Monday 26 March 2018

Gloom, despair and agony

It's taken me so long to finish this that by now you're probably at an advanced stage of sporting grief, and think I'm just being pointlessly miserable. Like a racist 1930s cartoon you'll just have to accept it as a product of its time.

Everyone knows somebody whose life is not complete with endless drama. I'm aware of two football clubs operating out of the Jolimont/Richmond precinct that have a similar psychological urge for white-knuckle excitement. This week one of them commenced a year long scientific experiment to find out what it's like to live with siege conditions lifted. The other is Melbourne. And look how that turned out.

I wouldn't know what to do with myself if everything was going smoothly, and will have to wait at least one more week to learn. It's not like losing to a perennial finals team - or having to launch a futile comeback from nearly five goals down - came as a surprise. In fact it was a fitting way to end a week that started on a wave of public approval courtesy of winning a plastic trophy and some mid-tension practice games. There were even people paid generously to think about Australian rules football for a living tipping us to win the flag.

Even before the usual quarter of pressure-free madness and/or Gawn's miss short-circuited the bold attempt to climb from a cavernous hole of our own making, the universe was already hard at work making sure we didn't get too far ahead of ourselves. Usually a period of MFC excitement ends with a loss as red hot favourites, but even without the threat of losing a Round 1 game against University 1914 there was still plenty to get mopey and defensive about.

It was one thing having the camp debacle dredged up again, seemingly for no reason other than as clickbait, and I hope that there will still be a chance for players and coaches to turn the story around and shove it elbow deep down the throat of our detractors. The uncontrollables were more troubling. For one there's Jack Viney foot, seemingly on a Mitch Clark-esque slide towards the point where he goes into retirement and becomes a professional Instagrammer. After predictions ranging from 'back before Christmas' to 'will play a VFL practice match' he's now out until at least Round 8. And the rest of it. By next weekend he'll have had it amputated and will be trying to get back to training on the stumps.

Then there was Tom McDonald, who celebrated playing 87 of the last 88 games by seriously injuring his toe just as he was to be at the vanguard of a new era of forward play. It can't be coincidental that I ordered the SizzleCard with my membership this year. Sorry Tom. At first it was supposed to be a minor issue, then he was doubtful for Round 1, and by the time the teams came out on Thursday he'd been lumped into the two month club with Viney. This is the worst toe related disaster since Sam Frost went from 'a bit sore' after Round 3, 2015 to not being seen again until March 2016. I'm poised to throw toys from cot and denounce everybody involved when we discover that playing a kick and clap tournament on a thinly veiled carpark roof had something to do with it.

In the season where hunted was supposed to become hunter, and #fistedforever turn into #fistingforever, Angus Brayshaw's pre-season injury drama was minor on the Viney/Sizzle Scale, but is there any scenario more MFC than a player's wisdom teeth exploding a week before the first game? Not on December 13, not halfway through January, but right as it can cause us trouble. It eventually kept him out of the side, but I suppose we should be happy that the dentist didn't slip while extracting the chompers and drop a knee into Gus' face. There was at least some good news, with Oliver re-signing until 2021, at which point we'll either be playing salary Tetris at maximum difficulty or will have all taken poison.

I was ready to go early on the hemlock Gatorade last night. It's not say I thought we were going to win, but there's a special psychological torment about having an unlikely win snatched away at the last minute. When you know (or at least heavily suspect) more wins aren't far away it's a bit easier to take than the old feeling that it may have been the last victory you'd ever see. On the other hand if, like me, you held hopes of stumbling into the lower end of the top four it's a wasted chance to get one up on the rest of the mid-table mediocrity crowd. Cue final round heartbreak again.

Omen punters would have had their house on Geelong if they'd seen me run into an ex-workmate at a train station for the first time since before 186. I probably turned the same pale colour after the game this year for the exact opposite reason. You didn't need to confront me with fringe colleagues from years ago to know something was up, suspicions of a debacle were raised as soon as the Cats forward line was revealed to be our long term nemesis Tom Hawkins and five people nobody outside of the City of Greater Geelong has ever heard of. With Kent Kingsley risking RSI making notes for future inductions, this cavalcade of debutantes and battlers was given a leg up by a defence that seemingly ceased to exist for an hour.

It certainly started well, with Gawn committing homicide on his opponent, our midfield in complete control, and Clayton Oliver trying to start fights with anyone who walked past. I'd seen this film before, where early dominance goes up in smoke the moment the other side get it. Scoring six goals for the quarter came as a surprise, conceding five did not. Every year teams kick larger than average scores for the first few weeks, everyone hails the return of exciting attacking football, and by June when the numbers are back in the toilet the same people are petitioning to change the rules. High scoring excitement came at a bad time for us, I've wanted to play a genuine finals contender in Round 1 for years and am now looking back wistfully at the last three years of beating also-rans.

In a none-more-2017 scenario, we looked like world beaters with ball in hand. Bayley Fritsch lobbed up for a goal on debut, and the opening six minutes were almost entirely consumed by us attacking. That almost every avenue to goal was to just roost it high and hope for the best was concerning, but there was a sense that we had to break through eventually. Realistically, the writing was on the wall when Geelong's first decent spell of possession saw them launch from one end to the other unchallenged, and only a flubbed kick inside 50 to a player acres in front of his opponent prevented a score. It didn't take much longer, a free kick in defence was easily worked forward through a series of Grand Canyon sized holes, into the arms of a first gamer with Jake Lever trailing sadly behind and wondering whether it wouldn't have just been easier to stay in Adelaide and deal with murky tap water.

No first year player could have wished for an easier introduction to league football, and while everyone at Demonblog Towers wishes Esava Ratugolea the best for his future career, he'll never get a cheaper run at it then he did yesterday. He undid all our earlier good work by kicking the first, and as he lined up for a second I was getting nightmare flashbacks to Marcus Baldwin's proto-Kingsley three goals from three kicks on debut. You didn't have to be forward to reap the benefits - though it helped considering we conceded scores from about the first 10 inside 50s - they had new players everywhere chuckling heartily about how this AFL stuff isn't nearly as difficult as it's cracked up to be. Good luck being driven face-first into the turf next week.

With Dangerfield on the sidelines working on his next side-splitting comedy routine, the main event for Geelong fans was the return of Gary Ablett. It seemed a bit desperate and undignified to collectively reach sexual ecstasy whenever he touched the ball (until he'd done it so many times they were spent), but I suppose once you've played in a flag you can take a several year mercenary detour and still come back to a warm welcome. Our players were so pleased for him that they all stood to one side and let him kick a goal. If on-field donations were tax deductible we wouldn't have paid an ATO bill since the one that got lost in somebody's desk.

Goals aside, his near 40 possessions weren't terrifically damaging. No more than anyone else's easy touches up and down the ground. We were giving them so much space that even a middle-aged porky like me might have gotten into double figures given enough game time. Maynard spent a lot of time on him and did about as well as you could hope from a second gamer. The more pressing problem was Selwood, especially when he gave Salem flashbacks to the original Camp Chaos by tunnelling him onto his head. Typically even though he was left hobbling around half injured towards the end Selwood (or "Sels" as the imaginative Geelong fans called him) came back helped win the game. Typical.

It wasn't like they even needed to rely on superstars. We were willing to give any tired, poor or huddled mass 20 metres of space and 10 pressure-free seconds whenever they got the ball. The warning signs were there well before some bloke who looked like Jack Watts after a five day ice bender waltzing through half a dozen players to kick a goal during the second quarter.

You'll recall how absolutely diabolical we were in first quarters last year, finishing about 130 points in the red across the season. In many ways this was a bizarre genetic splicing of the first quarter where we thumped St Kilda (then almost lost) and the first quarter where we failed to arrive against Collingwood (then almost won). In some ways - many of them involving Christian Petracca - we were irresistible, but as welcome as the goals were they masked major structural problems. For the first time in recent memory I can confirm we've got a coach with a Plan B, now time to work out where Plan A is kept.

If our forwards had been able to get any space we might have taken better advantage of the early dominance, but they just operated in a moving clump and jumped at the ball simultaneously. God knows how much we'd have won by if we had at least one player staying down at every contest forward or back. When you come into the season as the 16th best contested marking team and lose the guy who took more than 5% of them to a mystery toe injury it would be prudent to address that instead of everyone trying to take a massive grab like they're playing kick-to-kick at school.

In a quarter where it simultaneously felt like we should be five goals up and five goals down, we were given a leg up by one of those delightful administrative 50s that bring so much excitement to the competition. Somebody ran within Hogan's general vicinity as he was lining up for a set shot, and the resulting penalty handed him a goal on a platter. I'll never turn back a goal, but what a crock of a concept. I'd cite the possibility of them deciding a Grand Final like that, but as we all know the hot rules of Round 1 are usually forgotten within a month.

After a few minutes in the middle of the quarter where the Cats looked like they'd worked us out and were busily running up the score by playing keepings off from one end to the other, Anal-Bullet cropped up with a delightful crumbed goal to steady the ship. The joy of that lasted about 25 seconds before we formed the honour guard for Ablett to kick the reply. In an unlikely twist (at least for us), this led almost immediately to Hogan's second and we were in front of the deal after all. With apologies to the 'goals = excitement' crowd I didn't fancy a shootout until we found where the backline had got to and put some pressure on Geelong when they got the ball. The first one came eventually, but even deep in the last quarter with the game to be one we were still watching half a dozen Cats players in an orderly queue to take the next kick.

