Thursday 25 April 2019

Best we forget

The Japanese did it on a battleship, the Germans in a train carriage, and now the Melbourne Football Club has issued its formal surrender on the MCG in the shambolic manner of a Benny Hill chase scene. Four real goals in the first quarter, none in the last three, a 1-5 record and the most flagrant disregard for blockbuster fixturing since kicking 3.10 on Queen's Birthday 2014.

In case you were left with any doubts after St Kilda dragged us around the MCG by our ankles, the season you thought was over after the Essendon game really is. Hopes of an unlikely comeback that briefly flickered after the Sydney game are gone, leaving us with four months to build a platform for next season, and a good 10 months before we'll know if it's structurally sound. Alternatively we could pull off the greatest miracle known to man, win 13 in a row and make the eight but I know which one I'd be having my money on.

Part of me wants to respond to this unexpected spiral back to the bottom by becoming hysterical, but for now I'm approaching it with maturity and understanding. Later in the season this may be replaced by screaming and destruction of inanimate objects, but for now there's nothing to be gained from grabbing a pitchfork and seeking vengeance. I'm willing to write this year off as a cock-up and blindly believe that things simply have to get better in 2020.

Of course, there's no guarantee they will, but what better test of the on and off-field group than seeing how they cope with a season that has died after six games. If they're a premiership contender of the future they get to the end as best possible, learn valuable lessons and come back next year ready to run through brick walls. If they're not, they delve into finger pointing and a 2011 style civil war that ultimately blows the doors off the place.

The question of where it's all gone wrong will dominate the footy media for about the next fortnight before it becomes boring and they move on to the next story. It's such an omnishambles that they'll still be picking up bits of us with tongs by Round 23. Everyone's got a theory, but I dare say it's a case of failing to adapt and having everyone else (except Sydney apparently) work out what we're up to. Whether this stems from the raft of surgeries, the players being a bit too happy about making a prelim, bonkers coaching or other I will leave you to debate. What I will say is that just because a player can't train at full pelt it doesn't mean they can't learn a new trick. Bring back Neale Daniher taking the list to school in his first pre-season and teaching them the style he wanted.

SurgeryMania becomes less of an excuse every week (and the injuries since then are probably more of an issue now), but even after half the list turned up in traction I was still prepared to delude myself into a top four finish. At least until our wonky pre-season, where I curbed my enthusiasm to fifth with a big disclaimer about how competitive the middle of the league was going to be.

Early returns suggest the race for the eight is going to be a battle royale as expected, but now we look more likely to be contending for 13th than 8th. This is going to lead to a sickening spectacle at the end of the year where people who think they've got the system beat want us to lose and maximise our draft position. What a putrid idea, just win whatever we can, and if that means finishing 9th by three games then bad luck. If you can't get a good player with pick 10 you deserve to be shit - especially when you've already got a list brimming with barely harnessed potential.

Under the circumstances I think our fans have been quite reasonable. It's hard to go from winning two primetime finals in front of a combined 180,000 people to stinking up the MCG four times in six weeks. These are the people I have sympathy for, now the mentalists who tipped us to win the flag. Even worse were the ones that thought we were going to kick on from last year and finish top. I could have bought into a Bulldogs style run to the flag from the lower echelons of the eight, but when a side hasn't finished higher than third since 1964 best to be conservative.

Literally the only comfort to be taken from our latest nightmare performance are memories of the same fixture three years ago, where the 13th best team of 2015 comfortably accounted for a three time finalist and nearly left me in tears on a train laughing at Tigers fans calling Finey's Final Siren (RIP) to demand the coach be removed immediately. Richmond stayed the course, successfully altered the off-field setup, harnessed the power of their best player to turn him into a juggernaut, and reorganised to the point of winning the bloody flag 18 months later. Now we're the ones left pining for melted down airwaves and Chris from Camberwell rants. Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked...

This is nowhere near the brink for Goodwin, and there's recent history of other coaches coming back from worse. Like Nathan Buckley, who would have been taken out of the Holden Centre with a hood over his head years before nearly winning a Grand Final if it wasn't for the wank bank memories of his playing career. And as Alan Richardson becomes the latest man to clamber out of a shallow bush grave it's time to recognise that no matter how upset you get Goodwin is unfuckwithable for another 12 months minimum. Whatever your plan is for recapturing the fleeting glories of 2018 it's not going to include the dismissal of a guy who just had his contract extended until the end of 2022.

From an outside, almost completely ignorant, working on the vibe position the coaching doesn't look to have been much chop since the Hawthorn game, but that's only one of many issues with us at the moment. If you could mysteriously replace him with Clarko in an overnight coup there would likely be some benefits, but it doesn't mean an instant return to kicking 160 points and winning finals by keeping the opposition to a score of 46.

There's a list of excuses a mile long, but the coach foolishly took them off the table by asking us to concentrate on the immediate form of the team shortly before we played three stinkers out of four. Due to a lack of alternatives I'm supporting the coach, but still don't understand what the rush was to give him such a lengthy contract extension. Did they think Essendon or Adelaide would sack Worsfold/Pyke and buy him as a replacement? Or was it that everyone behind the scenes knew we were heading into the void this year and wanted to give him the security to have an unencumbered crack at it next year?

Regardless of the reason, the die is cast, and the focus should be on how we can build around him, not assassinating his character in the hope of forcing him out and trying again with the next bloke. Nobody wants to write a season off and leave themselves another year closer to dying without seeing a flag, but unless the Essendon drugs unexpectedly kick in and he drops a steaming turd on Glenn Bartlett's desk he's safe as houses. What odds a reunion for the scandal era Bombers coaching crew as James Hird shows up to be his senior assistant?

None of this is to say that Goodwin, his side, and the entire organisation don't warrant scrutiny. Last night was as incompetent a performance you could get in a game where we were a point down during the third quarter. The effort was certainly there, at least until the opening goal of the final term which prompted everyone to switch off, but there was an enormous gulf in class between a ruthlessly drilled genuine Preliminary Final side and one dropping from the same giddy heights like a meteor.

It was the sort of game where we might have got something against a lesser side, but ran into a group of people who quickly realised they didn't need to fall for our shit and treated us with an appropriate level of disdain. Fans of contested possessions had a rare win, and Gawn was tapping everything again, but that all counted for nil when our kicks into the 50 were predictably aimless, without a forward anywhere to be seen, and every exit from defence had the grace and poise of a Three Stooges routine. When considering disposal efficiencies please deduct a few percent off every defender for the ones that were shanked and fortuitously fell into the arms of a teammate.

There's been some praise for how (relatively) few scores we conceded from so many inside 50s, but in another blow to that stat ever being taken seriously how many of them came from us hacking a kick out, Richmond hacking a kick back in, and us hacking another kick out. Our backline did as well as possible against two premium full forwards, and had we fielded anything approaching a competent forward line they might have spent today being lauded as heroes, with some of the least confident disposal ever seen swept under the rug. But we didn't, so bad luck let's have it out.

I'd like to go on the record in saying that I was against the move of Tom McDonald back into defence. In one-on-one contests he was good, and after a rocky start his disposals weren't any worse than the other backmen, but even if he's done bugger all for five weeks it basically conceded that there was no way we'd kick a big score. If Neal-Bullen could get back into the side on one ordinary seconds showing then any of Oscar McSizzle, Petty or Keilty could have had a bash at establishing themselves in a key position.

With Lever and May to return there is no long term reason for Tom to play in the backline, so I'd rather try and do something to get him going up front. And if that doesn't work drop him. We have defenders waiting in the wings, and while the tall forward stocks are much thinner I did enjoy Tim Smith's start. One wank-handed marking attempt in the first minute aside he showed plenty for 30 minutes before going missing with the rest of our forward line. Bit rich to describe him as 'promising' when he's 28-years-old, but certainly enough to justify life as a depth player.

For some unexplained reason, possibly an up yours from the coach to people who say he's not creative enough, Clayton Oliver started at full forward. He didn't prove the answer to our forward issues, and was soon back where he belonged, but the move did coincide with our best period of the game. Lucky for the coaching staff, because if we'd bled two goals straight out of the centre while he was standing in the square there would have been a riot. Using Hibberd to tag Martin was a far more effective surprise move, the sort that works well once then fails the next 20 times they try it.

To get to the first goal we had to concede one in the most Melbourne 2019 fashion possible, with the ball going *boing* on the Demon Trampoline from our attacking 50 and into the arms of Tom Lynch (the Gold Coast recruit you can rely on to play a game), to mark over Frost. Every Melbourne fan in the place thought this was the beginning of the end for our poor, overworked defenders, but it was the inspiration for our best period of the night.

The only time we looked even remotely potent was when Melksham was creating havoc around half-forward. He directly set up Smith with the picture perfect kick to the top of the square, and did likewise to generate a free and goal to Maximum later in the quarter. Both were exactly what you want an inside 50 to look like, not somebody blindly booting the ball high in the sky so that it comes towards the forward like it's been dropped out of an upstairs window, giving all the time in the world for defenders to rush in and spoil the contest. By the second quarter he had nobody left to kick to, and was probably still our best player but for zero scoring impact.

It would have helped to have some semblance of a working forward line. Without Preuss and McDonald they tried to 'go small', but there's no point doing that unless the smalls are going to put on pressure. We're in desperate need of an Aaron Davey Classic style player who chases, tackles and kicks goals out of his arse. While Tigers big and small were mercilessly harassing our defenders, at the other end they were chopping off everything that came near them without a contest and flinging it back the other way like it was being launched from a pinball machine. What's that we said about an official MFC pinny a few years ago - low scoring, nothing of value on the playing field and full of balls.

