Saturday 21 March 2015

The big top is back in town

After years of misery it was about time that a down-on-their-luck side with depressed supporters finally got an opportunity to take their frustrations out on an overwhelmed group of VFL standard players, and congratulations to the Essendon Football Club for embracing their opportunity.

It was another in a long line of disappointments for us, but what's the point in wasting the mental energy in getting upset about this result when there's 22 games left for us all to lose the will to live. After all, it was always going to end in disaster wasn't it? From the moment the Bombers replaced half their squad with off-cuts last night was a danger game. Much like last week had Footscray completed their comeback nobody would remember it in two months time, but as it's happening right in front of you it feels like death.

As I left the office on Friday afternoon for the short walk past Demonblog Towers II and into the most evil place on earth (via standing at the lights with Dwayne Russell and opting not to heckle in person because I'm ultimately a keyboard koward) an Essendon supporter started telling me about how easily we'd win. Oh really? After pointing out that Melbourne fans never take any win for granted it rapidly devolved into a "my team is worse than yours" competition. Neutrals take note, this is a game you should never contemplate taking a Melbourne fan on in because you won't win. Eventually the (good-natured I should point out) conversation took in several other Essendon fans who adamantly told the fellow office Demon and I that there was no possible way that they could win this game. In the end I had to drop the nuclear option and ask the room to raise their hand if they'd ever seen their side lose by 31 goals. Game over.

Having said all that I confidentially thought we were going to win, which was an odd position for me to be in and one I shant be repeating any time soon, Apparently it was the shortest price favourite we'd been for a game since 2000, and just to prove that even in a Grand Final season we could find a way to shame ourselves that day we almost cocked that up against the bottom of the table Saints.

Without appearing to be making excuses it should be noted that Essendon did have a significantly better side in than when they lost to St Kilda a couple of weeks ago. Sadly out went Magner and Clisby alongside most of the other nobodies, and they were left with just two players with numbers over 70. No doubt numbers 75-99 still have an open invitation to return in a few weeks if shit hits the fan at the doping tribunal, but I think we all know that's not going to be necessary once the penalties are tailored to suit all parties involved. Either way it was arguably a better side than we fielded at times during 2013 but one that should still not have gotten past 'brave in defeat'.

However, and it's a big however, while they were less reliant on ring-ins from Ringwood it's not like the players they'd got from Coates Hire were being replaced with the superstars of the competition either - whereas we were playing close to our top side, missing Vince, Howe, Kent, JFK and Pedersen at best and even then only the top two could be considered crucial. The question was whether our best side was better than a top eight side's reserves, and the answer is 'apparently not'. Though it doesn't help when the extended pre-season team allows you to field several players who have no business being near the Round 1 side just for the sake of it. Is there anybody who can honestly make a case for M. Jones, Bail or Toumpas being in that side, but here we were lured into playing them for four quarters each because somebody had to fill the extended bench. At least we're still waiting for the Toump to come of age, the other two are running up and down on the spot as others stream past them.

The good was in the first few minutes was that it seemed were going to do exactly as the bookmakers expected. We were dominant up and down the ground, kicked the first two goals, moved the ball well, were hitting targets and Essendon didn't look like they were a hope of scoring. God almighty we were even kicking to leads inside 50. They were all on the boundary line and came to nothing but it was a start. Sadly while good sides would have used their 15 minutes of domination to bang on five goals and crush the fragile spirit of a team with a player called Freezer who might have been recruited from Ganmain-Grong Grong Matong FC on Thursday afternoon we opted to waste chances liberally and let them get themselves back into the game.

We were getting the ball forward enough but the marks inside 50 usually led to a torturous process where whoever got it had to stuff their first instinct of having shot deep inside and instead try to work the ball to the goal square-by-square as if playing a dice game from the early 90's where we were continually rolling a one. At least at that point the midfield was on top and the backline was absolutely taking the piss out of Essendon's forwards. For a solid quarter of an hour the prospect of keeping a side to an MFC-esque score at the first break for a second week in a row was alive and well. You could tell we weren't going to get the morale boosting 105 point win that we'd dreamed of in our weaker moments, but it still seemed like we were a step ahead. Then in the blink of an eye Essendon were level and all that good work had gone to waste.

The Gentlemania trend of trying to give your teammates a goal would continue throughout the first half where they'd pick up the ball from a pack inside 50 and instead of just having a blind shot on goal they'd try and handball their way to somebody in a 'better' position who turned out to a worse option entirely when no score was recorded. There's team play, there's an understanding that they can't always just 'kick it' but this was ridiculous - team orders probably trump all but somebody just have a ping. If only Marcus Bontempelli had looked up from the Etihad Stadium pocket deep in the last quarter of that Bulldogs game last year and thought "shit, I'd better try and find Jarrad Grant in the interests of team play". Of course if your only option was actually Grant you would try and kick goal of the year from the pocket instead.

It's not like Essendon were playing that badly, but we certainly had an advantage and you felt that one well-timed Michael Hurley vs Taxi Driver style blow might have killed them off. A portent of the evil to come with the score at 15-0 when a small child on level one (let the historical record show that level three was closed or that's where I would have been) was practically carried up the stairs by two adults looking like he had no chance of getting past me let alone to a safe area before unleashing an all-time power spew. I missed Essendon's first goal because I was too busy concentrating on them getting him past me before he heaved, and that was the point the tide turned. The kid was later carried back to his seat to resume watching the game, which I feel was exceedingly cruel. I won't judge until I've taken my own kid to a game and turned a blind eye to Chicken Pox until the final siren but they could have sat up the back out of what remained of the sun and nearer to a bathroom if the NAB Challenge meant so much to them that they had to be there.

By half time I felt sick too, because it had become blindingly obvious that not only was a thrashing off the table but that we would struggle to beat a side would be in the battle for 17th if it played during the regular season. Then again we lost to St Kilda in Round 1 last year and they turned out to be marginally worse than us, so if you were a fair and reasonable fan you'd put it down as a bump in the road and blame Docklands for the evil hold it has over us. Unfortunately I'm not a fair and reasonable fan, I'm a member of the Internet Melbourne Community and it's either deepression or an insurance job on the MCG. Hold fire (literally) on the second one and I'll tell you if we need it in a few weeks.

