Sunday 31 August 2014

The last act of defiance

NB: The following has not been re-read or edited due to extreme end of season apathy. Let me know if there are any grammatical disasters or anything that doesn't make sense more than usual. And now, let the good times roll once more.

And that's the end of that. Draw the shutters, pull the blinds down and put the VACANT sign up until 2015. We've finally dragged ourselves to the end of a season that can only be considered respectable in comparison to the one immediately preceding it and can now concentrate on the best time of the year to be a Melbourne fan - the delist, trade, draft period where every idea and every player seems like a good idea.

With due respect to the fact that I already miss the ongoing tension of footy season it's hard to deny that the last few weeks have dragged. Maybe there is some merit in the plan the AFL are floating to split the last few weeks on the season into three brackets so the slop can play each other in winnable games with something on the line making them worth winning. Wouldn't have stopped us throwing it all away against Brisbane or crumbling like dust against the Giants but at least in the other games we could have shown up and gone off our nut as we liked without having to shamefully face fans of sides well on their way to September.

I'm resigned to the fact that without a miracle occurring we're not going to make the finals until at least 2017 if ever again, so this system could give us a much needed boost at the end of the year after the rest of the competition has gone through us like a hot knife into butter for the first 17 weeks.

That's all coming in the future, if such a radical change ever has a chance of getting up, and for now the system that has served us for pretty much every season since the turn of the 20th century left us with one last engagement against a finals bound side who had absolutely nothing to play for other than extending a winning streak of almost 3000 days and not having anyone get injured or suspended before next week. They responded by putting out a glorified reserves side, which does not cost a $500k fine as long as you're not benefiting from it in the form of draft picks, and toyed with letting us win for the first half before turning the heat up just enough for 20 minutes to fry us all the way through.

Most Melbourne fans I know had even less interest in the match than Brad Scott. Citing fatigue with the season, hatred of the stadium or more interest in watching the latest instalment in the Richmond miracle (now just one less win in a row than we've had since August 2012) they made their excuses and chose not to attend. Which is more than fair enough, the thought of staying home on my couch and throwing chips at the TV really appealed to me at about 5.45pm, but I just had to complete the set and see us play one last time.

Besides that there was a chance that unlike most matches this year we actually promised to put on a half-decent show. There was no point keeping the defensive noose tightened right up to the neck and North B were always going to give us the opportunity of a decent game (whether or not we were capable of accepting the invite was another matter entirely), and while it seemed far fetched by some North fans to suggest we were a chance of knocking them off you never know. And with nothing left to play for at our end either a handful of us trudged to the unhappiest place on earth and saw Melbourne take the hint to kick their highest score of the year and go out looking a little bit like a proper football club.

It was appropriate for this season to both start and end at Etihad Stadium Docklands - both promised an improved experience before barely delivered and nobody wants to go back to either ever again. It's been a weird year, one in which we briefly threatened to leave the lower classes behind before it all petered out after the glory of the Essendon game and left us with memories of something historically terrible but considered a pass only because it followed something even worse. We 'almost' won a few other games too, but you can't claim a share of Division 1 in Tattslotto because you were a couple of numbers off.

In preparing to put this odd campaign to bed I did something rare and went back to read an old post. Usually they're dashed out and packed away never be revisited (until the book/film/album deal comes through) but took a look at the season preview to see what sort of lofty ambitions I set with my internet lunatic hat on (it rarely comes off) and how close we went to achieving them. The key line amongst so much waffle was “the goal for 2014 is simply to avoid abject failure” so I suppose in our own lowly way we've achieved that. Run the open topped bus down Brunton Avenue.

Despite that a strange season does strange things to people. Even assuming we were only going to win 4-6 games and finish third last I went on to say it was time that we stopped playing the victim and stand on our own two feet. Which is hardly compatible with my beliefs 25 very odd weeks later suggesting that our record qualifies us for special assistance, but as the Chief Football Writer of I’m happy to put my hand up and admit that the season toyed with my emotions in a way that makes this sort of about face seem reasonable. After all we are now 10-56 in the last three seasons, I think I was being optimistic thinking that we were going to show enough to be considered beyond the point of needing bailouts.

Other highlights from the season preview include the reminder that during a pre-season training session Hogan accidentally - and hilariously - handballed straight into Roos’ knackers. It turns out that's about as good as it got for Jesse before his back fell apart. There was also a point in the post where the font randomly changed, which was a neat throwback to the era when perfectly good paragraphs would end randomly without any explanation.

Testicular injuries and disgraceful proofreading practices aside I was relatively close to picking our final position, only getting us and GWS the wrong way around in a bottom three bracket alongside St Kilda. In fact for somebody who pays scant attention to what’s happening at other clubs I almost nailed the bottom five in order so if nothing else it can be said that I recognise bad football and the teams who play it.

It seems like such a long time ago that we went to Etihad for the very first time this year for that NAB Cup win against Richmond. I'd love to know how the two women who sat next to me that night and speculated that we might make a run at the finals coped with the ups and downs of the season. They seemed to be well rusted on types so I'm assuming they made it to the end of the year, but I just knew that no matter how much fun we had that night that it didn't point to anything near a finals tilt. That night talkback radio exploded with Richmond fans prematurely ready to throw themselves out a window, and midway through the year they were 3-10, below us on the ladder and not having a much better time of it.

You know what happened next, and I'm fantastically jealous of them for it. Their last nine weeks have been exactly what we're in this business for, the chance to experience something that you'll be talking about until the day you keel over. Melbourne fans of a certain vintage have got 1987 to fall back on, but even that eventually ended in disaster. I'll always remember the run to the 2000 Grand Final and the last three weeks of the 2005 home and away season, but other than that it's just random, individual memories of games and moments that will seem insignificant in years to come. Sucked in to the grandkids who will be forced to hear me reminisce about us coming back from 95 points down against Freo or the night we snapped our 3 year losing streak against Essendon. These things tend to be embellished a bit.

After all that, and having listened to Richmond complete the fairytale just minutes before, thank god we didn't get thrashed by the North Reserves. They were even taking the piss by starting Nick Dal Santo as the substitute, so if we went out and got properly flogged it would have forcibly deflated any air left in the season. We went in without Salem, replaced late by Barry due to illness, and the odd situation of playing a last round game without any highly rated kids or veterans playing their final game. Then when North booted the first three goals in a row it did look like business as usual for a side who had checked out (some permanently) a month ago. What a glorious, apt ending to the year it would have been to finally lose by 100 after threatening it for most of the last six weeks.

The first one came courtesy of Ziebell putting both hands in Dunn's back before he took the mark, but as we saw with Paul Puopolo the other week umpires are happy to let that rule slide as long as it leads to spectacle. Forget actually umpiring to the rule book of the day, they're happy to make arbitrary decisions all day but are too scared to get potted by commentators for denying a screamer. I reckon that the rule should be that you can do whatever you like as long as you end up marking the thing, but unfortunately it's not. A viewing of the highlights (signs I'm already suffering withdrawals) shows that the theatre-goers in the Fox Footy C-team knew full well it should have been a free but opted for spectacle instead - so don't expect it to ever get mentioned again. Hopefully this sort of thing ends up deciding a grand final just to unleash chaos.

Then in a bizarre twist of fate that nobody could see coming we kicked two goals in a row to even things up - which is an improvement on our usual first quarters already. The first even involved Viv Michie - in his best game for us yet - bursting through the middle of the ground and hitting a leading Chris Dawes coming down the centre of the 50 on the chest with a perfect kick. Can somebody please watch the tape of all our goals this season (won't take you long) and confirm that that it was the first time we've managed anything as beautiful all year? Even the award winning Salem goal against Essendon might have meant more but was more frantic attack than measured, AFL standard delivery inside 50. It was absolutely fantastic, reminiscent of Watts in the similar dead rubber last season and I want lots more of it next year. It helped that he kicked the goal.

Unfortunately after a hot start - including taking advantage of the worst attempt at a kick-in since the day Simon Buckley fell flat on his face - Dawes then gave us another tribute to Round 23 next year when he channelled the spirit of our half-time brawlers against the Bulldogs by waiting until the last gasp of the year to start trying to show aggression - and not being very convincing about it. Not only did he drop out of the game after he decided to go around belting everyone, but he'll probably miss the first match of next year now for no overall benefit to the club. If anyone wanted to lightly biff somebody in the name of flying the flag and/or 'leadership' then sometime in the last fortnight would have been good and would have got any suspensions out of the way this year.

Even when North reasserted their natural superiority by kicking another two goals we managed to recover with two goals in the last 90 seconds to be level at quarter time. God knows how because we were as loose as a goose defensively and not much better at moving the ball but whatever we did it seemed to be working. Not that we should have had the last one, where after Dawes took advantage of the North kick-in kock-up Gawn clearly - and foolishly - attempted to play on and kick the goal through only for it to bounce off a North player but somehow be called back. That near fiasco aside what I did enjoy as usual before he got injured were Maximum's ruck taps - which often went right down the throat of a teammate or very much to their advantage in space. Compare to Jamar, who was really good around the ground in his 150th and took some great running marks but wins taps by brute force and knocks them to anywhere he can. For this reason I will be absolutely filthy if Max has done his knee.

I've got no idea what this means, but while it seems to not be the worst case scenario who knows what it actually does mean. If he's not ready to play early next year it would be a tragedy for him personally but another tremendous kick in the guts for us just as they were starting to finally groom him as Jamar's successor. Fingers crossed for him, and it's not a total disaster if we have to go in next year with a Russian/Pedo combination (hello AFP) but just another winning moment in the recent history of this club. Don't the football gods know we're supposed to get through until around Christmas before suffering our first serious injury affecting the new season?

Who cares how it was achieved, we kicked four goals in a first quarter for only the second time all year and were right in it. That should have been good enough for anyone. Possibly not for the guy near me who spent the entire first quarter scaring nearby children by screaming obscenities at Watts, Frawley and bizarrely enough Dawes during his best quarter all year. If there was ever a good example of how this club damages people who are otherwise probably perfectly sensible individuals this was it. I didn't think Watts was all that bad, but whether he means it or not he still runs around off the ball looking like he can't be stuffed. I'm happy to sit back and enjoy the ride if he stays but I really think it would be better off for him to go elsewhere. If anything at least he pushed his trade value up, and it would have been even better if he'd managed to hold on to one of those overhead marks in the forward line later in the game.

Eventually class won out. Even when we were two goals in front on the second quarter it just seemed liked North were biding their time before they ran over us. In the end we had more inside 50's, but that stat is even more useless when you consider how often the ball goes from inside our forward line to somebody having a shot on goal at the other.

In the grandest tradition of the Melbourne Football Club 2007-2014 much of the damage was done by totally unheralded or previous unknown players. Kayne Turner, the youngest player in the comp as we were reminded about 72 times, kicked four and he of ludicrous hair and even more ludicrous number Ben Brown - who looked about as useful as Tom Gillies when we played them a few weeks ago - added another three, and three that were quality. If you're a young player the next best thing to being drafted by a top club is to break into the team in time to play us in your rookie season. Only the performance of Jack Martin for Gold Coast the next day will stop us from being on the end of yet another Rising Star nomination in the same week we ended our first season without one since 2003.

