Wednesday 27 July 2016

Dees do the Oregon Trail

It's time for that annual tradition, sending a group of Melbourne players down the Oregon Trail and seeing how many of them die. If I wasn't so good as this game we'd get more accurate results where they ALL carked it, but let's see how we go with this year's group.

The skipper is the first picked.

Followed by four of our best and brightest kids, who will be ruined by the only more deadly cross-country journey than playing at Subiaco?

The bit where you leave from looks like the car park before a Collingwood game.

Just when you've had enough of being robbed by umpires, now they're making it official.

Easy to float a bandwagon when nobody's on it.

Well shit, here we go. Obviously they don't have "Hogan has a mysterious back injury" loaded in the game's 'reasons for injury' file.

Of course, of all the players we could have to snap his leg and hobble off in circles it would have to be him.

Or him... 

May 21 is an accurate recreation of when our bandwagon usually breaks down.

Petracca is playing Mitch Clark as the replacement 'permanent injury' victim alongside Hogan.

... but even he isn't having these sorts of problems.

... and in a classic Nick Smith style "4 to 6" style injury upgrade that's the end of Hulkamania.

Look, we're approaching Etihad Stadium.

You would too if you had to carry that sort of load.

We have played a game in Oregon before, but when we played West Coast at Civic Stadium, Portland in 1989 the only diseases our squad were likely to catch were of the venereal sort after cracking onto the locals.

So Hogan's dead, Petracca's got the squirts, Viney is tired and lost. Ironically Angus Brayshaw is the only one of the kids who hasn't suffered as serious mishap yet.

Another end of season trip ends in disaster.

Congratulations to everyone except Hogan for surviving (it's rumoured he actually ducked off to join Freo halfway down the trail). We've arrived just in time for the end of trade week and the National Draft.

See you next year, where we'll push another group superstars off onto a ridiculous and probably deadly interstate trip. We'll also play Oregon Trail again.

Sunday 24 July 2016

How the West was wasted

A long and tedious series of circumstances left me watching this game in the same place I'd seen us lose a thriller at Subiaco almost six years earlier to the day. It was the first game I'd watched there since, and the cast of characters has changed so drastically in that time that only Nathan Jones and Jack Watts survived from the starting 22. We've blown another excellent chance to win there, and are now destined never to conquer the damned place again. Like when Adelaide won the Football Park tenants raffle to play us in their last game there, you wonder which of West Coast or Freo we'll be coincidentally 'drawn' against at the end of next season to make sure they go out on a high.

The idea of going to Perth starts deflating me the moment the fixture comes out, and though the Eagles are fluffing around in the 'making up the numbers' section of the eight our recent form against them in Melbourne, Perth or Darwin pointed towards another Oregon Trail style expedition ending in typhoid and cannibalism. When it was revealed to be absolutely pissing down at Subiaco I didn't know whether to get excited about slowing down the rings they would undoubtedly run around us, or to have traumatic flashbacks of sloshing around in the wet in Sydney on the way to four straight one goal quarters. Turns out a one goal last quarter would have come in handy yesterday.

If you're into omens, tarot cards and horoscopes you would have remembered that the last time we played Subi in blanketing rain Peter Vardy led us to victory against Fremantle in 2004. I watched that from Demonblog Towers I, now I'm onto IX which says as much about how often I've moved house as how bad the Dees have been in this time. All that meant squat in the context of Round 18, 2016 but I tried to do the right thing and reason that the return of unexpectedly shithouse Perth weather was going to work in our favour.

The conditions played right into our hands in the first quarter, and when the storms departed to be replaced by bright sunshine we unexpectedly kept harassing the locals. They kept shooting themselves in the feet with turnovers, but got away with it because we weren't just shooting at the feet but having them amputated in unsanitary battlefield conditions then trying to kick for goal. We already had one of the lowest conversion rates in the league but eight goals from 66 inside 50s was a smouldering bucket of toxic waste. 

The last kick into attack was usually terrible, but the way we played to get the ball off the Eagles deserved so much better. No doubt we got a touch-up from the umpiring in the last quarter, but who'd ever have guessed that we'd manage to get forward so many times that it would end with our name being etched on the honour board for most wasteful attacking performances?

You'd think TV technology had advanced enough in six years that I'd be able to work out what was going on in the long shots despite the driving rain. Fox Sports might have moved forward, but the owner of the TV hadn't, and it was like watching whatever's one below SD quality. For the first quarter all the players looked like they were appearing on a Commodore 64, but that was a small price to pay to (sort of) see a Melbourne team not only holding their own in Perth but thumping the locals everywhere but on the scoreboard. A Melbourne team where Matt Jones was one of the key instigators. It couldn't last forever, but it did for longer than anyone could expect.

It was genuinely terrible football. Almost as bad as the Sydney game, except in our third soggy game this year we finally realised that the occasional speculative kick off the ground could prove useful. There weren't enough of them, we still rolled ourselves on multiple occasions trying to pick the ball up and fall over. Other than keeping West Coast to a point for half the quarter that was about all that it had going for it. If I was a neutral I'd have switched to doing almost anything else in the world up to and including clearing Cambodian minefields rather than watch this shambling spectacle of two sides politely trying to give the ball to the other or attempting overhead marks at an outrageously high degree of difficulty.

The pressure put the Eagles on the back foot, causing them to turn into us and not be able to execute the simplest of handballs without it bouncing off somebody's foot. It all started with Gawn in the middle, taking full advantage of playing against a B-Grade ruck division, but he would usually be the one leaping on one of their players a few seconds later. Some of his taps were top shelf, and the All-Australian ruck spot must be his to lose in the next few weeks. At least this time the selectors will be forced to rise above their disgust of anything red and blue to put at least one player on the 40 man shortlist, even if they'll probably find a way to get Nic Nat into the main side ahead of him.

For the first 10 minutes were going forward in our own wonky way, which was better than it going the other way but didn't point to scoring enough to win. God knows how we were supposed to craft goals on a long ground in those conditions but it wasn't by trying to set up huge packs marks. There was no chance for Hogan to be left one-on-one with a defender who he could almost pick up and move out of the way like a cardboard cutout before taking the grab. When that tactic failed to work in the wet we decided that after the sun came out that we'd carry on with it in the hope that a Metricon Stadium style long-range bombing extravaganza might break out. We were still at it in the dying minutes, with disappointing results.

Considering the difficulties of marking overhead in the conditions the idea of repeatedly caning it long into attack should never have made it past half time. The Eagles knew that all you needed to keep us in check was one defender who could read the ball off the boot and take a strong mark. It was the sort of intercept marking masterclass that Collingwood rumbled us with on Queen's Birthday 2015 before dropping the guy who'd executed it for both our games against them this year.

They couldn't stop us getting it down there, but they certainly had our measure once it crossed the 50. Hogan was barely seen, Watts suffered the classic post-contract comedown, and Dawes was battling away in the same fully committed but ultimately disappointing way he has for the last couple of years. This left Garlett of all people to become our most potent marking forward, oddly enough kicking two set shots on a day where everyone else was aiming them like he normally does. After he benefited from two thirds of my dreamboat combination of Brayshaw and Neal-Bullen (all it needed was an invention from Petracca and I'd have gone gooey) storming through the middle to find him on his own we had the opening goal. The Eagles weren't having much of that 'standing on your own' rubbish for the rest of the game, but nor were we keen on regularly kicking to anyone but Shannon Hurn.

I enjoyed the return of Alex Neal-Bullen. Even when he gave away a 50 after doing a perfect 'grab arm, lob person overhead' judo throw, his performance showed why he should have been in the team weeks ago - I wouldn't have minded giving him a go forward in the last quarter when nothing else we were doing down there worked. Brayshaw's disposal was often wayward, but it is abundantly clear that he has the footy smarts that will take him to the top. I'm not surprised if he was a bit peaky in the early stages yesterday, he's probably still waiting to suffer another serious head injury from having a soaking wet footy punted into his head from close range. Once he gets comfortable again everyone will be invited to get out of his way and watch the magic unfold. I want 2017 to start tomorrow so I can see him, Petracca, ANB and Oliver tackle a full year together. No doubt now that I say that one of them will be struck by lightning.

