Sunday 25 June 2017

Start the bulldozers, the job is done

It smelled like slow death in there. Malaria... Nightmares. This was the end of the river, all right.

There's something particularly NQR about holding a deep-seated grudge against a sporting ground. Especially one you never have, and never will set foot inside. I can't imagine how the people who have been to Subiaco so many times since 2004 for no reward feel, but watching from afar I despise the place like no other. Now we've done what we couldn't to Football Park and toppled the place one last time before it closes there's no point to West Coast or Freo playing out the rest of 2017 there, the final act is complete. Call in the airstrike. My only regret is that when I walked a lap around the outside in May 2013 I didn't whip out my Johnson and hose down Murray Wrensted's commemorative plaque for his role in turning me into a Dees fan.

Now what was going to be a less than fond farewell to the ground and its loyal band of lunatics, howling for free kicks while waving Messages on Hold placards will be remembered as one of the great wins of the 21st century. It certainly stands alongside the Bulldogs/Geelong games at the end of 2005 for wins that were not only heart attack inducing but involved the crucial element of meaning something for the big picture.

There's a lot to be said for oppressed people rising up with guerrilla wins against Essendon in 2012 or 2014, but this was a step into the unknown. After multiple six day breaks, on that ground, against that team, to build a fort inside the eight, without Hogan, Watts, Jones, Salem on the bench with frozen peas strapped to his hammy, Garlett struggling to move, Viney playing through injury, Gawn in his first game in three months, with a full-back who didn't kick a goal in his first 64 games leading the attack, and a three goal deficit deep into the last quarter. There weren't many more obscure angles available other than aliens landing in the middle of the ground and ushering Basil Zempilas back onto the spaceship.

In 2004 I was living in a studio apartment so small you had the step outside to change your mind, with a secret unapproved Foxtel connection that ran through a window and allowed me to watch Peter Vardy stitch up the Dockers in the wet. Who would have known that we'd get within 30 seconds of never winning at the ground again? I don't even remember what happened when we last beat the Eagles there in 2002, but even though that game was crucial for our finals hopes that year the madness had not yet taken hold so I doubt my reaction was 10% of tonight's result.

So safe in the knowledge that unless we wind up playing a final there (and there is nothing more certain, forcing me to pay big money to go on short notice because I am not missing the return to September for anything) we'd never get another chance to win at that accursed place there was already a heavy psychological toll on me going in. Realistically it doesn't mean anything, I'm sure nobody else is still bitter and twisted about never taking Football Park again, but I just needed to get this monkey off the back to know everything would be ok in the future. And how we did. The circumstances almost make all the losses in seasons where we were no good anyway worthwhile.

Not only was I already suffering severe mental torment from my long distance abusive relationship with a stadium, but also went into the game under a serious fitness cloud due to an affliction that could be anything from the common cold to the deadly Ebola virus. It was a struggle just to get to 19:40 AEST, having spent the afternoon lying on the couch, sweating like a hog and wondering if the dominant exhibition of forward play Sam Weideman was unleashing on the TV for Casey was a mirage. What are the odds him kicking six in a win against previously undefeated league leaders would only be the second most remarkable bag of the day.

If you logged all the times I felt violently ill in a year you'd definitely find the majority of them were on game days. This time sports weren't entirely to blame, I'd had a three day head start on feeling like my head was trapped in a vice. It was so bad during the afternoon that had we been playing at home I'd have even considered pulling out, before going anyway and feeling like death warmed up all night. Instead I was forced to stay home anyway, forget about illness for the two hours that the game was on and feel like a million bucks now. They should synthesise this feeling and sell it on the streets. I haven't had a sense of elation similar to the moment the winning goal went through since December 2007 when I unexpectedly went to a rave at Kryal Kastle, successfully avoided sniffer dogs and witnessed a lady urinate on the front of Ballarat Railway Station.

I can't rule out the illness having some connection with footy, the stress of being on the verge of the top four might do me in before we even get to next Friday night. I'm so confused by the season and what our role in it is that I couldn't decide whether I wanted Port Adelaide to win and make sure Collingwood would be all but knocked out of the running for eighth, or whether I wanted the Pies to win and help clear the way for an improbable tilt at the top four.

Even now it doesn't seem right to believe we can finish eighth, let alone higher. If we win on Friday night I think I'll let myself go, but it doesn't matter what nervy bastards like me feel the facts speak for themselves - by the end of this week we'll be at least a game and healthy percentage inside the eight. If Gold Coast beat St Kilda (and those two are both so flaky anything could happen) we'll be two games and nine percent in, with potential contenders dropping away every week. Who knows how you're supposed to react to a situation like this, but I choose to tackle it with a wide-eyed expression of surprise.

Being in the eight despite our shithouse run with injuries was unusual enough, and sitting on the edge of the top four was a bit more outlandish but you could see how it happened, but even after a season littered with weird and wonderful results across the league I could not bring myself to believe we'd beat the Eagles in Perth. On any other ground in the world perhaps (and now that there's going to be a game in India as well as China it doesn't seem so ludicrous selling two to the NT does it?), but not at Subiaco.

This view was compounded when the Eagles went straight out of the centre and found Drew Petrie for a goal in the first 30 seconds. How appropriate that a North player would stitch us up at Subiaco, it was like our two last remaining hoodoos were mutating into one deadly flesh-eating superbug. He'd kick three more goals, and looked generally dangerous in the way that over the hill players only ever do against us (e.g. Brent Harvey kicking a career best six in game 412). But the goals didn't matter, Subiaco has been conquered at last, like the city of Adelaide, Docklands, Hawthorn and St Kilda before it. Petrie may as well go back to North next year, they are now the final home and away frontier. I'd still like to win by +100 again, but for now I'm still happy to take wins anywhere I can get them - and if that's from a ball thrown at a boot in hope with 20 seconds left then sign me up.

The best thing about this victory is that we didn't even play particularly well across the board. Of course there were some standouts, Jack Viney put in one of the mightiest performances in modern history to not only equal the all-time record for contested possessions in a game but to come back and lead from the front after stuffing his shoulder up in another fearsome attack on the ball. While he was crashing into everything in the first quarter I thought "there is no way he's coming out of this game unscathed" and so it was, but where many players would have been carted out with their shoulder dangling from its socket he grimaced for a bit and came back to play a vital role AND flatten a West Coast player at an opportune moment in the last quarter.

We all know what Viney is about now, but the other match-winner was one of those performances that have to be captured for posterity because it will never happen again. For the last few weeks before Gawn returned I'd been going on about how Tom McDonald should be the ruckman because Pedersen's a better forward, and was even open to Gawn playing the majority of the game at full-forward while Sizzle stayed in the middle this week. Next thing you know he's doing the best leads of anybody we've played up there for 10 years (though to be fair there were several years where nobody led at all), and kicking accurate set shots like he's an expert forward who's been at it all his life.

It's funny how every time he kicks a goal commentators throw in the anecdote about how he was originally drafted as a forward, but fail to mention he then went 59 consecutive games at the start of his career without kicking one. That's probably because we were scoring 5.6.36 most weeks, but I certainly didn't see a performance like this coming on that great pressure-free night at Docklands in Round 23, 2014 when he went forward for end-of-season laughs and booted two in a minute. History suggests it's unlikely to happen again, and people who have now got fantasies of playing him down there full time are getting ahead of themselves, but at least he can give Hogan, Weideman or any other young forwards lessons on how to effectively lead straight down the middle of the 50.

Ironically just as Gawn came back our midfield didn't do as well at clearances as it had the last few weeks, and leaked a shitload of scores from stoppages, but on a personal level he got back into the swing of things it as if he'd never gone away. Other than goals there were all the Maximum trademarks, including fancy taps, crucial marks around the ground, and pissfarting around with a commentator during both mid and post-match interviews.

After conceding the first goal in double quick time we had to hold on for a few minutes while they battered away at our 50. It wasn't so much the defence that saved us this time - other than Jetta who was sublime again, and must be in serious contention for an All-Australian spot now that the selectors have to watch our games - but the ineptitude of the Eagles in creating and converting chances. Meanwhile as the counter to Viney smashing around the ground collecting contested possessions at will some bloke nobody has ever heard of called 'Malcolm' was putting his hand up for provisional Kingsley status, and an ironically named 'Barass' was chopping off our attacks before they could get started.

I'm prepared to admit I went a bit early, but watching us struggle to get the ball past half-forward in the early minutes I thought there was no way to kick a winning score with McDonald, Bugg, Harmes and Melksham in the same attack. I had the most faith in Pedersen of any of the forwards, but he had an ordinary night until bursting into life when it mattered in the last quarter. To be fair we couldn't effectively get it inside 50 at Subiaco last year with Hogan, Watts and Dawes down there and scored 60, so we should be offering to carry the homebrand forward line off the plane at Tullamarine on our shoulders for scoring 99.

I don't know the last time I watched one of our games on Channel 7, so was completely unprepared for the Basil/'Darce' double act. It's one thing when you're half watching a neutral game and can at least mock them talking rubbish, but like having coverage of your team destroyed by that buffoon Brian Taylor (bad news interstate fans next Friday) everything is amplified when you're also watching with your heart in your mouth. At one point Cameron Pedersen was called Colin Garland, Bernie Vince was referred to as Dom Tyson (at least they were both playing), then in the immediate aftermath of a Tom McDonald goal he was called 'Tom Oliver' - spectacularly confusing him with the guy who played Lou Carpenter on Neighbours.

There was also mass confusion about our record at Subiaco. One stat had us only losing seven in a row there, which would be a charmed run compared to the reality. It wasn't just broadcasters who were confused, in a post-match interview Tom Bugg - now immortalised on a wall, where a few weeks ago he was on the verge of being put up against one - said we hadn't won in Perth for 17 years. At least he'd just played 120 minutes of footy and had enjoyed taking part in a heart-stopping victory so you couldn't hold a lack of vigorous fact checking against him. Likewise Gawn tried to claim it as our fifth win in a row, but what's wrong with thinking big?

The coverage could have been worse, Peter Bell provided the most enjoyable boundary riding since Leigh Colbert became an airline pilot after tiring of reporting to Tony Shaw, and against the odds I quite like Matthew Richardson as the third wheel. Basil might read Dwayne-esque tidbits off his 'fun facts' sheet, but it's better than goals being destroyed by Russell saying nonsensical things like "The shake! And the bake!"

This season early goals are just an invitation for the other side to come at you, and completely against the run of play we kicked the next three. When the first came from a suspect free to the returning Billy Stretch you wondered if umpiring luck might continue going our way so freely that we could come out of Subi on top and with people trying to get #freekickdemons up as a hashtag. It quickly balanced out, then went entirely in the other direction, much to the delight of Collingwood fans I'm sure. Then we won anyway, so stiff shit. Highlights included conceding a goal after Sam Frost was ankle-tapped, and another after Oscar McDonald delivered the perfect spoil because he was perceived not to be looking at the ball.

More justified was the needless 50/goal against Lewis, which was soft but came after him doing something unnecessary after a mark. I'm really struggling to be interested in him, I'm sure he's bringing leadership and assisting with preparation, and results would suggest we're doing reasonably well with him, but every week his stats fail to tally with the impact I'm seeing. I suppose it's an 'effective' handball even if it's to a guy under a ridiculous amount of pressure. Until Salem/Viney's injury trouble I was ready to made the bold call to put him on VFL360 for a week, but suppose we will just push on for now. Tyson is another one whose stats seem to flatter, I've thought he's been much better in recent weeks but wasn't surprised to see him ranked during the week as the second most flubtastic kicker in the league.

