Sunday, 8 July 2018

Home sweat home

There's downhill skiing, then there's veering off the mountain and crashing head first into a tree. I'm not one for cosmic connections, but have you noticed that until last night our season had been in terminal free-fall ever since Goodwin turned up on Queen's Birthday dressed like Jean-Claude Killy? If we'd lost here he and everyone else who'd ever signed off on playing in the Northern Territory might have had to return to Melbourne dressed like they were in the witness protection program. With the prospect of starting red-hot favourites in greasy, unpleasant Darwin conditions we adopted the reddest of red alerts and braced for a surprise defeat that would cause the place to become unglued.

Everything pointed to an easy win except the venue. Without Sandilands or Fyfe, the Dockers fielded a team that looked a lot like the one we'd put out against them almost four years to the day earlier - a small core of respected senior players, some promising kids and plenty of generic nobodies who will never be heard from again. That night we kicked 4.10.34 and lost by 63, this time they got 7.6.48 and lost by 54. In the end the margin exceeded my expectations, but all I could see before the bounce was a fat ruckman and half a dozen other people I'd never heard of who were poised for a breakout game.

My pre-match confidence wasn't helped by seeing that St Kilda had struggled to score 50. What that should have told us was that last week was an anomaly and that normal service was about to resume, but because I'm scared to death of us failing to take off I expected Melbourne to suffer ongoing disruption.

I never expect to win any game ever, but there's a special place in sporting hell reserved for games played in unnecessarily complicated environments. It's immoral to say, but could we not have kept the pokies and pissed off the Northern Territory instead? Piledriving the Crows in Alice Springs was memorable, but if we can't reduce our commitment to one game a year the series as a whole is dead weight for the football department. Money is an important factor, but if we've got a plan to stop pinching $2 million a years out of the pockets of gaming addicts then surely there must be something to cover $1.2 million of going to Darwin. At the same time, even the most virulently anti-NT types would have to admit that this year the deal raised a million bucks and 155 points of wins.

The real proof of any damage done will come next week. Mind you, if everyone runs like they're ankle deep in concrete how will that look any different to our last start at the MCG? But for now we've comfortably retained our dignity, and the receptionist, the social media team and the person who reads everything sent to dupe email account can come out from behind the couch. The prospect of an angry mob shutting down Brunton Avenue demanding an Extraordinary General Meeting has been - at least temporarily - put on hold.

All's well that ends well, but Christ on a bike what a woeful exhibition of the sport. Even advocates for forcing spectacle couldn't seriously suggest a rule change that could have improved this clash of ex-top four battlers and dreadful strugglers in a climate where no bastard could cleanly grasp the ball. Here's something for your competition committee, forget zones and comically oversized goal squares just stop selling games to locations that aren't suitable. Apologies in advance when the AFL takes my advice, leaving us $3.2 mil in the hole without pokies or the NT sponsorship. Then we'll be found dabbling in the human slave trade and expelled from the competition.

If an overmatched team had to suffer death by a thousand behinds, at least these days we're the ones doing the overmatching. Given that we were tortuously inaccurate and may have dropped more marks than any nine goal winner in the history of the sport, just getting to a score of 100 again should be acknowledged as an achievement. That we had to do it via an outrageous number of easy misses was unpleasant, but symptomatic of an almost complete domination of the game. Everywhere but the scoreboard that was a triple figure victory, so as happy as I am to get the job done there's also a bit of a hollow feeling at 'only' winning by 54. The scope of our dominance was nearly unprecedented, 24 behinds were the equal 15th most the club has ever kicked, and the second most since 1987. The inside 50 differential was the third most on record - right behind a different Geelong/Melbourne game to the one you might expect.

Gawn lost the first ruck contest of the night, but from the moment the ball hit the ground all signs pointed to us giving them a bit of a kicking, but that's what I said after the first five minutes last week and look how well that turned out? This time Freo didn't have a Plan B to switch to, St Kilda realised they could out run us, the Dockers lay back and absorbed all the misplaced, ill-timed punches we could throw at them, only rarely nicking one on the break. It was a classic mid-rebuild loss, the sort I've seen us suffer so many times in the last decade.

