Tuesday 28 August 2018

The great finals ticket crisis

Day 1

Complaining about Ticketek is like complaining about the AFL, there's ultimately no point because they've got the market by the knackers and can do whatever they please. Still, even though we'll eventually fork out the $7.50 transaction fee it's still worth capturing for posterity the magic and mystery of today's finals ticketing FIASCO.

I've suffered so much sporting trauma since the 2006 Elimination Final that I've got no idea how I got a ticket for that. Whether it was via the internet or by the old fashioned method of exchanging money for goods in person I don't remember it being anything like the sort of fisting session we've been through today. At the time of writing the ordeal is still not just unresolved, but they haven't even come up with a timeframe of when it will be fixed.

The blame goes directly to whoever decided to sell the tickets to four games at the same time to a total membership base of about 750,000. There's no doubt the AFL, Ticketek and probably the MCC will end up pointing fingers at each other and claiming that they told the others to take a staggered approach. I assume the AFL think they're safe considering their in-house media propaganda unit were comfortable in referring to it as a 'meltdown'.

You'd have thought the 11 days between the first weekday after Round 23 and the opening finals game provided adequate time to spread this out. Instead some peanut decided to go for the lot at 09:00 on Tuesday (why not Monday?) and lo the internet did collapse in a fashion not seen since the Australian Census. And with respect to the Census who gives a fat rats clacker about that compared to finals tickets?

I was trying to be calm about 09:00 this morning, knowing that the moment it went live would be the peak time where everyone piled on at once and would probably cause the system to burst. Ticketek may very well have borrowed a few extra units from Supercomputers 'R Us and we wouldn't be talking about this, but who amongst us didn't expect some kind of disaster? Fair to say that I wasn't expecting to kick off at 09:00 AEST and still be ticketless mid-afternoon. A few error messages and false starts were to be expected, this was a world leading fuck-up that should end in somebody being tarred and feathered as part of the Grand Final half-time entertainment.

The complication to the process was that I was in a one-on-one training session with some old mate who was meant to be showing me how a system worked. I got there at 08:00 and slowly watched a conveniently placed wall clock tick towards 09:00, trying to convince myself that I could wait until later and nick in after the rush but knowing full well that any bullshit excuse would be required to duck off to a computer the moment tickets went live.

I can't help it, Hawthorn fans can kindly hush up and wait for the inevitable Grand Final, I've dragged myself through 12 years of masochistic torture to see any sort of final and was hoping that it might have been an even remotely experience to secure a ticket. I don't care if it's in Row MM, in fact I'd welcome it. Just let me hand over my credit card details to a company that will probably leak them straight to the Russian Mafia and give me a piece of paper that allows me access to the MCG next Friday night.

So after holding out until about 09:02 I did a decidedly subtlety free "oh, do you mind if I just log on to that computer over there and check my email?" and ducked off for what I thought might be a quick transaction. Given the stacks on element of the ticket release I wasn't surprised to get a message telling me I was in the queue. After a few minutes of stalling while pretending I really was going to get back to the training soon I had to give up, leaving that playing in the background and instead switching to the mobile version. This was only moderately more useful, putting me in the same queue as the desktop computer. Twitter had already started to reveal that people were stacking it in the middle of the process left, right and centre but I had a religious-like faith that I'd somehow navigate my way through the carnage and come out ok.

To prove that the system was a lottery rather than based on any merit, the computer was still thinking 10 minutes later when the mobile loaded a list of events I could book for. "That wasn't as hard as expected" I foolishly thought, ignoring the tantalising option of Phil Collins Live to choose AFL instead. And off I went to the second queue, which claimed that "thousands of AFL fans are transacting right now". 'Transacting' may be a real term, but like 'proactive', 'gaslighting' and 'virtue signalling' it's one that helps you instantly decipher that the person you're talking to is a wanker.

After the computer returned me to the back of the queue twice via website crashes (which should have been an indication that things were not going well in the background), the mobile version paid off after about 30 minutes. My call progressed in the queue to the point where I could choose what game I wanted to watch. At which point we reach the only part of this story where I'm at fault (other than not just going to a Ticketek outlet at 7am and standing there until they opened). It asks me to log in and I realise that I've got no idea what the password for my account is. I tried all the classics and variations thereof for no reward, and not surprisingly the "forgot my password" button was under as much stress as the rest of the site and failed to respond when pressed. However, for some unusual reason I was still able to use the last ounce of Ticketek's Atari 2600 computing power to register a new account on the spot. Problem solved? Not quite.

So I log in with the new username, watching the clock at the top of mobile screen (PC was still thinking) tick down from 15:00, knowing that at 00:00 I'd be given the arse and forced to go back to the start again. By now I'd started to get a scope of the massacre on Twitter, but now that I had the option to put a barcode in and select a seat what could possibly go wrong? On mobile I couldn't tell what each of the categories meant so I just picked the stand, agreed to pay $68 and pressed submit. At which point a message popped up saying my request was being processed. Which stayed on the screen unchallenged for the remainder of my 15:00 then unceremoniously dumped me out of the process for taking too long.

Training was off the agenda at this point, I made my excuses and left so I could throw more devices into the mix. On my way I had another tilt at doing it on the mobile, working my way through the queue again before another round of "please wait, we're processing your request". At least this time I knew what was coming and didn't get my hopes up. By now the prospect of missing out still seemed ridiculous (and frankly it still does, I'd be staggered if it finally came through and offered me restricted viewing with 75% of a scoreboard in the way. So staggered that I might self-immolate outside AFL House), but what had gone from "aww shucks Ticketek" at 09:30 was now rapidly progressing towards an actual concern.

At least I didn't work for the Ticketek social media team, who were probably having to be coaxed from putting their head in the oven to keep reading hundreds of sour responses from people who'd been shafted. If I was them I'd have closed the 'replies' column and called my union delegate. This was not a time to be hanging it on them, the poor MFC social team who must have thought they were finally going to get some positive messages or any sort of receptionist.

No point being angry at anyone really, the AFL will slap everyone involved on the wrist and Ticketek executives will lie low for a couple of days then go back to swimming through bank vaults of money like Scrooge McDuck. For now I was concentrating on getting through the 'we're processing your request' stage, and added an iPad to the mix. No wonder the system failed if people had so little faith in it working that they were resorting to using multiple devices.

So for the next hour I sat there looking at three different internet connections spinning around the same queue for no overall result. After the first couple of queue reboots any early humour at the scenario was out the window and I was ready to knife somebody.

Richmond was the first outlet to report that Ticketek had done a Federal Government and adjourned for the day. The company themselves weren't having any of it, reporting:

... and when you get 361 replies against three retweets you know that the public aren't buying what people are selling. The first person to respond said the site still wasn't working. They replied that yes it was. It wasn't. Shortly after the AFL announced that they had instead stalled the process for some indeterminate time until they worked out how to escape from this mess. This was the modern version of the stress that stopped me from queuing overnight for the 2000 Grand Final after seeing every game in Victoria that year.

An hour into my three device extravaganza I finally got through (on the phone again, neither of the PCs used ever got to the ordering stage) on the iPad. This time instead of spending 15 minutes telling me that my transaction was being processed it just flat out said piss off there are no tickets left. Of course there were tickets left, this was starting to get ridiculous. Now I know how soccer fans felt trying to watch the World Cup through Optus.

'Confirmation' that the process had been stopped came from an update to the second queuing page, featuring the scandalously false claim that thousands of fans were still transacting before admitting they weren't. The countdown clock at the bottom continued to roll, and the person writing the message was obviously so under the pump that they turned 'competing' members to 'completing' members. That was the only thing being completed on their website today.

Many had managed to land tickets, and if it all goes wrong I may be mugging them for their tickets in Yarra Park before the game but for now best of luck if you managed to achieve anything from this flaming shitshow.

And now, three hours later nothing else has happened. They're supposed to staggering sales on the games when they do come back (now there's a sensible idea), and as it's now past 3pm and there's been nothing but tumbleweeds since that's surely not going to happen today. Like a hostage crisis the saga will probably continue into a second day. Updates to follow if I get a result and/or go troppo.

End of Day 1 update
Some genius has come up with the idea of splitting the sales from tomorrow, and thank god we're on at 1pm and not when I'd be absolutely unavailable to partake from 9am to 11am. Apparently, they're waiving the $7.50 fee. I would rather it was donated directly to their Twitterist to drink themselves into a coma.

This should be the end of it, but I'm not confident that when we're roaring to the line at 12:59 like the start of the Indianapolis 500 that it's not going to smack straight into straggler Richmond fans.