When Viney put the exclamation mark on one of the great grunt quarters with the third goal - coming after a neat Anal-Bullet finish on the run for the second - we had successfully defused everything thrown at us by the Eagles and were building a neat lead to take into quarter time. Then we conceded a goal straight out of the centre. Because that's just what we do. Not as much this year as previous, but there is little more frustrating than watching us toil to get one and then handing it straight back. Even worse when it came from Jetta giving away a free while trying to defend a much bigger man.

Still, we'd given them seven scoring shots to four but at least we had a lead. And given how adrift our forward structure looked who could possibly argue with three goals? What a wonderful era when we now expect more than one goal in a first quarter. Goodwin only has one Bailey Quarter™ in 13 games, Roos had six in his first 13. The tide is turning to the point where we can make goals out of nothing, a process not harmed by having so many more versatile players. A certain sacked senior coach said he had specific roles he wanted filled, and if you couldn't do that then bad luck - now you've got Hannan, Garlett, Petracca etc... successfully rotating through the midfield and a full-back kicking five. Needless to say if you have just emerged from a five year coma things have started to get better.

It still seemed more likely that the Eagles would kick the bulk of the goals. Between Petrie, Vardy, Darling (who was so bad that for once Lucas Cook was actually the better option) and McGovern (who has the head of a man who'd king hit you in a suburban nightclub, but I'm sure is actually quite nice. Unlike Toby Greene who looks harmless but actually does hit people at restaurants) I didn't trust us to keep them out long enough to create the sort of low scoring game that I thought would be our path to success. This seemed especially realistic when the Petrie, Darling, McGovern combination kicked the first goal of the quarter. We got one back through Bugg, before less than a minute later Frost collided with Tom McDonald, fell over and forget to even fake trying to handball. We lost the lead again, setting off a running storyline for the commentators who would breathlessly tell us how many times it had changed hands every couple of minutes. Ironically with the way the game ended I have no idea what the tally ended up at. After a good run it was not Frosty's best night, more than once he was running so fast he forgot how to kick and thumped it straight out on the full.

Goals to the once again impressive Hannan - who has basically killed off Dean Kent and Ben Kennedy - and the first of McDonald's famous haul extended the margin beyond a goal and I had to start accepting that whatever wacky methods we were using to score they were working. Leading at quarter time was nothing, we'd done that plenty of times in Perth since 2004, but to still be ahead even by a small margin at the half was a win. It's not like the Eagles were playing well, for a side renowned as flat-track bullies that smash everything in their path at home then fall to the ground in pieces on the road we were seeing far more of the latter. It was obvious they are nothing more than mid-table mediocrities, so we'd never get a better chance (or indeed another chance at all) to finally win in the west for the first time since Demonblog has existed.

There was a bit of handbags at 20 paces on the siren, with Oliver reacting to a light brush of the chin with a theatrical flounce to the ground that got his opponent reported. Fortunately it did connect no matter how lightly so he can't be accused of staging. To be fair we'd all be slaughtering an opposition player for doing the same thing, but there was heavy irony about a West Coast player getting in trouble because somebody else played up minor contact. This makes up for when Cyril Rioli flattened Oliver last year and got off because he's a fan favourite. Best on ground in the very minor biff was Christian Petracca, who was heard to demand a free from the umpire for it even though the indiscretion had happened about 30 seconds after the siren. I also enjoyed Oliver's mad-eyed attempts at jostling the guy who'd 'hit' him, which were clearly over compensation for feeling like a bit of a dick about going down so easily.

Were anybody else in the room to ask for my opinion I'd have still said we were a 25% chance at best of winning, even while we held a narrow lead. Players were falling on their arse every five seconds, so I could just see us getting deep into the last quarter and having somebody slip in the square to gift the Eagles victory. After seeing Essendon blow a game in spectacular fashion the night before anything seemed possible, but while the batshit crazy finish did happen it went in our favour. That was unexpected.

The lead didn't last long, courtesy of a third consecutive quarter where we quickly conceded the first goal. Just because I thought we'd lose doesn't mean I wasn't fully engaged, standing in the traditional watching at home pose too close to the TV while pacing around like a madman. Surprise forward success Melksham answered, and this is where the game really started to go off its nut for the first time. Gawn demonstrated that magic big-handed taps aren't always the best thing by hitting one straight into the hands of an Eagles player to wander into an open goal, before McDonald did his impression of that first night at Docklands and banged through two in a minute.

Suddenly we had nine points breathing space, but paid for it with Viney off the ground having his shoulder attended to. Oliver had started to shake his tagger after half time, but Viney's absence still coincided with the Eagles getting on top. Because Jack's body is made of tungsten he fought it out and returned but not until they'd done some damage. West Coast got another goal straight out of the middle to cancel Sizzle's second, and not only got on top for the first time since the opening quarter but were now making us pay on the scoreboard. The margin would have been out to more than 10 if a dinky rolling kick deep in Demon Time hadn't hit the post.

Given that I only rated us a one in four chance of winning when we were ahead you can imagine how I felt about going into the last quarter eight points down. And when yet again Reverse Demon Time saw us concede a goal almost immediately courtesy of a player walking through shithouse attempts to tackle from half our team I finally gave up and sat down. But then we kicked two goals in a row and I was encouraged to rise again. This was immediately followed by two Eagles goals, one that barely crept in and one from McGovern taking one of his bucket handed marks in the middle of two defenders. I had no idea who he was until today, but give me that sort of marking over the spectacular grabs followed by turnovers any day.

We never reached -24 Stranglewank territory, but adjusted on the Duckworth Lewis Method for the amount of time left there was a bit of minor sexual fetishery in going three goals down late in the last. West Coast should have killed us off when Lewis Jetta - known best in these parts for the famous James Frawley chase in the 2010 Sydney spectacular - had a set shot near on directly in front after nailing Viney holding the ball. He did the right thing and casually kicked at it like he thought the game was already over and the minimum of effort was required, leaving the door open for us to have one desperate swing at a comeback which would prompt the locals to save on stadium demolition costs and tear the place apart.

After a slow day Pedersen took a massive contested mark and kicked the first, then set McDonald up for his fourth to get us back within a kick. Which at the time seemed like the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard in your life but would pale into insignificance compared to what happened next. Appropriately it was the five year anniversary of the day Jared Rivers kicked four against GWS (and some other activities took place), because it was the weirdest four goal performance since then. If he'd stopped there and we'd lost it would have gone down next to Rivers, Jamar vs Carlton and Blease vs St Kilda as touching anecdotes of mysterious MFC goalkicking performances. Instead it was destined to become an iconic haul thanks to a moment of magic.

Somewhere in here - and after what happened at the end I'm too shaken to know exactly when - Jack Viney massacred a West Coast player while going for the ball. Crucially that's what should save him, he didn't line the guy up and try to introduce hip to face. It's like when a player goes for a massive screamer and knees their opponent in the bonce, you don't suspend them for that do you? He might be out with injury anyway, but if he gets suspended for that there deserves to be a bigger enquiry than when he got off on appeal for clocking the Adelaide bloke a few years ago. Ironically that was a drought breaking win in a city where we'd done stuff all for years as well.

The resurgent Pedersen had a chance at a second goal - and a third goal involvement - in a row but missed with less than five minutes and by now I was back up and walking around with such heavy tension that I now have pain in my left foot as if it's heavily bruised. After that miss the game reached a stalemate, before we slowly worked it forward for a boundary throw-in with 40 seconds left.

Then something outrageously magic happened, an incident that people will be talking about for years to come. If you thought you watched Jack Watts on Queen's Birthday several hundred times you'd best chuck a sickie on Monday to relive this.

In the split second that it took between him gathering the ball and kicking it my brain ticked through a lot of scenarios, mainly the expectation that he was going to be slung around, the ball would fall loose and West Coast would trot away to victory from the resulting free kick. Then after he had fought for his life to bust the tackle, and nearly ended up horizontal a'la Jakovich vs North in '91 the ball somehow connected with his boot, with just enough on it to drop over the head of three West Coast defenders and through the goal.

It wasn't just McDonald's refusal to be tackled, we wouldn't have gotten to that point if it wasn't for Gawn smashing through Vardy at the boundary thrown in to send it straight to Oliver despite not getting first hands on it, and the Hamburglar's magic handball to Hibberd. Because my nerves were already so frayed I thought Hibberd's kick hard along the boundary was going out bounds, so when it curled back to the square and bounced loose the contents of my stomach were about to be violently expelled onto the TV.

Watching now I see Harmes standing on his own, and he probably would have walked into the open goal if McDonald had got the handball off, but the tackle pulled him in the opposite direction and set up the Hail Mary 'throw ball in air/throw boot at ball' move.

At this point I had no concern for my sleeping family or my reputation with the neighbours, I let out a howl that was 80% glee and 20% absolute terror at the idea of stuffing it up out of the centre again like that St Kilda game. This time there was no concern about shoddy timekeeping, Sizzle kept his celebrations brief before ordering everyone to settle down and get back into defence. He even combined a high five with pointing to go and defend. I cannot tell you how scared I was at this point. Honestly I have never full on burst into tears over footy, and hope not to for anything less than a grand final, but if we'd lost from there I might have gone big time.

We set up with everyone bar one on the defensive side of the bounce with 20 seconds left, and when Gawn won the tap straight into Oliver's path I started to believe, before Pedersen did some loopy attempt to pick the ball up which just shot it up in the air. Everyone jumped on it, and bless the umpire he let them battle for a good five seconds before calling for the bounce with seven seconds left. We were now at maximum cruelty level for defeat, while at the same time being in a position where you knew we'd win. Tell me that again when they flung straight out of the ball-up and into space running towards 50. The extra seconds that had been taken off the clock proved useful when the siren went as the ball dropped into attack. That it went to a three-on-one is no consolation, given that Petrie was the man in the middle and would probably have found some way to surprisingly finish us off.

At the siren I fell backwards to a hardwood floor with no consideration of potentially smacking the back of my head and ending up in hospital. I couldn't consider it, I was so happy my body just went limp and I fell from my position hovering over the television. It was ironic that the ball ended up in Lewis' hands at the end after I'd spent four quarters complaining about him, but at this point I intimately loved everyone involved and was considering ducking down to Hosier Lane to whack off under the Bugg mural.

The same people practically bursting hammies to get on camera when the ball went over the boundary were left howling their hearts out at the injustice of it all, before immediately storming the exits in a fashion that might have led to a deadly stampede. Fuck them, they've had enough joy against us over the years. This was our time at last.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Tom McDonald
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Bernie Vince

Major apologies to Hannan, Stretch and Oliver who might have snuck into a vote, but a vote of thanks to everyone else just for being involved.

It's on at the top now, Jones' 4-6 will knock him out of the running for his sixth Jakovich but the top three remain red hot chances. With nine to play there's at most 45 votes on offer, so I'm not ruling out anybody other than Colin Garland and Heritier Lumumba yet.

Oliver is still nine off the lowest total to win the award (29 for Cameron Bruce in 2008), and the 24 players to have pocketed votes so far is below the historical average of 27.75 per season. To prove that less is more, the record low is 24 in 2006 (finals) and the high was 30 in 2013 (the flaming pits of hell).