Five goals each would have been an appropriate result in the battle of efficiency vs brute force attack, before dear old Cam Pedersen continued the finest purple patch of his career by pulling down the second great inside 50 mark of the quarter. It may have also been our last until the final 30 seconds. He finished it, and we'd kicked six in one of the zaniest first quarters for years. The problem was that we were being forced to work for our goals, while they were banging them through at every half opportunity. The latter is the more sustainable tactic. It was the first time we've kicked six in a first quarter and lost since Round 8, 2011, but to be fair there have been some years since where we were lucky to get that many in a fortnight.

Ablett was about the only player who did get tackled in the first quarter, leading to him running off for a teary eyed sook to the umpires. Not their fault he didn't hear people coming after him, get used to playing in front of a crowd larger than friends and/or family again. Keen viewers of our disaster era will recall that this is the second time in five years we've driven him to moan to umpires at the first break. I was hoping that his Gold Coast years would also be acknowledged by a post-match bust-up with a fan who then mysteriously has his membership withdrawn, but no dice.

If all this sounds familiar - and we haven't even got to the 30 minutes of rolling over and dying yet - that's because it was. Like post-war people being happy to eat tinned rat instead of being shot at, everyone likes to pretend nothing's gone wrong since Paul Roos turned up but in one day we got a grand exhibition of all the recurring themes that give me the shits since then. The absence of contested marks, the crowded forward line, hopeful long bombs to the square, structures falling to bits when we lost the ball, attacking opportunities actually feeding opposition scores, launching fruitless comebacks from hopeless positions. They were all there. Somewhere Jade Rawlings was having to be restrained from Twitter searching his own name and abusing everyone who'd hung shit on his defensive structures for years.

Another self-destructive MFC habit is the inability to take to advantage of the opposition losing players early. With Harry Taylor departed by quarter time, and at one point Geelong's entire remaining bench was undergoing some sort of medical treatment. Did we use this an excuse to run away to a rampant fourth quarter victory? Did we bollocks. We won the second half, but that was rendered irrelevant by the most modern of Melbourne traits - falling asleep for 20 minutes and conceding a match-winning lead. It was a lot like that Collingwood game again, just with our nervous breakdown coming in a different quarter.

The second term started well enough, not conceding for five minutes and then getting the first goal through Oliver. Which is where the bad news starts. At half time I was ready to take up a collection to have Jordan Lewis pensioned off to Casey Fields. He redeemed himself in the third quarter by helping the backline calm down and not concede on every forward entry, but was there a lower moment all day (even including the end) than the goal he gifted them from a 50? That didn't just kill our momentum, it did the rest of its family and burnt the village to the ground.

The free kick itself was a perfectly sensible one to give away, scragging the Geelong player who was about to burst past him and towards an unguarded goal. I thought he'd done it deliberately to hold the play up, then for reasons known only to the player himself he decided to tell the umpire to stick the decision up his arse and it became a certain goal. So either he didn't mean to give the free away and just blundered into doing the right thing or he's taking method acting too far. Either way, I stand by my pre-season comments that we can't play both him and Vince. For now his third quarter leaves him slightly ahead, but time to look at whether a Brayshaw, Stretch, Tyson etc.. etc... can do similar. Or as much as I liked Salem's cameo appearances in the midfield just stick him down there and let him hit targets. Leadership is good, but it's overrated in the grand scheme of things - we could have put Abraham Lincoln in our defence and he'd have just stood there wondering where everyone else had got to.

It was not the finest day for our defence. We've lost games by over 100 where the backline has stood up to more pressure than they did in the first half.  The star attraction, much to the delight of hate-watching Adelaide fans, was Lever having the most painful introduction to an MFC defence since Tom Gillies. My understanding (given that I didn't know who he was until about Prelim Final week) is that he's supposed to be a fly-in, fly-out defender who intercepts anything coming near him. So now after an All-Australian season doing that we play him one-on-one in a defence which is having the ball coming towards it as if shot by a cannon. Bold thinking.

Surely at some point as Adelaide was tearing towards a Grand Final opposition coaches devised plans to try and make him more accountable and failed, so it can't just be that Geelong finally cracked the secret formula. It feels like we blundered not having another tall to free him to roam around chopping off attacks. With Sizzle Sr off the agenda for multiple reasons, Frost is the only other reasonable option. After seemingly being picked just to take Watts' place as a whipping boy, Wagner played a much better second half but may have to step aside for that old chestnut 'team balance'.

Once the landslide began it was good luck finding a Melbourne possession to focus on, for the next 20 minutes we were on the ropes being punched senseless. It helped that the Cats got hold of Petracca and Jones after strong first quarters, and that we were still panic bombing into attack with whatever limited opportunities we got. I've seen this happen so many times before that it was hard to get all that upset about it, other than a few obscene mutterings. That was until we declined to stack the defensive 50 in the last 30 seconds (has there been a memo?) and they found a free player for the goal that took the margin to nearly five goals. That's when I went spare. I just despise these helpless quarters where we stand there with eyes agog like a kid meeting Santa for the first time. It's all well and good trying to punch on with everyone before the game, now they couldn't even get close enough for a macho bullshit jostle.

If you believe the rest of the game would have turned out the same with a smaller half time margin, it's that last goal that ultimately killed us off. I could see a way to claw back a four goal lead - especially considering Garlett, Hunt and Melksham had barely touched the ball - but nearly 30 points was too much. It almost wasn't, but when you stuff up so badly in half an hour that everything ends up resting on the elongated leg of a 208cm man then investigate the root cause.

Ironically Gawn got the fightback started with a set shot, and at long last we were making them accountable (cliche!). Even Lever was finally able to float around and take out his frustration by spoiling like a madman. Vince and Lewis belatedly turned up in defence to help calm everyone down, Hannan bobbed up in attack for the first time all day and before long the margin was under 10. Cripes. The issues with elastic positioning weren't entirely dealt with, there were times early in the term when Geelong players had so many teammates free that they turned the ball over being too ambitious in trying to kick to furthest option. If they'd just done the sensible thing and chipped short a couple of times our entire lineup would have vaporised and allowed them to trot into an open goal.

When Petracca kicked one, and was lining up for another that would bring the margin back under a goal I wanted to believe. Of course, because nothing is destined to be easy around here his dead-eye set shot kicking from 2017 went out the window (just like Bugg's 2016 aim went tits up last year, to the point where he wasn't even trying to punch somebody in the head but got six weeks) and he missed.

Still, we had new life. Possibly undeserved, but it would take some remarkably gritty quarter with outrageous Australian cricket team style cheating for me to turn back a win under any circumstances. If our record against wounded teams wasn't so bad I'd have held out hope of bulldozing them in the last quarter, but we weren't going to get that easily if our forward 50 entries were anything to go by. In the absence of McDonald's lovely leads we could have done with Watts, if not for his ability to run at the ball when kicked inside 50, but for one of his numerous Round 1 'turning the corner' false starts.

For a team that had 12.9 in the first three quarters I didn't have much faith in us adding too many more. That lack of belief turned out to be entirely accurate. If we weren't going to score at a first quarter rate we couldn't afford to get too far behind, so when they got the opener I was looking longingly out into Yarra Park, jealous of the people who had already decided to leave. Hogan got the reply and we lived to fight another day.

It should have been over with plenty of time to play, Daniel Menzel fluffing one of the simplest shots you'll ever see from the top of the square. I'll bet he was breathing an extra sigh of relief when Maximum missed at the end. For the next 10 minutes we desperately tried to bash the door down to get in front, Gawn and Oliver both had flying shots that went through for a point, before Petracca was handed a gift shot on goal by the ball fortuitously bouncing off a defender's foot near the boundary line. I was more confident that he'd kick it around the corner from hard on the boundary line than I was with Gawn's shot, but that's probably down to knowing there was still time to win it if he missed. And indeed he did.

The last two minutes until Gawn's mark is a blur, punctuated by a couple of massive blunders. ANB (who other than the nicely taken goals wasn't nearly as influential as I'd hoped) kicked out on the full, but helpfully a Geelong player responded by doing likewise. Remember these passages of play, and Corey Maynard cramping like buggery while Ablett ran off to do as he liked, when people introduce loopy ideas like further reducing interchanges to make players more tired.

After the second OOF, the ball was left in Pedersen's hands hard on the fence 50 metres out. He took the sensible, high percentage option of hitting the ball towards the top of the square instead of trying to be a hero. Given that he was the only tall forward all day who'd taken a decent overhead mark I wondered if it might be better for him to just blaze away from distance. He didn't, laying a perfect ball for Gawn to attack, not far out and almost directly in front.

Had he been 10 metres further away I'd have been more confident. My conviction that he was going to miss didn't come from anything sensible like science or experience, it was because he'd been on every media outlet except Al Jazeera in the off-season so his day just had to end with him looking like a goose. It was the only appropriate way for the great Truman Show style pisstake on my life that is the Melbourne Football Club to end the day.

I seem to recall a strange calm about Christian Salem kicking that goal against the Bombers in 2014, and I tried to fake myself into believing this time. After vigorously pacing up and down the otherwise empty aisle (I'd already been standing since three quarter time) a couple of times waiting for him to kick it I had to fight the instinct to shut my eyes as ball went towards boot. Chris Scott had the right idea, retreating to the whizzer to watch it on TV.

