Sunday, 23 June 2019

Shelter from the storm

Supporting Melbourne is like going for Channel 10, there will be the odd moment of excitement but deep down you know we'll never be number one. In a season that has almost literally been Pointless, this was one of those times where you just have to accept a small win no matter the circumstances and move on.

It's difficult to know how to react when the entire second half of the season only exists to run down the clock to Round 1, 2020. The Collingwood loss was so bland and inoffensive that I just shrugged and got on with my life and I'll probably throw a rubbish bin over a fence if we lose to Carlton, but in this case I was just happy to wobble out of a poor spectacle against a semi-crippled team with the points.

Maybe we wouldn't have won if they'd had 22 fit players at the final siren, but given the number of times we've lost to sides with reduced benches I'm not offering to return the points. What's more important to me was the double-tough defensive performance that stopped them from getting so far ahead that we couldn't run them down. For most of the first half there was a repeat of Queen's Birthday brewing, where we stayed in touch for most of the day but put up a score that was impossible to defend. It was also reminiscent of the years Ross Lyon would get his jollies from keeping us to the lowest possible score.

The dual match-ending injuries were obviously a factor, but that doesn't equal an automatic victory. Compare to Round 21 last year, when we had the same numerical advantage against Sydney but left too big a margin to overcome in the last quarter. On both days we made up 19 points in the last quarter against a side down to two on the bench, the difference was this time we didn't start from 28 points in the hole. It's a dangerous game trying to keep scores so low that a misfiring forward line can still get us over the line but in this case it came off, and there's little to be upset about unless you're the sort of fantasist who thinks one draft pick is going to save us.

For a game that at times was played to a pre-World War I standard, it still had more subplots than Pulp Fiction. One that helped us win but still left me sad was the latest chapter in the Jesse Hogan saga. Just over three years ago he kicked seven against St Kilda in an otherwise shithouse loss and was coming of age at just the right time to take advantage of the club finally moving forward. Since then he's had a shithouse run, and now his foot has exploded again. Genuine best wishes from all the staff at Demonblog. We hope he bounces back to kick 98 goals a year against the other teams and two against us.

Believe it or not, I hope most of our ex-players do well. There's a bogan theory that you instantly turn on anyone who departs the club (whether they wanted to go or not), but I say take each case on its merits. The current rankings are:

1) Lynden Dunn
2) Jack Trengove
3) The Stefan Martin Experience (except next week, where we hope he will cower in fear at the sight of Gawn and May)
4) Jack Watts
5) Jesse Hogan
6) Dean Kent
7) Dom Tyson
8) James Frawley
9) Jeremy Howe
Do not wish well) $cully

Not that I've got any major animosity to Howe, he did a reasonable stretch in the asylum before dicking us, but if both were fit and the Pies had to win a flag I'd be far more excited to Dunn be successful. Meanwhile, under the McIntyre Final Five system what about the blockbuster elimination final between Watts and Hogan?

It helps when the other key part of the world's most cursed trade doesn't make it to quarter time, but I really enjoyed Steven May's game. Like any key defender he unloaded a couple of wacky disposals, but radiated an air of calm across the backline that I haven't felt all year. Sure, without Hogan the Freo tall forwards provided a threat level of DEFCON Infinity, but we've been beaten by worse. For all the mock horror about him getting on the piss while injured things just felt safer with him down there.

While May was like a ship's captain gently guiding the vessel through troubled waters, Frost played one his mad, 100km/h over the limit on a wet road games where every move is one second from disaster. His last quarter especially was a masterclass of high wire insanity. Sometimes he's like Karl Wallenda in Puerto Rico (trigger warning: plunging), but this was a thrilling performance for all the right reasons. His intercept marking at the end was A+, and the only concern I've got is that when Lever comes back they'll probably have a mid-air collision and never play again.

Everything looks better when you win, but given that we were behind for about 80% of the game our shortcomings have to be acknowledged. We got the first goal, but given that we'd done that seven times this season and only won three games it didn't seem worth getting over-excited. Tell that to Tim Smith, who went absolutely bonkers. I knew he'd been sick but it was like he'd pulled back from the brink of the deadly Ebola virus. I've got no problem with that, more power to him for enjoying himself.

Maybe he was just astonished that we crafted a goal via a patient series of short kicks rather than just lobbing it to 20 metres out and hoping one man would beat three. It was not the start of something big. By the end of the day the count was 'well thought out and delicate set-ups' not many, 'panic bombs that bypassed the half-forward line' heaps.

