Sunday 26 February 2017

Chipping away at the glass ceiling

It didn't compare to any of our other great losing streaks, but finally winning a practice match at Casey Fields feels like a moderately symbolic way to begin our first proper tilt at a drought-breaking finals appearance in almost 30 years. Since debuting at the ground and losing to North Melbourne by 48 points in 2008, we were 0-5, with an average losing margin of 51.8. It felt like we'd played there many more times (and indeed most of our players have during the VFL season) which was probably because each trip felt like it took a year off my life. Even in the Demonblog Towers V era when I lived in Cheltenham and occasionally went to Scorpions games when at a very loose end it felt like an excessive travel distance to freeze my tits off.

If we'd never won a game there at least it meant we'd never lost to Carlton. Which is surprising because they seem to beat us everywhere else. I expected that Neil Craig would continue his almost flawless record of being involved in Melbourne losses, but in the end we were never seriously troubled. The signs were good, nobody was seriously hurt, let's bank the zero points and head towards the next battle.

Even after squashing them in what is undoubtedly a set-up for a shock Round 2 result it still didn't feel like footy season. Obviously the fire for Melbourne related topics is still burning out of control or I wouldn't have motored down to Cranbourne for a practice match, but maybe I am getting over the game in general because I've tried to watch every non-MFC game this weekend and found myself doing something/anything else within five minutes. I've watched more AFLW, and it's not in an attempt to be trendy it's because the games have something on the line whereas the men's pre-season might have been better kept in an era where nothing was on TV.

The first step to enjoying the game as a whole again is obviously to get some meaningful matches, but I'd also do well to stay away from the exhausting non-stop media wankfest about how shit the game is and why we desperately need to play the Grand Final at night etc.. etc.. If it's all rubbish and they're just going to change everything to engineer spectacle anyway then it makes watching a Port Adelaide vs St Kilda trial match seem even more useless than usual. I'll be there until the last dog dies for the Dees, but everyone except us can get stuffed.

Before we could tackle a trip to Casey and parking on a surface that resembled the moon there was a week of controversy over Jack Watts being sent into exile. He showed up after summer with hair like Eminem and was left out last week due to never fully explained reasons about his 'preparation'. He was on the sidelines this time as well, and after the team has put in two decent performances must be battling to get a start in Round 1. What would a pre-season be without rampant Watts coverage? Most years it was the coach telegraphing where he'd be played then putting him anywhere else, last year it was his contract and stomping grapes in a barrel with a fulsomely chested woman, and now this. Do you think our prospective second ruckman dropping out of favour is why future life member The Spencil has suddenly re-rocketed to prominence?

I'm not going to start panicking until he's seen wandering towards the half-back flank at a VFL venue. Hope he turns up at Etihad Stadium for Round 1 in his own brand of board shorts, looking like he's just woken up, parks sideways across three disabled parking spots, then kicks five. There's still very much a spot for him, either Weideman (who looks promising but could do with some extra seasoning in the twos) or vandenBerg (NB: not a vendetta) could make way. But unless he goes to Perth and plays a reasonable game they probably won't, because at footy clubs process trumps everything else. After all, we are the club who made Colin Sylvia wait until he'd recovered from a broken back to serve a one match ban for off-field shenanigans.

I'd hoped to arrive in time to see the last quarter of the women's match, until I drove past the Cranbourne exit on Eastlink and ended up taking a 20km detour through somewhere called Skye. Which was a nice name for what was effectively endless paddocks and a prick of a traffic jam. By the time I finally got to Casey the game was deep in the last quarter and the Dees were busy choking away a comfortable lead. If I got a decent park I could have made it inside for the last few minutes, but my penance for showing up late was to have to drive past the footy ground, the athletics complex, and three cricket ovals before eventually parking next to a rugby league arena. If Paris and Los Angeles drop out of the running for the 2024 Summer Olympics I'm sure the City of Casey would be able to step in at short notice.

Given that I'd already landed just in time to miss the end of the curtain raiser and instead stand around Casey for an hour waiting for the next game to start I thought I'd at least hang out in the car and listen to the end of the women's game. Once we'd won (and you'll be hearing more about that from our intrepid guest reporter soon) I tried to work out how to get to the footy ground. Usually you'd follow the people, but in this case they were all going the other way. For the second week running an impressive number of people were there just for AFLW and could not have given the fattest rat's clacker about the men. Could you blame them if they'd seen us there last time?

Having never parked any further away than the long jump pit this was like going beyond the Do Lung Bridge in Apocalypse Now. I was so far away from the ground that Phillip Island penguins might have wandered past at any minute, and the 15 minute odyssey to locate the Australian rules section of Sports City really helped waste time that would have otherwise been spent kicking dirt and questioning my life choices. All this would have been significantly more painful if the City of Casey hadn't insisted on letting everyone park for free. If you're a ratepayer in that area don't waste your time punching on at council meetings over houses of worship, go and ask why they left $20k on the table by not charging the 4000 cars $5 each. I bet it's because the place is so hard to get into that the financial transactions would cause traffic jams for miles. I know even less about local government than I do footy, so I'm not telling anyone how to run their council but there's being generous to visitors and there's this.

Via an oval where Springvale South were 0-15 off seven overs, chasing 120 for the win I eventually made it - with significant dirt kicking time left. With nothing else to do, no headphones and a mobile rapidly running out of battery I instead paid big money to eat popcorn chicken from the most disorganised food stand ever. The others had queues 40 people deep and this lot didn't bother to show up for another half an hour. Must have been run by the council too. By the time they opened and I got to the front to see them pouring generic homebrand Popcorn Chicken pellets into a vat it didn't matter - I suspended by disbelief in their claims of the chicken being "Southern" and went all in. How the Kaiser wasn't persuaded to attach the trailer and drag it down to Casey is beyond me.

Other than Watts, Jetta, Tyson and Kent we were effectively playing our best team, so for all the usual caveats and the extended squad it was a reasonable look at what we're going to see in the real stuff and I liked it. Not everyone played four sparkling quarters, but for the first time since White, Yze, Johnstone, Neitz etc... it feels like we're developing match-winners. And that's winners plural, because it's no good just having one. Here's to also finding the players at the other end of the scale that we never seemed to have 2004 - 2006, leaving us ready to plummet into greatest sporting abyss known to man.

Given the opposition it's a shame we gave Trengove and Garland the old Jamar 2016 'picked in the extended squad every week then not required' treatment. I'd be especially careful about throwing Garland on the scrap-heap, the brothers McDonald can crash a pack and punch effectively but they were at their wooden leg kicking worst today. What I did like in defence was Michael Hibberd, despite the year off and a moustache which suggests he performs dastardly deeds in his spare time he was excellent. If that's him rusty (though let's have another round of disclaimers about the opposition) we might have done a good deal here. I was less enthused about Milkshake, he wasn't terrible and there was one long bomb into the forward line in the last quarter that dropped perfectly to cause the maximum chaos in the Carlton defence but nothing to make me roll around on the floor in glee. Maybe it's because we've got higher expectations now, I would have jumped the fence to embrace him if he'd put that performance in a couple of years ago.

One of my main footy fetishes was ticked off at the first bounce, with Hogan right at Gawn's feet for the first bounce. I love when that happens, and when we've got a forward with the presence to pull it off. Remember when Mitch Clark did it a couple of times and we experienced simultaneous orgasm? Whatever happened to that guy? My all-time favourite example was Garry Lyon against North in Round 2, 1998 where he hit a blockbuster tackle to save us just as they were about to mow down our lead. At one point Hogan won the ball from the middle, and set up vandenBerg to thump a pass straight down Jay Kennedy-Harris' throat. For added degree of difficulty he took the mark one handed, and it was already starting to look like showtime in the south eastern suburbs.

JFK's mark and finish were great, but I was more impressed with him up the ground. Ever since he turned up people have tried to pigeonhole him as a crumber for reasons possibly no better than the fact that he's an indigenous player, but I reckon he's got heaps to offer in the midfield and our traditionally wonky half-forward line. It's one thing to float through for marks and a few goals here and there, but if anyone acts like he's the second coming of Jeff Farmer again I suggest you treat them like that Nazi fellow and punch them in the chops. Remember, his best game yet was when he had 25 touches against the Crows on the day we snapped the South Australia losing streak. I don't know if he's in serious contention for Round 1 just yet - and what shithouse timing to be unfit when we had a rudimentary midfield then return just in time for it to look relatively star-studded - but I'm glad I listed him as a 'hold' rather than 'sell' in the pre-season preview.

I'm still reasonably confident on my other sells, other than Bernie Vince who was very good today and can feel free to continue sticking it up me for suggesting his best is past him. Which it probably is, but that doesn't mean he can't contribute for a while yet. We can certainly do with somebody in defence who can kick, especially now that it looks as if Salem is being groomed to become a full-time midfielder. God bless the draft for eventually landing us a bounty of mids. Morton and Toumpas must be looking on in anger and wondering where this was to give them cover. You could bring either of them back in their pre-Melbourned state today and Oliver, Brayshaw, Jones and Viney would protect them like a shark cage.

