Monday 1 August 2016

Trial by ordeal

If that's to be the last win of the #fistedforever decade then what a fitting tribute it was to the years good taste and good football forgot. It was without doubt the most slimy, sludgy, oozing filth win of the lot. A victory so toxic that the Center For Disease Control should have ordered the MCG sealed off so that everyone in the place could be quarantined to ensure it didn't spread through the community.

Of the 52 others to choose from (yes, we have won 53 home and away games in the last 10 years) the only other realistic contenders for the podium are struggling to beat Carlton's shameless tanking in 2007, the first post-186 win against the Suns when Nathan Ablett got a game just to keep Gary happy, GWS in Canberra where a clearly uncomfortable Israel Folau played the worst value for money game in AFL history and Brisbane last year where we built a reasonable half time lead then played the rest of the game as if blindfolded.

What they've all got in common is that they came in the second half of the season, where we traditionally go to murky brown water and even the wins lack inspiration. But who are we to be sour about winning anything? If we exclude 2011 for swinging from sublime to ridiculous every second week before nuclear holocaust unexpectedly broke out at Kardinia Park we're half a game behind 2010 - the best year of the decade in a disappointing field - and five percentage points better off. We might get one more win to nudge in front and officially win the decade, but the problem is that while we've had a few good times when we play badly it looks like the sort of junk that will never win more than a few games a year, leaving us floating around mid-table before eventually plunging back into the temple of doom.

The first quarter was classic second half of the year Melbourne - right down to three of our best players in Jones, Viney and Vince being nearly completely absent. You would never accuse any of them of taking things lightly just because the end of the year was looming - especially Viney who would probably headbutt you for suggesting it - but all were beaten easily. No wonder too, they've been going hell for leather since February trying to carry a suspect bottom end of the team. But all I wanted was one last big bang before they slid off gently towards Mad Monday and whatever outrageous costume Dean Terlich is going out on. Just one more hefty bash at glory before packing up and losing the rest. It was too much to ask for, we've reached our limit and only just survived. It wouldn't have made any difference for the future if we'd lost, other than cutting several hundred off next year's membership tally.

Last week our attacking moves were being directed like they were coming from the sort of faulty GPS that causes truck drivers to stack into railway bridges. I was hoping that every waking minute since we returned from Perth would be spent overseeing battle plans more complex than the invasion of Normandy to take advantage of a major midfield advantage against the Suns' injury enforced group of homebrand battlers. The first problem was that Gawn's hitout dominance went almost entirely unrewarded as most of our midfield struggled to get near it. Other than Tyson who was getting a lot of it without being damaging, and Brayshaw who was trying his heart out but is still suffering the early Viney style disposal issues we couldn't create anything moderately attractive. It was flat, boring football that barely generated one decent opportunity in the first quarter.

If our five point attacking plan was based on the Normandy landing beaches Utah was punting it long towards Hogan and hoping for the best, Omaha was kicking it straight to a Gold Coast defender, Juno was handballing in circles, Sword was the bizarre moment when Kent cost us a goal trying to switch from the half-forward flank to the middle of the ground and Gold was in short supply.

Nobody expected an easy win, at the train station I was unwillingly mingled with by a guy who said "we're favourites, so we'll probably lose". I admitted he was right, while slowing down so he'd keep walking along the platform and I wouldn't be roped into half an hour of uncomfortable chit chat. We were warm betting favourites, but like politicians I always suspect bookies are up to something dodgy. The Suns might have been without a midfield, but they were far better in every other aspect than the side we popularly pummelled at Metricon Stadium a few months ago. We'd overhaul them for marks inside 50 by the end of the day, but at the start they were flying for everything while Oscar McDonald jumped in the semi-vicinity of where the ball was landing and the rest of our defence stood around looking confused. The third goal came from Jetta and Tom McDonald trying to mark the same ball as if it was the first time they'd ever played together.

We were also a far different side to Round 7, the free-scoring and players almost looking like they were having fun had disappeared as we flashed back to the days of 2014 where kicking a goal was more difficult than negotiating an enterprise bargaining agreement. When Fox Footy declared it 'Retro Round' somebody should have sent us a fax explaining how it wasn't mandatory to play like it. Or at least attack like 2000 instead of the aimless side-to-side kicking from the early, crushingly dull days of Roos - where we almost entirely sacrificed attack to 'get the defence right', then got three years down the track and sent most of our defenders to the VFL.

