Sunday 27 March 2016

The Life Erotic

And lo, after three quarters the rock rolled away and the Melbourne Demons had risen from the dead. Two Round 1 wins in a row, five straight wins in all competitions and stopping $cully from winning at the MCG for the third time in a row while getting to call him an orange clad campaigner all day. That's entertainment.

By reasonable community standards it was hardly a win for the ages, but by ours it was fantastic. It's best only to peer under the lid for now, after all we've got to get past the ultimate banana skin next week before our 11th straight year of trying to beat North Melbourne. There's at least cause for excitement beyond the relief we felt at winning in Round 1 last year. In a genuine 50/50 game against a side either in or just above our division we came back from the dead to get the points.

Pre-season form should be treated with suspicion and I usually spit at the suggestion that rubbish teams need to "learn how to win" but there's probably something to be said for three wins in a month giving us the confidence to both launch and maintain the fourth quarter comeback. There's also a lot to be said about the Giants torching endless chances during the game, but when you poison your young side with a blinkered individualist like Steve Johnson it's hard to take the moral high-ground on goals you should have kicked.

Paul Roos might have been premature in trying to build this as the next great rivalry, I'm still waiting for us to get around to playing a final against Richmond for the first time in 75 years, but it's true you never get a boring game against the Giants at the MCG. In their brief, maligned history we've already had the original and best Carnival of Hate, Mark Neeld of all people coaching the greatest last quarter in our history and less pleasingly the day they played two short for the entire second half and still restricted us to three goals. After a year's break playing in front of friends and family at Docklands what we hope will officially become football's most spiteful rivalry returned home for another exciting chapter.

Interest in the game is boosted by the rate of players swapped between the clubs fast approaching the Melbourne-Fremantle free trade agreement of the 1990s. Despite the best efforts of the club shifters in the GWS cheersquad to get a round of boos going for poor old Tomas Bugg who at least gave their shithouse club one season for every paid up member there was only one man who the people really wanted to accuse of high treason, and we were given plenty of opportunity in the first quarter while he was kicking our brains in.

The $2 Million Turd's first 15 minutes pointed to an afternoon of disappointment, even though he never comes to the party by letting on how much he hates us there must be a potent cocktail of self-righteousness and hatred fuelling him under that dead eyed expression because the turncoat played the sort of grand quarter that he seems to deliver against us and nobody else.

If you'd put your money where your MFC self-loathing was you'd have been betting your house with any gaming operator who'd take it on him kicking the first goal, and there he was enjoying being the last chain in an end-to-end Baileyball style swashbucking counter attack. He marked on the goal line, and even though a one metre kick is about his range for accuracy he almost stuffed it up by hastily playing on to avoid kicking to a cacophony of obscenity. Bugg almost got a hand to it, and if he had that would have been good enough reason to declare the season a success right there and then.

Fortunately the spirit of Melbourne still flows through him, because one cracking quarter was followed by three ordinary ones. We don't play them again this year so he's got 21 games left to play well against somebody else or I'll be inducting him into the 'people most often associated with genitalia' wing of the Kent Kingsley Klub next to Brad Dick. He's now 0-3 against us on the MCG, and I have absolutely no doubt that his first win will come in a Grand Final.

For the first of several times yesterday NAB Challenge form was cursed as a false idol after the Giants kicked the first two goals. It's not that we were playing badly, Gawn started his All-Australian campaign with a bang by jumping all over Shane Mumford, Jack Viney was running riot in the midfield and the ball was constantly going inside 50 for no reward. Most of the first three quarters was spent kicking the ball in the hope that Hogan would go smash through opponents like a Sherman Tank driven through the Tour De France but the delivery was so woeful that nobody had a chance, and it gave Phil Davis the chance to be on world record pace for intercept marks like he was Stephen Silvagni.

With our attack handicapped by not being able to mark balls kicked three foot over their outstretched fingerips the best moment of the first quarter didn't even end in a score, but not for want of trying from Jack Watts who continued his mid-career revival with this piece of glorious footwork.

It was like the time he did a blind turn around nobody against Carlton in 2011 only without a crippled James Strauss lying in the background with a shattered leg. That year looked like his time before he was ruined by a variety of sources both internal and external, and I've been stitched up by false dawns before but he took marks, he kicked goals and he spent minimal time filling gaps in defence so this must finally be it. Just in time for him to take us for an enormous pay day and a long term contract, and it might be victory talking but I'd be happy to sign that deal now instead of waiting a few weeks to see if his form continues against better sides.

Of course it's mandatory for any Melbourne player who looks like they're about to enjoy good times to go through an injury scare (see Jack Grimes' career or Matt Jones being concussed against St Kilda just as he was playing his best game for years) but luck was running so heavily in his direction that he limped off, then ran back on and played what would probably have been a best on ground performance if it wasn't for the dominance of Viney. Remember when I convinced myself he was going to ask for a trade at the end of last year?

If he'd been on the other side carving us up instead of Steve Johnson kicking goals from the square and refusing to handball to players in better positions I would have thrown myself down the stairs of the Ponsford, bouncing past that picture of Matthew Elliott winning the 2003/04 Sheffield Shield that I have stormed past in anger so many times over the last few years and once despairingly attacked with a double open handed slap.

The goals the Giants got on the rebound were painful, but it was hardly terminal now that we'd seemingly reached the stage where we'd kick more than six goals in three quarters. The only complication was connecting with a forward, which we neatly sidestepped by importing players from other areas to do the job while Watts was up the ground spinning towards glory and Phil Davis was riding Hogan like a horse.

Vince got the party started with a free kick at 11 minute mark - well ahead of when we were used to kicking the first goal - before Ben Kennedy's proved that while looks like Emo Maric from certain angles the similarities stop there by kicking a ripper the boundary line then bouncing about with a broad smile. There was a brief intermission while somebody called Lobb dominated us in the air, before James Harmes delivered the first CRUMB of the year, vandenBerg kicked a set shot and Garlett enjoyed being on the end of a chain of handballs where I wish somebody had just kicked the thing 10 seconds earlier to bring up five for the quarter and a handy enough lead.

For anybody who has been living on a desert island for the last year and doesn't understand the importance of Gawn to this side it should be noted that the only time we conceded a goal straight out of the centre in the first half was one of the rare occasions when he was on the bench and Frost was in the middle. Difficult task for a backup ruckman to take on Mumford at the best of times but there's a cavalcade of killer ruckmen over the horizon that Maximum is going to have to battle single-handedly to keep us alive this year.

It was another great day where he looked like he was going to keel over and die in the first quarter but like a marathon runner he pushed through to the finish line like a champ. All this and he once spewed on $cully, so I will move the motion to fast track his life membership.

With the run of goals and our dominance in the middle if you'd only been introduced to Melbourne a few weeks ago this probably looked like the start of something big, but experienced Demon watchers know that one of our special moves is teasing greatness with a run of goals in one quarter then kicking one over the next two quarters. After watching four straight games without a loss I thought I'd try positivity and shut up about it, but I knew deep down that we were set for at best a one goal second quarter. Which was one more than we actually got.

The quarter almost started nicely, with Nathan Jones tough as nail as always trying out his new neck by smashing through a cohort of Giants defenders before kicking a point but for the rest of it we provided very little up front. That didn't hurt us as much as it could have because we weren't playing badly elsewhere, and while we lacked in breathtaking attacking play we had the greatest combination of hard-headed lunatics at a centre bounce in years courtesy of Viney, Jones and Oliver.

The Hamburglar belied any suspicions that his pre-season form had been a fluke with arguably the best AFL debut by a Melbourne player since Brent Heaver in 1990 despite spending 40% of the game on the bench. The only difference from his first three unofficial games was that he wasn't given two hours to get his kicks away in traffic, but his ability to get the ball in traffic then hit a teammate with a handball under pressure was eye-watering. There were so many times he looked to be wrapped up then managed to get it to a teammate in space to keep the ball moving, and he was dominating contested possessions and clearances. Viney has gone supernova in the last year, but having this guy in the trenches with him and Jones is a winner. Then there's Brayshaw to come back and do I still queue for finals tickets at Bass?

With Petracca and Weideman (remember him?) still to come flogging our first pick to Gold Coast this year will look like genius if we finish any higher than 13th. The injuries haven't hit yet, despite a few false alarms yesterday, but there appears to genuine depth for the first time in years. We're still not going to make the eight but this is the year to set up for future glory. It's not just the win, that has little bearing on the long-term future it's the overall construction which this time does not seem to have been done by shonky, unlicensed builders.

Given that the Umpiring Wheel of Fortune had a mind of its own it was amazing that they managed to avoid paying one deliberate under the vicious new interpretation which had played havoc with us through the pre-season. It wasn't for lack of intent, there were a number of times where the ball rolled towards the line and you could see them getting ready to swing the arm in theatrical fashion and pinch us before it stopped or too many players ended up in the area to allow them to nick us.

At one point the GWS player was so sure it was going to tumble over the line in his favour that he stopped trying to chase it, and it allowed Dean Kent (or possibly Matt Jones) to nip in and steal it from him. Once the umpires calm down and stop hoping to impress the rules committee by pinching absolutely everything with scant discretion it might turn out to be a good change. Like the rushed behind rule which is barely ever paid now but creates just enough doubt in the minds of players that every once in a while they'll suffer a defensive calamity because they don't know what they can and can't do.

There was one umpire he thought quite a lot of himself and would greet boundary throw-ins of any variety with a swinging arm into the 'throw in' gesture just to provoke the audience into shitting themselves. Is it any wonder people hate them? Even those of us who understand they're trying to deal with all sorts of ridiculous interpretations are bamboozled when they pay a simple holding the ball by tooting long and hard (not in the same fashion as a Collingwood player) and take five seconds to deliver the gesture instead of just blowing the whistle, giving a cursory signal so everyone knows what's going on and awarding the free.

