Saturday 29 July 2017

Fear of Flying

And that, Melbourne fans and sympathisers, is why we can't have nice, relaxing weeks. The last seven of 3997 days (and counting) without beating North featured so many people telling me that there was no way we'd lose that by Friday I had to halt somebody mid-conversation and ask them to hush up because the idea of not winning was stressing me out so badly.

Turns out I was at work last time we beat them anyway - appropriately enough after coming from 27 points down - so my personal winless record against North now stands at 4110 days. Back then footy was a sideline to real life, now it's left me a permanent nervous wreck.  Between North's comprehensive ownership of us for years, the public expectation of victory, having already lost to them this year, and playing at a novelty ground with suspect winds it was nearly impossible to visualise beating them.

Like Hawthorn until that wonderful game late in 2016, it doesn't help when there's no frame of reference to know what winning looks like. At least the Hawks have been winning flags left, right and centre for a decade while regularly toppling us, not peaking as Preliminary Final flotsam. And they were polite enough to beat us easily every time, instead of teasing us with close games almost every time (except the one we lost by 20 goals).

The worst part of it - at least until the last quarter started - was the suggestion that North were quite happy to tank their way through the rest of the year. Do you honestly think a team is going to do that to get pick 1 instead of 2 or 3? At least have some dignity and save it for when there's multiple picks on the line. They had so many players you'd never heard of that it could be the first ever group induction to the Kingsley Klub, but when they dropped two randoms and picked Ziebell and Tarrant I knew there were no shenanigans afoot. The ironic thing, and we'll never know unless somebody lags, would be if they were planning to subtly chuck it, then had to back out when the heat came on. I doubt it, even though there is only a tenuous link to our shenanigans in 2009 and what happened later it will still be used as the case study as to why it will do more harm than good.

All I wanted was to beat them by somewhere between 1 and 99 points. If we'd managed that you almost might have convinced me that we were safe inside the eight. Now all the old doubts spill out, last week's heroics are effectively wasted, and it's back to having to run the table against St Kilda, Brisbane and Collingwood to be certain of it. Some would say we don't deserve to be in the finals on the strength of today's performance, to which I'd say North won't be there and the games won't be played on a village oval with cyclonic winds so better to get in and hope for the best.

On the weekend of the (one eight) sixth anniversary of the day the club was blown into a million stringy bits in Geelong (complete with pretentious Brechtian post headline)  it would have been a great time to cast off the shackles of oppression and beat the piss out of somebody. But that's not what we do. Not yet anyway. Someday soon I hope we'll unload all the pent-up anger and win a game by 140, but anyone who thought we were a chance of starting here needs their head examined. I'd love to spend a season being a sunshine and lollypops "support the boys, everything's going to be OK!" person but would require a lobotomy first.

While I was trying to be positive everything in me screamed that we were going to stuff it up, right down to Simon Goodwin being the special guest On The Couch this week as if they thought the topic of conversation would be an unlikely tilt at the top four. Now they can talk about how to even make the eight we'll likely have to win three consecutive games as favourites when we've got enough trouble doing that once. No matter what happened last week when we hunted Port into submission there was just no trust in this result. This contributed to me feeling like I wanted to have a casual pre-match spew, then screaming "FUCK I HATE MELBOURNE" when North kicked the first goal of the second quarter.

Speaking of significant winds, the way things were going at my place I wasn't confident in getting through the full four quarters without the power going out. I had visions of being forced to run for the car and listen to us finally beat North on AM radio - hopefully remembering to manually open the garage door first to avoid necking myself with exhaust fumes at the crucial moment. If my reaction at the siren was anything to go by it's probably best I didn't have access to a vehicle immediately after the siren. It was bad enough having to drive somewhere 30 minutes later, forced to make a concerted effort not to run half a dozen different people off the road.

It didn't help my nerves when North won the toss and kicked with a screaming wind. It was one thing to launch a magic comeback last year that left us within a couple of seconds of victory, but you couldn't ignore that even that took going down 42-0 before finding our feet. And they did put on an even more vigorous first quarter against the Crows there earlier in the year. Imagine that, being paid big money to sell home games to a venue that actually helps the team rather than forcing them to shelter in a meat locker to stay cool.

I suppose if we'd won there'd be a different tone, but I absolutely hated watching this game. I've seen us play worse, and lose on TV by 100+ more, but there was something horribly uncomfortable about it. Not only was there fear of losing to a bottom four team for the fourth time this season, but I despise games played with a heavy wind to one end. Hooray for what floated people's boats in 1967, but they shut the Western Oval down for a reason. There's a lot to be said for low scoring games, but at least when it rains both sides are equally disadvantaged. This makes for generally terrible football (which you tend to expect when watching us), with a side-serving of terror that the opposition will do what they're supposed to and thump on a dozen goals and you'll kick 1.4. This such an offensive contest that I refuse to believe any neutrals were still watching after quarter time.

My spirits lifted when we avoided a repeat of last year's calamitous opening. We weren't playing particularly well, and initially didn't look like much chance of scoring, but at least they were being slowed. With Gawn continuing his pre-injury form last week, Majak Daw's only contribution was taking 'Neville Jetta takes on much larger men' to its logical conclusion by damn near killing Nifty in a contest. Fortunately Nev is made of kevlar, and returned to deliver another strong game with a 100% disposal efficiency. It wasn't the last time he was left to deal with one of their key position forwards, to the point where a contest against Waite with nobody else in the vicinity should have led to him walking off in frustration. He is a mastermind, and I may cause civil disorder if he doesn't make the All Australian side.

For all my anxiety about players being left in free space, and our traditionally loose defensive structure, Oscar McDonald played well. He's a good reader of the play, even if he's a bit Cale Mortony for physical presence. This covered a rare down day for Hibberd, who got plenty of touches but did nothing with them, and Frost who looked like he'd been put under heavy sedation before the first bounce.

Conceding the first goal wasn't a major drama, it was always going to be a case of how well we could restrain them before getting a bash at scoring in the second - and more importantly the last. Obviously I expected that the wind would disappear at three quarter time, leaving us high and dry. In the end it actually strengthened, making our inability to take advantage even more offensive.

When we found ourselves back in front halfway through the quarter from a pair of Garlett goals I let myself get swept away with the idea we'd go into quarter time with a lead, then bash their brains in by the long break. Again, never engage in optimism when supporting this club because there's a high percentage you'll end up disappointed. Realistically given that Viney couldn't get near it, and most of the players who could were butchering it unmercifully I should have known there was more in store.

Garlett's second was another example where we kicked one, then conceded two immediately after and were left six points worse off overall. North weren't playing all that well, but we were giving them ridiculous amounts of space and allowing them to get into positions where they could take advantage of the wind. In retrospect even though he was our best forward I don't know why they didn't just leave Tom McDonald at one end of the ground all day and try to further minimise the damage - especially in the third quarter where we'd built up a slender lead, desperately needed to stop them getting too far in front and could barely get the ball out of defence anyway.

In proper conditions you'd like to think we'd have cleaned them up. They were basically down to Ben Brown, that bloke who gleefully punched Vince in the guts last time and a cavalcade of players that even North fans probably wouldn't recognise. Nevertheless, Brown's two late goals gave them a handy lead at quarter time. We'd looked terrible, but it was only fair to wait until we'd had the advantage as well before judging. Then they bounced into an open goal 30 seconds into the quarter and my swearing was so significant it caused by significant other to pack up and shift to another room.

It's one thing to have a big breeze, but that's not much use without forwards to match. North might not have much this year, but they do have a genuine Coleman Medal contender who they practically found out the back near the bins. Throw in Waite and either of the ruckman rotating through and I was scared of a lower calibre version of Todd Goldstein marking everything that came near him inside 50 in the first quarter. On the other hand we make scoring through tall forwards look more difficult than crossing the English Channel in a bathtub.

With the talls not getting anything to their advantage, it was down to Oliver and Melksham to strike a blow for the 'others' and get us back in it. Finally the sort of pressure that smothered Port was applied and had the same effect, before being given up on again. Immediately after Milkshake's goal, McSizzle marked right in front at the top of the square, and after slamming through set shots from every part of the 50 in the last few weeks missed a sitter. Even as were starting to overhaul them I still knew this wasn't going to be our day. But was a smash and grab against the tide win too much to ask for?

That miss indirectly led to another North goal into the wind and all of a sudden I was under more pressure than a space shuttle commander. There's a certain move I do when watching games in front of the TV and everything gets too much for me, it's a lot like this, but without as much ducking of the head. But plenty of jumping up and down.

Then for the only time all day we got a run on and looked like we might be capable of treating North like a 17th place side instead of indulging them as an equal. Mind you there was still an element of luck in some of our four goals, with Melksham expertly crumbing a dodgy throw-in and Hogan thumping through a ball that dropped on the line, after initially having no idea where the ball had landed, before fortuitously turning to discover it sitting up right in front of an open goal.

In the last few minutes we had a moment of magic that is practically the only thing worth re-watching. Immediately after a Hunt goal, Petracca burst out of the middle and smashed a pass straight to McDonald. Given a longer distance to kick from he got it right this time, and for once we'd used the dying minutes of a quarter to our advantage instead of rolling over and dying.

The game really hit the skids in the third quarter, quickly settling into a pattern of North furiously attacking while we grimly defended. It was like last week, except we weren't holding onto a five goal lead. When they kicked three in a row we weren't holding any sort of lead, and it became a case of managing the damage before we could go down the other end and try to trample them in the rush, like 22 men escaping a burning building.

The performance of Jordan Lewis was more divisive than politics, religion and comedians doing blackface gags. He'd play behind the ball when kicking into the wind, and go back to his normal role when we were attacking, and though I wasn't as down on his performance as some it didn't float my boat. He might have been directing traffic and setting up the defensive effort, but every time the ball went near him it looked like we were about to concede a goal.

He did give away one - in classic Melbourne fashion to a defender who'd previously kicked six goals in 195 games - then a rotten, panicky kick led to Hogan bending over to pick it up, being bumped and suffering a broken collarbone. I'm not going to blame Lewis for the injury, the way most of our players kick any of them could have been responsible for setting up a teammate for catastrophe. It's just another fiasco in Hogan's horrible season. He's suffering the unluckiest run of any player in recent times this season, and this should do him for now. Time to go on a lengthy holiday and reload for 2018. If we make the eight from here with even the remotest forward momentum stick with what got us there.

Even worse it blew the structure of our forward line on the day to buggery. Watts didn't look any better than last week, so with Hogan out our attack basically came down to Tom McDonald in the air and Garlett lurking hopefully out the back. In an ideal world you'd have thrown Gawn down there for the whole last quarter to scare them, but as his only credible replacement in the ruck was McDonald that couldn't happen.

It was not a great day to be Mitch Hannan. He's proven a handy competitor all season, and is an almost certain winner of our Rookie of the Year award (albeit in a thin field) but he toiled away for 76% of the game without having a single kick. The last person to achieve a zero in as much time was The Spencil in Round 2, 2014 when he played 82% for doughnuts, and before that Gawn (79%) vs Freo in 2013.

It happens with ruckmen (Mark Jamar went kickless in six of his first 11 games), and Jared Rivers' 86% vs Collingwood R2 2009 is understandable for a defender, so I set out to find the last non-tall to play at least 3/4 of a game and not introduce ball to boot once. There I discovered Matthew Whelan, who also played 76% of his last game, but I'm not counting it because he was going around with a blown hamstring for tanking sentimental purposes. Time of game records are kept since 2003, and I couldn't find any small forwards or midfielders who had similar days of toil and struggle. No need to drop him immediately though, one game where you can't get near it is ok when you've got credits in the bank. If it happens again next week trade him to Siberia.