Dawes kicked a couple of goals, but I don't think he helped our structure. He's had terrible luck to play three of his five games in the rain, but while he was trying hard if he wasn't kicking goals he was barely there. I said exactly the same thing when we played in Sydney, but depending on who the travelling emergencies were (UPDATE: Bugg by the sounds of it, which might not have helped) wouldn't it have been better to make a surprise late switch when we realised it was going to be played in conditions resembling the 400m Individual Medley? I've been off the vandwagon this year, but if vandenBerg has to play as a forward then I'd rather have had him out there. If it's dry next week then I'm happy to give Dawes another go, but if there's even the slightest hint of precipitation I'm not interested.

When Matt Jones continued his Nathan Jones style quarter by kicking the second goal it looked like we'd learnt plenty from our earlier adventures in watersports (?) while the Eagles had no idea what they were doing. Neither team was playing anything approaching attractive football, but we were still managing to get the ball forward enough to create opportunities while they were splashing around in the midfield and handballing over each other's head. We gave the two goals back at the end of the quarter, but it was still an amazing novelty to be in front at quarter time in Perth instead of hurling vitriol at the screen about how everyone involved in our club was a complete bastard for ruining your weekend. With Kennedy and Darling (insert obligatory Lucas Cook reference here) down the other end I had no confidence in keeping the scores low enough to stay in it until the end, but we continued to hold their forwards reasonably well when they weren't being gifted frees or having the ball mysteriously fly through a pack and land in their arms.

For the lack of any of the usual targets to blame for everything now that Watts has converted all but the most fanatical of his detractors, the McDonald brothers have achieved the sort of family scapegoat status that I thought you'd only ever achieve by putting Cale, Jarryd and Mitch Morton in the same side. Junior is still greener than Broccoli and his ankle injury might be a good opportunity to give him a couple of games in the VFL, but it can't be easy going straight into the second key defender job in what's really his first senior season because there's nobody else to do it since Dunn and Garland were chucked on the scrapheap.

Now that all the other first 22 players have signed new contracts, Senior's new deal is starting to stand out like the proverbial, and the only thing that would convince me more that he's going would be if he lines up at full forward next week, but mark my words we will regret it when he's gone. Sure he unloaded his Howler of the Week, and backed it up with another quickly after, but if you think we're going to find a key defender who will always hit the target then you've been to dinner with Daniel Kerr and Ben Cousins. Sam Frost played by far his best game as a defender, but he is best served running like a gazelle and tackling people not trying to leap over packs to take marks or go one-on-one with massive defenders. I'd rather we didn't have to use either of them as playmakers in defence, but the idea that we're not going to go backwards in defence if the elder McDonald goes is wacky, blinkered thinking. Everyone loves this Hibberd bloke, but he's eight centimetres shorter. Call me when you've got the permanently angry looking Steven May lined up and I might be keen to talk.

We didn't create many of our own goals in the last three quarters. The first one came courtesy of a horror turnover (see, real clubs do it too) which left Garlett wandering into an open goal. Bored out his mind with this Z-Grade game, 'Derm' tried to talk up his casual arms aloft celebration which was probably to either our cheersquad or friends/family as arrogance. If I had to go on a six hour round trip to commentate on this game I'd start making up fantasy storylines to keep sane as well.

The sun had come out by now, but even when Dawes was on the end of another goal from the square 90 seconds later and we were back to the lead midway through the first quarter I still refused to believe we could keep it going. The suspicion was that once the Eagles got the ball forward they'd find their forwards and we'd be in some sort of trouble, but though the Sizzle Brothers were blown apart for three goals in seven minutes during the second quarter we handled their talls reasonably well. You could suggest the weather was doing as much as our defence, but one way or the other it didn't matter as long as kept the score down long enough to be in it at the last change. If only we could have had our own seven minute period of attacking glory - forward thrusts would continually break down like we hadn't taken the extra length of the ground into account and thought we were kicking to the square only for the ball to actually land 25 metres out for no benefit.

The third quarter was where we really blew it, turning a dozen decent opportunities into points or nothing at all. With Sharrod Wellingham turning the ball over a rate that would see one of our players handcuffed to a fridge and thrown into the ocean, Hogan missed his lone shot for the day. He was never seen again, and his last fortnight has been ordinary so I wouldn't be surprised if he got a week off soon.

West Coast were still playing well below the sort of form that had seen them violently abuse our usual nemesis St Kilda on the same ground a few weeks ago, and this is where we should have taken advantage. In bizarro world the usually trustworthy Watts and Stretch both missed, while Garlett and Dawes converted. After Sizzle Sr's shocker it took Wellingham giving Kent the reply with a kick-in disaster to keep us in front by a goal after a wasteful 3.6.

I'm generally a trusting and naive person. I think Lee Harvey Oswald did it, and like to try and believe that Matthew Warnock at full forward was a legitimate effort at opening a new attacking front rather than furious match-fixing. This means treating umpiring debacles as isolated incidents rather than an epic, wide-reaching conspiracy involving shadowy figures at AFL House. Even with this pragmatic and fair view of how the games are officiated I suspected when we got a couple of lucky ones in the first quarter that we'd be behind by the end, and would probably get screwed in a close finish. Not to mention Watts copping what must have been the most vigorous shepherd out of a marking contest in the 21st century during the third quarter to the complete disinterest of any of the umpires. But sure, have anywhere between four and 40 field umpires, that will be great.

Lo and behold the traditional festival of players ducking into frees got us in the end, almost as much as our own inability to kick even one goal in the last 30 minutes. We could have, and should have risen above the poxy hometown decisions to win. It wouldn't have affected our plans for September, but imagine the morale boost of overcoming 30,000 entitled moaners and a group of confused whistleblowers to snap our longest running losing streak. The problem was that we could have kept playing until midnight and we'd never have kicked the vital goal. 

All we'd do when not being stitched up by the umps would be go forward, look threatening until the last kick, then either see the ball roll out of bounds or land in the arms of an Eagles defender. Never before has a side piled on so many inside 50s and looked less threatening. Just as we were about to curse another wasted attack Bernie Vince did his bit for keeping the figures down by turning a free kick for into a free kick against by falling on his arse while trying to play on. Good on him for trying to do something other than another long bomb into attack, but it was too slippery for that sort of twinkle-toed dancing.

Dual deliberates didn't help. Considering the over the top interpretations the umpires have been ordered into paying to improve 'spectacle' (for the current benefit of an extra three points a game and falling dramatically) the Tyson one where he nudged it towards the line with defenders all over him was probably there - but Gawn was ripped off almost as badly as anyone since James McDonald vs Port Adelaide in 2007. Not only did he have a free man who he was trying to get it to, but the bloody thing came off the hand of a West Coast player. Besides, just look at the angles he was working with - we know Maximum is a fantastic man but how skilled would you have to be to land that handball where it went deliberately?
We wait with baited breath to hear what hitherto unknown technicality the decision will be ticked off on by the umpire's bosses, but it's still a bit rich to claim that it set up the 'winning goal'. The Eagles certainly got a goal out of it, putting them ahead for the first time since the first quarter, but as the video above shows we were on 58 with 15 minutes of playing time left and scored 60. So as much fun as it is to burn effigies and ring talkback we weren't much contributing to our own chances of winning either. Not that I was subscribing to this theory when I hurled my phone towards a couch at high velocity after Gawn was done for that deliberate. If it had been my house I'd be spending the day at Harvey Norman buying a replacement everything.

The two early Eagles goals might have eventually killed us off, but as they didn't kick another one some of the hatred had to be laid at home. The last quarter of an hour was occupied with us thrashing away at them without being able to land a knockout punch like George Foreman against Ali in Zaire. We might have done it in points like North Melbourne against us in 1999, if we could have turned one of the outrageous number of inside 50s into anything more than two behinds for the entire quarter. After Watts hit the post with the kick that would have put us back in front our amateurish attempts at attacking become even more like a high school team (and not a private school one). A five point margin might as well have been five goals when the only half chance we had of getting one was the ball taking a ridiculous bounce and landing in the arms of a player - probably Jeff Garlett - standing 20 metres in space at the top of the square. Our angle of attack never provided the chance.

Even when we were left six points down with a minute to go I didn't want the draw, it was completely useless to me. Looking back it would have been good to play havoc with the seedings for the September exhibition series, but that's a different world to us. All I wanted to do was win, once last time at that bloody ground before they turn the place into a housing development.