It wasn't just the midfield (INSERT DISCLAIMER HERE), how far have we come in the world that we can honestly say our forward line was light years ahead of the opposition? The 21 marks from 48 inside 50s to six from 36 hints towards that, and that's not even counting the number of times (probably about 27) that we just aimlessly roosted it into attack in the hope of catching the Blues out. It led to intercept mark numbers going through the roof, but it wasn't a bad tactic considering how shaky they were. Certainly generated a few goals, and if we could bring the ball to ground they all stood around looking each other with a confused expression.

It was unnecessary to greet each goal with cuts from Now That's What I Call Hits albums 1985-1995 like we were at an NBL game, but at least we were keeping the CD changer busy. Nobody would be blamed for bringing a limited selection to a Melbourne vs Carlton game, but by the end we'd kicked so many goals they had to spin 'This Is How We Do It' by Montell Jordan twice in a row while I had uncomfortable flashbacks to Year 8. Though it did feel appropriate when Jack Viney's first goal, featuring him gathering inside 50 and having all the time he wanted to get onto his preferred foot before snapping the goal, to be followed by a quick burst of 'Walking On Sunshine'. Later in the day when the DJ had lost interest they'd forget to hit play until the ball was almost back in the middle, meaning you'd get a sliver of the song and had to guess what it was like you were at a pub trivia night.

You had to be realistic and tell yourself it was only the first quarter of a practice game. I'd have added "against Carlton" if we didn't have such a disappointing recent record against them. And who better to teach us about the folly of taking pre-season results seriously than the two time pre-season cup winners? Still, even adjusted for the opposition and the prospect of the latest Round 2 disaster (2008 - lost by 95, 2009 - lost by 53, 2010 - Petterd mark game, 2011 - turned 19 point HT lead into a 45 point loss, 2012 - lost by 108, 2013 - lost by 148, 2014 - lost by 93, 2015 - turned five goal lead into 56 point loss, 2016 - lost to post-ban Essendon) we looked very good. Christian Petracca is about to go absolutely supernova, every morning I suggest waking up and cursing that knee injury for putting him back a season because he's a year away from something spectacular. Remember when we used to play without a half-forward line? He carried on like two HFFs and a CHF at the same time.

It was another day for the Spencil Truthers, those of us who believe he's heading for a first round start. Him giving Gawn a hand in the ruck instead of running Maximum into the ground like a draft horse looks like our only concession to managing players through these games. Otherwise everyone who's anyone is playing out the game as normal rather than being put on ice in the last quarter - and we've got one more week for this to backfire on us when Hogan gets hurt in junk time. Spencer has declared his intention to form a tandem with Max, which you may mock now but remember how dismissive people were when Gawn said he wanted to be the best ruckman in the game? The conclusion is obvious, Spencil for All-Australian.

On the topic of ruckmen, apparently recalled bounces are now almost officially dead. They eventually had to admit some were ridiculously off-centre, but several skewed completely one way or the other and were allowed to go on. As previously discussed I'd just abolish the bounce, but if you're going to keep it then let's just deal with wherever it ends up. If somebody gets screwed bad luck, it's better than some coming back and others being let go. One was so ridiculously out of place that it flew away from the two ruckmen and Gawn crumbed it after it hit the ground.

The more I see of us this year - e.g. two games - the more it looks like Goodwin's fingerprints were all over our style last year. They are playing on like madmen, and most of the time it's coming off a treat. There was one moment in the second quarter that was a masterclass (us - putting on a masterclass for god's sake) in quick ball movement, when Petracca leapt for a high ball and spiked it down into the hands of Harmes as he ran past. I'm not going to know what to do with myself if we start pulling out Harlem Globetrotters shit like this in the real stuff, but suffice to say it's fortunate that I'll be way up the back in Row MM and nobody will be able to see me.

We were clearly the better team from the first bounce, and kicked five goals to one for the quarter from nine scoring shots. Even Carlton's goal came via a sick banana from the pocket rather than anything particularly well crafted - and are you as upset as I am that we didn't draft somebody who can do that AND has a name that is practically "Ladyboys"?

Otherwise their attack was toothless, Levi Casboult can mark alright but I'd rather have Juice Newton back than give this bloke shots on goal. He ended up kicking two, and I can only presume they were from the square because he wouldn't have beaten Earl Spalding, Ben Holland and Jamie Shanahan in a set shot kicking contest.

It's only etc.. etc.. but for once handballing everything paid off, as we split Carlton apart running up the ground for end to end goals. Now Hogan is not only kicking set shots but he's finding space to run into open goals as well. If it unexpectedly all goes wrong it's possible that this might be the peak of my positivity about 2017. Weideman showed a few good touches in combo with him, I think they're going to complement each other perfectly when Sam really gets going.

By the time Hogan set up Salem midway through the second quarter we were five goals in front and flying. Oliver was doing the old Time Splitter routine in packs, Hunt was dashing about at light speed, Lewis and Vince were mopping up everything that came near them in defence and presumably Tomas Bugg was telling somebody he'd rooted their mum. As we continually switched play into acres of space the only downside of the first half was when the Carlton bloke played on from a kick-in with Petracca just metres away but just managed to avoid one of CP5's bear trap tackles. It was about the only thing that didn't go right for him all day. Somebody's even taught him how to kick set shots, put the champers on ice we're going to Disneyland.

While we were running away from them - quite literally most of the time - I was having a grand old time. It was only during the long break that the old doubts about being there surfaced. My mind has been destroyed by on-demand entertainment, there's no time for quiet contemplation anymore. I was like an alcoholic who's quite happy on the gas but bored to death while sober, when the game was on I was fully engaged but the breaks were torture. That's when I really started wondering if it wasn't just better to stay home and watch on TV. The real reason to traipse across town for games like this are the little things you see off the ball, like Dion Johnstone demonstrating an admirably Bugg-esque level of niggle. He'll be spending a lot more time at Casey this year because he could barely get a touch, but I loved his attempts to be irritable by nudging and bumping into Carlton players.

Part of it was probably because I just wanted to keep playing, half time was wasted minutes where I could be enjoying a Melbourne side smashing long passes to targets in a mile of space or gathering the ball in the pocket and centring for a teammate in a better position. It doesn't matter that it was against the team I expect to finish last, and I'm not saying we're going to do this every week but I've got renewed confidence that we're going to eke out some revenge for what we've been through on other miserable teams this year.

As we pushed past the Chris Sullivan Line I felt comfortable enough to accept that we'd finally see a win at Casey, and not for the first time that provoked the other side to pile on a run of goals. Three in a row cut the margin to within striking range if they were good enough. Which they most certainly were not. God knows who most of them were, but sending out sides that can only be identified by the Bluest enthusiasts hasn't stopped them in either of their last two starts against us. My favourite bit was when Charlie Curnow met Clayton Oliver, presumably telling him that the best way to avoid being pinged for driving over 0.00 on your Ps is to just not stop at the booze bus in the first place.

We didn't really need a steadier at 34 points up in the last minute of the term, but I wasn't going to say no. Another long distance kick by Melksham found the Carlton backline in total disarray, leading to first Gawn marking unopposed, then lobbing it over the top for Weideman and Viney to raffle. They were so far in the clear running into the square together that I had a moment of panic about them stuffing it up with a bit of Warner Brothers style "You first", "no you first" hesitation. I note on the replay that Dwayne being the shit bloke he is tries to make out that Viney demanded the ball rather than it actually being pure Gentlemania by Weideman.

They got a couple of token goals in the last quarter to briefly make it tolerable for their fans, those who weren't already filing out the door, before deciding that they'd done enough and rolling over in the last few minutes while we racked up a near 10 goal margin. There was even an unexpected highlight of Joel Smith trying to contribute to the family business with an attempt at a massive screamer. I'd already forgotten Jeremy Howe existed until I heard him doing a radio ad on the way down, but if Smith can start holding those then we won't have lost anything. The guy standing next to me was very keen to tell anyone he could find that Joel's dad used to do that. I just avoided eye-contact to stop from being roped in.

With 7000 people in the ground - less all the ones who'd racked off after the women's game or during the last quarter - I trudged back to the car expecting a minimum 60 minutes spent puttering along at 3kmh, not fast enough to feel you're achieving anything but too quick to amuse yourself by browsing your phone. I was lucky to get into the queue to begin with, first the guy in front of me jammed his 4WD into reverse unexpectedly, and if I didn't have clear space behind me to do the same would have copped the old sandwich job. Then once that was cleared up the bottom of my car was nearly ripped out attempting to traverse a dinky little 'ramp' set up to bridge kerb and road.

By now I was starting to stress, and having heard *CLUNK* *THUD! THUD!* as my trusty Toyota Yaris (bought immediately after the 2006 season, it has hosted hundreds of one-man post-match debriefs since) bounced over the concrete I thought I could hear 'a noise' and smell something sinister. The last thing I needed was to sit in a queue wondering when it was going to die and leave me stranded. Against all odds not only did the car make it out of the Casey Fields precinct and all the way back to the Towers but since the last time I was there they've opened a second exit back to the main road. Apologies to the poor traffic management person I made snarky faces at when he directed me towards "South Gippsland Highway", which sounded more likely to land me in Leongatha than Lower Plenty but eventually via several dozen residential streets put me back on the main road and on my way within 15 minutes. What a feat of modern engineering.