Even before Hogan's injury we didn't look much like scoring, and only got two behinds for the quarter courtesy of speculative shots by Harmes. If we'd restricted North like that in the last term we'd have won easily, but they weren't mad enough to give us such ridiculous amounts of free space and let us eventually craft goals against the flow of play. They were far better at slowly moving the ball up the ground into the breeze, while we simply couldn't handle it and usually didn't have the firepower when it got up there.

An impotent attack aside we did a reasonably good job holding them out despite spending almost the entire quarter under siege, and a six point deficit at three quarter time would have been a doddle for any team with a properly functioning attack and way to get it to them. It would have been a good time for Watts to come alive, but without Hogan to take the heat off him he was thrashed royally. Nevertheless we did level the scores within a minute through Garlett's third, and a GWS 2013 style last quarter avalanche was on. For about 90 seconds before North did what we couldn't through the entire third quarter, and they were never behind again.

Like the third quarter all the attack was to the scoring end without much reward. The difference was they'd already nabbed one on the break, and looked likely to do it again whenever they got into any space. They'd clearly done their homework, playing on quickly, changing direction and watching our players stick out a casual arm or fall over. McDonald got one more goal, but we still looked unlikely to kick a winning score. Down the other end we were lucky not to cop another, thanks only to Jetta sticking a foot out as a reaction to having the ball thumped straight at him.

After that near miss we went back to attacking for no reward, before they went down the other end against the run of play and found a player standing on his own inside 50 for the winning goal. At that point I flopped back on the couch and realised my jaw was so tightly clenched I had to consciously think about opening it before it would unlock. We missed a couple of half chances through Petracca and Hibberd , leaving us within a goal but never looking seriously like we'd get in front. That didn't mean we couldn't nick an accidental one, or see the ball inadvertently carry over three defenders like the goal North kicked in the third quarter. We could have used the conditions to reload for at least one more opportunity, but instead found the ball down the other end again. An ambitious Hunt kick into the middle floundered on Lewis not getting to the ball and we sunk without trace.

I'd jumped back on my feet when we started to attack from defence from 30 seconds left, and as that died and North attacked again I turned and delivered what was meant to be a lusty kick to the couch, only I half slipped, nearly went arse over and managed to hurt the top of my foot on the underside of the thing instead. I tried to console myself through shared distress on Twitter, and the first thing that came up was a video of $cully kicking a goal. What more do you need to know?

Stat My Bitch Up
The streak still pales in comparison to our 22 straight losses against Hawthorn from 1973 to 1984, but that only took 4012 days to accomplish. So unless we get a replay against North in the next couple of weeks this will officially be the longest we've ever gone without beating a team (pedants: we're not counting folded sides here) in the history of the VFL/AFL. The #fistedforever era is like a cold sore, even when it's not visible you know you're still infected.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Clayton Oliver
--- As much distance as is known in this galaxy ---
4 - Dom Tyson
3 - Tom McDonald
2 - Oscar McDonald
1 - Neville Jetta

Apologies to Gawn and Salem who might have had one. Please do not contact me with questions about where Lewis is or I'll set a rule to redirect your email to the spam folder.

This week Clayton Oliver did not do any funny things, he just playing stirling football and grabs back the competition lead. There are only 20 votes left in the regular season, so if you're now convinced we can't make the eight you may wish to draw a dotted line across your computer screen or mobile enabled device above Christian Salem, because if we only play 22 games nobody from him down can win.

No change in the minors other than Jetta drawing one closer to Hibberd, who has gone from a contender for the overall title to under pressure for the Seecamp in a week. Gawn and Hannan still lead their respective categories.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I'm tempted by Hogan's thumping kick from the line, just because of the look on his face when he realised it was sitting at his feet and ready to be booted through - but you'd have to work hard to win a weekly prize for a tap-in. Instead I'm going for Melksham's crumb in the second quarter. He wins a night in a lifeboat aboard the Spirit of Tasmania. McDonald still leads overall for his goal against the Eagles.

Fox Footy were so busy running their #1 fun fact about our losing streak into the ground that I had shots of both banners from people at the ground five minutes before we got a token fake-live look at the sides running through them.

However good the Roos are at playing the wind in Hobart their cheersquad are the opposite, with a weedy little number that felt apart on both sides under pressure. Shaun Atley will remember his 100th game for two reasons, and the second will be the way the cartoon image of him came loose and flapped around. If the curtain was big enough the whole thing might have picked up and taken off into the Derwent River. Alternatively ours was well designed and had a nice Van Diemen's Land/Demons reference. Dees 17-1-0 for the season.

Late Bannerwatch update - a report of North's flimsy Reject Shop effort inspired this person to start an account specifically to write in and complain. As we need being cocky about crepe paper on Twitter to lose to North when we haven't beaten them since MySpace was popular.
Next week
Our tour of Australia's most unlikely AFL senior venues continues as we go to Canberra to play GWS. Had we won here I'd almost have been tempted to get in the car and enjoy a live Carnival of Hate, now much to the detriment of my couch I'm not going anywhere other than the living room. The joy of never knowing what the hell this team is going to do next is that the Giants have also been in ropey form, so it's not entirely out of the question that we might win. But we won't. And then it's most likely fighting our way back into the eight from the outside.

I'd love to play Gawn forward in Hogan's absence, just to smash packs and bring the ball to ground, but I don't suppose sacrificing him and playing Pedersen or The Spencil in the middle would end well against your Mumfords, Lobbs and whoever else the Franchisers have in the ruck. Maybe they could pick Spencer as a forward and just give him the instruction to crash into people? More likely Pedersen returns unless Weideman kicks eight for Casey.

Elsewhere, in the afterglow of victory last week I made some premature comments about retaining Trengove when Vince was eligible to return as punishment to Bernie for needlessly getting himself suspended. Like a politician winning an election and throwing out all the campaign promises I am furiously walking that back now. Vince provides the odd fiasco, but also more attacking impact, and now there's some urgency about this game I'll roll over and welcome him back.

IN: Vince, Pedersen
OUT: Trengove (omit), Hogan (inj)
LUCKY: Hannan
UNLUCKY: TBD after Casey play. What happened to Ben Kennedy?

After that
A bleak future where robotic North Melbourne players enslave us all.

Final thoughts
Technically as they were called the Kangaroos for so long, we haven't beaten North Melbourne since Round 2, 1998. That was the day that definitively got me back into footy after wavering for a few years, if I wasn't a rusted on psychopath today might have sent me the other way.

Sunday 23 July 2017

The plot thickens

It's appropriate that we haven't played Port at the MCG since the Round 1, 2013 disaster that made that red-faced guy hanging over the fence after the siren into an internet meme. A lot has changed since then, if you'd told me four years later we'd be a red-hot chance of making the finals I'd have scoffed, but some things remain the same. That day as I sat in the Ponsford waiting for the game to start I read an article about how North Korea were set to dump some sort of nuclear bomb on us, and by three quarter time was left hoping for a direct hit. Now we're reading precisely the same story, and you get the feeling that World War III will probably break out minutes after we make the Grand Final.

For now the threat of global thermonuclear war is a distant second in the things I'm most worried about. I'll study my copy of When The Wind Blows (NB: a harrowing book about the effects of radioactive fallout, not a guide to playing Bellerive Oval) when the bomb drops, for now all my fears, anxieties and tensions are wrapped up in our run to September.

Port may not have beaten anybody in the eight at the time of writing, but I still went in treating this like a free hit. A win would most certainly help us fortify our spot in the eight, but the more likely scenario of a loss would see us having to fight our way in from the outside. Even when the most anticipated Footy Teams Day for years (even more than Free Ricky Petterd) delivered the most star-studded set of ins for any non-franchise team in the draft era (#1, #2, #3, and #9 draft picks, plus Jack Viney who we must have done dodgy shit to get on the cheap) I wasn't allowing myself to get excited. I expected they'd try and complete the bingo card by parachuting Jimmy Toumpas in as a late change so he could have 54 touches.

Even without a win here we'd still be in the mix if we beat all the teams below us, so in the grand scheme of things it shouldn't have mattered but in a weaker moment I did allow myself to think how appropriate it would be to come nearly entirely full circle from that disastrous 2013 opener. And if watching us quite literally scare Port into submission for the first 50 minutes didn't focus you on how we've come since then you're even harder to please than me. Alternatively you may wish to focus on our bang-up defensive job in the last that killed Port off. Or the way Petracca is regularly celebrating sealers by smooching people. It's all good.

What's got me flummoxed about today is how we simultaneously played brilliantly and terribly at times. There were still the one metre handballs to a standing teammate, and the desperate kicks to nobody in particular, but I suppose it all balances out in the end when you so comprehensively unnerve an opposition that they start doing the work for you.

The returnees were a mixed bag, like in an office when you've got people coming back from time off some of them kick the door in and dominate straight away, others (e.g. me) are in pieces for at least a week before getting back into the swing of things. Viney and Salem were the door kickers, Watts and Tyson got a 'much needed run'. Which is a polite - but entirely without prejudice - way of saying they were rubbish. Plenty of time for them yet, like Hogan and Gawn last week they can build from ehre.

Nerves weren't settled until there was about 90 seconds left, but I got as close as possible to a sedative in the opening 30 seconds when we romped out of the middle, kicked at Sizzle, he drew a free and converted another flawless set-shot. It was a 50% sign of things to come, Tom continued to battle hard without kicking another goal, but for the rest of the first half Max Gawn treated the man he will delegate All-Australian ruck duties to in his absence this year like a putz.

After a couple of down weeks regaining his touch there was much concern about how Maximum was going to handle Patrick Ryder, and the answer was by thrashing the pants off him. At one point he even threw in a charge-down tackle for holding the ball, one of the few times all day that the decision was so obvious that the umpires couldn't help but pay it. When he went off injured in the third quarter I was preparing the cyanide pills (while Jake Spencer was ordering champagne), and while he wasn't as dominant after returning it was still a welcome demolition job on a top ruckman. To complete his set of leg troubles it's purported to be an ankle injury, but presumably not one that will keep him out next week.

If the first goal was gifted by a free kick - and per capita has any forward ever drawn so many as Tom McDonald since Queen's Birthday? - the second was a thing of beauty. Alex Neal-Bullen has gone ballistic over the last couple of weeks, and his square up from the pocket to Petracca standing on his own 20m out directly in front was molto bene. Sometimes you want players to be more selfish when running into goal, but his wonderful kick was the perfect example of good vision. The Bullet is an underrated defensive player, but he's starting to be more damaging with the ball as well now and I'm getting quite a taste for it. Roll my posts about how he reminded me of a better Cale Morton rather than the ones where I declared myself over him.

As the margin continued to mount throughout the first quarter it was like a David Copperfield illusion, you kind of knew how we were doing it but couldn't exactly work out how. Our pressure wiped Port's structure out like a small village in the path of a volcanic landslide, but were still struggling to go forward in any convincing fashion. If Watts was 100% fit I'll go hee, adding another milestone game disappointment to go alongside his 100th when he had seven touches, was sub the next week then dropped himself. His 50th was good though. At least it showed that we've got other avenues to goal, and in the last quarter we proved that even when scoring dries up we've got the capability of suffocating sides. Who'd have thought that stopping teams from bursting into the open and linking up from one end to the other via five free players would have something about it?

We've all enjoyed Sizzle commanding the forward line like a general, but there's clearly still some work to be done with the structure. It's not such much the forwards themselves as the entries. Even if you take out the deliberate, long kicks to packs there were dozens of times where players went see ball/get ball/thump ball to a Port defender. It was as if we'd conceded that 80% of hopeful long kicks would be cut off, but that the magic generated by the other 20% of the forward entries would make up for it. One of these caused the third goal, when an unfortunate Port defender bravely backed into a contest, only to be flattened and for the ball to bounce straight into Hogan's hands for a David Schwarz-esque snap through an unguarded goal.