I've liked Hunt in attack (though he was ineffectual last night), but he's never been a big tackler, and Garlett is in extended clock-rundown mode. He and Lockhart (the man who the AFL website still insists wears #0) had three tackles each, but there was barely a hint of pressure on their defence. Richmond has won plenty of games by more over the last few years, but their backmen wouldn't have had many easier nights. Mind you, it's not easy to register a tackle inside 50 when the ball is generally ejected before hitting the ground. There was an Adam Oxley-esque feeling to the way our attacks were being picked off with the greatest of ease. It was telling that after Smith's early mark and goal, the only other time we ever looked dangerous in attack was when Gawn floated down there.

If nothing else I'd have kept McDonald down there just to take the heat off Weideman, who offered absolutely nothing. As we usually either aimlessly hoofed it towards goal without looking if there were zero to 18 opponents in the way (hello Angus Brayshaw), or tried the chippy chippy set up game and still found nobody to aim at there wasn't much of an opportunity to create goals from other sources. That's why our six goals were made up of four set shots, one gift from a turnover that barely snuck in and one solitary major from a loose ball. Our only goal of the entire second half was from a 50 that took Fritsch to the square - this is not the way to go about things.

Lockhart got a tasty goal from open play - and credit where it's due Garlett helped set it up - but even when we were winning by more than a goal it was difficult to imagine holding on for four quarters. A particular highlight was the Richmond bloke on social media chastising us for trying to play boring and steal the game on the break, as if we were capable of pulling off that sort of Machiavellian plan. That we didn't kick a goal from open play after his post says everything you need to know about the counter-attack theory.

The leaking of a goal out of the middle immediately after another well-taken Hunt set shot gave an indication of where this was heading. Nevertheless, going to quarter time a goal up was significantly better than I'd anticipated. Three quarters of the most boring play known to man later the margin was more like it - though I'd have expected each team to kick about five more goals, with all of ours coming in time-on of the last quarter.

If we can't get a genuinely terrifying pressure forward, what about just picking some pricks? Remember the glory days of this fixture when Bugg shhhhed people/pushed an injured Riewoldt over, Dunn got into a fight with a wide grin, and Viney steamed into to brawl with Alex Rance to protect the honour of Jack Watts? Who could you rely on for a scrap last night? Even Nathan Jones has started to prepare for retirement by not getting fined every three weeks. I'm not saying to re-recruit Bugg from Instagram in the mid-season draft but there's a serious lack of mischief about this team. I don't want May shirtfronting people, but a bit of light agitation would be good even if you can't back it up on field.

After that promising first quarter, what more MFC thing to do then follow it with one lousy behind? It's almost like Richmond identified what we were doing well and shut it down. What a bloody novelty. This left us desperately trying to play the same way as the first quarter but not getting anywhere, like continuing an argument over the phone ever after the other person has hung up.

The only thing to recommend the second quarter was Billy Stretch doing a good job on what passes for 'the wing' these days. No doubt we'll reward him with another dropping. Otherwise, it was just the Tigers throwing the kitchen sink at an over-worked defence, our forward line not existing, and a couple of token goals to keep TV executives from necking themselves. It was genuinely bad football, the likes of which you'll never rub out without deleting teams that go 50 years without a flag.

It was hard to understand how we were so close, even after the fiasco of the last goal. Our players get sucked towards the ball so much that it should be immortalised in Latin as part of our club crest, and when two went to one on the forward flank it allowed Jack Riewoldt (why go near him, what's he ever done?) to drop it in the square for Martin to knock through. It was just the sort of pissweak goal you'd be less upset about if we were capable of kicking more than six at the other end. For all the trauma about our ropey defence it's a simple fact that our attack propped us up last year, so we're not going anywhere until scoring is fixed up.

Richmond had injury problems, but without about five players crashing into each other and being carried off on stretchers there was not even the remotest chance of us taking the lead and holding on to win. We did have a few minutes of positivity at the start of the third, but given that our only goal came from a defender kicking the ball straight to Neal-Bullen 40 metres out (and him being so surprised to get it he barely scraped it home) how were we supposed to capitalise? The most exciting moment was when we stormed out of the middle on a seemingly unstoppable path to goal but Harmes and Viney did the old "you kick it, no you kick it" handball routine and it was turned over. It was 666 stuff in all senses of the word.

Ending the third quarter on five goals should be a thing of the past, but it just went to show how unfocused (and at times insane) our attempts at scoring were. Good thing Richmond were wasteful in front of goal, and barely got out of second gear after half time. When you're coming off a four day break why waste energy on an opposition that could have played for a week without kicking a winning score? Conversely, by early in the last many of our players had decided (and I can't say I blame them) that they'd been through enough. I preferred the days where we had the short break after this game and Essendon would fall apart in the second half.

Via Viney being skewered by a magnificent bump, we spent 10 minutes holding on via our fingertips. God forbid somebody could have taken the game by the scruff of the neck and played a quarter for the ages we might have given them something to worry about. Alas we just carried on with everything that had failed for the previous two quarters and went down without a fight. It would probably have been too dangerous with Lynch/Riewoldt lurking about, but what about throwing McDonald forward in the last quarter just in case it took them by surprise? No, we just continued to shamble the ball towards 50 and didn't get another goal until Fritsch was marched to the line for some administrative breach of the rules.

The MFC faithful lasted until the second Richmond goal before they did the smart thing and started going home, before the third prompted a near stampede out the door. Conversely, Tigers fans went off like they'd beaten somebody, Channel 7 executives called the AFL to see who they can replace us with in this fixture next year, and I slunk out of the ground at slow speed behind people incapable of navigating crowds, weary but far from murderous. Welcome to a 16 game holding pattern.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jake Melksham
4 - Billy Stretch
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Marty Hore
1 - Michael Hibberd

No real apologies, but Brayshaw, Gawn, Salem, Smith or Viney could have snuck in due to the lack of legitimate competition.

Maximum holds the line, but he's got challengers from the forwards, midfields and defenders. If only our team was as consistent around the ground. In the minors, Hore has all but locked away the Hilton, and is starting to mount a campaign to be our top defender as well. Which is like being the best pilot on a spiraling plane.

14 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
12 - Jake Melksham, Clayton Oliver
10 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Angus Brayshaw
6 - Marty Hore (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
4 - Bayley Fritsch, James Harmes, Nathan Jones, Jack Viney
4 - Billy Stretch
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Sam Frost, Michael Hibberd, Corey Wagner

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
In a comically small field, and with no Preuss to deliver plus-sized novelty goals, we hark back to a time in the first quarter where we looked like a side that might kick a decent score. This was where Jay Lockhart hit his punchy, low, snap that rocketed through faster than one of our attacks turning into an opposition goal. 

With Jay's second nomination he is approaching a Preuss/Blease level novelty-to-real-goal ratio. Last time I tried to get him a trip back to Casey to enjoy playing in a winning organisation, now that they've lost to a bunch of 18-year-olds I'll go a step further and whisk him away on the Spirit of Tasmania to get as far away from this club as possible. He's welcome to show up at Round 23's Kruezer Kup II against North in Hobart and have another go, but otherwise just appreciate that you got to play the game at the highest level and run from this club with all your might.

The clubhouse leader is still Preuss from the pocket against the Swans. Long may he reign.

From my Row MM vantage point I couldn't tell if any of the Richmond people had come for the joint banner ceremony dressed as disrespectful arseholes this time so I'm prepared to pay the draw. Dees 5-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch
At the risk of sounding like somebody writing a letter to the Herald Sun, I'd have thought people would know by now to remove their hats during the ceremonies. I'm far from an Anzac Day fetishist, but fark me how about showing a little bit of respect? I wonder if the ground announcer just forgot to mention it, as it's definitely been said in recent years. It certainly got a run in the pre-match of the Essendon/Collingwood game (and how much Crowd Watch content could you have got out of that game from the Bombers fans staying through the presentations to bleat about umpiring decisions and Bucks calling them out on it).

Pre-match predictions that a big crowd would impede on my sanctuary in Row MM were unfounded but I still found 'the people' too close for comfort. Four rows in front of space wasn't nearly enough, especially after the traditional half time migration where people climb to the top of the stairs, feel a bit weird about sitting the back row and move a couple down. It happens at every game, even when there's 20,000 people there.

This time we had the remarkable scenario of a girl arriving at the break, then planking across several seats like it was 2011 all over again. She was so committed to the gimmick that she lay there face down for about 15 minutes of the third quarter. I would have taken a picture to demonstrate how unusual this looked but was in direct line of her arse and didn't want to come across like a nonce. I'd say it was a better angle to watch the game from, but have you ever seen how much bird shit is on those seats? You'd be insane to put your face anywhere near them.

Press Conference Watch
Stop. Saying. Connection. All. The. Time. I know what it's like to have a song stuck in your head, but Goodwin must go to sleep dreaming about this:

Next Week
We were putrid after our last extended break, and just as bad on a short turnaround here, so pretty sure I know where it's going on Saturday week against a side we've beaten once in a home and away game since 2006. Hawthorn are mediocre, but we're like a car left on a hill with its handbrake off. They will win, and win easily. The added disappointment will be losing to $cully, now appropriately wearing toilet colours. Don't be juvenile and boo him, use your words and call him a wanker.

As for changes, roll in the kids! Just joking, we don't have any. It will have to be the same merry-go-round that spins around and spits out anybody who might be able to play. I can't even start to contemplate doing anything that would make things better, so I'm just going to suggest alterations for my own amusement.

For example, I would like to say thank you for your service to Lewis and offer him a seat in the coaching box but there's no way that's going to happen now that Nev is out for 10 weeks. Or by the time we're finished with him, the whole season. Apparently Lewis brings all the leadership to our backline, which they are responding to by playing like they're lost in the jungle and are about to eat each other to survive. During the week we were reminded to be in awe of him because of all he'd done at Hawthorn, to which the fans of a club that has won chuff all in 55 years didn't think had much relevance.