After five minutes where Hogan played like Wayne Carey for everything other than the conversion of marks into goals the Dockers finally got the ball across halfway to reduce our 'time in forward half' to a mere 97%. At that point there cannot have been a Melbourne fan alive who didn't know what was coming next. Their first inside 50 of the game led to a goal and the "football's coming home" gimmick of English soccer fans was temporarily replaced with our supporters singing "here we go again" to the same tune. Apart from one goal gifted by an outrageous turnover by Jetta - who has had more massive clangers in the last three weeks than the previous three years combined - that was practically Freo's last gasp. The game soon settled into the pattern of us failing to take advantage of dominating to crush them, while their defenders' legs were threatening to fall off from kicking in so much.

It was not a pleasant game, but in contrast to last week we were superior in every aspect of the game.
For all the shit the coach (and by extension the rest of the football department) get, they absolutely nailed selection. There wasn't much of an opposition in their way, but Garlett, Stretch and Frost all did exactly what was required to reboot their seasons - and in a couple of cases their careers. Forward pressure, outside run and a defender who could quickly close-down an opponent were exactly what the doctor ordered. I'll remain on caution until they do it against a good team, but at the risk of laying another boot into the ill-fated debut of Harrison Petty I think if Frost had played last week we'd have won. Whether that works in the important matches is another story, but to quote that classic 1991 banner:

You could tell we were far better than the Dockers, but 2.9 in the first quarter wasn't much defence against any fatigue related crash in the last quarter. The insurance plan wasn't required, this was one of the rare times where a side was so dominant that there is something in "they should have kicked straighter", because our midfield would undoubtedly have generated more chances from the post-goal ruck dual. Freo's Sandilands free ruck division had a crack at the bounces (or from halfway through the first quarter, the ball-ups) but not only were our mids superior Gawn was busy showing the difference between any old ruckman and the elite around the ground. It's not just the towering marks (under normal conditions, not many last night), it's how he's so clean gathering the ball even in dripping humidity and a more comfortable field kick at that size than many smaller players. I wish we'd kept The Spencil just in case of an emergency, but with Maximum fit and firing he'd have spent the whole year in the VFL because we have no need for a second ruckman.

With scores tied approaching the end of the quarter I had nightmare visions of us punching ourselves out Rumble in the Jungle style and the Dockers easily running over the top in the second half. After all, was our last win against them in Darwin not set up via a blistering first half before sailing through the rest in second gear? Still, for all the wasted dominance we won by plenty so from the outside all you can do is go on in the same vein in the hope that it eventually translates to beating a contender. We're now 0-5 against sides currently in the eight and 9-1 vs sides outside it. Better than what we used to get, but mid-table mediocrity is like carbon monoxide and will eventually suffocate you.

With nobody - and I mean nobody, because even Hogan ran around to snap a goal instead of taking a set shot 20 metres out - able to convert from a standing start, Melksham was required to craft our second goal via a weird scenario. His riding of a tackle to spin goalward and kick accurately was hardly Tom McDonald in Perth, but it came just as extreme scenes were threatening to break out in my living room. Then we went back to missing opportunities, with even the usually dead eyed Sizzle spraying what should have been a sitter by his lofty standards.

A nine point lead - all behinds - said nothing about the game other than our inability to convert. In his press conference Ross Lyon said "sometimes, you're just not good enough", and if he'd commandeered the Fox Sports microphone to say that at quarter time it would have saved a lot of people a lot of time. Still, I can't see why any neutrals would have been left by the start of second quarter anyway. It was just bad viewing, one side completely squashing the other but without the perverse aspect of a massive thrashing to hold interest. My interest was firmly held, hovering over the TV yelling obscenities at all and sundry.

Several of the aforementioned obscenities were directed at the goal kicking efforts of Alex Neal-Bullen and Christian Petracca, both of who converted like they had a wooden leg full of termites. At least Truck made up for it with everything else he did, I remain a fan of the Bullet but apart from a short purple patch in the middle of our glory weeks he's been a more palatable version of $cully for most of the year - runs a lot, doesn't do much else. I'm confident that he'll bob up with a few nice things each week but could do with a week in the nightmare conditions of Casey Fields to remind him why it's so important to strive to remain in the seniors.

On paper the opposition were about as good as last week, the difference being we plugged up some of the Swiss cheese gaps in our structure and the Dockers couldn't cope with having to work through it. There was no effortless run out of defence this time, partially because they weren't capable of it but also because there was a modicum of forward pressure that stopped forward attacks being launched at warp speed. Garlett had a perfectly acceptable comeback game, not doing a tremendous amount with ball in hand but putting the fear of god into some wonky, previously unknown backmen.

