Tuesday 24 February 2015

These are the breaks - 2015 season preview

In the last generation to grow up before the internet came along and made life worth living you had to make your own fun. With what we know now about the joy of watching ads from 1985 on YouTube this sounds hideous, but it kept us well out of the clutches of perverts on the internet and back where we belonged within arm's reach of perverts on the street.

Long before my digital Mt. Rushmore arrived (Trove, Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube with apologies to AFL Tables since you asked), and in the dead years before the introduction of the Sega Megadrive destroyed any interest I had in official education my favourite hobby was reading compilations of Peanuts cartoons. There's a lot of phases in my life where I'd like to go back now, apply a tight headlock and demand changes but this would not be one of them - they were ace then and by god I'd gleefully read them all again today.

Of all the great running gags in the series my favourite was Linus' annual attempt to lure The Great Pumpkin into his pumpkin patch on Halloween only for it to end in disaster and utter humiliation. There has perhaps never been a greater portrayal of #farceshambles in history than the moment Charlie Brown loses a bowling tournament by accidentally rolling his shot out the door where it skittles Linus as he waits in the pumpkin patch, but I digress.

The point is that no matter how many times he was left looking like a total buffoon his faith never wavered. He always had a good excuse as to why the Great Pumpkin had failed to judge his pumpkin patch as ‘the most sincere’ and would do it all again the next seas.. err year. Comrades, we are Linus, the MCG is our pumpkin patch and good times are the elusive Great Pumpkin.

There is no group more sincere than the modern Melbourne supporter, and so just over a week from the first competitive (albeit ultimately meaningless) match of the year we kick the dirt from our patch, rearrange the pumpkins and ask - in the words of professional miserablist Lloyd Cole - "are you ready to be heartbroken?" Technically as there's only one thing to win in the AFL these days (unless you recognise the Transfield Services Shield as a major trophy) the fans of 17 clubs are destined to be 'heartbroken' but it would be nice to at least be involved in the conversation again, even if it's just yelling from the end of the driveway,

Waiting patiently for sustainable success is one thing, but what I'm in a hurry to experience is that simultaneous light-bulb moment for somewhere between 15 and 40,000 fans inside the MCG when they realise we've hit the point where we can start hanging shit on other clubs again. It'll be the modern version of that fantastic day when we tonked Sydney and everyone there yelled "Jesus H Christ!" in surprise, only this time hopefully without it all going to buggery shortly after.

It's rinse and repeat year after year but I still can't visualise a time where we're legitimate contenders. Doesn't mean it can't happen, and if I try hard enough I can imagine us making the eight, but after the false starts and surprise fistings of the last few years I've just forgotten what it feels like to be in the mix. The other night I saw the post-match of the Essendon game on Fox Footy (surely their highest rating program of the summer) for the first time, and considering the way we quite rightfully went off our collective faces for a Round 13 thriller there is the very real prospect of casualties if we even qualified for the finals let alone won one. And if we won the whole thing? Well, you can celebrate for me because it's almost certain that I'll have keeled over and died from tension five minutes into the first quarter.

A full recap isn't necessary thank god, but you know as well as I do that following Melbourne since Round 1 2007 has been a unique experience. Of course sides have had it worse in the past, Fitzroy fans watched their team burn to cinders while the AFL stood by gleefully throwing logs on the fire, but we've had practically everything but the white screen/shotgun combination thrown at us since then. Every day above ground is a good day, but since Brock McLean's foot exploded that night we've been spat at, slapped, kneed in the knackers, Mike Brady wrote a We Are The World style charity song for us and let's be frank - technicalities aside - at times watched our own club try to avoid winning if at all possible.

A book I recently read had a chapter which touched on the wild scenes when South Melbourne snuck into the finals on the last day of the 1977 season after being gash for the best part of 30 years. It's unlikely anything could match the scenes at the Western Oval in the last round 10 years later, but the description of grown men weeping and strangers leaping into each other’s arms is what I expect it would be like if we did the same now. A few pages later a filthy turncoat who admits to jumping off the Dees and adopting Essendon describes a mid 1980's win against Carlton as “particularly beautiful, but not worthy of hugging strangers over. That’s premiership stuff” and there – if you didn't already know the feeling – is the ultimate demonstration of what it’s like to be one of the haves or the have-nots.