It's not all bad news though, our recruits continue to be in the best - Frost is a tackling and chasing machine, and while I'm still not convinced he's going anywhere as a forward at least it's a throw back to the glory days of the Stefan Martin Experience being able to fill three roles in an emergency. Newton was handy without being flashy again, and Jeff Garlett is officially the crumber of my dreams. Throw in his chasing, tackling and handball-intercepting and on a cost/benefit analysis giving up picks 61 (Clem Smith?) and 79 (PASS) for him could be the greatest get since we turned Troy Longmuir into pick 19 (20th century Freo were total crackpots) which delivered us 254 games and 350 goals of Brad Green. Tyson/Salem vs Kelly could be up there as well, but that will be a win for everyone instead of a side necking themselves with culpable trading.

Up and down the wing the Harry O Show kept rolling on, despite the efforts of Ballbag Barrett to harpoon his Buckley free start with pissweak 'scandal' involving him hanging out with people who like to wake up with a breakfast bong for religious purposes. You know an article's a winner when they even italicise the weasel words like 'it is understood' and includes a paragraph that includes a dictionary definition. The only thing that stopped it from achieving the Denham Award for Landfill Journalism was the lack of "Fans have taken to Twitter to voice their frustration" and some embedded whinging by Pies fans. At least it was the perfect game to play immediately post-'scandal', because no Essendon fan's going to hang shit on somebody for being inadvertently caught up in drug use are they? Personally I have similar views about him (Lumumba, not Barrett) to David Brent's views about Ian Botham.

Of the non-recycled players vandenBerg - the most thrillingly spelt Demon since Yze - all but sealed his Round 1 start by kicking goals as well as being a big bastard, and while Hogan's overall performance fell somewhere between Daniel Hughes and Juice Newton on the MFC key-forward scale at least he worked hard for the whole game and we didn't have to sub him off as a precaution against a mystery injury. I will not be held responsible if he slips on a banana peel in the next two weeks but I'm confident that we can at least get him on the ground for Round 1 before he's buried under the weight of our expectations.

Those who expected a fade-out in the second half were disappointed - Essendon and Melbourne fans alike - and even though the standard was completely toxic the eight or nine neutrals in the undisclosed crowd that the AFL won't even admit to (no more than 10,000 without massive rorts) would have enjoyed it. Not sure flashing LED lights and TV screens that go GOAL! GOAL! GOAL! whenever anyone kicks one would convince them to come back but at least it stayed close. For our games they should also load up one that goes LOL! LOL! LOL!

After Essendon looked like they were going to be the ones running away early in the third quarter while we resorted to dinky little 11 metre kicks to forwards 60 metres out hard on the boundary line, we rescued the situation late in the third quarter but even when we got back to two goals in front midway through the last quarter it still seemed like it was going to go horribly wrong at some point. It was another opportunity to put them away but impotent as ever that was the end of the scoring at our end.

By this stage Essendon were plodding around without much spark themselves and we might have held on, but just when you thought you'd seen the last humiliating defeat masterminded by a coaches box containing Mark Neeld and Neil Craig up pops Jack Viney with an incredible howler to gift them the winning goal. Easy enough for people to complain about how you never kick across goal but you might want to have a closer look at what we've done 72 times a game in the last three weeks if you think the coach subscribes to that philosophy. In stark contrast to both Jamar (who was actually kicking rather than handballing and having some success) and McDonald who have looked much better by foot in the last couple of games this was just flat out ugly. Certainly not the type of guy I want doing tricky stuff in the backline. He'll be fine, and I know being a average kick didn't hold his dad back but if his name was Jack McGee he'd cop a lot more shit for his wonky accuracy than he does now

At the risk of another round of excuses I'm not entirely convinced that Roos cares about winning these games. Gawn came on at three quarter time but Frost spent as much time as him in the ruck, and in another moment of MFC innovation Jordie McKenzie became the first unused substitute/interchange player since about 1978. I know it was a meaningless match but what's the point of picking a tagger as the sub if you're not going to give him a decent run? It looks as if they were saving him for a full game at Casey the next day, but surely a half in a nothing AFL game at a real stadium is about as good as a full VFL match on the frozen tundra of Casey Fields? The question is whether they never intended to play him and only had him trotting up and down the boundary line at the 22 minute mark of the last quarter so we wouldn't get investigated for match fixing.

Aside from the chance for him to lose for Casey instead of Melbourne (which naturally he did), why not start him then bring on somebody like Michie (Kennedy-Harris apparently injured at training. Of course he was) who can add a bit of jazz to the side. It's like when they used Riley as the sub last year, any danger of the proverbial impact player getting a go? We've now officially been abysmal at using the sub for impact across five different senior coaches. It's a shit rule but it's not going anywhere, no need to launch a dirty protest by bringing on taggers when we're six goals behind. Speaking of useless rules I note that North Melbourne kicked three 'Supergoals' in the first quarter the next day while we've kicked none in two years. I'm happy enough when we kick three regulation goals in a first quarter.

You can tell yourself that the game meant nothing until the cows come home, and I can make Tankquiry style assumptions about what the coaching staff really wanted out of the match, but the fact remains that it's growing increasingly difficult to imagine a time where we're not a national joke. I just want one week where somebody doesn't have a suggested addition to the #fistedforever list.

So good luck to Essendon. Their fans who aren't so insane that they want to ransack the contents of James Hird's toilet bowl for their own personal use deserve some good times no matter how pointless the match is in the grand scheme of things. Much like the Bulldogs last week it also continues a run of good close games between the sides (with the unfortunate exception of one cricket score on a Saturday night in 2013) and gives us something to look forward to when we play them in Round 15 when they're peaking (not like that) because 90% of their squad only started playing two months before and we're doing our traditional second half of the year impersonation of a floating goldfish.

I'm usually fairly openly to ridicule (well you'd have to be wouldn't you?), but now that I've retired from being a half-kit wanker due to old age and public outrage (from the same people who think nothing of 80% of a soccer crowd wearing the shirt) it was easy to casually slip the scarf off at the final siren and slide into anonymity. As I sat down on the train the girl opposite asked "who won?" and when I said "not Melbourne" she was unable to work out what that meant for the result and sat there like a dog being shown a card trick. I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she didn't know who was playing and said Essendon only to get the old fist pump and "yeah go the Bombers!" back. Always great to see loyal fans rewarded with victory.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Jeff Garlett
4 - Heritier Lumumba
3 - Aaron vandenBerg
2 - Ben Newton
1 - Dom Tyson

Apologies to Dawes, Salem, Jamar, Dunn, Watts, Jetta and N Jones.


