Sunday 10 March 2019

Panic on the streets of Cranbourne

We've put in an injury-riddled pre-season shocker against a team that has been no good for years. Contact your broker and dump every MFC share you hold before it's too late, because by Tuesday morning you won't be able to walk down Collins Street without somebody wearing red and blue landing on you.

Alternatively, take a deep breath, remember that the pre-season is only a rough guide to what happens next, and save all your anxiety for 2012 tribute day against Port at the MCG in Round 1.

As usual I'm taking the middle course between the people dying to hit the button a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and those enjoying an Elon Musk openly puffing on a scoob level of relaxation. There wasn't much to take out of today, but nor was it worth drinking hemlock over.

It certainly wasn't a good performance, and we were lucky to lose by single digits. Many players emerged either battered, bruised, whatever the hell happened to Jay Kennedy-Harris, and in one case with their finger fractured to the point where it was sticking out of the skin BUT if I ever get around to publishing my pre-season preview you'll see I think the Lions are a comfortably mid-table side so it's not the catastrophe it would have been a year ago. In fact, it was a lot like beating the Bulldogs three years ago in Craigieburn (of all places) . Team just emerging from the soup beats finalist, everyone gets a bit excited, and hopefully if we only finish 7th we'll go on to win the flag too.

The only concession I'll give to the people who'll go right over the top about this and start getting wearing "the end is nigh" sandwich boards is that it's an even season with any number of contenders for a flag, because at this stage no way we beat Hawthorn '88 or Essendon '00 juggernaut teams. It could be an opportunity to unexpectedly blag our way through to a Grand Final like we should have in the finely balanced 2004 season, but while it might be a blessing that the competition is free of superteams it's probably going to be a curse that the middle of the table will be so tight. Last year four teams went 12-10 and missed the finals, and this year promises to be even more confusing. You'd think we'd be well clear of the pack, but if you too saw the transition from '98 to '99, '00 to '01, and especially '02 to '03 you'll know not to take anything for granted.

Before slipping back into The Fear, I choose to look at the positives. Namely Viney, Jones and Melksham surviving Casey's easy win over the Lions reserves. It promises to be a big year for Casey, with their coach threatening to literally tear the rest of the league a new one:

Not sure what Jones' role is this year, but we could have definitely done with Viney and Milkshake . The usual suspects did their bit in the midfield, but overall it was down on its usual performance. Melksham provides some semblance of a half-forward line, the likes of which were completely absent at Casey. He's also something of a crumbing threat, another feature that went out the window as we left the Melbourne metropolitan area. Then again, right before this North played a game of such low intensity that it would be an insult to call it bruise free football and they're obviously not going to do that again in the real stuff so who knows what to make of any of it. I admire the people who don't even bother watching until premiership points are at stake.

As a tribute to the AFLW game coming up immediately after, we pinched a move directly from their playbook and opened the game with a string of inside 50s that delivered no result, before conceding the first. Only the truly demented seriously fret about letting the opening goal at any time, let alone in this game, but looking back after knowing the result the ease of it was right to set off a few alarms. It took a smart handball from surprise forward Joel Smith to the new Mr. Total Football Bayley Fritsch - who just randomly appears in different parts of the grounds like a holy apparition - to get us going. Fritsch celebrated his return to Casey as a fully-fledged senior playing by rifling through a goal through off a couple of steps. And all was well with the world for a bit.

When this was followed by even more surprise forward Jayden Hunt leading to a perfect vandenBerg kick for the second I did the most foolish thing possible when watching a Melbourne game and relaxed. Hunt got a second, but not before his old chums in defence went through five minutes of playing like they were escaping a natural disaster.

Oscar McDonald was the face of the defence's woes, burnt off for their first goal after a wank-handed attempt at tackling, barely getting away with a shit kick, then gifting Brisbane's second by punching the ball with one arm and putting Eric Hipwood in a headlock with the other. He was immediately removed from that duel, and could be removed from the seniors if he carries on like this. I know he's a popular whipping boy so it feels cruel to mention that our third goal came from him dropping the ball in a tackle, but it happened. Anal-Bullet was another of the 2018 finals crowd having a shocker, back to those very wobbly days early last year when he barely hung on to his spot in the team.

After the all at sea defence cracked and let the Lions walk one in unchallenged, we replied via a free for a push on Weideman that was about 95% less severe than an unpunished one he'd copped five minutes earlier. The umpiring Wheel of Decisions is back for 2019, usually landing against Melbourne or [outsiders - insert your team here].