While I was finding my way out I enjoyed a masterclass in radio broadcasting by SEN special comments man and former Tankquiry scapegoat Chris Connolly. In the space of a couple of minutes he praised the performance of "Christian Slalom", referenced St Kilda's Paddy "McCartney", wondered if Jeff "Gartlett" would be returning and suggested vandenBerg provides much needed "angro" to the team.

And so, we exited Casey Fields with one real win in an AFLW game and one fake win in a practice match. How did this club suddenly become the pre-season form team? We should get some sort of tawdry shield for our contributions over the last two years. In lieu I'll take 10 boxes of whatever JLT sell.

2017 Paul Prmyke Plate for Pre Season Performance votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Jesse Hogan
3 - Bernie Vince
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Jordan Lewis

Apologies to Gawn, Jones, Viney, Oliver, Hunt, Brayshaw, Kennedy-Harris and Hibberd.

With one voting scoring opportunity left the ball is in Jesse's court, and perhaps he will finally receive a life-changing bounty in Western Australia after all? Personally I'd take him, let him chum around with friends and family then not pick him to play. What's left to prove now?

9 - Jesse Hogan
7 - Max Gawn
5 - Jayden Hunt, Christian Petracca
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Bernie Vince, Jack Viney
2 - Dion Johnstone, Nathan Jones, Christian Salem
1 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Jordan Lewis, Joel Smith

After last week's controversy where our banner fell to bits before the players could get to it there was a shock repeat. This time it couldn't have been better timed, with the players about to run through it. If it was a few years ago it would have come down just as they were running underneath and half our team would have suffocated.

The good news for the cheersquad is that as Carlton couldn't even be arse to put a token effort together we still win just for turning up with one. Here's to the same banner being wheeled out every week for the rest of the season until it finally stays upright. 1-1 for the Dees in what is already promising to be an exciting season for this feature.
Crowd Watch
If you're going to have to be rammed shoulder-to-shoulder against other people with nowhere to escape it was the perfect combination of teams. We're still not confident enough to get chippy and Carlton fans know they're in for a shithouse season, so everyone around me generally kept quiet. For some reason I always seem to be near horny couples at footy games, and my key concern was about the two in front of me during the second half who looked quite a bit alike and were standing with an older male who was presumably one (or both) of their dads. The guy effectively dry humped his female companion for the entire third quarter without the responsible adult batting an eyelid. I expect the Casey carpark is a dogging hotspot on non-matchdays but this was a shameless exhibition of lust. By three quarter time I had to move away because it was becoming embarrassing. We wish them well in their future fornications.

When a female umpire turned up I was bracing for 'terrace humour', but in a further demonstration that the corner might have been turned on gender issues the only mentions she got were the usual crowd moaning about decisions. Imagine the hypocrisy of somebody arguing against a female umpire being used, as if they sit there every week praising the work of the whistleblowers and are concerned that the standard's going to drop if ladies are admitted.

And we assume that the kid wielding an inflatable banana in a Carlton jumper was trying to bring some summer feeling to the game rather than preparing to be involved in a race hate scandal. These days it's not easy to tell which way things are going to go.

Cash Money Brothers
The rear of our jumper remains without a sponsor, and for god's sake surely somebody with a few dollars behind them must realise it's the right time to get involved. If like that guy from Kaspersky you work for a foreign company with endless supplies of wonga, why not suggest your to your boss that he also rings the membership hotline and asks who he can write a check to. If you're lucky you won't be on the first flight home or end up floating down the Ganges River.

Random House
In case you missed our expansive promotional campaign, a revised version of the Demonblog book is now available. Here I was in mid-October thinking that it was safe to close off a Unabomber length manifesto about the #fistedforever decade. Then Harry O retired with concussion, the Hamburglar was picked up drink driving and Christian Salem dropped a brick on his head. Ironically the new version is likely to end up even rarer than the original, but if you haven't got a copy yet now would be an excellent time to start. If nothing else you'll be able to assault a St Kilda fan with it at Round 1.

Next Week (+1)
We've got the pre-season bye, then with our form in nothing games approaching certified world standards where better to end it all (figuratively speaking) than at Subiaco? Also if you're into omens, the last time we played St Kilda in Round 1 we lost our last warm-up game by 110 points. At one point there was a suggestion players would strike over the new pay deal negotiations instead of playing the third pre-season match, and I say there's still time for them to convene a union meeting and save us from another of our traditional disasters in the west.

Was it worth it?
With the unexpectedly speedy exit and the bottom of my car not dropping out on the Monash Freeway I'd have to say yes. The place shits me to tears, and if I move even one street further north there's every possible chance that I'd stay home and suffer Dwayne next time, but you can't argue with seeing further signs of recovery.

Final thoughts
We're 2-0 for the immediate post-#fistedforever decade. This is either setting us up for the time of our life or a royal screwjob that will send the whole place under.

Saturday 25 February 2017

Fields of Dream

I was otherwise occupied missing the appropriate turnoff to Cranbourne and ended up hearing the last quarter in section 87B of the carpark, so thanks to intrepid reporter @daniel5faulkner who provided this guest review of yesterday's AFLW match

Hi everyone, most likely Dees fans but who knows... I'm here to cover the Dees vs Blues game in this historic AFL Women's competition. I've heard several negatives about the women's game which I simply don't get. The spectacle is amazing, brings so many fans that wouldn’t usually go and if you don’t believe there is passion you haven’t seen them sing the song. It's probably done with more gusto than you or I. But I am not here to calculate gusto levels, let's talk about the game.

If anything could describe this game in one moment, in one beautiful moment, it would be how Richelle ‘Rocky’ Cranston was left by herself inside 50 for the easiest goal of the game. Which also happened to be the decider, as for the previous four minutes the game had been deadlocked. What a beautiful but shocking sight for Blues fans, they'd recovered what seemed an unassailable gap at three quarter time to draw level before then.

That is the women's game, low scoring but not as long as even the shortened JLT Series matches. So we see these massive bursts, and in my opinion that's when the skills explode. One player who was there all day was Daisy, I recorded a few passage as the game went on and each included Daisy because she was dominant in the key moments. I'm very happy for her to represent the club going forward along with Jack and Nathan.

Before we got to the thriller the game didn't look like it was going to be exciting. The first quarter was one point to each side, with very few chances to either team. A mark at each end could have capitalised but was not to be. Although Melbourne seemed to have more chances it was Carlton that seemed to have the better chance near the end of the quarter with Nat Exon.

Both teams seemed to fire up in the second quarter. Within the first minute there was a quick clearance, and Cat Phillips passed to Elise O’Dea for a finely deserved goal. She was a Demon fan growing up so what’s not to love? After this were two 50/50 frees that went against us and ended in Carlton goals. "How Melbourne" I hear you yell, but both Kate Shierlaw and Darcy Vescio kicked terrific set shots. Sometimes you have to respect the skill despite the result. Get used to Darcy's name and quickly, she's a genuine star and been a favourite of mine thanks to her podcast ‘This AFL Life’.

From here Melbourne had a few shots at goal, one from Ainslie Kemp running into goal and not making the distance, and Alyssa Mifsud missing for a behind. But within a few possessions of the kick in Mifsud had another chance at goal and kicked truly. The next goal came from a beautiful passage of play where the ball went from Daisy Pearce, to Richelle Cranston, then Elisa O'Dea and finally Shelley Scott who who kicked the goal. It was a smooth, and it seemed that when there was a quick procession of play we'd get the goal.

Another quick passage of play from the centre featuring O’Dea, D. Pearce to Paxman didn't get the result. It shows the understanding the players have from their time at Darebin. Shortly after there was another of those fantastic moments, Lily Mithen, to Daisy Pearce, leading to a Mifsud goal. When the club starts running they start bolting.

One thing I've noticed in Dees women's matches are 50 metre penalties, which don't seem to happen anywhere but Melbourne. Two of these came within 30 seconds of each other, from the first encroachment 50 the Blues kicked a point before we got one and Deanne Berry kicked a goal. It wasn't clear what it was for, I tried to track it down on TV as well but it wasn't any clearer.

When you watch a women’s match you need to accept something. Daisy will tackle people… all day long. It’s just a fact that she wants the ball, and she's one of those unique footballers that wants it and doesn't expect it to be handed to her on a platter. It almost seems she doesn't like the easy ball. To top off her work she was involved in yet another passage of play, handballing to Mifsud who kicks a goal. At the start of the last quarter it was 36-17. Easy right? Game over. Surely. Not when they play in Melbourne colours.

With goals in order to Isabella Ayre, Bianca Jakobsson and Ayre again. The game was even. And that’s when it happened. Somehow Melbourne got it down to an unattended Cranston. And goal… if only every goal was that easy. Game over, Dees win. Our hopes are still alive to reach the final stanza.