Usually when coaches suggest their side shouldn't have won you have to treat it with the same respect as players who are trotted out to say how wary they are about playing us because we're "a good young team". This time you knew Adam Simpson meant it. Even the ultimate master of press conference spin Paul Roos wouldn't try and sell it as a roaring success if the shoe was on the other foot.

The problem was not just limited to this game, since Round 10 our last quarter goal tallies are 1, 0, 5, 1, 1, 1, 2, 0. In comparison the first nine weeks went 6, 3, 6, 2, 6, 4, 7, 5, 6. Winter has not been our friend, but in six of the eight games since Round 10 we've had at least nine goals on the board at half-time, so it's not an overall 2013/14 style inability to score. We can do it, just not consistently enough or when it matters. It can't be that we've been playing with some variety of our first choice line-up since the first practice game, fatigue can't just hit that consistently every week. I also refuse to rely on the young team defence, I'll cop it for a lot of things but not for falling apart continually in last quarters. The anti-NT grouping may wish to point out that this all started in Alice Springs, but I think that's more coincidence than the travel sucking the life out of us.

Of the five losses since Round 10 we were a reasonable chance to win all of them except the Sydney one at the last change, only to kick five goals in total across them. Forget being addressed by coaches at three quarter time, this lot should be addressed by a team of trauma counsellors.

Just close your eyes, breathe in and repeat the mantra "youngest team in the league" to yourself 100 times.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Dom Tyson
3 - Sam Frost
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Jack Viney

Apologies to Matt Jones, Garlett, Kent, Petracca and Neal-Bullen.

With all the big guns featuring in the votes this week the Jakovich remains a three man race, with three others hanging on for dear life above the dotted line of death. Tyson just keeps his head above water by getting full votes, but is highly likely to slip under next week. No change in the minors, but any chance a blockbusting run at the Seecamp for Frost?

38 - Nathan Jones
36 - Jack Viney
34 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
24 - Jack Watts
22 - Bernie Vince
14 - Dom Tyson
13 - Jesse Hogan
12 - Christian Petracca (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
10 - Neville Jetta (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Clayton Oliver
6 - Billy Stretch
5 - Jayden Hunt
4 - Ben Kennedy, Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Christian Salem
3 - Sam Frost
2 - Tomas Bugg, Jeff Garlett, James Harmes, Matt Jones, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Cameron Pedersen

If Fox Sports showed the Eagles banner then I must have blinked at that moment. I'll assume that it wasn't as good as our solidly kerned effort, which like the West Coast Eagles threatened to rip apart in the conditions but stayed intact just long enough to win. 21-1-0 for the season. 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There was a lovely time where we had goals galore to choose from, now that they're back to a premium the field has thinned. At least in this case we got one quality finish to choose from - Christian Petracca wins dinner at West Australian institution Chicken Treat for his running goal in the second quarter. He has to share the chips with Nathan Jones who set it up for him, first by spinning out of a pack then by having the vision to find him with a long pass.

Garlett retains the overall lead with time rapidly running out for anyone to nick it off him with a goal over his head from the centre circle.

Next Week
Back to the MCG for Gold Coast, just as they're getting into some reasonable form. We've lost a lot of close games this year, so I have a nasty feeling that we're going to lose this one by five goals. If the Veil of Negativity hadn't already enveloped us that should ensure it suffocates everyone in the MCG precinct. I've got no scientific basis for this, it's just the vibe that can only come from holding a five year record of being total balls in the second half of seasons.

Without watching Casey play yet I'm going to continue my Spencil For The 1s campaign, and as much as the changes make no sense for team structure I care even less about that now than I did last week. We're going to be plankton from here, we may as well play like it.

IN: Spencer, vandenBerg
OUT: Harmes (omit), O. McDonald (inj)
LUCKY: Dawes (deserves a go in the dry, then I'm dropping him)
UNLUCKY: Bugg, Dunn, Hulett (would prefer to Dawes though, so hope he kicks 14 for the Scorpions and forces his way in), Pedersen

UPDATE: 20 minutes after pressing publish I turn on the VFL and the Spencil is sitting on the bench with a blanket over him, out for the day with injury. There goes that campaign.

Final thoughts
Last week I was using the ladder predictor to try and work out ways that we could still blag our way into the finals. Now I'm trying to make sure we're not still going to finish in the bottom four. Based on every other game going exactly as I expect it to (which it won't) I see us 14th if we lose the lot, 12th if we win one of Gold Coast/Carlton and 11th if we win both.... or 9th if we win everything. There's going to be major temptation for people to set themselves alight in the town square if we don't win two more, but try to keep your eyes on the big picture.

Monday 18 July 2016

The sadness will last forever

Happy birthday! The combined age of the great losing streaks of the #fistedforever era is now 32 (Football Park x12, St Kilda x10, North Melbourne x10). And the good news is you can celebrate twice more before the end of the year. We blow out the candles to celebrate 12 nihilistic years at Subiaco this week, then in Round 20 it's time to jump on a bouncy castle in the backyard for 10 years of futility against Hawthorn. What's the point of the David King driven digital malarkey in the Fox Sports Lab if they're not going to scientifically demonstrate that no team has been remotely as mental over a decade since Tom Wills first put to paper and suggested inventing a new sport.

So, another decade long quest to beat somebody ends in disgrace. Who honestly didn't see that coming? Only the mentalists who set betting markets and sent us out as red-hot favourites. There must be Demons all over the country who used their insider trading knowledge of our reputation as the masters of disaster to secure spots for their kids at the poshest schools in the land. If you studied raw numbers you might have come to the conclusion that we'd win, if you'd watched Melbourne play at Etihad Stadium in the last 10 years - or at all in the last few seasons - it would have been blindingly obvious what was coming next.

It may come as a surprise to you that we've won 52 home and away matches since 2007 (if you value your stability it's best not to sit down and tally up the L column), and in this time just 14 of them have been as part of at least two in a row. So, that's 38 times where we've lost straight after a win. I have no time in my life to compare this to another club, mainly because you'd have excellent luck finding one with the same record as us now that we've started to pull away from Fitzroy 1987 - 1996, but I'll bet Jesse Hogan's dicky back that any other club operating at 5.2 wins a season would still find time to give their supporters a minimum fortnight of joy here or there without relying on the bye.

I finally following somebody through a turnstile at an AFL venue who could operate a barcode reader was a good omen. They even managed to get in without turning the ticket over three times or trying to walk through while the gate was still locked. I've never been a believer in omens, superstition or fate but following Melbourne has started to alter the way I think to the point where by 2019 I'll be going to games wearing onions around my neck and wielding an oversized religious relic.

When you're winning the losers look miserable, and for the second time this year we kicked away to an early lead against the Saints. The difference was that last time we made them look absolutely second rate for five minutes before plummeting down the plughole, this time our opening two goals punished rampantly inefficient kicking for goal. I wasn't turning them back.

If they'd been nice enough to keep punting the ball aimlessly into Hunt's hands all day that would have been fantastic. The first goal started with him taking an uncontested mark dead centre of the ground just inside the defensive 50 and flinging off like a brutally tormented, Alice band wearing, greyhound. If they'd done that all day we'd have won by an outrageous amount, but for all those who lament coaches never having a Plan B you just had to watch the way they didn't give him 10 metres of clear field to run through across the last three quarters. Maybe that was their Plan A and we just got lucky the first time? Either way they've watched the Criterion Collection of great Jayden Hunt runs and made sure he wasn't going to pull the same thing off against them.

The second goal also came as a result of the Saints going nowhere near an opponent, Matt Jones is best described as a role player but even he couldn't fail to find a target when given so much time to wheel around in the midfield, look up and kick to Petracca's lead. Knowing our luck only one of them will be there in five years and it won't be the guy wearing #5. I haven't felt this way about a draftee for years. Maybe since Brad Green in 2000. Even Hogan didn't give me the same kind of thrills whenever he went near the ball in his first season, and he was kicking goals at what counted for us as an astronomic rate. Every time Petracca goes near the ball I have heart palpitations from excessive glee - and whenever somebody else goes near the ball in his immediate presence and risks being captured in one of those mean spirited, evil tackles. The only reason he didn't have more than one yesterday was the quarter and a half where we couldn't get near an opponent. Nothing at all to do with him, because in my eyes he is perfect.

