Monday 14 August 2017

The dream shall never die (but I might)

If the people of Guam think it's stressful waiting for missiles to land on their nature strip they should try being a Melbourne fan in the week of an important game. No matter what happens we're heading towards our best season since 2006, but the way everyone went off chops this week you'd think Schwab/Neeld 2017 has been elected President.

Like the MFC legend who flipped his lid at the end of a benign loss to Fremantle in 2012 and screamed "I CAN'T TAKE THIS FUCKING CLUB ANYMORE", then kicked shit out of the stairs as he stormed out, the tension was amplified by having something nice in our hands before it slipped away. No matter what else happens, at least we've come to the point where finals drama is killing us, not just the surprise of nearly winning a game.

The thing was, it hadn't actually slipped away. There was plenty of life left in our season, but by Friday the Veil of Negativity that has hovered low to the ground like a UFO all season finally smothered everything in its path. As we turned a 40 point lead into four with 19 minutes to play in the last quarter I was fully invested in it, ready to drape it over my eyes and jump into the sea. All's well that ends well.

The mass outbreak of trauma can't just have been about GWS demolishing us inside 15 malicious minutes because that was no great surprise. Not many people - and certainly not me - took comfort in the fact that we'd be in the same position if we'd done as expected and lost to Port then beaten North. It's just that for two weeks in a row we looked incapable of kicking a winning score, so there was a creeping sense of dread that the season was going to fade away lamely like last year. Even Christian Salem escaping what initially looked like a serious injury (then being dropped anyway) didn't cheer us up, before the frenzy took a predictable detour via Melway reference JW666, where everything is Jack Watts' fault and people want to trade him to Richmond for pick 37.

Things started going our way when it was confirmed that Nick Riewoldt was out. After wrecking us regularly for years that was a handy exclusion, even if it opened the door for any number of people you've never heard of to do a Beau Wilkes style Kingsley number on us. I'm sure when the season Riewoldt will arrange to meet Neville Jetta somewhere late at night (a'la the epic 1992 Hoyle vs Deane dunk contest) and give Nifty one last chance to try and heroically spoil him in a one-on-one contest.

The depression session heated up again when the first draft of the teams arrived on Thursday night. Brayshaw was a welcome return, though at the time nobody could have seen him playing so well and coming off on the winning side of a head clash. On the other hand, Salem and Frost were out in the initial cull, with journalists confirming within two hours that Watts would be joining them. Why they had to wait until Friday to reveal this in a press conference instead of either doing it Thursday night or in the final teams on Friday I'm not sure, but two months after everyone lauded his alleged arrival on Queen's Birthday (about 30 games late) he was being stuffed headfirst into the recycling bin again. Life wasn't meant to be easy.

The final spiral into insanity began with people talking seriously about losing to Brisbane more than a week before playing them - and well in advance of them thumping Gold Coast on Saturday night. It's not out of the question, and privately we're all worried about the same thing, but what about concentrating on one perceived debacle at a time? Then a source with a famous surname and as much credibility as a 15-year-old forum wanker suggested Jesse Hogan is about to demand a trade back to Perth and the internet exploded in a shower of sparks.

Never mind that the story has been doing the rounds for months, we were in such a heightened state of awareness that it caused ripples not seen since he bought a house in Perth last year and we instantly decided he was going to dick us. Then it would have ripped the heart out of the place, but considering the arsehole of a run he's had this year cashing in now might be a win/win. After all who wouldn't want to go back to square one with Freo and lose by 100 every few weeks? At least he'd be able to enjoy the traditional surprise wins over us at the 'G. As long as we were adequately compensated and not just bent over by a contracted player I don't see it as a Carnival of Hate scenario unless he exits by wiping the sweat from his plums with the 1964 premiership flag (if somebody hasn't stolen it). I'd be morally uncomfortable if we did trade him after everything that's happened, but it may be the best thing for everyone. To calm myself I'd go into my garden and engrave his name on the honour roll of fallen post-Neitz forwards alongside Newton, Miller, Clark and Dawes.