Here's a good way to spend an hour if your health fund counts following Melbourne as a psychological disorder, go to a hypnotist and ask them to make you think you're a Hawthorn fan. There was an article recently where they were asked if they were comfortable with an extended half-time break in a night grand final, and it didn't infuriate me because of the presumption that they'd be involved in the next one (because they probably will be) but because it's impossible to imagine being in the position of ultimate, balls-out power that they are now.I suppose it could happen, but for now I'd treat 11th like a flag. In the meantime I'm sure our media manager's phone rings hot when the press wants comment on 1.10 Sunday games held in front of friends and family.

As rough as it's been we should never forget the brief period of lucidity from Round 4 2010 into early 2011, but a look back through the archives shows I was trying to topple the coach 13 weeks before 186 so it's hard to claim now that it was all good times even when we were making a mockery of Adelaide and Freo. What great afternoons they were, treating somebody else like they were second rate. Since those fantastic afternoons they've both nearly won flags, the furthest we've been is the Northern Territory.

If after a lengthy reading of the various misfortunes that have befallen us in the last few years and the tendering into evidence of our record over the same period most people wouldn't be able to say under oath that they recommend anybody start following this club without committing perjury, but I'm here to tell you there are still several fantastic reasons to get involved. One is the amazing online support group of fellow travellers who you'll undoubtedly meet along the way, one is the promise that one day we will proudly stand tall atop a pile of our enemies' bodies but it's mostly about being able to use the MCG whizzers without having to queue for 10 minutes. And that the train carriages are half empty. And being able to buy a pack of soggy chips for $6 without self-loathing in the line for five minutes first. It is the opportunity to stand up at your seat during play if you really want, or to move to one of the 40,000 empty places in general admission if you wind up sitting next to a total poon. It is, in the end, glorious no matter what psychological dramas are inflicted between the sirens. I went to a Grand Final once, it was horrible.

Urinary convenience aside I understand that the more members and numbers on the gate the better so I'd gladly go three-deep in the hot dog queue if it meant another 10,000 on our average gate and hundreds of thousands on our end of season profit. Market forces (there's your opening CLICHE of the season) also dictate that the more popular your club is the more suckers you can convince to open their wallets and give you money for practically anything. While Collingwood fans pay three times what we do to sit in the exact same seats I can afford 16 games, a reserved seat I use once a season and a guaranteed Grand Final ticket (hah, yes I know) for less than what some otherwise reasonable people stuff down the g-string of a stripper after a few drinks on a Friday night.

And it still feels as if the club appreciates our business. They certainly need our money, so they'd want to show us the love but while there's only so much a club can do to keep spirits buoyant and no way of pleasing everyone without on-field results to back it up I'm the experience is less like being a customer at a ruthless corporation. Somebody close to me once floated the idea of moving an amendment to the constitution at an AGM and Peter Jackson himself invited him down to the club to patiently explain why it was a dud idea. Magnificent.

Perhaps the chance to waste the time of a highly paid executive doesn't make up for it always being the Year of the Twat on our Chinese astrological calendar but if following Collingwood or Essendon is the equivalent of being the customer of a corporation playing out of Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge following Melbourne is like turning up at Ashton Gate to watch Bristol City. If one season ticket holder at Highbury or White Hart Lane (but never both) throws his hands up in the air and stomps off to join the rugby league there'll be another customer eager to take his spot, but when lowly clubs lose fans they have to fight like hell to fill the spot. That's why the club chases you down vigorously if you 'forget' to renew your membership,

I'm sure all clubs wheel players in to try and lean on the uncommitted, wavering or flat out suddenly disinterested (like when Chris Dawes' dad rang my mum and dropped the name only to find out she had NFI who Chris Dawes was) but at Collingwood the players probably let the phone ring once, say nobody answered and duck out the side door for a 30 minute ciggy break. Deep down everyone wants to be the super successful club that plays in front of 80,000 four times a year but unfortunately at this particular time (e.g about September 1964 to the present) it's not our lot. If there was a way to stay comfortably afloat with just the few nutters we've got now I'd gladly take it but there probably isn't so come one, come all and why not buy a membership for your World Vision sponsor child too.

So sure there are off-field benefits like ground attendants who can't even be bothered checking tickets in premium membership areas and Docklands crowds so small that you don't feel like a deadly stampede is going to break out on the way to Southern Cross Station but believe it or not I actually feel like we should have a bit more fun with what happens on-field as well. This is after all the core reason we're actually involved, scarfing kransky and enjoying a short queue at the TAB are just added benefits.

What right do I, as somebody who has probably done more than anyone to permeate the atmosphere of dread, have to suddenly start waving around lofty goals like finishing 16th in an 18 team competition. Well there is concrete evidence that points (and I must stress POINTS – the legal department wants me to make it clear that this does not constitute a binding guarantee of good times and that no refunds will be offered) to further improvement. But I'm not going to tell you what they are until we stop sooking about the distant past and sook about the near past for a bit instead.