Congratulations to H. Lumumba - winning gongs, not ripping bongs - for etching his name on to the lengthy Demonblog honour roll as the first award winner of our 11th season.

13 - Heritier Lumumba
11 - Jeff Garlett
8 - Christian Salem
5 - Daniel Cross, Jesse Hogan
4 - Nathan Jones, Dom Tyson
3 - Aaron vandenBerg
2 - Sam Frost, Ben Newton,
1 - Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Billy Stretch

Crowd watch
There didn't seem to be all that many Essendon fans present (though they'll all claim they were there now), but the ones who did show up seemed to have an absurd level of love for Paul Chapman. You'd almost think he'd won three premierships for them instead of nipping in at the death of his career to sneak a few more games in. Admittedly I will probably provide either Lumumba or Garlett with the same rockstar reception if we start winning, but poor old Brendan Goddard is the guy that's wheeled out every second week to pretend that everything is ok and he's happy to have chosen Essendon so maybe give him something even if he did almost get rubbed out for six weeks when an elbow swipe missed Viney's head by about 1mm.

Best on ground was the guy I sat behind during the third quarter who was threatening to go absolutely insane every time we did something stupid. There's a man with more fire left in his belly than me. A lone Bombers fan sitting within close proximity threatened to escalate the situation by celebrating every good thing they did in an inappropriately loud fashion because he had the biggest pair of headphones you'll ever see on and obviously had no idea what volume he was blathering on at. Can't confirm if he was the same person who spent the entire first quarter walking back and forth along the level one concourse yelling "ESS-E-DON" as if the letter N had never been invented.

Was it worth it?
Not bloody likely, but at least members didn't have to pay for it. I did, however, risk grievous bodily harm by foolishly paying $6 for what probably ranks as the #1 worst 'hot dog' I've ever had at a footy game. There's a lot of contenders (e.g. every single one I've ever had that wasn't made by the Kaiser), but while the following anecdote may as well be archived by the National Library under "first world problems" I'm going to put it on the record anyway.

Not only did the 'hot dog' go down like swallowing like a lump of cement but as part of their continued  commitment to 'fan experience' they won't even give you little packets of condiments now and you're expected to get your sauces from a giant pump action dispenser. Which has been done before, and wouldn't be so bad if it were located in the concourse outside but being the people moving experts that Etihad Stadium management are they've decided to put it in the middle of the queuing area, leaving people to filter around some poor bastard (me) desperately trying to sauce their ropey hot dog while simultaneously hating themselves for buying it in the first place.

I should have put it back and walked out at this point but when it comes to unhealthy food I am a weak, weak individual who will wind up having a weak, weak heart. While people attempted to get around me to the register I ended up having to practically elbow drop the bloody thing just to get a sliver of tomato sauce out, then a slight tap of the 'mustard' caused it to carpet bomb half my hand with a substance that ended up tasting more like Mustard Gas. You can connect to free wi-fi at the stadium if you're keen, but stiff shit if you want to apply sauce with dignity.

At this point I still hadn't even got my wallet out to pay, and when I did - precariously balancing this oversauced 'dog' on its flimsy packaging - the guy on the counter excused himself and went off to do something or other in the drinks cabinet. If I wasn't such a law-abiding citizen who still harboured ambitions to become prime minister I'd have just wandered off.

What a horrible place it is in all aspects, and I am entering a self-exclusion program to ensure that I never spend another cent than is absolutely necessary inside it. At least the MCG has recognised that they sell gutter slop and have slashed prices accordingly. Take me home.

Next week
Nothing for the senior side but Howe and Vince are supposedly going to play in a VFL practice match to try and make it for Round 1. Good, we can use them both. Still not going to help us make the top 15 though.

The week after
Rumour has it half the Gold Coast side are either injured or recovering from surgery. Lucky we've got a demonstrated track record of taking care of weakened sides eh? Based on the practice matches, and availability for Round 1 of those who didn't get rubbed out needlessly in the last game of 2014 here's what I want against the Suns. I have a feeling the only time I got close to my preferred side last year we were thrashed so take it as a serving suggestion only. Actual positions are - as always - a guide only because no team ever lines up like this these days.

B: Dunn, Garland, Jetta
HB: Lumumba, McDonald, Salem
C: Tyson, Jones, Vince
HF: Howe, Pedersen, Watts
F: Garlett, Hogan, Kennedy-Harris
Foll: Jamar, Cross, Viney
Int: Grimes, Frost, vandenBerg, Newton

Apologies to Kent who only drops behind JFK because he missed the last two games. Newton or vandenBerg can be the sub.

Final thoughts
It's 1-0 Neeld, but at least he was classy enough not to do a lap of the boundary making offensive gestures towards us.

Monday 16 March 2015

A succulent Chinese meal

It was cheap, it was nasty and it fulfilled all your base needs. It left you with a bad taste in your mouth, but in the morning you wanted more because it made you feel alive. Not a sleazy one night stand, but the sort of fugly win that we've gone far too long without enjoying.

Even a similar victory against the Bulldogs in 2013 (when it counted for something) was welcomed without question at the time because at that point there were major concerns about us ever winning another game again. This was arguably the filthiest win we've had since struggling to put Gold Coast away in the weeks after 186, and even though it meant absolutely nothing I'll take it with mostly open arms.

Nobody cares about either team enough to admit it but we're developing a decent rivalry with the Dogs. We've only won once in a real match but there hasn't been a dud game between the sides since that glorious night in 2011 when we went into Friday night thinking we were a finals team and enjoyed the lowly Bulldogs pantsing us by 64 points. At the time it seemed terrible, but if I knew what was coming a month later I wouldn't have been so upset. It's a competitive rivalry at the moment (also in that we're competing for 16th), but what it really needs is some sort of on or off-field controversy before our next match to take it to another level.

Perhaps it was with an eye to a competitive match that the league picked us to play them in Ballarat, or as the ground announcer reminded us 27 times throughout the afternoon "The Bulldogs' new home ground". Shame then that their fans supported the venue by turning up in their dozens. Neutrals had the numbers but I can't remember the last time we seemed to have an advantage over the opposition in a game against a Victorian side. I suspect many a trip was cancelled when the Bulldogs team came out and it was full of kids, but because they almost beat us let's also admit that they had some handy players available too.

