Sunday 31 March 2019

Let thine eyes with horror stare into that vast perpetual torture-house

If you're short of time, the story of Saturday night is best described by the Kardinia Park sponsor with the slogan A NEW HELL BEGINS. The only minor consolation was not wasting my time going to Geelong and standing in the rain for three hours to see it live.

There's also good news for Tony Abbott, as climate change is off the hook for last week's Preliminary Final hangover. We were no good in the hot afternoon sun, but even worse in the evening rain. I'd like to try again on a mild day in the dry just to be sure, but we may actually be a team for no seasons.

The disappointment of last week was discreetly covered up under the assumption that like 2013, Port Adelaide might be unexpectedly good. Then they instantly put the value of that result into question by barely beating Carlton at home (can't play Melbourne every week...), while our system went into meltdown like it had contracted a computer virus, and season 2019 was thrown into the bay with a cinderblock attached to its ankles. Farewell top 4, 5, 6 and 7. I cling to outside hope of eighth to keep myself getting up in the morning.

Given that we've only made finals 13/48 times since the 22 game season was introduced no surprise that our record after starting 0-2 is putrid. The only successful revival was in 2006, when we just pulled out of an 0-3 hole via a thriller at the SCG (and guess where we might go with an 0-3 record in two weeks?), won 13.5 games and a final. That year was so bonkers that we went on an 11/12 run and sat third mid-year before the wheels fell off again. At this stage of 2019 I'd be comfortable with any script that finishes with "... and a final".

With no competing priorities, I could easily have gone to Charnel House Stadium, but given that we held a 2-1-18 record there during my supporting life the high percentage option was to stay in and be miserable in the security of my own home. I think I've done my time at that ground, being soaked through on that godforsaken terrace as we kicked four goals in 2013, seeing every minute of 111 and 186 point losses, then last year copping a fisting from an opposite direction after the siren. Can't see a scenario in which I'd go there again, and in this case it turned out to be the best footy viewing decision since skiving off in the middle of work to see us take out our post-tanking frustrations on Freo in 2009.

An 80 point margin would suggest your garden variety thrashing, and while it was our worst defeat since Roos' finale on the same ground there were statistical anomalies that will appear in Champion Data trainee textbooks for years to come. As you'd be well aware I love stats, and desire to spend my days working with them, but this is the night where the basic package of footy numbers were dismissed as a fraud.

I'm sure there are advanced measurements that can explain what happened and predict what comes next, but we proved the handful of figures that fans and media obsess over are a spent force. We had less disposals, narrowly fewer contested possessions, and lost the free kick count, but otherwise had more clearances (+6 from the centre, +4 from stoppages), tackles (+3), hitouts (+19), the same number of forward marks, and most outrageously misleading of all in a game we lost by 14 goals - 73 (seventy three, LXXIII, the atomic number of tantalum) inside 50s to 48.

The worst statistics in the game are hitouts and inside 50s, because both are useless without understanding they context they happened in. Hitouts to advantage goes some way to clearing that one up, but inside 50s is still just a lump sum that means bugger all on its own. In our case maybe three were at a leading forward and the other 70 were either passes to the boundary, hit and hope bombs, or balls that limped over the 50 metre line without ever posing a threat. Still, when you beat a previous record low mark by five full goals you know that - as the kids would say - shit is fucked.
That goes to show no matter how good your midfield is, bad things are going to happen when your forward structure doesn't convert and the defenders are still getting about like they're badly traumatised. Both structures were equally as wonky last year too, but contested possession propped us up long enough to launch a four week run of magic that we'll have to accept as a substitute for never winning a flag.

Kicking 25 goals more than anyone else in the competition and flogging a few also rans was tremendous fun, and it helped sweep our wasteful forward play under the rug. Now 17 teams have had a summer to study our brute force methods and come up with the revolutionary counter move of sticking players in front of our forwards and not letting them get the ball. Don't bother picketing against Goodwin, he's not going anywhere for a few years, look to Richmond's pre-premiership example and pile in unmercifully on the assistants in the hope that a refresh might solve everything. Even if, like me, you're not entirely sure what their roles or responsibilities are.

It might help if we played the tall forwards in attack, instead of McSizzle and Weideman roaming up the ground and aiming kicks at Melksham and Petracca. Milkshake has done as well as humanly possible to make something of this madness over the last fortnight, whereas Truck looks like he wants to slash his wrists. Opposition tactics obviously play a big part, but how did we up with Geelong turning our forward line around 180 degrees so the big forwards were delivering to the medium size players? I hate to think what would have happened to Spargo if we'd played him.

In the Sydney game on Friday night there was one of the most sensual forward moves you'll ever see, with a player marking in the middle of the ground and instantly turning to put a pass right on the teet of the forward he knew would be leading down the middle of the 50. For what gets me going it was far more attractive than the goal of the year mystery snag Franklin kicked from the boundary line minutes earlier. We can do this. We did it several times last year, and now that everyone's onto our bulldozer approach we'll have to try it again. What happened to the noble art of chipping it around a few times to open up the 50? Is there that little faith in retaining the ball that we'd prefer to just whack it long and pray for a miracle? That is an unattractive turn of events.

Our impotent start to the year hasn't changed my mind on trading Hogan - even if it did turn into a red and blue spot special discount giveaway so we could shift his personal issues onto somebody else - but my worst nightmares about him being gone are coming true. Everyone's used to McDonald as a forward now so the surprise element is gone, and while he's still capable of doing damage if he gets the ball in hand we've got to create the space that allows that to happen. We've also got to get the Weid into the game more and/or devise an avenue to goal that doesn't involve carpet bombing the 50 and hoping for the best or this season is one flush away from going down the toilet.

Another reason the inside 50s were so misleading is because the ball constantly flung in and out of our attack while we were failing to score from kicks the opposition could see coming like they've cracked our code books and are intercepting radio transmissions from midfielders to forwards. Then there's Petracca, more often than not left alone inside 50 while the talls are for some reason kicking it towards him, having a shocker and inviting unkind comparisons with the rampant Jordan De Goey. In a further blow for statistics his numbers read like a good game, but it was not. Seven tackles were welcome, but he looked miles off making an attacking impact. If this season is going to fizz out I'd rather we made the required statement and shipped him off for a spell at Casey rather than crossing our fingers and praying he'll somehow kick five next week.

I'll accept not picking Preuss this week because of weather concerns, but if somebody had access to a long-range forecast it obviously didn't influence the selection of defenders. May came in (and looks like going straight back out again), but christ knows why we persisted with two other tall defenders when a) there was a high probability of rain, and b) Geelong's forward line consisted of Tom Hawkins and small/mid-sized forwards galore.

May on Ablett at the first bounce might have been something to do with 666 but it didn't fill me with confidence about our matchups. I've already given up on the idea of throwing defence out the window and winning the type of goal-heavy shootouts that would give Channel 7's CEO a reason to live, and would really like to start keeping opposition scores down again.

I'd already have dropped one of Frost or Oscar and kept Hore, but when it became clear on the day that it was likely going to rain I'd rather have shoehorned Spargo back into the side. Hore was kept out of the Reserves practice match as the carry-over emergency, I suppose just in case we needed yet another defender. The result of our top heavy defence was Hawkins only kicking two (morally three considering he patronisingly gave one away) and everyone else under the sun taking advantage of holes in our backline so big you could fly an Airbus through to chip in for a couple.

Yet somehow despite all this we had more inside 50s than 23/25 games last year (and the other two were both thrashings), which if nothing else goes to show we have players who can get the ball. Now to get them moving it with some poise, not like they've been told it will explode if they hold onto it for more than a second.

Chief amongst the accumulators was the dear old Hamburglar himself, a midfielder for the ages whose 44 possessions were the most ever recorded by a Melbourne player not called Greg Wells. Who ditched out on us mid-season when it became clear we were never going to win anything and walked straight into a flag at Carlton. But while Oliver is racking up touches what's happening elsewhere? I love Brayshaw but his disposal is ropey, and Harmes is whole-hearted but wasn't much better with the ball last night. I expect Kolodjashnij was picked to play on 'the outside', where he subsequently recorded the second lowest disposal tally of his career. What possessed them to pick him on the back of one Casey practice game after they saw how Viney and Jones (both improved, especially Viney) went last week is beyond me.

Further to the total state of anarchy that we seemed to be in were allegations about choosing to kick into the wind in the first quarter, only to watch it drop off by the time the second started. I'd dispute any suggestion that this was solely to blame for the minutes of madness in the opening term that left us in tatters, but if true it's hard to understand where we earned the right to try cute manoeuvres. This club has been a bastion of conservatism for 160 years, 0-1 and at a ground that attacks us like poison gas was no time to start being radical.

That aside, the first 15 minutes of the opening quarter was the only time where we looked even moderately threatening in attack. Of course in an unwanted throwback to AFLW season, all the early chances were killed off without scoring, and when May welcomed himself to Melbourne with a turnover that came back to our old nemesis Hawkins for the first goal I thought "oh Jesus, here we go again". As did May I expect, currently having as good a start to 2019 as his mum Teresa. He and Kolodjashnij must have looked at each other in the rooms after the game and shared an unsaid acknowledgement that this wasn't the escape from misery they'd counted on.

There was a short period where we looked not only Geelong's equal, but capable of kicking a winning score. Like we did in regulation time at the same ground last year, before pissing it all away by treating defence as optional in the final seconds. McSizzle had one of his few opportunities for the night and missed a quick snap, before Weideman got our first from a tap in after a pass that could have gone anywhere. It was the sort of night where we were so sketchy in attack that you'd expect most of our goals to come from goalmouth scrambles, but we couldn't even create those. Later we conceded a goal toe-poked from a foot out with our backline camped everywhere around the square except where it countered.