No sane person can totally reject the switch, and a couple of times it worked to perfection, but where people start to think about taking up arms is when they go from the wing to 30 metres out from the defensive goal. Last week showed that bombing the ball in and hoping for the best probably wouldn't work, but going all the way back and around the other side was fraught with danger. As was the practice of madly handballing to teammates whether they wanted it or not. There was no comfortable middle ground - despite what the people sitting around me thought you couldn't "just kick it!" every time, because usually when somebody did sink the boot and hope for the best the fans would go "thank god" then complain when it landed in a nest of people dressed like McDonalds employees. To do our bit for swinging a wrecking ball through the ratings we'd eventually get players into space then miss them with a kick that they were expected to gather at their ankles. I'm not carrying the can for nobody watching, we're not the ones that employed Danny Frawley and a miserable Jason Dunstall who only lightened up when he was doing snow gags.

It was a good thing Gold Coast wasted the advantage of a significantly better attacking system by blowing numerous good chances. Try telling me that in the first quarter when we were three goals down and suffering the same impotency that cost us the game in Perth. While we couldn't buy a goal they were going forward effortlessly. Tom Lynch threatened to kick 10, Nick Malceski was left alone to thump through a goal on the run like he hadn't won more premierships than us in the last 50 years, and a Gold Coast version of Garlett took a mark only for the MCG to prove they couldn't be bothered either by putting the profile of our one on the screen. It was the only time they had cause to press the Melbourne Garlett button all day.

They were just as bad as us at disposing of the ball, but were making kicking goals look easy compared to our woes. Hogan barely went near it forward of centre in the first half, not helped by Watts confirming the break-up of their dynamic partnership with an attempted dinky set-up kick to the square missing the target and causing Jesse to slide knee first into the goal post. He hobbled around like he was completely crocked for a few minutes, then came back and played the game out but looked proppy (CLICHE!) right until the end. Even before he tried to do his Phil Babb impersonation he barely looked likely to escape the clutches of Stef Martin's assassin Steven May. Can we please have May? I disagree with his SME killing policy, but I do agree with his sour faced, and angry attacking opportunity killing policy.

I promised myself pre-season I wouldn't get stressed about his contract status, and I'm still not but it's hard to warm to him at the moment. He'll most likely kick more goals than last year, his stats have been better almost across the board, and he's saved our bacon by working hard up the ground numerous times but not knowing if he's 100% committed makes it hard to transfer from lustful glances at Zac Dawson being physically removed from his space to the sort of protective affection I've got for Watts or outright statue-building love for Jones. He's probably unlucky that his haul of seven was flushed away by a shithouse team performance against St Kilda, but I can't go all-in until I'm sure he's staying. I don't think he's a $cully style double agent who has already made the decision to leave, but you can see the increasing frustration at leading such a weird attack that might lead to him doing something insane like asking to play under Ross Lyon. He's got parts of his game to work on, but of course he does - he's young and coming out of a developmental system that didn't exist for his first year, and then didn't apply for the second because he was crocked.

Fair enough that we take a punt on potential and make him very rich, but if we do pay him Goldenballs money it better be seriously front-ended so we're not stretched to the limit paying all the other improving kids later. We need to take advantage of our nearly confirmed status as mid-table mediocrities to pinch some decent players from other clubs, and if we're so full to the brim we can't afford to plug the gaps with quality imports it's going to stop us levelling up to 'perennial first round finals loser'. How does a front-ended contract work? Could you take the massive money in year 1 then demand a trade at the end of the season? I predict that as Freo are now complete balls he'll leave us hanging over summer and into next year to see how they're going, and even if he does sign a new deal it will only by for a couple of seasons. What are we going to do, say "sign for five years or GTFO"? Whatever he wants he'll get, we're in no position to be playing hardball with anyone above Matt Jones level.

In the quest to have the Bailey Quarter renamed in his honour, Roos presided over what probably won't be the last one goal term of his tenure. Even that came from bizarre forward play. I can't rule out a cunning plan where Hogan played decoy to clear the space for Watts to mark on his own in the square, but when you're 30 metres out and have a player storming towards you looking for a target I don't think giving the universal gesture for "kick it over the top" is particularly helpful. Good thing Stretch wasn't fooled, because before Jesse's arm had come down he already had three defenders converging on him ready to spoil. There is no way we are a clever enough team to come up with a cute strategy like that.