There was less doubt about the incident that immediately cancelled Weid's goal, with vandenBerg responding to his second holding the ball of the quarter by simultaneously drawing the umpire's attention yelling at him and punching Lachie Neale in the tit as he ran past to give away a no argument 50. I understand White Line Fever, but it was the stupidest thing you'll ever see. He'll either be fined upwards of a thousand bucks or miss Round 1 for the sake of petulance in the first quarter of a practice match. I know players are going to get reported in the play for big bumps or swingin' arms, but this was so pointless the vandWagon should have been parked for the rest of the quarter.

Ironically, AVB was physically involved in their seventh goal as well. His perfectly legal bump to an opponent caused the guy to try and milk a free kick with acting so poor even the umpire couldn't be sucked in, but leading to the ball bouncing past to a player who finished it. We were lucky not to wear an eighth immediately after, with Hibberd refusing to accept that the quarter was in its final minutes and spitting in the face of DemonTime by going for a run through defence that was fraught with danger. It was an apt way to end a decidedly ropey looking quarter, with the only comfort being Gawn marking everything that came near, Petracca's doing soild work around the ball, and the fact that at the same stage last week we were a similar margin ahead of Richmond and thought we'd win the flag unchallenged.

In most ways the second quarter was our best. It certainly was from a scoring perspective. For injuries it was a disaster. First the inevitable major pre-season injury to a senior player, as like a bullet from a book depository JFK was cut down unexpectedly, landing awkwardly and causing his knee to do things no healthy knee should. Off he went on the stretcher, with the assumption that it was either an ACL or a broken leg and he'd never be seen again, only to be pictured walking around the rooms 30 minutes later. I'll wait for the test results before hailing his miracle recovery, he wouldn't be the first knee victim to be on his feet around shortly after the injury and still end up out for a year. Look at Jake Lever, he walked off like he had a minor complaint and now isn't scheduled to return until about Round 10.

Next thing you knew Harmes was fracturing his finger(s), and if I knew what JLT did I'd boycott them. A straight dislocation or break and he'd have been back for Round 1, now he's probably going to need surgery and will be in all sorts for the opening game. Good thing we've got Viney to roll back in, but you'd still rather both of them. (Sunday update - now it appears Harmes will play Round 1. I'm a worse injury reporter than Brian Taylor). Then there's Kennedy-Harris, who may yet go one better than the original JFK and survive the sniper's bullet but probably wasn't in the Round 1 frame anyway. This is not to denigrate his performances this pre-season, the first thing I thought when he hit the deck was what a shame it was for it all to come to a screaming halt when he'd been playing pretty well.

Meanwhile, Preuss did something to his groin the seconds, and with Dr. Phil Nietzchke already out for the season with a knee injury can I point out that it's not too late to ring Aspley and get Jake Spencer back to a) be an emergency ruck option, and b) qualify for his life membership. In the year that the two ruckmen setup returns we're risking disaster only carrying two seasoned options on the list + Weideman (!?) and Keilty (!!!?) as the backups. Spencer may not be your cup of tea, and I don't think anyone likes him as much as me, but having seen how Preuss went solo last week I wish there was a Ben Hudson/Jonathan Giles style journeyman we could have parked on the rookie list just in case either of them topple over.

Before we launched our comeback in earnest, the sides traded goals to open the second quarter. After Hunt of all people showed how to lead in the first term, we returned to the obsessive long bombing to the square that gave us all the shits last year. For all the fun we had tonking slurry teams in the middle of the year it still feels that we ended up the highest scoring team in the competition by luck. What if we've got no further attacking improvement in us and the rule changes designed to enhance scoring just help everyone else catch up? Ponder that for the next two weeks if you dare.

The terror bombing of the goal square has got some merit when you're aiming at McDonald, Weideman and probably either Gawn or Preuss, but when you just thump it to the same spot every time don't be surprised that the opposition know exactly where to run the moment the ball comes off the boot. Like how everyone knew Hogan always wanted it kicked over the top, you need some mystery about the forward entries. So far McDonald certainly hasn't looked like taking massive overhead grabs, and he almost spilled one here before narrowly holding on and converting. What happened to the lovely leads he'd do last year? Last week I could buy them being shut down by a top level defence, but he didn't look at all likely here. After a Bradbury Plan inspired truce late in the season, and two finals performances that would have swept anything under the rug (although, the last three quarters against Geelong weren't exactly an attacking masterclass if we're being honest) let my war on our forward structures recommence.