Jay Lockhart then made a mockery of being added to our list 15 days ago (surely the latest we've recruited a player since Les Parish joined from Fitzroy in mid-1985) by running around his opponent like the Road Runner wrong-footing Wile. E Coyote to kick a fantastic goal and we were more than six points ahead. That moment of high excitement was quite literally as good as it got. Next thing some bloke called 'Gryan' (the only obvious explanation is that G is right above B on the keyboard) who had support Australian hip hop hair like the second coming of Ben Nason kicked a simple goal and disarray mode was activated.

The rest of the night was a parade of us kicking inside a forward 50 more crowded than a Tokyo train, then seeing the ball shot back as if fired from a mortar into a Geelong forward line where players were queued up waiting for the cheap handball and goal. An alternative route to purgatory was provided by Bayley Fritsch gifting Selwood a shot from the boundary by kicking on the full. I was hoping he'd be confused by getting a free that didn't involve ducking into a high tackle but alas no, and through it went. The last two goals of the quarter came from the ball bouncing around loose in our forward line, leaving me Googling for the name of our defensive coach so I could launch a campaign to drive him out along with his forward counterpart.

As steady rain began to increase the degree of difficulty for a comeback, conceding another in the dying seconds was what killed us off. I could have seen us coming back from three goals down, but the low intensity way they got the last compared to how hard we were working just to create half chances was all I needed to know about our chances of getting back into it. As was Petracca dropping a mark that would have left him with a shot after the siren. Usually that would only have cost us a point, but it was in the same area he kicked a set shot last week so who knows what greatness it may have generated. As it was his night died a terrible death from there.

The trauma of the last 45 minutes made me forget the second quarter was actually only one goal each. Sure, ours didn't come until we'd endured 20 minutes of pressure and missed opportunities but Geelong's goals late in the first quarter meant that when they got the first of the term we were rooted. It doesn't say much for our new look backline (at least the interim new look backline until Lever comes back in about 2024) that the period where we conceded the least goals coincided with May hobbling off into a Kardinia Park broom closet for treatment. I'm not laying the blame on him by any means, and believe he may have been requesting a psychological assessment after choosing to join us instead of Collingwood.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, Brayshaw wound up on the ground after convening a session of the Frequently Fractured Society by colliding with Gary Rohan. In a reversal of fortune Rohan came out of it with a head injury, and Brayshaw a sore leg. Unfortunately for both Gus and May they had to come back instead of getting a head start on traffic, via Gus having a furious session on an exercise bike where he was pictured turning back an offer of salt and vinegar chips from a fan. Most players would have ignored the bloke, but because we're a higher class of people he politely declined, probably wary of them being spiked with opium and costing him a 12 month ban.

May returned looking proppy (cliche!) and lasted until three quarter time before succumbing. We must have learnt out lesson from running Joel Smith into the ground for no reason against Brisbane and chose to leave him on the bench looking thoroughly gloomy for the rest of the game. The only thing that would have raised his spirits would have been if a Brisbane player wandered past and he'd have stuck out a good leg to trip them.

Melksham should get a bravery medal for what he's done in that dysfunctional forward line the last two weeks, and his crumbed goal just before the half kept us clinging on through the break by our fingertips. I still had more faith that we'd broker peace in the Middle East than win, but it provided some motivation to hang around until the second half instead of going outside and digging until I found high voltage underground wires.

Should have got the shovel out. Compared to, say, the Bulldogs coming from five goals down in the last quarter against Hawthorn (suck shit $cully), our hopes of coming back to life were not aided by one of the most remarkable examples of wasted dominance you're ever going to see. For more than one reason it brought this to mind:

Never before has a team done so much attacking in a short period of time without scoring a goal, only to instantly roll over and concede about six in a row immediately afterwards. Melksham turned a kick from the pocket into zero points, Weideman wasted Jetta's bravery in almost killing himself in a collision, a kick to a fully outstretched Clayton Oliver expected he was going to take a towering overhead mark and Brayshaw stormed out of the middle and trying to have a shot because he had as much faith in the forwards as the rest of us. It was undignified.

On the other hand, Geelong always had a player on the outside of forward 50 contests because they knew we'd over-commit multiple players to the ball, and benefited from the Hibberd debacle when he fumbled into the path of Selwood on the line. Cats players were all but taking numbers and waiting for their turn to kick one without breaking a sweat. It was putrid, another goalless quarter to go alongside the scoreless end to Round 1. The common thread in both has been criminally wasted opportunities before the the other lot came to their senses and pulverised us.

It was the sort of unholy struggle I remember from early season games a few years ago. What a dickhead for thinking we'd turned the corner, though if you look back now and remove the "everything's going to be ok" glasses maybe it was always going to happen. Obviously they didn't mean for half the list to have off-season surgery, and would have packed a few off midway through last year if we weren't a live finals chance. Pre-season injuries haven't helped either. Alternatively, maybe we're still good enough to generate a massive number of attacking opportunities but just stuffed them up due to being panicky idiots.

Speaking of panicky idiots, we also became the first team in AFL history to give away a penalty for botching the 666 starting positions. There's been plenty of warnings dished out so far, but everyone's taken notice except us. In a great piece of slowing the game down they then had ensure everyone went back to their rightful positions before Geelong could play on. Remember when we thought the new rules were going to play right into our hands? Who would have thought the absence of runners would lead to our already dodgy on-field leadership getting even worse. Time to send out hidden messages with the water carriers, and to borrow Richmond's new #fistedforever symbol for general use:
After the brief, ultimately pointless, excitement of Viney kicking the first goal, the final term had an embarrassing stench of effortlessness about it. Like when they beat us at the same venue about 10 years ago and one player feigned sleeping during their box-ticking rendition of the song. We'd already had several minutes of replays of Dangerfield pointing to his grandmother, now Hawkins ran into an open goal, stopped, handballed backwards to a rookie and allowed him to kick the goal. Depending on your view it was either a great moment in gallant teamwork or the most arrogant display since the Ox taunted Carlton fans by holding the ball aloft running into an open goal.

By then I'd already been desensitised so he could have put it on the ground, lifted his teammate up and swung him at it like a putter for all it would have affected me. Just another in a lengthy queue of goals that made the art of kicking goals look piss easy, while we were dividing by zero via instructions we Google translated from an instruction manual written in Klingon.

In keeping with the spirit of the evening, the goal's genesis was Petracca almost being responsible for the death of Nathan Jones with a ridiculous hospital pass. Perhaps the co-skipper may be open to somebody helping end the pain:
Travelling fans who'd already wasted their Saturday night were tempted to throw themselves into the Barwon River when at the height of our fourth quarter distress the umpire paid an administrative free against KK for running in the general vicinity of the man with the ball, even though they had about as much chance of interacting with each other as Mercury and Neptune. If last year's after the siren fiasco encouraged me to scarf down a massive sympathy Maccas at the Rockbank services Maccas on the way home this could have ended in a one-man inhalation of a 32 piece KFC bucket and a trip to the emergency department.

Last week we were one of the stories, now we're the story. Prepare for a sad music AFL360 montage, and a week of people spouting 'in the know' bollocks like "got ahead of themselves". The only analysis I'm interested in is a three hour Fox Footy special On The Couch broadcast where they go through behind the goals vision of all 73 inside 50s and diagnose how we only turned them into six goals.

On the plus side, we won't have to battle with Ticketmaster for a seat at the finals this year... Maybe the VFL finals, if we don't take all their players and leave them relying on winos found in the main street of Cranbourne.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Angus Brayshaw
--- Nobody deserved it, so I'm just for the top tackler ---
1 - James Harmes

Apologies of sorts to Salem, Fritsch and Gawn. None deserved votes but any could have blagged one by default.

7 - Jake Melksham
5 - Clayton Oliver, Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Angus Brayshaw, James Harmes, Jack Viney
1 - Corey Wagner

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There's a severe lack of options again, but this time we did have one goal that deserved celebrating. Back when we still had hope in our hearts during the first quarter, Jay Lockhart celebrated his miracle ascension to the big leagues with this dummy-selling classic:
Oh the joy I got watching somebody take that level of piss out of his opponent with what was either his first or second kick in senior footy. Needless to say the defender had the last laugh by the end after he'd helped knock over about 57 other attacks.

In these once more troubled times, there is one element of this club's output that you can rely on to put in 100% every time. It's the one that's constructed on crepe paper by people doing it for free because of love for the club, not the players and coaches pocketing a combined $15,000,000 per annum.

For the second consecutive week a tidy milestone banner with a nice picture of the player being honoured came out on top. Though to be fair it would have been almost impossible to lose to Geelong's rudimentary, stringy fonted and quite frankly crap effort. You have an entire town in which to find somebody with artistic flair, use it. 2-0 Dees.

To make me stop taking the piss out of Dwayne Russell you'll have to kill one of us, but there's nothing to endear you to his insane stream-of-consciousness commentary than the lowest common denominator SLOP offered by Channel 7. Even if it's aimed at the lowest rung of footy fan I can't believe anyone is genuinely interested in their "ho ho, that's good from you Darce" style commentary where they spend almost as much time talking about themselves than the game.

I secretly enjoy self-indulgent Triple M style wankfests on the radio, but it offends me greatly on television because a) other than as bonus content on a Grand Final DVD, nobody is ever listening to a radio call again whereas the TV coverage is the historical record of that game, and b) should any future generations go back to watch this game, they will quite rightly wonder what Cameron Ling winning a sixths cricket premiership had to do with anything. The only improvement from their 'live, interactive and shithouse' Saturday night coverage of a few years ago is that it no longer features Brian Taylor, and even then there were stages of this call where I was nearly pining for him to turn up, call the wrong player and misdiagnose an injury.

