Sunday 28 June 2015

2015 mid-season review and State of the Union

What an outrage that the season is more than half-way over already. Nothing to do with football, I just hate summer and the Grand Final (or in our case 'the last round') is a sure sign that the accursed season is on the way. Beaches? Get stuffed, I am not happy unless freezing half to death at the MCG.

Which is all fine to say in Round 12, but history has shown that as we end the season playing toxic waste football I start to think it might just be better to get it all over with (the season that is, let's not take this to extremes) and move onto the delist-trade-draft cycle. Then the games end, the off-season proceeds at a glacial pace and I realise how boring life is without the tension of an actual AFL season taking place.

Can you blame any Melbourne fan for getting tired and emotional late in the season? Since 186 we've won a grand total of zero matches against non-expansion teams after Round 14. Totalling up how much we've lost these games by would most likely drive me to insanity so I'm not going to do it, but nobody plods through the last two months of a season better than us.

This year I hope and pray that this sort of thing will not be necessary, and even if we lose more than we win from this point that we'll at least end the year wanting it to go longer - and with any luck knocking GWS out of the finals in the last round which would be a major triumph in my book. The idea of having a series of competitive games in the last few weeks of the season and god forbid winning a few of them appeals, and it's why I couldn't immediately rule out this proposal to split the competition into groups after Round 17. The idea has flaws for 1-6 and 7-12 but for 13-18 (where I'm clearly expecting us to remain) at least you get to ride the season home on a series of winnable games then call Exit International after losing them all.

For now we play under the traditional system and have 10 games to go before having to find something else to do until February 2016 (follow the NBL? Lose your house to online gambling? A TAFE course on becoming an arborist? Join the army? The options are endless). Depending on how far down the Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome death vortex you are there are two ways to look at our 4-8 record a little over halfway through our 2015 campaign. Either:

a) We've won exactly the same number of games as we did to this point last year and look how that turned out.


b) The win in Geelong represented the biggest turning point since the Battle of Midway and there are enough winnable games in the second half of the year to send us into 2016 on a high after four straight off-seasons of blood letting and self-harm.

If we'd suffered the expected heavy defeat in Geelong or had gone into the bye on the back of the Docklands clock disaster everything might have been so much different. That incident was so symptomatic of the general shambles that the club has found itself in for the last few years that I'd have probably been on here proclaiming doom, gloom and wooden spoon. Instead I'm opting for a surprise about-face and expecting us to get our fair share of good times in the last 10 weeks.

We're already well into our wafer-thin depth so any further injuries won't help but we owe ourselves some hope (even if like me you're not so secretly convinced it will be dashed before long) and a proper four quarter performance to earn a win on enemy territory against a fringe finals contender other than Richmond will do me nicely. I'm buying in. But only with fictional money.

How we got here
Melbourne fans have been conditioned to leap off a tall building at the slightest provocation, and over the edge we all went after losing to a rump Essendon side in the last minute of our final practice match. Coming hot on the heels of nearly blowing a 40 point lead against the Bulldogs with our first choice team against their reserves it appeared that bad times were here to stay.

Certainly nobody expected us to beat the next big thing Gold Coast - having just axed their coach to give them the final boost into the top eight for the first time. Nobody knew at the time that they were on the verge of falling apart, so powered by a side that had almost a third new recruits it seemed extremely significant to hold off their comeback and win our first Round 1 game since 2005.

The AFL's scam of playing the clubs they own against us and St Kilda (17th and 18th) in consecutive weeks seemed to be in total disarray when we were five goals up against the Giants the next week before classic Melbourne returned and they overcame scant resistance to bludgeon with about 2000 goals in a row. There's no shame in losing to them these days, and any shame we did have went out the window when they beat us by 10 goals without a bench late last season, but the way we helplessly stood back and watched them run riot was another good excuse to draw a bath and climb in with your Breville Toastmaster 5000.

This result caused me to come over a bit silly and decide that the whole club was going to be wound up. Forget the fact that we'd won a game the week before which is still a surprise achievement for us, everything just seemed hopeless having had my expectations temporarily raised only to be dashed on the rocks by the filthiest of all franchises.

A reasonable performance in Adelaide the next week while the Crows were still on hot form (highlighted by the one-sided Vince vs Dangerfield squash match and Adelaide's coach having a cry about it) provided some hope, before we squared the ledger with our traditional early season win over Richmond - which for the second year in a row provoked them to have a good hard look at themselves and reboot their season, a service I'm happy to provide every year.

Though everything looked up that night, with Jesse Hogan taking monster marks, Garlett providing the best crumb in years and Tom McDonald continuing the All-Australian form which made us all ask "Frawley who?", the three weeks after were always going to end in tragedy. Fremantle were in hot form and crushed us, Sydney were in reasonable form and went easy on us in the second half to avoid a massacre, then Hawthorn did the exact opposite and dragged us back to the sort of slaughter that everyone thought we were well beyond. This represented the third point of the season where I started moaning about how it would all in disaster for the club eventually and that they should just save time and appoint administrators in advance. Nervy bastard.

Then we beat the surprisingly in-form Bulldogs and were back. It was unexpected but tremendously enjoyable. For the second time this season we followed a win by skipping out to a handy lead against an interstate side at an obscure venue before fading out badly and being thrashed. It wasn't quite the downer that the GWS game was, because Port are not as odious as the franchise but it still seemed to indicate that were still cannon fodder for the rest of the league. A competitive performance against the Pies somewhat overshadowed the fact that most of our goals came in bursts and we threw away any chance to win by failing to kick a goal in the last quarter, and we all know the satanic occurrences in the last 41 seconds against St Kilda.

It all could have gone so wrong in Geelong, what with the least inspiring round of team selections ever AND the late withdrawal of our saviour J. Hogan but something wonderful happened instead - with young stars, old hands, recruits and the much maligned all coming together at just the right time against an opposition who blatantly failed to take us seriously. We never win two in a row so a win followed with the bye will just have to do. You've got another six days to enjoy it before normal service presumably returns. Why not watch the replay again?

Buy, Hold, Sell

Our yearly look at which footballing stocks you should be adding to your investment portfolio and which are plummeting faster than the Greek economy - with your special guest host, the bastard child of Robert Harvey and Leigh Montagna.

Angus Brayshaw - And borrow money from loan sharks to buy more if you have. We're on to a winner here. Having started every game for the last couple of months there's every possible chance of him being occasionally rested or just generally slowing down over the second half of the season but nobody can deny that the signs are there that he's got better long term potential than the thousands of other midfielders we've drafted over the years. His kicking has improved notably already to go along with the fierce competitiveness.

He also looks like the kind of guy who'd enjoy grinding opponent's faces into the turf, and that's the kind of shit bloke attitude that I've craved at this club for years. There's every possible chance of a slow down in the second half of the season but the signs are there that he's much better suited than any of the other top midfielders we've drafted over the years.

Lynden Dunn - Somehow I've managed to avoid giving him a vote this season, though he was unlucky after hot performance against Hawkins last week. Also did well enough on Cloke when it looked like the bastard was going to kick 12. Has been less flashy than last year but is still a vital cog for the next few years. Glad he has finally found his place after years of being shifted everywhere.

Jeff Garlett - So unwanted by Carlton after one down season that they gave him away for peanuts and has been great. He doesn't just kick arsey goals but look at some of the ones he's laid off teammates as well - on the run in the pocket during the third quarter of Queen's Birthday he could have just had a ping and added another Goal of the Year nominee to his file but instead saw Vince with sixth sense and managed to pass to him in better position for a set shot instead.

He had his greatest impact around the ground in the first game of the year but wonky set shots aside (though he did finish the Cats off with a perfect one so here's to the tide turning on that front) his chase, tackle and crumb has been first class. Not hard to beat our pissweak leading goalkicker tally from last year (20) but he's done it with 10 games to play. The two totals before that were 29 and 28 so presumably he'll knock those off as well - go for 40 son and we shall all laugh at Carlton.

Max Gawn - Severe price drop after ordinary pre-season and had to fight his way back into the side but has delivered since returning. With Jamar obviously been shuffled out the door at light speed the future if MAXIMUM and you might as well get in at a low price and coin in later. Screaming pack marks last week aside he's still somewhat suspect around the ground but his taps to advantage are consistently better than anything we've seen since Jeff White.

James Harmes - Have seen him play one game in my life, it was on TV and I was doing the vaccuming at the same time but I choose to interpret the weekly VFL player reports as showing that he's got promise. As a second year rookie he would always be teetering on the brink of destruction but hoping he'll get a go at senior level before the end of the year if not just so we can have a look at the ridiculous sleeve tattoo he's working on despite having the face of a 12-year-old Swedish boy.

Nathan Jones - ... and buy him in large quantities. Already set to go down as Demon royalty, but god forbid we make the finals in the next few years there will be a Robert Flower-esque demand for the side to do 'it' for him. It's revisionist to suggest he should have been made captain in 2012 when he wasn't even in the conversation but perhaps it would have been better if when rolling the dice and doing something weird they'd decided to vault Chunk into the top job rather than ruining two young players for the price of one.

Tom McDonald - Has slowed down a bit in the last few weeks and will probably have to settle for the All-Australian shortlist rather than a spot in the team once selectors get an excuse to go without any Melbourne players but what an impressive start to the year it was. Will still take plenty of scalps in years to come, has vastly improved his kicking and has turned up for a couple of goals as well just to keep things interesting.