Looking back on the game two days later the idea that I actually got nervous at the end seems absurd, but while it felt nice to be braining them with what seemed to the naked eye like actual positive football in the first half the idea of adding another chapter to our catalogue of buffoonery by throwing away a 50 point lead left me shitting it in the last few minutes. It wasn't the sweating bullets Saturday night terrors of the last few minutes of that 2013 Bulldogs comeback but it was about as close as you get when the ground 'caterers' are allowed to dish out cans.

Maybe it was the traditional first live game of the season at a venue with no big screen when you spend most of the day relearning how to watch a match, but tension peaked in the last couple of minutes when a Dogs player was standing right in front of me 55 metres out hard on the boundary line but I somehow convinced myself that he'd play on and kick a 'Supergoal' into the wind to beat us by a point. Never mind that everyone else had forgotten that the nine-pointer was even on offer, throwing away a huge lead felt like the perfect way to warm our supporters up for the new season. On a bonfire.

It probably wouldn't have mattered if we'd lost. In fact in the long term it would have meant squat. From what I could tell without watching a replay we were hardly striving to slam on 10 more goals in the last quarter, and with Hogan off for a precautionary scan on his everything a lot more time was given to the B-Team midfielders. The Bulldogs mids got wind of it, got a run on and it was too late/too pointless to throw everything into stopping them. It would have been the sort of debacle that seems hilarious when it happens to other clubs, but there would have been no call for relocating the family day from Luna Park to St Kilda Pier so people could jump into the bay.

All I'll say for that last quarter when it seems we barely touched the ball is that at least the goal that eventually won it for us was majestic. Jamar jumped over Minson (handy player for a "VFL" standard side) and whacked it forward for Lumumba to run to the 50 and have a shot on goal fall short find Watts for a strong mark in the square and a breathing space goal. Jack was as rusty as can be when he came on in the second half but seeing him forward again warmed my heart. He knows how to get into space, he can take a mark as long as it's not contested (and that's what Hogan's there for after all) and will be back to being a good kick for goal when he's played more than 40 minutes for the season. I have a dream of he and Howe flying up the wings taking marks all year, but I'm willing to settle for one of two.

When I briefly wondered why I was standing around in Ballarat watching a practice match instead of watching the live stream the answer became clear when it was revealed that it was a Crocmedia production and that calling the game would come second to flogging all aspects of the coverage to a range of minor league sponsors. To nobody's surprise the commentary received generally negative reviews, and if I find out we paid them one cent to cover it I'll call an EGM and spill the board. Hutchy is like $cully, nobody seems to like him and he's been involved in some shonky transactions but has found a way to make far more money than me so is ultimately the winner of the argument.

So even though we were seemingly taking on oxygen in the last quarter, but I'm not sure the wind was as strongly in our favour during that final term as some might have you believe. I made the mistake of going through the highlights of the last quarter to see that Watts goal again and they're talking like it was blowing like a hurricane in our favour when it was more of a gentle sea breeze (without the sea). It helps the buffoonery narrative to pretend we almost lost despite a five goal wind in our favour but on the arbitrary wind-to-goals scale I'd say it offered us one or two maximum and if anything was starting to blow across the ground. Speaking of the highlights Hutchy should also spring to get the cameraman a course of Beta-Blockers because the poor bastard was seemingly having major issue controlling his tremors. I was almost seasick watching one passage of play, god knows how some of you managed four quarters of it.

Better to be there after all, even if being shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow fan for the first and hopefully last time all year was an unwanted distraction from the action I was squinting to see on the other side of the ground. It's not their fault, I just don't play well with others but my god do footy fans talk a tremendous amount of rubbish. We routinely abuse Dwayne Russell, Tony Shaw etc for their commentary, but a Googlebox style show broadcasting the conversations of footy fans during a match would make you realise that Derm, Basil and even David bloody King could do a lot worse. Then again at one point in the video on this page your friend and mine Hutchy says: "The Demons are having an absolute picnic here in Adelaide" so maybe some people are a chance of achieving on either side of the fence.

The undoubted 'highlight' of the afternoon was the woman next to me going through the program and saying "Lin Jong? He must be an Asian" and her male friend confidently explaining that he was "the first Asian to play AFL". Which was something of an insult to Sudjai Cook but flat out spit in the face of Peter Bell. Then there was "JUST KICK IT FORWARD" shortly before an expertly executed switch of play opened up an attacking opportunity and several variations on "they won't know how to cope with wind in an open ground" as if 3/4 of the players involved didn't spent most of their life playing on VFL grounds - especially Casey Fields which more often than not resembles Mawson Station in Antarctica.

Oh there was so much hilarity when a Bulldogs substitute with luscious locks trotted past us. Because, you see, he had long blonde hair and.. well we didn't. It was like being at the tennis when any peanut in the crowd can yell out a comment and people will laugh at it, but even worse after each of the 'humorous' comments to the kid the woman next to me would replay it to her dull husband as if it was the funniest thing ever said. It might be good for my karma as a member of society and for Crowd Watch style material but take me back to the top of the Ponsford Stand where lone males go to watch footy while steadfastly refusing to engage in social contact with each other.

Having to associate with people notwithstanding it was a reasonably enjoyable afternoon. The ground is obviously crying out for the redevelopment before it can host even the smallest premiership match, and it would have started to get uncomfortable with any more than the alleged crowd of 5500, but as far as secondary venues for practice matches go it was far better than Casey. They were even generous enough to put on free parking, which worked for me but seems like quite the missed opportunity to coin in on hapless locals and visitors alike. It was a neat balance for me after I foolishly paid Ticketmaster $9 to pre-purchase my free ticket because I was tense about turning up and finding the match sold out - which was an almost comically stupid theory but I wasn't taking any risk of going there for the entire weekend and getting stitched up. Turns out every fence in the ground could easily have been jumped if the situation required it so keep that in mind for next time.

There's not much else to say about the last quarter and a half where we died in the arse/or began to show a Paul Roos in Sydney style distinct lack of interest in winning the match, so let's instead rewind back to the first half when for the first time in god knows how long we were vastly superior to another team of any sort.

