Sunday 1 July 2018

The Welcome To My Nightmare Game

There are many things I'm thankful to my family for, including that my daughter was born on the 1st of July so I didn't leave the house today to watch a game that may have led to me being remanded in custody until a hearing at a later date.

What a dead set fiasco it was, one of those pus-dripping slopfests that any fringe finals team is contractually obliged to suffer against a bottom four team at least once a season. After a few glorious weeks of slapping around lower teams, back to the classic Melbourne trait of falling flat on our face when starting hot favourites. The problem is that in the most competitive race to the eight since (insert another one because I'm not in the mood to look it up), it's the surprise defeat that probably leaves us spending September on the couch with our thumbs up our arses watching real teams going for gold.

This was the sort of game that we'd spring every so often when we were awful, scaring the shit out of a side far better on paper with high pressure and manic application. The difference is that we'd usually win those games by restricting scoring to ridiculously low levels, not by engaging the red hot favourites in a shootout. I've nothing but respect for the way the Saints turned up with a team featuring more generic product than Aldi and knocked us over because they desperately wanted it more. We were reasonably tough at the contest, but the moment it got outside we waved goodbye and only their own errors were in danger of stopping them. We did all sorts of modern tactical shit like playing men behind the ball and starting with less forwards at centre bounces, none of it seems to have worked. On the other side, the coach who was a quarter away from Centrelink two weeks ago was having a great day out.

To say it started alright would be an understatement, we spent the first five minutes squashing the life out of them inside 50 for three goals to nil. You've rarely seen such dominance, and seemingly the only plan they had to combat it was suicidal switches that always teetered on the brink of disaster. Soon enough they realised there was no point going backwards when you were always likely to find a free man standing on his own forward of the ball - often because multiple players would run at the ball-carrier and not reach him but leave somebody else standing on their own. Which happens every week without fail, certainly more times than anyone laying a shepherd. If there's not a stat for how many times a player gives the ball off then steps back and lets his teammate be put under direct pressure them Champion Data should invent one. I realise this is part of the gameplan, and there are probably times where it creates goals but to an uncultured eye it's too often that the player who gives off drops out of the play instead of running on to be the next option, leaving the next guy fighting for his life in confined space and with nobody to give to.

It was gratifying to get some reward for our constant attack, but like last week all the best of the first quarter was wrapped up in a few minutes and the rest was the sort of stuff that should have had alarm bells going off like an imminent nuclear strike. It was fine when we had the ball, except the absence of a half-forward line for the second week in a row, or when the Saints were making bulk clangers but you could tell pretty early that their forwards were still going to get a ton of opportunities. Speaking of outrageous clangers, Brayshaw got two of the first three goals and they may have been his only effective disposals of the afternoon.

We didn't even get to the end of the first quarter before dying, and my demeanour wasn't helped by spending the three hours before the game consuming about 15 kilograms of sugar. By the time the crowd was down to immediate family only and the ceremonial viewing of the replay could begin I was ready to crash through walls. Conversely, by the last quarter there was a physical and emotional plummet worthy of an episode of Air Crash Investigation. The only minor consolation is that we narrowly managed to avoid what looked like a career best day out for celebrity concussion spokesman Patrick (never Paddy) McCartin, when he looked likely to clean our clock in the first half I was ready to walk out of my own house. We calmed him down - or more accurately, St Kilda developed 11 more avenues to goal. By the end I called it a team effort and stormed out of the room anyway.

We should have known what was coming when a centre bounce saw a Saints player fly through the middle like a cannonball and run onto the tap. The closest any of our lot got to him was one player falling over in the general vicinity - possibly due to the wake vortex caused by his opponent going through so quickly. I spent the rest of the game watching in a state of sugared up anger (and yes, if you are reading from the Department of Human Services the birthday girl was elsewhere by this time. I did yell "FUCK!" at the top of my voice as my wife was making a work phone call so that's something) so can't remember if it cost us a goal. If it didn't it should have, I may never have seen a better centre clearance in my life.