Christian Petracca - Almost forgotten in the wake of Brayshawmania, but you might as well load up now and reap the rewards when he turns up next year and rips the competition to shreds. Also notable for abusing Ballbag Barrett on Twitter which should have instantly seen him elected to the MFC Hall of Fame.

Christian Salem - Was having a great time in defence before he was injured. In his rookie season he could clearly use the ball well but didn't yet know how to find it regularly. Putting him down back not only solved that problem but also allowed him demonstrate that he was a good overhead mark. Bad news for the likes of Jack Grimes but will be welcomed back warmly in a few weeks when his hamstring has returned to normal operation.

Jake Spencer - Seems odd having him as a recommended BUY on the back of one good game but The Spencil, like the poor, will always be with us. Get in now before he's being named a life member in a couple of years. Surprisingly takes a reasonable set down despite his grim reaper kicking style, and the look on Jared Rivers' face when outmarked by him last week will be a happy memory for years to come.

Aaron vandenBerg - Cost nothing, provided much needed grunt around the ball and will walk straight back into the side when he's available Also a boon for commentators who can force in mentions of either his 54 possessions in a game or his previous career at the Australian Mint at a rate not seen since the early days of "did you know Brad Green had a trial with Manchester United?"

Bernie Vince - Waited too long to go through with trying to back him for the Brownlow and his price dropped from $251 to $101 overnight. Still a reasonable each-way bet. When rumours started to go around about Colin Sylvia being pinched by the long arm of the law the trade which indirectly swapped him for Bernard temporarily vaulted past Troy Longmuir for pick 19 for Brad Green as our all time greatest trade deal. Even if Col stays out of jail until the end of Bernie's career this still might take the lead. He is also a very attractive man.

Jack Viney - Proving in much the same way his dad did that wooden leg kicking is not a fatal problem if coupled with a healthy mixture of violence, venom and velocity. Has now tagged both Gary Ablett and Joel Selwood to buggery and represents a luxury upgrade on the likes of McKenzie.

Daniel Cross - Appears to be ageless but can't have much more than a season left. Has been really good in defence but the question is what happens to him once Salem comes back. Best free player ever.

Chris Dawes - Briefly saved by Pedersen's injury just when it looked like he might be exiled to Casey for the foreseeable future. Tries hard, runs his heart out but doesn't take enough marks or kick enough goals. Is he a candidate to be traded on? Or is he worth keeping around as an insurance policy against disaster or Hogan doing a runner? I'm leaning towards the latter but make me an offer.

Sam Frost - Hard to pass judgement based on two and a bit games before his toe fell off. Looked reasonable in the pre-season, and had one 50m chase against the Bulldogs in Ballarat that would be on every highlight reel around if it wasn't commentated upon by Hutchy but would much rather Pedersen for now.

Colin Garland - Remains suspiciously unsigned, and not that you'd be able to tell because his facial expression never changes but you've got to be concerned that he's seen Rivers and Frawley do a runner to a finals side. Could you blame him after having been involved in so much carnage over the years? If in 10 weeks time we haven't won another game I won't blame him, but if we do show clear signs of improvement then I will. Is a restricted free agent but who has that stopped leaving so far? I'll get really worried if he's suddenly thrown into the forward line.

Jack Grimes - Got back into the side after looking at rock bottom and played a couple of good games before getting injured again. His body is more fragile than Patrick Dangerfield's head and may never be the star we expected but a more than worthwhile depth player unless he wants to reignite the Melbourne - Richmond exchange program by reuniting with his brother at the Tigers.

Jesse Hogan - On-field he's been the biggest hit since the Beatles but I can't be the only one who has a nasty feeling that midway through this year's trade period he'll demand to go to Fremantle and we'll be left out on our ear while he slots in perfectly to replace Pavlich. I feel like if we can just get him through until next season that we can keep him forever but have to get there first. It would be ironic after years of keeping Pav out of South Australia's clutches if the Dockers suffered the same sort of fate/

Neville Jetta - As solid as he was last year but with the suspicion that any more concussions might put him out for good.

Jay Kennedy-Harris - Young and seems like a good prospect but in reality has only played one really good game so far (in the Adelaide win) and has gone down the pecking order this year due to injury. Has plenty of time to get it right, no need to panic yet as much as for a Melbourne fan it feels like the right thing to do.

Dean Kent - Was looking very good early in the season before tearing his hamstring to shreds. Has had his season completely ruined by it but there are certainly good signs for the future. Another member of our growing group of anti-social players who look like they'd prefer to fight than play footy - if only Luke Tapscott had stayed around.

Max King - Five goals on debut in the VFL seniors. For a ruckman. Good god. Whether or not it was a real pointer to future ruck/forward gold or on the same level as Gawn having 80 hitouts against Bendigo before it was revealed they didn't have any ruckmen due to insolvency.

Heritier Lumumba - Probably the sort of player always likely to look good in a win and suspect in a loss, nevertheless considering we effectively paid nothing for him it's been a good deal so far. I had my concerns around the Collingwood game that he was too busy trying to stick it up Nathan Buckley to do 'the team thing' (CLICHE) but bounced back pretty well last week - especially the goal he set up by galloping down the wing. Also notable - for those of you who expected him to call for the MCC Members to be abolished - that there have been no off-field controversies to this point.

Ben Newton - Had a decent start before fizzling out, then getting dropped twice in three weeks. Didn't cost us anything so not all that concerned and happy to let him just play for the rest of the year and see what happens. Ironically after leaving Port for us to get a game he'd probably have been picked by them

Oscar McDonald - Sizzle Jr seems to be puttering along in the 2's, not doing anything wrong but not pushing for selection either. Don't expect to see him in the seniors this year but could come in handy next season for a Sizzle Bros combination if Garland stitches us up.

Alex Neal-Bullen - Got promoted to the seniors after a string of good performances in the VFL, didn't do much on debut but struck back with a vengeance last week. Hard to tell anything for the future based on the last two weeks but I think he's going to be ok.

Cameron Pedersen - Out of favour at the start of the year, bashed his way back into the side and was playing well before injured. Showed better form than the much higher priced Dawes and had just sealed his spot in the side when he snapped his hand half off against St Kilda. Will shortly reach the end of his famous three-year contract but I've got no doubt of him getting another one.

Aidan Riley - Hits like a sledgehammer but doesn't seem to get the ball enough when playing four quarters. Came on at the end of the Bulldogs game and had 10 touches in a quarter then 11 and 12 in full games over the next two weeks. Useful depth player to have around but not expecting him to suddenly start winning the Brownlow.

Billy Stretch - Like ANB but with a slight head-start. Did as much as you can expect from a rookie in his first couple of games but last week was the first time I really thought he looked like a future player. Has all the time in the world.

Jimmy Toumpas - Impossible to read but worth persisting with unless we get a sweet offer. Still looks terrified most of the time and might benefit for being parachuted into a better organised, calmer side but has definitely showed signs this season - especially against St Kilda, which makes it even more galling that it was his man who snuck off and kicked the winning goal. Did nothing against the Cats and was subbed out, am hoping that the St Kilda incident which he was only a bit part player in didn't wreck his confidence just when it was starting to grow.

Jack Trengove - Bad news if you bought heavily in 2011 and have been holding on since, but coming off what is effectively two full seasons on the sidelines anything we get out of him next year will be a bonus so it might be worth having a crack at him at the lowest possible price. Still think he can do some damage in the future but don't expect a quick return, with our improved midfield he'll probably have to batter his way in via the seconds. Either that or wait until the inevitable injury crisis in Round 3.

Dom Tyson - Second year blues after coming and smashing it last year, but last week was probably his best game of the season so maybe things are looking up from here. Has years left to recapture the form of last year so no concerns here.

Jack Watts - Up and down like the proverbial, and always ready for something to go wrong so a large faction of our fans can slag him off. Has certainly been better since his brief allegedly self-imposed stint in the reserves a few weeks back, and in the last couple of weeks

Mitchell White - No idea who he is or what he does, and they haven't got to the third part of the Paul Roos mid-season review on the MFC website yet so I can't even cheat. Hard to judge in the circumstances but I'm sure he's a top guy.

The administration - I can't see what's happened this year that would have caused financial projections to come in either significantly above or below what they would have expected at the start of the year.

Still think they're doing a great job considering that the only member based organisation which has been a tougher sell for prospective members over the last decade has been the Australian Democrats but we're still 300 memberships behind our final tally last year despite the early wins. No doubt this will even out before the numbers are finalised, but it seems there's a lot of people out there who still need to be convinced to come back. Can't force them to pay up so I'm not holding this against the front office but we need a good on-field finish to the season to try and convince people to get on board in 2016. No doubt we'd sell more if we didn't play two home games in the Northern Territory but unless we're going to sell $1.2m more then it's a sensible trade-off.

Not entirely convinced on the President yet but at least there hasn't been a repeat of the New York Yankees fiasco of 2014. When this story came out it seemed like he'd end up being chased by a pitchfork wielding mob down down Brunton Avenue but fortunately it turned out to be complete fiction and Jackson remains a steady hand behind the wheel.