You can argue that the Bulldogs were understrength, and they certainly had more of their best players out than us, but I'm quite happy to keep playing our best available side in these games. Other clubs can suit themselves by playing three rookies and hapless internationals but getting off to a rolling start instead of trying to get the side together for Round 1 will do me nicely. It's not like we're going to be contending for the finals so who cares if it gets to Round 18 and half our squad falls apart with fatigue? For the sake of general morale (not to mention selling memberships and corporate packages) we desperately need wins in the first few weeks, and this gives us the best possible chance.

We certainly played the first half like any club other than Melbourne. It took a lot of possessions to accomplish it but we were genuinely moving the ball well and switching without any obvious clangers, only to run into the Bulldogs flooding like buggery to block us from kicking to a target inside 50. It's hardly fair for us to point fingers at other sides for adopting negative tactics so best of luck to them, but in a stark contrast to last year when we'd hoof the ball inside 50 and watch it fling down the other end in record time this side seems to have both the pack destroying forward of your and my dreams in Jesse Hogan and a dangerous crumbing department courtesy of Jeff (never 'Jeffy') Garlett and Jay Kennedy-Harris (always JFK).

While we dominated at first it was for little on the scoreboard. For once fans could enjoy the spectacle of another team kicking aimless and thoughtlessly into their forward line only to see it whizz back past them. Attacking atrocities aside the defence was superb all day, and only conceded three marks from 44 inside 50s. The best of the talls was McDonald, but the revelation was Christian Salem. They've put him right where he can't help but get the ball and he's living the dream - can kick, can chase, can tackle, can mark and would have been best on ground if it wasn't for my new main squeeze the artist formerly known as Harry O who wasn't just doing it down back but in the midfield and across half-forward as well. All is forgiven, not that he ever did anything to me in the first place.

My chums in the crowd eventually decided that they "only hated him because he played for Collingwood", which is rubbish because any prominent player who behaves differently is going to cop hell no matter which club he plays for. I'm as guilty of taking the piss out of his previous antics as anybody, but if you remember back to the reaction when that picture of him having a cafe latte with Roos came out there were people set to do drive-by shootings on Brunton Avenue if we recruited him - now they're trying to wind it back to being Pies related because it appears that he's going to be a good guy at sports. Enjoy the ride, I certainly will. As I've said before I'm never nominating a favourite player again because it always ruins their career but.. well, enough said.

It took about ten minutes to finally crack the 18 man Footscray defence, and when we did it was courtesy of a surprisingly non-crumbish goal from Garlett after a great passage of play through the middle of the ground. It was quick, everyone hit the target they were supposed to and Garlett took a strong overhead mark. Good times, but nowhere near as good as what happened next with the Sam Frost chase. This is worth watching the abridged Hutchy Highlights for - he took off after his opponent inside attacking 50 and like an Animal Planet documentary on animals chasing each other across the plains of Africa almost ran the bloke down by the defensive 50 only for the umpire to come to the party and nick the Bulldogs player for running too far. The replay shows that there was no way he actually ran too far but the chase deserved to be rewarded. If he'd actually managed to bring down a tackle it would have lifted the roof off the earth's atmosphere. I've got next to no interest in Frost as a forward but for the prospect of chases like that every week I'd be willing to shelve my doubts and enjoy the ride.

Garlett backed up for the second goal as well, in the more traditional role of crumbing after that man Hogan brought the ball to ground in a marking contest. It was almost worth getting excited over even if Footscray were apparently playing a 13-year-old full back from the Galapagos Islands who was born without a right arm.

Admittedly they were playing like total shite, and were sporting less than household names like Toby McLean, Declan Hamilton and Roarke (!) Smith in their squad but the one thing I can confidently say I loved which will translate to matches against top 16 sides was the tackling - it was fierce and they often went in two-on-one to make sure the bastard who was tackled stayed tackled. When they totally lost the plot in the second quarter it must have been how opposition fans watch their side play against us. Six goals in a quarter is better than we got in some matches combined last year, and even better they were held scoreless.

It was at this point, with JFK running riot at one end, Salem at the other, Lumumba everywhere and the dreamboat hair today/gone tomorrow combination of Jones and Tyson in the middle that one had to reminded that it was only the pre-season. Newton also continued to press his claims for a Round 1 spot - especially if Vince isn't ready. The only downside was that we missed out on seeing more of vandenBerg (crazy name, crazy guy) because he sliced his head open in the first quarter - will hopefully be ok for this week because I'm dying to see play a full game.

Then just as it appeared we were heading towards a morale boosting massacre instead of the usual sort everything came crashing to a halt. Once the Bulldogs were a chance they turned it up about 1000% from the gash that was being served up in the first half, and all of a sudden our run stopped dead. Where the ball was pinging out of defensive 50 unmarked and being carried up and down the wings with the greatest of ease early on they were now blocking us up halfway.

We briefly pushed past the fabled Chris Sullivan Line during the third quarter, but as anybody who has read long enough to remember a time where we were 46+ in front at 3QT (e.g. the elderly) you'll know it only counts at the siren. The Bulldogs got the last two goals of the term to seemingly make it 'interesting', but who knew they were going to make it so "interesting"? Not the Dogs fans seen leaving at three-quarter time to beat the traffic that's for sure. What a bunch of poltroons, coming all that way only to chicken out because they were getting thrashed.

In the end we had 20 marks inside 50 compared to their three despite having less entries but it still only translated to a score of 69 points, so there's still a lot to work with but I feel there's something happening here. Again, it's not something that's going to see us reach the top 15 but respectability may be just around the corner - and not a minute too soon.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Heritier Lumumba
4 - Christian Salem
3 - Jeff Garlett
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Cross, Dunn, Garland, Grimes, Jamar, Jetta, Tyson and Viney.

9 - Heritier Lumumba
8 - Christian Salem
6 - Jeff Garlett
5 - Daniel Cross, Jesse Hogan
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Dom Tyson
2 - Sam Frost
1 - Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Billy Stretch

Was it worth it?
It doesn't count for anything in the end, but at least after 257 days my kid has finally been alive for some sort of Melbourne Football Club victory. Not that she has any particular interested at 8.5 months old, but it would be nice not to be 10 wins behind Richmond in the same period. The clock continues to tick for premiership games though, and she's already got my 237 days between appearance and victory (Round 2, 1982 to be precise) covered. I didn't care until I was about seven, there is somewhere between no and fat chance of her getting away with it that long.