At 20-3 I was unnecessarily beginning to panic. I can't help it, even when I know how well we're playing I'm just waiting for something to go wrong. Other than creating and missing a couple of reasonable chance Port were in disarray, and it was so unlike us to be handing out a strangling like this unless it was self-applied for sexual gratification. When the margin crossed 24 I began preparing for a reverse stranglewank where we threw it all away - or at least went close to it - from a dominant position.

When Garlett danced through the attacking 50, shimmied in both directions a couple of times, ran into an open goal and thumped the ball into the post I thought it was a sign from the heavens that we weren't allowed to have nice things, and how not taking chances would eventually come back to haunt us. It might have if Port had shown up sometime before 3.30pm. Garlett hit the other post shortly after, admittedly this time from a much trickier position. At least we were making chances and keeping Port in a state of constant terror.

In the midst of this comprehensive rodgering of Port's premiership aspirations stood Jack Viney, a man who was supposed to be out for another two weeks with a foot complaint but was instead bashing through anybody in his path to rack up a shitload of disposals. Like Garlett, Gawn, and almost everyone else other than Michael Hibberd he couldn't carry it into the second half but was crucial in setting up the margin that won the game.

Speaking of Hibberd, he must be firming as a chance at following in the footsteps of Carl Ditterich, Laurie Fowler and Stephen Icke as imports to win the Best and Fairest in their first year. He was the co-highlight of our defence, along with Neville Jetta taking the usually terrifying Robbie Gray to the cleaners in the first half. Elsewhere Oscar McDonald is reading the play beautifully, even if his disposals and one-on-one contests still make me shudder, and Jack Trengove made a welcome return in a new role as a defender. He was solid down back, and still knows what to do despite having played about five senior games in five years. He didn't really have much attacking impact, but that's what you've got Hibberd and Salem for. Either way, depending on what happens against North I wouldn't be adverse to giving Vince an extra week out to think about what he's done so Jack can string some games together.

Obviously I was happy at the end of a quarter where we led by 27 points, but it still felt unusual. Like how we were murdering them through the middle, and how their players were so spooked by perceived pressure that they were nearly falling victim to it before it happened. This was very un-Melbourne like, and if it's our future than we're all going to have good times for years to come. Right now I'd just appreciate it transferring to Hobart next Saturday.

As if the crowd wasn't warm enough after a quarter of psychologically dominating our alleged betters, the next thing you knew Jeff Farmer was providing the kicks for Hogan's Heroes and there were scoreboard interviews with Liam Jurrah and The CELEBRATOR. Now the fans were really achieving multiple bars of service, it was just a case of the players carrying on rather than releasing the pressure valve and letting Port reel us in. They had a fair crack, but the built-up buffer and a last quarter rammed to the gills with tough defence were too much to overcome.

On the rare times we've unloaded a blitzkrieg like that in the first quarter the proof of whether or not it's sustainable is usually seen in the opening minutes of the second. It's not necessarily whether we kick goals, but how quickly, and how easily the other team starts winding the margin back. Happily there was no instant reversal, Port continued to struggle when they went forward to the point where Charlie Dixon clotheslined Neville Jetta then had a big sooky spray at him afterwards. Jetta has grown into such a beloved figure that for the rest of his miserable, SANFL reserve grade quality game Dixon received the worst reception from a Melbourne fan since $cully.

It was fitting that the first goal of the second was set up by Mr NBA Jam himself Jake Melksham doing another novelty move, this time spinning out of a tackle to get his kick away. At some point he must boot three goals in a row and they must play HE'S ON FIRE over the MCG loudspeaker. His kick found Hogan in a one-on-one contest, but instead of physically picking his opponent up and moving him out of the way (and if the non-free for Port's first goal was anything to go by, he should have) he halved the contest, gathered the crumb and snapped around the corner for the fifth in a row. And not long after that he added the sixth too, turning his opponent inside out and shoehorning his kick about 50cm over the line before the ball bounced back.

People who are into motivation and just generally not being miserable bastards all their lives are keen on visualisation, so I tried to think what it would look like if we continued to butcher them like this and won by 110. Big mistake. I will quite comfortably go back to expecting everything to go wrong and being surprised if it doesn't. It will be better for my heart, already under immense strain from not only the game but hauling myself up the stairs from ground level. I'd like to invite the Royal Melbourne Hospital (not to be confused by footy fans with 'The Royal' - home to the two most diametrically opposed reviews ever) to hook every machine they've got up to me one day at a game and see what they discover. That I'd quietly died during the third quarter most likely.

Nobody understands my fractured psyche better than notorious Twitter shock jock, 2013 best-man and Buckley sacking fanatic @Amul82, sending this at precisely the same time I was sitting there worrying that one goal would be the start of an avalanche.
It got up to 48-5, but just when we were within five minutes of keeping a side goalless in a half for the first time since 1994, Port finally got one. They shouldn't have considering the high degree of molestation Sam Frost underwent in the marking contest, but hey if they hadn't scored there they might have kicked the next 15 goals unanswered so let's trust in the final result. Westhoff's ill-gotten major came much to the premature mirth of several thousand Melbourne fans who were getting a bit ahead of themselves in being patronising to others.

We'd held out for about 10 minutes post-tweet, but I still thought "here we go" when they got it. I've had that feeling for opposition goals for every margin up to about 60 points. The only good bit about Port kicking a goal was that as Jackson Trengove lined up the scoreboard resolutely claimed it was Jack Trengove.

When Hannan resumed normal service with some lightning crumb not long after, it looked like Port's comeback might have been as easily snuffable as everything else they'd tried. With only 90 seconds left in the half it felt like even we couldn't get into too much trouble from there. Then for the second week in a row we turned one goal for into two against to end up worse off than we'd been to start with. To be fair the second was aided by a 50m penalty that came out as about 75, but it was an unwelcome momentum shift right before the break. Considering how badly we'd monstered them it wasn't that big a lead, and now we were vulnerable to all of a) the post-Darwin wobbles, b) underdone returning players and c) Port belatedly deciding to having a go.

I'd love to spend more time complaining about the umpiring, but in the end when the game was on the line we got a couple of rippers so live and let live. This was in no way my view during the game, as I hurled pointless long-distance abuse at that coneheaded bloke that everyone hates. Not surprisingly my vitriolic hatred of the umpiring started getting serious at the exact same time it became clear we had a fight on our hands.

Considering the sides kicked two goals apiece to open the third quarter it wasn't like they were immediately threatening to storm over the top of us, but you could clearly see what ailed them in the first half had mostly been corrected. With respect to Ken Hinkley it didn't take a genius to realise that if Wingard was doing nowt in the middle and R. Gray likewise up front under immense pressure from Nifty Nev that you had nothing to lose swapping them. This worked a treat until Wingard was injured, which like Patrick Cripps a fortnight ago was unfortunate for him but a much welcome boost for us. Like Cripps it was one of our players that did it, Frost crippling him with an attempted smother than being a good guy and apologising. Before wandering off and taking a mark two metres away while Wingard was still lying on the ground in agony. There's only so much room for politeness.

There weren't so many examples of two of our lot running to one opponent and leaving another unattended this week, nor did too many Port players merrily step around our players and leave them flat on their arse, but I'll tell you what will shit me even if it only happens once a game - players electing not to shepherd. I enjoyed James Harmes' game on the whole, but there was a moment in this quarter when he gave the ball to Hibberd with acres of space in front of him and only one defender to contend with, and he never once looked like he wanted to block, or at least even casually step into the path of the Port player. He must have known Hibberd's A1 special move is the long kick, so he was hardly going to get a handball back with that much room to run into. It was dire, and though we're well beyond that nightmare era when literally the only player on our list who'd shepherd was The Spencil there's still too much of this going on. Unless you're clearly in a position for a one/two handball it should be a non-negotiable to protect the ball-carrier.

Just when it looked like they had the momentum late in the quarter enter Garlett to slide one in from the pocket and finally achieve the novelty roller goal he'd been cheated out of by the post at that end twice in the first quarter. It was much needed breathing space, giving us a five goal lead at three quarter time that we were historically unlikely to blow. History was fine, but at three goals below the Chris Sullivan Line I wasn't just worried we might throw it away, I was convinced we would.

As Port's second goal went in within five minutes of the restart I got a sinking feeling in my stomach, and hoped that having quit 15 minutes early in Darwin might have conserved enough juice for us to fall over the line. Having half-heartedly watched Adelaide introduce cue to rack in the last quarter when the game was won on Friday night I thought the trip was about to have an impact. If the groundswell of opinion against that deal was building last week (and it's signed through next year, so don't waste your time starting a petition), a loss here would have caused the earth's surface to fracture.

The next 15 minutes was one of the great backs-to-the-wall defensive efforts we've put on in recent times. It was only necessary because we couldn't for the life of us kick a goal - or register any score for that matter - but the ball was almost permanently locked away in our attack for endless stoppages. Every time we had a player sitting back to get in the way of any long kicks, forcing Port to try and work it out of congestion under heavy first quarter style harassment. Still, after several minutes of the ball sitting at our end for no reward I'd mentally switched to a localised version of the Bradbury Plan that would see us grimly defend a three goal lead for 10 minutes by making sure no more were kicked.

The endless cavalcade of pressure eventually cracked them though, and halfway through the quarter there was a noticeable dimming of the lights as they lost the ability and/or will to try and break out of our Veil of Negativity. The last straw was Jimpey doing everything he could to win the ball while dashing forward, only to give the ball to Dixon and watch it thumped straight down Jetta's throat with one of the laziest kicks inside 50 you'll ever see. Our attacks might often be ineffective, and many of them are misguided, but at least they've got effort behind them.

Then out of nowhere a ball landed luckily in Jake Melksham's arms 50 metres out, hard on the boundary. I thought at least he could run 30 seconds off the clock before kicking to the top of the square and hoping that on the 400th attempt we might take a mark within 20 metres. Then quite literally out of nowhere he sliced it home with surgical precision, not showing any ill-effects from McDonald running straight into him post-mark, and we were safe. His stock had already gone through the roof since Bugg removed himself from contention, and it was nice that as a tribute to Wonaeamirri he continued to rip out over the top primal scream style celebrations for every goal.

As long as we didn't concede immediately that was it, and Petracca turned up for another to add the exclamation mark. By the end our fans were so frothy that when Justin Westhoff kicked the last goal people saw a beard, assumed it was Dixon and booed him anyway. It was all for nothing, we'd kept a team with a percentage of 130 something to 9.11.65 and in a much needed boost to the reputation of Plan A it had been done from the opening bounce.

By virtue of playing for a spot somewhere between 5th and 11th we are still by definition mid-table mediocrities, but the clock is ticking on that era less than a year after it started. A few weeks ago I made the erroneous claim that my focus was on 2018, and that anything which happened for the rest of this year was a bonus. This was a coping strategy when we were losing players at a rate faster than the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, now that almost everyone's back and we've won a game we weren't meant to I've come to the point where missing the eight this year may cause me to have a total mental and physical breakdown. So that's something to look forward to.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Neville Jetta
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - Max Gawn
1 - Alex Neal-Bullen

Apologies to Oliver and Salem who were in heavy contention for the last spot, but also T. McDonald, O. McDonald, Petracca, Hogan and Harmes.