I've not been to the snow since about 1986, but by the time the final teams came out I was just about ready to drive to Falls Creek and shelter in a chalet until the weekend was over. There was no escaping the veil's fabric tentacles, even Corey Maynard became the first player to score Jakovich votes on debut then get dropped. By Sunday I was so tightly wound that doing something like kicking six goals to one in the first quarter then losing might have done me in.

Considering the Saints pulled off a heroic (and helpful) win against the Eagles last week, while we were rubbish for all but the first 10 minutes it felt weird to start favourites. But it always feels like that when you've come from where we have, and still have a nasty habit of plummeting to the ground face first whenever expectations are raised. At quarter time the bookies looked like geniuses, before dear old flat-footed and confused Melbourne re-emerged.

It was reminiscent of the Port win, dashing off to a big lead early then being forced to defend it when the opposition bothered to show up. The difference was that day our success was built on scaring them shitless with manic pressure, whereas this came off the back of St Kilda unsuccessfully playing to a frenetic pace, going for it at a million miles an hour like fumbling horny teenagers with no idea what they were doing. They looked the far more likely side in the opening minutes, but went about moving the ball as if they'd all been chroming for an hour before the bounce and stuffed up numerous chances.

After a few minutes of insanely eager football where everyone was trying to one-up each other on artistic merit for turning the ball over things calmed down, much to our advantage. In a game with the bare minimum of stoppages Gawn was tonked in the hitouts for once, but as the ball was continually in play for most of the first quarter except when we'd just kicked a goal that didn't matter. Viney was reasonably held, but between Jones playing a vintage game, and Oliver getting his hands on everything the Saints had no idea how to stop us. Once again Plan A - now with McSizzle back in defence stopping everything that came near him - worked a treat, and this week didn't self-destruct at three goals to nil.

I enter every game genuinely scared that we won't kick any so three unanswered is a bonus, even if as we discovered in Canberra it's no sure-fire indication of success. Certainly makes a welcome change from going 25 points down and then having to claw our way back, and the inevitable Saints comeback proved correct what seemed like an outrageous quarter time statement that a five goal lead was "insurance". One day we'll go on with it. Imagine the warm feelings of a Sydney fan on Saturday watching their side go 80 points up at half time? What a wonderful world it would be to leave a 104 point win upset that you only added another four goals to the margin in the second half.

It was all well and good taking advantages of St Kilda's attempts to set the land speed record while they ironically let Jayden Hunt loose to steam the ball out of defence for the first time in weeks, but somebody still had to kick the goals. That remains my concern going into the last two weeks, I think we can get the ball enough to consistently do everything except get in a position to have shots. To calm my nerves we were handed the first on a platter, when Viney and Tyson engaged in a bit of "you first, no you..." vaudeville that tricked a Saints player into giving away a 50. Like the ball pivoting into Oliver's hands from a wonky ball-up it was probably correct to the letter of the law, but just the sort of unnecessary, administrative bullshit that drives people mad.

That stroke of luck cured the Saints of their compulsion to play insane, break-neck footy. Because for the best part of the next 20 minutes they barely got their hands on it save for one goal to a forward hanging out the back waiting for scraps. Meanwhile down the other end James Harmes - with hair veering dangerously towards an Andy Lovell style mullet - was playing some sort of quarter. The suggestion that it was best game yet ignores a smashing performance against Gold Coast last year where he looked more like Ablett than the real deal, but this was on a far more important stage.

He was lucky not to get the arse after last week, and repaid the faith of the selectors x3. I reserve the right to go on and off him weekly, but there's something momentous about a life-long Demon fan born in 1995 being part of this revival. His generation are the ones who have never seen anything other than some middle of the road finals performances pre-puberty. Most eventually told their parents to piss off and stop trying to make them go to the footy. Now he can influence our future, and has an infectious look of delight whenever he does.

His first goal came courtesy of a screaming pack mark, the sort that you'd never have backed our small forward line to pull off but ended up being vital in both the first and last quarters. Even better that it came in the middle of two defenders, from the sort of hopefully high ball that we usually see chopped off and instantly taken the other way.