Day 2
Given that the Richmond/Hawthorn sale at 11:00 worked ok I was pretty confident of surviving this without throwing a keyboard into the stratosphere. Still, when the site crashed a couple of times after 1pm my blood pressure was well on the rise. Having no respect for the process I was still working a three device scenario, and eventually got through to the seat choosing bit on a tablet before the computer had got beyond stage 1. Glory be it all worked (and don't you think there's something in the staggering of sale times Ticketek?), and just as I confirmed my seats on the iPad and got the confirmation email the computer finally crossed over into stage two. I closed the browser window and let somebody else advance in the queue. Mission accomplished eventually.

Monday 27 August 2018

The Great Australian Free Hit

There are 198 matches in the AFL home and away season, and against all odds we went to the MCG after 196.5 of them knowing that nothing short of a direct nuclear strike could stop us finishing in the top eight.

What a feeling to enter the 22nd game of our season unquestionably safe amongst the elite of the competition. Since the last time that happened there have been seven MFC coaches and seven Prime Ministers. Even that day turned into a negative as a 10 goal loss cost us a double chance. This time there was a party in our stadium and everyone was invited.

Realistically, the challenge to our finals berth finished the moment Melksham put the exclamation point goal through in Perth. Even a team with a long and tragedy strewn history like us couldn't give up a 300 point advantage on Port Adelaide in the space of one week. To make absolutely sure they completed the once maligned Port Collapse Theory on Friday night and left us on a road to September clear of obstruction. We could have even forfeited, suckering GWS into travelling only to find a note reading "see you in a fortnight crunts". Instead, if anyone was waving a flag of surrender it was the Giants.

Having invested so much emotion in narrowly missing the last two finals series (one much more narrowly than the other), I hadn't mentally prepared for the prospect of being safe with a game to play. Six months ago I was convinced that our run home was so treacherous that we'd at best fall in by the barest of margins. This theory weighed so heavily on me that I was prepared to write the season off if we didn't win against North and Brisbane in rounds 2 and 3 respectively. That might have been the terror talking, but the prospect of winning in Perth then driving GWS off the road Karen Silkwood style with everything on the line failed to register. Turns out that this is one of those rare occasions following Melbourne where you think the worst and end up surprised instead of right.

From 2-1 the season progressed roughly as expected, albeit with a few surprisingly rampant, and ultimately crucial, percentage fortifying victories along the way. The two unexpected wins against a collapsing Adelaide were cancelled by Queen's Birthday and the St Kilda incident, leaving us level to the card where I'd expected going into the final fortnight. After the Sydney loss it was all set to end exactly as foretold, dropping the last two and having to rely on others to spontaneously combust ahead of us. The whole season had a smell of gunpowder in the air, and at various times all the contenders blew up - the Crows went after their pre-season camp, Essendon followed in the first half of the season, North in the second half against Footscray, and Port via a series of Demon-esque debacles that we'll be laughing about for years to come.

Who knows if Port would have taken their last game more seriously if they were still a chance, but in the end it looks like the original plan to fall in over the lifeless bodies of our enemies might just have worked if required. Because I'd been conditioned to believe we couldn't do it off our own bat I was open to entering the finals via Trojan Horse, then bursting out unexpectedly to slaughter everyone, but instead the historically flaky Melbourne not only qualified, but did so in style. For about the 10th time since 2014, welcome to the first day of the rest of your life.

Like a lo-fi repeat of 1998, qualification was sealed in the second last game, leaving us to deliver hapless opposition an unencumbered clobbering in the final round. There's a case to argue that it's our best run into the finals since winning five in a row at the end of 2000. We limped through in '02, fell on our face in the last month of '04, won a hat-trick of unconvincing thrillers in '05 and ended '06 thumped at Football Park as usual. This was a finish where we dismissed two finals contenders, one hard way, one easy way. It took us long enough to beat a top eight side this year that there was obviously an appetite for it.

Having only won one last round game since 2007, this was an excellent time to banish the unwelcome ghosts of rounds 22 and 23 past. From a limp 80 defeat against Richmond in 2008, to our gratuitous tankfest against St Kilda the next, a 10 goal loss to Freo in 2012, the outright abortion that was Paul Roos' last game in charge and whatever evil happened in the final game of 2017. I renounce them in all their forms. Even the one we did win next to nobody turned up to watch. Yesterday 37,000 people turned up and 36,500 of them were gagging to go troppo for the Dees. Welcome at last to the great leap forward.

The hit was not 100% free, unlike a scenario where we'd play an MCG elimination final no matter the result our penalty for defeat would be an away game against the Giants. That held no fear for me, if we didn't lose the original by 10 goals I was confident that after a sighter we could knock them off second time around. Then the game started and rational thinking disappeared, road trip be buggered I've developed quite a taste for winning and just want to keep doing it. Forever if possible, but if that's too much to ask for another four games this year will do.

With only trinkets to play for (we'd probably have had the crowd numbers in Sydney anyway), I was confident of beating the Giants. As confident as I get anyway, dismissing the nagging voice of doom that suggested we'd still find some way to end the regular season in misery. Everyone's had injuries, but the Giants have had their depth torn apart to the point where they're all tip, no iceberg and nearly picked Dylan Buckley just to see if he'd Kingsley us. The only remaining element of fear GWS inspired was Jeremy Cameron making somebody's brain bleed by elbowing them in the head. Their woes didn't make us a certainty, but I'm glad we took to the game at full pelt instead of treating it like a triumphant pre-World Cup friendly.

The Giants had even less to play for than us, knowing the only difference between victory and defeat was which stadium in Sydney they'd be playing at. Given how the Swans have gone at home this season they'd have fancied themselves. There's also less chance of treading on a cow pat at the SCG. Despite the lack of overall effect on their season they took to the first quarter with gusto, before standing back for an hour, allowing our returning heroes (relatively speaking) to provoke volcanic reactions from overheated supporters.

Misleading signs in the opening minute suggested we were in for a tough day, but the circumstances behind the first goal were an indication that the cosmos was still working in our favour. Oscar McDonald started it by marking a loose kick into defence and dropping the dinkiest pass in history to Lewis. It looked so ropey off the boot that the crowd was 95% of the way through their "JESUS CHRIST OSCAR!" whinging when it gently floated over the deadly arms of Cameron and into Lewis' hands instead. Either it was the most measured kick out of defence ever, a random updraft carried it to safety or Cameron just completely flubbed his intercept like a big goose. I'm prepared to give Sizzle Jr the benefit of the doubt to say sorry for being one of the people who got 95% outraged.

Turning to find acres of space ahead of him, Lewis gave it to Melksham, and he ripped one of his perfect inside 50s to Sizzle Sr. Tom converted it from straight in front and a carnival atmosphere erupted. It made a welcome change from people trying to set themselves on fire in the MCC a year earlier. Conceding from a move so long and flowing that it should have a river named after it encouraged the Giants to have a go for the only time all day, and after the goal things looked ropey for a few minutes. Especially in the ruck where fun name to say Rory Lobb was beating Gawn. Maximum then got a lob on of his own, dominating forward, middle and back until three quarter time when Lobb was packed off to the bench for a rest and Gawn was sent to stand in the forward line and hopefully not break his neck taking a screamer.

In an unwelcome flashback to last year a horror attempt at a spoil gifted them a goal, and for some reason Stephen Coniglio decided that four minutes into the first quarter and 6-6 was a sensible time to go full Tom Bugg against Richmond and shhhh our cheersquad. How did that work out for you dickhead? (NB: There has been a late theory that he was doing some trendy soccer celebration but I'm not buying it) Do we even have reason to dislike him or vice versa? It's not like he lied to a dying man or looks like a lost member of the Trump family. Maybe he'd heard the growing talk favourably comparing Bayley Fritsch to Jack Redvers Watts and wanted to stick up for a fellow #1 pick. Either way, it lacked either the niggle, flamboyance, or positive result of Bugg's original.

Coniglio had reason to be excited for a few minutes, as they put us on the back foot with the same sort of chippy bullshit that the Swans did so much damage with. This eventually sent the ball into a defence that was fine in the one-on-one contest but was losing structural integrity faster than a Yugoslavian airliner. It's to their credit that after a few minutes wandering in space they turned on two quarters of near flawless defending. The shining light at the start was Lewis, who has very much come good in the last few weeks. It began right about the time Bernie Vince was dropped and subsequently crippled, adding more fuel to the theory that we couldn't afford to play both.

It will take a lot more building of trust than one finals appearance to stop me looking for any excuse to think we're going to lose, so when Lobb marked on his own 20 metres in front while Max stood 50 metres away looking like he was going to heave my thoughts turned to worrying about getting a ticket to the game in Sydney. First world footy problems at last. History suggests there wouldn't have been a problem getting into something as trivial as an elimination final, but I was fretting about them handing out 20,000 free tickets to schoolkids and leaving me climbing over a fence to get in. It's becoming increasingly clear that until we're 10 goals up with a minute left in a Grand Final I'll always find something to worry about. Even then I'll be nervous about keeling over with a heart attack before finding out who won the Norm Smith.