The problem is we've just got too many enthusiastic plodders. Players who will chase their hearts out and tackle themselves to a standstill but can't take important marks or dispose of the ball to save themselves. While even the best clubs have one or two of these useful soldiers we've got a record breaking surplus - Rohan Bail, Matt Jones, Dean Terlich, Aidan Riley, Jordie McKenzie etc.. etc.. How are we supposed to maintain four quarters of reasonable football with four of the above in our side?

For me Jones (M) is the best of the lot, but that's not saying much. His move out of traffic to set Kent up in the second quarter was fantastic, but then when Deano about 20m free of any opponent the kick missed him. Probably for the better than he kicked for goal on the run than from a set shot but it's the principal of the thing that matters. He doesn't bring the defensive side that Riley or McKenzie do, but as much as it may come as a surprise to some we don't need to fill the full 22 with negating players. I'm not a huge fan, and his contract extension still baffles me, but at least he can do some damage.

Speaking of contract extensions we achieved a hat trick during the week by giving all of Bail, Riley and Terlich new deals. They'll all be in the mix next year but if we don't get enough mids - and it's possible that any or all of Trengove, Toumpas and Salem will be in the middle next year along with any draftees or recruits from other clubs - so that we can reduce our reliance on the battlers to one or two then we're not going anywhere fast.

I was in love with Riley a few weeks ago, not least because he shares near enough to a name with the director of cinematic classics like What an Asshole, Buttface 3 and Dirty Panties 2, but with respect to the fact that he's still coming off snapping his leg last year and was named the sub every second week his disposal has been absolutely criminal in his last few appearances. It's not just the fatal kick across goal straight to an opponent, even his handballs in the clear were landing on the outstretched fingertips of teammates. He can obviously win the ball, and managed to get his head over it enough to win five free kicks last night but there's no point playing him if he can't complete a simple handball.

The MFC Battler Spirit achieved it's greatest ever moment in the second quarter when we eventually got that goal after a series of the worst kicks and handballs in the history of football. Fittingly one of the key participants was Bail, who gave us two of his 150% effort, 50% skill demonstrations which eventually ended up with Fitzpatrick running into an open goal to give us the lead shortly before half-time. North levelled it up with a point, but we'd still managed to get to half time neck deep in the game.

Then the true spirit of Melbourne bubbled to the surface, and we were left with one final sour taste in the mouth for the season as what disgustingly enough represented our highest scoring half since Round 14 last year was followed by a 25 minute struggle to get our first and only goal of the third quarter while North casually hacked away at us. Vince disappeared, Dawes got distracted trying to kill somebody and our run totally dried up. It was noted by others that in Round 3 last year we had nine goals on the board at half time and lost by 94 points.

With everyone in the side now contracted for next year they could have rolled over and got flogged in the last quarter and everyone would have just shrugged, gone "oh well" and got on with their off-season BUT out of nowhere we were gifted a reasonably interesting last quarter. We were too far behind to scare them (might have been a chance again 2013 North though), and eventually lost the quarter but with the Roos joining us in tossing defence out the window we at least got to see some goals. Admittedly I did think the avalanche was coming when they got the first goal within 30 seconds, but that was about the only difference between the two in the end.

Obviously most North players were entering self-preservation mode by this stage, but stuff it I'll take anything at the moment. Then something magical happened. I don't know it was a piece of improvisational genius from the King of Sizzle or just North giving up and letting us do what we liked but a botched, rushed attempt to play on by Nathan Jones ended with Kent, who proved himself to be a tremendously generous kent by centering the ball to Tom McDonald for the most eagerly awaited set-shot since Salem vs Essendon.

Now, the North fans sitting around us did not understand why we were making such a big deal out of this. Some of them even thought we were mocking North and proceeded to celebrate for the rest of the game like they were beating a decent team, but stats freaks everywhere (i.e me) were aware that Tom had gone a full 60 games since debut without kicking a goal - lifting him to fourth in this list. He had a practice against Hawthorn from a similar position a few weeks ago and sprayed it wildly, so I wasn't expecting much but by god he kicked it and there were SCENES in the stands. 5th best moment of the year behind all the wins.

Then in the most improbable twist of events in the history of mankind a few seconds later Kent found himself in exactly the same position and looked up to see Tom in exactly the same position for the exact end result. 6th best moment of the season, and a reaction in the stands that led to one of our North chums informing us that they were going to be playing finals next week. Only a shit bloke would ruin a moment like that by reminding us of the harsh facts. Obviously he was right, but at the time we failed to see it that way at the time and with respect to the kids in the middle of us words were exchanged.

It was a great way to end the season, and the siren should have gone off the moment the ball went through the goal - but there were at least two more major highlights. One was Kent crumbing Watts' dropped mark in wonderful fashion and Riley gifting North a goal with a horror turnover in the backline. We got to spaz out at conceding a goal to a ridiculous free kick and North fans were so bored that they accidentally booed Jamar instead of Dawes at one point. Something was truly to be had for everyone in those last moments. It really did end with a bang instead of a whimper even if nobody saw it.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal
5 - Dean Kent
4 - Dom Tyson
3 - Tom McDonald
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Viv Michie

Apologies to Dawes and Vince (both for the first half only), Watts, Cross, Viney, Jetta and Fitzpatrick

Final Leaderboard
Nathan Jones officially saluted a week ago, but today we hand him his fourth brown jacket and wish him all the best with the crippling back injury he'll eventually suffer from carrying so many others. His final tally is the second largest in Jakovich Medal history, second only behind his own 56 in 2012.

In other awards Dunn also built up an unbeatable lead last week, so it was just down to Jamar and the absent Jay Kennedy-Harris to confirm their title victories. JKH lifted the Hilton automatically when Salem had to pull out, and in a bittersweet twist Jamar confirmed that he wouldn't have to share the Stynes when Gawn limped off. Congratulations to everyone on your achievements this year.

54 - Nathan Jones (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
42 - Dom Tyson
27 - Lynden Dunn (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
22 - Daniel Cross, Bernie Vince
20 - Neville Jetta
17 - Tom McDonald
16 - Chris Dawes, Jack Viney
13 - Jeremy Howe
12 - James Frawley
9 - Mark Jamar (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Dean Kent, Cameron Pedersen
7 - Matt Jones
6 - Jack Watts
5 - Aidan Riley
4 - Rohan Bail, Max Gawn
3 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Dean Terlich
2 - Colin Garland, Jack Grimes, Jay Kennedy-Harris (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
1 - Jordie McKenzie, Viv Michie, Jake Spencer

Crowd Watch
I know our fans stay away from the place like it's giving off radioactivity (and if it is none of our players are enjoying unexpected superpowers from it) but even accounting for the fact that North have no fans either 17,174 did seem absurdly low considering they're about to make the finals. It sent me scurrying for the record books to find the last time we had such a poor crowd against another Melbourne team - only to discover that the answer was R18 last year for our 'home' game where North spifflicated us by 20 goals. Just to prove that it's not all our fault there's an even lower one against North at Docklands in 2009.

Not entirely sure we were contributing more than about 20% of the crowd last night, though I did randomly see Paul Hopgood in attendance as he came out of the bar with a tray full of beers, and the 80% who were there for North paid an appropriate level of interest for the contest by rarely breaking out in anything more than a polite clap. The loudest noise all night accompanied the "make some noise" graphic after North goals which had a screaming crowd piped in with no respect for the fact that as it was suggesting we were in the midst of a grand final atmosphere you could individually count the number of people paying the scantest interest.

None of it does anything for me but North do a pretty good job of giving their home game a 'home' feel. Having said that is there somebody at the club with a hard-on for DJs or what? You couldn't turn a corner without finding somebody pretending to twiddle with their deck while running a playlist through Winamp. There was one at the 'Hop Up Bar' outside (which is actually a good branding gimmick), another in one of the bars inside and even some bloke called DJ Generic spinning shithouse tracks like a remix of Groove Is In The Heart that nobody would have been interested in when the song came out in the first place.

The best thing about the night was a crowd of 17,000 is about as many as you can fit into the ground without risking a deadly stampede somewhere between the ground and Southern Cross Station after the match. I can't imagine what that retail corridor where they feed everyone going to the station into must be like for 50,000 crowd matches. I can't believe health and safety regulations allow them to funnel people through such a narrow space, if one person yells fire there'll be a disaster through there one day. There's one benefit to following a team without any fans.

And on that cheery note...

Stat My Bitch Up
We not only avoided GWS' record for the lowest scoring team since World War II, we increased our points per game by +1.22 to get us to 60.72. In the end we put up our lowest total score since the 18 game 1967 season, and our lowest PPG average across all games since 58.74 in 1920.

The new leaderboard for scoring futility:

1266 - 63.3ppg - North Melbourne (1968)
1270 - 57.72ppg - GWS (2012)
1305 - 65.25ppg - St Kilda (1945)
1336 - 60.72ppg - Melbourne (2014)
1415 - 70.75ppg - Geelong (1945)
1452 - 66.00ppg - Fitzroy (1996)
1455 - 66.13ppg - Melbourne (2013)
1477 - 67.13ppg - Melbourne (1997)
1509 - 68.59ppg - Gold Coast (2012)
1513 - 68.77ppg - South Melbourne (1972)

Of course down the other end the scoreboard was ticking over at a 2013 rate, but the surprisingly tight defence of the first half of the season still saw us reduce our PPG against from 122.3 last  year to 88.81 this time. Midway through the year we were set for the ridiculous scenario of putting up our best defensive numbers since the 60's while simultaneously scoring like we were playing in the Great Depression (which in a way we are) but this corrected itself and in the end it was only the best since 2004's home and away season (86.36) which in the end is nothing much to shout about.

Meanwhile Dawes' 20 goals narrowly avoided us seeing the first MFC leading goalkicker to score under that mark since 1919 - equalling Barrie Vagg's total in a three win 1966 season. It's also the first time we haven't had somebody kick 4+ goals in a game since 1919 and we're the first team since 1972 not to score over 100 in a match at least once. Good times.

Finally, because nobody has criticised me for only concentrating on negative stats for a while I'd like to leave you with the fact that our losing streak at Docklands now ranks 1st for consecutive losses and 8th for seasons (excluding the three seasons missed during WW1). Have a list of all-time MFC venue winless streaks should you want another reason to self-loathe yourself into the off-season:

1. Docklands 2007- (20 games, 8 seasons)
2. Princes Park 1970 to 1982 (17, 11)
3. Football Park 2001- (16, 10)
3. MCG 1980 to 1981 (16, 2)
5. Subiaco 2004- (15, 11)
6. Princes Park 1905 to 1919 (13, 12)
6. Victoria Park 1922 to 1936 (13, 13)
8. Brunswick Street 1897 to 1906 (12, 10)
9. East Melbourne 1901 to 1908 (10, 7)
9. Kardinia Park 1990 to 2005 (10, 10)
9. MCG 1915 to 1919 (10, 2)
9. MCG 1906 to 1907 (10, 2)
9. Victoria Park 1908 to 1920 (10, 10)

The good news is that should we actually break this record next year - humour me and pretend that it happens the first time we play there - there's every possible chance that in the next couple of years Subiaco could overtake it and grab the record back in another victory for our glorious modern history. Our only hope of avoiding it may be the new stadium in WA being finished before we can get to 20+ losses there. At this point I will, like we have with Football Park, take the easy way out. We are truly living in an extraordinary era.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With respect to the two goals by the King of Sizzle which provided me with as much excitement as anything other than the wins this year I'll have to go for the Kent Krumb in the last quarter.

