Monday 24 September 2018

Fly In, Fall Over

In the final reckoning of things I've wasted money on during my life it's going to be hard to top this weekend without joining a pyramid scheme. We came, we saw, we paid a motza, and our team fell in a screaming heap. At least I flew there and back direct, can't imagine the people who allegedly went via Singapore would be pleased with their life choices. Not to mention the group on a 6800km drive. They might have enjoyed community singing and fraternal love of the Dees on the way there but the return leg will likely end in murder.

Just when we had some momentum for the first time in years this was a horrific performance, but at the same time what a fitting way to end my 2007-2018 period of deep emotional connection and even deeper emotional torment. One last elbow-deep fisting to sit alongside undisputed classics like 186, 148 and Round 23, 2017 in my nightmares.

Once we have a moment to compose ourselves it will become clear that there's a huge difference between this limp defeat and all those outrages. This came after two weeks sitting at the footy world's top table. The Geelong win was a monkey off the back 12 years in the making, and beating Hawthorn to a frenzied response left us one giant leap from the big one. Those wins allowed us to have hope right there and then, instead of dreaming about some fictional golden future far off in the distance. It wasn't supposed to happen this year, but nobody was going to argue if it did.

Like the people aboard the Hindenberg we had a good ride before the fiery crash. Last Wednesday I activated my right to a guaranteed Grand Final ticket - a ticket that now passes to a Collingwood or West Coast fan in a year where I didn't expect either of them to make the eight. Fat lot of good it did, just another $5 charged for Ticketek for 'processing' (286, 386 or 486?) on top of the eight seasons I've been dutifully buying that membership just in case. But it was symbolic, almost worth a fiver just to realise that we were one of the last four standing. In the end, the season still ends with a result that leaves us with a bitter taste. Like 2008, 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017 - and that's not even factoring in the garden variety loss years. This time we got two amazing nights in front of 90,000 people before the plot was lost.

After brief dips in the wake of St Kilda and Sydney, the period from our first trip to Perth to 1.19pm Saturday was so enjoyable that it was contending to become my favourite season ever. We slaughtered a few teams, we beat sides interstate, and more importantly we won finals. 1998 was a surprise coming off a spoon, but the emergence from the #fistedforever years and the carnival atmosphere of the Friday finals had 2018 just in front. Then this stuffed that up. Even though we lost the '98 Prelim we were competitive, and a way outside chance of winning at three quarter time. This year our tilt at a Grand Final ended so quickly you could have looked down and missed it. This year will hold up well in retrospect, but for now the feeling of going out with a whimper rather than a bang is too raw and I can only slot it into second ahead of 2000 and 1991.

Even knowing now that we'd serve up the first scoreless half in a final since 1927 (in a game that ended 25-13) I'd have felt like a coward for not going. I might have opened my bank account 10 minutes into the second quarter and looked lovingly at the money not spent on a fruitless cross-continental jaunt but there would have been regrets. If something completely bonkers happened and we'd won I'd have probably entered a deep depression about missing out on seeing it live for 30 seconds before realising a Grand Final was just around the corner and concentrating on that instead.

It really was a stupid idea to chase the dream of another McDonald 2017 or Kent 2018 moment. Forget what the bookies said the moral odds of a third consecutive Perth win in a game that meant everything were astronomical. Even worse, like the Geelong after the siren ruining the memories of a game played in 2005, I'm not sure I can ever properly enjoy Round 22 again without it reminding me of this capitulation.

But what if we did win? Just the thought of the scenes it would have caused still gives me a rush even 36 hours after it didn't happen. The midweek media tour of Paul Roos doing anecdotes about Jack Fitzpatrick copping a footy in the face at training, and a farewell to the 'Old Melbourne' just before it made a surprise reappearance gave some an air of inevitability that we were going to win. I just thought it was angering the footy gods. It was all a bit over the top, but at least after two weeks where everyone on our list except Harley Balic had been the subject of a newspaper feature the focus switched to Richmond vs Collingwood. Maybe that's where we went wrong, with the media curse successfully killed over the last fortnight we went tits up due to a lack of hype. Unlikely.

My delusional fan fiction about winning didn't even have to end in a thriller, I was willing to settle for a replay of Essendon being six goals ahead of a better Eagles lineup at quarter time three months ago. Anything would do as long we ended the afternoon it in front, and the idea of a victory anywhere along the spectrum from thrilling to comfortable to insane was the high risk, high reward gamble that led me and a few thousand other lunatics to make the trip. Deep down we all know that we're destined to live our lives unfulfilled, but there was enough hope to compel us towards Perth. I went with mixed expectations. I could us winning, but the idea of Melbourne in a Grand Final? Outrageous. Every time I allowed myself to think it was possible this came into my head:
I have no real reference point to us playing in a Grand Final. In 1988 I was an interested observer, and in 2000 refused to queue and sat on my couch sourly eating chips instead. This would have been the first time we'd made it when I've been old enough and of sound mind to go. If only we could vault one more gigantic hurdle and qualify there was no expectation of winning next week. I was ready for ultimate heartbreak with the entire country watching but just wanted to be in the lottery. A third fairytale premier in a row was far too much to ask for (and for our sins we're now risking a Collingwood flag) but like Neale Daniher said "Why not us?" Why not indeed, ask the Bulldogs if you need to be the best team in the competition to win one. You just need to get going at the right time, something we managed to do - despite being notorious inconsistent - for two of the four required legs before stacking it at the second last hurdle.

The threat of a returning Josh Kennedy and a not-knocked-out Jack Darling to the side we beat to make finals in the first place was not my key concern - though it should have been. I just couldn't fathom Melbourne storming into heavily fortified opposition territory in a game of this magnitude and holding their nerve to win. In Round 22 sure, and maybe even in an Elimination Final like the Bulldogs, but with a Grand Final on the line? I don't think there's ever been a Melbourne team in my lifetime I'd implicitly trust in those circumstances.

The challenge of this group is to become the first team in my lifetime that you can picture winning monumental matches. There was even a clue in the result of the 1994 Prelim (of which I do not remember a second), where a team that looked to be on the rise poleaxed a couple of contenders then went to Perth and folded like a house of cards. Here's hoping that this time there isn't a three year wait via trying to vote ourselves out of existence and a spoon before making the finals again. I don't think it will be, this result stings but despite a quick detour via the bottom of the harbour we're still pointing in the right direction.

About the only thing the club got right this weekend was fan appreciation. On Friday afternoon I was in a Melbourne airport awash with red and blue travellers when I saw tweets about fans being handed biscuits and thank you letters signed by players on arrival at Perth. Sounded like a cute idea, and I assumed it was a quick publicity stunt because they knew a journo was on the plane but I turned up four hours later to find a pair of club employees still in place to thank us for travelling. Fantastic idea, and very much appreciated.

They must have deduced the never before acknowledged but pretty bloody obvious fact that Tom McDonald has been my favourite player since his 2013 Demonbracket campaign because I got the McSizzle greeting card. Straight to the "sad occasions" wing of my memorabilia collection, along with the Optus Stadium ticket and my unnecessarily Essendon-heavy first goalkicker raffle entries of Melksham and Hibberd.

Hell remained undisturbed, but given how the club had done almost everything else right since the Sydney game we may as well have gone on to make the Grand Final as well. Like Jack Riewoldt with the Killers, the stage was set for Neville Jetta to sing Working Class Man alongside Jimmy Barnes next Saturday night. Now nothing.

The club even kicked in a $10 voucher for food at the stadium, which is a welcome investment in the fans seven years since we were so tight that Dean Bailey had to whip out his own credit card to put the team up in Geelong then got sacked anyway.

The idea of preserving the accompanying Angus Brayshaw biscuit for the collection went out the window when I got stressed and ate it about two hours later. This was just the start of an outrageous 24 hours of nervously eating deadly food, capping off two months where footy has been one of a variety of stresses that have caused me to pork up like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. First priority in this post-footy environment is to calm down and start trying to be healthy, the months of smashing ladder predictors and hanging off the results of non-MFC games must have taken years off my life.

From the airport the assembled Demons scattered to the wind, heading off in all different directions, only to spend the next 18 hours passing each other in the street and either knowingly nodding or just outright yelling "Go Dees!". Having never been to Subiaco and only going to Football Park once on Mother's Day when Port's fans couldn't give a shit I'd never enjoyed the feeling of being in such a backs-to-the-wall sporting minority. As we walked the streets trying to get to 1.20pm Saturday as quickly and efficiently as possible, every fellow traveller (in all senses of the word) spotted in scarves, jumpers and everything in between gave me a rush. How I desperately wanted to live the dream alongside these people yesterday and again next Saturday.

By the time I reached my hotel something outrageous was going on at home. In the face of all sensible predictions Collingwood was rising up as despised underdogs and pulverising the previously unbeatable Richmond. My tension level had been kept in check for most of the week, but this caused it to spike through the roof. If it was good enough for the Pies to come back from 0-2 and three goals down against Carlton with a coach who'd have been floating down a river 18 months ago anywhere else and a novelty American player taking marks like Wayne Carey we could lay waste to Optus Stadium and its inhabitants. As much as I tried to downplay our chances of making the Grand Final, the slaying of the unslayable beast also removed the '88/'00 style threat of running into the juggernaut team of its generation. I fancied us far more against the Pies than Richmond, but now concede the marquee matchup of Sam Frost vs Mason Cox may have ended in an 11 goal haul.

Until I discovered Collingwood four goals up I'd treated the trip like a crazy adventure that was doomed to failure. Always trust your first instinct. When they went on to win I started to get butterflies about pulling off a second Preliminary Final shock, but my stomach only turned to jelly at the close of Channel 7's coverage when three 'experts' all picked us to win. It would have been nice to get one dissenting opinion to focus on instead of unanimous acclaim. As Murray Weideman cleared his calendar for a week of interviews about the 1950s and his grandson it was like reality had gone out the window and we'd entered a dream world where there was every possible chance of walking out of Optus Stadium and back to Victoria with the greatest level of strut known to man.