At this point everyone was tiptoeing through the tulips, and even if even professional punters everywhere were plunging their entire fortune on us to lose it was a positive start. Other than Jetta giving away the first goal with a wild handball our overuse of the idea was working, free players roamed everywhere and crucially we weren't running through a variety of ways to commit kooky turnovers. Even better the Saints kept being denied what shouldn't be paid as marks but are every other week. At least they were taking the marks, after the first quarter it felt like every player on their team was flying over two of our players to grab one. Hogan and Gawn tried to get to contests but usually they were stuck out the back thanks to poor delivery or the Saints boobytrapping their path to the ball with eight players - and more power to them for being smart about rumbling our key aerial threats.

It was a welcome return for Angus Brayshaw, who avoided suffering another concussion courtesy of some sort of novelty injury to his face like being hit by a panicking bird trapped under the roof. He picked up the pace of the game like his season hasn't been destroyed by injury ever since that fateful tackle three seconds into the first pre-season game. His disposal was rusty but he was in everything - a similar combination to Jack Viney in his first two seasons, which is a reasonable career path to be following.

For all the good times it was not a great day for Nathan Jones. If we had a Man of the Decade award (P.S - we should) he'd win, but there was one handball in the first quarter that was of such hospital-like quality that somebody should have held a telethon for it. Didn't matter, when Watts first took a gift in the square then gave one off to vandenBerg (but why is he always forward?) we were four goals to one up and flying.

They were still allowing us to play on at every opportunity, and there was nothing better constructed than the last one to Hogan. He treated some random like Zac Dawson to finish it off, but its genesis was with the red hot first quarter duo of Watts and Kent. Neither of them carried it on for four quarters, but this was so delightful it was worth at least one quarter of inactivity. Watts marked, and with the verbally abusive Western Australian charging past him along the boundary line he shot off one of our rare handballs that didn't require several follow-ups to gain two metres, Kent sprinted past the desperate grasp of an opponent, took a bounce and for probably the only time all day left Hogan able to play to his strength of shoving bastards out of the way then doing his hair after he'd taken the grab.

What a lovely quarter it was, but I still sat there thinking "well, we're not going to kick 24 are we?" St Kilda might have got three goals amongst our six, but on the whole they had to work for them. They might have missed a metric shitload of chances during the day but unlike last time we didn't gift wrap them goals galore by leaving multiple players standing on their own inside 50. Except at the start of the third quarter where we went a long way to losing the game by doing exactly that.

There had to be a lull somewhere, and for us it was called the second quarter. This year was starting to prove wrong that old adage that you can't trust us when we have a good first quarter. We started the year with five goals against GWS then kicked one in the next two quarters, but since then we've gone 6-5 against Collingwood and 5-6 against Richmond in consecutive weeks then 5-5 and 6-3 vs Brisbane and Freo. At least you knew where you stood when we were five goals down at the first break.

Statistically there's nothing to prove the original theory correct, but your heart is still in your mouth whenever we do well early in a game. Even if it doesn't eventually happen you're expecting to leave with a nasty taste in your mouth. This time it was back to following a relative shitload of goals with nil. I don't know why the Vice President was wasting his time at Carlton vs West Coast, our team has a lot in common with his hair - everyone wants to believe it's real, but we all know it's fake.

Allowing the other team to get the ball is always where it goes wrong for us, and as they weren't all that keen in giving it back our lot just hand to stand there providing navigational waypoints which led St Kilda players to goal. The first sign things were about to go arse over was that we didn't kick a goal for the first eight minutes. Neither did they, but after the free-wheeling run of the first quarter everything now looked like horribly difficult slog. They'd worked us out, and now that the clamps were on we had nothing to do except panic handball eight times because there was nobody to kick to. We didn't have the calm players to steer us through the danger, and let's be frank we're not going anywhere with a backline featuring White, M. Jones and Grimes. The other half of Grimgove got a shitload of touches against a very bad team last week, but I fear he will prove too comprehensively Melbourned to rescue for anything more than an experienced depth player now. What a cruel and stupid sport this is.

The goal that started the rot came in ridiculous circumstances, with Brayshaw tackled for what should have been one of the most obvious holding the ball decisions in history only to get away with it when after being dragged to the ground and half rolled over he managed to connect ball to foot. Ironically in getting away with it we immediately conceded a goal, so it would have been better if he'd been nicked to start with. Footy fans are so stupid that even after St Kilda kicked what they might not have had they been forced to start with the ball in the middle of the ground people were still howling their little hearts out about how badly they'd been done over. At that point I just wanted to win to spite them. Any win is a good win, but days when you know you've gotten away with murder and can enjoy the other lot losing their mind over injustice is at another level. The eveners would come later.

That goal was it for us for the next 40 minutes of game time. After initially struggling to take advantage of their major pressure advantage they piled on another two in the next five minutes as we (on and off-field) became more frazzled. I know the Saints have been mucus in several games this year but I really liked the way they played. Maybe we just make it easy for them. The bit I liked was the subtle shepherds they'd create just by the way they ran. I'd rather attend my own funeral than watch a replay of the last three quarters, but there were dozens of times where one player would sprint between the gap of the ball-carrier and our usually hapless defender with the perfect timing that he didn't have to do anything but carry on up-field and it would give his teammate enough time to get rid of it.

It was lucky the Saints started playing properly, or the piped in crowd noise that tried to simulate the atmosphere would have sounded even faker. Before the first bounce they'd tried to encourage everyone into a Port Adelaide style singalong by playing the most laconic version of their theme song that's ever been recorded. Any club who tries to pull this sort of shit off needs to understand that Victorians aren't singing along to anything unless their side wins. They ended up doing that as well, by which time I was pushing through people standing on the stairs trying to clap along with no thought to decorum or contributing to a better society.

The joy the found in missing easy opportunities kept us alive, and when Petracca lined up what should have been a simple shot we could have ridden out the light scare to be back in front with a couple of minutes left. He unnecessarily ran back further than Jesse Hogan to kick from 25 metres out and hit the post. They went the other way where Jarryn Geary (previous career goal tally - 21 in 135 games) kicked a goal. That wouldn't have been so bad if we'd been able to ride out the last minute without conceding another one, which worked until about 10 seconds left when a boundary throw-in was tapped into the open, and Geary turned up for the most bizarre and twisted quickfire double since Tom McDonald vs North Melbourne in Round 23, 2014. That's where seats would have been kicked if I wasn't busy curling my toes up and seething.

Now we certainly weren't going to score 24 goals. I'd have been happy to get 10. Remember the early days of the season where everyone thought footy was awesome because of the new deliberate rule (just before they got back to hanging shit on it at every opportunity) and we were a high scoring juggernaut? I've lost faith in that idea now. At least for this season, there's a lot to like for the future. We're much better off than we used to be, but in the immortal words of Dwayne Russell "if you're just joining us" it's almost impossible not to be more interesting than we under Neeld, Craig and Roos season one.

After a goalless quarter and that double blow at the end there must have been an in-depth strategy discussion at half time about how we could hit reset and return to 18 players running loose and doing whatever they wanted. Unfortunately when we pulled the lever on the time machine it took us back to Round 6, and our nightmare memories of the Saints piling forward in their dozens while our defenders puffed their lungs out trying to chase them. Either that or somebody make the conscious decision to let every bastard run free inside 50, as if this hadn't undone us like an Allen key the first time around.

Only St Kilda's willingness to give the ratings for the 6pm Channel 7 news a hand by keeping us alive left the door ajar long enough for the bizarre comeback at the end of the third. They spent 15 minutes teeing off on us across all parts of the ground but kept missing chances. Even Maximum was struggling to properly dominate the centre bounces, probably because one of the umpires was so bad at bouncing the ball that he was having to reach down to get it at its highest point. Then Garlett showed up for the first time since the opening goal, and Gawn took one of those massive forward marks that make me pine for Spencer to give him more time forward. So that was a turn for the better, followed by Jack Viney doing one of the most Jack Viney things ever by running back into a pack to mark with no concern for his physical well-being. He was much too far out for it to be realistic, but hoisted a long range mortar as if directly imported from the international armaments black market to cut the margin to 11.

We'd been almost five goals down when they'd missed a third chance in a row midway through the quarter, now I wanted to punish them for not putting us away when they had the chance. We might have had it back under a goal if Hogan's last shot hadn't been allegedly touched on the line, just when we could have done with a video umpiring howler going our way. Still, we were back in it and that looked highly unlikely a few minutes earlier.