It was the most average of times, it was the not quite worst of times....

2014 - Look back in anger
When the name of the sacred Great Pumpkin was first invoked on these pages in July 2013 it was in regard to the prospect of luring Paul Roos as coach. At the height of my bad-news induced hysteria I was convinced the AFL were going to change the locks on us at any minute so it seemed a bit rich to be wheeling in Million Dollar Saviour shortly after going to the league cap-in-hand. The last thing I wanted was to gamble everything on one last throw of the dice and end up having to hock our gaming venues/boxes to pay the accumulated debt by misadventure a few years later.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody it seems I was wrong. I plead not guilty on the grounds of temporary insanity caused by excessive consumption of siege mentality. Whatever we ended up paying (including contributions from headquarters that we'll eventually be forced to work off with degrading deeds) proved as worthwhile off-field as on in the early stages of the experiment. When virtual reality simulators really hit their stride I'll go back and prove that anybody could have improved that side compared to how it looked during 2013, but what I didn't factor in while mixing a Molotov Cocktails in my basement was how Roos would help the club to go about our business with something approaching quiet dignity for the first time in a couple of years.

Having an experienced, respected figure in the chair also provided some cover against journalists, 'commentators' and "commentators" who lock-in on easy targets like heat-seeking missiles. Imagine if Mark Neeld had come out with that nonsense about tanking causing us to cark it in the last 20 minutes against the Lions, he'd have been howled out of the press conference only to then have to run through Docklands while axe-wielding supporters pursued him. When Roos did some of us (mainly me) briefly cracked the shits that got on with our business because who are we to argue with a premiership coach?

In the end the entire club found a great way to ensure everyone forgot about the Brisbane capitulation by putting on the muntiest performance of the year against GWS a few weeks later. If we hadn't rolled over and carked it in spectacular fashion on that fateful afternoon at the MCG then the entire season would be looked upon about as fondly as you can when it finishes with 10 straight losses. Even the comically tiny scores we put up throughout the year could have been easily excused due to occasionally dragging a good side like Sydney or Collingwood down with us, but that GWS result was like a return to the days where you were as likely to be under the early train than on it.

Expectations weren't high going in but it wasn't so bad, even if it started with us as beaten favourites against the eventual wooden spooner and ended with 22 North players trotting about desperately trying not to get hurt before the finals. With the benefit of time having wiped most of the minor details from memory a lot of what happened between rounds 4 and 14 was - other than our shithouse scoring rate - Perfectly Acceptable Football. Good for any 9th to 14th team at least, and at this point if we can drag that out across a season while kicking a few more goals I'd be delighted.

Without re-reading last year's preview I seem to remember that considerable length was given to claiming that we must stop wallowing in the misery of the past and start looking forward with optimism. My own adherence to this philosophy survived a disappointing Round 1, spluttered through the next two weeks, briefly came to life when we had three (3!) wins and peaked on that glorious night when the Bombers imploded and allowed us to steal one of the most unlikely victories of my lifetime. By the end of the year I was grimly trying to make the case for priority picks.

As the air in our balloon slowly deflated over the following weeks, The Fear began to creep back in with a vengeance and the question became "what if that is all there is?" What if our fate is to be a chopping block for the rest of the league until the end of time? Of course with the draft and salary caps rigged in favour of dud teams it's nigh on impossible to be horrible for as long we were from the mid 60's to 80's, but you often get the sense that if any organisation is capable of having a go we're it. These are the sort of psychological crises that crop up when you emotionally over-invest in stuff like this, in reality while there's absolutely no guarantee of improvement by the time we got to about Round 15 the best thing to do was forget about 2014, shepherd everyone through to the end of the year unscathed and begin List Rebuild III: Rebuild Hard With A Vengeance.

By the time it was all over you could sense many of the players had hit the wall and were desperately looking for the finish line, but perhaps with an eye to the future many of the fringe players who were on the way out were either lightly used in the last few weeks or left to wither away on the frozen tundra of Casey Fields. As much as I'd have liked to have given Blease more of a go and players like Clisby or Strauss any sort of go at all I suppose in retrospect it was better to get games into the players of the future rather than wasting our time with ones who were about to get the chop. Still don't know why we bothered continuing to play Frawley in the last few weeks, but they were probably worried about another Tankquiry breaking out. What constitutes genius list management for an 11th placed team equals call a lawyer you cheating filth for 17th.