So here we were with one goal in a quarter against a side missing its midfield, in perfect conditions and with Gawn beating up his opposite number so badly that the mercy rule should have been invoked. There was light tension and frustration from the people around me, but the overall atmosphere was flatter than a tack as 20,000 people sat there muttering "I knew this would happen" under their breath.

For the man who set us on the final, uncontrollable course towards 186 by engineering that shock 11 goal defeat in 2011, Rodney Eade loves to do us a favour. In Round 1 last year he subbed their only good forward out of the game while it was still there to be won, and this year he made a greater contribution to our forward line than Daniel McPherson by playing the clearly outmatched Jack Martin on Jack Watts. Our Jack sprung us into action in the second quarter with the first goal, then should have had another when he instead nearly set Hogan up to break the point post into the Gold Coast cheersquad but he had them rattled.

As the game descended even further into skill error hell we made the decisive break that ended up winning the game. For one quarter efforts against Gold Coast at the MCG you'll never beat their first visit when we whipped through 6.6 to 0.2 in the first quarter then only outscored them by two points for the rest of the game, but this was close. Which was at least one quarter more than Black Sunday, when they tonked us from siren to siren and Neeld wouldn't have made it to the carpark unsacked if we'd had the money to pay him out.

It feels rude to climb all over Chris Dawes when he kicked the goal that put us back in front, but while he might have been in the right spot and finished with a decent kick the goal was a pure Petracca creation. He did his usual trick move of storming through a confined space and laid the most perfectly weighted kick you'll ever see to Dawes' advantage. Old Brick Hands had enough space that he could make sure of the grab by taking it on his chest. Later he astonished the nation with the sort of massive overhead, running mark that would make him an absolutely vital player if he could do it more than once a month.

We soon lost the lead again, when another one of Gawn's dominant hitouts landed in space without any of our players nearby and was hoovered up by a Suns player who found Jetta trying to take on two tall forwards solo. Enter Aaron vandenBerg, who I'd been tempted to picket against as a forward for the first quarter and a half, to stick two fingers up at me for ever questioning him with one massive mark and one goal on the run as part of our three in the last three minutes. And good for him, if you're going to be proven wrong by a player it's better that you're proven wrong by them succeeding. Still think he's got more to offer as a midfielder than a forward, but in this case I had to hold my hand up (figuratively, I was admitting nothing publicly) and admit defeat.

Until then I'd been right, he was racking up handballs but had barely any attacking impact. He wasn't alone, between them he, Dawes and Garlett must have had five kicks by that point and the only way Hogan was getting any was to roam further afield. Hulk is great at working up the field and taking marks, but there's still something fundamentally wrong with our attack when he has to do it. It's like using Tom McDonald as a playmaker in defence, you don't mind it happening occasionally but it shouldn't be relied on.

The other goal came from another golden Petracca pass, storming out of the middle to demonstrate rare vision in finding Kent on his own. I will never declare a new favourite player again after what happened to Blease, but... you know where I'm going with this. When AVB got his second we were two goals up at half time and I couldn't for the life of me work out how. For Gold Coast it was a Melbourne-esque few minutes of madness that ended up costing them the game, and for us it was a welcome reversal of the direction goals usually went in immediately after we kicked them.

You would think that having dealt them close to a knockout blow after an hour of unholy toil that we might have ridden the midfield and home ground advantages to plow home in the second half like we did in our last meeting. And you would be very wrong. We got one goal after the siren after spending the quarter attacking like they'd swapped Gatorade for LSD. This is where the concept of 'highlights' comes unstuck, we all love watching the goals but instead of having to go back and sit through 30 minutes of the most blunder-strewn effluent that two teams have ever managed to deliver on the MCG a neat five minute package of all our unbelievably bad attempts at kicking goals would be required viewing for future generations to ensure that they don't repeat the same mistakes.

Harmes cost us the first goal with a dicey attempt at centring the ball from the half-back flank, and as if to punish him his next involvement was Tyson putting him under a hospital ball in the middle of the ground. He bravely stood his ground to mark before being poleaxed, quite literally tapped out before being helped off by trainers, and succinctly delivered his verdict on the game by having a big old spew before returning.