We were busily chucking away the lead by any means necessary, including Tyson and Viney jointly contributing to one of those much loved administrative free kicks by wandering within close range of a guy kicking from outside 50. It's a shit rule but we fell right into it, and not the first time a 50 cost us a goal. Then Gawn was pinged for a down the ground free after the most incidental of all contact as the St Kilda player disposed of the ball, allowing a forward who was meant to take his kick from an obscure angle to walk into an unguarded open goal instead.

It's either a sign of maturity or world class scapegoating that despite being rolled for multiple goals by the umpires there's barely anyone pointing the finger at them, and instead it's individual players and coaches who are being torn to bits by a frenzied mob. Rightly so, we were fisted on a couple of dodgy decisions (the Salem tackle being called in the back anyone?) but did ourselves a dozen times more damage by being flatter than a shit carter's hat.

A nice goal to the Anal-Bullet at the end meant we only went into quarter time a point down, having taken our hands off their throat after five minutes and allowing them to roar back into life but never give a hungry team an even break. There were multiple opportunities to stuff them back in their box and resume normal service, but we couldn't stop them legging it forward in waves with our players trailing behind like they were running in quicksand. Speed kills, and the rest of the league knows it.

The first goal of the second quarter should have been the rev up we needed, but instead we were left grimly defending for the next 10 minutes. The only player we had that looked remotely convincing was Gawn, who wasn't getting much value from the midfield (including Viney, wasted for the first half on a pointless tagging job before being freed to play his normal game - if you're going to tag why do it with good players?) so had to do it all himself. He even roved his own tap to hit a perfect inside 50 pass to Weideman, one of the few times all day any of our forwards led at the ball instead of having it dumped on their head with five players to beat. Usually at least two of those five were their own teammates as we set a world record for spoils inside attacking 50.

The Weid missed, and it was a typical game for him, trying hard without getting much of the ball and generally finding the standard a massive jump from the VFL. I got sucked into picking him off the back of seven goals against a bog standard Coburg team, but in retrospect that was too hasty and he should have been made to touch up decent opposition first. What are you supposed to go on though, VFL form against nobodies or Tim Smith barely touching it against Port? Now that Pedersen is in the China Southern Airlines position change departure lounge after his Queen's Birthday struggles it was Weid's turn to have a crack. I love his endeavour but if you're only going to average eight disposals a game you'd want to convert some of the opportunities. Maybe we don't pick any of the rotating third string talls and clear the way for Hogan to have a clearer crack at it? If you're going to play McDonald on the wing for half a quarter you can't take the moral high-ground on using him in the middle twice a quarter.

After a brief period of St Kilda dominance we got on top again in the middle of the quarter for three in a row - including James Harmes winning a humanitarian award for openly admitting he had no idea whether his foot had connected with a ball before it went over. Fortunately the goal umpire was more certain, and when the video reviewer refused to get involved it stood.

Once more we had the dagger poised for the coup de grace but failed to put them away, dropping one goal on an iffy free and the other via Melksham not running wide enough of a player 70 metres out from goal. For the second time it was probably the correct application (though umpires can't accurately judge how far a kick goes, how are they supposed to get this right) of a joyless, corporate rule. Was there a concern that he'd somehow put the player off his kick by not giving appropriately wide berth? Fair enough you can't stand right behind them, but if you play on and are pinged by a player five metres to your left then stiff shit. There's no need to look for inspiration in the regulations of international shipping, unless you're watching us haplessly trying to deal with another team's transition out of defence and feel like flying the Man Overboard flag.

Ironically this would have been happening right at the time when several children had spent minutes failing to make a dint on a pinata and I was called upon to finish it off with a tennis racquet. I must have had psychic feelings about what was going on at the MCG, because even while trying to provide a good example to children by not being overly aggressive I slashed the top off like it was a medieval battleground. That clean decapitation neatly mirrored the Saints moving the ball from end to end with only the most token of resistance, eventually finding their way to a defence that could politely be described as confused. You'd have thought by now our backmen would be so used to the rest of the team standing back and letting teams fling forward effortlessly that they'd have developed a plan to combat it.