You shouldn't get nasty and personal about any players without a dollar sign in their name (and I hope the people I watched the St Kilda game with weren't secretly taping the actions that make me a tremendous hypocrite) but I don't give the fattest rats' clacker about the flags. All I know is that he was good his first year with us, alright last year, and in two outings this year has been pox. If he's not going to be there next year then there is really no point carrying on. Hang around, do elite standards shit at training but move over for the next generation. Even if they don't actually exist yet. Not far from throwing Garlett under the same bus.

This is where I'm at with available MFC listed players who aren't in traction:

Preuss - Automatic in. Beast of a man, kicks wonderful goals.
Spargo - Cannot play four quarters to save himself. He's not alone on that front, but while Lockhart is doing ok I'm satisfied for Charleston to play a few consecutive games for Casey.
Bedford - Not exactly setting the world alight in the seconds, but can't be many weeks away from him getting a game just because.
Kolodjashnij - Now firmly behind Stretch. Needs to win his spot back.
Maynard - Desperate to see him play more than one game in a row so I can judge whether I've got any interest or not. If Viney is injured then make like Lisa Simpson and call the Corey Hotline
Jordon - Not ready yet, but by about Round 10 we might be in subtle tank mode and the door will fling wide open for him.
O. McDonald - Poor old Oscar, I already felt sorry for him but now it looks like he's not only lost his spot but that his brother will keep him out. I'd rather work on making Tom great again. Otherwise Sizzle Jr will need to wait until Frost does something completely insane that ends in dropping.
Sparrow - Didn't do much wrong in two games, but hard to get a look in now against Hunt, Lockhart and [Garlett?]. Having said that, not like our forward line is excelling so I wouldn't riot if he was picked.
Baker - Was desperate for him to get a game around the time of last year's St Kilda debacle based entirely on his pace and resemblance to Danny Bonaduce. Has reportedly done less than bugger all for Casey though, and is looking very much like a delisting. So in that case I'll wait until after Queen's Birthday before giving him a token game.
Petty - Like Oscar, the new found fetish for McSizzle in defence again might count against him. And like Oscar, I'd rather we worked on Tom kicking goals rather than taking a spot in defence. There is nothing left to play for, I want to give him a spin ASAP.
The Wagnii - Neither are horrendously offensive, but on the other hand neither is offering all that much either. Both will be back, but unlikely to be game changers.
Keilty - I can't tell whether he's a forward or a backman based on Casey playing him everywhere. Will definitely get a game at some stage but has to wait for Smith to do his full rotation in and out of the side before getting a go as a forward
Chandler - Not banging the door down. But that's the problem, who is? There's more players trying to get out than candidates to replace them.
Bradtke - That he's splitting his time between Casey and the Under 18 competition tells you everything you need to know about his chances of getting a game. Has done some promising things in the VFL already but is a long term project.

So, based on that I've got far more ins than outs. Lewis literally only survives because Nev is out - and pending miracle VFL form by Josh Wagner this could save him for the next 10 weeks. I'd rather just move on but there's no point without somebody waiting to step up.

Neal-Bullen shouldn't have been recalled on the back of one so-so seconds game against kids, so he goes out to find some form, and Weideman can take his enormous contract demands and follow. I think this guy is going to be massive in a couple of years, and joke on me when he sooks up at being dropped, leaves the club and stars elsewhere, but his attack on the ball was very ordinary and he needs a message. I'm bringing Preuss back, playing Tom McDonald forward and giving Petty a go in the backline.

Key position defender is the only spot on the ground where we've got two players pushing up for a game, now that we're playing the season out it doesn't make sense to hold up a spot for McDonald when we know he's capable of kicking goals. Unless we're pulling another key forward out of our arse somewhere work on getting him going again. It's no longer about this season, it's about 2020 and beyond. And Maynard is a straight swap for Viney, hopefully avoiding the ignominy of playing three one game seasons in a row.

Elsewhere, Garlett did one of two decent things on Wednesday but not nearly enough to convince me he's going to be there next season, so I'm prepared to give him one more shot at recovery before booking the forced retirement press conference.

IN: Maynard, Petty, Preuss
OUT: Neal-Bullen, Weideman (omit), Viney (inj)
LUCKY: Garlett, Lewis, Lockhart, T. McDonald
UNLUCKY: O. McDonald, C. Wagner

Obviously we're going to lose, but if nothing else you're starting to expect it again so that softens the blow a bit.

Next (everything after that)
I hope we take to this mid-season draft with the attitude of finding the most novelty player possible. At this stage of my latest deepression I'd almost sign up to Billy Hartung just on the back of that Robbie Flower-esque quarter for North last year. Failing that find me the most potent lower league forward eligible, cross your fingers for a miracle, and if it doesn't work ditch them at the end of the season.

Was it worth it?
From a temporary location at Demonblog Towers 10.5 while I'm quite literally in the middle of moving, I had the option of walking to the left and (eventually) getting the MCG, or right down Arden Street to North's ground. There I could have taken a heroic dose of substances, stood in the fading light and imagined I was watching us win by 108 points in Round 10, 1972. That day we kicked 11 goals in the first quarter, now we've kicked 13 in our last eight.

So no, other than the novelty of walking to a game for the first time since about 2012 it was not. I should have gone with my first instinct and sat on the couch eating chips and yelling unkind things about Channel 7 commentators. But I'm still compelled to be there, even if I'm discovering it's a lot less fun (if that's the way to put it) stinking after a dose of finals fever than when it seemed we'd never make the top eight ever again and would probably be relocated to Zanzibar.

Final Thoughts
Nothing can shake my confidence that we'll emerge from this cavernous drop in form intact. It's not just blind faith, it's as I've said so many times since the start of 2017 that we've got the building blocks in place, we just need to complete the set and put them in the right combination. At the moment the blocks are strewn across the floor, the dog has chewed on half of them, and the instruction manual is in Swahili.

Next season the players that need another 15 games have them, those who don't can be shuffled out, the football department emerges from a decimation, we get new fitness people, a rubbish team draw, and hopefully a vast majority of players coming back for pre-season both unoperated on and without an arse the size of Byron Pickett. And most importantly, here's hoping the year of living dangerously leads to us coming up with some innovative tactics that have us lead the pack for once rather than scragging along at the back hoping to copy the success of others.

For now though, we're going to have wear some horrible games. The sad thing is that even when it clicks and we either beat a good team or thrash some of the other flotsam there's going to be a muted feeling because we'll know deep down it doesn't mean anything. But, even if the wins aren't nearly as valuable as 12 months ago keep in mind that there's either something big just over the horizon or you're going to get a chance to spend 2020 in full bloodlust mode trying to sack everyone from the President, to the CEO, coach and receptionist.

Sunday 21 April 2019

The comeback is off

For the first time since Round 21, 2006 I was at work during a game. Unlike 13 years ago there were options for casually viewing under a desk, but with every possible chance of being interrupted by something serious during the game I handed over the keys to guest reporter ADP. He hauled himself to the MCG, suffered a slopfest and filed this report, while at one point I was so upset at conceding an easy goal that I shook a mobile phone I was mid-conversation on so vigorously it disconnected the call.

If the first three rounds of the season had me muting all non-MFC football social media accounts, skipping family get-togethers where I'd be forced to talk about football, and generally rediscovering a loathing for life not experienced since 2013, then Round 4 offered a glimpse of hope. A glimpse mind you, but enough to poke my head out of self-imposed footballing sabbatical like the titular character in a Whack-A-Mole/Gopher/favourite burrowing creature at a carnival game, ready to be pounded back into said hole by portly carnies and sideshow enthusiasts.

So it was that I ventured to the MCG on a balmy Easter Saturday hoping for victory against a side half-filled with players I needed to Wikipedia just to prove they were indeed actual people.  Barely a minute into the game, the gopher looked none too foolish as hairless Yeti Braydon Preuss opened the scoring after some handy centre work from Clayton Oliver.

If you were hoping for a pleasant Saturday afternoon, the next 22 minutes confirmed enjoyment was not on the cards, but rather familiar feelings of dread and sorrow.  Before Brayshaw slotted a nice goal at the 23-minute mark, the crowd was treated to some quintessential 2019 MFC football, featuring but not limited to, multiple forward entries to no one in particular, followed by the ball pinballing back at record speed for a Saints goal.

For those wanting to spare yourselves a TL:DR literary descent into madness and despair, that is essentially the tale of the tape for the game and the season.  Haphazard kicks inside 50 to outnumbered Melbourne players at one end, and a frenzied parade of opposition players streaming down the ground unimpeded by counterparts who are unable or unwilling to run with them and stop them at the other. Throw in a sprinkling of Melbourne players not being on the defensive side of countless contests, and failure to spoil numerous marks and it made for a genuine clown show.

You can probably stop reading there with a comprehensive understanding of the match, but given you've made it to the match review you likely need a therapeutic post-game rant.  Either that or you’re a St Kilda fan who's been on the prowl for schadenfreude since the 1998 semi.  The Saints' first two goals came in familiar fashion, and after the Brayshaw goal, old friends Complete Inability to Spoil in Defence (leading to Membrey’s second goal) and Embarrassing Kicking for Goal (Melksham’s set shot from 40m that was so off the mark it must have been a pass) returned and we were teetering about in a seedy manner.

It should be noted that of the four tall defenders on the list who have more than one game of AFL experience to their name, only Sam Frost was available, but the amount of contested marks taken by Saints forwards saw the Melbourne Supporter Experience dial turned up one notch from DEPRESSING to SHAMBOLIC. (I may have been wrong about not needing all the tall forwards against the Saints. It has been known to happen - editor) 

The Saints third goal for the day occurred after Frost entered a pack marking situation in front of the players bench where he was the second Demon amongst three Saints, and instead of seeing the ball over the line, he kept the ball alive, and St Kilda used their numbers advantage to run it down for a simple goal to your former mate and mine Dean Kent. I don’t want to single people out because the result was far from Frost's fault and I could break the Demonblog word counter writing about individual acts of stupidity, but it was one example of poor defensive nous on the day.