The long ball was significantly less successful in the middle two quarters, with Saints defenders queuing up to chop kicks off. Speaking of chopping things, Jake Carlisle has moved from lines of gear to lines of fabric as he sported what looked suspiciously like the old three-quarter length sleeves that the Australian Fashion League once threatened to fine Adem Yze for. I can't tell if they were rolled up or he's actually had a custom job done, but it's a good look, there should be more of it, and the AFL owes Yze a written apology for persecuting him over it.

Smilin' Jimmy H got the third too, in a rare scenario where he started the attacking opportunity from the wing and ended up converting it. After a perfect kick bounced off the chest of the out-of-sorts Garlett, Harmes kept running inside 50, took an intelligent handball from Neal-Bullen when the Bullet could have blazed away from the pocket, walked around a defender and kicked it from the top of the square. Things were looking up, but there's a difference in perception between crushing a team that are being terrified out of picking up the ball, and one that simply can't get a kick. With the latter you know there's every chance they're going to get a run on at some point. They did, but not yet.

At 19-1 I was experiencing positive feelings again, until the entire ground collectively held its breath when Angus Brayshaw collided with Koby Stevens (who knew he was still playing, let alone at St Kilda). My expectations for him were low considering what he's been through and how long he's been out of the team, so after an excellent start it was absolutely taking the piss for him to crack heads with someone before quarter time. You could tell he hated wearing the helmet from the way he'd rip it off every time he went to the bench, but good thing he had it on or we might be here lamenting a medically enforced retirement. Maybe he pulled that classic 80s masked wrestler trick and loaded it with a foreign object?

As he went down I was almost at the 'shake your fist at the sky and denounce organised religion' stage of grief, before he finally enjoyed some luck and emerged unscathed while the other guy was eliminated from the game with concussion. The way his last two seasons have gone I'm surprised he didn't survive the initial contact then crumple to the ground when Gawn gave him a plus-sized pat on the head after.

The best part - other than him not suffering another head injury - was that he never flinched after. For the rest of the game he was backing into packs and throwing himself at the ball like there was nothing wrong. He ended up playing a very good game, much better than you'd expect from somebody out of the senior team for so long. Given that we were using Wagner on the wing at times (who wasn't bad, but how far are you going to get doing that?) we could still do with somebody quick on the outside, but at last the inside mids are sorted. In fact we've got too many, which is why Maynard's stay only lasted a week. Dare I say time to try and flip Tyson elsewhere to help find some pace?

Harmes had a rest and gave somebody else - popular trade bait Tyson and a St Kilda player whose name I care not to learn - a turn, before reappearing for number three. He ran around somebody again for this one, showing off the ball Mick McGuane style first before taking an unnecessary bounce and running into goal from 35 metres out. Of course I didn't think was going to last, but I did allow myself to fantasise for a bit and wonder what it would be like to make a statement by violently destroying another mid-table team. Big mistake, never let your guard down.

In a quarter where we registered our most inside 50s since Gold Coast 2016, Pedersen chucked another one in right at the end and the radio callers (led by the Andy Maher "I'm never going to tell you how long there is left in a quarter because I don't like countdown clocks" Experience) were so incredulous at our performance that they asked three times whether there was a wind blowing to one end. Of course there wasn't, as if we'd have kicked six with the aid of a strong breeze.

Quarter time put the brakes on our unstoppable scoring rampage, and though St Kilda were still finding innovative ways to avoid kicking goals - including one passage that the Three Stooges would have rejected as too improbable - they were playing a lot better. There was finally some pressure on us, Hunt was belatedly stopped from trotting off half-back with turbo mode enabled and their crackdown on Oliver was second in severity only to the umpires pinching him for a throw at every opportunity.

Nevertheless, we might have stopped scoring but the Saints didn't look like doing any better. There was no sign of the Tim Membrey who'd tormented us last year, just somebody with the same name who'd adopted an unpleasant skinhead 'n tatts gimmick that won't be looked back on fondly. I'm sure in real life he loves all the people of the world, but at the moment he looks like somebody you'd give a wide berth to on a train. They missed a shot in the early seconds, then for the next 10 minutes we were the only team who looked like scoring. Harmes sprayed a chance at his fourth - briefly threatening a bag that would make McDonald in Perth look pedestrian - before eventually Petracca found Gawn standing a mile on his own 40 metres from goal. Any suggestion that there was a distinct wind advantage was dismissed when he hoofed it through with ease.

