Sunday 28 August 2016

Decade ends, era endures

What an appropriately Melbourne way to end a season which ever so briefly promised something amazing. Less than 10 days since overloading the AFL's ladder predictor to work out percentage based scenarios that would complete an amazing run to the finals we've suffered one shattering defeat as red hot favourites then been massacred by 111 points. If we couldn't deliver the cherished Mighty Ducks finish, the most on-brand alternative was going out being shelled like a heartless rabble. 

Where else could you get entertainment like that...

Until the first bounce I was so distraught about the events at the MCG last week that I was ready to subscribe to any sort of 'truther' style conspiracy theory to explain it. Every time I had to debrief with another Melbourne supporter or a concerned neutral I'd get angrier, then when we deselected Michie and Neal-Bullen after one game it was time to take a deep breath before doing something I might regret. It's not that I really cared if either was in the side this week, but what was the point of picking them then if you weren't going to have faith and back in at least one of them in again?

It was especially galling that after we flopped to the ground within sight of the finish line, letting North make the finals without having to sit through a tense Saturday afternoon they felt comfortable enough to sack four of their most senior players. They wouldn’t have been doing that if everything rested on them winning to stay in the eight. Imagine if we’d reacted to a string of fruitless finals appearances by dropping the bomb like that at the end of 2006? Things might have been so different that I didn't just polish off the last pages of a book about how shithouse the decade was. More likely it would have gone tits up anyway and we'd still be moaning about it like we do the demise of James McDonald.

The final blow came after we'd already made fools of ourselves. After Carlton's feelgood win last week, they learned one of the valid pieces of wisdom of the #fistedforever years - you can't play Melbourne every week. They lost to Essendon, allowing a side who had to find 12 ring-ins at the last minute to end the season with more wins than our 2013 team, who were allegedly playing properly.

The trip to Geelong was never going to end well, and I can't remember a game I wanted to be at less. In the same circumstances, reasonable people would stay home, eat chips on the couch then change channels when things started to become grim. Why couldn't I do the same? I did in 2012, unable to face that sewer again so soon after 186. Now it was just that I'd seen every minute of every Victorian game in person so had to complete the set. What a rotten idea. By the end I'd seen our ninth 100+ point defeat since 2008, argued with our own fans, had somebody's head in the way for our last two goals and travelled home in the most irritating carriage of people ever gathered in one train. All that for $50. I haven't had worse value at the footy since paying for a reserved seat then not using it once all year.

When the fixture is released your eyes go straight to the first game and last round (just in case...) and our seemingly annual trip to Kardinia Park (where we've played them seven of the last eight times. If it's any comfort we were rubbish at the MCG too) always had high potential for disaster. At least after a season where you'd never expected anything you could go, freeze half to death, and be reminded by the locals that you follow a shit team without having to cope with your feelings. Now I was a week off being so distressed by a defeat that it gave me the squirts and treated the excursion with all the excitement of shipping out to 'Nam. We got a late change seven days after there should have been one in the wet against the Blues, with our commitment to the honour system delivering a Matt Jones for Dean Kent swap that would have raised eyebrows if we were closer to the bottom of the ladder.

The AFL's great experiment in killing momentum with a bye between Round 23 and the finals gave us more to worry about, sides would no longer rest half their squad in the last round or make sure they won in the easiest and least damaging fashion. On the same afternoon our traditional loony bin chums Richmond benefited from Sydney taking it easy in the last quarter, but only when they were already 130 points in front. Good sides had the green light to viciously maim mediocrities and both thrashed sides got what they deserved. I'd flirted with the 666 finals system, but imagine teams like this playing off to get into the finals. It should be a final seven this season anyway, let alone introducing more slop into the mix.

For only the second time in history we've played 10 consecutive losing seasons (1977 - 1986, which turned out ok), and what better venue at which to close our decade of terror? Just over five years ago we went there two weeks removed from finals calculations thinking we were on the way up and left as a pile of rubble. This time the program was accelerated, it only took a week from contender to pretender. All I wanted was a battling performance to take us into the off-season with something to remember the last two weeks by, it was not to be and you might as well fade to the credits at the final siren of the Hawthorn game. At least we can be fairly sure 111 (that's the score - not 'Ill' in Courier font) won't leave us with the same side-effects as its older sibling.

I'm struggling to blame the players because they were obviously physically and mentally shot last week (and considering how far off crucial players like Vince, Garlett and Hogan were in the second half of the season we did well to get as close to relative glory as we did) but unless you could suspend disbelief and imagine a Melbourne side playing with the same sort of ruthless precision as Geelong, the slaughterhouse made for unpleasant viewing.

Forcing us to judge the direction of the wind via premiership flags was novel and hurtful, and as it seemed to keep changing directions I won't hang Nathan Jones for his choice after winning the toss, but as they started piling goals on early it was clearly in their favour. Then, as the second quarter started it turned around to be in their favour again. 

Still had chances and did nothing with them, blaming atmospheric conditions for a 111 point loss is like blaming the umpires. The way we were playing it could have been a Casey Fields style 10 goal hurricane and it wouldn't have saved us, our forward structure remained in total disarray. How come Hogan can take any mark you like up the ground but he's got this obsession with having the ball kicked over his head inside 50? We love when he manhandles a defender but you can't rely on one trick all season. Can somebody point out that everyone in the league knows what he's up to and has since halfway through the year? It works alright on fast breaks, but when you're left in the situation we have been the last couple of weeks since play on was been abolished it's an open invitation for opposition defenders to pick off kicks.

If you can tell whether we're going to have a good day or not in the first couple of minutes the farce detector was spinning out of control from the first bounce. We had fun toppling them last season while they were having a gap year outside the eight, only for Patrick Dangerfield to roll into town and help shoot them straight back to the top again. What a luxury, and what a demolition job he did on us. We probably didn't have anyone capable of stopping him, but earlier in the season he might have been quelled. Now against an exhausted, demoralised outfit all but pointing at their wrists as if to indicate 'get this over with' he was dashing around swatting attempted tackles out of the way with contempt. When he went down clutching his shoulder I thought "well, at least we've found one way to influence the finals" only to completely forget about the 'injury' the moment the ball arrived in his vicinity then carry on slaughtering us.

With Gawn's taps completely useless for the second week in a row due to our midfield shuddering to a halt we didn't have much hope. Hawkins was getting such silver platter delivery that he was dashing off on leads and leaving Sizzle in his wake on the way to four first quarter goals. McDonald was pretty good (by our standard) for the rest of the game but he had no chance here. The only indignities we've avoided since 2007 have been failing to kick a goal and conceding 10 goals to one player. The first one was covered when we shambled forward against the run of play for vandenBerg to tie it at one goal each, the other looked in serious trouble when the Cats went straight down the other end for Hawkins' second - and by the end of the quarter he'd only just missed a fifth.

By then we were already in the middle of an evacuation. Since AVB's first goal we'd conceded five more and were playing with a 2013 style level of terror. Like the night we'd tied the scores at 6-6 against Essendon then lost by 148, an early goal was no indication of competitiveness. At least this time it was Round 23, not Round 2 so you could blame physical and mental fatigue - then not watch another game you really care about until late February. 

Physical issues aside you could also blame our lack of superstars, now stretching to more years than I care to remember. We've got the All-Australian ruckman (though if they need any reason to screw us the last fortnight will help), several promising kids and a couple of reliable midfielders, but what chance we ever get a player dominating at a level that scares the bejesus out of opponents before they even turn up? In the first half the season I thought Jack Viney was going to win the Brownlow, so that's something for the future. At the risk of going off half-cocked based on two weeks I bet Christian Petracca will be Melbourned before he can reach anything approaching this level of explosiveness.

With nobody able to find space - due to fatigue, Geelong's tactics, or a high degree of CBF - we were left hopefully kicking the ball down the ground just in case it landed with the right person. Gawn played like Jonathan Brown at Kardinia Park last year, but while he never gave in this time you can't tell me he wasn't feeling the toll of 25 straight games as the 95% ruckman. If Hogan stays our forward line will be overbalanced by adding a forward/ruckman, but we've got to try and find one. The kicks usually didn't land with one of ours, and often when they did that player would turn it over - leading to triumphant columns of Cats steaming towards goal while our defenders turned to each other as if to say "oh shit". In another unwelcome flashback to the Neeld Years, the backmen did reasonably well to keep the score down considering how much and how often the ball was going down there but we were still flattened.

By quarter time it was 38 points the difference and the already minimal enthusiasm I'd entered with was flat-lining. No need for anybody to apply a defibrillator and shout "clear!", we should have negotiated a 100 point loss and moved on. We've been known to throw caution to the wind and bolt back from such hopeless positions, but not in Round 23 against a premiership contender with the entire side grasping through flames and smoke for an emergency exit. If I'd driven there would have been serious consideration for writing-off my investment and listening to the rest on the way home. Like a total mug I stayed and watched us be ruthlessly humped like a small dog, but every time I turned around to look outside the ground during the last three quarters there was a steady stream of red and blue clad deserters doing the smart thing and pushing off.

It's cruel to put too many expectations on our players in the last round after a long season - I am still 1000% angrier about their capitulation last week - but they weren't even close to making a statement for the future. Everyone just wanted to get rid of the ball and make it somebody else's problem. In the first half we weren't too far behind in the traditionally useless inside 50 count, but the difference in delivery was astronomical. When it went down our end the forwards had no idea what they were doing. Playing Weideman was a worthwhile development opportunity in a bullshit game but other than being gifted a goal he struggled. At least now they've got an entire pre-season to work out who the forwards will be and get them working together. Then no doubt half of them will get injured two weeks in and we'll be back to scrambling for 30 goals a year between several makeshift options.

The Hogan saga continued in the second quarter. Since violently dismissing Zac Dawson in Darwin he's kicked 3.11 and I've got suspicions something unusual is going on behind the scenes. There were moments reminiscent of when he and Garlett teamed up torment Watts in the first game against Hawthorn as he was running around inside 50 demanding the ball and nobody would kick it to him. Eventually the frustration became too much and he was either yelling at people in the crowd or spewing venom at himself that made it look that way. We remain, as always, a mentally tormented outfit. Here's to Goodwin being less interested in meditation sessions and sensory deprivation tanks than hypnotism, sports psychology and men in white coats.

We got the first goal of the second quarter and kept them quiet for 10 minutes, but after Petracca won a free with one of his famous bearhug tackles then blew the kick with one of his equally famous shithouse set shots the word must have gone out from Chris Scott that one fringe player would be executed at half time if they didn't get on with it. They only got three more goals before half time, but it was at the expense of keeping us to a point. After already kicking three goals once this year we were staring at a dry weather version of the Sydney debacle. Even when we went to Kardinia Park at the depths of our despair in 2013 and played in pissing rain we kicked four - it was like a Heritage Round had been declared and we were the only ones who'd read the email.

There were chances, but like last week players couldn't find the middle ground between trying to work the ball to the line and thumping it into the arms of a defender. There's nothing wrong with having a speculative punt inside 30 metres, not from 60 out without looking to see where the forwards were. Then there were the struggles of Jeff Garlett. He's done well to pad his stats during junk time in his last two appearances, but has anyone ever suffered a bigger drop in form since signing a mid-year contract? During the second quarter he had one of the worst attempts at goal ever, trying to do a tricky roller from a ridiculous angle on the boundary and instead shinning it straight out on the full. We saw what he could do last year so I'm not writing him off, but whatever's wrong with him physically or mentally (and if it's the latter I don't expect he'll get much of a hand considering our track record with psychology) I hope it's cured in the off-season because while 29 goals would have won you the award a few years ago, he's finished the year in free-fall.

After only going a couple of goals further behind by half time I was happier to stay around in the hope that we might break even with a few cheap goals to give us something to take away and ponder through summer. We got the cheap goals, but not until the last quarter when the Cats were thrashing them in at 186 pace down the other end. That certainly did give us something to think about for the next few months while Jake Melksham is furiously demanding a trade back to Essendon. Ironically, kicking three last quarter goals made it one of our best since Queen's Birthday. Shame we were shipping 10 at the other end and rapidly losing our percentage of over 100 that we'd guarded since Round 4. Goodbye four and a half months of enjoying the minor victory of scoring more than we'd conceded.

We could put out a DVD called The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Footy Teams, and one of them is coming out after half time playing like everyone had just been forced to run across hot coals while being sprayed with sewage. Three goals in the opening minutes showed that there was no brave defensive effort to be had, we were going to fold like an umbrella and end the season in disgrace. It was no way to send Roos off, but he and the coaching team weren't entirely blameless. He said players like Brayshaw and Salem who'd had a break didn't look as tired as the rest. Well shit, really? Good guy, enjoyed his reign better than the last one but I'm not judging how effective it was until I see where we go next.

