Sunday 19 June 2016

All at sea

"It's easy to grin when your ship comes in and you've got Collingwood beat, but the team worthwhile is the team who can smile after a day playing shit in the sleet" - Judge Elihu Smails.

In our last couple of weeks of mid-table mediocrity this year before we slowly sink back to the lower reaches of the ladder I still haven't come to grips with it. This morning as I wheeled around the supermarket - for once not waiting until after the game to run through people with a trolley as a form of therapy - with a Melbourne beanie plonked on my child's head without her permission an old man stopped me to ask "are the Demons happy today?" After scanning the question for sarcasm I answered "we haven't played yet but..." and had to stop myself from automatically doing a self-deprecating line about how we're completely shithouse. He got me too early, a few hours later after we'd been beaten to a soggy pulp by a bigger, badder and better organised side I've have had plenty of loathing to make him regret his attempt at folkesy chat.

Even then I understood we were unlikely to end the day happy, the Swans might have been thrashed by GWS last week and temporarily forgotten how to play against Richmond recently but even with a side packed full of people you've never heard of the other half were more than a match for us. There was an outrageously outside chance of an upset but it was more realistically a chance to see how far we could push them and to bank any sort of small wins that were on offer. Any hope that the forecast rain would play into our hands went out the door when showers became a biblical flood second only to the one Sydney had already handled three weeks ago. They knew exactly what to do, and like that night against Gold Coast the longer the game went and the moister the opposition became the better they got.

Attempts to make our record at the SCG part of the story failed when you looked deeper into our 10 year winless streak and realised we've only played there twice in that time. As disappointing as our men overboard capitulation was this time it was at least a step forward from our last appearance where an otherwise hapless Irishman plundered us for two goals and the media was on such high alert for Neeld News that Fox Sports reported he was going to be sacked in his first season based on a parody Caroline Wilson Twitter account.

Whether or not we could beat the Swans on any ground in Australia is debatable but we didn't give ourselves much chance playing the conditions like there was absolutely nothing wrong. The waves gently lapping at their feet should have been a dead giveaway that another approach was required but I get the feeling the people in charge are already looking well beyond this year and weren't all that concerned. Don't know what relentlessly plugging on with a toothless attacking strategy for four goals does to help us in 2017 and beyond but it must mean something to somebody. I feel like they've identified what they want us to do in the future and are plowing on regardless even when the opposition or conditions don't suit.

Usually that means refusing to accept that teams are bounding from one end to the other and kicking goals from the line, this time it was declining to change anything based on the knowledge that it was going to piss down raining all day other than occasionally dropping Chris Dawes into defence as if he was going to take huge saving marks. If Tom McDonald trying to switch across goal to Sizzle Jr with a wet ball was the only instance of a player going about it like a dry day you'd just put it down to his weekly howler but considering the way individuals and the team tried to play for the first three quarters until they realised resistance was futile I refuse to believe they weren't under orders to plow on regardless of the rain.

With Casey playing yesterday they would have been limited as to who was available but you'd hope they'd consulted a long range forecast before picking the side to determine who they'd take as the travelling emergency and made some concession for the fact that it was going to pelt down from first bounce to final siren. Dawes has done nothing wrong since coming back but it would have been a great result for team balance for him to suffer 'illness' overnight so a smaller player could come in. Knowing our flair for disorganisation we probably only had a ruckman in reserve.

Speaking of people quite literally out of water what's the point of playing vandenBerg forward in those conditions? He's either not 100% this year or I was actually right about him having peaked in his first season. Like Magner, Tapscott and god knows how many other midfielders we've ruined by playing them as a fish out of water half forward if he can't play where he's supposed to then he shouldn't be in the side. He can take a decent grab forward and kick a goal normally but today it was just wasting everyone's time. Remember when we got him because he was a massive accumulator of the ball? Commentators around the country are fit to burst at not getting the chance to drop his 50-something possession game into commentary four times a week.

For those with long memories the conditions were a lot like when we beat them there in early 1998 and Jeff White celebrated by attempting to crack Craig Smoker's head open with a water bottle to feast on the goo inside.

The difference that day was that Tony Lockett was a late withdrawal, while this time we still had to contend with Lance Franklin. It shouldn't have been a good day for somebody that size but even though he was reasonably well held and spent a lot of time cracking the shits Jesse Hogan style when things didn't go his way he couldn't be stopped forever and kicked four. It's unlikely to have changed the result if he wasn't there, they were a better organised side and well suited to thumping the bejesus out of us until we tapped out.

Leaping to any outrageous conclusions based on a game against a top four side played under such watery conditions is dangerous, but you can't help but notice that even in a monsoon we did our best work almost entirely unrewarded for the first few minutes then let the other side take over. We've now done that indoor, outdoor, in rain, sun, multiple states and one territory. Better than the alternative of being five goals down at quarter time I suppose but still frustrating. On a day where you're unlikely to deliver sexy link-up play from defence - though the Swans managed it a few times - or rely on your tall forwards to kick all the goals it starts and ends with the midfield, and when they were battered into submission that was curtains for us.

Who knows what would have happened in reasonable conditions, they might have exploited our loose defence to feed Franklin 15 goals or by removing their chance to tackle us a second after we got the ball every time it might have allowed Gawn and the usual suspects to go forward quickly and find Hogan one out with defenders.

Bright sunshine might have removed the chance for every fringe player in Sydney's side to enjoy the game of their life against us. Weeks after being troubled by a Port player called Dougal now we were letting a Toby enjoy the time of his life. Then there was Dean Towers, usually only known for the similarity of his name to Demonblog Towers and for not being particularly useful playing his finest game ever. There were half a dozen of them, including one who looked like Gareth Keenan from The Office and another with a headband/filthy moustache combination that made him look like a rugby league player from 1982, relishing the freedom of playing against a side who only half know what they're doing in normal combinations sinking like a stone in the wet. If there hadn't been so many options to choose from it might have been the first time we ever saw a new member of the Kingsley Klub inducted at sea.

When we benefited from the domination of Gawn at stoppages to spend the first 10 minutes camped inside their 50 you could take it two ways - either we were playing well or were wasting chances to get scores on the board before the Swans got their hands on the ball. Of course it was the latter, it's always the latter. When nine inside 50s only delivered one goal, admittedly a very attractive one from Petracca, you could tell that nobody was going to take marks or find enough space to crumb enough goals to win so they would have to be created by brute force only. This is not our strong suit, we want lovely loping dashes down the ground ending with Hogan in a one-on-one contest or a loose ball spilling free in the square to be rammed home from point blank range. The Swans weren't having any of that shit, successfully loading our forward 50 with enough players to remove any chance of finding space. Even that was barely necessary considering how uncomfortable we were at moving the ball down the ground.

The most frustrating thing was an almost complete refusal to kick the ball off the ground. Of course the moment somebody tried it they were pinged for kicking in danger, but after seeing how successful Hawthorn had been in either creating quick opportunities inside 50 or pushing the ball forward for a teammate god knows why we didn't join in. It was a refusal to accept the reality of the conditions second only to Sam Frost costing us the first goal by storming out of defence and trying to take a bounce. He did some reasonable work and I'm not writing him off as a defender on the strength of this by any means but that was so farcical he should have to write an open letter of apology to any Melbourne fan who travelled from another state to watch.

Once they'd got their first goal the remainder of the quarter was spent with the ball camped in front of our goal with nobody having any bloody idea how to get it past centre. This was the point where neutrals could nip out and start mowing the lawn because it was obvious that the game wasn't getting any better from there. The only question was how long we could hold the Swans out before they started battering us.

