Monday 21 August 2017

Breathing into a paper bag

There's a psychological concept called 'self-sabotaging' where people inadvertently stop themselves from being successful. From deliberately chucking relationships when they become serious, to crumbling in a job where you feel like an impostor or basically tanking high school because you're too busy playing Championship Manager (oops) there's thousands of ways to needlessly introduce misery to your life.

Following Melbourne is definitely one, a place where even people who lead well-adjusted, normal lives free from self-destruction come to get the feeling of being involved in something they don't have any faith in. Paul Roos, David King and everyone else who's been surprised by the ongoing air of distress amongst our fans might have had a point, you'd think after last week we'd have been dying to get to this game and crush the Lions. Instead there were strong rumours that Jack Viney's foot was completely stuffed, significantly weaker ones about a player being caught with a locker full of Harley Bennell style gear, and a very real possibility shared by many people that we'd get within touching distance of the finals and stuff it up...

... and that's where pundits need to see our point. Because while the first two might have been nothing more than salacious rumours, the third was so real that it nearly happened. Of course we're scared, what's our frame of reference for entering the last game with a finals berth in our own hands after a lengthy drought? If you're old enough to remember 1976 a win wasn't enough, and in 1987 it was only what happened at Kardinia Park that made sure of it. Even if you're really old and can remember 1915 we started the final round fourth, had the bye and only fell in via the Archduke Franz Ferdinand Plan because South Melbourne lost. This is dizzy stuff. We defended our position in the last rounds of 1988 and 2005, but both of these years were immediately after finals campaigns whereas now we're emerging from a decade that even people held hostage in Lebanon during the 80s would describe as harrowing.

When my mum decided to make a surprise appearance for only the second time this season I thought it was a good thing, because it would force me to moderate behaviour. Then in one of the most amazing tactical errors in history I had the brainwave that if there would be somebody going who could be relied upon to behave themselves no matter what happened that I might take my kid as well. Ostensibly the reason was to give the long-suffering Mrs Demonblog a day off, but deep down it was an attempt to make sure I stayed calm and didn't snap a seat in two. After all, the presence of my mother didn't stop me profaning Andrew Demetriou 19 times in 10 seconds with the foulest language known to man at the end of Round 6, 2007 so why would it have stopped a similar emotional collapse now?

To say I was stressed about this game was an understatement, it was all I'd thought about during week and as the weekend approached I started sleeping badly. The night before the game it got so much that I deliberately avoided going to bed until the early hours of Sunday because I was quite literally scared too face what was going to happen at the MCG from 13:10. Honestly, what sort of way is this to live your life?

Over the years I've had to back-up on a lot of the stuff written on here, but there has never been a greater lie than after the Sydney game where I claimed to have switched focus to 2018. No doubt I sincerely felt that way at the time, but now you can see it was simply a coping strategy to deal with what felt like slowly deflating expectations. Now via various highs and losing to North, we're almost back in the same position I expected to be in at the conclusion of the Swans game. And it feels like death, I'm looking, sleeping, sounding and probably smelling like an ice addict and the situation doesn't look like getting better as the week wears on. Further on in the writing of this post I had one of the all-time great head-spins, actually rocking left and right as it passed. This is not healthy. The only thing that's going to allow me to settle down and focus on the actual important things in life is if the Pies fax through a letter of forfeit.

Speaking of back-ups, climb-downs and reversals it was also the week where I suggested it could be a win for everybody if we trade Hogan for a substantial package of goodies shortly before he made a surprise reappearance with six match-winning goals. And if that's what it takes to get more of the same next week I'll write a pamphlet and distribute it at Flinders Street Station.

It was quite the emotional rollercoaster of a day, I was already operating in an alternative universe due to lack of sleep, and the tension of possibly throwing it all away against the bottom placed side (albeit the best one since the start of the franchise era) had me so flummoxed that in the minutes before the bounce I went to have a nervous slash and accidentally walked into the women's bathroom. The worst bit was that I didn't realise until I was well inside, looking around and asking "where's the whizzer?" out loud before realising my mistake and scooting for the door. Thank god nobody was in there or walking past to see my escape, or it would have been an ironic conclusion to years of mocking that Chuck Berry style hidden Perv Cam the club uses to film people being told about their debut.

The MCG must have known that I needed a soothing, familiar tone to stop me from toppling into mental distress, which explains why out of nowhere they hired John Blackman to do their voiceovers for the day. Nothing says a blockbuster clash like the voice of Dicky Knee, and I was hoping he'd drop in with the occasional Hey Hey It's Saturday style sarcastic comment during the match. There would have been enough opportunities, but the best we got was when he nearly pissed himself laughing for some reason while reading out the names of the umpires. If nothing else I'd have liked him to say "fuck" a couple of times and engage in some old fashioned workplace sexual harassment:

Maybe he was chuckling at the conspiracy theory that first year goal umpire David Rodan would fondly remember the year he spent in penury with us and issue a series of rorts accordingly. Disappointingly Rodan took his craft seriously, and even the lone review of the day was called for by a field umpire. If only the Stefan Martin Experience had remained neutral instead of playing one of the best games of his life.

As Gawn rose from plus-sized special attraction to the best ruckman in the country I came to realise that my tantrum when the SME was traded to Brisbane for peanuts was incorrect, and that this actually was the classic win/win deal. Since then I've always wanted him to do well, but that doesn't mean he has to save his best for playing us. When he got the three Brownlow votes at Docklands in 2014 (causing me to go off on one at Neeld a year after he'd been sacked) it was cute because we were still toxic waste but yesterday was serious business, and from the first bounce he took Gawn to the cleaners in every aspect of the game. I'll still rise to applaud if he gets votes again this season.