The return of nervous times lasted about five minutes until James Harmes marked and goalled. He is no longer resurgent and has become simply surgent. After putting all his time into tagging Josh Kelly early to the detriment of his own game this goal freed him to run riot again. It also helped his possession count when we lost both Dean Kent and Dom Tyson to injury and there wasn't as much scope to tag. Poor old Kent never even got a chance at a clear possession so fans could burst into a spontaneous round of applause to recognise his soon to be iconic goal before an innocuous bump put him out for the day. One rotation down was unfortunate, then by mid-second quarter Tyson was out with a wrist injury. Without access to a replay at the time of writing, was it because Gawn kicked it off with a desperate hoof at a ball on the deck? If so no offence to Tyson but sacrifices have to be made in desperate times, so better that than the other way around.

The Harmes goal was quickly followed by one for vandenBerg straight out of the middle and we'd recovered all the ground lost in the middle of the quarter. AVB's goal was expertly set up by Spargo, who gathered within range but cleverly saw his teammate running into the pocket instead of blazing away. By now Max's life force was starting to pump at full speed while Lobb was beginning to deflate like a faulty hot air balloon and the ball was back in our court. Not long after that McDonald got his second, marking on a tight angle and unloading his set shot like a battlefield mortar to tie Jesse Hogan's goal tally and at a minimum earn himself of a share of our leading goalkicker award.

Consider whether there has even been a wackier leading goalkicker in the history of the club. The only reason Round 22, 2014 is even remotely memorable was him kicking the first two goals of his career in quick succession, and we were so impotent that year he still only lost to Chris Dawes by 18. Every time he kicks a goal now I wonder if I'd have toppled over and died laughing that night if you'd said he'd miss the first month then kick nearly 50. For bizarre MFC goalkicking feats of my team it's up there with Darren Cuthbertson, Jakovich '91 and Jeff Farmer kicking nine in the second half.

Even notorious assassin Cameron taking advantage of loose as a goose defending to kick the last goal of the quarter didn't concern me. By now I knew that we could hold Kent's absence up as an excuse for losing (not to mention Tyson and nearly Melksham by half time) and go at them full pelt in the rematch. But the heat was off and it never returned. Lobb's false start against Gawn continued to be devalued when Max beat him all ends up for a defensive mark inside 50 to end the quarter, and his next act was a tap that set up Brayshaw to waltz into an open goal unchallenged 20 seconds into the second quarter. Despite hitting the kick so badly that it might be the first right through the middle goal ever to be considered a clanger it further extended the margin. The Giants got the reply not long after, then packed up shop until the start of the last quarter. Best not jinx it and watch them win the flag but they seemed to be suffering widespread heart issues. There were to be no further renditions of their Moscow Moscow style theme song.

It's not like they didn't have chances for the rest of the second quarter, they just took a Melbourne in Darwin style approach to converting them. At the other end we had Petracca setting up McDonald in the square for his third, before getting one of his own. Now with Tyson disappearing after gamely trying to play on for five minutes with a fractured wrist, the margin was getting out to something defendable in the case of having to play the second half two men down on the bench. Then red hot Harmes got so excited about winning the ball that he headbutted Milkshake square in the bonce and it looked like we might be down three players. Harmes' good fortune continued when he got almost as much of the contact but bounced off and played on like nothing had happened. History was in our favour, the last time we played the Giants at the MCG and one team lost three players to injury they still won by 10 goals.

The Milkshake survived, via a few tense moments where he called for the ball to be kicked at him inside 50 while still holding the towel he'd been using to mop the blood off his face. I thought that was such a bonkers move that there was no way he'd pass the concussion test. What was he going to do if the ball did get to him? Use the towel to help mark it, or stuff the bloody rag under his jumper in the hope that the umpire wouldn't notice the red stuff pissing out of his nose? Sadly we never got the chance to find out, as the ball rolled out of bounds on the other side of the 50 and the umpire immediately ordered him off the field - which suggests he knew about the gusher the whole time. Given the force of the impact and the towel shenanigans I was astonished when he not only returned after half time but didn't appear to be suffering any ill-effects from the blow.

We'd obviously shifted the balance of the game in our favour, but a two goal half time lead wasn't enough if players kept dropping like flies. It should have been even less, with the Giants missing two easy set shots in a row at the end of the quarter. The second came from Coniglio who was not seen to put finger to lips towards anyone after missing his sitter after the siren.

With a two player deficit I most certainly did not expect what came next. Other than the first quarter of the Adelaide in Alice poleaxing, it's probably the best we've played against a decent team all year (and given that the Crows ended up winning 12 games we can count them for statistical purposes). It's not as much the five unanswered goals, but the way we hunted the ball carrier with malicious intent and rebounded out of defence like the other side wasn't there. Sam Frost especially was having another day right up his alley, taking marks and piss-bolting up the ground like a doped to the eyeballs greyhound.

Gawn got his confidence up for the Geelong game just in case by kicking a goal from the infamous Round 1 spot, Petracca added another, the Giants looked like they didn't fancy it at all and we were out to a four goal margin. I was still thinking about Sydney dying in the arse with two players out in the last quarter, and was desperate to build up as big a buffer as possible against fatigue. Truck should have had two in a row, rushing at the opportunity to do another of his trademark tongue-out celebrations and missing an absolute sitter of a snap from directly in front. He made amends soon after by completing the rare personal seven point play (and if you drew it back to his previous goal, a 13 point play) and it was going to take us falling to all kinds of bits in the last quarter to lose from there.

To much public acclaim Jones added another, before Neal-Bullen left the margin threatening the Chris Sullivan Line. The lid was well gone by this stage, into its third lap around the earth while those of us still at ground level were busy going right off our trolley. It may all end in two weeks, and you never know what will happen next season, but this was a complete state of liberation where all that mattered was how sadistically we could taunt a group of soulless orange people. They were so rattled that what should have been an easy goal went begging after pantomime villain Cameron tried a quick handball to a teammate running into an open goal and missed him. They were having that sort of day, completely mentally rattled and desperately reaching for the finish line to get the week off and reboot.

Melksham had a chance late to land us on the Sullivan. He missed because he was probably still seeing four sets of goalposts from the earlier bump but no real harm done. Because Melbourne has caused me such grief over the years I still thought it might come back to haunt us, as if they were any chance of kicking seven in a quarter without reply. Leon Cameron later suggested he'd packed Lobb away at three quarter time because the margin was too much to overcome, and I wish he'd broadcast that over the stadium PA because when the Giants got one in the first minute I started to tense up. It didn't matter that we were over two goals better than Sydney had been at three quarter time, memories flooded back of the Swans only holding on because we went about attacking like a horny teenager getting their end away for the first time.

The resistance was short lived, Weideman finished a set shot that was not really a steadier but felt like one to me. He had another good game, with a career high 17 disposals, a towering mark and eight contested possessions. Yes please in the strongest possible terms to forwards pulling out those sort of numbers. The more goals the merrier but he is clearly relishing the number two forward spot. If I was his manager and could confirm that he's going to be stuck behind Hogan in our pecking order next year I'd start ringing around because his value is much improved on what it was a fortnight ago.

We treated the last 20 minutes as a salute to great junk times of the past - including some that started five minutes into the first quarter - with the only concern a pair of ridiculous Max Gawn chases that could have ended in either or both of his hammies exploding. That's how in the zone the players were, they forget to go into self-preservation mode and were still trying to hunt game until the end. Or at least near the end - soon after surviving his second chance Gawn was exiled forward, and players quite sensibly began opting not to smash in to contests. Fair enough too, imagine the scenes if Jones got injured at that point with nothing left to prove.

The game had been won for 45 minutes, but the siren still gave me a rush of energy to celebrate. It wasn't over the top, singing the song or leaping on strangers (especially because none were near me) but more a joyful punching of the air to recognise a job well done and a season rescued from the brink of another narrow miss disaster. Now to find out when we'd play the Cats again.

The last time I paid attention to a finals announcement Wayne Jackson was probably doing it. It may have been naive to expect that we'd get the same dramatic reveal as in the past, but I didn't expect a league so hell-bent on injecting spectacle into your eyeball to be so dull as to just put out a tweet with details after leaking it to every journo in the industry first. If Channel 7 weren't interested could we not have wheeled Gil out for a 10 minute break in the gorilla suit wearing low grade vaudeville on The Bounce to give us a rundown of upcoming events. What a missed opportunity for me to nearly cry again.