That's when they're paying holding the ball, if you were a neutral surely you stood up, walked out and vowed never to return again when Sam Frost's classic chase down and tackle was done for a fictional push in the back during the third quarter? There were no excuses available because it was in open play with plenty of time to observe that there was nothing like a push involved. We did get our first goal after Bernie Vince's attempt to defraud the umpire into thinking he'd been tackled high roped the bloke into paying a secondary free so it was probably karmic payback, but roll on Round 6 when umpires have settled down and stopped trying to pay everything.

There were several baffling decisions, but given that later in the Gold Coast/Essendon game I saw a player go through an opponent's legs like he was intentionally trying to maim him and the umpire standing two metres away showed no interest who knows what they're ever going to do. In a final comment on the umpiring I would like to risk a defamation lawsuit by suggesting there were a few times where the a player narrowly carried the ball over the line and they let it go as part of the league wide crack-down on boundary throw-ins.

The Giants were on top on the scoreboard in the second quarter, but we were kept in it by a combination of their wastefulness, our defence holding strong and the fact that we were actually playing better than them in all aspects of the sport of Australian rules football other than the ability to convert a score. How good were Sizzle Sr's kicks out of defence? The towering, pack crashing marks over people with silly names like Lobb are expected but the kicking that improved so much last season but regressed during the pre-season was spot on yesterday. I still get heart in mouth whenever he tries to pinpoint a kick 40 metres away but he was hitting the mark every time and it helped set up a lot of quick attacks.

Eventually most inside 50 entries failed due to going in at post height, but other than a few high profile moments of farceshambles our ball movement across the ground was better than league standard.

It wasn't all good news, Dom Tyson is still well off his 2014 form and vandenBerg was well held but nobody's going to argue with him when he kicked two goals. Picking both forward/ruckmen didn't really work either, but we were still playing pretty well by the standard of goalless MFC quarters. We might have had one at the end, with Pedersen clearly juggling the ball over the line but being given a second life by the video review only to miss everything and leave us without even the point we'd have had in the first place.

If nothing else at least the unnecessary focus on Jesse Hogan's set-shot kicking was off the agenda, because he couldn't get close to having one. His body language was terrible when it wasn't going his way in the first three quarters, but I would have been frustrated standing there on the end of that sort of haphazard service as well. That's two games in a row he's played 'badly' and kicked five goals, so let's get back to worrying about who's paying the bills for his calls to WA rather than treating him like the new James Manson when he's having shots and the new Charles Manson when he's not. I am more than willing to take the rough with the smooth when it comes to him, and if he has to curse his hands and yell abuse at people to keep himself going then swear away young man.

The debate about his run-up was classic pre-season media fodder given that it was based entirely on one set shot where he did an Irish Jig on the way in and botched it horribly. Was anyone really surprised after seeing him being generally accurate last year that when he finally got the ball in hand today it mattered little if he introduced the Moonwalk into his routine? He's being done the soft shoe shuffle since day 1 and all last year the shots were more than likely to go through, so much the better he was drilling them with the game on the line without a care in the world.

At the time though Hogan's comeback was still a quarter away, and other than Dean Kent's snap which swung violently to sneak through at the last minute so were all our goals. It was the quarter where we delivered the none-more-Melbourne tactic of actually losing ground by kicking a goal, working our arse off to finally get the first for 45 minutes then not only conceding it straight back out of the centre but before we could process what had happened they got another. If we hadn't kicked the first goal we'd probably have been six points better off.

This was the point where Melbourne supporters everywhere started dropping their bundle. It wasn't like fans were going to storm the race and take a swing at the players, but there was the general level of discord you can only get from a side who kick one goal in two quarters. Personally I was frustrated, and starting to have acid flashbacks to that Queen's Birthday where we kicked three goals yet went home feeling we could have won, but given that I didn't expect anything to start with I was comfortable to label it "the loss we had to have" and treat it as a trial for what would hopefully be a morale boosting thwacking of Essendon B the next week.

Didn't mean I had to be happy, the idea of losing to $cully makes me want to take an axe to a goalpost but it need not have unleashed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We weren't playing badly it was just that there was no taking advantage of all the times we were getting it down there. How ironic that we used to have five inside 50's a game for three goals and thought as long as we fed them more there'd be no stopping us, now we were heaving the ball down there non-stop only to see the Giants pick our attacks off with the greatest of ease.

When Gawn missed the set-shot at the end of the third quarter it was a lot like the infamous 12 goal quarter game, only without half the crowd wanting us to lose so we could sack the coach before the press conference. Having said that I was bracing myself for a week of media/panic driven "Roos is finished, promote Goodwin now" frenzy, so maybe it had more in common than I'd thought. When we started kicking goals rapidly again at the start of the last quarter it seemed to have even more in common, shame we had to stop instead of completely stomping them but all's well that ends in four points.

With coverage of the game on all radio stations I opted for SEN, who despite having a sponsor for every aspect of the call other than KB getting a player's name wrong are usually a sensible alternative to the unnecessary screaming of Triple M or the funeral atmosphere of the other AM stations. When we kicked the first goal of the last quarter and the guy who wasn't KB yelled "That could be the firestarter!" I might have thrown my radio at the ground if I wasn't so excited by the goal. It's bad enough that Dwayne's managed to bludgeon "chaos ball" into commentator vernacular but if they're all going to rip this off as well I might take my chances with the Tobin Brothers.

At least unlike 87% of the times Dwayne has said it over the years he was right, and the Watts mark/goal (*swoon*) did prompt a wonderful comeback. In a surprise outbreak of tactical flexibility that proved for the first time in recent memory there was something in the Plan B envelope we'd banished Cameron Pedersen to defence and cleared up more space for the Paul Prymke Plate winner and Hogan to work in. It came off a treat, more of that in the future thanks coach(es).

Four goals in the first seven minutes put us in front with far too much time left to get comfortable. Frost could have given us breathing space but missed from the sort of set shot that would have put Hogan on the front page if he missed, before Hogan converted the sort of set shot that nobody will talk about because it went through. We eventually got the break that put it beyond one kick courtesy of vandenBerg's second, rolling it under two Giants and with the heavy suspicion that Hogan's block to help it get through crossed the line of legality.

There was still long enough for us to make a hash of it, and we spent the last few minutes riding the wave of the Giants missing set shots from all angles to keep us alive. Luckily I hadn't piffed the radio in frustration at the outbreak of Dwayne because at least that way I knew when their last goal went in there was only nine seconds left and I felt a strange calm, thinking there was absolutely no way we could disgrace ourselves again like that St Kilda match.

We do have form even in almost stuffing up games that looked won. It took a Watts mark in the dying seconds to beat Footscray after we'd been a million points up with 10 minutes to go in 2013, and on that great night Christian Salem beat Essendon we had to turn back an attack in the last 20 seconds. Last year our disgraceful command of time and one bastard of a bounce for the late Jimmy Toumpas cost us and bloody hell it almost happened again.

At least unlike that fateful evening at Etihad Stadium everyone got back into defence this time, and we almost proved that even stacking the backline wouldn't have saved us that night by allowing one of their rare centre clearances to get the ball forward with time rapidly expiring.

I tried to count down nine seconds from the bounce, but was obviously too tense to do the traditional "one banana, two banana..." method and was well ahead of actual time, expecting the siren to go as the ball was flying inside 50. When it still hadn't gone by the time the ball hit the pack I expected to see it bounce into the arms of an opposition play and through the goal, but from the other end of the ground I didn't know the last man who got a boot to the ball just as the siren went was Australia's least popular millionaire since that bloke from Energy Watch, Tom $ of Western Sydney.

That would have been the ultimate fuck you, like him buying my house, evicting me then turning it into a Koi Carp pond for his own amusement. If he'd kicked it it's likely he'd have done a lap of honour in joy, at which point I'd have leant over the fence and earned myself a 10 year ban from the MCG.

The siren was blessed relief, because as much as I'd gone in thinking we wouldn't win if we'd lost from two goals in 10 seconds it would have been the greatest deflation since the Hindenberg. It probably wouldn't have been fatal, after all we did back up the St Kilda fiasco by trampling on Geelong at Kardinia Park last year but it would have meant a week of nerves about the psychological damage (on fans and players alike), enough replays to keep you away from any footy shows and open season for every bastard in the world to do gags about us even though they know full well like we do that GWS should be bricked up behind a wall and left to die.

Who knows why Tomas Bugg decided to don a jacket that looked like he was a student at Riverdale High while being splashed with Gatorade during the singing of the song, but by then it didn't matter a jot because we'd won, and even though it's happened two years in a row I'm not used to that happening at all let alone in Round 1.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
It's absolute carnage for anybody who had 'no eligible player' in the minors, as for the first time in history all three categories receive a leader in the first round. Congratulations to Clayton Oliver for drawing level with James Harmes and Emo Maric on the all-time leaderboard after just one game, may he soon mow down Mitch Clisby (5 career votes), Daniel Nicholson (11) and Shane Valenti (18) before setting his sights on Nathan Jones' imperious career tally of 282.

5 - Jack Viney
4 - Jack Watts
3 - Clayton Oliver (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
2 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
1 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)

Apologies to N. Jones, Kennedy, Vince, M. Jones, Salem, Kent and Hogan (last quarter)

Matchday Experience Watch
The nation held its breath waiting to see what would replace Howie's Hangers, and while I'd still have preferred Gawn's Grabs we were introduced to the new and improved Hogan's Heroes. It was probably because the sponsor, who would have been thrilled to see the segment promoted from pre-game to the quarter time break so somebody saw it, has a name starting with 'H'. Which is important when you're paying money to sponsor a segment featuring rank amateurs threatening to do their Fasolo impersonation and land head first.

It could have been Hogan's Hulks if the other HH hadn't been involved in so much unsavoury activity recently, but at least this way they got to play the classic TV theme song much to the bemusement of anyone in the ground under 30.

If they wanted to make sure nobody got hurt they should have done it in the Ponsford End goalsquare, which had more sand in it than a long jump pit. It gave the game a real MCG 1990's feel, but can't be a great sign in the second game of the year. At half time one man throw sand from a bucket onto the divots and another hit it down with a rudimentary piece of groundskeeping equipment that was effectively just a big square with a handle. I was waiting for us to lose the game in the last quarter when somebody stormed into an open goal, got stuck in a divot on Copacabana Beach and did his knee.