Speaking of Kent, we'll no doubt have to endure some feel-good/bad material from writers this week on how this was a satisfying day for him against a team that didn't want him. As an appendix to any such article, may I add a) that when you finish top four you're going to struggle to keep decent players who are struggling to play regular senior football and you're probably not going to get great value in return for them; and b) Kent was reportedly given a significantly better contract offer from the Saints, so the move was a no-brainer.  It's his career, good luck to him, and we'll always have the finals sealer against West Coast last year and that running goal against Essendon in 2014.

With the crowd becoming restless before quarter time, it was up to physical colossus Preuss to take matters into his freakishly oversized hands. It's only taken him two games to work out the complete and utter futility of trying to complete the mysterious pass to a leading teammate in the Melbourne forward 50 trick, and so after receiving a handball he proceeded to bang home a goal on the run from the edge of the centre square with under a minute played. 

To the surprise of no one, the inside 50s were 15 to 6 in Melbourne’s favour in the opening quarter.  Part of the problem is surely due to the small-medium forwards currently not in the lineup due to injury (Vandenberg, Hannan, J Smith), poor form (Anal Bullet) or possible alien abduction in the case of Jeff Garlett. In more than half of our losses last year Melbourne dominated the inside 50 count, but found their happy place when frequent forward entries met frantic forward pressure. 

I'll let the tactical wizards tell me otherwise, but teams are moving the ball out of our forward line with far too much ease and the defensive pressure is completely breaking down. Doesn't help that Tom McDonald is moving like he has stepped on a land mine.  It wouldn’t be the first time we've thrown someone out there with a foot falling off, and with the season rapidly descending into disaster territory it wouldn’t be a major shocker to see him sent to get some work done on it.  He was the recipient of some Bronx cheers later in the game after taking a rare mark, and while some of my past crowd antics should have resulted in players taking out a stalking intervention order out against me, there’s probably not much to be gained from razzing a bloke who is clearly running around out there on a peg leg.

If Melbourne's first quarter showed all the hallmarks of a traditional stinker, the start of the second was where the Dees threw away a game that was up for grabs. Early in the quarter, Christian Petracca somehow kicked a set shot from 30 metres close to right in front out on the full, and his teammates continually missed the most basic of kicks inside 50 you just knew it was going to come back to bite us. 

Such was our control that it took St Kilda six minutes and 15 seconds into the second quarter to even cross halfway. After working overtime to build a 29-26 lead, Melbourne squandered their hard work by letting in three late Saints goals – two from crumbing from very close range where the Melbourne defenders were painfully out of position, and another from an embarrassing contested mark. The back-breaker came from a Billings kick off the ground from three metres out after a boundary throw in.  Four Melbourne defenders were running behind him and not one was goal side.

Trailing by 15 at the half, it wasn't looking promising, and the third quarter provided further opportunity to check off your 2019 MFC Bingo Cards with Kick Out Debacle and Crazy Defensive Matchups You Didn't Want To See (Hore on Membrey) as the Saints slammed on five goals to zero to end the contest. Full of confidence, the Saints were now accepting goals from the boundary through Bruce and Long while Melbourne couldn’t manage to get boot to ball in the square.

I should have known last week’s antics were not sustainable.  The glorious MFC production All the Goals: Round 4 yielded a bunch of goals the league-standard forward would miss more than 50% of the time, so of course this week we botched any number of basic chances.  Fast forward nine days and you had the MFC losing by 40 points with the same amount of scoring shots and eight more inside 50s largely because the other team moved the ball considerably faster and employed a system where they were able to find countless loose men inside 50 throughout the game and often waltz into goal from the goal line (remember those days?), including one from Kent where he looked around, realised Harmes was right behind him, realised he’d probably lapped him in time trials, and comically trotted into goal knowing full well he wouldn’t be caught.  Depressing.

A rare highlight came in the form of a last quarter grab and goal from Jake Melksham. For those watching the highlights, the play also featured Garry Lyon correctly moaning about the unsustainability of that kind of forward foray.  While Membrey was no doubt aided by being a giant among comparatively dwarven opponents, the fact that one team can implement a game plan where they get the ball forward only 85% as often as their counterparts and still win easily suggests that life is easier for some of their forwards.

Late in the game, Melbourne had worked their way back to a 28-point deficit that simultaneously asked both “How are we this close?” and “We’ve had two more scoring shots, how are we losing by this much?”  Fittingly, the game would finish with two St Kilda goals that would sum up the Melbourne performance – a Membrey goal from a contested mark embarrassingly earned against Gawn and Preuss, and stop me if you've heard this one before, a goal after the siren from a mark by an uncontested player after they'd moved the ball quickly and with ease.

Simon Goodwin is preaching that there's still a long way to go in season 2019, and for Melbourne supporters, that may feel like a very long time. Whatever reason you’re subscribing to for our poor performance thus far – and you can select from a number of popular options including a lack of fitness due to limited preseason, loss of players via injury/trade or gameplan - the reality is that this season looks set for the flush button. If you could produce a snazzy line graph charting expected performance versus actual output (and Mark Neeld has probably done so) this season could eclipse all the odd numbered Daniher years as the worst of my lifetime. Something to look forward to. Stiff cheddar to me for engaging in the total folly that is getting your hopes up. 

While I'm in SEN talkback caller whinge mode, I'd suggest that if we’re a team that relies heavily on winning the contested ball, we start doing that. Especially given the midfield is the one part of the ground that hasn't been cruelled by injury.  For this Melbourne midfield to lose the clearances and contested possessions to St Kilda is an embarrassment. Sides have been strolling down the field for simple goals 5-10 times a game for years, but for us to do anything of use we can't be so poor in the trenches. We won 49 hitouts to 16, but fat load of good that does if it doesn’t lead to a clearance.  

All in all, a dismal performance but if before you'd sat down before the match and thought about all the ways we could lose they pretty much all happened. To prevent disappointment at future games this year I’ll start with the question “Did anyone die?” and work up to the positive from there.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
I’m sure there will be questions about how so and so got votes, particularly the defenders, but this is akin to nominating the five best turds you’ve ever stepped in, so here goes.

5 – Christian Salem
4 – Max Gawn
3 – Marty Hore
2 – Angus Brayshaw
1 – Sam Frost

Apology to Clayton Oliver

14 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
10 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Angus Brayshaw, Clayton Oliver
7 - Jake Melksham
4 - Bayley Fritsch, James Harmes, Marty Hore (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Nathan Jones, Jack Viney
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Sam Frost, Corey Wagner

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Only really one choice here, as Preuss’ second goal ensures he has as many Davey nominations as MFC games.  Ploughing through the middle like an uncaged beast and goaling from 60 out, Preuss at 75% must be setting some kind of obscure club record in terms of highlight reel goals per MFC career goal tally.

The Demon Army produced a simple and effective message about going ballistic in a font that has served the club well for many years but was clearly not heeded today.  On the other side the hot mess of words written entirely in upper case and lower case was a complete no-no.  The Melbourne banner could have contained asbestos and told our own supporters they are bunch of tossers and still won.  A comfortable victory to the red and blue. Dees 5-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch
To outsiders, 35,000 may seem like a disappointing crowd, but should come as no surprise when Saints fans generally travel to the MCG about as well as Melbourne supporters to the Docklands, and also given that Melbourne supporters are a fairly discerning lot when it comes to attendance.  

You’ll get the same 20,000 tragic Melbourne fans at any home game at the MCG no matter the weather or ladder position, but many other Demons fans seem to have the good sense to spot a steaming turd when they stumble upon it and opt to do something else that will not leave their mental health in tatters.  One of the 20,000 had clearly given some analytical advice to the Melbourne bench early in the last quarter as Gawn was peering over the bench towards the MCC crowd in search of prey. It appeared for a moment we may have been treated to some Ron Artest Malice at the Palace style entertainment before all parties forgot about it, realised what a complete waste of time the entire afternoon had been and moved on.

A short break before Wednesday night may prevent a mass media pile-on, but just to be on the safe side I’ll be locking all windows, doors and social media avenues into my home before turning up on Wednesday night having convinced myself we’re a chance.

Next Week
Good grief I’m glad I clambered online some weeks ago and purchased a number of reserved seats for the Anzac Eve game members already had free entry for. Right now the question you can ask yourself concerning whether to tip Melbourne in a game is: can the opposition run?  If the answer is ‘yes’, then select the other team.  

Richmond has been a disappointment this season and has lost some of their best players for the time being, but will have any number of Kingsley kontenders lining up for a piece of prime time pleasure.  In a depressing turn of events at Melbourne, there are suddenly people queuing up to be dropped like folks at the Kennedy Space Station ready for intergalactic deployment as an asteroid is poised to hit planet Earth, all the while we have few titillating options to bring back into the team.  So in the spirit of deckchair shuffling, and Justice for Jeffrey, here goes nothing.  I’ll make a round of changes, which usually guarantees a loss, but given the four-day turnaround it can’t be too idiotic an idea.  I’m sure some of the ins will prove wildly popular but...

IN: Garlett (this may be the only place he appears on a Melbourne team sheet this year but I’m damn well going to include him here), Neal-Bullen, Oscar McDonald, Stretch, Lockhart.
OUT: T McDonald (inj – again, my own thoughts on his gammy foot), Jetta (inj), C Wagner, J Wagner, Spargo (omit)
LUCKY: Lewis, Fritsch, Hibberd

UNLUCKY: Keilty and Petty

Was it worth it?
If choosing between watching on TV or at the ground are the only two options, I'd rather sit in the stands and act like an unsociable buffoon that sit on my couch while my four-year old throws toys at me and demands to watch Dora the Explorer, only to have Dwayne Russell scream “AGAINST HIS OLD TEAM” as Dean Kent kicked goals from the goal line like he’d just performed the greatest act in human history. If you opted to do something entirely different with the one of the last non-Arctic days for the next six months then watch a game that would make you question your life choices, then good for you – you chose correctly.  For me, attending was the lesser of two evils.