The undisputed worst thing about Channel 7's coverage is going out of their way to highlight people you wouldn't sit next to on a train vigorously reacting to umpiring decisions. I'm not into outrage, but a week after two different sets of people belted the suitcase out of each other in the stands (in right about the area where 7's NuffyCam scans for content) maybe take a break from showing people screaming their heads off like they're addressing a rapist and giving double middle fingers to players? Watching the Collingwood game on Thursday, I hadn't seen so many middle fingers on my TV since the glory era of Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Either they had a less bloodthirsty director last night, or the locals were so relaxed at their easy win that there wasn't enough content to switch to, but for those of you watching at home next Friday night I guarantee you multiple cutaways to people nearly frothing at the mouth after a contentious decision. Usually I'd say our fans would be too classy to join in, but there's a few people with veins on their forehead that are about to pop in spectacular fashion so don't rule anything out.

Next Week
Against all odds our return to Friday night football is a battle of 17th vs 18th. If you were an enterprising legal firm you'd hand out 40,000 branded templates demanding an EGM, because whoever loses out of us or Essendon the fans are going to go off. Obviously Worsfold has more to lose than Goodwin because he hasn't just signed a contract extension to 2022, but otherwise it's a dead heat as to which group will spin out more in the event of defeat. Our expectations were pumped up by a month of quality football, they just always assume they're going to be good on name value alone.

My dream is that we'll deliver a win so stinging that it will instantly tear Essendon open like the San Andreas fault and launch a civil war between people who want to bring Hird back and those who haven't been lobotomised. After gifting Hird the last win of his tenure and Worsfold the first of his, this could go either way - his last win before a losing streak that ultimately sees him given the arse, or the excuse Essendon's board need to tip him. Maybe we rushed to re-sign Goodwin unnecessarily early in the season in case he got tempted to go back to the Bombers and get on the human growth hormone again.

Against my better judgement I think I'll be there, having finished work at 07:00 that morning, taking an hour to get home, sleeping for as long as possible, then getting up just to go another hour and a bit back to the 'G, then driving home exhausted like I'm pissed. If I didn't self-report in advance here there'd be every chance of just falsifying a Crowd Watch segment and pretending I went.

You'd think that Essendon's loss to St Kilda is an even better indication that we'll win than their big defeat to GWS, but I'm worried after the Bombers have been carpeted for recruiting too many fancy outside runners that we're the perfect team for that tactic to finally achieve a safe landing against. Before they go on to lose to everyone else.

The best I can do is say we might win. Until Friday I'll be comforting myself with the memories of the second half against them last year, a return from the brink that set off the best six weeks of the 21st century. If this goes bad it's season over - I'm not dismissing the 2006 example of a recovery from 0-3, but like Sydney turning 0-6 into a finals appearance that was a once in a lifetime last gasp from a lot of players heading towards the end of their careers at maximum speed.

If you waited for the club to give details you'd never know that Casey played a practice match against Geelong yesterday. Given that the development of our players is far more important than VFL premiership points I'd say this was as worthy of base level coverage as any match. The MFC disagree. They could have at least stolen the details off the forums and pretended to have had somebody there watching. Meanwhile Casey's Twitter is going at about one post a fortnight, and used up this week's on a promotional opportunity so were unable to provide any details of their side playing an actual match.

What I gather is that Preuss didn't do much around the ground, which is fine because that's not what he's employed to do when Gawn is there. If it's dry on Friday I'm picking him. Not like our forward line could get any worse by adding another tall. Gawn was much better this week, despite ongoing attempts at niggle, but we'd be mad to bring a guy in to give him a rest and not play him before winter arrives and makes a three forward setup less attractive.

I was ready to bring Spargo back for Sparrow based on the assumption that if neither of them can play four quarters at least Charleston has the runs on the board from last year - but if he was disappointing as reported that's not going to happen. Instead I'll ring the Corey hotline and give Wagner another go. I'll bring his brother in as well so Hunt can go forward. If a pair of Wagners is the answer god only knows what the question is but I'm getting desperate here. Stretch also comes in, having done well in his only game before being injured last year and reportedly one of the best for Casey as well.

Going the other way Neal-Bullen and Petracca are the ritual sacrifices, and if May is fit then I'm narrowly going for Frost over Oscar because he offers more of an attacking option. Yes it's likely at some stage he'll dash out of defence at 200km/h and either kick the ball to an opponent, fall over, or run straight into a tackle but at this stage of our disappointing 2019 journey I'd rather that to Oscar doing straight out defensive jobs while looking petrified. Unfortunately if May's injured grundle keeps him out then we'll have to put up with both of them.

I'd love to go right over the top and drop about eight players as a knee-jerk overreaction, but our much vaunted depth is running on fumes in the spots where we need it. So, Hunt gets one go forward, Lockhart another chance based purely on the goal and hitting Joel Selwood, and while KK kouldn't find a kick I'll bank on him improving second up after a spell like Viney and Jones.

IN: Preuss, Stretch, C. Wagner, J. Wagner
OUT: Neal-Bullen, Petracca, Sparrow (omit), May (inj)
LUCKY: Hunt, Kolodjashnij, Lockhart, O. McDonald
UNLUCKY: Hore, Keilty, Spargo

Final Thoughts
Who'd be a Melbourne fan? The big let down is a sporting tradition, but even when I was conservatively tipping us to finish 5th in the face of a hype campaign that suggested we'd win the flag unbeaten there was a morbid fear of it all going bad. If this season was food dropped to the floor it's still in three second rule territory rather than rampant salmonella outbreak, but the point of no return arrives on Friday. If we lose by 1 or 191 this season is over. Don't forget the year ends with Richmond, Collingwood, Sydney and North in Hobart, if we're not well established in the eight before then forget about it.

Subconsciously I've been preparing myself for this all summer, I can't count how many times I either said or wrote words to the effect of "if it doesn't happen this season we've got the list to challenge for a few years to come..." What has the world come to when I'm looking to Richmond's surprise down season before a flag for inspiration?

I'll meet you all in the window of the school book depository next Saturday morning...

Sunday 24 March 2019

Extraordinary people doing bloody ordinary things

At some point in the near future, rising sea levels will submerge the tiny island of Tuvalu and leave it uninhabitable. The only group in more danger from global warming is the Melbourne Football Club, having ended consecutive warm weather games like Burke and Wills.

Even if temperatures had been halved West Coast would have still thrashed us, and we'd probably had been beaten here too but I need a distraction from the realities of following an underdone team that was out of gas by half time of Round 1. Let's reconvene after a night game next week and decide whether conditions were to blame (and the number of players who ended the game looking like they needed to go on a drip suggest they didn't help), we were a finals flash in the pan that has to endure a cooldown season before really going for it in 2020, or there's a classic MFC self-sabotage campaign in our future.

Nobody loses as the home favourite more often than us, so while it's usually safe to follow the bookies because they've got the most to lose it was insane sending us in as odds on favourites and a 30-something point handicap. Shareholders of the companies involved should call an Extraordinary General Meeting and sack everyone involved. Your money is not safe in the hands of anybody who didn't accept the likelihood of us delivering a fiasco.

Against all available evidence I still thought we'd win - a long history of going up like the Challenger under expectation, three key players who'd only appeared in a half-arsed second practice game, Jack Watts a dead certainty to have the game of his life, and Port fielding four first gamers likely to wind up playing Rock Paper Scissors to decide who gets the Rising Star nomination. Not to mention the painful memories of our last Round 1 game against Port, where we arrived at the MCG having beaten them two weeks earlier in a NAB Cup game, and left in fully crisis mode, with red faced people yelling obscenities over the fence. Fortunately no matter how flat we now it's a very different time, with the only thread between the two games being us copping a not so dry root from Justin Westhoff.

Given the extent of our casualty list, now including Lewis after injuring his hamstring late in the week, there weren't many options other than to play all of Jones, Melksham and Viney. Returns were mixed, with Melksham arguably our best before going missing along with everyone else in the last quarter, Viney 'better for the run' (e.g. couldn't get near it but we're hopeful for the future), and Jones playing perhaps the worst game of his life - highlighted by a spectacular blunder at the start of the last quarter that almost caused the internet to collapse under the weight of people rushing to force him into retirement.

I was surprised at how off the pace Viney was, even returning on scant preparation from a 'corked iliotibial band'. Or as they'd have put it if they weren't trying to sound intellectual - 'knee'. I'd like to think that he's working towards full fitness rather than being troubled by his band, but given that it looks like Dr. Phil Nietschke is overseeing our injury list (including his son Aaron) he'll probably be out for the next 21 weeks. But with Midfield vandenBerg also hurt who else were we going to play? Everything you need to know about our rapidly thinning depth is that the emergencies were a ruckman, two defenders, and a forward who would up replacing a defender. Crazy Name, Crazy Guy Kolodjashnij hasn't played a game yet, and Stretch is a handy cog in the wheel at best. Depth is great until you scratch the surface and realise all that's below is a collection of Hail Marys.

Hunt was probably meant to play forward, but when Lewis blew up we parachuted Sparrow into attack and stuck with the role Jayden is best known for. I understand that in the circumstances he had to defend, but I'd like a look at him in attack. He had one delightful turbo run that set up a goal, but was otherwise wasteful with his disposals and is only just hanging on to a spot.

We often play first quarters that defy the laws of football, gravity or both, and this was a special. By the end I thought we should be a mile ahead, despite most of our A grade players being MIA, but could also see very clearly how we'd probably lose. I wasn't being completely negative, expecting defeat to come via a thriller, not a heat-induced collapse.

In the early minutes of the all new rules intended to boost scoring, nobody could score. Viney spurned the first chance by hoofing a free out on the full, before we looked the far more likely side to get a run on. Our ball movement was quick we had players running free, and Port were fumbling and going to ground like they were completely spooked at playing a team tipped by many otherwise sensible media figures to win the flag. Of course, these are the same figures who have successfully set us up and can now do "did Melbourne get ahead of themselves?" articles when they were the ones who hyped us to start with.