The travel had no impact on my body clock, but late arriving white-hot sporting tension kept me awake Why I should have cared what Hamish McLachlan thinks is unclear, but obviously my calm had been a total fraud and any excuse for going to water was welcome. I didn't want to go to bed because I've had so much fun over the last two weeks that I didn't want to face the prospect of our finals run ending. It's been such fun over the last two weeks that There was always a chance of extending the excitement to a fourth straight death or glory game but it was difficult to visualise what
winning here would look like to set it up. It wasn't helpful to compare to our previous meeting, that was a great day but there were still major doubts about our killer instinct. Turns out we didn't even show up with a survival instinct.

Savouring the hours before the game was the right thing to do, because in the NSFW words of Perth's own Kevin Bloody Wilson it was over before it began. I woke up at 6am, jaw sore from excessive clenching, with every aspect of my brain that wasn't focused on staying alive contemplating footy. To say I had nothing to do was an understatement, so I just walked around the city and waited for it to wake up. Around, and around with no aim or direction other than killing time. It was killed about as effectively as a kick into the West Coast forward line. I tried to comfort myself by contracting diabetes, ripping off a nervous move pioneered on my wedding day and smashing an entire block of Top Deck in about five minutes. All that walking and eating still left me with five hours until the bounce, so I just went back to bed and listened to a 90s radio station playing hits from the last time we lost a prelim in Perth.

At the close of my third straight season since last having any sort of booze I'd never been more tempted to get back into binge drinking. Two hours of Kriss Kross ("Tommy Mac'll make you jump jump, Oscar Mac'll make you jump jump. Uh huh uh huh") and Salt 'n Peppa (no obvious MFC connection) was about all I could take, and with Google Maps projecting a 45 minute walk to the stadium that was near enough for me. There was an inauspicious start to my one-man march on the ground when the guy checking me out of the hotel didn't take a hint from the footy jumper or scarf and asked "so, what are you up to today?"

My choice of jumper nuffy attire was the same #28 iPrimus sponsored Philthy Phil Read jumper I'd worn into Round 1, 2007. The #34 SME or #17 Sam Blease editions were better identified with the club's darkest years but I thought it apt to end my career (for now) as a full-time fan wearing the same outfit it started in. Five years on from realising I was too old to wear a jumper I was tremendously self-conscious but it had to be done and damn the consequences. So, as the jumper is retired again for good (or maybe a future Grand Final) here's to you Phil Read - and your spanking goal from the boundary line in the ill-fated 2004 Elimination Final - wherever you are.

Nobody had told Google about a footbridge across the river not far from where I was staying, doubling the amount of time I needed to get to the ground. No drama, not like I had anything else to do. They instead sent me on a loopy route over a train line, beside a freeway, on a bridge under the same freeway, then down a bike path that eventually led me to the stadium. I should have known something was wrong with the navigation options when Eagles fans kept walking in the opposite direction with a look on their face like "where is this dickhead going?" None thought to steer me in the right direction, though one did say a probably sarcastic "good luck" and feign disbelief when I replied "thanks, we'll need it". I hope 10 minutes into the second quarter he turned to his mate and went "shit, that guy knew this was going to happen". I didn't really, it was just a defensive mechanism to avoid betraying any confidence. I knew there was a high likelihood of losing, it would just have been nice to get a bit of a run for our money before the game went so far south that it passed over Margaret River before 2pm.

Maybe because I was rolling a suitcase behind me the whole time (and god almighty by 2am the next morning I was sick of hearing the sound of those wheels) it took a lot longer to get there than the purported 45 minutes. Google doesn't have much luck with Perth, the last time I went there in 2013 it didn't recognise any of the one way roads and kept trying to send me into incoming traffic. Just when I thought they were directing me to Optus Oval not Optus Stadium I came under another bridge, turned the corner and there it was. Target acquired, call in the airstrike.

My feet were about to fall off, and the bloody suitcase was almost ready to be thrown in the river, but seeing the 100:1 ratio of Eagles fans to ours gave me a renewed sense of purpose. I was ready to go, but the people who had to deliver the goods were not. We had another chapter of what had already been a great finals campaign in our hands but there was nothing left to give. We fell to bits in the 21st game of 2016, the 22nd game of 2017, and made it to the 25th of 2018. I'm burning now, but when you consider we didn't make it to three quarter time of Round 1, 2013 without falling into disarray there's plenty to be said for how far we've come. I'll be sure to appreciate that in November.

With the crowd numbers overwhelmingly against us my key goal in acquiring a ticket was to avoid being stuck in the middle of uniformly polo shirt clad West Coast fans. The Demon Army came to the rescue with a very kind offer to sit with them behind the goals. Finally years of recognising their domination in Banner Watch pays off. By half time I wished for a restricted viewing ticket that didn't allow me access anywhere west of Oodnadatta.

My normal mode for viewing games is to be seized up in terror, but because I didn't want to be dead weight in the bay of the league's leading cheersquad I showed my appreciation for the invitation by trying my hand at waving flag waving. This was a failure, crashing into the much larger flag ahead of me several times. So instead I limply jiggled it back and forth for a bit as our players ran on. Eventually it became obvious I had no natural aptitude for task and instead switched to either doing [team name] *clap* *clap* *clap* or loudly saying "fuck!" My contribution was ordinary, but it was an honour to be a temporary associate of the finest banner makers in the industry.

What of the match itself? I'd rather continue with a bland run-down of everything I did on my trip, but if we must... I meant to apologise in advance to the lady sitting next me for any wild scenes that may have broken out, but it never got to the point where either of us was in danger of dying in our seat. Instead we just occasionally glanced at each other in disbelief as careless handballs flung loose in all directions and the Eagles kicked a series of goals ranging from simple to arsey.
As the ball was bounced I thought we were a chance. And about 30 seconds later realised we were in more trouble than the early settlers. There is a school of thought that you can tell where a game is going within the first couple of minutes, and even with respect to the number of times we've climbed out of the shit under Goodwin it was blatantly obvious this wasn't going to be another Stranglewank Special. Even before they were 24 points up it was only a matter of when not if. That mark was unexpectedly delayed by one wildcat video review and one where a free had already been paid before it went through. This was just delaying the inevitable.

The rot didn't need much of an excuse to set in, but Jetta thumping it straight out on the full (then doing it again a few minutes later) was at least a genuine footballing mistake. Unlike, say, Lewis going all macho and belting somebody in the guts to give away a free while we were trying to get the ball out of defence. I expect he saw a nervy first couple of minutes and thought he'd better do something to make a statement. Unfortunately the statement was "my team is in a state of shambles". Then he doubled down with a loose as a goose handball that gifted the Eagles a goal. Jack Viney was later given a much more severe whack in the throat with an umpire standing two foot away, but as we were 57-4 down the resulting free kick goal wouldn't have done much good.

Lewis had a horrendous game, like somebody playing his first final not his 26th, but wasn't alone in giving away goals with ridiculous handball. Maybe they all had RSI from signing the 'thank you' cards, because you've rarely seen a post-Neeld side distribute the ball so suicidally. It's one thing to turn it over trying a 40 metre kick, but you'd think a short handball to a teammate you've been working alongside season would easier to execute. Alas no, as physical and mental walls were simultaneously hit West Coast said "thank you very much" and joyfully whipped the piss out of us. At one stage I hadn't seen Tom McDonald for so long that I thought he might walked off in disgust at being dropped back into defence during the first quarter. It would have done wonders for the value of my thank you card. He was there, but like his teammates was unable to get anywhere near the ball. Like the team itself it was an inauspicious finish to an otherwise fun season, and I'm sure we'll work on delivering it to him with some sort of system next season so that he can kick 120 goals.

Perhaps if a Melksham snap hadn't just rolled wide at two goals to nil down we'd have had an opportunity to reboot. Or maybe it wouldn't have meant anything other than not having a 1927esque score at the half. It might not have made a difference, but I'll never understand the logic behind dumping Bayley Fritsch for Joel Smith. I've got no problem with Smith, it's that if we were going to run scared at the idea of their tall forwards (and rightly so as it turns out) I can't understand how Fritsch didn't survive at the expense of Tyson. Dom was great until Jack Viney came back, he has done chuff all since. Smith goes into defence, Fritsch shifts up the ground, and you never know what happens. I choose to ignore Bayley's two minutes of lunatic nervous play at the end of the second quarter last week and and assume he'd have made all the difference.

If the theory behind Smith was sound his execution was off, but it didn't help him to have forwards with zero interest in defensive pressure, a midfield haemorrhaging forward 50s, and teammates like Frost, Lewis and Jetta all simultaneously having their worst game of the season. Mass shittage of pants occurred across the ground, and it wasn't even like one of those days where you go four goals down but can see a hint of life. When Smith went forward for the second half it was the on-field equivalent of when that bloke in the stands waved the white flag. Kennedy and Sex Romper Darling (now appearing in a football romp as well) might have stitched us even more without him, but if the idea was to keep the score down it was one of the great finals mishaps. The surprise omission did provide Fritsch the chance to play for his old side in a VFL Grand Final instead, which they proceeded to lose in a thriller. Nobody gets out of this club alive.

As much as I hate focusing on individual umpires the stakes were high enough to look for any advantage. The idea of Ray Chamberlain getting a rush in his loins from umpiring in such a hostile environment and subconsciously (that's how our lawyers told us to write it) setting himself to go against the usual How The Locals Like It tradition appealed greatly. If only we'd given Ray the opportunity to call one deep in the last quarter that would have quite literally brought the house down. There's already talk of expanding the stadium, but if he'd been put in a position to play the ultimate heel to 58,000 people they'd have had to rebuild from a smoking crater first.

The contest wasn't officially over until the early minutes of the second quarter but clearly once they were three goals up from handball turnovers and narrowly missed two others (one of them from a handball turnover too) it was going to take the Miracle on Grass for us to launch a comeback. May as well have been the Miracle on Ice for the number of players we had falling on their arse, or as a tribute to West Coast's 2006 Premiership side. It wasn't like we went back and forth then conceded three finely crafted artisan goals, they just burst through our defences with brute force and commenced pillaging. As the famous 24 point margin was crossed I desired to to duck out and catch the early flight.