Just as a cavalcade of new contenders emerged, Viney returns with one fully functioning foot and throws his name into the hat. Technically everyone on the list can either win or tie with five games left - if you believe we've only got five games left. In the minors it looks like the Seecamp is a two horse race between Hibberd and Jetta, while Pedersen's ploy to get dropped and protect his Stynes lead has been rumbled by Gawn dealing what will probably be the decisive blow.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Plenty of contenders this week, probably because our laborious attempts at attacking usually ended with the ball flinging out the back of a pack for somebody to create magic from. With respect to Hogan's second snap, Hannan's lightning crumb and the sealer from Melksham I'm opting for Garlett's slicer from the pocket in the third. For the weekly prize he wins a 60 minute woodchopping lesson from Andy Lovell so he can ease his frustrations on the goalposts.

Tom McSizzle remains your overall leader for the Mid-Air Miracle at Subiaco.

Clayton Oliver does funny things
The Patron Saint of Novelty Behaviour reportedly chucked a duck in spectacular fashion at quarter time, then once he'd shed the contents of his stomach he came back and had 30 touches. There should be more of it.

I've never before wanted to see somebody going the vom, but I feel our kid would do it in such a funny fashion - with heaving shoulders and the head flying everywhere - that it would be an incredible experience to watch.

In the battle of Dixon vs Watts tribute banners, both put in better performances than their subject. Ours had a lovely Watts picture and a heartwarming "always No. 1 to us" dedication that must have made the people who spent 2009-2016 publicly willing him to fail shift nervously in their seat. On the other hand Port had a giant random space between CHARLIE and DIXON, and the diagonal sticky tape they used to affix his photo made it look like they were calling for him to be banned. By full time they probably were.

One thing I'll give the Power is that they didn't have a curtain, and with the way everyone on our side was gingerly ducking underneath I don't think we're far away from seeing one enforced on our cheersquad. And at that point this segment will be retired. Until then, Dees 16-1-0 for the season.
Crowd watch
I tossed up whether to sit with the Redlegs and risk having to talk to somebody, or needlessly heading for Row MM of the Ponsford when any of the double letters would have seen me well in the clear. Just like the Carlton game, for the first half the back row was an oasis of serenity (albeit a bloody freezing one) before tourists flocked from everywhere to get involved at half time. Do these people ever come back, or do they treat their visit like one to Hobart and think "well that was inoffensive, but I won't be doing it again"?

Next week
My entire supporting life is feeling like we're walking into an ambush, and this is the ultimate expression of that. If you're going to blow everything up and start again, North's controlled flight into terrain style rebuild is a much neater way to go about it than our multiple cartwheeling explosions through residential areas. For a side that's 4-13 they've got a downright reasonable percentage of 88.3, which points to a hard-fought win that keeps us ticking over and them trending towards a lucrative second last finish without being disgraced along the way.

But this is North, the last remaining hoodoo of the home and away season (though I'd like another 100+ point win before I die thanks) and a team that has treated us with contempt for 10.5 miserable seasons. At a ground that usually features hurricane force winds blowing to one end, and where they eviscerated the Crows only a few months ago. Though that was before they started rolling out rookies by the dozen, and hopefully even if they have to go to MFC 2009 style levels they will ensure that the right result occurs here. Alternatively it becomes the first ever multiple-induction Kingsley game, Majak Daw kicks 12 and I close my head in a sliding door out of a mixture of frustration and rage.

I don't see any reason to change a winning combination, Jones isn't ready yet so there's no reason to mess with the rest of a side that throttled top four competition so effectively.

We should win, but given that North has finished everywhere from 4th to 13th since 2007 and we've only got within 10 points of them three times I don't know what to think. It would be excellent if we could parlay today's first quarter success into not being 42-0 down in the first quarter like last year.

IN/OUT: No change
UNLUCKY: Kennedy (always), Maynard (regularly in Casey's best), Spencer

After that
More rigorous use of the ladder predictor, and based on the off-chance that we beat the three teams we should from here - even allowing for a Round 21 loss to St Kilda - I've got us finishing 8th. Still too close for comfort, so how about we start tipping the tables on the teams that have tormented us for so many years and crush a couple of sides in the next few weeks? It unnerves me to write it, like the old "let's boost our percentage going in Round 23" debacle against Carlton last year. What I'd really like is to take the experience playing in the cold from today and Hobart to Canberra and beat the Giants. Then I'll know it's love.

Was it worth it?
Very much so, despite the arctic temperatures and Everest style crosswinds. I went in ridiculously overdressed, with so many layers that if there was a sudden, unexpected rise in the temperature I'd have probably boiled to death in Row MM and not been found until some kids clambered up there at half time next Friday night.

Final thoughts
A post-match trip to the supermarket was a fine indication of how far I've come, even in the space of a year. Forget that if we'd lost I'd probably have jumped the deli counter and hit somebody over the head with a knob of bratwurst, it was refreshing to pilot a trolley around without having the overwhelming desire to maim an innocent bystander because of what 22 men had done while chasing a bag of wind.

Sunday 16 July 2017

Malfunction at the junction

And lo, the brave but battered survivors of the Great 2017 Melbourne Injury Plague stood on a weird ground, in weird conditions with two paths before them. Win and buy valuable insurance in the race for a coveted top eight spot, or lose and be cast into the fiery pits of a six team brawl for three vacancies. The problem was that in the way stood the most ruthless attacking machine in the competition by some distance, stung from already throwing away one decent lead against us this season.

It didn't end well, but in the end I'd say we put in a reasonable performance considering our midfield has been decimated, Gawn's touch around the ground is still pending, and Hogan is playing like one of those Workcover ads where the person is welcomed back with their arm still in a sling, and though he can't do exactly what he's supposed to everyone says things like "good onya champ" and wishes him well anyway.

But having said that, being competitive for most of the game other than when we threw it away in the first quarter or gave up hope in the last shouldn't detract from the many and varied ways that this performance gave me the shits. I desperately want to move to next week, knowing this was effectively a free kick, but watching the opposition have a dozen shots from players standing on their own inside 50 and having the game terminated by a period of not being able to stop the other team when they got on a roll was a return to the days when Roos was on a search and rescue mission to recover our dignity. At least we can say that when it happened then we had full teams, not some of the eclectic midfield selections on offer in Darwin. And we still scored 70, which is not all that good but would have been 40 in 2014/15. And probably nil in 2013.

Ironically on the night where Simon Goodwin opted to stand, presumably because there was no bloody where to sit in the poky Marrara Stadium coaches' box, I sat. As you'll remember my default position for TV games is to hover over the screen like a goal umpire watching the ball roll over the line, but this time I just wasn't feeling it. Maybe if we'd got closer in the last quarter I'd have jumped to my feet and started pacing nervously, but it felt like the whole thing was a pointless endeavour so I sat under a blanket eating chips.

Part of the malaise might have been down to the commentary team. Since when did Channel 7 show an interest in games in Darwin? Probably when they discovered the only other game on offer was two Sydney sides. The last time I remember network TV covering this fixture was Channel 10 doing our last win pre-186 (and look how they've turned out?), when I risked ending up like that poor bloke at the swingers' party by nervously pointing a toy gun at the screen all night. All we had in common tonight was that neither of us got the climax we were hoping for.

The thing about Dwayne or BT is that they are clearly so self-inflated and sure of their own genius that there's energy to be generated from yelling at the TV as they call. Basil on the other hand seems like he would actually be quite a nice person in real life and is probably trying very hard to perfect his craft, but the way he weaves pre-planned gags, insincere sounding concern for injured players, and pre-prepared facts into the call suggests he's actually being fed by an artificial intelligence project. He had one "life of Riley" rib-ticker about Riley Knight that his shit bloke commentary chums didn't even give a polite chuckle for, instead leaving it hanging there like a fart in an elevator. That's what friends are for. The only one of them I'd want to speak in real life would be Richo, and even he didn't try to make a save.

Even if Baz is running off the BlandChat 6.2 operating system he can take comfort in being significantly more likeable than Luke "you just reckon" Darcy, and far more useful than Ling. For the entire last quarter an Adelaide player sat on the bench with ice on both legs as they speculated whether he'd hurt his hammy. On the radio the boundary rider would have been back with news within minutes, they never even threw to Ling for an update. So what's the point of him being there? Leigh Colbert sat on the ground with Mark Jamar in Darwin, what's this guy offering other than platitudes and motherhood statements?

At least nobody ever made a significant gaffe by suggesting Jay Kennedy-Harris had a 'home ground advantage', or confused Jetta and Garlett despite them being at other ends of the ground. Even if you're of the vintage that can't tell indigenous players apart, it's easy to spot Jetta because he'll be the one taking on a defender significantly bigger than him in a marking contest.

At least even though I was lamenting not getting the Fox Sports C-Game commentator who calls the game properly instead of trying to force in zingers, the stadium were so happy with Channel 7's coverage (and the chance to save a buck by not hiring cameramen) that they just stuck it on the big screen with not a cracker of manipulation to the countdown clock. I was desperately hoping that would come into play later as we pulled off an even more audacious rort of the final seconds than last week. As it turns out our most exciting moment of the game came because a player opted not to turn around and see how much time was left, but by the final siren we were sinking like a stone so there was no chance for overt manipulation.

The tone of how our attacks were going to be dealt with was set on the first one, we whacked it long to the square in hope and a Crows player cut it off. Rinse and repeat about 30 times for the rest of the game. There was one majestic lead straight up the middle by McDonald in the second quarter, and though he stuffed it up by trying to play on and was smothered it was exactly what we needed instead of crossed fingers "here goes nothing" Hail Mary kicks. His Cuthbertson-esque run ended with only one goal, and even that was from a free, but he battles so hard down there I don't want him to go back into defence until Hogan is marking over every defender in the league and kicking 80 goals a year with his eyes closed.

After we'd been thumped in pretty much every aspect of the game, Melksham showed up for the first goal in a performance that must have Tom Bugg contemplating a lot of time in Cranbourne next year, but in a magical Melbourne-esque twist we'd have probably been better off if he missed. The ball was bounced, they went forward and kicked one goal. Then did the same again, leaving us a net score of -6 from his goal. Later he kicked a goal, and after we conceded immediately from the bounce again he was forced to intervene and score the reply himself straight after to make sure we weren't going to screw over his hard work again.

I've always had an open mind towards Milkshake, even when he was dropped after hitting the skids in defence, but I'm really growing to like him as a forward. Like Harmes and Bugg before him (and Tapscott, Magner and god knows who else before them) his success as a fish out of water forward won't last, and in a few weeks time he'll be struggling to get a kick. What I enjoyed most - other than the goals - was his continued use of the NBA Jam style razzle-dazzle tap-on when there's a high, loose ball and he's about to be tackled.

The move has been such a success that other players have adopted it, and it's usually a success other than a few times where the ball has been going out of bounds and they've kept it in to our disadvantage. They may as well try it in packs, because our contested marking continues to be rancid. There is far too much jumping above opponents and punching the ball out of bounds in defence instead of trying to mark, which is obviously a symptom of losing Tom McDonald to the other end of the field, but you are never winning anything without something reliably taking bucket-handed marks in defence. Tonight our backline combined for one, and that was from Jayden Hunt, which puts him in a Neville Jetta vs Full Forwards style class of people doing what they shouldn't have to.

Now that we're in a position to recruit good players from other clubs for god's sake get me a contested marking animal. Even if there's a Jeremy Howe style 50% chance of a turnover I just want to have confidence when a ball is approaching a pack, because my problem isn't with us marking, it's the other side being left free to. Now that I can't have The SME Killer Steven May, I've done my research to work out who Jake Lever is and he'll do nicely. Apparently he won a trophy at Adelaide for 'professional attention to detail', which should assist in going near an opponent no matter what sort of Bermuda Triangle style zone he's forced into.

