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:


  1. The Tyson injury happened right in front of me; simultaneously Max tried to hack one out of mid-air while Dom was trying to grab it. Pity, Tyson had done some nice things before that misfortune. It brought back memories of Jeff White getting his lower jaw spread across the MCG by Steven King in similar circumstances.
    I was very nervous about sending Sizzle senior into the ruck in the last quarter. That’s one injury we can ill afford. Also concerned about the low five creeping into Sizzle’s goal celebrations.
    Nice to see the Lewis of old return; quicker, bumps, tackles, getting us out of trouble a few times. Seems to have shaken off whatever injury the club refused to acknowledge.
    Matchday Experience: I thought Spiderman was going to act as the pace setter in the kids’ dash, but was superfluous to the ridiculously easy sprint. The bloke sitting in front of me had his expensive jacket shat on by a seagull; I didn’t want to spoil his day by pointing it out. Guitar bunny has been replaced by Darth Vader outside Jolimont station. If we win the GF he can have his own balcony in MFC HQ above the station.
    Oliver’s second half was good, but I had Frost in my votes.
    Well done to the post-2014 coaching staff whatever happens against Geelong.

  2. Horny teenager is just excellent.


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