Next Week
Good luck getting there if you work anywhere further away from the city than Richmond, but it's Essendon B at Docklands in the experimental 5.50pm slot. Perfect for those of us who work right next door mind you.

I'd be happy for Hogan to don the bio-suit and sit in a controlled environment for the rest of March. Might as well use it to work out what we're going to do with the suspended Dawes in Round 1 and give either Fitzpatrick or Pedersen a go down there. It appears Angus Brayshaw was amongst the best for Casey last week so with any luck we'll get to see him as well.

There is major potential for disaster here, I can feel it. Maybe we should 'play the kids' (how will anybody be able to tell) and lose deliberately to make them feel better about themselves before the whole squad is wiped out for the first six rounds?

Soap Opera Central

Football rudely interrupted the never-ending saga that is the Melbourne Football Club, and our weekly reminder that we truly live in exciting times. Then again so did the people of the middle ages who spent their lives trying to avoid the Bubonic Plague, but they didn't have nearly as much to worry about as us. After an opening performance last week was best described as "not entirely shambolic" I'd have thought we were overdue for a week's respite from rumour and conspiracy theories. But where would the fun in that be? What's following this club without a bit of tension?

First came the hastily rescheduled open training session on Monday where Jesse Hogan failed to appear. That would have been alarming enough on its own given his mystery back injury last year, then when it was announced that he was "training indoors due to soreness" alarm bells went off like World War III had just been declared. There was a counter-rumour that he had stayed late in Perth to hang out with family and friends (not, we understand, Ross Lyon or Adam Simpson) which now seems to be false but made more sense at the time than a suspicious 'indoor session'.

On Tuesday afternoon good news came through unexpectedly and it seemed that while his back was fine that he'd actually had scans on his foot because some Fremantle oaf had stepped on it late in the game. Which explains the subterfuge with the 'indoor training' (training on being a patient in an MRI machine I'll bet) because if they had announced he was off for scans on a foot injury given his history and what happened to Clark that evening's membership drive would have ended with a lot of phone calls unanswered because people were rolling around on the floor crying. Just so you knew he was still capable of standing up his membership telethon shot featured him doing just that. The following picture is enormous, but so is our love for the great man even before he's played a game so go with it:

As we'd later find out in Ballarat he was fine, but at the time there was no telling if they had two rookies and a work experience kid providing a human pyramid so he could remain upright, but I choose to accept that this time we've dodged a bullet. Still, until he's played about 50 games in a row I reserve the right to have elevated blood pressure any time he goes near the ball. I'd be quite happy for him to put his feet up against Essendon this week, but knowing our record with Docklands he'll probably slip on some spilt tomato sauce in the stands and land on his head.

So if a belated reveal that the most hyped player ever (including Jack Watts' debut when we ran a video package which made it look as if he had just been elected to the Hall of Fame) hadn't torn his foot asunder was by default the good news then what are we meant to think about Jeremy Howe adopting the latest trend beloved by almost all players of a reasonable standard and "putting off contract talks until the end of the year"?

Your first instinct might have been to scream "WHY?" at the heavens and tip a bin over - but I just laughed because the only other options is outright insanity. As far as I can remember we've got a perfect record with players who do this - $cully, Rivers and Frawley all put talks off and all eventually went elsewhere under varying degrees of darkness. So history would show that we're stuffed. What's the overall league record on this? Travis Cloke stayed, but did anyone else?

The classic MFC aspect to all of this is that GWS made us an outrageous trade deal for him late in the piece last year. I'm glad we turned it down then, and I'm still glad now. At this point in time we need a) cult figures, b) excitement and c) somebody who can mark nearly any kick no matter how shit at either end of the ground more than we need another kid who may or may not relocate himself to the Belgian Congo before Round 1.

Ask me again when he's trotting off at the end of the season for pick 25 because it's the best we can get rather than lose him for free (presumably to the Giants who appear to have a bottomless salary cap) but there's time to give him the prize pack of a lifetime to stay around for a couple more years. The old "I'm waiting to see improvement" is well known as the sort of lie that causes a man's pants to erupt into flames, but no doubt it'll get a run at some point. There might be some dignity left in that statement if Frawley hadn't made it last year then conveniently forgot to sign on long enough for us to die in the arse again and justify him making an enormously courageous decision to join the two-time defending premier.

Howe's agent already put the MFB on high alert when he said: "This is the most important contract of Jeremy's career, so it needs to be a very considered decision. He needs to have all the facts available to him to make an informed decision". I'm not expecting "we're hanging out for a motza" but what a a steaming pile of bullshit that is.

I won't assume it's going to end badly yet, or start delivering passive aggressive pot-shots until at least after Queen's Birthday, but all I will say to Howe and anybody else in or approaching the prime of their career who is considering abandoning ship in order to chase 'success' elsewhere is that in 20 years time Nathan Jones will be able to walk into the house of any Melbourne fan who lived through this era, flick through their magazines, grab something to eat out of their fridge and do basically whatever he wants because he will be revered as a loyal servant and legend of this club on the same level as Robert Flower.

Rivers and Frawley might get polite chit-chat on the front doorstep of Melbourne fans, but unless they win a flag fans of their new clubs will totally forget about them five minutes after they're through the door. Hopefully when Turncoat Tom comes door-knocking for the More Money For $cully campaign he ends up being chased over the fence by a vicious dog.

Howe will be 25 at the end of this season, hardly one step from the knackery, and while it seems like I said the same thing about Frawley what about making it clear that you want to be part of the solution instead of diving for the too hard basket? Jones and Dunn are said they were up for the challenge but it'll be no bloody use if our best players are nicking off around them every year. I have stupidly misplaced faith he'll do the right thing, but if it's down to a dispute about which end of the ground he plays at for god's sake stick across half-forward - an area we have been absolutely toilet at over the last few years - kick it in his direction and set your Foxtel IQ for the three hour long highlights program.

I feel far more strongly about keeping him than Frawley because kids aren't interested in dour key defenders who regularly make a mockery of Jack Riewoldt, they're interested in players taking massive screamers. If your kid has a #38 jumper get them write a heartfelt Chris Grant style letter to him then chuck a fiver of your own in the envelope before sending it to Brunton Avenue. Footy players don't fall for that sort of thing these days, but at least we can use it against him if he leaves.

Do the right thing Jeremy and become a legend of this club instead of joining the Soldier of Fortune mercenary ranks.

