Sunday 8 April 2018

Our long national nightmare is over

The mission is complete, return to your home planet. Like how by the end of Passenger 57 nobody remembers Wesley Snipes causing the innocent family man to be shot, the horrors along the road to this long awaited triumph are all now forgotten. You, me, and all the 10-year-old North fans at the ground who knew nothing else except total dominance now live in a world where the Melbourne Football Club holds a winning streak against North Melbourne.

After 4248 days, football's most BDSM style relationship is over. We have removed the ball-gag, unchained ourselves and recaptured our dignity. That losing to the same team 17 times in a row is only the second worst losing streak in the history of the club says a lot about the history of the club outside a 25 year glory era after the outbreak of World War II.

If you just count days between wins, this was actually worse than the 22 straight losses to Hawthorn from 1973 to 1984. Consider this, given that they were called 'the Kangaroos' (complete with that rancid "Good old *obvious edit* THE KANGAS!" theme song) in 2006 this is the first time we've rumbled a team called North Melbourne in any match that counted since Round 2, 1998. That day Sandy Roberts said "welcome back Gawwy Lyon", we gave up a massive lead to almost lose and I was well and truly roped back in to footy after 2.5 seasons largely refusing to participate due to teenage misery. Seems like a lifetime ago. Because it was.

The euphoria of finally toppling a team that has beaten us three times by under one goal since 2007 and once by 20 goals is understandable, but what will be underrated in the discussion is that we've now won twice in row as red hot favourites and sit exactly where we expected to be after three games. You may recall that based on our treacherous run home I was going to pack up on 2018 if we went 1-2, now it feels like we've set up the base to have a proper ping at the eight. This can only go one way.

Life as a Melbourne fan wasn't meant to be easy, after two weeks of high scoring first quarters (albeit with almost as much scoring effortlessly coming back the other way from Geelong), this was a return to original recipe Goodwin Era, where our players stormed through crepe paper with murderous intent, then stood around looking at seagulls like Geoff Hayward for the first half an hour. 

One day I will sit down at the MCG with 100% confidence that we're going to win a game easily, this was not it. We could just have torn them from limb to limb and opened a comfortably enormous margin at quarter time, but where's the fun in that? Fine time for equalisation to finally come good and stop rebuilding teams from having to completely die first.  

My central nervous system was already playing havoc with the contents of my stomach before we spent the first 10 minutes desperately trailing the Roos around the MCG. Psychologists would have a field day with me at the best of times, but if you traced all the days I've felt like my gizzards were about to hurl out of my body in one direction or another the results would be revealing. Let's just say it doesn't happen in summer, and rarely on weekdays. My already peaking tension was not helped by 'expert commentator' Kane Cornes taking his hatred of stats to new levels by claiming on the big screen that we hadn't beaten North for "17 years". He also tipped us to win the flag before the season so I don't know why he was broadcasting if he hadn't provided ASADA with a urine sample.

In the end the margin was probably representative of the gap between the clubs, we filled up on goals after their fighting spirit was broken but they'd already padded their score by cruelly taking advantage of our disarray at the start. In the end six goals seemed right against a side of kids, fillers and a small core of top players. This is the difference between a bottom four side now and us five years ago, at our worst we were basically Jones carrying 21 teammates on his shoulders and trying to play serviceable football as a second job.

Later on we were able to patronise the beaten side for their effort, but when Jarrad Waite was found in 30 metres in free space out the back to kick their fourth goal in a row to start the first quarter I was half ready to start breaking things and defaming people. But after going that far down somewhere in the first half and recovering to within six points EIGHT times since Round 1 last year the rational side of my brain knew there was a comeback lurking somewhere. The irrational side expected them to be 6.6.42 to 0.0.0 at quarter time, with security guards having to resort to Victoria Police style tactics to thrash people trying to get at the huddle. This was a rare win for the rational.

The prospect of an emotional outburst wasn't so much about losing to them again (though that didn't help), but that it was coming at the hands of the two men best suited for the Kingsleys. For the first quarter Billy Hartung, fringe Hawthorn player popular for being quick and not much else, thought he was Robbie Flower, ripping up and down the Southern Stand wing with the haplessly outpaced Dom Tyson struggling to keep up. He used his speed to exploit us so severely that it didn't matter that he's not particularly good at football because he was always disposing of the ball 20 metres in the clear, usually to a teammate in acres of free space like a training drill.