McDonald played an excellent game, taking the sort of intercept marks that WILL make you miss him if he dicks us - a prospect that grows stronger every week - and at one point delivered an all-time 40 metre great kick out of defence which fell exactly where he wanted it. Like that guy who landed the ball in the tyres at the GWS game and won a motza it was perfect. But if one time Kingsley nominee Tim Membrey hadn't hit the post with an absolute sitter at the end of the quarter I might have joined the internet's popular anti-Sizzle campaign. A Melbourne player not knowing how much time is left in a quarter at Etihad Stadium is old hat, but when he tried to unnecessarily dance around Riewoldt (?) with 20 seconds left instead of just belting is as far away from goal as possible I was ready to go into an emotional meltdown.

He got away with it courtesy of Membrey spurning his chance to join Beau Wilkes and Brad Dick as two time Klub inductees, and we stayed alive into three quarter time. More importantly we stayed alive in the race to nudge ahead of North Melbourne for eighth, as they wobble to the finish like Todd Rixon on Pot Luck.

A fortnight ago I was refusing to countenance such ridiculous ideas, but one win over an anchorless Freo and North continuing to turn a 9-0 start into garbage the idea that we had something to play for was enough to talk me through the door at Docklands. Who am I kidding, I'd have been there anyway.

They were a better side around the ground, and fully deserved to win by the final margin. It didn't mean we couldn't have pulled off a major smash and grab, once we got within a goal it was on. All my complaints that we lacked that one extra forward marking option to take the heat off Hogan were still valid, but we were back in a position to pinch it via the highwayiest of highway robberies. More likely I expected us to get in front and hold on until the last five seconds, but we didn't even get the chance.

Like the bookies, radio commentators were roped in by the Dees hook, line and sinker. I usually wouldn't force somebody to listen to 3AW for any reason unless they were being interrogated and waterboarding was out of the question, but the only other option was an FM call featuring Brian Taylor screeching like an escapee from an insane asylum while the other guy kept reminding us that we hadn't won at Docklands since 2006 (!) when we beat St Kilda in an Elimination Final (!!). That was the sort of fact checking that led me to battle with reception which sounded like it was coming through a kid's walkie talkie from the Galapagos Islands - and to an entire commentary box deciding that we would storm over the top in the last 20 minutes.

I struggle to buy the post-Darwin fatigue theory, but if one person had mentioned it as a counter-point to the unanimous love-in it would have proven they'd done their research. It would have also calmed me, because nothing makes me more nervous than people thinking we're going to win. It's one thing to have some ruthless bookmakers working a vast conspiracy to have us favourites pre-match, but we'd just come back from five goals down and were still behind. The expectation weighed so heavily me on I started to get the same sensation as when I go in tall buildings, one that makes me want to get as close to the floor as possible. If you are in a position of media power could you please always suggest we're going to lose no matter what for the sake of my well-being?

Against the overwhelming physical sensation to get off the edge of my seat and watch the rest of the game on concrete I stayed upright. As we immediately went forward from the bounce and the whistle went with Hogan at the front of a tussle I looked up at the roof (which is really close to your face when you sit in the back row), closed my eyes and silently brought both fists up to my shoulders in a gesture of triumph. It was the exact same spot he'd missed his eighth from when we played them earlier in the year, but his run-up was better now and... oh it was paid against him. Oh and he was reported. I was too far away and so close to having a stroke out of excitement, panic and/or desperation that I missed the bit where he responded to being mounted like a camel by elbowing the St Kilda player in the face. He's been threatening to burst from frustration all year, the only surprise was that it took this long and wasn't directed towards a teammate.

Of course he was frustrated, he plays for us. Also after looting them for 12 goals in two starts under the roof he only had one, so no wonder after being already narrowly denied a goal he finally snapped The good news was that there was just enough plausible deniability about whether it was an unfortunate attempt to shrug an opponent off or if he was trying to cave his head in that he got away with a fine. Watch us all treat him escaping suspension as a great thing, then next Sunday morning he'll be appearing at a press conference alongside with Cameron McCarthy announcing he's been convinced to stay in Perth until we agree to trade him. He'll know Freo love him when he lifts the duvet at the hotel and find a mysterious purple bag containing $1000 in unmarked bills.

That was the end of us. By the time Kennedy cropped up for one of his rare appearances all day they'd kicked 3.5. There was still little interest in kicking straight, but our rudderless collection of running defenders were keen to provide as many opportunities as possible. The Saints got two in a row, with the second one coming courtesy of two players wandering through most of our defence without anyone being able to lay a tackle. It was the tired furious air-grabbing of a side who are right on their physical and/or mental limit. It was then that I knew no miracles would be forthcoming and that there would be no Kickstarter to raise the funds to drive this down the highway without a heavy rigid licence in Round 23. Rest In Peace season 2016.

The open invitation for any other defenders who wanted to pad their goalkicking stats was answered by somebody improbably called Dylan Roberton, who turned up from wherever he usually lives to tonk through his 13th goal in 96 games. That left us with 10 minutes of feeling like we'd been robbed, but actually knowing that we'd been beaten by a better prepared and hungrier side. It's impossible to accurately compare an overall tackle count, but the only time we've had less this year were against Essendon, and Port in Alice where it was no wonder considering we spent all day 30 metres away from an opponent watching him trot into an open goal.

We got what we deserved. You can't go around rolling out three point quarters and expect to get anything other than the odd miracle victory. We blew our chance at miracles by losing that infamous game against them two years ago. On the upside we did follow that defeat by unexpectedly winning at Kardinia Park, so maybe there's some hope for us at Subiaco. Nah.

Whoever tweets the highlights of Roos' press conference is so good at verballing him that they should join the police force. It's nice that they try to give something to fans who can't be arsed sitting down and watching the whole thing, but posting one which implied like he thought we lost was because St Kilda had been mentored by Ross Lyon indicated that the coach had swiped his/her parking spot during the week and they were trying to square up. What he was actually arguing was that their top level leaders were operating on another planet to ours because of their experiences in the Roscoe era. You can debate the merits of that, though he was right about a lack of calm senior players, but he wasn't trying to suggest that the reason Tim Membrey opens us up like a tuna can every time was directly the result of a coach who'd done the $cully for a shitload of cash well before he arrived. People just wanted to punch on in despair, and where better to direct your anxiety than the internet?

It's all character building. If you're building the character of Charles Manson.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Bernie Vince
2 - Tom McDonald
1 - Dean Kent

Apologies to Watts, Jetta, Gawn and Brayshaw.

It's on again. Two weeks after the skipper looked to have Jakovich #5 in his fictional trophy cabinet the master's apprentice is back with a vengeance. With the leader failing to score this week the famous dotted line claims 11 different players via attrition alone, and four more will go next week if they fail to score. In the minors there's no movement in the Seecamp but for the first time all year we have a new leader in the Hilton. I'm not ruling out The Hamburglar coming back for another shot before the end of the season but Petracca looks like running away with it from here. In the Stynes, The Spencil could theoretically come in and win with six straight BOGs.

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

One of the great barnstorming wins of our time, as our side put out a design for Jack Grimes' 100th game that was not only stylishly designed and attractively kerned but also contained a classic Frank Grimes reference to warm the hearts of Simpsons nerds everywhere. Over the other side St Kilda had heeded my advice to stop making see-through banners that ended up obscuring the text on either side, but are still working with a font from 1988 that leaves them in the bottom division of crepe paperists. 20-1-0 for the season. 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Usually I opt for the flashy snaps, the arsey rollers from the boundary line or anything by Jeff Garlett. Today I'm going to go with a set shot for possibly the first time since Salem vs Essendon and choose Jack Viney's furious in the third quarter. In the absence of a Russell Robertson Medal for Mark of the Year this is as much for the brave grab as the goal, but it was still well finished from right on his limit. He receives the week prize of a lesson in serving and/or volleying from his dad, as well as a signed affidavit from Boris Becker stating that he's never even met Todd much less lost a tennis match to him.

Garlett retains the overall lead, and given that we won't kick any goals at all next week he's set to stay in front into the last five weeks of the season.