Elsewhere there was little to offend in our presentation, other than the announcement over the loudspeaker deep in the last quarter of who'd won an Instagram competition. With the game hanging by a thread some bastard reading out the username of a random that the rest of us couldn't care less about was not welcomed. They don't read out the winning raffle tickets (all of which were oddly enough in the 500,000's), this didn't need it either. The old 'run like a Demon' competition was back, which is a significantly less terrifying experience when you're sitting in the open and not undercover where the sound of hundreds of people stomping makes it sound like the stadium is about to collapse.

As for league enforced gimmicks I saw at least two of our players glance up at the countdown clock before missing set-shots. Given that the lowest I saw it go today was nine seconds it's hardly going to be the next big thing for kids to count along to as was suggested when it was hastily introduced a few weeks ago. It's practically impossible for any player who isn't trying to waste time not to at least start his run-up by that point so the less of this foolish idea the better. The fact that they can't even introduce it at the Gabba for some reason (do they not have a working clock in Queensland?) should have meant the whole idea was shelved for now. It's one thing not to have it working in Alice Springs where they probably don't even have a screen but if you can't put it or a video review system in at a proper league ground don't bother anywhere else.

Even more hastily introduced was the countdown clock as part of the fence advertising. It sounded like a terrible idea until I realised it carried more terms and conditions than a home loan so was actually quite useless. It only supposed to show intermittently between 10 and two minutes in certain quarters, but I didn't see it at all. To my own disappointment I was desperately searching for it 17 minutes into the last quarter when we were in front, the yellow coats were starting to roam the boundary and no bastard on the radio would give a time update.

Beating GWS in a banner making contest is like beating Melbourne 2012/13 in a football match, it is almost impossible not to. Given their natural handicaps at having to put something together on foreign soil (because surely they don't carry crepe paper to all ends of the country like our side) it was a reasonable effort which would have at least beaten one of those classic St Kilda 'efforts' which are so transparent you can't read either side properly.

At least unlike anybody we played in the pre-season the Giants presumably bothered to fill both sides. Two of our three previous opponents didn't bother and the Dogs could only be roused into doing a one-sided effort when they found out our cheersquad were bringing one. Not that you'd know because they never rotated it, but I could see that they had the sort of curtain that will cause me to cancel this segment if we ever follow suit.

There were limited rotations at Demonland as well, a dangerous trend which might come back to haunt us against big budget outfits later in the year, but on the side I could see the kerning was perfect as always and the addition of a gigantic version of the new logo welcomed. Dees win and it's 4-0 to start the year.

P.S - As this is the place to discuss all-things cheersquad related I enjoyed the hypnotic circles they were waving about whenever opposition players were trying to kick straight. It worked such a treat on GWS that they kicked like arseholes at both ends and brainwashed Steve Johnson into blindness when teammates were in a better position.

Crowd Watch
For all the shit we hang on the AFL and their rigged fixture, it was the second year in a row they did us a favour by using Round 1 excitement to boost what would have otherwise been a rubbish home attendance against a franchise later in the year. There were a surprising number of grown adults who had chosen to dump real footy teams and follow the Giants, but even they only provided a sliver of the 28,505 crowd. Looks like the difference between Round 23 at Etihad Stadium and Round 1 at the MCG is about 20,000 people.

In an attempt to get some flavour of the newly confident (but not yet arrogant) Melbourne fans I sat amongst the people, but they proved disappointingly abusive to the obvious target and only started going right off their tits in celebration when we launched the comeback in the last quarter. Overall we still bat well above our average on crowd noise, going utterly spaz as players ran to the bench and sounding like 80,000 at the siren. A few more abusive lunatics would have been nice though.

Meanwhile who knows why those dickheads were dressed as umpires in the Southern Stand forward pocket. Either they knew somebody umpiring, were being ironic or its the new version of that troupe of paid actors posing as GWS supporters dressed as monks.

Stat My Bitch Up
First time we've played two home and away games in a row against the same opposition since Richmond in 1986/1987. The difference was this time we won both, and you know what happened in 1987 so start preparing yourself for tears when we cock up a Preliminary Final in amazing fashion.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With the pre-season nominees wiped from the ledger that's bad news for Aaron vandenBerg who lost his clubhouse lead, but let's be fair Ben Kennedy in the first quarter would have beaten him anyway. It wasn't just the angle he kicked it from, it was the surgical way it dropped into the far corner as two defenders desperately lunged while it floated over their fingertips. We all love a thumping goal that flies three levels high and almost kills somebody in a corporate box but never discount the pleasing aesthetic of a failed desperate lunge.

To celebrate his victory Ben wins a session of Iyengar Yoga with fellow Collingwood to MFC tradee Dannie Seow. The pre-season winner will have to console himself with the runners-up prize of absolutely nothing for that rolling goal in the last quarter that eluded everyone and was aided by one of the great shepherds of our time.

Next Week
Essendon were total wank against Gold Coast, but no doubt on the back of the Waco style siege mentality atmosphere of their march to the ground and 20 minutes of applause for James Hird before the first bounce they will come out flying. If we withstand that without shitting the bed and getting nervy it feels unnatural to say it but we should win. Don't forget to bring your Farce Alarm just in case, and you might want to pack some mace too because the Essendon fans are going to be in a foul mood once the propaganda party wears off.

As for changes, Sizzle Junior might be the future but I was suspect about them picking him in front of Dunn this early. Like his pre-season form he showed a few nice touches that bode well for the future but still looked a bit of a way off and seems like his ankle has answered the question anyway.

As for Pedersen it seemed odd picking both him and Frost, and neither of them did much even when they weren't taking on the impossible of job replacing Gawn. In a Thursday night choice between the two I'd have had the former but he was uninspiring I'll narrowly stick with Frost next week. There might be some argument for stretching Essendon's weakened defence with another tall, but between Hogan/Watts and Frost/Gawn that should be plenty of stretch without over-complicating things.

In comes Brayshaw to join the wrecking ball unit in the centre, with the new interchange cap meaning a better spread of players spending time off the ground I can't see why he can't tag team with the Hamburglar and get about causing mischief around the ground.

IN: Brayshaw, Dunn
OUT: O. McDonald (inj), Pedersen (omit)

Get well soon...
... from all of us at Demonblog to the original Jesse Hogan from The Age who has had a recent major health scare. His support of this page over the years has been much appreciated, and best wishes for getting back in action and watching the Dees again before long.

Encyclopedia Titanica
Like a typical match review Demonwiki is now 7274 pages long, but after six and a half years of mining through every source known to man for information I've at least temporarily hit the wall. Part of that is because there's a major project a decade in the making, but given that since 2005 projects related to this page are currently running at a 7% completion rate if you don't see more details by Queen's Birthday you may assume I've wasted my time.

Was it worth it?
By christ yes, even if we'd fallen short in the last quarter it was a good trial for the future. If the forward line and delivery to it can be tinkered with successfully I don't think it's completely outrageous for us to be in the finals race until the last month. Don't hold your breath for a do or die clash with the Cats at Kardinia Park in Round 23 just yet but at least you've been given permission to dream. I think we'll finish 9-13, but a good 9-13.

Final thoughts
Vital lessons learnt and four points in the bank. Shit wins are great wins.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Updated 2016 betting markets

Hello incorrigible punters, the markets have been adjusted based on performances in the three pre-season games and will form the numbers you'll eventually see next to the names in the Demonblog awards leaderboard.

The big winners include Jack Watts and Max Gawn, while Jack Viney and Nathan Jones have both moderately firmed - as I'm sure we all will if they keep winning.

Speaking of interesting movement, there's been a big move for Frost/Pedersen in the Stynes as we realise that if Max Gawn goes down we're in more trouble than the early settlers. Either could launch a campaign by averaging the required 10 hitouts per game after they've already polled as forwards earlier in the year

We've had reports of suspect amounts of money being placed on Jake Melksham from Lucerne so I don't know if that says anything about his chances but if you want to back him to beat the rap and walk back in to the title we're prepared to take your (fictional) money.

As always either gamble responsibly or don't, I'm not your mother.

Allen Jakovich Medal
$5 - Jack Viney
$8 - Nathan Jones
$11 - Bernie Vince, Jack Watts
$12 - Jesse Hogan
$18 - Jeff Garlett
$20 - Tom McDonald
$22 - Angus Brayshaw, Aaron vandenBerg
$25 - Max Gawn, Christian Salem
$28 - Lynden Dunn, Dom Tyson
$30 - Colin Garland
$35 - Neville Jetta
$50 - Ben Kennedy, Dean Kent
$65 - Clayton Oliver
$75 - Cameron Pedersen
$80 - Tomas Bugg
$90 - Heritier Lumumba
$100 - Jack Grimes, Alex Neal-Bullen, Ben Newton
$110 - James Harmes
$125 - Sam Frost, Christian Petracca, Jack Trengove
$150 - Chris Dawes, Matt Jones, Jay Kennedy-Harris
$190 - Oscar McDonald, Billy Stretch
$200 - Sam Weideman
$225 - Jake Spencer
$450 - Jayden Hunt, Josh Wagner, Mitch White
$500 - Liam Hulett, Viv Michie
$600 - Dean Terlich
$1000 - Max King, Mitch King
$1500 - Joel Smith
$2000 - Jake Melksham

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year

$9 - Tom McDonald
$10 - Christian Salem
$13 - Neville Jetta
$15 - Lynden Dunn, Colin Garland
$30 - Tomas Bugg
$40 - Heritier Lumumba, Jack Grimes
$65 - Oscar McDonald
$125 - Dean Terlich
$175 - Sam Frost, Cameron Pedersen

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
NB: Oscar McDonald and Mitch White remain eligible due to debuting in the last month of the previous season.