The coaching team - They've made some wacky selection moves, and seemingly have a total disinterest in the position of substitute (can't blame them there) but at the same time there have been notable improvements. The fadeouts against GWS and Port both caused me nervous breakdowns, we shit the bed against Hawthorn and the St Kilda timekeeping fiasco is an absolute certainty for the next update of the #fistedforever list but other than that there's probably been more good than bad - and plenty of obvious player development.

After the second half of last years turned into a smoke and mirrors festival designed to take our mind off the fact that the team was folding like a house of cards I've got to adopt a wait and see approach here. Have your house on them in advance of the Essendon/St Kilda/Brisbane games and hopefully you won't be watching the rest of the season from the Gatwick Hotel on Fitzroy Street. Still into the idea of Goodwin coaching one or two games on his own later in the year, as long as we're not going to cop a $500,000 fine for it.


Rohan Bail - My stock tips should be in question considering at this time last year I advised you to BUY stocks in him, but a canny investor would have recognised that he was unlikely to back it up in 2015 and sold the lot after Round 23 last year. Offers 70 odd games of experience in a side with kids galore but doesn't get enough of the ball or do enough defensively. One of the many fringe players whose contract status is kept quiet in order to avoid public unrest but I would suggest that if his deal runs out this year he might be in trouble.

Jeremy Howe - He's leaving isn't he? On April 25 he was 'adamant' that he wanted to stay. Two months later, after a variety of games ranging from terrible to better than average we haven't heard anything other than some scurrilous rumours about dissent in the rooms after the Port Adelaide loss. I still want to keep him but the longer it goes the less likely it is that he's not going to dick us.

Jayden Hunt - Nothing personal against him, I wouldn't know who he was if I had to pick him out of a lineup but a second year low draft pick who has spent most of the time injured has to be expecting the worst.

Mark Jamar - Has still failed to take the hint from the coaching department and retire. Has never been one of my favourites (other than from 2010 until he got hurt in 2011) but you can't dispute that he's tried his heart out for more than a decade so it seems a bit rude to just maroon him in the VFL and wait for him to fade away. Hope he gets a few games at the end of the year before they put him on an ice floe and push him out to sea.

Matt Jones - Has played a couple of reasonable games this year but is just filling a space until somebody better comes along, and once we have an injury list that doesn't resemble a 1000 line Excel spreadsheet he'll be back at Casey. Is under contract for next season for reasons known only to Josh Mahoney and/or Paul Roos and a reasonable enough 'adult' body to keep in the "break in case of emergency" cabinet but not going anywhere fast.

Jordie McKenzie - Has battled manfully over the years, and we'll never forget the night he tagged Brendan Goddard to near insanity in a best on ground performance only for us to lose by not scoring at all in the last quarter BUT he was on shaky ground last year and was straight out again after one lone substitute appearance this season. At least he got on the ground that day unlike the NAB Cup game against Essendon where he wore the hi-vis all night, shook hands at the siren then turned out for Casey instead the next day. Not at all required while Viney, Vince, Cross, Brayshaw, Riley etc.. are also capable of either tagging or just doing flat-out grunt work.

Viv Michie - After a reasonable start last year he's been in and out of the side so many times this season it's hard to keep up. Clearly not a favourite of the coaching staff. I hope for his sake he can get back in the side and stay there but let the record show that my "sells" last year were Blease, Byrnes, Clark, Evans, Nicholson, Strauss, Tapscott and Westrupp and every single one of them ended up delisted. Your move Vivian.

Dean Terlich - Alongside Matt Jones the other half of the players who looked good in their first season because they'd walked into an absolute shambles and managed to look half competent while established players were losing interest and giving up around them left, right and centre. Didn't do much last year, unseen this season and if he only got a one year deal at the end of 2014 (fortunately for his sake signed before participating in the photo scandal with Alex Georgiou who hadn't yet got a new contract and found himself out on his ear) then I expect he'll enjoy the rare opportunity of being delisted by the same coach twice at different clubs.

Magic 8 Ball review corner

Ladder predictors are the worst thing ever, because you just choose the favourites and give your own club a couple of unexpected wins. Nevertheless I have put my mid-season version in the hands of one and it has led to the unexpected scenarios of the Eagles overtaking Freo at the top of the ladder, Hawthorn missing the four even though I think in reality they'll still win the flag and us finishing above five (5) other clubs. If that happens I will be delirious.

Last year my pre-season predictions held up well into mid-season, this year they've been a complete disaster. Numbers in brackets were the suggested pre-season positions, and the dotted lines as always represent groups where you could easily interchange any of the sides.

1 - West Coast (9)
2 - Fremantle (6)
3 - Sydney (1)
4 - Collingwood (8)
5 - Hawthorn (2)
6 - North Melbourne (4)
7 - GWS (14)
8 - Adelaide (13)
9 - Port Adelaide (3)
10 - Geelong (5)
11 - Footscray (17)
12 - Richmond (10)
13 - Melbourne (!!! - 16)
14 - St Kilda (18)
15 - Essendon (11)
16 - Gold Coast (7)
17 - Carlton (15)
18 - Brisbane (12)

The run home
Let's start by going better than last year but winning one game in the last 10 then go from there. Beating the Eagles next week might be a step too far for now, but on current form we should get Essendon (so we won't) and must be at least 50/50 against Brisbane and St Kilda. Again with St Kilda, have we not had enough of them?

Three winnable games in a row is a worry, imagine winning all three? Imagine winning two? Your imagination may only stretch to winning one, but if that's the case let's hope it's the Essendon game and that we unload on them to such a degree that their already psychologically shot supporters finally turn on James Hird. Unlike many I have a degree of sympathy for these people, other than the ones who think Hird can do no wrong and believe that if he urinated in their cupped hands it would cure cancer, but somebody's got to set them free and why not get advice on how to turn against a coach from us? We've backstabbed more people than Bill Shorten.

From there the only game I see us as absolutely no chance of winning is Fremantle in Perth in Round 22. Collingwood and North Melbourne are both unlikely victims but both of them are so up and down that you never know what state they'll be in by the time we get to them. Everyone else is gettable, it's just whether we stay healthy long enough to get them. Unlike last year it should at least be interesting finding out.

Next year
Mid-table security by 2016.

Final thoughts
"Enjoy the ride but remain vigilant at all times" I said last year before watching us shut up shop and die in the arse for the entire second half of the season - while at the same time Richmond stormed back from the abyss to make the finals courtesy of the greatest end of season run since us in 1987. Never again can we allow ourselves to have that sort of a run to end the year, and all we can ask for is to deliver at least one monumental thrashing. Have at it.

Monday 22 June 2015

Road Warriors

In an act of treason so stark I'm expecting Tony Abbott to knock on the door and revoke my citizenship I submitted my margin tipping this week with Geelong running out comfortable winners to the tune of 102 points. And I thought that was optimistic. That's what being an overly emotionally invested Melbourne fan will do to you. Two reasonable enough losses (if you're into that sort of thing) and suddenly the idea of IN: Dawes, Spencer, M. Jones, Bail causes you to rush off and start blending Nembutal smoothies.

Well you would too if you'd been through what I have at Kardinia Park. Many of you no doubt have suffered similar or worse. I first went there in 1999 and had to convince a total stranger that it wasn't wise for her to take on an entire terrace of locals and things haven't got much better since. Uncharacteristically, smack in the middle of all the horror is what I regard as my favourite win of all time. Why not watch it now? No need for me, I've seen it about 213 times and still crack the sads when Phil Read gets pinged for deliberate.

Since that day it's been slim pickings at best. A draw that I didn't bother to take the day off work to see and a serious of brutalities capped off by the day which blew the club into thousands of pieces that are only now seemingly (because we won) being pieced together and identified by the use of sophisticated forensic DNA techniques. Last time I went we kicked four goals, it pissed down raining on my head all day and it was considered a reasonable result because we only lost by 68. Grim times indeed.

So when I woke this morning after a fitful night's sleep it's probably lucky that I had to go to Geelong for work before the game anyway because (whisper it quietly) at the slightest provocation I may very well have pulled the pin. It just seemed like a ludicrous way to spend a Sunday afternoon. At least when Burke and Wills set off from Royal Park carrying an oak table and a Chinese gong they did it with full confidence of survival. I expected to catch the train to Geelong then float home on the tides.

The Geelong of today bears scant resemblance to the side who ripped us to shreds that fateful day in 2011 then did similar to Gold Coast the next week in what must be the greatest power fortnight in VFL/AFL history, but it should still not be underestimated how massive this win was. So much the better that it came from four well played quarters instead of from throwing caution to the wind after going five goals down. You'll take a win anywhere you can get it but it's refreshing to want to watch an entire replay instead of skipping straight to the last quarter. We saw similar in the win against the Bulldogs, but the difference was this came on a ground where we are traditionally wank, with a side chock full of battlers, kids galore out of necessity and after being (rightfully) murdered by the entire football world for the shoddy communication which cost us the game last week.

It also came with the entire football world watching on courtesy of the AFL's brave (and as it turns out surprisingly not foolish) decision to include us in the only game of the day. I thought the idea was to maintain ratings right into the 6pm news by putting on one of those pulverisations that people perversely watch to the end just to see how bad it'll get, but it appears that the match was broadcast on Fox Footy and so there was actually no reason for it to start so late. Did Channel 7 even bother to show it into Melbourne or were they showing Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii for the third time this month? It might have cost us some casual viewers, but those who did watch got to see a great redemption story instead of a merciless beating - and it was probably only nervy Geelong fans who were left flipping over to Postcards on Channel 9 when it all got a bit too much at the end.