Next Week
Now that our season is no more than a statistical oddity (I did the ladder predictor and if we win every remaining game by a point and nobody else plays at all we'll finish second - so that's something) we can start wheeling in players based on potential rather than performance. Maybe we should leave it for a week to try and restrict the damage in Perth as much as possible?

They're going to pulverise us aren't they? The Eagles aren't much chop away from home, but stung by everyone writing them off as a premiership contender they're going to take out their frustrations by downhill skiing over us like Alberto Tomba on the slopes of Lillehammer.

In retrospect I didn't ask for enough changes last week, so this time I'm going right over the top and swinging the axe. The following selections make no sense in terms of team balance but at this stage of the season I've totally lost it and will pick practically anyone to do anything. I've picked three talls on a big ground and I don't care.

IN: Frost, Hulett, Neal-Bullen, Spencer, Stretch
OUT: Kennedy, M. Jones, Grimes, White, Harmes (omit)
LUCKY: Garlett, vandenBerg (get him back in the midfield thanks)
UNLUCKY: Anyone on our list who hasn't been given a token game yet. The time has to be coming for Terlich to get the Troy Davis style fish out of water game as a forward before being delisted.

It took me so long to write this that Hogan had already gotten away with a fine for his bionic elbow, but let the record show that if he'd been wiped out I'd have saved either Harmes or Kennedy.

Also, a reminder that anyone who debuts next week loses eligibility for the 2017 Hilton. Hulett, Weideman etc.. might want to take that into account when choosing how hard they go at training this week.

P.S - After correctly failing to rule out a rest for Stretch last week I'm not putting similar past Petracca this time.

Was it worth it?
If not for the football then certainly for the pre-match features, including "interview with senior coach" (so they don't have to change the graphic if Al goes the way of Scott Watters), driving with Patrick McCartin (though thankfully considering his run of head injuries he was in the passenger seat) and a feature on Josh Bruce's dog.

We also had a ground announcer who welcomed "everyone around Australia", when there were less people in the stadium than the population of Blowhard. This was followed by describing the Etihad Stadium roof as "world famous" before audibly yawning during an announcement.

As much as it pains me to say I don't really mind Etihad Stadium now, except what goes on in the middle of it. The security guard even kindly declined my offer to be metal detected and waved me through in the interests of not having to do any work. But the process of exiting towards Southern Cross remains genuinely uncomfortable. In light of what we'll gently describe as 'security issues' in various western countries the idea of being in a tightly packed, slowly shuffling 500 metre long scrum where one outbreak of consternation will cause a stampede does not appeal. If whether or not to close the roof can become a divisive community issue how can nobody who matters see the potential for drama here?

Of course you get the same packing in to Richmond Station so there's risk everywhere, but if they're going to flog every available inch of real estate around the ground somebody needs to invest in alternative entrances to Southern Cross. What about a bridge running diagonally from the rail yards side to connect with the main bridge? Who am I to give urban planning advice, I'm trying to pick The Spencil.

Final thoughts
Don't give it away and move to a Russian Orthodox monastery at the foothills of the Ural Mountains yet. We're not going to get much further than last year on the win/loss tally but I assure you the platform is being built for something that will at its very worst give us some moderately special thrills. We might have to push waist deep through sewage for the next few weeks, and I'm not convinced we automatically become a finals team next year, but like one of those NASA probes that takes 10 years to land on Mars when we get there it will be amazing.

Sunday 10 July 2016

Steamy wonder

We've won in Darwin, we've beaten Freo again and with seven games left we've matched what we did last year. With any luck we're going to narrowly beat a weak field for our best season of the decade, so all smiles and happy days. Not that last night's game left me any wiser about where we'll be next year. All I know is that barring some outrageous scenario involving an active volcano we're at least going to be ok for a few years - no worse than mid-table mediocrity, with hope in our hearts for greater things.

It was a game we were expected to win 'on paper' (the scariest place of all) where we started hot favourites against a battered side enjoying their own version of our 2007 plummet into irrelevance. If I was a betting man I'd have had money on the Dockers just in case. But not with the agency who did the market updates before the game and suggested that we'd go well coming off the bye. Even though contrary to popular belief we played (and lost) last week it was reasonable to send us in as favourites, but the great modifier was Darwin. The fuel light was blinking furiously before three quarter time last week, now we were playing in near 30 degree heat with a reasonably unchanged lineup. As it turns out thank god we did our best work in the first half before sexy football drowned in an ocean of humidity and sweat. Whether Freo were good enough to ever challenge I'm not sure, but I'm glad we didn't have to find out.

Even with the season turned into little more than a fight to stay above Collingwood, the nerves still got to me. An hour before the bounce I started to feel like I'd had a pint of Adelaide tap water. I considered whether it was caused by trying to calm myself earlier in the day by taking to my garden with such a high concentration of weedkiller that Union Carbide sent a telegram of congratulations, but I've felt this way enough times over the last decade to recognise the stomach-churning feeling of sporting anticipation. Scientists at the Pond's Institute recently discovered that when you're expecting to win the rate of churn is at least 200% higher, most likely leading to my eventual death in a seat at the MCG.

Being the most off-Broadway game of the week we got the caller who is so obscure that he never gets to appear on screen. Surely the Olympics are his opportunity to show his actual face, rather than being seen in a profile photo that looks like his head has been Photoshopped in. Dwayne declaring the dressage to be "crazy good!" will be his big opportunity. Any time they wheel in somebody who tries to call the game rather than getting involved in Brian Taylor-esque bullshit 'banter' is a win, but he did fall into the trap of only preparing one fun fact about Mitch White and ended up telling us several dozen times about how it was just his second game. That Mitch went near it enough time for that stat to become a cliche in the space of four quarters was a good sign for his career.

Presumably next to him (if he's allowed to sit in the same studio as the 'big' hitters) Dermott Brereton was blathering on like you do when you're alone in the car. As a fellow sufferer of the syndrome where you know exactly what you want to say but end up confusing the bejesus out of anyone listening I feel a certain kinship with him. During the second quarter when we started to run the Dockers around for sport he delved into a long, philosophical discussion about the sort of mental strain it would be putting their players under. Mate, Nathan Jones has played in 158 losses - I'm sure Jonathon Griffin is more worried about why his first name has an O in it than one night playing a traffic cone. Later in the evening he suggested a Dockers goal was due to "the superior numerical outnumber" - which if you use a Derm to English dictionary meant they had more players around the ball than we did.

More so than for the continued novelty of winning I just wanted to avoid losing so I didn't have to hear another week of people threatening to self-harm if we ever sold a game again. For the first couple of minutes I was readying myself to switch off the internet, remove the SIM card from my phone and wear a pair of noise-cancelling headphones everywhere until 3.20pm next Sunday. Within the first minute a quick kick forward allowed Maggie Taberner to run onto a loose ball and roll one in from the boundary. That was fine, I've matured to the point where I can concede the first goal without going into cardiac arrest, but when he took a mark and lined up for the second almost straight after I was frantically searching for Google Images for appropriate photos of Kent Kingsley. He missed the lot and was rarely seen again, missing his chance for an invitation to sit next to the likes of Gavin Mitchell (5 goals, R2 1999) and Ian Perrie (6 goals, R12 2003) at Kent's annual gala banquet.

Speaking of Kents, the one you want to be associated with demonstrated his ability to work in confined spaces by extracting our first goal from a pack like he was Clark Kent changing into Superman in a phone booth. Even when they went back in front courtesy of a player spinning out of a contest like he was in a video game, leaving all our players clutching at thin, sweaty air, my nerves had settled. I don't know what difference the one goal made but you could just tell between Kent's goal and the spinny thing that we were going to be the better side. We got an assist when Pavlich, barely holding on in the style of Neitz 2007, marked 20 metres out and tried to charitably gift his teammate a goal only to deliver a hospital handball that allowed the returning White (joining the greats like Dunn, Bate and Hunt as holders of 2-0 career win/loss records) to get in the way.

For once we were dominating another side in the midfield - and whatever's happened to Freo to get them to the point where that can happen is not important. Between Gawn, Viney, Jones, Tyson doing Hamburglar style pauses when he got the ball before finding an option and Vince returning from the dead after initially going off with a shin injury we were too much for them to handle.

The game turned on Kent's second goal, but while he finished it the assist went to Freo's Blakely (I hated his song in 1990 and he's not got much better) for handballing into space under pressure, and to Gawn who swept through like a much smaller man, gathered in traffic and lobbed a handball over the top for Kent to run on to. Deano still had to walk around a defender before snapping it, but including the turnover it was a well-constructed goal which was prompted the floodgates to open. At least as much as floodgates ever open when we're involved.