Never before has there been a wider gap between how fast somebody looks and how fast they actually are. You expect Jayden Hunt to be quick (at least you did before everyone opposition coaches launched an anti-spectacle campaign and started putting players in his way), this guy looks like Frank from the HR department then dashes about like Usain Bolt. Thankfully after quarter time we put some effort into stopping him and he barely got another kick all day. Another win for Goodwin's famous Plan B envelope. Here's to him retrieving the Plan A one from down the back of the couch before next week.

As far as battlers having the day of their lives go, Majak Daw once kicked 6.4 in a game (and an average of 0.77 goals per game other than that) so this might not have been the highlight of his career but it's probably a clear second. Who didn't shudder when news came through that he'd be a late inclusion? After we made the last chance saloon experiment of playing him as a defender look silly in pre-season you just knew he'd come out when it counted and kill us. Almost quite literally when he dumped Jordan Lewis on his arse, but figuratively speaking when we were gleefully punting the ball down his throat while playing as loose man in defence. North fans might think they've found the next big thing, but I suspect good teams will just detour around him and he'll be left standing there gagging for somebody to throw team rules out the window and kick long towards him.

Like his mate from Hawthorn, Daw's contribution didn't stretch across four quarters. Once we started to make him accountable - often via comical matchups against Bugg or Fritsch - and stopped playing right into his hands with aimless long bombs he wasn't nearly as influential. Knowing that Hogan would run rings around him in a direct match-up, I thought the late change may have been a scam to allow Goldstein to roam forward and create havoc in our forward line. It rarely happened, mainly because Daw wasn't allowed out of defence until they were in death or glory catch-up mode deep in the last quarter. Also because Goldstein was probably too sad to do anything after Gawn kicked seven shades of shit out of him in their long awaited rematch from that Hobart 2016 heavyweight title fight.

We had our own athletic, strong marking but awkward as anything defender returning to the side in Frost. After an internet clamour for him not seen since the Free Ricky Petterd campaign in 2012, he was finally restored to the side so we could let Lever loose. Sam never looks 100% comfortable down there, even when he's doing something good, but it certainly did the trick in releasing our boy Jake for FIFO spoiling duties. We were still conceding points far too easily, but I'm willing to blame that on the speed of the ball coming inside 50. We weren't bad when the ball actually went to a contest, the problems came when they would fly from end to end then bypass our defence like Germany invading France via Belgium.

It was undoubtedly Lever's best game, though I'm yet to see anything to explain what qualified him as an All Australian last year. His disposal was average at best, and at least twice he could have easily taken an overhead mark and punched it away instead. This is your weekly reminder that you were probably wrong about Tom McDonald's value as a backman. He would probably have unloaded one high profile howler, but based on what we're paying (and paid for) Lever the Sizzle is worth double. I'm not writing off Lever by any stretch of the imagination, he's going to be in that backline for several years so we've just got to set up to his best advantage and get him confident in taking uncontested overhead grabs. And when Mason Cox kicks seven on him I'll turn hard.

Speaking of Sizzle Sr, this was another day where we could have done with one of him at either end. Not only would he have been handy keeping the backline disciplined, but in attack the prospect of him leading straight down the centre of the 50 leaves me breathless. Jesse Hogan has just played one of the better games you'll ever see from a key forward who only gets one goal from a tap-in, can you imagine what happens when you not only have him running up and down the ground gathering possessions like a midfielder but then stick an unusual but genuine, safe handed full forward right in front of him? Until they both play and it's a disaster I'm just going to fantasise about it being the greatest combination since Carey and Longmire.

The problem today was that with Pedersen out and Hogan doing all his best work up the ground we didn't have any regular targets. Which makes it even more ridiculous that the ball was being panic bombed down there so much at the start. Luckily in this case the small forwards and professional irritants carried us over the line, but with respect to my deep love for Jack Viney I sense that we are a Sizzle/Hulk combination away from finally violently battering at least one team.

This is all too positive, let's get back to the opening minutes where we played the role of traffic cones while North did as they pleased. The reason I sit in the top deck is because I want to see what's happening off the ball, and after today I've concluded that this may be detrimental to my health. The number of times half a dozen North players ran free down the ground almost caused me to have a stroke. There was one point in the second half where I was flabbergasted by the way we were busted open from a kick-in (only for Waite to make a goose of himself and kick it out on the full) that I couldn't express my displeasure in words and was reduced to making a series of sounds like somebody who'd been raised by wolves. Give me the behind the goal footage, pause it just as they went to kick in and you'll be able to circle the exact path the ball took from one end to the other before it happens.