Our defence didn't have a good night, though I'm not sure how much is down to them and how much is the system. They all had their good moments but were generally so loose it looked like the clinic of out the back goals Port put on against us in Alice a couple of years ago. I was most worried about Jetta, in the week where the rest of the world finally arrived where we've been at for 18 months and acknowledged that he's a gun I was waiting for the weight of expectation to trample him. It wasn't even the Media Curse, because he sensibly avoided all feature articles and double-page spreads. Just the ultimate mozz where he's been ticking away thrashing people non-stop for two years and once people realise it all goes to shit. Other than one fantastically loose handball in the first quarter that led me to expect the worst he came out of it unscathed, even if he was often sucked into the same mystery vortex as the rest of the defence.

After levelling it at a goal apiece the walls caved in, and the Crows put on an unstoppable burst of six in a row. Good teams might have been able to stop it, we weren't. Instead we continued to hope against hope that bombing the ball long would bring goals, then watched it scream down the other end for a score.

Bernie Vince didn't take our misfortune well, opting to mar what was an otherwise decent tagging job on Rory Sloane by randomly elbowing Eddie Betts in the head. He has been average in parts this year, but what a stupid thing to do when we've got so many senior players out. He backed up in the second quarter by being reported clonking an opponent going for the ball in a fashion that he'll be lucky to escape if we can somehow show it hit the shoulder and the rest of the contact was 'incidental' (CLICHE). Fat chance, and if we can find somebody else to do the job by the time he's eligible to come back I'm prepared to wish him well in his future endeavours.

Stranglewank mode became active late in the quarter. Hello darkness my old friend. When the margin hit 24 I was resolute in not jumping off, thinking we looked just as bad against them the first time so there was no need for haste. Then at six goals down by the end I was forced to admit, to an empty room, that this wasn't going to end well. At that point I didn't even think we could launch the minor comeback we did, shortly before caving in with disinterest at the end and giving up a bunch of goals in junk time.

One of them was a perfect example of what ailed our defence, the 350 career goalkicker Taylor Walker (never Tex) left standing so far from anybody else that they could only communicate via shortwave radio. I don't think he'd snuck off the bench like that Carlton player did, almost causing me to have a coronary last week before I realised how he'd done it, so it was just another case of everybody getting lost when the ball was turned over.

The 'highlight' of the first quarter mauling was the bit where we had players storm in off the back of the square, and Adelaide managed to clear it straight past them for a goal. It was like building a wall to keep somebody out and them bouncing over on a trampoline. I've gone to rigorous lengths to say I don't know anything about tactics, but I'd have thought when we were playing with a diminished midfield that you'd expect Adelaide to get clearances and set up accordingly. Instead of them attacking the fall of the ball like the Normandy landings they'd have been better off hanging back and waiting for it to be punted down their throat.

Plan A was faulty again, and like our woes in the famous first five minutes of third quarters under Neeld (a stat that never achieved the fame it deserved) there's a trend emerging here. We are not very good in first quarters against good, bad or mediocre teams. In the real basement days of 2012/13 that used to be the time where we'd often put up a solid fight before dying in a screaming heap after quarter time, now that we're somewhat good we're starting like a 1982 Daihatsu Charade left out overnight in winter.

Including this week we might be 8-8 in opening terms (down from a season high of 8-6 after the Eagles) game, but have been outscored 38.42.270 to 54.52.376 - and that's without making any adjustments for that ridiculous Sydney game where they stomped the bejesus out of us and we still managed to kick four to one. When it works in the first quarter it goes alright, when it doesn't we're a trainwreck. Goodwin has already demonstrated that he's good at de-shelving his secret Plan B, C and/or D envelopes and calming the situation and/or launching absurd comebacks, but we can't go putting ourselves in cavernous holes and expecting to climb out all the time.

Despite Clayton Oliver furthering his reputation as the new Sam Blease - somebody who cannot help but being involved in funny scenarios - by kicking the wrong way and nearly costing us a goal, we managed to stem the bleeding in the first half of the second quarter. After Melksham completed the goal-for-goal-for-goal we'd kicked four to two and were starting to eat away at the margin. Then we copped two to end the quarter, and were lucky to get away with a third one when the other McGovern brother almost avenged his sibling's role in the Subiaco Sizzle Sealer by narrowly missing a goal. If you're going to have a whole family hate you why not the Mortons, not two gigantic blokes who look like they should have been playing in the 80s and eating a Chiko Roll on the way to training before doing their back rooting in a car on Saturday night. I want one of them.

To rub it in, not only was our first comeback rapidly fizzling, but Luke Darcy suggested "Michael Hibberd couldn't get it up". Which is probably grounds for a defamation suit, but presumably Michael is not going to want to have to prove the claim untrue in court.

It was going badly, but there were positives. Lewis was back to his best, Petracca continued to show glimpses of an absolute beast of a midfielder by exiting packs through confined spaces with the greatest of ease, and hallelujah they resisted the usual vaguely racist ploy of playing JFK in the forward line and left him in the same role that won him a return to the side in the first place. He made his fair share of blunders, but who didn't? Through them you could see the signs of a handy midfielder, certainly much more than his appearances earlier in the season which provoked that grandstanding loony to cut up his membership. I doubt he keeps his job when all of Viney, Tyson and Jones return but the more reasonable depth the better.

At this point, with players being accused of the same sort of impotence that our forwards were suffering, I was prepared to sandbag for the next two quarters and try to protect the margin. If we'd done that we wouldn't have had the brief fun of the comeback, but we'd have lost by less in the end. A wave of enlightenment told me to a) stop eating chips you fat bastard, and b) it's not so bad to lose to the side that will ultimately win the flag. I may be the only person outside of South Australia who subscribes to that theory, but I'm sticking with it. In the end, anyone but $cully really. If he does his hammy in the prelim I'll be happy for GWS to romp the Grand Final home by 187 points.

To continue the theme of the night the first Adelaide goal of the third quarter came after 30 seconds, and involved a key forward in acres of space. If I have died by the time you read this, and this post is released by my estate post-mortem let the record show that this goal was responsible. It's not the ones that lose you thrillers that you have to watch out for, it's these seemingly innocuous ones that crush your spirit after 20 minutes of hope that the second half might bring something magical.

We'd given up scoring again, and The BasilBot 5000's AI failed him when he spat out surprise at us not adding anything for the first seven minutes. Mate, we used to be happy if we'd get one point in the first quarter, this was nothing. The difference is that now even when we struggle to score for one part of the game, there's the hope of ripping a few quick ones out of our arse to keep the scoreboard ticking.

Oliver gave up on handballs for once and used his underrated kicking for the next goal, but it was a drop in the ocean. The Crows immediately went back to battering us, and only missed out on the reply due to poxy kicking. We got a leg-up when Sloane was inadvertently knocked out by a thumping Dean Kent tackle, one that reminded you of how good he was last year before falling off the face of the earth, and the only let down was that when Kent fell perfectly next to the prone Crow he didn't hook the leg and demand an umpire count the pinfall.

While Sloane was knocked out the ball finally landed in Hogan's hands, 10 metres out from goal on a reasonable but not difficult angle after a game where nothing he did inside 50 went go right. It didn't help trying to play from behind half a dozen Crows defenders, and he was very good up the ground, but I thought there'd be no way he could miss from there and it would give him some much needed confidence. Then the umpire stopped the game so Sloane could be stretchered off - even though Hogan was either going to kick a goal or a point when the game could have been halted then, which I know is the rule etc.. etc.. but it still feels silly - and we got two or three minutes of comedy capers where a clearly loopy Rory told the training staff trying to tend to a potential neck injury to piss off as he stood up, then turned around and tried to run back into play. It wasn't until Walker showed up that he decided to listen to his captain's opinion over trained medical professionals and leave. Fortunately he didn't have a broken neck because one of his teammates gave him a big pat on the head as he eventually departed.

I'd held off on a Basil quality "we should get a 50 for time wasting" gag, because I thought there was no way Hogan could miss from such close range. Then he did. Not long after Kent suffered his own misfortune, blowing his shoulder after being tackled. So that's him done for the year, and he was later pictured sitting on his own in a weights room, gloomily watching the game through a window. I thought it was a bit weird that he was there on his own, and lo-and-behold somebody else must have had the same idea, because when the cameras returned he had a trainer with him. Either that or the guy had just been out the room having a slash.

We needed one last goal to cut the margin to cut the margin to less than four goals. It's the sort of margin that I'd have been convinced we were going to give up, but had no faith in overcoming. Enter Jayden Hunt, who was fortunate not to turn around and look at expiring time on the scoreboard right behind him. Instead the siren went, and despite being 70 metres out on the boundary line he thought he'd have a go at a good old fashioned torp. With sexy results. Now people will expect him to do it every week, and he'll end up like that Crows bloke that kicked the ball out on the full about a metre from where it came off the boot.
If we'd gotten back to within a goal from there it would have been the full David Carradine in Bangkok job, but fortunately for the oxygen needs of supporters everywhere the dream lasted about a minute before we conceded the goal that ultimately put us away. It was not a great night to be Sam Frost, not only did he fumble twice in the build-up to that but was also usually nowhere to be seen when the ball went inside 50. At least last week he was close enough to fly into the contest at warp speed and have some impact, last night he was MIA. Usually it's because just like Tom McDonald last year he's the player who pushes up the ground, then watches the rest of the backline go to sea when the ball is turned over and he's left sprinting 70 metres in vain to try and find his opponent. No great drama, he's had far more good days than bad this year.

At least as they started to overhaul us they began kicking properly constructed goals with some opposition, instead of having time to consult the state of stock market on their way into an open goal. Then after two of those we cracked like an egg again and let somebody pot one free range style. It was all over and I found myself looking more at the clock than the play to get it over with.

Lewis petulantly booted away a ball to concede a 50 at the end, but unless the point they kicked knocks us out of the eight who cares. That's the sort of thing I used to do at indoor soccer when we were down 27-1 in the last minute, but I never even won one trophy and he's got four AFL flags so best of luck to him. After slaughtering him wholeheartedly last week, and briefly calling for a dropping before reality set in and I realised there were no replacements, I thought he was our best player. Unlike last week he was worthwhile both at the contest, and in the open. This is what we need more of, not a seniors moment (PS - he is almost five years younger than me) when he forgets what he's doing after playing on in the middle of the MCG.

It was a shit night, but not a fatal one. Let's take a deep breath and hope the medical team can work wonders before next 2.10pm next Saturday.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Jordan Lewis
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Alex Neal-Bullen

Apologies to Hibberd, Oliver and Kennedy-Harris who might have got the last one.

Well isn't this getting interesting now? The leaders fail to poll, Petracca picks up four and he's within one BOG of the lead. There are still 30 votes on offer, which would usually see people falling under the dreaded dotted line at this time of the year, but like the eight it's so even everyone remains a chance. Oliver can slam the door shut on Colin Garland with two votes next week, or Hibberd can do it with a fiver.

No change in the minors, as Hunt joins Jetta in the chase for Hibberd's Seecamp and Pedersen holds on in the Stynes because Gawn's not scoring. He got another 10 hitouts to stay narrowly above the qualification mark.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With apologies to both Melksham's goals in the second quarter I would be tarred, feathered and beaten with sticks in the street if I chose anything other than Hunt's violent torpedo after the three quarter time siren. Talk about North Korea plonking Darwin with an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, get him to fire a few off the boot in the other direction.

Ultimately it came to nowt, but if I only awarded the weekly prize when it helped us win this competition would never have got off the ground. He's won a day trip to Leigh Valley Hawk and Owl Sanctuary, an outfit so secretive that they only admit to being located in "Central Victoria".

There's been a movement to push this above McDonald in Perth into first place, but I just can't do it. Get back to me when he unloads a Malcolm Blight style game winner from that position. The Sizzle retains his overall lead.