From just under 13 minutes to go in the quarter when that goal went through we added 3.5 to nothing, with Watts so dominant than even Hogan was clearing out and letting him menace defenders on his way to three goals. There was nothing wrong with the rest of his game, but the way Jack has a habit of racing to three or four in the first half then not kicking any more suggests an actual +5 bag can't be far away when we finally start punching shit out of bottom division sides. The mark for his second goal was made more special by the afters of Gawn laughing at the Freo player for being beaten so easily. Maximum later challenged Jamar sitting on the ground with Leigh Colbert for greatest interview by a Melbourne ruckman in Darwin by suggesting he'd acclimatised for the conditions by "putting the heater on all week".

I'm assuming the reason the umpires were wearing the word 'Arbitraro' on their back had something to do with Multicultural Round, but it might as well have been Gaelic for "we're here to deliberately confuse the shit out of you with a series of random decisions", because in an evening where they battled to ignore as many obvious free kicks as possible Jesse Hogan's first came from him deliberately running into Zac Dawson's arms and appealing like he was Terry Alderman. Shortly afterwards Petracca split a man's nose open with his knee in a ridiculously unrealistic attempt to mark and got away with it. With decisions like it was hard to get angry when Pavlich was gifted a goal for a fictional push in the back or when a boundary umpire guessed that the ball bounced off Jack Viney's foot and out on the full.

The reason I like to sit in the middle of nowhere at games is so, like Derm, I can say whatever comes into my head out loud without it being taken the wrong way. The dangers of letting others hear your internal monologue was no better demonstrated than when my wife walked around the corner just in time for me to say "Let's kill somebody. I just want to kill somebody" as Watts' third goal went through to make the margin 27. Later as she was sitting on the couch taking absolutely no notice of what was going on I muttered "Horny" when I meant "Hungry" and received the appropriate expression of disdain.

We were dominant, but I wasn't comfortable yet. Freo couldn't have been playing any worse and we stuffed up a string of chances to add another goal late in the quarter when they were lying on the ropes taking the sort of blows without going down that would make a boxing referee step in and end the fight. In previous years that would have been us, except we'd have been knocked out 10 minutes in and they'd have kept hitting us. Our last six scores against the Dockers, spread across Subiaco, the MCG and Darwin just make sure there was no regional bias, were 40, 40, 38, 34, 50 and 54. We were trending the right way, but to be on 41 at quarter time was quite the weight off the shoulders. Didn't mean we wouldn't end on 41, but even if we had a scoreless last three quarters it would already have been better than roughly 480 minutes of performances against a side who usually treat us like a boa constrictor killing an ocelot.

The early returns suggested that if we could keep getting the ball inside 50 the Dockers were going to leak like a sieve. But as the game went on and we started to open a landslide lead in that stat we stopped taking advantage of their scared and paranoid defence. Much congestion inside 50 and missed opportunities meant that after quarter time we had to slog for our goals again instead of them coming easy. Leaving purple body parts sprayed across the top end would have been preferable, but when their attack was MFC 2014-esque in its ineptitude and dysfunction we could afford to draw away slowly instead of spectacularly.

You can only take on who you're presented with, but it was Tom McDonald's best game in ages. As the last line of defence to a practically non-existent forward line it wasn't the series of easy marks that impressed but what he did with the ball after that. God help us if they decide that playing him effectively as a loose man is a reasonable idea against St Kilda. For fans of pursuing him down the street yelling obscenities about perceived failures, he finally delivered his much anticipated clanger of the week late in the last quarter.

As Kent kicked his third, from a set shot you wouldn't have had somebody else's house on him converting, we were beyond a total score of 54, the lead was 43 points and barring a major catastrophe the game was won. We could live through Petracca and Matt Jones both slicing perfectly good chances out on the full because in the last minute the other Jones wandered through Freo's Swiss cheese defence to kick one of those lovely goals he likes to kick on the run and leave us in an almost impenetrable position.

The lesser known Jones had a couple of high profile blunders, also costing us a goal with a turnover in the third quarter, but he's been reasonable this year when not injured so I'm prepared to write it off as a bad night. Petracca was ok when he got it but is starting to look a bit tired. There was still one moment when he clamped a vicious, bear hug tackle on an opponent without the slightest warning. Like swimming in shark infested waters, if you gather the ball in his vicinity you get what you deserve. There was also one pass to Hogan which was kicked with so much vicious force that it bounced off his chest and probably left the imprint of a Sherrin on Jesse's chest to remember him by.

In a rare outbreak of optimism I went into half time absolutely convinced we were going to win. Even if fatigue took hold and Freo's practice of having players stick their heads into a bucket of ice water (including the guy who had been bleeding profusely. I'm no virologist but that doesn't seem right) inspired them, I was comfortable they weren't playing well enough to bridge the gap. Turns out I was right, but try telling me that midway through the last quarter when I was nervously standing right over the TV, talking to myself like Derm and reverting to my default status of fretting about nightmare defeat.

I always thought that if they didn't announce an extension of the Northern Territory deal this week there might have been something in the rumours that their government was going to give us the arse. We waited almost as late as possible to announce it, but when Peter Jackson appeared at half-time in an out of character polo shirt, with sweat pooling on what remains the most attractive bald head on the planet I knew exactly what he was there for.

He tried to talk up the two year, two games a season extension as a chance to play in front of a mountain in Alice Springs and attempted to reassure fans that they still get into two games in Melbourne to make up for it. This was all very noble, but we all know he really wanted to say "we're doing this because we're skint". Either way you could hear the sound of remote controls being lobbed at the TV across the country (or perhaps not, given that only 99k were watching) as people lamented the idea.

My views on this uncomfortable but necessary deal have been covered in every other post for an NT game since 2012, but even if you were happy to hold a bake sale to help us turn down the Territory's mad money (I'm assuming we got the same deal or better) you still had to enjoy the CEO justifying our poor record in the NT by pointing out that we've been rubbish everywhere else as well. In a week where Roos played down our Darwin issues with the reminder that we can't play at a stadium 15 minutes away from the MCG it was a refreshing change from the old go-to explanation about tanking being at fault for everything.

Being convinced we're going to win is one thing, but it's not permanent. There's a big difference between 'convinced' and 'certain'. When they kicked the first goal of the third quarter I started to get unnecessarily antsy. It was already obvious in the first few minutes that we had blown ourselves out with the intensity of the first half, and a better team might have taken advantage. Nevertheless when Hogan kicked two in a row and the margin extended over 50 I thought that the boats had been stopped so successfully that they were still going to let us get to the last change above the Chris Sullivan Line even as we dramatically down-shifted towards neutral.

The second Hogan goal was his enjoyable. Left one-on-one with Dawson he extended the arms and shoved him away with the greatest of ease before taking the mark. Zac's been shot for years, but Roscoe seems to like him. Once they swapped him for some no-name homebrand defender Hogan was much better held for the rest of the night. If Freo are going to do a highlights package of all the times his goals are wasted by us switching off from the centre bounce we should do one of Dawson in defence and ask "Jesse, do you REALLY think things will be much better there?"

It was good see the much lamented and 100% Melbourned Jack Grimes back in the side, and while it took him a while to get going and stop shanking kicks like Neeld was back in charge he came good the longer the game went. He was one of the few players who actually got better in the second half as the game spiralled into a NEAFL contest. It was encouraging but the biggest result might have been towards securing his start at another club next year. Sadly, I'm afraid that like the other half of Grimgove if he stays with us it will be as spare parts. Like Garland and Dunn (obviously N. Jones is excluded from this discussion for still being an almighty warrior in the Spartan tradition) I want them both to be there and flourishing when we finally get it right but we'll be lucky to get one of four at this rate.

Also maligned (by me), but not in such immediate danger is Aaron vandenBerg - and I'm happy that he's finally playing more in the middle instead of occupying the Luke Tapscott Memorial half-forward flank death seat. He was good, but I'm not adverse to rotating him out so we can have a look at some of the other fringe players. Quite frankly I'm pining for Alex Neal-Bullen.