In the minors Hibberd remains a full game clear of Hunt for the Seecamp, and eight in front of quiet achiever Jetta. In the Hilton, Hannan has been unlucky not to get votes the last but it's hard to see where any other rookies are going to come from unless Joel Smith reappears late in the year. Meanwhile Pedersen is still above the qualification waterline for the Stynes, but bookies are so sure that both Gawn will overtake him and that he'll fall below the 10 HO per game qualification mark that they've paid out on Maximum.

21 - Clayton Oliver
19 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Jack Viney
15 - Nathan Jones
14 - Jayden Hunt
13 - Jeff Garlett
12 - Christian Petracca, Jack Watts
11 - Neville Jetta
8 - Sam Frost, Christian Salem
6 - James Harmes, Cameron Pedersen (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Mitch Hannan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year), Tom McDonald, Bernie Vince
3 - Oscar McDonald, Dom Tyson
2 - Dean Kent, Jordan Lewis, Jake Melksham
1 - Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
How could you go for anything else other than the winner? It's not just that he kicked it, but the way he got ball to boot while desperately fighting off a would-be tackler. Then when it hit the boot it just casually dropped over the top of the Eagles defenders and into the goal.

I'm almost ready to move it ahead of Oliver in Adelaide as the clubhouse leader for the year. Need to think more about it, but as much as I loved The Hamburglar kicking out of his arse from the pocket this is not just an award for the spectacular. After all Jack Watts won it last year for a game-winning set shot. I need a week to contemplate this once the emotion dies down.

So our lot crafted a well designed banner with lovely kerning and carted it from one side of this massive continent to another, while the home team produced something that looked like it was knocked up at the nearest primary school. The run through side had some vague social issues message about feeding people, which must have meant something to Western Australians because there was no indication of what the cause was or how you could contribute. Then the other side was nothing more than a hashtag. And down the middle there was a curtain that looked like one of the ones they have at the theatre. Dees 12-1-0 for the season.

Merchandise Central
From the same legend who created the I SAW MARK JAMAR KICK FIVE GOALS shirt:
Sunday morning updates
Well, later Sunday morning anyway. I've had about three hours sleep, and if it wasn't for the spirit of Jack Viney flowing through my veins I'd be absolute cactus. Addition items to consider:
  • What about Melksham's passionate rendition of the theme song? He was going at it so hard I'm surprised he didn't do Hibberd serious damage. It's not as unpopular opinion as it used to be, but I'm starting to fall for the Milkshake.
  • Who was so excited at winning that they got #godees tattooed on their arse?
I was also quite taken with this photo, where it looks like McDonald and Harmes are squaring off with strangers at 3am on King Street after a bucks night gone wrong. Possibly with Jeremy
McGovern on the other side. Harmes is the guy half-trying to calm his mate down, but also inflaming the situation by telling the other side he's rooted their mum.

What it really needs is a Photoshop of The Hamburglar wandering in and copping it on the jaw.

Simon Buckley and Schuster
I pledged to stop plugging the book, having flogged a copy to practically everyone with even the remotest interest BUT for a variety of arcane reasons I need to do a bulk order of hard copies from Amazon - so if you want one with some sort of novelty scrawl on the inside I'll do you the "thanks for reading this far" price of $40 including postage. Email me by COB Friday to get in the mix.

Next week
It's rare enough for us to have a Friday night game, much less against an interstate team. Brings back nervous memories of Tony Modra running riot in 1999. A few weeks ago when the Swans were folding like a card table you'd have noted this one down as a sure thing, but all of a sudden they're back in the eight and stealing games in remarkable fashion. On the MCG I still think we're a reasonable chance, but reserve the right to be terrified about Franklin. This year has got a bit of 1998 about it, and if you've seen Hotter Than Hell as many times as me you'll remember the win under lights against the Swans at the 'G that sealed a top four berth - that night Lockett kicked his 100th for the season but was otherwise thumped by Jamie Shanahan.

As for changes I'll take the injury report at face value and accept Watts was only out for a week. It's becoming increasingly hard to know what to do with changes, how do you fit McDonald into the forward line with Watts and Pedersen? And how long do we push our luck on all of Bugg, Melksham and Harmes up front? For that reason I have to chuck Harmes with apologies, because I do quite like him.

Elsewhere JFK gets a go as reward for ripping the seconds apart the last few weeks. I seriously doubt it will translate to an AFL midfield, but the least you can do is try. If Viney doesn't play Harmes can come back in. And at last BenKen makes his long awaited return in place of Garlett - though at the same time if Jeff (not even Jeffy if we win a flag) goes out maybe that solves our issue of which of the makeshift forwards to drop?

IN: Watts, Kennedy-Harris, Kennedy
OUT: Garlett, Salem (inj), Harmes (omit)
LUCKY: Lewis
UNLUCKY: Weideman based on his VFL performance, but no need for him at the moment so let him stay there and waffle a few more teams

Final thoughts
This is the team. It's not perfect, but how many teams are? There is no turning back now, at the very least this group is going to get us into a finals series in the near future, and after that who knows what happens. I am feeling a level of tension, dread and excitement that is completely alien to me - I just know that I'm dying to play out this season and see where we end up. Then I suppose it's off to my local BASS outlet to book finals tickets.

Monday 19 June 2017

This machine kills finalists

It's taken three and a half years of slowly building from the bottom up, but at last people are finally starting to dislike us. For all the ridiculous claims that we might win a flag this year I won't believe anything of the sort until they hate us. For now it's more passing disgust than the sort of deep loathing you only get from dominating September, but that will do in the interim. One thing is for sure, the era of congratulatory text messages and heart-warming endings akin to a film where the kid with no arms wins a high school basketball game are over and there's starting to be genuine spite towards us. And thank god for that.

The idea that we're suddenly premiership contenders is a classic piece of Microwave Media from the same people who will be slaughtering us in a few weeks. It's good for a few clicks and one former [team name] legend [full name] believes the Dees can win the premiership" story in each major media outlet, but I don't think many Melbourne fans are joining in. More power to you if you're a believer, but I'd like to concentrate on first making the eight, then winning a final before we get too far ahead of ourselves.

Still, did you find yourself wondering what it would be like at least once today? How to avoid dying from a heart attack at the siren, then time your run from a non-ground level seat to the fence for the presentations and the chance to absolutely molest a player over the fence in celebration? I think after that I'd just go outside, sit down against a tree in Yarra Park and have a big old cry.

For now let's concentrate on the present, and what was arguably our best win since 2006. Mind you it didn't have much competition. Sydney 2010 was more shockingly brutal, and Essendon 2012 more likely to induce a heart attack, but this was the total package. It was four quarters of a perfectly set up side executing their plan so well that accomplished opposition flew the white flag - complete with an ad hoc pre-match psychological warfare operation on a par with the one that deceived Germany as to the location of the D-Day landings.

If that impressively violent Sydney win (and when Bruce McAvaney breathlessly screamed "The Dees are going to be something" he forget to add "a complete disaster for years to come") is the measuring stick then you must acknowledge that we're in an infinitely better place today. The list is younger, many of the players are unsociable bruisers, and other than the odd dickhead sending the media open letters to the coach we’re achieving a level of off-field stability not seen for god knows how many years. It doesn't automatically translate to success, or might flame out agonisingly short like St Kilda, but even if it doesn't work from here it will take some amazingly revisionist history to pretend the signs weren't there.

While beating the Bulldogs on their home ground was fantastic but feasible, the margin and the way we got to it blew my head off. It's not hard to be surprised when you're still so badly affected by a tragic win/loss record that you're still not at the point where you can go into every game believing we're a chance. Even after Sydney provided a handy blueprint on how to put them away it still seemed unlikely - at least to me - that we'd topple them. Because I'm still in the self-sabotaging phase of trying to find all the reasons why we won't follow through on our promise.

Me of little faith thought we'd either fail to execute Sydney's plan (even though we'd already done a successful cover version of somebody else's ploy a few weeks ago in cleaning up Rory Sloane), or that the Dogs would emerge through a banner reading PLAN B before stomping us from Doug Hawkins Wing to Chris Grant Pocket and back again. Instead I went in debating if a player could still qualify as a Kingsley after nearly being best on ground in a Grand Final, and watched us hold a side to 0.1 in a first quarter for the first time since 1994.

It was a welcome change from my recent record on Level 4 at Docklands. We might have won there three times since the end of 2015 none of them came while I was sitting upstairs. It's where I'd taken in most of the famous 22 straight losses, ever since Ben Holland kicked four and Jace Bode debuted. In the grand scheme of things it didn't mean anything, but blame the psychological trauma of the Mark Neeld era for introducing me to omens and mysticism.

After watching Watts' winner on Queen's Birthday about 97 times via a multitude of broadcasters we knew that beating strugglers wouldn't mean anything if we went to water here. There was also plenty on the line for the Dogs too given how significantly they'd shit the bed against Sydney. It was already a rare MFC vs Footscray game that had something to float the boat of neutrals, before your favourite irritant and mine Tomas Bugg proved yet again that form is temporary but niggle is forever when he tossed a pre-match comedy hand grenade into the mix.

With speculation rife about who we'd use to try and recapture Sydney's success of stopping their run by tagging the buggery out of Double J Jeff Jarrett, Watts and Bugg teamed up for this novelty Instagram post. As payment for coming up with the 2018 membership campaign (unless it's superseded with 'jump on the bandwagon you glory hunting bastards, we've just won a flag') I'll take a version with my name on it signed by Twisted Steel and Sex Appeal themselves.
One media outlet hilariously asked if he 'revealed a tactical move', as if it was Shane Ellen tweeting that he'd be at full forward before the 1997 Grand Final. It was nothing more than good clean fun, with a high degree of difficulty considering he would have looked like a right dickhead if we'd lost. When Melksham went to JJ at the first bounce the gimmick post was an afterthought, then all the Bulldogs players started trying to biff Bugg anyway as if he'd been pictured washing his car with Ted Whitten’s jumper.

Let me preface this by saying I would allow the surgical extraction of at least one of my bollocks for the chance to do what the Dogs did last year, but if they fell for that provocation it is final proof that they were a good ordinary team who rode a great run to glory and will now return to obscurity. And I'm thrilled they did, because it involved $cully being rorted out of a 50 in the dying seconds of a thrilling prelim.

Maybe none of them saw it and they just wanted to punch Bugg for the sake of it? They wouldn't be the first team he's annoyed to the point of madness. Perhaps he delivered a delightfully ribald sledge that kicked things off independent of any social media activity. Either way, he might have lost the ability to accurately kick a set shot the moment I cursed him against North but has delivered novelties by the truck load since joining us. This had nothing on his award winning performance against Richmond last year, but was more welcome than the fancy post-goal handshake he did with Petracca against the Pies. He's not an automatic first 22 player, but I can't help love him. Opposition fans may disagree, and you're well within your rights. If I knew who any of your fringe players were I'd probably dislike some of them too.

Once the first round of light-hearted biff subsided we got a brutal scrap where everyone was desperately flinging themselves at the footy, and the pressure was causing all sorts of flubbed kicks and clangers. At first it looked like nobody was going to kick a goal. We were getting the ball forward often enough but weren't able to capitalise, and it was obvious very early that the Dogs attack was firing on zero cylinders.