It wouldn't have happened if Watts had taken the overhead mark he was in perfect position for, but I'll take some quality crumb no matter how it's achieved.

Sadly for Dean even this couldn't get in front of Salem for Goal of the Year. The youngster takes home the Davey for his winner against Essendon, ably assisted by nine different teammates. Congratulations on being the first player to take home what is sure to become one of the great MFC awards.

The Demon Army ends the season 21-1 with another solid effort. Their banner offered a free keg win, lose or draw (because the Duke hasn't had to give away the one when we win for 10 weeks) while their opposition put out the same half-hearted effort as their team - with weird spacing between the lines that forced some of the text on the back right to the top but left a huge blue gap in the middle. They also had four curtains, so with four curtain penalties applied it's one last thumping victory for the good guys.

Next Week
The September Exhibition Series is always worth paying some sort of attention to. Applying the usual rule that Victorian teams can piss off because if we're not winning the flag I don't want to hear about it from anybody else I'll be going for teams in the following order: Port Adelaide, Fremantle, Sydney, Richmond (top amongst Victorian teams just for #chokeyourselfwithatie), North, Hawthorn, Geelong and Essendon.

Also at some point in the next few weeks the traditional Demonblog End of Season Spectacular will land. You won't want to miss this year's performance by the Solid Brown Dancers or a special guest host we've been waiting years to use. Watch out for a link on Twitter, or if you're not into that sort of thing check back here every week until I can be bothered writing it.

Next Year
Not to harpoon any sense of optimism you may have gained from our narrow defeat to North Melbourne Seconds, but I think we're in for another long year next season. I can't see anybody other than St Kilda and us who will tumble into the bottom two, and I feel like almost everyone narrowly above us is going to keep moving up a faster rate than us.

I could bitterly take second last again as long as it's a strong second last with at least six wins and a decent break on last place instead of avoiding it on percentage. I'd rather finish somewhere between 1st and 9th but let's be realistic we've still got a lot of players who we need to ordinary and good ordinary players. All I know is that if we win four games again and don't show any signs of life for 2016 then I might be sitting in an empty stadium by Round 23 2015.

As for outs, based on the latest contracts list I'm going to assume no Mitch Clark miracle and suggest that on top of Clark and Byrnes, all the uncontracted players in Blease, Nicholson, Strauss and Tapscott are gorn plus Frawley and Watts. That's eight total, enough to work with it but not too many that we'll have to go out and get more campaigners to fill all our open spots. Shame on Blease and Tapscott but Dean Kent and injury have killed them off. I'm open to keeping Tappy as a rookie though.

Alternatively we could reverse the 'no dickheads' policy and instead boost our ranks with all the available players who have got a reputation for troublemaking and/or criminal activity. IN - Daniel Connors, Mitch Robinson, Chris Yarran, Travis Tuck, Liam Jurrah, Ahmed Saad, Colin Sylvia etc..

If they're all unavailable then I suppose I want more midfielders, a decent kick across half-back, a defender who can allow Howe to go back forward again and for god's sake give us a crumber or give us death - Kent looked like the small forward of our dreams last night but it wouldn't be the first time somebody looked good in one end of season game and was never seen again - at least give us another option to put the pressure on him and JFK.

Was it worth it?
In the end it was. At times it was as frustrating as ever, and it didn't fill me with any real confidence for next year but it was nice to play with no consequence and no next week to think about. Now let the blood run free.

Final Thoughts
For my sins I made it through the season without missing a game in Victoria. First time since 2011 after self-excluding from Kardinia Park in 2012 due to post-186 trauma and missing 300 points worth of losses at the MCG last year due to weddings/associated functions. My family and friends are quite aware that the only events I'll miss a game for are births, deaths or marriages but now that I've somehow acquired a family (and a reminder that my kid hasn't been legally alive for a win yet, though hopefully she enjoyed the other four in utero) I don't like my chances of pulling it off again.

I also don't like my chances of getting through another season of writing all the posts, so please work on perfecting your own spiteful brand of hateful invective during the off-season because for one reason or another I may be calling upon you the dear reader (yes, you specifically) to chip in.

Anyway, for the 10th year in a row (!) thanks to everybody who has stuck with me throughout the year no matter how self-indulgent things got at times. Even if no more than a handful of people are reading now - and most of those who are seem to follow other clubs - let future generations see it as a true and accurate record of time (mis)spent following this club.

So until next year (via a handful of posts over the next few months), I will see you @demonblog on Twitter and back here for 2015.

As the Japanese proverb goes - Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

The End.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Young, Dumb and Full of Glum

(Note - if you'd like to skip straight to discussion of the Round 22, 2014 match between Melbourne and West Coast please press page down several hundred times until you see a video. But why in god's name would you want to do that? You're better off reading until the video then stopping - Demonblog Marketing Department)

It’s a proven fact that everything was better when you were growing up. Music, TV, films, games (video or otherwise) and everything else except – in my case at least – the lack of a system that allowed you to watch on demand videos of people hurting themselves with amusing commentary played over the top.

The theory holds true when it comes to footy. With respect to the run we had in the second half of 2000 I've never had a more enjoyable season than 1998 when I was 16/17. Good luck then to anybody aged 8-18 that hasn't already swapped footy for mugging old ladies and who is planning on looking back misty eyed at the good times of their youth misspent watching this club. There's probably been enough highlights to get you through five to 10 minutes, but we're probably not going to have enough material to put out a DVD.

The Deepression unleashed by last Sunday threatened to ruin my entire week. I progressed quickly through the five stages of grief and skipped directly to anger. That afternoon I'd yelled at the heavens (or more accurately the roof of the Ponsford Stand) in frustration, trudged home with a scowl on my face, passive aggressively mashed my keyboard until the early hours of the morning then showed up at work to be greeted with genuine sympathy and somebody actually saying "I didn't think we'd see you today after what happened."

If that was all it took for me to refuse to show up they'd have hardly seen me last year, but as much as I probably should have taken the hint and gone home I'm not quite at the point of next level football related insanity where chucking a sickie due to being upset over a game seems like a reasonable idea. By that time my jaw had just about unclamped without surgical intervention but I still spent the day sulking about the events of the previous afternoon. What that was supposed to achieve I couldn't tell you, it was as pointless as a player complaining to an umpire about a decision but it feels like the right thing to do in those circumstances.

Then as time approached to stomp home and masochistically watch our 'performance' get torn apart on all the footy shows, the news dropped that we'd launched the most audaciously timed attempt to take the heat off a performance in the history of footy by releasing a statement confirming we were having a ping at a priority pick in this year's draft. Given that the default position of all fans is to crack the shits at anything that may benefit others it was always going to cause chaos - and that it did in magnificent fashion that lasted the rest of the week.

My spirits wouldn't have been boosted nearly as much if it wasn't for the reaction of others, but watching pretty much everyone who isn't associated with us do their block over the 'audacity' of a club making an application that the AFL probably won't even consider before tearing up was glorious. Opposition fans would point out that if this is the sort of thing that makes us happy then we must not have seen much success recently. Well that's the point isn't it dumbass?

As every format exploded with the great, the good and the educationally suspect potting us I was enjoying an energy boost not seen since the Essendon game. While bored journos were busy elbowing women and children out of the way to get to their desks and write an article condemning us I was busy climbing into the Hertz foxhole, taking up a position behind the Betta Electrical flamethrower and preparing to defend the arguably indefensible like no time since the darkest days of the Tankquiry.

Less than 24 hours before I'd been slaughtering everybody involved (in the on-field stuff anyway), but if anybody's going to throw hand grenades at this club we don't need to outsource the job. We'll do it from a position of genuine concern while the disaster tourists can concentrate on playing finals, achieving wonderful mid-table mediocrity or kneeling down and saying thanks to their chosen deity that your club hasn't ended up in the same death spiral as us. Yet. At which point you will clap like seals when your team invokes the famous rule 19.2 and asks to be granted some sort of priority national draft selection between picks 1 and 100.

As we discovered after 186 and have rediscovered several times since when it all goes horribly wrong the most comfortable thing to do is to adopt the sort of siege mentality that North fans invented but we've perfected and strike like a viper at anyone who goes above and beyond to lay the boots in. When everyone stopped talking about the putrid performance and instead turned on us for having the gall to try and get ahead after years of being cannon fodder the flag was flown agenda for the rest of my week was set. King of Corporate Sizzle Peter Jackson you mastermind, one minute I was about to despairingly throw all my MFC merch onto a bonfire (metaphorically at least, I've got NFI how to create a bonfire), and the next I was ready to punch on to defend the club's honour against anyone.

And with the knowledge that it would probably end in a demoralising defeat on-field I went about enjoying myself in the meantime, inciting every Melbourne fan I knew against the whingers and windbags who blew a gasket when the news came out. I'm not sure violence was ever mentioned, but a lot of things were said so best not to rule anything out.

Now even though I'm writing this from deep inside a compound in Waco, Texas it should be noted that even I don't think we should get a priority pick in the top 10 of this year's national draft. In fact there's a part of me that wants us to get absolutely nothing so that on the off-chance that we actually get it together one day under our own steam it will be more satisfying to shove it right down the throats of our many detractors. On the other hand at the moment we're footy's equivalent of an unconscious person lying on the footpath and you'd like to think that somebody would recognise this and call for some sort of help.

It's important to remember - no matter how media friendly the idea of us automatically getting a pick immediately before our first selection - is that the rule effectively says the league can offer anything it likes from pick 1 (which would cause Alan Richardson's head to explode before he had the chance to enjoy being the coach who returned the wooden spoon to Victoria) to the entire top 10 (even better!) or pick 109. There's no formulas, they could - and probably should - wheel a blindfolded Gil McLachlan into the boardroom and get him to throw a dart to determine what assistance is provided.

For the avoidance of doubt this is the law we're talking about. Interpret it as you wish then untangle your knickers before they cut off blood supply.

Obviously the last bit gives the league their opportunity to keep the peace with other clubs and play the hero to 'powerful figures' with newspaper columns of rapidly diminishing readership by turning us down. It wouldn't be a surprise, the league has all but said there's no chance. If they weren't even going to consider it on its merits we may as well have submitted it written on the back of a napkin - but let's just assume for now that due process is actually going to be followed and isn't actually a hasty attempt on our behalf to hush up Sunday's fiasco which has roped everyone - especially me - in hook, line and sinker.

Even if it's all going to end up with us getting naught in a few weeks time, with journalists who aren't allowed near the finals series writing opinion pieces about 'how sanity has prevailed', the question of just how badly a team has to perform to get one of these mystical priority selections is worth having. I would agree with many people in that the rule should be abolished entirely, but for now it's still there and any administrator in our situation would be negligent to not at least have a free swing at taking advantage.