Then there was the third quarter kick-in, with the game very much still on the line, where they kicked to at least a four, if not five, on one contest. Then Frost did the team thing and gave away a numpty free kick to take the heat off his mates. If we weren't kicking goals going inside 50 it was coming back the other way with interest. You couldn't even entirely blame diabolical forward pressure, all they needed was one clear kick from anywhere beyond 20 metres and there'd be an orderly queue of free players waiting to take it. Several times we were lucky that they had players entire area codes in the open but either picked a bad option elsewhere or needlessly turned it over.

Then there's all the times we have two players run to one with the ball, or when we give away a free and players just amble off (into either some sort of zone or the Bermuda Triangle) instead of going to an opponent. Any day now my doctor is going to tell me to go and sit on the fence where you can't see anything more than 20 metres away and/or what's on the big screen for my own health.

The positives were few and far between in the opening minutes. Inside 50s continued to be the most useless statistic in footy as we did nothing with them except set up North to go the other way. In the midst of this first quarter crisis one man was unbowed, with Gawn launching what was inarguably one of the best games he's ever played. When we were winning in his absence last year there was a lot of chat about how maybe a key ruckman isn't so important. For the third week in a row he demonstrated that while you might be able to substitute any old fill-in for an average ruckman, you can't replace quality.

I enjoyed Max's unusual pre-game ritual, standing on the edge of the centre circle like he was about to contest the umpire's practice bounce, only to watch it fling off to the left, nod approvingly and run back to his teammates. Now that's dedication to your craft. Of course once the game started the ball pinged off in every other direction but that one, which didn't stop him from running riot. And don't just get hung up on the taps, go back and watch the second efforts when the ball hit the ground. He is an animal, and the only concern I have is that some dickhead will injure him while he's grappling for the ball. In the meantime stand back and enjoy the show, a ruckman who creates scores at the rate he does is worth his considerable weight in gold.

With Pedersen filling his traditional role as the first person out the door the moment he plays a bad game, the question was who would end up playing limited relief to Gawn at centre bounces. If you selected James Harmes could you please also submit next week's Powerball numbers to the usual address. I expected it to be Frost, but I suppose you don't want to mess with your defensive structure just in case the other side fluke a quick kick forward to take advantage. Instead, much to the delight of the Harmy Army, he not only took on Jarrad Waite but won a tap that created a goal. 

The long road back started in the most unusual place, almost a year to the day after I destroyed Tomas Bugg's previously creditable set shot record by declaring him a sure thing against North, the ball ended up in his hands after Wagner was needlessly decked post-kick. Brad Scott looks like a man who is easily annoyed, but that must have sent him off his nut. Fancy getting four goals up as underdogs then having somebody gift the other side their first goal like that. Of course, based on the last 12 months it was no certainty that he'd convert. But he did, and the goalkicking day of his life was on. 

While Clayton Oliver was suffering from the media curse post-Age article by being tagged to buggery, Bugg was experiencing the exact opposite after our official website did a write up about how he's trying to earn back 'trust and respect'. Amongst lines like "fateful Friday night" that made it sound like he'd wiped out a family while drink driving, it felt like an unnecessary rehashing of the same plot from that Sydney game. 

I'm not into macho bullshit footy culture, but how does a fringe player biffing somebody in the head so lightly that they ended up playing the next week affect the fabric of the club? Are we blaming him for the fact that we were somebody between ordinary and flat out shit for the rest of the season? Still convinced he actually just meant to jostle Callum Mills in the upper chest and accidentally punched his lights out, but even if he lost the plot and meant to land the punch flush on his jaw let's all calm down on it being some amazing crime that he needs to seek redemption for. As far as I'm concerned he was already off the hook, but unless you're Mills or a North fan then I think kicking four in a vital win will do.

Gifting us the first goal soon gave rise to the second, with Dean Kent also returning from the wilderness to kick off what was his best game since Queen's Birthday 2016. A killer tackle for holding the ball 35 metres out was a rare example of one of their defenders coming under pressure instead of leisurely extracting the ball at his own pace and we were rewarded. There should have been more if it.