Final Thoughts
I turned up to the semi final against Hawthorn last year with my 8-year old son.  A random middle-aged Melbourne supporter, obviously bursting with excitement or high on ice, yelled in our direction something along the lines of “LOOK AT THIS LITTLE FELLA. WE’VE WAITED ALL THESE YEARS WATCHING CRAP FOOTBALL AND ALL HE’S GOING TO KNOW ARE PREMIERSHIPS AND GOOD TIMES!”  Well sir, if only.  Seven months later and I had to ask my lad if he was physically ill at three quarter time today as he lay hunched over two seats, but his reply was "No – I’m just sad about the football".  Well, aren’t we all, son.

I think there will be some wins in the back half of the season as we find fitness and form but we’ll have to trudge through some slurry to get there.  And yes, there should still be some good times ahead, just not this year.

Thanks to ADP for his contribution to the rich cultural history of MFC failure. That leaves guest reporters with a lifetime record (including pre-season games) of two wins, one draw and 13 losses. I've got a lengthy whinge about what's happened this season but am betting heavily that we'll be thrashed on Wednesday and it will become even more topical at 1-5. 

Saturday 13 April 2019

The comeback is on

The emotional rollercoaster ride continues. From being resigned to the death of our season at the first bounce, to being forcibly perked up by Braydon Preuss playing like Hulk Hogan, then reaching for poison halfway through the second quarter, this turned into the life-giving, spirit of '06 victory that I desperately hoped for but was too scared to believe in.

In order to concentrate on the morale and confidence benefits of this victory, let's briefly skim over Sydney being steaming turd. They've been a safe 'keep the flag out of Victoria so I don't have to hear about it' contender for 15 years and haven't won less than eight games since 1994 but finally look ready to take a turn in struggletown. Their flimsy rucks were swept away by a Gawnslide, the forwards had no idea how to take advantage of our terrified backline, and their defence extracted the ball from defence in a way that would make you light fires if you hadn't just seen two flags in 15 years.

It started both very poorly, and very well. After some manly jostling between Oliver/Viney and Callum Sinclair - who was probably reminding them how he got lucky when we passed on drafting him - the first few minutes were spent camped around Sydney's 50 with the Swans doing everything but kick a goal. One shot was touched through on the line and another snapped out on the full from close range. This was no good for my blood pressure, already elevated by having to watch on a 35 minute delay and not being able to nervously peruse Twitter to reassure myself other fans were also having a disappointing supporting experience.

Then, almost literally out of nowhere, Charlie Spargo of all people burst off the half back line, had as many bounces as our entire team did against Essendon (one), and hit a perfect pass to Milkshake in the middle of the ground. He set up Petracca (via a wobbly handball) to run to 50 and kick the goal, and I can't have been the only one openly yelling about why we'd ever expected him to play as a contested marking target near goal.

For loudmouthed amateurs like me, any week where the stuff that you've banged on about is not only tried but succeeds is a great one. It wasn't just half-forward Petracca, see also the introduction of Braydon Preuss, a colossal figure in the forward line that allowed everyone in his orbit to do good things. Sure, any kick five metres to either side of him was easy pickings for his opponent, but in the greatest tradition of the Australian rules cliche his mere presence straightened us up. It probably won't work against good sides, but in the interim it was the most exciting forward cameo since Tom McDonald kicked five against West Coast.

If it's a Brent Heaver-esque one hit wonder performance, we'll always have his first kick in a Melbourne jumper. With one of the boundary umpires suffering from a crippling arm injury that only allowed him to throw the ball in half the normal distance, the world's beefiest man ran off his clearly confused opposite number, gathered the ball on the full, kept running into the pocket and snapped across his body for the goal. It was one of the most remarkable things you'll ever see, and well worth several repeat viewings:
In none-more-Melbourne fashion he kicked a second goal then spent half of the second off with a dicky shoulder. Hold for the late change next week when he's OUT: amputated arm (4-6 weeks). Injury issues aside, he returned to generate another goal from a forward 50 stoppage later - about as many as we got from everyone not called Gawn in the whole of 2018. Meanwhile, for the people who whop off over contested possession, let the record show that of his 11 possessions, 10 (TEN) of them were contested. What a beast, christ knows why they got spooked over one bad practice game and refused to play him for three weeks.

The second goal had me all fired up, ignoring the obvious comparison to doing likewise against Port for 20 minutes then capsizing. The competing theory was that the Swans are almost as bad at playing their home ground as we are, and it's no surprise we eventually overcame them. It might not have required overcoming if Gawn's near total dominance in the ruck was backed up by his midfielders. If they'd got their hands on more of his taps we might have put the game away early, but like so many times before we left the door ajar and the opposition kicked it in.

Given that we won, what I'm most pleased about is how we realised halfway through the second quarter that another outrageous opposition score was on the way and did something about it. Compare the pre and post-comeback trials of Oscar McDonald, a guy so low on confidence that even he knows he wouldn't be playing if not for injuries. When Heeney took a mark on him in the second quarter he looked like he wanted to be swallowed by one of the many gaping chasms in the SCG surface. He was barely spotted after that, which is the best you can hope for with a key defender (though truth be told he missed the last quarter with concussion, so that helped...)

Then there was Frost, the second of the well-deserved scapegoats from last week's insanity laden defensive effort. He played the same sort of game on Franklin as he did in scoring a rare two votes last year, not completely putting Lance (never Buddy) out of business, but pushing him far enough away from goal that he was left trying to kick 60 metre bombs like it's 2008. The further out the better, leaving Franklin 2.8 against us in these two starts. He has a curious career record against us, we're the only opposition he's played against more than 10 times but has more behinds than goals. He may never have lost to Melbourne until Thursday night, but his 43.46 in 16 games against us compares favourably to the 70.35 he's tormented Essendon with in the same number of starts.

Like Oscar, Frost probably doesn't make Round 23 either if Lever and May are fit, but it was a welcome return to form. My highlight was later in the game when he reacted to missing a ground ball because of a turning circle like the QE2, only to follow up with a desperate lunge to keep it away from an opponent on the boundary line. To prove that once fans lose interest you can't do anything right, he was subsequently criticised for risking giving away a below the knee contact free - welcome to Club Cale Morton, where you'll never be allowed to do anything good ever again until you're traded for pick 88.

Life would have been a lot easier if we'd taken the hint from kicking the first two goals and went on to win by 150. Instead we conceded the next two in quick succession, the second from a free kick so soft it was almost invertebrate, continuing the proud tradition of rooting us whenever the prime time TV cameras turn up.

There was a second goal to Preuss - born from a perfect tap from Gawn to Jones and finishing in a Mason Cox-esque mark where he was simply too large to spoil - that left us four points up with five minutes to play. That would have been a fair indication of the state of the game to that stage, before bleeding three quick goals, including to somebody called Jordan Dawson who'd played eight games in three years and was threatening to Kingsley us.

To say I was flattened by the extended DemonTime finish to the quarter would be an understatement. It didn't help my deep psychological scarring that watching on delay meant no quarter time break, just fast forwarding straight to the start of the second to try and catch up on the live coverage by the end of half time. Breaks are an annoyance when you have to sit through them, but it's only when you don't that you realise how vital they are for your mental health as a supporter.

Conceding the first chance of the second quarter immediately from the bounce didn't do much for my enjoyment of either life or the 6-6-6 system. I started to wonder if the midweek propaganda about how all our woes are actually the fault of the midfield were correct. Fortunately Franklin missed a sitter, giving us the opportunity to go down the other end for what could generously be described as a steadier for Harmes. His goal prompted everything to turn to shit for a few minutes, leaving the life support plug for our season teetering precariously out of the socket. First Kingsley kontender Dawson bobbed up again, before popular whipping boy Sizzle Jr conceded a mark to Zak Jones - who sort of resembles Nathan, but with more of a sunken faced, ratty, suburban drug dealer look.

That goal, and the general tribulations of Oscar, saddened me to the point where I was almost ready to do my traditional gesture of surrender and sit down instead of hovering above the TV yelling and gesticulating wildly. Then the half-forward flankers (not rhyming slang) of my dreams Petracca and Melksham set up the more respectable looking Jones to drag us ever so slightly away from the precipice. It was a beautifully constructed goal too, with first Tom McSizzle taking a strong overhead mark, then Melk splitting the pack with a near screamer, allowing Truck to gather and intelligently spot Jones on his own instead of blazing away at goal.

That was Jones' easy goal, followed by a ripper from the pocket as he ran onto a loose ball, beat the despairing lunge of his brother and cut the margin to 11. From the verge of death we were now well and truly back in it. Then Melksham got one from almost the same spot - with the additional degree of difficulty from fumbling a few times before picking up the ball and thumping it through. This would have been more of a major event if we hadn't proceeded to cop a reply immediately from the middle.

It was almost the last time the Swans did anything in the centre, with the Gawn n' Everyone show taking over. Simon Goodwin loves 'connection' almost as much as Dean Bailey liked saying 'competitive', and he would have been chuffed at Maximum and the mids finally getting on the same page in the middle. As we've previously discussed, hitouts are one of the great bullshit stats but if we hadn't turned a 73-13 advantage into something it would have been as bad as the Kardinia Park inside 50s debacle.

Viney was the next to kick a goal on the run from the left side pocket, high on bloodlust from having just necked some bastard in a crunching tackle, and we were back within a goal. Via two Sydney misses deep in DemonTime we got to the break in a much better shape than we had any right to be 20 minutes earlier. I'd certainly stopped trying to ring the Ecuadorian embassy in London to see if they had any vacancies.