And now if it's ok with cardboard enthusiast and television shockjock Chris J**d I'd like to celebrate. The man who was so ice cold that he teased saving his childhood club before pissing off to the highest bidder thought our antics after the Eagles game were unbecoming of a finals contender. Behaviour that as far as I could see wasn't any more exuberant than after beating Adelaide or winning any other close game of football. If he'd seen what I got up to - and more than one person made obscene suggestions about the wrist injury I got from over-celebrating - he'd have had a point. J**d was trying to pay us a complement, but because the emotion chip in his robot firmware hasn't been activated he just came across as a joyless tossbag.

We should celebrate where we're at. 2013 was such a shit season that a last round loss actually increased our percentage by 1.2 to 54.1%. Carlton have just finished a two win season likely to land them a raft of concessions and backhanders with a percentage of 59.3%. That we were a full 5.2% worse than they've been in 2018 is horrifying. So, it's thanks in no particular order to Peter Jackson, Glenn Bartlett, Paul Roos, Jason Taylor, Stone Cold Craig Jennings, Josh Mahoney and all the unsung heroes of the post-2014 revival for digging us out of one of the most cavernous holes ever.

But at this high point of our modern existence, where we're closer to a flag than any time since 2006, a word also for all those who have worked in admin roles at the club. From the Twitterists who have had to read some dreadful nonsense from fans, to the string of receptionists being blasted over the phone by lunatics, membership staff trying to extract dollars from deadbeat supporters and all others who have served during the Credibility Wars we salute you as BLOODY HEROES.

Junior Tipsters Corner
For the first time since her opinion was sought on Queen's Birthday Monday, my kid incorrectly predicted the result of a game. Asked if we'd win she said no but given the atmosphere of euphoria I restrained myself from doing a domestic version of Choke Yourself With A Tie at the 2004 Grand Final and yelling "Small child, YOU WERE WRONG!" when I got home.

It's all good, we'll be coming through the door of Thursday's kinder footy teams day like this:

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - James Harmes
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jordan Lewis
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to most, but especially Tyson (pre-injury), Frost, Salem, Brayshaw, O. McDonald, Melksham and Jetta.

The race for the top is still alive, but we'll have to get to a semi final minimum for Maximum to be a chance. There's precedent for a September chasedown, in 2006 Brock McLean mowed down Cameron Bruce with four votes in the losing Freo final. In retrospect my mental state was not right that evening, given that I wrote how Luke Darcy was going to be a fine commentator. Meanwhile, the Harmy Army has gone off its tits as their man hits the top five. He only had 13 votes total in his career before this year (eight of them last season), and now he's a red hot chance of overtaking Hogan for a podium finish.

No change in the minors, where Fritsch is now four finals ahead of anyone (e.g. Spargo, unless Harrison Petty is going to turn up and do something bizarre in the finals) in the race for the Hilton. Lewis cuts the gap on Salem to two in the Seecamp, and a well-deserved cut it is too.

60 - Clayton Oliver (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- At least two finals needed ---
51 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Abandon all hope ye beyond here ---
29 - Jesse Hogan
27 - James Harmes
23 - Angus Brayshaw
18 - Tom McDonald
16 - Bayley Fritsch (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
14 - Nathan Jones
13 - Jake Melksham
10 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Christian Petracca
8 - Jordan Lewis, Jack Viney
6 - Neville Jetta, Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan
4 - Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald
3 - Dean Kent, Jake Lever, Dom Tyson
2 - Sam Frost
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Joel Smith

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With apologies to the satisfying thud off the boot for McDonald's second, the last weekly prize of the regular season goes to Christian Petracca for his goal in the third quarter. He played the entire term like a forward line version of escaped circus animal Sam Frost, opening it by gathering in traffic, doing a neat jig with chaos swirling around him and kicking a very nice goal. He went off, I went off, J**d sat on the couch with his thumb up his arse being serious.

Technically Spargo in Geelong still has the overall lead, but after watching the Kent goal about 29 times in the last eight days I'm wondering whether to promote that to first on importance alone. Think of a more crucial version of Watts' 2016 title winning set shot against the Suns. In any other year since this award was introduced I'd have to decide now, but in this brave new world there's extra time to mull over the result or for somebody to kick an even more outrageous/important goal during the finals. Watch this space.

What a time to rip out the banner of the season. Kudos to all involved.
Given their obvious handicap of having 37 fans in Victoria, the Giants put out a solid (albeit one-sided) effort. The font was ok, the kerning was excellent, the message was trite but flowed well, and the curtain was kept down to a bare minimum. An encouraging performance in difficult conditions.

Obviously the Dees win again. At the time I nearly declared the perfect season complete, reflexively thinking that last round also meant last game. Not this year. It's 22-0 for the regular season, with a minimum of one more battle to come. It's important to go unbeaten here, because there's no way Richmond will allow somebody in a comedy suit to ruin their 50% share of the Anzac Eve banner again next season.

Crowd Watch
It wasn't just the players going for a victory lap, I spent time in all the places I'd been hurt over the last 12 years. The day started with the faithful in the Redlegs area, where you'd think people would have adopted a serene attitude to life after last week but were all in on the home final and acting accordingly. One bloke was like me in 10 years if I hadn't become aware that I was too old to wear a jumper to games, wailing when we allowed the Giants an easy goal, then burying his head in his hands like he'd gone back in a time machine to Round 23, 2017.

On the other end of the supporter spectrum, the people behind me spent the whole first half in a game of "who's that?" "it's [insert player name]". And far out on the lunar right of Demon fan stereotypes, the usually vacant Melbourne Experiences corporate box (and how nice that for once a Melbourne experience doesn't involve being kicked in the cods) featured six red and blue clad loyalists tucking into a table lunch. I've been to a few superboxes in my time, and it's usually eating off your lap during the half-time break but these captains of industry were horseshoed around the table enjoying a full meal and wines while the game was on. Thank Christ nobody got a picture of it, or the already tiresome cheese stereotype would have been made redundant.

By half-time I'd had enough of the true believers and chuffed off to the Ponsford to sit near no bastard. This involved a trip through the Olympic-Ponsford secret Cluedo passageway. On the way I stopped to think about various fiascos I'd seen from the Olympic, like Matthew Lloyd kicking eight and taking Mark of the Year, Max's Round 1 miss or the end of our tremendous cock-up against the Pies last year. Then it was off to the dear old Ponsford, where even with a surprisingly big crowd I didn't even need to get out the single letter rows to ensure nobody was within 10 metres of me in any direction.

Those glorious last two terms were spent there, perched high above the game and waiting for a bird to shit on me at any minute. Sticking with the theme of general positivity none of the hundreds of seagulls swooping across me during the final quarter unloaded their lunch and I was able to walk out with my dignity intact. Tribute was duly paid to the poor Matthew Elliot portrait that was violently abused when we lost to North in 2007.
Next week
Take a much needed rest and discover that the AFL's very popular ladder predictor has a finals mode as well. It's good timing too, given that this is the first year that there will be a proper eight team playoff for the premiership instead of an exhibition series since 2006. My reading of the situation is that the line goes through Geelong, either Hawthorn or Richmond, then the winner of West Coast/Collingwood. A trip to Perth should hold no fear after last week, except that they'll have Kennedy back and Jack Darling presumably won't be knocked out in the first quarter. For that reason I'm going to back self-interest and punt the Pies home if we're still in it. If not I hope the Eagles win by 200 and play Sydney or a $cully-less GWS in the Grand Final.

The week after
All roads lead to the MCG on the evening of Friday 7 September. I'm sure you're as surprised as I am that the AFL had their choice of fixtures and put us in a marquee timeslot. We'll probably turn up on the night to find the game has been bumped for a Carlton vs Gold Coast gas chamber challenge.

The timing of Tyson's injury is awful for him, just as he was playing (adjusted for the quality of the team compared to 2014) the best footy of his career. He's already had surgery so could be right if he was lucky, but let's play it safe and assume otherwise. Given that Viney was obviously coming in anyway it looks like a straight swap, but in a pre-match interview Jack hinted heavily that the idea was to play him as more of a forward/midfield than the usual midfield bulldozer. As much as I love Viney and want him to play I did wonder if that was sticking the round peg in the square hole just to get him out there, but Tyson's injury flings the door open for him to do what he's best at. Shithouse news for Dom, probably good news for us overall. As long as it doesn't break whatever's sent Brayshaw and Harmes' career into the stratosphere.