They hadn't yet been tipped into full mental collapse and retreat, but I still knew we wanted it far more, and just needed to take enough opportunities to make sure the effort being expended to torment the Dogs wasn't going to waste. If we'd gone through all that and conceded three goals in three minutes I might have had a breakdown in Row X. My psychologist, cardiologist and parole officer need not have worried - eventually Garlett found Tyson with a pinpoint pass inside 50 and we were away, never to look back. We got an assist from Nathan Jones accidentally assassinating Lin Jong's ACL with a smother, and even at a score of 6-1 the game was already ours to lose.

For the second week in a row opposition fans turned purple in the face screaming about how badly they were being rolled by the umpires. This elicited significantly less sympathy than it did from the Pies, because a) Footscray got so many dodgy frees last year it became a meme, and b) it's hard to take people's claims of a rort seriously when their side is throwing the ball around like they're the British and Irish Lions. I look forward to our perceived recent good run coming back to haunt us next week when we're turned over good and proper in Perth and left howling about how unfair it is.

My highlight was the Dogs being rolled out of a goal when it was said to have hit the post, followed by vision so inconclusive the best they could do was hit pause just as the ball - represented here by a blurry yellow blob - was flying past the camera. Then in the second quarter Harmes kicked a goal that Bulldogs players were convinced they'd touched, and not only did it avoid on the spot scrutiny but the game started again before the video ref could launch a wildcat pre-bounce review. Everything is, at last and probably not for long, coming up Melbourne.

Absurdly we got to 35-2 in front before the Bulldogs kicked a goal, and it wasn't for want of trying on their behalf. They got the ball down there enough, it's just that they had no idea how to work it through our steel-trap defence. This is a rare feeling. I've seen a few Melbourne backlines that had no earthly idea what they were doing, and many others that battled bravely but were eventually overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers. Rarely since we last played finals have I seen a defensive demolition job as comprehensive as this, especially against a finalist. It eventually took a bloke throwing ball at boot from a pack to get them on the board, because they sure as shit weren't going to craft an attractive one.

My glee at making life so difficult for them wasn't just about the way the backmen set up, or how players were running from 40 metres away to spoil or make a contest, but the brutal way we hunted them whenever they had the ball. It was the gang tackles, the smothers and the general all-round nastiness. Some sour opposition fans had the gall to talk about how many 'shit blokes' we had, as if that was a bad thing. I have been waiting years for this sort of angry, anti-social (but ultimately lovable) team to replace our cute, fluffy and not at all ruthless list of fancyboys. It's not just the low-level thuggery and pantomime villains like Bugg, but players made of iron like Viney or Oliver cannoning into packs with no real concern for their own physical well-being, or some goofball failing to do his homework on Petracca and trying to take him on in front of goal. Whisper it very gently, and remind me of this moment when I’ve got my head in the oven again in a few weeks but I really think we’re going to be ok.

For all the shit I've hung on the defensive structures this year, it was as comprehensive a smothering as I can remember. We've won by more and scored more freely, but this was a full-scale pillow to the face job. There's something to be said for playing against a toothless forward line featuring more one hit wonders than Stock, Aitken and Waterman, but that hasn't stopped us from conceding scores hand over fist in the past.

Michael Hibberd has been an incredible recruit, Sam Frost had a few dodgy disposals but has been mighty in the contest, and Oscar McDonald played the game of his short career. And unless you're an All-Australian selector you know all about how good Jetta is. I was happiest at McDonald's game, even after prefacing it by disclaimers of it being the most apology laden omission of all time, I got more complaints than the Tiger Airways customer feedback department last week for suggesting he might need to make way for heigh balance if Gawn or Spencer returned. Fortunately the theory that we'd be too top heavy with both of them in was never tested, and once again we got away without playing a recognised ruckman.

Finally somebody finally identified that Sizzle Sr in the middle and Pedersen forward was the winning combination, and while McDonald didn't win all that many hitouts he's an animal when the ball hits the ground and snuck forward for a pair of goals in as well. I have a deep fondness for The Spencil, and look forward to him becoming the all-time lowest games/years played life member at the end of 2018, but unless we're lining against one of the top ruckmen in the comp and are worried about endlessly perfect taps I'd almost prefer McDonald as our second ruck from here.

Meanwhile Pedersen was freed to go forward for the majority of the match and played what might have been the best game of his career. His rocky career with us started on debut, and has involved him going out of favour with multiple coaches several times but I will die screaming in a ditch to defend his overall contribution. I don't want to get into the idea of trades having winners and losers again (though how well did the Salem, Tyson, Hunt trifecta do yesterday?), but via several twists and turns we can confirm now that we did pretty well out of the McLean to Carlton trade.

Remember when we thought we'd robbed the Blues blind early in Gysberts' career while McLean was languishing in the VFL, only for him to return for three handy seasons at the end of his career while Gysberts was squashed flat under the weight of an epic Melbourning? Then once we'd squeezed every last drop of blood out of the kid (and he was so slight that there might not have been much in there to start with) we flogged him to North for a guy that used to work at Bunnings. It started badly, but we've ended up with a solid contributor out of it. Long live the man with footy's most NQR nickname.

Because I'm horribly scarred by a multitude of bad experiences I thought "here we go" when the Dogs got their first. It didn't matter how far we were in front, we'd started to ease up on the strangulation and had only kicked one for the quarter. That used to be a good quarter for us. Then Mitch Hannan crumbed one through a crowd to restore a near six goal lead and I was temporarily allowed to breathe again. It was such a momentous day out that Hannan even avoided being cut down by the MFC Media Curse. Maybe it missed because the story was only on the AFLPA website instead of a major newspaper, but where it would usually descend like a gas throughout the stadium and envelope anyone who'd just had the merest hint of publicity, he instead further pulled ahead of Dean Kent in the running for the job as a quick half-forward. Bad news for Ben Kennedy too, now well deep in the queue at Casey and waiting patiently for his call to progress.

Immediately after Hannan's goal footy's #1 agitator engaged in a spot of classic Buggery with the Bulldogs captain, then went down like a sack of spuds under the retaliation to get another kick. He finally converted a set shot, and of course it took until he'd nicked one in controversial fashion for him to be truly relaxed, and the Bulldogs were in significant trouble. We were 40 up with five minutes to go in the first half, and it was an appropriate time for 'Cape Grim' to be displayed as a sponsor around the fence. Conversely I was in Cape Horn.

Footy karma quickly paid us back for Bugg's acrobatic tumble as the Bulldogs went straight down the other end and cancelled the second goal out. This incited some more jostling which was about 25% as angry as that in the North game, but when they got another goal quickly after I thought we'd accidentally awakened their fighting spirit. After five weeks of complaining about giving up four goal leads before showing up to play how ironic would it have been to throw away a margin ? Ironically the only team we've crumbled against this year is Richmond, who are fast developing a North 2013 style reputation for falling to bits from winning positions. It all points to playing them in a final for the first time since World War II, somebody storming back from five goals down in the last quarter and me undergoing urgent defibrillation.

There was more than enough time for us to perform our special move of conceding another goal, so when we had the ball in the middle of the ground in the dying seconds I was comfortable running the clock down so they didn't get another chance. That defeatist attitude was exposed when Oliver found Watts wide on the boundary line for a set shot after the siren. Even with 15,000 peasants howling at him, and the person operating the siren hitting it a second time during his run-up he is having such a nerveless, calm time of things at the moment that he managed to 9-iron it into the far corner of the goal, just out of the despairing lunge of a Dogs player. This caused Jake Stringer - who had already belted Nifty Nev in the guts - to try and 'start' a fight with Jack Viney by grabbing the jumper and walking backwards until his teammates could arrive and stop him from having to actually take Viney on. Hitting him in the head would be the least productive sporting punch since Marc Rosset was forced to retire from the Hopman Cup after whacking the wall.

A 33 point margin wasn't enough to calm me. It was a nice start, but we shouldn't know more than anyone how quickly leads can be overhauled these days. Still, it was a relatively relaxed half time with not a single fingernail chewed. I even started to believe - at least for one afternoon - when Watts took a big grab in the square within the first couple of minutes to extend the lead back to nearly 40.

The Dogs didn't look any more likely to consistently break through our defence than they had in the first half, so even when Goldenballs Boyd bobbed up for one in the middle of the quarter it only made me moderately nervous. This was soon corrected when Salem trotted to 50 before thumping one over the top of the Bulldogs defence, and when Garlett confused the bejesus out of his opponent to mark in the clear and kick another we were as good as home. Or if you could convince yourself there was a way for the Bulldogs to start kicking goals, setting us up for a shocking turnaround. No need to worry, when Milkshake took a break from tormenting his opponent to throw in some crumb people were ready to storm the ground and mount him.

Of course, you can't go too long with a classic Melbourne debacle breaking out, and we soon gifted them a goal with a farcical defensive mix-up. The Bulldogs were struggling so badly to score we can consider it a charitable donation. It was only a minor setback, soon Bugg ramped up the comic effect of his pre-game shenanigans by kicking his second to cancel that one out. Even with Hunt and Jones both off injured it was going to take some kind of collapse for us to give up a lead from here. But as much as times have changed for the better for both teams since 2013 how could I forget that nearly disastrous night where we almost blew a massive lead against them in the last 15 minutes and I found a dead mouse under the seat in front? The two sides bore little resemblance to that night but the scars run deep.

With the margin hovering dangerously close to the Chris Sullivan Line (for clarification that's 46, so you need 47 to go over it. I have not yet determined if on the line is good enough to be comfortable) against a proper team for the first time in years I thought we might get one more and be left agonisingly close. Then as if to prove everything was flowing our way we managed to not only turn back a Bulldogs attack deep in Demon Time, but converted it into two goals of our own.

It was appropriate that Tom McDonald kicked it. Never before has a player embraced my gimmicks so warmly, and on the same ground where he formed the lethal forward combination with Dean Kent in R23 2014 he steamed down the middle of the 50 on a golden lead then converted the set shot. He'd already played in the ruck and in defence, now he was kicking goals – banging through a set shot from 40 metres out after the siren was the icing on the cake of a Stefan Martin Experience-esque afternoon of total football.

Most of our side had never seen a 46+ point lead at three quarter time (not in their favour anyway), but appropriately enough on a day where the word 'Buggery' was trending across the Docklands precinct there was no Crossing The Line ceremony, we just got on with the job via a quick early scare.

The whole point of the line is that you're supposed to be confident when we lead by more than that, because it's now been 25 years since we've blown a game from a position of strength like that in the last quarter. But with Hunt, Watts, Jones and now Jetta under an injury cloud I still treated their first goal as a major concern. Whatever Jones had done to his hip it hadn't stopped him from delivering an epic spoil deep in the third quarter, charging down a Dogs player patiently waiting to mark the ball inside 50 and thumping it across the line. Imagine one day the league gets it wish, penalises players for the last touch out of bounds and we lose the joy of people violently thumping the ball across the line? I do not accept more marking contests as an acceptable substitution.

That goal was all the Dogs were good for though, and as time ran down without them kicking any more I was able to sit back and enjoy the magic. Like Pedersen standing his ground and taking a blockbuster contested mark against a hapless opponent, before showing what a good bloke he was by handing Hannan a freebie as he went past. By the time the ball landed in the square and took a novelty bounce back into McDonald's hand to stuff the ball through an open goal we were nearly 10 goals up and at last I was fully relaxed. The demolition job was complete, and we move onto the next phase of the Bloody Hell, What Just Happened There? national tour.