People make fun of sitting in the back row of the stadium, but as the shot missed and I knew we'd lose I shamefully turned around and punched the bejesus out of the plastic, bird shit covered window. Nothing personal against the MCG, it was just either that or throwing myself down the stairs in a cry for help. I'd never tested the density of one of those windows before, and am pleased to report that it was surprisingly springy, saving me from Marc Rosset style broken hand embarrassment and/or a cut that turned gangrenous after being mixed with seagull emissions.

One of my great fears in life - along with the planet becoming inhabitable due to pollution and $cully winning a flag - is that somebody will have a camera on me in a situation like this and my antics will end up being mocked by TV comedy hacks doing 'Plays of the Month' style segments. This week at least the heat is on some poor bastard in a Sydney pub who had a meltdown, but I'm worried my time will come. Won't stop me though, the older and more concerned about never seeing a flag I get the worse the white line fever becomes. The lusty punch to that plastic window was in no way ironic or for comedy value, it was an outpouring of frustration. This is why I try to stay away from other fans as best possible, nobody needs to be next to somebody having a nervous reaction like that.

Geelong negotiated a last kick-in without putting it out on the full, and on the siren the ball was left in the hands of Jayden Hunt about 75 metres out on the boundary line. The umpire generously ignored him playing on just as the game ended, and let him have a bash at a miracle goal from Malcolm Blight plus range. From an even more hopeless position than the one against Adelaide last year, he didn't get as much on his furious torp and it fell 20 metres short. But good on him for trying, and for at least having it land somewhere near the goal instead of embarrassingly flying out on the full at right angles.

I'm usually bang against mingling with fellow supporters on the train, but having removed my headphones to avoid hearing Geelong sing the song I was roped into a group therapy session with fellow sufferers. Amongst a suspect list longer than what was considered by the Warren Commission some dullards incapable of digging beyond the surface tried to pin the blame on Gawn, as if he hadn't rucked all day and drops the ball from the same height as the Empire State Building. I say - for I think the 15th time since mid-2014 - don't get angry at what ultimately costs us the game, hurl your abuse at what left us in that scenario to start with.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Cameron Pedersen

Major apologies to Harmes and Hogan for losing the last vote on a countback. Minor apologies to  Salem, Fritsch and Wagner (second half only)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There will be no viewing of the highlights after a loss, so I'll just have to do this by memory. With apologies to his other goal, your first winner of 2018 is Anal-Bullet for his lightning crumb and snap in the first quarter. For the weekly prize he wins a peerage and a seat in the House of Lords, where his surname will be fully appreciated instead of twisted into something tawdry (and they've probably got a use for the nickname too).

After an AFLW season watching players run through a curtained corporate banner it was a much needed welcome back to home-made designs featuring new slogans. Geelong opened the season with a strong challenge, a nicely designed tribute to Joel Selwood that might have won if it had appropriately tilted downwards as players run through it then splashed blood everywhere. Other than some dodgily ruled text lines it looked ok, and will likely be our strongest challenger of the first three weeks.

In this contest though, victory goes to the Dees. In what may be the first ever crepe paper reference to the 1986 Timbuk3 (see what they did there?) one hit wonder The Future's So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades). I'm fairly sure that song is about impending nuclear holocaust, so right at home being involved with us. It had two well-designed caricatures, even lines of text, perfect kerning and suitable leading. Dees 1-0 for the season.

Matchday experience watch/Crowd watch
After a pre-season featuring so much unnecessary speculation about the game's future that you thought they just had to be covering something up, the AFL's final act before the season began was to re-record all the club songs. I assume releasing them at the exact same time people were starting to get excited about footy instead of worrying about it being changed to a 7-a-side wankfest was part of some grand strategy. At one point the league tried to justify it by suggesting the quality of the original recordings were deteriorating, like every 90s rental copy of Under Siege around the bit where Erika Eleniak comes out of the cake.

After an unnecessarily lengthy period of deliberation the Dees opted to stick with the original song. To be fair I could barely tell the difference between the versions anyway, and would have gladly listened to Jive Bunny and The Mastermixers if we'd won, but it's the principle of the matter. If it ain't broke etc... It would be rude of us to complain about people messing around with the song, when our own club has the team run through the banner to Hells Bells before crudely switching to the Grand Old Flag.

Another magic innovation was getting rid of the pre-match warm-ups, so clubs could blow the minds of members, customers and theatre-goers alike with new and exciting pre-match entertainment. Arriving 40 minutes before the first bounce must not have been early enough to catch one of these thrilling  'matchday activations' (now there's a phrase to make you spew up), because by the time I arrived the only thing on the field was a loose formation of security guards. The organisers could have at least sent out fake ground invader for them to tear apart greyhound live baiting style.

My second expedition to Row MM of the Olympic Stand had its issues, while the back of the Ponsford looked beautifully empty I spent the third quarter with some bored child a few rows over playing games on his phone at full volume. He then took one of the most impressive tumbles down MCG stairs I've ever seen, tripping on the top step, nearly recovering but losing his balance and falling down to the next one about five times over before finding a seat with his hand. When I couldn't get down the stairs after the siren for all the Geelong fans standing in the aisle clapping like seals I was looking around the see if I might be able to throw him through them like I was at AMF.

Speaking of crowds, can I express my solidarity with the guy in this video. The way he is so nervous he just has to walk around hits too close to home. The only difference is that a) I wouldn't live in Sydney if you paid me, and b) instead of throwing the scarf I'd have throttled a stranger with it. @mattdoran22 - shine on you crazy diamond.
Next week
Brisbane at the Gabba on Sunday. This doesn't just have 'danger game' written on it, but graffitied in 20 foot high letters. They gave the Saints a reasonable shake this week, but must have conceded the most dinky over the top, open goals since Port put about 15 past us in Alice Springs 2016. So that's something to aim for, especially considering we didn't get - or even look remotely like getting - one all day yesterday.

On paper we should win, and we may very well do but I reserve the right to be distressed about it all week.

IN: Frost, Brayshaw
OUT: Vince, Hannan
LUCKY: Lewis, Maynard

Administrative announcements
If you haven't been on Demonwiki for a while there has been a metric shitload of content added over summer. Granted most of it is the sort of stuff that no sane person would care about like 1925 Seconds scores, but I know there are others like me and I am here for you. Traditionally updates slow to a crawl during the season proper, but there should be plenty for you to work through until September.

Also, on the occasion of another comical defeat it would be stupid to miss an opportunity to make a buck. I've got a couple of copies of this spare if you want to purchase directly. Good for dropping on your head when you've had too much and/or beating the snot out suspects in police custody.

Hollywood Boulevard
Now that we've endured Round 1, there's never been a better time to go back and listen to me being reasonably optimistic about it. To enhance the realism of your listening experience, insert the sound of a rapidly deflating balloon whenever it sounds like I'm hopeful for the future.
Was it worth it?
I'll get back to you with an answer in two weeks. If we recover from this to kick the shit out of Brisbane and North then we'll put it down as a learning experience. Otherwise I'll just count it as another furious cock-up that will leave us agonisingly short at the end of the season.

Final thoughts
It's a scientifically proven fact that narrowly falling short of winning a game inflames passions like nothing else. Long time readers will remember (and first time readers will have given up long before now) the famous "I can't take this fucking club anymore" outburst by the guy against Fremantle in 2012. He had the right idea kicking things during a meaningless loss, but even if we're throwing games into the bin with one quarter of madness, and Watts is running riot at a less psychologically tormented club but there's no point dipping yourself into a vat of hot oil yet. Until you realise that now we've got to go at least 12-9 for the rest of the season to barely scrape into the finals. One vat of oil please.

Sunday 18 March 2018

Don't fear the reaper

In the spirit of last round disaster I've not bothered editing this, so apologies in advance for any notable errors or missing words.

Who'd be a Melbourne fan? 10 years of swimming around in football's septic tank, then we climb just far enough out of the muck to 'enjoy' three thrilling finals near misses in a row - with another very much on the cards starting next Sunday.

Last year the AFLW side left it in the hands of other clubs, and could afford to casually blow Fremantle to bits in the last round just for the fun of it, this year they had to win or it was curtains. Beating our old friends the Bulldogs was a difficult task, but in the true spirit of supporting this club I was probably more confident than I would have been against a rotten side. You know the rules by now - don't trust them. As far as preliminary final defeats go it was hardly Jim Stynes running over the mark at Waverley, but is there any chance that at some point a weird scenario might go our way? The last time we got what we really wanted at the end of any season ended up costing us $500,000.

The only positives compared to that big old fuck up against Collingwood at the end of last year (as opposed to the women's BOFU against Collingwood this season), are that a) let's be entirely fair and reasonable, most - but perhaps not all - of us aren't nearly as invested in this team, and b) at least they had a red hot bash in the first quarter.

Without a Grand Final to go to, my non-attendance streak will stretch into season three. Tonight was spent trying to pull off the most obscure triathlon of all time - using two computer monitors to watch election coverage and a footy game simultaneously, while also being the responsible adult in charge of a boisterous small child. I'd been half tempted to drag junior along to the Western Oval on the (as it turns out correct) assumption that the #voteother revolution would fizzle out in SA, but then I remembered having to trek further than Burke & Wills back and forth to my car when we played the practice game there last year and chickened out.

Kicking with a cyclonic breeze in the first quarter was welcome, because I didn't fancy us to be digging out of a hole in the last, but only if our forwards could take advantage.

*Arrested Development voice* 
They couldn't.

I had some sympathy with anyone having to try and manage that sort of wind, the abandoned building site next to my house sounded as if it was about to distribute industrial waste around the neighbourhood again.