Martin's dominance was helped by his best midfielders roaming free and racking up touches at will while ours couldn't get within the same postcode as any of the taps. It was another day where Goodwin was forced to reach for Plan B after the original was discredited, sending Melksham to tag the previously dominant Dane Zorko and being rewarded with one of the Milkshake's best games for us. Now he's proven handy as a midfielder and a forward let's try and forget those few weeks where they unsuccessfully tried to play him as a half-back flanker.

The people who say - with some degree of accuracy - that they can deduce how we'll go from the first few minutes must have been the only people in the ground more stressed than me. At first the Lions were winning the ball everywhere, while we looked like a disorganised rabble again. Now that we're at least a mid-table mediocrity I refuse to believe anybody turned up thinking they were going to steamroll the Lions at half-pace. Sure Gawn looked like he had the sooks on when the Experience was ransacking him, and there were a lot of half-arsed one arm attempts to tackle or two players running to one and leaving somebody else alone but it can't have been deliberate.

One thing I was surprised by was not playing Harmes forward after last week, he got down there and kicked an important goal in the end but with some momentum up, and having booted four against Brisbane last year he might have been a handy troublemaker. At first his only contribution was solely to run off the back of the square at centre bounces then disappear, but like many of his teammates he got better as the game went on.

When the Lions went forward effortlessly and a 45-year-old looking man with the biggest bald spot in the AFL marked my stress level jumped another few notches towards a fatality. Mind you, last year when we beat them by 10 goals they had a shot in the first 30 seconds from an even simpler dash out of the middle and kick to a forward so historically there wasn't that much to worry about if you were a normal, well-adjusted person. On the other hand I was petrified. Like last year they missed their first shot, but regrettably this time it didn't serve as the prelude to an avalanche.

We took five minutes to get the ball into some clear space, and in a good sign for the rest of the game converted our first decent (if not first full stop) inside 50. It was a close run thing, Hogan being tremendously unselfish in rewarding Pedersen for creating the goal by lobbing him a handball as he ran towards goal but seeing it go perilously close to failure when he had to wait for the loopy handball to arrive and quickly throw it on the boot in front of a diving defender. Jesse five metres off his opponent and marking uncontested was great, but given that he was directly in front I'd have preferred him to utilise his drink driving style run-up to just pop the easy goal home. It was the first of two strange giveaway goals that bookended the game.

That was a settler, and while I had my suspicions about how easily they'd extracted the ball from the opening bounce I didn't yet know that for the first half every goal we kicked would be a great opportunity for the Lions to grab it straight out the centre and go forward. With Hibberd marking everything that came near him we managed to hold them back for a few minutes, before falling victim to that classic MFC type of goal, one to a player who only had three in his previous 60 matches. Just as we'd started to get on top the defender who spent the day doing the sort of manly spoils that I wish all our defenders other than Tom McDonald wobbled a set shot through. For the first of what must have been a dozen times I said to myself "here we go".

The brief advantage after the Pedersen goal was misleading, we were still playing terrifically badly. Brisbane were keeping us tightly penned in, including Oliver barely able to touch it under a heavy tag from a semi-competent forward, while they were finding acres of space. We had so many players going badly that it was nearly impossible not to get improve. Garlett was nowhere to be seen again, Wagner and Stretch were carrying on like VFL players and Neal-Bullen was clearly suffering a dose of the Media Curse. When the paper that morning carried an article about what a top bloke he is (one which helpfully clarified that his nickname is not 'ANB' but failed to offer a verdict on Anal-Bullet) I think we all knew what was coming next.

From there the rest of the quarter was not a complete mess, we were plenty untidy with our disposal but the Lions couldn't take advantage and Hogan belatedly got his first from another mark. This time there was no dinky handball over the top, he chose to risk the undeniable fact that we waste more of his goals by immediately allowing the other side to attack from the middle than any player in history and boot it himself. Wouldn't you know it, the Lions took advantage of another strong hitout to go forward for a mark straight away. It was kicked out on the full but you see my point. Somebody go back and map the next 30 seconds after his 105 career goals and see how many of them include an opposition inside 50. You wouldn't risk it yesterday with a suspect collarbone, but once he's fit I'd put him in the middle for the bounce every time he kicks one so he can try and personally stop his work being wasted.

Given that we spent the entire first half trying to give away 50 metres penalties in inventive ways - including one against Hannan that helped the Lions to their second goal - it was nice to finally enjoy some ill-discipline in our favour when Dayne Beams delivered a textbook but unnecessary belly-to-belly suplex on Jeff Garlett. In another game where he looked well off the pace, Jeff (not Jeffy even if we win the flag) ran into an open goal on a slight angle and missed, then mid-verbals Beams picked him up and dumped him on the ground. God only knows what he said to provoke that reaction, but it must have been good considering Garlett was the one who'd just botched a sitter.

The best bit wasn't just getting another shot on goal after a miss, or the 50 that made it an absolute certainty, it was another Brisbane player plowing in and starting to throttle Garlett the moment he hit the ground. He had no idea what he was hot about, but was prepared to unconditionally pile in like a mad bastard for his teammate. Like this guy that's the exact sort of white line fever infected lunatic that really floats my boat. Credit too to Harmes, who came to Garlett's aid with a look on his face like "I have absolutely no idea what I'm fighting for here".