This is a tough one. Adelaide's banner was very average, and contained the most ridiculously oversized apostrophe since ropes were first attached to crepe paper. But ours had three lines that all ended in win, which for the purposes of rigging this award I'm going to suggest was a noble but failed attempt at subliminal messaging to the players rather than a rhyme.

On the back we said "Hertz - lift your rental game", which reads more than a customer feedback complaint than an advertisement, so with neither side scoring a "had to travel for this" bonus, the Dees win in a tiebreaker because Adelaide had a curtain which made their b-side say FRESH AUSTRA [giant space] LIAN PRODUCE in a wine ad. By the end I could have done with wines by the dozen. Dees 15-1-0 for the season.
Next week
Port are like a not-quite-as-good version of the Crows, so playing them at the MCG is a great opportunity to realise that we wouldn't have won this week even if we'd stayed at home. If we get somebody (anybody) back from the casualty ward I feel we can give them a reasonable shake. After all they hadn't beaten anyone good until last week, and even we can topple West Coast in Perth now. All I know is that I'll be watching in a state of heightened awareness, and will probably think at least once that I'm about to have a stroke.

For some unknown reason the pub league VFL has got two teams with byes this week (at least they're not giving everyone a rest to play a representative game against Mururoa Atoll), so you'll get no guidance from there. I assume we're not going to submit to Viney's Rory Sloane-esque attempts to play while still injured, but will take the official injury list's word for it that Watts and Tyson are ready to return. Not convinced on Watts though, it started as a one-week injury and has dragged on this long so who knows if he's even still got a hamstring by now.

Under any other circumstances you'd say Hogan could do with a week in the VFL to identify some suburban nobodies and get his confidence up by destroying them but even if they were playing it would just create more trouble than its worth. If Pedersen was in form perhaps I'd consider it, but we might as well just let it roll and hope that Hulk rediscovers his form inside 50. Still wish - in my 'never played a game of real footy in his life' way - that he'd play more in front though.

IN: Tyson, Watts, Kennedy
OUT: Kent (inj), Vince (susp), Pedersen (omit)
LUCKY: Hogan
UNLUCKY: Anyone and everyone that hasn't had a game yet.

After that
The ladder predictor has had another fair belting this week, and to illustrate how titanic a battle we're in I assumed we'd lose this and plugged in the rest of the season to discover that four wins left us fifth, and three wins left us 10th. On form, with players back, and with North surely researching amphibious tank technology for the Hobart game, I'm locking that in, plus Brisbane and Collingwood in the last two weeks. That means unless there are baffling and bizarre results elsewhere we'll have to beat one or more of Port, GWS or St Kilda.

By the time you read this I'm hoping that The Bradbury Plan will have been given a leg up by Brisbane beating Richmond (no), Freo beating West Coast (perhaps) and Carlton beating the Bulldogs (possibly). [UPDATE - No, no and no. Thank you, fuck you, bye]

Then on to next week, where if you want to be a pessimist and assume Port do us over you'll be looking for North to beat Essendon (never), Gold Coast over the Dogs (only a half chance because it's in Cairns, where NQR things happen), Hawthorn over Freo (unless the Dockers lose the Derby, then they can piss off out of calculations), Sydney over St Kilda now that the Swans are launching an unlikely assault on the top four, GWS over Richmond (though I've gone for them the last two weeks and they haven't won, so maybe I'll buy a membership if the pricks make the Grand Final), and Collingwood over West Coast (you would say no, but the Eagles are flaky in Melbourne...)

Either way, the best thing to do would be start winning. After that ridiculous article a few weeks back suggested we'd finish third my calculations are that we lose and sit ninth, behind Essendon on percentage and a game behind everyone else, and have to come from a game outside in the last three rounds after beating North and losing to the Giants. Then beating St Kilda (?) and Brisbane lands us back in 8th in front of West Coast on percentage going into the last round. There the Pies will probably rumble us, leading to Eddie McGuire heaving Nathan Buckley onto his shoulders solo to celebrate a hard fought 13th place finish. But the Eagles do play Adelaide in the last round, so if they've played and lost by then, and assuming St Kilda don't ravage Richmond again the Plan might work in its purest form, getting in because everyone else dies in the arse. And off we'll go (quite literally in my case, not missing this even if we're sent to Perth) to Sydney for an elimination final drubbing.

Considering the damage we've done to ourselves this year, and an injury list that clears the MFC photocopier of toner on a weekly basis we should be happy to get so close. Fuck that, I emotionally invested to the point where I might chuck a tantrum and kick over a small tree if we don't make it. The North and St Kilda games are crucial. Let's get players back and steamroll some motherfuckers.

Final thoughts
This was a free hit, and other than Vince making an idiot of himself we didn't lose much out of it other than a bit of percentage. On to next week, and a game where my antics against Carlton may very well pale into comparison. If there was a row further back than MM I might sit in it. Any chance of watching from a light tower? I promise not to attract a record number of seagulls by projectile spewing across the ground.

Monday 10 July 2017

The Big Steal

There may come a day when I'm willing to reject a win like this, and say that we may as well not have got the four points. But this isn't it. When you're psychologically all-in on a finals run to the point where it's consuming your thinking for most of the working week, falling over the line against a lowly side who'd played two short on the bench for the entire second half is still sporting gold.

Thieving a win from the cheeriest coach in the history of the game capped off a week where the internet lit up over my controversial Bradbury Plan to make the eight on the back of our nearest competitors suffering a string of misfortunes and surprise defeats.

The Plan got off to a great start last week with Brisbane beating Essendon, and was poised for greatness of Friday night when Adelaide walloped Footscray before nearly everything went wrong. You could understand Collingwood gifting the Bombers a win because they are pus, but Hawthorn getting a draw courtesy of an obscure bounce just when you finally wanted GWS to win wasn't helpful. Nor was Richmond - this week's recipient of the media's "could they win the flag?" wankfest - going 90 points down at half time against a side who'd barely beaten Fremantle the week before. Other than the two weeks of our brief - and is turns out comically poor - tilt at the eight last year I've not been this invested in the results of other teams since 2005.

This was no way to behave when your team had won four of its last five, but I was spooked by our Civil War battlefield style injury list where all we were missing was somebody having a limb amputated without anaesthetic. As a coping strategy I've tried to assume we're going to miss the eight this year and come back all guns blazing in 2018, but barely below surface level getting there as soon as possible means far too much to me. Outsiders - and even some of our fans - preach patience, but there's a lingering terror about us finding new and exciting ways to go backwards. Not to mention my fear that the AFL will introduce a Final 15 and devalue the worth of 'qualifying' to almost nothing.

The best thing to do is make everyone else's results irrelevant by winning, especially to avoid a Round 22, 1976 style debacle where we're tipped out by results elsewhere. But with experience having already permanently scarred me into expecting defeat the absence of Jones, Viney, Tyson, Salem and Watts left me fearful of losing to a side which might be improving quickly but still featured enough potential Kingsley nominees to fill a tram. It's not often that I take an interest in other teams, and maybe it's just because they have the most interesting opposition coach since Choke Yourself With A Tie, but I was definitely on the right track in the pre-season when I said they were a couple of years away from being a very good side. For now they can get in the queue behind us.

The bookies considered us reasonably hot favourites, with made some sense against a 5-8 team but I still felt like we were walking into an ambush. We were always going to be thumped in the centre, it was just a case of how we'd hold them out, send the ball back the other way and create scoring opportunities. We also had to take our chances, and as much as Hogan's return was welcomed it was unrealistic to expect him to show up at 100% after weeks away and dual personal tragedies. Fortunately we had Tom McDonald to continue the Sizzle Set Shot Spectacular, upping his tally to 12 in three weeks in the most unusual run of goalkicking since Darren Cuthbertson. Let's go back and wipe everything I wrote on Queen's Birthday about him trying hard but not being up to it as a forward, if he keeps going like this we'll never see him in defence again. How fitting that after years of lonely support for his importance to our backline that he'd go supernova as a forward just as I jumped off the bandwagon.

Our lineup was moderately less like Casey than last week, but I still knew if we were to win it would involve outrageous levels of toil and struggle. If the experience of following Melbourne post-2006 has given me anything (other than the inevitable fatal heart attack in the fourth quarter of a Grand Final), it's made me self-aware of games that are going to make me act like an prick so I can take appropriate steps to ensure other people aren't cloaked by my veil of obscenity. For this reason there was nowhere else to go other than directly to Row MM, section Q33. Like one of those weirdos who start their own country it was a space where I could freely express myself without having to conform to the law or social norms. At least it was until the second half when inexplicably several other people decided to move up there as well, and I had to shift one bay over to escape them. Just like how everyone else has now discovered the Neville Jetta bandwagon two years after I started championing him, my passionate promotion of the back row lifestyle is going to end in people coming from everywhere and stuffing it up.

Other than serenity, and the opportunity to swear like a dockworker without offending anyone, ascending to the heavens reintroduced me to the frustration of watching our Free Range defence stand 30 metres off an opponent, and players streaming into goal from turnovers because our lot stopped chasing when it went the other way. Confidence is great - it's what inspires lead AFL heel Clayton Oliver to finally strike a blow for players against abusive fans by telling some bloke to GAGF over the fence - but let's not get ahead of ourselves and assume that turnovers have been eradicated like Smallpox.

It's possible that this has been happening every week, but having not been sky high for so long it's not as obvious. I'm happy for people to sit wherever they like, but if any level one dwellers ever want to vigorously debate the benefits of seeing the whole ground vs being able to yell NQR things at players over the fence I'll be pointing to this. Where else can you have so much time to take a screenshot showing six of our players on their own, one trying to defend two at once and an opposition standing on his own instead 50 with only an umpire for company? The guy directly in front of goal was standing there for so long that I had time to remove my phone from pocket, turn the camera on, tilt it sideways and level thing before taking the shot.

It's not all roses following the All New Melbourne FC, but overall the benefits are finally outweighing the frustrations. Which is all well and good to say because we won, otherwise you'd already have waded through 2500 words bemoaning how many times Carlton players casually stepped around and ran off. Or how we were battered senseless in contested marks to the point where it was almost the difference between winning or losing to a side who had half their players about to die from exhaustion in the last five minutes.

You like to think that the Blues players would have been demotivated by their baffling banner (more on that in the usual place), but instead they emerged on the other side to find a depleted opposition who even at their best charitably try to give the average and depressed every possible chance to exceed their potential. Whoever Sam Kerridge is it's a good thing that he flubbed a great many of his 35 touches or his application to join The Klub would already be on the desk at Kingsley Kourt.

All my fears came life at the first bounce, when Carlton shot out of the centre like a missile and were soon having a shot at goal from directly in front. That the simple kick was missed only briefly consoled me, before Hibberd's kick-in was interrupted by a free paid up the ground for some handbags at 20 paces jostling. I understand the free was iffy at best, and judging by the lack of outrage the decision to pay it 'up the ground' to where Hibberd was standing was technically correct, but what a farce of a concept when the ball was only there because the offence occurred before we'd kicked in.

The ball was 30 metres away by the time the whistle went, but I suppose as the umpire decided to call it from 100 metres away he had to wait to get within earshot before blowing. Fair enough if you biff somebody in the chops in front of goal, or if it's given 70 metres out and a 50 is tacked on for something, but it's loopy gifting a team a goal when the ball is being kicked to where the infringement occurred. Carlton fans would accuse us of having a good run with the umpires, but if there was something dodgy going on this must been purely done for deception.