From there until deep into the second quarter we weren't particularly good, but hung around like an unflushable nugget waiting for the Dockers to lose interest. It felt like we had less players on the ground at times because everywhere you looked there was a free Docker. We needed to call a headcount just to make sure we had 18 out there. The difference was that after Hogan went they didn't have the forward line to flatten us before we could launch the old token comeback. For all the star quality provided by Fyfe most of his teammates looked like the dictionary definition of mid-table mediocrity.

Petracca - who I thought had a neat game as the only thing even approaching a half-forward in our team - shockingly converted set shot, but other than that we only just hanging on. Like the contents of Hogan's foot, as he went back on the ground while injured and spent the next minutes hobbling around like he'd pierced his foot on a spike before they mercifully let him retreat to the bench and apply tracksuit.

We were not bad, we just weren't very good either. Especially at converting chances, as countless opportunities were wasted by either nutso kicks into the forward line, everyone trying to set somebody else up to take the decisive kick, or more commonly three Fremantle defenders sprinting to the forward closest to goal the moment the ball left the boot, safe in the knowledge that we were going to kick it to the same place every time.

You don't wish ill on anybody employed by the club, but I'm glad it wasn't just me thinking the forward coach was in all sorts of trouble at the end of the year. Turns out he was in all sorts mid-year too, caught in a bye week reshuffle that saw him transferred to the footy equivalent of 'special projects'. Which as anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world knows, means they either want you to quit or are running down the clock until your contract ends. This meant the return of Jade Rawlings from Casey. And based on the fact that we did the same stupid shit yesterday as every other week this season let's not expect instant miracles.

How differently do you think that reshuffle would have been perceived if Carlton and Gold Coast kicked a couple of more goals last week and left us on the bottom of the ladder? From the lofty heights of 16th it looked like a sensible move for our long term future, from 18th the media would have seen blood in the water and wheeled out classic wanker terms like "scattergun". Instead we won at the next start and everything looks rosy for a bit.

It didn't feel that way in the second quarter, where we put on a 38% kicking efficiency and went forward about 20 times without going near a goal. Sure it was wet, but that didn't excuse some of the abysmal disposal on offer. The only positive was that we spent so much time with the ball going back and forth from our forward line that it reduced the time Freo had to kick goals. They were restricted to two, one from a 50 that was definitely there (come on, you'd smash the joint if we didn't get paid the same), and one from the vile application of a stupid rule.

So, you know how players have been grasping at footballs on the ground for about 170 years? Well Tim Smith tried that, made at worse the most incidental contact of all time with an opponent's leg and was pinched for below the knee contact. What a scandal. It's sad that nobody will remember it because of everything else that went on, because if you want an indication of everything that's wrong with the competition that was it.

Smith got his second goal midway the quarter, and was tremendously efficient in having seven kicks for 3.3 and one out on the full, but as we approached the last couple of minutes on three for the half and looking highly unlikely to get three more by full time I was starting to become unnecessarily upset. The game didn't really matter, and nobody will remember it in a fortnight, but I was desperate to win. It's an illness.

Enter the unusual combination of Jay Lockhart and Clayton Oliver, who kicked the last two goals of the half in quick succession to cut it back to five points. We nearly did the most Melbourne thing of all time and gave the second one back instantly, but were saved by the a shave of the post and went in only a goal behind. How I don't know, but it went to show that if the talls couldn't get more than a foot away from their opponent we were going to have to keep manufacturing goals from obscure scenarios.

I'm still not sure how we were so close. You couldn't fault the defensive effort, it was just a case of kicking a big enough score to win. Then, after half time came the revenge of the big men. Smith got another, Weideman one, Gawn one, and most pleasingly Tom McSizzle three.

I'm pleased he got to be the hero, because I'm even more convinced than ever about my theory that this season is giving him deep emotional trauma.

Have a look at the way Maximum randomly gave him a shoutout into a TV camera at the end of the game, and the interview where Gawn was at pains to say "people think Tom can't play full forward, but he can. We've just got to kick to him better". I reckon Tom is feeling too much pressure to repeat last season, and his teammates know it. Hopefully his second half rampage releases the pressure valve a bit.

Doesn't help that there's a ridiculous level of expectation on him. I suppose that happens when you kick 50 in a season, but it's still over the top. Check the back of the paper, they're talking about him like he's a 35-year-old unexpectedly returning to kick a bag. To be fair I think they just wanted to do the Old McDonald gag, which probably also explains the baffling reference to bacon.