Any benefits from Kurt Tippett's demise were wasted as Gawn tapped everything only for the mids who could their hands on it to be besieged from all angles a second later. We were doing well to the get to the ball, as Sydney's world record tackle count demonstrates, but with everyone piling on the packs that didn't leave anyone on the outside and we'd just sludge around in circles until the Swans finally took control.

As horrible as it was, and it got worse, at least you could take heart at the fact that in the not too distant past we used to play like that in the dry. One day we kicked three goals at Etihad Stadium when the only weather issue was getting the sun in your eyes but 2013 is the footy equivalent of parents chastising their kids for not eating broccoli because there's starving kids on the other side of the planet, the comparisons feel powerful but mean nothing in the end. In three seasons we've come a million miles, and though we had multiple excuses for being tonked today it doesn't detract from achieving the Bailey Quarter Grand Slam of one in each term - and only just getting the last one.

By half time we were only on two goals, and while we held the Swans relatively well to keep them to two for the quarter when you had Trengove trying to kick set shots from 40 metres out that he would have struggled with before missing two full seasons you could see where it was eventually going to go. He had a really good start before running out of gas at the end, and after that sort of break is that any surprise given how much effort must have been required to push on through those conditions.

There was very little else to what was going on. Mostly a lot of smothers, a lot of out of bounds where nobody knew what the umpire would do and Dermott Brereton chuckling away to himself as if somebody was feeding comedy routines to him through his headset. It's surprising that Anthony Hudson didn't excuse himself from the booth and dive head first into the goalsquare without a snorkel after spending the day in a small room with Shaw and Brereton. At least 'Derm' should be applauded for steadfastly calling Franklin "Lance" all day. Shaw sounds like somebody who doesn't know his microphone is on. Their favourite line was several variations on "I love the rule but not how it's applied", which is the 21st century version of "communism is a good idea in theory". Could be worse, if Dwayne was involved he'd have still been risking a heart attack trying to make you think it was a great game 20 minutes into the last quarter.

Was there still a footy game on? I'd lost interest. We've played some matches over the years that could be used as a humane form of capital punishment but this was one of the most boring events I've ever seen. A low scoring game where every goal is crucial can be beautiful under some circumstances, this was not. The first time Roos played the Swans we kicked 5.8 and lost by 31 and nobody was all that concerned, this was just total failure to drop anchor in the conditions. Maybe if my side was the one playing with the slightest hint that they knew what they were doing in the wet I would have had more enthusiasm. At least you knew our lot were trying, just that they were completely outmatched for skill, tactics, pressure and interest in the work of the Bureau of Meteorology.

One of the few elements of interest was whether we could achieve the full house of novelty free kicks against. All we needed was somebody to be done for shaking the goalpost to go alongside a slide, a deliberate, kicking in danger and an illegal tackle. On days like this only the hardest heart (or Brad Scott) would pursue the umpires, and the Swans got rolled for their share of kooky decisions as well, but playing on a day like this shows what a farce the sliding rule is. Players go for the loose ball, they hit somebody's legs at any velocity and get pinched. All this just because a couple of people in a full-bore contact sport broke a leg. What an over-reaction, especially considering you can still ram your knee through somebody's skull legally while attempting a mark. If somebody cannons through another player's legs recklessly deal with it, don't cause players deliberately tripping over each other to become the next front-line of cheating once ducking's been taken care of. 

In a week where we introduced four umpires why stop there, field one for every player and see if we can get 44 different interpretations of the same incident. The problem is that the game is so complicated we'll never be free of spending more time talking about decisions and interpretations than the game itself. If you sat 10 people in a room and asked them to rewrite the rules of soccer they'd come out after a day with a unanimously agreed code of laws, if you did the same with this game the whole thing would be called off after an hour when seven of the attendees were dead with chair legs sticking out of their eye-sockets.

Tell you what won't require a complex series of interpretations to determine, and that's Bernie Vince getting himself rubbed out again for needlessly elbowing somebody in the head. What a waste going into a game against your old side where football history dictates you'll do well.

With the rain still falling and Nathan Jones continually forced to wipe bits of earth off his otherwise shiny bonce the second half was always going to be endured rather than enjoyed. In the circumstances all they had to do was keep in our proximity whenever we got the ball and we wouldn't be able to kick the required score to overhaul them. Aimlessly bombing the ball forward and hoping forwards would take fully outstretched fingertip marks is a high risk strategy at the best of times, and while it might have led to a multitude of goals against the Suns the difference between playing them and Sydney is like us playing ourselves under Neeld. Throw in the weather and if we hadn't traded our first round pick somebody would be accusing us of tanking.

Further proof that basic level stats are usually completely useless came at the end of the game when it was revealed we'd spent more time in attack. Fat lot of good that did us. How much of that percentage was made up of us kicking the ball into Jared McVeigh's waiting arms with nobody near him? The Fox Sports stat-o-metre must have been out of order, how could we be in front when the entire day was spent with our forward line in defence trying to clog up the Swans only to win the ball and find nobody further afield? It was complete shit to watch, and if it wasn't for Petracca crafting a goal with one of his beautiful, malicious tackles which he can clamp on in an instant like a mousetrap going off I'd have made like a corporate patron on Grand Final Day and started reading a book.

Mathematically we were still in it at three quarter time, but there was no earthly way in which we could bridge that gap without the entire Swans side plunging through a sinkhole. The tension lasted about a minute before they got their first goal and from there it turned into a battle between Fairstar the Fun Ship and the USS Ticonderoga. They began to dash over the top of the water in the manner of a popular religious figure while we were flopping around like a horse thrown off an oil rig into the North Sea. Finally after three quarters of having to semi-battle for their goals they unlocked the secret to success and started piling on them effortlessly while we looked unlikely to score anything.

We were heading rapidly towards our lowest interstate score since Neil Balme got the arse for presiding over 3.9.27 against Port Adelaide in 1997. Hogan managed to get one that vaulted it above that, causing Neil to boot his television in and promoting it to 'only' our 10th lowest score since 1980. What an achievement. Roos actually won overall, two of the four losses that were previously equal 10th were knocked out - leaving him with one less on the list. Remember when we had a decent average score? We're still better off that everyone below us, but that's not saying much considering most of them are utter shite.

It was an arsehole of a day but at least we've got a week for the players to dry out and the coaches to work out what went wrong. Based on the number of times we've failed to learn our lessons this year I wouldn't be too confident about the second one. 

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Bernie Vince
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Christian Petracca

Apologies to Watts, Kent, Viney, T. McDonald, Jetta and Tyson.

We continue to have joint leaders, but this week it's Maximum atop the pile with Jones instead of Viney. With Vince and Watts picking up votes as well that leaves the major award wide open. There's at most 45 votes for any one player to grab so Dean Terlich can hold hope in his heart for a few more weeks even if he's realistically got as much chance of winning this as we do of making the eight. In the minors there's no change for the defenders but Petracca is starting to rapidly gain ground on The Hamburglar for the Hilton and I'd be backing Truck from here.