After a few weeks of Stranglewank free footy where we never had launch a comeback from four goals down (or in the Sydney game, generously opted not to) it looked like it was heading that way in the first quarter. We were already desperately vulnerable in the middle before Matthew Kruezer started giving Gawn a bath, and he didn't let up for the rest of the game. No harm done to Maximum's reputation because you can't win every week, but it killed off any hope we had of breaking even in the middle. Which need not have been a problem as long as could win around the ground. Except there we were being slaughtered in the contested marks by second year players, and every turnover was greeted with a Moomba Parade style procession of Blues players wandering into space.

Though the Blues looked significantly more dangerous when they had the ball we might have levelled it at one apiece if Hogan hadn't missed running into an open goal. Now that we've won I can't blame him if he was already thinking about the wild celebrations before it hit the boot. He was also perfectly stooged by a Carlton defender, who sat in perfect space where it meant he couldn't handball to a waiting Garlett in the square but was also under some pressure when he kicked.

Hulk was rustier than an old gate inside 50, and when the media are putting together the next "OMG Liam Jones is the fullback of the century" articles they should put a disclaimer on this one that Hogan was there for presence and match practice rather than being expected to kick four. He got one from a solid mark and did some good work up the ground so no harm done. Instead he was overshadowed by McDonald, Jones' captain in the "What The Fuck?" All-Australian team, in a situation you'd have been carted off to the nut house (apologies to Jesse) for suggesting even two months ago.

The turnaround from that miss to the goal at the other end was frighteningly quick, and led to a player running into an open goal on his own in a scenario that caused my first obscene outburst of the afternoon. When they got the third from a mark deep inside 50 not long after all I had to fall back on was Simon Goodwin's admirable record of quickly recognising when his Plan A has been rumbled and switching to something else. There will be street parties when they finally start executing his vision from the first bounce.

Misses from directly in front by Hogan and Garlett aside we looked so unlikely to kick a goal in the first quarter that it was fitting for the unlikely Josh Wagner to contribute the opener in the last few minutes. It was his first in 20 games, followed by his second in the next quarter as we continued to turn defenders into goalkicking machines, leaving 30 game Oscar McDonald well in front on his own for most games played without one. The good news is that his brother had to wait a further 30 games on top of that to salute for the first time, and 59 games later he's turned into Jason Dunstall. I liked that the first person to congratulate Wagner was his twin Hunt, and that the rest of the team got back in position instead of unnecessarily wasting energy mobbing him.

By now we'd settled the Blues down, having let them jump us as underdogs for the third time in four starts (see also Round 21, 2015, Round 22, 2016). Bolton might not have the players yet, but I confidently predict that once Carlton get up and going he will execute a Ross Lyon style chokehold on us. If we'd got to quarter time without conceding another it would have been fair reward for slowing them down in the last 10 minutes. Then we conceded a goal on the siren. Of course we did. For added MFC Rewards Points it came from a free given away because the Carlton player was standing in another area code to the defenders when the ball entered 50 and they infringed while desperately converging on him. I'm not enough of an expert in anything zone defences to know how much the players bore responsibility, and how much was the system's fault, but they did great work getting back to spoil from hopeless positions. Especially Sam Frost, whose deadly closing speed is a weekly highlight.

There was still a road back, but I spent quarter time gloomily lamenting why we make it so hard for ourselves. It wasn't quite at the stage where conceding one more goal will kill off the game, but that was closing at a Frost-like speed. Enter your hero and mine Tom McDonald (well, mine at least. You lot have been hanging shit on him for years) who won a free and converted another one of his remarkably accurate set shots. I know Hogan will kick many more goals over the course of his career, and prefers a bit of over the top action where he can give the Zac Dawson treatment to defenders but Tom could actually show him something about leading. I'm going to back in time, make thousands of dollars of bets on this topic with Melbourne fans and buy myself an MCG superbox.

It was then that Clayton Oliver enhanced his status as the lead heel on our team. Bugg's antics had higher comedy value until he got excited and whacked somebody, but he's a midcarder. Oliver is cutting a swathe of main event style chaos across the country, this time reacting to some bloke hanging over the fence and making an idiot by turning around and giving it to him. Realistically it's not the right thing to do, and I hope to get this post out before it's conclusively proven he said something indefensible, but it's about time players got to give it back to the sort of humanoids who sit in the front row specifically to wave at the camera and hang shit on the opposition.

When I'd only seen it live, and in screenshot form where the guy had his mouth so far open that you could stuff a ball in it at Luna Park I missed the highlight of him vigorously pointing at Oliver afterwards as if security was going to escort The Hamburglar to the Bay 6 Administration Office, Ground Floor Olympic Stand and take to him with the Yellow Pages. It was originally reported that Oliver though he was called a "weak cunt", the Carlton bloke reckons there was a threat to kill, and Clayts ended up apologising and accepting no profanity was used to make it all go away. Melbourne contacted Mr. Carlton to get his side of the story, sadly not contained in a flaming dog shit laden paper bag on his doorstep. It's all a storm in a teacup, but it was interesting to see people go wild on the social media profiles of the guy once his name got out. If it became known because he spoke to the media then stiff shit.

If I ever find myself in this situation - and I'd have to be propped up dead a'la Weekend At Bernies to sit on the fence in the first place - slap the shit out of me if my only response is "I made a dickhead out of myself, apologies to everyone in my family tree". There is nothing worse than somebody trying to channel their 15 seconds of fame into a media appearance, and I can say that as the person who declined a Channel 9 reporter's kind offer to go on post-Carnival of Hate and wave an anti-$cully banner around. Unless you're going to make a buck out of it consider how much a poon the majority of viewers are going to see you as. And for christ sake whoever you are, even if you're not intending to make 'incidental contact' with a player over the fence then act like he's shot your family put some damn security settings on your Facebook account.

It ended (at least at the time of writing) in a deservedly insincere apology from Oliver for getting involved, while the Carlton bloke is probably writing an autobiography entitled "I was famous for being told to fuck off by somebody who'll earn more in his playing career than I will in my lifetime". To be fair if the guy does want to make a quick buck he could get an ambulance chaser lawyer and clean clean up about 200 different Melbourne fans for online defamation. We wait patiently for Oliver's next outrage against public decency, and note that now West Coast and Carlton think he's the antichrist he's got 15 other clubs (16 if he completes the heel work by turning on us) to irritate, before retiring to swim in a vault full of money and awards.

The combination of McDonald's goal and Oliver's profanity must have inspired us, because first Kent wasted good work to set him up by missing a relatively easy set shot, before Wagner turned up again for his second. When Harmes literally used his head to set up Neal-Bullen's first (failing to be credited with a goal assist by the killjoys at Champion Data) the margin was back to a point and we had new life to launch a proper attack on an inferior - albeit 250 games more experienced - team. Then they kicked two in a row, courtesy of a pair of contested marks that were so simply executed it looked like Carlton were playing a professional version of Hogan's Heroes.

You could argue that we won because we're awesome, but I'd pay at least some credit to Patrick Cripps breaking his leg trying to smother Hunt. No wonder, at the speed he runs being hit with that leg in full swing must be like having your fibula disarranged with a sledgehammer. He was never seen again, nor was some other bloke who'd I'd never heard of that was also injured. To any normal team an opposition two down would be an open invitation to run away to an easy victory, but our record for taking advantage of sides is hideous.

One player up for now we got the next goal to stay in touch, but soon gave it away +1 by gifting the Blues a seven point play. Speaking of obscure statistical categories that we must be top of the league in... That the second goal came from a turnover and found a player inside 50 with an absurd amount of time to turn and snap did nothing for my peaking heart rate. We were only 14 down, but it felt like more.

Thank god for a rare play where handballing 500 times ended in a goal as Vince found Hogan in his favoured position right in front of goal. It was no thanks to Billy Stretch, whose loose handball might have killed the whole thing if it hadn't luckily sat up for Bernard. Watch the replay and enjoy the Petracca handball that opened up the play, one of many similar moments of brilliance throughout the afternoon. He capped off the afternoon by planting a big kiss on Lewis' cheek after the winning goal, then seemingly having Max Gawn accidentally grab him on the dick after the siren. Which is cool.

This welcome outbreak of Hulkamania - including the longest ever distance to goal/length of run-up ratio ever - kicked off a dominant last few minutes of the quarter which wasn't further rewarded until McDonald won a needless free right on the siren for a rare Reverse Demon Time goal. Once again the margin was back to a point, but this time they were going to play two full quarters with two less players. I don't know if the stat on the radio about teams -2 for a second half losing 98% of games was scientifically sound but it scared the shit out of me.

McDonald's third - none of which were captured by the always informative and erudite highlights package - at the start of the third put us in front, then Garlett started what should have been the floodgates with another. And for the second time that day just as we righted the ship the Blues kicked two quick goals, now I was taking on terror like a sinking ship. The idea was to have a workable lead that they wouldn't be able to overcome in the last quarter with two less players, and here they were threatening to overcome their handicap and instead set up a margin of their own to defend in their own version of the Bradbury Plan.

Live ladders are the stupidest concept in the world before Round 20, but as the lead traded another two times for the quarter we veered wildly between fourth and eighth. We went back in front courtesy of McDonald bringing the ball to ground in a contest, then setting up ANB with a funky underground handball into an open square. Mr. Total Football finally qualified for the AFL's highlights package with his fourth goal, courtesy of a pack mark in the middle of eight players, and even then they didn't show the ball off the boot. But hey, they did show us fans yelling at players and a guy breaking his leg so who needs all the goals? Every time McDonald had a shot I thought his luck was finally going to come to an end, but he drilled every one. This was crucial, it set up a lead of nearly two goals just as the Blues could be expected to start wilting.

What they needed was quick goals, if we got the first of the last quarter it might have been curtains for Carlton, instead they got the first via an arsey shot on the run from the boundary line and any pretence I had to calm at three quarter time was out the window. Forget Oliver vs Carlton fans, if somebody trained a camera on me in the last quarter they'd have come out with the greatest documentary on the human condition ever made.

I started it standing, before realising that somebody had clambered up the stairs and was sitting just a few seats away and was self-conscious enough about looking like a loony that I sat again. God knows when she pushed off, but there's every possible chance it was due to my antics. Ironically standing up would have probably stopped me from engaging in one of the most slapstick moments in the history of the game.

After one ridiculous turnover in the middle I snatched my hat off and thumped the seat in front with it, causing the thing to cartwheel into the row in front. For a couple of minutes I decided to leave it and remain hatless, then just as I clambered into row LL, picked it up and reapplied it to my bonce Casboult took another screaming pack mark inside 50 and I shamefully turned around and punched the seat. This caused my recently reapplied hat to fly off again, and land in row KK. Luckily this Three Stooges skit ended there, because if the hat had fallen off one more time I'd have risked ejection by flinging it across the top of the Ponsford like Oddjob in Goldfinger.

By then we'd already had to launch another fightback, after allowing them to get nine points in front with three goals in seven minutes. If I'd been stressing before, now panic was setting in. Even with all our injury issues there would have been something particularly offensive about not only failing to beat a team two men down, but letting them run away from us. Garlett didn't have many touches, but most of them were useful and his third goal cut the gap to under a goal again.

The game then went into a 10 minute goalless lull where we blew endless chances to move the ball forward, and Carlton botched another chance to extend a handy lead. It was around this time that Casboult took his mark and the chair viciously attacked my hand. My first impression of Marc Rosset at the Hopman Cup in years is still affecting me now, and I'm not sure there isn't actual damage to the middle finger other than a skinned knuckle. Serves me right for being a dickhead.