Consistent with most of our first quarters this year we were on the attack from 00:01 to the final siren, though in this case that was more pot luck based on the coin toss. Had that gone the other way our prized - and ultimately useless - record of having conceded 0.1 in the last five opening terms would have been blown to bits. Letting in 3.1 in seven quarters - and 3.0 of that in the first two - must be some kind of record. So we've got that going for us if nothing else.

Keeping the other side scoreless, and to one inside 50 in this case, was dandy, but when there's a rush on due to the fact that you'll be kicking into the wind in the last quarter only getting 1.1 out of it was not nearly enough. It's a miracle that we got as close as we did in the circumstances. The intent was certainly there, I especially enjoyed Cranston doing a FIFA International Soccer style (at least when I used to play it 20 years ago) spinny thing to avoid a tackle running inside 50. She ran into an opponent and had to lob a loose handball into space. It didn't generate a shot, but ultimately forced an out of bounds that allowed a long Paxman shot that was narrowly touched over.

Otherwise all the early pressure on the Bulldogs goal game to nowt. Our forwards looked less likely to take a mark than a double amputee, with Zanker, Hore and Cunningham achieving the trifecta by dropping one each in a completely different fashion (overhead, chest and sliding). With the aid of the wind any of the three would have been kickable, but let the Bulldogs off the hook. Hore made amends with the perfect pass that couldn't have been set up any better for Cunningham, who had the most torrid time as a key forward since The Spencil dropped the ball during his run-up against North.

The Bulldogs were under siege from every angle other than the scoreboard, but benefited from playing a team entirely lacking killer instinct. Everyone on our side was most certainly trying, but the problem was the same as it's been for most of the last 14 games - the silkiest players are all doing the best work up the ground, and inside 50 we're just buying lottery tickets en masse and hoping to have a win. What the forwards were doing was tormenting the Bulldogs defenders with pressure, but turning the game into a grim struggle didn't always work in our favour. Once everyone decided to ignore the AFL's plea for spectacle and instead try to win a life-or-death game of football.

We got lucky on the eighth inside 50 to nil, with the always busy Cranston drawing a free kick from a failed tackle and converting. The Bulldogs had barely had a kick at this point, and the ones they did get were usually under siege. As discussed last week this is often the best time to start worrying and avoid the rush, because you can't keep a side kickless all day. The first time they strung a couple of passes together I thought we were about to concede a crucial goal into the wind, but when the third player in the chain hoofed it ingloriously out on the full I made the fatal mistake of wondering whether it was going to be our day. Of course it wasn't.

The folly of not building a lead when we had the chance was further exposed when Sarah Lampard celebrated her first game of the season by doing her knee before quarter time. This is terrible news for her personally, but equally bad for the rotations of a 16 woman team on a night where the lack of sand was the only thing separating the wind from an afternoon in the Kalahari Desert.

We got to quarter time with one more player seriously injured than the Bulldogs had scores, and were worse off for it. At least we were either going to make the Grand Final, or become the answer to the trivia question of what team lost three games in one season after holding a team scoreless in the first quarter. Anyone who's watched Melbourne for more than five minutes knew deep down that it would be the latter.

Just because we were kicking into the wind it didn't mean we couldn't win the first bounce, get the ball inside 50 and do another strangulation job on them. It's one thing to have an extra 15 metres on your kicks due to natural causes, but that's not going to help much if all the kicks are coming from the square and into a wall of players. We never got the chance to put this theory to the test, because the ball flung out of the middle, into Dogs territory and wasn't seen down our end for nearly 20 minutes.

Footscray didn't look like creating wonderfully sculpted, highlight reel goals either, but there was a deep feeling of dread that they were more likely to eventually get them via brute force attacks. Eventually the repeat entries paid off with a free, a goal and the lead. It was a mirror image of quarter one, where now we were left desperately trying to free the ball from defensive 50 by any means necessary. Our home brand defence held up reasonably well in the face of a much better organised attack than they faced last week, before the Dogs got their second from a soft free right in front of a goal, given much to the joy of a Bulldogs fan parked next to the effects mic who let off a weird noise in celebration that sounded like a farm animal giving birth.

The first quarters of this side are unrepresentative swill, the moment the Dogs got the game on their terms they always looked more threatening. Good time for our ex-Deanna Berry, who was pretty good up forward last year before we flogged her as part of the Bianca Jakobsson deal, to chip in with her first goal in their colours. The wind wasn't helping us, but that couldn't be blamed for being thumped at the restart and seeing the ball go straight back into their attack. The usual suspects like Daisy and Paxman were great, but we just lacked somebody to take control and force at least a repeat ball-up in the hope of getting the ball away from where it could do the most damage.

There was late drama when we pinched a goal into the wind, Zanker is promising but didn't do much other than a lovely kick to the top of the square that Paxman read like the mastermind she is. It was our first inside 50 of the quarter, and the goal cut the margin to seven. This time we won the ball from the restart, and had one last ping at a goal that would have made the rest of the game very interesting but the Dogs held out for a vital lead.

In an ideal world, the third quarter would have seen us do what teams did at the Western Oval for years and stack on a ton of goals, then defend like buggery in the final term. I would have been happy to kick a couple, then get the first clearance of the fourth and keep the ball in our forward line for 10 minutes.

We were still without spark up front, and the Dogs were able to casually rush behinds and run the ball out of bounds for several minutes, relying on the kindness of "you wouldn't cost a team a Grand Final for that" umpiring. We couldn't make our own goals for shit, so it took a stuff up by the Dogs to finally open the gate. A kick-in shambles led to the ball being thrown-up at the top of the square, and the criminally underrated Katherine Smith nicked in to crumb her first career goal and restore the lead.

It might well have been touched, but as if the AFL is ever going to invest even the bare minimum in technology for this league. They've had their two years of goodwill, we'll be lucky if they don't outsource the competition to China by 2020. The special comments person made the outlandish claim that "it doesn't matter if it was touched", clearly trying to make an ill-defined point about where the Bulldogs defenders disappeared to as the goal was kicked, quickly leading to one of those great scenarios in a commentary box where somebody else challenges a wacky statement then the whole angle is forgotten about immediately because the director has told them to move on.

We should have had another after Newman took three bounces to get almost to the goal line then missing. Now that our season is over I can freely admit to not rating her, she highlights and the odd goal of the year are not worth the time spent MIA or missing shots like this. The flip-side is that unless you can find somebody else who runs that fast and is going to instantly walk into the team, it's probably better to stick with the player you've put two years into.

In a classic "that would never happen for a men's game" twist, I had to hit pause with five minutes left in the third quarter to put a cranky child to bed. I came back 26 minutes in the hole, staying well away from social media, my phone or pressing the wrong button on my remote control. The moment I hit play again we lost the plot, nearly throwing away the slight advantage we'd built.

Harriet Cordner had, by a massive distance, her best game, but got excited about spectacle in the last minute and tried to take possession of a ball that could have been left to bounce out for our free. By the time she gathered it hard on the boundary there was only one place it was going after it hit the boot, and when the Dogs found a target from free I was beginning to nervously adjust my collar. We weren't doing ourselves any favours with the wind, so it did one for us, the Bulldogs were left too far out and botched the second pass to get within scoring range.

We got to three-quarter-time five points ahead. This in no way felt safe, but at the same time I felt a strange calm about what was to come. It wasn't that I thought we were going to win, maybe I secretly thought we'd cop five goals in five minutes and have the result taken out of our hands. I was half expecting the draw that would set up Adelaide tipping us out by thrashing Collingwood tomorrow, which would have been the third consecutive AFL season to end with the Pies doing us over.

To have any chance we had to get the ball forward and keep it there. Cranston did her bit for momentum by elbowing a Dogs player in the head, but it backfired when they thumped a kick forward and Cordner was nicked for the more pissweak technical frees of our time. Sure, her arm crossed the opposition player's shoulder but it was while reaching over the top of it to grab the ball while the player was already being tackled. The 'high contact' was not detrimental to the player being tackled, Cordner was just being penalised for not having Go Go Gadget arms that could reach the ball without brushing a collarbone. Is that really what you want players being pinched for in Round 1, 7 or a practice match? So much for not stuffing a team's Grand Final chances unnecessarily. The recipient obviously felt guilty, because she tried her best to miss from the top of the square but barely snuck it home.

Now we were in some trouble, I was only confident when Paxman or Daisy had the ball in their hand, and that left 14 other players at any given time who were hitting, hoping and watching the ball fall 10 metres short of its intended target. That's if they could get their hands on it to start with, seven of our players had less than five disposals. We didn't deserve to be in the Grand Final, but I wasn't going to turn it down if one was on offer.

We could have done with one clean possession from the half-back flank, just to get the ball forward of centre and reset. Instead we immediately reverted to backs-to-the-wall mode, when it looked highly unlikely that we'd ever get enough space to get the ball forward again let alone kick a fourth goal. I despise the last touch out of bounds rule, but if there's ever been a kick that deserved to be penalised it was Brooke Patterson's free that shanked 10 metres forward and five metres right into the wind and rolled out.

The margin was two, but just as it looked like we'd never get enough space and keep the ball long enough without giving the Dogs time to stick 16 players into the defensive 50, my old mate Newman almost accidentally hit Hore for a set shot 20 metres out almost directly in front. Given the circumstances, and a couple of other wacky set shots this year I didn't have any faith in her converting, but feeding off the energy of the 200th mention for the season of her junior footy connection with Jayden Hunt (the AFLW version of Brad Green at Manchester United) she banged it through. The only downside was still having to defend for six and a half minutes.