Imagine being one of the people who got their back up when David King suggested we'd be thrashed if we didn't improve on the Hawthorn game. I've had my digital disagreements with him over the years but this was an astute call. Last week was glorious, but as if this wasn't going to be a far sterner task. For a month the bottom six have played out of their skin. This time the bottom six, the middle six, the top six and the other four all disappeared as if they've been drafted by the Bermuda Triangle.

It was an unstoppable wave of destruction. Out of despair my mind went back to Adelaide 2017 when the margin peaked at 28 points before we plowed past them to win by plenty. The difference was that game started on an even keel before we went to sleep for 15 minutes, this started badly and just got worse. If there's any consolation - and there isn't - the fatal blow was delivered so swiftly that several other whacks of the axe during the second quarter didn't hurt. I just went numb, almost laughing at the absurdity of it all. The idea of going through all that stress and strain to make the eight, enjoying two grand nights at the 'G then losing a Prelim by 100 had a novelty value to it that caused me to completely slip my moorings and float through the rest like it was a virtual reality exhibition. Maybe this is the off-season for the long awaited repeat viewing of 186, just to work out how we could have possibly played a half nearly twice as bad as this.

A thrashing is never completely out of the question when we're involved, but I expected the result to still be up in the air at the start of the last quarter. We might have been six goals down, but some ridiculously minor chance. A modern version of Jim Stynes 1987 was optional, with a player being pinged a 50 after the siren for not running past the mark in the right geographical direction. The locals will never believe it but the umpiring wasn't a factor, mainly because it had no need to be. Other than the Viney incident there wasn't much to hold the interest of non-WA umpire bashers. We even got a cheap one in the pocket at three goals down that might have calmed the situation, Harmes missed and the carnage soon escalated.

By the time the margin was four goals I could tell there was no legal way for us to recover. The key forwards couldn't get near it, the midfielders occasionally got near it then turned it over and we were all hoping that Lewis wouldn't get near it again. Frost was suffering an almighty reality check from Josh Kennedy and the level of panic wouldn't have been out of place during a natural disaster. Still, stranger things have happened in footy. Probably not in a Preliminary Final but there's a first for everything. With the game already all but lost the quarter ended with 10 minutes of relentless pressure where they just couldn't find the knockout goal. If we'd emerged from that without conceding again we might have been a slim chance, instead conceding one right at the end of the quarter. Nobody had been this badly beaten up at Optus Stadium since Andrew Brayshaw.

If the last goal of the opening term was the cue to shut the gate, the opening minute of the second saw it bolted, padlocked and repossessed by the bank. The ball came straight out of the first bounce towards our goal and Frost's nightmare afternoon continued with a horrid wank handed 'tackle' that led to Josh Kennedy kicking his side's sixth. At this point I was still a bit upset by it all, but when he marked and goalled again a minute later anger was replaced by a lemon-lipped expression of disdain. From there the rest of the first half was spent on regular looks to my next door neighbour to confirm this was reality, or straight up as if God was going to select this moment to prove his existence by interfering in sports.

Procession mode was in full swing, one Eagle took advantage of the disarray of our defence to mark at the top of the square, then Neville Jetta's old mate Mark LeCras had the last laugh from their previous scuffle by almost accidentally backheeling the ball over the line. There was no point going to the video review, of course he'd made contact in time because it was just that sort of day. Later one of their shots to our end was going nowhere near goal before breaking late and going through - and later the same thing happened again. Luke Shuey was hobbling around with an ankle injury, George McGovern had been off for a concussion test and it matter not a jot in the context of them teeing off on us without raising a sweat.

Meanwhile our midfield was in distress, Oliver had an even excessive for him five kicks and 22 handballs, Viney 4/17 and was still by default our best and Tyson 3/11. Brayshaw and Harmes got the most kicks and simultaneously the most clangers as with nothing else to do they just threw ball on boot and prayed for something to happen. It never did, and we reached half time 63 points down with a grand total of 0.6.6 - the number of the inaccurate beast. Last time we had less at half time was Round 5, 2009 but our 0.3 looked a lot better against Adelaide's 4.6 than West Coast's 10.9. It's the furthest we've ever been behind after a goalless first half, beating the 57 in Round 14, 1919 when HALF OUR TEAM HAD JUST COME BACK FROM THE GREAT BLOODY WAR. What a startling collapse, but hey at least I was there to see a record. There was to be no tension induced coma.

It was not pleasant experiencing this in the stadium, overwhelmingly outnumbered and forced to sit there copping it sweet (albeit with a few people who were 100% not me unloading loose comments to locals about being inbred), but I still felt for those watching at home. Except that turkey Neil Mitchell who can now kindly piss off for another five years. His fake WWE style feud with the Perth radio station with the same owners as 3AW was an unwelcome distraction from somebody who hasn't been seen since arranging Mike Brady to write a patronising song about when we were shit. The purported beaming of frenzied Melbourne fans onto the screen at Optus Stadium consisted of about 15 seconds of footage from Fed Square, so thanks for arranging that Neil because it was a real winner. I'd like to have seen what the live site crowd looked like at half time, probably empty except for bemused tourists wondering why there was blood everywhere.

After being flavour of the month to date this was an opportunity for everyone to pile on, including the Western Australia police taking time off from framing suspects in gold robberies to do a funny about how bad we were. I don't want police to be amusing, I want them to successfully apprehend a pissed Ben Cousins when he does a runner from the booze bus. Then to prove anyone was welcome to have a go Baby John Burgess had a swing, receiving a reply that stands as the only ever amusing use of the term 'flog'.

A lot will be made of the criminally low tackle count, the worst in a final since 2008, but to lay a tackle you have to be within range of an opponent first. Forget that, give me the criminal handball tally. There were somewhere between several dozen and several hundred times where our players either grasped at thin air or failed to get all of a tackle and allowed the Eagles to break free. When Frost's absolute Gillies of a first quarter continued and allowed them to walk into an open goal at the start of the second I started to realise that we probably shouldn't rely on him to hold down a key position forever. Here's to the long sought after SME Killer Steven May, because regardless of Lever coming back next year this day demonstrated that it's one thing to have a finals backline, it's another to have one fit for a premiership. Next to the faltering Frost, Oscar did some nice things but was beaten by sheer weight of numbers. I still have faith in Smith in the contest but am not yet convinced by him with ball in hand. Mind you, it wouldn't have mattered if we had the full back of the century down there if 21 of his teammates were going to continually soil themselves under pressure.

Even before half time West Coast players didn't need to risk being tackled, they negotiated 18 red and blue traffic cones with the greatest of ease. They always had overwhelming numbers around the ball, including what felt like at the centre bounces even though that's impossible, and down the ground. Who knows where all our players were, but they weren't in a position to either get the ball or contest with the guy who did. At one stage a bloke did a basketball bounce past Lewis and Jones, and for all the times over the years I've referred to us as the Washington Generals vs the Harlem Globetrotters this was the first time anybody took it literally.

It was most certainly the worst of September times, probably the worst final we've played since the last time West Coast beat us by 10 goals in a prelim. Even the 2000 Grand Final had a few minutes in the first half where we were super-competitive and could suspend disbelief, this was just an hour of humiliation followed by a second hour toying with us like adults letting kids score a token victory to stop them from getting discouraged. Fortunately for us it's not in anybody's interest to press on and top the ton under these circumstances. The inevitable outbreak of self-preservation mode came immediately after half time, allowing us to escape what was morally a massacre with some tiny shreds of our dignity intact. When they dig the AFL record books out from our crumbled civilisation in a thousand years the historians of the future will go "hey, but they did alright in the second half!"

After all our wasted disposals, the third quarter heralded the immediate introduction of official Waste Disposal Time. Bins of all varieties were wheeled out across the state of WA in celebration at an hour of footy where there was no earthly way for them to miss the Grand Final. As the SANFL demonstrated during the week even sending on a 19th man wouldn't have led to them being DQed. I've enjoyed that feeling of liberation early in a game, but never with this much on the line. Only losing the second half by three points is not to be celebrated, there were times when Eagles players ran towards a contest and basically said "no you first" in case they emerged with a busted collarbone or a suspension.

I knew that we had to kick a minimum of one goal once West Coast players realised that they had bigger fish to fry seven days later, and in a sign of just where the game was going we finally got one via Oliver in the first minute. This was soon handed back by a Lewis blunder, and if he's still in best 22 by this time next year we'll probably have lost an Elimination Final two weeks earlier. I'm satisfied with him going on in 2019 based on a couple of good finals before this, but we are derelict in our duties if not already trying to line up a replacement. It was hard to decide what was worse, the criminally negligent free at the start or any of the multiple botched disposals after it. He's an easy whipping boy but Jesus H Christ what a time to play like you've just seen a ghost.

Defeat robbed us of a Gawn vs Grundy heavyweight title match at the biggest event of the year, but Maximum was back to the state of a few weeks ago where he looked to be way less than 100% fit. Maybe he just managed to push through when everything was going well, only to finally throw his hands up and go "bugger it" on the seventh or eighth hitout of the first quarter where none of his midfielders were within the same area code as an opponent. The rucking was fine, but finding somebody who can jump higher than their opponent and tap a ball is one thing there was none of the usual around the ground stuff that makes him so special.

He has played a mighty season and should be commended for making it through 25 games but you do wonder if there's something in getting a mature backup to help him out. The problem is what they're going to do the 20 weeks of the year when Max is playing, or the 95% of the time of those games he's rucking. And if there's a split in game what do they do while the other is in the middle - we've already got enough trouble fitting McDonald, Hogan and Weideman into the same forward line without having to park a resting ruckman as well.

For what it's worth (e.g. very little) Maximum not only shattered the record for most hitouts by any player in a season but the gap between his 1119 and the 60 of our 2nd place getter Tom McSizzle must be the most lopsided statistical difference between two teammates in history. He also had the second most contested marks on record in an MFC season (since 1999), second only to Neitz 2000. I don't expect him to win the Brownlow, but if the contest is in any way serious he'll finish in the top five. If it's one of those years when everyone talks rucks and he gets six votes then there is literally no point even holding a ceremony next year, just give it to the midfielder who had the most disposals.