I'm convinced if Casboult had kicked the goal we'd have been done, and given that he's suddenly a decent goalkicker who will stand in a pocket alongside McDonald in the WTFAA side I thought it appropriate that he'd sink us. He missed, and two minutes later we're hitting the front down the other end. Credit goes to Garlett for helping set it up, protecting a ball that dropped short in the middle of two defenders, and fortuitously slapping the ball straight into one of their legs to propel it forward, where Hogan intercepted a handball and fed Melksham. It was appropriately ironic that we won after a 2 on 1 situation, because for most of the game we had two players leaving opponents to chase one only for the guy who'd been left behind on his own to get the ball.

There was still a ridiculous amount of time to lose it, and with no killer goal forthcoming as we entered the last 90 seconds the Patron Saint of Underrated Players, Neville Jetta arrived like a holy vision to save us. With the battle rapidly extracted from Carlton's defensive 50 it was hoisted long down to the Southern Stand wing to a one-on-one contest where if he fell on his arse or was turned around they'd have walked into an open goal. He not only halved the contest, but recovered his feet, beat his man in a physical contest to win the loose ball and got the ball back to Frost. I'm not sure what the rest of my top 10 is, but it was one of the greatest passages of small defendery I've ever seen.

His magic intervention allowed Frost to one of his supersized turbo runs through the middle, with my heart so far in mouth it was about to spill out into the row in front like my hat as he ran what commentators refer to as 'his full measure', and eventually set up a pass to Neal-Bullen on his own inside 50 with a minute left. What a great time for Carlton to adopt our free range defensive policies, but there was even better to come. The problem was that if he kicked a goal we were home, but unless he could engineer another convenient out of bounds/throw-in any sort of miss would leave us vulnerable to loose players carrying the ball inside 50 unchallenged and screwing us over in the final seconds.

As the Bullet’s eyes darted back and forth from the scoreboard countdown to the field like he was walking down a dark alley in Baghdad, Carlton’s spirits sank and they failed to heed Lewis pulling off his part of the plan by wandering into a mile of open space 30 metres out. He had so much space that even a Melbourne player could hit the target without concern, landing the ball safely in Lewis’ arms with another 30 seconds to waste. What a fantastic innovation this shot clock has been, a real winner for fan engagement. If the lowlight of the highlights was not seeing one goal off Sizzle's boot, the highlight was hearing BT loudly whinge about how much attention Neal-Bullen was paying to the shot clock instead of concentrating on kicking the goal, only for a real commentator to acknowledge the brilliance of the move while Taylor remained silent, and most likely confused.

Lewis ran time down to the siren, then casually thumped the goal home anyway as an up yours to people compiling stats about games being decided by under a goal. This is the sort of cool-headed, fiendish plottery I want him for, maybe we could trade the third year of his contract for a role as our Director of Black Ops? The departmental org chart could include Tom Bugg as General Manager – Niggle and Clayton Oliver as Chief Fan Engagement Officer.

When the siren went there was no time for soaking in the atmosphere, I was up and out of there. It was as much as effort to make a ridiculously tight train connection (which failed due to hundreds of people casually dawdling through Flinders Street) as an acknowledgement that the four points were celebration enough and that we'd pulled off a sizeable heist. Take the points, put them in the bank and let's never speak of this day again.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Tom McDonald
4 - Sam Frost
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Josh Wagner
1 - Christian Petracca

Major apologies to Hibberd and Jetta, both in contention for the last two sports. Lower grade apologies to Harmes and Neal-Bullen.

The controversial Hamburglar is back in charge at the top, and will presumably write in and tell me to GAGF as well if he loses from here. With 35 votes still on the table it's anyone on the list's award from here. No changes in the minors, with Pedersen desperately clinging on to his Stynes lead courtesy of eight hitouts today leaving him on 12.0 for the season. Talk about your Bradbury Plan if he gets dropped now and holds on to win.

24 - Clayton Oliver
21 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
20 - Jack Viney
16 - Neville Jetta, Christian Petracca
15 - Nathan Jones
14 - Jayden Hunt
13 - Jeff Garlett, Tom McDonald
12 - Sam Frost, Jack Watts
8 - 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), Bernie Vince
3 - Oscar McDonald, Dom Tyson
2 - Dean Kent, Jordan Lewis, Jake Melksham, Josh Wagner
1 - Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I'm tempted to give this to Anal-Bullet for his second quarter tap-in just to reward James Harmes' perfect downward header in the square, but in a week where most of our goals came from workmanlike, industrial slog I'm opting for Melksham's cooly taken winner (with assists to Garlett and Hogan) and his passionate celebration afterwards. His disposal is almost quite literally 50/50, but the fact that he always looks like he's about to burst a blood vessel has won me over. For the weekly prize he wins a personalised cover version of Milkshake by Kelis.

Meanwhile I've made a ruling on the overall award, with apologies to Oliver's out the arse goal in Adelaide I can't go past McDonald against West Coast. A game winner will always get preference over everything but the most outrageous mid-match goal, especially when it also involves a herculean struggle to get the ball in the air just to hopefully swing a boot at it. Good luck to anyone who has designs on getting into the top two.

Are Carlton still paying a marketing company to come up with their slogans, and if so when will they be asking for a full refund? As usual we concentrated on our own team, a win for those who still like to believe that the players take something out of a crepe-based motivational message, while the Blues opted for a dead-set abortion of an attempted gag.
Not only did that first line basically turn it into a short story, and the middle line suffer from the most violent forced justification in the history of kerning, but who is supposed to be cancelling their holiday to Noosa? It's was addressed to us, so you'd think that's who the advice was going to. Except why would the suggestion that Carlton's young players were going to beat us mean we'd cancel a holiday in September? Wouldn't it be more sensible to book early in that situation and save money? (Not that we need to, because we're all ROLLING IN IT aren't we Dees fans?) Or had they unexpectedly switched to addressing the home fans halfway through? We may never know. Nor will it ever be clear why Noosa scored a mention when it added nothing to the flow.

They also had a massive curtain. Fuck those guys. Dees 14-1-0 for the season.

Crowd watch (incorporating Matchday Experience Watch)
Now that people are starting to get involved in the Row MM experience I might try and cash in by starting a Fanatics style tour group, complete with t-shirts to make look like arseholes for my own financial benefit. Yesterday part of the trip could have been catching the same train as Shaun Smith, then seeing Choke Yourself With A Tie himself hanging around out the MCG before the game. I was tempted to go and leap on him in celebration, but was too shy.

Once I'd finished with celebrities outside the ground, I clambered to the back and settled in for a view of everything happening both on field and at the top of the Ponsford. It's a great spot if you're a people watcher, and while I'll be the last person to point fingers about bizarre behaviour at the footy after my antics during the last quarter (if there was a BluesBlog their Crowd Watch would be unmercifully ripping the piss out of me) I was taken by the Carlton fan who was physically reacting to the game with an astonishing variety of moves.

With nobody for 30 rows before him he was able to stand up and live every attack as if he was riding the last 100m of the Melbourne Cup. He'd throw his arms around, lean forward intently as if listening the secret of eternal life, and on one of the many fast breaks towards our goal actually clasped his hands together like a prayer and shook them desperately. There's a man who is operating in the same deranged obsessive territory as me. The only difference was that he would have seen a flag aged approximately 15 while I have enjoyed two thirds of fuck all since 1989.

At first this guy was better viewing than the footy, until I had to move for the second half to get away with all the carpetbaggers who'd invaded the back row and lost sight of him behind a giant pole. Shame, our combined nervous energy in the last quarter could have been harnessed to power the MCG lights. I didn't see him again until after the final siren, when just like I would in similar losing circumstances he sat slumped, having mentally given everything to a losing cause.

With supporters like that it's amazing that the Blues still need to roll out the hokiest, false-bravado matchday entertainment in the competition. Not only did they have the Hovercraft, with the sound of the engine channelled through the MCG speakers just in case we didn't get the idea, but mascots who looked like two of the most pissweak superheroes since Hong Kong Phooey. The male version did a few impressive flips without necking himself on the turf, the female took over the fence selfies with kids and perverts, then as the Blues went into the all-important huddle before the game both picked up flags and ran around the circle waving them. Always looking for something that might give us the edge I'd hoped the players might be distracted and spend the first five minutes thinking somebody in lycra was about to whack them with a flagpole but if anything it helped.

At quarter time the engagement level went up to 1000, with further proof that all the good segments have been thought of as fans were invited to "bobble your head for a bobblehead". The winner spent a good 30 seconds flinging his head around in a way that's probably left him with an acquired brain injury just to pocket a small doll. Forget complaining about Oliver, they should be paying him a fee for getting people excited. Back in the day you used to get a Playstation from Voice of the G and we all hung shit on him, now this is where we're at. Though good luck anyone ever beating the competition we ran once where a lady played a game of Three Card Monte for Chemist Warehouse, and was then informed that no prizes were on offer but they would be later in the season so bad luck for now.

Meanwhile, I'm not usually in the habit of taking creepy zoomed in shots of footy patrons but was astonished with how free and easy this guy was with his bollocks. It's not enough to go out in public wearing tracksuit pants, but casually airing your Lou Rawls like this suggests nothing on underneath either.
Next week
Off to Darwin to make a shitload of cash by playing top of the table Adelaide inside a greenhouse. Even with Watts and Tyson potentially returning we'd want to improve significantly to have any chance of toppling them for a second time this year. They're not going to fall for the same shit they did earlier in the year, and if we're as fumbly as yesterday we'll come back with nothing but a sack stuffed with taxpayer's money.

But if we do win I'm likely to climb on my roof and scream to the neighbourhood that nothing's going to stop us from here, and probably make outrageous claims about the potential for winning a flag. If we get players back, and with Hogan better for the run there's a case for us but it's a long shot. Alas I'm going to have to chop Pedersen, he should be there next year because he's a great depth player but if Watts returns there's no place for him alongside the Tom McDonald goalscoring juggernaut.

IN: Watts, Tyson
OUT: Pedersen, Stretch (omit)
LUCKY: Kent, Lewis, Vince, Melksham
UNLUCKY: Kennedy, Kennedy-Harris, Trengove, Spencer

Was it worth it?
During the first quarter I was doing my weekly cursing of Murray Wrensted, and Hawthorn fans for not voting to merge so I could be at home doing something I really wanted to. By the end it doesn't matter how gritty, sweaty, and downright unappealing the win was I'd have hated myself with a passion if I hadn't seen it happen live. Sometimes you can say a loss was worth it, though probably not as much as the days when we were happy just not to lose by 10 goals, but in this case if it wasn't for Nifty Nev's intervention I'd be coming in with a big fat NO. But we won, so yes please.

Final thoughts
Force feed me four points a time, I will never get enough of the taste. We've got a tough fortnight coming up, and if we win one of two even I'll start to concede we're more likely to play finals than not. If you look at it objectively the top three are absolutely home, and Port are basically there given their massive percentage. At the bottom Collingwood, Carlton, North and Brisbane are cactus - leaving us in a 10 team over the top battle royale for a spot.

If you're still subscribing to the Bradbury Plan instead of switching to a new, optimistic model where we are instead challenging for a spot in the four things don't get any easier. Realistically even though we're neck and neck with St Kilda the Plan says they need to beat Essendon to keep the Bombers away, Hawthorn will presumably be eliminated from contention by Geelong, Collingwood can do us a favour by knocking Gold Coast out but probably won't, for the second week in a row we want GWS to win (*spit*) to put the brakes on the Swans, there will be partying in the streets if the Lions beat Richmond, we'll be hoping Carlton beat the Bulldogs, and in West Coast vs Fremantle I'm going to favour the Dockers because while a win would keep them in contention they also having a percentage that drips with pus, so are far less of a threat than the Eagles.

None of this will be relevant if Melbourne keep winning. Appropriately I went home on a train with an add directing me to "JOIN THE OPTIMISTS". Welcome to interesting times...