Kicking another would have been the best way to throw a knockout blow, but it was not to be. The Dogs were soon on the attack again, and the closer it got to the final siren the more it felt inevitable that we'd lose to a late heartbreaker. It got to the point where you start to think 'if we're going to concede one, do it quickly so there's time to get it back'. Alternatively the Dogs might have cracked under the pressure, and when Jakobsson took two crucial intercept marks in the last two minutes you could have almost believed we were going to hold on. If you'd just emerged from a coma.

The end came from an unusual set of circumstances. A boundary throw in on the half-back flank gave us the opportunity to get the ball forward and cynically waste the last 90 seconds. Instead it caught on the wind, swung 10 metres closer to their goal, and in the chaos our defence lost their opponents and allowed the league's leading goalkicker to crop up for the first time all night and beat us. At the other end, our leading goalkicker hadn't registered a disposal of any variety. In a realistic world you'd probably have recalled the throw in for giving one side such a major advantage, but that's clutching at straws in the context of this result.

We still had just over a minute to pull something remarkable out, and with the players in a situation of almost unbearable tension the jobsworth umpire held the restart so he could enforce where our players could stand in line with AFL directives. Obviously that was the most important thing going on at this juncture of the season. After being forced to try a bit less to win we had one last chance, but a hopeful forward kick held up in the wind and was intercepted. Game over, season over, and the streak of stuffing up a finals appearance by the near narrowest of margins lives.

2018 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Daisy Pearce
3 - Lauren Pearce
2 - Katherine Smith
1 - Harriet Cordner

Apologies to O'Dea (significant apologies as it turns out), Cranston, Hore, Downie and Jakobsson

Final leaderboard
By virtue of narrowly missing out on the minors, O'Dea is toppled at the last minute. After missing votes in Round 1 through injury, Paxman has picked up 20 of the remaining maximum 30 votes available to win her first Player of the Year trophy. That's one each for her and Daisy, maybe if she can go back-to-back we'll rename the award for the third time?

20 - Karen Paxman
19 - Elise O'Dea
16 - Daisy Pearce
10 - Tegan Cunningham
6 - Katherine Smith
5 - Richelle Cranston, Shelley Scott
4 - Laura Duryea, Bianca Jakobsson, Lauren Pearce
3 - Mel Hickey, Brooke Patterson
2 - Meg Downie, Lily Mithen
1 - Harriet Cordner, Erin Hoare

Banner watch
Interesting one here, because the Bulldogs banner definitely won for having a more traditional look than our corporate rent-a-canvas. But, I'm disqualifying it for having one of those reject slogans that makes no grammatical sense and is just there to set up a rhyme. What happened to that Bulldogs bloke who writes 'funny' banners? Doesn't work summer? Dees win in a thriller, 4-3 for the season, which in this competition is enough to win.

Next week
Let the other gender start giving us the shits.

Next year
O'Dea is young, but I hope there's at least one more year in Daisy and Paxy because if they go under the current arrangement we'll be cactus. Meanwhile brace for the impact of the expansion teams, not only that we'll probably lost a few good players to them but that they'll probably get their first wins against us.

Final thoughts
The competition certainly lacked verve once the novelty factor of the opening season wore off, and when the league started trying to enforce entertainment value, but when you've got a reason to take an interest it's still worthwhile viewing. I don't think the extra teams are going to help, but the competition is probably at the level it has deserved to be for the last couple of years. Given that many of the games are played in the deep suburbs, and often in hot weather the overall attendances have been good considering the competition started at zero two years ago. Anyway, when it comes to AFLW the equation is simple - if you like watching it then watch, if you don't then don't, and if you hatewatch it just to complain you're a poon.

Saturday 17 March 2018

Pre-season updates and final betting markets

Welcome to the lowest effort post of the year, where we update our January betting markets and predictions based on a lot of pre-season games that I didn't watch, news about other clubs that I paid scant interest to and The Vibe.

Remember, if you're gambling real money on these markets bet responsibly and seek professional help.

Final betting markets

Allen Jakovich Medal for Best Overall Player
Oliver comes off slightly to account for Petracca's joint Prymke plate winning pre-season campaign. Elsewhere Viney eases on injury fears, while Gawn and Neal-Bullen are the big movers in the top half of the draw. The biggest mover overall is Bayley Fritsch, slashing his price in half in anticipation of a Round 1 debut, followed by Josh Wagner who won't win but is clearly closer to playing senior games than most in his range.

$3.25 - Clayton Oliver (-$0.25)
$4.25 - Christian Petracca (+$0.75)
$8.50 - Jack Viney (-$1.50)
$11 - Michael Hibberd (-$1), Max Gawn (+$4)
$13 - Nathan Jones (-$4)
$15 - Neville Jetta
$20 - Jesse Hogan, Jake Lever
$22 - Tom McDonald
$25 - Jayden Hunt (-$3), Alex Neal-Bullen (+$10), Christian Salem
$27 - Jordan Lewis, (-$2), Jake Melksham (+$3)
$30 - Jeff Garlett
$35 - Dom Tyson
$40 - Angus Brayshaw, Bernie Vince
$45 - Cameron Pedersen
$50 - Mitch Hannan, James Harmes
$55 - Oscar McDonald (+$5)
$60 - Tomas Bugg
$70 - Sam Frost, Corey Maynard
$90 - Harley Balic (-$10), Billy Stretch (+$10)
$125 - Bayley Fritsch (+$125)
$140 - Dean Kent (-$30), Aaron vandenBerg ($-15), Sam Weideman ($-15)
$200 - Joel Smith (-$40)
$270 - Josh Wagner (+$55)
$325 - Tim Smith
$350 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Dion Johnstone
$500 - Charlie Spargo
$650 - Oskar Baker
$750 - Declan Keilty, Harrison Petty
$900 - Mitch King
$1000 - Lachlan Filipovic, Pat McKenna (-$100)

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
Not a great deal of movement, with Hibberd retaining favouritism. The big mover is Tom McSizzle, sliding rapidly as I start to become confident that we'll keep him as a forward and not put him back into defence out of panic by Round 5. I expect he will be long disqualified from this award by mid-season.

$5 - Michael Hibberd
$7 - Neville Jetta
$10 - Jake Lever
$20 - Christian Salem
$22 - Jayden Hunt, Oscar McDonald
$30 - Bernie Vince
$45 - Sam Frost, Josh Wagner
$50 - Tom McDonald
$80 - James Harmes
$120 - Harrison Petty
$200 - Tomas Bugg, Jake Melksham
$400 - Cameron Pedersen
$750 - ANY OTHER PLAYER, Pat McKenna

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
Of course, Corey Maynard is eligible due to debuting in the last four rounds of 2017, but based on the pre-season it's a no brainer that Fritsch as leapt past him and into favouritism. None of the other eligible players look like getting a game any time soon, so they've all been moved out and 'no eligible player' has come right in.

$4.50 - Bayley Fritsch
$9 - Corey Maynard
$30 - Dion Johnstone, Charlie Spargo
$60 - Oskar Baker
$85 - Declan Keilty, Harrison Petty
$100 - Max King, Pat McKenna
$125 - Lachlan Filipovic

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Gawn remains the red hot favourite, pushing everyone else out. Smart gamblers may wish to get on Pedersen or McDonald, hoping that they will bank votes elsewhere on the ground and then take advantage of a Maximum mishap to reach the 10 hitout per game qualification mark.

$1.10 - Max Gawn
$20 - Cameron Pedersen
$25 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER, Tom McDonald
$90 - Declan Keilty
$135 - Max King
$175 - Lachlan Filipovic

Demonblog's Chosen 22
There's no doubt Vince will play, but I narrowly left him out in favour of Maynard. Corey's practice matches weren't anything special, but he gets the nod just because of Viney's absence.

B: Jetta, O. McDonald, Hibberd
HB: Salem, Lever, Hunt
C: Tyson, Oliver, Neal-Bullen
HF: Petracca, Hogan, Melksham
F: Garlett, T. McDonald, Hannan
Foll: Gawn, Jones, Lewis
Int: Brayshaw, Pedersen, Maynard, Fritsch

IN: Fritsch
OUT: Viney (inj)

Projected ladder
Changes in position from the first draft pre-season ladder are marked.

1. Adelaide
2. Sydney (+1)
3. Richmond (+3)
4. Geelong (-2)
5. Port Adelaide (+1)
6. GWS (+1)
7. Melbourne (+1)
8. Western Bulldogs (+1)
9. Essendon (-5)
10. Hawthorn
11. St Kilda
12. West Coast
13. Brisbane (+1)
14. Collingwood (-1)
15. Carlton
16. Gold Coast
17. North Melbourne
18. Fremantle

Yes, I've picked us in the eight. But the saver is that we'll probably finish ninth in a thriller again. Becoming the new Richmond isn't so bad if it eventually leads to a flag.

Sunday 11 March 2018

Here comes success (or a fiasco)

Just when you thought the infamous Bradbury Plan died as we ironically fell over at the end of 2017, it's back in AFLW form. What already promised to be a blockbuster last round of Grand Final permutations got even more complicated when Brisbane did a Melbourne against Collingwood, and GWS upset the Bulldogs. Against all odds we did our bit to keep our fate in our own hands by winning a game as red favourites, and have an advantage of half a game and percentage in the race for the top two.