You'd think there would be no way anyone could be unhappy about what happened yesterday. Even I, who have been accused of excessive negativity from people up and down the credibility scale, allowed myself to be uproariously happy. So when I got in the car to hear advance notice of an upcoming Chris from Camberwell call (because Mark Fine understands that Chris has become such a cult figure that promoting in advance means people will contact everyone they know and tell them to tune in) I thought this had to be the moment where our tortured long distance relationship would pay off and I'd finally hear him unplug the helium, stick in the laughing gas and say something positive.

Instead, after 45 minutes on hold all he could muster was a passionate declaration that "of course" we wouldn’t play Gawn in Perth, and that it was obviously that Spencer would be picked. This came several hours after Goodwin had announced Gawn a certain starter, and even when Chris was interrupted with the audio of the coach saying just that he plowed on regardless as if Goodwin's comments were being played at a frequency too high for him to hear.

Then, in the wake of a near 10 goal win against the defending premier, on a ground where we have been traditionally pus, which left us out of the top four on percentage after missing two of our key talls for most of the season he cut a passionate promo about how much we’re missing Aaron vandenBerg. It was unnecessary misery, but very much on brand for him to be pining for fringe players as if they were Gary Ablett. I've no doubt many people feel the same way about me, but while Chris was an enjoyable novelty when we were shit it’s time to retire the gimmick now. Whoever is taking a massive belt from a balloon just before going on air and doing these novelty calls must pack it in.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Michael Hibberd
4 - Cameron Pedersen
3 - Oscar McDonald
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to almost everyone - but specifically Hannan, Jetta, T. McDonald, Tyson and Watts

Now it starts getting interesting, Hibberd nearly drew level with the Hamburglar only for Oliver's work in confined spaces to pocket him one vote that maintained a narrow lead. They must now be the red hot favourites, and Hibberd's campaign to walk in and pocket the Seecamp in his first season is working a treat. In the minors Hannan is unlucky not to extend his lead in the Hilton, but with a settled side looking likely to keep rookies at bay from here he might have done enough. Surprisingly Pedersen now leads the Stynes, but now that he's down to 13.25 hitouts per game I don't like his chances of staying above the 10pg qualifying line once Gawn returns. Still, we are living in ridiculously interesting times.

21 - Clayton Oliver
19 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - Nathan Jones
14 - Jayden Hunt, Jack Viney
13 - Jeff Garlett
12 - Christian Petracca, Jack Watts
9 - Neville Jetta
8 - Sam Frost, Christian Salem
6 - James Harmes, Cameron Pedersen (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year),
4 - Mitch Hannan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
3 - Oscar McDonald, Dom Tyson, Bernie Vince
2 - Max Gawn, Dean Kent, Jordan Lewis, Jake Melksham
1 - Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
When I started this feature we kicked so few goals that it was easy to instantly identify which of the five you enjoyed most. Now we're scoring over 100 freely, have a percentage of 115.7 and I'm spoilt for choice. It was quantity over quality this week, so nobody's challenging The Hamburglar for overall supremacy. I'll opt for Watts' finish at the end of the second quarter, just for the surgical precision with which he landed it in the back corner despite the siren operator hitting the button like he was on Sale Of The Century.

Well done to the Dogs on realising they were sure losers in this contest and taking a week off writing corny 'jokes'. I think that's what happened anyway, because at least last year when they were potting us for being rich fops you could see where they were roughly aiming towards comedy. This involved an exorcism gag, which might have had something to do with the film but could have been made clearer with a graphic of a girl's head spinning 360 as she tells a priest to GAGF. Minus points for using Os that look suspiciously like zeroes.

On the other hand our banner had not one but two rhyming sides, both of which scanned perfectly and didn't feature couplets that landed with a clunking sound as if they'd been lobbed out of a fifth story window. Extra credit for including 'storming', which I think is a delightfully underappreciated word. Dees 11-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch (incorporating Matchday Experience Watch)

Coincidentally just as we've started winning at Docklands and it's become more convenient for me to get there than the MCG I've become increasing fond of the place. The only real issue, other than a death trap walk back to the station, is that there's only limited space in which to retreat to if you're trying to avoid people. Even as far back as you can get, there was still a kid sitting right in front. Unlike several of our games there last year I didn't have to self-exclude to a more remote spot to stop from blowing my top in front of impressionable youth, because even with 15,000 spare seats in the stadium about the only place you could go without anyone nearby was the restricted viewing area that replaces your vision of half the ground with a concrete block.

Happily we delivered such a comprehensive siren-to-siren performance that there was no need for tantrums. Even the moderately boisterous fellow travellers sitting next to me, who I thought were a $1.01 chance of yelling "fuck" into a child's ear were never provoked into offensive behaviour. If the future of sitting near people involves demoralising them to the point where they stay silent for four quarters then I might be tempted to come back to society.

On top of solid gold football we were also kept amused by a raft of 'matchday experience' innovations. Parading a dog around the ground is old hat now, so what I really enjoyed was the message 'all the music played today was selected by Western Bulldogs players' being flashed on the big screen 15 minutes into a quarter. When for obvious reasons no music was being played. It was an oddly generic message even when there was music on, at least whether they pick the songs or not our players have their names next to the tracks so they can be held accountable. It felt like the biggest lie since St Kilda piped in the noise of people singing a dirge version of their theme song.

The action went up a notch at half time, when we were treated to the welcome reintroduction of a Voice Of The G style video game challenge. It promised to be a wonderful flashback to the days where people didn't know how to play the driving games and crashed non-stop for five minutes. Except that nobody had thought to set it up so that the feed of the game could be seen on the big screen. Instead we got a side shot of two 12-year-olds holding controllers. Then neither of them could work out how to get the game started, and even after a waiting Nintendo staffer leapt in to try and help none of them could get the game going. Hell of a promo for the system. Match The Emoji was the worst thing we've ever done, but even that looked like Citizen Kane compared to this debacle. How could the MCG get a feed of people cluelessly playing the old AFL games to a nil-all draw on the big screen in 1999 but now not only we couldn't see it but the kids couldn't play it either.

The problem with this stuff is that it's tone deaf to the mood of the crowd and how the game is going. Did Russell Robertson still have to invite people to Run Like A Demon on the night we were being torn asunder by Essendon? Run Like A Demon Into Oncoming Traffic perhaps. This time they had a pre-scheduled three quarter time promotion showing a graphic of a man holding a bulldog on his head as if he was self-inflicting a canine teabag, then asked the crowd to mug for the camera. Naturally kids and weirdos went for it, but as the cameras scanned around 75% of Bulldogs fans were in shock.

Does the joy of winning a flag really wash away that quickly? Let's ask the 73-year-old who rang the radio this afternoon to say she was so disgusted that she walked out halfway through the last quarter. You wait quite literally all your adult life for a flag and 12 competitive games later you're trampling people to get out because we've thrashed you. Get a grip you ungrateful bastards. These are the sort of people who win the lottery and bankrupt themselves within two years. Footscray should be the perfect case study of how to act after the drought is broken, and I promise that if we ever win one and are on the verge of missing the eight and are 45 points down at three quarter time against a traditionally shit team less than a year later I will still be sitting there with a beaming smile, mentally replaying the entire Grand Final.

Next week
It's off to Perth for the ultimate umpiring correction, and if we're going to have one last desperate attempt at slaying the Subiaco beast before the lights go out there at least we're showing up in what passes for us as red hot form.

Gawn's impending return makes it complicated, as do potential injuries to Jones, Watts and Jetta. Not to mention Oscar making himself absolutely undroppable for any reason this time. What I will say is that while Gawn might have been anointed as a sure starter, Goodwin didn’t say where. It might be too early for trick plays, but could he go forward alongside Pedersen (especially if Watts misses) while McDonald continues to play in the middle? Maximum gets his plus sized hand back in relieving for 10 minutes at a time, he's there as an option if we’re being massacred in the middle, and suddenly the Eagles defence has to death with an added sense of death from above terror while he's leaping all over them.

Given the trifecta of six day breaks (6-6-6 eh?) I'm going to suggest Jones is respectfully given a week to relax before coming back a week later to stitch his brother up the next Friday night, but that Watts, Hunt and Jetta will play. There's no science to any of that, it's just a guess. Considering how worried I was about height balance last week this change makes no sense, but the side effect of getting better is that it's harder to decide who doesn't play. I wasn't crazy about Anal Bullet's game, and really want Stretch back in the side soon, but prepared to give ANB another week for his contribution to the overall package.

IN: Gawn
OUT: Jones (inj)
LUCKY: Neal-Bullen
UNLUCKY: Kennedy (destined to be forever unlucky), Trengove (unfortunately I think we're done here), Spencer (on track to become the lowest games/years played ratio life member of any club ever)

Was it worth it?
Very much so, even considering a train ride home where the guy opposite was shovelling foul smelling food into his gob for 40 minutes while his mum watched highlights of Jeremy Howe's biggest Collingwood marks out loud on a mobile phone while gushing about how great he is. Luckily she didn't try and involve me in the conversation, or I'd have had to be a killjoy and remind her that the biggest screamer of all time is only worth as much as a chest mark on the half-back flank if the following possession is sprayed like an out of control garden hose.

Final thoughts
Funny how your attitude towards players improves when things are going well, when we were eviscerated by Sydney in 2012 I said this.

That was only about 50% sour grapes at being a horrible side, there were genuinely a dozen players on the list that I didn't trust to do the hard work required to get us back to respectability. Also at that point I was battling against the tide to try and remain positive on the coach, a philosophy which lasted under about half time of Round 1 2013 when I started to wish for global thermonuclear war to break out before the final siren. But enough of the miserable past, back to visualising a glorious future where we win so much that people begin to despise us, and our eventual collapse is celebrated like the fall of the Berlin Wall. No matter what happens for the rest of the year keep your eyes on the real prize - the 2018/19/20/21/22 five-peat.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

The slaves will grow wings and overthrow their masters

For a week where we didn't play a game there was no shortage of excitement going on. What better way to end it than with another bonkers comeback in front of 70,000 people plus a side-serving of wacky umpiring that left Pies fans angrier than at any time since they biffed Nathan Jones' dad.

First our much needed break from the emotional rollercoaster of the first half of the season was interrupted by Taylor Adams (86 games, 0 finals, none on the horizon) suggesting Lynden Dunn is having the time of his life being at a successful club. It was a reasonably pissweak controversy, but added an extra touch of pantomime level spite to the game. What I'm sure he actually meant was that after years of eating pork and beans with us in struggletown Dunn is happy to end his career at a club who earn a tidy profit just for turning the lights on. And more power to him. Given that we forced him onto the scrapheap I'm glad that Collingwood's 'recruit everyone' strategy opened the door for another go.

Of course to the more anti-social, and quite frankly loopy, factions of our support it was as if Dunn himself had resigned his life membership then punched a log on a portrait of Norm Smith. Instead he retained a dignified silence because - unlike Howe - his heart will be with us long after he's finished running down the clock by improving the quality of Collingwood's defence.

Once the resulting media frenzy had died down - mainly after Bernie Vince pointed out Adams' own disappointing career record - we played another round of Australia's favourite dinner table debating topic - did Melbourne commit a tremendous disaster by trading the pick that became Josh Kelly for Tyson, Salem, and as it turns out Hunt? On the surface of it you'd see Kelly playing purportedly some of the best football in the league and think that we did. If you choose to ignore that he's set to piss off to the highest bidder at the end of the year, and assume we wouldn't have drafted either Matthew Scharenberg or Nathan Freeman instead and got six games out of them combined over 3.5 seasons. Or can say with certainty that his development would have gone the same way with us - because there's a fair body of evidence to suggest we'd have wrecked him like so many other victims.