2017 Debbie Lee Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Daisy Pearce
4 - Karen Paxman
3 - Alyssa Mifsud
2 - Elise O'Dea
1 - Lily Mithen

16 - Daisy Pearce
12 - Karen Paxman
11 - Elise O'Dea
7 - Alyssa Mifsud, Lily Mithen
5 - Cat Phillips
4 - Alyssa Mifsud
2 - Lauren Pearce

How unreal is it that iSelect are making the women's banners? It read As kids AFL was make believe, now we're making kids believe. Dees win. 3-1 for the season.

Was it worth it?
I believe so. The women's game is something I think truly needs to be seen live.

Final thoughts
Demons dominated all stats bar Inside 50s, which are a rubbish stat in the women's game in terms of the long term view. Our women's team were always going to be better than expected, the midfield of Paxman, Pearce and O'Dea all played together at Darebin and Paxman should have been a marquee player. It helps that we've snuck a few players through that I think may have been hidden and/or recommended by the Darebin girls. Daisy is cleary the best player in the competition, but very much helped by a supporting cast.

Sunday 19 February 2017

NB: A side called Melbourne is inside the top four

See also the post on the same day's men's practice match.

Unable to stay after the first game, and unable to go home and watch live I took the ridiculous view that I could keep a media ban alive until watching this on tape. Which might have been fine, except when I flicked over to ABC Newsradio in the car expecting some dry examination of the Estonian parliament only to discover that for no apparent reason they were doing live coverage. Which blew the surprise that approximately 25 minutes after the first bounce the score was one goal apiece.

Then after I'd finished writing the regular post for the men's game I had to go onto Twitter to post it, exposing me to the last post on my feed. Which was about Daisy Pearce, with a picture of her playing against the Dogs. Was it a picture from this year? Was she in the media because we won or was it a coincidence? I have no idea why this all mattered to me, why not just listen to it on the radio? Because the words Melbourne, Football and Club used together (note: not with North or Port) have a ridiculous hold on me.

Then once I'd finished everything else I needed to do it was midnight, and given the choice between avoiding social media to continue the ban or ignoring another early start and watching it I naturally chose the latter. Which I am paying for in significant fashion now, but stuff it I have no regrets.

Oddly enough we declined to play Daisy Pearce in the middle from the start again. Last week it was when she went into the midfield that we took off and shot past the Pies. It's a weird tactic considering that's two weeks in row that she's barely had a touch in the first quarter. Why sacrifice your best player? I don't understand the thinking behind that. Not surprisingly she started racking up touches galore when she went back on the ball.

As we with every other week in this competition we gave away a cheap goal, in this case the first one, and surely in low scoring games nobody has handed over more freebies than us. This time it was a free against Catherine Smith, who has ridiculously long hair which will no doubt be yanked by an opponent at some point this season. She also did a great passive aggressive arms wide open, incredulous look at the umpire after it was paid.

The Bulldogs were clearly the better side early, but missed several opportunities at goal which cost them. Up popped Harriet Cordner right in front after barely getting a touch the last two weeks for the goal that I heard while flicking channels on the Western Ring Road and we were back to within a kick. I especially enjoyed how she jostled her opponent after kicking it, if I'm going to have to live without Lynden Dunn this year then somebody's going to have to take up the jostling.

Unlike the first quarter we got on top in the second, coincidentally when Daisy went into the midfield, and after having the first five inside 50s of the quarter finally got a goal through a snap from Deanna Berry. Now it was our chance to waste multiple chances. I liked Alyssa Mifsud's leading and marking inside 50 but she couldn't convert it into a goal. It was a level of forward pressure that the senior side might want to study, instead of letting sides rebound all the live long day.

Because Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome crosses genders you felt that all our dominance for the quarter would go out the window when we let them kick a late goal. Instead we got Mifsud's alternative route to goal, waiting for a loose ball to fall at the feet of the contest then just shoving her opponent out of the way and dribbling through from the square. This was good. The Bulldogs fan who had earlier gone on for minutes about how much he loved the way our women's team played obviously knew what he was talking about.

It was the third quarter in the last four we'd kept a side scoreless, and I'm not even sure they went inside 50 once for the quarter. They only did it five times in the whole of the half. It eventually took - SURPRISE - a free for a high bump to gift them another shot which they converted. This caused Channel 7 to cut to a Footscray version of Catman - a nuffy in a costume doing an insane dance.

For all our dominance we were only nine points up and vulnerable to the same sort of surprise reverse that subjected the Pies to last week. Until they kicked another goal straight after, cutting the margin to three and causing fireworks to inexplicably go off. Has a team ever celebrated getting back within one straight kick by firing off explosives? We should have done that in 2013 whenever we got within 10 goals. I suspect the fireworks operator just got excited by the goal and leaned on the big red button.

They were unable to recall the big bang when shortly afterwards Mifsud got her second, again manhandling an opponent in a contest close to goal. We would have been back to where we started if Cranston hadn't missed an open goal - sadly this week she also missed hitting anyone in the head. Speaking of AFLW players I've declared my favourite it was another good week for Cat Phillips, not as dominant with her speed as last week but still better than you'd expect an expert frisbeeist to be. Other than her, everything I know about frisbee comes from California Games:

For some reason the Brad Green/Manchester United style fun fact about her that commentators run into the ground is that she's a 'speedster', and nothing to do with the competitive throwing of a plastic disc.

Footscray's challenge was snuffed out by a third goal for Mifsud, as the female answer to Jesse Hogan became the first Demon ever to kick three in an AFLW game. The double counter-attacking suckerpunches hadn't cost us too badly. For now at least the season remained alive - with Collingwood, Freo and GWS all wiped out (and any GWS loss is good for footy) at least we can be fairly sure we're not going to be sucked into a wooden spoon battle no matter what happens from here.

Still not sure about our forward line - Mifsud Mania notwithstanding - but the defence is rock solid. If you take out the goals we've gifted sides with free kicks or 50s there wouldn't be many others left. Despite this we couldn't get rid of the Dogs, another goal that cut the margin to nine set off an even more baffling fireworks display and they attacked again immediately. Laura Duryea unnecessarily gave away a free by suplexing her opponent, which was lucky not to give away another goal. I enjoy the way that every time she goes near an opponent there's a chance that she's going to inadvertently cause them injury.

The Dogs were alive again, like the first quarter - and us in the middle two - they were in charge but couldn't convert it into scores while we were unable to clear out of defence. At last a goal from a 50 finally went in our favour, when Mel Hickey kicked the sealer against the run of play. It was a double blow for the Dogs, they thought they had the mark in the first place before giving away the 50.

Finally, after that exhibition games where their ring-ins beat our ring-ins the Bulldogs women's team are back to being our bunnies. Turns out we're pretty good as this caper.

2017 Debbie Lee Medal for Player of the Year
Two new faces in the votes this week, but the big hitters continue to dominate.

5 - Daisy Pearce
4 - Alyssa Mifsud
3 - Elisa O'Dea
2 - Lauren Pearce
1 - Karen Paxman

11 - Daisy Pearce
9 - Elisa O'Dea
8 - Karen Paxman
6 - Lily Mithen
5 - Cat Phillips

4 - Alyssa Mifsud
2 - Lauren Pearce

After the unfortunate banner scenario in the men's game we were lucky to have the posh iSelect sponsored version for this game. In competition was a Bulldogs one which tried to refer to two teams as 'pioneer' rather than 'pioneers' to help with a rhyme. No thanks. Dees 2-1.

Next Week
As we continue to await the Daisy Pearce goal that will make that Chemist Warehouse ad seem more legitimate, it's Carlton in a double header with the pre-season game. If the conditions are anything like the last game we played at Casey Fields don't bother turning up. The Blues seem to be very good, and while we've really started to pick up in the last couple of weeks (and Brisbane have turned out to be good), I suspect they'll clean us up.

Final Thoughts
Don't think I can cope with two games in a day. If you want to write a guest report for the Carlton game I would like to hear from you.

The kings of summer are back

See also the post on the same day's Round 3 AFLW game.

First it was Ballarat, then it was Craigieburn, now Footscray. Pit us against the Bulldogs at any offbeat pre-season venue you like, we've got them covered. In this time they done reasonably well for themselves, but while nothing that happened today should be seen as an earth shattering predictor to a wonderful future I'm still not past the stage where every kind of win counts. That's why, in an unwelcome flashback to the Ballarat game, I was moderately panicky when it looked like we might cock it up in the last minute. It wouldn't have mattered if we did, it's not like balloons are going to drop from the sky if we extend our pre-season winning streak to five against Carlton next week. Let's concentrate on beating them in a game for points eventually.

When the first game of the season is at a ground where there's no big screen (no decent one anyway in this case) I'm usually in total disarray. The last time I watched a live sporting event was when we were humped at Kardinia Park, and at this age the brain struggles to pick up the pace again. Then there's the usual drama of trying to work out who's who and compute why Jake Spencer has changed his number after eight years. It's not just the on-field stuff that was troubling me, I thought the truck at the end of the ground housed toilets, until I got right under it and realised that it was holding the scoreboard up. Lucky there was a real WC immediately next door or I may have played havoc with the electronics.

