Monday, 4 May 2015

You can't play Richmond every week...

... is what I seem to say a week after any time we play Richmond. I suspect most of the other 16 teams have a similar version that involves playing us.

Yes, it's back to our comfort zone. A week riding the giddying heights of a one game winning streak is as good as it got before a reality check better described as "blindingly obvious" rather than "much needed". In a week where Jesse Hogan's march to glory was inevitably halted after the photo opportunity with his wrestling namesake (who worked surprisingly blue) it was appropriate that the club paid tribute to professional wrestling by doing our best impersonation of the midgets who were splattered by King Kong Bundy at Wrestlemania III.

It felt odd to be playing on Sunday again. We used to do it every damn week to the point where it influenced the name (that nobody including me ever uses) of this very page. I'd almost forgotten the frustration of not getting the 'extended' team on Thursday night where they randomly pluck a few names out of a hat in a futile attempt to fool the opposition. With respect to the players involved trying to pull off a bluff with Riley, McKenzie and Spencer is practically useless. In this case you might as well just pick an honest 22 to start with, as we found out with Dawes' late injury it's not like you can't pull off shenanigans with the team before the first bounce anyway.

The eventual inclusion of long forgotten tagger Jordie McKenzie seemed to indicate that the plan was to try and replicate our strangulation of Richmond on a grander scale by playing about seven taggers and one ruckman. Good luck pulling that move off against a team with two quality tap ruckmen, a never-ending cavalcade of midfield options and a nasty habit of beating us to a pulp in recent years. It's one thing trying to intimidate Richmond or to beat up on Patrick Dangerfield but Melbourne
attempting to scrag Freo into submission is like East Timor trying to bring down the European Union with a round of economic sanctions. Then they didn't even pick McKenzie to play from the first bounce, but we'll get to that matter. At least sanity prevailed by bringing Pedersen into the side to give Jamar some sort of backup when Dawes was a late withdrawal.

Our return to Sunday for the first time since the GWS debacle made me realise just how much I prefer playing on Friday or Saturday. As Fremantle scooted away in the first quarter I had one of my rare "do I really need to be here?" moments of doubt. This is where 'fan engagement' is a farce, there's no realistic gimmick which can compete with live TV coverage when you know you're absolutely no chance of winning unless you're a rusted on sicko like me. Perhaps I was just being greedy after the rare scenario of personally seeing two wins in a row and couldn't handle dropping back into the sludge.

Naturally I'll still be there next Saturday night because it's still in the blood to a frightening degree, but as a light attempt at rehabilitation I'm considering trying something novel, unique and shithouse when we play Port in Alice Springs - going away for the weekend and implementing a total media ban (traditional and social) before watching on tape as if live on the Sunday night. Good luck with that - the only time I've attempted anything similar in recent times it was only for a few hours and we ended up losing by 148 points. Might go somewhere without any mobile coverage to completely remove any temptation to try and watch on an iPad or similar.

We gave Port dual scares last year but given that they're going about as well as Freo at the moment it might not be the worst match to have a fast-forward function handy for. We tick off another two of the prospective top four over the next fortnight so hopefully this defeat will teach us valuable life lessons instead of setting off an arms race where the best sides in the competition try to prove they've got the largest grapefruits by teeing off on us until we're left in a crumpled heap.

It was everything you'd expect from a top four side playing a bottom four side, but for most of the afternoon we did well to at least stay within arms' length of them. Early on it looked like we were going to get stomped, and indeed it came to pass that we were, but in the middle it wasn't all that bad. Even in the first few minutes of the last quarter when we were throwing the kitchen sink at them one goal might have helped make it interesting before they broke our will and romped away to what must be the sort of win fans love - I can't remember the last time we had one.

The problem with having to rely on industrial grunt players because you haven't got any silky superstars has never been better demonstrated. How come when other teams draft players that look as if they should be in a boyband (Fyfe, Sloane, Heeney) it turns out they're top shelf footballers while ours are better suited to having one single fall into the lower reaches of the top 40 before disappearing off the face of the earth.

Fyfe in particular was a pleasure to watch. If you're going to be torn asunder better that the best players in the competition do it rather than the parade of nobodies who normally clean us up. My favourite bit was the centre bounce where he took the tap, unloaded a perfect handball and laid a light but technically perfect bump on Garlett without breaking stride. He also demonstrated the benefit of developing star players who get about 50% extra time to dispose of the ball in a tackle, but it's not like he or any of his teammates needed umpiring rorts to clean our clock. There were plenty of those too, but we also got the charity goal to Hogan so it's got to be time for the Wheel of Fortune to spin up a run of filthy decisions in our favour.