We've been here before of course - last year the league turned us down at our lowest point by claiming we had “significant upside in young talent that is currently on the club’s list”. ‘Significant’ was a bit of a stretch then and it’s even more unrealistic now. At least then the 8.5 win 2011 season would have been counted in the equation, moving a year forward and counting just the last three seasons gives us the outrageous figure of 10 wins in our last 65 matches. Richmond, a club regularly mocked for lurching from one shambles to another, has won seven in their last seven. As this article points out we've been in the bottom two on the ladder – in 16, 17 or 18 team formats – in 98 of 179 rounds since the start of 2007. That’s almost 54.8% of the time since we last played finals spent as one of the two worst sides in the land. How low can you go?

So we've established that - rightly or wrongly - there's a bit in the AFL rulebook that says draft assistance will be considered based on factors including “the recent on field performance of a Club”, and we have established that over three seasons Melbourne has won 10 games with a percentage of 62.64 - making them the fourth worst club since the national draft began after Sydney (8 wins, 1 draw 1992-1994), Greater Western Sydney (8 wins and counting 2012-2014) and Fitzroy (8 wins 1994-1996). One got concessions during, one got concessions in advance and one died in the arse.

It has also been established that over three seasons where there is not even the merest suggestion of 'tanking' that we're statistically worse than any of the friendless early 90’s Brisbane Bears, the salary cap scandal era Carlton, the rubbish without good reason early 2000’s St Kilda, expansion Gold Coast and any other shitbox side you can name between 1990 to this day.

There were probably people threatening to march down the street in protest at Carlton getting a priority (under the automatic PICKS FOR ALL rules of old) after 2003 when they'd throttled themselves via farcical list management decisions and penalties for conclusively proven draft rorting. I was probably one of them, and that's the moral of this story isn't it? Until you've been in the same position don't judge what a shithouse time other supporters are having. Karma has most certainly caught up and run me off the road for anything I said about them at the time. It's like when bell-ends who follow huge clubs that are (these days at least) too big to fail say things like "I can't understand why North Melbourne didn't go the Gold Coast" or "why don't they just merge St Kilda and the Bulldogs". If you can't see a scenario in which your own club might be the one getting relocated or merged then hush up arsehole.

Back to the issues of the day, if you take into account the evidence of our recent record - and pointing to alleged recent improvements is pointless when this group has lost only one less game by over 90 points in the last three years than they've won in total - it seems to me (from an admittedly biased point of view) that there's now way that an honest appraisal of our situation couldn't decide that there was a need for some sort of assistance, no matter how token, while keeping a straight face. The rule suggests that 'other factors' will be taken into account but I fail to see what can be said that would cancel out 10 wins in three seasons. At this point we'd need six wins next year to match the early 90's over four seasons and eight (8! VIII!) to be as good as Fitzroy immediately before they snuffed it. Presumably GWS will win plenty next year and leave us stone motherless at the bottom of the charts.

“Oh but you've had 200 other top picks and wasted them” cry people from the back of the line at Centrelink while waiting impatiently for their own handouts. Big whoop, how else other than suffering a major tragedy or getting half their players banned after shooting them up with drugs is a club ever going to win 10 matches in three seasons without somebody somewhere have committed acts of ineptitude on a grand scale? There's no doubt that we've made major errors in drafting and development over the years, but the good thing about football clubs is while the people who put teams in these positions are eventually turfed out the fans remain - and if it makes you feel better to hunt down and torment future generations of fans for what others have done then you're probably the sort of person who pulls the wings off flies or hunts foreign backpackers like sport in your spare time.

“OH BUT THE TANKING” they cry, with voices quivering, tears pouring down their cheeks and their lungs burning from the injustice of it all. What tanking is that exactly? You've got theories on what happened in 2009 and I've got theories about what happened in 2009. We probably think the same thing but in the end the only thing the club got pinched for not lagging in one of the two fall guys employees for cracking a gag. Almost everyone involved in that saga - including most of the players - has gone other than a ridiculous number of people have remained loyal to the club as everything's gone wrong since, but nobody's all that concerned about them or the generation of supporters who we've lost, they're too busy moaning that we never got properly pinched for playing Frawley forward and Dunn back. It's like following somebody who has been cleared of murder around the street screaming "KILLER!" at them just because you don't like the jury's decision. So let's have that argument off the table thanks.

The idea of one pick doesn't seem so bad considering we'd be onto our third and St Kilda their second under the old rules, but I can understand the apprehension of opposition fans when they're force-fed the talkback friendly idea that once the Frawley compensation is applied we're going to get three picks in the top five. This is obviously highly unlikely - as previously discussed any priority pick awarded has absolutely no connection to which spot you finish in on the ladder and it would cause the likes of Newbold or McGuire to have an aneurysm - but we all want to firebomb opposition clubs when they do something that might even moderately inconvenience ours. Would I care about the competitiveness of another club if it wasn't mine that was in the handout queue? Of course not, I'd be on here calling them filth. It's the nature of footy fans.

I even understand that professional outragists and coffin kickers like Caroline Wilson, Mark Stevens and #ballbagbarrett are duty bound to sell papers and drive website hits by arguing hysterically against it but I'm happy to debate anybody that we are in exactly the situation rule 19.2 is there to deal with. The Saints may very well be in the same position as us next year (if they win one game) and in that case they can have one as well. Everyone else should take another minute to appreciate that their club is somehow above being involved in this discussion. Follow a team that hasn't scraped the bottom of the barrel for a few years? Well what are you complaining about, get on with enjoying it instead of trying to torpedo those of us trying to better ourselves.

It’s not a case of 'deserving' a pick of some kind, it’s that we've won 10 games in three seasons and have been so desensitised to the point where we're celebrating four wins and a percentage of 67.8 as progress. Emotive arguments about development, tactics and unproven allegations about previous conduct shouldn't play a part when discussing a team with this sort of heinous record. Like I've said before I’ll take absolutely anything from the league just to prove this point. If they give us pick 20 with the proviso that it must be traded fair enough, if they give us pick 30 and say it has to be used on a 30-year-old it’s the thought that counts, if they promote the entire cast of The Recruit onto our rookie list it doesn't matter – as a fan who has sat through years of this shit I just want it officially acknowledged that we have been as horrible as I remember and that it hasn't all been a bad dream. They can then officially shut the gate and add a 19.2 (b) which says we can never, ever get a priority selection again - just don't try and spin bullshit about how we're actually not all that bad off because we've got Jesse Hogan and pick 2 on the way. The last thing we want to do is throw another kid to the wolves and watch him get slaughtered like we did with Toumpas last year.

On the other hand I'm perfectly comfortable for the league to say no to the request as long as the rule is abolished on the spot or it’s established that the future criteria for assistance is that you have to be even worse than we've been in the last three years. I hope it's not because they've gotten nervy over the complaints of some poon with an iPad and an column. If they’re going to turn us down I hope it’s with a bouquet of flowers and a lovely note that says “sorry we can't help, but we've decided to delete this rule once and for all. PS we don't like Barrett either”.

So, in summary we've 'qualified' but will still go home empty handed. Which is fine, but what I refuse to accept is this idea being floated (including by some of our own) that we're somehow 'embarrassing' ourselves, the competition or football fans in general (has anybody tried to get the rent-a-quotes from the AFL Fans Association on the line for a comment yet?) by simply throwing out a hail mary shot at getting ourselves something for nothing. Could anyone who has watched us for the last three years – let alone the last seven – think that we haven’t been kicked while we were down enough that there’s nothing left on or off-field (excluding major criminals acts or corruption scandals) that can embarrass us? If last Sunday wasn't all the humiliation you needed to take whatever you can get the you've got an amazing tolerance for this sort of stuff or haven't been watching closely enough.

Forget draft picks, do you know what I find embarrassing? The fact that Hawthorn sold $3.7m worth of merchandise last year against our $700k and you can’t buy even buy a kid a Melbourne birthday card in a newsagent. Having people in the office treat me like my entire family has been wiped out by the plague when I walk in on Monday or watching a side we hoped had regained some respect a few weeks ago heartlessly folding like an umbrella against 19 men. That’s embarrassment. Going to football’s soup kitchen again and hoping we get a result doesn't even come close on the shame scale. The idea that it will affect membership is fanciful when you're trying to sell people a fourth rebuild, and I personally couldn't give a rats if any of the players don't like it. Only the fringe players should be worried about somebody coming in and taking their job - the rest should want as many good kids as possible to try and get some life into the place and if they don't then there's 17 other clubs and/or several state leagues who may be interested in their services.

It's getting to the point where we're probably only days away from hearing more good ideas from other club presidents, like when Collingwood and Hawthorn wanted us to be given extra salary cap space last year with which to bankrupt ourselves. Sadly we have to rely on the goodwill of the better run clubs to stay alive but fucked if I'm going to sit back and be pontificated to by their fans or cheerleaders in the media. Not sure what I can do about it on a lightly read blog but that's where the rest of the community comes in.

Don't roll over and let these pricks tell you that the club should fold/merge/relocate (and I'm not even going to post a link to that peanut who wrote the article trying to merge us with St Kilda because it doesn't deserve clicks, and I'm already ashamed to have provided one) or that we're doing the wrong thing by asking the question on priority picks. The way Melbourne fans have watched the last few years and retained the ability to laugh at themselves should be studied by medical research institutes, but the hate that this application has unleashed should serve as a reminder to the disillusioned that after 155 years we're not going to be the generation who lets this club get dragged off to the gas chamber.

Not all of us have endless resources of time or money to tip in but I suggest fighting like a bastard on whatever front you can to stick it up these people. As the saying goes “if you sit by the river long enough you will see the body of your enemy float by.” Ever since I was a kid I've had a premonition that I was going to die before I was 50 and haven't done much in the way of exercise or not eating kransky to stop that happening so I've got less than 20 years to wait out the arseholes and watch the Melbourne Football Club finally come out on top at least once. And at that point I'm going to hoist Mike Sheahan onto my shoulders in celebration no matter how infirm both of us are.

It's reached the point where I may have become a little obsessed with the idea of revenge - and I'm not the only one but I'll refrain from identifying the many other people who are clearly exhibiting the same symptoms. I'm hardly going to start an AFL version of the Islamic State but at this point I'm interested in exploring any means necessary within the laws of the game and the country to at least achieve a respectable performance again.

It's not just about what happens on field, think of the difference in job satisfaction for the people who actually work for the club if they end up working for a decent club instead of a trainwreck - possibly for the first time in most of their careers with the club. The membership team whose days revolve around trying to get people to fork out to watch us, the person who has to sift through hundreds of horrid tweets every day looking for genuine questions or enquiries and poor old Matt Burgan living the dream as the chief football writer for the he's followed all his life then spending most of his year trying to put a positive face on one shithouse defeat after another. I expect that Collingwood's offices probably resemble the Wolf of Wall Street where they eat caviar for lunch while our team are forced to eat tuna from a can with one hand while taking an abusive phone call from somebody who wants to talk about Jack Watts on the other. I want success for these people too. Not even remotely as much as I want it for myself, but they're definitely included in my thoughts.