While the last few weeks were hard to sit through, and I couldn't have paid less attention to that Hawthorn game if I'd sat at home on the couch injecting heroin into my eyeball for four quarters, deep down I still secretly love being there. The buzz before a game is unbeatable, and no matter how quickly I go through the stages of grief once the match starts at least I had rush of absurd excitement between waking up and tits up. Even having lived through the worst era of our lifetimes I guarantee that you'll still remember Jeremy Howe's screamers and Nathan Jones carrying an entire club on his back for the rest of your life - and if it was gone you'd have a hole in your heart as deep as a well so fight like hell to make sure it lives on in its current form forever. From my cold dead hands etc..

Now, for the future. Put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip, and come onto the mothership...

2015 - Look forward in anger

Oh, you want to know about the signs? Well whatever they are they're not going to necessarily translate into a spectacular rise in our ladder position, but what we should hopefully see is a further levelling of the playing field, more close games where we hold on to win, more creditable performances against top four sides and for god's sake let's beat a couple of shit teams this year while we're at it.

I've felt this way the last couple of seasons and we've ended up having neither good times or a rise on the ladder so why not third time lucky? Remember that year I felt guilty picking us to come 13th, that would seem optimistic by today's standards but I'm reasonably confident that we can end the season with our heads held high. But before this section gets so positive that people think somebody else has taken over writing it let's remove any suggestion that I think we're going to finish anywhere near the top eight by using my patented bracket prediction system, showing groups in which teams could finish anywhere. And wow, look at those bold predictions for the top two.

1 - Sydney
2 - Hawthorn
3 - Port Adelaide
4 - North Melbourne
5 - Geelong
6 - Fremantle
7 - Gold Coast
8 - Collingwood
9 - West Coast
10 - Richmond
11 - Essendon (obviously lower if half their side is replaced by James Magner, though maybe this time Neeld won't try and turn him into a defensive forward 10 weeks in)
12 - Brisbane
13 - Adelaide
14 - GWS
15 - Carlton
16 - Melbourne
17 - Footscray
18 - St Kilda

It seems perverse to aspire to be GWS but other than their lost fortnight when they were tonked by 250 points and let Jack Riewoldt kick 12 their record in finishing third last in 2014 would probably suit me. Six wins and 76.6% would be two wins and eight percent better than us last year so I'll call that my personal pass mark and vigorously celebrate anything beyond it. Your acceptable level of performance may vary, and that's fine but I absolutely refuse to be roped into the annual "if everything goes right we could slip into the eight" conversation. Considering the last week we've had we'd be lucky in anything went right from this point on let alone everything, I'd love an amazing 1998 style run to the finals even more than I did that year (and it is my favourite season ever) but let's aim for at least one season of mid-table obscurity before getting overly excited thanks.

A key reason why I feel like we can contend (for 14th to 15th) is that while we crashed on final approach last year we at least demonstrated an ability to stick with a lot of top sides for the first time since quite frankly Round 1, 2011. Of course this was achieved courtesy of hit-and-run guerrilla defensive tactics which unravelled badly when fatigue set in but we've had more players do the full pre-season, have added more experience and nobody's run off to join a death cult so that's a good start. Not a great start considering important players like Watts (up your jumper, I'm standing by him. Until rounds 3, 12 and 19 when I'll be jumping off again) and Vince are still recovering from off-season work or minor injuries but better. If only a dodgy paleo curry had gone through Christian Petracca like a freight train the night before that fateful training session the feelgood factor would be off the charts right now.

The news that the kid had done his knee was shattering. Not for any immediate on-field reason, I'm fairly sure he wasn't going to have a John Coleman style rookie season, but because it just reminded us again that there is no end to the bad luck one club can have. I felt bad that I felt so bad about it, because it ultimately means nothing to me compared to him having to rehab for a whole year and then wonder if/when it'll go again but while a lot of our woes have been self-inflicted this was just fate kicking our lifeless corpse. He'll be back so if it's the worst thing to happen to us all year I suppose we might have come out at the other end pretty well but what I will say is that he took it bloody well, watching him smiling in an interview afterwards actually made me emotional. Maybe that mental strength explains why he's an elite sportsman and I am pretty much the polar opposite.

We will go on but it was the moment where our Farce Bingo card went beyond billboard size and to the point where it was so large that it became the first document which can be read from outer space. If it were MFC: The TV Series this is the point where they'd have to throw in an uplifting storyline to stop the viewers from necking a slab of Hemlock Gatorade, but in real life the only standing thing between us an another world's best practice debacle is dumb luck. "Garlett forgets to go to court" is a minor annoyance in comparison but I'm patiently awaiting the 4 Corners investigation which reveals the entire 1970's were spent using the club as a front to smuggle arms to the South African apartheid government.