It was a good time for a settler, but it sure didn't look at that stage like we were going to score 104. Not that the Lions looked particularly potent either, but if we let them all rack up 50 possessions they were going to eventually bust through on sheer weight of numbers. All was not yet lost, the Lions were operating at what passes for top gear when you're 5-15 with a percentage of 74 and we could scarcely have played worse but were still winning.

Obviously a crushing landslide victory would have been preferable, but the first order of business was to simply get the win. There was still plenty of time to do an impersonation of French singer Claude Fran├žois and try to straighten a light fitting while standing in the shower if it turned bad. But all was not yet lost, when we finally managed to get the ball into some open space and head towards goal the Lions looked vulnerable. And as long as we had an alternative plan for either Zorko or Beams there was this sense of inner-calm/false bravado that we were going to win somehow. The Melksham plan worked a treat, and we slowly began to crack away at them.

Very slowly. My expectation was that we'd huddle at quarter time, review what went wrong, Goodwin would smack somebody over the head with a whiteboard Three Stooges style and that 22 men good and true would turn their pressure up to full volume. Then the Lions got the first two goals, and not for the first time my footballing life flashed before my eyes. The margin was still only six, but when the first came from hard on the boundary line and the next from a quick snap out of a pack all I could think about was the indignity of coming this close and screwing it up. Not that a loss would have eliminated us, but you know... Losing next week will be painful but at least you can piece together an explanation, it would have been vile to fall apart against a lowly team in the second last game again. Last year nobody - except me - really cared, this time there were 30,000 people there to see us play Brisbane so it's clear that it meant a lot to many people.

Hogan was our saviour again, testing out his injury by sliding low for a mark. Maybe the injury was a work and we it along with the trade rumours as part of a high-risk, pre-finals disinformation campaign? Forget Essendon giving people drugs (though I'll take a slice of whatever Hibberd had) this would be real black ops stuff. Then what else would we do to celebrate a Hogan goal except kindly allow the opposition to cancel it out, this time courtesy of the often bemused Josh Wagner giving away another 50. What stupidity, just as we'd started to get on top of them again. This is the point where if we'd lost I'd say "and that's when I knew it wasn't going to be our day". Which is exactly how I felt at the time.

We were doing just enough to make you believe the right result would come, including Melksham taking advantage of Petracca riding a tackle for a full spin to deliver another of his popular goals from the middle of a pack. The second half of the year has gone much as I expected it to, but I certainly didn't see him becoming our #1 crumber. He read the mood of the day perfectly by not going over the top with celebrations, even ignoring the Brisbane defender who tried to be manly and jostle him afterwards as if he wasn't there.

Almost the entire rest of the quarter was spent with the ball at our end, desperately needing another goal before half time to extend the margin beyond 10 and provide some breathing space. And then as if to prove Demon Time is not a myth we conceded a goal with one second left. And not just a casual hoof out of the pack when the ball was already down there, an actual end-to-end spectacle that was like a low rent reproduction of the set-up for Salem vs Essendon in 2014.

I had no idea how long there was left as they pressed up the ground almost entirely unchallenged. A look at the replay shows it was almost the classic MFC goal conceded on a quick turnover, except this time the chain started on the wing when Hibberd was beaten for a contested mark. It was one of the few times in the half he didn't get in the road of a Brisbane player, but after the grab you can see Oscar McDonald standing a few metres away so it had all the other hallmarks of the dozens of "out the back" goals we concede - including Nifty Nev bravely trying to be the last line of defence, before a bastard of a bounce landed the ball right in the path of a Brisbane player and set up three men on their own inside 50 to raffle it. As they literally walked into goal a second before the siren the Fran├žois method was looking better than ever. This was one of those rare times where there's no "if they'd kicked this they might not have got the next 12". If we'd forced them sideways for two more seconds at any time from end of the ground to the other they'd have got nothing.

It was only as the siren went that I realised how sick I felt. There was nothing biological going on, it was the crushing weight of Sports Anxiety. A year earlier I'd nearly shit my shorts in distress at our performance against Carlton, and that was only for the right to swing at a miracle in the last round. Given that I don't feel much better now it might may be the worst case of SA since we beat Carlton in 2014 and I ended up in an MRI machine. That was a game sealed by a Pedersen goal in front of the MCC too. Here's to getting through the week without having to get a baboon heart transplant. I honestly feel that the last two games of the home and away season will have more of a physical effect on me than any final up to a Prelim.

For the second time a break in play felt like a good opportunity to regroup and come back like there was something at stake. I have no doubt a few younger players are starting to hit the wall physically, but all we need is for them to drag themselves over the line in a pool of their own blood, sweat and urine Hawaiian Ironman style for one more week then they can have a rest. And most likely after one more game they'll get a few months off but that's not important right now.

At last we started to get on top, cancelling out the last minute goal through Vince in the first 90 seconds before he gifted Brisbane the reply with a howler of a kick-in. It was an eventful day for Bernie, he didn't have many other kicks but did achieve the rare feat of being fined $1500 for an mid-air clash where he won the free. Keep it quiet, but if Salem hadn't necked himself by missing this week in the VFL through suspension I'd almost rather bring him in next week. Won't happen though, we've come this far with Bernie (when not suspended) so it would be too much of a distraction to give him the chop now. Meanwhile in what may be a club record Vince has now been reported five times in one season, and sits just one off the all-time club lead. If we somehow wind up playing GWS in a final and he delivers one last coup de gras blow to $cully I will help chair him off.