We were on the verge of the quickest ever Stranglewank comeback scenario when Wagner narrowly missed a shot that would have reduced the margin from 24 to 6. Bugg, Kent, Wagner - strange things were afoot in our forward line. That was the end of our resistance for a few minutes, Lever conceded a goal from a free for being elbowed in the head (oh but you see he took his eyes off the ball - probably because he was worried about being elbowed in the bloody head), and we were very lucky not to concede a second straight from the next centre bounce. The soft goal and the next clearance were about as good as got for Goldstein, who resumed normal service of following Gawn around like a lovesick puppy immediately after. On centre clearances, a word for Christian Salem who went off his nut racking them up in the first quarter without anyone really noticing. It was one of his better games too.

Their goals stopped our run, but crucially we were starting to get some decent disposals and stopped turning it over every five seconds. We were still three goals down when Kent found Bugg for a second sitter, and after the unexpected result of the first I put the reverse mozz on him by saying "there's no way he'll kick two in a row". This tactic worked twice more, only failing when the half time siren broke the mystical spell by going off as he was lining up.

We were due a few more twists and turns before the game was safe, but the first 10 minutes of the second quarter looked a lot more like when we beat them in the pre-season than the depressing start of the game that mattered. It began with Fritsch expertly leaving his opponent in the dust after correctly deducing that a ball was going to fly over the top of their contest, and when Goldstein gave back the goal from his earlier free to Vince we were ahead. For the second time in three weeks I simultaneously couldn't understand how we weren't further ahead or further behind.

The game had certainly turned, and it felt like it was one or two goals away from going entirely our way. So naturally after two missed shots they went down the other end and kicked a goal. Credit where it's due to our lot for not dropping their bundle, and Fritsch turned up again to intelligently find Hogan on his own in the square to put us back ahead. The way he gathered the ball running towards the boundary line, looked up to see Hulk on his own in front of goal and hit him perfectly was tremendous. I would like to keep him.

Not long after that North pulled off the sort of blunder so hilarious that you couldn't believe it didn't happen to us. They got a free kick in front of goal, the bloke with the ball played on, couldn't decide which free teammate to pass to and ended up hitting it straight into the outstretched hand of Jeff Garlett to run into an open goal. For the third time I positively cursed Bugg's goalkicking, before Lewis set Petracca up hard on the boundary line for another. It was just the sort of goal that I love, running around and casually depositing it in the near corner by the barest margin over a defender's hand. Remember when Ben Kennedy did similar? He now plays for Montmorency, Truck is not going anywhere.

For the second time you'd have been forgiven for thinking we were about to run over the top, especially when Hogan was lining up another shot, but the plot continued to thicken. They kicked one real goal, before being gifted a total howler. After Gawn and the SME were rightfully allowed to monster each other all night, Maximum was pinged for Ben Brown falling over in the ruck contest. He converted, before we missed an opportunity to cancel it out. With the chance at an unprecedented fourth set shot - which would surely have been the biggest surprise first half since Brodie Holland kicked six - Bugg finally missed and the margin stayed in single figures.

If you have to write the margin out instead of expressing it in digits too close for comfort, but six goals to three was a damn sight better than what we got in the first quarter. With Gawn's dominance and the way we'd killed off the players who'd been giving us grief in the first quarter I'm confident that if we'd been able to convert better when going inside 50 that we'd have kept creating opportunities for the forwards. By now there was no question about who the luckier side were, they were fortunate to be so close. We'd already played our contractually obligated terrible quarter, it was just a question of whether there was going to be a complimentary second one thrown in.

Looking back at the start of the third quarter, we should have known things were going to our way when the usually laser accurate Brown missed a set shot and we went coast-to-coast to set up Kent's second. The rarely seen five point play heralded nearly 10 minutes without a goal as the game tightened right up, along with the contents of my stomach. I was still fit to hurl at any moment when Brown got rid of Oscar in semi-legal fashion to finally get his second. This was followed shortly after by a freebie courtesy of Frost unnecessarily pushing somebody over and things were starting to look ropey again. We'd done well to contain Brown to this point, but he was about the only player they had capable of beating us on his own. Good luck to him, anyone who gets around wearing a silly number is alright in my book.