Late withdrawal Hannan also returns after two weeks to get his knee right as an obvious replacement for Kent. This means Kennedy-Harris survives against the odds. He was serviceable yesterday, it's just that one of the two returning players would have squeezed him out. Now much to the detriment of Casey's finals chances he survives and best of luck to him. There wasn't much else out of the VFL game this week, Pedersen was forward again for whatever reason kicking goals but isn't required except in an emergency, and Garlett played a good first half but as much as I'd love some September crumb he hasn't shown anything this year to suggest he'd withstand the finals furnace. Bugg was a holdover player for the 1s so didn't get a game, and there's no way they're going to mysteriously inject niggle into the side now. Just the players returning from injury for me thanks.

As for the challenge, it's not like we can't compete with Geelong. In Round 1 we spent the first half with our defence introducing themselves to each other and should still have won, then fell to bits when the game was in our hands at Kardinia Park. Here's to the Cats all-time soft run into the finals coming back to haunt them. It'll be a shame to lose Harmes to a ruthless tagging job on Dangerfield again, but the way he's going he's just as likely to pick up 30 touches going the other way. Finally, it's not for me to tell a 14-8 finals coach what to do, but maybe put Frost on Hawkins this time eh Goody?

IN: Viney, Hannan
OUT: Tyson, Kent (inj)
LUCKY: Kennedy-Harris
UNLUCKY: Bugg and not many others.

We can beat them, and I'm confident we will at the very least engineer another thriller. For no good reason I'm confident this group won't get nervous at the prospect of playing finals. Given the nature of our two losses to them this year (and you can safely ignore the pre-match video packages, which will focus almost entirely on us losing in heartbreaking circumstances) there's an added element of pressure, but bring it on. No third edition of anything has been good since Police Academy 3: Back in Training, but I want to win and am sure we can.

Was it worth it?
Very much so. Like Mitch Hannan I struggled to get up for this game, because deep down I wanted a trip to Showbag Stadium for another crack at the Giants. That wasn't compatible with being desperate to go into finals (my new favourite f word) on a win, and as I'm not confident enough in the New Melbourne to try gaming the system, the Showgrounds visit became an insurance policy. In the end we got out of it perfectly, with apologies to Kent and Tyson, not only winning but doing it convincingly.

Final Thoughts
For the first time in a long time the final siren in the last home and away round wasn't the signal to exhale and begin preparing for the holy trinity of delist, trade, draft. This year the carnival rolls into town at least one more time, where you'll be asked to be upstanding for the usual tape of the national anthem, people will get to the last few seconds before yelling out stupid shit, and then we will play in an Elimination Final, knowing that we are a better side than more than half the competition. It's been too long, hook this to my veins:

Monday 20 August 2018

You're going home in a cosmic ambience

There you have it Demons fans. Fellow travellers and sufferers of the virus. The dismissal of the monkeys, albatrosses and millstones that have been weighing us down since Round 1, 2007 is complete. Now to work on the ones dating back to 1964. We're only marginally closer to winning a flag than a week ago, but at least now we've got a ticket in the lottery and belief that we can turn over top teams.

The joy that our fans are feeling over this seemingly minor achievement must seem strange to supporters of good clubs. But when you've spent the best part of 12 years being humiliated at every turn there's something special about not only qualifying for the finals again but doing it in front of a crowd so anti-social that it's surprising they didn't do 60 seconds of applause for Andrew Gaff whenever Angus Brayshaw got the ball. This might be the finals talking, but it's got a claim to our greatest interstate win.

If we had to go through the disappointment of last week then it seems worthwhile now. It would have been much cleaner to have steamrolled Sydney in the last quarter and gone to Perth knowing we couldn't be beaten, but then we wouldn't have just obtained a lifetime of memories would we? The real reason I wanted it to happen last week was to be there in person as we cartwheeled over the Rubicon, but all's well that ends well. Going off like a pork chop in front of my TV acted as an adequate substitute.

What a weekend of hair-raising thrills, spills and gastric distress. Short on confidence about us winning two in a row in Perth for the first time since 2000 my focus was still on how others could do the work for us. It felt defeatist, but going straight off the Super Bradbury how to vote card just in case was the sensible way to look at it. Surely you know by now that when it comes to this club expect the worst and take anything else as a bonus.

I've taken more notice of neutral games in the last fortnight than any time for years, and the first port of call was Richmond beating Essendon. They made hard work of it by resting three players and allowing the Bombers to launch a furious comeback that nearly got up. Fortunately it didn't, so that was one contender wiped out and the focus turned to Port Adelaide. A top eight fixture all season they've had a MFC nightmare style run over the last couple of weeks, first beaten by a goal umpiring howler, then a goal after the siren. What do you expect when you recruit 10% of our 2013 senior list? Now they just needed to lose to Collingwood and our game both became 'win and in' AND kept the door ajar to losing both and falling in default. So while trying to avoid mingling with another parents at a four year old birthday I find they're three goals up in the first quarter. Lucky there was no better place to be for unhealthy comfort food.

Meanwhile at our old friend Kardinia Park, Freo did their bit for keeping Geelong's percentage down by holding a quarter time lead. Then like any good waterfront workers they went home early, conceding the last 23 (!) goals of the game. With Gold Coast still to come for the Cats that was bad news for any scenario that ended with us fighting them for 8th. As that game went into perverse "how far can they go with this?" territory, Collingwood were stuttering to a 13 point lead at three-quarter time. It would have been just the sort of thing they'd do to screw us, but they couldn't help but batter a rapidly disintegrating Port and won easily. Good club, never said a word against them.

In theory Port and GWS could combine for a 300 point swing against us and knock us out on percentage, but even I'm not deranged enough to contemplate that. Once I'd shamefully punted the old enemy (circa 1964) home and Sydney beat GWS to break away from the pack, I became convinced that we had to win it off our own bat rather than hope for others to stack ahead of us. Which was easier said than done going first to Perth, then back to the MCG for potential last day of the season "AGUEROOOOOOO" style dying seconds heartbreak.

The stress of having to consider something as wonderful as leaving WA with the most crucial four points in over a decade was enough to cause my innards to going into crisis mode. The liquification doesn't seem so bad now that it's been replaced by a feeling of euphoria, but the sort of physical and mental sporting trauma I've experienced since Friday night might have chopped months - if not years - from my life. Best get on with winning flags before I cark it then. For now I was fondly remembering those much maligned mammoth wins against bottom sides that seemed pointless when we couldn't beat anyone good, but which set up the monster percentage that has us in the eight no matter what happens next week.

It's difficult to win a flag if you don't make the finals to begin with. It sounds bland, but that's what makes today so important. We would 100% have been filling a gap if the 2016 Mighty Ducks Finish had come off, might not have been much better last year, and most likely won't get past the first week this time but at least we're there. No need to fast forward 12 months and be huddled around ladder predictors drawing up scenarios about how to get in for the first time. That distressing subplot has been dismissed. As has the great "you haven't beaten anyone inside the eight" debacle. Will second on their home deck do? It certainly will for me, and I'll worry about our record against the other seven sides still in contention later.

Perhaps the finest aspect of this victory, even more so than taking (and conceding) two four goal leads and the ballsy way we held on in the last quarter, was that three field umpires finally walked into an Eagles game and didn't obediently hand them the game on a platter. Of course West Coast had to win the free kick count or the stadium would blow up, but for the first quarter and at various points throughout this enchanted afternoon we genuinely got away with doing a few dodgy things. About time. In the circumstances that would have been welcomed anywhere, but even better when you can make 50,000 people who have had a white male style run of entitlement squeal like pigs. Some are still sitting in their seats at Perth Stadium now, howling at the moon.

It goes without saying that there will be a full viewing of the replay during the week, but as I wanted to get this post out ASAP to capture the moment I'm just going to have to rely on scattered highlights and my highly unreliable memories of what happened. If something illegal had happened during the game I wouldn't be able to testify in court, it all just seems like a beautiful blur. The chaos I unleashed while watching was more than the usual interstate game ritual of hovering over my TV and shrieking like a banshee turned up to 20. It wasn't just one random screech of glee that accompanied McSizzle's winner at Subiaco, this was quite literally four wall-to-wall quarters of riding every possession like my life depended on it. All this while spending the first half acting as the responsible adult in charge of a small child, which is just as bad an idea as it sounds in the circumstances.

I couldn't entirely rule out the idea of us winning, but after being made to look silly last week it just seemed like such an un-Melbourne thing to do. One Bertocchi ham from the SEN prize cupboard to Garry Lyon for doing his bit in the wake of the Sydney defeat by calling us mentally weak. In many ways he was quite right, and of course everyone from the President down had to defend our position, but you know it provided a handy motivation for the troops to rally around. Especially in the absence of Hogan, whose season ending foot injury (and pull the other leg that he only developed that last week) meant missing yet another of the great wins of the last few years. I'm not suggesting trading him to Freo (and why would you go anyway?), but we've got quite the record for pulling off bonkers wins in his absence.

