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?


  1. Channel 7 was not available to me on Saturday. Consequently I had to endure a sanctimonious Eddie McGuire on Fox as he revelled in how badly we were playing, knowing his own team had qualified.
    I gave 5 votes to Gus. Yes, he fumbled at crucial times, but they all did.
    I’ll try and do a few shifts as guest reporter next year.

  2. Your blog is my favourite sitting on the capper at work read of the week.
    Your writing is gold.


Crack the sads here... (to keep out nuffies, comments will show after approval by the Demonblog ARC)