$5.50 - Clayton Oliver
$10 - Christian Petracca
$15 - Oscar McDonald
$25 - Sam Weideman
$35 - Mitch White
$50 - Jayden Hunt, Josh Wagner
$75 - Liam Hulett
$100 - Max King, Mitch King
$150 - Joel Smith

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
A reminder that as of 2015 players are eligible for this award only if they average 10 hitouts a game.

$1.80 - Max Gawn
$15 - Jake Spencer
$26 - Max King
$50 - Sam Frost, Cameron Pedersen
$150 - Mitch King, ANY OTHER PLAYER

Monday 14 March 2016

Beware the tides of March

Apologies for the lateness of this post, I've been on the phone to AFL authorised resellers trying to book a Grand Final package. At least for the NAB Cup final, where at some point before Round 1 we're going to take on Fremantle and Collingwood in a triangle match for the chance to win the classic pre-season trophy that looked like a squat toilet and was obviously just as popular if the reactions of these previous winners is anything to go by:

The last time we won three games in a row in any competition it was the first three weeks I was cracking onto my now wife, and now my kid is a three year member despite not even being two years old so we've obviously all been through a lot since then. The difference between the glorious hat-trick of 2010 (which included the famous dismantling of Sydney and the "next powerhouse" game against Richmond) and the last few weeks is that when it comes to meaning those victories had us sitting on the verge of an unexpected and undeserved finals run while the equation of our trips to cultural hotspots Elizabeth, Craigieburn and Docklands is 3 x 0 = 0.

Winning all these games doesn't prove anything for Round 1, but it's refreshing to see actual signs of recovery including but not limited to a new era of unsociable football. We never win a premiership, at least not until one year after I die, but at least we can go down driving opposition players into the turf with vicious intent. Maybe that's the secret formula that will lead to success (why am I even mentioning that word, has somebody left the gas on?) like it did for Hawthorn. Ask me in five years, for now we're winning and no matter how poxy the games are it's an enjoyable feeling.

Today said nothing about our capability of beating a top four side, though it did suggest we might be able to scrag them into the ground, but after two weeks where the opposition had provided questionable opposition it was as close to a real game as we were going to get against a team in our own division so a good opportunity to test where we're really at.

Now we've beaten close to a full squad in a fair fight with a minimum degree of fuss and all of a sudden I'm feeling a new level of tension that I haven't had for many years. There have been Round 1 games that I've thought we should win in the last 10 years (usually against St Kilda) but now I'm suffering from actual expectations. It's no longer show up and expect to lose so anything else is a surprise, this is the first time we've really had to perform for years and I don't like it. We're on the way to Round 1 unbeaten, Jeremy Cameron is about to rubbed out for biffing somebody and it's either good times or the sort of let-down which sends people to their graves.

We're not going to know which way it will go for at least another two weeks, and I caution you in advance not to take too much out of Round 1 no matter how angry the sight of $cully makes you, but at least we've managed to get through three games without seriously injuring any of our best players. Even the one that did look like a heartbreaker turned out to be not so bad after all, so maybe our luck really is changing? And now that I've said that let the cavalcade of disasters begin.

For a week that started with so little actual footy news that Chris Dawes' calf injury was the lead story on a sports bulletin things picked up noticeably across the league by Sunday afternoon. First came 2016 free-agent elect Jack Watts suggesting shortly after climbing out of a tub of grapes which he'd been stomping alongside a woman who hasn't been relevant since Good Morning Australia with Bert Newton that he would "explore his options" at the end of the year.

With stuff all else happening this quickly became the equivalent of "I'm putting off contract talks to the end of the year" and it was implied that he'd be over the wall and off to freedom as quick as possible. Never mind that he all but said he was going to stay. In the nicest possible way for once nobody seems all that worried that he'll go but if he does there's going to be an interesting crossover between people who have gone out of their way to slaughter him for eight years and those who take grave offence at him going elsewhere.

I suspect that as long as we don't instantly revert to pumpkins at the next bounce of a ball and if our supporters can bring themselves to demonstrate basic human decency towards him that there's no point in leaving just as things are starting to turn for the good. Hopefully he maximises his returns with a strong first half of the year before re-signing. Until then I'd be thrilled if they gave him the same treatment as Rivers and Frawley in their last year, putting him in the forward line and leaving him there.

While most of our fans (other than the same people who have been saying "if everything goes right..." since 2008) have accepted that we should just be happy that there appears to be something in the pot for once let alone flinging the lid into orbit there was a surprise intervention from the non-more-March article enquiring whether we could have "a Western Bulldogs style resurgence" this year. We all love and willingly participate in clickbait but that was optimistic then and not much more realistic after another win. We could become the next big thing ahead of schedule, but it's about as likely as us sending a coxless fours team to the Rio Olympics (nominations on a postcard please) or asking Dean Kent to swear his way to the top of Mt. Everest.

Don't cancel your September holidays yet, but another win was a great way to end a pre-season that has dragged like none before. Our part in it was delightful, watching neutral games was like death. The answer was not to watch them at all, and while the opportunity to see your own side broadcast live no matter what obscure ground they're at should be welcomed as an innovation on the same level as the invention of the wheel the 10 minutes I saw of Adelaide vs Gold Coast proved that just because you put two AFL teams on television it doesn't make it worth watching. On Saturday what sounded like an otherwise reasonable standard Collingwood vs Footscray game featured a Dwayne Russell/Tony Shaw commentary combo and I'm not putting up with that without premiership points on offer.

Unless we start playing intra-club games at a friendlier time than Friday morning and in a more central location than Cranbourne I'll reluctantly stick with the current format but Damien Hardwick had the right idea on Thursday night, just give up when you've had enough. By the last 15 minutes of yesterday's game when it was clear that we'd done enough to at least claim a moral victory even if we'd stuffed it up I was more interested in why Max Gawn and Jesse Hogan were still on-field and not sitting next to each other on the bench enjoying that winning feeling from afar than the game itself.

The suggestion that we should care about the rights of people insane enough to bet on practice games or broadcasters who know full well nobody cares was interesting. If the AFL had agreed with Hardwick's suggestion that they just call the match off halfway through the last quarter I'm not sure Fox Sports would have sent an invoice for the $43 share of the broadcast rights that game represented. Given that they'd cancelled a whole match the week before it didn't seem so radical, but when they said now he just started removing players from the field. Sadly Port didn't follow suit and leave the last few minutes to tick down with nobody on field. Dwayne would still have found a way to blow an o-ring calling it.

Fortunately for Hardwick we learnt years ago that you can rort the pre-season all the live long day when nobody minded that Paul Roos himself told a Sydney player not to kick a goal in a close game. Paul was also the same man who took Jordie McKenzie to Etihad Stadium last year, applied a green vest and forced him to run up and down the boundary line all night without ever bringing him on. At least yesterday Viv Michie may have gone unused but he didn't have to do it in a luminous vest.

By the end of the week we were reportedly on the verge of losing our lucrative sponsorship deal with the Northern Territory (at least according to the newspaper who once led the front page with the headline "Why I put a cracker up my clacker") with the excuse that we'd not done enough community programs. There was a suggestion that the NT government wanted Essendon, who wouldn't play a game there if their life depended on it, instead which makes some sense in the short term because they've have a lot of players who haven't got anything to do for the next 12 months and could run daily sessions if that's what's required..

It sounded like a convenient excuse for backing out to me, and not without some justification considering it's one of the smallest economies in the country. Tourism is big business but handing over millions of dollars for a mediocre footy team to appear a couple of times a year seems odd. But while they keep writing the cheques, we'll keep cashing them.

Given that we'd already been run out of the ACT via the road with a turn-off to the Belanglo State Forest (home of the world's most ironic"please be careful" sign) we're running out of territories to take a huge pay-day from if this doesn't go well. There was much back slapping when we signed the token pledge not to take sponsorships from gaming companies during the week, but if this deal goes tits up forget the money we're raking in from the pokies at the Bentleigh Club we'll have to open a casino to cover costs.

But enough of the 2011 style off-field intrigue, we had a clash with St Kilda in the famous graveyard shift at a ground so lifeless that people want to bulldoze it and start again. With both sides fielding proper sides and the actual interchange cap enforced for the first time all year it promised to be the best guide yet to what's going to happen against GWS - who warmed up by tonking Brisbane in the early game. Whatever happened I went into the afternoon resolving to keep the lid firmly jammed on, because if it comes off this early there's every possible chance that by Round 3 people will be hurling it around like a weapon if things don't go to plan.

For the first five minutes it looked like our luck had run out, with nobody other than Matt Jones (!) able to cleanly get the ball out of defence and the Saints responding to our attacks by bouncing from one end to the other with the greatest of ease. When Josh Bruce took advantage of the first of many defensive blunders in the first quarter, this time from the unlikely boot of Christian Salem, to lead and mark in a phonebooth sized space I was ready to accept a 10 goal loss and take it as a learning experience before the real stuff began. If I were in a war I'd be France.

Like George Costanza when he thought God had given him cancer just as he was about to become successful ("Negative is good?") Jones must have been cursing through his concussion because in the 18% of the game he played he was our best player, setting up attacks off half-back like we'd never seen him do before. At that point he would have been under consideration for Round 1, even though his profile had dipped so badly that in the warm-up he walked through the bottom of shot on the big screen and I thought it was Jake Melksham. That's about the only selection decision that would have been bolder than playing the 2013 superstar on the half-back flank to start with, but for a time it was working a treat. I am not actually sure who is coaching us at the moment but they got that one right before he was knocked goofy and withdrawn from combat.

Speaking of lookalikes, from a distance Ben Kennedy looks a bit like Addam Maric but the key difference is that he's obviously channelled his emotional issues into the hatred of opposition players rather than himself. Today was his most complete game, delivering the first goal courtesy of first winning a holding the ball free then a 50 metre penalty, and later in the quarter delivering a textbook legal bump to a player crouched over the ball which not only put the St Kilda player on his arse while avoiding injury/sanctions but also set up a goal. He's quick, he's angry, he's a welcome addition to the side. How's Jeremy Howe and his Robert Allenby style book of excuses for off-field injury going at Collingwood anyway?