To replace him  and the dumped Garlett - we rolled the dice on a forward structure that added Hannan and Kent to the obvious return of Melksham and opted for Sam Weideman to replace Hogan. I'm not off The Weid under any circumstances, but was terrified at the prospect of him struggling to make an impact as Tom McDonald's second banana. No such drama, he had equal career high disposals, marks and if Champion Data is tracking it pack crashings. A couple of loose roosts at goal from inside 50 might have been handled better, but overall he played his role to perfection. Hannan too proved the selectors right, and while Kent was barely seen in the first quarter and only dropped in occasionally from there he saved his best for last.

For those of you who subscribe to the theory that you can tell whether we're on in the first couple of minutes this game was right up your alley. We looked confident with the ball and were thumping them with tackles at every opportunity. I've seen us come back from more than four goals down to challenge too many times to get worried if Plan A doesn't work, but in this case it was paying off like Adelaide in Alice.

For once we weren't the ones forced to mount the blistering comeback. It was the Eagles who had to do it twice. For only the second time in the recorded history of the Stranglewank (and I know that's one stat Champion Data isn't across) a team reduced a -24 gap to -6 or less twice in one game, following on from us on Queen's Birthday 2015. That day all our forward moves were cut off by Adam Oxley, today the game opened with similar from Barass. We haven't been screwed so badly by somebody with that name since 1965. You'd almost think we were playing with a Lockett, Ablett, McDonald forward line with the way the ball was still being hoofed in there at the start. Nevertheless, the Eagles were rattled and we eventually found alternative routes around their numerous tall defenders.

The best thing about the first goal is that it came from a strong Gawn mark, and after a couple of weeks where he looked like he was about to keel over and die from exhaustion when doing anything other than racking up hitouts this was a welcome return to versatility. We got exactly what was needed against the Swans, an extra tall popping up randomly in defence and the forward line to take marks and generally create havoc. He also did some eye-watering ground level stuff that somebody with his giraffe like height shouldn't be able to. Surely nobody that size has ever been able to pick up a ball in traffic and generally hit targets so cleanly. The next best thing about the opener was that Hannan marked his return to the senior side by effortlessly plonking through a set shot, far better than the comedy capers we put on last week.

There should have been a second shortly after, with Oliver taking advantage of a diabolical turnover in the middle to launch a long shot that landed almost on the goal line before bouncing away. Because I was looking for any reason to say "here we go again", that seemed like just the sort of bad luck that would come back to haunt us. Next thing you knew Weideman had a contested mark and converted another set shot so there was still something to be said for beating fate and our own tragic history and making this game count.

I don't know if we caught the Eagles by surprise with our chase and tackle early, but they were rushing to turn it over at every opportunity. Now that we had a team rattled it was important to finish them off, just like the Alice Springs gold standard for crushing a team's spirit by quarter time. One tackle that certainly surprised was Oscar McDonald flattening Jack Darling, caused him to be knocked loopy when his head hit the turf. Nothing wrong with the tackle, grow softer grass. To the untrained eye this and Scott Lycett limping off with a knee complaint were both favourable to our chances. Two opposition players injured in the first quarter, where have we seen that before? Lycett returned to be persecuted within an inch of his life by Gawn, but the man who could have standing in our forward line if not for a) sex romping and b) the avant garde selection of Lucas Cook was finished for the day. And thank god for that, I never factored key players going off injured in any version of the Bradbury Plan.

When the third goal was initially created by Oliver falling on his arse while trying to kick and we were through more than half the quarter without an Eagles score I did start to think things might be about to go our way. Even the previously unknown WA commentator rolled out because nobody else would fly to Perth saying "the Dees can do no wrong!" as the unbelievably improved Harmes stuffed his kick home didn't initially come back to haunt us. Three goals to nil was not to be sniffed at, but after doing likewise in the first quarter of the Port game and losing I wasn't calling Dial a Champagne yet. But there may have been slight raising of eyebrows when McDonald kicked the fourth for 26-0. If A. Random Commentator wasn't going to get us I was, saying to my beloved "we'll have to work hard to stuff this up". What a stupid statement, there was about 3.5 quarters left to hold a four goal lead, plenty of time to do something outrageous.

One aspect of the first quarter that absolutely gave me the horn was Aaron vandenBerg being freed from playing as a defensive forward to actually do midfieldery things. He was very good at it, as you'd expect from somebody who is actually a midfielder. From one foot on the scrapheap a few weeks ago he's bought himself another contract on the strength of this performance alone. Sure he did elbow somebody in the head, but hopefully if he goes it's only for a week. If not he can consider himself a great martyr to the cause. It says something for our recruiting that him, Fritsch and Hannan are headed towards the finals and none look out of place. It took us a few years to get top 10 draft picks right, now we're just plucking useful players from the minor leagues at will.

As all these mystery goals were going through and Eagles attacks continually crashed on the rocks of our defence, I was exhibiting the early signs of going troppo. Hopping from one foot to another, pacing forward towards the TV and then stepping back into my optimal viewing position, spinning around whenever something happened that I didn't like and generally screaming at the TV like an arsehole to the point where I had to apologise to my daughter because she thought I was yelling at her. There goes Father of Year, I'll have to settle for finals tickets instead.

It all seemed a bit too easy, like one of those games where the other side put us under siege the moment they get their hands on the ball. At first without Darling they had no idea what to do in attack, but gradually found their feet and started to make trouble. Their first goal was the signal for the smalls to start giving us the shits, with a midfield turnover ending in one little man confusing the bejesus out of both Frost and McDonald to snap from close range.

If that was all we let in I could still call the quarter an unqualified success, but two more before quarter time cut the margin to 10 and left me both literally and almost figuratively with the shits. The margin wasn't unwelcome, but nor was it reward for effort considering how well we were moving the ball and how often we were going inside 50. The main problem was as ever, speculative long kicks into the 50 that we weren't equipped to deal with.

It looked like the party was over at the start of the second when the Eagles were piling forward and repeatedly putting our defenders under pressure. They were up to it, with our man Sam Frost pulling in a great pack mark to defuse one opportunity. For 10 minutes there was nowt but points on offer, and while the score was struggling to go up my blood pressure must have been reaching epic proportions. While Channel 7 was admirably restrained in not talking about the live ladder every five seconds, my mind was re-calculating scenarios about what needed to happen here, there and everywhere. Here was the most important, and the contents of my stomach moved a bit further back to where they were supposed to be as Brayshaw got one against the run of play.

After a quarter of things unexpectedly going our way, the first 'IGA - how the locals like it' (and ironically they had their logo on the ball) umpiring decision of the day cost us a goal. In full total football mode vandenBerg flew in for a defensive spoil, only for an umpire standing behind the contest to decide that he didn't have eyes for the ball. Which was an interesting adjudication, followed by the guy who looked dead from the contest leaping to his feet and hammering home a goal from 50. AVB then nicked it straight back out of the centre and no bastard was game to try and take it off him lest he thump them. It was about time one of ours had a hurried snap around the corner that went in, and not straight to the defender waiting in the square.

For all the small forwards we'd picked there didn't look to be much pressure on the Eagles defenders as they merrily turned any forward thrust that didn't end in a score at our end into an opportunity for one at the other. It was like the St Kilda game but against a much better opposition. The difference between the Saints defeat and this was that then we didn't have the bull in a China shop exuberance of Sam Frost to regularly get us out of trouble. Both he and Oscar McDonald were very good, and in fact in the absence of Darling it was more their small forwards that hurt us than anyone else. Luckily if you've got a small forward, we've got a small defender:
Nev later pushed his claims as one of the shining beacons of his generation by engaging in a life or death grapple with his opponent yet somehow finding enough space to take a mark. After some wobbly weeks in the run-in he was very important here, not that you'd know it from the plonkers who do the AFL Player Ratings and had him about fifth bottom. Wash your methodology out with soap.

The game had considerably tightened up - along with my left and right ventricles - but we'd still narrowly increased our quarter time lead. The scene was set for something memorable to happen one way or the other. With a one player advantage, opposition fans were coming out of the woodwork from every angle to assure me that this time everything was going to be alright and that we had the game won. Fans of clubs who have won anything this millennium telling us not to worry is like the smug pricks in industry superfund ads berating their mates for being crap at investing.

Compare the pair - on the left is Lucy. She's a Hawthorn supporter who has banked a lifetime of happy footy memories. On the right is Sophie, she's seen Melbourne win bugger all. Same age, same premiership starting balance. Now Lucy has four flags and Sophie has none. Lucy is convinced the Dees are home, Sophie is not so sure.