Didn't look like it was going to be anything less than a debacle early on. We'd managed to get through the first 10 minutes without any goals being kicked - which is more of a fourth quarter thing for us - but even though Gawn was laying out centre clearances on a platter and Selwood was struggling to get within the same postcode of the ball courtesy of Jack Viney's mean spirited tag there was still a 186 flavour about it all when they kicked the first two goals. For me anyway, my tipping point between "in it" and "20 goal loss pending" is frighteningly narrow. The concern quickly became that Daniel Motlop would take over where Steve Johnson (off a cliff since the Cats turned back two first round picks for him in a sentimental decision that they will neck themselves over one day) left off in 2011 and tear us to shreds. He got a lot of the ball but only one more goal - which was one less than an unheralded second game Demon with a initials reminiscent of a group of right-wing extremists.

The pessimist in me - always fighting a pitched battle with the 5% of my brain devoted to childlike enthusiasm and sense of belief - decided then that our winter of discontent was undoubtedly going to continue and that it had been a stupid idea to come all this way just to see another royal shafting. Then high atop the footballing slagheap diamonds were unexpectedly discovered. Not that we didn't have some good fortune - witness the second goal where Tyson (in his best game of the year by far) had to step through a pair of Geelong defenders to slot it from the goal line and the third to Neal-Bullen where we did everything we possibly could to stuff it up before ANB got his second. Not entirely sure why he dribbled it through instead of just running up to the line and kicking the bloody ball into the Barwon River (which I assume is somewhere just behind the ground) but it went through so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Even better than it came courtesy of Harry O doing exactly what we pay him for and going for a run down the wing then roosting it long to a free player. Which is a big step up from Queen's Birthday where he was high on "fuck you Buckley" trying to take an entire team on single-handedly.

At the same time while we had some luck - not too much though, it took until the last quarter for a comedy bounce even moderately close to the Montagna one last week to go our way - we also benefited from ice-cold set shot kicking all day and there's nothing lucky about that. Imagine a world where Jeff Garlett seals the game from 30m directly in front, and with nothing better to do keep thinking about it for another two weeks until we play again. It's hard to take the piss out of the Blues in a week where they've finally won another game but thanks very much again for sending him over for the draft equivalent of a three-pack of CD's and a can of Pepsi Max.

But Jeff (never, ever Jeffy) and his sealer was still a million miles away at this point. First we had to navigate through the brief but thrilling period when Gawn and Spencer were playing like Justin and Simon Madden. Clearances are about as misleading a stat as inside 50's or 'ranking points' but centre clearances the likes of which they were putting on for our midfielders early were a thing of beauty - and to state the obvious you would much prefer the ball going forward rather than backwards at that point. I've got no idea what actually constitutes a centre clearance but there should be a gold variety for when it's pumped inside 50 straight away.

The only issue seemed to be the lack of a powerful marking option up front. For the second week in a row Howe was nowhere to be seen before turning up later with crucial goals, and other than one screaming pack mark Dawes seemed unlikely to get off the ground. Gawn was playing the game of his life taking massive grabs around the ground and even laying a crunching tackle to a potential goalkicker but seemed unlikely up front and as a result we had plenty of attacks early on that went nowhere. At least we were getting the ball down there though, which if you've watched as many Melbourne games live as I have often appears harder than learning Finnish - and anything we were losing by Max not doing a Lance (never Buddy) Franklin impersonation was more than made up for him pretending to be Dean Cox elsewhere.

Oh to have had Hogan out there with the amount of high balls being dealt with effortlessly by Geelong's defence. He'd have killed three of them in marking contests by half time. The fact that we won anyway probably indicates that if you have access to a time machine probably best not to go back and try and nurse his hamstring through the week (can I suggest instead ensuring that post-186 we sack Schwab as well as Bailey. Then fast-forward to the coaching selection process and shred Neeld's resume as it comes off the fax machine) but it just seemed like a day made for him to kick another bag of five plus. Never mind, plenty more of that to come after he and Brayshaw sign joint 10 year, $30 million deals.

When Matt Jones - who had one of his better games of the last couple of years - snapped a goal and Maximum did briefly channel Franklin and drill a set shot I was practically left mouth agape on the concrete terrace. This was not real life. It certainly wasn't the Melbourne Football Club I know and love (?). Fortunately the equivalent of cutting myself to know I was still alive came a few minutes later when after having finally put the brakes on us in the middle of the ground Geelong capitalised on the only thing we do better than giving goals back after kicking one and snuck one with 30 seconds left to cut the margin to a more respectable 13 points. Nevertheless we had kicked 5.2 in an opening quarter, which was not only our best first term since Round 5, 2013 against Brisbane (we lost anyway) but higher than our entire four quarter score the last time we played at the ground. So no matter how it went from there at least we had that going for us.

So often we manage to turn a promising, free scoring first quarter (which by our standards is anything above three goals) into a shit sandwich by half time and if you're a miserable, silently fuming bastard like me it looked as if we were set for similar when the goals dried up. Again it didn't help that we'd bomb the ball forward with nobody there there to mark and Garlett (at the time) anonymous at ground level. It appeared that for all our earlier dominance in the centre of the ground, for Dunn holding Hawkins well (and biffing him at one point in his continuing quest to become the most reported MFC player ever) and the amount of times we were getting the ball forward that it would all come to nowt eventually when the Cats realised who they were playing and got out of first gear.

They got the first goal of the quarter and cut the margin to five but we still stood up manfully under early pressure and countered well. There was the odd clanger but even when we were handballing ourselves in circles down back we'd seem to get away with it. At the other end Vince delivered CRUMB to make your eyes water, and Garlett added his (spoiler alert) weekly Goal of the Year nominee but naturally when it came to the last couple of minutes of the quarter we did the So Melbourne thing and conceded a goal. At least we managed to get through the next 90 seconds without copping another and if it wasn't for that late Hawkins goal we'd have effectively broken even and probably deserved better because Geelong were looking very confused as to what was going on.

If Selwood eventually escaped Viney's clutches I couldn't rule out a GWS/Port style collapse in the second half but there seemed to be an added resilience - dare I say a desire to stick it up everyone (including the fans) who mocked their putrid last 40 seconds at Docklands. Joyously Selwood only ever briefly got free for the rest of the game, and instead the football world (those who hadn't been watching closely enough until now) were about to be introduced to his natural successor Angus Brayshaw.

I'd spent the whole day waiting for it to all go tits up, and when they got the first of the third quarter it seemed like as good a time as any to start panicking. My body temperature was already rising to dangerous levels courtesy of several layers of clothes worn in anticipation of much colder temperatures and natural tension from the idea that if everything went our way we might somehow manage to smash-and-grab a win then get out of town alive. Enter Brayshaw, who got on the end of a perfect pass from Selwood, set off on a storming, imperious dash down the middle and found The Spencil of all people to beat two defenders in an overhead marking dual. It was not the last magnificent thing Angus did for the game, but it was the only one that ended in a gangly ruckman marking and goalling.

If you watch the replay forget Sandy Roberts calling him "Big Max" (because, you see they're both tall. At least he didn't call him Leanne Cock - and a word of warning don't search for Leanne Cock video on Google on your work computer or you will get the above result and nine others with penetration in the preview image as if "Leanne" is the sort of name that lends itself to erotica) and look at Jared Rivers' face afterwards. He is quite clearly heartbroken that Jake Spencer of all people has just stitched him up in a contest. Amongst all the ex-MFC players going around elsewhere I'd rate Rivers behind only the SME and Kyle Cheney as people I want to do well (Petterd, Blease, Bennell in the running for fourth and fifth place) at their new clubs but it was still wonderful to watch him get stitched up by this unfashionable, giraffe like creature who has spent most of his footballing life on the frozen tundra of Casey Fields yet will still probably end up playing long enough to become a Life Member.

With Brayshaw running around racking up touches at will and encouraging thousands to name their first born ANGUS (whether boy or girl) you knew things were going to plan when even Matt Jones (much maligned) not only got a second goal but survived a video review to confirm it. Then Garlett crumbed another and it became not a case of "can we win this" but "how can we stuff this up?" Because, after all we have got Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome flowing through our veins. It would have been fantastic to kick away and put up a Chris Sullivan Line defying 46+ point lead at the last change but life wasn't meant to be easy and within a few minutes we were behind again. At which point I obviously deduced again that we were stuffed again only for us to get back in front courtesy of ANB's third (!!!) after more Brayshaw magic (take all my money) and Gawn picking up and dishing off a quick handball to him like he isn't 8 foot tall. After an inauspicious debut last week which prompted me to try and drop him Neal-Bullen looked like he was having the time of his life and more power to him. If I'm going to be proven wrong I'd like it to be for players jumping out of their skin and delivering classic hits.

Naturally they got one back late, and for the 13th time this afternoon I decided we were shot. Then Howe turned up for almost the first time all day (though he had set up Garlett's great goal with a fierce contest to prove that he really was trying and would still like to get paid a motza by somebody next year) and continued the trend from last week by threading a difficult set shot from the boundary. No idea if it boosted player morale, I just silently fist pumped and got on with clenching vital parts of my anatomy out of tension.