Once we finally got the ball out of defence we moved it better than usual. For an example look at Pedersen's goal which was set up by a combination of Nathan Jones setting up from back of centre, Gawn taking a huge mark and Frost expertly finding him in space. The issue was extracting the ball from defence to start with. Both Garland and the Sizzle Brothers both did reasonable defensive work, but when the ball came to boot they were all guilty in a series of comedy capers which did nothing for my nerves. It would be ironic if after saving our bacon for so long the backline suddenly loses the plot just as everyone else gets better, but they got better as the day went on and St Kilda proved more than our equal for suicidal defending.

Rookie Josh Wagner also had a touch of the shambles, and while I'm not writing him off because they must have faith to play him right through the pre-season I don't like his chances of the first round debut that was for some reason being discussed before he'd even played a game. He did a couple of nice things later in the game but if it works it's not going to be an instant coup like Magner (temporarily) or vandenBerg (hopefully permanently).

The highlight of the first quarter was Jack Watts playing like he was Matthew Pavlich, and won't it be the ultimate in FML (Fisted Melbourne Lifestyle) when he has the season of his life and Freo buy him for a fortune to link up with Hogan later? The overhead contested mark which led to his first goal was the sort of thing that we've been waiting to see for years. It didn't even offend me when he ended up sneaking into defence later because he'd done so much good work forward.

Even with two goals it was probably Hogan's worst game ever, and shudders ran down the spine of MFC loyalists around the world when his first set shot revealed that he'd taken his already 'charismatic' goalkicking routine and thrown in some more fancy footwork. The ball flew out on the full and we all wondered how in god's name that can have been allowed to develop throughout the pre-season without anyone taking him aside and saying "come on mate". I know we don't want to annoy him at the moment but somebody's got to have a word because we can't allow that to go on for much longer. Josh Kennedy has proven beyond doubt that a wacky run-up doesn't need to be fatal but last season's version was surprisingly accurate so can we at least revert to that for now?

It wasn't all bad news for Hogan, other highlights included the blind handball to set up Kent's goal in the second quarter and when he dropped the mark and looked at his hands like The Ultimate Warrior after he'd been cursed by Papa Shango even though he'd buttered up (CLICHE! I don't even know exactly what it means) to kicked the goal off the ground. I'd like to say there's no need to panic but I panic about everything he does so why not add the kicking routine to the list as well?

The Saints weren't stupid and finally decided to try and stop Jack Viney rather than just letting him run around and do whatever he wanted. It worked reasonably well in the first half before he got off the leash, and while the Cosmic Connection with Gawn wasn't as dominant as it had been in the first two weeks that was fine because alongside him we had the man for all seasons Nathan Jones and the Hamburglar going at it like a 10 year veteran.

When Jason Holmes came on for the second half the beard to be feared met his match for a player who could leap over the top of him, but unlike Max who was playing like the total package with 10 contested possessions and six tackles the American offered exactly zero when the ball hit the deck so I know which one I'd rather have.

The reliance on Gawn is almost as terrifying as watching Hogan change direction and waiting for his knee to explode. We've never had all our ruck eggs in one basket like it before, and once the game was won it seemed a reasonable time to give Pedersen or Frost an extended run on the ball just to make sure they're going in with some recent competitive experience if required.

My favourite thing about Maximum, and there are many, is that he always looks like he's about to keen over and die from exhaustion when he's not involved in the play but pushes through to the end of the game with minimal breaks and no noticeable drop off in his performance.

By my count Frost took one centre bounce, late in the game and he demonstrated an excellent leap where it seemed to me he got the tap though the stats suggest otherwise so there might be something there. With the Spencil out injured and the two Kings clearly unwanted in the senior conversation at the moment he might come in handy now that the controversial 'Maximum Pedo' ruck combination looks like being halted by the Match Review Panel courtesy of Pedersen's malice free but clumsy bump in the last quarter. He's got a clean record and there was no damage done so he might get away with a warning, and if any MRP members are reading this before deliberating it should be pointed out that's a far better result than the possible depressed fracture of the cheekbone suffered by the guy who Cameron hit in similar circumstances so you should definitely rub him out.

We had our moments of slapstick but for a quarter where we conceded nine scoring shots and only got within a goal courtesy of Watts kicking another on the siren (*swoon*) it was entertaining to watch, other than Hogan's set-shot (which the highlights package is nice enough to cut out after showing his mark) and some horrendous kicking in defence. It's one thing to switch play but defenders trying to nail pin-point passes inside defensive 50 then launching kicks flatter than the proverbial hat is unwelcome in any circumstances. Just kick it up the line towards Gawn, no matter how tired he looks he will jump for it, and we'll go from there.

Maybe they were too terrified of the new deliberate rule to consistently head for the boundary. For the third week in a row we were pinched under the new interpretation of "pay everything", with the first one happening in the forward line to complete the hat-trick of McDonald being nabbed in defence against Port and Garland on the wing against the Dogs. The other two were just for effect, including one deep in the final quarter with nothing on the line when a hurried kick forward spilt out of bounds and instead of taking a principled stand against bad policy the dickhead umpire paid it. I look forward to our players earnestly trying to keep the ball in to their own detriment in Round 9 two months after umpires have stopped paying it.

My anti-deliberate antics prompted much tutting and filthy looks from the majority St Kilda fans sitting around us, so after we were far enough ahead I was dying for them to get done for one as well so they could all understand the stupidity of it/loudly brand them a bunch of filthy hypocrites. Sadly it never came. The deliberate rule is alive and well but it looks like they've given up on the sliding one if the player who flew through Nathan Jones' legs in the last quarter getting away with it under the umpire's nose stood for anything.

The start of the second quarter saw most of the problems which had befallen us in the first ironed out. The fun started with Kent's goal courtesy of the Hogan turn and handball (and tell me Watts hadn't been infringed with in the contest. Why not fall in love all over again with this troubled young man as he rebuilds his shattered life?) and continued with Kennedy ironing out the poor bastard who had been set the task of collecting a shithouse kick from a teammate to set up Oliver's first.

Part of the reason they were making so many mistakes in defence was that we were intimidating them into it. Between Kennedy, Garlett, Kent and even unlikely suspects like Hogan and Pedersen we have not had forward pressure of that standard since Aaron Davey invented it in 2004. The third goal was a perfect case study, the ball spilling free from a marking contest and the Saints defender tapping the ball straight to Garlett to run into an open goal after shitting the bed in a tussle for the ball with Hogan.

After St Kilda got the next two - though we could have had another when holding the ball specialist Dom Tyson benefited from Kent worrying his opponent out of it - we were fortunate to benefit from a piece of indiscipline so heinous that the ridiculously named Blake Acres should have dragged himself. Kennedy took a mark and for no good reason whatsoever was pushed over to concede a 50. In that situation putting your hand up, saying "yes, it is true I am an idiot" and going off to sit next to Viv Michie was the only honourable thing to do. It came at a perfect time, with the lead less than a goal. Thanks dickhead, feel free to apply for a new name.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the win, and a rare score of over 100 points, was how we were making goals even without Hogan providing the towering presence that we hope he will for the next 23 weeks (even when we've got the bye, and yes I am ending it at 23 weeks because what do you think this is OptimismBlog?). Witness for instance Sam Frost's tap on to Watts who set up Garlett early in the third quarter.

Jeff (never, ever...) played a really good game too, I'm used to him ghosting through the game to be on the end of a few goals every week and setting a few up for teammates but his chase, tackle and contested possessions were a welcome feature today. While we're saying 'thanks dickhead' let's give a hand to the side who traded him for pick 61. The best bit about that trade was that due to my complete disinterest in the goings on at other clubs I thought he was about 28 when it turns out he's got a good five years left in him.

Mick, you might have called Emo Maric a cheat on the radio, refused our lucrative overtures to coach and recommended Mark Neeld for the job, but this might make up for all of them*.
* the first two at least.

Just when it seemed we'd broken the Saints and might be able to put our feet up for the last quarter the bastards kicked two in a row to keep it interesting. The tide was temporarily held back by a tough Bernie Vince tackle in front of goal, and even though I'm sure they're still holding him back somewhere he played a really good game mainly in defence with random stints in the midfield. Here's to the reigning Best and Fairest player being a Round 1 surprise packet.

After conceding those two goals my concern was that we were going to wilt under the pressure of having to conform to the 90 interchange limit and when St Kilda got the first goal of the last quarter there was as much nervousness as you can get for a game that means precisely diddly squat - especially if you lose and have to put a brave face on it.

We were saved by Christian Salem's long bomb accidentally rolling through for a nine point goal, our first since the first NAB Challenge game of 2014. As much as I hate that rule in inverse proportion to how much Dwayne Russell loves it I was glad for the extra score when we pulled off that oh so Melbourne move of struggling for minutes to kick a goal then giving it straight back out of the centre. It was down to a three point play before we turned the tables and got the goal straight back ourselves, returning it to a nine point advantage after all.

God only knows why they persist with the novelty goals in what is supposed to be a full dress rehearsal for the real stuff but at least we can take the $500 in footballs that are supposed to go Salem's junior club and instead send them to the Northern Territory so the Chief Minister will stop trying to run us out of town. A search of his name and the world scandal will show he's got form but I don't want to be read into the Hansard of the NT Assembly as justification for ripping up the sponsorship deal so do your own research.

Hogan's snap, which proved that like so many other of our forwards over the years he'd better off just playing on, was effectively the end of it. I wasn't listening to SEN at the time but given that every other aspect of their broadcast is sponsored by somebody it must have been the cue for 1300 Got Junk Time to begin. Not that we took even the slightest precautions with our most important players, leaving the door open for the first time a coach has ever been lynched from a goalpost by supporters after a win if any of them had been seriously injured. We'd already gotten away with both Garland and Jetta hobbling off during the game, if any of the big guns had dropped in the dying minutes there would have been a second consecutive night of street violence through the CBD.