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

On a day where both banners were nearly torn to shreds by the conditions this might have been a nil-all draw. They just stayed upright, and let me tell you it's a good thing I can't find a picture of the Swans banner anywhere to judge it properly (was too distracted by all the holes when they showed it on TV) because the flip side of ours featured a sponsored ad masquerading as a gag about Sydney's lockout laws. When did we become Footscray? 17-1-0 Melbourne for the season by default.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Thanks for making this one easy you BASTARDS. I was really struggling all those times where we kicked decent scores. Christian Petracca is proving to be the new Jeff Garlett style perennial nominee, winning another nomination for his hefty snap of a waterlogged ball for the first goal. For his weekly prize he'll have a hairdryer applied to his soaking barnet by former president Gabriel Szondy. Garlett retains the clubhouse lead and probably wins a free call-up back to the side.

Stat My Bitch Up
The old 0/1 goal first quarters are the foundation that this segment was built on - and today seems like as good a time as any to update the list of them since 2007:

Neale Daniher - 2 from 13 (15.38%)
Mark Riley - 2 from 9 (22.22%)
Dean Bailey - 24 from 83 (28.91%)
Todd Viney - 1 from 5 (20%)
Mark Neeld - 14 from 33 (42.42%)
Neil Craig - 3 from 11 (27.27%)
Paul Roos - 18 from 57 (31.57%)

So depending on what methodology you use either Neeld, Bailey or Roos is king. Who knows what you'd get if you added the other three quarters as well. Even I don't have enough time to do that. At least this week.

Next Week
Climb every mountain, ford every stream. We've got a week and a bit left where we're even an outside hope of making the eight so keep your mental fortitude strong for one more game. Then you can spend the rest of the year hanging over the race yelling or refusing to participate instead of wasting your time on this sort of rubbish.

Next Week + 1
Now that we've discovered we can't play against premiership contenders in maritime conditions let's find out what we can do against future Elimination Final losers in what we presume will be the dry. My guess is a repeat of the Hawthorn game where we give them a reasonable scare but can't sustain it over four quarters. That will be the end of our outrageously optimistic finals expectations but who would have guessed we'd be able to drag them out this far?

I'm not inclined to launch total nuclear annihilation at the selection table because it's hard to judge on this performance how much of Queen's Birthday was us and how much was the Pies being garbage. We might as well give most of the same side a go against a real team before deciding to make wholesale alterations. People who are better connected than me will know if anyone needs an extra week off to recover from trench foot.

Casey won by plenty, but the VFL is such a crackhead competition that who would know exactly what that meant unless you saw it with your own eyes. The Spencil kicked four so interpret the quality of the opposition as you wish. I know Angus Brayshaw got through without suffering another novelty concussion from a pool table falling out of the sky so I'll give him a go. Doesn't sound like Garlett tore the house down but with one chance left to keep the impossible dream alive this is no time to try and be cute.

IN: Brayshaw, Garlett
OUT: Vince (susp), vandenBerg (omit)
LUCKY: Kennedy, Oliver
UNLUCKY: Hulett (will get his chance before the end of the year, probably when Hogan finally snaps and hits someone), Grimes, Harmes, M. Jones, Neal-Bullen

Publishing Chat
I've run out of ways to creatively flog the book, so why not just pre-order now and beat the July 1 price rise? I bet you can't wait to relive this game numerous times.

Final Thoughts
Can't play Collingwood every week. If we go 4-5 from here and win 10 games you can't argue with the overall progress of the season but we're still not going anywhere unless we start beating good sides - and no GWS before they were famous doesn't count. All you can do is have faith in 'the process', even if 'the process' has been fatally flawed so many times in the past that it's becoming mentally tiring.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Maximum Force

Liz has defied my annual predictions to kick on through another season in her quest to stay alive long enough to win a Dees flag but our long Queen's Birthday nightmare is mercifully over. The last time we beat them on this day a airborne beer can almost knocked Russell Robertson over at the final siren and we've seen unimaginable levels of slurry since, so now that Pies are sinking like a stone just as we're fumbling our way into mid-table mediocrity here's to the first step towards correcting this hideous historical record.

We've played better this year, including the first time around against the Pies, and nothing much has changed for them since our first meeting other than a baffling win over Geelong but since then they've hit the skids even more violently, suffering a plague of injuries and enjoying a brewing feud between Buckley and Cloke that's threatening to make the coach's anti-Harry O stance look tame in comparison. Whatever Cloke's done on top of playing a rancid 18 months it must have been spectacular, because after flogging us for seven goals on the same day last year you have to wonder why they even bothered picking him last week only to drop him again before another chance to fill his boots. He's been as useful as a piss soaked rug this year but Buckley has obviously shelved 'horses for courses' and adopted 'horses behind white sheets'.

If they weren't going to exploit our dearth of true tall defenders by leaving him there and hoping for the best the next tactic off the rank was a bizarre hybrid between picking three ruckmen to try and take on the Beard To Be Feared and smaller players who were meant to exploit our notoriously elastic defence. Buckley was absolutely right to be terrified of Gawn but the triple ruckmen tactic merely spurred Maximum on to his best game since the heavyweight title fight against Goldstein. Once we kept the ball away from them the second option left them looking slow and toothless, which must have been similar to what it was like to defend against us from 2012-2015.

Just because they were playing without a forward line didn't mean I could easily be convinced we'd win. There must have been many times in the last nine seasons where even the most pessimistic Pie entered Queen's Birthday knowing there was no possible way they could lose. For me to feel like that I'd need them to lose not only their forwards but their midfielders, defenders and the keys to their training facilities.

It was another week where we dominated the first few minutes and looked like world beaters as long as the other lot didn't get a kick. I've seen games where we've been two goals behind before we got a possession and this should have been the belated revenge for them. After Viney toe-poked the first we enjoyed several minutes of complete dominance which should have generated at least one more goal if not for our haphazard kicking inside 50. We're dying for a second convincing overhead marking option to go alongside Hogan but a hybrid of Doug Wade, Gordon Coventry and Peter McKenna wouldn't have been able to deal with 'passes' that barely went five metres before skimming along the ground. Once we gave them half an excuse to roll over and die they did it with glee but not until we'd given ourselves a scare.

The advantage from our midfield was completely wasted when the Pies got their first decent touch of the day several minutes in and bounded down the other end in the traditional manner to find Mason Cox plucking the ball from over Oscar McDonald's shoulder. On a weekend where St Kilda's Tim Membrey threatened to escape the Kingsley Kompound by kicking five goals against somebody other than us there was an elevated alert level that this guy was going to put in a claim by exploiting his height advantage to boot half a dozen. Fortunately we cut off the supply, and while he's a cracking mark and a reasonable kick for an import he's about as useful in a loose ball situation as 2003-2008 Mark Jamar blindfolded, spun around three times and forced to jump over a broomstick.

After years of disinterest in tactics I sat there and deliberately observed what happened when we turned the ball over. Watch out Jade Rawlings, I've cracked the blindingly obvious. The problem is turning it over after the play has been set up by defenders on the move, they get the ball, storm forward and if we don't either score or stop the ball in its tracks that's where they're so far forward that the other lot can dash back past them towards goal. There was one point where McDonald Sr legged off, turned it over and started ambling back while it flew over his head towards Neville Jetta trying to grapple with much larger men. There was one perfect example featuring Jayden Hunt bursting through the middle and hoofing it aimlessly inside 50 into the arms of a waiting Collingwood player who exploited the way everyone had pushed up the ground to put it straight back over his head. It's a good thing the Pies were so inept going forward or we'd have had another afternoon of bleeding goals. Watch out against good teams.