Everyone could do with a lift, and come Round 1 next year nobody other the usual whiners will remember how we got one extra kid if it came as the result of the kindness of the league in recognising our plight. If Scullgove had turned out as we'd expected nobody would even be talking about 2009 now and the process fair or foul which led to us getting picks 1 and 2 would be talked about as if it were genius and anyone who didn't want the extra pick an idiot. Well, I didn't want it at the time (and that's on record if you search the archives) and only reluctantly went along because I was promised good times which failed to materialise. Now we can get something similar by just sending in something written on MFC letterhead, so where's the shame in that? Every building block is another step towards that glorious point where you will (metaphorically if you wish) have your arm elbow deep in the throats of one of our detractors while you scream "HOW DO YOU LIKE US NOW?"

Now that's over I'd like to make a speech:

Anyway, assuming this priority farrago actually turns out to be a surprise win for the YES campaign I look forward to a shocking heel turn involving two of the AFL's favourite charity cases when it’s revealed that we get a top pick but have to trade it to GWS – which they will then on-trade to somebody else for quality senior players in order to fast track their program of winning nine flags in a row. It’s at this point that Gil McLachlan, Peter Jackson and whoever the CEO of the Giants is stand in the ring with garbage raining down on them and admit that they were in cahoots all along. And if that happens I'll applaud, because right now I'd make a deal with the devil himself to get something approaching success in the next couple of years. Watch this backfire when they trade us $cully and I have to unconvincingly pretend to support him in the future.

So anyway after all that point/counterpoint/distraction/diversion we lost a game of Australian rules football by 66 points to the West Coast Eagles. Which hardly seemed a fitting end to a week where journos, pundits and tightarses around the country lined up to spit on our grave. I wasn't expecting a famous victory like the day our team marched off the ground in unison sticking their finger up at the locals or that one in 1998 when we'd been 2014 level shit for a fortnight beforehand but it would have been nice to give them a scare. Easier said than done against a team almost single handedly propping up the league's scoring averages over the last month (while we drag it down) when we couldn't even play well there when we were a decent team but the idea of at least making them a bit hot on the collar appealed. Next thing you know we're 31-0 down and staring at the prospect of our first 100 point loss in over a year.

The opportunity that the priority pick story gave to be shot by both sides of footy's class divide reinvigorated me like nothing since the Essendon win but I doubt it made much difference to the players. Some people (probably those whose names end in Aroline Wilson) will claim the priority talk caused it to push their own agendas, but that ignores the fact that at the moment any motivational tactics you attempt on this side would be like trying to give a pep talk to the crew of the Spirit of Tasmania before going into battle with the US Fifth Fleet. Given the location, the occasion of Dean Cox's last home game and the fact that we've looked like a team playing on an end of season trip for months they were always going to be lambs to the slaughter no matter what happened. Peter Jackson faxing Gil and saying "how about it?" was never going to be a factor.

I actually thought they might have been a bit hasty in hurling ourselves to the floor of footy's welfare department and asking for mercy despite being toothless and reeking of booze last week. Unless there was a deadline they had to meet it seemed like we'd have a much more compelling story to tell after being used as target practice by the Eagles this week. Now we'll probably be denied under the "oh but you won the last quarter", how bad could it be?" argument. Never mind that the best side we could put out involved several players who should be nowhere near an AFL ground and who spent a fruitless evening trotting around Subiaco looking like second class citizens.

Had we won it would have really stuffed up all that stuff at the top that I wrote when Siege Mentality was dripping out of me like I had the Ebola virus, but it seemed a reasonable bet that there wasn't going to be any surprises. Oddly enough in the end we got off relatively lightly. It might have been worse, and at times in the first and third quarters it looked as if we were going to be violently assaulted but instead with West Coast losing interest in boosting their percentage to outrageous levels we managed to 'restrict' the damage to 11 goals - which is practically a thriller as far as we're concerned recently.

Like a fool I eagerly awaited the game all day even though I knew what was going to happen. Unfortunately I failed Time Zone 101 and initially misread the time of the game as being 3.40pm AEST, which would have gotten it out of the way and left me with the night to do something more important/write abusive blog posts. More likely the latter, but even when I suddenly realised that I'd made a horrible mistake and would have to add two hours from the Perth time not subtract and wait until 7.40pm for the game I was still excited. Why I could not actually explain without the involvement of a psychologist. I'd try and book a session Melbourne's but despite another year of bottom four football we don't have one - but that's a whinge for another day.

It may have been that I was the only person other than Dean Cox's family who were interested. Even Fox Sports lost the plot and played a sponsors message several times during the evening letting me know that "this program is bought to you by Gold Coast Suns vs St Kilda at Metricon Stadium. Tickets available now". Which is a tempting offer except for the fact that the game was played on the 2nd of August. Then to confirm my suspicions that they weren't expecting much in direct competition with Geelong vs Hawthorn and were expecting to get community TV style viewing figures Tony Shaw turned up.

I'm surprised Fox even bothered sending anybody over - they should have hired a local boundary rider, pretended the commentary team were there, called the game from Fox Footy's studios and saved themselves a few thousands dollars. It wasn't just them though, even the 'commentary' seems to have given up at the 16 minute mark of the third quarter.

If nothing else Tony and Dermott Brereton were reasonable value in an otherwise meaningless game for the way they sat there becoming increasingly exasperated with our long line of stupid decisions and amateur mistakes as if they expected something better from this side. You could hear it in Tony's voice that he was secretly delighted to have discovered a team who are worse than Collingwood when he coached them. It tipped over into patronising more than once but if there's ever been a non-expansion side who deserve the "oh wee laddy you had a go but you're just not good enough" treatment (complete with ruffling of hair) it's us.

It seemed we were trying to be a bit more adventurous this week, and thank god for that, but we're a week late and not even remotely good enough to pull off that sort of thing. Other than the enormous pay packet who'd be Paul Roos? As much as I hung shit on him for those ridiculous comments about tanking after the Brisbane game how are you supposed to put any sort of plan into action when your players make such horrific skill errors. We always seem to have a reasonable disposal efficiency, but it seems like a fair share of the cock-ups come either right in front of goal or bring one of our attacking moves to a screeching halt.

He's only got himself to blame in some cases - for instance the aforementioned aggressive extension of Matt Jones' contract in January for reasons best known to people within the club - but when you see a player totally ignore Fitzpatrick running a mile clear on his own and then try to kick it to Dawes as he's been squashed in a 2-on-1 further up the ground you can't help but wonder what it would take (other than the fabled insurance job) to replace enough of our players with enough talent to avoid all the promising kids (all one or two of them) having their development stopped in its tracks by playing for a terminally shit side.

With a forward line consisting of talls and nothing else - but with Frawley back where he belongs in defence - it was fairly obvious that unless we actually marked the ball inside 50 we'd have scant opportunities to score. And so it was - if Kent was supposed to be the concession to a small forward he wasn't having much impact and given that none the forwards we did have were likely to lead to the ball inside 50 it's not surprise that the only goal we got out the first quarter was courtesy of a speculative hoof at goal by Bernie Vince when he couldn't find anyone else to kick to. Of course in true MFC fashion after 15 minutes of scrapping our hearts out to get one goal we then turned around and gave it straight back from the bounce, but that's to be expected now.

Surely one of you works at or has access to Champion Data - is there some way of confirming that no team has had offered leads inside 50 over the last three seasons (at least) than we have. 50% of the ones we did have were probably from Watts in the two games against the Bulldogs last year, but instead of trying to use him to advantage we the ironic scenario of watching him get flogged by former MFC delistee Jamie Bennell. He got better in the second half but the 'much maligned' Jack was getting absolutely buried on commentary at the start - and not without some justification either. The trade-off for his 'laconic' approach has always been his quality disposal when he actually can get the ball, but early tonight he couldn't even complete a simple handball or foot pass. That doesn't leave him isolated amongst Melbourne players, but at least most of them (sort of) make up for it by attacking the ball like men going over the top from a World War I trench. That most of them then have absolutely no idea what to do with it is their issue. I have no doubt now that if we can get a top 20 pick out of anybody for him that he'll be off to win a Brownlow somewhere else. If I turn on the TV next year and see him majestically leading out of the square and taking marks 30m out for Footscray I may actually kick the TV in.

Speaking of players who won't be around long there was further mockery from the commentary team - and my loungeroom - when Frawley stood the mark for a Josh Kennedy kick and forgot to jump as ball hit boot because he was too busy doing a Dunn and throwing grass at the kicker only for the ball to go about 30cm above his head exactly where his arms would have been.

At one point he hit the deck clutching his knee and his future life as the highest paid defender in the league must have flashed before his eyes. Luckily before his agent could find the key to the poison cabinet he recovered and didn't seem to suffer any long-term effects. Which is good, because even if he's going (and watch how fast he'd have signed our deal if he was out for all 2015 causing other offers to mysteriously evaporated) it's extremely rare that I would wish any departing Demon a serious injury. In fact it's only happened once in 25 years, and in recent years but my target keeps avoiding the career ender I've been hoping for since Round 1, 2012.

It was far more concerning when Garland went down early. I don't want to jinx us, but we've had a great run without any of our players doing a knee this year and for a second it looked like he might have been the first. If Frawley's going anyway the last thing we can afford is for another defender to go down to a long term injury. He's been well down on last year but he's still such an important player. Thankfully he seemed to be ok as he initially came back on and played through to the third quarter, but knowing our luck we've probably aggravated the injury and he'll miss all of next year. If that happened we'd be basically guaranteed a year of Howe in the backline - and with respect to his downright decent performances there this year none of us want that, we want him taking screamers and kicking goals.

Meanwhile at the other end Jack Darling was further rubbing in our decision not to draft him because we believed all the carefully planted media stories about him being a sex romper and a street brawler. How many goals did Lucas Cook kick for the Hopetoun thirds this week? I wish Nic Nat hadn't been a late withdrawal because I'm convinced Gawn could have taken him, but when he booted three goals in the first quarter alone it looked like he was going to mock us on behalf of both of them and every other promising kid we've overlooked in the draft in recent years. Thankfully he left us alone for the rest of the game, it would hardly be polite to menace us after we did him a huge favour in letting him go to the club of his choice.

Despite Vince's goal it seemed like it'd be one way traffic for the rest of the day, and while Pedo might have opened the second quarter with a goal inside 30 seconds his miss unleashed another burst of Eagles goals that made it begin to look like we could be set for a 186 style 100 deficit at half time. Thank god then this was the point where we decided to raise our pressure from 'schoolyard' to 'TAC Cup', and that combined with the Eagles missing some easy chances helped us to stem the bleeding.

Not that we were playing well by any objective measurement. Even ex-wooden spoon coach Shaw was laying the boots in to our continually inept play. We did manage two goals though - which is a luxury for us sometimes - courtesy of the long lost Fitzpatrick. And two corkers they were too, a running checkside and a better crumb from a contest than any of our smalls have done in two months. I can't conceive a world where he can play regularly with Gawn, Pedersen, Jamar and Hogan all around (and FFS also Howe in the forward line THANKS) but at least he's not a completely bizarre and stupid option if we need another tall.

Every week I like to complain about use of the sub, and this was no exception. They were obviously waiting to see if Garland could go on before they gave Salem a go but why wait until halfway through the third quarter as if it was going to have any bearing on the result. Without having access to the medical reports or any clue whatsoever I wish they'd just packed Col away at half time and given Salem the chance to play a full half. Again he looked good when he got the ball, and he got into a few good positions so I've got confidence that when he starts to find it more than he's going to be a good player.