It was whatever the reverse of a masterclass is, not only did we have Kent's major brain explosion and attempt to kick backwards into a nest of Gold Coast players but there were multiple times where we had free men inside 50 and the kicker couldn't get near them. At one point there were about four players free and whoever it was instead aimed at the short and set shot adverse Garlett running at full pelt towards the forward pocket boundary line. Even when somebody finally found Hogan on his own in space his sore knee added another layer of complication to his veering run-up and he missed a sitter.

It was going so badly we couldn't even take advantage of outrageous umpiring in our favour, somehow managing to turn a Gold Coast player being pinched for deliberate after having a shot into a Suns goal courtesy of another chapter in Vince's worst game for us as he tried to handball into Harmes' back. This was beyond blunderdome, even with a team almost entirely made up of new players we were in a full-blown 2012/13 style crisis. Bless the other lot for not being able to take advantage, because pretty much any side down to the bottom three (except Richmond, who somehow managed to kick a score worse than any of our numerous terrifying lows in the last 10 years) would have wreaked terrible havoc on us.

One of the most frustrating things about this season, and especially this game, is how Hogan is forced to mark up the ground and kick to lesser players inside 50 when it should be the other way around. I love that he works hard to get up the ground, so it's not his fault, but roll on the second option so at least if he's going up the ground he ends up aiming at an actual forward and not a converted midfielder or somebody who gives you zero faith that they'll be able to complete the grab. In this case vandenBerg was busy making a mockery of my deeply held beliefs about where he should play by storming down the middle with a perfect lead to take the mark and kick the goal that gave us an eight point buffer. Excellent timing too, he marked with two seconds left.

Now it was either going to be the worst win of the decade or the 37th worst loss, and when Kent found Petracca (*SWOON*) with the sort of short kick into the 50 that I've spent years complaining about us not doing we were out to 14 in front and looking reasonably comfortable. One more would have done them in, only to bring back that most classic of Melbourne moves by conceding the reply within a minute. This time to the sort of crumb that we never even looked like pulling off. When you take out goals plucked from nowhere and those scored via handballing over the top to a lone player in the square it makes creating any decent score hard work. Even worse we'd actually attacked straight out of the middle, before Tyson took a mark on the edge of the square and tried to play on with a Gold Coast player standing right behind him.

In a game this complicated umpiring is always in disarray, but like last week after an even first half where baffling decisions went in every direction and there were multiple times where I was left saying "how did we get away with that?" under my breath, we got the royal shaft in the last quarter when it mattered. I've got as much respect for the 'protected zone' as the sliding rule, but at one point a Gold Coast player couldn't have been any more blatant in running through it if he was Jim Stynes at Waverley in 1987.

The Stoppages are Satan campaign, almost abolishing the throw, showing an attitude to holding the ball that would be dead if it was any more relaxed, reducing interchanges and mystifying deliberate decisions like pinching players for having wonky shots have boosted the average team score by a rapidly sinking 2.7 points per game. Winter doesn't help, but that wasn't taken into consideration when people were battering themselves senseless about how footy was BACK after Round 2. Given that I don't expect to win another game the rest of my year will be spent cheering for low scores so I can hang shit on the idea that things have improved this year.

Even before he delivered a better clutch set shot than Salem against Essendon, Watts had been one of our best. But the happy place for many Melbourne fans in a crisis is complaining about him - and when he did a slightly naff kick out of defence somebody to my side let rip with an exasperated "JESUS CHRIST JACK!" as if he'd been doing it all day. It would have been lucky to make our top 100 blunders for the afternoon, but like the day when Cale Morton played a downright reasonable game by his late career standards only for the first post-match talkback caller to hammer him for being useless some players are held at a much higher standard. I could have throttled Matt Jones for storming through the middle, seeing Hogan leading at him then kicking it to his feet but nobody was denouncing him by name. Not at that point anyway.

There's nothing like being turned over by a player you've spent years hanging shit on, and enter previous Kingsley nominee Jarrad Grant to play the five minutes of his Mortonish life. First he delivered the kick to the square which prompted our entire defence to collapse on each other and allow Brandon Matera (who looks like he's about 45) to kick off the ground, then the jammy bastard rolled through a kick from the pocket that could have done anything from going out of bounds to barely scoring a point on the other side but narrowly snuck inside the left post to put them in front. Like last week I felt that we looked so unlikely to score a goal that it was probably a fatal blow no matter how much time was left, and it almost was.

