've really only got ourselves to blame for throwing it away from there.

Even though they'd cut the gap back it was still anybody's game (CLICHE) before the miracle goal, but it seemed to me we'd shot our load during the great comeback and had nothing left. Barry was providing some good energy, and had a couple of solid defensive contributions, but even after Grimes' goal gave us the lead a few minutes earlier I still wasn't convinced we could hold on. At this point two Melbourne fans in front of me got up and left. Dickheads. Of course in true Melbourne fashion by the time they'd reached the stairs we'd let the Dogs go straight out of the centre and cancel out our goal. So MFC. That was always a danger at every centre bounce considering they looked likely to go inside 50 from almost every one.

It would have been a great time to block them up in the middle of the ground, but alas it was not to be and that familiar sinking feeling was back. It's not like we didn't have time to rescue the game in the last few minutes, and it's a shame that Watts picked that crucial moment in the last quarter to give society's lowest rung the chance to hang it on him by unloading his worst kick on goal in years. At least he got in space to take a mark before the shot, once Bontempelli (great name) got the goal our inability to get a single shot off at goal when a draw at the least was on offer says it all about our outrageous lack of firepower up front.

There's still so much work to be done, and I'm not even sure you can say the frames of the house are up yet but at least we've employed one of those guys with a STOP/SLOW sign out front and have hired an architect with a reputation for building ugly but highly functional structures.

Radio Free Docklands
Before the game Andy "Youse Blokes" Maher spent valuable time waffling on about how he doesn't want to know how much time there is to go in the game and slaughtering Channel 7's callers in the Brisbane/North game (or as it should be known, Saturday Night SMEfever II) for continuously mentioning through the last few minutes. Which is fair enough, because a) on TV we can see for ourselves how much time there is left and b) Channel 7's Saturday night team is poon heavy, but as if it was a political crusade SEN then proceeded to spent three quarters refusing to give any update of how long there was to go..

In frustration during the last quarter I did something I swore I'd never do and turned over to the Tobin Brothers in the hope that perhaps Depressed Drew Morphett - the man who has turned sounding like he hates his cushy job to an art form - might actually cater to people like me who want to know exactly what's going on. The Black Cloud was slightly more useful in giving vague "I think there's three minutes" "there must be about a minute left" updates, but it was as if a memo had gone around to all radio broadcasters with instructions to keep listeners in the dark. If people don't want to know how much time there is left they can remove their headphones and sit there in blissful ignorance, don't stuff it up for the rest of us.

Having said that I'll have a sit-down protest if they ever introduce a countdown clock at the ground.

The Clash
Considering all the times we've been forced to don the silver/white/off-white/ivory/beige over the last few years when there hasn't been an obvious jumper clash how did we avoid it today?

Clash jumpers were good enough when we played them a few weeks ago. Does playing under a closed roof somehow make a difference? I wouldn't have thought so.

Nobody should bother trying to decipher AFL clash jumper policy while they continue to let Collingwood boss them around, but the whole concept is in complete disarray. Give everyone a home/away jumper and tell Eddie that if he doesn't like it the Northern Football League would love to include a new team.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jeremy Howe
4 - Mark Jamar
3 - James Frawley
--- a large gap ---
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Jack Grimes

Apologies to Vince, Dunn, Watts, N. Jones and Gawn - any of whom may have emerged from the battle royale for the last two spots with a bit of luck.

No change at the top, but with a maximum 40 votes for any one player left Jones' magic number continues to shrink. It can't work out what it is, but it's shrinking.

With Dunn's gap in the Seecamp sliced to 17 over Howe he's still the provisional winner but could be set for a few nervy weeks. It's fair to say that the backline will have a lot of work to do next week so either of them could strike a huge blow in the race for their first title.

The Hilton remains untouched pending the arrival of Jesse Hogan to clean it up with 12 goals on debut in the last round, but is heading towards the lowest winning total since Juice Newton

Finally there's some movement in the Stynes, with Jamar winning votes for his forward performance rather than ruck work (despite the large hitout tally), and benefiting from the general apathy of his teammates to take a decisive lead. With the Spencil out for the season and last year's surprise co-winner Puttin' On The Fitz persona non grata thanks to the emergence of Pedo, it now looks like it will be a straight battle between Jamar and Gawn for the last eight weeks of the season. Advantage USSR.

38 - Nathan Jones
27 - Lynden Dunn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
24 - Dom Tyson
20 - Daniel Cross
13 - Chris Dawes
12 -  James Frawley, Bernie Vince
10 - Jeremy Howe
9 - Cameron Pedersen, Jack Viney
6 - Jack Watts
5 - Mark Jamar (Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Neville Jetta
3 - Matt Jones, Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Dean Terlich
2 - Rohan Bail, Jack Grimes, Jay Kennedy-Harris (Leader: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
1 - Jake Spencer

Stat My Bitch Up
The second half 'shootout' lifted our points-per-game by +1.59 to 64.35ppg. We're slowly closing in on Fitzroy 1996 and Melbourne 2013, but there is a significant chance of us throwing away the progress of the last two weeks in the face of the Fremantle defensive masterclass. A score of 40 would bring us back to 62.73, and I fear we'll be lucky to get that.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It would take something remarkable to beat the Big 10 from the Essendon game, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that they retain the lead and will presumably do so for the rest of the season. The good news is that yet again Bernard Vince wins the weekly prize (fishing lessons from Marcus Seecamp off the end of Altona Pier at 2.30am) for his big snap in the third quarter.

With two banners to make this week the Demon Army were clearly stretched and decided not to go for anything fancy. Fair enough too, why would you waste your best on that ground when the players never do? But they still register a solid victory. It was up to the usual standard of font and construction, and while the phrase "fight like hell" was used for perhaps the 300th time there's nothing wrong with recycling the classics.

We'll assume they won the women's game battle as well considering I haven't seen the Bulldogs one, but in the senior game a reasonable Footscray effort fell short due to an uninspiring font and falling into the trap of trying to cram too many words into the traditional rhyme. It stretched to 22 words across six lines from top to bottom which was far too crowded.

The sponsor side had an image (printed, not a hand-crafted cartoon) which is always good for bonus points, but its placement around the text and sponsors logos was a disappointment. With respect to the fact that they're still in transition mode after the Bulldogs administration sacked the old cheersquad for some reason I had to dock points. It looked like there wasn't going to be any poncy curtain work, but sadly at the last minute a lady took to the thing with scissors and the battle was lost. 14-0 Demons.