Once the novelty of battering us wore off and they let us back into the game we played out a more than reasonable first quarter. After a rocky start the backline was holding up, we were occasionally given a chance to get our hands on the ball (even if we couldn't use it to save ourselves) and briefly broke the shackles to kick a couple of goals. Even Garlett brought the crowd to its feet by kicking a set shot, and would do it two (2!) more times throughout the afternoon. He barely got another touch but who wouldn't sacrifice 15 disposals a week for three goals?

The good times continued into the second term, but with Freo on their way to a disposal efficiency of 82% what in god's name were we going to do? We gave them a brief nudge but it was just holding the tide back. Howe made a mockery of my demands to play him forward by missing the first of a couple of gettable shots, Garlett took a screamer and the smacking everyone expected was briefly held at bay. Then Jeff (never Jeffy) conceded a 50 metre penalty after a Freo player marked a six metre kick then ran into him, they got another one straight after and it was all over. We got the last one of the half but the damage was already done.

Considering Walters had already been subbed out (remember the day we played them at Docklands and kicked the first three goals before he reinvigorated his career, Jamie Bennell wrecked his knee and a random Melbourne fan lost his mind?) when they lost Pavlich as well after a head clash with Garland (Col's facial expressions are reported to have not budged) any normal side would take advantage, but as every club in the competition knows when opposition players start dropping like flies we usually cark it as well in the interest of fairness. It's like Nigeria vs Italy in the 1994 World Cup when the Nigerians went to pieces after Italy had a player sent off - except that it's happened about four times in our last 10 matches.

Against my better judgement I got roped in by the boxing 'Superfight' during half time and spent the first few minutes of the third quarter trying to watch it. No idea why, boxing was ruined for me on Grand Final day 2007 when I saw this fight in an episode of 100 Greatest Knockouts on Fox Sports - fight of the century my arse how are you ever going to top that? In the end I barely saw a punch landed in two rounds while watching in Spanish on a dodgy Russian website and gave up - fortunately I only had to wait another 45 minutes to see 21 men bludgeoned into submission by a relentlessly vicious opponent.

We gave it a bash at the start of the last but once they got a roll on it was reminiscent of the GWS massacre and escalated - as the kids say - quickly to the point where we almost lost by 70. It wasn't a fair reflection of the effort we'd put in for most of the game but it was a perfectly reasonable demonstration of the gulf in class between the two sides.

Given that the ball was down there every five seconds I thought McDonald did a great job again, and Garland was good before he clashed heads with Pavlich. Dunn did alright considering he was over-matched for size most of the time and I wasn't as down on Grimes as everyone else seems to be. And on the off chance we could get the ball forward we looked a half decent chance to score but usually couldn't kick straight after fighting like hell to get it down there. The other lot were just romping out of the middle with the greatest of ease so of course they were going to rack up a big score eventually, how many times over the years have our tall defenders put in reasonable performances only to be beaten by weight of numbers?

The elephant in the room from this game was that of Jack Watts who had one of the less successful milestone games in history. I've gone out of my way to defend him over the years because of my dream that he'll eventually bounce back and stick it up everyone but that's three shite performances in a row, and while I'm not sure dropping him will achieve anything for his confidence it's only fair considering that if your Dean Terlich's of the world had three shockers in a row we'd have them shot. It would hardly be compatible to claim that players have to earn their games in the VFL then not let them in because their spot is taken by a struggling senior player who is on his fourth chance. I'll compromise and suggest that he should be busted down to the sub next week as a warning shot before exile to Casey Fields. At least it'll make a change from this week by picking a sub with some hope of having an impact.

What happened to the Jack Watts of Round 1? I know he didn't have a full pre-season but it's all been downhill since that dropped mark against the Crows. It can't help having dickheads in the crowd giving bronx cheers, but even loyal defenders like me can't look the other way forever. I'm happy to persist with him in the future but for his own mental health we should probably think about flogging him elsewhere at the end of the year. Same with Grimes, they're both dripping with Melbourne Player Depression Syndrome so I wouldn't hold it against them if they wanted to be set free to reinvent themselves somewhere else.

He wasn't alone in not delivering the goods on the day, but Ben Newton isn't high profile enough for anybody to be concerned that he's only been so-so the last few weeks. I didn't think much of JKH's game either but a look at the stats suggest otherwise. Numbers are an unreliable witness but so are my memories so let's say it's somewhere in the middle and give him a reprieve for now.

At the other end of the scale where expectations are low but so is output comes poor old Jordie McKenzie, who wasn't helped by being thrown to the dogs in what must have been a contender for the worst substitute selection since the rule was introduced. Not his fault, or that Salem's concussion caused him to be introduced before schedule but after 79 games he is unfortunately going nowhere fast - but if we were going to pick him I can't understand why he wasn't used from the start. We all
hate the sub rule Paul, but it's on the way out at the end of the year so for god's sake try and use it to advantage. We all laugh at Sydney picking ruckman Mark Seaby in Round 1, 2011 when we drew but if John Longmire didn't understand how it worked then he's certainly compensated since by winning a flag while we've been floundering around at the bottom.