Each side blundered through a few more goals but the only tension left was what price Eagles fans were going to pay for flights to Melbourne. If you thought our fans driving to the game were going to have an awkward trip home just wait for the stereotypical stories about Western Australians coming over on buses, trains, boats and zeppelins. Every single one of them in a polo shirt.

We finally got the much-needed leg up from the umpires when Melksham got a soft as butter administrative 50 for the second, and on the other side of a nice finish from Hannan and more Eagles goals Milkshake was handed another gift courtesy of a downfield free. It was a bit late for all this, and any belated benefits from the umpiring were wiped out by moments like Hannan getting a mile into space inside 50 then copping a bastard of a bounce. Not too long after they got one of their leg break specials and I reserved the right to feel ever so slightly persecuted as if there was some element of luck to being 10 goals behind.

If the third quarter was junk time, I don't know how to accurately describe the last. If you'd given up by then all you need to know is that Max Gawn ended his finest year the way he'd started it, missing a set shot from 20 metres directly in front. The home side was so disinterested that for a few minutes they let us get ahead for the second half before kicking the last two just to make a point. Their soft rock abortion of a theme song played, our players gingerly came towards us to applaud without getting too close and we waved goodbye to a season that always promised a bit, then briefly a lot before ending like all of them since 1965.

The extraction of piss was complete after the final siren, when just as 55,000 people were going off to Eagle Rock like they were at a 40th birthday party I got a text to say my flight was delayed an hour. With quite literally nothing else to do I walked back over the river to the WACA and watched South Australia bat out the last 10 overs of a one dayer. Even though I was never afford the opportunity to get wound up about footy this paid off well, riding out the extra hour focusing on something more productive than moping around the airport with all the other depressed Melbourne fans. When Nathan Coulter-Nile almost killed Adam Zampa with a narrowly avoided bean ball I momentarily forgot the other horror I'd just witnessed. But only momentarily.

On the way there I met an Eagles fan so pissed that he could barely walk and who had an extremely liberal attitude to swearing in front of his children. He was pleasant but it was a bit sad for kids to grow up seeing their dad getting ratshit at the footy and toppling all over the place. I'm no social worker, so I did what felt right and tried to explain to the older kid that he had to cherish the flag next week if it comes because it may never happen again. He won't, because at that age there's no pain to underpin the feeling of glory. The good news is that because he's an Eagles fan he'll probably get half a dozen more opportunities in his lifetime to find a premiership win that does suit him while I end up seeing FUCK ALL success.

Having no idea how to get into the WACA I followed this pisswreck bloke on a full lap of the venue looking for an open gate, only for him to instantly be refused entry by security for being too blind. "Your dad hasn't done anything wrong..." said the security guard to the kids as he made it clear their dad was off his guts. My pep talk about flags was more from the heart. With that I shook hands with the bloke, wished him well next week and went inside to try and think about anything other than footy. Which was easier said than done when about 500 other Melbourne fans had the same idea and every second bastard in the place was wearing red and blue.

With our flight the last to go from the lesser of Perth's domestic terminals it was easy to work out who was a normal traveller a bit sad about having to wait another hour with no access to domestic cricket and the Melbourne fans who'd already had their traumatic experience for the day. They all kept their merch on, whereas I realised that I looked like a goose, ducked into the bathroom and returned undercover. The haunted look on my face gave away the game though, and people kept starting "woe is us" conversations. Woe indeed but I had no interest in group therapy, I just wanted to grieve in my own way, be ungrateful about the season in general for a few hours and go home to eat my feelings.

I remained stoic until about halfway through the flight when fatigue and reality kicked in. The go home factor can get stuffed, anyone signing up to do that trip every second week is mad. I was already convinced Jesse Hogan would be crazy to go back to Perth and this proves it. No wonder Jeff White wanted out so quickly, imagine what it would have been like doing it in the 90s before online entertainment was invented? With no space for anything else on this crusty old plane which was probably flying on a code share arrangement with Air Rhodesia, all I could do was prop my head in my hands, shut my eyes and wait it out. With the number of disgruntled Demons on board (+ two gruntled Eagles fans) it's a surprise nobody drank the equivalent of a slab and ended up cable tied by the cabin crew.

The final reality of the situation hit me when we landed and a line of Melburnians miserably trudged into the terminal. From the second Melksham goal against Hawthorn until about 1.21pm Saturday I'd been holding onto a fantasy about coming off the plane on return to Melbourne as if I'd won the game myself. No idea who was supposed to be in the worst of all terminals to see it at 1am (much less the 2am that it became) but this was my brain on finals. In the dream sequence media, but anybody would have done, would have treated us like conquering heroes as we came off the tarmac with arms raised aloft. Instead there was one bloke who must have been frighteningly early for his flight sleeping on a couch. The Beatles at Shea Stadium it was not.

A last indignity came while trying to find my car. I knew I'd put it in H, and that it was sitting along a fence but was in such a state of premature euphoria on leaving Melbourne that I'd not bothered to note which of the 30 odd sections of H it was in. The fence was a vital clue, and thank god for that because if it had been in the general mix I might still be there now. For 20 minutes I wandered in one direction, then the other, pressing the unlock button on my keys and hoping to see lights flash. Thank god nobody else was around, because my frustrations with that fucking suitcase finally tipped over at this stage and I began to openly abuse it as if it was responsible for the whole stupid journey.

In his press conference Simon Goodwin said "you either win or you learn", and he's quite right. We are all richer for the experience. I didn't win, but I did learn to know my limitations and never again chase a sporting miracle outside the state of Victoria. Until we play a final in Adelaide. Or Sydney. Or Brisbane.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
One of those days where nobody deserves a cracker, and if not for the importance of the historical record I'd give all 15 votes to myself for showing up and enjoy a top 10 finish.

5 - Jack Viney
--- Less certain, almost completely uncertain ---
4 - James Harmes
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Michael Hibberd

Apologies to nil. Melksham or Neal-Bullen could have got a look in for the last vote I suppose.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal Final Leaderboard
Oliver had this award won last week, but adds another couple of votes to his already record tally. Not even in the same area code as his best games but sometimes players get lucky and rise to the top of a pool of slurry. Congratulations also to Harmes for his shock third place finish, Brayshaw for jumping McDonald into the top five, Viney for winning the finals award, Salem for seeing off the rest of the defenders for the Seecamp, and to the otherwise desperately unlucky Fritsch on the Hilton he had sewn up weeks ago..

Jako was there yesterday, imagine if I'd had the foresight to think about how to get him to either present Oliver with the award or record a message of support. In fact bugger that, imagine if I'd just flat out met Jako and not one contemporary Melbourne's player name was mentioned once.

64 - Clayton Oliver (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
51 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
36 - James Harmes
29 - Jesse Hogan
26 - Angus Brayshaw
24 - Tom McDonald
18 - Jack Viney (WINNER: As Yet Unnamed Medal for Best Finals Player)
16 - Bayley Fritsch (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
14 - Nathan Jones
13 - Jake Melksham
11 - Christian Petracca
10 - Christian Salem (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Michael Hibberd
8 - Jordan Lewis
7 - Neville Jetta
6 - Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan, Sam Weideman
4 - Oscar McDonald
3 - Dean Kent, Jake Lever, Dom Tyson
2 - Sam Frost, Joel Smith (NB: Joel was being ripped off out of one vote in earlier weeks, this has been corrected)
1 - Cameron Pedersen

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The winner of the weekly prize often comes from a first quarter goal, which isn't going to be a problem this time. Everything we got was when West Coast didn't give a shit any more, and even those were usually unimpressive. For want of any other excitement I'll go for Mitch Hannan in the third quarter. As a weekly prize he wins a Name A Game DVD of the first Perth Stadium game in order to relive better times.

Speaking of better times for Mitch, I've made an executive decision on the overall winner and he's it for his running goal in the Elimination Final. Second to Dean Kent in Perth, third to Charlie Spargo in Geelong. Ironically after 22 weekly prizes there is no overall prize except the honour of joining Salem, Jones, Watts and McDonald, Tom on the honour roll.

The perfect season is complete at 25-0, as we put out a well designed effort that was sadly not matched by the efforts of the men who ran through it. In competition West Coast had their players do their Human Centipede impersonation, traipsing through the inflatable anus of a droopy beaked Eagle which spewed them onto the ground with not a square of crepe paper to be seen. Seemed to work out alright for them. Congratulations to the Demon Army for achieving perfection, and we hope that Richmond sends some goose in a comedy suit into the Anzac Day commemorations again next season so we can get away without splitting the points again.

Crowd Watch (incorporating Match Experience Watch)
The stadium might look like a wood panel Swedish sauna from the outside, but inside it was all the Matthew Pavlich ads cracked it up to be. It looked good, was well set up with plenty of open space outside (as opposed to Docklands, eventual home of a deadly stampede), and the layout inside suggests there wouldn't be a bad seat in the house. I've not been to the Adelaide Oval but based on what you can see on TV it's not going to top this joint, which sets a high standard for new stadium construction in Australia. Even after the game when I felt like sticking my head in wet cement I still took a moment of take in the atmosphere, knowing it's highly unlikely I'll ever be back. When we do another Perth prelim in 24 years I'll see you at Federation Square.

I was on the very far-left of the cheersquad bay, leaving me in close proximity to West Coast fans across the aisle. Amongst a surprising number of people wearing bootleg $2 shop scarves their greatest crime may have been oohing and ahhing at an eagle flying around the stadium as if the same thing hasn't happened at every home game this year. There was also one humanoid proudly wearing a homemade shirt reading WE USED TO HAVE BIG COX, NOW WE HAVE A LITTLE WILLIE for god's sake. Coupled with a billboard inviting us to 'whack it with a Dickie" you have to wonder whether there's some statewide concern about penis length.