Crowd Watch
A reasonable crowd for two slop sides on a day where the sane were at home hurling abuse at their television rather than trudging through pouring rain and god knows what else to get to the ground itself. Apparently the women's game had an attendance of 5000, which skews the crowd for the main event considering plenty would have gone home after, but who knows how they arrived at that figure. Did I get counted for showing up with five minutes to go in the third quarter, or did you have to buy a specific ticket?

For some reason two gents in the next bay over were ejected by police and security during the second quarter. There was no indication of potential biff, and at one point the fuzz even looked like they were having a laugh so god knows what they'd done. By the way they were continuing to nurse their label less 600m bottles of 'Coke' as they were walked out my theory is that they were completely blind from 'topping up.

It really is a horrible place. Remember last year when rumours went around that it was burning down and not one person was upset? There's still time to blow it up and start again without having to resort to playing in the outer suburbs.

Women's World
My intentions were to go and watch the full four quarters, until I was informed that I had to go and drop things off at the tip. Which was random, but perhaps the manliest thing I've ever done. It almost came unstuck when I nearly tripped into the refuse pit in the pouring rain while thinking about how much it looked like the place where Alan Partridge's book got pulped. Then part of my car door fell off on the way to park in Docklands. It always promised to be a good day out.

So after these disasters I got there just in time for the last quarter, happily showing up to see Footscray run of gas and fail score while our girls ran riot. There should be more of it, but it's worth remembering that only 10 of the team were Victorian so you're never going to be able to have regular matches with them. It's probably more convenient for clubs to do it once a year, get the good feelings and the kudos for participating without gutting actual, real-life community clubs to create permanent teams that the AFL sides would lose interest in after a month.

I'm glad that we're one the pioneers of it, and hope we keep doing it for a long time, but at the risk of being named in parliament I'd much rather see Casey/Melbourne Reserves curtain-raisers a few times a year. Either way, the players were having a whale of a time and we won so that's a positive.

Next Week
Casey continue to struggle and players are hardly throwing their name into the ring, but nevertheless even though there's not a great deal of excitement about the choices on offer we've got to start trying some of them soon. Greasy Darwin against a team even more adept at boring football than us might not be the time, but considering we haven't got any realistic first game options left you may as well throw 'experienced' players in the deep end and see what happens.

Yesterday our friends the Scorpions were 59-0 down at quarter time, and while they did reasonably well to keep the damage down to a 90 point loss it's hardly encouraging. Karma is finally coming back at us for those years when they'd struggle to make the finals then we'd be shit blokes and remove all the MFC listed players. No wonder none of the Casey listed players are any good now. At least the days are gone where certain senior players celebrate getting dropped because it means they get to play in a win.

Based on nothing else than one match report and my loyalty to occupant of interplanetary craft Blease this are my alterations for what will no doubt be a controlled, fatal smothering by the Dockers.

IN: Tapscott, Blease, Riley, McDonald
OUT: Nicholson, M. Jones, Salem (omit), Terlich (inj)
UNLUCKY: Kennedy-Harris

Surely Jetta's not going to get rubbed out for that pissweak bump that got the Bulldogs players hot under the collar. If he does then JFK can come back as well - I wanted to pick him in the first place but can't find another appropriate out with Kent and Blease in the side. Considering he's done next to nowt in two weeks Kent could make way for him, but I think he earned a few weeks in the side courtesy of that run against Essendon.

Was it worth it?
Going to Docklands is rarely worth it, and during the second quarter I was wishing for a nuclear strike on the place, but even though we stuffed it up in the end I can't argue them having a bash. I refuse to believe neutrals actually hand over money to go to that place though. I'm not sure I'd take a free ticket to a non-MFC game there unless it was to a no-holds-barred pissup in a corporate box.

Final Thoughts
I spent the entire time between leaving the ground and getting to the car being brutalised by hard rain and light hail. Then once I got there I queued for a further five minutes while waiting for the same people who can't work a stadium ticket gate to pay for their parking, only to find that the "$5" at Waterfront City is actually $7.50 if you're using a credit card. Then it was 15 minutes trying to battle my way out of the place against waves of people without rudimentary knowledge of the road rules. Only to get to the end and find out that they'd dumbed parking down to an amazing level by actually having somebody there to swipe your card for you.

As soon as I drove out the gate the clouds parted, the rain stopped and a blinding sun came out. Footballing metaphors on a postcard to the usual address.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Flattened like a tack

There's a clear pattern emerging that shows the 2014 Melbourne Football Club is causing a wider outbreak of self-harm than Leonard Cohen and My Chemical Romance combined. What sets them apart from the 2013 is model is that now they're doing it to opposition sides as well and not just their own supporters.

Which is not to say there was a great deal to be happy about in the drab, lifeless loss to North tonight but considering we last beat them 2864 days ago it's not like it came as a surprise. Last week was magical and will live with us forever, but while we're good at frustrating teams into losing the plot temporarily you don't get to have the opposition collectively throw in the towel during the last quarter every week.

We'll be living off that game until Round 1 next year, but it's still fair to say that plenty of air was squeezed out of the red and blue balloon this evening. Not getting thrashed is a reward in itself, but as odd at it sounds when we're only one win and percentage away from last place tolerance levels with honourable losses where the opposition spend half the game necking themselves before scoring off our turnovers is wearing thin.

The Adam of 22 June 2013 would be horrified to hear me speak like that, but if we're going to go anywhere in the short term we can't just enable ourselves to be stretched like a rubber-band every week in the hope that the opposition won't be able to break us. Hooray for slingshot footy and all that shit but tonight we just looked second rate again. At first we looked reasonable as long as we could get the ball inside 50 instead of giving it back to North or fannying about with it 60m out from goal, but by the end it was just a case of kick it forward and hope that the opposition defenders spontaneously combust - because if somebody wasn't going to take a pack mark (and usually they didn't) there sure wasn't going to be anyone at ground level to keep the pressure on. Result - a total lack of crumb or forward pressure, leading to North usually rebounding with the greatest of ease and about 13 free players.

The advantage to this version of the MFC over the previous two is that the intensity level is through the roof in comparison, and it does cause teams to briefly fall apart and forget how to play football. Unfortunately for us there's only so far you can get with pressure - it eventually has to be backed up with quick, accurate ball movement which creates attacking chances. I refuse to acknowledge our reasonable disposal efficiency considering how much of it was side-to-side dink, and how much of the 20-25% of the time when it went wrong cost us. I'm also refusing to concede inside 50's as so few of them in the second half were quality.

Accurate kicking for goal kept us in it at first, but you could tell from the first few minutes that North were the better side and would eventually win. It wasn't just the farce of a first goal where Bail missed Nathan Jones' invitation to fumble the ball over the line and instead cost us a goal. That didn't help, but we did turn the tables and get in front not long after so it was hardly fatal. It was that we not only gifted them all seven goals of the first half via turnovers but that they always had players running free no matter what happened. Even when it was the result of a turnover - and you didn't have to wait long for one to happen - they had players everywhere while most of ours were just trotting around 10m behind.