After it looked like the score was heading towards triple figures at three quarter time the Cats settled down again, and while we only scored four points we didn't concede another goal. This caused the locals to get bored and start pissfarting around like they were in a nightclub. At least they didn't bring shame to themselves by doing the wave like Sydney fans the same afternoon. 

If they'd pulled the pin in the last term we might have escaped with 'just' a 60 point loss with a lengthy list of excuses. Instead, they threw decency out the window by kicking 10 goals. Best of luck to them I wasn't expecting and didn't want any favours. Do you ever dream at night about following a team that ruthlessly crushes a side like that? The first thing our players should do when they come back from their break is watch a version of this game that deletes every possession we had and solely concentrates on how the Cats went about unpicking us. Either that or watch a Sydney highlights package to determine how a side with such a gigantic cast of randoms can win the minor premiership. I'm sure this is a good side in the making, time to teach them how to play like one.

I've seen a lot of 100 point losses over the years, but can't think of one that moved me less. When you've been 75 points worse off at the same ground (and there is still nothing that can explain how we were as far behind at half time in 2011 as full time here) it's hard to get truly upset. For the entire second half I stood there not saying a word, no yelping in anxiety or nervously making irrational demands of players that they couldn't hear from 100 metres away. I clapped a few intercept marks and remained unmoved by our goals. I'm not comparing my lot to the players who trudge up and down the country, but having started my live viewing in Craigieburn on Sunday 6 March I was mentally broken by last week. This was attendance by obligation only.

As the margin rapidly pressed towards triple figures I started to feel some anxiety for the first time since the first quarter, a thumping defeat was one thing but 100+ point defeats carry a much higher psychological weight than those that just miss. I didn't think there was much hope for us when the famous margin was breached, but we briefly got it back to 99 for a couple of minutes before normal service resumed. Defenders started queuing up to kick goals, and if a train had blown its horn on the way past it would have been good to shut the game down and go home early. We had to sit through more goals as the locals went off as if they were winning a meaningful game instead of raining punches down on a cadaver. Once I'd come to terms with us losing by the ton it just washed over me, no anger or sadness just the comfortably numb state of late 2013 where all you want to do is get this shit over with and find out what comes next.

We've been terrible in the second half of the season for years, but after the three consecutive wins I thought that things had progressed far enough that we wouldn't go into the off-season soul searching. This is a highly accurate summation of the situation:
I moved on quickly. After an hour on the train grinding my teeth with anxiety about what's going to happen next year if a) we suffer injuries, b) Goodwin has NFI, or c) players we think are the future go backwards, the scope of our Icarus style collapse hit home when I got off the train to see North fans looking like they were going to a funeral. They know they're wasting everybody's time in September, but after meekly threatening them we're now going to finish below both St Kilda and Port in 11th. At least Gold Coast only get pick eight from us after we'd all stressed that we'd end up finishing last and getting nothing for it.

In the end, we finished exactly where you might have expected midway through the year, only with sky high expectations from beating the Hawks instead of what would have been gentle fist-pumping for a battling win over the Blues. All I wanted was mid-table mediocrity (9th - 12th) so it's unfair to move the goalposts based on the Hawthorn win, but the last two weeks have left a sour taste that I hope is just late season anxiety and not a sign of things to come. Obviously, I care if we win a flag, but understanding that it's extremely hard all I ask for is to give it at least one massive bash.

It was a fitting end for a long, strange, often depraved and completely stupid decade. From the waning days of the Daniher glory era, to the ill-feted Baileyball revolution which met its demise at the hands of office politics and Neeld and Craig going around like they were a 70s cop duo called Plunge & Plummet. It ended with Roos giving us the same benefits as plastic surgery – it cost a fortune, was moderately painful at times, and nobody knows if it'll backfire in the future but it made us feel a little better about ourselves.

Stat My Bitch Up
Since first going to Kardinia Park in 1999 I'm now 2-10 (Not including two pre-season games, one abandoned and one where we lost by heaps and Trent Zomer played) for a total score of difference of minus 561.

Geelong 210.161.1421 defeated Melbourne 124.116.860

Now I know how South and West Australians feel watching us every year.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jayden Hunt
4 - Christian Salem
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Stretch, vandenBerg and Viney who were in the melange for one vote. They didn't deserve it, but neither did most of the names above them.

Heartbreak for Maximum, pipped at the last minute by the twin factors of fatigue kicking him in the face and Geelong's midfield hoovering up all his taps. Nathan Jones confirms his status as king of the decade (and of this being yet another midfielders award) by winning his 5th Jakovich. In the minors, there's a boilover in the Hilton as Jayden Hunt flies home at the last opportunity to snatch a share of the award - the first tie in any award since Nathan Carroll and Ryan Ferguson shared the 2005 Seecamp.

Congratulations to all the winners (including Jack Watts, winner of the Paul Prymke Plate for Pre Season Performance) and to everyone who pocketed a vote. To those who didn't - try harder next time.

47 - Nathan Jones
46 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
43 - Jack Viney
32 - Jack Watts
22 - Bernie Vince
19 - Neville Jetta (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Dom Tyson
14 - Jesse Hogan
12 - Jayden Hunt, Christian Petracca (CO-WINNERS: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
11 - Tom McDonald
10 - Clayton Oliver
8 - Christian Salem, Billy Stretch
4 - Ben Kennedy, Dean Kent
3 - Sam Frost, Aaron vandenBerg
2 - Angus Brayshaw, Tomas Bugg, Jeff Garlett, James Harmes, Matt Jones, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Cameron Pedersen

The perfect season is complete (no finals in this competition), our Roos heavy effort heaved in the breeze and looked like it was about to burst before the players could run through it (as opposed to the players running through it then bursting) but survived and won a comfortable victory over a home town effort that had about four different fonts and the most bizarre & symbol you'll ever see. Why not just write 'and'? Dees 26-1-0 for the season.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I expect either of the last quarter Garlett goals would be popular, but stuff both of them I want Angus Brayshaw in the second, refusing to give up in a contest for 15 metres while grappling with an opponent right up his ginger, before soccering through with a dainty touch. Like a Jeremy Howe screamer, the impact was lessened by us being miles behind at the time, but it's a well-deserved nomination. For the weekly prize he wins a trip to Pizza Land - the holders of Geelong's worst corporate logo.

That means it's congratulations to Jack Watts for taking the overall award for his set shot against Gold Coast. For degree of difficulty it was average, for execution it was a perfect 10 - and without it we wouldn't have even been able to dream about the great finish that was eventually left splattered across the 77.2km from the MCG to Kardinia Park.

Crowd Watch
I didn't expect a cultural afternoon on the stairs at Kardinia Park but what odds the most offensive characters being Melbourne fans? I thought our lot were a bit more cultured than hurling a stream of homophobic slurs at an opposition player in the same way people used to do in regards to race before that was banned. After telling a kid to fuck off last week I'm not going to take the moral high ground on swearing at the footy but if somebody had called me out on that I'd have taken my right whack. Thumbs down to the locals for being so casual about our challenge that they couldn't even be bothered to suggest the dickheads involve look directly up to where the three premiership flags won by that particular player were fluttering.

Bonus points to the guy who sent up outside South Geelong station after the game trying to sell bootleg Geelong hoodies off a blanket. He must have been desperate to his remaining inventory before the end of the year because he tried to foist one on me even though by that point I quite clearly had no interest in a) Geelong or b) life. If he'd had memorabilia celebrating great GFC/MFC thrashings at the place I'd have probably bought one.

After an hour of hearing the blandest supporter chat ever on the way there, I had the poor luck to wind up with one of them sitting behind me on the way home too. This involved another Forest Gump style run through of his life story to a stranger, before passing on the same slanderous allegations about what James Hird's been up to in France that one of the other randoms had told him the first time. I'd have moved, except the rest of the carriage was loaded with people randomly yelling things like "Teabagging!" as I contemplated getting out at Lara Station and walking.

Next Week (incorporating off-season watch)
Today begins that traditional nightmare six months where I repay all the time I've spent away from my family watching footy by doing whatever my wife wants every single weekend. At least whatever I do it'll come with a significantly lower blood pressure. Now that we're in the end game for the book - complete with its appropriately sad ending - I'll be spending the next month or so banging away on edits but will also be back for our traditional End of Year Spectacular sometime before (or possibly during) the Grand Final. Then there will be the traditional posting lull between October and early February when Demonbracket kicks off.

Next Year
The list situation is becoming clearer now. Speculating on retirements/delistings only rather than random trades (say, with Freo?) I'm predicting the following departures.

Senior: Dawes, Grimes, Terlich
Rookie: King, Michie, White

So that's new contracts for M. Jones, Newton, Pedersen, and Wagner. In comes old mate from Essendon (unless he decides to stay there based on what he saw on Saturday) which requires at least one more to go from the senior list so we can have three picks in the national draft. I'm not ruling out Garland retiring/asking for a trade and am convinced ANB will be going elsewhere. Of the new contact players above I could see Jones or Newton getting the chop/re-rookie treatment that relaunched Neville Jetta's Seecamp Medal winning career.

The last two weeks haven't shaken my confidence in our overall direction (other than a high suspicion that no matter what players we have the veil of negativity is never far away) but I'm worried about treading water next year if we suffer a spate of injuries. Let's all vow not to go right over the top and make idiots of ourselves if Goodwin's reign doesn't instantly propel us into the eight.

I'm not usually one to muckrake or to post hot gossip, but after seeing the slurry served up today I'm going to petulantly give you my best Ballbag Barrett style exclusive. Remember when The Hamburglar got dumped for six weeks in the middle of the season? A good source suggests it was because he fell out with Roos due to an overly cocky attitude. More important there was a moment early in that exile where some mid-week locker room antics at AAMI Park grated on a more experienced player so much that Mr X slapped the piss out of him. That was one moment where his Matrix style moves failed him. We hope he took something out the experience, like when I was being a little shit and mum give me a backhander then threw my Ravishing Rick Rude action figure out the window of the car in 1992.

Was it worth it?
No, no, no and a thousand times now. Last week felt like a horrible waste of time, but at least I willingly went to the ground with hope (before it was squeezed out) then walked in my front door 45 minutes after it was over. This time I had no interest in going, had a shit day once I got there and took two hours to get home. It was a horrid, hateful waste of time and I never want to hear about it again.

Final thoughts
For me, a few hours ago this decade came to an end.... but in the words of Ted Kennedy - the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

Regrets? I've had a few.

Sunday 21 August 2016

Blue Murder

How very Melbourne, to be halfway up the ladder then fall off. To take all talk of a miracle finish to the season that you'd still be thinking about on your deathbed, tie it to an old stove and throw it in the harbour.

After several months total over the last few years where workplace productivity ground to halt as the result of crushing defeats it was about time that I got a full week to panic over upcoming results instead. All we needed was for Sydney to beat North in Hobart and to avoid cocking up the biggest free kick ever against a side who'd just lost nine in a row - with a side serving of tension about percentage - and we'd be alive next Saturday. We didn't deserve to make the finals, and we'd have undoubtedly been pantsed in the first week if we got there but we'd have been a chance. Then disaster.

The tension woke me up at 5.30am two days in a row, and continued through the game until now where my jaw is so tightly clenched that I expect to wake up in the morning with a crushing headache but not be able to chuck a sickie because everyone will think it's just because of the result. We got the fourth leg of the Mighty Ducks finish when Sydney withstood two comebacks and an interest in punting the ball straight at opposition defenders not seen since us on Queen's Birthday last year to beat North. With GWS about to finish in the top four it was NQR to be investing so much emotion in the still unlikely fifth, sixth and seventh legs of the MDF - but given that beating Carlton was supposed to be the easiest of the three it pointed to at least six days more of belief. Don't trust anyone.

All I asked for was to beat a side that had lost nine games in a row so we could end the #fistedforever era, no matter what happened next week. 10 years would have been a good time to switch off the analogue signal, move to digital and try to put our various disgraces behind us as we moved to the Mid-Table Mediocrity era, but here we are empty handed and broken-hearted again. It's not even about finals (well, not 100%), even if North had won yesterday I'd still feel the potent mix of shame and anger at losing yet another game as red hot favourites.

I'd even held my bile when they unnecessarily tinkered with a winning team by making three changes. What a time to give Viv Michie another go as a defender when he'd shown stuff all in three appearances this year. Statistically he wasn't bad, but if there was a way to rate overall attacking impact he'd barely move the needle. Given that we didn't even bother to tease picking Grimes in the extended team on Thursday I expect he's told us "I'll be right at Casey thanks", and they might have been wary of Salem after missing half the year but even Matt Jones would have made more impact than Vivian. I can't see why Harmes had to go out in the first place, he hasn't been great in the three wins but obviously the structure had something about it when we were knocking over Hawthorn and winning in Adelaide for the second time in 15 years. Garlett was an enforced change with a mysterious skin infection (probably caused by a racist Port fan throwing rotten fruit at him from over the fence), but while I was originally accepting of a Weideman/Pedersen switch did nobody consult the Bureau of Meteorology forecast when picking the side on Thursday night?