Watching a kid with the world at his feet go under the knife was an enormous downer, but before it's suggested that Mark Neeld attempted live-baiting in a last ditch attempt to save Cale Morton's career take a deep breath because there are signs (nobody's saying they're providing accurate wayfinding information though) why we can at least become a respectable side in 2015. It would be ignoring the lessons learnt between 2012 and 2013 to suggest that it has to get better but there's a plausible case to argue it will.

It starts with the results of the last rebuild. Apart from Vince coming back from shoulder surgery the recruits who were so successfully rolled in from other clubs last year don't look like taking a step back. Even Bernard is experienced enough that he'll probably slip straight back in without batting an eyelid, and more good players going in around him will obviously help. If any of them are going to go backwards it'll probably be Cross due to age, but he was still so good late last year that I think he'll get through the season comfortably then probably give it away.

Vince was good, but it was Tyson - he of the world famous luscious locks - who shot to the front of the queue faster than anyone had expected. We've been roped in by single seasons before but I wouldn't be surprised if he goes one step better in the best and fairest this year (note: not my fault if he gets injured now). As for the others neither Viv Michie or Aidan Riley set the world alight but both showed they were worth persisting with - and based on the price paid for each of them I'd say there wasn't a miss amongst the lot. You cannot in any way have too much depth, and that's what players like them are offering - not everyone needs to be in Brownlow contention to be useful.

So Tyson, Vince, Cross alone are a reasonable group to start with. Add Jones and Howe who you know will have a good game most weeks, assume at least two of the 2014 surprise packets Dunn, Jetta and Pedersen will go on with it, assume players like Garland who took a step backward last year due to injury will get back into it and factor in better times for enigmas like Watts or Dawes who can go from end of the scale to the other several times in a single game and you've got something approaching an AFL standard side.

None of the the draftees stood out in 2014 (as shown by the criminally low score to win last year's Jeff Hilton Rising Star) but Salem and Kennedy-Harris did more than enough for first year players and after previous experiences it's probably better at this point if we're not teased and just enjoy the ride. Suspend your disbelief based on previous screwjobs and assume 2-3 year players like Toumpas, Viney and Kent will improve and we could just go alright. By our standards.

Then of course there's Hogan, possibly the greatest white hype ever at this club in my time. Before Petracca went down I was convinced he was pretty much going to go around like this all season...

... but now I just want to see him play one senior game. I'm scared of another mystery back injury, I'm scared of any sort of injury. I don't think I've been as nervous about watching a player with the threat of him being seriously hurt since Schwarz came back from his last knee injury. I'm not saying there's any pressure on him to generate some goals but our currently reigning top forward combination is Dean Kent/Tom McDonald and nobody's kicked four in a match since Fitzpatrick vs Brisbane in Round 17, 2013. It's the football equivalent of starting a new job where you replace somebody who was completely shithouse, you cannot possibly look bad as long as you make it through the front door to clock on in the morning.

It probably contributed to him being cursed but Petracca was the only one of the draftees I had anywhere near my Round 1 side, so now that he's gone I'm not expecting anything massive from the rest. Brayshaw will undoubtedly play this year but there's no need to rush him into it, while all of Stretch, Neal-Bullen and Sizzle Jr can take their time at Casey under no pressure for the first half of the year then get a taste later on as their teammates start to drop like flies/lose interest in life. Besides, now that the Scorpions coach is officially on our payroll and as I understand picked by us at least we can be sure that they'll be doing the right thing and developing our kids instead of playing Fev 2015 at full forward.

There are also two spots on the senior list to be had, and assuming a ruckman crisis won't necessitate the introduction of Max King just yet that leaves Harmes, Vandenberg and White battling to get the call up. Having never seen any of them in my life I'll back a Harmes/Vandenberg combo based on second year rookie/subject of pre-season 'training the house down' style chatter. The good news is that all of them should play in the NAB Challenge so we'll be able to make our judgement on who's worthy of a promotion then asked surprised when highly paid football coaches have a different opinion.

The key is going to be this year's 'recycled' recruits, and even though he and his manager clearly haven't learned how to set calendar reminders on their phones I have the feeling Garlett for pick 600 is going to look like the bargain of the century at the end of the year as long as they don't try and get smart by playing him as a half-back flanker or something stupid so we can finally see some much needed crumb up forward. Remember, if all goes well we're going to have an enormous figure down there crashing packs and taking grabs - having somebody with pace at his feet will be massive. More options up front means more chances to kick inside 50 instead of dinking around with it in the middle of the ground before turning it over.

