Saturday 28 May 2016

Assisted Football Living

I suppose when you field the youngest and least experienced side in the competition there will be days where almost everything goes wrong. At least that's what I was trying to convince myself at the final siren. To take my mind off such a poxy, wide-open performance I went on what was supposed to be a calming trip to the supermarket. As much as I tried to pretend otherwise the afternoon had annoyed me greatly, because by the time I reached the checkout this period of mature reflection had been replaced with the desire to run a trolley through everyone who stood in my way. 

All theories about the reasons for our defeat will be willingly accepted, other than where it was played. Every time we lose one of these games there's a lot of "we would have won at the MCG", and usually I agree but the goals Port scored today would have been kicked on any ground in Australia. I'll get back to you when we're the first team to lose to Fremantle after a greasy, humid, evening game in Darwin where players need to adjourn to an industrial fridge at quarter time but the unfortunate fact is that the games are a necessity at the moment for financial reasons. The significant anti-NT grouping (which most of you are probably in, and best of luck to you) will get their way if the Territory ditches us at the end of this year, then they can work on a better business plan than "win some games" to cover the $1.2m a year shortfall.

Whether it was played at Traeger Park, the MCG or Highgate Recreation Reserve in Craigieburn there were always deep suspicions about which way this was going to go. By our standards we thumped Brisbane in the end last week but it was far from a dynamic performance, and my MSDS screamed that the opportunity of slipping into the eight after Round 10 was too good to be true.

Now that our all-new style has been proven good for battering down on their luck Queensland sides this was a necessary test against a side around our level and we failed miserably. Even after this you have to admit you're having more fun (relatively speaking) this year than at any time since mid-2011, and when our gameplan works it looks beautiful, but the supporting tactic of pushing everybody up the ground is coming unstuck in spectacular fashion. Forget this diamond bullshit at centre bounces that Fox Footy is whopping off over discovering, the structure at kick-ins and after turnovers is far more crucial to where we're at. It was not surprising to discover we've conceded the most goals in the competition from inside 30 metres, and if there's a stat for goals from inside the square we've probably already broken the world record.

When your tactics are basically "kick a goal or bust" it's going to look good some weeks, and awful most others. If we don't win the clearances or successfully move the ball forward quickly for a goal we are cactus against any halfway decent team (and Essendon). I'm used to our attacks provoking other teams to score, but after seeing the exact same thing happen against St Kilda and to a lesser extent the Bulldogs watching another four quarters of being massacred "out the back" (CLICHE) left me wondering if there really is something in the Plan B envelope other than a piece of paper that says "this page left intentionally blank". We tried something different in the second half against St Kilda and that barely had an impact, so maybe they decided that even when Plan A isn't working we might as well press on in the hope of mastering it by the end of the year. I just need to remind myself to breathe while the development is happening, because watching games like today is not good for your sporting self-esteem.

Speaking of tactics, and there's something you never thought you'd get here, whether it's the defensive or midfield coach responsible for whatever ridiculous set-up we were going with from kick-ins they should walk home. We were barely able to contest the first kick-in let alone the second or third. While they were smothering us with pressure at every turn we were allowing their entire side to trot around unimpeded. Where had we seen that before? If you're still wondering how we lost to Essendon consider how much more damage they'd have done to us with all their free running players if they had a real team. The blueprint has been set for the rest of the league on how to beat us, and our chances of invading Geelong in the last round with everything on the line is now practically nil. That's ok, fans can stop fantasising and coaches can start working on how to keep the exciting, attacking side of our game alive while ensuring that we can cope with the other side getting a kick.

As the afternoon wore on it became progressively more depressing, but it can't be forgotten how many opportunities we had in the first quarter. With Port not having a recognised ruckman we should have dominated them in the middle, but with Viney being squashed to the point of violent retaliation in a tag none of the mids other than Jones present there was barely any advantage from Gawn's uninterrupted tapfest. At various times Trengove didn't bother jumping because he knew his teammates had us covered, and at point in the first quarter decided to take vigilante action by jamming his fingers into Maximum's face during a centre bounce contest. Play on apparently.