I'd never been to the Western Oval before. Not even for a casual midweek dog turd dodging stroll across the turf. As a kid mum would take me to the MCG, Waverley and nowhere else. Even VFL Park got the arse after they started charging $5 for the connecting bus. Obviously the most notable game there was Round 22, 1987 but I'd come in much later than that. Opportunities were few and far between, from my first game to the time the place was mercifully shuttered after 1996 we only played there nine times - and three of those were in the lost years of 1995/1996 when I was too busy being a sullen teenager to watch footy. At least it meant missing the Round 13, 1992 debacle when we ruined Stephen Wearne's debut with a 107 point loss.

Suburban venues probably hold attractive memories if you followed the team that played there, or were present for a great win, but there's no romance in them for me. You can swing the gates open for every food truck in the western suburbs but the ground in the middle of the housing estate in Craigieburn was still a better place to watch a game. I can't understand how they ever had a stand along the road side, it's not as difficult to work out as how they ever played games at Glenferrie Oval with trains whizzing past five metres behind spectators but it's close. Now that the ground is open on one side we could enjoy the hundreds - and this is no exaggeration - of motorists who thought they were getting involved by tooting their horn while driving past. At least some of them had the courtesy to lean out the window and shout outright abuse.

The latest outbreak of misery in Geelong (and this year we play them away at Etihad, possibly the first time going there will be an upgrade) was practically forgotten a week later, but to be entirely honest I remember more about that day than I did today. This just whizzed past me in a blur, and while I greatly enjoyed watching a Melbourne Football Club game as always the wider footy industry is starting to bore me. I never read the papers, didn't see any of the other games this weekend and quite frankly do - not - give - a - flying - fuck about any non-MFC topics. Maybe I'll get bored of the Dees too eventually? Hopefully after a flag.

What I did see was Jesse Hogan throwing hapless defenders out of the way with ease. It's what he does best, and we sadly lacked it in the last few weeks of 2016. Even before the Mighty Ducks Finish was snuffed out by that rancid performance against Carlton he was struggling. Now, re-signed and much heavier of pocket he looked great. At one point he even took a huge contested mark in the middle of a pack, and his lop-de-lop Peter Taylor spin bowling run-up was reduced to a short shuffle at the start before ending normally. More importantly most of the time it ended accurately. I especially liked the goal where he fended the Bulldogs player off being snapping it. For all I know the defender could have been the same rookie list hack who threw Colin Garland over the fence last year, but it looked good.

Down the other end the game started with a massive extraction of piss, as Travis Cloke flashed back to Queen's Birthday 2015 by taking an easy mark in front of T. McDonald then flawlessly converting a set shot. The last thing we need is for Sizzle to enter the sort of downward spiral he hit after that day before we've even played a competitive game. Happily Cloke's best work from then was confined to well up the field where he couldn't do us too much damage.

After they responded to our opener with two in a row I naturally became pessimistic and just assumed that we were going to lose, but we were moving the ball reasonably well. It seems Simon Goodwin was all but in charge last year, so there were no surprises when we played on at all costs. Even our kick-ins were quick, and now that I think about it we were much less disastrous with them than usual last year. The problem was that our attacks broke down on or around the 50 they were pinging straight down the other end unchallenged - so far, so much like every other year since about 2004. Still, after the early Cloke scare the defence calmed down and held firm - allowing us to get back in front by quarter time. Sure they were missing five or six premiership players, but we didn't have err... Watts and Jetta? Shame Trengove and Johnstone got chopped from the original lineup, I was looking forward to seeing both of them play.

I suppose it's what happens in pre-season games, but one of the weirdest aspects was how players would play amazing bursts then go missing. Jeff Garlett dominated the first quarter and a bit, with three goal assists while Jordan Lewis could barely get a touch, then after quarter time Lewis came into the game and Garlett all but disappeared. Then there was Joel Smith, who I instantly fell in love with during a five minute period in the second quarter where he was in everything - including one blockbuster tackle for holding the ball that made me quiver. Gawn was excellent again, and there was one pass to a leading Viney in the that was better than any ruckman had a right to lay on. From hard on the boundary the new co-captain even rewarded him by converting it. Maybe things are turning in our favour?

With five minutes to go in the second quarter we were 20 points in front, and so untroubled moving the ball that the Bulldogs could really only stop us when we made a mistake. But what's a Melbourne game without a period (or in this case two) where we go to sleep and let the other side get a run of goals? Three in the last four minutes cut the gap to less than a goal before an ultra late one saved us, just as I was about to denounce them all as the same old Melbourne, gave us some breathing space. For some reason this mattered to me. Possibly because we're somehow without a back of jumper sponsor a month before the start of the season and could do with a win to generate some buzz. I hear Energy Watch is under new ownership, maybe we should try them again? Meanwhile are we going to be sporting the all red rear of jumper in competitive games as well? I'm not into it, bring back the blue - but it's certainly better than our hideous new clash jumper.

Issues still remain, there was clearly a move to play Salem in the midfield and while he did well it robbed us of a player in defence who could reliably hit a target. I don't understand how between him, Stretch, Vince and Lewis we were still relying on the brothers McDonald to take so many decisive kicks out of the backline. It's a solid gold recipe for howlers. Get a good kicker down there, give it to them and let the Sizzle Family unload long bombs down the line instead of trying to hit perfect 40 metre switches across goal. Meanwhile as much as we love Hogan marauding up the field and taking marks I still think it would be better if somebody else was doing that so he could terrify defenders inside 50. Weideman was in the right place at the right time for a couple of goals, and I'm hoping he can get up the ground and get more touches as he gains experience. And let's not forget Jack Watts, until 15 minutes into Round 1 when we play him in the ruck and he does his knee.

Speaking of rucks, how can you not love The Spencil? The man is going to get a life membership before he hits 50 games, looks like he's been marooned on a desert island for years, and is never going to get any better at disposing of the ball but how can you fault the intensity? I suppose when you're in his position you wouldn't have survived this long if you didn't care, but I love the way he chases and attacks loose balls. God willing we won't need to use him often this year while Gawn's got the top job sewn up, but I'm very fond of him.

With Gawn, lessons have clearly been learnt from last pre-season. Now that we know he's practically the best in the business there's no need to run him into the ground in these scratch matches. Last year he was rucking 95% of a game in 30 degree temperatures, this time they sensibly split his time with Spencer to ease him into it. I wish they'd taken both he and Hogan off at the end though, because in a flashback to that St Kilda game at Etihad last year there was likely to be a world first lynching of a winning coach if either of them got hurt. Then Hogan landed and clutched somewhere between knee and ankle. The world stopped spinning as he hobbled to his feet looking moderately crocked, before swearing it off and getting back into the play. I'm expecting they'll have discovered that he's actually fractured his leg and somehow stuffed his back up again at the same time too.

The second half was a clinic of Clayton Oliver up close and personal disposals. His hands in traffic are ridiculous, just watch the times where he's either about to be or is being tackled and still manages to find a target. I have a sixth sense that he's the sort of guy who's going to get sucked into some sort of off-field bullshit (my ouija board doesn't tell me how serious) during his career, but we're onto one here pending major on or off-field disasters.

Most everybody did something worth watching for, except Josh Wagner who has apparently suffered a very unpleasant sounding dislocated shinbone. I didn't even know that was possible. It's no good for him, but not a major drag on our Round 1 side considering we've got Jetta to come back. Possibly in an attempt to look less like a 45 year old woman, Melksham has gotten a very silly haircut and was hardly dominant but had a few nice touches. Kennedy-Harris did well on return from injury, but let's be very clear that he is in no way a crumbing forward. Remove that idea from your head. He's a midfielder/half-forward flanker, as best demonstrated by one sublime Hamburglar-esque pickup and handball on the outer wing.

Alex Neal-Bullen is an interesting case, he reminds me of Cale Morton in one key way. Which is never usually what you want to hear, but go with me. I am absolutely convinced that if you play him forward he might kick a few goals, but am struggling to have faith in him as a midfielder. The good thing is that like Morton they'll never do it, so I can continue to claim I'd have been right for years to come because the idea was never disproved. I'm not suggesting the goal he kicked here, where Gawn freshed aired a contest and it bounced through for ANB to tap home, forms part of my dossier of evidence. In fact I don't even have a dossier, it's just gut feel.

With four minutes to go we were 25 points up, but like the first half a few minutes of madness cost us. In fact now that I've watched the highlights I realise we were 17 up with 100 seconds left. As I said to the person standing next to me, a 17 point lead to us is a one point loss waiting to happen. This failed to take into account the dreaded Jesus Christ Supergoal. I forgot they were even on offer, because as usual we refused to participate and instead concentrated on the ones that will count in the regular season. They got one, but still needed another in the last minute and almost did it. I expect the shot was rolling wide anyway, but Lewis punched it through for a point and we managed to navigate the last few seconds to confirm a win that will go down alongside Wizard Home Loans Cup Round 1 2005 and the Kaspersky Cup in pre-season wins that we won't remember in three weeks' time.