Our kick-in defence continued to be virulently pox. We were dominating the inside 50s, but to me each one of them that we didn't score a goal from (e.g. almost all of them) was just a potential North goal going the other way. There was some time to stop and think about what was going after Jack Ziebell hit a UFC style knee-strike to Jake Melksham's head, and that indirectly led to the breakthrough goal for Garlett. He started it by storming inside 50, but instead of kicking through an open goal tried a handball that was cut off. He then rushed in to put a tackle on, then cleverly pulled out of the tackle as the ball spilt free, turned around and ran back to the square to be on the end of a chain of handballs. I nearly had a nervous breakdown in the 0.001 seconds it took for Kent to handball to him instead of just kicking it himself, but he got there in the end.

The margin was still only 13 points, at least expressed in numbers but still far from comfortable, when Gawn set up the resurgent Kent with a dynamite handball. I can't say I trust Deano to pull out games like this every week, but he's come a long way since that Darwin game where he did his shoulder and the cameras cut to him sitting in the gym on his own looking suitably miserable.

At 19 points in front approaching the end of the third quarter it goes without saying another goal would have significantly eased (but not erased) my nerves. So when Fritsch nearly broke his neck crashing over a pack to take a mark in the square it seemed like all my Christmases had come at once, only to look up post celebration and see the ball being handed to a North player for some barely detectable free. No sense of theatre these people. And what would have been a horrific three-quarter time lead to lose under the circumstances became merely potentially embarrassing.

I wasn't confident of victory until the security guards came out for their traditional walk around the fence, but for all the shit I've put on Lewis this year you couldn't fault the clutch set shot that opened the last quarter. More important was Jones' pass to set it up. He is belying his advancing years so far this season, and maybe he will be there long enough to get involved in us winning something. Either way, he's got a statue coming from me and Max Gawn sounds like he'll be the first person to donate.

That goal left North teetering on the brink of death, but in a deeply Melbourne twist we couldn't find that one push over the edge that would have allowed me to relax. For the best part of 10 minutes I was in deep psychological trauma at the prospect of throwing it away from such a strong position, to the point where I have no idea what happened between the Lewis goal and Oscar being pinged holding the ball in the pocket for the North reply. I expect that if you asked a hostage negotiator to write down their observations they're not going to remember what the curtains looked like.

It was such as weird day that when Waite and McDonald tumbled over the line at one point, the North man actually helped Oscar to his feet. Which was a lot better than when he headbutted Tom. Sizzle Jr is battling against the odds playing on the best key forwards without putting on about 20kg but has been very good so far this year. Brown did his usual stitch up job on us, but considering how often the ball was flying in at warp speed we did well to keep him to four - including one that was outrageous charity.

A 20 point margin was not impossible to throw away, but in a great win for the oft maligned Dave Misson we were finishing with far more gas. Fittingly it was Jones who effectively sealed it. Garlett kicked the goal, but the way Chunk shrugged out of the initial tired, hamfisted attempt at a tackle and hit the perfect pass to a lead was a thing of beauty. The official sealer came from Bugg's fourth, with the ball dropping neatly into his arms out the back of a pack. He may never kicked four of five from set shots again, it's hardly 'I saw Mark Jamar kick five goals' but best get t-shirts printed anyway.

That snapped North, who finally had to exhale and admit that they were the 22 men to lose the only achievement of note that their club has had this century. Which is roughly as many as us. Those who came before them certainly had a good run. Now for the love of all that is holy is there any danger we might reel a few straight on them over the next few years? I can't see us threatening double figures, but seven or eight should be the lead indicator of a regular finals team.

The exclamation marks came from the man who made Mooroopna famous, Clayton Oliver. As North's life force slowly ebbed away he began to shake his tag and get involved more but when there was nothing left to be proven in the last few minutes he was given the chance to rest forward. There he kicked a pair of what might be described as junk time goals if the first one around his body wasn't so damn attractive.

I'm hardly a religious man, but on the final siren I risked a seagull spray to the eye by tilting my head backwards, looking up at the sky, holding my arms up and loudly exclaiming "thank god". A'la Bill Brownless in 1994 the monkey's off the back, strut into work on Monday fearlessly, and if anyone tries to downplay the importance of this victory lean in close and simply go...

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Jesse Hogan
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Dean Kent
1 - Christian Salem

Major apologies to Petracca and Bugg for missing out on the one vote in a photo finish. Everyone else was at least decent, but some degree of apologies to Wagner, Harmes, Garlett, Fritsch, Vince, Lewis and McDonald.

It's on big time at the top of the table, with Gawn and Hogan both issuing the strongest challenge from outside the midfield since Maximum fell a vote short of Jones in 2016. Which is not all that long ago now that I think about it. No, a ruckman doesn't count as a midfielder, that's why they never get any Brownlow votes. Though on the strength of today's performance you could argue Hogan is one.