If you're the sort of person who has to treat every trade like a win/loss proposition (about time for another round of Watts vs Naitanui don't you think?) you might make a snap decision that Tyson is on-and-off like the proverbial, Salem can't safely convey bricks in a backpack and Hunt's lovely turbo runs often come a cropper if anyone stands in his way and decide that we did indeed make a tremendous blunder. And you'd be a dickhead. I'm happy for the Giants to be declared the winners of the deal if that's what it takes to drive clicks to websites, but consider where we were at then and now, and ask if we could afford to take the risk of throwing another kid into the shark tank and expect him to swim. Toumpas had already gone from Smiling Jimmy to Brooding Fearful Jimmy in the space of one season inside the worst midfield ever to breathe air. Getting two for the price of one (with Hunt as a late arriving special gift) still seems like good sense to me. I've got my issues with Tyson this year, and Salem has been very solid with the odd flash of brilliance, but we've effectively had thre best 22 players from it. This may come as a surprise to journos, but in some fields a 49%-51% loss can still be a win.

Speaking of Hunt, everyone at would like to congratulate him for achieving the boyhood dream and beating Cathy Freeman in a race at Scienceworks. As if to prove that the #fistedforever era must be slowly dying away he didn't blow a hammy or end up suing them after breaking his back.

Finally we went into the crucial weekend involving ourselves in the most ridiculous extended teams scenario ever. Jake Spencer was selected in the squad at 4pm Friday, four hours after we announced he definitely wouldn't play. I bet that little ruse gave Nathan Buckley a sleepless night, wondering if we were going to spring a massive surprise and... pick him in the final side one day, 23 hours and 40 minutes before the first bounce. I can only assume it had something to do with listing him as an emergency, which became completely pointless when he appeared for Casey on Saturday anyway. We must be getting to the point where the emergency is no longer necessary and you can just pick whoever you want off the list as a replacement - if not a complete soccer style scenario where you don't know anything until the final team is released an hour before the start.

In the middle of all of this, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom accidentally flicked through her copy of 'Losing as Favourite - The MFC Method' and nearly dropped an unloseable election to a Robert Walls impersonator. I've not had a bye week this exiting for years.

Making us wait an extra day for what is now only our second biggest game of the year provided extra time for something else wild and wacky to happen. In the end the novelties, including the now traditional parade of a varying grade of celebrities going down a slide for a good cause, came to an end and regrettably we had to play football. Against a side who'd rebounded from peril to mid-table mediocrity with three wins in a row, as favourites, and with a solid footing in the eight on offer for a win. It felt like with Gawn's imminent return, and Hogan not much further behind, that victory here would set us up for a real life crack at the eight from a good position instead of a 2010/16 style Mighty Ducks run.

Didn't mean I had any confidence though. Sorry to those of you who believe in yogic flying and sending good karma but while I knew we could win it, I didn't have any faith that we would. The idea of Melbourne winning a big game is still completely foreign to me. I'm still scarred from Adam Oxley having about 15 intercept marks a few years ago, and with our penchant for hit and hope kicking I expected Jeremy Howe to set a world record that would never be challenged.

We did our best to help, setting up a Mark of the Year that was unlike him in that it came while his side were winning, but very much like him in that he immediately turned it over. Then for the next five minutes all we did was provide a Hogan's Heroes style high marking exhibition series by punting it in his general vicinity instead of anywhere else on the field.

I couldn't help but get a little bit of a thrill from the mark, like muscle memory from when I deeply enjoyed him doing that rather than just admiring it from afar. He's only operating at about 10% on the $cully Treachery Index so I can't muster up enough dislike to refuse to acknowledge a screamer like that, and for all the piss-taking of his oft wonky kicking we could probably do with him in our defence today. If only we'd managed to sell him the same "sure, we'll play you in the forward line" magic beans as Buckley. Now here's to him becoming the modern day Other Nathan Brown, watching his old side scoot away to become regular finalists while he bumps around the lower mid-table before retiring to spruik the betting odds. The good news for him (and perhaps us) is that soon you'll only need to be lower mid-table to play finals.

Howe has done enough since going to Collingwood to avoid being a Kingsley contender, and I was less concerned about our exes cleaning us up than any number of players you'd never heard of or their premiership players. If we had to go down I'd much rather it have been to Dunn, who they were mad not to pick in the first few weeks when struggling. Still, as much as I love him it's not going to get them far (see also Chris Mayne and Daniel Wells) unless they make the eight in the next couple of years or the McIntyre Final 16 is introduced.

One thing Dunn knows, as well as how to deliver an abusive spray while manning the mark, is being cheated by an umpiring decision after the siren on Queen's Birthday. It even happened at the same end as last year, and in Tom McDonald the recipient was a forward of similar quality to Travis Cloke. This is not just me being magnanimous in victory, or towards one of my favourite players of the late dark ages, but that had to be one of the worst free kicks ever. If anything he punched the hand in the marking contest, which is not remotely the same as chopping the arms and would set a frighteningly degree of difficulty for defenders if you paid it everywhere. Mind you, I just read a neutral account which called it an obvious free - so if there's a court case feel free to get that person to testify instead of me.

It was our second consecutive goal courtesy of a wonky decision. First Watts had played up contact in a marking contest to a degree that would make you turn the air blue with obscene language had it happened against us. These goals were the difference in getting us in front at quarter time, and by the time you read this you'll have heard several dozen times over on every medium (with the complainant's prerogative invoked to artfully dodge examples of where bad umpiring went the other way) how the Pies fell victim to an enormous conspiracy. Why you'd conspire against the biggest team in the state for the benefit of one of the smallest I'm not sure - but if any club is going to be involved in sinister Freemasonry or the Illuminati it's probably us.

It's an unfortunate fact of this game that sometimes one team has a shit run, and thank god for once it happened in our favour. No doubt readers who follow other teams will recall a day where their club played Collingwood and were seemingly ransacked by the umpiring. Nobody except us seemed to care when we were on the receiving end of some of the loopiest decisions of recent times against North (never forget), but when it happens on a big stage to a club that singlehandedly props up the Victorian media Law and Order: AFL breaks out and we have to see every decision/non-decision scrutisined forensically. But only the ones that went against them.

The reaction from Pies fans was a lot like us going off after the Roos game, with just as many of the sort of defamatory posts about individual umpires that will eventually get somebody sued but also heaps more input from b-grade celebrities. The difference between the two games was that we bravely fought the power against perceived rorts and bridged a four goal gap (though that was probably nothing to do with the umpiring, it's just what we do), while the Pies collapsed in the second half like their towels had been laced with ether. The ether bunny came just at the right time, after they made us look like the Melbourne you recently knew and deeply loathed during the second quarter.

Until then we hadn't looked 'off' in the style of Hawthorn or North, but nor did we look particularly 'on'. The people who claim they can divine the result of a game from how the team goes about the first five minutes would have been lost on this one. We were certainly trying hard, but just didn't have anyone convincing to kick to up front. Down the other end the Pies had Levi Greenwood giving us a scare by playing forward like Malcolm Blight for the first 15 minutes.

He only converted once from two shots, before we got the first of a number of goals from Pies turnovers. It's fun to slaughter the umpires for everything, but feel free to also have a look at the way we were handed scores like this on a platter. More accurately we were handed the platter, and almost spilt it everywhere as Sizzle Sr's attempt to set up a free Bugg from a range that even he couldn't miss from at the moment ended in a loose handball bobbling around in the goalsquare and threatening to roll through for a point that would have featured in every blooper reel under the sun. Fortunately it sat up just enough for the agitator - who'd gone for maximum niggle before the first bounce by trying to take on two Pies players at the same time - to slide in and boot it through. We should have known then that nothing was going to come easily.

Even after Garlett got his first we were far from convincing, but then again the same thing had happened last year before we regained our equilibrium and realised the Pies were ripe for a thrashing so there was no need to worry just yet. At least no more than you usually do. Which for me is the equivalent of somebody trapped down a coal mine.

The two dodgy late goals didn't tell us anything more than we already knew, this was two mid-table mediocrities throwing limp punches and trying to stay alive long enough to make the eight where this year it feels like anything could happen. If you think the premiers coming from 7th last year was obscure I wouldn't be surprised if there's a double secret 10 team wildcard lightning premiership which leads to the Brisbane Lions winning the flag in 2017. On a day where we started within reasonable distance of 5th and 17th nothing was out of the question.

After being neither here nor there in the first quarter, but doing just enough to get in front courtesy of suspect frees the traditional collapse unexpectedly came in the second quarter. After first Watts failed to take advantage of Dunn necking himself with a deliberate so bad even he didn't complain, then Bugg missed a set shot that would have taken the margin over two goals and we spent the next 20 minutes allowing the Pies to do as they pleased. There were times where we only avoided conceding more goals because they had so many spare options inside 50 they didn't know which one to kick to, and we were being squashed flat by their pressure around the ball.

The problem was the players who we wanted to get a touch - Viney, Oliver, Lewis etc... - couldn't, and instead it was falling on the nervy likes of Neal-Bullen to try and create scores through a makeshift forward line, without turning it over and watching the Pies sprint the other way in waves. Their forward line was not much better (though if Pies fans really don't want Darcy Moore I'd be happy to give him a go at dad's other old club), but sheer weight of numbers eventually put us away. It was the same as us in the second half - especially after Pedersen went forward - we didn't have a proper focal point but couldn't help but force through a few goals eventually.

It was a textbook collapse under pressure, forced to operate entirely in confined spaces we started panic handballing in circles to anyone who'd take it and couldn't get the ball into any decent open space to create attacks. It cannot be understated how important Hunt is, in the first quarter he was barreling down the ground unchallenged like escaped livestock and making things happen, but when they shut the gate in the second he was nowhere to be seen. With apologies to Hibberd, who was very good again and to Frost who had a moment in the third quarter where he sprinted more explosively out of a contest than any man that large ever has before, when Hunt's run went so did everyone elses. We were back to plodding ball movement out of defence, complete with the tell-tale multiple turns of a backman's head as he realises his only option is to kick to a contest. This was terrible news for Oscar McDonald, who had a cow of a time with his disposals in the first half before recovering to play a key role in keeping it tight at the back when things got hairy.

At the sixth straight goal we looked totally adrift. The defence were doing a reasonably good job in the contest, but were being swamped by repeated batterings. Whoever Ben Crocker and Tom Philips are the seas parted for them to kick goals, and I started to feel cheated at having got my hopes up again. It was silly to ever believe, with Gawn and Hogan we are a better side than the Pies but with our makeshift ruck division and a forward line held together with sticky tape it was no better than a 50/50 proposition. I couldn't understand how we were such raging favourites, we must have had as many players to make Pies fans ask "who?" as we did who only knew Broomhead because of his charismatic surname. You (e.g. me) just felt that the big game players they did have like Pendlebury, Sidebottom and... well that's probably about it these days... would drag them over the line. Then the future arrived.

A comment I saw online yesterday summed it up perfectly - Clayton Oliver might win us a Brownlow, but Petracca will win us a flag. The Hamburglar would likely also play a key role in any prospective premiership, but Truck possesses so much X-Factor that he probably glows in the dark. At the moment he's not going to do it every week, but with respect to the usual warnings about judging talls early in their career thank god St Kilda took McCartin first. As discussed above it's not a win/loss scenario, and both teams might very well end up happy, but given that we had Hogan locked away (at least temporarily) I'm thrilled that we went for the game-winner who arrived nearly ready to go. Even if we had to wait a year thanks to a none-more-Melbourne ACL debacle.