Not long after the break McSizzle got a free and levelled the scores. It was his only goal of the night but still his best performance of the year. I'd rather he start kicking goals left, right and centre again but playing a part in them is just as important. It's what makes Melksham so underrated, twice this year he's had four goal assists in a game - a feat only previously achieved by Melbourne players eight times since 2003. There's a big gap between those 10 (Melksham x2, Petracca x2, Jones, Jetta, Wonaeamirri, Brayshaw, Petracca, Weideman and Hogan once each) and the 62 players who have had three. One day somebody will have five, and I'll put on the biggest obscure statistical celebration since the first time in his career Mark Jamar had five kicks.

Again the lead didn't last long, but in contrast to the Essendon game it didn't feel like we were entirely powerless to stop the opposition scoring when they got the ball. What really scared me is that we were playing like we'd turned a corner, but our window for error was now so small that even the narrowest loss, caused either by a defensive howler or kooky umpiring, would be fatal.

Enter Petracca again, walking through a defender, then kicking a snap from 40 while being swung around by the jumper. Here's a way to make the Fox Sports Lab useful, get somebody in a white coat to work out whether the force of the swing created a greater connection (thanks Simon) with the ball and helped him cover the distance. It was the high point of a performance where he was used to his strengths and looked so much better. A genuine night to put fear into opposition players and coaches again. Harmes was so impressed by the goal that he eye gouged him while doing some seppo bullshit during the celebrations. Surprisingly Christian's eyeball didn't pop out and fall into one of the several dozen SCG divots.

Petracca's goal drew scores level again, before new pressure forward sensation Hunt put us ahead. This ushered in a great few minutes where he kicked a second, then necked an almost certain Swans goal on the fast break (which caused terrible flashbacks to Essendon players waltzing past red and blue traffic cones until owl energy carried Hunt far enough to affect the kick).  By three quarter time - via another Franklin miss from distance - we'd set up our first Stranglewank scenario of the year to take a 14 point lead. I don't know where it came from and didn't feel we deserved to be that far ahead, but wasn't going to turn it down.

Because I've not updated the list since Round 2 last year, here are the updated WANK FILES - games where the margin got to 24 before being reduced to six points or less.

  • Round 13, 2014 vs Essendon (-33 at 3m Q3, +1 FT)
  • Round 1, 2017 vs St Kilda (-24 at 4m Q2, +30 FT)
  • Round 8, 2017 vs Adelaide (-28 at 17m Q2, +41 FT)
  • Round 10, 2017 vs Gold Coast (-24 at 20 Q2, +35 FT)
  • Round 11, 2017 vs Collingwood (-28 at 9m Q2, +4 FT)
  • Round 3, 2018 vs North Melbourne (-24 at 13m Q1, +37 FT)
  • Round 4, 2019 vs Sydney (Huzzah)

  • Round 11, 2014 vs Port Adelaide (-26 at 13m Q1, +10 at 17m Q3, -20 FT)
  • Round 15, 2014 vs Footscray (-35 at 11m Q2, +6 at 6m Q4, -6 FT)
  • Round 19, 2015 vs North Melbourne (-34 at 29m Q1, -2 at 26m Q3, -35 FT)
  • Round 3, 2016 vs North Melbourne (-42 at 20m Q1, -5 FT)
  • Round 10, 2016 vs Collingwood (-24 at 24m Q1, +5 10m Q2, -25 9m Q3, level 19m Q3, -25 FT)
  • Round 15, 2016 vs Essendon (-24 at 30m Q3, -2 at 17m Q4, -9 FT)
  • Round 7, 2017 vs Hawthorn (-27 at 29m Q1, -3 FT)
  • Round 9, 2017 vs North Melbourne (-26 at 31m Q1, -2 at 13m Q4, -14 FT)
  • Round 1, 2018 vs Geelong (-27 at 35m Q2, -3 FT)
  • Round 12, 2018 vs Collingwood (-26 at 19m Q1, -5 at 13m Q2, -42 FT)
  • Round 7, 2014 vs Adelaide (+ 36 18m Q2, +3 FT)
  • Round 21, 2017 vs St Kilda (+39 at 10m Q2, +4 1m Q4, +24 FT)
  • Round 2, 2018 vs Brisbane (+25 at 27m Q1, +6 8m Q4, +26 FT)
  • Round 22, 2018 vs West Coast (+26 at 18m Q1, +6 17m Q2, +27 at 5m Q3, +3 at 15m Q4, +17 FT)
  • Round 2, 2015 vs GWS (+30 at 4m Q2, -45 FT)
  • Round 9, 2016 vs Port Adelaide (+24 at 6m Q2, -61 FT)
  • Round 3, 2017 vs Fremantle (+27 at 28m Q2, -2 FT)
  • Round 18, 2018 (+29 at 2m Q4, -2 FT)
Disposal efficiency was approaching record lows, but it didn't matter because every panicked kick towards Sydney's goal that wasn't marked was either fumbled or returned via peg legged disposal. They got the first goal of the final term to give us a momentary scare, before the Weid got a free and converted. It wasn't the best game of his post-Round 22 2018 glory era, but whenever he gets the ball things happen. When he learns how to find it 20 times a game watch out. Is also a red hot set shot kick, which helps.

Like Hogan and McDonald so many times before him, Weideman's goal was wasted by an almost immediate reply out of the middle that cut the margin to less than a goal again. I was back on the highest DEFCON1 alert for a meltdown that would see us be teased with a season saving victory only for the arse to fall out when it mattered.

Here's to the pretty ordinary free Jones got for Selwooding into a tackle, and for the set shot that kept the ship upright. Then to my new idol Preuss for disposing of his opponent at a ball-up in the forward 50, allowing Brayshaw to add the exclamation mark.

We're beyond the point where the first win of the season only exists to ensure we won't go 0-22, but it's still a major psychological barrier to cross. Whether it translates to the good teams we'll need to beat to storm back into the eight I don't know, but am hoping that we've just seen the blueprint for 18 (plus?) games of enjoyment. If we still miss the eight then bad luck us for turning in a bunch of stinkers at the start of the season, but I've got renewed hope that we're going to come out of the season with some happy memories. Onwards and upwards.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Marty Hore

Unlike last week, apologies to lots - in alphabetical order Brayshaw, Fritsch, Frost, Harmes, Hunt, Melksham, Preuss, Salem and Viney.

Stiff shit NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER voters, we have somebody on the board in every category. It's unlikely that if Gawn keeps playing Preuss is going to catch him, but the other big man is officially in the race for the Stynes with his 13 hitouts.

10 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
9 - Clayton Oliver
7 - Angus Brayshaw, Jake Melksham
5 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Bayley Fritsch, James Harmes, Nathan Jones, Jack Viney
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Marty Hore (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Corey Wagner

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There were several contenders in this game that stood above almost everything else we'd kicked this season, but it's impossible to go past Preuss from the pocket. Sure he took advantage of a non-ruckman at a ridiculously shallow throw and kicked an arsey snap but say hello to your clubhouse leader for goal of the year. Some may argue for Petracca's goal in the third, and they may very well be right but I've got a fetish for cult heroes and am not ashamed to admit it.

For a weekly prize he wins a gigantic tube of whatever oil Franklin had liberally applied to himself before the game.

You'll have to work hard to beat one of our milestone banners. The best look I can get at Sydney's response was for about 0.5 seconds in this tweet, and it seemed as primitive as can be. Celebrating John Longmire's 200th game as coach brings back fond memories of his first, when he failed to grasp the concept of the sub rule and allowed to scrape a draw. Before - it must be said - going on to do what every coach we've had since Norm Smith hasn't.

Besides, our cheersquad gets extra points for having to be prepared for McSizzle to pull out with injury so they would have won anyway. Dees 4-0 for the season.

This segment probably needs a different graphic for Channel 7 games. So...

Regular readers will know I've been in a confirmed mid-life crisis for about two seasons, but at the risk of setting off that bloke who was going to molest your pets for supporting The Spencil my views on Brian Taylor are softening. GEE GOD BOY WOW was the breakthrough in our strained relationship, and now I'm even starting to enjoy the freelance anarchy of Roaming Brian. It won't last, on Friday night he screamed that there was only one goal left in a tight game as if it was a demonstrable scientific fact. If he'd said that when we were less than a goal down with five minutes left I'd be lobbying for a crucifixion.

Next Week
After the short break comes the long break before the really short break. It's St Kilda at the MCG on Saturday at the NQR time of 4.35pm. Sadly I'll be working during a premiership points game for the first time since the Round 21, 2006 draw against Geelong. Like that day, my best chance of knowing what's going on is sneaky headphone listening to the radio coverage. In the same way the phone goes off at Kingsley Manor whenever an ordinary player turns it on against us, I've activated guest reporter protocols and one of your 25 or so other readers will be in charge.

Now that the monkey is off the back, you'd like to think we're going to get back to the same 2-3 record we had after five games last year. I'm still having trust issues so my hopes are being kept under the stairs until next Saturday night. Pending their game against the half-wonky Hawks on Sunday, I haven't rated the Saints' form this year. They've won games and gone close in Perth, but it's not sustainable and they're going to tumble at some point. Hopefully starting next week.

The problem is after that FIASCO where they beat us to round off three weeks of misery last year how do we know that's not going to happen again? We don't, and the best we can do is face the MCG and pray for the best. Remember that for the first 20 minutes of that game we were dominant in every way and looked like it was going to turn into a poleaxing, so let's have more of that and the mystery three goals in three minutes at the end rather than the dross in the middle.

As for changes, it's a good thing there's an extra break because we had a few come out of last night battered. Especially Preuss, whose shoulder looked semi-rooted after his solid gold first quarter, and Hunt after being flattened with a ripper of a tackle. Assuming they both survive, and there's not another raft of mystery midweek injuries all the action is in the backline.

