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.

1 comment:

  1. Great review, Adam. Never fail to entertain, never strive to inform. Mission accomplished! (Why '!', don't know).


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