It was nice to be creating chances, even if we were blowing them, because it meant keeping the ball away from our defence. If nothing else, we were seeing the value of May in the way he instantly shut Hipwood down after those first two goals. He got the bulk of his possessions in the second half, but the only people counting kicks for key defenders are Supercoach Wankers. He was solid, Jetta was lively against Charlie Cameron and Hibberd got a lot of kicks but otherwise there was nothing to fill me with confidence that we're going to improve from being the 9th best defensive side in the league. It wasn't all the fault of the backmen, a lot of it was how often and how easily the ball went down there. I'd almost have Frost over Oscar for Round 1 and the quicker they can work out a replacement for Lewis the better. Like the lost third McDonald brother a couple of high profile blunders are all people remember from his usually on target disposals, but its the ease opposition players go around him that worries me.

Nevertheless, for all this misery Spargo took advantage of strong work by Gawn and the Richmond in Shepparton style comeback was on. At least until Jarryd Lyons - who couldn't get a game at the rock bottom Gold Coast but was content to thump us - pissed off Jetta for a mark and his first of four goals to take their score across 50 midway through the second quarter. It was only a temporary steadier (though there would be much more steadying to come), as the impressive Joel Smith first kicked one of his own, then set up another by standing up in a marking contest, then giving to an Oliver/Brayshaw combination for the goal.

The ball movement between the arcs was still pretty good, but our kicking inside 50 was almost as bad as our defending, and in the first half we were breaking even in the clearances at best before losing them comfortably by the end. Harmes' smashed digit was a factor, but it wasn't the only thing keeping us down. When Petracca executed the first lead since the first quarter to mark 50 metres out I thought "what a waste, may as well have been somebody who can kick straight", but against all odds he put it through.

It was going almost dead on to the script of last week, the team who did all the scoring early packed up in the second quarter and gave the opposition a second life. In Shepparton the half ended as a draw, this time we'd have been ahead if it wasn't for a goal created from an blatant throw that went unpaid. Though to be fair to the umpire with the white cane and assistance dog, Brisbane should never have had the ball down there to begin with after deciding to pack up and start chipping the ball around in defence two minutes before the end of the quarter.

After a half time break where I realised how much I enjoyed having access to the 60x fast forward button, my actions betrayed secretly wanting to win when 15 seconds into the third the ball flew through a crowd to unexpectedly land in the arms of a Brisbane forward, I yelled "FUCK" and punched the couch. It was such a bullshit goal to concede that I've been upset at it happening to any team in the history of the club, including Fourths, Thirds, Seconds, Lightning Premiership and AFLX squads. Shortly after Angus Brayshaw appeared to kick the ball into his own face, just the sort of novelty injury that's likely to end in him retiring from another major concussion.

The pointless, unrewarded dumping kicks inside 50 continued without anyone looking even half likely to crumb until Smith of all people grabbed one off a pack and snapped around the corner. I thought it was a gag when they put him in the forward line as the Preliminary Final went tits up but he's showing plenty down there. Still, be wary of pre-season form. Remember the year Emo Maric was set to be a breakout star based on two practice matches, got dropped after two games and ended up delisted?

On an otherwise dud day, McSizzle got his second shot at goal from one of the great administrative frees. From a boundary throw-in the ball flew over the ruckmen, and the Brisbane player behind them who it practically landed on was pinched for touching it. It was correct application of a rule that should be shot, buried in a shallow grave and covered in lime. Presumably once it cleared the nominated ruckmen the other 36 players on the ground were meant to run away like a live hand grenade had been tossed into their midst. What if the rucks collided with each other and went to ground, would everyone have to wait for one of them to beat the 10 count and get to the ball before the game could continue? What a farce.

McDonald missed what should have been a sitter for him, and by three quarter time the game diverged from the path of last week by Stuart Dew's mate Lyons kicking a third and fourth to put them comfortably ahead again. When the entire plan is built on winning contested ball we'd better either do that all day or take advantage of the chances we do get, and Oliver spurning a doddle of a snap from the top of the square was unfortunate.