For all the clinking of champagne glasses once we'd done stripping them off their dignity it was not the first quarter of a finals aspirant. Both sides were ripping into each other in close but even when players had all the time in the world they were making outrageous errors. The best featured Howe landing a kick in the defensive 50 (remember when he went to the Pies under the promise of never playing in defence?) right into Watts' hands 20 metres out. He was booed throughout the day, which I was thought was rather uncharitable when the more compassionate reaction would have been to sympathise with him about his career choices. He later flew for a massive screamer and it was a shame he didn't pull it in because hard won experience taught us that was usually the prelude to him turning the ball over. I expected him to play the role of the guy who'd taken a dozen intercept marks against us last year without anyone trying to come up with another way to go inside 50 but that was one of the only times he jumped all day.

After banging through goals from all sorts of obtuse angles throughout the year Watts did his best for the rock bottom standard of football on display by missing almost the easiest set shot he's had. He recovered well to play a good game and now even on his down weeks we don't automatically expect them to spiral into month long periods of self-denunciation. It's odd that we still put so much feeling into what happened to him on his debut but the number of people during the week who suggested one of their key motivations was for him to rip the Pies apart suggests that like a certain orange clad turncoat who is probably going to have the last laugh by winning a flag we will not forgive quickly. At least somebody who was there has finally come out and admitted that his teammates let him down by not wading in and punching on to defend his honour. Can you imagine any circumstances under which Viney, Bugg, Hogan, Gawn, the modern Nathan Jones etc.. wouldn't react to the same situation by doing something that would cost them at least several thousands of dollars in fines? My god we've stuffed up in so many ways over the last decade. If you had to do a Stalinesque airbrushing of all the disappointing moments of the decade there wouldn't be much left to reflect on.

When we were two goals down at quarter time and threatening to be beaten by another cavalcade of goals scored from a foot out I was sitting there cursing everything and everything under my breath. At one point I found myself issuing a series of threats and didn't know if they were levelled at our players, their players or the umpires. I was just feeling touchy at the prospect of stuffing up another game as favourites, another game where opposition fans had spent the whole week explaining what a certainty we were to try and comfort themselves when the inevitable came. For me there was no inevitable, only the feeling that we 'should' win and a scoreboard demonstrating that we might not.

The tide turned for good after quarter time when we stopped Sidebottom and Treloar getting the ball. After a few rocky weeks notorious agitator Bugg was doing a bang up job on the former, holding him to one kick for the entire second quarter. Against Richmond he sent an entire club fans and all bonkers, this time his wonderfully anti-social scrag job caused the improbably named Steele to pot his teammates post-game for not caring enough. After they managed to worm their way out of crisis the last time we beat them surely even Eddie McGuire going down an icy slide can't provide enough of a distraction now.

Freed to do whatever we damn well pleased we pulled out an outrageous (by our standards) kicking efficiency in the high 80s in the second quarter. It was lovely to field something approaching a half-forward line, Kent got back in form and Kennedy returned from the VFL to run up and down the 'flanks' taking marks and getting easy kicks - not cheap kicks, easy because he'd scooted off on his opponent effortlessly. Kent especially was excellent, and if that means Garlett waits a few more weeks to get back in the side then bad luck.

Our demise against the sides that have destroyed us on the rebound this year can be traced not only to turnovers in attack but our inability to defend kick-ins, so as the Pies packed up for the day in the we managed to find the solution to both issues simultaneously by kicking goals left, right and glorious centre most times we went inside 50. Collingwood could have picked 18 ruckmen and Gawn would still have run them to a standstill, after quarter time Vince's non-stop cavalcade of touches started to have some impact and though we had a tendency to get excited with the game of keeping's off by over-handballing there was one from Jetta that was close to the finest handball I've ever seen - it shot off diagonally like a rocket to a teammate running past and smashed open what would have otherwise led to another stoppage.

The fun started with Jack Trengove kicking the first goal of the quarter, but while he took the mark and converted the shot it came courtesy of Maximum's towering presence in the contest and the desire of his all-hands opponent to vigorously molest him instead of trying to spoil or mark the ball. It flew over the top into Jack's arms and the game was about to tip violently on its side.

They got a goal back after Neville Jetta exercised surprise at having to take on somebody his own side and was beaten in a marking contest by Travis Varcoe but in another example of how things are starting to turn in our favour we were the ones who cancelled out a goal immediately after it was kicked. As Hogan booted it he was tossed to the ground and emerged from the ensuing light melee with his shirt torn into an off-the-shoulder number. He loves playing a ripped jumper and went around in it for about 10 minutes before a change, sadly not finishing it off by tearing it to bits in the style of the less famous Hulk Hogan:
How destroyed does a shirt have to become before you're ordered off the ground to change it because it's reducing the ability of opponents to tackle? What about if you're totally stripped of your jumper in a fight then run off, collect the ball, shrug a couple of attempted tackles because there's nothing to grasp and kick a goal? Forget this shithouse Channel 9 show where the bushfire survivors have to decide whether or not to give money to a woman without hands, this is the moral dilemma that will split the nation.

We've been following the saga of umpires refusing to recall bounces all year, and there was a cracker when one of them completely skewed the ball away from both ruckmen only for Gawn to continue his one man party atmosphere by jumping up and punching it viciously towards our goal. The visibly deflated umpire tried to take some of the heat off his own shitty bounce by chastising Max (and there was a second where you he was definitely trying to think of a reason to pay a free) but considering a few weeks ago a violently off-centre bounced was called play on and Max ended up being clawed in the face what did they expect him to do?

We levelled the scores through Petracca kicking one of the most satisfying goals of recent times. After Ben Kennedy gathered a loose ball and ran away from one of his ex-teammates he fired a short handball to Truck with his back turned to goal, only for him to spin around and stab the ball onto his foot to roll it through. Just quietly I think this guy is going to be ok. Always remain on guard against a disaster but if his knee injury caused him to lose anything he must have been ready to walk in and rip the competition apart in his first season.

There was no looking back from there, with another quality goal immediately after. It wasn't set up particularly well, playing on from a free kick 50 metres out the ball was handballed towards but Gawn running into the square. It fell short and pitched towards goal but sat up just enough for Max to thump it out of mid-air without taking possession. While it was unfolding I had my heart in my mouth waiting for it to roll through before it got to him or bounce off his knee but it could not have sat up better for his lusty blow. The only downside was that it was towards our cheersquad so there was no glee to be had like the time he thumped it at a GWS customer wearing a comedy wig.

Given how much both sides loved pushing their defenders up the ground it was a surprise they didn't end up running into each other on the way and posing for a commemorative photo like workers breaking through a tunnel, but if somebody had to be booting goals from right in front thank god it was us. That's two weeks in a row where we've got better at defending fast-breaks as the day went on, and whatever we've done other than a) play in the wet and b) play a team who's lost the plot keep doing it.

The next one came from a classic Nathan Jones second effort, dropping a mark then winning a free by recovering to bring his opponent to ground with a judo style armdrag. The ball fell to Petracca, who found that wonderful hirsute man Gawn, then Kent to run into another open goal. Maximum was not only involved again in the last one but kicked it himself, leaping high to pluck a bouncing ball then turning towards goal on his way down and stuffing it on his boot for some of the most extreme sized crumb you've ever seen. When we win I watch the highlights and for some reason BT responded with words to the effect of "open up another popper", which presumably relates to something said in commentary before the goal but comes off like he's accusing him of being into amyl nitrate. (NB: In the comments I'm told this was in relation to Max's pop-up cafe. Every Day Is Like Sunday - would like to not apologise to Brian Taylor because we knew he was talking tripe even if we didn't know what he meant)

I felt the crushing weight of supporting Melbourne at half time and though we'd turned our quarter time issues into a 26 point lead I was so tense it felt like somebody was jamming needles into my lower back. I could have done with opening another popper myself to loosen up the muscles in my lower half. Playing footy is a healthy pastime, supporting it is most certainly not and if you take things to heart like I do then we're both on a downhill run to an early grave.