At four goals to one things were looking up. Tom McSizzle was responsible for two of them, before struggling to get near it for the rest of the game. First he towered over two defenders to take a molto bene pass from Melksham, and later returned the favour by marking in the pocket, and doing an overly cute nine metre pass to the 'Shake, who was called to play on and fortunately snapped the goal. Between those Sparrow joined the illustrious goal with the second kick club via a tap-in from the square, Brayshaw kicked a set shot, and everything was coming up Melbourne.

When McMilkshake did their Harlem Globetrotters shit for an almost immediate response to Port's first goal I made the horrible, fatal mistake of wondering how much we could win by. That assumed Port would continue to go about it like they were trying to flee Saigon across an ice rink. Terrible move. By half time we were barely holding on, having spent most of the second quarter taking the sort of unprotected blows that would have seen a boxing match stopped.

The tide began turning when Neal-Bullen missed a set shot, leading to Port going down the other end and kicking an arsey steadying goal as the direct result of us using a non-qualified ruckman at a defensive throw-in. The Bullet got another chance not long after when a defender flubbed the ball straight into his arms in almost the exact same spot. He missed again, about 15 of his teammates went "right, that'll do us for today", and other than a couple of minutes at the start of the third quarter nary a shot was fired again.

Saddest case of all was Max Gawn, niggled to within an inch of his life in his 100th game without any obvious intervention from his teammates. I wouldn't want to fight Patrick Ryder either, but somebody could have sacrificed themselves to a low-level flag-flying grapple. It's not like Ryder was the only one belting him either, some much more fightable character gave one Max in the guts on the way past and left him sprawled on the ground with zero retaliation. Have we learned nothing since Queen's Birthday 2009? I know we have, because at various times in the last few years we've had players willing to punch on (relatively speaking) for their teammates. Now just as expectations peaked we let one of our most vital weapons get thumped by everyone who ran past him.

This time we got 15 minutes of glory before toppling over, but otherwise the ruck scenario was like a straight replay of the Preliminary Final, as a pair of quality ruckmen double-teamed the bejesus out of Max. On the occasion of rolling him for the second consecutive game, Scott Lycett is now officially Gawn's kryptonite. He probably smuggled the files revealing how the Eagles did it up his jumper when he left. There's no point to holding the secrets anymore, they're out there for everyone to see and we'd be negligent not to be working on a counter-counter program to make sure he can have an impact.

In retrospect we might have played Preuss in the second ruckman role he was specifically recruited for. I presume he was left as an emergency because they were worried about him dying in the heat, floundering in the wet, or falling victim to a gruesome tropical mixture of the two. After he went to pieces in hot weather against Richmond I can understand their concerns about playing him in similar conditions, but that blowout was the direct result of trying to play him in the Gawn role where he rucked all day. We'll never know if it would have made a difference but it goes to show our all eggs in one basket approach to the ruck is a massive risk.

The rain had come and gone well before the first bounce (from the sky anyway, players were falling on their arses left, right and centre until half time), but once they left Preuss out on Thursday the die was cast. Coaches have spent 100 years removing tall players wen the conditions didn't suit, even one who just got a lucrative extension isn't going to open himself to ridicule (a'la the John Longmire/Mark Seaby incident in R1, 2011) by going the other way.

I'm not yet sure (but keen to find out) if Preuss justifies selection by what he brings outside of ruck contests, but where I think a professional second ruckman comes in handy is for inside 50 stoppages at either end. For the last couple of years we've often gotten away with emergency ruckmen in the middle because of the strength of the players at their feet, but it's a totally different proposition at attacking or defending stoppages without Gawn. There was a moment against Gold Coast about three years ago that set the standard for inside 50 ruckwork, as he hit a perfect tap over his head for Viney to run past and kick the goal. It's probably not the last time we had an effective tap near goal but it must be close.

Down the other end, Weideman took to his fill-in role like they hadn't bothered to put him through even the most rudimentary defensive stoppage course. He was beaten all ends up at a throw-in that led their first goal, and in the second got so confused at taking a bounce in front of Port's goal with no opposition that he hit it straight to a Port player. Preuss may have ended the day receiving Hydralite in the same way Stevie Nicks used to take cocaine but he'd have at least known what to do both those times. Otherwise, why did we recruit him?

Preuss may never be a number one, but the one time we've played him as Max's second banana (against Collingwood) he looked good. Big difference when it starts raining, but early in the season if we can't get away with playing him, Weid and McDonald I'll go hee. If we can't play three now then one will have to go when it starts raining. It won't be McDonald that means you can either have Weid who can't ruck but is out of contract and might piss off somewhere he can play every week, or Preuss who can ruck but is limited as a forward. I didn't hate Weideman's game today, but surely trying flying contested chest marks with zero arm extension went out when we delisted Brad Miller. When he went to the ball in a contest he pulled down the best contested mark of the day. More of the good stuff, less of the bad stuff.

Speaking of Queen's Birthday 2009, it was good see Watts finally start hitting people. All it took to encourage him was an off-season from hell, with his various fetishes turning him into a cult figure even before video footage emerged of him snorting fake gak off a pair of bristols. I wish we'd staged a controlled leak of his Facebook messages and sent him to Oktoberfest to get loaded five years ago. First he whacked Jones around the chops, then lightly shirt-fronted Oliver, before just turning his attention to strangling the whole team by cutting off a dozen scoring opportunities.

Some dickhead on the radio said: "Melbourne fans aren't even booing Watts, I don't know if that says more about him or them", which fails to understand the complex relationship between the parties. Even after he'd clobbered Jones and Oliver people could do no more than the most half-hearted noise of dis-affirmation, because the majority of us wish him well. There stands were probably dotted with the sort of anti-social nuffies who always wanted him to fail, but the majority of fans would wish him no ill-will.

Of course on this occasion we'd preferred he had flashbacks to the last coach to play him as a full-time defender and put in a stinker, but serves us right for kicking to him more times than when he was on our list. He's second only to Lynden Dunn on the list of ex-Melbourne players I want to do well (apologies to the SME, who I am now obliged to dump due to the arrival of his assassin Steven May), but let's settle down on declaring that he's the next big thing again based on one game merrily intercepting shit kicks when his career is littered with Round 1 false starts.

Whisper it at an almost inaudible volume but we could have done with him in our defence today. Frost carried on like his nightmare Prelim game has never ended, Oscar looked permanently worried, and Hore failed to inspire much confidence. May is an obvious in (if he can restrain himself from flying to Brisbane training and shirtfronting somebody) but the question is which of the shaky defenders he replaces. Immediate thought is Frost, but I'm almost tempted to give him another go just for his pace. But not tempted enough, Hore gets a second chance while we turn to Dave Misson and tap our watches impatiently as Lever's projected return date continues to go backwards. Dave won't see it, he'll be tending to the next critically injured player who mysteriously gets hurts during training.

I didn't think Hibberd was much chop either. I had him as a hold in the pre-season markets, but am panicking and hitting sell after this. Was ok running with the ball, but defensively concerning. With Hunt running at 50.0% disposal efficiency and Nev quietly going about his business, the shining light of the backline was Salem. If you're looking for a positive stat, his 30 kicks were the most for us since Travis Johnstone had 37 against a Carlton side rolling out the red carpet in the 2007 tanking game. For legitimate games where the opposition were trying, it sits alongside an Adem Yze performance for games in the 2000s. He was certainly the only one I trusted to extract the ball via foot. You wouldn't be welcome in this side without unleashing a few dodgy kicks, but most of them today were positive and did the right thing. It's just a shame that he had to have so many because it kept coming back.

Our commitment to participating in the first half ended with ANB's second miss. That would have had us five goals to one up and perhaps propelled us to keep things together. Maybe even landed a fatal blow to the Power. Or, based on the way the physical condition of our group went south later in the game while Port continued to run as if they'd done pre-season in the Simpson Desert it might have just been setting us up for an even more embarrassing capitulation.

Maybe the weather played zero part and we're just flaky, because there was a lot of the much milder Round 21 Sydney game about it (built up an early lead, wasted chances before going to bits and conceding a lead we couldn't run down). All the focus is rightly on those two glorious Friday night finals, but think back to how difficult we made things look against the Swans that day and consider that we might have just got on a run at the right time in the last few weeks before disappearing back into the field again like a two wins less successful 2016 Bulldogs. Dark thoughts like this are why I have no regrets paying good money to go to Perth, because I'm not convinced we'll ever make it that far again before being shipped to Tasmania in 2023.

There's an obsession with 'lineal improvement' (and if you're in the media do say lineal, because it makes you sound like a mathemagician) that assumes because we've improved every year since the 2013 sewer season that it will naturally carry on until we've won a flag. Bollocks. This is a good, young list that did some beautiful work last year, but we're still an unfinished product. I hope like hell the finish comes this year and we all look back and shake our heads at getting upset about a limp Round 1 loss, but there's no god given guarantee to crash through footy's glass ceiling and come out with a flag or two. Ask St Kilda, if you can find any of their fans that haven't leapt from a window.

The last few minutes of the opening quarter were spent with Port throwing everything at us but missing, until the only person called Todd who isn't in the Flanders family goalled from a free that cut the margin to 11. What a waste of dominance, I pay zero attention to the goings on at other clubs but I just had a Clayton Oliver style sixth sense that we weren't going to have the legs to run the game out. Both pre-season losses featured strong comebacks in warm weather when the game was lost, so it wasn't inconceivable that we might slip, slop and slap our way to four points but The Fear had me in a stranglehold. I just couldn't picture us doing anything better than narrowly holding on to win a thriller.

