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.


  1. Mr.Fortescue remarked to Miss Tivensgrove that The Demons were playing splendidly and he shouldn't be surprised if they "knock one out" this Year. Miss Tivengrove always became a little fearful when Fortescue discussed footbsll. She felt that "smash the bastards" was one of his less genteel phrases. "Rip his head off Frosty" was another that left her puzzled. Did Mr.Fortescue leave his manners behind when he went to watch his beloved Melbourne Football Club, possibly it seems, possibly. to be discontinued

  2. Hawthorn’s pre-match Late Cam a bit unfair on nervous Demon supporters just trying to find their seats without dumping an armful of fast food on their neighbours. I still don’t agree with finals matches being treated as a “home” game for one team.
    All media attention has been on the “legging” frees against Brayshaw and Lewis (rightly so). What about the early free against Nifty which led to Gunston’s first goal? Nev stumbled, the Hawthorn player dragged the ball in, and Nifty was deemed holding the ball even though he never took possession and had an opponent sitting on his back. I can’t revisit this outrage as also omitted it from their lowlights package.
    Hawthorn’s chippy bullshit just moved the ball from one side of the half back line to the other … and back again. They never seriously penetrated forward half with that approach. Frustration even resulted in Frawley coughing it up when attempting an ambitious kick into the middle.
    I gave Sizzle BOG. Not just for his 4 goals, but he also did a lot of work up the ground.
    Here’s to a rocking flight home from Perth with 500 delirious Demon fans.


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