Monday 19 February 2018

Same old piss in a new bottle - the AFLX story

My deeply held belief against watching AFLX lasted until approximately 15 seconds after I heard we'd made the final. After briefly grappling with my conscience, I decided that I may never see Melbourne win anything real, so something fake would be the next best thing and crumpled like a Yugoslavian car. My reward for selling out was to see us narrowly beat a side of Hawthorn's kids in a game vaguely resembling Australian rules football and for Neville Jetta to be presented with a trophy that looked like it was bought at Lincraft.

The game wasn't terrible, but what might be perfectly suited for people pissfarting around in a suburban park competition was rendered dull as dishwater by having high paid professionals doing it. I like the idea of there being a code where Jake Melksham is the greatest player ever born, and we're one of the top three teams in history, but could happily leave it there. Fat chance of that, they're already changing the rules (because what's an AFL competition without rule changes?) and taking it overseas. Hopefully it will be left there.

I note that the sort of people who are still open to this concept as anything more than a hit and giggle wankfest have split into two groups - one orthodox line who want more stoppages and contests, and the opposition who demand different parts of the ground to be worth different scores like a game of Test Match. Usually I'd demand that they let the game evolve naturally, but in this case making it insanely ridiculous and carting in Rugby 7s style specialist players and recent retirees would be the best thing to do.

Fortunately while I was occupying myself researching 1920 Seconds fixtures and checking Twitter to make sure nobody had necked themselves, Nick Miller offered to watch the lot and report back.  We had concerns that as he's 'overseas' that he wouldn't get to the end of the matches without rushing out the door with ball in hand looking for the nearest rectangular ground to have a kick in. He bravely soldiered through to the end (of a night supposed to be the shortened version of the game, which had so many matches it actually went longer than a normal trip to the footy), not giving up either when a mime turned up saying nothing, or when Brian Taylor turned up saying anything.


What to say of AFLX? Personally I tuned in because it’s the Dees, and I’d probably watch Mitch King play backgammon in Siberia for an official MFC backgammon team. The players seemed to enjoy it, but they haven’t played competitive footy in 6 months, so who wouldn’t enjoy a low pressure, bruise-free, hit out to blow out the cobwebs? It looks like it would be a pretty good game to play as a mid-week social sport (sort of an AFL equivalent of touch rugby), but then I thought there was already AFL 9s to fill that niche.  And as far as positive comments go, that is all I have to say about that.

If you’ve been living under a rock, and have somehow avoided the AFL’s shameless self-promotion of AFLX, it is “a new and exciting game created by the AFL to showcase some of the most thrilling elements of Australian Football to attract new fans”. LOL. They say that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. AFLX is a camel designed by the boffins at AFL HQ to serve no apparent purpose other than the ubiquitous goals “to grow the game internationally” and/or “attract women to the game”, whichever fits at the time.  Basically Gillon was watching the Big Bash last summer and decided he wanted to do that for AFL, missing the patently obvious fact that AFL was already the T20 version of the game.  Not since the 1850s has any version of Australian football ever taken a full day, let alone five.

But was it a success?  Short answer – no.  For the long answer I will defer to Richard Hinds – “AFLX is the first attempted use of Victoria's new voluntary euthanasia laws.  AFLX is a nothing of a game. One that combines neither the best aspects of Australian Rules, nor those of any other sport, but rather dilutes them so greatly that even the leather-lunged commentary box spruikers struggled to maintain their well-paid enthusiasm." I’ll leave it at that.

I watched the action on delay from overseas, because what else would one want to do on a Friday night in New York City than watch a replay of the mighty Dees? [Bring back Plato's Retreat - Editor]. For the record; these were our lineups:

Game 1: Petracca, Melksham, Maynard, T McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Bugg, Wagner.  Int: Harmes, Brayshaw, Stretch.
Game 2:  In:  Fritsch, Jetta.  Out:  Brayshaw, Maynard.
Game 3:  In:  Maynard, Brayshaw.  Out: Fritsch, Stretch.
Did Not Play:  Spargo, Baker, Johnstone.

First up was Carlton, and we went in with what looks like a full strength team. It was surprising how seriously we took this, not even giving a token run to three of the four zero-gamers in our squad.  Big Max Gawn on the commentary described stand in Coach Craig Jennings as a “different cat” who was very keen to win. So I guess we chalk it up to that. Although I’m not sure what this approach achieved, other than blowing out the cobwebs for a few blokes we already know are best 22, and (spoiler alert) winning our first silverware of any kind since the 1989 Night Series championship.

Carlton led early via a couple of behinds each way and a 10-pointer (never a zooper goal) to Williamson until Jake Melksham happened.  First he missed an attempted screamer from a kick in, collected his own #crumb and slammed one through from right on the 40m arc for a 10-pointer.  Next he took an uncontested mark 50m out, beat the man on the mark and converted his second 10-pointer in under a minute.  A few minutes later, after a brief interlude for some Carlton scores, Melksham converted his third 10-pointer after McDonald marked 30m out and handballed back for the 10-point shot.  (Whilst fun to watch in the NBA, the day this becomes a thing in the AFL, is the day I give up.  Never change the scoring system Gillon).