It was a bad day for our backline, already ridiculously easy to score against but now no longer covered up for by a fully functioning attack or midfield. It's no wonder the much loved quick transition, cheapskate over the top open goal has been eliminated when Hibberd is the only man down there capable of setting it up. Oscar McSizzle, Joel Smith and Harrison Petty had 39 touches between them, Jetta and Lewis are best suited to short kicks, and Salem is good with ball in hand but doesn't feel like anything approaching an attacking weapon. So if Hibberd isn't doing it then good luck finding anyone else to. You should be able to rely on midfielders pushing back or the archaic concept of a half-back flanker but we didn't have any of those either. Fritsch would have been handy as a half-back flank/wingman, but was called into service up front to fill in for missing person Mitch Hannan. If anyone discovers where Mitch got to please call 000 immediately, his family are worried sick about his welfare.

Keeping it from rocketing down there at warp speed would help, but I can't have that lineup together again. Smith is just going, and Petty had a debut on the Tom Gillies/Isaac Weetra spectrum. He's got the excuse of being young, and that has plenty of time to get it right but this was not good. His seconds form earned a debut, his debut earned him the chance to find more seconds form. Sam Frost is way out of favour, but if there has ever been a better time to pick a see ball-get ball-get rid of ball defender it's when you're bleeding easy forward entries from every orifice?

Just as we were set to make half time a few points down and with plenty of time to right the ship, along came a classic DemonTime farce. A bullshit free on the wing shouldn't have caused any trouble given how much time there was left, before Oliver took it on himself to fly the flag with a judo throw that advanced the kicker to well within range. If it wasn't for the pox free it would never have happened, but the 50 was the sort of stupid shit teams do when they're panicking under unexpected pressure.

Remember when we thought that at least if the top teams had our measure we could easily handle the others? It seems like a long, long time now since that epic vivisection of Carlton. If only we'd used that as the day to hand out thousands of free tickets to people from other countries, instead those who did show up (and none of them were in the top level of the stands by the looks of it) probably went home committing themselves to the excitement machine Saints. The effort to collect everyone's old scarves and hand them out to first timers will backfire when we're handed the bill to pluck 2500 of them out of the Yarra tomorrow.

Doing our bit for spectacle obsessives and scoring 117 in defeat will only be comfort it helps avoid wacky rule changes at the end of the year, for now it feels like an unnecessary distraction from a horrific performance. Given the lack of firing forwards it's amazing that we got as much as we did, try that again against good sides that will be just as willing to sprint down the other end and kick goals as St Kilda were.

It was another day of hit and hope kicks into the 50, where all the defenders know McDonald is going to run at it and gang up on him accordingly. That's the downside to going from under the radar to the most damaging forward in the league, now he's got to beat multiple opponents. I'd prefer to see him lead at the ball, but the long bombs would help if we had anyone else likely to take an overhead mark inside 50. The worst thing was that they lost one of their key defenders to injury in the third quarter and we still barely took advantage. Hogan got three goals but was otherwise ineffectual again, and Weideman may not have had a mark within 30 metres of goal since his debut.

Our loose as a goose defending across the ground flung the door wide open for the Saints again, and by three quarter time we were digging ourselves out of a four goal grave. Storming out of the centre at the first bounce of the last term was a good statement of intent, but watching a point be turned coast-to-fucking-coast into a goal straight after was a more realistic demonstration of where we were at. Statistically it was great and St Kilda fans (both rusted on and hastily tossing donated 2009 MFC scarves over their shoulder) would have been battering themselves in glee at the way their side was playing, but if unaccountable rubbish is what you need to 'improve the game' then give me Ross Lyon/Paul Roos suffocation football any day.

For the third quarter in a row we launched a comeback, it was just that we had the problem of having to come from nearly 30 points down. Four of the next five cut the gap to less than two kicks with plenty of time left. We marched straight out the middle again with the chance to put it under a goal but kicked a point, they went down the other end for a goal and we were back up to our necks in quicksand.