The Saints were in such a state of disarray that you could afford to laugh heartily at Josh Bruce roving his own ball from a contest, turning to face goal under no pressure and snapping across the face out on the full. He'd been held up in the contest by Oscar McDonald, who played arguably his best game for us yet. Put him on whatever program beefed his brother up and he's going to go alright. There will be a few super blunders here and there - because it's what the McDonald family do - and you wouldn't trust him one-on-one much of the time but he just instinctively knows where to go and what to do. I'd like to find a contested mark animal so we can play his brother up front.

After Jack Billings - who'd somehow lost the use of one of his eyes - kicked a goal the usual dread came in despite still being six goals in front. Now we were going to throw away our season from a mile in front, against a team with one man off concussed and another playing through a disability. Then in a situation that usually only happens to us, we wrecked their hard fought goal straight out of the centre. I thought the Harmes/Anal-Bullet combination might crush their spirit but sadly no, and we disappeared for the next 10 minutes while they got their tails up by kicking a couple of goals.

The last thing I want in a game against us is for anyone to get a run on, because we generally concede four goals before coming to our senses. The first one said it all about the difference between the quarters - the Saints tried everything they could to stuff it up by hand before finally belting it long to the square, where Carlisle was marauding forward and brought the ball to ground for a crumber. Given the state of our tall forwards I've got no idea why they didn't leave him up there for the rest of the game. Maybe they were worried Tom McDonald would do likewise and rip them to shreds with his un-Demonlike tendency to run straight at a footy kicked inside 50.

Enter the man with the most NQR nickname in footy, Cameron Pedersen. The most beloved spare parts player in recent memory, and the ultimate winner of the McLean to Carlton trade. There's no shame in declaring your love for him, we all know he's probably going to spend 10 weeks minimum at Casey every year and won't play like this every week but what an honest individual. He doesn't kick an outrageous number of goals, but does have a knack for finding it 40 metres out on a slight angle and usually converts. Even he knows he'll probably get the boot at some point when more name brand players are ready to come back, but whisper it quietly I'd almost prefer him at the moment to players being paid a shitload more. What a long road since Round 1, 2012 when everyone wrote him off. Now if he doesn't get a contract extension the receptionist will take her phone off the hook.

It was refreshing to stitch somebody else up in the last minute, even more so because it was set up by Melksham marking under pressure, then dishing off to Hunt, who capped a half of good old fashioned piss-bolting by charging through the middle and finding Pedersen in a different area code to any defenders. A viewing of the replay reveals that your mate and mine Dwayne greeted the goal by saying "momentum with the Demons". Which would have been great if the half time siren hadn't just gone.

For the second time I thought that might have put them away, especially after dominating the last 15 minutes of the quarter and coming out with the margin exactly as it was at the first break. Just when our fans were getting a bit too complacent, starting to wear broad smiles instead of scowls, along came the third quarter. For the first time the Saints not only looked dangerous, but a much better side. This is where it started to get ropey, and fortunately I'd been too nervous to eat anything because I'd have parked it on the Saints fans in front.

At the same time they were running rings around us we were treated to a display of wacky umpiring that almost made up for the red and blue spot specials that we liberally profited from on Queen's Birthday. The angst was such that one well-known Demon loyalist journo was moved to tweet that one particular umpire - name and all - was "on the take". You can get away with saying it in the stands - and thousands do - but I would advise not putting writing it on a public forum for thousands to see. At least cloak your defamation a bit, because for all the accusations about umpires wanting to make it about themselves what better way than being the first to take somebody for a payout via legal action?