This was not a game you wanted to tune in to at quarter time, because it was all downhill from there. Pummelling Carlton into submission across the first 20 minutes was fantastic, but I hope we don't end up looking back on this as a replay of Round 22 against Brisbane where we got the critical win but the missed chance to boost percentage by drubbing strugglers ultimately cost us a spot in the next round.

My best laid plans about going to my first live match fell apart on the day, and what a shame because it was one of those games where there's barely anything to write about for three quarters and all the post-rampage action would have come from crowd watch and seeing what sort of dilapidated shit I could find wandering around restricted areas of Princes Park.

Readers of our award winning AFLM coverage will have seen my torment about possibly starting to miss games from mid-season, and this was a reminder of the extra angles and gimmicks that you can only get at the game. Like one of those low grade interest games on the radio where you suspect they're just calling off the TV from a studio, something vital will be lost from the experience if I'm not there. Imagine I'd missed Round 19, 2010 and hadn't seen the kid spewing everywhere? That's up there with my all-time great footy moments, and other than ending up on the floor screaming unintelligible garbage when Sizzle goalled against West Coast I can't think of anything nearly as exciting that's happened when I've watched at home.

Of course, when you trade the outer for your couch you get to enjoy often baffling television coverage. On this occasion we were helpfully informed that we not only needed to win, but had to boost our percentage - and that had to "come from goals". I know we're famous for stuffing up attacking opportunities, but even we weren't in danger of kicking 2.43.55.

When it was announced at the first bounce that we needed to win by 85 points to go ahead of the Bulldogs I yelled "Noooooo!" at the screen like a movie bodyguard taking a bullet. Carlton are awful, but they have won two games this year so expecting to slaughter them was tempting fate on a level just below sending out finals ticket brochures before the last game. Then a funny thing happened on the way to quarter time. We tormented the piss out of Carlton, finally delivering on one of these dominant first quarters but holding half their side without a possession and kicking the highest single quarter score in AFLW history.

After that start it was certainly valid to talk about percentage, but tying it to the Bulldogs was a bit rich. Say we had retaken our record for the largest ever win back from them, condemning Carlton to the two worst defeats in history like a certain other AFL club I think of, it's fair to say we wouldn't have had time to get that much further beyond an 85 point win. So we'd still be vulnerable to any sort of narrow loss against them next week. We could have won by 300 and it wouldn't have protected us against the two teams half a game behind us unless there are more draws. This league is weird, so I'm not ruling it out.

It was finally an MFC women's first quarter that you could trust. We got the ball forward from the first bounce, and unlike the Fremantle debacle it didn't stay there because it was regularly going back to the middle after another goal. It was a very on brand start when the Tegan Cunningham Experience (TCE?) missed a sitter from directly in front, but she more than made up for it as the game went on by terrifying a rotating cast of Carlton defenders. By the end they'd tried everyone on her but Steven Silvagni.

The Blues had approximately eight seconds of reprieve, with the ball not even getting outside the 50 before Elise O'Dea converted. At the risk of ruining her career like everyone else I've ever attached myself to, I've decided that she's narrowly ahead of Daisy and Paxman in my favourite players. What a formidable group that is to pick from. She played a first quarter best described as "barnstorming", running rings around hapless Carltonians and kicking three.

We've had early goals that have gone nowhere before, but this time the opener was added to within seconds. The Blues' midfield parted like the Red Sea for us to go forward again, and Cunningham took advantage of a one-on-one with her fringe opponent to get rid of her and kick through an unguarded goal. I've got trust issues with this team, so I wasn't ready to concede victory just yet but it was fairly clear that Carlton were not going to spring a Freo/Collingwood style upset. Hopefully this was the death blow to the idea of using them in the 2019 season opener and we might get a go instead.

Crucially to our chances of not folding like an umbrella after quarter time, Carlton used one of their few inside 50s for the quarter to kick a point. That was their lot for the first 20 minutes, we went straight down the other end where the charismatically named Eden Zanker let rip with a big kick down the middle of the 50 for Cunningham's second. It was beginning to look a lot like the night where the Bulldogs player plundered the Blues for seven earlier in the year. Had we not gone to bed after quarter time, and were she not an iffy set shot kicking prospect, she could have taken advantage of the confusion of Carlton's defence to rack up half a dozen.

Cunningham (#4 on my ARIA favourite players chart) wasn't just kicking them, she set up a second for O'Dea with a perfect centring pass - assisted by nobody being in the same time zone as her target - and we were almost in an unbeatable position already. Even by our standards. Carlton's defence looked terrorised in the same way that I expect the army of Grenada was when the US turned up with Marines and an aircraft carrier. They failed to heed the warning about leaving O'Dea standing on her own near goal, and when Grierson set up her third the massacre was on. We'd had six scores from seven inside 50s, and not the 1.5 you'd usually expect in the circumstances.

I've not seen a defence so collectively terrified since the first two rounds of 2013. In lieu of having any idea how to stop us from getting the ball they went the biff. I'm not even sure it was deliberate, they were just so bereft of ideas that two different players nearly decapitated Mithen, and another had a good old fashioned yank on Cranston's hair as they walked through them otherwise unchallenged.

Not only was it the highest scoring quarter yet - and all this without Daisy or Paxman doing anything remarkable - but their defenders must have given away more free kicks proportional to time played than any time this century. Almost every time the ball went down there a whistle was sure to follow, which makes it even more of a shame that we weren't able to go on with after quarter time. I bear no ill will towards Carlton's defenders, but after years of seeing Melbourne sides in total disarray I'll take revenge anywhere it's on offer.

Like the men on Thursday, you knew that one bulldozer quarter was all that we were going to get, and just as Carlton were about to turn coach Damien Keeping into Damien Sacking his side managed to salvage some dignity. They finally got their hands on the ball, kicking the first goal after 20 seconds and another not long after. Suddenly it wasn't so easy to just pump the ball forward and wait for chaos to work in our favour.

It wasn't the first time I've seen a Melbourne game where one side gives away a huge lead because they can't get a kick, then regroup and start to chip away at the lead. The only difference was this time it was the opposition, and the two goals were as close as they got due to a complete absence of firepower at either end of the ground.

Not surprisingly when we did finally get it inside 50, a defender got nervous and gave away a free to Cunningham. With the pressure of kicking to pass forgotten spearhead Alyssa Mifsud's all-time MFCW goalkicking record she missed from directly in front again. Minor detail, she was fantastic otherwise. Like many AFLW forwards if she could take overhead contested marks she'd be dominant, but I think the same about Jesse Hogan and I think we're all reasonably happy with how he's progressing.

Repeat forward entries caused her next opponent to crack like the other two, and this time the free from the square was duly converted. No streamers fell from the stands, and nobody expected me (and possibly Mifsud) cared about the statistical significance of the moment. The closest thing to a celebration came shortly after when the Windows notification sound played over the stadium's PA. Don't forget to put your Windows Firewall on Princes Park.

Losing the second quarter after such a hot start was very Melbourne, but at least we kept the damage down to them cutting a goal off the margin. It showed that while we might have reverted to our old struggles, the opposition was so toothless they could have played eight quarters and not reached our score in the first.

Now all that was left to find out was whether we could put on another burst and at least send a message to the Bulldogs that we were capable of racking up big scores. We went forward straight out of the middle, and when a battle at full-forward ended with a whistle you thought it absolutely certain that Cunningham was going to get a free. The umpires were feeling charitable, they paid it against her to alter the ledger to about one against and 15 for. Seconds later she was denied one of the more obvious marks of recent times. Give that Carlton's percentage may grow above 50.

They could have allowed the Blues to send another 12 players on the field and it probably wouldn't have helped them score enough to win, but down the other end we were making kicking goals look impossible again. In another farcical application of the last 'disposal' out of bounds rule scenario, the Carlton player had the ball bounce off her foot and get pinged for 'disposing' of it. This set up an opportunity for the enigmatic (e.g. disappears frequently) Newman. She missed, but we were starting to fulfil the pre-match prophecy and improve our percentage point by point.

Shelley Scott was next to add a single. She played her best game since getting rid of the cows, but clubbing a golden chance into the post from the top of the square. It would have been another goal from a forward 50 free kick, borne of Cranston absolutely killing an opponent for holding the ball. Fatefully Scott's miss created the set of circumstances that allowed Mel Hickey's knee to go pop. I'm sure she doesn't hold Shelley personally responsible.

At the time of writing there's no confirmation of how serious the injury is, but I dare say she's not coming back in the next two weeks. What a pisstake, doing yourself a mischief when we're on the verge of a Grand Final after playing every game for two seasons. She has perhaps been unfairly underrepresented in our votes over the last two years, one because there's often limited space after the big three are factored in, and two because we spend so much time up front making goals look difficult that the defenders are often forgotten.

In the last quarter the sting not only went out of the game, it adopted a false name and entered the witness protection program. More gettable shots were being missed, and the chance to beat the bejesus out of a vulnerable opposition disappeared. They would want to do better against a competitive side next week, nothing after quarter time was Round 7 form let alone fit for a premiership.

After several minutes of torrid junk time struggle, a Carlton player implausibly named Georgie Gee as if she's a ventriloquist's dummy got a consolation goal, before the always busy Cunningham set up Kate Hore for the last. By then I'd already given up on hovering over the TV and was cooking dinner, waving a pair of tongs in the air in celebration at the final siren. Bring on the Dogs, and let's see if Melbourne women have more luck with fairytale endings than the men.

2018 Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Elise O'Dea
4 - Tegan Cunningham
3 - Katherine Smith
2 - Shelley Scott
1 - Karen Paxman

Apologies to Hore, D. Pearce and L. Pearce.