Ben Newton comes on board as midfield depth without much AFL experience to point to it going one way or the other yet and Sam Frost likewise as a key defender - we ended paying more for Frost than we otherwise might have had to if St Kilda didn't psyche us out on the last day of the trade period but it wasn't a huge price in the end anyway and it means depth, the sort of wonderful depth which we've been missing for so long.

The wildcard option - in more ways than one - is Lumumba. This could go anywhere, but I actually think he'll work a treat. As I've said before until he grabs the MCG house microphone and gives us an update on Karl Marx then judge him solely on the question "Is he better than the person he's replacing?" and with respect to Dean Terlich's first season at the club the answer is good god yes he is. I'm not sure he'll turn out to be a Paul Hopgood style prankster, and he's not going to single handedly lift us out of the mire but he's a good solid player going into a spot where we've had all sorts of trouble over the years and again we basically paid nothing considering Clark was going to be gone for nowt anyway. He's a tripper but now he's our tripper so I'm on his side.

The best thing I can say about the side that I'm predicting runs out for Round 1 is that fill-ins like Terlich and Matt Jones are no longer required starters just to be a mature body in the side. They're hanging around if required but thank god we've gone beyond the point where two battlers can finish in the top five of our Best and Fairest and people treat it as a heartwarming underdog story instead of an enormous, glowing red DANGER button.

Demonblog's 22+1
B: Jetta, T. McDonald, Dunn
HB: Lumumba, Garland, Howe
C: Tyson, Jones, Vince
HF: Watts, Hogan, Kent
F: Gawn, Fitzpatrick, Garlett
FOLL: Jamar, Cross, Viney
INT: Grimes, Pedersen, Bail
Sub: Salem

Dawes would be at full-forward if he hadn't gone out and needlessly got himself suspended by 'flying the flag' in that meaningless North game. Also I refuse to recognise the substitute as a legitimate position but everyone else has given up the fight now so I guess we're stuck with it. I'd prefer Howe taking screamers on the HFF and Gawn as the #1 ruckman but I'm also realistic enough to know that's not going to happen. Chances of all of these players making it to Round 1? Again, not my fault if anything goes askew.

The fun starts in earnest next Thursday when the Fremantle Oval joins world famous sporting venues such as The Oval in London, the Hitcham Air Force Base in Honolulu and Bulleen Park in hosting an MFC practice match. The glee when I discovered it was one of the games Foxtel is broadcasting was not worthy of an actual - not even glorified - practice match but it means as long as there's no mystery fourth NAB Challenge game scheduled for Port Lincoln that I'll get to see every game we play this year either in person or on TV.

Next stop is Ballarat for the Bulldogs, and I'm planning to make a day of it by dropping it at Kryal Kastle on the way to find out if the village idiot is in fact a Dees man, before it's back to the city for the first classic pre-season banana skin game since the days when the night series featured horribly overmatched interstate teams being put to the sword by the entire VFL. It's at Docklands so that's a bad start, but the fact that it's against the Essendon Seconds with a skeleton staff of AFL players, suburban ring-ins and two ex-Demons probably keen to stitch us right up is where it could all go horribly wrong.

The potential complication to this storyline is that on the 18th of February the AFL claimed it would take a month to go through the evidence before delivering a verdict on their case (which sounds suspect to me, you'd get a verdict on a murder case in half the time) and we play them on the 20th of March. I can only imagine the scenes if their players actually do get wiped out - we might finally see Docklands destroyed without having to do it ourselves, but in the more likely scenario that the whole thing is finally wrapped up without anybody doing hard time the Bombers could unleash their full squad on us with great vengeance and furious anger. If that happens the game will have to be put back 10 minutes so their fans can throw rose petals on the ground in front of James Hird as he walks out, but as we're accustomed to fiascos let's just assume for now a glorified VFL team is going to be involved. And they'll be playing Essendon. The scene is set perfectly for a loss which will have people beating the panic button until it breaks in half or a win so unconvincing that they just hover their hand over it in readiness for Round 1.

What a glorious first fortnight of the regular season it'll be too, games against Gold Coast and GWS in quick succession. Ask me again when I'm climbing the steps of a Light Tower 2 with a sniper rife but at the moment it feels like moderation is the best course of action no matter what (within reason) happens in the first two games. I can't rule out some red-faced screaming over the race by a few people who haven't realised that Gold Coast have gone past us by a mile, beat us the last three times and weren't all that bad in the two before that either but we're not playing for a flag here so let's not completely lose our mind over failing to take advantage of yet another 'favourable' draw in the first round. People were about to tool up and form gangs after Round 1 last year, and as shithouse as the opening fortnight was our best footy of the season came in the next few weeks.