Max Gawn was more creative, being pinched on the rule of the week for having an arm that wasn't bent enough in ruck contests. Somebody was mysteriously done for the same thing in the GWS/Bulldogs game so the Reverse Murali must have been AFL Rule of the Week™. The man who once said he prepared for Darwin by leaving the heater on risked funding the rules committee end of season piss-up by responding with this:
Now there's a man who can give Clayton Oliver advice on how to write funny tweets, what a hilarious gag to post a picture of a book that small. As if all the AFL rules can be stuffed into a publication that small, where's the 776 pages of appendices covering exclusions, caveats, interpretations and stuff that they made up over lunch on Wednesday?

Perhaps Max wouldn't feel so aggrieved if he didn't spend every week having his face clawed at or punched by opponents in ruck duels for no reward? I'm surprised he's never ended a game puffed up like Billings from opponents who can't get near his hands desperately swinging around the eyes instead.

Technically the fun started with a Vince turnover, making sure that as Lewis was having one of his better games for us that there was only one man people were trying to retire on the spot. But after giving up that goal we held firm for the next few minutes, and even kicked the reply through Melksham. That led to a period of weird activities, where first Oscar McDonald had to instinctively pull out a goalkeeper style save from an ungainly snap, then Pedersen made amends for giving the ball up in the first place by touching a shot through while still sitting on the ground. We were fortunate twice, but the St Kilda goals were coming. Three in about three minutes in fact, including two thumped from long distance Melksham style and you have no idea what my innards were doing. My organs were ready to double down when they ended up with a set shot in the last few seconds. God bless the siren operator, who hit the button just as Membrey was running in and clearly put him off.

It was still too close for comfort, late in the quarter several of our players were walking around with hands either on hips or head looking spent. To say I was scared would be an understatement, especially when Skinhead Membrey almost immediately completed the rare seven point play across two different quarters in the first minute. It wasn't just the score that was worrying me, after earlier seeing a plonker in a Trump for President t-shirt and now being done over by an extra from the cast of Romper Stomper I thought the MCG might replace people in yellow tracksuits ringing the boundary in the final minutes with torch carrying fascists.

It would have been so very Melbourne to lose from there with the season on the line, but like Port we held firm and kept them out long enough to recover. After a rotten day Garlett turned up for the first time to kick a set shot steadier which took it back into double figures. That was the signal for St Kilda to pull the fire alarm and evacuate season 2017, they wouldn't kick another goal until the game was well over.

The last quarter belonged to the previously unseen, Mitch Hannan had a week of rest after his zero kick game against North and he hadn't done a whole lot more in the preceding three quarters yesterday before first setting up Garlett and then kicking two of his own. To get to his goals we first had to go through a magnificent defensive effort. With the margin still 10 and the shakes continuing (on and off-field) Hibberd ran back into the path of potential death to get a spoil in, colliding with Oscar at the same and leaving them both on the ground. Two defenders down, a loose ball spilt into the open right in front of their goal.

After being flogged up and down the country for not going hard at a ball in the last seconds of the North game, Lewis flew in with the ultimate defensive gather, getting down low enough to avoid being tackled, but staying high enough to avoid crashing into his opponent's legs. He picked it up, bounced off his opponent's midriff, and handballed to Nifty Nev. The ball found its way to Pedersen on the boundary line for saving mark and we could breathe again.

That was the decisive moment, and not long after Jetta got involved again, perfectly riding a tackle to eventually contribute to Hannan's first set shot. It was by no means an easy kick, but he made it work. Then from the next bounce fill-in ruckman Pedersen delivered the ruck tap of his life, allowing Tyson to kick long inside 50 where Hannan took a pack mark in exactly the same spot. I don't trust anything in red and blue, so I thought "there's no way he'll kick two in a row" but there you go. I was censured afterwards for ignoring the big mark and claiming it was Pedersen's goal, but it was and nothing you say will make me change my mind.

That was effectively it. After taking a massive grab on the defensive goal line one minute, Gawn did likewise down the other end and tried to give Weideman a chance to get involved but he missed. The Weid is just not ready yet, he did lay one blockbuster tackle early but can't get near it otherwise. In any other season you'd just play him anyway because either a) who cares in the last month, or b) draft picks but we can't afford to carry him with everything on the line. I hope he stays in and kicks six next week but still have nightmare visions of him flailing about in the wet against Carlton at the same time last year so perhaps it would be better to wheel in somebody with more experience.