The idea that the last picked player gets the hi-vis is tremendously noble and Roos might win a Nobel Prize for Sports when it's all said and done but if your 22nd player is likely to have next to no offensive impact when they come on then maybe they're not the right player for you in the first place. At least Jordie got on the field this time, unlike the Essendon pre-season match where he was left jogging up and down the boundary all night completely unused. It's not his fault he couldn't have a positive impact when used in such an odd role but completely shanking your first kick then looking like a deer in the headlights after didn't help. He had his day a few years ago but is sadly now officially cactus.

We'll always have the memories of him being the only player to come out of 186 with even the slightest credit and the night where he pocketed five votes in the Jakovich by tagging Brendan Goddard to the point of near insanity but after fizzing out at the end of last year as well I'd be surprised if he ever played for us again unless there was an injury crisis. Remember when Neil Craig tried to lure him to the Crows but he decided to stick with us instead? Maybe that's the sort of list management decision that got Neil sacked in Adelaide but add McKenzie to the list of players whose loyalty to our club has ultimately ended in tragedy.

Every team can carry a couple of players like this but we've got too many - Viney and Brayshaw are both luxury upgrades on the likes of McKenzie and Riley so you can't keep all of them around. I don't mean to sound cruel because he had his good times as a tagger and role player but it's best to move on now.

In the end we got what we deserved but there's no need to panic. Even if similar beatings follow us over the next couple of weeks these aren't the teams we're contending with - as long as heads are held high long enough for us to get into the tail end of the ladder in the second half of the year we should still get out of the year with some credit. The only thing I'm worried about is the latest rebuild taking so long that Cross, Jamar, Vince, Lumumba, Jones etc.. either go before the kids are ready to take their place.

Things seem to be getting better, and we've gotten past the stage where we were so unpopular with Facebook lunatics that it seemed somebody had paid for us to become Halal certified but we're still so far away. There's a grudging admission in some circles that we're starting to slowly turn the corner, but that's because nobody except Richmond fans see us as a threat and nobody can hear them from inside the oven.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal Votes
5 - Tom McDonald
4 - Angus Brayshaw
3 - Viv Michie
2 - Jeff Garlett
1 - Cameron Pedersen

Apologies to Cross, Dunn, Jamar and Jones.

It's really happening, and for those who think I'm just being ridiculously biased because I've championed his cause for years let the records show that the King of Sizzle was also voted into the bests by several neutral observers. He's got 17 games left to defend a two BOG clear lead but I'm not writing Jones off yet.

In the minors Brayshaw joins Hogan and vandenBerg in the race for the Hilton and Pedersen temporarily pulls up alongside Jamar in the Stynes. You'd think he should get DQ'ed for playing too much forward or back this year but there was some bizarre rule I put in place that helped Fitzpatrick win it despite having about seven hitouts for the year so who knows what will happen by Round 23. All I know is that if we get into that game and are a chance to knock GWS out of the finals then I am going to throw my belief in not drinking at footy games out the window, get roaringly drunk and probably end up spending the night under police guard in hospital so who even knows if votes will be awarded.

20 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
10 - Nathan Jones
7 - Bernie Vince
6 - Jesse Hogan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
5 - Angus Brayshaw, Jeff Garlett
4 - Aaron vandenBerg, Jack Viney, Jack Watts
3 - Viv Michie
2 - Heritier Lumumba, Christian Salem
1 - Mark Jamar (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ben Newton, Cameron Pedersen (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

Freo has got enough fans now that they've probably got a reasonably sized Victorian cheersquad and don't require the sympathy vote on banner-making but I thought it was a strong effort from them. Good font, excellent kerning, no ponce curtain. The only thing I would mark it down for is having the players run through a banner thanking members - not that a player has taken notice of a non-milestone banner since 1982 but it still looked weird. As did the brief period before unveiling where they forgot how to do it and had a brief moment of terror when it looked like the thing was going to tear in two.

Speaking of milestone banners we still win the day in a squeaker. Freo's would have knocked over most Victorian sides but even if you're one of the thousands of people cheerleading Jack Watts towards even total mental collapse and/or an early retirement you can't deny that the guy who does the pictures for special events delivered the goods again. The only thing I'd mark us down on was the unnecessary www. in the web address of the wine company sponsor, but otherwise another strong effort. Dees win - 4-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch
The Dockers seem to have gained significant amounts of fans since they became good, which is a tidy coincidence. Either that or their fans pencil in a trip to Victoria to see them play us every year because they can be guaranteed to go home happy.