10 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
8 - Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones
5 - Jeff Garlett, Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca
4 - Jesse Hogan
2 - Dean Kent
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Christian Salem

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
As much as its general construction gave me the shits I'm going to have to pick the king of fruitless nominations Garlett again for that goal in the third quarter. He deserves it for being involved three times in the same play. Apologies to Petracca's 9 iron or either of the last quarter efforts by Oliver or Jones. We've not seen anything like a nominee for the overall winner of this competition yet.

I've run out of weekly prizes to give Jeff, so for this time only I will grant him the superfluous 'y' just once and call him Jeffy. Feels wrong.

In order to prove that no player has ever taken the slightest notice of what's written on a banner, the run-through side of North's was just a surprise message of support to us for ditching pokies. Their players were so inspired at our community focused gesture that they went on to kick the first four goals. At least it was better than Collingwood pumping out a message so banal that the now infamous spelling error wasn't even the most offensive thing about it.

Coming from the side who once had players run through a curtain hanging from a levitating sausage, the return to traditional values was welcome, but their social issues slogan was entirely without bite and suffered badly from piddly little thin letters. The only worse font I saw on Saturday was on a bus parked outside the MCG from this company, who have for inexplicable reasons opted for a corporate logo in the Microsoft Office ransom letter font 'Chiller'.

There was nothing wrong with the letters on our banner, they were big, bold and kerned exquisitely. The second line needed a bit of work to get all the words in, but they pulled it off perfectly so you didn't notice at the time. I'm a bit suspect about the focus on the epic losing streak - though as North showed you could write death threats on there in Chiller and players wouldn't notice - but the white highlight on the word 'today' was a thing of beauty. This may be my favourite text only design in recent years. Dees 3-0 for the season.

Matchday Experience Watch (incorporating Crowd Watch)
After two games away I was back into the familiar territory of the Ponsford. My mum was ticking off her traditional early season game while the weather is still relatively warm, and I didn't think it polite to drag her to either of the Row MMs. If you have to be polite to company and sit near the front you're far less likely to have people around you in the Ponsford. So it was, with a family featuring a small child a few rows in front providing the only semblance of audience atmosphere AND reminding me not to unload any of the real big hitter swear words when North exited defensive 50 with nine spare players.

Ironically if I'd sat there for the Geelong game I'd have been right behind Gawn's miss, and would have deduced it was missing myself without having to rely on commentator/fan reaction. It took a fortnight, but I got the chance to see a disaster anyway:

Where half-time at the MCG would usually be full of kids playing naive but enthusiastic footy, this time the ground was cleared so that some under the pump event staff could rush to put together playground equipment. Considering the time taken to set up this flat-pack obstacle course I thought they were set to launch some remarkable new promotion. Instead four kids rolled an oversized Milo footy from one end to the other and back again, then it was packed up and everyone went home. It was the biggest blow to the Little League since 2014, when the kids were given the boot in favour of some middle aged competition winner gits having a casual kickaround.

There was some suggestion that they were unable to source kids to play due to school holidays. I said "send an email around", then turned on the Adelaide/St Kilda game to see they'd done just that at Docklands. I know nobody else cares about this sort of stuff - and strangers who pay attention to the actual kiddy games should have their hard drives examined - but it's the principle of it. Gil McLachlan would force his granny into a woodchipper in exchange for a few thousand Chinese people showing an interest, but opportunities to give the players of the future (now valid for boys and girls) a thrill are tossed out the window at the first opportunity. It might seem like a small thing, but it's symptomatic of the way the competition is going.

Mind you, we would struggle to take the moral high ground when it comes to innovative and exciting promotions. We took Richmond's 'Are you paying attention', where they play the Jeopardy music and focus on people in the crowd who have got something better to do than watch ordinary big screen entertainment, dressed it up with clipart, a China Southern logo and the catchy title 'Is your head in the clouds?' Now that we've chucked the pokies we can't afford the Jeopardy logo, so it was accompanied by a jaunty track presumably bought royalty free off for $29.95. It was, at least, better than a Kiss Cam or the one week 'Match The Emoji' shitshow.