A moment please for the guy standing right in front of me during this stirring comeback. He wasn't as bad as the woman dancing an Irish jig whenever Geelong kicked a goal (wow, you kicked a goal against Melbourne, why not consider a tattoo?) but as they started reeling us in his body language became a series of jerks, nervous tics and almost shadowing of the play. When there was a big tackle his arms would go up, when they took a mark on the lead he pushed his body forward and when Hawkins kicked a goal he did a little dance. I stood there wondering if this is what I'd look like if I stood up to watch every game? Then I realised how sore my legs were from standing on concrete all day and came to the conclusion that sitting down is far more civilised.

The Teeny Bopper "support the boys no matter what" faction will still be horrified to know that an 11 point lead going into the last quarter meant nothing more to me than the chance to lose tragically by one in the dying seconds. Even when Jones kicked the dictionary definition captain's goal in the opening seconds it didn't seem decisive enough yet. Then Howe kicked another set shot from the boundary, Stretch converted from 40m out right in front and suddenly it dawned on me that we were actually a chance.

Which was utterly foolish because it prompted the Cats to launch a serious of furious attacks, but fortunately they had temporarily forgotten how to kick straight and we got away with it. It seems that Tom Hawkins was the last hope for their fans because when he missed a set shot 10 minutes in for some unknown bloody reason out went the Geelong fans in droves. Obviously they hadn't watched last week to understand that if any team is going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in hilarious fashion that it would be us. Also never mind that a triple-premiership champion was about to be chaired off in his 300th game, it must be too hard to fathom losing to the Dees for some. It wasn't quite the sea of humanity as the Crows fans trampling each other to get to the exits when we beat them at the Adelaide Oval last but it did seem entirely premature. You've won three flags, cop a loss and clap off a champ. Never mind, we were nice enough to temporary halt our own wild scenes to do it for the poltroons who couldn't be bothered staying.

Even more when out the door when Vince capped off another spanking performance with a goal (you know if Fyfe would just do the right thing and get rubbed out Bernard could win the Brownlow. If you didn't lose your house on backing the Cats at the seemingly generous $1.10 you could do worse than the $251 they've offering on him at the moment) and it suddenly dawned on me that we were going to do it. A week after humiliation, with what somebody (possibly me) might have described as the worst ins in AFL history, on a ground other than the MCG. Now perhaps they had an excuse, but people walking out after a missed set shot halfway through the quarter should be thrown into the bay.

Unfortunately while no other side can turn a goal into an opposition goal quicker than us Bernie's goal actually managed to provoke two from Geelong which is a rare feat. The first one was expected but when Selwood finally broke free of the Viney and goalled on the run for another 30 seconds later it cut the margin to 16 points with eight minutes of game time left and The Fear returned. Plenty of weirdo locals were still filing down the ramp and out of the ground at this point, either oblivious to the fact that their team was coming home at a million miles an hour against notoriously fragile opposition or just completely disinterested in the process. Fortunately they were right to go, for just as Selwood looked like he was going to lead an all-time classic comeback his head then spontaneously started blowing a gusher (the Geelong doctor better get used to that if Dangerfield is coming to town next year) and he spent most of the next few minutes going on and off the ground to be patched up while we calmed things.

After our timekeepers went out on a wildcat strike last week nobody was taking any chances, and once Selwood's goal went through Watts moved himself into defence and started gesturing for teammates to join him. Given that that there was still plenty of time left I started to have convulsions about what would happen if we tried to shut the game down too early this time, sat back waiting for them, conceded two kick goals then shit ourselves and lost. It doesn't bear thinking about now but at the time it was a dreadful nightmare. We got away with it though, and even managed to get forward for Garlett to mark and make sure of it with a goal. At the time I in no way thought it made sure of it and refused to accept we were going to win until there was less minutes on the clock than goals required.

The fact that we didn't have to cling on in a thriller allowed a couple of minutes to reflect on what a massive achievement this was - and to look to my right and realise that about 150 people had flat out given up and gone home. In the end the siren was almost anti-climactic when it came, the volume having clearly been turned down out of spite. If the players hadn't thrown their hands up in the air I'd have been convinced it was still going. They then played the theme song at a volume so low that it could have only been deliberate. There's no possible way that a stadium which has had that much taxpayer money pumped into it could not having speakers which functioned well enough for the song to at least be audible.

It's understandable that for an away win in a milestone game they were hardly going to turn it up to 11 but the hateful gesture of whoever does the AV at the ground just meant that amongst the group I was with there were about four different versions of the song being sung at the same time and it rapidly descended into total chaos reminiscent of the late Ricky May's 'rendition' of our national anthem at the 1987 SANFL Grand Final.

Boyz II Men style harmonies be buggered, at least we got the chance to sing the bloody thing completely unexpected and on enemy territory. Congratulations to all involved, enjoy your first ballot induction into my MFC wins Hall of Fame and see you at the reunion in a decade when we haven't won there again.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
Garlett can blame Jesse Hogan for smashing through the goalkicking glass ceiling last week. What a world we suddenly live in where even four goals can't get you a vote. He can also blame five of his teammates for having absolute pearlers.

5 - Bernie Vince
4 - Angus Brayshaw
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Max Gawn

Earth sized apologies to Dunn who I really wanted to give a vote to just for being a spiteful individual. He could have had the last spot if it wasn't for Maximum's contribution in getting us going. Significant apologies also to Cross, Garlett, M. Jones, Lumumba, Neal-Bullen, Stretch, Spencer, Tyson and Watts.

Is the Sizzle dream-run over? Will a midfielder swallow this award whole for the 10th of 11 seasons? Well it is a near certainty, but if it's any consolation for Tom unless Salem or Garland come back from the dead after the bye and pick up the full five votes I'm prepared to call him provisional winner for his first Seecamp.

In the minors Brayshaw sticks his head back in front of Hogan in the exciting race for the Hilton and the Stynes has wound up as a three way tie. If Maximum plays like he did today there's no doubt he'll sneak ahead but there's still hope for Jamar to get something out of this season other than a polite letter from Paul Roos and Simon Goodwin asking him to take their hint and retire already.

29 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
27 - Bernie Vince
21 - Nathan Jones
17 - Angus Brayshaw (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
14 - Jesse Hogan
11 - Cameron Pedersen
10 - Jack Viney
9 - Aaron vandenBerg
8 - Jack Watts
7 - Jeff Garlett
6 - Christian Salem
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Colin Garland, Viv Michie, Dom Tyson
2 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Mark Jamar (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ben Newton, Jake Spencer (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Max Gawn (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

I had deep suspicions about the way our banner had a word aligned left at the bottom with nothing to the right of it like a classic old school Demonblog paragraph where I'd forget to finish the thought and CBF proof reading. With a milestone banner on offer there was every chance of the Cats shocking the world with the first away win of the season, then they put up some weird gold thing with about four different fonts and words stuffed in down the side wherever they could fit them. I'm sure Corey Enright found it touching, I was distressed. Dees win - 13-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch
Cats fans are slipping, even when the Dees began to get lippy in the last quarter not a solitary member of the increasingly despondent Geelong supporters (those who stayed for the end) around us chose to rest on the old chestnut and slaughter us for not winning premierships. Most of them stayed silent, other than a guy just to the left of us getting hauled out by the fuzz halfway through the last quarter. There'll always some anti-social maniacs but the generally feeling was of a crowd who have become acutely aware that the greatest ride of their supporting lives is over. Still insanely jealous of them for that.

Matchday Experience Watch
The Enright tribute video featured a fine pisstake of GWS' inflated crowds (no doubt a fine is coming Geelong's way) but also a really obvious typo which begs the question of whether anybody watches these things before they go out. Tributes aside there was not an ounce of razzle dazzle, and like a struggling radio station one of the quarters even had a sponsor. They also had a wild cat like noise after each goal, which would make sense if they were named after Panthers, Jaguars or Cougars rather than a domesticated animal.

Media Watch
No, I never expected either of Grubby OR Dee Dee to make a guest appearance on here either but please join me in a hearty "stick that up your arse" to whoever at Channel 9 couldn't be bothered waiting for the result and just assumed we'd lose. Welcome the most widely shared Melbourne related news screenshot since Amy Parks told us Dean Bailey had been given the Tijuana from outside AAMI Park.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Who else but Garlett? His goal in the second quarter was not just a thing of beauty because of the way he danced about on the goal-line as if on ice without skates but because of the way he had already been involved once with a handball to Viney then kept going to the square just in time for Howe's strong contest to put it right down his throat. The snap from a shithouse angle was the icing on the cake.

Not to be biased against goals based on when they happened but if he'd done that in the last quarter with the game on the line I'd probably have promoted it to the clubhouse leader. For the moment I still can't go past the casual set shot from the boundary against the Bulldogs but unless a clear winner emerges later in the year I reserve the right to view all the goals before making a final decision and this may very well top the poll. Maybe I'll make it an actual poll and let the readers decide. It would make up for People's Choice player of the year voting that I mooted last year then forgot about until a fortnight ago when it was far too late to start.

Stat My Bitch Up
I had a cracker lined up for this spot, one so depressing that it would make your toes curl. In light of one of the great ballsy four quarter performances that particular statistic has been taken outside, put behind a white sheet and shot dead. All I will say is that our points per game is up to a sky high 74.75 and that my all-time aggregate losing margin in games at Kardinia Park has been reduced to 461.