2017 Paul Prmyke Plate for Pre Season Performance votes
5 - Jesse Hogan
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Joel Smith

Apologies to Lewis, Vince, Oliver, Garlett and Spencer.

Combined with votes from the intraclub that gives us...

7 - Max Gawn
5 - Jesse Hogan, Jayden Hunt
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Dion Johnstone, Nathan Jones
1 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Joel Smith

Absolute tragedy, as a near certain win against another corny Bulldogs banner which didn't even have a message on the b-side went up in smoke as ours fell apart. All I saw before it was de-hoisted was that the top line declared cricket season to be over, which is an admirable way to treat tomorrow's T20 international in Geelong featuring the Australian reserves. For the first time ever, and it pains me to do this, I have to report that the Dees are behind. 0-1 OTHER.

A correspondent sent us this harrowing image of the fallen crepe being taken to its resting place. RIP.

UPDATE: Cheersquad sources suggest 20 people were "coated in blue dye" as it went down. Which opens a new promotional front:

Crowd Watch
Not as many Bulldogs present as I'd have thought, but now they're involved in serious business I can understand the fans sudden disinterest in practice matches. It's like seeing people you barely tolerated in high school unexpectedly striking it rich.

For people whose last memory of the game was the greatest moment of their supporting lives they sure were concerned about umpiring decisions in a throwaway pre-season game. Not that we'll ever know, but it must take time for it to sink in that you've escaped poverty and to realise that there are bigger and better things in the world than pre-season wins. I expected them to a lot punchier about the premiership, but the people around us were downright reasonable. They clearly knew that there's no point wasting their best lines on us before the real stuff starts.

What united both fans - other than shamelessly clambering for free ice creams - was the question of who in god's name JLT are, and why they're sponsoring this cup/shield/challenge/series. They'd be moderately miffed that half the people are still referring to it as the NAB Cup, but the way it goes they'll still be calling it the JLT Whatever for two years after somebody else has taken up the sponsorship. It still felt right to call the pre-season the Wizard Cup until about three years ago.

It was surprisingly how many people showed up just for the prime time AFLW game, and a shithouse result for whoever decided to only have one gate open at the end. Result - people going in and out at the same time while a harried Bulldogs staff member tried to shout instructions to alleviate the traffic jam. Not that I'm at all bitter at having made the rookie mistake of parking as far away from the gate as was humanely possible.

Human Resources

In case you missed it in the season preview, a reminder that I'm looking for anybody interested in a) doing reports for AFLW games for the rest of next season (especially next week) and b) being considered for emergency call-ups during the regular season. I've got so much going on that this will undoubtedly be the year when I'm unable to go to one or more games, and I'd much rather get reports from on the ground than compiling from the TV. As long as you give the votes, tick off the usual segments and keep your abuse on the right side of defamation laws the format, length and tone is up to you.

Next Week
Carlton at Casey, and if the weather is anything like that women's match there I'm going to sit in my car and wait for the first opportunity to escape the treacherous parking lot. Apparently it would take me 10 hours and seven minutes to get there on public transport, so here's hoping I don't lose my licence between now and then. After tipping the Blues to finish last I reserve the right to take offence if we lose, even though I understand that the middle game is usually the one where the team least likely to play in Round 1 are selected.

Was it worth it?
Yes, in that classic pre-season way that the result isn't important but you saw positive signs that might translate into the real stuff. Also because the commentary team was Dwayne making noises as if he'd sat on something sharp and Moaning Gerald Healy.

I'd like to have stayed for the women's match, but ironically had a household full of women to get back to. Instead taped it, and held a media ban so I could watch as if live. Review here.

Final thoughts
I'm legitimately scared that this isn't going to work out. Which is actually a good thing, because it means we're no longer floating around like a carcass at the bottom of a swimming pool. A few years ago there was no fear, because there was no hope. Now we've got so much hope it's causing a crushing feeling. Or is it just me?

Thursday 16 February 2017

The first season of the rest of your life - 2017 season preview

It's refreshing, if not potentially fatal, to enter a season wracked with fear and doubt for the right reasons. From a position of 100% terror a few short seasons ago now it's more of a 50/50 split with hopefulness. These days I'm concerned about the club humiliating itself by not living up to expectations, rather than just worrying about pure, base level shambles. It's an interesting point of view for a side about to launch a new coach, and who lost their last game by 20 goals

A year of banging away my memoirs while simultaneously riding the wave of a finals tilt that made it to the last fortnight of the season, left me psychologically battered. Like him from Moby Dick I remain in danger of being driven bonkers by the quest to see some sort of success before toppling over and dying from a surprise heart attack before my 40th birthday. My best effort to disengaged was not going to the AGM for the first time in about seven years. As anyone who's ever been to one knows I didn't miss much. The first time I spewed hateful comments at umpires during a women's game it became obvious that I've got no chance.

In fact the first sign that I wasn't making any decent progress was just after New Year when I started panicking that I wouldn't be able to get a ticket to see the pre-season game against Footscray at the Western Oval. What if their fans with the biggest footy horn since St Kilda post-1966 snapped up all the tickets and none of our fans could get in? Who would they hang shit on about not winning flags for the first time since 1955? Not surprisingly when tickets came out there were no dramas, but Ticketmaster did refuse to let me buy one for the game against Carlton at Casey. Imagine if I can't get in there and don't have to go to Cranbourne, wouldn't that be a pity?

The last time we played - if that's the best way to describe the latest outrage at Kardinia Park - the idea of the Bulldogs winning a premiership was only marginally less fanciful than us doing it. Since then we've wheeled in one four time premiership player (the last time we had four premierships on our list in total must have been the early 80s when Barassi tried stacking the list with ex-North and Carlton players) and added another ex-Essendonian who's had a year off due to being pumped full of Elephant Juice, while not losing much except Lynden Dunn who I still pine for daily but had become spare parts.

We turned up at the draft halfway, picked a few randoms then did likewise in the rookie draft. All of that was just the warmup to the most traditional event on the MFC calendar 'player suffers a pre-season injury'. This time they managed to get it over with before Christmas, but paid homage to the long standing 'don't flip your calendar until you hear somebody's hurt themselves' tradition by keeping it quiet until early in the new year.

In the the sort of event that you conveniently choose to look for the positives in when you support the coach the players were carted off on a special forces style bonding camp where they were kept awake all night, presumably sworn at as if Neeld was still in charge, and forced to go on grim death marches while carrying bags of construction material. The end result was Dom Tyson lightly doing his knee, and in one of the most MFC twists of all time Christian Salem took the concept of training the house down far too literally and knocked himself out with a falling brick. That's what you get for putting this guy in charge of the program:

After two seasons of running our best players into the ground during the pre-season matches it makes sense to smash them pre-Christmas this time then rotate them through the three Jailbait Series games. Hopefully this time the season doesn't end in half the squad desperately grasping for the finish line just as things start getting interesting. Especially considering how our run home should set up a decent finish if everyone stays upright.

When we're swinging into Round 23 like pirates, decapitating Collingwood to such a degree that even Eddie McGuire has to recognise that Buckley's had enough, en route to the drought-breaking finals appearance your 10-year-old kids need to see before they give up and start following Footscray, I will admit it was all genius. Until then the whole thing seems a bit 'Nigel Smart scurries over hot coals' for my liking.

Nathan Jones suggested the camp was an excellent experience that would hold the boys in good stead, and who am I to doubt him? Unless they slipped some light brainwashing in after the sleep deprivation and forced marches in the hope nobody would notice. He certainly didn't look like he'd called the Grimes/Trengove Captaincy Chatline for advice on how to look upbeat for the media when you're actually dead inside. The proof will not necessarily be in the pudding, it might have been the worst thing ever and we play well or vice versa - let's just put the brick at the bottom of the backpack next time eh?

I've got reasonable confidence in this season, and you'll love my wishy-washy predicted ladder position, but there are still concerns. There is no way in hell we can have as good a run with injuries as last year, and without adequate backup for Gawn it's god help us all if he gets hurt. Not all that convinced by the depth in the forward line or defence either. How did we get to a point where you can be confident that we've got midfielders in supply but hold grave concerns over the other ends?

I think we'll go reasonably well, and hopefully tee off on a couple of sides to really give people something to go gooey over. But if we don't make the eight then don't self-harm, we had the youngest list in the competition last year and won't be much higher this time. If it doesn't all come together this year then we've got time, as long there's no explosive decompression incident like 186 that tears the place apart, there's no need to panic if gratification is delayed.

All you can do is have faith that the worst times have passed. I can't imagine what my reaction would be if this new dawn ends like the last one and we plummeted back into disgrace. I don't even want to ponder it because the idea is too horrible, at least give us a few Carlton style token finals appearances that are guaranteed not to go anywhere but buy a few years of enjoyment before we start trying to lynch the coach and rebuild again.