The only crowd observation I'll make comes with a caveat. If it was in any way socially acceptable I would still - as an adult male approaching 40 years of age - wear the club jumper to the footy. Alas it is not (though ask yourself, why does nobody care at soccer games? Is it because the only options for footy jumpers are no sleeves/poncy long sleeves?), though apparently nobody has told a significant percentage of North Melbourne fans.

Maybe it's because their club releases a new commemorative jumper for every minor occasion but proportionally speaking I've never seen so many middle aged people wearing the jumper or at the very least an ill-fitting, garishly blue polo shirt. The most deranged display came from the adult lady - not surprising wearing a non-standard club issue jumper - who created space for two different player numbers on her back by applying kid sized digits in a diagonal design. Absolute insanity, somebody should hold an intervention.

Next week
Hawthorn on Sunday afternoon, and in what feels like an outrageously adult life decision I'm going to stay home and watch on TV. I've got legitimate, honest work to do almost immediately after the siren and can't justify turning back the money for something that is easily accessible from home. Not having to deal with Hawks fans is an added bonus. So, if you run into a nuffy whose only positive life experience has been following a successful football club please submit your Crowd Watch contributions via any of the usual channels (email, Twitter, in the comments on an old post, by putting a public notice in the paper).

I'm ambivalent about our prospects of beating them, if we'd stomped one of the two also-ran teams into the dirt then it would feel like a good chance. Now I look back at not being able to beat them while they were in shambles last year and wonder which side has gotten significantly better since then. The finals tilt is most assuredly ON if we do win, but even if as I suspect we don't two insurance wins are in the bank.

As much as I'm fanging to get Angus Brayshaw back in the side it's hard to lobby for too many changes. Unless they take the piss and suspend Nifty Nev for putting Brown on his arse a week after the guy deliberately shoving him into a dangerous collision didn't even warrant investigation. The players I'm still suss on like Lewis, Vince and Tyson all did enough - and as much as I'd argue you should be improving your side rather than just hanging on to what worked previously none of them are going anywhere so why bother trying?

IN/OUT: No change
UNLUCKY: Pedersen, Brayshaw

Was it worth it?
Halfway through the first quarter I was likely to end up under the train home rather than on it, but in its entirety this was an unquestionably positive experience. The play itself may not convince me of an immediately glorious future, but after seeing every one of those 17 losses of one to 122 points missing the day we finally beat them would have left deep psychological scars.

DVD extras
Given that I won't get the chance to use this for at least another decade, here's one we prepared just in case...

Blow up the pokies
Morally 'getting out the gaming industry' (the gambling one, not selling your Playstation to Cash Converters) is a wonderful idea, and we're all high on life that the club is doing the right thing but it makes me uncomfortable to think about where the replacement money is coming from. Losing $2 million isn't a revenue cut, it's an amputation. It's one thing to assume we're going to increase revenue over the next couple of years by being good at football, it's another to overcome the handicap of being an organisation famous for necking itself at the last hurdle.

In this case I just have to blindly jump out the plane behind the board and CEO and assume they have a plan in place. Maybe they know something we don't and are legging it from gaming before the licenses crash in value? Good luck with that, as much as it would be magnificent for everyone else's gaming business to be struck worthless overnight as we fly off in the ejector seat, we all know they're not going anywhere.

What it really means is that if you're one of these people violently opposed to the Northern Territory games then you're shit out of luck. I've always been pragmatic about the need to play there for the cash, but was open to somebody finding $1.2 million somewhere else to remove the need. Now you've got to come up with an extra $2 million to cover what we won't be pinching from the pockets of addicts (good news for said addicts, they'll still be able to be fleeced but the money will be going to a racing club instead). Knowing our luck we'll deposit the money in the Pyramid Building Society and it will all disappear at the drop of a hat, leaving us to play 11 home games a year in different parts of the Northern Territory and/or China.

Final thoughts
It's taken longer than seemed necessary, but that's the end of all the home and away season droughts except finishing inside the top eight. Then on to winning finals, making Grand Finals and raising flags. Eventually. First, let's worry about the good sides.


  1. david stephens9 April 2018 at 22:04

    See we have Jessie Hogan x 2 getting votes. Why not add the two together and he is leading the AJ Medal voting. I' like to see that..

    1. Balls. Copy and paste leaderboard disaster.

  2. More than one soft free kick to untouchable Brown, however we received a few dubious ones too. Gawn's second and third efforts put some of our lesser players to shame. I thought Lewis worthy of votes; his disposal was far better than most on Saturday.


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