The complication is that Jetta and Lewis both need to come back (though after three quarters of our defence not playing like they're on the comedy circuit I'm not gagging for Lewis as badly as I was last Friday) and Hore was very good. Josh Wagner can rotate out with some apologies, but the question is how we fit the other two in while also protecting Oscar from being shelled by some complete nobodies. Maybe we don't even need two genuine talls against the Saints and can get away with Hore and Jetta? Otherwise Marty might have to go the Corey Maynard route and get dropped after scoring his first votes.

What I'm going for is the one tall BUT with the 4D option of swinging the surviving McDonald back to defence if some bloke you've never heard of looks like Beau Wilkes-ing us. Otherwise, all the new players this week survive. Stretch didn't excel but played his role with no major cock-ups, and Spargo still can't play four quarters but always has some sort of impact. Bad luck for Lockhart, who falls behind Charleston in the pecking order again despite looking pretty good in his first two games. Spargo also now holds a 15-5 career win/loss record, which makes him our most successful player since about Frank "Bluey" Adams.

IN: Jetta, Lewis
OUT: O. McDonald, J. Wagner (omit)
LUCKY: Hibberd? Hasn't been much chop but has runs on the board.
UNLUCKY: Lockhart

Final Thoughts
What happened in previous years means chuff all now, but going back to 2006 the first win set off a run of five straight victories that entirely removed the bad taste of the opening rounds. Could happen again, but let's wait for a bit more evidence. After all, we were also 1-3 in 2009 and won the spoon, and in 2013 when we were morally the worst team in the competition. Or 2014, which ended in four low scoring, grindhouse victories. The difference is a vastly superior list to the last three examples, and one that would shit on '06 if everyone wasn't injured.

Should we win at least two of the next three, preferably starting next week, I think the early evenness of the competition will work in our favour. I'm not launching a new Bradbury Plan until at least Round 8, but I will admit having a little tinker with the AFL's ladder predictor (good on them for putting it up from Round 1 this year but I'd prefer an Excel version where you can input exact scores if anyone's got one handy) and having us three games out of the eight after Queen's Birthday, getting to touching distance of eighth, then finishing a game and distant percentage 9th.

That's double where I'd have had us last week, so I'm setting it as my benchmark. Anything better than ninth and I'll be happy, anything below will be graded on a sliding scale from 'a bit miserable' to 'head in oven'. All we've done is beaten one fading team, but it has given us life. As we often say around here, every day above ground is a good day.

What a difference six days makes:

Saturday 6 April 2019

Four quarters and a funeral

Well that was a bit different to my last Friday night at the MCG. On September 14, 2018 I practically levitated out the door, with flights hastily booked to Perth and the outside chance of returning for a Grand Final two weeks later. Last night it was a death march for a season that has offered diminishing expectations - from potential premiership tilt, to comfortable top eight finish, and now requiring a minor miracle across the next 19 games just to get a start in the finals.

I walked into the MCG in such a state of disarray it's a surprise they didn't kidnap me to play in the backline. It was nobody's fault but mind, having had three hours sleep during the day and removing all faith in humanity in advance by spending the trip in reading about grisly unsolved murders. Hardly the recipe for an evening of light entertainment, even before seeing our defenders playing like they'd been on a three day ice bender.

It's all gone a bit 2007, where we show up touted as a genuine premiership chance and shit the bed. The difference is that then we had too many good players coming to the end of their career, whereas now we've got enough in the tank to bounce back next year. But that's next year, we have to get through another five months of 2019 yet. I don't care that we took an 0-3 record to the SCG in 2006 and still miss the finals, it's not happening this time. For the first time since a 4-18 year in 2014, the season is dead, buried and cremated before the end of daylight savings.

I'm confident about the future - especially after the inevitable decimation of the assistant coaching ranks at the end of the year - but am taking the idea of being out of contention after Round 3 very poorly. You may note that this is almost the worst post ever, and the few thousand words of disappointment that follow are purely for obligation and the historical record. Once I get angry it should improve, so wait a few weeks until I'm blowing up in public like early 2007.

The lack of sleep and the loopy way we defended during the first quarter left me watching in a state of total psychological distress, so there's no doubt I'm going to miss something important in the recap. Please get in contact via the usual channels if there's a particular defensive fuck up or unreal umpiring decision you'd like to highlight.

Turning on the coach at this stage is not an option, but I did raise an eyebrow when he said during the week that we should be judged on our performances, not our pre-season and "we're ready to go". It was a bold strategy to pretend that the two weeks of stinky matches for premiership points didn't happen, and as it turns out a foolish one.

If you treated like this Round 1 your judgement would be that we're just as chaotic in defence as last year, but without the animal midfield play or the free scoring attack to cover it up. Then about three days after we were instructed to ignore the pre-season, the coach goes on the radio post-defeat and has a pop at Steven May for showing up porky at pre-season training. Which one is it?

I'd like to say that defeat, and conceding 130 points, was a surprise but didn't we discuss last week how Essendon's fancy running play would likely stitch us up? They'd arguably been worse than us over the two weeks that Simon Goodwin reckons didn't exist, and will be crucified by good teams during the season, but the run was always going to scare us. Especially if we allowed them to return uncouth inside 50s at maximum speed. It's no coincidence that the only time we played like a finals side was when we kept the ball inside 50 for more than five seconds at a time.

The rush to get the ball forward and damn the consequences explains conceding a goal from the first of many panicky, dump kicks into the forward line. Not as many as last week, but that would almost be impossible to replicate. Our first entry never looked like resulting in a score for us, didn't create repeat stoppages in front of Essendon's goal, and before you knew was down the other end landing in the middle of several defenders who didn't look like they had any idea where to stand.

It wasn't the last time the backmen acted like they'd been test subjects for a new psychedelic drug.  Remember when Paul Roos basically turned scoring off for two seasons because we had to learn how to defend? How did that work out for us? Next time I'd be happy to lose 80-150 every week instead of 40-110, safe in the knowledge that in the grand scheme of things it means bugger all.

The defenders weren't the only ones struggling with the concept of defence, but you could see why we've spent two years trying to buy every key defender on the market. The ones we did have - in in fairness to them two wouldn't have been playing if Lever and May were fit - didn't appear to have any idea where to go or who to run to.

It was like when we'd use Rivers, Garland and Frawley in the forward line and they'd do a few nice things, but clearly weren't 100% sure of what to do. The problem being that confused defenders are far more dangerous than confused forwards. What I can't understand is how Frost, Oscar McSizzle and Hibberd can go from cogs in a two time finals winning team to a comedy festival act overnight. Lewis' organisational abilities have always been considered more important than his play, but he can't be that much of an influence that they're all at sea without him. And if he is, who replaces him at the end of this year when he retires? At this rate they'll ask him to stay on.

It was a huge night for everyone who has followed the plight of Melbourne since the last time we stuffed up a post-finals campaign. Essendon's opening quarters in the first two rounds had generated zero goals, now they kicked six, and their second goal came from a player who was previously 0.7 for the season. All this and Shaun McKernan (one goal in his previous three games, four here) going full Kingsley was enough to make me wish for global thermonuclear war by quarter time. That he was injured from the second quarter but stayed out there because they'd already lost a player in the first quarter is even more insulting. Our shocking record when given a one player advantage continues to grow.

We were fortunate to be just 19 points down at the first break. After their third goal, Dyson Heppell (who must be no good, because he was left on his own most of the night) burst out of the centre and only just missed kicking the sort of classic 6-6-6 goal that we were meant to be the masters of. That allowed us to get down the other end for Sizzle to deliver one of his few contributions of the night with an intelligent tap to Lockhart for a crucial goal.

Tom went off with an ankle injury during the game, but if he was 100% fit to start with I'll go hee. Either way, has had a garbage start to the season. I suppose he didn't arrive until Round 6 last season and still kicked 50 goals, so maybe he's just working his way into things. Would probably help your craft as a forward if somebody passed the ball to you at lower than full arm extension height - also not really helpful when you get injured in the second quarter and they start you on a wing in the third.

Further drama came courtesy of the umpiring, pinching Jetta for what stood as the worst free of the night until the final term - when first Gawn 'kicked in danger' with nobody near him, then Sam Frost took on a tackler in front of goal and had an air-swing but escaped unpunished. Not a great night for the umpiring fraternity, but they weren't the primary reason for our defeat. The Jetta one didn't help though, with Jake Stringer doing what maligned players usually do against us and sinking the kick from the boundary.

It was almost time to take up sniffing glue, until our own soft free let Anal Bullet do what he should have in the first quarter against Port and convert a set shot. That was about his only contribution, and I assume the 40 metres covered by this shot didn't factor in to his 34 metres gained for the evening. Of course like all stats, metres gained is useless without context. For instance, Angus Brayshaw had 10 inside 50s and gained more ground than Yiannis Kouros, but they may have been the worst collective set of deliveries into the forward line ever. Harmes had nine and a disposal efficiency of 57% and Viney six with 61%. No bloody wonder we're not delivering lace out passes to leading forwards.

I'd almost (but not quite) like to go back and rewatch the first quarter just to see if the state of our backline was as bad as I remember. I certainly remember McDonald-Tipungwuti dashing past about six defenders to kick one out of his arse from the pocket right at the end. That was a blow, keeping the margin to 13 points would have been a spectacular result considering the state we'd been in for most of the term.

It was another night where our all-contested possession, all the time, gameplan didn't hold up due to the minor issue of losing the contested possessions. That wouldn't matter if the whole plan didn't depend on it. The only outside runner was Kolodjashnij who looks well off top gear, and other than Gawn playing by far his best game of the season there was very little to recommend us. The usual suspects racked up the stats, but unless Supercoach points start being factored into the ladder that's no help. Even worse was how so many of these possessions seemed to be disposed of ASAP, especially by Brayshaw who is one of the great panic kickers. I like him, appreciate him, and will give him votes further down the page but I'd rather we weren't expecting him to get rid of it by foot so often. I just want some silk. Where's Jimmy Toumpas when you need him?