Even without Viney or Tyson doing anything in the middle, we were getting the ball forward. The problem was that after Watts kicked the first goal we went on a spree of missed opportunities courtesy of haphazard entries inside 50 and speculative, rushed kicks when we got there. The weight of attacks was an excellent chance to assert our authority, but even then there were plenty of early signs that they were going to attack constantly throughout the afternoon. I've got no idea how a zone is supposed to work but even I could tell that ours didn't qualify for consideration. Didn't help that half our side were missing in action.

It's been suggested that Ben Kennedy injured his ankle in the warm-up, and persisting with him didn't help us much because he barely got a touch in the first half. Dawes and Michie were there as as emergencies, the first option would have unbalanced us but depending on how hurt he was a surprise comeback for Michie might not have gone astray. When we find out BK was impeded by the injury Roos' inbox will be flooded so severely that he might drag out the old veil of negativity again. Surely by now he's set a rule in Microsoft Outlook to auto-forward any email not from an address to Simon Goodwin, who has hopefully set one to send them all to the bin because if there's one thing coaches shouldn't be doing is wasting time on what nutters like us think.

Other than Jetta who was fantastic again our defence struggled, I have sympathy with them trying to run back to goal after being told to push up but one-on-one they weren't much chop either. Garland is struggling mightily, Oscar McDonald isn't there yet and McDonald Sr is dying for another tall. Isn't that what we recruited Frost to do? It might not work, and I have concerns about his ability to take overhead marks but it's worth a go after a couple of weeks testing in the VFL. For now it's staggering that Dunn can't get a game, he might not be the future and isn't quick enough for all this running back towards goal palaver but we were so rubbery you could have introduced a doped to the eyeballs 1988 Ben Johnson in defence and they'd still have kicked half a dozen goals from the square.

When Hogan got one at the end of the quarter it was two apiece even though we'd had nine scoring shots. We lost the centre clearance battle so there's no promise that if we had kicked goals we'd have got the other opportunities but it would have been nice to find out. It would have also been nice if any of the small forwards had bothered to turn up. Garlett was basically unseen all day and Kent played a game that was reminiscent of North in Hobart but without the four goals to pad an otherwise awful performance.

For reasons not known other than the fact that he'd been completely cut out of the game Jack Viney decided to end the first quarter by hitting Brad Ebert in the face a few times. At least that's what it looked like, and given that he wasn't reported on the spot he might be saved by Ebert not suffering any ill-effects and the Match Review Panel being forced to view footage which looked like the camera was filming from the moon. Even with a helpful spotlight applied to the replay it looks a bit like he was doing the time honoured Hundred Hand Slap of E. Honda in Street Fighter II but they're going to have to guess/err on the side of caution if they can't tell whether it was punching or vigorous shoving. No team does the old end of quarter scuffle like us, and flying the flag for Port was somebody called "Jasper" who looks like a depressed 14 year old. No wonder it didn't break into the open warfare we've seen several times this year, who's going to get fined for grappling with somebody like that?

If there was an alternative option for stopping them racking up uncontested possessions in such wide space that they were in a different area code to any of our players quarter time would have been an excellent point to implement it. It was a good chance to reboot after having so many opportunities while not looking dangerous in creating them. We returned with the same relaxed attitude to going near opponents or staying back in defence and conceded six goals. Cheers for that. Getting a kick would have been a good start, Port were toying with us like holding a ball slightly out of a dog's grasp and watching it jump to try and get it. If there's one thing that puts this Super Baileyball philosophy on its arse it's the opposition playing keepings off. Did we change anything to combat this? Of course not.

Hogan had a strange game, considering the lack of other decent forward options he was all but forced to play a lone hand and was pretty good but missed several important opportunities. At least somebody was providing a target, but I'm convinced even if he converted in the first minute of the second quarter it wouldn't have made a difference. In fact even if we'd kicked the first five goals of the second quarter without Port getting a touch it wouldn't have made a difference because like St Kilda and like the Bulldogs the moment they got the ball we were dead. This needs to be addressed, and quickly because even if finals are off any sane agenda we can't afford batterings at the hands of any of Hawthorn, Collingwood, Sydney or Adelaide. Call me for a reinvestigation of our finals hopes if we win three of four (no calls will be made), but even if we lose the lot we've got to at least retain our dignity and spend the second half of the year building to 2017. I'm resigned to the good teams beating us but now I'm worried that Collingwood won't make the same mistake twice.