The last remaining highlight was a screamer and goal from Tomas Bugg. Even before that he'd played his best game yet for us, stopping only to indulge in some agro with Nick Riewoldt as afters to belting him last  year. It's legitimately enjoyable when imports bring their personal vendettas with them, and it will help them fit in to this team which is fast developing a core of players who are either nasty, insanely fearless or both.

Bugg's mark revealed for the first time this year that he's sporting a moustache only slightly less ridiculous than the one Lynden Dunn insisted on wearing for two years. It can't have cropped up in the last week but I'm sure I'd have noticed if he had that dazzler on his top lip against Port. This one is better because unlike Dunn sporting what looked suspiciously like the bumfluff of a 14-year-old this suited him much better.

This is what we were reduced to in the last few minutes, grading the facial hair choices of Melbourne players. Which is quite a length better than the previous past time of yelling obscenities and storming the race to call them all bastards.

Save us from ourselves, start the real stuff a week early.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
5 - Jack Watts
4 - Ben Kennedy
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jeff Garlett
1 - Bernie Vince

Apologies to N. Jones, Tyson, Viney, Gawn, Bugg, Kent, Harmes, the Sizzle Brothers (without ball in hand) and M. Jones (per capita)

Final results
Congratulations to the Million Dollar Manchild for lifting his first ever piece of Demonblog silverware. May it be the first of hundreds.

14 - Jack Watts
9 - Jack Viney
8 - Max Gawn
6 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones, Ben Kennedy
3 - Lynden Dunn, Aaron vandenBerg
2 - Jeff Garlett, Bernie Vince
1 - Neville Jetta, Christian Salem

For the second time this pre-season it's a walkover for Melbourne as the opposition side show a criminal disinterest in hard work by neglecting to put together an entrant. If you take into account the one-sided Bulldogs banner our side has produced six sides to one this pre-season. And this is from people who have watched football for the past few years variously described as "no good", "heinous" and "worse than going to jail". Fans of 'successful' clubs (for St Kilda and Footscray this is comparing them to us recently, not historically) feel free to either have a go or disband.

Ours was nothing spectacular, just a good solid pre-season effort. Considering some of the see-through efforts with fonts from 1982 that the Saints have gone with in recent years I suggest they would have won even if it wasn't a walkover. Dees 3-0 and unlike the next award these numbers do carry through to the regular season.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year Pre-Season
Of a few reasonable contenders I'm going to go for the left-field option of Dean Kent kicking a goal from the square because of how much I enjoyed Hogan's no look handball over the head and Kent's finish where he had to dance around like Michael Flatley to get on the correct foot.

The overall prize winner is vandenBerg for his casual checkside against Port. For lifting the pre-season trophy he receives the grand prize of absolutely nothing. Which is coincidentally the same thing you get for winning the major prize.

Crowd watch
One of those great days out at Docklands where they're too cheap to open the top deck so you get to sit amongst 'the people'. Not that there was enough people there to run into anyone truly offensive, and if you did there were thousands of spare seats to shift to.

Of the Melbourne fans near me I noticed one kid who had absolutely butchered his jumper by getting the world's pissiest looking number applied in shonky fashion so it was half over the margin at the top. If you're going to buy a jumper (and how I miss my days of being a half-kit wanker) get it from the club and spend the extra $10 for them to do a proper job instead of allowing some clown at Rebel Sport

Also in the same area were an older couple who greeted the first airing of the theme song by clapping along in 'pattycake' fashion while laughing uproariously about how hilarious their routine was. These are the sort of people who have kept the trumpeteer going for so many years.

It's still a rubbish place to watch football but the idea that we should knock it down and build another stadium is lunacy at its best. Perhaps just try opening the top deck first?

Slip, Slap, Slopfest
Considering the number of telegrams that have been arriving at Demonblog Towers during the week expressing concern for my health after sitting in the sun all day in Craigieburn without a cracker of sunscreen I would like to give this advice - never suffer a case of sunburn, because for the rest of the week people will feel the need to point it out as if you didn't know. How many times in five work days can people say "Did you get some sun?" as if there's some chance that my plight was actually due to an industrial accident and not indifference to the dangers of skin cancer?

Even better, it's the real thing (formerly 'next week')
Because there is no next week, other than a few days to shepherd everyone through training unhurt, watching endless tapes of GWS and thinking up creative ways to abuse $cully that don't open the door for him to unfurl his bank statement for your inspection. Now there's a banner watch where I would have to give it to the opposition, 22 players storming through a giant version of his bank balance while he evilly strokes a small white cat like Blofeld.

I've got five changes to the side as selected in the season preview assuming Pedersen goes, but the only other enforced one is Brayshaw who can rest up while the Hamburglar runs riot. Elsewhere we've not seen Harry O yet and there's been little interest in either Newton or Anal Bullet so far in the pre-season so they're hardly likely to parachute any of them into the side now. ANB especially has been hard done by, but not as much as Dean Terlich who might have a limited future with us but has cruelly been selected in the original squad for all three games so far then left out at the last minute.

I can't understand why Newton isn't more popular, and in an effort to find out if he was injured tried to find details on the website only to discover they gave up doing video reports after Round 20 last year. Wherever he is I hope he knows I miss him and want him back.

The last two inclusions aren't particularly exciting, but for all the waffle about how it's going to be a hard side to get into this year I'm not falling for that until most or all of Brayshaw, Petracca, Dawes and Trengove are ready to return.

IN: Frost, Oliver, Harmes, Grimes. M. Jones
OUT: Brayshaw (inj), Lumumba, Neal-Bullen, Newton (omit), Pedersen (susp)

B: Jetta, Garland, Dunn
HB: Salem, T. McDonald, Bugg
C: Tyson, Jones, Oliver
HF: Kent, Frost, Watts
F: Garlett, Hogan, vandenBerg
Foll: Gawn, Viney, Vince
INT: Grimes, Kennedy, M. Jones, Harmes

Despite everything that's happened so far I still don't think we'll win, but that might be a coping strategy against disappointment as much as anything else. Put me in the stocks and unload your annual supply of fruit and veg, but the team we played in the last game of 2015 was not representative of what will be out there in a fortnight. Mumford alone is worth several times what $cully will offer (now watch the turd have a day out), meaning we won't enjoy the same dominance in the ruck from Gawn jumping all over some nobodies for four quarters. There's no reason we can't win, but it's far from a slam dunk and we may as well get used to losing to these bastards again before they're handed 12 flags in a row.

Let's all pledge that if we don't win that the reaction is one of calm, and that supporters don't derail the side before the Essendon game by getting in the papers doing their block. We've got to concentrate on at least getting through that game, because there is no way I'm going to accept defeat after watching them hold a Nuremburg Rally style celebration of all things Hird. Otherwise I'm going to start a petition to make this our new theme song.

Gamble responsibly
Updated betting markets for the Demonblog awards will be provided during the week, don't all break the internet by pressing F5 repeatedly until they're posted.

Was it worth it?
Undoubtedly, free is the right price for watching a game at that stadium and the result justified leaving the house. From here I can't promise victory, I can't promise good times but I can promise that as of today when people ask if we're suited for mid-table mediocrity I can say we're closer than ever before.

Final thoughts
If we end up being good before schedule (2019) my entire gimmick is stuffed.

Sunday 6 March 2016

This is living

It's not quite time to book your seat at the North Melbourne Grand Final Breakfast yet, but how much better is winning than the alternative? If we were losing I'd be decrying the entire 'competition' as a Wobbies World collection of meaningless games played under stupid rules, and... well to be honest my view is not much different even though we are winning. Still, we've now won three straight in all competitions since Round 17 to 19 in 2010, and I care not for the fact that one of them was a last round slopfest and the other two were practice games. Anything that moves us even gradually away from the bottom of the harbour schemes of the last few years is a welcome change for me.

When the NAB Challenge fixture was released the first question about a surprise trip to the middle of a Craigieburn housing estate was why we were playing the Bulldogs at a ground Richmond had once occupied instead of either the Western Oval (which proved so popular last year that some lunatics were trying to play real games there), Ballarat again considering they're supposed to be playing premiership games there soon, somewhere in our 'heartland' like Toorak Park or Casey Fields, which we're still feigning interest in for contractual reasons.

Perhaps I could do with the last one, and given that when we played them in Bendigo the lights went out maybe it was safer to keep it in the suburbs during the day. At least the world famous Highgate Recreation Reserve is on my side of town. As a sick freak from way back there's no doubt I'll still have gone even if I lived on the other side of the city, but one long suffering Demon I ran into during the week showed the way we should all strive to live when he suggested he'd "rather die" than drive from Lilydale to Craigieburn.

In the end it wasn't a bad place to play a throw-away game, it was certainly a nicer atmosphere than Casey Fields. The key difference was that while their car park was also just a field it wasn't a rocky outcrop full of mysterious holes into which to stack your car, and it probably took slightly less than an hour to get out of. Don't ask me, I parked at the Safeway up the road.

Not sure I'd have seen as much value in going if I'd had to drive more than half an hour, but I suggest it was better than some of the quality venues we've played pre-season games at in the past such as Bulleen Park, an air force base in Hawaii or an unnamed ground in Ararat.

In the end the ground looked after us, leaving us unbeaten there in the same week the AFL bailed out of the Sydney Olympic Stadium and left us as the all-time, unbeaten kings of the venue. That place might have a surface that looks like Colonial Stadium era Docklands and large bolts sticking out of the ground but there's no way it had the same sort of wind that Highgate offered. Nor did it feature an end where you could easily punt the ball over the fence and onto a main road. We'd already been sued for $180,000 over a builder being knocked out with a Sherrin at the MCG, the last thing we needed was to cause a multi-vehicle pile up.

Now that we're 2-0 and on the verge of becoming the greatest pre-season team since Carlton won the cup then went on to win the spoon I feel bad at having laughed so heartily at Eddie McGuire's plan to automatically vault the winners of the pre-season cup into the eight. Mind you if that sort of stupidity was on the agenda there's no doubt the Bulldogs would have fielded a stronger team rather than one made up largely of mid-carders and rookies but at Melbourne you take victory wherever you can get it.