O'Dea opens a crucial break in front of the 2017 medallist, while Daisy winning her own medal looks almost impossible now. She'd need us to qualify for the Grand Final and to pick up seven votes on a player who has polled in almost every game she's ever played.

19 - Elise O'Dea
15 - Karen Paxman
--- Still eligible if we play two more games ---
12 - Daisy Pearce
10 - Tegan Cunningham
--- Finished under any measurement ---
5 - Richelle Cranston, Shelley Scott
4 - Laura Duryea, Bianca Jakobsson, Katherine Smith
3 - Mel Hickey, Brooke Patterson,
2 - Meg Downie, Lily Mithen
1 - Erin Hoare, Lauren Pearce

Crowd Watch
What about the tightly packed group in the 'Legends' Stand' (the real legend is whoever got paid a fortune to build something used to full capacity for about 25 minutes) pocket decked out in MC Labour merchandise? When somebody came around the office on Friday desperately trying to fill the full sponsor allocation I'll bet they said yes picturing free booze, a shitload of food at half time and a decent view. Instead somebody forced a company hat on them, and sat them as far away from food and drink as possible, in a spot where it's impossible to see what's going on at the other end of the ground.

Banner Watch
Fox Sports helpfully failed to show the proper view of either banner, just giving us a side shot of them being run through. Carlton's didn't appear to have a curtain, which is strange because their men's season banners have curtains that you could fly a 747 through. Nevertheless, either cheersquad has posted their banner online yet so I can't cast an accurate vote. DRAW, but willing to renegotiate if anyone's got pictures. 3-1-2 for the season.

Banner Watch - second Monday morning update 
The early rumour was the banner broke, but further eyewitness reports suggest the advertising/promotions company who handle the banner didn't bring it in a hoistable format. I was right to be suss of these banners from the start. Result changed to a Carlton win, setting up a second sudden death decider next week. 3-3 for the season.

Next Week
Bulldogs at the Western Oval on Saturday night. It's in the unique position of either being an elimination final for one of the teams, or a prelude to the Grand Final. By then we'll know if GWS or Brisbane are still in the mix, ideally wanting either a draw or a Brisbane win by under 30 points that will knock them both out. Then the equation is simple, beat the Bulldogs and qualify or lose and wait to see if Adelaide beat Collingwood on Sunday.

It could be last year all over again, screaming obscenities at a Pies player who misses the easy goal that ends their resistance, allowing the Crows to win and tip us out. Notwithstanding their two wins being against Grand Final contenders, I've got zero faith in the Pies doing us a favour so a win against the Dogs is crucial.

Presumably Jakobsson comes back in for Hickey, but I'll be keen to see if they risk any other changes. There's no need to touch the forward structure, even if they will be playing against competent defenders, so even though Zanker flits in and out they may as well keep her. I'm less keen on Whitford, and thought Emma Humphries was unlucky to get the boot so I'll bring her back as well.

Based on what I saw today once the opposition got a kick I don't fancy our chances. The last three quarters were tellingly bland, we're never going to get away with that against the Dogs. Either way, it's going to be nerve-wracking entertainment, watched in a dual TV set-up with South Australian state election coverage because I'm an unashamed election nerd.

Final Thoughts
As if you'd go into any make-or-break Melbourne game expecting us to win. The only difference is this time it's against a good side, not flotsam and/or jetsam so we might just get away with it.

Friday 9 March 2018

The only thing we have to fear is The Fear itself

Never before have I needed an off-season to end like this one. Every new story about what novel/unique/shithouse 'innovations' the AFL is about to introduce has driven me a step closer to locking myself in the house, creating a little fort from couch cushions and watching the season on TV. Ironically, that is probably exactly what they want me to do. I'm waiting to find out that this is all just to distract us from somebody famous being revealed as a massive nonce

As a trial run for my future as a bitter and twisted shut-in, I declined the option of a three hour round trip to Casey and hovered over my television with emoji style 😍 eyes bursting out like a Warner Brothers cartoon character whenever Christian Petracca touched the ball. After another week being made to feel stupid for following a sport that is apparently no good in its current format (while simultaneously having the fourth largest average crowd of any league in the bloody world) his performance was a timely reminder that there are very good reasons to plaster on a fake smile and keep plowing through until the flag exit strategy pays off.

Wasn't life simpler before the football 'industry' became a 24/7/365 race to force everyone in Australia (and if you believe delusional fantasists, soon the world) to pay attention to the AFL? It's at least partially my fault for being sucked in, if I didn't follow the news I'd never know what they were proposing until it happened. Just like it used to be. One year I didn't even know we'd played our first pre-season game until after it happened. Now after 11 seasons of being emotionally all-in on the idea of Melbourne winning meaningful silverware I've got a sinking feeling that it won't happen until we're playing 11-a-side games on pontoons in the Bay of Bengal.

Instead of changing everything, what about looking at simple solutions to supposed problems. Here's a free idea on how to save a few seconds every week, make players give the ball back to the umpire when it's at their feet instead of treating them like servants. One mannerless shitbag Saints player ran across the line with the ball in his hand during the third quarter, then dropped it at the boundary umpire's feet and walked off. The counter suggestion would be to just abolish the throw-in entirely, and I was pleased that Paul Roos brought some much needed sanity to this discussion of that topic by pointing out how it would just create more congestion. The centre bounce itself can do one, but I'm willing to punch on (not sure with who) until the cows come home to save stoppages.

If you're hopelessly in love with a club that plays in it, the carnies in charge of the Australian Football League have got you over a barrel. Slaughtering the head of the league probably pre-dates Sir Kenneth Luke, but for all the abuse we used to pile on Demetriou at least he tried to turn a blind eye to outrageous tanking and cut us a massive rescue cheque before we ended up in deep financial shit. Somewhere along the line the AFL has become the neediest, most insecure sporting organisation in the world - not even trying to conceal their desperation to have anyone from overseas pat us on the head and tell us how good we are. Some argue that we have to get foreign money into the game, I say bring back the days where players lifted bricks until 5pm and played footy on the side.

Lots of people were prepared to go along with AFLX as a bit of pre-season fun, but how can you trust the motives of a competition where the CEO is spinning shit like this? Now they're using puppet media outlets to set up the idea of rewarding mid-table mediocrity with a wildcard round. Because the only criteria you need for AFL House to take an idea seriously is that they do it in America. Next they'll be supporting rampant gun crime. In the immortal words of legendary sports broadcaster Alan Partridge:

I'm not just tense about the ongoing threat of city hall committing cultural vandalism on a game that's not theirs to ruin, there are other factors contributing to my malaise. For one, The Fear is back. It's a different strain to the 2013 variety when I thought we were about to be wound up, now I'm terrorised by the prospect of what on paper could (COULD) be a golden generation not reaching their potential. I can't even picture winning a flag, so for now I'm willing to settle for one token finals appearance as part reward for the thousands of hours of unholy tripe I've watched since 2007. Anything else would be a welcome bonus.

That's why Round 23 - the new 186 - hurt me far more than I let on. It's why I was on the floor, throwing my dignity out the window and screaming at Adelaide to kick goals against West Coast like my life depended on it. Psychologists would have a field day with me at the best of times, but this was a special occasion. I just needed one monkey off my back before concentrating on the rest. Now we've got the wait another six months to even try and erase that stain. And if it doesn't work this time that's another year, and then another, and the next thing you know it's all over. There's a reason I have this hanging above my desk - it's my life story.

I expect to die unfulfilled, but with the usual caveats and exemptions about the pre-season, watching this made me believe in a life-altering season more than any time since momentarily hitting the top of the ladder in late 2005. Ironically just as this happens I'm suffering a midlife crisis over no longer being young, carefree and fantastic, and am seriously considering grabbing at money like somebody in one of these and returning to shift work. As I watched us carve the Saints like a Christmas ham in the first quarter I had second thoughts about this approach. Imagine going through every fluctuating emotion since Brock McLean's R1 2007 broken leg and becoming unavailable for anywhere between one and all games in the (potential) glory years? If we could just storm to a surprise Footscray/Richmond style flag immediately that would be wonderful.

That I can even stretch to dream of a shock premiership run is enough to have me breaking out in lumps. To ensure not getting too far ahead of myself, I read encouraging season previews like this and try to remember that the perceived great leap forward is being judged on keeping the most important players upright for 22 games. Our depth has improved beyond fish pond levels, but we're still as vulnerable as anyone to an injury assisted crash. If the casualty list is short like 2016 then I think we can overcome the death march run home to make the finals. If players drop like flies like last year we'd want to be deeply ensconced (!) inside the eight on return from the Darwin game against Fremantle.

Even nearly 24 hours later I'm still confused at how much notice to take of what happened. St Kilda has more no name products than Aldi, including several who look like they'd be right at home in an 80s pub brawl, but it still can't have been anywhere near their best 22. Not that it was our top side either (sans Viney, Anal-Bullet and Sizzle Sr at a minimum + Harmes and Lewis if you're generous), but close enough to. Besides, I'm not worried about beating fellow middle of the road teams, it's the top sides and the shitboxes that concern me. Viney might miss Round 1 due to his dicky foot, but for now we can cover him to a reasonable level. Corey Maynard is not Jack Viney, and never will be, but nor is he flotsam that we have to play because there's nobody else available.