I didn't expect a Football Park in the early 90s style level hostility, but was still surprised at how little angst there was. The person behind me was having a roaring battle with one of the locals but from my perspective there wasn't any real tension. Why would there be when we were putting up such weak resistance? I did give a side-mouthed FOC to one guy who dropped a hit and run smartarse comment on his way up the aisle but otherwise it was quite civilised. After the game a few people who clearly weren't even taking the piss came over to shake hands and say well done for coming etc... etc... Unlike the guy outside the ground who gave a sarcastic "your team played well" while walking the other way and obviously didn't hear what I called him in response because it didn't end in fisticuffs.

Generally the mood was more one of celebration. It's probably hard to blow up about anything (other than umpiring) when you're preoccupied watching your team stomp a hapless opposition unmercifully. Now that we've mastered the art of killing Gold Coast, Carlton and Geelong let us pray that we may one day do the same in a Prelim or better.

However, as magnanimous as I am towards their success there were serious questions raised when the whole joint broke into a raucous Mexican Wave towards the end. I thought we were involved in a carnival atmosphere the last two weeks but this takes the cake and then some. It was heartening that whenever it came to us about 10 people did nothing but display the middle digit. They even had a higher calibre of celebrity guests - as much as I enjoyed seeing David Neitz going boont over the last few weeks their big screen threw to shots of Julie Bishop, Daniel Ricciardo and Andrew Gaff to an increasingly raucous reception every time. The only Western Australian celebrities not to get an airing were Rose Hancock and Rocket Racer.

It goes without saying that they booed everything, including Angus Brayshaw for being related to somebody who one of their players assaulted. It must be in the state DNA because when the Warriors were denied an LBW at the cricket they burst out in a chorus there too.
Next week
Of course I'll give in and watch next Saturday, but at the moment it feels too painful to contemplate seeing the game we might have been in. This would have been a lot harder if we'd gotten 40+ points closer. Maybe I'll just go for a long drive and listen on the radio. I've got good friends who are Collingwood fans and I want them to be happy, but the idea of the Pies unexpectedly winning a flag before us is too difficult to comprehend so to my Magpie chums I'm sorry I love you but it's West Coast with no enthusiasm. Hope they go a step better than their last Grand Final and actually turn up.

Before that there's the Brownlow on Monday night, where Max will go in as a top three fancy before finishing joint 23rd. If the umpires are ever going to recognise a ruckman it's one who crops up forward and back with crucial marks, but if I had any money that wasn't wasted on this stupid bloody trip I'd back Oliver to score more than Maximum. Otherwise it's come on anyone but Tom Mitchell just for the internet content after his managers prematurely had a crack at getting him $1k per interview after winning.

Next season
Proof, as if you needed it, that finishing top four and forcing interstate sides to come to us is crucial. There was something about doing the road trip and avoiding the scramble for tickets to the 'G that would have made this one of the great victories if we'd pulled it off, but now I'm back to being bitter and twisted about the Pies forcing us to go via Perth. All that and Howe is going to win a flag while the properly deserving Dunn sits on the sidelines with a crocked knee.

It's pretty unlucky to end up going to Perth for a prelim (this was the 6th since 1994) but in the future don't leave it up the kindness of strangers to avoid it. We've had our 'just happy to be here' run now and exceeded expectations, next year this has to be a double chance list or we risk it ending in the same way. Alternatively - just kick shit out of teams whenever, wherever. Either way flag please.

The list management picture is beginning to take shape. Of the uncontracted players we know Balic and Vince will go off the senior list, leaving a minimum one more to cut. Cleaning space to ring-in players from other clubs, and a potential senior list upgrade for Tim Smith, I'm going to suggest that Dion Johnstone is 100% going and Pat McKenna is 99% to follow. vandenBerg, Kent and Kennedy-Harris to survive and Declan Keilty to go around as a rookie again. Sadly I think it will be curtains for Cameron Pedersen, which is a shame because he would be a handy depth player. As for Mitch King and Lachlan Filipovic NFI, ruckmen survive longer but King is ending his third season so they're going to have to make a decision pretty quickly on whether they want to persist with him. I haven't got Tom Bugg's contract status but I reckon he might be in all sorts as well if he doesn't have a deal for next season.

Unless they're going to spring something surprising on us Jack Watts style (e.g. the always mooted Hogan switcheroo) I can't see much trade bait. Kent might want more opportunity, and I'd be trying to flog Tyson but otherwise everyone who has any sort of value would be required. Jayden Hunt and Jeff Garlett are the only other ex-regulars confined to the VFL and I can't see us getting enough for either to justify dumping them. Like Kent, Garlett might want to go somewhere he can get a game but it's not going to be at a top club. With Tyson I know this sounds ludicrous after potting him for half the season but think he'd be smart to find somewhere that he can be a starting mid, with Harmes' emergence it's not working for him to be stuck in the queue with us.

Then there's Weideman, who crashed back to earth this week but had his value go through the roof against Geelong. If I was him I wouldn't be sitting back and waiting for Hogan to come back and squeeze me out. If nothing else his manager should be working the phones Canberra style to see if anyone else is interested - I don't fancy a set of three tall forwards next year so something's going to have to give.

I suspect the delistings will start coming through by the end of this week. And from now until trading kicks off on 08/10 that'll be all there is of interest for us.

Administrative announcement
So that's the end of my madness years, 12 seasons of barely missing a game in Victoria sold out for filthy shift work dollars. I'm giving myself a KPI of seeing 18 home and away games either live or live on tape without knowing the result next year. It might be more, it could very well be less, but having played my hand as a lunatic by making this trip at the drop of a hat there's no option to chuck a bunch of carefully laid out sickies to get to games. In fact it would look so bad that I'll probably have to work game days even if genuinely afflicted. It's safe to assume that finals (if relevant) will be viewed by any means necessary.

What this means is that guest reporters will definitely be required next season. I'm not even factoring AFLW and pre-season games into that 18. My intention is to cover everything but it would take an amazing miracle for the fixture to work in my favour 30 times in a season. During the off-season I'll be putting out an expression of interest for those who want to accept the not-at-all poison chalice and etch their name in history. Please do not run a mile thinking you either have to a) attend the game in person, or b) write Unabomber length manifestos about your experiences. I'll give you a template with all the important segments to cover and how you get there is up to you. If I can't fill a guest spot I suppose it'll be me writing about replays where I already know the result, which promises to be the most boring content in history so for god's sake please be ready to enlist and serve as required.

Also, there is one more post to come this year. I'm used to having all September to drag out the same gags for the end of season spectacular, so with the delayed schedule it could land at any time between Grand Final Day and Christmas. Links in all the usual places when available.

Casey Corner
If we'd won in Perth I'd probably have done a lap of honour at Fortress Shithole to watch the VFL Grand Final, but as I don't feel like leaving the house until about December that wasn't happening. It's a poor substitute for the real thing but there was still enough emotional investment in the players involved to want Casey to win. In direct contrast to the senior team they shot out to a dominant early lead before collapsing in a heap. To be fair, they've been losing finals a lot longer than we have. They're now 4-14 in finals during the alignment years, with all the wins coming in Grand Final years and 0-12 otherwise. Somewhere there's a Springvale fan shedding a tear, personally I'm just happy to see them develop our kids.

It's disappointing for Bernie Vince (and perhaps Pedersen) to miss a flag, especially when he had the chance to cut the margin to less than a goal with time left for another, but overall a fittingly disappointing way to end a Melbourne career. The ex-Scorpions won two finals - one massacre and one thriller - but realistically they've been on the wobble since the last month of the AFL when injuries at both levels began to affect them them. They still had plenty of senior listed players today, but so did the opposition and here we are still without any sort of real, non-AFLX silverware for anyone connected to our organisation since Sandringham 2006.

Was it worth it?
For now the emotions are too raw to say it was anything other than the worst contribution to Australian exploration since Leyland Brothers World. One day I hope to appreciate the cost, time and effort involved.

Final Thoughts
For now it's on with what used to be the best time of the year to be a Melbourne fan - delist - trade - draft, as we search for the secret recipe that will take us two wins further in 2019. Which is great, but won't stop me having to go to work in the morning and discuss this game with everyone. I don't want to talk to with Collingwood fans, people I didn't know were Melbourne supporters until a fortnight ago or anybody whose side has lost a prelim but later won a flag. In the final stages of the flight home the pilot thoughtfully commiserated with us, then ruined it by saying "I know what it's like after last night". No you don't dickhead, dry your eyes on a flag.

I don't want to hear from the non-footy people who've watched my recent excitement with bemused fascination. I don't even want to talk to Melbourne fans about it. Find me a West Coast supporter and I'll congratulate them, everyone else can piss right off. How about we just do some bloody work for once?

Saturday 15 September 2018

So this is what it feels like when doves cry

As Hawthorn's third goal of the last quarter went through my body crossed the line from nerve-shattering tension to a level of sporting fear like never before. When you don't expect to win a game and have it taken away from you in tragic circumstances it creates trauma, when you don't expect to make a prelim and look like blowing a five goal lead that's another dimension of suffering.

My stomach had been in constant churn all day, not helped by the nervous consumption of half a dozen different toxic foods, but here the whole body locked up and left me unable to do anything but hunch forward with my head in hands and hope for a miracle. 20 minutes later I was ignoring the last moments of the match trying to book flights tickets unseen to a Preliminary Final in Perth. Funny old game this.

So my 12 year odyssey into football's heart of darkness either ends on an insane jaunt to the other side of the continent or in a Grand Final. This is not an outcome I'd envisaged watching us keel over and die against Sydney. As bitter as I am that Collingwood didn't win last week and save me the travel money, there's something poetic about taking the wildest journey of exploration since Burke and Wills just in case a new greatest day in my sporting life opens the door for an even better contender to emerge a week later. I could have done with saving the money, but let's worry about that later. Win, lose or draw in regulation time chickening out of this adventure would have haunted me for years to come.

All week I'd scoffed at people who'd booked flights or accommodation to Perth in advance. They all had get-out clauses but it still felt more like angering the football gods than a sensible business decision. After all, we had to get past Hawthorn first. A club that has spent more than a decade treating us with contempt, run by a mastermind coach who instils the same sort of fear in opposition supporters as Herald Sun readers get from African people. Clarkson remains the greatest coach of the modern era, but could do nowt to stop the fantasy continuing. I'm sure the darkest arts were dabbled in, but even with the game turned into a slog and the Hawks able to do a fair bit of chippy bullshit we not only prevailed but became the first team of this finals series to crack the ton.