Next Week
Set yourself free, but on a high. It's probably not too late to book a trip to Darwin if you think we can double down on freak results and topple the Eagles the week after. Hard to decide on changes given the nature of our victory and the fact that the always helpful VFL schedule has Casey with a bye next week (and probably five of seven weeks after that knowing the way that competition is set up).

I respect that Bail is not terrible but he's not the future either so I'm happy to pump a few games into JFK before Kent comes back and he's forced out again. Also with respect to Dawes for playing in a win if Hogan is fit then we cannot have both of them plus Gawn or Spencer in the forward line.

IN: Kennedy-Harris, Hogan
OUT: Bail, Dawes (omit)

Sometime during the week I'll be back with my famous (!?) mid-season preview and will also be recounting the votes to make sure that despite my famous attention to detail there hasn't been any major electoral stuff-ups.

The Literature Lounge
Following on from the lost property debacle of last week an email to Etihad Stadium on Sunday night was (surprise!) not answered and when I eventually got around to calling them there had been no sight of the book left behind due to the shock of our tremendous cockup against the Saints.

Fortunately it's been demonstrated that whinging on the internet isn't just good for trolling the Coles Facebook page in an attempt to get a 10% discount on Cantaloupe and reader djkmordi has made the kind offer to replacing the book gratis from his personal collection. Which is absolutely lovely and believe me it is going to a good home. Are there any obscure MFC books that I might be missing from my collection? I've even got Mark Jackson's magnum opus Jacko: Dumb Like A Fox so if Michael Pickering writes an autobiography make to notify me so I can buy it.

Was it worth it?
By christ yet, every beautiful drop of it. Before the game I wished to spend four quarters standing in pouring rain that would negate every piece of creativity Geelong had in them and turn the game into a brutal sludge. Instead it was lovely and sunny, and not a thing dropped from the sky other than giant, fuck-off sized globules of magic.

Final Thoughts
It feels like we're going to have a lot of up and down over the second half of the season, where gutsy performances are followed up by slop just when you least expect it but at least we're back in the game and have pulled away from the cursed wooden spoon race. Last week was an abomination but once I put the pitchfork down and looked at it rationally at least we were in a game then too. Same as the week before. I hope the Hawthorn loss stands as the rock bottom point of our season and we can do what we were generally unable to in the second half of last year and put the wind up some good teams. Tonking some of the sludge would be nice too. That can all come later, for now have a week toasting one of the gutsiest wins of the club's modern history. You deserve it.

Monday 15 June 2015

Defensive indifference

Post originally finished at 12.30am, proofread and updated the next night. No further insights were found.

The other night I had a dream that I'd been invited to a confidential AFL briefing which revealed they'd decided to merge Hawthorn with GWS and call them Hawks Greater Western (?). I left this meeting intending to leak the story to the press only to discover that of all people Neville Jetta had already done it. No idea how, he wasn't even in the meeting. How I wish that was the weirdest football related incident of my weekend.

It's not where you've come from, it's where you're going and we're headed straight for the electric chair if things carry on like this. For all the whopping off over our new batch of recruits after Round 1 we finish Round 11 with exactly the same number of wins as this time last year, with an inferior percentage and two absolute shellackings in our immediate future. This despite finding the beast-like goalkicker we were screaming out for last year while Frawley was valiantly trying to pretend he was a forward (at first) before switching to going through the motions later in the year.

Of the new recruits who starred in the first game of the season the three rookies (Hogan, Brayshaw and vandenBerg) have done fantastically. Today was Garlett's first shocker, and he's been head-and-shoulders the best of the recycled players, Newton hit the wall about three weeks in, Lumumba has started to trouble me greatly over the last fortnight and Sam Frost's toe has fallen off. And at the time how were we to know that Gold Coast would wind up completely putrid? My heart says we've improved enough to give hope for the future, my head says we're treading water.

All the action that anybody cares about in this game came during the last minute, but it would be rude not to at least make a token effort to discuss how we got to the point of suffering arguably the most heartbreaking loss since Daniher's farewell game - pushing Petterd's dropped mark in the goalsquare against Collingwood into third. Neutral fans have absolutely no idea what it's like to be a Melbourne fan when you're tantalising close to a win and it gets snatched away. Just a reminder for anybody who goes "Oh, but we have had bad times too" that since the day we lost to Geelong by 31 goals and the bottom fell out of the club our record is 14 wins and 68 defeats by a total combined score of not much to heaps.

When you're a Melbourne fan every win could be the last before we fold and our players are offered in a dispersal draft so you have to embrace each wholeheartedly. That bit a few weeks ago about finally stopping treating boring wins like we'd snatched the flag? Bollocks. After this defeat I will mount perfect strangers in celebration no matter how ugly the victories are until I'm absolutely convinced that we've properly turned the corner and not just patting ourselves on the back for being better than 2013.

In a vital relegation battle in the FMITL (the only tipping competition you need) I'd tipped us to win by 21 and honestly thought that we represented good value as the outsiders. It seemed to help when they twice lost players to late withdrawals over the weekend, but as you're well aware when first choice players drop out against Melbourne that represents the perfect time for the lesser lights and people you've never heard of (who in god's name is Darren Minchington and with a name like that has he been transported to us from a mid 90's AFL list?) to run riot and make a name for themselves.

When Jones carved through the middle in the first 90 seconds and found Hogan leading straight down the middle of the ground 30m out my eyebrows were raised - as far as beautiful kicks to a lead to it was hardly Jake Spencer to Pedersen against Footscray but from that range who cares how ugly it was getting there? When he got a second a few minutes later my blood pressure may have risen a bit in the hope that not only would we see the now infamous 18 month long streak without a four-goal kicker drop but that he might kick a real old fashioned bag.

Then as soon as it started we stopped. With Riewoldt kicking novelty goals off the ground and other players that you've never heard of being given acres of space to mark inside 50 we fell apart for 10 minutes and let them batter us. That we didn't concede more was a miracle, and it was with many thanks to the video review system which cost Riewoldt what would have been his third and any chance Tom Mac even had of making the All-Australian shortlist. We started to get on top again late, kicking nowt but points from some easy shots other than Brayshaw converting to prove that while he's still iffy in traffic that he's a dead-eye set shot and an all-around good bloke to have in the side.

We were certainly in it, though it was very much a game played by two also ran sides. At least St Kilda showed - as we did against the Bulldogs - that even when you're not very good you can compensate for lack of talent by putting on an insane level of pressure. Despite that 10 minute period of looking terrible, when we got to quarter time just a point behind it felt surprising that we'd managed to get that close but at the same time there was an argument that we had played pretty well.

The traditionally excellent players like Vince and Jones were doing plenty but it was also good to see the much maligned duo of Watts and Toumpas having confidence building games. We'd find ways to shatter all the good work eventually, but they started well and have plenty of good to look at on their tapes. Jimmy still loves a panic hospital handball and the winning goal can't have helped his fragile morale but I love that he had eight tackles in addition to the two goals, and if there's space for a maligned threesome I thought Grimes was very good as well for the whole day.

You'd have thought that getting to quarter time having absorbed St Kilda's superior intensity (with apologies to Jack Viney who was absolutely manly for us around the ball) would help us to refresh and come out positively but you probably haven't been paying enough attention to the way we like to fall apart at the start of a quarter. Like last week it took until the Saints were threatening a match-winning lead before we started playing with the sort of freedom that allowed us back into the game. Hogan's third (getting closer to the promised laned) and Viney's goals on the run got us right back into it before a Harry O Howler gifted the Saints the steadier. In equal parts I love the way he takes the game on and think he doesn't know what he's going to do when he gets the ball until he's already taken several steps - the kind of guy who in this side is going to have some great games when given space and some shockers when the heat is on. Tonight the heat was very much on. On a horses-for-courses basis he should have been our man as the only player in our side to have won more games at Etihad than he had lost (including Garlett), but that hardly helped in the end.

That goal led to another shortly after and it looked like last week all over again, slim resistance squashed and normal service resumed going into half time. All they had to do was navigate through a couple of minutes of hardly treacherous waters and they'd be going into the break with a handy lead. To our credit we played what might have been as close to five minutes of flawless football as you'll see for this side. First Hogan caused general commotion and ruined one of my better angles when he kicked a fourth, then Garlett used one of his handful of touches to kick a pearler from the boundary to cut the gap back to two goals. Given the way we usually hand goals back out of the middle I was absolutely terrified of doing it again and not-so-silently pleaded for them to just lock down the last couple of minutes and get to half time two goals behind. Then that line of thinking went totally out the window as we kicked another to shut the gap to one straight kick. Obviously the success of going for one more here rubbed off later in the day with disastrous consequences.

You'd like to think that if we'd had another few minutes we could have kicked more goals but who are you talking about here? Despite Gawn delivering some delightful taps we'd been beaten around the clearances and were always walking on a tightrope whenever the ball went inside our defensive 50 so it was perhaps better for all that we ended it there, took a six point deficit and enjoyed time reflecting about how we all love Jesse Hogan and how as one of the competitive beasts around he's going to piss off fairly soon if he continues to be surrounded by VFL standard play. He's good but he can't do it all himself.