I was reasonably upset, it wasn't only the sugar and the outrageous football that were playing on my parlous mental state, fast forwarding through all the breaks meant there was no time for mental rest. It was all footy, all the time and I wasn't coping well. Even my usual stance of hovering over the television couldn't be sustained without time to breathe and by the last quarter I was sitting on the floor having a good old-fashioned sook and occasionally rolling about in disgust when something went wrong.

When Hogan won a holding the ball free in the pocket we might have been back in it, but he missed and it was pretty obvious where the game was headed. Having already spent the second half doing a x6 fast forward whenever St Kilda were kicking for goal I had to resist the urge not to give up, but when the unmade bed looking Jack Steven beat Oscar to run into an open goal and put them four up with about that much time left I did the delayed telecast version of a walkout, shutting off the TV, throwing my hands in the air and evacuating the room.

The last real game I walked out of in disgust was against St Kilda too, in Round 18, 2005. Over the wilderness years I've been firm on staying to the end just in case something memorable happens (this isn't a political platform, you're welcome to go at quarter time if you like) but am starting to see the benefits of cracking the shits before the final siren. It's good when you're watching on TV, at the ground I feel like it will take me so long to get home anyway why not just stay to the end and wear the pain but this helps you get into other things as soon as possible. Given that my in-person viewing will be severely restricted next year, the prospect of a satisfying thump on the remote control when it all gets too much looms large.

Today I was so distressed that I turned both the Foxtel box and the TV off just to make sure there was no prospect of accidentally seeing any more of it. It was a surprise - neither welcome or otherwise - to walk into the other room, take my phone out of quarantine and discover that we'd only lost by two points. It was such a screaming shitshow that even if I'd found out we'd won I wouldn't have been upset at my decision to give up, victory would have been welcome but criminally undeserved. It would be payback for 2017 if we somehow avoided complete collapse and the three consolation goals get us in on percentage.

When I was discovered laughing hysterically - and probably a bit disturbingly - at how close we got my beloved revealed that she knew the score and would have told me to keep watching if we'd won. That's love. My current feelings for the Melbourne Football Club are not.

Commentary Corner
I don't hold it against Dwayne for punting home the underdog, but how many times did he reference the Saints doing something 'last week before the bye'? Meanwhile Jason Bennett spent yesterday at Craigieburn calling from inside a god honest Spring Racing Carnival style marquee and the Fox commentators who call the D level Saturday night games professionally without ridiculous hyperbole were sitting on the couch. The cult of the big name commentators is obscene, sack all the big names except Huddo and give the off-Broadway contenders their chance to shine.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
Not keen on anyone after Max, but somebody has to get them.

5 - Max Gawn
--- Light years ago from a galaxy far, far away ---
4 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - James Harmes
2 - Jack Viney
1 - Michael Hibberd

Apologies to Brayshaw and Salem, everyone else can GAGF.

Thank you to observant reader @TomCarolan (possibly the only person who reads this far) who picked up that Jetta was showing twice. This was due to an administrative error that saw his votes from Round 11 added separately rather than on top of his one from Round 5 and a full audit of the votes was conducted to make sure there were no other errors. The intern who is responsible for this segment has been sentenced to a Barry Hall gynaecology class.

It's on at the top, with Maximum drawing to within one of the lead. Surely now it would take a remarkable turn in form from Hogan and the other two to drop off the face of the planet for anyone other than the Hamburglar or Maximum to win. With 40 votes (and no more) left to play for, anyone who wants to have a shot from outside the current leaderboard would want to get their skates on next week. In the minors I'm comfortable that Charlie Spargo is the only outside threat to Fritsch for the Hilton and he's not going to score 14 so Bayley is practically unstoppable from here.