It was difficult to come to terms with being such red hot favourites again. In almost every year of the top eight the losing Qualifying Final teams have been criminally underrated, while everyone's gets a big over-heated at the 5th-8th side winners before sanity prevails. This time there's an argument that after Richmond and perhaps West Coast you could have picked the order of the rest of the eight out of a hat and nobody would have had cause to argue. If ever teams are going to be bundled out in straight sets it's in an even year like this.

This is a golden chance for us. We're now one game from running into a team perceived to be unstoppable like '88 and '00, but the rest of the finals series is wide open like 2004. That year we were top after Round 18, didn't win another game, finished 5th, and were narrowly knocked of a wide open finals race. Geelong was gettable, the fading Brisbane had to play their prelim at the MCG, and Choke Yourself With A Tie era Port were good but not great. We could have won that flag, and if not for the doomsday double of West Coast in Perth and presumably the Tiges in the main event you might almost convince me we're a chance here. Now it's reached the stage where I can let myself dream. No doubt when next week is snatched away from us in cruel fashion I'll hate myself for even contemplating glory, but we've won two finals and will start as major underdogs so there's no way anyone can interpret this as anything but a great season now.

Knowing that the Perth trip was our 'reward', we still had to deal with the Hawks. We were aided by injuries to one of their mulleted defenders and the perennially injured and ridiculously named Jaeger O'Meara. We'll never know if their absences were decisive, so let's pretend we're that damn good that we'd have won comfortably anyway. This was a very good time for the league's top scoring team (and it's still difficult to comprehend that) to maintain the rage. After playing cameo to the emergence of the Weid last week, the face of the AFL's simultaneously most efficient and inefficient forward line was your friend and mine, 2013 Demonbracket winner Sizzle McDonald.

Yesterday I got a bit nostalgic, went through my old texts to SEN and would like to double down on this provocative statement made while sitting in traffic six weeks ago. Whatever we're paying him it's not enough, and I'm comfortable in saying it's been the most personally exciting 50 goals since Farmer in 2000, if not Jakovich himself.

Every time he had a shot last night I had to balance the fact that he is frighteningly accurate kicker with the idea that he had to miss a crucial one eventually. Even with 90,000 people in the house for a second consecutive week there was no drama or obvious nerves, lobbing them through with the greatest of ease at the start when we needed to make a statement and at the end when the heat was at ground zero nuclear bomb level.

All week I'd fretted about what would happen if they got the jump on us. GWS and Adelaide both opened slender leads over the last six weeks before we steadied, but after piledriving Geelong in the first quarter there was major concern about having to dig ourselves out of a hole on a massive stage. Considering how many times they've come back from stranglewank margins in the last two years I had faith in the resilience of this group if required, but still felt suitably distressed when we conceded first. I suppose it was greedy to want two goalless first quarters over two weeks in front of a combined 180,000 spectators.

Even worse that their opening goal came from general defensive disarray and the ball dropping straight into the arms of Ryan Schoenmakers - the player a Hawthorn fan had torched to me with the intensity of a thousand suns earlier that day. Imagine following a team so successful that you can treat a guy who's only won a single flag like he's Jace Bode? Anyone who plays in a flag for us will have to commit treason or mass murder with a hedge trimmer for me to turn against them. Maybe on the fourth premiership in a decade your perspective changes? I'm keen to find out.

When they attacked a second time to our one point I was ready to begin hyperventilating into a paper bag. Which was obviously stupid so early in the game, but all week I'd been guard for a post-Geelong let down so any sign of weakness was liable to set me off. My nerves were not settled when I saw Sam Frost confidently grabbing the ball to take a kick-in. His method of getting the ball and steaming forward like an escaped greyhound is thrilling, but the last thing you want him doing is trying to land a precise kick. Because he's on the run of his life he wasn't silly enough to try that, instead using the for now still sensibly sized goalsquare to unleash a fearsome torp into the middle of the ground.

By next year's artificially inflated scoring standards he might have kicked a goal. For now he didn't even get close to the line and still dropped an artillery round to nearly the centre circle. James Harmes necked Tom Mitchell in a tackle, Oliver gave off to Hannan and he hit McSizzle with a perfectly weighted kick leading back towards goal. Forwards running at the ball make me quiver, but the higher degree of difficulty in identifying a target, kicking it to the right spot, then seeing somebody get away from his defender protect space and take the grab is almost as satisfying. Ultimately if it ends in a goal who cares, but when crumb is all but off the agenda we need to craft as many beautiful goals like this as possible. And what about Mitch Hannan, on his arse in the VFL for a month and now doing exciting finals things two weeks in a row.

With the heat coming back the other way this week it wasn't a game for the sort of wankers who want footy to be a flawless exhibition of perfect disposal, and our forward 50 entries were often being easily snaffled by grateful Hawthorn defenders but we were in the contest up to our eyeballs. If Clarko had been pulling mystery levers they were only good enough to keep his team sticking with us rather than kicking away. Our goals were nicely constructed, and McDonald got his second courtesy Spargo handball over the top into the square that floated off his hand and temporarily left me with heart in mouth that it was going to be chopped off. After being 0 from 59, Sizzle is now 84 from 145 and rapidly moving towards the biggest non-flag related celebration of all time when he crosses 1.00 goals per game. Before last night Hawthorn was the only club he hadn't kicked a goal against, now he's had one for every 22,500 people in the ground.

At two goals to one more than halfway through the quarter it was not shaping up as a high scoring classic. But unless you're the CFO of Channel 7 or Steve Hocking, who needs high scoring when you can have Jack Viney? There is written evidence from three weeks ago that I considered not picking him last week, and for that I was an idiot. He sat on the bench for the first few minutes, then calmly entered the game and started beating the piss out of opponents like Stone Cold Steve Austin in a Royal Rumble. Forget unusual squares and 6-6-6 positions, here's a free spectacle idea - play theme songs when players first come off the bench. He tackled everything, racked up a game high 27 possessions, five centre clearances and was generally amazing. Just a reminder that wonky foot issues notwithstanding the rest of the league stood back and let us get him for pick 26 at the end of 2012. Thank you all for your generosity in our time of need.

I'm no tactician at all let alone a master level one, but not sure why you'd want to slog with us. They held Brayshaw - except for a pair of timely goals - but Viney, Oliver, Jones, Tyson, Jetta, Neal-Bullen, James Freaking Harmes, Hibberd and even Gawn are not to be messed with. They looked their best when they did get the chippy bullshit happening, and held their own at ground level but never got into any decent rhythm. Harmes was fantastic again, breaking even with the future Brownlow Medallist and holding him to his equal lowest possession count since Round 8. It helped that Mitchell was carved up by a Jetta bump and spent several minutes either side of quarter time having treatment but I'll not have that detract from another grandstand moment for the Harmy Army.

It's no coincidence that Harmes has been starring ever since the ill-fated interview on the Demonland Podcast where my microphone committed hari-kari halfway. He probably thinks I died mid-chat and is dedicating the rest of his season to my legacy. If this is correct I'll be happy to travel to Perth under a false name to make sure he continues to star. West Coast, if you've got a midfielder who isn't suspended for thuggery we've got a 'tagger' ready to effortlessly run off him.

Deep in the quarter is was still two goals to one, before the Hawks equalised twice. Our go-ahead goal was a moment of rare beauty from the enigmatic and slightly loopy Christian Petracca, bursting through the pack to kick a goal on the run from 50 metres out. For those of you who've been following the outrageous quality of the AFL website highlights you won't be surprised that they considered Jarryd Roughead telling his teammates a joke before the first bounce (possibly explaining  Melbourne's record against Hawthorn) worth showing, but not this crucial goal or Hawthorn's response. The best they did was a GIF of the celebrations - reaffirming that he and Oliver are the cutest platonic couple in the competition. But not the actual well taken goal deep in the first quarter of a knockout final. And this organisation has the nerve to tell me what we will make the game more exciting.

So after a quarter where we hadn't played particularly well we were dead level. There was room for improvement on both sides, but for absolutely no good reason I felt we had more improvement in us. The old 'bottom six' debate was well in our favour, and none of Brayshaw, Melksham or the Weid had done much to that point but would come good with some A1 interjections later in the game. I was less convinced of winning now than at the start, and even then I'd been suspect to start with. What it did mean was being able to restart as if the first quarter had never happened, with 3x20 minutes to slay the beast and carry on the impossible dream.

Hawthorn's second quarter was a lot like ours last week, only that when we wasted half a dozen chances and let the other side kick a couple of goals from limited opportunities it came with the buffer of a five goal lead. Before we could get to the Hawks torching an endless stream of chances, there was a goal in the first minute. Viney won a free in the middle, and with no ruck duties required Maximum wandered forward to take a huge pack mark. I preferred him from 40 metres out directly in front than 20, and with everyone still assuming he'll miss from what happened in Round 1 he duly converted to take back the lead. At this stage what happened in Round 1 is about as relevant as the three quarters of unmerciful humping we received from the Hawks three weeks later.

For the second week in a row an off the ball free went in our favour, this time with it inside our 50 and not the other way around. It was far less clear cut than last week, with Oliver taking a relaxed attitude to remaining upright after being bumped. At this stage I'm in the 'by any means necessary' camp, so well done to him for sucking the umpire in. In the end it would have been better to land in the hands of McSizzle or the Weid rather than vandenBerg as we only got a point out of it, and anti-Hamburglar nuffies across the country were provided something else to focus on while trying to ignore him consistently ripping their team to bits.

After Gawn's goal it was almost exclusively Hawthorn, but for just one behind. They spent the whole quarter giving it the full kitchen sink for just six behinds. Credit to our the defence for keeping them out half a dozen other times, but especially Michael Hibberd playing his best game of the year and our lord and saviour NEV just for being Nev. Down the other end we turned a half chance into a Weid mark, he converted, and somewhere in the suburbs I hope somebody blazed one up to celebrate. One day he'll kick a goal at the 4.20 mark and gear will be legalised on the spot.