The new 50 metre penalty rule is also causing much grief, with the completely unnecessary ability to play-on before reaching the mark leading to players being pinched for getting too close as the ball-carrier is marched to an arbitrary point down the field where he's supposed to take the kick from. In the Port game, one player 'earned' his second 50 by veering left and crashing into the player running next to him. Apparently you're not even allowed to run next to them, so why doesn't the player who conceded the original penalty just piss off somewhere else and let somebody else stand the mark? Either way, what's AFL season without some bonkers interpretation that sets the world alight until Round 4, is forgotten until Round 17 when they go hard on it for a week, and is then shelved for the finals?

With 30 minutes left, a 19 point deficit, players who looked like they were just trying to get to the end without contracting a surprise bout of Lassa fever, and no visible signs of a comeback my only concerns were avoiding more injuries, and Steven May suppressing his natural instinct for clobbering Brisbane players.

Old habits die hard:

I reckon he got lucky and the bump caught the bloke as high as humanely possible on the torso without collecting him in the head. Maybe a light brush of the jaw, but the impact was in the body. Of course, when the Lions take revenge for the time he killed Stef Martin by producing a doctor's report loaded with concussion speculation that'll do him in. Still, it's walking a fine line to be doing that in a pre-season game. If he does get rubbed out then it's buyer beware for signing somebody with a lengthy record of hitting people for the first time since Byron Pickett.

Things looked even more dire when we didn't have an inside 50 for the first five minutes of the quarter, and even that only came courtesy of a Lions switch that eventually ended in a goal. As it went though I had to reassure myself that our players had lost interest after the injuries. Also that it takes some of the heat off us for Round 1 now that all the journos who lost their mind and tipped us to win the flag will probably be queuing to write articles on why Goodwin should be boiled in oil.

If post-injury malaise was to blame - and now we not only had two players out, but Smith, Jetta and Fritsch hobbling and Petracca clutching his wrist to come - that didn't explain being off in the first quarter. I suppose after being in the unusual position of winning a lot of matches recently it was about time we had a couple of learning experiences to keep everyone grounded.

It took about 10 minutes to go across 50 via our own boot, with Smith busting through the pain barrier to get on the end of a lead then kicking out on the full and going back to hobbling around like the elderly. They must have deduced he couldn't make whatever he'd done any worse, because there was no point leaving him out there otherwise. I would have endorsed the Hardwick strategy of playing short if necessary. He soon made amends for that shithouse first kick by putting one through from a free and we inched closer. If this is how he plays with a sore foot then somebody stomp on it in the rooms before every game.

As Petracca grimaced and grabbed at his wrist I was ready to go and start my car in the garage and watch the rest of the game amongst the fumes, only to be stopped in my tracks by a Brayshaw goal that further reduced the margin. The site of Truck delivering a perfect, unencumbered handball frm the middle then convinced me to turn the ignition off and wait until at least half time of Round 1 before contemplating self-harm again.

After veering away from the path of last week, the ghost of JLT Community Series games past returned when our belated tilt at winning cut the margin to two goals. Neal-Bullen cropped up on the end of a scything kick across goal by Gawn, and when he finished the prospect of what would have undoubtedly been the worst win ever was back on the agenda. The brakes temporarily went on when Hunt, back in his traditional role, tried to run around an opponent after a mark, only to find his opposite number having none of it and wrapping him up for holding the ball. Like our forward entries it's no good doing the same thing every time and expecting that other sides don't do their homework.

Somehow we got forward for another, with Smith barely able to leave the square due to his hobbling but still managing to find a fourth. It was a low stakes rerun of Paul Wheatley in the 2005 Elimination Final, and when we find out on Monday that he's out for the season with a crushed ankle I will put a hex on everyone involved with keeping him on the ground. Still, watching him taking an unchallenged mark because his opponent had wandered up the field was a great advertisement for the old school tactic of parking somebody at full forward and not letting them move. If the full forward stays at home how much damage can their opponent do? Enough to lose the chance at having a bloke roaming the forward 50 on his own and kicking easy goals on the break? Probably, but I'd still like to see somebody try it.

Not that winning mattered - which is what you say when you lose unexpectedly - but any chance of completing a storming revival that swept all the dubious stuff under the rug was finished by Oliver giving away a pointless free at the next centre bounce for lightly whacking his opponent in the guts. This is the sort of pointless macho bullshit that does my head in. Speaking of pointless, this was followed by the umpire seemingly paying a free against Mitch Robinson, then waiting for him to lash out at Lewis in frustration before revealing it was his ball anyway. Lottery.