A player repaying his own goal with a horror kick was another "I know we're going to lose" moment. Which is how I feel most of the time during the season, but the difference was this time we were surrounded so by a surprising number of Brisbane fans having a wonderful day so I reigned in the exhuberant displays of anxiety. Until the last quarter anyway. Given where we've come from, who am I to ruin the day of hopeful people with nervous cursing? And truth be told when we were putrid slurry it used to be my dream to wreck the finals aspirations of others so who's holding it against them for wanting to do the same?

Realistically I was just looking for reasons we wouldn't win so I'd feel better if we didn't (fat chance), because we were now playing better football. Neal-Bullen and Garlett combined for their best moments of the day when the Bullet set Jeff up right in front, then Pedersen made up for a diabolical set shot that may have hit his knee, ankle and foot in succession by providing some breathing space with his next attempt. Like Tomas Bugg before him I nearly wrecked his career by declaring that he was in great set-shot form only for him to rip out a couple of howlers. Let's hope he doesn't complete the set by taunting opponents on social media, having somebody paint a mural of him, then violently assaulting somebody. Pedersen kept his fists to himself and went on to convert a set shot in time of great need, before adding another on the run when it mattered in the final quarter. Let's see if the slightly more organised Pies also fall for him slipping into marking contests from the side unnoticed like a cat burglar. If he can pull it off again that might be all we see of the once again much maligned Jack Watts this year.

When Hogan's third went in I was simultaneously jumping out of my seat in excitement at watching him treat defenders with contempt again and nervously adjusting my collar at the idea of having suggested a trade. The record clearly shows that I wasn't saying it because I thought he was no good, but was in fact trying to look after his sanity. I'm just that kind of guy. Depending on what was coming the other way from dual 104 point losers (and earlier MFC conquerors) Fremantle you might still entertain the prospect, but this was the sort of performance that makes you buy in to the idea of him becoming a dominant full-forward whose mere name terrifies defenders up and down the league. For years I've been searching for a player who represents a psychological victory before the game even starts, and if he's wholeheartedly into staying then it may as well be him.

The joy/stress interface became more complex with his fourth, fifth and sixth. Let's have more of this, preferably starting next week. I'm still worried that a better organised defence wouldn't have allowed him the same latitude, but may lightning strike me dead the day I turn down any sort of six goal haul. There were still a few times where the moment the player further afield turned in his direction the defenders knew to run from everywhere and ambush him, but that's where finding other targets who can mark strongly overhead will come in handy. I'm not writing off the idea of a Hogan, McDonald, Pedersen/Watts combination paying off next year if they all stay fit and we discover another strong mark to play in the defence. Then you've got all the ingredients of the tall forward pyramid - your one-on-one strongman, your leading runner with bucket hands and one guy to ghost in from the side of packs and generally kick accurately.

After a quiet first half The Hamburglar burst the seams of his tag and was far more influential in the third quarter. He almost pulled off a Clayton Oliver Does Funny Things by going against everything our club stands for and taking a strong contested mark, then was so blown up from the mid-air collision that he aimlessly handballed straight out of bounds. Overall it wasn't one of his better performances but given that he can't help but get the ball the longer he can go into games the more damaging he'll be. Opposition fans don't like him but they can get stuffed, he's a bit weird but he's ours so get stuffed the lot of you. He also inadvertently set up Hogan's fourth by dropping it cold while dashing it through the middle. He just does funny things.

Now we were rolling, and when Wagner marked 45 metres out on barely any angle I was mentally preparing to embrace victory. Then he kicked it out on the full, the Lions went down the other end and what should have been an aimless kick floating through for a point was marked 'on' the behind line (or if you prefer, 'over') for the classic two goal turnaround. When they got another not long after any calm I'd been feeling earlier had vaulted over the roof of the Southern Stand and landed on Brunton Avenue.

Enter Hogan once more, with a late fifth set up by the as usual excellent Hibberd to extend the margin to 15. It was an eminently gettable three quarter time lead but I just had this serenity that everything was going to be alright. Still not sure if I really felt that way or it was self-protection to insulate me against a fiasco. Nevertheless the pressure had become far too much, and I had to relocate to that small standing area in the middle of the Ponsford top level. This was not going to be a last quarter for sitting comfortably, especially with the contents of my stomach leaping around like they were on a trampoline. It was going to be 30 minutes for pacing maniacally, cursing, waving my fist in disgust and possibly falling to the floor in a sobbing heap at the siren.

Maybe it would have been safer to leave 2/4 of my most dearly beloved somewhere else while I watched one of the other quarters try to salvage a win off the tip, but guilt about dumping an anxious tired child on a slightly less anxious, but equally tired grandparent got the better of me and they were shifted to a nearby seat. I paid for this set-up with the most nerve-wracking combination of sports and parenting I've yet experienced. Maybe one day I'll get to bring the two together again by king hitting somebody at a junior Grand Final, but for now this is as close as I've got to being an ugly sporting parent.

For the next half an hour we swung from the edge of disaster, to glory and nearly back again while a three year old who'd declared she wanted to go home five minutes into the first quarter attempted to run off in every direction. I'm not a completely horrible parent, I did spend much of the quarter stopping her from hanging off the small fence to avoid an injury, and ran after he when she decided to bump down the stairs like it was a slide. If you were a neutral it was probably quite comical, and standing in the open like that I'm lucky nobody filmed my wild swings from good parenting to bad supporting it and put Benny Hill music underneath.