34 - Clayton Oliver
33 - 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
8 - Jack Viney
7 - Angus Brayshaw
6 - James Harmes, Neville Jetta (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan, Jordan Lewis, Christian Petracca
4 - Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald
3 - Dean Kent, Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen,
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Christian Salem, Joel Smith

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There's no chance of me watching, so if one of the last three goals was a stormer you'll have to launch a protest on this result. I'll go for Petracca's crumb from a stoppage in the second quarter, narrowly ahead of Neal-Bullen's set shot from the boundary line in the first quarter. There was a weekly prize but I hurled it against a wall, so Christian wins a pile of rubble and a heartfelt plea to rip a game apart again. Tyson still leads overall for that goal at Docklands.

Ours was welcoming to people from around the world, St Kilda's was not. Dees 14-0 for the year and a secondment to the United Nations.

Next week
With Casey playing within five kilometres of my house for the first and probably only time ever I felt it was my duty to go and watch live even though it was also on Channel 7. To crank up the degree of difficulty I also agreed to take my kid to clear out the house for party preparations, knowing that we were likely to be heavily rained on. I can't remember going to a VFL game since Round 2, 2009, also pulling the pin at half time on a freezing Casey Fields day against Port Melbourne and didn't last any longer this time. At least they didn't think to charge an entrance fee, so I felt comfortable in pulling out and going home to watch the rest on TV.

At least I was there for the majority of Casey goals, as they went five goals up then narrowly held on in the face of a belated Essendon comeback. From the first half live and the last quarter on TV I can deduce that Oskar Baker needs a crack at some stage this year, Tim Smith is too good for VFL level, Pedersen's move to defence is the encore for him sadly being delisted, Frost could still do something for us in defence, and Vince is a good bloke for taking his demotion with such good grace. Given that the rest of the time I was wrangling a child or running for cover you would have got more out of it on TV than I did.

So, it's Freo in Darwin next Saturday night in a solid gold must-win scenario. All I know is that if we lose this every MFC forum around better put on extra IT staff because there will be an anti-Territory meltdown of epic proportions. Latest gossip suggests the attempt to get out of the second NT game isn't going anywhere so bad luck. It's grim up north. Pretty fucking grim down south too at the moment.

I'd love to sack everyone, but we've got paper thin depth so there's not much new and exciting in reserve. I'm super keen on Oskar Baker but not first up in conditions where the ball will be like a cake of soap. Another good VFL game and he's in the week after. Usually I'd be keen to give debutantes two in a row, but we can't have Petty and Smith in that defence so I'll have a touch of Frost please.

Elsewhere, there's no room for Tyson. Brayshaw has pulled ahead in the race to be our midfielder who can get a lot of the ball but torches it like an arsonist - the difference being that at least Gus can get the kicks in the first place. I've not got much faith in Stretch, but I'll give him another go as well and chuck a Hail Mary pass on Garlett. He didn't do much again yesterday but it's now or never - either him or Kent has to play, we can't just go on with this horribly wasteful strategy forward, somebody's got to get at it around ground level and provide the chance of cheap out-the-back goals.

IN: Frost, Garlett, Stretch
OUT: Hannan, Petty, Tyson (omit)
LUCKY: Lewis, J. Smith, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Baker, Kent, T. Smith, Vince (would prefer him over Lewis but won't happen)

The All New Bradbury Plan
Technically North and Geelong both losing keeps us alive, but this mid-table struggler of a team is not making the finals no matter what other clubs do so the plan is suspended until further notice.

Final Thoughts
Shit losses to otherwise bad teams happen to almost everyone, but how was anyone sucked in to thinking we were honest top four contenders a few weeks ago? The massacres were welcomed, but it was never more than fringe top eight stuff. We have the resilience of a piece of paper under a tap, and best of luck to everyone that exploits us from here. The draft is shot due to the Lever trade, but we'd best get something out of the trade or free agency period if we're going to be any way serious next year.


  1. It's Monday morning and I'm still angry!! I switched off the TV after Steven's goal with a couple of mins to go. Even if we pulled a win out of our arse it wouldn't have helped calm my rage. I'm convinced, no finals this year. And agreed, Gawn best on ground for the Dees by a mile

  2. Stretch will be unlucky if he has to pull on our jumper next week, I agree wholeheartedly


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