Brisbane's attempts to finish the game were reminiscent of the years where we'd make finishing any close game a terrifying ordeal (e.g. 1859-2018). After we'd unsuccessfully tried to set up the big mark in front of goal about 45 times they nailed one, only for the guy to do a Simon Eishold style shank out on the full. There was still time to score seven and snatch either a win or a worthless draw (P.S - after last week I did a deep dive into non-premiership matches and found one previous pre-season draw, against Sandhurst in 1934. I'm sure your life has been enriched by this knowledge), except immediately after the big shank we handed them another opportunity which they gleefully accepted.

Brayshaw got one on the siren to somehow restrict the margin to single figures, and I faced Casey Fields and for the second week in a row paid thanks to the cosmic forces that stopped me from leaving the house to watch live. I'd like to say I hope that's not happening towards the MCG in a couple of weeks, but I crave the sensation of a real game so will be there in person to see everything we've worked for go up in a puff of smoke OR receive a life-affirming reminder that good times are on the horizon.

Uniform Watch
Not only does the Jaguar logo looks significantly better on the regular colour jumper, it comes up beautifully when compared to random companies like GFG and SOOW as worn by Port and Brisbane. Whoever's got money to spend is welcome, and for all I know SOOW might be 100x more stable than a luxury car manufacturer but it feels like we're carrying an extra, welcome, touch of class. Apparently SOOW (or SO as it's styled) is "about creating trust in how everyday consumers and enterprises share data openly". Which sounds like the sort of company who'll go missing when they get the bill for their second year of sponsorship.

UPDATE - This is the only prediction I was close to getting right all day. Not only did they fail to make year two, they failed to make month four. As the Brisbane Lions CEO probably said "Soow... you're telling me you've gone into administration". They were actually out the door before this game even happened. Maybe the infinity logo signifies how much they owe creditors?

Media Watch
No Dwayne, no Dermott, no content. Except when they showed a Casey player with a full head of hair kicking a goal and identified him as Preuss.

Poor old Nick Riewoldt went with it ASAP while Dunstall and Huddo held back until it was obvious they'd shown A. Random. Still, as close to a perfect commentary combination as you're going to get on Fox, with the shrieking and buffoonery kept to a minimum. Dunstall does himself a disservice acting like a clown on The Bounce when he is actually one of the better special comments men around.

2019 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Joel Smith
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to Brayshaw, Salem and May.

Final leaderboard
Congratulations to Max, who goes back-to-back, becomes the first player ever to win the Plate twice, and ends a two year run of multiple winners. Can he string it across 22 games and become the first ruckman ever to win the Jakovich? The historical record says no.

10 - Max Gawn
7 - Clayton Oliver
6 - Christian Petracca
5 - Angus Brayshaw, Christian Salem
4 - James Harmes, Braydon Preuss
3 - Joel Smith

Coming this week
Almost exactly the same content promised after the Richmond game - an AFLW report and the finalised pre-season preview. The preview has been as good as finished for a week but I thought it was more prudent to wait until all the practice matches were over so it could include any perspective gained this week. Sadly I have gained too much perspective and will probably go back to drape the veil of negativity over it. At least now I can not only factor in Mitch Hannan's mystery injury, but the unwelcome news that Lever might not play until mid-year. Links in all the usual places when complete.

Next week
If you're a male player, nothing. Except for some last minute high risk training sessions where everyone is requested not to turn too sharply and to instantly give up if they feel a twinge anywhere in their body.

The week after
Watched the second half of the Port game, and while they seemed better than expected North's disinterest in doing anything remotely defensive would have made anyone look good. I'm more confident in winning Round 1 then I am in following with wins in Geelong and Sydney, but against a side who only missed the eight due to an epic collapse and still won 12 games it is anything but a guaranteed win. All those years I moaned about wanting to test ourselves against a good team in Round 1, now expectations are up and I'd be quite happy with playing Gold Coast at home.

Final thoughts
One way or the other everyone except James Harmes will forget this match happened by 6pm on Saturday 23 March. And thank christ for that.

1 comment:

  1. If he does get rubbed out then it's buyer beware for signing somebody with a lengthy record of hitting people for the first time since Byron Pickett.

    Someone's forgotten about Jordan Lewis


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