The issue of setting out for a crucial game with a Watts, Hogan, Weid triple terror forward line who'd never played one competitive game together was one thing but in the wet it was madness. For the third time this year we entered a game knowing that at least some of it would be played in the wet and didn't do anything to try and change the way we played. I've lost confidence in Dawes but at least the other two times we've tried it with an experienced, premiership player and not a second gamer. What were they thinking? Who knows if either of Carlton's late outs were enforced, and who cares - you're not on the bloody honour system to only alter the side on the day of the game if somebody suffers a legitimate illness or injury. Even worse that this time Casey was due to play in Geelong the same day, so we had access to bringing any of Garland, Pedersen or Harmes in from the emergencies. Having two talls in reserve with heavy rain forecast, did they pick this team out of a hat? Still, I tried to stuff my reservations deep inside and hope that everything would turn out ok. Ever been in a situation where you have a sixth sense something terrible is going to happen but you miraculously emerge from it unscathed? That was me from 6.25pm Thursday until 1.25pm Sunday.

Due to poor research I had no idea my train line was out for track works, leading to a mad scramble and illegal parking to get to the MCG before the first bounce. I got there just in time for the Blues shooting fireworks as their side ran through the banner, accompanied by people running around waving flags with the premiership years on them. It was well over the top for a team that has done nothing for 20 years, but it must have had some impact on our players who were spooked by the pyrotechnics and smoke as if they were passing under the Do Lung Bridge. I though the worst that could happen would be losing one or two players to smoke inhalation, but it got so much worse.

It was instantly obvious from the first bounce that we weren't on, like when we played the Blues last year and Essendon twice over two years. It was sickening how similar the Round 2 loss was to the one we gifted Essendon at the end of 2015, and this was equally revoltingly as our late 2015 farce against Carlton. We went in as favourite, they had late changes (two in this case, just to taunt us by making their starting lineup even more anonymous), we played a casual first quarter which allowed them to set up a match-winning lead and didn't do more than nibble away at it for the rest of the day. The Blues must have had last year's game on repeat, with Brendan Bolton wearing an even wider grin than usual as he realised we'd probably stuff it up again. We don't have any videos on file of us playing well in the wet, so the least we could have done was watch the first quarter of the West Coast game where we at least scared them shitless with pressure before dying from a wasteful forward line.

The difference was then there was nothing on the line except pride - and we didn't have any of that left anyway - whereas this time a win would leave the door open for a 1987 style miracle finish or a 1976-esque final round horror scenario. I already thought we'd give a little yelp then lose comfortably to the Cats, but that didn't matter because I just wanted to have a ticket in the lottery. For god's sake Chapter 23 of the Mighty Ducks DVD is called "A Shot At A Dream", what more could you ask for? In his last MCG press conference Roos was very keen to point out that the team didn't get ahead of themselves thinking about finals, and I can believe that because recent history has shown us they don't need top eight implications to play miserably against struggling sides.

After previous experience feeling cheated after starting favourites I tried to take to this game with a degree of suspicion, after all hadn't the Blues almost toppled Sydney and West Coast during their losing streak? Even after Sydney blew the chance to thrash the Roos and make our job easy I still wasn't thinking about the percentage implications. I did think we'd win though, how could you not? Even a slight, weedy victory that we all instantly labelled the "worst ever" would have given us a few days to worry about the permutations for next week. If the changes hadn't worried me then their lineup featuring the most unheralded selection of players since Leigh Wardell-Johnson and the 1995 Fremantle Dockers really gave cause for concern. God knows who 75% of them are, but they perfectly executed a plan against a side that weren't up for it so good luck to them.

All I wanted was to get to Kardinia Park with it in our hands. Victory by any margin there was outrageously unlikely, but a win by anywhere between 1 and 999 points would have seen me exit the train at Spencer Street, turn left and enter Etihad Stadium as the most passionate Greater Western Sydney Giants fan ever. In the spirit of apartheid South Africa declaring the members of visiting sports teams 'Honorary Whites' I would have even considered $cully an 'Honorary Good Bloke' for the time in which he could influence our future. Now they're a bunch of arseholes again all we've got to look forward to in a season that had spent a fortnight promising 'something' before spiralling into disaster is him enjoying the final knockout blow by lifting the premiership cup.

After five of the seven legs of the miracle were ticked off and the next leg was up to us I cursed the weather report suggesting a 90% chance of rain, knowing it was likely to slow down our undoubted quality advantage. After intermittent rain throughout the morning the showers returned later, but what actually slowed down any quality advantage was Carlton turning up to play from the first bounce while our lot looked like they weren't particularly concerned. The choke was on immediately when Gawn's first ruck contest only ended in the Blues going forward and kicking a goal - the first act in the crippling stranglehold Bryce Gibbs and the uncrowned 2015 Rising Star Patrick Cripps had over us when the game was in the balance. Both racked up untold possessions in the first half while we practically stood around giving them a rousing ovation,

Deep down I was still concerned about percentage, even as I simultaneously knew we were probably going to stuff this up, but conceding the first goal didn't have to be fatal. Remember, the first step was getting four competition points. From what became a neutral perspective when I started frantically trying to disown the Dees I liked the Blues high degree of niggle. It was a step up from Port unsuccessfully trying to go the knuckle last week and being laughed at, including Dylan Buckley shoving Bugg on his arse after the opening goal. What we needed at this point was for somebody who knew they weren't crucial next week to take a stand and belt a Carlton player but nobody was interested.

We got the goal back when Tom McDonald - playing his third straight week of cock-up free football - devised a blueprint for all future attacks (available unused from the Demon Shop) by whipping a long kick to a pack where Hogan's unrealistic half attempt at a mark cracked open the space for vandenBerg to crumb. Doesn't matter how you get it, but it was telling that even as the goal went through Hogan was busy cracking the shits to himself about missing the grab. He did give away a freebie goal later, so I'm not accusing him of being hungry to a Steve Johnson level (and nobody would care if he was regularly kicking goals) but you do tend to get worried about spending a million bucks a year on him. I suppose we have to take the risk, but I will admit yelling "make me an offer Freo" to nobody in particular when he missed that crucial shot in the last.

AVB's goal was the springboard to better things for one team, and it wasn't us. As part of a near total dominance of the centre Carlton went straight out of the middle to reply within 30 seconds and we were rapidly going rotten. Jones and Viney recovered to play almost as good a game as any of our players, but if anybody could have got near the drop of the ball from the middle in the first quarter it would have helped. Even secondary bounces would have slowed the Blues down, not that we were having much luck there either as they successfully implemented the third man up tactic that has done us in several times this year to neutralise Gawn. And how did we tackle that? By doing the same thing all day long with equally disappointing results.

After so much success playing on quickly all year we played a weird hybrid of trying to do that without options, standing still hoping somebody else would run for the pass or handballing it around in circles until we turned it over. At three goals to one down with no indication that we were going to arrive and being participating any time soon Vince continued a month that has more often than not been diabolical by throwing in a classic 'play on with an opponent right behind you' inside defensive 50. They missed the kick but that said it all about where we were going. Somewhere Brad Scott was pumping his hands in the air and celebrating an Olympic themed Steven Bradbury style escape from last round drama. You're welcome North fans.

That was the point where we settled down and stopped gifting the Blues opportunities, when they were already three goals in front in a game they won by four, and over the next 10 minutes we had a genuine bash but continually necked ourselves with an overdose of dinky handballs. For once the "JUST KICK IT!" crowd had a point, until players starting doing that and only found a nest of Blues. Carlton's early enthusiasm and commitment to driving our players bonkers with physicality had evaporated and they stopped kicking goals, but we looked as likely to get one own as in the earliest days of the Roos regime. We scored 4.6.30 in his second game, and were lucky to get much more than that in his second last. Even when we kicked the last of the term it was thanks to a Carlton turning the ball over from their attacking 50 into the middle of the ground where for once our unwillingness to give the ball to the first option eventually worked and allowed Hunt to dash down the middle and kick it (Dwayne Russell: "That's one of the goals of the year!" You flange, that's not even his best). Have you noticed how he always has one massive dash in the first quarter then a maximum one or two for the rest of it? It was back to the bad times where if things don't go our way we fall to pieces.

After arriving late I thought I was well in the clear of having to contend with people, but there were unfortunate scenes when even later comers filtered around me in the upper-Ponsford (which Carlton had renamed after one of their players because it was their home game. A sleazy move, but one we should totally rip off for next year's mandatory Docklands game) and I ended up perpetuating the stereotype of the ugly footy fan by telling a lippy child aged 10-12 to fuck off. He'd already elbowed me in the head once running up and down the stairs, and when he turned for a laugh after Carlton's last goal I disgraced myself royally. To their credit the parents took it without comment, though given they were letting the little shit run around and do what he wanted it would have been ironic to try and introduce discipline to total strangers. Nevertheless I thought I'd better move before I ended up wearing a two-for-one life ban with the Port fan.

In the interest of trying anything up to and including sorcery I moved to the exact spot as when we pulled off the stirring comeback against Essendon in 2014. Of course that didn't work, but I was feeling such a high degree of sporting confusion and deflation that anything felt like a good idea. We had a 15 point deficit to contend with before we could even start thinking about chipping away at North's percentage lead, but Hunt's goal felt like it should have been the circuit breaker (CLICHE!) to make everyone realise that this wasn't just another Round 22 to be endured. Even if most of them were probably exhausted from going non-stop from the first pre-season game (related: now that we know we have some good players and can win sometimes how about playing some kids in the practice matches next year?) all we needed was one more day then nobody would have had an issue with them crumbling. Instead it was a less surprising flashback to Round 2, where Carlton players bounced around unhindered while we got the ball and had to go around in circles until turning it over due to lack of free targets to kick to.

After taking 15 minutes to get going in the first quarter you might have thought that they'd shout all the right things in the huddle and vow solemnly to come out after the break playing like a team with something on the line. Then for the first half of the second quarter they put on the same pissweak performance as the first. I put more effort into supporting the Sydney Swans, including a rousing rendition of their theme song, than our players did for the first 50 minutes. Serves me right for flirting with other teams and considering the prospect of forming a temporary, unholy alliance with GWS. As our players spent much of the day falling on their arse the Blues were enjoying moments of surprising delight like a player being slung around in a tackle, throwing the ball on his boot and having it dart directly to a guy standing on his own at the top of the goalsquare.

Somewhere in all this Jack Watts was struggling to see after being punted in the face and Dean Kent was hobbling off looking like he'd suffered serious injury - but maybe this was our time to finally conquer the curse of letting other sides improve when they had a numerical disadvantage. At nearly five goals down, as even I was contemplating storming out and rocking the Kaiser wagon as part of a polite MFC style riot, we launched a mini-comeback. Hogan reappeared to get one and Oliver got justice as last for the Cyril Rioli debacle by milking a 50 after a mark from almost the same spot to cut the margin to 14.

Then our impressive commitment to shooting ourselves in the foot returned. Hopefully everyone's forgotten about the Gold Coast game so I can go back to complaining about vandenBerg not being a forward, and the final act that should see him playing as a midfielder with us or Casey next season came when he marked on the line and instead of kicking it himself tried to handball to Gawn, only for the sheer drop between Maximum's hand and boot to allow Carlton to not only stop him kicking a goal but register any score at all. Gawn shouldn't have called for it with his back turned to the square, but he's got more credits in the bank so I'm willing to forgive him. Shortly after we managed to go from Watts gathering in the forward pocket to Jones being done holding the ball on the edge of the 50 on the opposite side within 10 seconds. Jack was doing the right thing trying to centre for Weideman all on his own directly in front, but the end result said it all about how we were going.

All the while we were being belted in the umpiring - enjoying the odd scenario where we'd kicked a goal from a 50 but hadn't won a single free in the half. To this I said - to nobody - "well if we ever got near the fucking ball we might get an opportunity". My only hope was that in the spirit of the West Coast game there'd be a series of outrageous levellers in the last quarter when the game was on the line that would unfairly carry us to victory. We didn't even get that. At two goals down in the last minute I could handle the disasters which had cost us two goalscoring opportunities, until we conceded one. Given that it came from a free it was a great result for the people who were trying to set up a "we were robbed" storyline, only for the total ineptitude of the rest of our play to relegate that to a footnote.