At these token suburban/country games where you relive the horrors of grounds that didn't have big screens to help you follow what was going on at the other end it's hard to form any definitive opinions on our performance (could watch the replay, probably won't bother) but other than the dream ride being provided by the beard to be feared Gawn to the midfield it seems to me the reason we won was eventually cracking them under a metric shitload of pressure.

If you include all the Bulldog absentees they might not have fallen victim to the relentless chase and tackle, but if we keep this standard up plenty of sides are going to be troubled by it this year. Hopefully it's the sort of thing that will finally allow us to topple a flaky fringe finals contender other than Richmond, I can't believe across all these years where North fans have gone from loving Brad Scott one week to trying to lynch him the next they've never once contrived to totally stuff up an unloseable game against us. After two preliminary final appearances in a row now is their time to shine, and let the SEN switchboard catch fire while we storm their offices trying to loot Bertocchi hams.

There was a nice spread of what are now referred to as 'pressure acts'. It wasn't just the usual suspects like Viney and Jones who were trying to uncharitably tear limbs from their opponents, even the very much maligned Jack Watts was attacking the ball with intensity (though he still only had one tackle so feel free to keep laying the boots in if that's what gets you excited). Like last year we're relying heavily on the name players in the pre-season and leaving most of the unknowns at home so we'll see how long they can keep it up for.

Just getting through the first two weeks would be a good start. Now that Essendon have declared the Round 2 game a pep rally featuring marches, standing ovations and a toga clad James Hird being carried around the ground atop the shoulders of supporters while turning water in substances that fail to comply with relevant doping codes I'm bracing myself for impact. Manufactured intensity usually only lasts about 15 minutes until the emotion dies down and a team collapses, so let's hope for that because I'm not comfortable being the hunted just yet.

When I wandered past the television at half time of their game yesterday and Kevin Sheedy was making a straight faced declaration that it would be "Essendon's greatest ever crowd" it would be easy to declare the whole organisation to be delusion and assume we were going to carry off a revenge attack for the last time we played them in Round 2 but I'll believe it when I see it.

Back to Craigieburn, and the match started in similar fashion to last week with Gawn smashing the ball into the hands of a teammate but where it deviated was that the player on the receiving end failed to suffer an injury serious or otherwise. It was a much cleaner start, the tap to Jones, a handball to Viney, who handballed back to Gawn, who gave it to Salem who found Forward Watts leading out of 50 for a mark. Any game where we get our one kick to a leading forward for the week out of the way in the early minutes with plenty of time to add more is a good one for me.

Watts missed, and in the early minutes he sacrificed kicking for enthusiasm but how much better does he look as a forward than any of the other options? I'm absolutely convinced he can do a reasonable amount of damage down there while the opposition is focusing on Hogan as long as our coaches don't shit themselves at the first sign of trouble and move him into defence. On a related note during the third quarter when the Bulldogs started to get on top he found himself back in defence.

After that miss the Bulldogs took over, taking advantage of a strong breeze. We were moving the ball reasonably well out of defence but once we went forward were struggling to find targets in any decent position. So far so very Melbourne. After last week I wasn't going to write us off early, and after they kicked a couple our solitary major for the quarter (and haven't we all missed one goal first terms?) came in none more pre-season fashion. A desperate goalward hoof from Bugg held up in the breeze and inexplicably dropped into the arms of Cameron Pedersen who was standing on the line without an opponent probably not expecting the ball to reach him until looking up at the last minute and saying "bloody Nora, what's this?" as it fell into his hands. He had another unspectacular but solid game, with some solid tackles and a strong overhead mark that further convinced me that Dawes can get in line and wait his turn.

What the Bulldogs had that we didn't was multiple targets to kick to and wind in their favour rather than swirling around and causing every high kick inside 50 to hold up or drop short. It's all well and good to bring competitive games to random suburbs but the unusual conditions with one dinky little grandstand and nothing else didn't make for much of a trial before the real stuff. Even though the ball hitting an air-pocket had gifted Pedersen his first it also stuffed up numerous other attempts at bombing it long to the square where we were hoping for a mark or secondary crumb and instead saw it land well short.

Fortunately the quantity of Bulldog talls didn't mean quantity, and while Goldenballs Boyd was often in the play it helped that he kicked off his million dollar campaign with 0.3. With McDonald kicking like the Sizzle 2012-14 edition we were providing them plenty of opportunities but they didn't do enough to stick the knife in with the wind before turning into pumpkins both times they had to kick into it. Not that they could blame the breeze for everything, including their Ben Holland-esque miss from 15 metres out directly in front at the end of the quarter where the player could easily have run into an open goal after the mark but decided to have the set shot instead and botched it horribly. The highlights on the AFL website charitably show him taking the mark then cut straight to the second quarter.

It was a tricky breeze (described by the AFL website with the greatest of all weather related words as 'blustery') but it was hardly blowing with cyclonic force so their inability to master it in the second and third quarters was odd. Not that it means anything for the future, only the nerviest Bulldogs fan could think that today was a step backwards, when they get back under a roof they'll be thrashing around from one end to the other kicking goals out of their arse.

Given that I spent most of the game squinting into the sun and would probably have ended up with heatstroke if they'd played regular length quarters you're just going to have to make do without the usual rigorous standard of match analysis we've become famous for. Instead the following comments will be based purely on the 'vibe', where players I thought did nothing were actually dominant on the opposite side, and I was biased towards others who were getting kicks right in front of me. I can see how people used to watch games like this in the past, because the only people insane enough to try and write about them later were perched high in a press box with a decent view of what was going on. Fortunately I only ever had to do it at Princes Park once.

We should have had another goal through Garlett, who gathered with technique straight out of the 'HOW TO CRUMB' textbook but with all the time in the world rushed and put it wide. It was a bad miss, but that's the price you pay with enigmatic, living on the end of a lightning bolt forwards for all the great goals they kick out of nowhere. He didn't have much of a day, and must have had most of his 12 kicks on the far side of the ground, but proved the theory of enigmas correct in the second quarter by gathering a loose ball in the pocket and casually rolling it through off the outside of his boot. I will sit through the former to get the latter, but if he improves his conversion this year his presence in the forward line will be golden. Just to prove how little we could see even though we were sitting in an elevated position on the wing the guy next door to me thought Oliver had missed the quick snap.

It took 15 minutes of use of the wind in the second quarter for us to finally have an impact, Forward Watts struck again by crumbing his own marking contest and scuffing through a goal. If you were uncharitable, and so many of us have been about him over the years, you'd point out that he tried to mark it one-handed to start with but I'm prepared to forgive that due to the recovery. A couple of minutes later his hot streak of doing bad things that turned out well continued when a terrible kick inside 50 was dropped by a Bulldogs defender, allowing Garlett to nick in and kick his rolling goal. His five minutes of being involved in everything finished with being in the right spot to take an out on the full free before booting it from the boundary line without the slightest worry. I thought he was 'back' after Round 1 last year and that didn't take long to sour so I'm not getting excited yet but a season where Jack Watts is involved in everything instead of going missing for hours at a time would be fun for everyone involved.

The three goal burst at the end of the quarter pulled the margin back to a point, which didn't seem fair to the Bulldogs but served them right for their missed opportunities when they had us on the rack both before quarter time and in the first few minutes of the second. We were back in it but none of the goals were crafted, they all just fell to us. Even Watts' sublime finish had initially been handed to us by a wonky kick. Free range goals are great (and usually more exciting than the ones created through hard work and graft shortly before we give it straight back out of the middle) but we're not going to get very far without a mixture. Hogan helps there, but even he'd have struggled to get to some of our forward 50 entries today. Somehow we had more marks inside 50 by half-time, but most of them were 49 metres out on the boundary line so it was hardly a fair comparison. There's more work to do across half-forward, which proves some things never change.

Apart from Watts and the magic service Gawn was providing not only to his All-Australian running mate Viney but now Jones as well my first half highlight was the Clayton Oliver show. He proved last week wasn't a fluke, showing no ill-effects from becoming the first MFC player to be reported in his very first game for the club since Brent Crosswell, and continued to play like he was in The Matrix whenever he got the ball. As the quality of the opposition rises along with the scrutiny on him we'll see how he goes, but for now my MFC brand Magic 8 Ball is showing:

Now that Brayshaw is probably out for Round 1 it makes the decision of whether not we can fit him in academic, he must debut. Today he even pulled down a screamer as well, just to prove that he's got more tricks on top of being the wizard of space and time.

At a ground where there was only one scoreboard, completely inaccessible to anybody watching from our side and even blocked from sideways glances by trees it was refreshing to watch a game without knowing what the score was most of the time. It was only from three-quarter time when we threatened to make a game of it that I started paying attention to the exact margin rather than just having a feel of what was going on. At the end of the second quarter I walked past it on my way to pick up some fat porky food and it was still showing 'Q1' and when the siren went one guy turned to his mate and said without a hint of sarcasm: "Gee that was a long first quarter". What did he think the quarter time huddle was, a drinks break?

While Oliver seemingly has an ability to slow the rotation of the earth and walk around at a normal pace waiting to find an option, how good was Neville Jetta when the ball was in traffic? He's had one of the great career revivals in defence, and he was fantastic again today in finding a teammate even when gathering the ball in tight spaces.

It was his intervention that turned the tables after the Bulldogs had kicked the first goal of the third quarter. Vince had narrowly avoided being wrapped up in a tackle after running around an opponent in defence, giving the ball to Grimes who had all day to get it to Nev before plonking a flat, slow kick over the top which Nifty's opponent should have had no trouble spoiling. Seeing the danger ahead Jetta turned his body as he took the mark, shutting out the defender and opening space for him to dash off and play on quickly. It ended up in the hands of Kent who used his speed to break away before giving to Pedersen to set up Watts for his third from the square with a dinky handball over the top and we were back to where we'd started before half time.