Being the better side everywhere other than on the scoreboard is great, but it's unpleasant to miss the first two shots of the quarter then concede a goal down the other end. Amongst the fumbling and dropped marks, Freo rarely looked like adding another and eventually after half the quarter was gone we shambled one through via Hogan, Petracca and Jones doing a complicated piece of performance art entitled "You kick, no you kick it, no you kick it. Fine I'll just bloody do it".

The floodgates weren't holding much back, but they eased open after that and Garlett got his first not long after. He may have had a second in a row before another classic moment in the history of the video review. Petracca undoubtedly slid into the post with the ball in hand and should have been called for a point before Jeff kicked the 'goal', but nobody cared at the time and only bothered to look at it after he'd had a kick smothered and Garlett recovered to 'convert'. They'll say technically it was in the same passage of play, but how far are you allowed to go back? If there's a contentious decision before the ball leaves the defensive 50 and three kicks later it's through at the other end do we get to roll tape on that as well?

Admittedly this affected me more than a normal person because I dislike video reviews to begin with. I'd be quite comfortable leaving open the prospect of some contentious decisions instead of trying to find a way to make everything 'correct'. That will never happen. Either you take the Skynet option and subject every aspect of the sport to technological review (please do not do this) or wear that things might go wrong sometimes. If the goal umpire thinks it's touched just let him pay a point and move on - occasionally somebody will get rorted, that's life. Instead everyone hides behind somebody else making the decision until the poor bastard on video review duties makes a howler and gets the sack. Add abolishing reviews to the 'yes please' list.

After all that we got a goal to make up for it a couple of minutes later anyway, and should have had a another when Gawn missed from 20 metres out. He's the new Travis Cloke (except good), and when he marks that close he should voluntarily take his kick from a minimum 40 metres. That goal would have sent me into half time moderately confident of victory, but instead they went down the other end in the dying seconds, and after a half where our players missed from everywhere kicked a goal from well on the boundary line. That's DemonTime™ for you. Now I was terrified of it coming back to haunt us at the end.

Distressed by conceding from the first piece of real work they'd needed to do in several minutes, the defenders held a half time briefing that looked like the sort of weekend retreat sad middle aged men go on after their wives have left and taken the kids.
We kicked away to a comfortable win after half time, but not without a few light scares. The third quarter was our most accurate with 4.3, though this may have been helped by sending Joel Smith into attack to get in the way a lot. I've got no idea why he was there, other than Freo having no decent forwards to play on, but if the idea was it worked for Tom McDonald there was no such luck here. Suffice to say he's taken more from his dad's stint as a defender than the days where was standing on people's heads.

Nevertheless, a wacky experiment in our already suspect attacking structure didn't have much negative impact. The Chris Sullivan Line still loomed when a 50 gifted the Hamburglar the first goal of the quarter, Salem added another, then Oliver proved himself the #1 random forward option by kicking a second. We'd broken the Dockers, and had the game won for sure unless we lost our mind and started doing stupid things.

Like, for instance, Hibberd unnecessarily backing into a forward right in front of goal when we had a 3-1 advantage. Or Lewis giving away a kicking in danger free because he didn't want to pick the ball up, then petulantly conceding a 50 that handed them a second goal in a row. Is that the amazing leadership he's supposed to bring? At least when Neitz used to throw hissy fits and give away stupid 50s he already runs on the board at this club.

Lewis' presence in the team causes Jack Watts level divisiveness, and I'm firmly in the camp of people who'd like to say thanks for your service please progress directly to a career in the media. His supporters like to focus entirely on what he does with the ball, and I'll freely admit that has been no worse than anyone else over the last few weeks but defensively he's a liability. No pace, can't bend over to pick up the ball, barely ever lays a tackle. Doesn't block for teammates either, but who at Melbourne does?

I've been saying they can't play Lewis and Vince all year and reckon we dropped the wrong one. I'm not enamoured with the potential replacements, but I'd be more confident in Josh Wagner's ability to do the required work even if he lacks these mythical football smarts that people like to go on about. Imagine he hadn't been there for the last month, we might have fallen even lower than 18th for points conceded. It's all academic, Goodwin loves him so we're stuck for at least the rest of this year and probably next - by which time he'll be outpaced to the ball by a three toed sloth.