It was a reasonable overall turnout, possibly due to a few thousand people being seduced into showing up based on the temporary return of the Feelgood Factor after the previous week. We've gotten out of two interstate visitors pretty well so far, now to drag big (relatively speaking) crowds in against locals - and hopefully a packed house for Queen's Birthday with Harry O having 73 disposals and kicking eight off a half-back flank.

Regrettably it was my first loss on the Hurstbridge line, dropping me to a 2-1 record. There was some classic MFC class warfare on the way back though, as a fairly left-wing fellow who was on the train when it arrived spent most of the time between Jolimont and Clifton Hill telling his lady friend how disgraceful it was that people are paying to go to space when they could be spending the money on more important things ("like buying a Melbourne membership" I thought). Harmless stuff, and he wasn't trying to bait footy fans into a punch-up about whether the cost of a Kaiser could be better spent on earthquake relief but after he got off the older MFC gentlemen sitting opposite him remarked to his wife: "What a socialist pig". Excellent way to play up stereotypes, his Mercedes must have been in the shop. Twat.

Matchday Experience Watch
After hovercrafts and trumpeting were quite rightly off the agenda in Round 1 due to the pre-match Robert Flower tributes this was our first opportunity to see what sort of horrors would be unleashed on us for the rest of the year. I'm pleased to say that other than a segment where people were supposed to run up and down on the spot for New Balance we refused to participate - and at least unless some of the rubbish the Tigers were serving up last week that was in aid of making a quid.

Instead of a Guinness World Record attempts of how many mascots you can stuff in the boot of a Daihatsu Charade (answer: two if sedated) we of course had the famous Howie's Hangers. I might be the only person in the world other than Russell Robertson to take any interest in this segment but it was in total disarray today due to the wonky kicking of the guy setting up the titular hangers. This segment is now sponsored, is there no chance of getting a mortar-like machine which fires out consistent targets - if only to avoid the lawsuit when somebody breaks their neck and we find out the consent forms aren't worth the paper they're written on.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Probably the worst selection in the history of the award. Pick any one of the three set-shots by Garlett because at least it proved he can kick them, and shot the trade back to BIG STEAL territory. Carlton could probably use a player like him about now. Unfortunately to compensate for his sudden accuracy from set shots he later forgot how to kick one on the run but as a Melbourne fan you can't have it all. Obviously the overall lead remains with D. Tyson in Round 1..

Next Week
Sydney might have slogged through typhoon conditions this week but fat chance they're going to show up next Saturday night the worse for it. In fact having lost to the Bulldogs so narrowly they will probably be in an absolutely murderous mood so I'm not going in expecting anything except total disaster.

McDonald vs Franklin or Tippett will be the main event but I don't look forward to seeing what the other one does to us while the King of Sizzle is holding court. Garland is going to have to play out of his skin in this one.

After saying Watts should be busted down to sub a few paragraphs ago I'm going to hedge my bets and try to get rid of him here - it's for his own good it really is. Surely there's a cheap fare we can get him to Bali so he can get away from it all and mentally refresh without having 15,000 people yelling abuse at him.

IN: Dawes, Jetta, Bail
OUT: Grimes, McKenzie, Watts (omit)
LUCKY: Kennedy-Harris (I didn't rate his game at all but looking at the stats maybe I was the only one. Could be the proper impact sub we're never crying out for due to them not coming on until we're five goals behind)

It feels very wrong to call for Bail's reintroduction given how horrid he was during the pre-season but the 'bests' in the Casey game were a battlers paradise with him, Riley and Matt Jones all featuring. May as well give these guys a chance to play for their lives - McKenzie showed that he's all but finished so maybe we can tick another one off the list next week? He's hardly the answer (unless the question is about Casey Fields) but nor was he our worst player last year so why not give him a go against a decent side.

Meanwhile if Grimes came in for Jetta then he has to go out for him again. He didn't do enough to make himself an automatic inclusion again. The only reprieve I can see for him is if Salem's concussion keeps him out. Either way the Swans are going to spifflicate us.

Was it worth it?
Marginal. I've seen us lose by larger margins to worse Freo sides. Good luck to the Dockers, I've forgiven them for removing the "heave ho" from their song and leaving in all the rubbish bits and wouldn't be unhappy if they won a flag. When applying the Kick a Vic rule I'd rather Port but they'd be my second choice. They'd want to get on with it soon mind you, the entire operation is starting to look similar to St Kilda's dying days of success before Roscoe snuck out the side door shortly before it all went tits up.

Final Thoughts
I still think we'll finish 16th, I just didn't expect Carlton and Brisbane to be the sides below us. Almost time to reopen the old phantom draft threads and start looking for talent around the top three. I feel like we can still get out of this season with our heads held high despite finishing in the last few - six or seven wins will feel like a fantastic victory compared to previous seasons. Now to find four or five more wins somewhere to make that happen.

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