The City End was not kind to us either time, leaving the game to devolve back into a shit sandwich during the third quarter but it didn't matter because no end was kind to the ruckman heavy Pies. When Jones kicked the first I was almost convinced that we were going to win, which is the worst possible state for your physical health because you know how broken-hearted you'll be if you lose from there. When the Pies finally got another goal I have no idea which direction my tension levels were going in but I'm sure they were nearly fatal. This led to 15 minutes where we began to neck ourselves with wonky disposals, and if they'd kicked one more goal it might have caused us to get a bit nervy. Then after they'd been rewarded with nothing but points Hogan ghosted in from the side of a marking contest, took a strong overhead grab, did his shaky run-up, kicked the goal and they were stuffed again. Good. I wasn't ready to accept they were stuffed but for all intents and purposes it was over.

Maybe it was because Collingwood's forward line was so awful but it was a great day out for both Frost and Oscar McDonald. Tom had another 50/50 day split between great moments of triumph and shattering moments of disgrace but it was easily the best game his brother has played so far. Do it again next week against a good side before I get really interested but bulk him up a bit more and he should be handy - still want us to go out and buy a ready made product though. Frost also showed plenty and as much as I want Dunn back in when fit we may as well keep persisting with Sam if he plays like this.

After wobbling unconvincingly through the third quarter to be 31 points in front I knew deep down that we weren't going to lose but couldn't believe it in case we made a hash of things and I ended up sleeping under the seat out of disappointment. When they turned our first attack of the quarter into a player wandering into an open goal at the other end my alert level shot through the roof. There was no need to be upset, another Punt Road End avalanche was about to unfold just metres in front of me.

They ended up beating us in inside 50s and marks inside 50 but god don't we know the feeling of days where those two stats mean NOTHING. The first one at least, I can't remember a time where we outmarked anyone inside 50 during a loss for about five years. Just so you knew everything was going to be alright Kent kicked a set shot to cancel the first goal out, then a combination of Dawes, vandenBerg (wearing a white patch on his face like somebody who'd just had surgery to remove skin cancer) and Watts kicked what even I nearly had to admit was the sealer. Even though we could do with another target inside 50 Dawes was very good up the ground, allowing Hogan more time to stay back and create carnage where it really counted. I can't remember if it led to a goal or a point but there was one point where he even took a huge, arms fully outstretched mark in defence to save a terrible kick. There's nothing like stitching your old team up, shame Harry O has gone missing with a mystery 'concussion' so he didn't get the chance to join in. Kennedy did, kicking the official sealer to cap off an excellent comeback.

There was already a party atmosphere before the last goal, which featured Hogan quite legally shirtfronting somebody and Petracca piffing the ball at his boot in the middle of a tackle only for it to miraculously find who else but Gawn standing on his own and he stuffed through his third. Remember when we waited seven seasons for Jamar to have six kicks in a game? Max had 13 and 14 handballs for god's sake. By my count it's the most touches by a Melbourne ruckman since Jeff White had 28 in 2004. Jeff was a great player, but Max is a different sort of beast and if he gets injured I may need to be locked away for my own well-being.

It wasn't necessary to sully an otherwise great day with the Trumpeteer but on a day where almost everything went right you could ignore the fact that it's impossible to hear what's on the speakers from ground level let along brass instrumentals from the other end of the ground and pretend his parping caused the Pies player lining up for a shot at that very moment to miss.

Gawn was handed a trophy for best on ground and flexed it like a dumbbell and Jones told a cameraman to piss off out of the circle so they could sing the song. It was a great day out. We even enjoyed Hogan taunting Jesse White for shirking a marking contest, which makes a difference from little more than a year ago when it was Jack Watts on the end of the same treatment. Either things are either looking up or compounding Collingwood's misery is so much fun that it just feels that way.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
If I was a brave man I'd have had Bugg in the votes instead of Vince for the tagging job in the second quarter when the game was on the line, but deep down I'm a coward and can't go against +40 possessions. Also sorely tempted by Tyson in the last spot thanks to the nine tackles but yellow streaked poltroonery wins out. Your views may vary.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Dean Kent
1 - Bernie Vince

Major apologies to Bugg and Tyson. Other high level apologies to Dawes, Frost, Hogan, Jetta, Kennedy, the McDonald family, Trengove, Viney and Watts

Significant scenes at the top of the table where the four time champion nabs a share of the lead, while Gawn draws to within one as the top three clear out from the field. In the minors Oliver must now be nervously looking over his shoulder at Petracca whirling around to kick goals, taking contested marks and tackling everything in sight. In the next few weeks we'll find out if we're set for an exciting finish on the AFL ladder where it really counts, but readers of this august publication can be sure of a cracking run to the line in every award other than the Stynes.

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

Nobody wants banners like the St Kilda see through ones that look as if they were produced by a Grade 1 arts and crafts class but the art of banner making is like the Olympics of old where the spirit of competing is thought of highly and that's why I didn't think much of Collingwood's effort. It said all the right things about charity but looked like it had come straight off a giant banner sized printing press. Where was the love? Where was the hand-crafting? On the other hand ours had buildings on it that were to scale. How could you not love that? I'm even prepared to forgive a kerning disaster on the words 'proud partner'. 16-1-0 Melbourne for the season.

Crowd Watch
The total closure of the car park wouldn't have helped but 60k felt way under what we should have got through the gate. Two losses in a row can't have been good for the numbers either but it goes to show how much the attendance for this game is dictated by the way Collingwood are going. It was 6000 less than last year when they were in the top four and we'd just lost to Port by 10 goals, and the worst since 2013 when only 50k showed up because we were playing like the biggest pack of arseholes under the sun (or in my case because I was on my honeymoon). By our standards it's still good money, and on top of the two NT games and our turn to be the home side for the Anzac Eve match we should still get a reasonable financial result this year but the Pies being shit and the game being live on TV can't account for the entire 15k lost from the biggest recent crowd in 2011. Maybe they all remembered our 6-53 last quarter that day and vowed never to go back until we won one? Come home comrades.

In honour of the days before the MND Big Freeze where we were forced to come up with our own pre-match entertainment and disgraced the club with concepts like private school marching bands and opera singers I decided to reintroduce the well-received Schwab blazer as seen during our first win against the Pies last season. It drew just the sort of sneering and confused reactions that I was trying to get, including one person who asked "are we sponsored by Xavier now?" as if the whole place isn't run by private schools and somebody else who yelled "GO HAILEYBURY" at me after the game. I wish, there was no blazers when I was striving to join Rohan Connolly and Justin Murphy on the podium of Hawthorn Secondary College's greatest alumni.

It was a good day to return to the reserved seats, having been there when the Bulldogs slapped us about until their hands swelled it was interesting to see how people reacted to the idea of winning. Turns out it was with just as much complaining about the umpiring. Even when we started to get a few dodgy ones people were acting like the weight of a giant conspiracy had been lifted from their shoulders. I don't mind it, not just because there's the potential for quality Crowd Watch content when people off their nut, but Jesus can we try to be magnanimous about some decisions? Remember - it is possible for your team to give away frees sometimes. Sadly the only person who disgraced themselves was me, forgetting I was in mixed company including a child two seats down by yelling "there's a giraffe sized man on his own in the fucking square!" as Cox wandered around untroubled in front of goal.

