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.

1 comment:

  1. Great review as always. How long until a game is enjoyable again? Every time we kicked another goal in Q2 i just thought how much worse it would make the inevitable loss. only Melbourne can make a win come with so many negatives. geez i'm chirpy today.


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