For the next few minutes we half lived on the edge of the Suns kicking the goal that would put us away, and half necked ourselves with poverty stricken attempts at getting back in front. Hopeful bombs to the square, players kicking at each other's feet, and Dawes failing to do a vandenBerg and use my suspicion as motivation for great things by trying to kick a drop punt from an obscure angle and missing. We looked so unlikely to create a goal via anything other than a fluky bounce off a pack into the hands of a free player or a blunder for the ages by a Suns defender that I'm still not sure if Wagner meant to aim at Watts with the decisive pass or whether he was just punting it forward in hope that somebody would be on the other end. If it was intentional it was one of our better kicks into the 50 all day.

After sitting there for 10 minutes thinking "if we lose I will not be shocked, I will not have a tantrum and by the time I get to Jolimont Station I will not care" that thinking was exposed as complete bullshit the moment he had it in his hands. It wasn't just the state of the game, but because it was Watts kicking from a spot where he's been drilling goals all year (which is what I told myself at the time, on replay I can see he was 1.6 from that exact spot and am glad I didn't know at the time). For nearly a decade I have wanted Jack to succeed to ram it down the throat of the people who have hoped for him to fail. Even in my most frustrated moments where I thought he couldn't care less and was on the verge of leaving I wanted him to do something like kick the winning goal after the siren to shut everyone up. This was well before the siren, but the feeling was similar.

His run-up was the exact opposite of a Jesse Hogan, no going back 50 metres then swerving from side-to-side like a drink driver, just taking light, slow, measured steps and almost chipping it through from 35 metres like a training drill. People are obsessed with getting the great forwards of our time to the club to mentor Jesse on kicking straight, why waste your time when Watts can do it? Adjusted for the time, margin and our chances of kicking another it was up there with the loveliest set shots I've ever seen. It never looked like missing, and at least if we were going to lose from there he wasn't going to be the easy target taking all the blame.

With two minutes left it was too early to send everyone back, leaving us to enjoy one of the greatest umpiring blunders ever. In history. Bar not many. The ball was thumped into our forward line for a regulation mark, the player hesitated, then played-on and was buried in a perfect front-on tackle by my man vandenBerg, the ball swished past his boot and hit the ground. I exhale like I'm taking my last breath, only for it to be called play-on. Unless you can find Zapruder film style footage from an alternative angle that shows the ball scraping off the very end of his toe that is so criminal that the umpire involved need not come back next week.

That miscarriage of justice wouldn't have mattered if Kent's hurried 'I don't want to be seen to be taking advantage' kick sat up for Garlett instead of rolling away from him. Not that I had any idea this was going on, I was having something approaching an out of body experience at the shock of the original decision not being paid. I'm so fond of laughing at other people's reaction to umpiring decisions that it should be on my resume under 'hobbies', but I couldn't even tell you how everyone else reacted because I was almost in actual, medical shock.

Then Sizzle Jr tried one of our classic handballs to a stationary teammate, and didn't even connect with it properly, leaving the ball to dribble off the end of his hand. Somehow we got forward again for Garlett - choosing a good time of the day to finally get involved - to almost mark. I remember the dinky handball, I don't remember the mark. At this point it just became a frenzy of people frantically screaming "HOW MUCH TIME IS THERE LEFT" as if we were on a plummeting airplane. I have a great respect for most sports, but if there's anything that offers a more terrifying experience than the last 90 seconds of a footy game where the margin is less than a goal it should be banned.

Who else but Jarrad Grant found Tom Lynch with a perfect kick, and with people blathering all sorts of inaccurate guesses about how much time there was to go around me he turned and took off on McDonald Sr and towards 50. At which point I thought "we are dead" and every false claim about not taking a loss seriously went out the window as I prepared to question the parentage of a certain field umpire. Not knowing which one had done it they were going to cop it as a unit. This went down so well with the guy in front of me that he hurled a half full beer at the wall in front of him, causing most of it to ricochet onto a hapless cameraman.