Amongst the fast breaks and Jetta's now traditional brave but pointless attempts to take on key position forwards in a marking contest because none of the other defenders were present we had our moments. It was a return to the inglorious days where Jones had to carry our midfield alone, only this time with Gawn playing like a gigantic sized midfielder alongside him and those two were so far ahead of the rest of our side it was obscene. Still, if we could restrict the damage to half time we had so many players to get back into the game that all need not be lost. Most of them never returned, and Petracca hit the wall in the second half after a hot start.

When Hogan kicked his second to put the brakes on them there was two and a half minutes left to get another. For some reason he went straight into defence, which wouldn't be a bad idea if there was 45 seconds left but this was just defeatist. I know we're scarred from last year's St Kilda incident but this was excessively conservative. The worst thing about it was that Port had already demonstrated an ability to take any defender out of the equation by kicking over their head.

My abuse almost proved premature when we got it forward for Kent to have a shot, but wouldn't it have been better to have a giant hulking bastard down there instead? Kent missed, and our famous kick-in defence allowed Port to enjoy a five point play, bursting down the other end and kicking to a guy standing a metre out for a goal with Jesse nowhere to be seen. At this point it all became too much for me and I punted a kiddie couch (NB: with no child in it) across the living room. We were playing like a village team and deserved to lose.

The hope that we'd get a repeat of the pre-season game where Port shot to a five goal lead before giving up were quickly dashed. Other than Gawn and Jones our midfield was operating at 2013 levels, and best of luck to Port for leaving us in that position. The captain had to stay out there but I'm surprised Max didn't storm off in anger after one of his many taps was turned into a clearance by Port's mids.

Off they went on a run of scores that we were powerless to stop. It took until midway through the quarter when Watts goaled for us to enjoy anything approaching 'dominance', and even then we were too inept to take proper advantage. Then when we finally did the goal was given straight back by conceding a needless 50 in the middle of the ground. This was classic Melbourne, right down to struggling to kick a score over 60.

With the chance to kill us off once and for all at the end of the third quarter somebody called 'Dougal' charitably tried to keep the game alive by converting an absolute sitter into a point by trying to roll it through theatrically instead of kicking it properly. Ken Hinkley delivered his verdict by punching the window and Gawn marked at the other end to cut the margin to 17. We'd only narrowly won the quarter but after kicking five goals there was a hope that we'd finally rediscovered the attacking juggernaut that had been used to such positive effect the week before. The problem was that if we kept up the loosest defensive effort since France 1940 there was no way we could keep them out of attack long enough to overcome a three goal deficit.

Whatever exciting fitness regime we're supposed to have been enjoying for the last few years you've never heard anyone say "they'll run the game out better". We've launched comebacks, but most of them have involved desperation football rather than our superior ability to run a side into the ground. There was to be no comeback, and the longer it went the worse it got. After Port got the first we managed to hang around for 10 minutes on the back of their missed chances before Hogan continued his zany day by missing a sitter which would have given us life with plenty of time left. It would have been wasted life, you can never rule out a side crumbling under pressure but the way we were going unless we kicked eight goals in a row without them getting a touch they were going to go the other way and fix us up.

Blaming the umpires on a day where we played so badly in almost every aspect of the game is missing the point almost as much as blaming the venue, nevertheless how could all three umpires miss Charlie Dixon's allegedly inadvertent backhander to Garland's face which might have left Col with a fractured cheekbone? Even if it wasn't deliberate it was the most blatant contact above the shoulders since Gawn was facemasked in the ruck contest. I'm not expecting Port to stop the game just because one of our players is on the ground clutching his face, especially if the umpire had deemed it ok, but of course with Garland unavailable they swept forward unaided for another score. The way we were going would it have mattered even if he was upright? There was also a ripper of a rugby pass deemed legal later, but these days anything that keeps the ball moving is good stuff as far as the league are concerned. 

The easy goals continued right to the end, each one more infuriating than the last until the point where I couldn't bring myself to wreak any more havoc in my loungeroom and instead spent most of the last quarter dashing in and out of the room making sure I didn't spend the last few minutes on the phone to the Poisons Information Hotline after my kid quaffed floor polish.