We ended up winning the last quarter, and even managed to take a mark inside 50 at one point, but the game was dead and buried by this point. Even though Cross, who had tagged the poodle haired Matt Priddis to buggery for most of the day, was starting to tire and let his opponent into the game the fact that the game slowed to glacial pace played right into our hands.

The final highlight, as the game descended into West Coast trying to kick the ball to Dean Cox and Dean Cox trying not to topple over with a heart attack, was the 'brawl' in the Eagles goalsquare featuring Dunn doing that great insane, wide eyed thing where he demands the opposition player keep hitting him. He may be certifiably insane and I love it. I can picture him playing Russian Roulette in an opium den in Saigon in 1972. This year he's even started doing this with adult players as well instead of concentrating on hapless teenagers. Watts should be forced to watch videos of his angry style all day long and attempt to keep up.

Following Melbourne is like going to an airshow, you'll either have a good day out or hundreds of innocent people will get hurt. Sadly 11 goals in Perth is a result that you could say wasn't too disastrous in the end but it's still nothing to get excited by. There's going to be a lot of work required in the off-season to give us any hope of getting out of the bottom four next year. As always I look forward to it, every day that the club is above ground is a good day.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal
5 - Bernie Vince
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Jack Fitzpatrick
2 - Rohan Bail
1 - Daniel Cross

Apologies to Tyson, Michie, Pedersen, Howe and Viney.

And that's the end of that. For the fourth time since the award was first handed out in 2005 your winner is Nathan Jones. Our open invitation to Jako to reappear and present his own award stands as it has for the last 10 years. Congratulations too to Lynden Dunn who has pocketed his first Seecamp outright, and to Jamar who now can do no worse than a share of the Stynes. Unless Jesse Hogan is a surprise selection next week the only interest in the Hilton will be whether Salem can score two or more votes to grab a share or win outright. Not much chance if he starts as sub and doesn't come on until the third quarter.

52 - Nathan Jones (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
38 - Dom Tyson
27 - Lynden Dunn (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
22 - Daniel Cross, Bernie Vince
20 - Neville Jetta
16 - Chris Dawes, Jack Viney
14 - Tom McDonald
13 - Jeremy Howe
12 - James Frawley
9 - Mark Jamar (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Cameron Pedersen
7 - Matt Jones
6 - Jack Watts
5 - Aidan Riley
4 - Rohan Bail, Max Gawn, Dean Kent
3 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Dean Terlich
2 - Colin Garland, Jack Grimes, Jay Kennedy-Harris (Leader: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
1 - Jordie McKenzie, Jake Spencer

Crowd Watch
"Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo" say West Coast supporters, but not as much as they usually do because the whole game was conducted amidst a carnival atmosphere where everyone was wearing Dean Cox brand paper crowns that looked as if they'd come out of a Hungry Jacks kids' meal.

Meanwhile speaking of NQR individuals and Subiaco Oval what's the process to become one of those Messages On Hold dickheads behind the goals? They've been at it for 25 years- are they clients of the company, paid actors like the GWS monks or homeless drunkards rounded up on the afternoon of the match? Either way it troubles me and is a practice that must be lost in translation on the east coast. Let's not forget these people did once vote to secede so it's obviously a weird place. But then again we also voted to merge, so probably best not to point fingers.

Stat My Bitch Up
It looks like we've just about done it. That is avoid total humiliation and just stick with mere garden variety embarrassment. We're down from 59.50 to 59.19ppg after this game but the glory of being only the second worst 20+ game home and away side in history can still be ours if we score 'just' 27 on Saturday night. What an achievement, hopefully there's an open topped bus ride down Brunton Avenue on Monday if we manage it. Not there yet, we only get 28 against them at Docklands last year, but you would hope that the fact North can't go up or down on the ladder will help us get what we need early on.

The question now is whether or not we'll end with a better percentage than Neeld's first and only full season in charge. He dodged about 15 assassination attempts to get 67.50 out of his four wins - much of that to do with the Carnival of Hate thrashing of GWS. At three quarter time of this game we'd gone below that, but our strong finish/West Coast giving up left us on 67.88. The bad news is - unless you're Neeld and are laughing maniacally that it's all starting to go wrong - that we're still likely to go under. If we score our average 59 and North score 100 we'll finished on 67.42, but if they only get 90 we'll finish on 67.77.

So that's two angles to keep you interested in this game, neither which require the fanciful idea that Melbourne will be anywhere near winning. Get that live ladder up on the stadium screen (or more accurately for most of you on the TV screen, or even more accurately who cares because you won't be watching) and give the people what they want - observance of obscure statistical milestones.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I've made a startling last minute decision that it's too complicated to share this award between multiple players and that unless something amazing happens next week Christian Salem will be the sole winner of the inaugural award with the other nine being acknowledged for their assists.

Tonight certainly had more contenders than last week, and all of our first three goals plus those to Bail an Tyson had their charms, but the winner for his running checkside novelty in the first quarter - just when we were threatening to score nil - is Jack Fitzpatrick. He wins a surfing tour of Vietnam conducted by ex-Eagle and Demon Phil Read - the first (but probably not last) player whose career I ruined during the Demonblog era by declaring him my favourite. Hopefully he doesn't find Dunn while he's there.

Good luck next week Demons. Your challenge, after you've scored 27 points, is to attempt the most outrageous goals you possibly can in order to challenge Salem for the title. We will be watching (through our hands).

Who knows what sort of tribute the Eagles fans had for Dean Cox considering Fox Footy didn't bother showing the front of it. All I saw was a generic rear-side and the biggest curtain since Carlton. Automatic loss. Ours was, as usual, very attractive - and the pictures of Vince/Dawes were a winner. With the travel bonus and curtain penalty both applied it's an 11 goal win to the Dees, and an overall draw from our trip to Perth.

That's 20-1 Demons and a chance to send us off on a high by tonking North next Saturday night.

Next Week
Casey lose their last game of the year tomorrow, so I can't make an arbitrary judgement about who should come in based on an upside down, blurry photo of the stats posted by their Twitter account. As if it'll make a difference anyway - our depth is wafer thin at the best of times let alone in the last round.

Unfortunately for those who you who wanted Hogan to get a game (i.e me) the good performance of Fitzpatrick tonight means that there's no way another tall is going to get introduced, so unless Dawes or one of the ruckmen falls down the steps during the week we might not see him again until next year's pre-season.

And so, with absolutely nothing to go on and the realisation that Blease is probably never coming back I'll be relatively conservative in my changes. If Frawley does the honourable thing and comes out 9am Monday morning to declare he'll be off and thanks for everything then add Georgiou to the side as well and we'll always have our last memory of seeing Chip in Victoria being him trudging off the ground getting yelled at by some lady.

IN: Kennedy-Harris, Tapscott (Note from Sunday night - apparently Tapscott got injured and Riley was BOG, so bring him in instead. Who cares if he's an appropriate replacement - what difference is it going to make?)
OUT: Garland (inj), Kent (omit)
LUCKY: Frawley, M. Jones, Watts

As for North you would hope that they're not going to be going at 100% knowing that no matter what happens in either side's game next week that they'll definitely be playing Essendon in an elimination final a few days later. No need to go all out then, why not do a Fremantle 2013, make 10 changes and let an awful team have a morale boosting day out? It worked in getting them to a Grand Final. We can't even realistically bridge the percentage gap to GWS so it's a free hit for lovers of meaningless wins and draft picks alike.

I'll be there. I'd like to say I'm not sure why but I've seen almost every second of this season (other than cracking the shits in the last quarter of the Freo game and listening onto it in the car) and it's only fitting to watch it end as it started - in low scoring, losing disappointment at a shit, half empty stadium.

Next Year
Rumours of us attempting to trade some or all of Watts, Toumpas, Trengove and Grimes aside the only player left on the uncontracted list who I'm 100% interested in extending is Bail. Which sounds odd considering how often I pot him, but you may as well keep a guy like him around who at least tries his heart out. I'm interested in keeping Tapscott for at least one more year as well. You would think all the rookies would survive, but as for the others I'll predict Blease is gone (with regrets and a retired jumper), Strauss is gone and Terlich is possibly joining them unless we trade Grimes and need to keep an experienced body. Depending on how many picks we've got to work with one of Evans or McKenzie gets the arse from amongst the contracted players, but I doubt it.

As for the trading all I'll say is that I'll accept it (except for Toumpas, I think we need to persist with him) reluctantly in the case of Trengove as long as the picks they get are converted into experienced players rather than just being used to pick kids. We've tried that before and it got us Blease, Strauss and Tapscott - who we're now busy ushering towards the door. More Bernie Vinces and Dom Tysons thanks.

Ahh the trade and draft period, a Melbourne fan's happiest time of the year. Here's to rebirth *clinks champagne glass*

Final thoughts
Who can be bothered getting upset any more? I'm not sure that enough of our fans were actually watching tonight for the result to register more than a ripple amongst true believers only. Everyone else has done the sensible thing and tuned out. Not entirely sure it's going to get much better next year but we always live in hope of something mad happening.

Monday 18 August 2014

Home is where the hate is

At some point in my mid-20 I developed the nasty habit of clenching my jaw together like an ice addict and/or grinding my teeth while I sleep. If we're completely honest I think it started a few weeks into the 2007 season when I started to get really stressed about our performances, so that's another great life experience I can chalk down to the Melbourne Football Club. It can come on randomly, but usually the clamp and its associated headaches come in times when I've been highly strung. 

Footy games have set me off in the past, after we beat Carlton this year it was so bad that a few days later I was in an MRI machine being scanned to make sure that it wasn't being caused by brain tumours, but dark days like today leave me feeling like I've been smacked in the face with a cricket bat. I didn't even notice until I was trudging back to Richmond Station that my jaw was clenching so tightly I could barely open my mouth. I had to stop for a second and consciously relax to get back to normal. What a stupid reaction to a stupid sport.

The best thing about the Melbourne Football Club is that following us is never dull. Not off-field anyway. Just when you think we've hit rock bottom - and in this case actually started to climb away from it - there's always something left in reserve. I refuse to accept that what happened today was even in the same league as 186, but there is an argument that it tops almost everything else from 2007 onwards up to and including the Essendon slaughter last year. Let the record show for future generations that we went into a game against a side marginally worse than us, who had 700 games less total experience, on a ground where they'd never won before and kicked 3.16 in losing by 64 points WHEN THEY LOST THREE OF THEIR BEST FOR THE ENTIRE SECOND HALF. That last point is what pushes it past last year's similar debacle against Gold Coast - the day old mate famously waved the white flag and Mark Neeld should have resigned at the press conference - into the Hall of Fame of humiliating MFC moments.