There's still a stigma about losing to the expansion teams, but there won't be 21 weeks later. Let's at least try (and this will come back to haunt me when I flip out with white line fever) to concentrate on the bigger picture and the fact that we're far more likely to be jostling for position at the foot of the table with Victorian clubs than these two. Alternatively we could win, which would be nice in Round 1 for the first time in 11 years and/or any time we play $cully. I won't get ahead of myself but if there's positive results I'll be throwing a premiership party at the all new northern suburbs location of Demonblog Towers.

On the other hand if like me you don't think we can get out of the bottom five is that some sick freaks are already talking draft, and I expect to be reading that thread no later than Round 5.

Off-field antics
Right up until the AGM things it looked like we were experiencing our most prolonged period of combined political and financial stability since.. well, pretty much any time in living memory. We’d even reversed a deficit that would make the Greek government shift nervously in their seat (courtesy, funnily enough of whatever the exact opposite of austerity measures are PLUS a big fat bailout from the central bank) and made a modest profit.

Good times. But even before the Petracca Disaster the dream that we'd get to Round 1 without any famous traditional #fistedforever moments was shattered when this story blew up. More accurately like a dud hand grenade it smashed through the window, caused everyone to hit the floor in panic then failed to ignite. It’s not to say that there isn't some truth in it – because why would you think positively as a Melbourne fan? – but usually all the big time journos (and enthusiastic amateurs like Greg Denham) pounce on negative stories about us like a pack of wild dogs devouring raw meat. Weeks later we've heard nothing else. Admittedly it was sprinkled with more “it is believed” style disclaimers than a Women’s Day celebrity hatchet job, but even then you'd expect some follow-up.

For the sake of my own sanity I choose to believe that it’s either a stitch up or the President has been verballed again like his Yankees debacle before Queen's Birthday last year, but as no doubt it will turn out to be 100% correct let's acknowledge that the idea of going out and getting the best CEO in the game is a noble one. However it’s not like you’re replacing a 60-year-old with some hot-shot 40-year-old who has the golden touch and will reign gloriously for many years to come.

If the idea is that Jackson is going to retire at some point in the near future anyway so we may as well have a pop at the best option available then the logic is sound, but as somebody who has never sat on a board and at times should be restricted to using plastic cutlery it feels like if this were true that we'd be getting a bit cute for our own good. Instead of gambling on another messiah at what is reported to be a significantly higher cost than the current option maybe we should be swiping the next big thing from another club (if there is such a person) and having them work in a succession plan with Jackson. If the idea is good enough for a coach why not for an administrator?

Without knowing what’s going on behind the scenes I’d certainly much rather stick with the guy who is doing a good job now than spend an alleged fortune upgrading in the hope of getting a better result out of what is currently the worst side of the 21st century. The gaming venues are practically keeping us afloat, so unless there's a mystery strategy to roping more people into pumping their life savings through the pokies at the Bentleigh Club I'm not sure how much more the turd can be polished without on-field success to drive even more revenue.

It seems to me that given the rubbish he inherited and the position we're in now that the incumbent has done pretty well considering, so if he wants to go on and he’s not doing weird things behind the scenes that seem to point to looming insanity then let him get on with it. Anyway, knowing our luck we’d have Jackson marched out the door by security guards then Cook would get hit by a bus crossing Brunton Avenue for his first day on the job.

Who knows how CEO and President get along, but I know which position is more important for a footy club in 2014 and if it turns into a brawl in Yarra Park I'll be swinging a chain around for PJ. Not that members can do much these days, for all the talk about toppling presidents that goes around it’s almost impossible to do – and believe me every second person was considering having a go in June 2013 – but there shouldn't be any need for toppling, let’s hire and fire on performance and not the off chance that we'll finally land on the SAVIOUR section of the wheel of fortune. If we miss Cook and he's at the helm when Footscray win nine premierships in a row then that's more bad luck and I'll probably be on hypocritically lamenting us not getting him, but after the debacle of Schwab’s unnecessary and in retrospect quite offensive contract extension during 2012 how about we just do the obvious, safe thing and stick with a top administrator while we've got him rather than trying to indulge in Machiavellian antics like we’re a powerhouse club and not one a step above Woodville-West Torrens.