Until the final siren the Lucys of the world were the worst people alive. Interested neutrals, did you not understand the immense psychological pressure we were under? The last thing anyone needs in that circumstance is to feel like we're going to look like even bigger knobs for losing. In the end you were right, and I love you dearly for it but next time hush up until it's over.

My scepticism about friends, colleagues and total strangers telling me not to worry so much (hello David King, it took a year but I'm finally enjoying footy) didn't factor in kicking the first two goals of the quarter. The theory that Melksham plays better with Garlett went out the window here, he was brilliant. Maybe just plonk any old small forward in front of him and wait for good things to happen? The first goal was textbook, from Gawn's tap, to Oliver pirouetting through hapless opponents then rushing to get involved again, and Kent's comeback from a slow first half by finding Milkshake with the pass. It was not his best kick of the day, but a slips catch dragged it in to extend the margin to 20 again. Then Melksham set up McDonald, the margin was 27 and we were away again.

Hands up any Melbourne loyalist who thought we were sure to win at this point? Me either. Because we are afflicted by a syndrome that makes us waste goals kicked by McDonald as soon as possible, the game high lead lasted about 30 seconds. The second West Coast Stranglewank was on when they got another straight after, then a third via one of the finest soccer style crosses and finishes you'll ever see. Whenever there's a World Cup on commentators will do a hammy trying to force in references to any goal off the ground, but this perfectly dropped from outside 50 for Rioli to side-foot through in style from the square. I can appreciate it now, at the time I was half-screaming something like "Oh fuck off, they're not going to beat us with that shit are they?" My voice was practically already gone and there was another quarter and a half of this torture to come. If we'd lost and I'd never seen a second of the replay something would have been missed not reliving BT's call of "I can strike it like one of the best international strikers in the world". Pipe down you tool.

With the smell of blood in the water, the locals popped big time for Tyson being tackled over the line and blatantly failing to dispose of it properly first, only for the umpire to call it a point. There's nothing better than an overwhelming majority feeling hard done by. At one point the goal umpire had to call a review for a West Coast goal because she'd been run into by multiple players as it went through and they booed that as well. If you told them they'd won Tattslotto and everyone in the stadium was getting a million dollars they'd complain that it wasn't two. I've sat in the MCG reserved seats and realised that I don't like half our fans, if I was a fan in Perth or Adelaide I'd just stay home and watch on TV.

My suspicions that we were eventually going to be exposed were not helped when Hibberd pulled up from a contest looking for all the world like he'd either done or was just about to do a hammy. That's the last thing we need, especially when we're only one foot injury away from a free one. He recovered, but given that he did well to be so effective when he didn't look fit at the first bounce god knows what condition he was in by the end. What this victory also buys us is the chance to rest players if we need to it, giving them two weeks off to get right for the finals. Did I mention the Melbourne Football Club is going to be in the finals?

Not that you'd know it from the pissweak highlights on the AFL website which ignore everything after the Rioli international world striker strike, but the rest of the third quarter was a Channel 7 executive's dream. It burst open for a few minutes while teams kicked goals from everywhere. Stranglewank #2 was complete when the margin was reduced to less than a goal, before Hannan got another immediately from the bounce. Then they did likewise, only for us to reply through McDonald. This time he didn't let anyone ruin his goal because he kicked the next one as well. But in a karmic reminder never to get too excited we leaked the reply to that one immediately instead..

In the carnage and chaos of those few minutes I'd allowed myself to believe again after McDonald's third. Whenever they got the ball into space we were in big trouble, but the backline was holding up well and we had multiple avenues to goal. When West Coast's last goal cut the margin back to eight again at three quarter time I'd swung to complete deflation. Now the chances of us coming out the game looking stupid were sky high. The problem was I'm not sure I could have condemned them even if we had lost - though you never know what sort of wacky way we'd have done it - because you knew they'd given everything up to that point. The forward pressure was shit, but everything else had been just as you'd want it in such an important game. Dare I say the sort of stuff that you can imagine seeing on Grand Final day. By somebody else obviously.

I made two shocking mistakes at three quarter time. One was not recording my blood pressure for posterity, and the other was failing to go viral with a video capturing my antics as the game unfolded. Knowing that I was likely to blow an O-Ring with the biggest force since the Challenger space shuttle, three quarter time was spent sitting on the couch, nervously flicking through Twitter to make sure the rest of the community were as likely to heave as me and trying to calm my nerves by taking deep breaths. What a sight I must have been, acting like a complete poon over a sporting event. But this was my chance to get this much coveted finals appearance in before I step away from full-time supporting, the AFL intervenes to inject spectacle until we die from an overdose, and the finals are expanded to a meaningless 10 team wankfest. I just assumed we'd lose next week, so North being humped by Adelaide on the other channel was no consolation I needed us to get the job done here because another week of this sort of tension might have put me away.

Considering how we'd at worst broken even in the umpiring I was expecting to be kicking into the rorts in the last quarter. Remember 2016 when we stuck with the Eagles all day only to buried under an avalanche of batshit crazy decisions and misinterpretations? That's exactly what I thought would happen here, but maybe somebody obtained photos and is holding them in a Geneva bank vault because there was nothing more than the lightest whiff of hometown umpiring.

With all my expectations set to crumble, kicking the first of the final term came as a surprise. Random Commentator was not wrong when he said "the Demons can sniff September", but like actors and Macbeth you just don't say it out loud. Melksham's goal had its genesis with Salem's first kick of an ice-cold last quarter where he didn't put a foot wrong. The margin was back to 14 and quite frankly I didn't know what to do. The obvious answer was to adopt the brace position, because that prompted the most serious of all their comebacks.

For some reason we tried to save the game from 15 points in front with 25 minutes to go by sending Tom McDonald into defence, and he was nothing more than another red and blue traffic cone for the Eagles to walk around as they kicked three in a row to take the lead. At this point I completely lost it, running into a bedroom, pulling a blanket over my head and screaming most of George Carlin's seven words you can't say on television at the top of my voice. That felt like the killer blow, we'd led all day and were now on the ropes taking punches.

We had about seven minutes to not only regain the lead but hold it. In a moment of high domestic drama Junior - who only knows our sporting teams as "blue and red" and "yellow and blue" walked up to the TV, saw the West Coast logo on the screen and said "oh yay, the yellow and blues". I'd forgotten to ask her the key question of whether we were going to win or not before the game, but did notice she was holding some kiddy Disney princess wand and said "could you please turn Melbourne into a finals team?" Whatever she said as this dinky plastic toy was pointed at the screen worked a treat - get her down to training during the week.

There was still work to be done. That goal left us in such a state of disarray that Brayshaw mysteriously ended up back on without his helmet. In a sign that maybe things would work out ok for us he even put on a tackle without a three-banger clacking of heads ending his career. I imagine it would be hard enough for his mum to watch another game at this stadium anyway after what Gaff did to the other son, let alone with Gus comfortably getting around without cranial protection. Good on him, medical advice be buggered there was no time to waste.

Despite the final margin, I am certain that one more goal would have killed us. Without access to a full replay at this time I'm unable to work out just how close we went to conceding it. Like the mental anguish in Geelong that caused me to forget how the game finished I've only just recalled that Melksham got the go-ahead goal before Kent's sealer. That's the sort of condition I was in at the end of this game. All I wanted to do was fast forward to the final siren and know whether we'd won or not. It's been many, many years since I've been on the gear but I remember the effect being similar to what was happening here.

On viewing of the highlights - and it's nice of them to include any of the last three goals instead of just giving up halfway through - I do remember the end-to-end goal that finished with Melksham goalling from an unguarded square to put us in front. It started with Salem, went through Brayshaw, and to Fritsch to rip long down the boundary for Hannan to run onto. The Eagles defenders did a 100% Melbourne and all went towards the man with the ball, allowing Melk to slip unnoticed into the square. He cracked it home, roared towards the cheersquad like a lion and we were ahead again.

With five minutes left there was way too much time to run down with dinky Sydney like kicks, but we gave it a red hot go. It worked well for a minute, before we were eventually forced to go forward for want of any other available dink. Glory be, a West Coast player overran a perfectly easy ground ball, Harmes picks it up and hits a perfect pass to a leading Dean Kent 40 metres out directly in front. Yes, if you have come in a time machine from 2012-2014 we not only made the finals but it came as the direct result of one player leading and another kicking to him. God almighty, it can't have been all that difficult for people to work out back then could it?