His first goal came after a decent period where we'd finally got some control back by slowing the Pies down and actually getting a touch, and not long after setting up a much needed one to Garlett with an interception. That came almost immediately after the Pies had taken the margin over the now traditional 24 points, before the game went into a holding pattern for a few minutes. We were still close enough to mount a comeback no matter what happened, but more importantly we'd stopped them scoring for fun. Now after a quarter of being pounded at stoppages Oliver was starting to get his hands on it, and once more we were starting to work towards achieving ecstasy after nearly blacking out. They might have to come up with a more family-friendly way of describing it, but surely the good old fashioned MFC Stranglewank has to start attracting media attention now? If you can get somebody to say the unedited version on SEN I'll buy you a Bertocchi ham.

When Petracca took advantage of another error from the increasingly nervous Pies to run to 50 and cut the margin to just over two goals I started to believe. That didn't last long. I'm like the nervous flyer who thinks every noise is a sign the plane is about to plummet out of the sky. I was hoping to at least get to half time a couple of goals down, rip open the Plan B envelope (which has been resealed so many times recently that it will stop sticking down soon) and work out how to at least put the fear of god into them for the benefit of 15,000 once a year fans in their bootleg 'MELBOURNE' scarves.

Then, as if they knew that the veins in my forehead pop out that little bit more in the last two minutes of a quarter we just had to concede in Demon Time. Which was bad enough anyway, much less immediately after kicking two goals in a row to drag ourselves back into the contest.

At this point I became convinced that our comeback luck had run out, and that we'd putt around four goals behind for the rest of the afternoon before returning home to drop digital napalm on every corner of the internet. Based on recent events you should never give up on any Melbourne side who go anything less than six goals down, but because I'm far too emotionally invested in the fortunes of this club I did, and will continue to do so in the future.

The alternative school of thought is to be one of the people who wait until the revival has been successfully completed, pretend that they were never worried and act like you're an idiot for being so distressed. Take for instance the flag waver who tweeted me after the game with a lecture on how I should change teams because I thought - quite rightly under any reasonable analysis - the Pies were squashing us with pressure during the second quarter and looked like they'd be deserved winners. It was a surprise diversion from a Twitter feed otherwise full of retweets about members of a certain major religion being terrible.

Maybe as somebody who writes under a series of aliases (this one is popular) I'm just overly sensitive, but it seems reasonably suicidal to tee off on large segments of the community on an account that not only has your real name but proudly trumpets the company you work for. Political unpleasantness aside, I'd be happy to be lectured by anyone on how I should react to watching this side play as long as they agree to sit next to me for a game and enjoy the extravaganza of nervous ticks, involuntary swearing under the breath, and at three quarter time yesterday hands shaking like a lifelong wino who's been off the booze for a week.

Based on an exit poll of the MFC crowd I follow on Twitter I don't think I'm telling you anything you don't already know, but even putting the sneering tone of the advice to one side, how gullible do you have to be to think that just because we won everything is alright and no questions need to be asked? Much like trades, actual games are not a binary decision where WIN = played brilliantly, LOSS = played terribly. Anyone is still entitled to ask how we wound up in a four goal hole before launching a comeback for the fifth straight game.

It doesn't mean you can't savour the win, in fact I encourage you to roll around in it like a pig in mud and post A3 pictures of the umpires to any Pies supporters you know, but the end result doesn't erase the fact that instead of playing a rock bottom, slurry first quarter this week we played a rock bottom, slurry second quarter. Either way the result was the same, leaving us with an enormous mountain to climb and a situation where one more Collingwood goal might have put us away. This is not a healthy way to go about things, but imagine what's going to happen when we start playing four quarters?

The return of Gawn is going to save us from having to think about ruck alternatives, but I was flabbergasted that we tried to get away with Tom McDonald forward again with Pedersen in the ruck when it has been so clear in the last three weeks that the reverse is a better move. Pedersen is a better ruckman, but not to the degree that it will make a significant difference in the middle. However, McDonald is a much worse forward, so playing a realistic marking option up front and still relying on the midfield to get us out of jail at the bounces seems - at least to me as a rank amateur with no understanding of tactics - to be the sensible option. If the midfield lost it wouldn't have mattered which one was in there, best to give ourselves maximum (so to speak) chance of scoring.

Maybe it was a coincidence and the Pies were vulnerable to transverse wobble in the second half anyway, but as soon as McDonald went into the ruck we looked a lot better. Not that much of it was down to his ruckwork. He did his job well in competing and then joining the fight when the ball hit the ground, while Pedersen's presence instantly made our attack look more dangerous. It also coincided with the midfield turning up, and we won the clearances for the quarter despite losing the hitouts in an 18-0 landslide.

The first goal to Harmes cancelled out Moore's one. Then Moore cancelled out Harmes' one that cancelled his original one out. I may have yelled something extremely uncomplimentary about the prospect of Jordan Lewis playing out his full three year contract. Then he starting yelling at Hunt, which means absolutely nothing in the heat of the moment, but isn't going to get you far with fans who are far more interested in the mystical powers of the owl than winning four flags for another club.

At least if we were to get nothing else out of the game, we got to see Hunt win a free, then run 20 metres to collect the ball and take his own advantage. I suppose that's legal, and as we all know anything that keeps the ball moving (even on occasions a big old throw) is good enough for the league, but as exciting as it was it doesn't feel right when the ball flings significantly forward of where the free was paid and the player is able to grab it off the ground and keep going. It's one thing if it's taken as part of the contest, but this was effectively him playing on from a much better spot. Looked good though.

Then the clear momentum shift finally started paying off in goals. Watts got a set shot right on the second attempt, Petracca banked a gift goal after being dumped post-marking contest and it was on. For those of you keeping score on who was at fault for Collingwood losing, that was from another turnover. They got a steadier, but had otherwise stopped. When Frost's turbo charge inside 50 led to Pedersen using natural forward instinct (well I never) to crumb a goal we were back to within six points. Then straight from the next centre bounce Oliver burst out and hit Melksham with a pinpoint pass to put us in front. Who knows what he was doing down there, but it worked a treat this time. It also showed that there's more strings to Oliver's bow than just fancy handballs. He is quite literally a visionary.

Thank christ that Adam Treloar declined to fully participate in the Demon Time experience right on the stroke of three quarter time. We did our best to let him stroll into an open goal but unlike say... Jack Watts... he couldn't convert on the run and we retained the lead. Once more we'd turned a near-death experience into potential victory, but the job wasn't yet complete. Cracking them like an egg in the dying minutes of the third was one thing, but holding it together for another half an hour was another.

My tension level ratcheted another couple of twists towards 'fatal' when we were all over them and Petracca missed two set shots at the start fo the last. Given how well he's kicked them this year you would have bet that at least one would go through, but it's what he did to get the kicks in the first place that should give you cause to lie on the ground and breathe into a paper bag. Then just when it seemed quite likely that the dam walls were about to burst, Bugg was pinched for a 50 that gave Greenwood another chance to play Tony Lockett from directly in front. He missed, we went down the other end, Hannan smashed home some point blank crumb and you thought just maybe we'd done enough. Which you should never do.

If Hannan kicked straight after winning a holding the ball free immediately after I might have even been officially confident. The next thing you know some bloke is casually thumping through a goal from 50 metres out on the boundary line and it's back within a kick. Petracca got another goal to give us breathing space again, before some Collingwood player so obscure even Eddie McGuire doesn't know his name reduced the margin to under six again. My heart could not take this. Even recapping it is too much, I just realised I took a break from writing to bite my fingernails.

It was all set up for either a draw, or Petterd 2010 style heartbreak/seat punching. Or as it turns out a fine win. The last five minutes was one of the finest exhibitions of desperate football you'll ever see, with both teams absolutely ripping the bejesus out of each other to get to the ball. Let's not sully it with free kick chat now shall we? Enjoy it for what it was, players butchering themselves with no thought to their own physical well-being, ending in Melbourne getting the four points. Had it gone the other way I'd have been plenty more sulky.

Just as I was about to expire in my seat Watts found himself set up by a lovely Hibberd spoil, and an Oscar McDonald kick which I'm going to label brilliant rather than fluky, in acres of space on the half-forward flank, able to run to as good as the square before kicking. It was a mighty effort to not only finish on the run, after covering that much ground, 28 minutes into the last quarter but consider also that he'd come into the game under an injury cloud and been off for treatment twice in the first half while looking like he was struggling to move. It also created a soon to be iconic photo where he's standing arms aloft while Howe looks sad in the background.

Not quite as exciting as the goal, but nearly as important in the overall context, was his flying spoil to rush a behind down the other end almost straight after. Talk about a big occasion player waiting for us to provide more big occasions, this is the third time I can remember him winning the game with goals (Bulldogs 2013 and Gold Coast 2016) then going straight down the other end for a crucial defensive intervention.

The handy narrative is that the goal was Jack throwing the monkey off the back and finally conquering Collingwood after years of torment, and I'll take that if it means him kicking the winning goal but let's not forget he's had a reasonable run against them for a few years now. If we have to go back nine years to his ill-fated debut let's not concentrate on the performance of a kid thrown in at the deep end before he was ready to try and spike a crowd, let's instead ask the other 17 players on the field how they feel about not piling it and punching somebody in the head when he was mugged on his first touch?

It was another great day for knowing how much time there was left, including Watts' dash taking him right past some fence advertising saying there was a minute to go. I'm already nearly 100% likely to die in my seat at the MCG so the tension of whether or not we're going to be toppled in a surprise 35 minute quarter is not welcome. As long as we didn't concede immediately from the bounce we'd be fine, and even as Fasolo marked I knew it was too late for them. No matter how quickly he kicked it there wasn't time for the ball to go back to the centre and set up the ultimate replay of that St Kilda fiasco. Given how quickly he lined up and had the shot it was an impressive finish, but all for nothing in the end.

It was quite the night, and finished with a coup de gras from a fan that was only marginally less exciting than Watts' sealer. For the first two and a half quarters a corporate box full of pissed, lippy Pies fans had been acting the goat, and although they went silent in shock during the last quarter the damage had been done. As they sat slumped in their seats after the siren with the window still open he walked past and yelled "STIFF SHIT CUNTS!" It was brief, it was brutal and for all appropriate tsk tsk about children being present/how I'd have said they were the worst humans around if they'd done it to us it was magnificent in context. 🎶 There goes my hero 🎶

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Jayden Hunt
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Christian Salem

Apologies to Frost, Garlett, Hibberd, O. McDonald, Melksham, Oliver, Pedersen, Tyson and Watts (second half)

Nothing at the top for the Hamburglar in what is - other than his full BOG lead - becoming one of the most competitive Jakovich races ever. This allows Jones to move within striking distance of what would be his sixth trophy, with plenty of contenders just a few solid games away from the top. In the minors, Hunt draws level with Hibberd for the Seecamp while the committee has now officially deemed Harmes ineligible due to too much time spent forward.