Nev's save day triggered a run that put us in front for the first time all day. After his goal Watts hit the post then vandenBerg and Gawn combined for a golden tap/rove/goal effort which has somehow been excised from the AFL's highlights package despite being another entrant from the crumb handbook. The lead only lasted a couple of minutes before James Harmes turned the ball over in spectacular fashion and gifted them a nine point goal which signalled another sustained period of Bulldog attack. Two more goals gave them a reasonable break at three-quarter time, and even though they still had to contend with the breeze which had stumped them the first time and the inability of their ruckmen to handle Gawn it still left a reasonable buffer.

This week's recipient of the 'Torment a Melbourne Defender' deliberate out of bounds free was Colin Garland, but at least unlike McDonald in Adelaide he was pinched on the wing instead of in a position where it handed them a shot on goal. That didn't make it any less offensive but while the strictest interpretation would suggest he could have kept the ball in if he'd really wanted to he'd probably have turned on a dime to either eat a hard tackle or do his knee.  Alternatively he could have just let it bounce it and look like the world's biggest poon if his opponent dashed through and gathered it at the last minute, so he does the sensible thing and gathers as he goes out only to be nicked for deliberate. I imagine that on TV the commentators were suggesting that he should have done a 'walking into the wind' style mime routine as he went over and it would have been fine.

You can't blame the umpires for doing what they're told to, but there's no doubt that they'll slowly decrease the standards required for paying that over the first few weeks until the rule hopefully goes the same way as hands in the back frees. Deliberate is always going to be a popular target for derision because it's hard to judge intent but surely if you gather the ball at the last minute running in the direction of the boundary line we're fine to have one more throw-in rather than paying a free? It's been hard to notice the other rule changes so far (not that it looked like ye olde 'protected zone' was being enforced too strongly today) but this one is a howler which should have been strangled at birth.

The buffer didn't last long into the last quarter, they attacked first before somebody called Goetz (if his nickname isn't Bernie the Bulldogs aren't trying) lobbed Garland into the fence and copped a 50. That was it for the Dogs who pretty much sat back and let us trample them from there. I enjoyed their daring kick-ins that went straight down the middle of the ground but it was reasonably clear that they weren't working into the breeze but they persisted anyway just because. I suppose it's not the worst idea, may as well try it in the worst possible conditions then reap the rewards when you play indoors.

At this point it should be noted that even thought the AFL website refuses to publish the interchange numbers I'm led to believe that we again completely ignored the coming interchange restrictions and continued with the same laissez faire attitude to rotations as last week.

Which is ok, I'm not naive enough to think that this is the only forum they're using to prepare players for the new rule. While it makes it hard to judge how much of either comeback has been due to our good player rather than opposition fatigue given that we've been playing close to our Round 1 team over the last two weeks I'm happy to manage fitness now and worry about the cap later. It should be noted that we ended the game with both Dunn and vandenBerg off as a precaution after minor injuries so no need to get too hung up on interchange numbers until at least next Sunday afternoon.

The exceptions to this rule were Billy Stretch who remained unused and Gawn who is clearly being played to buggery under the theory that if he can run out games in the heat then he'll smash through four quarters during winter with enough in the tank to run a few laps at the final siren.

The first step towards victory came from Tyson, still not looking anything like the 2014 model but didn't seem to be pinched for holding the ball once today so that's a step in the right direction, who did a cover version of Watts' goal before half time. Harmes made up for the goal he cost us with a mark and a conversion inside 50 (technically he was still three points in arrears but I was prepared to let it slide and start talking about 'moral victory' if we lost by two or less) and that was it for the Bulldogs.

Gawn provided another goal from a stoppage by tapping down for Jones to snap before the festival of crumb continued with Sam Frost gathering a loose ball and kicking around the corner to make the margin nine. This prompted the people around me to start getting nervous about the Bulldogs levelling the game with a nine pointer, proving that it's not just Dwayne Russell who's still hung up on the bloody Supergoal.

We spent the last five minutes battering the door down trying to kick another, it wasn't forthcoming but nobody cared. Another day, another reasonable sign towards decency and respectability when the real stuff started.

Elsewhere Bugg got plenty of it coming out of defence, and while he didn't seem to do much wrong the touches didn't feel all that damaging either. He's still got a Round 1 spot sewn up, which might not be the case for Kennedy who was lively enough but didn't do much to suggest himself an essential selection. Vince was reasonable for his first game of the year but I doubt he'll spend as much time in defence as he did today when the games count for something. I liked Salem's game but other than a few random interjections he was more solid than damaging, still no worries at all in sticking him down back this year and reaping the rewards.

Hunt played most of the game again and didn't do much so I'd be happy for him to step aside and rejoin the Scorpions now so we can get a look at Neal-Bullen or Stretch. The rookies Wagner and Michie had decent showings on limited game-time, Wagner especially threw a few good tackles and won some tough contested possessions. Michie had a few nice touches as well, but I've said that before and never seen him stretch it across four quarters so will hold off on declaring him to be 'back' (as if he was ever there to start with) just yet. It's hard to keep up with AFL list rules because they're changed every second week but I take it we can nominate one of them to replace Melksham and another as the regular promoted rookie, so pending Mitch White having a stormer next week I'm comfortable with these two.

If you took today as the sort of performance we were going to see in the regular season all that was really wrong was inability to find consistent targets inside 50 and some howler turnovers by foot. We won clearances, dealt with the ball well in traffic, the rebounding from defence was good, the crumb was superb and we had a decent mix of goalkickers from open play. The reintroduction of Hogan helps but it's not the silver bullet, I shook the Magic 8 Ball again and asked what are our chances of playing finals..

As you were.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Jack Watts
1 - Neville Jetta

Apologies to Bugg, Oliver, Pedersen, Grimes, Harmes, Salem and M. Jones

It's a grandstand finish in a throwaway award, with any of five still a chance to either win outright or at least get a share of the same sort of riches that Heritier Lumumba enjoyed last year before going on to do not much in the regular season.

9 - Jack Viney, Jack Watts
8 - Max Gawn
4 - Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones
3 - Lynden Dunn, Aaron vandenBerg
3 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Neville Jetta, Christian Salem

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With apologies to the Watts kick from practically the same position and the Garlett roller under pressure I'm going to have to opt for Dom Tyson's casual finish from the boundary line during the last quarter. vandenBerg's checkside last week was so relaxed his blood pressure was probably 0/0 so that's got to keep him in front of the pre-season award, with one more chance for his teammates to pinch it from him before we hit reset and start judging again based on the regular season.

Last week I charitably cancelled this segment on the grounds that I didn't see the Port banner, and the TV only showed the b-side of ours so it was unfair to make a judgement. Then it was revealed that the Port cheersquad didn't even bother to make one, so that took the decision out of my hands and I'm pleased to retrospectively award the Dees victory.

Couldn't see the front of either of them today either (what a shame to miss out on one of those 'hilarious' gags the Bulldogs banner usually has), but as the Bulldogs one featured a curtain and a b-side that was completely blank I would like to suggest that they weren't taking their duties seriously so it's a rampant victory to Melbourne to go alongside their walkover last week. They got to 2-0 for the season, looking for a second straight unbeaten season.

Banner Watch Up Late:
On Monday an anonymous commenter revealed that the Bulldogs banner read:


Which I don't mind for self-deprecation, and if it was supposed to be a reference to Bernie Sanders it was quite apt for the Bulldogs - he's hanging around in the finals for a bit but has no chance of making the final playoff.

Crowd Watch
Don't know how many I expected to show up to Craigieburn, but 4139 seemed a bit low. Mind you security was practically non-existent (the guy who scanned my ticket also hit me up for a donation to the Calder Cannons so I'm sure you could have smuggled in a rocket launcher as long as you gave a gold coin) so another thousand people probably just jumped the fence and wandered in for free.

Lucky I paid $5 plus a booking fee to register for my free ticket online just in case, only to forget to print it out at work then have to scramble to find a printer two hours before the game. After eventually finding somebody with a printer and managing to eventually get the damn ticket to print after two blue screens of death and much open abuse about why anybody would still be running Windows XP I discovered three things on my first and presumably last visit to the ground:

1) The 'young' person next to me looked at the team list in the Footy Record and asked his parent or guardian "does the hashtag mean it's a rookie player?" as if any hash symbol is now automatically a hashtag even when stuck at the end of a word. Any pretence that I still understand what the 'youth' are on about has now officially ended.

2) We traditionally get one warm weather practice match a year at a suburban ground, and the rare opportunity for football fans to show up wearing not much at all (including some uncomfortably tight shorts where you could see the whole box and dice) meant seeing some of the most ill-conceived and poorly applied tattoos of all time. If that's your thing then don't let me stop you, just get it done properly so it doesn't look like it was created using improvised equipment in a Russian prison.

3) Footy fashions are dubious at the best of times but the Bulldogs fans have a spectacular commitment to wearing ugly merchandise from the late 1990's and early 2000's. They've finally got a good logo and the new stuff doesn't look bad (other than the sub-Taco Bell loco of Mission Foods) so why not put your hand in pocket and upgrade to something newer than the Chris Grant era?

It wasn't a bad ground by any means, it's just that the way the pre-season works we'll be rotated through a different sent of country and suburban grounds next year. Maybe we'll be sent to try and smooth things over with the good people of Mackay who didn't get a game today due to torrential rain. The best thing about that was the game was being played at a country club, and I want in on that just for the Caddyshack references.

Next Week
Whether you watch us play St Kilda from inside the hated Docklands arena or on television try not to become a tear-stained mess remembering how we flubbed that game against them last year. No need to go early, the good news we've still got to play them home and away there in the next six months.

It would be fantastic if they suffered from their cancelled game and allowed us to win, but if you're a chronic Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome sufferer you will recognise that this only sets us up for a Round 1 loss where the sound of air fizzing out of a balloon will be audible hundreds of kilometres away.

Was it worth it?
For getting that winning feeling yes, for forgetting to wear sunscreen and sitting there all day slowly roasting in the sun we will only find out the answer was no when the skin cancer diagnosis comes through.

Final thoughts
Here's hoping for a 2017 pre-season fixture at Gumbaya Park.