After a day of Jack Watts taking the piss out of Jack Martin the kick was a half shot, half pass towards the Gold Coast variety, which thank the good footballing lord fell for our Jack to take it uncontested in the square. It would have been so Melbourne if he'd won us the game then dropped the mark and fallen on his arse to lose it, but like the Bulldogs win in 2013 he saved us at both ends. There was still one more opportunity to make a boob of himself, but his short kick found Bernie Vince as we received confirmation that there were only 25 seconds left.

Every second closer to the end would make our eventual demise even more painful but I was almost convinced we were home. I thought maybe somebody would run for him on the opposite side of 50 so he could dink it over to them and run down the clock, instead he got a fantastic lead from Matt Jones, which even if he didn't mark he would have most likely got out of bounds with enough time wasted to ensure they couldn't go 60 metres. Instead he fluffed the kick, leaving Tom Lynch to nip in and intercept it for a shot after the siren.

No better person to kick it either, the best young full forward in the league and the guy Hogan should sit down and watch tapes of every night. He was kicking from a bastard of an angle 55 metres on the boundary line, but that would have just made it even horrendous if it went through. When the siren went the umpire tried to make up for the earlier howler by interrupting his run-up to tell him not to deviate off his line, then stood there watching while he blatantly shuffled a metre out to improve his angle. It would have been a fair payback for the holding the ball disaster at the other end if they'd called play on, and ended the game, but what umpire will ever have the courage to do that?

With nightmarish visions of the weird bounce that sunk us against St Kilda last year I was almost apoplectic at the number of players who stood 30 metres out with their hands on the hips instead of getting back to the square just in case. All the talls who you expect in that situation were there, and I suppose too many players might end up with them running into each other and letting it fly through but this was not a time for logic. If we couldn't have thousands of children running on the field and harassing him like Simon Beasley at Carrara (incidentally, when I searched for that video the ad that played featured a filthily moustached Ben Kennedy and that guy who took all the intercept marks on Queen's Birthday discussing their seduction techniques) the least we could have done instead would be to form a human pyramid at the top of the square like The Flying Wallendas.

When it hit his boot I instantly thought we were dead. He hit it about as well as possible in the circumstances, and it wasn't until it reached its highest point that I realised it was going to fall to the left. And good thing too, because the entire right side of the goalline was unguarded, while half our side stood around with hands on hips. This is laughably what the AFL website refers to as the 'high quality' option. Thank god it didn't drop in where nobody was standing. I'm sure they would have run to it, but please help me understand why you wouldn't have at least two players coming off the fence ready to try and take absolute screamers off teammates if they need to deal a high ball.

It was an exciting finish, and I was still so tense that I left the ground feeling like I'd been kicked in what Gorilla Monsoon used to call the "bread basket", but there was no call for singing songs and clapping players off. Some tried to keep up the atmosphere by treating it like a normal win, I just took a few seconds to compose myself and pushed off. Unless they were going to give Vince the microphone and let him explain why in god's name he was doing with that last kick the four points were enough entertainment for me.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Watts
--- Outrageous distance ---
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Aaron vandenBerg
--- An even more outrageous distance ---
2 - Jayden Hunt
--- A fantastically outrageous distance, not previously known to man ---
1 - Billy Stretch

Apologies to Tyson, Jetta, Kent and Petracca.

I've conducted the annual audit of votes (usually done for the mid-season review, except I didn't bother to do one this year). Did you know that in the first three rounds Max Gawn was the only one of 15 players to get votes in more than one game? Things have settled down since then, only 14 others have polled since. In a new record there was only one adjustment required, Billy Stretch was robbed out of one vote which has now been added in addition to his single this week.

After all that there were absolute scenes at Jakovich HQ as Maximum drew level with the four time champion, threatening to become the first ruckman ever to win the award and the first non-midfielder since Brad Green in 2010. Watts is also lurking, but it's hard to see him picking up at least nine over the last four rounds given that Jones and Gawn haven't gone more than two weeks without a vote all season. By this time next week Vince will most likely come to terms with the same fate Tyson suffered this week and drop below the line, leaving it a four horse race.

In the minors the Hilton remains poised on a knife-edge for the reintroduction of the Hamburglar, and all of a sudden Stretch and Hunt are hot on the heels of Nifty Nev in the Seecamp. Don't stop watching yet, everything except the Stynes is still in play. And a reminder that as of next week any debutantes will remain eligible for the Hilton in 2017.