It was a good thing I'd chucked SEN for the Tobins at three quarter time in frustration at the refusal to give updates on how much time was left, because I'd have still been shitting it royally at the 26 minute mark if I didn't know there was only three minutes to go. Especially when the Saints kicked another accidental goal after Josh Bruce stuffed up a bounce running into goal before the ball rolled out to a teammate as he was tackled. Imagine that was the game winning goal? I'd make contact with overhead electrical wires.

From there the only moment of interest left until one of Milkshake's final trademark bombs from outside 50 was Jetta making his first mistake in about two seasons by giving away a 50 in the last couple of minutes when the game was well over. I was already miles away thinking about next week - but only as far as that.

With free tickets dashed off to anybody born overseas that wanted one we generated plenty of interest, and unlike the bad old days where we'd have Members Appreciation Day then lose by 87 points (incidentally brace yourself because Members Appreciation Day is next week) our new fans went home happy. They'd seen everything from sublime, dashing football to stopping dead as if shot. First time Melbourne viewers even got to question the future of a high draft pick. The only thing missing was some weirdo hurling abuse at Jack Watts for going to a private school. And knowing our fans he was probably still copping it when not playing.

Welcome curious internationals, it's about time we started signing people up as they walk through customs. For 10 years I've been hearing "oh I went for St Kilda/Richmond because that's where I lived when I moved to Australia" and have said to probably two dozen people "but that's in Melbourne, why didn't you go for us?" in a way that suggested it was actually a sensible thing to do, not an invitation to be sad every week.

I wouldn't expect the full contingent to be back for our glamour clash with the Lions, but if you were thinking of getting involved now would be an excellent time to jump on the bandwagon. Your money is as good as any of the poltroons who have hidden in a ditch for years and have only just remembered where their allegiances lie. And if you are a new fan who has somehow found this page via an accidental Google search for the love of god treat the club like it's a new entity and don't read the archives.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Cameron Pedersen
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - James Harmes
1 - Jordan Lewis

Top level apologies to Brayshaw, Jetta and Oscar McSizzle who contended for the last spots. Also to Hibberd, Hunt, Tom McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Tyson and Wagner.

The Hamburglar snatches a decisive lead, but because we are now factoring in at least one extra game after Round 23 the line of death only shifts up a couple of points. If you're willing to find a way where we make the Grand Final, the good news is the line doesn't yet exist and anybody who hasn't scored a vote yet can grab a share of the title with seven straight BOGs. Would be a reasonable way to end the year...

35 - Clayton Oliver
28 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
25 - Jack Viney
21 - Neville Jetta
20 - Nathan Jones, Christian Petracca
------- If anybody below this line wins we've probably made the Grand Final -------
16 - Jayden Hunt, Tom McDonald
13 - Jeff Garlett
12 - Sam Frost, Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Watts
10 - Cameron Pedersen
9 - Christian Salem
8 - James Harmes, Jordan Lewis
7 - Dom Tyson
5 - Oscar McDonald, Jake Melksham
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 - Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I've got some love for the Harmes goal where he walked around a defender, and for comic value you can't beat the Viney freebie that started the first quarter avalanche, but on a day where the spectacular made way for workmanlike I can't go past Hannan's first clutch set shot. After doing not much more than the game that got him 'rested' it was an excellent time to make an impact.

It's all been downhill for weekly sponsors since Jayden Hunt won a trip to the secretive owl sanctuary, so Hannan wins the right to play for a club sitting inside the eight with two rounds to go and destiny in its own hands. What more could anyone ask for? McDonald against West Coast still leads the overall race.

It's a controversial viewpoint, but the Saints have the best font in the league. It's thick, it stands out on crepe paper, it looks great. The main side was for Nathan Brown's 150th games (how? Did he get a percentage from the other two Nathan Browns?), where the top line exploded before the team ran out and briefly threatened to have him getting 'Ongratulations' before running repairs kept it together. Bonus points for recovering from disaster, but minus points on the curtain penalty, and for a message on the back about Riewoldt's last home game with such tight leading that you had to give yourself a migraine working out what it said. I did a Twitter search for 'St Kilda Banner' to review it again, but all I found was Essendon fans having a sooky whinge from a month ago. Use your imagination.