The most important thing about the second match of a series sponsored by a company nobody's any the wiser about two years later, is that nobody got seriously hurt. The second most important was the occasional lightning flash of brilliant football that makes you throw your arms in the air and ask where this has been for the last decade of your life. And because I'm always looking for an out to explain why we won't succeed, I hope we don't look back at the way our defence fell to bits when Sizzle Jr went off with a sore back and go "ahh, we missed that hint". The saving grace here was St Kilda kicking into the forward 50 like they were all drunk.

It was practically a re-run of our much higher stakes game against them in Round 21. We dashed off to a solid lead by quarter time, then slowed down, unexpectedly died in the arse during the third quarter, and recovered to win reasonably comfortably. The key difference is that only 4500 people turned up to see it, some of whom are probably still trying to recover their car from a cavernous pothole in the 'car park'.

Those of you who remember Chris Dawes winning our goalkicking with 20 - each of them harder fought than a World War I trench battle - will understand just how important it was to see multiple players providing goalkicking options. There was a bit of that last year, but we couldn't maintain it long enough to build a thumping percentage to insulate against a shock final round collapse. Now we must take advantage of our increasing power to merrily kick the shit out of a few plankton sides, and ensure that in the event of a tie after 22 games we're not reliant on other teams to win or lose by certain margins.

I can't get across how much I enjoyed Petracca's game without being arrested for public indecency, but everything you need to know about him as a super-weapon was demonstrated in our first goal. We flipped the script by torching another team on a quick break, but it still might not have turned into anything if Truck hadn't strong-armed his opponent out of the way to set up an open goal. Then after ripping the Saints from arsehole to breakfast in the first quarter he went into the middle and did them over there as well. What. A. Man.

At one point he found himself deep in the forward pocket and hit some weird, inverted torp that centered directly to an unguarded Bernie Vince. I can only think he was really having a shot and it accidentally found a free player, but am willing to entertain the prospect that like a quick Hamburglar handball off the deck he actually has sixth sense vision and meant it. He is my football fantasy - I'm even keen on his bullshit novelty NBA celebration routines with Oliver. If you're going to do anything that annoys opposition fans, make it something that only happens after a goal.

It was quite a night for players from the Petracca draft - McCartin and Brayshaw both played promising games after a shocking run with injury, and avoided the instant 000 scenario of crashing into each other. Gus is behind because of all the footy he's missed, but has the general building blocks of an excellent player. On the other side McCartin played the game of his life to earn a nomination in the Kingsley Klub pre-season XVIII.

We temporarily conceded the lead via two quick goals, one from an absurdly random free kick directly in front of goal, but that was effectively the last anyone saw of the Saints until the siren went. The rest of the quarter was a Harlem Globetrotters style exhibition of effortless, funky ball movement that made you fall in love with the sport all over again. When we didn't score instantly, St Kilda defenders would be tormented by a much welcome torrent of forward pressure.

Every once in a while they'd get a break from us clobbering them and escape the 50, only to blow their chance with horrible service to the forwards. We would then bounce down the other end, where a rotating cast of characters would thump through a goal. It's hard to fault an eight goal quarter, but when it happens in the first there is a nagging sense that you're never going to have it as good again for the rest of the day. Unless you were playing us when we were total wank. After goals from Garlett and Melksham x2, Tyson, Vince from Petracca's mystery ball and Fritsch people started to forget Jack Watts ever played for us.

If you were watching any other club you'd think a landslide was on, but with Melbourne you knew the inevitable correction couldn't be too far away. When they kicked the goal right at the end of the quarter I had that familiar "oh here we go" feeling. Realistically in a trial game it shouldn't have mattered if we did throw away a good start, but after going 6-1 in the last three pre-seasons (+3 if you consider AFLX legitimate) I've become accustomed to the good life. Before Round 1 starts at least.

To nobody's surprise we didn't carry on after quarter time, but even with the game slowed down and the opposition finally deciding to turn up the margin kept going up. They were a much tougher proposition, now but were still attacking like it was the first time they'd ever played the sport. If you've been paying close attention to our AFLW side you'd have recognised the 'hit it and hope' method, which was about as successful for them as it has been for our women in 2018. We chucked in a bit of that as well, but it was balanced by well worked goals and Oliver effortlessly fanging them through.

The brakes went on the outright rampage of the first quarter, but we still extended the lead into half time. I'm still not comfortable writing about us like we're a good side, which is why the third quarter was a handy reality check. First there was a half time interview between Simon Goodwin, and Garry Lyon wearing an implausible barnet that looked like fibre optic cabling. No AFL coach has said anything important in public since Mick Malthouse berated Mark Stevens so we were never going to learn anything remarkable. The only thing I got from it, other than the National Broadband Network running across Gaz's fringe, was that as much as Goodwin put a brave face on talk about the cancelled camp debacle he was still filthy about it.

Instead of matey Dorothy Dixers, Garry should have known the interview would be played at half time and asked - no matter how long ago it was recorded - why there's always one quarter where we roll over and die with scant resistance. He would have looked like an oracle. Given that our backline was practically at full strength it's concerning that they burst like a squashed bug the moment McDonald was packed away. It wasn't entirely their fault, we lost what had been complete dominance of the stoppages and the Saints decided to take their time looking for targets instead of panic bombing to a contest. Result - several players in red and blue standing around like traffic cones while St Kilda forwards roamed free as a bird.

Before you had time to breathe we'd copped six goals and had blown a 39 point lead. This is the point where somebody will bemoan the absence of Lewis under the assumption that he'd have applied some sick leadership shit to stop it. If that's the case he must have been distracted when Collingwood were fisting us in the first quarter last year. For many years the task of trying to calm everyone down would have fallen to Nathan Jones, but he was barely seen all night. The idea of becoming a good side without him suffering another crushing neck injury from carrying everyone on his shoulders is alien to me, but for the first time I really suspected that the rising tide might sink him. In the meantime I'm sure he welcomes the opportunity to become just a cog in the wheel rather than the straw that stirs the drink.

Their momentum was finally halted by accident, with Jake Melksham sliding through a perfectly legitimate attempt to gather the ball and straight into Jack Steven's ankle. Jeff Garlett steadied the ship not long after, and we were back in front at the last change. Any rational human could understand that Steven's injury was a racing accident, which is why David "What have you got to worry about Melbourne fans?" King suggested it was the perfect example of why the sliding rule was so important. There was not a hint of irony about it, nor did any of the umpires feel strongly enough to pay a free at the time. He was not as vocal about an incident earlier in the game where Mitch Hannan was pinged for desperately lunging onto the ball and having a Saints player run into his head.

Speaking of people who've had their head run into, the last quarter opened with a fortuitous bullshit free to Brayshaw right in front of goal. Josh Wagner must have felt guilty about it, because the first time the ball went down the other end he tackled somebody in the face to give it back. That was St Kilda's lot, Gus got a second, Hannan another as a direct result of a nervy fumble, then Bugg turned up his own in the square for a third.

Other than a rancid miss in the first quarter I was happy with Bugg, his forward pressure was excellent. Doesn't mean he's a Round 1 starter, but it makes a change to have capable players waiting in the wings. I enjoy how now every time he goes near it they have to talk about him punching that Sydney bloke in the head as if he committed a human rights violation. Bad luck getting six weeks for a badly aimed jumper punch, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the victim played 84% of the next game when painting Bugg as the second coming of Jack the Ripper.

To add to the general fiasco that is my personal year 2018 to date, I missed the next five minutes when the excitement of the JLT Community Series caused our electricity to lose the plot. I don't know if you've ever tried to restart a Foxtel box after a quick power outage, but it's like waiting for paint to dry. If it happened in the fourth quarter of a real game I'd punch on, so that's a great advertisement for why I have to keep going to live matches. I half expected to come back and find we'd conceded five, or that everyone had done a knee. Fortunately no. The most disastrous thing I saw as it returned was Billy Stretch buggering up a shot from the pocket.

As everyone went into self-preservation mode there was a quick Gawn injury scare, before it was revealed to be nothing more than cramp. Maybe it's because our performance had calmed my nerves, maybe it was because I was dying to go to bed and couldn't face the prospect of fretting about it, but I had a gut feeling when the injury was alleged that everything was going to be alright. And indeed it was, he gingerly went to the sidelines for some stretching and all was right with the world.

The last came courtesy of Hogan, whose two goal total didn't go near telling you how well he played. His work pushing up the ground was glorious. We don't need one man to kick 70 when he can play a part in setting up 100 for his teammates. I'm more than happy for him to go to CHF and kick as McDonald's lead. Even the idea is starting to make me sweat, I think I need to sit down and watch some 2013 'highlights' as the footy equivalent of a cold shower.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Dom Tyson

Apologies to Brayshaw, Garlett, Lever and Bugg.

Surprise Leaderboard
The award that would not die. I said it would only be awarded if two or less players were tied at the top, and here we are. Congratulations to Maximum Truck on their win.

7 - Max Gawn, Christian Petracca
5 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - James Harmes
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Bayley Fritsch, Dom Tyson

Banner Watch
St Kilda made the contest easy by not bringing one. 2-0 Dees for the pre-season.

The week after next
Via a Casey vs Box Hill practice match next week it's off to Round 1, and god may have mercy on our souls. Notwithstanding Geelong sending out a reserves team and being thrashed by Gold Coast I'm not entirely convinced by them as premiership contenders. However, I'm less convinced about us on that front so I'm still assuming defeat. The obvious Melbourne thing to do is to beat them, then lose to Brisbane and North.

Final Thoughts
I'm riding an unprecedented wave of MFC-related positivity. If it all goes tits up from here I may end up bouncing off the walls of a rubber room.