Quarter time was a good opportunity to reset, get somebody to accidentally drop a knee to the balls of one of the Port players who'd been harassing Gawn and get back to what we'd been doing so well at the start, but we didn't. Further signs of our impending distress were offered by Justin Westhoff marking over half our backline for his first goal. Remember being pleased that Charlie Dixon was out? Well, you didn't take into account a six year anniversary celebration from the guy who fingered us on the day Neeld's music died.

It helped Port's case that they'd stopped playing like they were drunk, and once their four debutantes got a sniff of how easy playing against Melbourne is they turned into the Daniher Brothers. Meanwhile it was our turn to lose the plot, including a classic moment where the ball was sailing high out on the full and Frost decided to shove his opponent in the back anyway. His uncaged circus animal runs out of defence were one of the highlights of last season, but Christ On A Bike almost everything he did today was worthy of official whipping boy status.

We got one back via Fritsch (he's here, he's there, he's every fucking where) popping up in the forward line to mark over defenders who obviously didn't expect him to materialise, but that brief outbreak of sanity was only temporary. Like the first quarter they missed a whole bunch of chances against scant resistance. There was no run left, and the ball would exit defence only to come straight back in again. Also, that most irritating of Melbourne moves was back, where three players would go pressure crazy and try to envelope one opponent, leaving two others a simple handball away from dashing off towards goal on their own. This has happened so much in the last year that I can only think the coaches are happy that the benefits of mass stalkage outweigh the negatives of piss easy ball movement towards a defence held together by sticky tape. From the cheap seats I wholeheartedly disagree.

After Fritsch's goal we conceded 3.3 and an out on the full to bugger all, before the miracle that should have inspired us to run away with a 10 goal win. The surprisingly impressive Corey Wagner kicked it to Melksham inside 50, who then made the weird decision of passing to Petracca. He generally couldn't kick a set shot if his life depended on it, but in it went from distance - and if he could do that it should have inspired greatness amongst his teammates. All we got in response was a wasted purple patch before half time, with two misses from hurried shots that left us three points down.

Considering how badly we'd shit the bed during the second quarter, a three point deficit at the break was almost acceptable, if you didn't know deep down that they'd run the game out better. We couldn't get Sydney from a similar position when they lost two players to injury, what hope did we have here? None going on the first two minutes of the third quarter, as Port banged the door down while we attempted to extract the ball with shambling tactics that would have been laughed off a suburban ground. Melksham made a statement by laying a earth shaking tackle on a player heading at express speed towards the forward 50, only for us to concede from the subsequent stoppage anyway.

Then, five bizarre minutes that teased if Port knew the answers we'd changed the questions. First the Melksham/Petracca combo worked in reverse, and Truck set up Melk. It was well within his range, but he inexplicably kicked to a free Jones in a worse position. Fortunately the skipper not only marked (this will become relevant later) but converted to calm things down a bit. Melk then got his goal back, with Hunt's best run of the day setting it up, and after a horribly skewed bounce wasn't recalled we went forward for your textbook 6-6-6 mark for Weideman and his now extended mitts. He converted, the lead was back out over a goal and just maybe vital lessons had been learnt that were going to carry us to victory.

That would be no. King Finger Westhoff marked over our defenders like they were garden gnomes, and a second in a row left us behind again. The brief period of lucidity was over, and it was back to being led around like we were on a leash. Again, who was mad enough to allow people to bet on Port getting within 30 points of us? I should have followed my intuition that we were no more than a couple of goals better at our best and paid off Demonblog Towers in one go. Where was even the remotest respect that Port were above us on the ladder last year until Round 20? We had more fun than they did in September (though I can't speak for Watts), but even playing on our home ground - where our pre-finals record was average - there was no way we were a five goal better side.

Despite all that, we might have had an undeserved three quarter time lead if a lusty Petracca snap went through. Instead Port went the other way and were gifted a goal when a clearly broken Clayton Oliver - a man not built for these conditions - went north/south instead of east/west or some such technical breach of the rules and saw the ball marched to the square. It was a terrible goal to give away, at a stage where I still thought the fatigue gap might close in the last quarter as Port began to tire as well. Which they might have if we'd forced them into more two minutes of exertion before melting like an ice cream on the face of the sun.

There were brief periods of excitement, but for most of the day it looked like us at our worst last year. Which is still a lot better than our worst the last time Port cleaned us up in an opening round, but it hurts more when ongoing success is within touching distance. Our entries into any sort of crowded forward line are still diabolical. I still don't know how we ended up the highest scoring team in the comp last year, it's like when a player wins the Coleman Medal with 60 goals.

I'm reliably informed we were never seriously in for Andrew Gaff because the belief is that contested ball is king and fancy outside run doesn't work if you don't get the ball in the first place. There's something about that, just ask Jimmy Toumpas, but geez I could have done with some lovely galloping down the wing in the style of Robbie Flower today. Inevitably it would have died in the arse when we entered 50 anyway, but it would have provided cheap thrills in the interim.

I'm not one to leave games early, but if I'd known that a Brayshaw point midway through the third quarter would be our last score I'd have gladly aimed for the early train (either on it, or clutching the overhead wiring). The end came swiftly and, for those of us who have cherished Nathan Jones' contributions over the years, horribly. Needing to quickly cancel out that late goal to have any hope, and already getting away with a missed shot at the other end, Tom McDonald hit a perfect cross-field pass (the sort he was stereotyped for botching as a defender) and Jones was so shocked that it was on target he tried playing on before fully taking control and spilt the mark. Disarray mode activated.

Unlike Herschelle Gibbs he can't be directly blamed for dropping the World Cup/Round 1, because no doubt we'd have been beaten anyway, but failing to score at all (from that passage play, and as it turns out the whole quarter) was our final agreement to surrender. Sparrow ended up with it and had a quick punt at goal, but guess who cut it off. Once Port went down the other end, Westhoff took the piss out of us in the traditional manner with another mark and goal, and we were officially rooted I took solace in fantasy, thinking back to a pair of similar game-saving Watts marks in defence against the Bulldogs in 2013 and Gold Coast in 2016. Both times he'd played a key role forward before getting back to defend in the dying minutes.

From there it was death by a thousand cuts. We had perhaps one more opportunity to score, while Port did as they pleased. After a day of silently gnashing my teeth to the point where they're still sore now, I finally erupted when Frost got caught holding the ball, then casually kicked it away like it wasn't the most obvious free kick of all time. Things were said on Twitter that in light of recent media coverage about abuse of players I quickly deleted.

You can use statistics to rort any finding you like, but it's telling that our tackle count of 53 is the 5th lowest of the finals contender years (2017-2019). Worst by a mile was the prelim, second worst the R23, 2017 'none in the first 10 minutes' DEBACLE, though to be fair the other two were wins so who knows what it all means. I do know all three of the losses involved the white flag being hoisted high.

The rich cultural history of Melbourne FC failure got another entry via only our 11th scoreless last term since World War II. If it's any consolation (It isn't - editor) we didn't lose by 122 like the previous one. May as well have, if only to ensure expectations are completely deflated and we can go back to playing like we're just one of the chasing teams and not some amazing outfit destined to smash everyone on route to a premiership.

Any more games like this and I'm going to make sure I'm working every weekend until September.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Jake Melksham
3 - James Harmes
--- Daylight ---
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Corey Wagner

Several contended for one vote, but given that even how the players above him barely deserved to score I'll give Wagner the nod for exceeding expectations.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Not only were we restricted to what now seems like a paltry nine goals, but barely any of them had any sense of razzle dazzle about them. For this reason I'd like to pay tribute to Christian Petracca for sinking a set shot that I gave him absolutely no chance of converting. For the weekly prize Christian takes home a damp towel to apply to his sunburnt forehead.

In at least one discipline the perfect season is on. Ours had a pretty Maximum 100th game graphic, and though it jinxed him with the description of "greatest showman" before he was niggled to buggery it still wins.

You've always got to be generous to interstate sides given their reduced capacity, but I was still not keen on Port's effort due to the complete lack of centring. The next was hanging to the left, a graphic sat out on the right with an unusual amount of space to the margin. It went:

Oak Plus (massive space) CFG 
Robbie (unnecessarily wide space) Gray
200 (normal size space) games

Originally I thought they were saying that their sponsors were Oak plus CFG (which sounds like one of the the gases that necked the ozone layer), but turns out there is a drink called Oak Plus. Maybe Oak has discovered an extra ingredient that makes iced coffee taste better than toxic water pumped from a reactor at Chernobyl. 1-0 Dees.

Crowd Watch
Interstate opposition or not I wasn't mucking around, heading directly for dear old Row MM of the Ponsford where there was acres of space for free expression without a Richmond fan randomly spawning and punching me in the head. A couple of other people followed my lead, but had the respect for free range viewing to stay at the other end of the bay and never try to interact.

Since discovering the Cluedo passage betwixt Ponsford and Olympic stands, I've moved from one to the other at half time whenever I feel nervous. Which would be almost every game except when we were 75 points up against Gold Coast. There were a bunch more people in the Olympic, but I still felt the need to try something else to provoke a cosmic change of luck.

This landed me behind all the people who'd scored free tickets for the Welcome Game. It was heartening to see the guys in front waving flags and doing pro-Dees Instagram posts for the benefit of their countrymen back home, but even they stood up and walked out halfway through the last quarter. Obviously they realised their time in this great country is limited and there was no point wasting 15 minutes of it watching 22 men wobble around like they were suffering simultaneous medical emergencies. After a fast start against St Kilda two years ago, the Welcome Game is starting to achieve Member Appreciation Day levels of letting people down.

Next Week
Technically I could go to Kardinia Park, but if I can't attend every game in Victoria then I don't see the point in going out of my way to visit a stadium that has offered me little else than torment for 20 years. Put me in a corporate box and I'll think about it, but buggered if I'm standing on that terrace again, listening to our fans go full siege-mentality and act like animals to try and combat the locals. No thanks, see you on my couch.