In the final minute of the half Tom McDonald slotted a delightful set shot for a 10-pointer and Wagner put through another right on the half time siren [Any bastard kicking regulation goals in this game? - Ed]. With the Dees leading 53-30 at half time, that was it for the contest. Whilst the fans snoozed in the second half Petracca and Bugg scored more 10-pointers and Harmes nabbed a regular goal to wrap-up a comfortable 82-54 win.

The second match was against North, with diehard fans watching in hope of breaking the North hoodoo, which now sits at 17 regular AFL games. Though does a win in this format really count?  Unfortunately, no.

North opened with a 10-pointer, before Tom McDonald converted a couple of regular goals to give Melbourne a lead they would never relinquish. From there Bugg, Harmes, Fritsch (3), Melksham and Sir Neville Jetta converted regular goals and Melksham another 10 to give the Dees a 70-46 victory.
The highlight of this game was undoubtedly the commentary of Max Gawn, who provided a few laughs to lighten the drudgery of the on field action, and Brayden Preuss’s tackle on a slightly-too-arrogant Tom McDonald, which included a little bit of #niggle to rub it in.

All that set up a “Grand Final” clash with Hawthorn, with Coach Jennings going back to his best line-up for the decider.  Apparently Hawthorn had Gunston, Breust, Schoenmakers and Shiels in their squad, none of whom made an appearance, so it’s fair to say they took the game somewhat less seriously.

The game followed a familiar script for the night with the Dees conceding the first goal, before Bugg found a way to fix his shoddy goal kicking by converting from the goal line. Then Melksham converted a 10-pointer and we never relinquished the lead, though at least they were occasionally challenged.

Melksham’s ability to convert on either foot, off one step, from around the 50m arc is phenomenal. We saw it a number of times in the second half of 2017 and it was on full display on Friday night. He had a shaky start, but has become a sensational recruit. Since becoming a forward in round 12 last year kicked a goal in every remaining game, with a string of 11111332213 giving him 19 in 11 games.  He’s surely one of the first picked each week now and could easily kick 35-40 goals this year.

I don’t know where Hawthorn find their recruits but they seem to have a few more unsociable types in their pipeline in Worpel and Campbell Brown doppelganger Blake Hardwick, which led to a few fantastic moments of #niggle, including a minor scuffle in which Sir Neville Jetta was clearly victorious over Campbell Br-, sorry, Hardwick.

With the Hawks challenging lateish in the second half, the Dees were, for once, aided by a novelty umpiring decision.  McDonald was run down with prior opportunity, (and whilst he got a clear handball away, let’s not pretend as though the AFL won’t make that holding the ball shortly) allowing Anal-Bullet to collect and convert a 10-pointer for the Dees.  The Hawks kept coming, peppering the goals in the final three minutes, although the Dees were able to hold on and win 56-46.  It would be nice to see the regular team display that sort of composure in the season proper.

Stray Thoughts
  • Preuss from North is a big unit.  A legitimately massive man with cult hero potential.  Interesting to hear that he is Maximum’s favourite opposition ruck.  Maxy just loves the old school.
  • Tom McDonald’s set shot kicking is still laser like.  A good sign.
  • Tom Bugg’s goal kicking is still, ummm, subpar.  Not a good sign.
  • Bayley Fritsch went alright.  I imagine he’ll get a few games throughout the year, but I can’t see him being best 22 yet, particularly with the depth we have in the mid-sized forward department.
  • Whilst fairly quiet tonight, Petracca is a super star.  Will win the B&F this year and be all Australian.  Bookmark it.
  • BT was stunned to learn that Tom McDonald is Melbourne’s best time trial runner.  Seriously?  There’s a puff piece article on every media athlete each year with the results of our time trial, which Tom wins every time.  Does he even try at his job?

2018 NBA Jam Medal - Votes awarded based on performance across all three matches.
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Sir Neville Jetta
1 – Christian Petracca

Apologies to Alex Neal-Bullen

Off the back of his barnstorming #demonbracket victory I was going to honor Sir Neville Jetta with this award (because, in the spirit AFL HQ, why give a stuff about honesty and fairness). But then Melksham happened. The bloke put together without doubt the greatest performance in the history of AFLX.  Congrats to the inaugural (and hopefully final) medal winner.

Banner Watch
I didn’t see banners on the TV feed.  Were there banners?  Did they have three for the three games?  If so, does this mean the cheer squad had a reserve banner just in case?  So many questions, for which I have absolutely zero answers.

Apologies for the failure of this segment, although let’s be honest it stopped being interesting a long time before this.

Final Thoughts (incorporating 'was it worth it?')
Despite beating North and claiming some bogus silverware, no, no it was not. Please kill this game with fire.

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