Sensing impending doom I further relocated myself to the back row with nobody within 30 metres where I could stand up, go right over the top and disgrace my family name. When I had a moment of clarity to think about anything other than how angry I was over the first half I realised that you can very easily sneak from the pleb section into the MCC, as in the very last row the pointy fence is replaced by a rounded pipe. I resolved to wait until it didn't matter if security guards carried me out and try it, then got so upset in the last quarter that the idea was forgotten. Skip the 20 year waiting list and have a go yourself sometime. No matter which side of the fence you're on you'll be able to spot a shithouse Melbourne performance.

When we went forward in the first minute of the third quarter and Watts marked right in front I thought "right, this is it" but he botched a sitter from a similar spot to where he missed in the first game against Collingwood. After a wonderful year it was an ugly way to drag us away from the pot of gold and back towards 10th. He had a poor game, but I'm not going to hold it against him solely, if you send a letter of complaint to GUILTY - c/o Melbourne FC, PO Box 254, East Melbourne 8002 a dozen people on and off-field will rush to open it.

To complicate matters after finishing a week of self-torment with a mad dash to the ground there was a moment shortly after where I suddenly felt quite ill. At one point there were a few brief moments of terror where I thought I'd shat myself, but fortunately my arsehole was clenched as tight as my jaw from anger and hatred so everything was being kept neatly inside. The last time in my life I'd suffered such indignity due to illness was after another bubble bursting loss in Round 7, 1998 so the Dees had some form causing chaos for my innards. I guess we'll discover tomorrow if it was due to a legitimate illness or my version of David Parkin spewing in a bucket through nerves.

There was still plenty of time to win it, and when we held the Blues out long enough to get the first goal of the quarter I tried to convince myself that happy (tolerable anyway) days were on their way again. It should be noted that the goal came from Gawn refusing to get involved with the handballing frenzy in the wet and just pinging it long to Hogan, who then bombed it towards the goal. Watching him kicking to the spot where he should also be standing has been one of my key frustrations of this season, but at least he held a mark and gave his teammates an opportunity. We tried to stuff it up by fumbling around with more handballs before Bugg eventually kicked it, but for the third time we were knocking on the door of a popular comeback. Then immediately from the next bounce the Blues used two kicks off the ground (wet weather footy, well I never) to set up some bloke to boot the reply through traffic and I delivered a lusty kick to the chair on my right.

With our attack running like a 1982 Daihatsu Charade again we had plenty of players averse to having a ping from inside 50, but lots willing to lob the ball at the goal when only Carlton defenders were present. I've hated Garlett's second half of the season but at least he would have had a shot while in the open instead of trying to improve his angle or throw another handball. On the other hand the Blues were kicking long to their forwards (Bolton - not just a man so cheery that he makes you happy just looking at him, but also the KO winner of the coaching dual) who were operating in enough space that they could run and jump at the ball. By the time Liam Jones got in the queue for Kingsley nominations to take it back out to a four goal margin I was nearly inconsolable. With my internal organs rapidly turning to mush I should have walked out on the spot, because while I might have missed ANB kicking the reply I'd also have avoided seeing Carlton get another goal in the dying seconds of the quarter. Remember when we used to use Watts or Hogan to stop the opposition kicking goals in the last two minutes of a quarter? Like, last week? Probably wouldn't have mattered when he was kicking into an open goalsquare.

When that made it an even four goals we were all but dead. Which made it even more frustrating that this untrustworthy group of individuals spent the last quarter thumping shots at goal for 1.6 while the rest of Australia thumped Google looking for the Melbourne version of that BEEF STOCK - CHICKEN STOCK - LAUGHING STOCK meme. Gawn kicked the first goal to tease something special, with the umpires helpfully refusing to check the video even though Carlton players were insistent he'd hit the post, but two minutes later Max was down the other end having some unknown ruckman marking over him for the reply. From the four minute mark of the quarter nobody kicked another goal. Hogan continued the self-fulfilling prophecy of kicking set shots like he'd rather be doing anything else in the world (guess what, you don't have any options that are going to pay you $1,000,000 a season so get it right) and Petracca did likewise straight after, as any hope we had of overhauling them floated away.

Until we needed more goals than there were minutes left I held a childlike hope in my heart but eventually had to concede that we'd been out-coached, out-played and out-hustled by a team who won six games in seven weeks in the middle of the year and none in the other 13. That'd we'd stood back and watched while an almost entirely different cast of randoms to last year turned us over in the first quarter again. As a rule you should never get so stressed about sports, but I tell you what I could have had a little cry in frustration if I hadn't spent the whole game releasing the tension by screaming and hitting things. My putrefying organs told a different story. The rain knocked off the scheduled kick-to-kick session (which should have been replaced by handball-to-handball), further screwing over any Melbourne supporting kid who'd come to the game looking for fun and nobody was going home with any happy memories of the day except Carlton fans and the permanently aroused Dwayne Russell.

Our marketing department probably breathed a sigh of relief, having booked a date at Crown Palladium for the Best and Fairest just days before the finals were due to kick off then having to include a disclaimer that "the date will be changed if the club reaches the finals". As event management professionals I'm sure they had all contingencies covered, but given that at best we wouldn't have known we were making the eight until 10pm next Saturday just how close to an event can you reschedule a major function like this? Good on our players for considering the stress this would cause the office staff and playing accordingly. Incidentally in trying to work out what date it was I Googled 'melbourne fc 2016 best and fairest' and the closest result I could find was a page of news on the 2013 event - featuring a top five placegetters photo of Colin Sylvia, Nathan Jones, Colin Garland, Matt Jones and Margaret Terlich. That's unlikely to help get anyone who's wavering about booking for this year's event over the line - even if Terlich is likely to show up dressed as Jack The Ripper.

At the final siren I just sat in the back row for 20 minutes, not because my legs no longer worked like Essendon 2013 but to properly feel the pain of violently popped expectation. Given there's nothing I can do to make sure this happens again it was completely futile, but try telling that to the other three lone males who were still in place and refusing to move even after I'd come to my senses and decided to leave. I won't be back until our first game next year, hopefully my footprint will still be on section Q36, row MM, seat 26.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Tom McDonald
4 - Neville Jetta
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Nathan Jones
--- against my better judgement ---
1 - Jesse Hogan

Apologies to none.

There were three, then afterwards there were still three. The man who has never won before has the advantage but with a shitfest projected next Saturday you wouldn't rule out the pair with a lengthy track record of performing in terrible circumstances. Could I please request that the contenders make it very clear which order the votes should go in to avoid me having to make a difficult decision while sitting on the roof of a diesel powered train wondering why there are no overhead wires to grab.

In the minors Neville Jetta is now officially the winner of the Seecamp - Bernie Vince might take me to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to argue that he shouldn't have been disqualified for excessive midfield time but bad luck, after the last month he should be happy that his votes aren't going in reverse. The battle for the Hilton comes down to the last day, with Petracca vs Oliver the main event and Hunt a chance of stealing a share of the prize with a BOG.

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

Not interested. Dees win - too much ghostly white around the letters on Carlton's one even if they went all out to try and get a result in this segment by putting on a college football style extravaganza. If our cheersquad had put in the same performance as the players they'd have unveiled a roll of toilet paper with a slogan written in texta and expected to get the nod by default. Dees 25-1-0 for the season.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
What a rubbish field of contenders - Jayden Hunt wins by default for his big dash. Just as I declared Watts the clubhouse leader for the casual finisher against Gold Coast he goes and has an even casualer (?) crucial miss here but I regret nothing - we have enjoyed a wonderful run by our standards since that day, and without his ice cold finish none of it would have happened. With one round to go - and a high possibility that we will not kick a goal - the medal is in his grasp.

Crowd Watch
Other than the kid I told to do one there wasn't much happening, but I knew I'd gone too far with the lusty kick to the seat when I glanced over a minute later, saw security guards slowly making their way across the top level of the Ponsford Stand and thought "oh shit, I'm in trouble here". Of course they didn't care and were just on their usual rounds but I was already pre-preparing my defence statement of "how do you know I actually connected with the chair?" as if that would have made any difference to them kicking me out. In the end it's a pity they didn't, I might have been saved a quarter and a half of watching complete shit.

Media Watch
To my great shame I was listening to Triple M, and as the commentators were showing more interest in that than the battering they were paid to talk about Brian Taylor declared Wayne Carey their UFC correspondent because "he's done a bit of that in the past himself". To dead silence you could almost hear the sound of Wayne's arms waving around to say "for god's sake man shut up".

Next Week
I can tell you I've got very little interest in standing on a concrete slab at Kardinia Park next Saturday afternoon, and thought about throwing my ticket into the same incinerator that was previously reserved for the #fistedforever hashtag. But realistically I'd be there even if we were 0-21 so some of us may as well make a big effort in the last couple of weeks if the players won't or can't. I will catch three hours' worth of trains, probably stand in the rain and hate every minute of it.

You'd like to think that with a win guaranteeing them at least top four they'll be happy enough with that - but we do have quite the track record of sending demoralised sides to Geelong to be slaughtered, and oh dear they are roughly 120 point wins of percentage away from Sydney and Adelaide. Either way we'll lose by lots, I will get to Spencer Street, walk directly to my car and probably nut any North fan who tries to make a 'funny' comment on the way past.

IN: Dunn, Garlett, Harmes
OUT: Michie, vandenBerg, Vince (omit)
LUCKY: Bugg, Neal-Bullen
UNLUCKY: Harmes, Kennedy, Pedersen + all the other fallen big names

Regulation book plug segment
In a week where the word count regrettably dipped below War and Peace I also lost my big ending. So fuck you very much to everyone involved. So ashamed of being involved that I'm not even going to link and tell you to buy it (but I have the first draft of the cover and will be emailing it to everyone has pre-ordered later in the week where feelings have settled and I don't get 150 responses telling me to get fucked) but we'll get back to the big sell next week. Looks like last day for orders will be around a week after the Grand Final.

Was it worth it?
In no way, and less so than any game since the last time we completely stuffed up what should have been a morale boosting thrashing against them. Jesus Christ, all I asked after 171 home and away losses in a decade was for one big performance to give us real hope before next year. We should still be hopeful because we're heading in the right direction, but this was a last kicking of the corpse.

Final thoughts
I drove home dangerously, ate two KitKats as comfort food and whenever I stopped at a traffic light and had time to think about what had just happened screamed things like "WHY?" at the roof of the car. For at least one more year we remain hard headed and solid fisted.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Talent plus attitude equals dollars

What a week it was for feeling like real people. A week where footy meant something other than being a placeholder for some distant tilt at respectability. The chances of us overhauling North for eighth spot are still only estimated at 3.9%, but before the Gold Coast game they were 0.1% so as long as the miracle finish is a chance of happening I reserve the right to embrace the prospect of us unexpectedly putting the #fistedforever era to bed. There is a minority theory that it's too early for us to make the finals, and I reject it entirely. We are not Richmond, slipping into eighth and losing in the first round will be the making of us not our doom. Even if you feel that way please admit that deep down you know Nathan Jones leading a team out for the national anthem - even at some irregular shithole like Skoda Stadium - will lead to a massive spike in the birth rate nine months later.

For the first time in recent history I spent a day hanging on the results of other games like my life depended on it - and this time it had nothing to do with equations of how we could get better draft picks. What a day to have to go to a kiddie birthday party. I nearly honked the car horn in traffic when Hawthorn went 40-0 up against North, then snuck into the toilet to check the progress score and nearly hurled my phone when I discovered the margin was back to 13. The Hawks did the right thing in the end, the first of three legs of the trifecta required to keep us afloat.

Then we needed St Kilda to lose. The score ticker in the bottom right of screen during our game showing updates from their battle with Sydney was routinely subject to foul abuse as I glanced at it continually, willing the Swans to bolt away to the victory which would eliminate the Saints from contention. By the time they started doing exactly what I'd screamed at a number in a box representing them to we were going backwards and I was back to tensing up at the prospect of a grand old reverse.

I know it's stupid getting this involved, but I haven't felt this alive since the last quarter of Round 20, 2010 against Hawthorn (look at the extremely early Twitter gag in the post title) where our path to the eight was still nearly impossible to achieve even if we won. Now there is a viable path, with dazzling lights illuminating the way to Round 23 and a date with destiny at Kardinia Park. I'm convinced North will climb off their deathbed to beat Sydney in Hobart next Saturday afternoon, but if they do the right thing and continue to play the second half of the season like they're blindfolded then we'll be at DEFCON1 the following Saturday - ready for the ultimate modern version of R22 1987. Ironically it was last minute shenanigans between Hawthorn and the Cats at Kardinia Park that helped us in that time, now we might have to do it ourselves then wait another two hours for North to play GWS.