Other than Corey Wagner - fast developing into my favourite of the Wagnii - kicking a pearler to open the quarter, it was much of the same after the break. The difference was Essendon narrowly missing chances and flubbing sitters.

The number of free opposition players when we lose the ball is criminal, so you can't fully blame any defence that has the ball flung at them so often and so quickly. However, you can hold it against them when three players run to one opponent and leave two others on their own in front of goal. All that saved us from total calamity was Zac Clarke refusing to lob the ball over the top to a player on his own and missing, because I might have walked out in disgust.

With the Veil of Negativity about to drop, the next goal inspired several minutes of irresistible, last ditch stranglewank football. The veil was temporarily put back behind the emergency glass as we had Essendon on the run for the only time all night. By the end of the night they may as well have handed out replicas to people streaming from of the ground midway through the last quarter.

After his nightmare evening at full forward in Geelong, Petracca had a much better game this time. Still not great, but better to the point where I no longer want to drop him. Don't know why we persist on playing him as a deep forward when he'd be better suited around half-forward, but it was progress. He flung open the door to the magic minutes by crumbing a Weideman contest to goal out of a pack. Like Truck, I didn't think the Weid was spectacular but he did enough during the night to keep me interested. Generally speaking anyway, my actual commitment to the night, other than the bit where we were kicking goals galore, was about 0.1%

I was definitely awake when Lockhart got his second, and Hunt took advantage of finally being able to play forward by kicking a nice goal. For now this is definitely his best role. Via a false start when Petracca did another shithouse set shot, Harmes put us in front, Weid extended it beyond a goal, then Gawn took a huge mark at the top of the square for the exclamation point. It was a delightful 15 minutes, and even though I could have done without conceding one on the counter right at the end I was having something approaching fun at last.

The problem was, unless we kept scoring it wasn't sustainable. The way we were being sliced up on turnovers and the total chaos of our backline, we were never going to hold them out long enough to win. Even then I could have seen us conceding 130, but was far less confident of scoring that much ourselves. That's 2018 stuff, this is the new era of toil and struggle. I still can't believe we got 112, albeit with an assist to Essendon shutting up shop after the game was won.

In the week where the activities of 2009 became a hot topic again, this was more of a throwback to the glory days of falling in a heap at the start of third quarters under Neeld. I wasn't at all surprised when we conceded in the first minute after the resumption of play. From there it was all downhill for a second time.

The highlight of our latest collapse was undoubtedly ANB setting up a goalscoring chance by dropping a mark cold in the middle of the ground. He wasn't the only one dropping marks, but was lucky the Bombers missed everything with the subsequent kick because otherwise he'd be on all the TV shows. In a salute to whipping boys, the next goal came from Oscar being run around so violently that it's a surprise he didn't wreck his knee changing direction. Another soon followed via Frost being outmarked, and all we lacked was Cale Morton jumping the fence to get involved.

After three quarters of Essendon players sprinting away from ours, Jayden Hunt was the man to save us just as everything looked forlorn. His goal begat one by the Weid, and outrageously we were within four kicks at three quarter time. It wasn't going to require a Round 6, 1992 comeback but was reminiscent of the time we were forced to launch a last quarter revival against their B team in 2016 and lost because we'd left ourselves too much work to do.

With the season on the line, we predictably had a big belt at it to start the final term. From 21 points down, first Harmes kicked a point, then Kolodjashnij nipped forward for a goal that temporarily raised eyebrows. The challenge lasted about two minutes before the piss was further taken out of Frost by nicking him for a shit free and goal.

The rest of it was played in a pressure free environment with enough cheap goals to have the CEO of Channel 7 cracking a full horn. It wasn't good football, but all's well that ends in lots of ads being played. Don't get too sarcastic about the host broadcaster, the way we're going their TV rights money might be the only thing keeping us from another round of deep financial shit.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
Throw a blanket over about 10 players. Nothing to do with the votes, I just don't want to see them.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to nobody.

An early thriller at the top of the leaderboard, as multiple players jostle for footy's equivalent of being the best pilot in a plummeting plane.

7 - Angus Brayshaw, Jake Melksham, Clayton Oliver
5 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Bayley Fritsch, James Harmes, Jack Viney
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Corey Wagner

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Corey Wagner is doing well from me, getting a vote in the first week and now a nomination for the Davey. The finish was good, but my highlight was the gather of a ball going behind him, then turning straight into the shot.
I didn't think he should have been dropped after Round 1, but for the weekly prize Corey wins a trip back to Casey so he can play for a team with some chance of winning.

At first I was right into the mean tweets banner, but started to resent it as the concept spiralled into the biggest comedy session at our expense since that dickhead and his cheese platter. The Reach Foundation do wonderful work, and the concept of stamping out online bullying is sound, but by the time it had become all about players pretending light snarky mentions of their name were hurtful I wavered.

It certainly lost something when they couldn't show the real top shelf XXX stuff like this 2015 classic:

The focus on the effect on players was a misstep. Put the unkind comments on the banner by all means, but wouldn't it have been more powerful to have the players reading actual comments that caused legitimate harm to non-celebrities? People who go well over the top and post totally over the top things should be named and shamed, but there is a world of difference between what a footy player gets, and the 15-year-old kid being cyber bullied until they want to kill themselves that the campaign is actually focusing on.

Footy players, here's a handy guide on how to reduce the amount of negative social media feedback you see:

1) Consider if you need to be on it in the first place, under your real name, with a username that relates to your role as a footy player, and with a bio that identifies you as a player. To quote The Thick Of It, social media is "like opening a door to a room where everyone tells you how shit you are". Accept the fact that people are arseholes and don't open the door.

2) Ok, so you want to be openly on social media as a footy player. Then don't read the comments, and don't look at your mentions. Ever. You're not missing anything.

3) ... and for the love of all that is holy never keyword search your own name, because if you're playing badly you'll find your own fans having a crack, and if you're playing well there'll be an opposition fan reaching deep into the venom file to find something to slander you about. I will defend the rights of players to get offended by comments directed at them, but zero sympathy (except in extreme cases like racism, attacks on family members or the lowest of low-blow personal sledging) for anyone who goes out of their way to find what people are saying about them and doesn't like the results.

Only people who say phrases like "virtue signalling" with a straight face think it actually contributed playing badly, but I was just in a generally bad mood with everything coming out of the club this week so even positive social causes weren't immune. Then we turned in a performance worthy of epic online derision and the whole thing became what the kids would refer to as a meme.

Fortunately, the text for next year's version is already available:
I was ready to declare this a no contest just out of anger and frustration. Then Essendon's banner was complete rubbish anyway, so much like the game that followed the winners get the points by default. 3-0 Dees for the season.
Crowd Watch
A surprisingly low turnout in Level 4 of the Ponsford meant not having to sit in Row MM to get away from people. Which worked a treat until the third quarter when the Justin Bieber Fan Club plonked themselves behind me and proceeded to scream stupid shit for the next quarter and a half, before doing what I would have if I was sensible and leaving midway through the last.

Otherwise there was a lot of unsavoury Essendon fans wearing jumpers (which is fine), with custom names above the numbers (which is not). Including one character was getting about with SUPERSTAR and should be the subject of an intervention from friends and family.

Next Week
Thrice I've tried to convince myself we were going to win only to see a steamy turd delivered. So I'm going the other way and assuming a defeat of somewhere between 49 and 111 points in the spirit of our last three visits to the SCG. If we rediscover the spirit of '06 and stay alive with a win so much the better, but I won't be banking on it.

I bet we don't even do significant changes, but even allowing for our limited remaining depth I'd like to make some significant alterations. First the obvious one...

It must be a P thing, because Preuss is following in the Pedersen and Petterd tradition where I'm just going to call for them to be picked every week until they are, do nothing and get dropped. Selecting him would ignore the available evidence that our forward line actually looked better last night when it was down to the smalls rotating around Weideman, but I don't care because this is now a vendetta about more than footy. Obviously if Tom McDonald is unable to play that cracks open a spot for him.

As for the other two, Frost survives in favour of Oscar only because he's a better matchup for Franklin, and Kolodjashnij needs to go and get a kick at Casey. I've got faith in him being a useful player soon, but it was NQR picking him last week, and now time to rotate somebody else in for their chance. That person is Billy Stretch, whose career is approaching a crucial point and should be given an opportunity to prove himself. If we're allowed to do that now that draft picks are back on the agenda.

IN: Petty, Preuss, Stretch
OUT: Neal-Bullen, Kolodjashnij, O.McDonald (omit)
LUCKY: Frost, J. Wagner
UNLUCKY: Hore, Keilty

Casey play tomorrow, and the only others I can see being in contention are Garlett, Maynard and Sparrow. Garlett especially a massive chance if he has a good game.

Was it worth it?
My word no. I've left plenty of games since Round 1, 2007 in deep misery but never before have I come home so upset with myself for leaving the house. Part of that can be blamed by going home on a train that was sweatier than Jakarta and full to the brim of happy Essendon supporters. I can think of a lot of better ways the full seven hour round trip could have been spent, none involving going to the G to watch rubbish.

I'll be in the same work/lack of sleep situation for the Anzac game, and as we're not the home team it can go piss up a rope. I'm staying home, eating chips and hurling abuse at commentators. Right after that, Demonblog Towers shifts to its 11th location since 2005 and I'll have a slightly more direct trip to the MCG so my willingness to travel to near certain losses should return to '07 - '16 levels. And if it doesn't I might just wrap this whole thing up at the end of the year.

Son of Tankquiry
Remembering a time where Melbourne fans celebrated losing, we trawled through 83 pages of the AFL investigation interview transcripts printed by the Herald so you don't have to. Nothing you didn't already know, except the spectacular degree of contempt Dean Bailey held for Chris Connolly.

Wonder what we get for winning less than five games this year?

Final Thoughts
So Clayton, how would you describe our campaign so far?