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

Leaderboard
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. 

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