When we got the ball everyone usually had two players on them or nobody was running for the guy kicking it so he had to stop. Even when they did run into space - usually when we were kicking out of the backline - they'd usually get ignorede. That coupled with the fact that half the team decided to go missing after last week's heroics made for tough slog, and it was a miracle that we managed to be so close at half time.

With the old 'attempted tackles' stat going off the charts North should have already put us away at half-time. After last week I couldn't rule out a stirring comeback, but unfortunately unlike Carlton (7.16), Adelaide (9.13 with additional shit delivery to the forwards), Richmond (9.20) and Essendon (10.17) the Kangaroos arrested their brief slide into completely inept football before it became fatal, and midway through the third quarter decided to do to us exactly what the Bombers would have if any of their players still had an interest in life.

They were still inaccurate - who will ever forget that amazing Nahas miss/pass fiasco in the first quarter? - but between our turnovers and their hard running it created enough chances right in front of goal to ensure that they'd get the required score eventually. Speaking of Nahas I've never seen somebody wander off so casually after suffering a serious injury. He was either incredibly stoic or in shock. Well done to Neville Jetta for showing a Joe Daniher-esque level of sportsmanship by calling for the trainers, even if it was his tackle that had caused the injury in the first place.

One thing I was happy with was seeing Howe used once or twice in the Jamar role for the long 'get out' kick after a behind. We've been using the same tactic for so long it was nice to see somebody realise that the best contested mark in the side would be a handy option for a play which is effectively "boot the ball to a pack and hope for the best."

There's not much else to get excited by. Vince ran riot in the first half, Dawes played his best game since Adelaide, Cross did a reasonable tagging job on Dal Santo, and nobody suffered an obviously career ending injury. Other than that we were mostly horrible, the game itself was pox (yet again showing that teams scoring +100 does not necessarily make something worth watching) and North just puttered along like a team who is going to roll into September by beating slop then lose by 10 goals in the elimination final - but good luck to them, at least they'll be there while we're studying draft previews and floating absurd trade week scenarios involving Jack Fitzpatrick for Jeremy Cameron.

The performance of Bernard Vince deserves star billing, but even though (spoiler alert) he finishes so far ahead as our best player that he should get double points North eventually worked out they should send somebody to stand near him halfway through the third quarter and from there on his influence was curbed. Still, 41 touches represented the outright 4th most for us on record so who am I to argue? It should be noted though that the moment they cut him out of the game was the same time when they piled on a bunch of goals and killed us off. Hardly Bernie's fault considering the heroics of his 25 touches in the first half, but when the heat was on him in the second his 16 weren't nearly as damaging. Might not have been a problem if half his teammates had bothered to show up.

Horror first half aside - with both sides playing comic football at times - when Dawes got the 50m penalty and the goal early in the third we were only seven behind. Had even a handful of the players who were AWOL decided to fire up we might have caused North some issues. They'd joined us in spending the second half of the second quarter playing a Three Stooges tribute match before getting a late goal but when that was cancelled out by Dawes we really did seem like a chance of kicking a decent score. Whether we'd have given them a decent scare in the end I don't know, but we ensured that we'd never find out by belatedly tipping over and dying in a third quarter a week late as they kicked six goals in 15 minutes.

It would have been a great achievement to take the lead and (god forbid) go on to win considering we had so many players who had barely been sighted to that point. With apologies to the relative inexperience of some of them none of Viney, Salem, Kent, Grimes, Garland, Bail, Jamar (hitouts be buggered) were giving us anything. I'd throw Matt Jones in there, but somehow he was racking up touches so somebody will write in and complain if I try and drop him. Most concerning were Grimes and Garland who both looked rock bottom on confidence. I'm not entirely certain Grimes would be getting a game every week if he wasn't co-captain - another unfortunate blow for the late Grimgove captaincy duo.

The game was totally stuffed in that 15 minutes, and while all this was going on Riley was left sat on the bench twiddling his thumbs until the 30 minute mark. I'm not surprised they eventually took Salem off (suffering from a grand final hangover and having a shocker) - but at the risk of anti-Roos heresy why wait until the game was completely lost to make the change? If you're not confident in The Pornographer's ability to change a game when he comes on then what are you doing picking him in the first place, much less making him the sub?

The sting (CLICHE) had well and truly gone out of the game (DOUBLE SECRET CLICHE) in the last quarter, and the only interest I had left was seeing just how many touches Vince would get. Amusingly we got to see North get robbed blind out of a goal by the video umpire, but at least it was followed by us kicking two goals in a row and appearing remotely competitive again. Asked to give a prediction at three-quarter time I said a 10 goal loss so at least we beat that. North had lost interest by this point so I don't know how much you can take out of it, but at least we held them to a single goal in the quarter-length exhibition of junk time.

In the end a 15 minute lapse where we got beaten to a pulp cost us. If you take that out we go into the last quarter near enough to make it interesting, and who knows from there? It still doesn't stop it from being a disappointing loss - standards are on the rise and so is expectation, but if we're going to keep losing I'd prefer it to be courtesy of opposition brilliance rather than our own hand.

Casualty Corner
Can somebody get to the bottom of whether Jack Watts' back is stuffed? Just like the Adelaide game he seemed to be temporarily crocked before a bit of downward dog - this time thrilling conducted on field while the game continued - reinvigorated him.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Bernie Vince
--- Such a wide gap that you could fly a 747 through it ---
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Chris Dawes
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Jack Watts

Apologies to Dunn who might have scraped in for one in place of either of the last two but was probably made to look better by the fact that his opponent did not seem to have the slightest idea of what he was doing. Seemed wasteful keeping him there for three quarters when they could have put him on Brent Harvey in an attempt to generate some more outrageous cheating.

With neither of his closest challengers pocketing a vote Jones moves two steps closer to the three-peat. With a maximum of 45 votes still on offer Jack Fitzpatrick remains a chance of storming home to snatch victory for another fortnight, but Nathan's magic number is shrinking rapidly. Dunn's one quarter cameo up front doesn't affect his status as runaway leader in the Seecamp, and the other two awards remain an absolute farce.