Fancy a situation where I have to punt the Giants home, demanding my good mate Tom Scully rack up 48 touches before going back to calling him a mercenary prick a week later when we play them in an elimination final. If it doesn't happen I won't hear anything about the Essendon game being responsible. Mathematically yes, but assuming the rest of the season would have fallen the same way is like saying a side who kicked 1.6 should have kicked 6.1 - West Coast will be the real waste, and my outrageous claims in the last minute of that game about having no interest in a draw are probably going to come back to haunt me if we miss out on percentage.

Step one towards a golden future was winning three games in a row for the first time since we left ourselves on the verge of a miracle in 2010, and even then we only had 8.5 wins. We've come a long way this year, at the start of the season there was a general look of startled amazement when we beat lower mid-table mediocrities Richmond and Collingwood in consecutive weeks. Now we've gone from 'sludgy thriller' to 'win for the ages' then 'just good enough' to stay alive, and there must be more on the horizon against Carlton next week. Tackling a game without fear is what usually leads to ending the day curled in a ball sobbing, so I reserve the right to remain just a little bit worried until we've constructed an unbeatable margin against the Blues. A win might not even matter by then depending on results elsewhere, but I reserve the right to fret about it from now until Saturday afternoon anyway.

I thought we could beat Port, but given our dreadful record in South Australia and habit of blowing up the moment people expect us to start winning nothing could be taken for granted. The famous Media Curse has claimed so many players individually over the years, could the club rise above being front page news to win again? More importantly could they avoid another scenario like Alice Springs where Port play a half-decent game boosted by 15 piss easy goals scored by gently lobbing the ball over our defenders? Yes and yes - and even if it was in no way the sort of second half performance of a team that deserves to be near the finals I'm happy to embrace the rest and admit that when you let eight teams in that often some of them are going to be there be default. In this case the default will be courtesy of North Melbourne spiralling out of control in the second half of the year. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter one bit if we miss out this year, keep going like this with another pre-season into this group, hope for continuing luck with injuries and shoot for the stars but I just want to go to Geelong knowing we are a chance.

All the elements for a great night were present - North had already lost, we were underdogs, Dwayne Russell was unavailable to shatter his ringpiece vigorously calling our game and GWS had just lost a game with eight seconds to go. What more could you ask for except for eight goals in a row and a match-winning half time lead? Looking back to the dying minutes of the Gold Coast game it's impossible to understand how we ended up in this position.

Further assistance was provided by Port kicking like escaped mental patients in the first quarter, opening the door for us to get the match winning run on. After they converted our miss with the first shot (appropriately from a horror turnover) into a goal a minute later the weight of expectation was crushing me. They were doing everything possible to feed us but the midfield wasn't initially taking advantage of Maximum's domination of their ruck division of nobodies. While I swore openly at the score ticker showing that St Kilda were a goal in front of Sydney it still felt like we'd win but get screwed by another side.

I should have known things were looking up when Tomas Bugg - who hadn't had a set shot all year until last week - thumped through a perfect kick like he was Jack Watts. That was mercifully the cue for the floodgates to swing open - two dashing runs by Jayden Hunt set up Brayshaw then Kent and we were away. Turns out it was practically the same game as against Freo in Darwin, conceding the first, riding a violent burst of goals to create a near-unassailable half time lead before going back into our shell and riding out a comeback that was one goal away from causing us some real difficulties.

The sick and twisted psychology of my supporting life was on show when the rain started falling at three goals to one and I thought "this will be excellent for keeping the score down", as if we were going to keep them under 10 until the final siren. Even with the spluttering comeback they didn't get much further - 42 was the third lowest score we've held a side to during the decade of doom - and much of that was thanks to our defence. Neville Jetta has reached the point where he's been so good that outsiders are starting to realise he's alive, and the brothers Sizzle celebrated jointly signing new contracts by playing great games. It helped that Port's delivery into the forward line in the first half was horrendous, but it must be noted that McDonald Sr is now on a two week run without any jaw-droppingly outrageous turnovers. Hopefully the new deal has cut out the clause that says he has to flub at least one in spectacular fashion per game.

I lose track of which umpires we're supposed to identify and hate (Razor Ray? The bald one? That guy who allegedly rorted Adelaide? Terry Wallace's kid? Darren Goldspink?), but other than the one who cannot for the life of him bounce the ball to a decent height we got a cracker of a run from them in the first half. Would have been nice if they'd created a few more certain goals, but you take what you can get before the inevitable second half eveners like Garlett becoming the first man in five years not to be paid an overhead mark when holding the ball that long. The brief spell of rain was also great news for the guy with the weak bounces, giving him the opportunity to disguise his issues by throwing it up instead. He must have been cursing when it cleared up.

When Jetta and Vince combined for the old Paul Wheatley nine pointer we were three goals in front and being set up for glory or a massive screwjob. It was going so well that we could afford to have Garlett do everything right to run into an open goal then hit the post. That's the sort of thing I used to say was ok because we'd be repaid with the ones he mysteriously snapped out of his arse, but he's stopped doing that recently so this would have been a nice reminder that he was still alive and lurking dangerously. I'd almost rather Ben Kennedy at the moment, but now that we've found one it's best not mess too much with a winning combination. Besides, after having an ultimate 'mare against the Blues last year he owes them the traditional 'play well against your old side' performance.

The concern was that Port couldn't have played any worse if they tried. They were going at it like we used to when visiting Football Park, the difference was that we would rarely get back into the game in the second half and usually came home in disgrace. I knew that they had improvement in them which would make sure they weren't thrashed, and that even in the bizarre situation where percentage mattered we weren't capable of killing a moderate side. We've already announced our arrival by beating Hawthorn, kicking the living shit out of an interstate side on their home ground (even if the crowd was stacked to the brim with our fans) would have been like buying an ad on the front page of the paper. We did enough for now, from here it's time to start ripping sides to bits.

Not everything was going our way - Viney was squashed like a bug by Port for the second time this year (but didn't react by punching somebody this time), Garlett has been anonymous for the second half of the year and Hogan was playing in a manner that makes you think "well we should at least find out what Freo are offering..." Next week would be an excellent time for him to get back into form by thumping a side down on their luck.

After the first two goals of the second quarter I started to believe, having spent all of quarter time watching the Swans game and calling them every name under the sun for not doing their duty. Everything was trending towards us to the point where a horrible attempt in the first minute by Garlett to kick to vandenBerg in the pocket became a goal, after AVB kept it in and set up a loose ball at the top of square for Oliver to casually soccer through. Port were rattled, and they didn't kick as badly as the first quarter but nor did they look particularly likely to crack a defence which was dealing with everything in the air or on the ground.

Slim resistance was being offered by a first game called Palmer who I nervously yelled "FUCK OFF CLIVE!" at every time he got the ball, and Charlie Dixon who had tonked us last time but couldn't kick straight to save himself now. He was one of several Port players to be injured during the night, and to any other side the opposition replacing interchange rotations with players handing over their Medicare cards as they ran off would be a great excuse to shoot off into the distance. But how many times have we had that opportunity over the years and failed to take it? Nothing sets up an MFC Omnishambles like the opposition losing multiple players. We took advantage of the initial carnage, including Chad Wingard gingerly walking the boundary with a watermelon sized bag of ice attached to his hamstring, but the fatigue assisted whooping didn't come until the dying minutes after we'd already crushed their feeble uprising. Port's injury crisis was fair karmic payback for their attempts to put us off with cheapshots and general attempts at violence which were effectively laughed at.

As Tyson and Brayshaw combined for the sort of fast-break move that Port had bashed us unmercifully with earlier this year we were nearly 40 points up halfway through the quarter. Then after Pedersen did his bit for Port's burgeoning medical crisis by forcing Jimpey into on vandenBerg's knees with a textbook bump, Tyson chucked a goal in as well and we were flying. That's when things started to get too cute, and immediately after the commentators told us how horrible Port's forward line was they snuck through a lucky goal which just carried over four McDonald arms in the square. For the last seven minutes of the quarter our fearless, free-running play went out the window and we reverted to sitting back and waiting for them to come at us. With Watts in defence for the last few minutes we nearly pulled one off on the counter when Pedersen had an eternity to make something of another Hunt sprint but missed.

Even after Pedersen stuffed up the chance it was hard to complain given that it was our biggest lead in an interstate game since Gold Coast in 2011 about 15 minutes after they entered the competition. I was still ridiculously nervous. To me this was just another stat pointing towards complete and utter disaster. When we lost to Port in the last game of that weird season the same couch that I was viciously setting upon now had taken quite the beating. I am at one with that couch, we have both taken untold punishment in the last few seasons without completely collapsing and ending up in the tip.

We were further ahead than the Swans but I was 1000% more convinced that they'd win, because for all their players called 'Toby' and floppy blonde haired teen idols they are a ruthlessly efficient machine while we're an experimental product likely to leave people blind during the clinical trials. Both leads survived without major drama, but watching the score in the other game quickly escalate while we were struggling to avoid the one more goal which might have worried us was a less than subtle reminder that we are still only pretenders.

Watching on TV brings out the worst in me, and most of the second half was spent hovering over the television, hurling things at the poor battered couch and swearing at almost anybody with half a connection to AFL football. It was a lot like our very good friend...

... but with a happy ending.

Conceding the first goal within a minute was one of the few things about us reminiscent of 2013 - a year where we won less games in 22 weeks than we have in the last three - but no matter how well we'd played until then I was still wracked with tension about throwing it away from a winning position. As much as Port fans want to follow that proud South Australian tradition of killing Ken Hinkley it was another excellent night for an opposition coach adjusting their style to stop us in our tracks. Instead of constantly trying to bomb to a rubbish forward line they started aiming at players - including Nathan Krakoeur who I had absolutely no idea was still playing, let alone back at Port.

After they stopped letting us sprint out of defence and set up attacks uncontested we didn't know what to do, and when Port added party tricks like handballing over the head to create goals it felt like bad times were just over the horizon. Lucky that just like the Freo game we'd built such a strong buffer that we could afford to go to sleep for a quarter and still emerge with a handy lead. After conceding the first two goals we might have kicked the old steadier with either of two good chances for Hogan. He missed with what were almost his only contributions all night, and as half our fans speculated over the legitimacy of the injury that kept Weideman out after his red hot debut, the other half were wondering if Hogan is absolutely necessary for our future success. I'd still say yes, but I'm increasingly suspect about paying him $cully money. I'm not going to try and read his body language, because I think he's one of those people who always wears an expression that makes people think something's wrong, but let's stick him next to the Weid against Carlton and hopefully clear some space for him to provide a demonstration of his powers.

Most of the quarter passed in a haze of standing over the TV making indecent statements about both teams and wondering if the tingling sensation was nerves or whether I was about to drop dead from a major stroke. They still only got as close as 21 points, but that was enough to convince we were stuffed. The surprising new goalkicking option Bugg provided the steadier 10 minutes after Hogan's misses, continuing to promote himself as one of the most off-beat thinkers on our list by seemingly hiding behind an umpire as Dean Kent - the half forward we've needed for five years - kicked inside 50. He popped up from behind the ump, probably after contemplating how much fun it would to push him over instead, to finish on the run from 30 metres out. It didn't steady us for long, the other half of the Heritage Quarter where we did most of the things that have annoyed the shit out of us for 10 years was conceding the reply from the next centre bounce.

There's still a lot to work on before we can consider being consistently good against top teams (much less play/win finals), but the third quarter shows how far we've come. In years gone by we'd have reacted to conceding three in a row by carking it and allowing them to rack up six or seven, now our worst quarter only marginally affected our position.

I was so engrossed in our efforts to hold Port's comeback at bay that I tuned out from the commentary as if having an out of body experience, only realising they were still there when Dermott Brereton found an excuse to work the word 'flaccid' into a discussion about forward lines as if somebody had bet him $100 he wouldn't say it. They should have had a red button option to replace him with the vocal Demon who was parked next to the effects mic yelling things like "MAXY!" and "BULLSHIT!" all night. One day TV stations will realise that we don't want shots of baying mutants in the stands after terrible decisions, we want audio of the sort of supporter who swings from joy to frustration in an instant and screams out random commands. It could be me but there would be too much swearing.

Considering our run of last quarter failures before Hawthorn I wasn't getting excited by a 22 point lead, but without any forwards showing any form and Wingard sitting on the bench with a bag of peas strapped to his leg we were in a position where either one goal would do them in or Dixon would show up and smash through five famous goals to beat us on his own. Arise Jack Watts again - not having his best night, but doing the business with a set shot when it mattered again. After three great opportunities for Gawn, Frost or Viney to officially kill them off they got a goal, but by now I was starting to accept that we would win. Garlett's surprise appearance to intercept a handball and snap the goal with five minutes left made it certain. The rest of the game floated by with thoughts of what counts for us as September glory (i.e. playing something other than a home and away game), with Jeff (never 'Jeffy', unless he does stupid things like kicking through an unguarded goalsquare and into the post) throwing in a second then Jones bashing through a popular goal on the run as the siren went.