On the other hand, ours had a lovely Michael Hibberd illustration, a gold 100, and enough space between lines that you could read it without suffering an acquired brain injury.

Spectacular #WelcomeGame banner by @DeeArmy today! Congratulations on 100 games, @M_Hibberd1 @melbournefc #afldeessaints
Dees 19-1-0 for the season. Brisbane's not going to beat us, so the Pies are the only danger of ruining the perfect regular season. IF we play finals I hope the banner just says 'BLIMEY!'
Crowd watch
Even if your motives are pure, giving out 20,000 free tickets is still open season for wankers to have a go. Including desperate shock-jocks from Channel 10, an organisation that has gone completely tits up because they forgot that building a following is a key part of staying in business. And how is 1377 MTR doing these days?

Whether the 53,000 crowd was boosted by ring-ins, neutrals enjoying a rare sunny day, or just two sets of fans desperately clinging onto the dream of being waffled in the first week of the finals it was a full 29,000 higher than our last game against them at the MCG, and the highest home and away crowd vs St Kilda since 2004. It's a bit racial to assume that every non-European in the place was at their first game, but there was still a sizeable contingent of people gamely clutching flags who you know were making their debut because they were having a good time before the bounce. Those who have been around are usually doubled over with mystery stomach pains in the last 30 minutes before the bounce. Or is that just me?

Amidst this cosmopolitan extravaganza one MCC member has become the first Melbourne fan to 'go viral' for the right reasons since the guy who waved a white flag against Gold Coast by having a BYO cheese and biscuits session in their seat. Tucking into what was incorrectly referred to as a 'platter' isn't my go, but it has provided a remarkable level of joy to people who gladly spend $13 on floppy chips and a half-cooked 'meat' pie that is lucky not to explode everywhere the moment you take it out of the wrapper.

Even landfill journalism websites took notice, misunderstanding "so Melbourne" comments as a comment about the city's culture, not the perception that our fans are all wine tasting, tartan rug covered ponces. I say well done to the cheese enthusiasts, once again we're being connected to a stereotype of class and elegance. Other clubs can recruit the kid that ate the watermelon at the BBL or some obese slop merchant tucking into a roast chicken from Coles and we'll continue to draw from the elite of society.

Meanwhile I see the crack MCG security guards failed to notice that they were carrying a knife. Doesn't that fill you with confidence? I wish I'd known you could do that 2012-2014, I could have spent the games cutting myself waiting for us to kick goals. At least this was the variety that would barely make a dent in butter, at the SCG you can practically bring a machete through the gate and best of luck to you.
The cheese appreciation society must have known it was a slow week for crowd watch content otherwise. The guy in front who stood and up and sat down on every Saints goal as if he had a carrot shelved in his arse was about the only other highlight. It was one of those days where you sit in mixed company, nothing offensive happens and you think "I could do this every week". Then the next time you end up with some sweating lunatic behind you who inadvertently spits on your neck whenever there's a controversial umpiring decision.

Next week
Trust us to play the bottom team in a make-or-break game just as they hit some form. I can't wait for the amazing irony when years of being the Stefan Martin Experience's PR department he sinks us (again).

In a reasonably competitive race to win/avoid the spoon - hopefully the former in this case - any of them, North or Carlton would be the best last placed team since West Coast finished with 77% in 2010. Nobody's finished last with five wins since Brisbane in '98, but at least they were polite enough to lose to us by 95 on the way. What I'm trying to say is be afraid, be very afraid. We should win, but having ticked off one in a row as favourites I wouldn't want to revert to lazy first quarters now. Crush their spirit early, crush it often.

What I'm most worried about is a repeat of Round 22 last year where multiple players ran out of gas at the same time. Mind you playing a tall forward line in the rain didn't help much either. I suspect Petracca is about to curl up in a ball with fatigue and go to sleep on the half-forward line, but it would be a huge call to rest him at this point of the season. Just give him a light week on the track, stick him up forward and hope for the best.