38 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Nathan Jones
36 - Jack Viney
29 - Jack Watts
22 - Bernie Vince
14 - Dom Tyson
13 - Jesse Hogan
12 - Christian Petracca (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
10 - Neville Jetta (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Clayton Oliver
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

Rules Committee Corner
Maybe there was a fire drill? 44 players went about the game like it was being played inside a burning building.

The idea of Gold Coast beating us in a banner-off is about as far-fetched as us beating Hawthorn in a game of Australian rules football, but I was impressed by their low-budget effort. It was incredibly thin, as you'd expect given the resources, but had a nice, clear font that would put some Victorian teams to shame. The only problem was that it also had such a massive curtain that all the text was rammed into the top half.

On the other hand ours included the word 'fist' for the first time ever. I'm reliably informed that Tom McDonald being called 'the golden fist' in crepe paper has something to do with The Bounce rather than being a subtle reference to other sorts of other popular fist-related activities promoted by the Melbourne Football Club. It was a lovely design, and it wins by heaps. 22-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch (incorporating Matchday Experience Watch)
All the abuse I've flung at other clubs for dance cam, cuddle cam, 'Are You Paying Attention?' and a goal kicking competition for recovered heroin addicts was thrown back in my face when we introduced what is probably only second to when Richmond fans SMSed to try and get their mascot to win a 'race' for outrageously ill-conceived fan engagement ideas. After a contractually obligated chat to some random fans Russell Robertson was forced to introduce a "Match The Emoji" 'competition' where fans were offered the chance to win a prize if they could gurn in a way that matched one of the popular icons. If they wanted to get a really accurate reading they should have shown 💩 and rolled a replay of the third quarter. I'm not sure this was registered with the lotteries commission as a 'game of skill', because conveniently the kid who won was sitting about two seats away from where the previous chat had happened. His prize - a novelty dreadlock wig that isn't even for sale in the Demon Shop any more. Which does not make it a collectors' item.

Somehow at a game against Gold Coast I ended up surrounded by fans, but at least you could sure they'd all be on our side. Which is a mixed blessing, because you might end up with somebody like the guy behind me who you instantly know you could never get along with because he yells stupid things like "HOW DID HE GET RID OF IT?" when it's just been cleanly handballed. At least when he wasn't berating the disinterested small child he'd dragged along for not paying close enough attention.

At the exact opposite end of the scale was the woman in front of me who I could instantly tell operates on the same demented wavelength as me. She screamed every command to a player that was going through my internal monologue, and when the siren went with the ball in Lynch's hands she leapt to her feet and hurled general abuse in his direction in an attempt to put him off. The umpire wasted so much time helpfully reminding him not to play on after the siren that she was blown up and unable to continue by the time he actually kicked it, but it was a fantastic scene.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Obviously Watts wins for his stone cold set shot to win the game, to give it to anybody else would be a sign of sheer madness. He wins a hacked database from Russian intelligence with the addresses of his greatest detractors, a brown paper bag and a lighter. He'll have to generate the rest.

The question is whether it tops Garlett's in-and-out running goal from the boundary against Richmond for the clubhouse lead in the overall award. Like last year when I couldn't decide between two of Jeff's goals (until Jones nipped in and pinched it from him anyway) I'm going to have to sleep on this one for a few days. If so it will see two game winning set shots in the first three years of the competition.

Next week
Now that Hawthorn has rolled around Launceston having a casual afternoon out against Carlton there's scant chance of them taking us lightly as well. They should beat us, and beat us comfortably. If we play like today they will beat us into a coma.

With the greatest respect to Roos (though our relationship may not have survived another year of his insane use of the sub) I haven't watched one of his post match press conferences all year because I know he's going through the motions at these things. This leaves me dangerously trying to interpret his comments via what the club Twitterist puts out. Today he suggested the teams were tired - and no shit they are when five players have played every game, and another five have played all but one as well as most of the pre-season. When you've played the same ruckman one out in every game from Craigieburn to Perth and all places in between you're not allowed to point the finger at fatigue.

We've barely got enough depth to cover a first 22 but there's still been a lot asked of players in the reduced interchange era. It's not such an outrageous number considering our nearest neighbour St Kilda have had 10 play every game, but even last year we had six in every game and two in all whereas they had 3/2. No bloody wonder people are tired, time to start rolling in the randoms.