38 - Nathan Jones
27 - Lynden Dunn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
24 - Dom Tyson
20 - Daniel Cross
13 - Chris Dawes
12 - Bernie Vince
9 - James Frawley, Cameron Pedersen, Jack Viney
6 - Jack Watts
5 - Jeremy Howe
4 - Neville Jetta
3 - Matt Jones, Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Dean Terlich
2 - Rohan Bail, Jay Kennedy-Harris (Leader: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
1 - Jack Grimes, Mark Jamar (Co-Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jake Spencer (Co-Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

Stat My Bitch Up
This week's above average (for us) score lifts our points per game by +.0.26 to 62.76. Still on track for our all time record low 22 game season, and presumably still the worst of any side since 1967 as we were after the Essendon game. A reminder if you've just joined us (DWAYNE CLICHE) that the figures to beat are 66.136ppg for our club 'record' and 66.0ppg to at least score more than Fitzroy in their last season.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
First an administrative point from last week - after reviewing the replay of Salem's goal about 247 times Bernie Vince has been upgraded to a share of it for starting it all with a strong tackle inside defensive 50. With no outstanding goals this week our 10 nominees (Vince/Pedersen/N. Jones/Frawley/McKenzie/McDonald/Tyson/Viney/Cross/Salem) retain the lead.

In a substandard field Bernie Vince was lucky enough to also take the weekly prize for his running goal in the first quarter. Bernie wins a night out under heavy sedation with Maurice Wingate.

In a battle as uninspired as the match itself Melbourne's effort wins courtesy of the fact that the red/blue alternating lines showed a admirable commitment to providing some colour and excitement when most of the crowd would rather be at home, while North's one was just solid blue with a wall of letters that were far too close to each other. It also lost 97% of its score for having a curtain that a lady had to run past and uncouple before the players ran out.

Ours also offered a $3000 discount on a caravan, which is not something you see every day. 13-0 Dees.

Corporation Corner
I would never accuse the AFL of being keen on money and self-promotion more than development, after all their interest in profit led to us getting a novelty sized cheque last year, but is it really right to play the Little League (or whatever it's called this week) game at 3pm with 250 people in the stands just so half-time can be spent promoting AFL 9's and continuing the absolute farce that is Mars Kick To Kick - where this week the 'winning' 10 tickets were all numbered between 1 and 30.

No doubt the kids enjoyed playing on the MCG before the game, but considering how many people were there they might as well have been doing it at 2.30pm on Thursday. I'm sure the league can force AFL 9's down our throat in hundreds of different ways other than sending out a few teams of dramatically overweight middle-aged people (where was my invite?) during half time. The crowd doesn't give a rats arse who's playing during the break, but surely the kids who play in front of a crowd get more out of it than if you or I got sent out there?

Maybe I'm still bitter about being picked for the Little League in Grade 6 but being unable to take my place because it was on a Friday night at Waverley and my mum refused to drive there. Either way, if they can't at least make room for some kids on the ground at half time they can take their 9's and their Mars Bars and jam them up their clacker. Hopefully parents crack the shits:

Crowd Watch
I was down the front of Q32 in the Ponsford this week, and the atmosphere was about the same as being right at the back. The Melbourne fans barely raised their voices, the North fans sat there and clapped half-heartedly whenever they kicked a goal. Nobody really seemed to care - I'm sure somebody somewhere was being spat at by an opposition fan, but not in Q32.

As shite as a crowd of 26,000 is in the overall scheme of things it was actually a reasonable result considering the clubs haven't done better than 31k for a non-finals match this century - even in the rare years when we were both good at the same time. It didn't hurt that it was one of the replacement games for North members for their matches in Tasmania, or that a significant amount of MFC fans still hadn't barred down from last week considering the shithouse timeslot it could have been much worse. Mind you, if you think the 4.40pm Sunday slot is shithouse they've got Collingwood vs Carlton on at 7.10pm Sunday next week - if they can find any Carlton fans who haven't gargled bleach.

Finally, while I was enjoying my 20 minutes of safe egress to Richmond Station along Brunton Avenue I heard some North fan yelling out all kinds of taunts about the result. Congratulations, you've beaten the Dees - I suggest camping out for grand final tickets immediately.

Next Week
I was half-heartedly watching the Casey game yesterday while doing more important things (i.e folding boxes, vacuuming and generally being the most bland living human of all time) and they looked absolutely terrible. Playing against a Box Hill side loaded with players banging the door down for a game at one of the best sides in the competition can't have assisted them, but as far as I could tell barely anybody deserves to be promoted.

As much as I feel like it's time to start picking some of the 'others' I'd rather they did something to earn it. For that reason I'm going to stick to the tried and true:

IN: Gawn, Terlich
OUT: Grimes, Riley (omit)
LUCKY: M. Jones (have lost interest, but good luck levering him out after 26 touches when everyone at Casey was shite), Salem (back to sub because there's nobody to take his spot)

Time to bite the bullet and play Gawn as first ruck from the start. If he gets in trouble against Minson he's got Jamar as backup, but for a highly specialist position we have to start planning for the future while nothing's on the line. Terlich a straight swap for Grimes because even though I was iffy about him at times this year Grimey has been ropey for weeks - time for one of those "nobody is safe" omissions that ends up with them suffering a season ending injury on a VFL ground with a surface like a car park.

If McKenzie gets rubbed out for Lindsay Thomas taking a dive I'll keep Riley in just because he gives me the excuse to use the term 'The Pornographer' in polite company.

Was it worth it?
Well as long as you weren't a neutral duped into paying $25 to watch it wasn't a complete waste of time.

To be entirely honest by the last quarter I'd had enough and could have easily gone home if I wasn't such an obsessive - but I said that last week and look what happened. Thankfully that's it for 4.40pm games for the rest of the year (and we should avoid it in R23 because we're playing probable finalists North again. Bulldogs vs GWS had got the graveyard slot absolutely sewn up that week), because unless you win or lose in a thriller it's impossible to stop thinking about how much you're going to hate going to work on Monday morning from about quarter time onwards.

Ignoring personal reasons and concentrating on football only it was about as much fun as you can have watching your team lose by 41 points at 7pm on a Sunday night while continuing to make kicking goals look as difficult as crossing the Sahara on a BMX bike.

Final thoughts
There is still time to be respectable mid-table or to finish last. As previously discussed I'll take the former every day of the week, but thank god for a season where there's actually some interest in the bottom of the ladder rather than it just being us and an expansion team who are complete toilet.

Monday 16 June 2014

Rope-a-dope fiend

Given that we usually only play them once a season there's an argument that Essendon has been our greatest rival since that farce of a 2000 Grand Final where we were thrashed on the scoreboard and battered in the punch-ups. Even before the dark ages began we had Lloyd taking a dive in '03, the '04 Elimination Final debacle, the Broadbridge game and the one where we made the finals at the last gasp. You know what how it goes from there - the heartbreaking finish Daniher's last game, three wins in a row and then some unfortunate business in Round 2 last year.