I discovered why nobody stands in what otherwise seems to be an excellent spot when it became clear that you couldn't actually see the city end goal line without standing on the railing and leaning over, looking like the biggest hypocrite under the sun to a child who'd you'd just told not to do exactly that. Kid, in years to come at least make sure to give your therapist some context about how important this quarter was. Suffice to say there will be no repeat next week.

With the Chris Sullivan Line miles away I wouldn't have been comfortable unless we'd kicked the first six of the last quarter, and there was no sign of the mini-rampage to follow when the Lions only missed out on a goal in the first 90 seconds due to some spectacular bumbling inside 50. That almost made up for the one they snuck in before half time, then in the space of three minutes we punished them with three match-winning goals. First Petracca made a mockery of my theory that he's exhausted by thumping one from distance, then straight from the centre bounce Mitch Hannan of all people ripped the ball straight down Hogan's throat. He swerved, hopped, veered a bit and put through his sixth. Now we were rolling, and when Smilin' Jimmy Harmes thrashed another on the run I was starting to get warm vibes.

Then just when you thought we'd finally broken their back it all fell apart. I was never properly confident, my Duckworth Lewis Method style chart explaining when to get comfortable about last quarter leads says 32 is not enough five minutes in. You need at least 15 gone to even start thinking about that as a winning margin. If Oliver's desperate launch from 50 which fell into the arms of a waiting defender had carried that would have been different, but from that moment the game unexpectedly flipped onto the other said again. What at first looked like a consolation goal a couple of minutes later - aided by a massive shepherd on the line that I only complained about until dodgy decisions paid off for us later - got them too close for comfort. Too close for my comfort anyway.

I've no memory about what point of the quarter it happened, but I was so wound up that when Rhys Mathieson was dropped with a vicious clothesline I yelled "duck into that you fucking arsehole" with 0% comedy and 100% malice. His actions in a borderline unwatchable mid-season slopfest last year should have had no effect on me now, but anyone who'd I'd previously heard of (eliminating half their side) was likely to cop it as an outlet for my advance grief in case of defeat.

The patron saint of 'Draft Silly Names' Huge McLuggage got another to cut the margin to 19, and when not long after the ball landed in Tom Rockliff's arms directly in front I reacted poorly, turning to curse the world and stomping around a bit. At that moment a stranger appeared from nowhere, obviously not having seen the mark, patted me on the arm on his way past and said "don't worry you're still 20 points up". At that point I nearly abandoned ship and ran to Row MM to avoid any further mingling with the public on what was threatening to become a horrible afternoon. "Not when he kicks this" I snapped back, and it duly went straight through the middle.

We'd stopped dead, were only seven points up and a draw did next to nothing for us. Meanwhile I'd entered the kind of trance-like state people usually only get from eating psychoactive substances in the desert with native Americans. Future generations will just have to speculate about what I'd have done if we'd thrown it away, or show up to the MCG next Saturday and hope for a repeat. Then, just as we looked powerless to stop the onslaught, and were one Brisbane score away from quite possibly my premature death Cameron Pedersen returned for a popular curtain call.

We were lucky to get out of the ball-up that started it all on the Brisbane forward flank, with the umpire holding everyone up so Gawn could get there. What a farce, just because you're a ruckman you don't get divine right to participate in every contest, if you're late to the party stiff shit. If we'd suffered a game winning goal after the umpire delayed a stoppage so a late-comer could arrive there would be blood running down the walls. But it went our way, so hooray for everything.

Jones hopefully thumped the clearing kick forward, where we got payback for the bad bounce that rolled Jetta just before the break as two Lions defenders cluttered into each other, leaving Pedersen to nip around the back and pick up a ball bouncing towards our goal which sat up for him perfectly. Sometimes it all goes your way just when you need it to. He took one bounce, ran just inside 50 and unloaded a dippy, swervy kick that looked from my perspective like it was missing before swinging back at the last minute.

Due to not being able to see the goal-line I had to climb up on the fence to see where it landed, and as it went through I must have looked like Kate Winslet hanging off the front of the Titanic. She and I both had romantic moments in that pose, though I was the only one screaming "YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! PEDO! YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!" at top of my lungs, before dropping back to ground level and vigorously grabbing at the rail like The Ultimate Warrior. If several security guards hadn't just escorted somebody out they might have been tapping me on the shoulder. It's not every day that you go into the wrong gender bathroom then gleefully scream "PEDO!" in the company of your children, but this was a special occasion.

Talk about a release of emotion, it was up there with Yze in the '06 St Kilda final. We've all come a long way since he did similar from a more obscure angle against Carlton in 2014. That was to win our first game in nine months, this was to firmly plant a foot on Mt Finals. Bigger climbs can come later, that will do me for now. At least this time I didn't nearly joyfully trample a couple of newlyweds inexplicably having their photos taken in the Ponsford Stand.

Of course it would have been too easy to just win comfortably from there, and going for time wasting kicks across defence with 2.30 left was a bit extreme. Nevertheless we wasted a good 40 seconds, and to be fair it only got turned over when we kicked long. As it came back we conceded courtesy of a goal set up by a boot loosely thrown at the ball as it bounced past, allowing another waltz into an open goal. Good thing we weren't playing Adelaide - the way we were conceding tap-in goals they'd have kicked 32.

Now after the immense highs of the Pedersen goal I was living in fear again. We had two minutes to avoid conceding two scores, and the first step to doing that to avoid them spiriting the ball straight out of the middle and towards goal. After Vince's fantastic kick-in fuck-up earlier I didn't even want them to get a point. We managed to break even and for one of the only times all day forced a second bounce. Jones won the ball and lobbed it forward more to get it away from the Lions goal than anything. The way their defenders had been taking huge pack marks all day I half expected them to intercept and storm down the other end for another tap-in but we held on for a bounce. I hadn't taken a breath for a while, but the longer the ball stayed down there the better.