It also represents the day where after 25 years of swearing, punching seats and unfurling unflattering banners (admittedly most of it in the last few years, and much of it well away from other patrons) I finally got my first conduct warning from a security guard. Not that there was anything to it, I just had the 'misfortune' of yelling out something about none of our players having any dignity while three bored guards were standing behind us trying to find something to do. "What's wrong with yelling without swearing?" I asked, to which he replied "People will start texting the number". By this point I wasn't all that concerned if I got kicked out so I pointed out that a) if more than 100 people had been in the Ponsford Stand he'd have had his hands with actual indecent language rather than one idiot yelling, b) nobody knows what the number is anyway and c) the three Melbourne fans in our immediate vicinity hadn't as much as flinched during this outburst because they knew it was 100% accurate. Kicking me out would probably have been too much effort so he just stood behind me for the whole last quarter. It would have almost been worth getting booted out just to cause a scene. Another win for fan experience at the footy. 

By enough about me, let's get back to pea-hearted, putrid performances from clubs who are halfway down the S-Bend of the footballing toilet. How are we all feeling about season 2014 now? After the Essendon game - when we were a win in front of Richmond and their fans were about to indulge in Community Euthanasia - it was undoubtedly a huge success and an amazing step forward from the record breaking indignities of last year. After the last few weeks it's not quite as toxic, that would be nearly impossible, but it's certainly rotting away at a rapid rate. The key difference is then I had this hope that our players were good enough but lacked the system and leadership. Now I'm convinced we haven't got the first two and am not entirely sure about the third. This bodes very poorly for the immediate future of the club.

Just to reiterate during the second quarter of today's game GWS subbed one of their captains with concussion, the other one with a leg injury and lost a #1 draft pick with a serious knee injury... while simultaneously kicking 4.3 to 0.5. Once we'd had a half-time break to comprehend how the Giants would go without Davis, Patton and Ward we then proceeded to treat their remaining 19 players to a party atmosphere than allowed them to boot 4.3 to 0.2 while our fans turned - quite rightly - on their team.

Fair play to GWS, as much as I hate everything about them except James McDonald and Dom Tyson in retrospect that was a lionhearted performance against a side who collectively entered the game without any spark or interest in retaining what shred of pride in the jumper that there is left. How is it that Neville Jetta, who we are paying about $68,000 a year as a rookie with the maximum bonus (page 68), can be one of the few players who goes at it like his career depends on it. It doesn't anymore, he's just signed a two year contract extension which will return him to the senior list, but he still tries his heart out week after week no matter how badly we're going. There's not many others you could say that about - Nathan Jones is certainly one but the list rapidly thins out from there. When it's all said and done if Jones stays loyal to us instead of going for 'one last shot' via free agency we should erect a double statue of him and Robbie Flower outside the MCG with nothing but the word LOYALTY engraved on it and take every single draftee, coach and random employee (I assume a temporary receptionist may be required tomorrow) to see it on their first day with the club.

So we didn't have four quarters of effort - certainly not in enough reserve to see the side approach AFL standard - but you can cover up for that if you've got enough players with sublime skills to make up for the ones who only want to play when it's on their terms and who occasionally decide that it's all too much for them. Nope, haven't got that in any great number either. Dropped marks, running around in circles, 1m handballs missing the target, kicks flying out of bounds, missed tackles - all the hallmarks of a modern day MFC performance but without the benefit of the other side spontaneously combusting and letting us back into the game. It makes it easier to say it when they don't have Turncoat Tom in their ranks but the 19 GWS players left after half-time deserve a medal for the way they went about dismantling us despite their handicaps. Any medals for our side should be awarded posthumously.

What about tactics? Well if going sideways and backwards all day excites you then god bless, but with due respect to a premiership winning coach it's fucking horrible stuff to sit there and watch live. At least at home you can change the channel. I'd have thought that with absolutely nothing to play for today and - let's be entirely honest drafting benefits even if we lost - that we might have just tried to play normal, interesting, carefree footy and damn the consequences if we lost. Maybe we did and were just too inept to execute the plan, but I'd much rather have gone down swinging than to our death with 18 players standing within 10 metres of the ball for most of the game. They threw the team around a bit at the end but the damage was well and truly done by then. I fail to understand how we only used 97 interchange rotations against a side with one player on the bench - I know we were one down ourselves after Grimes went off but surely, SURELY running them off their legs was at least part of the plan for the third quarter? That's not something you need the players to do - it comes from the coaching staff. We'd probably still have lost, it's hard to achieve any sort of positive when you either can't get the ball or turn it over immediately but we couldn't have made it easier for them if we tried.

The funny thing is that we looked right into the game in the first quarter. Not that it was much of a game, and GWS were hardly playing well either. Any decent team would have mangled either of us, but that's the alleged beauty of a game between terrible teams - you might not see fantastic footy but the rarity of wins means that it seems as important to fans as a top of the table clash, and if you're lucky it will be close. So roll on the team that has no fans winning by plenty.

I thought it was a reasonable omen that we kicked two goals in the first quarter again. That's 4+ weeks in a row for the first time since round 1 to 5 last year - and we were doing a reasonable job of keeping their tall forwards out of the game. It looked like neutrals and the poor bastards at Channel 7 who must have lost a bet if they had to cover this would at least get a close game. Then we kicked one more goal in the next three quarters.

Despite our generally horrid skills at moving the ball out of the defensive 50 without three clangers, a boundary throw-in and two ball-ups, we were still getting the ball forward (the ever useless inside 50 count proving as good as a guide as ever) only to find that as usual we didn't have any semblance of a half-forward line thanks to Dawes going missing, nobody who could take a mark near goal if their life depended on it and the most criminal lack of forward speed or crumb that any team has ever had in an AFL match EVER. 

I swear all these years later after whinging about this I watch other teams play and they have forwards who do the traditional forward thing and lead straight down the middle of the ground in order to mark a ball kicked at them by a teammate. If we started doing it regularly I'd be absolutely floored. Jamar sort of did it in the first quarter but other sides have their players metres in front of an opponent while Russian had to scrap with his defender two centimetres behind him and take a solid contested mark. This shouldn't be the best it gets for our leading forwards/makeshift options. You don't even have to suspend disbelief to pretend it could work, we actually do have some players who would be able to hit these leads if they ever came. Instead we're thumping the ball long to outmatched ruckmen with nobody at their feet or kicking to midfielders 50m out on the boundary line and expecting them to convert often enough to cover up the fact that when they kick a point or the ball falls short it will more often than not end up down the other end 10 seconds later. Last night I saw West Coast and Essendon players leading and kicking to leads majestically - take a close look at the regal way the Eagles do this next week when they are doing it 120 times next Saturday afternoon.

For all the shit hung on Jack Watts, and there's plenty of it, get your tapes out of him against the Bulldogs twice last year leading straight down the middle of the 50, marking and kicking goals. He probably did it more times in those two games alone than our entire team has this year. He's not your man for one-on-one feats of strength with the ball being kicked in onto his head, but neither is anybody else on our list except Jeremy Howe and he's down the other end getting us out of jail. After two years of hoping he'd shirtfront at least one player during his career I enjoyed the bit where he finally snapped and decked the GWS player in front of goal, but I was hoping he might drop a knee into him as well. Anyway, instead of Brad Millering him to death by playing him in a different position every week could we just leave him in the spot where he was showing legitimate promise a few years ago when we were not complete shit? No apparently.

You could tell right off the bat that this wasn't going to be the day we finally threw off the shackles, kicked 20 goals and sent everyone home happy - but it didn't mean we still couldn't at least win even if it had to be ugly. GWS hadn't won since the week after we last did, and their form had arguably been worse despite a couple of reasonable performances against good teams. We could still easily have won. Even after we conceded a goal within the first minute, which is nothing for us, we ended up absorbing the pressure and getting back on top for 10 minutes before falling apart at the back and allowed the Giants to follow the tradition of the rest of the competition when playing us and waltz into an open goal. 

At quarter time we weren't impressing anyone but we were in front - and within 10 minutes were gifted a two man advantage when first Patton (it's never the GWS players you want who seriously injure themselves, hopefully the other one sat on his remote control during the match) went down and then Phil Davis knocked himself out in a marking contest and managed to give away a free kick in the process. Everything was coming up Melbourne. We went behind but it wasn't yet fatal because no matter how badly we were playing they were just as bad - with the key difference being that we were missing our chances and they were easily clearing the ball out of defensive 50 before the slopfest continued in the middle of the ground. When you get as few chances as we do in a game you can't miss them all - look at the Brisbane game when it was clutch goals from Tyson and Bail (!) which gave us the lead which we'd ultimately roll over and concede but they were nice at the time.

And from there it all just went horribly wrong despite Ward going off hurt as well shortly before half time. All anybody reading this in the future needs to know is that 30 seconds after Ward went off the Giants kicked a goal. That's just the sort of day it was for us - a shit one. GWS might be a great side in the future - and if they're not the AFL will do everything it can to make them one - but they're still a bunch of kids now and we were powerless to stop them. For god's sake the day ended with Rhys Palmer kicking more goals than our entire squad. I don't care that we got more inside 50's, and I don't care that we missed a bunch of shots on goal - any of which could have turned the game in our favour - we were horrible and got exactly what we deserved. Let this be the wake-up call to everyone that it's not good enough to avoid losing by 100 points every second week.

Everything we do just seems like such hard work, usually fruitless - but what are you going to do when players can't be bothered working hard enough either offensively or defensively? Of course it's hard work doing anything when you've got a handful of players going at 100% with the skills to back it up, some others with all the effort in the world and no idea how to play football and others who shut up shop whenever the going gets tough. 

The way we were going we'd have missed from the goalsquare anyway but considering we probably concede more goals from within 15m than anyone wouldn't it be nice to watch one of our players run into the square and casually stab one home at least once a week? At this point I will just take them kicking 10 goals in a game more than once a month. I find it hard to express my disappointment in the way we play in words and midway through the third quarter just let out a primal scream directed at the Ponsford Stand roof. I'd claim that life is unfair but I walk into this with my eyes open every week so I've only got myself to blame.

With no chance of a player leading to the ball or anybody working it to a running player who would actually have a shot from a decent angle and/or distance we were eventually reduced to just aimlessly whacking it inside 50 for the Giants defenders to mop-up with Jeremy Howe-esque contested marks. It was clear to everyone that even if the Giants lost another five players this side probably didn't have it in them to storm home to win. There would be no 12 goal rampage this time - and those natives who had bothered to stay after half time were getting restless. I don't blame them, so was I. The only people who were there today were the dedicated ones and they get to watch that shit - lucky it's the last home game of the season because nobody would turn up the next one. Well, I would. Not sure why. I'm not a religious man but god bless those of you spending good money to travel to Perth next week, the club make the players write each of you a letter of thanks.

Winning was clearly beyond us but surely there was some thought given to getting out of the last quarter with some shred of self-respect. Everyone involved was going to cop it from press and fans anyway, but dragging the margin back to something respectable in the last quarter as the battered Giants faded would have at least given us some sort of entertainment late in the afternoon. Then we conceded five goals to one. This was the ultimate insult, and sadly even though I knew I'd be stupid enough to watch the Eagles game and go to Docklands to watch North flog us in the last round I couldn't have loved the club any less at that point. It was an official welcome back to the dark days of 2013. These are the times when you start to think that folding would be a reasonable option.