It would be easy to go into full retreat, especially after Geelong knocked off Collingwood, but I'm not ready to concede yet. Let's see what lessons are learnt, and what benefit we get from not playing in +30 degree heat. Not like the Cats played particularly well in beating a traditionally slow starting side. They are absolutely gettable, and thank god for that because I don't fancy climbing out of an 0-2 ditch. To do this we'll have to win for the third time at Kardinia Park in 31 years, which seems like a portent of near certain defeat but we live in hope of a vicious response.

Given that vandenBerg, Smith (both of them) and now Lewis have all been hurt since our last practice match, the stocks are rapidly thinning. My changes might leave us a bit top heavy, but bugger it we don't do crumb at the best of times so how much worse could it get?

IN: May, Preuss
OUT: Frost, Sparrow (omit)
LUCKY: Hore, Hunt, Jones
UNLUCKY: Stretch (+ Sparrow, who was reasonable on debut but goes out for team imbalance)

Was it worth it?
Even less so than traipsing to the other side of the continent to watch us go tits up in a prelim. Complete bloody waste of time, and a great advertisement for curling up on the coach with a blanket over my head. I've got eight games in person left in me this year, here's to going home from some of them happy.

Final Thoughts
No need to bury yourself alive in the backyard just yet, but maybe head down to Bunnings and collect a shovel just in case. 2018 was so even that four teams missed the eight with 12 wins, and the upset results today make it even more likely that there will be a similar Royal Rumble for the eight this year. Never think one win doesn't matter - now we need to go 12-9 with a top four draw just to have a chance to miss on percentage. I'm still calm that it might happen, but suggest we either need to be a minimum of 3-3 after six rounds or pull down the blinds. Don't forget our last five weeks include West Coast, Collingwood, Richmond, Sydney and North Melbourne in bloody Hobart of all places. Today was crucial and we fell apart at just the wrong time.

For now I will not accept any propaganda about how we lost first up last year and still made a prelim. That was followed by softball games against a ratshit Brisbane, and a not yet competent North. This time we've got Geelong, Essendon and Sydney on the horizon, including trips to grounds like Kardinia Park and the SCG where we are traditionally fecal. Round 1 will either be the all important wake-up call, or it's going to take some real Indiana Jones shit just to make the eight, much less the highly vaunted (not by me) top four.

As a public service we offer you the chance to choose your own adventure to end this post. Either:

The Positive Ending
If it all goes wrong this year we can blame injuries, work on fixing the obvious deficiencies, get Lever and May playing together and have a massive ping at it out of nowhere next year. Did Richmond make the eight before winning the flag?

The Neither Here Nor There Ending
It's not going to be hot like this every week, and by the time the polar ice caps have melted, there's a hole in the Ozone layer the side of Texas, and it's 30 degrees year round we'll have gone right through our premiership cycle and probably come out empty handed.

The Negative Ending
We've still got our first round draft pick.

Sunday 17 March 2019

I did but see her premiership window pass by

On a rare Casey Fields day where it wasn't 38 degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius, and without hurricane force gales blowing diagonally across the ground we still witnessed one of the great natural disasters of recent times.

It was foolish to celebrate the Bulldogs victory as if it set up a 'win and in' scenario without properly studying the percentage implications, but turns out we were never a chance of winning by one, let alone the required 27. Not the first time there's been a last round game involving Adelaide where our hope of making the finals rested on the margin, but definitely the first where we've been knocked out after registering a record low score.

Once the Crows comfortably beat GWS last week - obviously in second gear and saving their best stuff for us - we should have realised that the odds of rumbling the best attacking and defending team in the competition by five goals were astronomic. But after two years of narrowly missing out on finals you had to delude yourself that there was a chance of making the conference system look even worse with a win by somewhere near the required amount. It's bad enough being the fourth best team in the comp and missing out on a four team finals system (pending Carlton beating Footscray by around six goals and overtaking our shattered percentage), but to do it with a 5-2 record would have been vulgar.

Given the apocalypse that was about to unfold, I'm pleased to report we followed all applicable Melbourne AFLW stereotypes and registered a wasted inside 50 within the first few seconds. In a sign of things to come it crawled to about 45 metres, was pinged straight back out and the Crows were off to the races. Via the first of several thousand shocking turnovers we gifted them their first shot, and even before it missed I was willing to concede there was no earthly way that Adelaide were going to lose by five goals.

As a tactical imbecile I concede something might have been going on with zones, but hard to understand how in a game where we needed goals, goals and more goals our leading goalkicker was roaming the midfield trying to get a kick for what seemed like the first time ever. Our forward entries are ramshackle at the best of times, try doing it with your full forward perfecting her deer/headlight interface in an unfamiliar role up the ground. She got touches in the wrong spot, Zanker didn't get touches at all, and it looked at best like a comfortable loss before developing into a total wipeout.

From the early minutes it was clear that if any team was ever going to score zero in an AFLW game it was us, with the Crows quite content to stop us from scoring by stacking the backline. Problem was they couldn't help scoring at the same time, and to nobody's surprise the first time they went deep into their forward line (an area we'd fail to reach for about an hour) we copped a lame, low-speed goal from a defensive stoppage. A giant picture of Max GAWN should have dropped from the sky at this point, because we were finished. The team may as well have walked off and got straight into Mad Monday (courtesy of classic Casey Fields sponsor Lurline Liquor). In some ways it looked like they'd started pre-match, in the greatest MFC last round tradition.

It was going so badly that even when Channel 7 tried to talk to Bianca Jakobsson on the boundary line the audio failed. Which is a shame, because she looks like somebody who'd swear a lot, and even at that stage our predicament deserved multiple Ss, an F, and several dozen Cs. The third goal went in not long after, and everything had officially gone tits up. It was 0-21 at quarter time, none of our inside 50s looked even remotely like scoring, and I would have preferred to spend the rest of the day watching alternative angles of kids using the head of racist senators to crack their eggs.

We were unlikely to score 22 for the rest of the game, much less enough to challenge Adelaide's percentage. To keep people watching they talked up a mystery breeze allegedly blowing to our end, but you wouldn't know it from the Crows going straight back on the attack. Or from our score being 0.0.0 at the end of the quarter. Via a couple of thwarted chances to kick-start things with a score of any variety, we were so rattled that the ball went from the wing to the half-back line and Paxman was pinched for running too far with nobody in the vicinity. Oh well, at least it removed the prospect of a Spirit of '76 finals exit when the Freo/North game ended in a draw.

When Channel 7's commentary packed it in out of protest at the quality of our performance we enjoyed several minutes of crowd noise, sadly without audio of Mick Stinear expressing his displeasure at being a three-time bridesmaid floating through. Here's his brother Scott to explain our remaining hopes of making the finals:

The commentary came back just in time for Adelaide's fifth goal to no score, and this was rapidly entering female 186 territory. Putting Cunningham where she was supposed to be finally led to an inside 50 mark, but instead of just hammering away at the square in hope of it being rushed through for a point she tried a fancy pass, it was intercepted, and we hit half time on zero. It was the third time an AFLW team had made half time without a score, behind Carlton and Fremantle in 2018. If it's any consolation that could be this year's Grand Final.

Even our first score was shambolic, finally getting the ball to the square but still not looking like scoring, until Tyla Hanks did a handball that was either a panicked attempt at finding a teammate or was just trying to register a score in case we didn't get another. Getting your first point five minutes into the third quarter was unfortunate, but it was hard not to be impressed by the Crows playing out of their skin. Watching this you wondered how we'd beaten them in both the two previous seasons.

At some stage Adelaide had to pack all their best players away and let us get a few cheap ones (or as it turns out.. one), but they were taking their time. Obviously playing the second team in Conference B is expected to be even easier than squashing us, so they could afford to play this out until the last quarter and treat that like a training drill instead. The Crows' score crossed the half-century in appropriately shambolic fashion, with a play-on into traffic, followed by a handball that bamboozled a teammate in the square, but still sat up for her to toe-poke through from the line. The words farce and shambles came to mind.

In a limited market, the third quarter was the best viewing of the day. Mainly because we scored, though it still left us on 0.1.1 at the last break. It probably wouldn't have gone in anyway, but an extra ounce of piss was taken as one of our players burst onto the ball inside 50 with nobody ahead of her just as the siren went.

Three-quarter time was spent perusing the record books, and discovering that no AFLW team had ever gone goalless. Which is a surprise considering some of the low-scoring mismatches. This was our chance to make history. Nine sides, including us in that first ever game against Brisbane, have finished with one. The race was on to beat the Lions' 1.2.8 from earlier this year and avoid the lowest score in the history of the competition.

Jason Bennett is a tremendously underrated commentator, and should be elevated to their senior lineup immediately, but it was Dwayne-esque to open the last quarter suggesting we were "81 points away from a Preliminary Final, so that dream looks to be gone" without a hint of irony. You reckon? I was hoping we might realise the Crows had too many on the ground, call a headcount, win 1-0 and still miss the finals.

Ironically after sitting through 3.5 quarters of slurry I stepped out of the room just as we kicked our goal, alerted to come back only by 'thank christ for that' level cheers from the crowd. The wonders of being able to rewind live TV allowed me to see Chantel Emonson of all people get forward and do what the attacking players couldn't. It left us a point beneath the record low, and based on only having two set shots all day I wasn't confident of another.

About only the fight left came from Lily Mithen trying to start a scrap and get a Crows player suspended for the finals. They responded by bouncing away from the conflict to kick another goal and go 10 up. What a blow to the reputation of Conference A. It was a dead-set rooting, but we narrowly got to the equal worst score ever when an Adelaide defender kindly stepped back over the line to boost our score to a whopping 1.2.8. After all that we were only two points short of our previous low score, a 1.4.10 in that Brisbane game at Casey. Suffice to say we got more value from our one goal at Casey Fields in pissing rain that day, than we did from this unbelievable shit show.