The much maligned genre of half-time entertainment was done no favours by a "kids, show us your goal celebration" competition (although no prizes appeared to have been handed out). Several deeply confused adults decided to join in, and one who wanted to get their kid involved against their will made a scene by holding a clearly terrified infant in the air and shaking them like an English nanny. There was no indication of what team they followed but I bet it wasn't us. This was regrettably followed by an MFC 'dance cam' for what I believe was the first time, encouraging adults to join in the 'fun' of making dickheads of themselves in front of a big crowd. Hopefully like most of our fans in attendance this was the only time it will appear all season.

Sounds like the Pies fans behaved themselves instead of king hitting members of Nathan Jones' family outside the ground, but given that there was only about 5000 of them left by the final siren the threat of civil disorder was significantly lessened. For some reason their cheersquad continued to wave flags around after the final siren as if nothing bad had happened, including hilariously one person going hog wild swinging the "We Hear Your Fear" banner as if they hadn't just lost by 50 points. They must have had super-sensitive hearing that can pick up sound from years ago.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
After a few weeks of routine, bog standard goals (and not many of them) it was refreshing to get a number of contenders. With apologies to Gawn absolutely STUFFING the loose ball through with the kick out of mid-air or when he delivered probably the greatest piece of crumb by a man his size in league history I can't go past Petracca's spin and stab which you can enjoy on repeat until the end of time courtesy of the AFL's Twitter account (pro tip - go the desktop version of Twitter and turn off their retweets for a much more enjoyable experience that doesn't feature random interludes of other teams spurting out glib Triple M catchphrases like "get around him"):
Christian wins the weekly prize of an afternoon at Werribee Open Range Zoo with Ezra Poyas, and let me tell you I enjoyed this one so much that it was one party trick away from contending for line honours.

Any hope that Jeff Garlett could do the AFL/VFL double was wrecked when Casey kicked two goals on Saturday, but even if nothing else has gone right for him since he signed his new contract at least he's still got the clubhouse lead.

Next Week
The improbable, outrageous scenario of us challenging for the finals lives on. If we lose the next two I'm extinguishing the pilot light but for now let's keep dreaming. Sydney weren't much good against GWS but the way those bastards are playing does that provide any clues? We haven't been to the SCG in years but at least the absence of Tippett gives us some chance of ganging up on Franklin and stopping him from kicking nine. The problem is even if we hold him they've got other goalkickers coming out their arse, and even though they somehow contrived to lose to Richmond I can't see anything in this for us.

I will opt to go without changes. Casey had a game shown on TV just at the right time for us to see an absolutely toxic performance where nobody gave a reasonable account of themselves so let's just stick with this lot again and hope for lightning to strike twice.

IN: Nil
OUT: Nil
UNLUCKY: Garlett (on overall form, not VFL form), Pedersen (lost his place in the queue)

Pillock Talk
Did I mention there's a book coming out in early December? With about three months left until pre-orders close I'm thrilled that around 75 copies have been claimed, because at the rate people are pumping out landfill sports books that end up in The Book Grocer 20 minutes after publication that number alone will probably get me in a top 10 chart somewhere.

The more the merrier, and even though a sudden shift in the exchange rate could see this become my version of Blue Monday where it actually costs me money to produce each copy I suggest you buy early and often. Pre-order now and confirm your copy of what is sure to become a sought after collector's item when the Herald Sun discover how many times I've potted them and do a front cover expose on me like that Q&A bloke - and the skeletons in my closet are much sexier than his.

Was it worth it?
Undoubtedly and unashamedly, even if the blazer gimmick started to fall flat in the second half when my ears started to feel like they were going to drop off and I really wished I'd turned up wearing some sort of hood and/or a charity beanie. Maybe it because I went to the station via a round of triumphant Demon Shop purchasing but there wasn't even outrageous agro and "when did you last win a flag?" mockery at Jolimont. Three trains in a row came, spirited everyone away and those of us who counted went home happy.

Final Thoughts
Let's not go over the top based on a moderately spanking win over a side bereft of everything but off-field drama but it just feels we're capable of so much more. Throw in more experience, an extra tall defender, one more marking forward (bonus points if they're also a convincing ruckman), refining our style so we don't concede 10 goals a week 'out the back' against good sides and 2015 edition Angus Brayshaw without the novelty concussions and we should (SHOULD) get it right eventually. The next step is to beat a top side and we've got plenty of chances at that in the next few weeks.

Saturday 4 June 2016

Water, water everywhere so let's all have a drink

Last week we were charitably allowed to hide a terrible performance behind being a young side, but even in conditions that all but confirmed we'd kick what passed for a big score for us 2012-14 this was a far more pleasing representation of where we might be at. You can either blame the conditions or natural attrition for dragging the Hawks down to our level but even though they were a terrifically ordinary side who'd be lucky to beat anyone in the top eight on that performance at least their win wasn't set up from lightning transition and a thousand goals from the square.

It wasn't quite the Poseidon Adventure conditions that Gold Coast and Sydney played in later but the sludge helped ensure we weren't dragged into a shootout we weren't equipped to participate in. We've shown that we can take vulnerable teams for big scores but other than the wind assisted extravaganza of scoring in Hobart all other available evidence says we're not going to win if we let the other side kick goals at will. Even with their forward line looking like a homebrand version of the one that's done so much damage over the last few years you can have Juice Newton, Isaac Weetra and a man in a lobster suit down there and they'll kick goals if the rest of your defence is spread as wide as we were in Alice Springs.

The greatest threat to our security is opposition players rampaging forward in superior numbers and the early stages of this game was unnecessarily similar to most of our other losses. We dominated possession and looked like a reasonable side with ball in hand but the moment it went the other way they were roaming free with our players struggling to keep up.

The difference was that Hawthorn are prepared with finals in mind, and knowing that September games are unlikely to be played under such conditions they clearly hadn't bothered to prepare for wet weather and were appropriately terrible for the first 15 minutes. We couldn't turn our early domination into a score, and they should have one of their own the first time they could break free of defence but made a hash of it and provided first Dawes then Petracca opportunities to kick continue the International Year of the Tap-In with goals from the square. A two goal lead was an unexpected turn of events, but as much as I'd never have said it out loud we kicked the first two goals against them in Round 7 last year and went on to lose by 105 so it paid to stay on guard.

Once we were two goals up I wish it had rained harder, because the last thing we needed was for a football match to break out amidst the slop. Their chances of even getting a serious shot at a fourth straight flag are rapidly flying out the window but they're still a better side than us so anything which levelled the playing the field the better. 

What Hawthorn had over us in the conditions was an uncanny ability to make a speculative hoof off the ground work. I love an aimless kick off the ground and think contrary to the thinking of anybody who actually knows about football that there should be more of it these days but this was the kind of day where it became an art form and there must have been 10 times where somebody violently thrashed the ball off the deck and it landed straight in the arms of a team mate. Their relentless tackling and ability to handle marks in the conditions were far more important factors in the eventual win but those kicks luckily finding targets didn't help.

Given that we were being given a surprise reprieve from what felt like a lost cause until the first bounce it was an excellent time to kick off the real main event that we'd all come for. Not only was the return of Jack Trengove an excellent good news story it also provided a welcome restart for the CSIRO research into the broken chromosome that forces broadcasting professionals to add an unnecessary second 'r' to his name.