With a 25 point advantage made up of kicking 2.13 more I was still guarded for a total collapse that would cause fans to storm the tarmac at Tullamarine and tip the plane over. Then we finally had our revenge for conceding so many goals late in quarters this year. Freo's great lump of a ruckman clumsily conceded a free to Gawn with one second left and Max was just far enough out to thump it through easily. so an extra buffer ever so slightly calmed my nerves. As far as goals after the three quarter time siren in Darwin go, it was less visually appealing than Jayden Hunt's mega torp against the Crows last year but far more important in the context of the game. I could at least partially relax, there are still mental scars from only just falling over the line against Port in 2010 after stopping dead in the last quarter but the extra buffer was welcome.

The shock of Max hitting an even slightly clutch set shot was enough to convince Freo that their night was over. The purple cue was jammed into the rack (settle down Ross) and they let us continue to experiment with new ways to miss easy chances. The best of the lot was ANB hitting the post from the top of the square, though he did partially redeem himself by setting Spargo up for one and kicking another.

If Freo had sent out terms of surrender 15 minutes in nobody would have been concerned, we chucked on another four goals before their only one of the quarter, missed six other chances and ended on the very apt note of Petracca flunking a set shot. The points (both premiership and scoreboard) were safe, we'd blundered our way to a score of over 100 and the circus rolled on towards the next town.

It wasn't quite the reminder of our capacity for violence that it could have been (and based on the ratings even if it was nobody would have noticed), but given where we were at after the St Kilda fiasco it did the job. We did what needed to be done to stay alive, and if it all goes terrifically wrong against Footscray we can cope by blaming it entirely on playing in Darwin. And Jordan Lewis.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Christian Salem

Major apologies to Hogan, Stretch and Frost. Many others good in difficult conditions.

The battle rages on, and now there's only the fattest chance of anyone other than Oliver or Maximum winning the title. Given that there's 35 votes tops left in the regular season and I'm not convinced we'll be playing behind Round 23, the line of doom makes its first appearance for the season. Shocking news for Cameron Pedersen fans, hoping he'd string together seven straight BOGs while Hamburglar and Max score nil. Until it's confirmed that we won't be in the finals there will be lines representing the various numbers of finals we'd need to play for somebody to win.

Nothing much in the minors, Salem puts himself within range of Jetta in the Seecamp and Fritsch goes another week as the only eligible player to poll votes. It will take Charlie Spargo to go off like Darren Cuthbertson to catch him from here.

39 - Clayton Oliver
37 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
22 - Jesse Hogan
15 - Tom McDonald
14 - Nathan Jones
13 - Bayley Fritsch (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
11 - Jake Melksham
10 - Angus Brayshaw
8 - Jack Viney
7 - Christian Petracca
6 - James Harmes, Neville Jetta (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan, Jordan Lewis,
4 - Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald
--- No hope beyond here without at least one final ---
3 - Dean Kent, Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen,
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Joel Smith

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
He didn't do much else, but I certainly enjoyed Melksham waiting until the tackle spun him to just the right place to introduce boot to ball during the first quarter. I'm too creatively bankrupt to come up with an appropriate novelty gift for the weekly prize so he'll just have to enjoy good intentions. Tyson still leads the overall race.

Just a solid interstate effort, well designed and lacking histrionics. Freo had a well worded effort (though why not 'skill' instead of 'will'?), with a picture of Stephen Hill that made him look like a religious icon. You know I could almost have given this to them too, but that font is an absolute disaster. It's like Courier New after a three day ice binge, and I can't possibly bring myself to reward the overall product. Dees 15-0 for the year.

Next Week
Another seconds game on TV allowed us a closer look at the 'depth' of the list, and the chance to enjoy a Channel 7 game without dickhead commentators. For the sake of any network executives Googling to gauge public reaction, Jason Bennett is the best commentator they have and it's criminal that he's left calling games from a marquee at Williamstown, Craigieburn or Cranbourne while icy winds blow into his face like Ernest Shackelton's expedition to the South Pole.