2019 Daisy Pearce Medal
There's a lot of pressure in assigning votes that could shape the final destination of a medal on a game where we played the part of a small town wiped out by an erupting volcano. I take no responsibility for any changes to the leaderboard based on these votes.

5 - Elise O'Dea
4 - Meg Downie
3 - Lily Mithen
2 - Maddie Gay
1 - Karen Paxman

Insincere apologies to Cordner and Cunningham, who could have both got into the lower end of the votes even though nobody deserved any.

Final leaderboard
In the end, Paxman takes advantage of the Total of Eclipse of Lauren Pearce to repeat as champion. Congratulations on a second win in this prestigious award, as the hopes of ruck fans everywhere now switch to the men's competition in the hope that Max Gawn can break through.

20 - Karen Paxman
18 - Elise O'Dea, Lauren Pearce
10 - Lily Mithen
9 - Tegan Cunningham, Maddison/Maddie/Maddy Gay
4 - Harriet Cordner, Meg Downie, Aleisha Newman
3 - Bianca Jakobsson
2 - Tyla Hanks, Kate Hore, Eden Zanker

Final thoughts
Margin of massacre and the idiocy of conferences aside, the fact that we lost to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd best teams in the competition suggests that if you don't beat the big teams then you'll pay the price at the end of the season. There's more margin for error in the men's game, but let it be a lesson to them as well.

With more new teams being introduced next season, and the inevitable player losses to them, the task of winning a flag becomes even harder. With Daisy coming back after a year (if she does), and multiple other important players not getting any younger I reckon the window has slammed shut with a vengeance. There are certainly some good players to build around, but the degree of difficulty ratchets up an extra level every season. Can't see us contending for a few years after this happening, but will still be watching with interest. Now, in the nicest possible way, on to the main event...

Monday 11 March 2019

Bring spare undies - 2019 season preview

I don't want to cause a commotion but at the conclusion of the 2018 AFL premiership season, the fourth best team in the land was the Melbourne Football Club (yes, that one). After flipping the Bradbury Plan on its head and qualifying off our own bat we delivered two of the most memorable wins of my life then flew too close to the sun and died at the second last hurdle.

No prizes for fourth though, and we enter the season with legitimate expectation of a title challenge for the first time since 2007 - the year that launched the titular Great Deepression. Best to ignore the winless pre-season and just carry on like nothing's happened since we exploded in a shower of sparks on Saturday 20 September. Because as far as competitive matches go it hasn't.

Every campaign since 2016 has ended in full scale capitulation, but they've been arriving later each time. This probably means we're going to lose a Grand Final in heartbreaking fashion before capturing the not-at-all-inevitable flag. I can't picture how ultimate success would look, but what a time to be alive that we can even worry about suffering a St Kilda style stitch up where we spend years missing by narrow margins. You might have known where you stood during the AD (after dignity) years, but it wasn't nearly as much fun as being a competent and profitable sporting organisation.

Buy, hold, sell

Likely an accident, but last year my fearless predictions were reasonably good last year. Other than suggesting Balic would be a better recruit than Viv Michie and suggesting vandenBerg was finished (how was I supposed to know they'd play him to his strengths again?) I got a few right. Strap yourself in for more accurate indications of how our list will go:


Toby Bedford - A contender for the always contentious small forward position, and I'm willing to fall right into the trap of a draft profile that lists his strengths as "getting in front of contests and being clean and dangerous around goals".

Angus Brayshaw - Many who loaded up on him early in his career did their dough panic selling when he started to suffer novelty head injuries every five seconds, but those who remained calm are now cashing in. The surprise Brownlow bronze has elevated his value to record prices, but we think he can go higher. In a week where fellow concussion fanatic Patrick McCartin has gone down with his eighth head injury and one bump could end it all it's a risky investment but the returns could be spectacular.

Bayley Fritsch - In years to come football scholars will study how we managed to turn a state league goalsneak into a league standard wingman/runner midway through his first season. Mr. Total Football will continue to unexpectedly pop up in various parts of the field like a Whack-A-Mole game, and should get through a full season instead of being mysteriously dropped for the last match of the year.

Max Gawn - Having an understudy for the first time in years may reduce Maximum's overall impact, while also adding years to his career, but I like to think Preuss will give him a much needed rest and provide the opportunity for cameo forward appearances that will drive fear through backmen up and down the country.

Marty Hore - Has to bide his time waiting for one of the other defenders to topple over, but will absolutely play at some point. Hasn't been anything other than a solid player in the practice matches, without showing anything spectacular, but with Lever out until god knows when there's a spot for a defender.

Neville Jetta - I don't know if he's going to improve any further, but my love for Nev is so strong that I will buy into him no matter the result.

Steven May - I've waited years for this and I'm not going to contemplate it being anything other than magic. Did something a bit silly in a practice match and might be rubbed out for Round 1, but what did you expect?

Tom McDonald - Minor AFLX dodging surgery notwithstanding, should be our full forward from Round 1 and will be aiming for at least another 50 goal season. Massive piss on at Demonblog Towers when his goal average crosses 1.00 per game. Didn't excel in either of the JLT games but still managed to blag three goals, which is a reasonable haul when not in peak forward form.

Jake Melksham - Pivotal to our occasionally non-existent half forward line. Got through one pre-season reserves game unscathed and will walk into the Round 1 team.

Clayton Oliver - Continues to do things that suggest like Sam Blease he is actually from another planet, only this time sent to amaze rather than amuse. Stock yet to peak, mortgage your house and invest heavily in his sixth sense ball-getting abilities.

Braydon Preuss - Despite his appearance suggesting otherwise, the only supremacy he'll be delivering this season will be in the ruck. I was sceptical about how he was going to fit alongside Gawn, but based on one practice match where the video didn't work for a quarter of the game he's my new idol. The less said about the second game where he played without Gawn the better. As long as Maximum remains upright he should be ok, but I've started to realise why he may not have been keen to wait for Goldstein to retire so he can become #1 at North.

Christian Salem - A fascinating character, rarely flashy but usually playing his role effectively. Now more than 12 months without dropping bricks on his own head. New contract, high importance for rebounding if we're going to cop an excessive number of inside 50s every week.

Joel Smith - Started the year unlikely to play in Round 1, and ended practice match season looking like the medium sized forward of your dreams. Is gearing up to attempt a speccy that will rival his dad's Mark of the Century for either the actual grab, or the carnage when he crashes to earth.

Sam Weideman - Hardly dominant in the pre-season, but still backing him to go on with the form shown in the last few weeks of 2018. I don't want to run down Hogan just because he's left but say yes to forwards who are interested in taking overhead marks instead of ones who just want it roosted over the head. However, be wary when the discovery of the marking forwards means everyone just hoofs the ball to the square and hopes for the best.


Oskar Baker - Footy's foremost Danny Bonaduce impersonator was on the verge of a token appearance towards the end of the season before injured, and though we value industrial grunt far more than pace down the wing I'd like to think we'll give him a go at some point. Alternatively, will be one of those players who'd have walked a game in our darkest days but never gets to play in a good side due to lack of opportunity. Not on the injury lists but still couldn't crack it for a start in the pre-season, which can't be a good sign.

Austin Bradtke and Guy Walker - May as well be the same person for all I know. Both could do with the year of seasoning in the VFL but unless there's an injury crisis how are they going to fit into the Casey side? Always thought they should have kept the VFL Reserves and merged it with the TAC Cup so you could give the kids experience playing against older players.

Kade Chandler - Another small pressure forward, this one a rookie so only holding a one year contract. Clearly the build is on to the post-Garlett era of crumb, and Chandler will be given time to develop in the VFL before he's required at higher levels. You have to really stuff up as a rookie to get the Tijuana after one season, so presumably plenty of time for him to get into the swing of things.

Mitch Hannan - A mystery January surgery has knocked him out for the first half of the season. Hopefully we're not in the toilet by the time he returns and he'll have to force his way back into the side. If nothing else we'll always have that sealer against Geelong.

James Harmes - Before he blew his finger up against the Lions there was nothing to suggest he was going to go backwards, but beware the overnight sensation the following season when everyone's had a chance to plan for him.

Michael Hibberd - Definitely not as effective in his second season as 2017, but still a vital cog in the machine. I sense the turn is on, but we should get through this year ok.

Jayden Hunt - Was well down last season, and while off-field issues contributed I'm scared that his brief free-running, owl energy inspired peak has been rumbled by opposition coaches. Will get a chance to recover at some stage. Did some charming things as a forward against Brisbane, before being sent back into defence later in the game. Feels like he should be deployed in attack only for surprise value, not for four quarters.

Jay Kennedy-Harris - The great survivor, coming out of an ACL destroying landing at Casey to emerge with nothing more than bone bruising. Gone for all money halfway through last year but showed enough to get another contract. Won't be a first choice but strikes me as the sort of unspectacular but handy enough player the club will want to keep around just in case there's an injury crisis. The requirement to chop three players minimum might trip him up.

Kade Kolojdashnij - Crazy name, crazy guy. Is a few weeks away, but if fit he promises to add a bit of dash to the midfield/half-back line. Likely to be competing for the same spot as Hunt. Has concussion issues so is probably going to do a triple head clack with Brayshaw and Jetta and retire all three at once.

Jake Lever - In a classic Melbourne twist he was just coming very good before injured, and with May down there should be allowed to play his natural game. Let the intercepts begin (eventually). Would have been a buy if his injury return date wasn't blowing out by the minute.