Port were far superior, and we got what we deserved for being tactically inflexible. Move on to next week and pray to your chosen deity than 19 different Hawthorn players come down with the squirts on Friday.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Neville Jetta
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Jack Watts

Apologies to Stretch and Viney (second half only)

Viney's struggles were a great result for the three men previously tied for second place as they all stepped into the breach with votes to close the gap. Maximum closes fastest, and it's time to be honest with ourselves that no other ruckman on our list is going to poll 19 votes so congratulations to him on his second consecutive Stynes. Jack's willingness to inappropriately throw punches at his opponent might also assist them, but considering he won the award after playing half a season last year he would have to remain the overwhelming favourite.

In the minors the shining light of our defence Neville Jetta pulls further ahead in the Seecamp, while Petracca's second half fade-out means Oliver's week on the sidelines doesn't cost him ground in the running for the Hilton.

25 - Jack Viney
19 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
18 - Nathan Jones
15 - Jack Watts
11 - Jesse Hogan
10 - Clayton Oliver (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
9 - Neville Jetta (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Bernie Vince
6 - Billy Stretch
5 - Dom Tyson
4 - Ben Kennedy, Christian Salem 
2 - Tomas Bugg, James Harmes, Matt Jones, Heritier Lumumba, Tom McDonald, Christian Petracca
1 - Dean Kent, Cameron Pedersen

After a scare last week this is another close one, the only reasons I'm going to opt for our version of the Indigenous Round banner were the blocky font used by Port and our subtle use of a sponsor's logo instead of just bashing a big yellow RENAULT symbol in the corner. My first car was a Renault and the most yellow thing about it was that it was a fucking lemon. 14-1-0 Melbourne for the season.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Back to the original era of this award where there were so few goals it was easy to find a winner. Pity they were all dull as dishwater, so with no spectacular options to choose from I'll have Gawn's big grab in front of goal. He wins a Subway foot-long roll in a plastic bag from the on-site outlet at Traeger Park which he may use to swing around his head and attack his teammates for failing to take advantage of his 48 hitouts.

Garlett retains the overall lead, which along with his new contract is about the only things that went right for him this week.

Next Week
If we were in the horse racing business we'd be treating Hawthorn as a warm-up run for Collingwood a week later. We'd have also spent much of the last decade with the white screen up dispatching people.

What a terrible week for Casey to have off due to some rinky dink state game featuring Mitch Clisby playing for South Australia. There's no better advertisement for an AFL Reserves competition than the haphazard fixturing of that competition, can't they just know their role and introduce 25 replacements instead of shutting down the entire league for a week?

In the press conference Roos did his impression of one of those Filipino nutters who whip themselves for Good Friday by "taking responsibility" for not bringing more experienced players in, which points towards multiple changes this week even if Viney doesn't get wiped out for his random outbreak of violence. Oliver is a certainty, but otherwise it's in with the old. Apologies to Trengove for trying to bring him back in a week where we'll be belted. Don't hold it against him.

IN: Dawes, Dunn, Oliver, Trengove
OUT: Kent, Newton (omitted), Garland (injured), Viney (suspended)
LUCKY: Kennedy (possible injury excuse) O. McDonald (due to lack of alternatives)
UNLUCKY: Grimes (more than willing to give him a game eventually but not the answer for now), Pedersen (just want to give Dawes a go)

Random House
Thanks to the far more people than expected who have already pre-ordered the book. A reminder that orders for the collectors edition (including your own copy of the classic artwork featuring Gawn spewing on $cully) are open until shortly after our season finishes for delivery by early December. I'd like to credit the 10 years of posts and several years of tweets that I've indulged in as research for providing a sense of perspective about days like today - it was a horrible performance, but it was nowhere near our worst. 

The comments on this Facebook post features a large number of people who think it will be the most depressing tome of all time but I promise there will be gags and plenty of them. It's the Tom McDonald of books, when it hits targets it will look great but there will be some outrageous clangers as well.

Final Thoughts
The amazing revival will have to wait for another year, but no matter how much you want to throw rocks at the plane when it lands just think what a novelty it is to have a 50% record at this point of the year. There have been times recently when we've been lucky to have 50% after Round 10, let alone five wins. Breathe deeply.

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