Last week I felt disappointed that I watched the game without taking any of it in, this week I wish I wasn't. It was painful to watch. The match itself was of a poor enough quality as it was without us running around like dickheads botching our play in every possible scenario. The Giants had already sensibly started running the clock down in the third quarter before they turned it up a notch in the last - and even then while they were kicking side-to-side to try and get out of the game without anybody else suffering a serious injury we were so loose than they still manage to whack through another three goals in double quick time with scant resistance before Riley put the cherry on the cake by gifting them the last goal with another in a long line of horrific turnovers. Shithouse. You couldn't drop enough players from this side because there's nobody there to replace them. 

We've now scored under 35 four times this year. This is not a team anybody other than the rusted-on freaks want to watch, and it won't be a team anyone wants to play for either. Tyson must be kicking himself that he got roped into joining us on the promise of things getting better, and after seeing what's happened to him, Clark, Dawes and Vince then any other reasonable player is going to need to take some amazing convincing or go into full $cully mercenary mode if we're going to lure them. Time to either strike gold with some discards or battlers from other sides, pluck some randoms out of state leagues who are not just adding to the battler brigade or actually develop the players we do have/draft. One of three will probably do me at the moment. Two of three would be amazing.

I'm not trying to be wacky or different but I'm really not convinced about what Roos has done so far. There's no doubt he was handed a shit sandwich at the start of the year but we were such amazing gash in 2013 that it would be almost impossible not to at least improve on what happened last year. It's not just that I'm still a bit sad that we never got #chokeyourselfwithatie as coach, but at this point we're 0 wins and just 2% better off than we were in Neeld's first year when people already wanted to lynch him so I don't see any reason to get excited.

It's what happens in the future that counts, and I look forward to being shown up for my scepticism in the future, but the style of play and coaching decisions shouldn't be above scrutiny. Other than the tactical side of things why in god's name did they pick Riley only to play him as sub again - this week we could have reasonably assumed to be closer when he came on than against Hawthorn but he's a killer tackler, not an impact player. Grimes' injury aside wouldn't it be better against a young team to have him cracking a few ribs at the start of the game and then going off for somebody who is a reasonable chance of hitting a target by foot? If such thing exists on our list. The sub rule is bollocks but if you don't pick players to complement it then you're harming the team. It's all well and good trying to impart discipline and only give fringe players games if they've deserved them with their performances but there's something to be said for picking somebody like Blease or Kennedy-Harris as the sub every week for the rest of the year safe in the knowledge that they might do something exciting when they come on. Too late for this now, let's just plod on to our death.

There's just too many weird things happening that nobody is questioning because the coach has a sweet track record, but hopefully people with a better grasp of tactical discussion than I can show why this year's performances aren't worth getting excited about in the long term, and why trying to win 50-49 every week is not only doomed to failure in modern football but will also send thousands of supporters to their graves with their last memory of the club being scores under 40. I understand his point from the press conference that it's a 3-5 year job to even theoretically get the club back into contention, but there'll be nobody left watching in five years if we keep delivering tedious, plodding, slow pissweak performances like today. I'm over hearing about what happened in Sydney 10 years ago, let's talk about Melbourne today. We're a horrible team who are only slightly less horrible than we were this time last year and that's not something to be celebrated.

I look towards 2015 with a clean slate but I feel like we're just going to tread water next season. Maybe there are so many uncoachable players on this list that when you bring new ones in that they get sucked into the death spiral - rinse and repeat forever. It is at this point I'm duty bound to remind you before you hurt yourself that football is supposed to be a bit of a fun weekend distraction from your normal life. How's that working for you?

We should ask for special dispensation to trade absolutely everybody - even the good ones, if you love something set it free - and start again with one last roll of the dice before admitting that it's never going to happen and putting the shutters up.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal
5 - Neville Jetta
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Bernie Vince
2 - Tom McDonald
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Cross, Dunn, Howe and Michie who weren't much chop but could have snuck into the last three spots because barely anyone else deserved to.

Jones' 2013 style effort to try and carry the rest of the side on his shoulders results in him all but putting an end to Tyson's brave bid for the Jakovich. He can now do no worse than a share of the medal if Dom is BOG in the last games and he scores nil. Well deserved for being one of the few who you can be sure has gone 100% over the last couple of years, and you can be sure that Dom's time will come. May he follow in the footsteps of Cameron Bruce, Brad Green and Brent Moloney who all finished second and then won the medal later in their career.

Oddly enough just as Jones confirms victory in the main event the comeback king Nifty Neville Jetta has cracked open the race for the Seecamp which looked over a few weeks ago. Still needs to pick up seven votes on Dunn in the next fortnight, but given that the ball will be down there for 95% of each game both men will have their chance to be amongst the best. 

Gawn picked up votes today but as it's unlikely he'll outscore Jamar by five in the remaining it seems the Russian is going to pocket his third Stynes - and first since 2010. As for the Hilton there's every possible chance that Jay Kennedy-Harris will refuse to accept it.

48 - Nathan Jones (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
38 - Dom Tyson
27 - Lynden Dunn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
21 - Daniel Cross
20 - Neville Jetta
17 - Bernie Vince
16 - Chris Dawes, Jack Viney
14 - Tom McDonald
13 - Jeremy Howe
12 - James Frawley
9 - Mark Jamar (Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Cameron Pedersen
7 - Matt Jones
6 - Jack Watts
5 - Aidan Riley
4 - Max Gawn, Dean Kent
3 - Dean Terlich
2 - Rohan Bail, Colin Garland, Jack Grimes, Jay Kennedy-Harris (Leader: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
1 - Jordie McKenzie, Jake Spencer

Crowd Watch
Deep suspicions over the legitimacy of the announced 17,000 crowd aside I'd say we were lucky that it didn't piss down raining because the kick-to-kick gimmick was all that saved the attendance from total disaster. In the end it was 3500 more than showed up for our last home game of 2013 but I expect that's because plenty of people thought we'd win. Sucked in again Dees fans.

Speaking of our fans there was apparently nearly a good old-fashioned donnybrook at the race between people rushing to hang shit on the players and those who were readying themselves to jump the fence for kick-to-kick and objected to such motivational tactics. Usually I frowned upon the sort of lunatics who stormed the race to unload foul and media-friendly sprays at players but I don't care anymore. 

At least it proves there's a heartbeat amongst our fans, but given the ridiculous skew towards the elderly amongst our crowds we'd better find a way to get more kids through the gate soon or there will be nobody to replace the ones who pass on or become too infirm to keep watching over the next few years. At one point shortly after I got there there were eight people in the Ponsford Stand top level and I was the only one under 60. I suggest breeding freely.

Stat My Bitch Up
Last week I said if we scored an average of 40 a week for the next three weeks we'd just beat GWS' record for lowest scoring 20+ game season. Today's arsehole of a performance saw us drop -1.34 to 59.5ppg and considering we'll score 1.6.12 next week we're right back in the mix for the title. Now if we average 40 in the next two games we'll land exactly on their 'score' of 57.72 and if that happens I might not be able to maintain my cheery persona.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
In a poxy field Watts' goal was probably the best. He receives a night out at the California Club with the lucky raffle winner. With limited goals on offer over the next two weeks somebody's going to have to do something quite remarkable to beat the end of the Essendon game. Like cure cancer, disarm an Iraqi militant and conclusively prove the identity of Jack the Ripper at the same time as they bicycle kick a goal from the Spencer Street rail yards.

At least this is one we were never going to lose, and GWS did their part by achieving the grand slam. A poor font, spaced bizarrely, with 0's instead of O's (WHY?) and a curtain. Lucky they have a 10 goal better football side to enjoy. Compared to this orange monstrosity ours could have had a somebody appropriately taking a whizz on an MFC jumper and still won in these circumstances. Demons remain atop the Cheer Squad league table with a 20-1 record but like Essendon 2013 will mysteriously be unable to appear in the finals.

Next Week
By christ West Coast are going to run rampant. Last week I expected Hawthorn to do the unmentionable to us, and we somehow got out of it thanks to them having little to play for other than the win and the avoidance of serious injury. Now we get the Eagles farewelling Dean Cox while either playing to keep their slight hopes of finals football alive OR unleashing their anger at being knocked out by Adelaide (who play St Kilda in the last round and will obviously win) beating North to effectively knock them out. It may be better for us if they're kept in the race because it will give them some reason to relax when it's won and let us off without a total pulverisation.

I'd love to swing the axe and bring all sorts of random players in just for a laugh, but there's too big a chance of being beaten 30.20.200 to 0.1.1 to do that. Not to mention Casey losing in the VFL again. If you can rotate your screen or your head here are the stats from that game for you to make a purely stats based decision. On my uninformed reading of the rules it seems you can't add a player to the long term injury list after Round 18, so I'm assuming that if Georgiou replaced Clark and Jetta replaced Trengove then we still have one rookie elevation up our sleeve - and courtesy of eight tackles more than anything else I'm on the Harmes bandwagon.

IN: Harmes, Tapscott, Evans, Clisby, Pedersen
OUT: Grimes (inj), Frawley, Barry, M. Jones Riley (omit)
LUCKY: Dawes, Viney, Watts, Salem
UNLUCKY: Fitzpatrick - deserves another go but unless Dawes gets dropped there's no way he can fit in the same side as Jamar, Gawn and Pedo. Hogan is not unlucky because he didn't do anything - and fair enough too considering it was his first game since Alice Springs - but even if he doesn't get a touch next week I'll play him in Round 23.
WHO WE WILL GET: Bail and Terlich

Next Year
If you're interested in the fabled 'ruthless cull' of the list then you've not got much to work with. The only players who are out of contract now are Bail, Blease, Byrnes (gorn), Frawley (gorn), Strauss, Tapscott, Terlich and the rookies. Like it or not this side is still going to be bursting with campaigners again in 2015 - and we're probably going to finish last or close to it given that the only sides who aren't getting better by the week are us and St Kilda. If we're still playing sludge, 60 points a week footy and losing home games to other poxy teams then there will be about 1500 people there for this fixture next year.

If the season went any long and Frawley kept playing like this nobody would want him, but he's got the runs on the board so I assume he will still a game elsewhere. The question now is what sort of compo we'll get when there's stuff all chance he's going to get the original asking price. As for the others there's not a great deal worth anything on the trade table. I resolved to lie back and think about England when Watts puts in half-inspired/half-disinterested performances like today, and you can't go around replacing too many near 100 game players with rookies or recycled plodders BUT it's probably better now for the mental health of all parties involved if we flog him elsewhere.

In other news how's the hunt for the coaching successor going? Bet there's a few phones going unanswered at the moment. The last few weeks convince me that I want somebody who has done it all before, rather than an assistant. Will take Voss or Ratten - am more likely to get Scott Watters. Somebody was trying to sell me on that bloke who filled in at Hawthorn, but he seemed like a very cheery fellow so I'd hate to see what coaching us would do to him. We're about two weeks from talkback callers trying to float James Hird as an option.

Next decade
What are you going to do when this club folds or merges? Not even considering relocation as an option because who would have us? The MFC is in my blood to such a ridiculous degree that I'd probably find myself trying to launch some Fitzroy style VAFA reboot with which to continue the name and the history of the club. Wouldn't be the same but better than doing whatever it is normal people do on winter weekends - and as much as it would necessitate a change in blog title at least every game would be on Saturday.

Was it worth it?
No, not for any reason. I legitimately wish I'd sat at home eating chips and working on my first heart attack.

Final thoughts