Peter, please keep sending the cheques to the usual address.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
Regular readers will recognise this as our award for performance in all pre-season matches, and to keep it interesting intra-club games are included. God knows how anyone gives votes under the circumstances, but @demonsbeth was kind enough to dish out the first arbitrary judgements of the season live our seasonal residence in Cranbourne. The three NAB Challenge games and any other pre-season matches will help sort of the winner, and it's no pressure Jesse just win this, the Coleman and a Brownlow thanks.

5 - Jesse Hogan
4 - Christian Salem
3 - Jeff Garlett
2 - Sam Frost
1 - Billy Stretch

Actually if he could just make to the MCG in playing condition on Saturday April 4 that would be great.

Final thoughts
I'm too old to spread myself across several teams in different countries in the hope that one of them will deliver something as meaningful as an AFL premiership. I'm just going to have to go all-in on this dream. 

2015 betting markets (pre-season update here)
And for those of you who are into this sort of thing, but buried at the bottom in case you're trying to beat a ruinous gambling addiction, it's our annual look at who's most likely to win some fictional awards. Addiction or not we encourage you to enter side bets with your friends and family in an attempt to win a motza.

A rising tide supposedly lifts all boats but the blocked bilge pipes in the second half of last year allowed Nathan Jones to stand head and shoulders above everyone again. Let's not forget we were on board first when he was awarded the 2007 edition of the Allen Jakovich Medal and he richly deserved his fourth last year. Admittedly I went off him for a couple of years when Moloney was fit and firing but while he was never 'bad' by any means he's come better than good in the last three seasons. Signing a contract to effectively stay with us forever - or at least until he's on the other side of his prime - despite having a win/loss record like the Washington Generals further solidifies his spot as the 21st century's greatest MFC figure so far.

So given that there should be absolutely no surprises about who starts favourite for the big one, but while I will remind you that votes are handed out with absolute integrity and no attempts at setting up grandstand finishes I feel like somebody might get him this year. Updated markets will be provided before Round 1 to allow you to have an informed conversation with your bookie or chosen sports gambling provider.

Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

$3.50 - Nathan Jones
$5 - Bernie Vince
$6 - Dom Tyson
$9 - Lynden Dunn
$12 - Jack Viney, Jack Watts
$15 - Daniel Cross, Jeremy Howe
$ 18 - Neville Jetta, Heritier Lumumba
$28 - Chris Dawes
$35 - Jack Grimes, Jesse Hogan
$38 - Jeff Garlett, Dean Kent, Christian Salem
$40 - Tom McDonald
$44 - Colin Garland, Cameron Pedersen
$50 - Rohan Bail
$ 60 - Angus Brayshaw, Jimmy Toumpas
$75 - Matt Jones, Viv Michie, Ben Newton
$80 - Mark Jamar, Jay Kennedy-Harris, Billy Stretch
$90 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Aidan Riley, Dean Terlich
$100 - Max Gawn, Jordie McKenzie
$125 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Sam Frost, Oscar McDonald
$150 - Jake Spencer
$ 200 - Jack Trengove
$750 - James Harmes, Jayden Hunt
$1000 - Christian Petracca, Aaron Vandenberg
$1500 - Mitchell White
$2000 - Max King

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
$3.50 - Lynden Dunn
$ 6 - Heritier Lumumba
$8.50 - Neville Jetta
$10 - Tom McDonald
$12 - Jack Grimes
$15 - Colin Garland
$20 - Jeremy Howe
$22 - Dean Terlich
$25 - Oscar McDonald
$ 30 - Sam Frost, Cameron Pedersen
$40 - Jack Watts

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
All players with zero games are eligible regardless of time spent on the list. Nobody who played senior games in 2014 remained eligible by debuting in the last four weeks of the season.

$4.50 - Jesse Hogan
$ 9 - Angus Brayshaw
$17 - Billy Stretch
$18 - Alex Neal-Bullen
$38 - Oscar McDonald
$110 - Jayden Hunt
$ 125 - James Harmes
$150 - Aaron Vandenberg
$200 - Christian Petracca, Mitchell White
$350 - Max King

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Thrown into disarray the year Fitzpatrick won it for his forward performances. As usual the loose criteria will be adapted by the awards committee as the season progresses.

$3 - Mark Jamar
$ 8 - Max Gawn
$20 - Jack Fitzpatrick
$22 - Jake Spencer
$ 50 - Cameron Pedersen
$100 - Max King, ANY OTHER PLAYER

1 comment:

Crack the sads here... (to keep out nuffies, comments will show after approval by the Demonblog ARC)