Buy, Hold, Sell

Back after a lengthy absence (due to my inability to complete a mid-season review in 2016), what would be Australia's most controversial column if filed by somebody with even the remotest hint of credibility. It's where we advise you which players to invest in on our All Ordinaries Index and who will just end up as paper being swept off the exchange floor at the end of the season.

Before considering the investment advice below please read the product disclosure statement (e.g. last time this was done in mid-2015 I told you to sell Jayden Hunt and buy Lynden Dunn).


Angus Brayshaw
- I said buy him in massive quantities in 2015, only for his 2016 to be ruined by novelty injuries like having a footy forcefully kicked into his bonce. Nevertheless while you might have taken a bath on your portfolio by holding him last year I'm even more convinced than ever that he's going to pay major dividends. So sell your house and dump the lot on him at a reduced price before he costs more than Berkshire Hathaway.

Sam Frost - I'm not saying he's going to be the lynchpin of our defence for years to come, and *spoiler alert* I only have him as a maybe in my best 22 BUT he showed a lot in the second half of the year in defence. Buy low, sell high.

Max Gawn - We are living on the edge of disaster by not having any serious backup, but if you're going to play one guy in the ruck 95% of the time then that's the risk you take I suppose. Last year the only thing that stopped him, other than a couple of weeks where he looked like he was about to die from over-exertion, was third men up jumping over the top of him. Now they're gone and he is going to tap everything that comes near him.

Jayden Hunt - There's always the off-chance that his debut season of glory won't translate long term, and there was a game where after his first dashing run St Kilda successfully stopped him ever having a trot again - but I think we'll go alright here.

Neville Jetta - It's a risky bet because he's always one head clash (knowing our luck it will be with Angus Brayshaw) away from disaster but I'm willing to bet that this is year the rest of the league finally acknowledges him as one of the best small forwards around.

Dion Johnstone - Available at a discount price, I like his forward pressure chops. If he can kick goals then it's good times all around. No pressure to perform immediately though.

Tom McDonald - Unlike Sam Frost, I am suggesting this is the lynch pin of our defence for years to come. Yes, he flubs the occasional kick. No, it does not define his role in the team. Now that we've got more players who can kick when they go down there he shouldn't have to do it as much, but is still capable of some thumping long distance roosts if required.

Christian Petracca - 🎵 Take my hand, take my whole life too 🎵 etc... etc... Last year he turned up, and did a few nice things like the spinnerooni goal against Collingwood and generally warmed us up for what's going to be a career spent executing death by a thousand cuts on the rest of the competition. I want more, and feel moderately cheated that we're a season behind due to the knee injury. My favourite part of his off-season review was:

He just played with that flair and carefree approach, which is a great way to play. We’re not trying to bind that up too much – we’re just trying to find a little bit of balance with it.

Balance be buggered, give him full creative freedom and watch the magic unfold.

Joel Smith - Allegedly close to getting a game last year, which was a surprise to me because I thought he was some sort of protected species rookie who you weren't allowed to play. From the limited VFL games I saw last year he looked a likely type. Has come in just too late for the era when he'd have been gifted a game, but will undoubtedly play seniors this year.

Tim Smith - Like his fellow Smith I liked the look of Timbo in the VFL. You can never have enough marking forwards, so I reckon he might get a start relatively early in the year. His nickname is 'Bull', and we hope he's not as badly Melbourne as Tapscott was.

Jake Spencer - On his way to the lowest games/years on list ratio of any life member, and given that he's our only other senior ruckman you may as well drop a few bucks on him just in case Gawn goes down. Then at least you'll have money to pay for psychological care.

Jack Viney - Barring injury and a lengthy suspension for caving an Ebert's head in out of frustration he can only get better. Labelling anyone our future captain is worse than a death sentence, but in this case I have no hesitation in saying that he will not only replace Jones when Chunk is good and ready but will dominate for years to come. Now watch him come down with a rare flesh eating virus.

P.S - I'm not at all for having multiple captains, but if we had to he's the only one I'd want to share the job with Jones.

Sam Weideman - Showed decent signs while still looking raw in the last few weeks of 2016. Will certainly play a lot of games this year, and we have high hopes for his goalkicking.


Tomas Bugg - My favourite irritant. Form is temporary, niggle is forever. I have high hopes that he'll be an important player but you can't rely on being an agent provocateur forever. Here's hoping that he at least plays against Richmond so he can send their cheersquad and 'Jon' Ralph bonkers again.

Lachlan Filipovic - Never invest in a rookie ruckman. Sure, he's got the same name as an MMA superstar and some great floppy hair but let's give him time. They're mental if he doesn't get to come out at Casey Fields to this:

Jeff Garlett - With apologies to the mystery skin infection he suffered at the Adelaide Oval last year, his second half of the season was relatively poxy. That's what you get with enigmatic players, he might kick 50 goals this year but I'm a bit wary about him. Has a spot sewn up for Round 1, but would want to hope Dion Johnstone doesn't develop an appetite for goals in the VFL.

Mitch Hannan - Looks good, took a ripper of a hanger, highlights package is solid. Will it translate to the AFL? No bloody idea. Ask me again in six months.

James Harmes - Had a few good games last year, most notably the Gold Coast game where he played like Gary Ablett for a quarter, and definitely has a spot on our list for the foreseeable future but not sure on his ceiling.

Michael Hibberd - Like Jake Melksham before him my criminal disregard for players from other clubs means I'd never even heard of him until he was linked to us. Supposed to be good, but it would be cheating to give a opinion. It's no slight on him that I'm so criminally under-researched, but the only way I'd know I was standing next to him would be from the radioactive glow that he got from Essendon pumping him full of plutonium.

Jesse Hogan - Will still cost you a fortune even after fizzing out at light-speed in the last month of 2015. Let this not suggest that I'm saying he won't do well, or that he's a poor investment but can you be sure that he'll live up to our lofty expectations next year? Canny investors may wish to pile on in the hope that his price will go through the roof in the long-term. Personally the reason I don't play the actual stock market is the same reason I was no good at cricket or tennis - no bloody patience.

Liam Hulett - It's bad news for him that we seem to be finding forwards everywhere for the first time in years - but barring injury he should get a go this year. I'm conservative so not willing to take a punt on him, but you may wish to take the bet.

Nathan Jones - I'd have had him in the same spot last year, convinced that he can only push things so far before he either finally suffers an injury or is eclipsed by our emerging midfield. And here he is defending his fifth Allen Jakovich Medal. I'm still cautious, there will be a statue of him after his retirement (even if it has to be in my backyard) but this might be the year he goes from almighty to just really good. Hope he wins a sixth Jako to stick it up me.

Declan Keilty - Wouldn't know him if he robbed me in the street. We wish him well.

Ben Kennedy - Started well before levelling off in the middle of the season, but definitely still plenty to offer. Not sure if he's got a spot every week though.

Jay Kennedy-Harris - Fresh from his recent victory in the Demonbracket 2017 #Sizzle Award it would be unkind to suggest I don't have any faith in JFK, but I do wonder. He's definitely not a small forward, and that's not an issue because we've found a couple of those elsewhere, and he did have a great game as a midfielder/half-forward against Adelaide a couple of years ago. Could go either way.

Dean Kent - Love the Kent, and really enjoy watching him play but he's a bit up and down. Needs more consistency this year, and a few more filthy outbursts that are broadcast through effects mics would also be welcome.

Jordan Lewis - Comes in near the top of his game, so while ultimately the only way is down we can get a few good years out of him first. Worth monitoring in the early stages to work out whether we can get the full three years out of him, or if there will be a negotiated exit whenever we play Hawthorn for the first time in 2019. Should be useful in the short term, and it's certainly a step up in quality from the last group of people we drafted just to crack open their skulls and extract the sweet premiership flavoured goop.

Corey Maynard - Haven't watched the NBL since the Victoria Titans were around so I can't comment on his basketball career, and he hasn't had much a footy one yet. What I will say is that Joel Smith was the last off-Broadway rookie we recruited and he seems to be turning out quite nicely, so hopefully this does as well.

Oscar McDonald - After a rocky start where he was clearly getting games on experience rather than performance he came good at the end of the season - most notably against Hawthorn on the day the Mighty Ducks Finish was born. Still don't know if it's going to translate, and I hope he's bulked up a bit in the off-season but should go alright.

Pat McKenna - Is your annual entrant who I know absolutely nothing about, except that he joins the Tyson, Frost, Bugg club of being a better person for no longer taking directions from GWS.

Jake Melksham - Unlike Hibberd I've had a year to get used to who he is, but feel he might have missed the boat a bit by not getting in the side and becoming established. It's a bit concerning that his highlights package is only 123 seconds, and at least 10 of those are titles or a mysterious shot of him walking and pointing. There's also a lot of him either kicking goals or setting them up, and the latter at least makes sense if we're going to play the same system where the defenders push so far up the ground that they can kick inside 50. Based on the 113 seconds I've seen I'd rather him doing it than Tom McDonald let me tell you.