On the other hand if any mercenaries from other clubs want to come to us then I'm prepared to welcome them with open arms.

Final Thoughts
Winning is infectious no matter what. I want more.

Thursday 5 March 2015

2 teams, 0 cups

Having had six months to prepare for tonight's official opening of the season I still spent the entire day metaphorically sweating bullets. Every year before this day I overdose a bit on a mixture of excitement and panic and worry that this sort of thing isn't going to float my boat any more. Of course it always does, and that's without a Seagal style training and meditation regime.

If anything the game itself settled me down because seeing them go around at a suburban ground was reassurance that winning or losing was ultimately meaningless but at about 5.10pm I was ready to punch on at Spencer Street Station to defend our honour if necessary.

Presumably others feel the same way too (though admittedly there there are also many who couldn't give a shit until premiership points are on offer), so before we indulge any lunatic theories about abolishing the pre-season please consider the effect this might have on the physical and mental health of people like me. Obsessives need a pre-season too, and we can't simulate the effects that we'll feel during games by running around an oval.

Fox Footy was nice enough to put on an opening ceremony featuring that comeback against the Dockers in 2008, and when the lights went down on that glorious afternoon (well that glorious second half anyway) footy was officially back. Technically it came back last week, and generally I wouldn't acknowledge that other clubs were involved all it took was a couple of serious knee injuries for the NAB Challenge to go from a welcome warm-up for the real stuff to the biggest evil facing Australian rules football today. It's not like anybody influential was suggesting it, but as horrible as it is for any player (let along 2x best and fairest winners) to end their year in a throwaway match I'm not sure the "start with Round 1" crowd have really thought their idea out.

Firstly if you want a sporting hard luck story you consult a Melbourne fan, and in this case we can tell you about Gawn and Petracca going down with ACL injuries as if shot during training. If we hadn't played tonight you'd think the space would be filled with more intra-club games, and with no other competitive matches to be played the intensity would be turned up from an AFL 9's match in Dubbo on a Wednesday night to the point where we're right back in the same place and extremities are exploding as if players have wandered into a minefield.

So apologies to Mark Stevens, Grant Thomas et al but you're speaking out of your ringpieces. It appears that the dreaded ACL injury appears to be caused more often than not by a player turning at speed so good luck stamping that out no matter how often the league rigs the rules in an attempt to engineer exciting outcomes for neutrals reduce injuries.

Besides, is there any team sport in the world that doesn't play some sort of practice/trial/pre-season matches? Maybe the Cayman Islands J'ai Alai Super League, but nothing that's taken seriously. It's wacky thinking that somehow Tom Liberatore's knee blowing out would somehow be better if it happened in Round 1 rather that at the Whitten Oval. Nobody seemed to care about infrequent carnage when teams were playing for the fool's gold of the Fosters/Panasonic/Wizard/NAB Cup as long as it was pure accident and not caused by surfaces which resembled the face of the moon. Those who remember Schwarz doing his knee in Albury, Morton his knee at Princes Park (was never the same) and Jurrah his shoulder on some god-forsaken South Australian country oval know if you lost in the early rounds of the cup you ended up playing meaningless games on Quambatook Oval anyway.

So what's the alternative? Rolling up to Round 1 with players as rusty as fuck then having to listen to every pundit claim that kicking on both sides should be added to the national curriculum to ensure a higher standard of footy? Bollocks to that. Besides, if you think the AFL aren't going to keep doing this just to stuff around with cricket, soccer, rugby league and god knows what other sports then you're kidding yourself - they'd be playing practice games at 11am on Boxing Day if the players weren't in a union.

I'm not even sure why 'journalists' would attempt to lead the charge on this (other than Stevo, who is incredibly even more one-eyed than me) considering that until about Round 4 when they can switch to trying to get coaches sacked the only thing getting them up on a Monday morning are the injuries. Imagine if there were no players hobbling into clinics that you could surround with cameras and ask them to describe how they're feeling ("Pretty shit actually Mark, how do you think?") as they go in to find out the bar news. They've not extended the nightly news to an hour so their sports reporters can do Four Corners style investigative journalism.

These games are a necessary evil, and I for one welcome them from behind the couch while covering my eyes in terror that somebody's going to get injured or suspended and miss Round 1/the decade. The first good sign was that Dwayne Russell was absent. To avoid him I'll even put up with Dermott Brereton offering a 1/9 genuine insight to tripe ration on special comments - and it was certainly the latter when he pondered aloud just seconds into the coverage that it would be interesting to see which end Garland would play at. Given that he's been a defender for about 111 of 115 games I'd say the odds were fairly strong that he'd continue doing that, but Frost up front was a surprise so perhaps Derm knew something we didn't and botched the delivery. It's his pre-season too, and both of us will still be waffling to an unnecessary length in late August.

It ended with a margin that I'd consider perfectly acceptable against a strong Fremantle lineup, but with a typically low final score courtesy of not managing a goal to the right of screen for the entire match, but there were enough signs in the Dockers keeping us at arm's length for most of the day to say that while there's no chance in hell that we'll be contending for the same spots on the ladder as them this season that we can at least go into games against genuine top eight sides not fearing a battering.

If you got home late and missed the first few minutes then you missed the best stuff by a mile. Straight off the bat Tyson won a perfect clearance and went straight inside 50 looking for Hogan - which is a combination I will quite enjoy seeing on Grand Final Day in about seven years time no matter who they're playing for. The Fear came into play for the first time when the ball hit the ground and Hulk did a quick double turn to try and find it - like somebody's life flashing before their eyes as they're dying his knee injury flashed before mine. Fortunately it was just me panicking and he got through the game seemingly unscathed (though I said that in the Geelong practice match last year and we never saw him again). As long as we can confirm he's actually boarded the plane and is flying back to Melbourne then let's put his performance down as an encouraging learning experience and enjoy the ride from here.

The first goal of the season came from Ben Newton taking a great mark running back with the flight of the ball, and an equally great kick from 50m out on a tight angle. He looked really good in the first half before running out of steam and then copping a whack around the head which caused them to sub him off. Centre clearances, leads, midfielders kicking goals from set shots - when would it all end if not with Nathan Jones lifting the premiership cup in September? Apparently with Garland giving away a free and a goal right in front, and that was the end of us for about half an hour.