20 - Clayton Oliver
15 - Nathan Jones
14 - Michael Hibberd (CO-LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Jayden Hunt (CO-LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Jack Viney
13 - Jeff Garlett
12 - Christian Petracca, Jack Watts
9 - Neville Jetta
8 - Sam Frost
6 - James Harmes, Christian Salem
4 - Mitch Hannan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
3 - Dom Tyson, Bernie Vince
2 – Max Gawn (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Cameron Pedersen (CO-LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Dean Kent, Jordan Lewis, Jake Melksham
1 – Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
How could you go for anything other than Watts executing his finishing move? Not only did it feature the tension of the Pies most likely bounding the other way from a kick-in to stitch us up if he missed, but also took so long to finish that there was an added layer of tension shovelled on when you expected him to try a pass instead of taking the shot. He had somebody relatively free in the middle who could have done a Ben Brown style time-wasting set-shot routine, but no problems with him kicking at the time or after watching the replay. Can you imagine the scenes if he'd turned it over trying to cut it back into the middle and they went straight down the other end to score? Like Gold Coast last year he delivered the clutch finish, we all went off our tit and everything was right with the world.

When the opposition stoop to making gags about snow you'd think this would be one of the biggest alpine landslides in history. Then ours went up and we'd done one as well. Nevertheless, playing up to a stereotype will always trump trailing along in its wake trying to crack gags even Peter Helliar would turn back as unsuitable. Collingwood lose, but with apologies due to their cheersquad performing the always welcome full rotation before the players appeared, and for their excellent fontage. They can afford it - ours is made with love. Dees 10-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch

It was not a day for craving the close contact of opposition fans, or for being able to escape them by heading right up the back, so I thought I'd take my chances sitting amongst the true believers instead. Light jostling with a North cretin was one thing, but there's more Collingwood fans, so that means a higher proportion of characters who should be exiled from the mainland of Australia. It's not always a guarantee that you'll be surrounded by quality. See for instance the munters trying to get themselves over at Kardinia Park last year by proudly hurling homophobic slurs at Geelong players.

Instead I ended up directly behind the same guy who'd affected my enjoyment of the first quarter of the 2012 Gold Coast avalanche by trying to engage in conversation every five seconds. Thank the footballing lord that he had friends/unwilling victims in front to chat to this time, because there were about 58,000 less seats to move to this time. Other than a minor diplomatic incident where he complained about me kneeing him in the back as if he'd never been lightly brushed by a leg in a tightly packed stadium, the hint was quickly taken that I had no interest in opening dialogue. I was so nervous at three quarter time that he almost received a non-conversational spray over his right shoulder, before we eventually bonded at the final siren over shared joy at ruining the day of the people in the box behind.

The highlight other than the win - and until half time it was the only highlight - was how the educated and sensible Demons faithful showed the rest of the league how to appropriately align the moral compass by booing Howe (strung us along for a year then legged it at the first opportunity) but leaving Dunn (loyal servant in dark times until sacked by us) alone. Nor did anyone - in my area at least - attempt any edgy comedy about Fasolo. That's what happens when you have lower total numbers but a higher overall level of class than anyone else in the league.

Booing is still up there with the most juvenile things you can do in public, but in this case I was happy to hypocritically enjoy it as part of the overall package. Other than the traditional round of applause for Dunn after being clobbered in a brave marking contest - which to be fair even A. Random Player would have got - it wasn't like he got a reception like Junior McDonald at the Carnival of Hate either, but I'm just glad we were able to separate actual sporting villianry from "he play in other jumper, he bad" caveman thinking. When they hold the #fistedforever reunion dinner I will gladly sit on Dunn's table, while hopefully Howe is stuck up the back next to the fire escape.

The abuse asylum
In the nicest possible way I didn't expect to hear from Matt Jones again, but there he was during the week as the subject of an article about players having a shit old time reading their Twitter feed. Whenever the topic comes up I shift nervously and adjust my collar, having written a manifesto about the dark years of a length that the Unabomber would have considered excessive. But for all the gags about Isaac Weetra, and the odd suggestion that a player has no idea what he's doing I'm comfortable that there's not much on here that would go beyond a solid 3.5/10 on the Jack Watts Scale of Online Assassinations.

Now that we've established my moral superiority to the weirdos at the other end of the spectrum (for example this bloke, only a couple of steps below the lapsed member who once received a call from a player asking them to rejoin only to yell down the phone that Mr. X was the reason he wouldn't be renewing) let me set out my view on this. Which I'm sure you've been waiting the best part of however many years footy players have been on Twitter to hear. Nobody's suggesting that (within the bounds of good taste) that you can't crack the shits in whatever fashion you feel appropriate, but is it really necessary to tag the player in? To effectively ring the guy up and tell him he's shit. How does this help the situation? Do you expect the player in question will redouble their efforts because @fudgefactory956 is upset? Or that it will contribute in even the smallest way to improving his mental health or match preparation?

I can't take the figures quoted in the article too seriously, suggesting that in four years he got four compliments about his performance on Twitter and 40 complaints. Surely he's been furiously misquoted there, that's one week for the McDonald brothers. It seems especially low when you consider he played in 12 wins and 49 losses, across some of the fugliest seasons in our history. I'm not going to trawl his mentions to find out, but if got loss than one rude message per loss played in that would be a fantastic ratio.

But what's the point of getting any? Some would say that not addressing the players directly is the coward's way out. Bullshit. You know they generally won't fight back so it's not fair sport. Once we give players the green light to write back and ask "were you baptised at Sea World you fat fuck?" then let the blood run free. They could do that now, but the odds are tilted massively in your favour as an internet lunatic. Look at the Brock McLean Twitter fiasco of 2012 where he decided to have a go back and ended up paying $5000 for delivering one of the greatest own-goals in insult history by suggesting the opposing Twitterist's mum was to blame for him having AIDS. The only worse value for money in the AFL that year was the sum total of Israel Folau's 13 games.

Much of this is on the players too. If you search your own name all bets are off. It doesn't mean what's written is right, but you could have avoided it. If you're a player reading this page then you're consciously opening yourself to a prospect of seeing something you've done slated, but I'm not going to print it out onto A4 paper and drop it off in an envelope at the MFC reception desk for you. Happy to discuss any or all of it with the people involved though if they want - especially $cully, who will land a knockout blow in the first 10 seconds by unfurling his most recent bank statement and pointing to the balance.

I don't know if the drive to read the comments (and as anyone who's ever watched a YouTube video or an online newspaper article knows - never read the comments) is the same drive that helps them become top level athletes, but nobody's yet been able to outline the benefits that subjecting yourself to this insanity brings. It's like Tim Watson printing his home address on the inside cover of the Footy Record in 1985, only not requiring a stamp or a trip to the letterbox. Some players might turn their fame into a free haircut, and when things are going fantastically well you could almost excuse them for a having a peep - but as much as I'm trying not to victim shame here how unbalanced does the ledger have to get before you realise that it's a hindrance to your life and walk away? Long term Twitter followers may recall Cale Morton and Jake Spencer arriving in a blaze of glory and disappearing not long after. I suspect they quickly discovered that it was a sewer - and if my timing is right that was before 186 when people really went feral.

There's a level beyond the direct-to-your-fingertips keyboard hero. The suggestion that people actually rang Jones up to share their views with him is a level of madness even one step beyond the dickheads that call club reception to complain after a loss. Of course it could get a lot worse, assuming whoever opened fire on Travis Cloke's house had a broader issue and wasn't just passing comment on his goalkicking, I assume we're never going to reach the level of fans rushing the field en masse to attack players. Still, that we've never stooped to that level (with the exception of the old lady who tried to throttle a West Coast player with her scarf at Windy Hill in the early 90s, and the North fan who delivered the most limp-wristed punch in recorded history to Daniel Motlop a few years ago) doesn't mean it's open slather to hoe into practically defenceless targets. It's basically the Adam Goodes booing thing again - though ironically with people taking my advice from that time of using words so their intention is obvious - your god given right to do something vs the morality of making an arsehole of yourself.

Related topics
The St Kilda social media manager is probably bobbing up and down in the bay with a fridge attached to his/her ankle for this, but what a legend for writing it in the first place.
The response was predictable, an endless stream of "I pay my membership, I can act like a gibbon". Which is as true as was one section above, but don't sook when somebody dishes it back in the lightest, most innocuous fashion. Until you've worked in any role that involves receiving and/or responding to feedback left on social media platforms, you cannot begin to understand the psychological weight of having to plaster on a digital air-hostess smile and try to be professional when you actually want to tell somebody to shove it up their arse sideways.

I expect the effect magnifies the less control you have over what people are whinging to you about as if you're the CEO. The person behind the keyboard at a footy club is about as far removed from being able to impact your helpful suggestions as is humanely possible. At least when you're teeing off on players they're getting paid good money as part of not being able to fight back (with the exception of minimum wage rookies, who may very well be doing double duty as the club Twitterist), this is the modern day equivalent of ringing reception and blasting Doris.

Next week
Now that we're in the eight and suddenly Docklands specialists the Bulldogs represent a significant challenge. If we win this - and regrettably I still can't bring myself to believe we will - the platform is there for a bash at September. It still is even if we lose, but we've also got to contend with trips to Perth, Hobart, Darwin and Sydney plus danger games against the Swans and Carlton, before getting to what seems on paper a generous last three weeks against St Kilda, Brisbane and the Pies again.

First the Bulldogs, and what a conundrum we find ourselves in at selection. The poor Spencil has returned just in time for Gawn to keep him out of the side again, and while Max is an absolute solid gold certainty when fit and is absolutely crucial to the structure it's going to give us problems trying to work out who makes way. It would have been a lot easier if Sizzle Jr had continued to play with a Morton-esque level of terror instead of turning in probably the best half of his career during the comeback, but with all the apologies in the world he's shunted out for his brother to go back where he should be in defence, and for Pedersen to go forward permanently. Junior has got plenty of time to get back in, as long as he knows it's all about team balance and not going in with an unnecessarily tall defence he will get more chances.

Elsewhere I've had enough of the Bullet for now, he's not a complete write-off but I'm happy to give somebody else a go. That somebody is Billy Stretch, who seemed to be dropped unfairly to the naked eye and has been marooned at Casey ever since. Elsewhere I'm not convinced Harmes and Bugg should be seen in the same forward line, but other than another woeful set shot that he can blame on my famous quote about him being a good finisher Bugg was quite lively. Then again it's hard to chop Harmes when he did the significantly better job against Gold Coast. Either way I'd probably chuck one of them if it meant confirmation that Ben Kennedy has not been applied to some secret second year 'no play' list before being quietly sacked a'la Ben Newton.

IN: Gawn, Stretch
OUT: Neal-Bullen, O. McDonald (omit)
LUCKY: Bugg, Harmes, Lewis, Vince
UNLUCKY: Kennedy, Spencer

Was it worth it?
My word yes. I had an arsehole of a time getting there, had to test my already suspect cardiac fitness by sprinting full pelt to catch two different trains to get home, then spent the entirety of the second one convinced that half the carriage were going to rob me at knife point but this is the kind of game you had to be there for. To be looking right at Watts running into that goal in the end and erupting as one with the faithful was the sort of thing that will stick with me forever. After sitting through so much garbage over the years, wins like this will have to do as a reward before we start ripping teams limb from limb and/or winning finals.

Final thoughts
I have a morbid fear that my time of being able to go to every game no matter what is coming to an end, and that before long I'll probably end up desperately having to avoid spoilers so I can watch games as live in the middle of the night a'la 148. It will be horrific timing, but if that's what it takes to finally get this club going again then I'm comfortable laying down my sporting life as a sacrifice.