Against all odds we started the third as we'd left off, with McDonald demonstrating why he's a Docklands specialists by sneaking forward for a goal. Then Hogan brought the house down with a near unprecedented fifth goal - ending the title reign of Sam Blease's bizarre five goal haul against the Saints in Round 20, 2012 - and Toumpas capped off what was shaping up as a great game with another to give us a 12 point lead.

The Saints looked physically shot, having put everything into beating us up in the first half and this was our opportunity to stick the knife in and finally win a proper game at that horrible wasteland. So then we concede two goals in a row on either side of Watts missing on the run when he had time to practically walk to the goalsquare, then Hogan plays on after a free kick directly in front and instead of kicking a sixth (god only knows who did that last - Robertson as part of his seven on Queen's Birthday 2007?) he slammed it into the post. Hard to fault his enthusiasm but had the Saints kicked the goal from their shot after the siren a couple of minutes later it would have been even more costly. Fortunately they missed but expanding the gap back to two goals at the last change instead of going in square would have obviously been handy.

Pedersen breaking his wrist midway through the quarter was terrible news for everybody other than Chris Dawes. It's not that he'd done an amazing amount to that point - and indeed he'd had zero kicks - but it removed one reasonably convincing tall attacking target and meant we had to carry several players who would have been best served coming off midway through the third quarter. I thought it was a risky move playing both Stretch and ANB from the first bounce, and with Pedersen gone we were forced to go with them all day in a pressure-cooker game. Neither did too badly but nor were they threatening to single handedly drag us over the line. It also didn't help that Michie came on, clanged his first two disposals, had one other touch and was basically useless throughout. Now I know why they bring him in and drop him every second week.

Sadly for those of us hoping Hogan would go on and kick 10 the last quarter produced 25 minutes of the most farcical football you'll ever see and he only played a bit part in it. In fact his key contribution to the quarter was two marking contests where he didn't get the ball but brutalised a Saints player in the process. Considering how the Saints had looked out on their feet late in the third they certainly rebounded to have us on the rack for most of the quarter. For some reason - possibly the absence of Pedersen, possibly because #fistedforever, we seemed to decide that flooding like our lives depended on it was the obvious route to success. That was all fine when our players were doing amazingly brave things during the trench warfare part of the quarter or when St Kilda were missing shots left, right and centre but not so much when we extracted the ball and a player would look up to see nothing but a wall of Saints in front of him and had to go sideways. There were a few times when multiple handballs eventually extracted us (only to still find nobody ahead) but plenty more where we sold ourselves into trouble for the lack of an option to kick to.

Somehow in all this time, under a roof and in the sort of perfect conditions that had allowed us of all teams to get to 75 points at three quarter time nobody managed a goal. Which wasn't entirely the fault of our forwards, it's not like we were getting chances. It started to look like a second week in a row that we'd be goalless in the final term. So far in 11 games this year we've had two goalless and four one goal last terms. There have been a couple of stormers as well, most noticeably Gold Coast and Footscray but that is a horrendous record for the first half of a season. Imagine in 10 weeks time when injuries have got a hold of us, the young players are worn out, the old players have lost interest and Mark Jamar is still playing for Casey steadfastly refusing to resign. What's going to happen then?

We could still have won it, Hogan found himself back inside 50 instead of outside trying to kick in to nobody but for the first time all day his set-shots failed him. At least it caused a shift in momentum and put the heat back on the Saints after they had battered us for 20 minutes and got nothing out of it. With the game clock showing 19 minutes it was revealed on the radio that there was only three minutes of playing time left. You'd think this was also clear from the television broadcast and that message might be relayed to the players but here we are. Nevertheless we manage to get it back in Howe's hands and after a series of faulty set shots over the last few weeks and with every single Melbourne fan either watching live or at home expecting him to miss it so we could make snide remarks about his contract status he slots it from an angle to put us in front with 45 seconds left. Well, I knew it was 45 seconds left. Presumably everyone knew except the 18 hapless fools in white.

As it went through I expected to see a wall of forwards legging it down the other end, and had fantasies of Howe saving the game with a screamer then grabbing the house mic and announcing he'd re-signed for a reasonable price but none of them moved. Sitting directly above our forward line after the goal went through and watching them all move back into their normal places like it was the eight minute mark of the second quarter was like watching a movie where you know somebody's about to die. I'd like to say my football life flashed before my eyes - from the 1989 Elimination Final onwards - instead it was just frantic but fruitless yelling of FOR GOD'S SAKE SOMEBODY GET BACK. There needs to be a Royal Commission to determine just how they either didn't know there was only 40 seconds left, or knew and thought everyone else would take the responsibility so they could be the first to run to the cheersquad at the final siren. I volunteer to testify, I saw it all.

We'd spent the last 20 minutes using everyone to defend so it would have been a reasonable time to continue that policy. I can understand how in a world without runners and messages being passed from the bench every two seconds they might have thought that there was only 25 minutes gone on the clock and it wasn't yet time to put up the wall, but surely somebody as Howe was lining up somebody was rushing out to pass messages. The explanation later given that the runner was doing other things is the most Melbourne thing I've ever heard. I'd have thought that there was some alternative way to get the message out that if he missed it then make sure you defend a man at the kick-out and if he kicks it then follow standard operating procedure in the event of a thriller.

Remember the Salem game against Essendon where the forwards didn't realise until late enough that they were supposed to get down the other end and we almost lost? This was similar, except they never realised and we did actually lose. Was too busy watching Howe to remember if any runners were scooting about passing messages or if players down the ground were calling for their teammates to come forward. In a complete 180 to the last two minutes to the Salem game where I wanted to see it 500 times I am putting this alongside the 2000 Grand Final and 186 as things I never want to see in their entirety again. The only time I'm interested is if it involves an analyst who is not David King picking apart everything we did wrong.

Even if you can't get to the forwards to tell them surely you tell the midfielders, the defenders or anybody else you can bloody well find to pass on the message but I'm not even sure anybody knew what was going on as they merrily lined up waiting for the centre bounce. Not even one of them pushed forward towards the centre square just in case. Then instead of just hammering it into the ground so one of our many industrial tackling machines could leap on it and waste time with another stoppage Gawn tries a fancy tap at just the wrong time (though given that nobody out there knew how much time was left analysing the direction of his tap is like debating if JFK should have been in a different seat), the ball is swept forward and Toumpas spikes probably his best ever game by being caught out  (admittedly courtesy of a bastard of a bounce) with his man kicking the winning goal and we manage to snatch defeat from victory in heartbreaking fashion. Or as it's referred to in these parts 'Melbourne fashion'.

It would seem that Bernie Vince has decided to neatly side-step around spin and just declare it a total balls-up. If true then somebody off-field (and not necessarily the coach) should be shot out of a cannon for not sending out the message that the match was almost over and that the game clock meant nothing.

It's seemingly necked us tonight but I've never seen a better advertisement for not having countdown clocks visible to players. As a fan I want one when watching on TV, and I want radio callers to tell me exactly how much time there is left (take note Andy Maher, when you say "there can't be much time left" shortly before the siren goes we're all well aware that you've got a monitor in front of you and are just trying to be clever) but I also want the players to be totally in the dark so they have to use their wits in close games - and this was the game for all the people who say "yeah but the players know how long there is to go anyway". Not tonight they fucking didn't and it probably cost us four points. As I've said before if you think a player can be told there's a minute of game time left and know exactly when that will expire while running around playing the game and through repeat stoppages then you're on drugs - and that uncertainty when I know exactly how long there is to go is one of the best things about watching close games. We botched it tonight but it's still not worth letting heathens try and turn Etihad Stadium into an NBA game at Madison Square Garden over.

To make matters even worse I'd taken possession of a rare-ish history of the club before the game and in all the commotion managed to leave it behind. I only realised it was gone after trudging out of the stadium and then had to beat back through the tides of people coming down the stairs to get back to level three and find it. Except that no bastard would yield to allow me to get up the stairs without barging through, and the way I was feeling it would have undoubtedly ended with somebody (probably me) flying down the stairs and manslaughter charges being laid. So I go around to the ramps, eventually make my way up, leg it back past joyous St Kilda fans (and in those circumstances fair enough even if it was only us) to Aisle 47 only to find that it had been pinched. You may have heard my cry of "Fuccccccccccccccccccccccccccccck" echo across the stadium or the sound of one lusty kick hitting a chair. It was a pointless gesture but it helped.

It was my own fault for leaving it there in the first place but you have to wonder if people even bother to look at what's in a bag before they lift it, or do they just wait until they get home and unwrap all the booty they've knocked off during the day. So, if you lifted a yellow Rebel Sport bag with a blue hardcover history of the Melbourne Football Club 1858-1958 in it then feel free to say your 'friend picked it up' and 'was going to hand it in but forgot' and get in touch. Buggered if I'm paying a reward but I'll be happy to unburden you of your psychological torment for being a thieving bastard. Not expecting to get it back so I hope it found its way into the hands of a Melbourne fan who will at least treat it properly instead of letting their kids tear it from cover to cover. Alternatively if you have said book and would like to dispose of it for a reasonable price I would be more than happy to help.