Remember a few years ago when we surprisingly toppled Essendon and the joyless Matthew Lloyd had a nervous breakdown about the scope of the celebrations? He'd have had an aneurysm watching the aftermath of this, our players did about four laps of honour, taking selfies with any Demon in the stadium and high fiving so much that they won't be able to take a mark next week because their hands will still be stinging. There was no problem with it - the players should enjoy winning, the people who travelled should be rewarded for their faith and SA based Demon fans are owed a lot for the bullshit they've been forced to watch for the last 15 years.

I'm in need of a GPS unit to navigate me through how I'm supposed to feel this week. The last one nearly killed me. It was almost fatal when we collapsed into the finals in 2005, and I wasn't even remotely as insane about this club then. For god's sake I missed the Jeff White powered Bulldogs win at work, only getting home to listen to the last quarter on radio. What sort of way was that to live your life? Now nothing short of a bad case of death will keep me from the MCG next Sunday. Long live the Mighty Ducks finish.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Neville Jetta
4 - Dom Tyson
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Vince, O. McDonald, Bugg, Brayshaw, Kent, Stretch, Hunt, Oliver and Frost.

Maximum adds one to his lead as it officially becomes a three man race (that is if we only have two games left...) for the Jakovich - and he can clinch next week by scoring at least one vote. Meanwhile in the minors Jetta must have the Seecamp won now, only Stretch or Hunt could topple him with a pair of belters. The Hilton is now officially down to three Oliver was unlucky to miss out on votes this week, and Hunt could still vault into a share of the lead with one BOG. Who would have thought that the race for the medals wouldn't be the most interesting thing about the last fortnight of our season?

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

I could almost have been persuaded to go for Port's effort here, they had a funky silhouette of Justin Westhoff, some reasonable colour contrast and the letters all looked in place. The only problem was that by still trying to do a cute "we're going to win, yay team!" message down the left and the Westhoff message down the right it came out looking like they were saying "let's banish Westhoff". Poor bannercraft, take a hint from our side and when there's a milestone (or near enough to in this case - they must not have bothered to take a banner to Sydney for his real 200th) clear all the other shit and concentrate on the player in question. Dees win, and that's 24-1-0 for the season. Not expecting Carlton to pose many issues next week, so we'll go into the last (?) game of the season looking at another unbeaten year.

Meanwhile it might have been the Pride Game at Etihad Stadium, but neither St Kilda or Sydney can claim a share of pride, dignity or self-belief after these efforts. Not even needs to go down the Bulldogs style cavalcade of 'comedy' one-liners, but can 17 other cheersquads at least chip in to buy the Saints a rhyming dictionary?
Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Considering how many times I've given the weekly award to the first goal of the game it would be rude to mark down Nathan Jones' running strike from the boundary with the last kick of the day just because the game was already well won. It was still emotional, and I'm going with it. He wins a luxurious scalp shining at the same place Peter Jackson goes. Apologies to Kent's Krumb when he busted through Port's defence in the first quarter.

In the overall race the last two weeks have been kind to Watts' goal against Gold Coast. Without that there is no 5.3% with a fortnight left, and every time I see it I fall in love with it more. He is hereby promoted to the clubhouse lead - with apologies to Garlett's inside out goal against the Tigers.

Next week
We'll know 20 hours before the first bounce if we're still alive, but even if the fairytale Spirit of '87 finish is taken away from us we had better eviscerate Carlton from one end of the MCG to the other. After a nice run in the middle of the year they've died in a similar way to us at the end of 2015, and even if it means nothing more than playing for 9th I would like to kill them royally. Let's win first and go from there, nothing will be more Melbourne than going through all this emotion then carking it against a putrid team.

IN: Weideman
OUT: Pedersen (omit with apologies)
LUCKY: Hogan (if he wasn't about to get a mil...), Garlett (saved himself in the last quarter), vandenBerg (I could be convinced to get rid of him instead of Pedo)
UNLUCKY: Barely anyone deserves a game, but there are plenty of players that would have got a dozen in other years. I've given up advocating for Dunn (nothing personal, it's just not going to work), we should probably set Garland free, and I've become convinced that ANB will be demanding a trade.

Barry Book of Berwick
When we make it to the Grand Final it's going to leave me with a lot less time to do the final edits to this masterpiece, but I'm sure you'll trade off several dozen typos for an ending featuring Nathan Jones dipping his bald head in a premiership cup full of champagne. It will have to go unfinished, because I will be found stone dead in my seat at the final siren.

🎵 I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon 🎵

Final thoughts
Supporting Melbourne is like one of those ancient cartoons where somebody's got an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The angel whispers that the last two weeks changes everything and that a magical future is just over the horizon, the devil spits that there's no way we could ever have the same luck with injuries as this year. Two weeks after we were about to tear the MCG to bits if Tom Lynch had kicked a bit to the right I'm not yet comfortable dismissing the devil, but for now let's just concentrate on this season. I'm getting everything I want and couldn't be happier. For now.

Sunday 7 August 2016

Brawl State vs Natural High

A week ago I was happy to escape the MCG with a victory that perfectly represented the toil and struggle of our lost decade, now we're basking in the afterglow of one that may have done irreparable damage to the #fistedforever era. A win so historically momentous that David Hasselhoff is going to stand on top of it in a spangly jacket and sing Looking For Freedom.

It was like a career criminal walking out of the prison gates again, vowing that this time they're definitely going straight. We don't know if it's going to hold or whether we'll be back in the clink in a few months, but at least now we get the chance to find out. Things were already trending up, now starting next week expectations and scrutiny will be through the roof.

While the Decade of Disaster only has three weeks to run we won't know if the famous era has been banished until next year, but this gives us a good head start on seeing it off. After years of Member Appreciation Day games where our valued support was rewarded with unholy beatings we picked a great day to deliver what was arguably the best performance of the decade - at least on the podium alongside Sydney 2010 or Geelong 2015. Two of those featured Hogan withdrawing late, but let's not get any silly ideas about trading him to Freo for Pick 3 and Tendai Mzungu.

Assuming we'd lose - and for all the people who queued up during the week to suggest they had a sneaking suspicion about us it was still sensible to bet on defeat - what I really wanted was to end up in a situation where somebody was taunting me about flags, just to see how personally abusive my response could get. It never came, but I got something far better instead. For all the people suffering late season distress of the last few weeks and declaring how it was a 'wasted year', what is now our best season in a decade has been relatively free of great moments of anger and hatred since the Essendon game, but the small disappointments build up to the point where you eventually go right off and make a dick of yourself. I don't really care about Hawthorn, and might be in the minority that couldn't give a rats if they win 10 flags in a row unless we're playing against the Grand Final, but I pre-filled the hump of hate in case of an emergency.

As Hogan went out Frawley followed, with a 'jarred shoulder' probably suffered from practising how he was going to taunt our fans with a replica premiership cup if they booed him again. More likely the Hawks knew Hogan would never play and decided to give Chip a rest. You'd like to say it backfired on them, but if they were resting a player before the finals there's still one key element of that which we won't able to replicate - this year anyway. In Frawley's place came a bloke from New Zealand who spoiled everything that came near him for the first half like a seasoned veteran. It just goes to show Collingwood blundered by promoting Mason Cox off the rookie list before our first meeting then not playing him, because if there's one thing we're more vulnerable to than unheralded players it's players from other countries.

If you were looking for omens pointing to a game of great quality and excitement you probably walked out of the MCG/your house when the first bounce twanged off at right angles so violently that even in the year of the non-recalled bounce the umpire couldn't ignore it. If anything the only thing it correctly indicated was that all decisions would be made at random for the rest of the day.

It's always pot luck whether we're 'on' or not, and you could tell right from the start that this wasn't necessarily a win in the making but that we were going to make a go of it. From a vicious tackle in defence winning holding the ball we launched the other way for Jayden Hunt to do his NBA Jam style turbo button move and storm through the middle to kick the opening goal. Which was nice. What I liked was how he ran diagonally across the pack. Footy tactics go over my head, but it feels like good teams always do things diagonally. He didn't get that many more kicks for the rest of the day, but has rocketed in front of the mysteriously absent Harry O in the battle for the half-back sprinter role. When we recruited Lumumba I said "I'll have him because he's better than Terlich". And he still is, but he's not as good as Hunt.

His goal was the first in a long line of moments where we outpaced and out ran the Hawks. What a glory era this is, where we can dice opposition sides up by sprinting and playing on quickly. A few years ago we were slower than the rotation of the earth. It's terrible news if you're Jack Trengove, but I've regrettably come to the conclusion now that none of he, Grimes, Garland or Dunn are going to make it to our glory era. In a way it will be appropriate if Jones is the only survivor.

Last year we kicked the first two goals against Hawthorn and converted it into a 100 point loss, but the early two goals this time were of such higher value that you knew it wasn't going to spiral into disgrace. The worst thing about Gawn missing a kick not long after is that Petracca's slicing kick to set him will be forgotten. It was one of Maximum's few blemishes all day, until he missed the exclamation point kick after the siren - by which point nobody gave a rats because we were having a party.

It could easily have been another day where we blew numerous opportunities by aimlessly kicking to opposition defenders, but after a brief period of bombing and hoping we started to craft goals instead and it worked well. There is no question that Hogan is super important to this team but maybe they need to sit down and have a think about the forward structure works with him. We've got to give him the space to violently dispose of lesser men, but not at the expense of the kind of leads and pack marks we saw yesterday.

When Sam Weideman took advantage of a perfectly weighted kick from Stretch (who would easily keep Salem out of the side on current form) to take the sort of overhead contested mark that must have made Chris Dawes stand up, shake hands with those around him and walk out I thought "this is the team". There were no nerves, he just stood at the sort of angle that many have made a dick of themselves by missing from in the past and belted it through effortlessly to join the prestigious likes of Peter Tossol, Paul Hopgood and James Magner in goaling with his first kick.

As much as we love unnecessarily writing off first games you can't declare somebody a solid gold success or a failure in the making from their debut alone, but I'd be willing to bet on his success. If he'd turned up two or three years ago it might have been a different story. We're on the verge of pulling off the ultimate draft heist, eventually using pick nine to draft him after flogging Gold Coast a future first round selection then finishing high enough that the Suns only get pick nine back in return.

The man who will launch a million 'smoking Weid' headlines tired later in the day, but that was no concern because he'd already shown plenty. It proved why there was no reason to be concerned about debuting him against Hawthorn. I respected the concerns of some people about playing him first up against the best side in the competition, the way we've handled draftees over the years there is a natural instinct to protect the kids. But even if we lost yesterday this is a different environment to the orgy of violence we plonked Toumpas into less than five years ago. If he'd had zero kicks, zero handballs and eight frees against yesterday it wouldn't have been the end of him, and as it turns out the gamble paid off handsomely.

Down the other end it was the greatest tag team performance the McDonald brothers have ever put on. We waited all day for Senior's contractually obligated blooper which never came, and Junior had a few rocky moments but on the whole looked more composed than any other time so far in his career. There were still times we were overly dinky with the handballs in defence, but you couldn't hold that solely against them when everyone was doing it. If it's all part of the grand scheme for the future I can handle working out the bugs now.

I didn't think we'd win, especially after last week's fumblefest, but that we'd at least trouble them well into the last quarter. Then because I'm a very nervy fan once they hit the lead I was convinced we'd be thrashed. There was no science behind it, the first came from a 50 for 'encroaching' the protected zone (zzzz) and the second from a free immediately after Cyril Rioli had shirtfronted the Hamburglar in the head. Let the historical record show that it wasn't like when we got a free last week and turned it straight into a Gold Coast goal, but that they got the free after he was collected high in a tackle while Oliver was still collecting his thoughts on one knee. The second free was there, but it would never have happened if they'd paid the first.

We got our fair share of ropey decisions for the rest of the day, but not as many in goalscoring range. I don't buy the pro-Hawthorn umpiring conspiracies (if they want to make a buck why not rort it in Collingwood's favour?), but like West Coast players being smart enough to get rewarded for outrageous cheating when being tackled we should be studying whatever the Hawks do to get themselves into positions to win all these questionable frees.

I loved the way Oliver just got up, kept going, and played a belter of a game. The foundations of the latest - and god we hope last - rebuild are manly men, ready to take a forearm to the chin and bounce back up again, rather than the slender and terrified kids who got to the outskirts of credibility in 2011 before being battered into submission. Cyril is lucky that the Burglar is made of steel, because if he'd whacked a more fragile player in the same way he'd be enjoying a much needed three weeks off + the useless bye before the exhibition series. Now they can afford to let him get away with it and give an irrelevant fine for his later dangerous tackle. His defence should be that he was trying to punish Oliver for the weird, early 90s style undercut thing he's done with his hair.