Our recent history against the Bombers is so comprehensively dominated by the night that sank the first of what would ultimately be several last nails into Mark Neeld's coaching coffin (not available at the Demon Store) that it's easy to forget what a string of great times we've had playing them in recent years.

With apologies to the night that Maximum Gawn missed from the square, Jack Watts took a hanger and the late Dean Bailey punched the roof of the dugout as the pressure was momentarily taken off him yet again the best of the bunch was Round 10, 2012. Essendon were flying (conspiracy theories on a postcard to the usual address) and we'd spiralled into such a hopeless position that Fox Sports News had been roped into reporting that Mark Neeld was going to be sacked from information they got off a Twitter account parodying Caroline Wilson. We were in such a state that anything seemed possible, but the fact that the account was called 'Carowhine' should probably have been a dead giveaway.

At what appeared to be rock bottom, with crisis meetings being held on a weekly basis you know full well what happened next. Happy days were (temporarily) here again, the pressure was momentarily lifted from the coach (again), the phrase "reality bus" was coined and we enjoyed the spectacle of Essendon committing such an amazing sequence of acts of football suicide that I've referenced it in every second post since. It was one of my all time great evenings at the footy, but it's not even in the same area code as last night.

There were certainly some similarities, they compacted the longest footballing suicide note in history into a half instead of spreading it over a full game, but the scope of the capitulation was so fantastic it was like they'd been rummaging around in a dumpster out the back of AAMI Park and had found one of our old playbooks. That they themselves rose from the dead and almost turned the tables on us in the dying seconds perhaps makes it even more cruel for them. In retrospect they may wish that Dean Kent had converted that set shot and put us 14 points up instead of punting it out on the full. But that would have left us without a classic finish, so congratulations to Kenty for his sense of occasion and faulty set shot.

Early in the third quarter it looked like we were listing badly, taking on water and preparing to abandon ship when the Bombers all of a sudden completely forget how to play football - and if any Bombers fans have wandered in and not gone straight to the comments after seeing the post title I can assure you thatwhen it comes to identifying a team who has totally lost the plot we've got everyone else covered.

It wasn't just Bellchambers summoning up the spirit of the debuting Max Gawn 2011 to botch the simplest of goals right in front (at the same end as Maximum too) and miss a golden chance to deflate us just when we were starting to build something. But that helped. It wasn't just that debacle in the backline where the fearsome forward pressure unit of Salem and Watts caused some poor fellow to go to pieces and gift them a goal. But that was nice too. It was the entire time between them going 33 points in front and us missing a chance to go 14 points in front where they left the door so far open that it would have been impolite not to take advantage.

Who would have thought that the 4.40 Sunday game would hit such heights. Certainly nobody who sat through the first quarter. The timeslot is bad enough anyway considering your weekend has already peaked and you're in the grim downward spiral towards Monday morning, but when your side opens the match without an inside 50 for 10 minutes and looks set to kick three goals in a game at the most for the second time in six days it seems almost stupid to be there witnessing it in person.

That we've avoided the timeslot for this long is a miracle considering the sort of ratings our games must attract, and that's probably why we have to do it all again next week. Even though it's only 80 minutes difference 3.20pm games are so much easier to get into, but obviously when the fixture was being assembled Channel 7 preferred the potential massacre of the Collingwood/Footscray game (oops) to semi-convicted match fixers against soon to be convicted doping violators. Luckily in the end everyone went home happy.

I thought I'd be open minded and try something new, so I cheated on the Ponsford and tried out the back row of the Southern instead (Row DD if you're keeping stadia records). It was extremely underwhelming.

For one because there's less rows than the Ponsford you're significantly closer to people than you want to be - and the ones you are near are either parents with kids who can't sit still for five seconds, courting teenagers or barely evolved humans of all persuasions shouting out unbelievably bad 'humour' that nobody else can hear, except the courting teenagers who don't care because they're too busy cracking on. The last time I sat in the top deck of the Southern was a Brisbane/Essendon draw in 2009 and I won't be going back any time soon. Half time was used productively to relocate back to safer territory, away from people so drunk on hate of everything non-Essendon that they may have crucified me at the final siren.

After the run they've had you can't fault Essendon fans for being a bit punchy, but their anti-authority "we hate everything" siege mentality is starting to wear a bit thin. If you're like me and don't actually give a rats about this scandal and whether Pentium 486 is a prohibited substance the most interesting thing is watching their club going from being at the heart of the establishment to thinking they're the French Resistance.

I don't know what it's like to be in their situation (and clink your champagne glasses Demons fans, thanks to the negotiated settlement of the Tankquiry we never will) but it hardly seems compatible that these people who tearfully protested the injustice of the Subiaco crowd booing Jobe Watson (especially when a Subiaco crowd would boo winning Tattslotto) spend four quarters of the game loudly wailing as if they've just had their family kidnapped. I feel horrible for fans who have seen one season ruined and are looking at another one spoiling rapidly, but given that they seem very happy to throw themselves off the cliff with the club who am I to get involved. Do whatever makes you feel good, but I reckon if we were in the same situation I'd looking for blood within the club, not building a compound and stocking up on plastic explosive.

For all the reasonable, sensible Bombers fans out there a lot of others have a moral compass which is wildly swinging in all directions. Being rorted by the umpires? "BOOOOOOO! CONSPIRACY!" Get one free kick against you after you've had five in a row "BOOOOOOO! IT'S AN OUTRAGE!" Player kicking for goal "BOOOOOOO! WE'LL PUT YOU OFF" Jack Watts gets the ball "BOOOOOOO! YOU WENT TO SCHOOL" etc.. Rinse and repeat for four quarters. It's tiresome. They're not the only set of fans who indulge in the absurd spectacle of booing a player kicking for goal when nothing controversial has happened, but there's an extra venom in it that you don't get from Eagles fans who just do it (unconvincingly most of the time) because they have since 1987 and it's part of the matchday experience.

At least for the first quarter it looked like we were going to come to their Waco theme party and play the willing victim to their great "Back our Boys/Don The Sash/various slogans" victory which would have seen front pages of papers everywhere tossed out so they could get a shot of Elliot Kavanagh (?) kissing the badge.

Tell you what I do like about Essendon, and that's Joe Daniher. Sure if he was Lance Franklin he'd have kicked 19 last night with the amount of times that it went down there, but I enjoyed him seeking out the King of Sizzle for a handshake before the match. Ironically as he was reaching his hand out Dunn and some Essendon guy were almost punching on about three foot away. If you play a game the sort of game that , Dunn did then you can start it however you like, but there's nothing I like more than a pre-match handshake instead of macho chest-bumping bullshit. He also promises to be a fantastic player so I wish him well.