To top it all off, after shuffling back through the crowd to the station (and mark my words one day there will be a fatal stampede in that ridiculously designed path) and getting on a train we ended up sitting at Parliament Station for 10 minutes because some bloody child had to be reunited with his parents. And not even a real child, the kid was about 12. Give him a mobile phone and/or keep an eye on him you plonkers. If he'd been a Melbourne fan I've have worried that his parents were clambering on top of the train trying to make contact with overhead wires.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Bernie Vince
4 - Jack Watts
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Jack Viney

Apologies to Toumpas, Cross, Grimes and Dunn.

The Sizzle recovered from an ordinary start - albeit in an understrength defence - to put in a reasonable game and kick an exciting goal but it's still another voteless week for him while Bernard hacks away at the gap. The good news for Tom is that I'm not far away from declaring him provisional winner of the Seecamp. Meanwhile Hogan retakes the lead in the fierce battle for the Hilton. Don't put your head in the oven just yet, we've got some thrillers brewing here.

29 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
22 - Bernie Vince
19 - Nathan Jones
14 - Jesse Hogan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
13 - Angus Brayshaw
11 - Cameron Pedersen
9 - Aaron vandenBerg
8 - Jack Watts
7 - Jeff Garlett, Jack Viney
6 - Christian Salem
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Colin Garland, Viv Michie, Dom Tyson
2 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Mark Jamar (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ben Newton, Jake Spencer (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

What an utter travesty their effort was. Probably the worst constructed excuse for a banner seen in the history of this segment. For one the font was horrendous, and the slogans were but more importantly it was totally see through which ruined any chance of either message being readable unless you were trying hard - which most people are not. For all the shit I hung on the Bulldogs banner and its poorly-scanning comedy couplets at least they've mastered the art of creating a white banner which doesn't look like it's been in a wet t-shirt contest.

On the other hand ours had a nice Dunn tribute but the opposition were so putrid it would have probably won if it had just said "HOW ARE YOU GOING TO STUFF THIS UP?" with a picture of an old school flush toilet alongside it. 12-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch
I was surprised at how many Melbourne fans turned up to take part in the graveyard shift, I suspect they were mostly sniffing a win and had come to see the famous streak broken. Our losing sequence at the place has become so iconic that even Dutchy Holland is being called to provide media comment on it. Given that our losing sequence against the Saints pre-dates it by a full season and they had won as many games as us I'm not sure why anybody thought this was a slam dunk victory but you believe whatever gets you up in the morning and I'll go on hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

Some old biddy and her daughter behind us were going right off their nut for the Saints, and at one point the granny yelled "That's why men shouldn't umpire, because they're not smart enough" which when it comes to field umpires is actually an unproven theory so fair enough. I'd have been concerned that she was going to keel over and cark it at the end but if you're that old, have followed a team that hasn't won anything since your 50th birthday and recently drew a grand final and still haven't died in your seat from a brain haemorrhage then you're likely to live to a hundred.

At least when you play the Saints you know it's a day where you won't hear any opposition fans resorting to the tired old "when did you last win a flag?" cliche. Once a Saints fan tried to convince me that they were in a better position than us because they'd won their last flag two years more recently than we'd lifted one. He was reminded in no uncertain terms that as he was far too young to have been alive in 1966 that both our teams are nothing more than flotsam and no tarting up the facts is going to change the fact that supporters of real clubs would walk past an argument like that and laugh until they lost control of bodily functions. Which brings us back to granny. Meanwhile the guy in front of me was wearing the sort of jaunty beret that even Gabriel Gate would reject as 'too French'.

There were strange scenes midway through the last quarter when after a number of missed attempts St Kilda took a mark and the guy a couple of rows in front packed up his kid - who had been happily waving his Demons flag and having a great time all day - and left without even bothering to watch the result. Which, as we now know was a miss and while the kid avoided heartbreaking defeat (managing to not have vulture-like TV directors focus on him crying) he also nearly missed an epic victory. There's no doubt it's a shithouse timeslot, and for all I know the guy might live in Omeo but surely if you commit to leaving the house and getting to the ground another 15 minutes during a thriller can't hurt all that much.

As it was the kid probably got back to the car, turned on the radio to hear them describing one of the great stuff-ups and will become a GWS fan tomorrow. Speaking of, for the second week in a row I saw a grown man hanging around with a child wearing the jumper of one of those accursed expansion teams. The Department of Human Services must get involved and start rounding these people up. At least one hadn't gone too early and picked Gold Coast.

P.S - Apologies to whoever sent me a text asking if I was at Etihad. I didn't have your number in my phone and have a lot of non-internet related people I am trying to avoid so was too cowardly to write back in case it was one of them. Yes, I am a terrible person.

Matchday Experience Watch
In a surprise twist I didn't mind Docklands this time, until the end of the game, and when I was waiting for people and needed something to do to keep me away from unhealthy food I appreciated the fact that you could walk laps of the place non-stop without being blocked by security guards. They've also gone crazy on the televisions around the concourses, which is probably great if you're ducking off to the can during the game but just seemed to be playing that horrible TAB ad where the guy ejects from his multi on and endless loop.

The entertainment provided by the Saints was real bottom-four stuff, starting from their inspirational How I Want To Be membership slogan being plastered everywhere and going on from there. That catchphrase probably makes perfect sense in the supporting videos that they flog to members but to neutrals begs the question "the reigning wooden spooner?" Second only to Carlton's "If you smell what the Blues are cooking" monstrosity which took things to a horrendous level by featuring a Magpie and a "Bomber" boiling in a giant premiership cup.

I'm sure My Heart Beats True doesn't exactly inspire opposition fans to drop everything and sign up with us either - and we all know how First and Forever turned out - but with all due respect to the marketing departments who have to find a way to inspire depressed fanbases I would love to see the though processes, Blue Sky Sessions and Powerpoint presentations that they went through to come up with that slogan. Fortunately for them escalating their rebuild to levels that put us to shame should be all they need to maximise membership sales before this year's cut-off.

They had also Jack Billings delivering a birthday cake to a kid, which is probably the first time I've seen any of these 'experience' segments actually work on the the key goal of building loyalty with kids. Given that the average age of our membership is the same as that lippy octogenarian sitting behind us we'd better get on to this sort of stuff before it's too late. I did like early in the year how they had players randomly call junior members, that was a quality touch. If they call in a few weeks time the kids will probably put them through to message bank.

Later on they had a mascot dancing competition and asked people to mime like they were a rockstar for no apparent benefit. Hard to take the moral high-ground when we flog sneakers by suggesting people run up and down on the spot but it was all quite pointless.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Now, you would like to select Garlett's goal here but the fact that he did precisely stuff all for the rest of the game means I refuse to give him any plaudits. Congratulations instead to Tom McDonald who flirted with disaster by throwing a dummy on his way into goal then was no certainty running into the open goal. Equally thrilling and terrifying, but tremendously rewarding for Sizzle loyalists like me. Apologies to Howe for that clutch kick, but as it all came to nowt I can't consider it.

Despite my narkiness Garlett still leads for the casual set-shot in the last quarter against Footscray. I can't stay angry at him for long.

Stat My Bitch Up
I've never professed to be a maths expert and botched the figures last week. We were actually on 70.1ppg, so managed to beat our season average by 13 points and still lose in traditional Melbourne fashion. Now we're up to 71.2. Get out the chips and streamers, we're a juggernaut. It's better than the 61.09 after 11 games last year, but so is Typhoid.

Meanwhile as far as ultimately pointless individual efforts of note go Nathan Jones' 12 inside 50's were the equal 4th most of any Melbourne player since records have been kept. The last time anyone reached that mark was Brent Moloney in Round 18, 2005. We lost to the Saints that day too - by 88 for god's sake. It also happened the week before we went to Kardinia Park where as you'll remember we won, I went right off and it started the process of us tumbling into the finals only to be thrashed by the Cats in the rematch. It's a rich tapestry.

Next Week
We could really do with the bye after a loss like that rather than a trip back to our version of Ground Zero just as the Cats have played themselves back into form. Not entire sure how neither we nor Collingwood got the bye this week after playing on Monday but it obviously didn't do them any harm. Perhaps because they're a properly drilled football club with a (recent) track record of excellence rather than an Are You Being Served style farce.

With any luck Mitch Clark will opt for another week out so we can avoid being involved in undignified scenes. Also so we can avoid him doing the sort of job on us that he was about to on GWS before his foot fell off. Even if he plays you can bring your own personal Carnival of Hate, I will just stand there looking glum while a montage of all the great Mitch at Melbourne memories goes through my head.

These changes assume that neither Garland nor vandenBerg will be fit. If they are then just toss some magnets up in the air and hope for the best.

IN: Dawes, Newton
OUT: Pedersen (inj), Neal-Bullen (omit)
LUCKY: Riley (possibly busted down to sub, but I would also like to see him stuff Joel Selwood into the turf with criminal intent), Michie (rancid but I am a forgiving man)
UNLUCKY: Neal-Bullen (wasn't a Weetra of a debut by any means but I can't have both he and Stretch in the same side against Geelong)

Was it worth it?
4.40pm on a Sunday, at Docklands, against another shit club, stopping dead in the last quarter (again) then throwing away an improbable win, having my property thieved by some ill-bred arsehole then sitting in a tunnel for 10 minutes waiting for a family reunion. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Final Thoughts
Fortunately I'm stressed to the eyeballs and beyond in every other aspect of my life or I might gone a bit stupid over all this.