In the world's most disappointing feeder league Casey thumped a standalone side by 80 points, so who knows what to take out of it. After The Spencil sat on the bench in a dressing gown for 75% of Casey's last game I thought that was the end of him, but he played this week so my Spencil For The 1s campaign is back. At least that will be one player willing to shepherd. We've had a charmed run with Gawn this year, but we've got to try something else other than playing him on the ball 99% of the time. Maximum will have plenty of time for a well deserved rest soon (forget the post Round 23 bye, we get six months off after Round 23 every year), but it's a bit mad to carry on with all our eggs in the one basket now he's been established as the best ruckman in the land. I want him to be All-Australian as well, but if that's the reason for not looking at other options/taking him out of the constant ruck battles it's about as good a future move as dragging Jeremy Howe to 100 games last year JUST IN CASE.

There's no draft implications left, other than where our second round pick will fall, and we're expected to lose to it's got to be time to give somebody a go. If we're going to kill them by tossing them into a sure shambles then we probably shouldn't have drafted them in the first place. Bad week for Hulett not to kick any, good week for the Weid to kick three. Get him in. For at least the fourth consecutive week the INs below don't balance with the OUTs, and I care not a jot.

IN: Kennedy, Neal-Bullen, Spencer, Weideman
OUT: Hogan (inj), Dawes (omit), Harmes, Vince (rested)
LUCKY: Garlett (struggling), M. Jones (every day above ground is a good day)
UNLUCKY; Trengove, Grimes, Pedersen, Terlich (!?), Dunn (god I am sad at the way it's going for him)
MIA: Can anyone confirm Harry O is still resident in the state of Victoria? His dodgy concussion is stretching the bounds of credibility now.

Stat My Bitch Up
It's the return of your favourite stat and mine - points per game. Remember when we were such an attacking juggernaut that the idea of comparing to previous years had been hurled out the window, where it landed with a satisfying thud like a watermelon thrown from a scaffold? If it feels like we've slowed to a crawl in the second half of the year we have - the overall number is still a healthy 19.5ppg higher than last year, but since Queen's Birthday (updated last quarter goal tally since then 1, 1, 1, 2, 0, 2) we're 69.33. Last year we marginally beat the overall mark in the second half of the year, for that to happen this time we're going to have to do something remarkable.

P.S - We can still make the finals if we win the lot and either of North or the Bulldogs loses every game and we pick up 13 - 16%. Given that they're playing each other next week the first leg of the quaddie is in our hands on Saturday afternoon.

P.P.S - This is not a serious theory.

Jeff Write

As much as we're complaining about this season now I guarantee you that by December 1 you'll be pining for the start of 2017 (via the traditional early January injury that confirms the new year has started). So why not reserve your copy of this weighty tome, which at 550k odd words (very odd at times) should work in conjunction with the women's league and hanging out for time trial results to pass the time before the first season of the rest of our lives. Why not force a friend or relative to relive the decade for Christmas? They will initially curse you for it, but will later come to realise that it's a sensitive and novelty filled portrayal of the junk we've been served up since 2007 rather than an emotional, sorrowful journey of self-loathing.

In case you missed it
I sent five of our best and brightest down the Oregon Trail. Four survived.

Was it worth it?
If we'd lost the answer would have been a resounding NO, other than the usual benefits of supporting Melbourne like being able to use the bathrooms without having to queue, but winning just pushes it over the line into a worthwhile use of a Sunday afternoon. If it wasn't for the financial considerations I'd love to have 20,000 through the gate with a handful of opposition fans every week. Getting it over with by 4.40pm is also a winner. Can we cut a deal to play all our games in that timeslot? Why stop there, I'd be up for 9am Sunday games.

Final thoughts
I'm rapidly approaching middle age (and let's be fair, I've done myself so much damage over the years that I'll be extremely lucky to double what I'm at now) and have reached the point in my life where it's OUT: Excitement, IN: As bland a lifestyle as possible. Can we get on with the business of comfortably winning games we're supposed to already? I don't expect flags, just a more comfortable supporting life free of two points buffers where players stuff the ball down the throat of the opposition's best forward with 15 seconds left.

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