Usually in these situations I'd have no faith in anyone's set shot no matter how close they were, but it's funny how your mind works when it's been damaged by football. I instantly went back to the last minute of that game against North Melbourne in Hobart, when coolly sank a set shot to reduce the margin to under a goal. That was the reigning high point of his career until today, and remembering it gave me a weird organised religion style faith that he'd get this one as well. The two shouldn't have even been remotely connected, being that they were two and a half seasons apart and people have done all kinds of scientific work to dispel the idea that 'clutch' players even exist, but through it went and scenes were very much had.

As it flew through I fell to the ground screaming in joy, pounding a reasonably thin floor mat with both palms and quite honestly nearly crying my eyes out. I could actually feel tears coming at a rate of knots before realising we weren't yet safe from two goals in two minutes and a one point defeat which would have sent me to my grave. I regained my composure, and even after the last goal and another round of wild scenes the blubbery had passed, regardless of how overjoyed I actually was. In the event of us ever winning a Grand Final I promise to bawl my eyes out like Max Gawn watching Gilmore Girls.

It was only about half an hour later when the adrenaline had worn off that I realised the pounding of the floor had really hurt my wrist, and it still hurts like buggery whenever I flex it now. Small price to pay to see real-life magic happen. You can only imagine what state any of my limbs would be in if we'd leaked the two quick goals straight after. I didn't mind running the clock down through stoppages in the middle, but was terrified that we were going to feed them with an ill-advised kick into 50 that pinged out the other way at warp speed. If they got to within one goal you knew another would have been coming soon after.

Thank god for the health of my body, mind, soul and household fittings we got away with it. Like the Adelaide game there was an exclamation mark when the Eagles pushed up looking for a goal, and allowed Melksham out the back for the double sealer. Any score was going to do, but he rubbed it in/increased the dramatic tension by taking as much time as possible to kick it.

The players had done all the physical work while I just fretted, but nothing could stop my excitement at the final siren. I took off on a gleeful lap of the house with my arms aloft like a runner crossing the line at the Olympics. The jubilation of our players, however, was temporarily delayed by a stoush between Sir Neville Jetta and some Eagles peanut. Whatever was said must have been good, because Nifty temporarily forgot that he'd just cracked September after 137 games and a delisting and indulged in some manly jostling instead.

I can't think of anything that could have provoked that reaction in those circumstances (instead of, say a sarcastic pat on the head and "better luck next time dickhead") that we won't hear more about later. Once the lads were free from having to defend the great man's honour there was much time for celebration. And it may as well continue for the rest of the week, stuff the GWS game. I was almost tempted to find out what time the plane landed so I could go to the airport and mount Stone Cold Craig Jennings in celebration.

What a weight off the shoulders this is, hopefully the first day of the rest of our lives. I'm just so proud that as much as I'd have taken it they didn't rely on others falling over (well, not in the last week anyway. Love you Port) to get in. They did it with their own hands, and now anything could happen from here.  To paraphrase McDonald's I'M FUCKING LOVING IT.

Melbourne FC administrative staff, press send on the finals brochure mail-out with confidence this time. Receptionist, answer the phone with a spring in your step knowing that there won't be a nutter on the other end. Chris from Camberwell inhale a massive belt of helium. Crownbet take the $50 I had on us to miss the eight and stick it up your arse. Everyone else enjoy the ride, I'll see you in the queue at the Arts Centre Ticketmaster Bass at 9am Monday week.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
If I wasn't so hopped up about the integrity of this award could I'd give everyone a vote just for being part of such a monumental moment. But I can't, so much love to everyone involved but bad luck.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - James Harmes
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jake Melksham
1 - Christian Salem

Major apologies to Hannan, Tom McDonald, Weideman, Frost, Jones vandenBerg, Brayshaw, Tyson and Hibberd.

Maximum claws two back from Oliver, but time is his enemy and he drops into the position of needing a pair of unchallenged BOGs to grab a share of the title. Not only has The Hamburglar all but sealed victory, this also puts him ahead of Nathan Jones 2014 for the most votes in a season. He's a mastermind, and I'm glad that for once taking a punt on an unusual draft selection paid off in spades.

In the minors Fritsch would basically need somebody to come in and have a Darren Cuthbertson-esque run through the next few weeks to be challenged, and unflappable Christian Salem enters double figures in his quest for a first ever Seecamp.

57 - Clayton Oliver (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- At least two finals needed ---
47 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Abandon all hope ye beyond here ---
29 - Jesse Hogan
23 - Angus Brayshaw
22 - James Harmes
17 - Tom McDonald
16 - Bayley Fritsch (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
14 - Nathan Jones
13 - Jake Melksham
10 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Christian Petracca
8 - Jack Viney
6 - Neville Jetta, Jordan Lewis, Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan
4 - Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald
3 - Dean Kent, Jake Lever, Dom Tyson
2 - Sam Frost
1 - Cameron Pedersen, Joel Smith

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There were more spectacular finishes, but for a heart-in-the-mouth/massive release of tension interface you can't go past Kent's winner. Pending somebody doing something remarkable in a final that will become as iconic an MFC set shot as Jeff White from the boundary line against Footscray. That was a more difficult kick, this one was for instantly higher stakes and he drilled it without an ounce of drama. He might be playing on the same ground for a different side next year, but if so what a gift to remember him by.

For the weekly prize he wins a lifetime of endearing admiration from Melbourne fans everywhere. The clubhouse leader, with time rapidly running out, remains Charlie Spargo in Geelong.

What an incredible capitulation by the Eagles. While our lot carted a shitload of crepe paper, gigantic poles, and enough rope to have alternative uses if it all went horribly wrong 2700 kilometres, the home team emerged from the mouth of a droopy beaked inflatable Eagle into a guard of honour of some flag-waving secessionists. The Eagles have already struck a blow against one footy tradition by replacing their theme song with a soft rock abortion, now this. What an organisation. Dees by default and 21-0 for the year.

Crowd Watch

Next Week
Speaking of franchises, next week we're back at the MCG to take our victory lap against the Giants. From sooky fans to no fans, in a match that still has some relevance for unexpected reasons. For what it's worth I have us losing (why start showing faith now?), Geelong narrowly pipping us for 7th via a 100+ win over the Suns and a first up blockbuster final against the Pies. If Sydney beat Hawthorn we go there to play them instead, and I'll backflip on everything I said at Kardinia Park about never going into a hostile environment again and travel at the drop of a hat. Either of those scenarios will provide the opportunity to show if we've learned from one of our earlier major cockups. What a wonderful world.

In the afterglow of cracking as close to the impossible dream as we've had in a while it's hard to think about changes. I still reckon Spargo is cooked and don't understand why they picked him this week so he can have a rest. Two weeks off should keep him in good nick if required for the finals but no need to squeeze all the life out of him for the sake of what is effectively a dead rubber. With Casey finally losing - and no wonder when we keep nicking all their players - it's hard to get a decent form line on replacements but I'm opting for niggle and giving Bugg a go.

There is also a case for resting Hibberd as he is so important in defence I'd hate for his hammy to tear out and fling across the MCG like debris in a cyclone. In that case we've got so little in reserve to cover him that you could have either of Pedersen, Wagner or Kennedy-Harris and it's not going to make much of a difference. I think we can win, probably setting up a home final against the loser of Hawthorn/Sydney, but for the first time since about 2013 won't be heartbroken if we don't.

IN: Bugg
OUT: Spargo (rested)
LUCKY: Nil - warriors all.
UNLUCKY: Garlett (not from a selection standpoint, but he's necked his finals chances unless Kent goes kickless next week)

The All New Bradbury Plan

Is no longer relevant. There's an outside case for making the top four but that's not my concern now. Let your ladder predictor skills turn to working out finals permutations, you've earned it.

Final Thoughts
And so, after 313 contests ranging from an AFLX wankfest to practice matches at obscure venues, pre-season cup knockouts and home and away games we're back. A lot has changed since Nick Smith was plucked from obscurity to play Freo at Subiaco on Friday 15 September 2006. Finally, a chance to add to Demonwiki's Most Finals page for the first time.

The path through the last three weeks of 2005 was amazing, but it was off three other recent finals appearances. So, without access to the deep, dark reaches of the internet that were available in 1987 I'd have to say this is the greatest finals qualification moment of the internet era. Which is a relief considering the dead set farcical circumstances that kept us out last year.

Whatever happens from here should be treated as a bonus, but I've just got this feeling that they're going to tease us with something magnificent and we'll still end the season feeling something has been snatched from our hands. It will hurt if it happens, but not even remotely as much having our hearts torn out and shown to us before we died if we'd lost here and ultimately missed out.

It's taken me so long to get this post out that most of you will probably be waking up to it on Monday morning. The feeling is real, the brief Mid-Table Mediocrity period is over, the #fistedforever decade is now only to be studied to ensure we never make the same mistakes again. Welcome to the Fringe Flag Contender era.