This was an ugly look for Fox Footy. And they spelt Jack's name wrong too.
He didn't get the kind of response coming off the bench that they might have hoped for by starting them there, slipping on almost unnoticed and getting the sort of polite applause that you'd expect for somebody scoring a century in a Sheffield Shield match rather than wild scenes. That was ok, he knows how we feel. After the slow start you'd expect from somebody who hasn't played a senior game in 800 days he ended up playing pretty well. It was a good day for a slow player but at the same time a reasonable trial for his future.

Our lead didn't last long, after 10 minutes of nobody scoring our quick pair of goals reminded Hawthorn that even in inclement weather there's no way they should be losing to us and they responded with three goals in a row.

We continue to struggle in defence, McDonald Sr had another 50/50 game and his brother did a few nice things but is still greener than Kermit the Frog. He showed an aptitude for winning contested possessions and I'm confident that he will become a decent defender but take him to a lower level, put him on the most dangerous forward every week and give him an intense course in one-on-one defending then welcome him back for another go later in the season. Jetta continued his good form, but the best way we could avoid demolition was to stop the ball going down there to start with. Frost did a few dodgy things but was ok, and after we all called for him to be played in defence instead of forward you couldn't get too upset if he had a few early nerves doing it in a real game. Still, if you can bet on anyone making a Fitzpatrick style tunnel ball howler next week back him. Is Fitzpatrick still alive? I remember a breathless newspaper back page in the off-season that suggested he was their secret forward weapon.

Down the other end Frawley had Hogan covered, but it was no wonder considering how haphazard the entry was and the continued expectation for Chris Dawes to take overhead marks. He can't do that in the dry, what made them think it was a sensible idea today? He was ok for a first-up performance and we may as well persist with him instead of Pedersen for a few weeks to see if he can kick goals in better conditions. Next week would be a great start as long as people can kick to his strengths instead of expecting him to be taking Gawn style overhead grabs.

People booing Chip after he'd won a flag was about as useful as calling $cully a prick after he'd won millions of dollars (without remotely the same passion) but people went through the pantomime motions anyway. He should have stashed a replica of the 2015 Premiership Cup somewhere then waved it over his head in celebration.

The Gold Coast game had been a fiesta of long bombs into the forward line, but that night we'd had crumb galore and conditions conducive to forwards holding marks. Now with our actual crumbers mostly absent it was left to much larger players to do the job and nobody was taking marks. Almost literally, at one stage late in the first quarter we only had seven in total. It wasn't a day for it but Hawthorn were doing a much better job of linking up around the ground by foot while we were desperately trying to handball our way out of trouble. As well as Tyson and Jones were doing in the middle this usually ended with us going around in circles instead of into attack - ending most of the time with a forced punt landing in the arms of a Hawk on the half-back line. And the bastards were holding them all, we'd have dropped 50% of the same tumbling kicks.

Maybe it was Viney's absence that opened the door for Tyson to have one of his best games (like how Moloney's demise allowed Jones to take over in 2013, because we can only have one top shelf midfielder at a time you know) but it would have been a grand day for Jack. Lucky he broke his knuckle anyway (not really, considering it will keep him out for several more weeks than the suspension would have) because otherwise it would have been a huge own goal to get suspended for this game considering how much he would have benefited from Gawn's domination in the ruck.

They should have had a fourth straight after but missed an absolute sitter, a trend that would continue for the rest of the day and keep us in the game until we finally crumbled halfway through the last quarter. In the last 15 minutes of the first quarter the respective disposal efficiencies of the sides went in gone in opposite directions almost as violently as the fortunes of the two sides after our 2007 NAB Cup game. We tried to be too cute in the rain, they were just hacking the ball off the ground and it was working for them.

I never expected a big score, and in the circumstances 62 to three quarter time was good before we gave up in the last but it wasn't like we were getting much help from the forward line. Garlett wasn't very good last week, and even worse this time. Everything he did turned brown, including a marking contest in the second quarter where he flew and pulled out halfway. It looked like the Hawthorn player rolled him with the classic psychological warfare technique of calling "mine" with the ball in flight. The one or two goals he's usually good for no matter what the circumstances weren't forthcoming and he continued to a truly dreadful performance capped off with a last quarter effort running into an open goal and kicking out on the full.

Even though we'd curbed many of the defensive fiascoes that turned the Port game into a disaster it started to look like an old school shambles was on the cards in the final minutes of the first quarter. We'd lost the ability to retain possession, instead taking to aimless hoofery and running about like headless poultry. When they kicked the first goal of the second quarter after 30 seconds I was convinced that we'd be lucky to keep the margin under 10 goals, so under the circumstances it should probably be declared an 'honourable loss' if anyone can still bring themselves to play that game.

After that goal our defence might have cracked under any decent pressure, but other than Gunston and a couple of nobodies who were busy filling out application forms to become a Kingsley they didn't have it in them to run away from us. Once we'd held them out for a few minutes we launched a comeback, and a nice comeback it was too.

Hogan's lone contribution from a set-shot showed he was 'on' if he could have got the ball in hand more, then vandenBerg kicked the second, before Tyson continued a golden quarter and Kent put us in front by stuffing one home from close range. This was very much unexpected, but it was so obvious the Hawks were not at their best I didn't know how to take it. We were reeling in a 5th to 8th side not a top four contender. Our cause was helped by Gawn winning the ruck duals and allowing us to at least break even in the centre clearances but with a side still largely consisting of premiership players the eventual 109-68 tackle count showed they were at least up for it defensively even if not operating at full capacity elsewhere.

Even when we got back in front in the dying seconds of the half I didn't like our chances of holding it. That's what happens when you've lost every game against a team for 10 years, there's no point of reference for how to beat them. Last time we beat them Neitz kicked six and broke the club goalkicking record, now he works for them. At least unlike North we get another shot at them at the end of the year, and by then we'll have played St Kilda a second time so it will probably be a playoff to avoid ending the decade not having beaten three different teams. What a poxy 10 years it's been.

They had plenty more scoring shots and should have pulled away again early in the third, missing several opportunities before we got one of the stranger goals of the season. Hogan was left galloping into an open goal and a quick handball from vandenBerg, decided to take a bounce instead of just smashing it through from five metres out and over-ran the ball as it stuck in the ground only for his opponent to run past it too after which an inadvertent backheel from Jesse setting up Kent, who was so surprised that he nearly missed with his snap through an unguarded goal. It was rancid football but it ended with the right result so there was there was nothing to argue about.

When they turned the ball over in defence with a Melbourne-esque attempted pass across the 50 which landed in Petracca's arms and ended in Jones kicking a goal we were almost two in front and building a neat buffer. We had plenty of players still not operating at 100% but with Bernie Vince winning the battle with Sam Mitchell it was not completely inconceivable that we might hold on well into the last quarter. Then we conceded the last of the third quarter to level the scores and only added two more points for the day as the Hawks wandered off almost unchallenged.

We had some good old fashioned fun at the start of the last quarter when for the second time in three weeks a first gamer took advantage of our generous good nature and interest in fair play by robbing us blind out of a free kick by falling to the ground when tackled. The same umpire who later reported Bernie Vince on a guess that he'd hit somebody was happy to pay it guarantee us another week of people waffling on about the rules in every single media outlet. I still think it's our own fault for not getting involved, what I find more offensive are the high contact or in the back frees for offences which have no impact on the play. A tackle is 95% done, the ball is being released and a hand brushes somebody's ear etc... Adding yet another interpretation is suicidal but in an ideal world I'd let those go and concentrate on the ones that cause real trouble.

