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?

1 comment:

  1. Like Sunderland supporters slamming the rails of the escalator on their way to the home of the filthy mags singing "six in a row" I thought the magic had returned in the second quarter.

    I have followed Melbourne since migrating from England in late 1970.

    The point being was that I lived in Melbourne, so why not support Melbourne.

    Having won their first 5 games in 1971 and being top of the ladder until round 6 it could well be imagined that I had adhered to a very healthy sporting club.

    I was 10 years old and my team was top of the ladder. Move forward to late 1987 and as a 26 year old my team scrapes into the finals.

    Only a nervous last quarter at Waverley prevented a Grand Final appearance and what I regard a very likely premiership chance.

    The point being is that Melbourne in the 49 seasons I have followed them have rarely, if ever, given me total confidence that they will win on any given occasion.

    In short, and in spite of this, no other team has been, is, and ever will be like them.

    My heart beats true in spite of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation caused by my poor diet.


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