Perhaps if they hadn't kicked so aimlessly going forward he might have had more of a chance. We can't take the moral high-ground on attacking play but of course they had a thousand inside 50's when they instantly threw ball on boot and hoofed it long every single time they got it. Our defence, like an elastic band pulled back to the point where it could have disintegrated at any time, rebounded it, we turned it over somewhere between half back and half forward and watched it hoofed back in again. Quite frankly we were complete shite and deserved to be blown out of the water in that first quarter.

Down the other end chances were at a premium thanks to our ball movement going at glacial speed, barely anybody finding space unless they were 40m out from the defensive goal and a flat out refusal to at least try what Essendon were doing too much of and just whack it in there to see what happened. As bad as it felt at the time it wasn't quite 2012/13 level, but it was certainly a throw-back to Round 1 when we went to the ends of the earth fruitlessly trying to kick a score against St Kilda. Who knows what would have happened if we'd started with Frawley up front that night, because his marks around the half-forward flank are crucial at the moment. Dawes runs himself into the ground, and his tackling is fantastic but Chip is a better bet to mark the ball. Which is fine, they can very easily co-exist and most weeks we'll go home (relatively) happy.

There were already some signs that the Bombers weren't firing on all cylinders, but we spent the entire first quarter playing into their hands so it was difficult for them to do anything but have inside 50's. Luckily they weren't doing anything with them, and by the time we decided to buy a ticket in the lottery and just bash it forward a few times we started kicking goals. Nathan Jones didn't bother trying to slice and dice, he just whacked the thing at goal as hard as possible and got the result. Watts got the handball/roost goal that Bernie Vince was robbed out of last Monday and somehow despite we were right back in it.

The old problems (i.e from the first quarter) soon came back and we kept gifting Essendon more shots on goal, but gloriously even as they were opening up a lead with two goals they were starting the decomposition process by missing a bunch of shots on either side. In all this our defence held up heroically. It wasn't just Dunn, but McDonald (save for one comedy howler), Garland (likewise), Jetta, Grimes, Howe etc.. etc.. who were rock solid. Roos is right, if the rest of the team had played like it did last year then we'd have been flogged. It's sad that even if we had lost by 80 points at this time last year we'd probably still be talking about how the defenders kept it from being worse, but this was a step above. In the foxhole with bombs dropping everywhere they did an amazing job of getting us out of jail. The shonky kicking for goal helped too.

Still, for all that we still went into half time three goals behind and not having kicked a goal for 15 minutes. Like three-quarter time of the Pies game we were still in it, but the idea of being able to overhaul an 18 point deficit was nothing more than a wonderful dream. Half-time provided an opportunity to loosen the screws and stop playing like we were trying to eke out a 0-0 draw in a non-league football game. It happened eventually, but ask me how I felt three minutes into the third quarter when we were suddenly 33 points down.

After they kicked the first two goals of the third quarter and the HMAS Melbourne seemed set for a 2013 era capsize I actually thought to myself that if I wasn't such a rusted on obsessive that I'd probably go home. At that point it felt pointless, and I had much better things to do sitting at home than watching this rubbish yet again. At least it demonstrates yet again that higher expectations lead to greater disappointment. In June 2013 I'd have sat there after those first two goals, sworn a bit (did this anyway) then adopted a stoic attitude and silently watched the disaster unfold. This year it felt like shit, because no matter how poorly we'd played in the first quarter I've suddenly got an expectation that we're going to be in games until the last quarter.

I'd have never followed through with leaving at that point. If you are the sort of person whose nerves shatter at the slightest provocation (and if so what are you doing getting involved in sports? Perhaps it's time to investigate a gentler hobby?) you'd have missed something magical and ended up having to self-report as a yellow streaked coward like this guy.

By three quarter time as we slowly clawed ourselves back out of the ditch, Essendon's confidence crumbled and Dean Kent came of age as a footballer I started to delude myself into thinking we were a chance even though the sensible part of my brain firmly believed that there was no way Essendon were going to let us do it. The bit I was most pleased with, and not just for the obvious reason, was Grimes finishing the shot on the run near the end - because he'd had one earlier in the quarter from a similar position that he'd made a total hash of.

I'm firmly convinced that had Bellchambers kicked that goal it was too far back for us, but the air went out of the place like a balloon when he missed it. Not much more than 10 minutes later we were in front. What a great 10 minutes it was too, Kent's big run, the Salem/Watts forward pressure experience and the sudden realisation that we were not only in front, but more than a goal in front - and there was plenty of time left to throw it away. The fact the game went back into stalemate for the next few minutes - other than Kent's miss which would probably have killed it off - made it even more dramatic when Zaharakis showed up and kicked two goals in a row to put them back in front.

When only a desperate punch by Dunn stopped them getting a third goal in three minutes my heart was in mouth, and a gigantic David Parkin style vom wasn't far behind. Then glory.

Looking back at that last goal (watch on repeat) there were more heroics than a disaster movie. First Pedo rode a tackle and dumped his opponent on the ground and we were off from there. Eventually via all sorts of other wonderful play that we'll get into later Viney, who had been kicking with a wooden leg all night got the handball to Cross who hadn't been much better by foot (but AMAZING at pressure, and while all this was being set up he was running from the defensive goalsquare to get involved) who made the perfect decision to chip to Salem when he also had Viney and Dawes in the open.

Also an assist to Dawes, who could easily have run around and taken the handball over the top, for immediately telling Salem to calm down and have a shot. Imagine the carnage if he'd played on and the siren had gone or if he'd botched the handball? There would have been actual self-harm in the stands. So good work to Dawes for calming him down and to Salem for a perfect conversion. 10/10 stuff all round, nothing to fault.

Here's to the unsung hero of this part of the game, the girl who delivers the water and was clearly having the time of her life:

As we all were, but unfortunately there was still 19 seconds left for us to involve ourselves in the most heartbreaking finish in living memory. Not entirely sure why half our forward line decided to stay where they were after the goal instead of heading straight for the defensive side of the square. Eventually somebody must have realised that the game was still on and they took off like they were running in the Stawell Gift. It was admirable gut running, but having several of the players who are supposed to keep you from conceding a late goal gasping air after covering half the game in record time is what you want in that situation.

After hammering Bellchambers in the ruck duals all night (while getting led to the ball in general play all night it must be said) Jamar lost one just when it counted, and wouldn't you know it dropped right into an Essendon player's hands. At this point Screwjob Detection Machines across the country were exploding, especially when it went to Zaharakis again and he got his kick inside 50. Howe practically spoils Dunn and the ball sits straight up in the air for two Essendon players to run on to.