The Hawks should have hit back via a quick kick into the 50, but Hibberd's troublesome hammy stayed on the bone for him pressure the ball over the line and we were off the hook again. Apart from the lack of a five goal lead, the difference to our toils in the second quarter last week is that we got an extra goal against the run of play. We were lucky not to give them another opportunity when Lewis responded to an unpaid holding the ball by going off his face at the umpire in a way that would have 100% given away a free in Round 5 before lightly jostling with premiership teammate Roughead. If it couldn't be linked to nutters punching suburban umpires I'd be all for players doing eye-popping anti-umpire outbursts. In the meantime I'm thankful that the AFL doesn't believing in enforcing rules consistently throughout the season.

With a nice buffer of around three goals towards the end of the half, we just needed to get through the last couple of minutes without conceding and would be in a handy position going into our favourite quarter. Cue a couple of minutes of terror football where we worked our arse off to feed Hawthorn opportunities that they couldn't take advantage of. Frost x1 and Fritsch x2 paid no attention to where the game was at and tried to play on like they were down five points 30 minutes into the last quarter. It was not Bayley's finest game in the back half, but I'll cut him some slack considering this time last year he was a handy VFL goalsneak. Overall his mid-rookie season transformation into the new Clint Bizzell has been almost as good as sending McDonald/Melksham forward.

We just got away with the goalless quarter via a final missed opportunity on the siren, and took a 13 point advantage into the second half. Like Geelong, keeping them to not many goals in a half was welcome but we didn't have anywhere near the knockout score or the control of the play to be comfortable. In the midst of all this Gawn set an all-time record for hitouts in a season, a mark that will probably stand forever now that stoppages have been declared satanic and will probably be abolished by 2020. I'd like to know how far he is from the hitouts to advantage world record. The game eventually turned for good when he was left alone in the middle against Roughead for a contest. Then the Weid had a go at the ruck caper and set up a goal himself.

Weid was on everyone's lips at the start of the quarter too, when for the second term in a row we got a quick goal. Oliver roosted out of the centre from a free, Sam completely outbodied his opponent and converted effortlessly. Now the lead was 19 and it was starting to get into memorable loss territory if we gave it up. When we weren't torching opportunities by kicking it straight to them, their defenders were under all sorts of pressure. It's hard to be angry at James Frawley when a) he did plenty of time in the asylum before fleeing, and b) has the moral highground of winning a flag but there was still something secretly exciting about watching him toil against McDonald. I know we just played him forward in 2014 because he was leaving anyway, but I dare say we picked the wrong man to experiment with.

Both Anal-Bullet and Milkshake had varying degrees of good chances to add another one and make things really bonkers, before Hawthorn got their fourth in the sort of classic bullshit circumstances that can only come against us - even when we're at the peak of our powers post-2000. Frost stretched for what should have been an easy mark, misjudged it and allowed Puopolo to slip out the back (as it were) to bounce through a much needed goal. He almost flubbed it, watching it take a violent bounce at the last minute just as it was too late to hit the post.

With five minutes to go in the third quarter and everything left to play for we witnessed one of the all-time great swings in momentum. Jack Gunston, their only forward who looked likely all night, plowed into an open goal and hit the post with such ferocity that the ball bounced back 20 metres and it wobbled like it was going to snap off and skewer the Hawthorn cheersquad. His miss was welcomed, but not as much as us going straight down the other end for Neal-Bullen to turn what should have been an eight point lead into 20 via a farcically askew handball in Hawthorn's defence and one of the 35 Year Old Man Charlie Spargo's three goal assists for the evening. Now that I've heard his voice I'm thrilled that he also sounds like Barrie Cassidy.

The 11 point play tore the roof off the joint, and with McEvoy off the ground Gawn set up the play that ended with Hannan pushing his opponent away, looking at the umpire with a guilty conscience and being paid the mark anyway. I sat there thinking "that will do, just get out the quarter without conceding another", but bugger me if we didn't go forward again, and after the Bullet stood up in a tackle, Viney walked through multiple defenders and centred for Brayshaw to pull down a screaming pack mark. He converted, Neita went off his tits, a lady in the crowd cried a bit prematurely and we went to the last change 32 points up, having only conceded 45 all night.

Temporarily no longer in need of a defibrillator, I said to my companion "we're either going to a Prelim or are going to stuff this up in a way we'll never forget". Oh how we teased the latter a little too much for comfort, especially after spending the first two minutes of the last quarter hunting the goal that would let us glide home comfortably. After early goals in the second and third terms, vandenBerg had a flying ping that didn't even go near scoring but for a second had me about to join the lady that keeled over with a heart attack against the Cats. We had a couple more chances to keep the ball down there before they got a genuine team lifter goal from 55 metres out to cancel Brayshaw's goal at the end of the third with way too much time left for comfort.

Gus was involved in the next goal as well, briefly out of action after being pinged for an outrageous free, pinched for low contact while being cannoned into while trying to pick the ball up. He actually blind turned to get the ball and as such could never have known there were legs there to make contact with even if he'd wanted to. It wasn't Burgoyne's fault either, but instead of either the head being sacrosanct or recognising it was a fault-free accident and calling play on they gave it to Hawthorn. Of course they did. The collision with the legs being protected temporarily left Brayshaw unable to stand, allowing said protected legs to run straight out of the middle with no signs of injury and dump the ball to Gunston over Hibberd for another. Now my internal organs were recoiling into self-preservation mode.

Straight after the Gunston goal they were back on the attack, and while Gawn defused the first opportunity with a massive mark they had more chances via another bullshit 'sliding' free, and a bloke who missed from 20 metres out. Then Roughead got a free from a ball-up, the margin was two kicks and I didn't even have it in me to enter 'fight or flight'. It was more like vom or expire. I don't know what I would have done if we'd lost from there, but we'd have had to see it almost as many times as Jim Stynes trotting over the mark at Waverley. I've talked before about how strange memories reappear at times like this, and I remembered a 2009 pre-season game against the Hawks where we were more than five goals in front at the last change and a young Roughead won it for them with 30 seconds left. I hurled a shoe in anger, vented my frustrations online and got on with my life, not sure if this would have been as easily forgotten.

Enter Jake The Snake Melksham, who'd done a couple of nice things amidst a whole lot of nothing all night before pulling a half chance off the pack and screwing it around his body through an empty goal to genuinely rapturous scenes. Three goals was still not enough with plenty of time left. Then a minute later he was back at it, rumbling figure of fun James Sicily one-on-one and setting up a perfect kick for Sizzle to run at and beat Frawley to. Chip must have been left sprawled on the turf still confused as to how this was happening to him, before struggling to his feet and looking up as another perfect sent shot sailed over his head. Now it really was as good as over, we'd absorbed the moments of terror and were striking back.

The real end came courtesy of Melksham again, playing a last quarter to make up for the other three several times over. Harmes had just had a chance to deliver the ultimate sealer, before Melksham marked just outside the square. He kicked it, Hawthorn was rooted and I think I breathed out for the first time in 10 minutes. In the midst of the chaos I never even noticed Petracca heartily laughing in the punchable face of James Sicily for being outmarked.

When he grabbed it I took my headphones out, wanting to savour the roar when it went through. It was exactly as I hoped it would be. Then, with hands shaking almost too much to access a mobile connected device I made the fateful decision to go west, whipping my phone out and starting to look for flights. The Hawks kicked a reply right out of the centre but my mission could not be halted, I was going to Perth no matter how much it cost. Even at this stage there was a sense of embarrassment that I was doing it, with the phone shielded so the people behind me couldn't see that I believed the game was won.

I'm accustomed to low expectations, so went directly to the Melbourne 2012/13 of the airline industry Tiger Airways to ensure lowest possible fare. Who cares, as long as it doesn't plummet into the ocean or make an emergency landing in Coober Pedy I'm ready to suffer for my art. Any concern at the expense of the trip was allayed when they offered me a quite reasonable $830 return fare. This was the point of no return, even when they got off to a bad start with a Ticketek style website fault. Probably because 150 other people in the vicinity of the MCG were trying to get on the same flight. With one screen to work on I had no time for comparisons with other airlines.

Hearing the crowd about to go troppo again I looked down to see Charlie Spargo thump the exclamation mark through from the square, dangerously thrust the hand with the phone in the air to celebrate, risking lobbing it off the top level of the Ponsford, then went back to job at hand trying to get the flight confirmed ASAP. I was just clicking no to every extra under the sun, probably leaving me sitting next to a pay toilet with a complimentary meal of contaminated strawberries. Ironically about the only healthy thing I ate all yesterday was a pack of the very brand of berries that have had needles stuck in them, but as my stomach was instantly liquifying anything that came in contact with it no sharp object was likely to pose a problem.

By midway through the song - via a false start fumbling to get my credit card out then putting in the wrong expiry date - I was in and could get back to the core business of going right off about the Dees cannoning through to a prelim the hard way in the spirit of 1998. That's still my favourite season ever, but depending on what happens next week I'm ready to consider an alternative. With the grittiest, non-refundable ticket to WA booked there is no turning back now. Even if something bizarre happens with the tickets to Perth Stadium and I don't get one by the time I leave Victoria there's no alternative but to go anyway and scramble for something while I'm there. At worst I end up paying eight hundred bucks to yell at a TV in another state.

I'm a bit upset with myself at going early on the booking and missing the raw feeling of the last goal and the siren, but at the same time I've never done this impulse interstate trip shit before and would have necked myself if I'd waited 10 minutes and found all the flights were $3000 one way. This doesn't have to be the last chapter of my story, but if it is I'm not watching it in my living room while eating chips. Two finals wins later I still have trust issues around sports, so had to ask somebody else to independently verify that I'd got my dates and times right.

As we confirmed that everything was in order, a group of ladies walking the same way admitted they'd done the exact same thing and booked already after originally contemplating a drive that would take 36 hours. What a frenzy, I don't ever want it to end. Unless it's at about 5pm in two weeks and ends in a Jones, Viney, Goodwin cup hoisting ceremony. Good god almighty.