Making him go straight from Casey to Docklands to call a second game could be considered cruel, but hopefully it will help them come to their senses and relegate BT to going "Wowee!" and saying player names in a 'funny' way at Frankston vs Coburg. Knowing my luck they'll trade him to Fox, leading to the perfectly sensible commentators with faces you're never allowed to see like Speed and Papalia to be further marginalised. Apart from Dwayne going off like he's just sat on something sharp Fox Footy's problem is not with the callers, it's with trying to work out what in the name of christ Dermott Brereton is on about. I feel like he is a sound special comments man at his core, but doesn't think anything without saying it and thinks it's clever to come at his theory in via the longest possible route.

Anyway, given that it was played in a rain alternating between pissing and bucketing down, with a force 10 breeze, and that North Melbourne failed to score a single goal it's hard to know what to take out of Casey's performance. I thought it was insane going down the road in the rain when the game was on TV last week, but the people who left the house to watch this need to be studied for science.

In those conditions the only players you could rely on were the pure grunt types like Bugg and Tyson. They got plenty of it, but I have my suspicions about it translating to the main event. vandenBerg came back after two years out and had about nine tackles in his first quarter. It's obviously too early to think about bringing him back, but even if they did there's no point if it's going to be as a defensive forward again. Nobody else demonstrated anything other than the ability to stay afloat, so the only one I'm going to have for the seniors next week is Bugg. I'm not crash hot on him, but ANB desperately needs a spell. Vince went to Darwin as an emergency so he can come in as fresh legs after missing two very different types of diabolical conditions.

It's absolutely ridiculous that we should be playing the Bulldogs four matches after the last time, and things will be much changed from the day we ambled to the last of our six glorious wins. They probably still don't have a forward line, but for a team who kicked three goals in the first 10 minutes and four in the next 10 I do recall a lot of players dashing through the midfield on their own. Last time we were saved by nine goals between Hogan/McSizzle and the Dogs playing entirely without forwards - now that we're rediscovered forward pressure I'm hoping we can get through this potential banana skin with a minimum of fuss.

IN: Bugg, Vince
OUT: Neal-Bullen (omit), Lewis (face-saving fictional injury)
LUCKY: J. Smith
UNLUCKY: Tyson (?)

The All New Bradbury Plan
Alright, after a week off due to anger I'll reincarnate the plan. Even though I still think we'll finish a distant 9th, fourth in the six team battle for the last three spots in the eight.

Can win every week - will finish above us - Port Adelaide, Richmond and Sydney
Unlikely to be in the battle for 6th - 10th so may as well win - Collingwood and West Coast (↓)
Likely to make the eight, usually still want them to lose - Nil
Lose against higher teams, beat lower teams, take games off each other 
Adelaide, Geelong, Hawthorn, GWS (down one line if they lose to the Eagles) and North Melbourne
Preferred result depends on opposition, usually want a win against higher -
Win against higher teams, lose against lower teams - Essendon (↓)
Good value as spoilers only - Brisbane, Carlton, Footscray, Fremantle (↓), Gold Coast and St Kilda

Your how to vote card for Round 16:

Adelaide d. Geelong (better to risk the Crows making a run than let Geelong get too far ahead)
Brisbane d. Hawthorn
Gold Coast d. Essendon
Richmond d. GWS
Collingwood d. West Coast (only marginally, just worth them dropping games away if they're going to win at home - whoever wins should do it by a thumping margin for maximum Bradbury value)
Sydney d. North (this is crucial - if North win this it will take some serious help from other results to get us into the eight)
Freo d. Port (not much chance Port will miss out, but losing to a rabble might send them on a downward spiral)
No interest professionally or personally in St. Kilda (can't play Melbourne every week) vs Carlton

Hollywood Boulevard
More of me in podcast land, you can forget the post-Saints misery now and skip straight to the loose as a goose last 30 minutes where we pondered the history of bananas in footy advertising.

There have been some suggestions about a Demonblog podcast, but a) there are already about nine so WTF is there to add? (I stand by this idea, but was just too disorganised to see it through properly) and; b) it suits my shambolic, volatile lifestyle to randomly show up on other people's shows.

Administrative announcement
I'm looking for feedback on a proposed new Demonbracket format for 2019. Pretty standard stuff but get in contact with your thoughts via the usual channels.

Final Thoughts
This season is stressing me out, even straight after winning all I could think about was the prospect of stuffing it up against the Bulldogs next week. In the end I think we're going to go 12-10 two seasons in a row, hold a better percentage than last year and still miss the eight again. What a wonderful world.

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