It wasn't just the "don't hit people in the head" rule that was in disarray, the much maligned 15 metre kick was also a topic of contention. Or it would be if most fans hadn't given up trying to argue the point, knowing that because in 2016 Stoppages are Satan that they'll pay anything 5 metres or over to keep the play moving. In absolute seriousness Wayne Carey suggested that because the umpires had no idea how to consistently decide what had gone 15m that they should extend the requirement to 20m. He failed to outline how they would be any more likely to judge that correctly and should have been forced to immediately piss in a cup to ascertain whether he was fit to continue broadcasting.

We were still prone to some of the old classics, after Watts kicked his first we let the Hawks go straight down the other end for a mark in front of goal. When you have near total disinterest in other sides you're often surprised at who crops up, and the Hawks have a suspicious number of solid bronze nobodies who are probably going to sink like a stone once the multiple premiership legends start retiring. Whoever Tim O'Brien is, other than having the sort of generic name of a forgotten 25 game player in the mid-90s, he should have punished us but missed a sitter from the sort of angle Weideman had calmly negotiated a few minutes before.

This was not classic Hawthorn, and we were being given one decent chance to scratch their name off the Decade of Dishonour list (other members - North, St Kilda and Subiaco). Most of the stars were there, but many of them didn't fancy it. In years past it wouldn't have mattered, they'd have trotted about in first gear, won anyway, gone through the motions of singing the song and given us some bullshit platitudes about being a "tough team" in the post-match interviews. Finally we were fielding a lineup who wanted to make them pay for not taking us seriously.

We denied them the space to play the usually game of keepings off, and even turned the tables by doing it to them. It was legitimately fun viewing, and when a Weideman/Kent combination set up Watts to storm down the middle of the 50 through two defenders for his second goal it was beautiful not just for the way Kent speared the ball in low and hard to him, but how Jack set himself up to run through their backmen to get it.

We might have had another if Pedersen had converted post a massive "I'm just happy to be here" screamer, but the goal came not long after anyway - even if we had to wait through Rioli getting away with ducking into a tackle that made Paul Roos quite obviously exclaim "FUCKING HELL!" in the box. You know things are going well when we kick a goal even after Watts had been sent back in the last two minutes to make sure we didn't concede. Kent's goal was created by Harmes running through Hawthorn players swatting them off with ease. For most of the day he had a shocker and single handedly drove down our efficiency stats by handballing to people's feet but there was nothing wrong with him here.

I was very much on guard for a great first quarter to be followed by a stinker, but even if we'd stopped there you could officially certify this rebuild as having being built to all appropriate Australian construction standards. The bottom end of the list might get us one day, but the top end is going to be a goldmine. Not even considering the key position players, Viney, Brayshaw, Oliver and Petracca alone will be a licence to print money. After Petracca benefited from a defensive disaster to kick the first of the quarter and give us a three goal lead we gave it back from an attempted Brayshaw switch that he couldn't have telegraphed any more if he'd flown a plane across the MCG trailing a banner behind explaining what he'd do next. If a McDonald had done the same people would have been climbing the fence to punch on with them but I'll wear classic cock-ups like that from a player like Brayshaw because I know he generally has footy smarts out the yin yang.

For a glimpse into the future all you needed was the instant reply from our second goal of the quarter, where Oliver gathered in the middle and turned to deliver a perfect kick to Brayshaw running down the wing. On replay I noticed vandenBerg did a dodgy shepherd which was excellently disguised as him just stopping running after which the Hawthorn player cluttered into his back and left them both on the ground to give Brayshaw the space to run in and kick it. The finish was nice, the shepherd was attractively sneaky, but Oliver's kick was worth ordering several crates of champagne over. Stefan Martin might have been the smartest player in the AFL when we had him, but these kids don't have any time for quantum physics while they're pulling off spectacular moves like that.

It looked like Oliver had been told to kick more, there were a couple of times where he looked like his first instinct was to handball it before changing his mind. Good, that's what we now call development. I love his ability to slow time down in a pack but throwing kicks like that Brayshaw one into the mix as well will give us great joy for years to come. I don't even care that he finally got caught holding the ball, his record for avoiding disaster is still world leading.

Unusually the goal started with Watts in the ruck. Having anybody in there other than Maximum is often the first step to conceding, but during the afternoon three of Jack's contests ended in goals. If Hogan stays, Weideman is a keeper, and Watts continues to go ballistic what does that do for our quest to find a forward/ruckman to take some of the heat off Gawn? Would a fourth tall be one too many? What about killing two birds with one stone with a defender/ruckman? I don't even know if that sort of thing exists. Watts might have rolled himself into doing the job permanently. How much the last two goals had to do with him is debatable considering we were like a rampaging elephant by then, but as long as more intensive ruck tutelage didn't detract from his forward development then I could live with it. Until the first pre-season game next year where somebody rams a knee through his chest.

Gawn wasn't involved this time, but my psychological reliance on him has become so severe that I no longer fear Hogan tripping on a pothole while going for a milkshake but instead want to follow Max around the streets at an only slightly creepy distance making sure that I can throw myself in the way if a rabid dog attacks him. I enjoyed his first half, but the second was match-winning gold. When Hogan was withdrawn I said "remember how Max went bananas with the contested marks in Geelong last year?", as if it had something to do with Hogan not being there and he did it again. The best thing about Max is how he's ignored item 1.1 of the Constitution for Cult Players and is actually extremely good. Not just flittering into games here and there, but dominating enormous parts of matches.

Yesterday was a return to the partnership with Viney that looked like it was going to do enormous amounts of damage in the pre-season. They've had their moments together throughout the year, and have both been excellent when operating separately, but yesterday was the first time it has come together that well since Gold Coast the first time around when they were enjoying a more dazzling psychic connection since the glory days of Jamar/Moloney. I don't expect either of the Jacks to break into the competitive All-Australian team but if at least one or not both of them isn't on the shortlist alongside Gawn I hope the team loses to Ireland, Cote d'Ivoire or whoever they're playing this year.

The best thing about winning this game - other than the obvious - was the way we continually rebounded from their attempt comebacks. Even when we were three goals in front in the second quarter I didn't expect to hold onto the lead, but when they came at us we stood up instead of crumbling under the pressure. It wasn't all good news, during the second quarter out kick-ins were like the bad old days where sides kicking a point were almost guaranteed a seven or more point play, Garlett could barely get near it again, and other than a couple of excellent moments when he had the ball in hand (and his dubious shepherd) vandenBerg wasn't looking nearly as comfortable as last week. We were still vulnerable to giving the opposition chances on a silver platter, of the 51 points they got in the first half 42 of them came from turnovers. On the other hand we were riding the Gawn Express to a shitload of scores from stoppages so for once the universe was balancing something in our favour.

It was only force of habit making me pick out negatives, the majority of the news was good. Like Weideman positioning himself perfectly to make Gibson concede a free that the umpire in the middle of the ground had to pay because the guy looking directly at it from 10 metres away couldn't be bothered getting involved. Hawks fans who thought they were being hard done by were advised to drape themselves in any one of the available premiership flags and proceed directly towards the nearest natural disaster.

The revenge of Hawthorn's random players came from James Sicily's clothesline on Bernie Vince. If he ever rises above handy second option status I'll get around the town wearing brown in tribute. Leaving Bernie wearing the crimson mask was the only thing he successfully managed to pull off all day. No free kick of course, and it will most likely become the third time this year that an opposition player is cited for an illegal act that wasn't deemed good enough for a free at the time. I look forward to a bright future when we're good enough to start getting the run of bullshit umpiring like that.

After Bernard picked himself up off the turf and made sure the face that must have torn Adelaide's 'dating' scene apart was still intact he ran back to contest a ball in the square, and as Frost was nicked for holding onto the forward the umpire realised Vince was bleeding heavily and would have to go off. You don't say? How do you reckon that happened, trying to do some housekeeping in the nostrils and dug too deep? Have a week doing the Yackandandah Thirds/enjoy all your decisions being ticked off as correct by the league. This assassination was the start of a good run for the Hawks where they got the margin back under a goal at half time, again convincing me that they wouldn't let us play so well that we could possibly topple them - especially considering how many thrillers they'd won already this year.

The first step in the third quarter was not to get blown away. We're used to coming out after half time and playing like demented lunatics, but that's par for the course with teams from the wrong side of the tracks. This is the best side of the modern era, you expect that Angry Al Clarkson would have been throwing kettles around the dressing room and screaming into the face of scared players to make sure they knew what they were doing. When the Hawks got the first goal to get in front again I thought he'd cracked the secret to beating us and it would all be downhill from there. The rich man's Watts, Jack Gunston stuffed up a sitter for the second in a row but it didn't take long for them to get it anyway to go more than a goal in front. We'd started to shit ourselves with the disposal and entries into 50, and it was lucky that it was a day where we were as fortunate with shit kicks still bouncing to our players as we were unlucky with the umpiring. They still couldn't get rid of us, which was all I wanted. Until halfway through the last quarter when all I wanted changed to winning.

When we got a run on we were scoring goals for fun, but there were long periods where attacking looked as painfully difficult as Subiaco. What saved us was the defence not doing anything stupid and the midfield holding together long enough for us to create what might have been the team goal of the year - from Oliver keeping the ball in on the half-back flank when he could have easily let it go out, Viney selling a dummy and dashing past a totally confused opponent who is probably still standing in the shadows of the Southern Stand now wondering where he went, then another shonky kick bounced perfectly, this time to Weideman, who gave it to Pedersen to kick long for Bugg to rush into an open goal and soccer it home from the same spot where he caused Jon Ralph to have a nervous breakdown with his shhhing antics against Richmond.

If you're ever going do a full psychological examination on me do it during a football game, because that's where all my anxieties come out. I sat there thinking that if we'd scored 65 halfway through the third quarter that we'd probably be lucky to get 80. There was no scientific basis to this, just the fear that thinking we could beat the Hawks was so outrageous that I was only setting myself up for sadness when the inevitable happened.

When Jones hit the post and it led to a two goal swing I'd have bet my life on us stuffing it up from there. That their goal came from a dodgy 50 was so unsurprisingly that it was hard to get upset. At the same time we were enjoying one of the most exciting aspects of becoming a respectable club again as Watts annoyed Sam Mitchell into slapping him in the sort of way that would have provoked a duel with pistols in the 18th century. Earlier this year we'd frustrated Alex Rance so much that he'd clubbed Watts in the back of the head, now this. There was very little to it, but I love the idea of provoking four time premiership players into violence instead of laughing in our face. When even Watts - almost certainly the nicest man on the face of the planet - can provoke multiple acts of violence we must have something about us.

Now we were on the ropes, and only Gunston continuing to kick as if he'd undergone a quick round of leg surgery that morning saved us from a two goal deficit close to three quarter time. He was terrifically charitable to kick so horribly, allowing the bizarre and troubling scene of Sam Frost delivering a "get out of my face peasant" style fend off to Luke Hodge before setting up Gawn for the return goal. We finally got a real dodgy major when Josh Gibson was pinched for the sort of "tunnel" would make commentators would have a nervous breakdown about the state of the game if it was paid every time. "It was there!" said our fans. The same people who would have kept Telstra's profits afloat by calling talkback radio to complain if it was paid against us.

Knowing how horrendous our last quarters have been over the last two months I couldn't possibly be convinced that we'd win from there, but tellingly I was nervous enough to have to stand up. That's always the dead giveaway of when I think we're a chance but am too scared to admit it to try and minimise the let-down. This is why you try and sit somewhere with nobody behind you - just in case. Even if we'd lost we'd come a long way from the days where every Lubemobile in Victoria started circling the MCG like Mr. Whippy whenever we played the Hawks.

Gawn/Viney had already started to hit the big time late in the third quarter, and Max had saved us with a huge mark in the square at the end, but in the last quarter the combination went supernova. After several fruitless minutes where we didn't look even half a chance of kicking any more goals I was reaching deep into the Stat My Bitch Up files for that one about our last quarters in the second half of this year. Then just like when openly whinging about vandenBerg last week provoked him into kicking two quick goals we unloaded one of the most artistic barrages of recent times. In the spirit of the Olympics, Nadia Comaneci should have jumped the fence and declared it a perfect 10.

In the opening minutes of the last quarter it was all Hawthorn, and I started to have more feelings of dread about how we'll miss the elder McDonald if he goes - including successfully marking a horrible bomb across the defensive 50 by Gawn which was payback for all the players Tom has stitched up with dodgy kicks over the years. He wasn't playing against much, but he was so good with the ball. You are actually on drugs if you think he is not a super important player to our future. Surely after a win like this, where your brother has just locked away his spot after a rocky start, you ring Sydney, Footscray and whoever else is offering, tell them to do one and take whatever Peter Jackson's got in the briefcase.