2018 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Tom McDonald
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - James Harmes

Apologies to Gawn, Oliver, Jetta, Salem, Spargo, Frost and Weideman

With Gawn very unlucky not to get the last vote, the race is over. The also apologised to Clayton Oliver fails to poll but now cannot be overturned, and becomes the only man other than Nathan Jones ever to win two Jakovich Medals in a row.

There's some movement in the minors, as McSizzle's pair of threes put him ahead of Weid and Viney in the running for the finals award. With Champion Data statistics during the week showing that Fritsch has only been considered a defender since Round 20, Salem retains the lead in the Seecamp and now has only Hibberd, Lewis and Jetta breathing down his neck. We're due a grandstand finish in September, either in the Defender of the Year or from somebody running over the mark after the siren in a prelim.

62 - Clayton Oliver (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
51 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
32 - James Harmes
29 - Jesse Hogan
24 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: As Yet Unnamed Medal for Best Finals Player)
23 - Angus Brayshaw
16 - Bayley Fritsch (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
14 - Nathan Jones
13 - Jake Melksham, Jack Viney
11 - Christian Petracca
10 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
8 - Michael Hibberd, Jordan Lewis
7 - Neville Jetta
6 - Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - Jeff Garlett, Mitch Hannan, Sam Weideman
4 - 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
The second half goals were more vital, but I really enjoyed Petracca on the run in the first quarter. For the weekly prize he wins a life-sized portrait of the time it looked like he celebrated a goal by manipulating his nipples in sexual ecstasy. For legal reasons I need to point out that we don't believe this is what he was actually doing, but it certainly looks like it.

The fate of the overall award is still undecided. Nothing this week to challenge Kent in Perth, Hannan vs Geelong or the unappreciated Charlie Spargo Over 35s nightclub shuffle at Kardinia Park. I'm still intending to stack those three and anything AMAZING that happens in the next two weeks into a public vote at the end of the season - whenever that comes.

To be fair to Hawthorn's effort it was very good, though I was thrown by the non-traditional use of lower case letters. They didn't have a curtain, the graphic was nice, and they even went over the top for a 50 gamer on the reverse side (that he wouldn't see). In many other weeks this would have won, but the Dees also went for an unusual design which paid off, the rarely seen four column look. I very much liked the excellent touch of white at the end. We win on points in a close one. That leaves us 24-0 for the year and at a minimum 25-0 due to the Eagles being a heartless franchise that emerges through the beak of an inflatable beast.

Crowd Watch (incorporating Match Experience Watch)
After having the overwhelming numbers in the crowd last week I thought there was no way we'd get the luxury of such a huge advantage again, but while there were more Hawthorn fans than there had been Cats it wasn't by much. We were still able to club together and unload the sort of noise that you'd usually only get from having a Boeing 747 take off above you.

Due to the lack of opposition fans in our area there was a grand total of zero cross words exchanged with the other side. I'm reliably informed that it was on for young and old in other areas of the ground, but in Q30 the only anxiety was from the girl sitting next to me occasionally asking her man to stop yelling out obscenities about the umpires. At the end when we had it won a few Hawks emerged from the woodwork and quietly slunk out without making eye contact or giving us a spray about how many flags they'd won. That luxury is out the window next week, and having every neutral in the country on our side isn't going to help when there's 50,000 lunatics going apeshit at everything around us.

I look forward to sampling West Coast matchday 'entertainment' for the first time because there's no way it can be any more gauche and new money than what Hawthorn put on. In the Big Book O' Footy Stereotypes they're only supposed to be a little bit less rich than us (though nobody's pinned cheese on them yet) but I don't believe it.

It must have been hard to rev somebody else's crowd up, and it felt like their only strategy to combat this was turning the volume up to 11 and shouting a lot. Probably the best bit was the ring of ordinary citizens parked around the ground to wave flags, which they had to do for about 30 minutes straight and were clearly totally over it by the end. The awful yelling announcer asked us for a round of applause in their honour because "it's a big night for them too". Four flags or self-consciously waving a flag featuring the head of a diseased chicken for half an hour, I think they've had bigger. The question is who was signing up to do this in the first place. It's one thing to have a bunch of kids in a guard of honour, but another for grown adults to say "I want a twirl a flag in front of thousands of people".

The twirling never stopped, and the rest of the program went on around it. They had two Hawk mascot (including one overly sexually suggestive female one who kept touching people) and a pair of gigantic tubey things that two teams - one of which included Campbell Brown - climbed into and had a race in. When asked where they were from both the ordinary bloke contestants helpfully offered "Melbourne". It was such a Wobbies World spectacular that I was hoping one of the mascots would be run over by the tube. Then they both did a simultaneous pre-arranged pratfall and the things gently steamrolled them with no damage whatsoever. Which was a shame because it would have enlivened this otherwise farcical spectacular. They also had a Latin hashtag for the finals, which is far more pretentious than anything we've ever done.

Then came the main event, their innovative twist on the already lame 'are you paying attention' gimmick called Late Cam where people who weren't actually late because they were in the ground before the first bounce were shown walking around while Announcer McDickhead made smart comments about them. I never thought anyone could come up with something worse than Match The Emoji, but there we were. Given that West Coast has 80,000 members for a 60,000 capacity stadium I'd like them to pit fans against each other in a gladiatorial contest to the death for the right to a seat.

The fun didn't end once the game started, with god honest fireworks going off on top of the Olympic Stand scoreboard whenever Hawthorn kicked a goal. At least for the first nine, on the last one the pyrotechnic expert must have already pissed off to catch the early train. I take it that next year when all the rules changes mean footy is fixed we won't need any of this chintzy shit to keep people entertained. Tell you what entertains me, following a club that has won 16 games for the season.

Elsewhere this week
Our prelim is my ultimate scenario, we make the Grand Final or an interstate team does. Maybe I'll be so bitter and twisted by next Saturday night that I'll be happy for either Collingwood or Richmond to win, but to be absolutely safe let's get the $cully-free GWS over both of the above. Hopefully in the unlikely event of us playing a franchise Grand Final they still put him in the parade so we can let him know how much we respect him as he drives past.
Next week
Out 3.20am AEST Friday, back 7.15pm AWST Saturday. By christ this seems like the most insane thing I've ever done, but 100% right at the same time. Ticketing is allegedly either a 50/50 split on the allocation or at the very least a shitload of space reserved for our fans to have a crack at, so as long as I don't enter a coma before 11:00 Monday there shouldn't any drama getting in. The question is how to make sure I'm amongst the faithful and not some braying secessionists who think they're hard done by in the umpiring. I guess the earlier you buy in the Melbourne allocation the more likely you are to be surrounded by fellow fly in, fuck off Demons.

After two weeks of barely seeing an opposition fan in my section it's going to be something to go into a snakepit with at best a 55,000 - 5000 split where we feel like one of those GWS fans against Richmond. I think we can win, I don't think we will, but am ready to see it unfold live one way or another. We're on a tremendous high and have Viney back, but this time they have Josh Kennedy and presumably Jack Darling not knocked out by quarter time. Speaking of knocked out, here's to Angus Brayshaw loading his helmet with a horseshoe for when an Eagles player tries to punch him in the head.

Meanwhile, for this end of an era blowout I'm going to go full nuffy and wear a jumper to a footy game again. There's no point having dignity now, it's just left to decide whether it's the Phil Read, Stefan Martin Experience or Sam Blease model that gets an airing in enemy territory. If we win I'll go 100% security risk dickhead and wear it on the plane.

The venue will not concern us, and after the last two weeks I'd like to think neither will the occasion, but it's a question of whether we can keep up the momentum, beat the afternoon heat caused by the AFL having no idea how to schedule, and overcome how the locals like it umpiring by terrified whistleblowers. The idea of standing in the middle of the carnage having just destroyed the year of a massive amount of people and knowing I've got a guaranteed Grand Final ticket waiting for me when I get back would probably be enough to put me over the edge into the good type of a full emotional breakdown. And Tiger should get me back shortly before for the first bounce the following Saturday.

The last two weeks have turned out so comprehensive that it's hard to argue for any change that's not enforced. Spargo played the game of his life, and even though I wasn't entirely enamoured with Tyson he disposed at 80% so can't bring myself to give him the chop. Part of me is tempted to spring a September surprise and throw Garlett in there on the off chance of crumb, but the pressure has been good enough that I don't dare mess with a winning formula. Besides, how often does he genuinely crumb goals anyway? The vast majority either come ducking out the back or from set shots. Adrenaline is running riot, let's ride it to the end whenever that comes. Once this is done I'm never going back there, so let's make it a memorable one for all the right reasons.

IN/OUT: No change
LUCKY: Tyson for balance
UNLUCKY: Garlett only because he provides something different up front.

Was it worth it?
There have been about 150 games since our last preliminary final appearance where this would have been a sensible question. Now we hold these truths to be self-evident - Melbourne has just rumbled a fourth top eight team in a row, have beaten Hawthorn for the second time since 2006 and are one game away from a Grand Final. I came, I saw, I went off my trolley. Never did end up watching the replay last week, and you know I'm not going to this time either. The highlights and All The Goals videos 1200 times yes, but not the full match. I'll sit down and enjoy them as part of the Melbourne International Dees Festival at the end of the season. Like the aftermath of the Geelong game all I want to do is get to next week and see what the next chapter is.

Final Thoughts
I suppose people (other than me) would have got used to the Melbourne Hawks eventually, but imagine thinking some shitbox merged entity with a velcro Hawk on a Melbourne jumper would move you as much as the original recipe does?

Don Scott, you were such an awful special comments man that this banner remains an all-time classic, but for your work inadvertently keeping my dream alive I salute you. I'm not sure everything we've been through is instantly 'worth it' now when it shouldn't have happened to begin with, but it's official that there has never been a better time to be alive since the year 2000.

At portly pop sensation Heavy D said in 1991, now that we found love what are we gonna do with it? Next Saturday your options on enemy territory are either death or glory.