Oscar McDonald - Much maligned like his brother was when playing a similar role, and unlikely to be swung forward any time soon. The arrival of May should help remove some of the pressure on him but there was much nervous adjustment of collar during his shifty early minutes against the Lions. Again, best to pretend that game didn't happen and move on. Apparently we were playing with 22 and they had 26, which doesn't explain why we were shithouse in the first quarter.

Alex Neal-Bullen - Up and down like a whore's drawers in the first half of the season before coming permanently good towards the end. More of that please.

Aaron Nietschke - The first season ending injury of the year, and with no disrespect to him a far cry from when it used to be top draft picks who'd have their knee pop in an innocuous training session.

Christian Petracca - Likely to do plenty of things that make you go weak at the knees, but also to disappear for large parts of games. His set shots have gone horrible - awesome - horrible, so at least on the MFC 1997-2003 rollercoaster scale we're set to see him dob them from everywhere again. Tempted to upgrade him to a buy based on the pre-season games, but after years of Watts promising the world early then going missing I'm not counting him a success until at least Round 4.

Harrison Petty - I refuse to participate in calling him Harry. Hard to see where he gets a game unless somebody falls over, but was far better against Richmond than during his wobbly debut.

Charlie Spargo - Came from the clouds to show promise last year, peaking with the best game of his young career in the Hawthorn final. If he learns to string quarters together instead of coming and going the small forward role is his, but if he's inconsistent the door is flung open for the others to have a go.

Tom Sparrow - Nothing wrong with picking another hard at it inside midfielder, but don't expect him to play seniors this year. What a luxurious scenario that we can finally give a midfielder time to develop. Anything beyond playing at Casey would be a bonus.

Aaron vandenBerg - Midfield vandenBerg is ace, back to ripping people in two with tackles instead of playing an ineffectual defensive forward role. Also prone to doing stupid things like hitting players as they run past, but the good outweighs the bad. Sell the moment you see him lining up around half forward.

Jack Viney - Love the man, have a distinct lack of trust in his extremities.

The Wagner Brothers - Sound like a mid-80s professional wrestling tag team. Will probably both get the chop in a couple of years but add depth in the meantime.


Sam Frost - Battled hard in the absence of Lever last season, and it would be unfair to remember his dismantling in the Prelim over his escaped giraffe style runs out of defence in previous weeks or telling Joel Selwood to pull his f'ing head in. However, now May has arrived and there's pressure everywhere in the tall defender ranks. Lever's absence may prolong his time in the side, but I predict a winter of discontent, kicking his namesake off the grass at Casey in sub-zero temperatures. Will do a serviceable job if called upon to return to the seniors.

Jeff Garlett - Unless he forces his way into the side quickly hard to see how he survives into 2020, and hasn't been helped by the Shepparton shoulder explosion. Has avoided surgery so won't be held too far into the season, but will begin it behind Charleston Spargo in the pecking order. Point for point I'd prefer Jeff (never, ever Jeffy), but with an eye to the future we should be getting games into Spargo now rather than squeezing the last drops out of that ransack trade with Carlton.

Nathan Jones - Hold thy rotten fruit and tomatoes, he is still very much required but with the emergence of Brayshaw, Harmes et al is not as crucial as days of old. Showed some signs of decline last year, but best days gone or not he's still got a couple of years left in him. Kicked a career high 15 goals last year so there might be something in that.

Declan Keilty - Obviously isn't going to get a fourth year on the list without playing a senior game, so after watching Lever and May both brought in since he was drafted this is his last opportunity to impress. Made surprise ruck appearances in the pre-season but didn't show enough around the ground to justify a senior start.

Jordan Lewis - Like Vince last year the end is nigh but thanks for contributing in the interim.

Corey Maynard - I was very bullish about him at this time last year before he dropped out of the side after Round 1 then missed the rest of the year with injury. Hasn't had a fair go at the top grade but is rapidly sliding down the pecking order. Hoping he gets his chance to impress but now that we're half decent and have to search for players to delist he runs the risk of going at the end of the year if he can't string together some senior games.

Tim Smith - Like the guy and would love him to play more, but not at the expense of any of our other talls. Unless Weid goes back into obscurity there's not going to be much call for the Bull in the seniors, and at 28-years-old I don't know how much longer he's got unless he finds a permanent spot. Might live to fight another day thanks to having a mature body, but would want to do better than his existing record four goals in six games.

Billy Stretch - Cruelly cut down with injury right after playing his best game in forever, and as much as I think he's got something to offer to the squad he might have missed his chance now.

Projected ladder
Emboldened by correctly picking us to make the eight last year I nearly went for gold this year and had us in the top four. After the last two weeks I'm dialling it down a bit as a self-defence mechanism, but still expect us to make the eight. Hopefully more comfortably than last year, but after Richmond at the top I'm delivering the widest bracket in pre-season preview history. After a bunch of teams went 12-10 and missed the eight I predict the greatest battle royal for finals spots ever.

The full top 15 should be competitive, so here's to taking our opportunities to beat the piss out of the bottom two and avenging that 2018 fiasco against St Kilda.

1 - Richmond
2 - West Coast
3 - GWS
4 - Sydney
5 - Melbourne
6 - Collingwood
7 - Adelaide
8 - Essendon
9 - Geelong
10 - North Melbourne
11 - Hawthorn
12 - Brisbane
13 - Port Adelaide
14 - Western Bulldogs
15 - Fremantle
16 - St Kilda
17 - Carlton
18 - Gold Coast

Demonblog's chosen 22
Every year assigning players to exact position becomes even more of an anachronism, but this is how I was raised and by christ it's how I will die. Swap around the forward and defender positions as you like.

B: Frost. May, Jetta
HB: Hibberd, O. McDonald, Salem
C: Fritsch, Oliver, Viney
HF: Neal-Bullen, Weideman, Melksham
F: Spargo, T. McDonald, J. Smith
Foll: Gawn, Brayshaw, Harmes
Int: Petracca, Jones, vandenBerg, Lewis

Lever and Hannan are injured, and I'm going to try and start with Gawn on his own to create that spot for Smith. My bench is pretty stacked, so whether the first player to fall over is a forward, midfield or back there should be a spot for Preuss to come in.

First draft betting markets

Allen Jakovich Medal for Best Overall Player
Defending champion retains the advantage, but with a field full of chasers. Any of the top 10 a red hot chance to win.

$3 - Clayton Oliver
$5.50 - Angus Brayshaw
$7 - James Harmes
$9 - Max Gawn, Jack Viney
$10 - Tom McDonald
$12 - Christian Salem
$15 - Neville Jetta, Jake Melksham, Christian Petracca
$18 - Nathan Jones
$22 - Alex Neal-Bullen
$25 - Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd, Steven May
$27 - Aaron vandenBerg
$40 - Sam Weideman
$45 - Jordan Lewis
$50 - Jayden Hunt, Jake Lever, Braydon Preuss
$70 - Jeff Garlett, Oscar McDonald, Joel Smith, Charlie Spargo
$80 - Mitch Hannan, Kade Kolojdashnij
$90 - Sam Frost
$100 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Billy Stretch, Josh Wagner
$150 - Marty Hore, Corey Maynard, Tim Smith
$250 - Corey Wagner,
$300 - Declan Keilty
$350 - Harrison Petty, Tom Sparrow
$500 - Oskar Baker, Toby Bedford
$750 - Kade Chandler
$3000 - Austin Bradtke, Guy Walker
$5000 - Aaron Nietschke

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
Factor in traditional biases to running defenders and players coming back from injury. Fritsch and T. McDonald likely to be declared ineligible during season.

$4.75 - Christian Salem
$6 - Neville Jetta
$10 - Michael Hibberd, Steven May
$15 - Jordan Lewis
$17 - Jake Lever
$18 - Bayley Fritsch, Jayden Hunt
$20 - Oscar McDonald
$30 - Sam Frost, Tom McDonald
$60 - Marty Hore
$70 - Josh Wagner
$100 - Declan Keilty, Harrison Petty
$200 - Corey Wagner, Joel Smith

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
No players carry over eligibility from 2018. Mid-season draftees will be eligible if they have not previously played AFL football. Less reliance on new players means a higher likelihood of the first zero votes for rookies season since 2005.

NB: Market amended to include Jay Lockhart

$8 - Marty Hore
$12 - Toby Bedford, Oskar Baker, Tom Sparrow
$25 - Declan Keilty
$50 - James Jordon, Jay Lockhart
$100 - Kade Chandler
$1000 - Austin Bradtke
$3000 - Aaron Nietschke, Guy Walker

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Finally some competition for Maximum, but he retains heavy favouritism. Preuss the only other man even remotely likely to hit the 10 hit out per game qualifying mark.

$1.50 - Max Gawn
$12 - Braydon Preuss
$100 - Sam Frost, Tom McDonald
$200 - Declan Keilty, Sam Weideman
$1000 - Austin Bradtke

Will it be worth it?
With a tough first few weeks let's try and resist the temptation to launch sacking campaigns if it doesn't start well. Problem being that we've got a woofer of a run home as well, so early victories are a must if we're not going to be dragged into a finals race requiring spreadsheets, blind faith and punting other teams on to losses for our benefit.

If we can make the eight - and especially the four - the thing that's most in our favour is that it's an open season. Richmond should be the standout squad again, but they've now got Preliminary Final demons to overcome, and other than that as long as we avoid having to go to Perth again it's a wide open field, ripe for the ultimate Bradbury through the pack and to a flag. Or we'll finish 11th. As kids say ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Final thoughts
It seems like yesterday, probably because I can't help but reference it in every post, but this will be the sixth year since our rock bottom nadir of 2013. It's time to shine. But even if we find some obscure way to stuff up our challenge this season - or are cleaned by injuries - the group is young enough for several more dips at gold over the coming years. But a meteor might have blown the earth to buggery by then so I haven't got time to wait, let's win it all now.