For a few nervous minutes nobody was kicking goals, which was better than Hawthorn kicking them, and we could have had one through post-quarter time specialist AVB leading perfectly for Harmes only for the kick to miss him while metres in the clear. All's well that ends well, because it led directly to the classic moment where Oliver managed to pick the ball up with one hand while being tackled and still manage to find the free man behind him.
We still had to fight back from behind again, with Rioli rising above theatrical boos to put them back in front. It could have gone wrong from here, but I couldn't not be prouder about how we stood up to the pressure. Ultimate proof how everything was going right for us came when Sizzle Jr's attempt at a decisive kick inside 50 rolled along the ground and deserved absolutely nothing only for it to pitch straight into Pedersen's hands, who set up Stretch to put us back in front. The good fortune kept on coming for second, as a floaty Vince pass found Bugg for his first set shot all year. It was perfectly converted, he should do it more. On a related note he has adopted a filthy moustache that suits his pantomime villain character perfectly.

I've gotten used to the end coming quickly in our games, but not usually in a good way. The decisive blows were so swift that it barely sunk in that we were in front before being in an unbeatable position. I don't think I took a breath between the first and fourth goals, standing there in disbelief at how easily we were doing it. When you feel you've been rorted by the umpires (accidentally or deliberately, depending on how far down the truther scale you go) the best way to take them out of the equation is to gallop around unchallenged, never letting the opposition get the ball or catch you with it.

To make up for the pass he should have had from Oscar a few minutes earlier Pedersen galloped down the middle of the 50 to finally have his lead rewarded with a laser pass from Watts. He kicked the goal to all but finish it, but I was still scared shitless. Because I'm a Melbourne fan. Supporters of battered clubs everywhere would understand the feeling - a 17 point lead with five minutes left was a one point loss waiting to happen. Hundreds of Hawthorn fans weren't waiting to find out, the brown clad masses escaped as one when it went through. Imagine having seen more flags in three years than our fans have since 1959 but still not being able to stand the shame of losing to Melbourne. That's downhill skiing at its best, and just the sort of people who won't be anywhere to be found when the premierships dry up.

The scarred, mentally besieged part of me that has seen all too much over the years wonders if Hawthorn just gave up because they had bigger fish to fry. Best not to dwell on that theory too long, just let the good feelings carry you like a gigantic wave - hopefully through at least the next two weeks if not until the point in February 2017 where you go "so that's what Jake Melksham looks like".

We kept giving nervous three game members reasons to leave. I'm too harsh on Tyson from the stands, watching on replay I see so much more overall attacking benefit than live, but even with a #12 sized blind spot you couldn't miss his two crucial goals when it mattered. I wasn't fully convinced we'd win until his second, which happened so quickly I didn't even know how it had been created until watching it on replay. Step back into your MFC Time Machine, return to any time in the past where you've denounced Jack Watts (and unless you're his family there will have been a time) and show them this pass. You might have to watch it a few times, because he rips the kick so quickly and so perfectly that it's easy to miss.
Long term readers will remember the 2007 NAB Cup game where they shot off into the distance, leaving us to fall to bits as they stormed to glory. This isn't going to be such a dramatic reversal of fortune, and I'm still picking them to win the flag and at least give it a nudge next year before starting to fall away, but at least for the first time in a decade we were going in the right direction against them instead of holding on for dear life or just being flat out massacred.

The veil of negativity that was still hovering above the MCG like a UFO last week even after winning wafted away on a late afternoon breeze, hopefully never to be seen again."THEY'VE WON THEIR GRAND FINAL!" shrieked Dwayne, in the same tone people usually only make when they've sat on something sharp, and for once his over the top yelling had a point. That's how badly Collingwood are going under Buckley, they don't even qualify to be the team we roll on the floor in glee at the idea of beating anymore.

It didn't just take 10 years to discover how to beat Hawthorn, we finally realised how best to deploy the trumpeteer. He was banned from playing until the final siren, leaving him entirely drowned out by the real version of the song. I was too bemused to join in any wild celebrations, the second half of the last quarter was on par with the GWS 12 goal avalanche adjusted for quality of opposition. If last week was such a wonky win that players should have been banned from singing the song as well as supporters, this time it should have been done with megaphones in the world's biggest circle on the middle of the ground - with anyone seeing their first ever win against the Hawks allowed to go in the circle with Weideman.

I said from the start of the season that all I wanted was to be an outrageous chance of making the eight with three games to go like 2010, and here we are. Just by looking at the ladder you'd think we had no chance - and we have about 0.1% - but with North woefully out of form and facing Hawthorn, Sydney and GWS in the last three games the idea that they could be thrashed enough to lose their nine percentage point lead on us is not totally kooky. We can beat Port, we can beat Carlton, we probably can't beat Geelong but at least we can hope. Like 2010 we'll probably respond to getting within touching distance by losing the lot, but whatever happens from now is a bonus. I choose to believe Simon Goodwin knows exactly what he's doing, that we might be able to attract some decent players, and that there is a big fat pot 'o gold at the end of the rainbow.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
It's no surprise that in a win like that the votes are entirely occupied by big guns. There were plenty of others who did well, but when it's time for magic you are most likely going to be relying on some combination of....

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Jack Watts
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Dom Tyson

Major apologies to Oliver, the McDonalds, Bugg, Stretch, Kent and Weideman.

We have a ruckman occupying the sole lead in a major award - this is not a drill. It's not over yet though, with Jones and Viney both polling the race could still go down to the final game of the season. This week we bid farewell to Bernie Vince, who slips below the line of doom, and next week Watts will follow unless he picks up at least two votes on Maximum. All the minors except the Stynes remained unchanged and open for the last three weeks - it's unlikely that Weideman will romp home with 3x BOG to snatch the Seecamp, but by debuting in the last four weeks of the season and without us seemingly having a top 15 draft pick this year he will start 2017 as an outrageously short priced favourite.

43 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
40 - Nathan Jones, Jack Viney
32 - Jack Watts
22 - Bernie Vince
15 - 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
8 - Billy Stretch
7 - Jayden Hunt
4 - Ben Kennedy, Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Christian Salem
3 - Sam Frost, Aaron vandenBerg
2 - Tomas Bugg, Jeff Garlett, James Harmes, Matt Jones, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Cameron Pedersen

As the only side to have ever defeated the Demon Army in this award (when I showed up in a foul mood and we had a Chumbawamba reference) I expected big things from the big budget Hawks. Instead they delivered complete dross, with a primary school font that screamed "we are mailing this in" and what looked suspiciously like taunting over the club's respective fortunes since the merger debate. Ours was nicely kerned, well written and featured a copyright defying Superman logo to celebrate Dean Kent's 50th. We win. 23-1-0 for the season.

Stat My Bitch Up
Before yesterday our 22 had a combined career record of 4-68 against the Hawks. Three of those wins were from Vince at Adelaide, and one from Bugg at GWS last year. Even Garlett was 0-6 against them lifetime. What in god's name have we been doing for 10 years?

Crowd Watch (incorporating Matchday Experience Watch)
During the week I got an email inviting me to sign up to do a lap of honour around the MCG for attending every home game. Not my sort of thing (walking), but when I saw players handing out jumpers to my fellow lunatics I was glad to have passed. In 2012 under the same circumstances Luke Tapscott handed me his jumper and was practically never seen again, I don't need to contribute to ruining anyone else's career - especially in a side that looks to have finally got 'it'. I sort of remember what 'it' was.

This year I've been less wacky with my seating arrangements, not going to the very back of the Ponsford for the sake of it even with 25 empty rows in front of me. This occasionally backfires when you take what you think is a seat in the middle of nowhere only for people to gather around you. Yesterday a guy plonked himself in front of me, scoured the Record like it was a publication actually worth reading and whipped out an iPad to start taking photos. "We've got a live one here" I thought, just the sort of innocent civilian who is going to go home needing counselling after a day of hearing me muttering dark threats to nobody in particular. Then I realised he was a tourist when he turned around and asked in a New Zealand accent "are Hawthorn a Tasmanian team?" I should have just said yes instead of trying to do my bit for the tourism industry by explaining how it works, leaving him even more confused than before he'd asked.

By half time I'd moved because the people behind me were engaging the blandest conversation of all time about having chicken for breakfast and/or saying "chewy on your boot" like it was the funniest thing of all time but god knows what our international visitor thought of the ground announcer suggesting "The big pedo was up and about early". I have it on excellent authority that he was stooged into believing that was Pedersen's official nickname by a Melbourne supporting operative, and to that person we say congratulations on your Oceans 11 style heist.

Amongst controversial suggestions that the same kid pocketed the free shoes in Run Like A Demon for the second week in a row nobody noticed at the time that Match The Emoji had suffered the quickest axing since The Bob Morrison Show. Even the flag raising lasted two home games before being discontinued due to popular ridicule. Like Michael Clark in 2002 it managed a career record of 1 win, 0 losses before being delisted.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
We had a welcome return to offering a number of contenders, but as so often happens I'm going to pick something from the first quarter - in this case the very first goal to Jayden Hunt. Apologies to almost everyone else, but especially the team goal started by Oliver keeping the ball in. For the weekly prize Jayden wins a start in the 100m sprint in Rio.

I'm still grappling with the overall choice between Garlett vs Richmond and Watts vs Gold Coast, but leaning towards the latter. I'll be making a final decision by next week.

Next week
Port are going nowhere except around in circles, so if we let them pull off the same end-to-end goals from a metre out as in Alice Springs I will - in the famous words of Terry Wallace - spew up. The idea that we're going to pay tribute to S. Bradbury with the most insane run into the eight ever is just a pipedream, but it doesn't mean we still can't make a statement on a ground other than the MCG. Besides, I want to finish above them to further devalue the pick we've traded to Gold Coast.

Casey tonked the sort of uncompetitive Essendon team you'd expect considering their reserves and playing for the seniors, and while there's no chance in hell we'll make three chances after a massive win I'm going to persist with making unrealistic and possibly harmful demands.

IN: Hogan, Kennedy, Neal-Bullen
OUT: Pedersen, Garlett, Harmes (omit)
UNLUCKY: Half our VFL side who are flying - but especially Hulett, who picked a terrible week to not kick any goals and fall behind Weideman.

Not that it matters but isn't it a bit NQR to finish the season with three away games? Even if one of them is at the MCG.

Phil Read
Hot rumour has it one of the cover stars of the book is demanding royalties. Which would be fine except a) garnishing the profits wouldn't make you enough to buy a floppy MCG hot dog and b) the conditions of entry whenever you step into an AFL venue have you agreeing to the league flogging your image to any 'commercial partner' that they want. I've always wanted to be a commercial partner, do I get Grand Final tickets? Hopefully the person whose drawing I pinched after Googling "fork in toaster" in late 2005 never catches up with me, because I've been dining out on their work for years.

It's going quite well, you know you've been reasonably comprehensive when you're editing furiously to get under an 828 page limit (though to be fair that is at a reasonably conservative physical size - if you've got that book about Norm Smith The Red Fox imagine about that size but 100pg chunkier) but I am starting to feel the tension of having to wrap-up in the next month or so. Please be gentle in your reviews, it is at heart a rampantly amateur production. Meanwhile good thing I added notes to myself wherever Hawthorn's fetish club style stranglehold on us was mentioned so I can go back and change all the references to us losing every game for a decade against them.

Like the Demon Shop I'm doing victory discounts until the end of the year - order by 6pm Monday night for 10% off.  I'm hoping to have the first draft of the cover ready in the next week, which I'll email first to anybody who has pre-ordered.

Was it worth it?
My god yes. The horror stories about people who assumed a loss and concentrated on family and/or friends are enough to convince me that sitting through every outbreak of rancid slurry is worth it for times like this - and if you go far enough down the path of addiction people will realise and stop inviting you to things during the season anyway.

That night I went to a live game not involving us for the first time in four years, and maybe it was because I'd just seen something so beautiful all I wanted to do was watch the replay immediately but can I tell you how god awful bored I was. The only positive was being in the standing area and being able to enjoy drunken North and Bulldogs fans scream abuse at each other. Never again, give me Melbourne or give me sitting on the couch doing 12 other things simultaneously with the games on as background noise.

🎵 Did you realise, that you were a champion in their eyes? 🎵

Final thoughts
I don't want to become the new Richmond, famous for tonking Hawthorn then doing bugger all after. We have to use this as the highlight tape to get the right experienced recruits in to fill the gaps and have a massive swipe at glory. The age profile (CLICHE) is in our favour, nobody other than Vince and Jones needs to get it done in the next three or four years, we've got time for a slow build if that's what it takes. It will be unfortunately ironic if this epoch making victory swings the door open for GWS and that bloke who used to play for us to win a flag. For now fuck them and fuck him, this could be the start of something big.