The temptation is to rush Watts back in for Weideman, and if you foolishly put me in charge I'd probably panic and do it even though Jack reportedly didn't do much for Casey. I suppose you could bring Frost back and use him and Sizzle in attack or defence as required throughout the day. As ineffectual as the Weid was, I don't think they'll mess with a winning formula. For once I'm too scared to be decisive in my team selections. Roll on 1730hrs Friday night when the final teams are released and we get some certainty. No matter what it's shithouse news for my employer, because after a week of being too depressed about footy to concentrate now I'm too nervous.

IN/OUT: No change or Frost in/Weideman out
LUCKY: Weideman
UNLUCKY: Frost, Kennedy (copy and paste endlessly), Watts

Elsewhere the Bradbury Plan is still in full effect. If we win both the remaining games who cares, but just like the first quarter today the more insurance policies you can get your hands on the better. We can be fairly sure that Essendon will beat the Suns, making the decisive games Footscray vs Port and GWS vs West Coast on Saturday. I'm still not comfortable wanting the Giants to win, so this will be the last time in 2017 I'll be doing that. The Eagles barely beat Carlton at home, so you'd assume they were going to come a cropper here but who would know with this pisstake of a season? I'm more interested in the game at Novelty Stadium in Ballarat, where Port might do us a solid by toppling the Dogs.

Is it safe?

Regrettably there's no realistic way to be confirmed finalists entering Round 23. Even if we win, both the above games go the right way and Essendon somehow find a way to neck themselves against Gold Coast. If Hawthorn ride the Luke Hodge celebrations to beat the Dogs on the Friday of the last round we will still rely on West Coast losing to Adelaide on Sunday if we don't beat the Pies on Saturday. I'm already having nightmares about Mason Cox kicking seven and Howe gleefully sticking it up us with 230 intercept marks. Of course it will end in Lynden Dunn tearfully executing his contractual duties by kicking the winning goal, and I will remain in my seat at the MCG until security has to force me out via court order. Alternatively we can lose next week and still have some path to September, so no matter what happens you've got another fortnight of this.

Please note: this is not me being in any way certain that we're going to make it but my consensus ladder prediction now has us finishing seventh and playing either Port or Sydney. If Port win next week then definitely the Swans, but otherwise it will come down to percentage. I'd rather go to Adelaide, but right now I'd go to a final in Damascus so just get us in and we'll work out the travel arrangements later. I'm not even considering the prospect of failing to secure a ticket to the Adelaide Oval/SCG yet, but if I go through all this for us to qualify and can't get in there may be complete mental collapse. MFC employees, I know you're reading so please consider all the good things I said about what you did while the rest of the club was falling apart at the seams and ironically sneak me in as the club psychologist.

Was it worth it?
It certainly was, timing my entry and exit to only be away from home for five hours door-to-door. The footy was good too. At least the first quarter and the last 15 minutes, the rest only existed to get us to the end. My god I was stressed though. Even at the end there was no linking of arms with strangers and singing the song in a variety of foreign languages, because despite the points being in the bag I still felt like ralphing. This is what I expect it feels like to be a low-range drug addict.

In case you missed it
During the week I looked at my 10 most memorable days at the footy for both good and bad reasons. In a surprise twist there were more positive games on the shortlist, possibly because the shit all blends into one toxic sludge. Had we crumbled yesterday there might have been a late inclusion...

Final thoughts
This time last year I emotionally invested everything I had in a miracle finish where we'd still have needed something outrageous in the last round to get in. Now it's right in our hands, we're in the right position, with winnable games and enough potential banana skins for other contenders. The entree has been alright save for a few gritty bits, now bring me a wonderful main course.


  1. I preferred Stranglewank to this new Tease-and-Denial approach. Rushing toward an early climax and then easing off the pressure before having to work extra hard to limp over the line is far less satisfying than breathlessly pulling one off against self-imposed obstacles.

  2. I saw that guy in the Trump Tshirt as well! Thought he must have been representing the US in the international tournament. I also hoped he was wearing it ironically


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