Finally as a payoff to all the mystery ruck infringements last week we got one of our own directly in front. It was one of those classics where the whistle blows and everyone takes a deep breath because they don't know which way it will go, and it's a brave umpire who pays one right in front of goal in the dying minutes of a thriller so you expected it to go to Brisbane. But glory be it was ours and for the first time in 10 minutes I was able to control my shaking hands, stand still and breathe properly.

It would have been poetic if the SME had given it away to Gawn, and in classic "nobody knows what's going on" fashion he was arguing he hadn't done anything when it wasn't even against him. It actually went to Mitch Hannan for something off the ball. That was even better than Gawn, making sure there was no chance of repeating Maximum's ropey shot from nearly the exact same spot on debut in 2011. Then faced with what should have been almost the easiest kick in the book, Hannan pulled off a far riskier version of the Lewis/Neal-Bullen time-wasting shenanigans against Carlton by hoofing it 30 metres backwards to Brayshaw on a significantly more obscure angle. Now I see where he was coming from, but Jesus H Christ from the spot he was in he could have just kicked the goal, extend the margin to at least three scores and been the hero.

Let's not be fooled by Brayshaw running the clock to the last few seconds before sinking the set shot surprisingly effortlessly, imagine the carnage if Hannan's kick turned it over, leaving the Lions dashing towards goal with only defenders who weren't expecting the ball to come their way as cover. There have been many, many times where I've pondered who our Bill Buckner will be when we're about to win a flag, and a situation like this deep in the last quarter of the Grand Final would be an excellent way to make a name for yourself and/or enter the witness protection program. Good thing he connected with Gus, a cock-up that big is too good to be wasted on a home and away game.

The siren was another big moment for anyone filming me, as I adopted the sort of half-crouched, arms out, clenched fist gesture of triumph that looks great when real athletes do it but is a bit sad when copied by overweight, middle-aged men with kids in tow. It wasn't a deliberate attempt to big-up the celebrations, I was just so relieved to get away with it. This was no time to stick around and enjoy the atmosphere, after one round of trying to get my kid to sing the song I snatched her up and got the hell out of there. There was no psychic energy left to spend on battling wins, my mind had already turned to worrying about next week.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Cameron Pedersen
4 - Jesse Hogan
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Jake Melksham

Apologies to Jetta, Lewis, Oliver and Petracca.

What a confusing spectacle this competition has become, though it will take an unexpectedly deep run into the finals to catch Hibberd or The Hamburglar. And speaking of Hibberd, we are now prepared to name him the provisional winner of the Seecamp. Jetta is still within two BOGs, but you'd think a draw would be the best he could hope for now.

With the main race down to two, and the Hilton heading to the most unsatisfactory conclusion in years the massive news is in the Stynes, where against all odds Cameron bloody Pedersen has taken the lead. When Jack Fitzpatrick won it as a forward a few years ago I introduced the arbitrary 10 hitouts a game qualification mark to try and make sure the winner was at least remotely qualified at tapping the thing, and Pedersen is currently hanging on to 10.35 per game. Hope you backed him pre-season at 80-1. The way he's going he can still snatch a share of the main event at $150 if we make the prelim.

35 - Clayton Oliver
31 - Michael Hibberd (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
------- Need two more games -------
25 - Jack Viney
------- Three more games -------
22 - Nathan Jones
21 - Neville Jetta
20 - Christian Petracca
------- Four more games -------
16 - Jayden Hunt, Tom McDonald
15 - Cameron Pedersen (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
------- Five more games -------
13 - Jeff Garlett
12 - Sam Frost, Max Gawn, Jack Watts
------- Everyone below here officially eliminated -------
9 - Christian Salem
8 - James Harmes, Jordan Lewis
7 - Dom Tyson
6 - Jake Melksham
5 - Jesse Hogan, Oscar McDonald
4 - Mitch Hannan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year), Bernie Vince
2 - Dean Kent, Corey Maynard, Alex Neal-Bullen, Josh Wagner
1 - Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The best was saved for the city end, with Melksham's latest exhibition of crumb and Petracca's first goal of the last quarter both worthy contenders. But how could you opt for anything other than Pedersen's finish on the run that ultimately (via some more unsavoury twists and turns) sealed the deal? What a way to cap off a week, first he signed a new contract to ensure he'll never have to go back to working at Bunnings, then he seals a best on ground performance with the most vital goal to our finals hopes since Russell Robertson vs Essendon in 2005.

For the weekly prize he wins his own Masters franchise. That didn't cost us much. McDonald still leads for the final goal against West Coast, because without that we don't go into next week with our destiny in hand.

This was my favourite text only banner of the season, even if the claim of "any team" is incompatible with not beating North Melbourne for 11 years. The kerning and leading is fantastic as always, the Hogan tribute rammed into the top line after he was surprisingly picked stood out nicely from the rest without looking last minute, and the slogan just rolls off your tongue without any clunky scanning. I have no idea what iambic pentameter is, but this may have been it. Every club in the league should look to us for inspiration instead of trying to do Footscray style lolbanners.