Like the old Italian coot in the car ad who accidentally tosses his Viagra into the street just as a rare legover beckons, we were ready to achieve total ecstasy and couldn't manage it. They got the last three of the quarter, including one to Pavlich which broke down our idea of playing Watts as a loose man in defence to try and avoid conceding by travelling about 11 metres before being marked.

Now I was nervous, we'd lost the quarter by a goal and were well inside the CSL. Under normal circumstances it was still too much for a side who'd been playing so badly to drag back, but we had form on this ground. We'd been two points better off against Port in 2010 before folding like a house of cards. The difference was that night we had to rely on surprise ruckmen like Colin Sylvia because Jamar was on the verge of having to puff on an airline style oxygen mask. This time we had the ultimate 120 minute man Gawn going about his business from the first bounce to last without conceding to exhaustion.

My fraudulent attempts at confidence were long gone. Even when Hogan kicked the first goal of the last quarter to extend the margin back to nearly 40 I remained on guard. If we'd lost there would have been MFC fans forming mercenary armies to invade the Northern Territory and annul the extension. Even as a ruthless pragmatist when it comes to the need to pocket large sums by any means short of bank robbery I had to admit the rest of the quarter wasn't a good advertisement for these games. In the next TV rights deal Foxtel will probably on-sell the rights to One.Tel.

As the goal went through I thought "let's see how long we take to give this one back", and when they went forward immediately from the bounce nobody was less surprised than me. At least this time Jesse got to relax and enjoy his success through two stoppages before we predictably cancelled out his juggling mark and a set shot where the ball looked like it was heading straight into the post before obeying his commands to swing late.

During the week somebody wrote an article lamenting how boring the season was, and how things would be nicely spiced up with a finals wildcard. What absolute balls. This game showed why sometimes fringe finals sides deserve to be just that. The only 'innovation' I could have my arm bent to accept would be the 666 system (what is all this '17-5' nonsense when there's a perfectly good name for it?). At least the draw would semi-equalise without having to do something stupid like cut the number of games. Whatever the solution is (and do we really need one?) increasing the number of finalists would be a major farce. The eight is beautiful and should be protected like a rare species of animal.

A thrilling Footscray vs Richmond game on the other channel ended just in time for the viewing audience to switch over and discover that our match was plodding to a tragically terrible conclusion. We were out on our feet, Freo weren't much better and the last few minutes were a mixture of us running down the clock kicking from side to side and them running down the clock by missing shots on goal. The only thing remotely approaching a highlight was Hogan trying to take a screaming pack mark on the wing, prompting one commentator to say "he's trying to get a car in his driveway at the end of the year" as if he won't be able to buy the entire Australian car manufacturing industry with the first cheque of his new deal.

Ross Lyon's first game as a senior coach was against us on the night the #fistedforever era kicked off (which you can read all about here, literature fans), and with our last opportunity of the decade we finally beat him. He didn't care, no full-time coach has ever gone through the motions with the same level of disinterest as he did last night. Then again, no senior coach of the modern era has had a more disproportionate level of job security to team performance, so why not chill out and just let the rest of the season happen? It wouldn't have been the night for cracking the shits anyway, the coaches' boxes were so small you could have had somebody's eye out with one expressive gesture.

Some people ended the night in gloom, lamenting that we didn't pile on and violently crush them. Others were already anticipating a major let-down against the Saints next week. For now let's relax and come to grips with the idea that not every win needs to be a very special episode which causes fireworks to go off. Didn't we get to this point midway through last year with that dreary, uninspiring win against Brisbane? When we reach the point where the players are visibly bored by singing the song after a routine win you'll know we've made it.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
This was a hard one, a decent spread of potentials but no real standouts. As it turns out the easy option is taken and all the big guns get a run.

5 - Jack Viney
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Jack Watts
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Max Gawn

Major apologies to McDonald, Tyson and Kent. Mid-range apologies to Grimes (second half), Jetta and Stretch. Minor apologies to almost everyone else.

We're on red alert at the top of the table here. Viney closes the gap by one, but with Watts falling slightly further behind and Gawn unlucky in a competitive field we are now on absolute DEFCON 1 red and blue alert for Nathan Jones to become a five time Jakovich winner (previous victories 2007, 2012, 2013, 2014). Could it become the Nathan Jones Medal one day? I doubt it, he'll have to be content with a statue outside AAMI Park depicting him carrying the club on his shoulders.

With seven games left we have reached the point where anyone without a vote is out. As of this week Cameron Pedersen can still snatch a share of the title with seven BOGs, but depending on selection it could be curtains for all of him, Salem, Bugg and Harry O before the first bounce Sunday.

In the undecided minors Oliver is grimly holding on, because if Petracca has a game where he gets a lot of touches he's going to do a lot of things that arouse me and probably get votes. With all eyes focused on that battle I forget to mention last week that Hunt is also eligible after starting the season a 50-1 shot. Forget the battle to qualify for the exhibition series, this is where the real action is at.

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

In the grandest tradition of the waterfront the Dockers were on strike. Our one had the lovely US flag style coloured lines and no doubt would have won anyway even if Freo fans showed an appropriate interest in tradition. 19-1-0 for the season. 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
In a consistent night for goals where none dared challenge for the title I'm going to continue the trend of first quarter goals getting the nod and go for Kent's quick snap for our first. The Freo player was convinced it was touched but he was kidding himself if he thought TIO Stadium was capable of reviewing anything. Which is ironic for a stadium named after an insurance company. Apologies to vandenBerg in the second after fumbling and juggling multiple times before snapping truly (CLICHE).

Dean looks like a man who'd enjoy a good old fashioned politically incorrect swear, so for the weekly prize we're sending him to the Lightning Ridge Bowling Club on Thursday 21 July to see 2011's End of Year Spectacular host Rodney Rude live on what may still be his "Frogsack" tour.

Garlett was back to pre-VFL struggletown but retains the overall lead. I still think he's got something baffling and outrageous in him in the last few weeks, unless like last year all his nominations are swept into down the train when somebody else sneaks in and nicks it from under his nose.
Next Week
St Kilda at Docklands again. It's another 3.20pm Sunday game - so the win should get about 2000 Melbourne fans to show up. If we can get the game relocated to practically any ground in Australia other than Etihad Stadium we'll win (not Darwin again if at all possible), but for now the only evidence I've got to go on is the slingshot extravaganza earlier in the year where we monstered them for five minutes then copped about 13 goals from the square. Fingers crossed lessons have been learnt and we won't allow Riewoldt to drag our entire defence up the field then have it thrashed back over their head at lightning speed.

Casey are having one of their thousands of byes, so in a week where we run everyone into the ground it's hard to make accurate judgements about who should come in to help manage fatigue. Last time we went straight from Darwin to Etihad Stadium we lost to North by 120 points, but to be fair players being physically tired was the least of our issues in the second part of 2013.

This time I'm definitely picking a proper backup for Gawn so he can spend more time relaxing in the forward line. They'll be shitting themselves at the prospect of Hogan after he's kicked 12 against them in two starts at the Dome so let's stretch their backline further and use the resting ruckman to clear out the space so Hulk can wreck some hapless Dawson-esque patsy in a string of one-on-one contests.

I can't bring myself to drop anyone but I'm not going to rule out Stretch or Petracca being rested. Last week I said White was going to be delisted and he was picked, so what do I know?

IN: Dunn, Spencer
OUT: O. McDonald, Vince (inj)
LUCKY: M. Jones
UNLUCKY: Brayshaw, Oliver, Hulett, Neal-Bullen and anyone else who was good in the 2s against Richmond but now has to sit on their arse because the VFL is a pub competition. Maybe if they came out and said the money from the NT games was going to pay for a Reserves side there'd be less hostility?

The week after that
Two weeks after our last win in Darwin we lost by 31 goals. In two weeks we have to play West Coast in Perth. Think about it. Then remember we might get thrashed, but this time it won't be because the entire club is being run like a Tijuana whorehouse.

Final thoughts
The bonkers season continues. For a year where the top eight is set two months out mid-table looks like an ultimately irrelevant minefield. We're neck and neck with Port for the right to finish three miles ninth, Collingwood has joined us on the same points, all of Richmond, St Kilda and Carlton are one game further back and Gold Coast two behind but starting to find form again. We've won as many games as last year and could still finish anywhere between 9th and 15th. What about seven wins in a row and a finals appearance? If it's good enough for Richmond...