Alex Neal-Bullen - I like him, don't think the last coach did. There didn't seem to be any move to get rid of him in the trade period, so hopefully Goodwin is keener. He reminds me of Cale Morton, in that I'd like to see him play forward more often as not convinced he'll crack it as a midfielder but seems to have a sense for goals.

Clayton Oliver - The modern day Sam Blease, a man who cannot help but be involved in weird situations and always looks like he's about to die during training. I'm certainly not holding his alleged pisswreck driving against him, who amongst us didn't have at least one morning on their Ps frantically trying to calculate if we were still over 0.00? Call me back for some good old fashioned outrage when he's found swerving down the wrong side of the Westgate Freeway. Based on the small sample size of last year when he played 60% of every game and fell out of favour with Roos for six weeks he has got 'it'. Whether he takes 'it' to the next level or not is the question...

Christian Salem - The inability to adhere to reasonable occupational health and safety standards when filling a backpack aside, on paper he should be ready to accelerate from the mundane and into the fast lane. But how can we be sure with all the injuries? Looks good when he plays but has gone 12/10/8 games across his three seasons. A risky investment that you may argue will pay off in spades later.

Billy Stretch - Really liked his performances last year, just wondering if a fit, masonry-free Salem causes him issues. Should be right, but when you follow this club always be on guard for an unexpected fiasco.

Dom Tyson - Back in form last year, just in time to be crippled at our Special Operations Group concentration training camp. Has plenty more to offer and you can never have enough good players, but I suspect your Brayshaws and Olivers of the world are going to become more vital by the end of next year.

Josh Wagner - Now officially on the senior list you know they like him. I certainly didn't dislike him, he played a few decent games last year, but will not be a first choice player. Has the opportunity to find a spot but will have to win it with a big pre-season or from the VFL.

Jack Watts - Price at an all-time high, but with more scrutiny sure to come and the red hot chance of necking himself in a ruck duel because we forgot to get a proper backup for Gawn terrify me. Pre-season is a fraud but I suspect you'll be able to tell which way this is going to go by Round 1.


Colin Garland - I really like him, and I want him to do well, but he's had a rough couple of years. With the emergence of Sizzle Jr I don't like his chances of a full time spot until somebody falls over.

Mitch King - We've not had much luck with people called M. King in the last couple of years, first Max got delisted then this one did his knee. Coming back from the knee injury I'm not confident, but we've all been stitched up writing off young ruckmen before.

Heritier Lumumba - You've missed the boat here, should have cashed out after the second concussion mysteriously stretched to the end of the year. Get what you can and donate it to a fashionable international cause.

Cameron Pedersen - It pains me to say it, but I don't think he'll last past this year. After a rocky first couple of years I've grown to love [nickname deleted on legal advice]. I was surprised he only played six games last year, and I'm suspect as to whether he'll get more this time.

Jack Trengove - It's marvellous that he's come back, and I hope he proves me wrong by fighting back to the best 22 and playing for many more years to come, but I just don't like the way this is going. Didn't get much of a run at it last year considering his first game back was understandably nervy, the second quite good and the third a sodden slopfest where we kicked two goals. Would like him to have an opportunity this year, but until the inevitable injuries kick in I'm not sure at whose expense.

Aaron vandenBerg - My suspicions about AVB are not just a running joke, I think he's hit his limit. And if we don't need him as a midfielder he's never going to be anything more than a pinch-hitting forward. Has had a good run until now.

Bernie Vince - This is not anti-Bernard content, but he look like things were turning south at the end of last year. May have a couple of years as a defender left yet, but I'm not 100% confident. No arguments with his Melbourne career so far though.

Mitch White - Has never done anything wrong, just don't think he's going to find a permanent place in this team and predict he'll be off at the end of the year.

Projected ladder
There's barely any imagination in changing the top eight, and Carlton fans will probably punch on but bad luck. I can't be so adventurous as to have us in the eight, but for the first time since boldly predicting a 7th placed finish in 2011 only to end up in a place that smelled like slow death I've got us in the mix.

1 - GWS [*spit*]
2 - Adelaide
3 - Sydney
4 - Geelong
5 - Western Bulldogs
6 - Hawthorn
7 - West Coast
8 - St Kilda
9 - Melbourne
10 - Port Adelaide
11 - Gold Coast
12 - Fremantle
13 - Richmond
14 - Essendon
15 - Collingwood
16 - North
17 - Brisbane
18 - Carlton

Demonblog's chosen 22
It matters not that nobody's played to their position since about 1997, you get the general idea if I set them up in this format.

B: Stretch, T. McDonald, Jetta
HB: Hibberd, O. McDonald, Hunt
C: Vince, Viney, Jones
HF: Petracca, Hogan, Kent
F: Watts, Weideman, Garlett
Foll: Gawn, Lewis, Tyson
INT: Brayshaw/Oliver, Kennedy, Pedersen/Frost, Salem

Paul Prmyke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
Thanks to Simon @portglass for heading down to the intraclub game and providing these votes. Of course since they turned the intraclub into a glorified practice session it makes deciding these things far more difficult, so thanks to Simon for having a bash. Top votes here gets Hunt off to a great start, he's only got three more matches to defend the lead. Here's hope he goes on to bigger and better things like previous winners Colin Sylvia, Heritier Lumumba and Jeremy Howe.

5 - Jayden Hunt
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Dion Johnstone
1 - Jay Kennedy-Harris

First draft betting markets (NB: updated version from 23 March here)

Allen Jakovich Medal for best overall player
$5 - Jack Viney
$9 - Nathan Jones
$10 - Max Gawn
$16 - Jordan Lewis
$20 - Jack Watts
$25 - Jesse Hogan, Dom Tyson
$35 - Bernie Vince
$40 - Michael Hibberd, Neville Jetta, Tom McDonald
$42 - Jayden Hunt, Christian Petracca
$45 - Angus Brayshaw, Christian Salem
$50 - Dean Kent, Clayton Oliver
$70 - Billy Stretch, Jake Melksham
$80 - Jeff Garlett, James Harmes, Ben Kennedy
$90 - Sam Weideman
$100 - Sam Frost, Aaron vandenBerg
$110 - Tomas Bugg, Oscar McDonald
$125 - Colin Garland, Alex Neal-Bullen, Cameron Pedersen
$150 - Jake Spencer, Josh Wagner
$200 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Jack Trengove, Mitch White
$250 - Mitch Hannan, Tim Smith
$350 - Liam Hulett, Dion Johnstone, Pat McKenna
$400 - Mitch King
$500 - Lachlan Filipovic, Declan Keilty, Joel Smith
$1000 - Corey Maynard
$9999 - Heritier Lumumba

Marcus Seecamp Medal for defender of the year
$7.50 - Neville Jetta, Tom McDonald
$10 - Jayden Hunt
$12 - Bernie Vince
$16 - Michael Hibberd
$20 - Christian Salem
$25 - Billy Stretch
$35 - Sam Frost, Oscar McDonald
$40 - Colin Garland, Jake Melksham
$50 - Josh Wagner
$75 - Mitch White
$100 - Cameron Pedersen
$150 - Tomas Bugg
$300 - Declan Keilty
$500 - Jack Watts
$5000 - Heritier Lumumba

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
NB: Sam Weideman remains eligible as he debuted in the last month of the previous season

$5 - Sam Weideman
$10 - Mitch Hannan, Tim Smith
$20 - Liam Hulett
$25 - Mitch King
$50 - Pat McKenna
$70 - Dion Johnstone
$80 - Lachlan Filipovic, Declan Keitly, Joel Smith
$500 - Corey Maynard

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year

$1.05 - Max Gawn
$50 - Jake Spencer
$80 - Cameron Pedersen
$100 - Lachlan Filipovic, Jack Watts
$125 - Mitch King
$250 - Sam Frost

Will it be worth it?
You would hope so. As above I'm not expecting us to make the eight, but to be involved in a competitive mid-table mediocrity battle royale for the right to thumped by whoever finishes fifth. That will do me for now, let's reconvene next year for "finals or we riot" chat.

Assuming we'll at best win 12 games what I'd really like to do is beat either or both of St Kilda or North, win in Perth and absolutely poleaxe somebody. We got within range against Gold Coast last year before easing up, now to go on with it . I will not be identifying any potential victims, because as we've seen enough times over the last couple of years it's just when you think a massive victory is on the cards that we get beaten by pox teams. Anyone from Adelaide to West Coast will do, I just want that 100+ point win to sit against the nine we've been on the end of since Round 6, 2004.

Administrative Action (incorporating the Paperwork Pond)
This will 100% be there when I start missing games, I can feel it in my bones. So you may be called upon to act as a guest reporter. Please be ready. In the interim I definitely need somebody to do the AFLW games against Footscray and Carlton, I'm struggling to get there as it is without staying for two matches. Please contact me via Twitter, FB  or email. You don't have to go ridiculously over the top with content like I do, because presumably unlike me you're not insane. Just hit all the usual segment gimmicks the rest is yours.

Final thoughts
Take me to the promised land or leave me crumpled under a fold-up seat in Row MM of the Ponsford Stand.