After that fulsome praise it won't come as a surprise that it's another win for Melbourne, but that's not to completely downplay the Lions effort. Their font was average, and the rear-side that said "thanks to our 2017 Victorian members" was written in a way that made it look like they only had 2017 (because the year goes without saying doesn't it?), but the front contained some good old fashioned tauntery. Not gags, not cute bullshit, but classic 'we're going to beat you, have a shit day' stuff from a bygone era.

It wasn't perfect, the spurious claim that 'your season' would be over if we lost had the 'y' obscured by the curtain so by the time the players ran through it looked like 'our season'. Which obviously didn't demoralise them too much. Maybe they saw that, thought "oh thank christ" and doubled their efforts? Still, credit to Brisbane for effort, but you'll never beat a juggernaut like the Demon Army without first getting some nice looking fonts a'la St Kilda. Or if we roll ourselves by doing another Chumbawamba reference.
Dees 20-1-0 for the season. The perfect year is only one week away, but there's every chance the Pies will put up something mean-spirited and offensive which I'll enjoy. And if we lose I may need to take it out on somebody, so the the banner may have to do.
Crowd watch
I hope whoever in the marketing department came up with the membership rewards program took a photo of the novelties collection queue yesterday. The disappointment of the Nathan Jones doll not doing a bobblehead motion (though to be fair I was the only one who suggested it would) didn't stop people coming from everywhere to get involved. After 15 minutes in the queue I emerged around an hour before the bounce to see that it had doubled in length, and if I'd turned up to see that I may not have bothered.

The likeness is average, but the real drawcard is the simulation of his tatts. In real life he's got his grandfather's face, on this there's some indeterminate scribble that may be a coded message about slave labour conditions from the person who put it together. No drama, I appreciate the addition to my novelty MFC items collection and would rather an el cheapo rendition of the great man than something costing a fortune only to be given away for free. Suffice to say, when we build the Jones statue after his retirement we won't be working from the same model. Given that statues are usually a dark surface how are we supposed to accurately simulate the tatts? That alone is going to add 50% to the budget.

After sorting that out I was lucky to get inside without being mauled by attack dogs, cavity searched or extradited to Guantanamo Bay. Just as the cursory metal detector scan finished and I went to walk through the turnstiles somebody - and you know who you are - walked in behind me and jokingly said to the guard "don't let this guy in, he's got a gun". It was high risk comedy in a week where a) it was revealed that people were carrying offensive weapons into the MCG without question and b) there was a major international terrorist attack. After the great Cheese Platter Scandal I was expecting to arrive and find a table like this set up next to the bag check, stopping both arseholes intent on mayhem and our own fans from smuggling "just in case" items for self-harm...

I'm lucky not to have spent the game locked up in what used to be the Bay 6 Administration Officer, Ground Floor Olympic Stand. Fortunately, much like last week the security guards couldn't give a shit and through I went unchallenged.

Next week
As it becomes increasingly likely that our fate will rely on the result against Collingwood I keep having flashbacks to this classic Queen's Birthday moment:
In combination with the Watts (remember him?) goal that contributed to the best 10 minutes pre/post siren of the season, now I'm having nightmares of my glee at this outburst coming back like an out of control freight train. Those crunts (other than the passionately violent minority sack Buckley faction) will LOVE IT if they wrap up another season of lower mid-table mediocrity by dealing our finals hopes a seemingly fatal blow. No matter what happens, get ready for at least one a simpleton to remind you that we haven't won a flag since decimal currency.

Having my actual our sporting life on the line at a Pies home game presents a major logistical challenge. After spending the worst years of my supporting life in the top of the Ponsford Stand there's no way I'm moving for the most decisive game in a decade - but the area is likely to be filled with general admission Collingwood fans, heightening the chances of somebody being throttled. Which end of the merciless choking I'm on will be decided on Saturday afternoon, but I suppose I'll just head to Row MM and hope for the best. There's conflicting emotions, on one hand I feel like this should be watched as far away from people as possible, but at the same time maybe a responsible adult would come in handy for support and to alert authorities when I topple over with a giant heart attack. Maybe I'll bring an emotional support animal like that lady on the plane.

If you're a Pies fan in the Ponsford please do not walk up to my row, turn around to talk or ring me. This is not a week for fake friendly rivalry. The opposition could be the Danish national team for all it matters, I don't care about your club, your coach, your president, or your intermittently successful history. This week you are footy's equivalent to sperm donors, an anonymous entity who just exist to try and help us create something magical. The only thing you can do of any benefit to me is call 000 in the event of an emergency.

It's not over if we don't win, but we'll then rely entirely on Adelaide beating West Coast, or the Eagles winning by a razor thin margin. The problem is that it's happening in Perth, with the Crows already most likely having sewn up the minor premiership. They can't drop out of the top two, but the lure of finishing first should be enough to ensure they at the very least buy insurance against a GWS win in Geelong and pick a decent team. Then when the Cats win by plenty they'll probably send everyone home on the early flight and bring back Kyle Cheney to play at full forward. It's offensive to think that I might have a reason to cheer for GWS again, may as well buy a membership, a #9 jumper and drink a litre of Drano.

In direct contradiction to the mid-week rumour and innuendo that his foot was about to fall off, reasonable sources suggest Viney will return. And as Watts was reported for the most pissweak bump of all time in the VFL he will be eligible as well, but the way Pedersen's going we don't really need him. If Viney is right - and let's not gamble on this, because the last thing we need is to go a player down - then he's an automatic entry. No need to clear out anyone in the midfield for him as Melksham can go back to thumping goals from the HFF.