It was noticeable in the first quarter, before we slowed to a crawl near the end, that while we were getting flogged in the taps that we were also winning the clearances comfortably. Even the ball movement looked reasonable (which is up from 'cringeworthy') with a couple of the expected random clangers but we were still horrible at delivering it inside 50. Until Hogan started pushing up later there was nothing happening along the half-forward line (some things never change), and while he was deep inside 50 they knew we were going to kick it to him every time and wouldn't let him get away. The one shining light forward was Kent who was involved in everything. I'm never adopting a favourite player again because it always kills their career but I'm in love with him because he clearly hates humanity but is also quick and can both dispose of AND get the ball.

Nevertheless even when we were winning it still looked like Enthusiastic Amateurs XVIII vs a group of highly paid professionals and it wasn't long before Fremantle took over. The heat probably didn't help, but given that we usually fail to get through the two halves of one quarter then it was far too much to ask for an entire half of quick, attacking football.

All was not lost even as Freo skipped away during the second quarter with barely a fingernail raised in defiance. Tyson and Jones were doing Tyson and Jones type things, it was impossible to fault Cross and Lumumba appeared to do exactly what I expected Grimes was going to a few years ago before we Melbourned him.

On the other hand my Max Gawn for 1st ruck campaign was left in disarray due to him kicking like The Spencil, but give it a few more weeks we're not at Round 1 yet. He still had more touches and more marks than Jamar despite having a mare so I'm not giving up on the dream just yet. Pedersen looked more 2013 than 2014, Toumpas will be 'better for the run' (e.g. I have hope we can still get out of this), Salem looks good when he gets the ball but that's not very often, JKH was nowhere near it and I'm sure Matt Jones is a top bloke in real life but the less I see of him in the senior side this year the better.

A one point second quarter was a handy flashback to the good times we enjoyed last season, but even then when it appeared we were gassed and would sink without a trace in the second half I was sitting on my couch in the All New Demonblog Towers IX pledging not to crack the shits until at least next week. Then in a grand twist to keep people from turning over to Keeping Up With The Kardashians we turned up and started playing like a real said again. Oh hello, where I have seen this before? Essendon in the Miracle at the MCG anybody? Bulldogs at Docklands? Port in Darwin? Letting a team get a five goal lead up before storming back at them and usually losing was a trademark move of ours last year, and here it was again but it's better than when we don't storm back and get pumped by 10 goals so I've got to go with it.

The third started well with Lumumba - given a run in the centre - gathering and hitting Hogan with a perfect lead which must have made the nation rise to applaud. Viv Michie and Chris Dawes did do the same thing in Round 23 last year, but given that I think the last people to be involved in a perfect kick to a lead before that were Cameron Bruce and David Neitz it's still something to get excited by. It was a good enough passage of play that I'd probably have still gone home happy if he'd kicked it out on the full, but happily Hoges gave us a taste of things to come by slotting it. No pressure, just a thousand of those in the senior career thanks Jess - preferably more than 750 of them for us.

Frost up forward didn't work, and when they moved him back we got to see a magnificent run off back which made a mockery of the idea I had of him being another one-dimensional tall defender - never let him start forward of centre again thanks. Was also very keen on vandenBerg when he came on, and even keener when it became clear that the MFC are going with the brilliant ethnic spelling even though he's probably never been to The Netherlands in his life.

Garlett was the last of the newcomers, and while he did next to nothing for the first three quarters except provide the opportunity for commentators to hang shit on him, he hit a UFC style tackle near the end of the third term which gave me chills. I'll forgive him for not playing five star games instantly considering he's been in all sorts recently but that - and his improved performance in the last quarter - gave me hope that we're entering another glorious era of forward pressure. Begone the dark years where attacking inside 50's were usually the worst thing to happen to our defenders.

Meaningless as the whole thing was it would have been nice to get a win, if only to spark a few more membership sales, but in the rare situation of a side other than Essendon handing us the opportunity to win on a platter we shat ourselves and failed to take advantage. First Jamar gets a free right in front and manages to kick it out on the full from two metres out (have I mentioned lately that at one point he was the most accurate shot on goal of any player since 1987?) then when the Freo player manages the even more absurd feat of hitting the opposite behind post on the full with the free kick Salem gets the chance to put us in front and kicks it out on the full as well. To nobody's surprise they got a goal about 10 seconds later and it was over.

No point going back to watch a pre-season game, but if you haven't seen it yet just look at the way their players get free inside 50. It's a thing of beauty, and tonight we got a new toy and were obsessed with using him. Once Watts gets down there as well and Hogan/Dawes learn to work together as a team I think we can probably get to the point where we score more than 60 points a game - and what a gloriously mediocre achievement that will be.

Commentary Corner
We don't give a shit about what you did during your career, just call the bloody game. Get a job on the Channel 9 cricket coverage if you want to spend all day trading 'playful' barbs about how the other guy was no good. I enjoy Hudson because he rarely if ever indulges in this sort of stupidity.

Crowd Watch
Not exactly the return to the Western Oval as far as public interest went, but starting it at 6pm on a Thursday for the benefit of people on the east coast (thanks!) probably didn't help. Perhaps having been there before the locals knew better than us to stay away from Fremantle Oval due to it sporting the worst siren in the history of footy. Some things are charming and rustic (like when I found a washing machine in the stairwell at Princes Park), some make it sound like a Scud missile is about to land in your living room.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Daniel Cross
4 - Heritier Lumumba
3 - Dom Tyson
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Dean Kent

Apologies to McDonald, Newton (first half), vandenBerg (second half), Frost (second half) and Dawes

5 - Daniel Cross, Jesse Hogan
4 - Heritier Lumumba, Christian Salem
3 - Jeff Garlett, Dom Tyson
2 - Sam Frost, Nathan Jones
1 - Dean Kent, Billy Stretch

Next Week
Admittedly I'm more excited about returning to Kryal Kastle for the first time since being surprisingly roped in to a rave in 2009 than the footy. What happy memories of spending the evening in the fields of a castle watching OD victims being wheeled past by paramedics while wrapped in tinfoil. As a family man I can now only hope that it's more like when I went in Grade 2 and saw two crunts jousting, but if it turns into a frenzy of pill-popping and overheating I'd probably give that a go too. And then it's off to see us play the Bulldogs which could either be delightful or a total drag depending on the quality of the two teams and our final score.

Final Thoughts
Everyone survived (I think), result irrelevant. Still a bottom three side.