Now, at this point I was legitimately close to going the vom. At half time there was a mix-up at the Kaiser, I ended up having to eat whatever the hell sauerkraut is and it was 95% of the way back up when Garland thankfully didn't manage to connect with his wild attempt at a clearance which would probably have flown off sideways and landed in the arms of a defender. By this point I was just expecting a draw, but even that would have hurt more than Collingwood 2010 (the Petterd game) considering the comeback. Obviously nothing will ever compare to the 1987 Preliminary Final for heartbreak, but this would have at least been a 25/100 on the Buckenara Late Drama Scale.

From this point my memory is clouded by incredible fear so I need to rely on the replay to tell me what happened. Five seconds to go, Zaharakis continues his one man show by shrugging Howe's tackle but botches his handball under pressure from Nathan Jones. At this point there's two seconds left, but obviously nobody at the game knows this. He can't gather it, Watts crashes in but it bounces into Heppell's hands and with time expiring he's tackled by Bernard Vince, and as the clock hits zero Howe manages to put some bloke off his kick long enough for the siren to mercifully go as the ball is coming down 40 metres out. The final twist would have been if it had pitched at right angles and bounced through for a goal. The weird and wonderful world continues to throw up surprises.

In a nice nod to history I had ended up sitting almost exactly where I was four years ago when poor Ricky Petterd dropped that mark (after playing the game of his life) and I punched the living bejesus out of a poor, defenceless, unoccupied seat in frustration. Last night a seat, possibly the same one, took a beating like a champ in celebration. Apologies to MCG patrons of the future, because as they wash the seats once a season so you may find the skin off one of my knuckles on it. I look forward to my hand going septic in the next couple of days having come into contact with a seat that's been pounded by bird shit and the sweat of porky football fans all year.

So, just over halfway and we've successfully managed to drag finals contenders like Adelaide, Sydney, Collingwood, Port Adelaide, Gold Coast (!) and now Essendon down to our level this season. Which is magnificent, but at some point before the end of the year a side - take your pick out of North x2, Port when they play them again, Hawthorn, Geelong or Fremantle - is going to refuse to fall for this plan and just beat the living shit out of us. This team has come so far I can probably handle that happening once more, but I'm hungry to do the same to at least one of the other dud sides before the year is out.

There's no chance of spoiling the votes here, so a moment please for the all-new Lynden Dunn and one of the all-time great MFC defensive games. Between them the likes of Ingerson, Seecamp, Shanahan (yes), Garland, Rivers, Frawley, McDonald etc.. have played some belters in their time - and we'll all fondly remember the many times Chip tormented Jack Riewoldt - but none of them ever had 16 rebound 50's to go along with it. In fact nobody ever has since the stat was first record in 1998. Essendon's suicidal attacking style helped, but it wasn't just him mopping up poxy long bombs. There were also nine contested possessions, two contested marks, 12 intercept possessions (which at least implies there was an opponent within 50m) and god knows what else. Then, just when you thought you couldn't love him any more - and many of us got to the point last year where we couldn't for different reasons - this happens:

After the game Dunn ran over the other side of the ground when all the other players were hanging around the MCC area hi fiving the fans... He ran over to where we were, fist pumped the crowd with more agression I have seen from anyone, and let out the most brutal roar, one that a freakin spartan king would be proud of. Sent shivers down the spine, as if 5 years of frustration was released in one moment.

Now there's a guy that gets it. Like Nathan Jones and Chris Dawes he is ready to bleed for the cause and it's wonderful. I don't know or care who's on the All-Australian selection committee, but if he doesn't at least get nominated as part of the 40 man shortlist then all of them deserve to contract herpes. Looking at some of the dropkicks who were on the selection panel last year I'd say [CENSORED ON LEGAL ADVICE].

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Lynden Dunn
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Dean Kent
2 - Chris Dawes
1 - James Frawley

Apologies to almost everyone else, but especially (in no particular order) Cross, Howe, Watts, Grimes, McDonald, Jamar (for the taps), Jetta, Pedersen, McKenzie and Viney.

While Jones keeps a reasonable distance over Dunn in the major award it's practically all over in the Seecamp as your future All-Australian back pocket opens up a 22 vote lead on Jeremy Howe. If you'd told me they'd be the top two (reminder: Frawley has been DQed) at this time last year I'd have questioned your sanity. What a wonderful world.

36 - Nathan Jones
27 - Lynden Dunn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
24 - Dom Tyson
16 - Daniel Cross
10 - Chris Dawes
9 - James Frawley, Cameron Pedersen, Jack Viney
7 - Bernie Vince
5 - Jeremy Howe, Jack Watts
4 - Neville Jetta
3 - Matt Jones, Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Dean Terlich
2 - Rohan Bail, Jay Kennedy-Harris (Leader: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
1 - Jack Grimes, Mark Jamar (Co-Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jake Spencer (Co-Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

Stat My Bitch Up
The last time we failed to kick a goal in the first quarter and still won was Round 15, 1994 against Fitzroy at the Western Oval. Allen Jakovich kicked five. It's been a while. Strangely enough we've done it plenty of times (relatively speaking) in the same period after one goal first quarters. It's also the first time a team has ever won a game despite having 30 less inside 50's. Which was nice. And as previously mentioned Dunn has snatched Adem Yze's record for the most rebound 50's in a game.

The good news is that we're only 17 points behind St Kilda as the lowest scoring team in the competition now. Not sure if that's actually good news, until you realise we've conceded 350 less than them. Oh to have Round 1 all over again. We're now up to 62.50ppg - up 1.41 on last week. Still 4.6ppg short of last year, but getting closer despite last week's sludgefest.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With apologies to Dean Kent and his snap which would have won most weeks I can't go past the brass balls finish of Christian Salem to win the game. But it's not just Salem who wins the round of mini-golf in Lakes Entrance with 1968 Best and Fairest winner and former Premier of Tasmania Ray Groom - Cameron Pedersen, Nathan Jones, James Frawley, Jordie McKenzie, Tom McDonald, Dom Tyson, Jack Viney and Daniel Cross are all invited as well. They're going to have to split into smaller groups on the course.

And it might be the fact that I'm still as high as a kite but I would like to award the men above (except Ray Groom) the lead in this competition. It's out Pedersen vs Carlton and in Pedersen and Friends vs the Bombers. Congratulations one and all.

Essendon missed a significant opportunity to topple the Demon Army juggernaut here. The news about ASADA might have come late in the week, but they could have worked throughout the night to come up with an offensive anti-authority banner that would have brought the house down.