Stretch was very ordinary on return and Wagner just generally terrible so I'm not risking putting them out there in a crucial game. The Watts question is an interesting one, but surely there can't be any doubt about selecting Frost. Collingwood has tall forwards - not particularly good ones but give them enough opportunities and they'll get it right eventually - and having him in the side gives us the opportunity to throw McSizzle forward if things get desperate.

In a surprise twist, our old mate and still technically contracted player Heritier Lumumba might come out as the hero of the week. It feels like he's picked a great time to roll another hand grenade at Nathan Buckley (complete with 'yeah bullshit' style 'quotes' from a conversation written in a way that nobody would actually talk) and cause a bit of chaos. Until it inspires the Pies to play for the coach and they kick the first nine goals unanswered. Appropriately the documentary with the full bucket tipping airs Sunday night, hopefully providing us the opportunity to sit back with a drink in hand and toast a hatchet job well done. If we lose, let's ignore all our own shortcomings and blame him for firing them up.

As for the game itself, the performance we put out yesterday doesn't beat the one they nearly toppled Geelong with on Saturday, but who knows what you're going to get with these teams? Both swing from one end of the spectrum to the other at the drop of a hat, and Collingwood has a surprisingly good record against Geelong so hopefully that was just a North vs Melbourne style anomaly that they can't carry for another week.

Even if there was nothing on the line I'd still be nervous about our chances, but considering the circumstances I'm dying. They are without several good players, but who isn't expecting of James Aish and Mason Cox to jointly add their name next to Brad Dick and Adam Oxley in the collection of Collingwood Kingsleys? There's plenty of improvement to had from our side, but do the players still have the legs to pull it off? I don't know, and it's going to leave me frazzled for the next six days.

IN: Frost, Viney
OUT: Wagner, Stretch
LUCKY: Vince
UNLUCKY: Kennedy (CTRL+V), Maynard

Is it safe?

Not remotely, but thanks to 2/3 crucial results going our way this week (and Essendon over Gold Coast was the least damaging option) it's not only in our hands but there are crisis management plans in case of defeat.

The simple way in is to win by any margin 1+, but if we don't (and assuming the Bulldogs don't beat Hawthorn by 1000 on Friday night) the Bradbury Plan's Superbowl will be West Coast vs Adelaide at 16:40 AEST on Sunday afternoon. If it comes down to that I'll be adopting an unusually Germanic sounding surname and punting the Crows home like I've never cheered for neutrals before. As long as we keep it fragrant against the Pies, even a small Eagles win could see us in but let's not rely on that.

There's two nightmare post-defeat scenarios that I'm expecting to have to face. One is somebody foolishly agreeing to allow cameras into the room where players are watching, leading to a replay of the Essendon 2005 game where Bulldogs players were shown cracking the shits (except for a broadly grinning "well what are you going to do about it?" Brad Johnson) in somebody's loungeroom. If this happens and the Eagles screw us at the last minute I hope we get a final Clayton Oliver Does Funny Things for the season and he hits the cameraman with a chair.

The other is a repeat of one of my most cherished days, when Richmond could have lost Round 22, 1998 by a reasonable margin and still made it but were instead torn limb-from-limb and missed out. The difference is we have to play for everything, knowing that not only is the West Coast result crucial but also if our result and St Kilda's game against Richmond somehow make up about 20 odd goals of percentage the Saints could leap us too. As they say in boxing, let's take it out of the judges' hands and just knock Collingwood the fuck out.

If all goes well - and Richmond don't find a way to fall out of the four and set up our first finals meeting since WW2 - we'll be travelling to Adelaide or Sydney. Ironically doing it the easy way might be the worse result, leaving the Swans and Port in a neck-and-neck cruelty race to inflict as much damage on Carlton/Gold Coast respectively to try and push into the four on percentage. I know Port is a more appealing option, and I'd really rather not enter the state of New South Wales for any reason but for now I don't want to think about options and permutations. First step get in, next step worry about the opposition.

Was it worth it?
Yes for the final result, no for the quality of football or the belief that we have enough gas in the tank to get through next week. The football was of a barely village standard that nobody other than our coaches or players should ever have to watch again, and even then only once before the tapes are incinerated, but we got the right result eventually so load up and let's go again next week.

Stranglewank Update
After nearly going the reverse SW for the second week in a row, it's been a while since we've launched a comeback from +24 points down. When I saw this teaser with a picture of Brayshaw/Hogan attached I thought that The Guardian was finally going to name the pervert getting their jollies from all these comebacks, but alas on the day where autoerotic asphyxiation and footy finally come together it's about Sydney. If this is anyone but David Carradine you're stealing my bit.

Final thoughts
The strangest thing about next week is that unless we win I'll be writing a post not knowing what the future holds. The smart thing would be to hold off until the ladder is confirmed, but that's cheating. In the event of it all coming down to Sunday, look out for one post on Saturday night with live reaction from inside my oven, and another after the WCE/Adelaide game where I'll either be celebrating qualifying by default or turning it to Gas Mark 12.

Some may say that yesterday's game is proof that we don't deserve to play finals, but it's not a merit based system where the number of qualifiers decides on how many are likely to win the flag. Essendon are a sure thing from here and they lost to the Lions, so should we revert to a top six? Well maybe, but for now it's an eight and I desperately want in. Like a dangerously overloaded ferry in the Philippines we're still afloat for now, but at any moment the whole thing might tip over with the loss of all hands. Like me, let your week be consumed by fretting about 2.10pm next Saturday.

1 comment:

  1. Like the Big Train Terrace sketch. I'll be a little apprehensive until we beat the cantaloupes.


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