The first gamer had the good grace to miss the kick from right in front and it was refreshing to see Clarko not going out of his way to defend it in the press conference. That's the kind of thing you can get away with after four flags but if Mark Neeld had done it the assembled media would have charged out of the room so quickly to file stories on what a shit bloke he was that the poor bastard would have been toppled from his seat by the force of the breeze.

Harmes could have put us back in front but missed a set shot and that was it. By the time we got our second point at the end they'd kicked three goals to unconvincingly pull away to victory. They'd already shut the exits on our rebounding from defensive 50 and without being able to get into the open we couldn't even go forward with speculative kicks any more.

I'm not sure what I learned from any of it other than that it's great to be alive again and feel like results actually mean something. That sense of urgency is projected to last for two more weeks before we re-enter the wide world of dead rubbers. I reckon we've got 3/4 wins left in us at most and it's not going to be long before we're setting up for 2017 - and the good news is that without a first round pick we can do whatever experimental shit we like without being investigated.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Dom Tyson
4 - Bernie Vince
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Jack Watts

Most apologies to Gawn and Jetta. Others to Dawes, Hunt, T. McDonald, Trengove and vandenBerg.

The four time leader closes to within one BOG of the lead - can he make it five? All signs point to yes. Realistically nobody below Vince is going to win from here, but with a maximum of 55 votes still on offer the dreaded dotted line won't be officially ruling contenders out of the Jakovich running for a few weeks yet.

No moves in the minors, Vince is officially DQed from the Seecamp as of now and that leaves Nifty in the box seat while in the minors Petracca is plugging away at Oliver so I wouldn't rule out a late season overtaking.

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

Hawthorn are the only side to ever conquer the otherwise unstoppable Demon juggernaut in this prize and they came with another high budget effort featuring a giant image of Josh Gibson for his 200th game. Oddly it just said "Josh Gibson - 200 games" with none of the usual superlatives about how great they'd been. It was an attractive effort, but good luck beating ours on a week where we went with this touch of class on the side wines ads would usually go
If there's ever a TAFE course on banner making the bottom line in that photo should be held up as the gold standard in kerning and leading. It is actually perfect. I enjoyed the other side as well, with cartoon flames down either side for the annual use of the 'turn up the heat' line. Hawthorn's Hollywood style production values will carry them to victory over many teams this year and they'll be kicking themselves not to have run into the Brisbane game banner with the names of rich benefactors. 15-1-0 Melbourne for the season.

Crowd Watch
It was my dream that somebody with nothing going for them other than following a successful football team would taunt me about premierships but alas no. Mainly because the rain had caused the top of the Ponsford to go from a haven for lunatics and the abusive to the family stand as people abandoned the damp, leaving kids everywhere. One of whom I was accidentally a bad influence to when Petracca opted to pass to Watts instead of kick the goal himself only for Jack to spray it out on the full and I yelled "JUST FUCKING KICK IT" at the exact moment the child ended up standing next to me on the way down the stairs.

The Hawthorn fans who'd been forced up there as the only undercover general admission seats left in the stand must have seen some fantastic glory in recent years but still celebrated beating minnows with a Dwayne Russell-esque level of excitement for a nothing match.

Amongst all the other teenyboppers who sought refuge were a horny couple who couldn't get their hands off each other for the entire first half and were never seen again after the second quarter. You do the math.

Speaking of slippery surfaces within the MCG it was surprising that nobody went for a sixer down the stairs. With all the accumulated grime from only cleaning them once a year the addition of rain made traipsing up and down them like trying to drive through an oil slick. There weren't enough yellow "caution, wet surface" signs in the world to stop somebody going flying somewhere. When Hawthorn beat us in 2010 I kicked one of those things across the bottom deck of the Ponsford, could have done with it today. I wouldn't be surprised if at least one patron took inspiration from all the players deliberately ducking into tackles to deliberately 'slip' and try to hit the MCC for a payout.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It was not a day for the spectacular, and as much as I liked the perfect transition from one end to other that ended in the Watts goal for sheer thrills and spills I've got to pick Kent's lusty stab from the square after the ball bounced loose and sat up perfectly for him after Dawes' fresh air shot. Apologies to his other goal after the ball fortuitously bounced to him after Hogan's misadventures in attempting a bounce running into an open goal on a wet day.

Kent wins the weekly prize of a lovely lunch in Kyabram with Garry Lyon and a mystery female companion. Garlett retains the season lead and we hope he will return to his core business of kicking exciting goals soon because otherwise he's going to be aiming for the rare double of kicking the VFL Goal of the Year too.

Next Week
Let's not get prematurely excited about having beaten the Pies once, they're a lot better than they were the first time and have given up on ludicrous moves like playing Pendlebury on the half-back flank. No doubt Travis Cloke will use this week as his warm-up before banging through another seven against us and fading back into obscurity. Between him and that large American fellow we'd better not let them get the ball down there too much or we'll be ridiculously vulnerable in the air. 

It's a genuine 50/50 game, and as we didn't shit ourselves on the big stage against Richmond here's to more of the same. The whole world will be watching so let's fire at least one more provocative shot before fading into obscurity.

Are Casey even playing this week, or is the VFL taking another round off for an Under 19's representative game against American Samoa? The following changes are taken into account without knowing who they're playing, where or when. Dunn might not be the long-term answer in defence but let's not pretend that next week is just another game, it doesn't have to be 'our grand final' any more but I want to keep the fantasy of possibly playing finals alive for one more week before it's ruthlessly snuffed out by Sydney, Adelaide or both. We need experience and the sort of hateful character who will revel in trying to stuff the Pies.

Garlett has been basically non-competitive the last two weeks so I'm comfortable with letting him know that he's not an automatic selection. Kennedy's got to come back in the hope of the classic "roll your old side" performance that we'll no doubt get from Howe after he was such a steaming pile of shite in our first meeting.

Obviously we could win but there's never any telling which version of this club is going to show up. At least now there's some mystery rather than simply knowing you're automatically going to see bad football.

IN: Dunn, Kennedy
OUT: Garlett, O. McDonald (omit)
UNLUCKY: NFI without waiting for the Casey game. At least Weideman has slowed down a bit which should stop them doing something ridiculous like using his family connections to debut him in an attempt of flog more tickets.

Pendant Publishing
This is your weekly reminder that there's a book set to be delivered in late November. I'm heartened by the number of people who think that the whole thing is an elaborate practical joke, but it is real and it's fabulous. Even with judicious editing and rewriting of posts the first draft up to the end of last week's game was 60 pages over my limit, so I guarantee you will never got better value for money in a bulky publication other than from free delivery of the Yellow Pages.

Was it worth it?
It was. Miserable, dark, rainy days like this are my favourite thing in the world so I was legitimately delighted to be outside in it even if I only discovered a hole in my shoe while trudging across wet grass and got to enjoy a soaked foot for the rest of the day. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Final Thoughts
It was an inoffensive performance that left us hovering in the twilight zone between knowing we're not 'good' and knowing we're not terrible but not being sure which one we're closer to. If the reduction in easy goals was down to tactics rather than the weather then that's a good start for the rest of the year. Let's see how it goes next week against a side who have already had a warm-up run against us.