The rules about the AFL having to tick all the banners off before they’re displayed would have been troublesome, but may I suggest showing the banner inspector a decoy banner before unveiling the real one? No doubt there’d be a fine but we've already learnt that the Bombers have deep pockets and that their fans are happy to spend money to defend the indefensible.

When it came to their actual banner I was happy with the fact that it included a player portrait, which is always a sign that some actual effort has gone into creating it, but then somebody tried to create a hashtag and it all went horribly wrong:

Thank god for Twitter or I'd never have seen this thanks to their refusal to adhere to the conventions of society and display both sides of the banner. From the Southern Stand (*spit*) all I could see was that somebody had a won a competition, which was not half as good as our one which promised a National Lampoon's Animal House style free keg at the pub if we won. Instead they just stood there with it up in front of the race for five minutes while nobody came out. Organisational disarray aside they did have a reasonable font and there was no punce curtain so it was a decent effort.

Just to prove I'm not completely biased it must be noted that the six on the banner in the address of the free keg pub on the MFC banner was ever so slightly sideways. This did not affect the grading as the address was 146, and you can imagine that when we're playing Essendon somebody's hands got a bit shaky after they'd cut out 1-4...

12-0 Demons.

Crowd Watch
It looked like a horrible crowd in the minutes before the bounce, but 10,000 people must have been Marching for Hird because by the time Essendon came out the atmosphere had reached a fever pitch similar to the Nuremberg Rallies. In the end 44,000 was extremely reasonable considering the timeslot is absolute garbage - only 7000 less than when they waffled us on a Saturday night last year. For all the pisstaking of the Bombers and their legal woes at least you can't fault their fans for still coming out to watch, even if it is to boo heartily for three hours.

Not that they would be coming for the pre-match entertainment. How do they choose who gets to crank the air raid siren at the start of the match? Is there a raffle to be part of the worst pre-match 'entertainment' since the trumpeteer got the sack? By the time the girl doing it last night finished it had broken and started making a wheezing noise instead - just like her football team.

It was slightly disappointing that nobody went to the trouble of putting on an anti-ASADA carnival of hate. It's one thing to show up at training with a sign that has had all the care go into the writing and none into the rhyming, but where was that at the game? [NB: I've just noticed that the same guy did have a banner at the game. So good luck to him for having a go]. Where's the organised filth and fury? The closest thing I saw was a kid with a handwritten sign that said "BOO BOO MELBOURNE" which he held up when we kicked goals in the second quarter. Good on him for at least having a go.

The Feedback Feedbag

We get mail, and sometimes it's not abusive. For instance reader Doug writes in on the topic of last week's lightning fast Nathan Jones goal to point out that at some point in around the late 1980's Steve O'Dwyer (former name sponsor of our ruckman award) received a free kick before the first bounce, got a 50, kicked the goal and then when the play went back to the centre the exact same thing happened. Which is the sort of thing you'd see on every highlights package until the end of time if it happened now.

Doug's email did remind me of a similar incident featuring Nathan Carroll - of all people - when he kicked his single career goal at Docklands in Round 2 2006. He definitely kicked it courtesy of a 50m penalty and the biggest helicopter of all time from about 40m out, and I felt like it happened at the first bounce but why would Nathan Carroll have been within 90m of goal at that point?

Unfortunately as most of the Stat My Bitch activity on this site is courtesy of the greatest site on the internet AFL Tables and they've never done an analysis on quick goals the question will have to go unanswered for now. If you're really keen they do now have scoring times for all games from 2010 onwards. They're not the greatest website in the world for nothing. A few weeks ago I suggested I had an spot on my internet Mt. Rushmore alongside YouTube, Wikipedia and Twitter - and I think AFL Tables deserves it.

Next Week
More graveyard, this time against North Melbourne.  I have to assume that they won't fall apart in spectacular fashion like the Bombers did and will beat us like they have every other time since 2006 BUT at least I feel like we've got a chance to push them and hopefully kick a decent score in the meantime. Shame there'll be about 15,000 people there to see it.

Not sure any changes are absolutely necessary, but I'd love to get Maximum Gawn back in the side somewhere so we don't run Jamar into the ground. The Pornographer wasn't terrible, and he did hit one tackle just before he got subbed which was breathtaking in its brutality...

...but he did only have three disposals in two and a half quarters. Considering the hurting McKenzie put on Stanton, Public Enemy #1 of Essendon fans before they decided to turn on the rest of the world instead, I'm more than happy to have him in the side. I'm a bit worried that picking Maximum makes our forward line too tall, so I'd be just as happy with no change but...

IN: Gawn
OUT: Riley (unlucky)

The rest of the year
When the Giants won on Saturday night we were suddenly pitched into a six team royal rumble to 'avoid' the wooden spoon. Thankfully for both us and Footscray our wins on Sunday have given us a slight break on the competition, but even if we'd lost you wouldn't have thought there'd be too many shenanigans later in the year given recent 'investigations', and the fact that we don't really have all that many 'kids' to play anyway. That doesn't mean we're not going to point the finger at every marginally controversial decision - and the more we can point it somebody else the better. At the risk of sounding like 2009 all over again I'd be quite happy to take the wins thanks - and this time there's no way I'm going to succumb to peer group pressure and go along with any bizarre moves like playing Frawley in the forward line.

Meanwhile there's six teams who can win the spoon, five with decent claims to the flag and everyone except the Shithouse Six can still realistically make the finals. There might still be a huge gulf in class between top and bottom but at least the sides from 1-6 and 7-18 can put on regularly competitive matches. Is it any wonder the famous "this game is shit, change the rules" crowd have been a bit quieter recently? Even when we delivered a stinker last week people weren't suggesting zones and bizarre alterations. And thank god for that.

Was it worth it?

This section is almost totally irrelevant for any victory (and we hope to retire it as 'no longer required' in the near future), but especially this week. That was one of the all-time greats. How would you feel to be the person who started a "100 greatest wins" feature a year ago, only ever got to #69 (not deliberately) and has had the rest on a "to do" list since September. If I ever finish it I'll have to stick to the original concept of 1965-2013 but have no doubt that the Adelaide game would have snuck in the list somewhere and this would have been hammering away at the top 10 with a bullet.

Final thoughts 

Sunday twilight games are good for one thing. If you win - which I'm not sure we ever have in Victoria but will stand corrected (UPDATE - I forgot the Kruezer Kup tankathon, which was a 5.10pm start but that's even worse). The buzz kept me awake all night, but when my alarm went off this morning there was none of the usual shouting of obscenities I was up and on my way - infused by the teachings of the Book of Roos. Paul said let there be light, and thine heavens did open up with a bright flash.