The strange thing is that if you take out the goals he actually had a very ordinary game. I'm not sure one of his disposals in the first half hit its intended target and he must have been waiting for Oscar to bob up at half time with a copy of the VFL fixture. So let's not get hung up on the 28 disposals as if they instantly mean he's had a ripper. See for instance to a player about five metres away that went out of bounds.

What's important is the confidence boosting goals. Especially the match-winners, but don't rule out the impact the first one had. He finally got some space to run at a ball and marked in the exact spot where he kicked our first of the season. Since that moment his power bar has been dropping at a rapid rate, and when he spent the next 10 seconds arguing with the umpire about angles I feared another Queen's Birthday style out on the full disaster. Instead it went through and the 1up sound from Super Mario Brothers could be heard across the MCG.

Freo were already beginning to wane. Other than Fyfe taking contested marks like he was Aaron Sandilands, and Brandon Matera coming to our attention for the first time in about seven years, we were the better side and started to get reward in attack. Weideman didn't get many touches, but when he finally pulled down a big mark in front of goal and narrowly snuck it home it was game well and truly on.

The only interference in our collection of goals by talls was a combination of the best two players on our side. Viney, who played the sort of balls-and-all game that makes you feel bad for criticising him at other times, swept a handball out to Lockhart, who danced around a defender, kicked truly and levelled the scores. The only thing that stopped me from believing we were going to win at that point was our pissweak record against teams with injuries.

Then came a moment of foolishness that would have led to civil war breaking out if we'd lost. I was thrilled to see Viney niggle Michael Walters so much that he not only made a dick of himself trying to re-niggle Jack and was instead pushed on his arse, but was moved to do a light headbutt on Lockhart. This ended with the ball in our hands for a free inside 50, with not much time left in the quarter, a wounded opponent rapidly running out of gas, and the opportunity to make a big statement before the last break.

Then, after 12 rounds of letting opposition teams get away with all sorts of shit Jones decided that was the time to get angry. Not when that West Coast poon had a go at Max, but just as we had a free in front of goal. He steamed in, made unnecessary contact with an opponent right in front of an umpire, the free kick was reversed and they went down the other end for a goal. Only we could turn a player being headbutted into six points against.

There's no doubt that Walters went down easily when he hit, but given we've got a couple of players who are even more shameless about doing the same thing don't give me the moral high ground. Some think Jones was absolved by Walters falling over like he'd stepped onto an ice rink in socks but I'm not buying it. In that situation bumping a player was a reckless act. It's safer to run in, tug his jumper a couple of times, wait for the umpire to scream "you've got the free, don't give it away", then disengage with your job of flying the flag done. This was just a brain fade. He didn't directly cause the goal but it didn't happen without the unnecessary contact.

That left us five points down at three quarter time and to be honest I still expected to kick 1.3 from 30 attacking opportunities before Freo nicked it with a scabby late goal. Nice to be wrong occasionally. We were all over them, and got in front early before that man Walters restored the lead with their last goal. The lead was restored courtesy of a pinpoint kick from Brayshaw (who has definitely regained some of his best form in the last two games) to Harmes on his own in the square. Then it was time for Sizzletown.

On the next forward thrust after the Harmes goal McDonald was given a free at the top of the 50, and hit his most majestic set shot of the season to give us the breathing space of more than a goal. That was good for his morale, then (with a jumper that looked to be leaking blue ink) he sealed it, snatching a loose ball off the deck in the pocket and rolling it through from an angle.

He was delighted, I was delighted, Ross Lyon didn't care because he couldn't get sacked if he tried, and we went enjoyed at least one week of not being looked at like tremendous failures. Unless you're a sick freak who wants to throw the rest of the year for picks enjoy it for what it was. A Melbourne win. Which is ultimately what we're all here for.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Jay Lockhart
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Sam Frost
1 - Clayton Oliver

Massive apologies to Smith and Gawn who were in strong contention for the final spot. Lesser apologies to Harmes, May, McDonald (second half only), Petracca and Salem.

With the smallest possible gain at the top, Oliver retains hope of mowing down Maximum in the remaining nine games. Nearly three full BOGs is a fair old margin to overcome but I can't rule him or Harmes out if they get a run on. Near everyone else is stuffed, but with up to 45 points still to play for technically Austin Bradtke is still a chance. If Max scores three or more next week the dreaded dotted line of elimination will appear.

In the minors, the big move is Lockhart to within five of the Hilton lead. That award looked dead and buried a few weeks ago but his career best four vote performance has injected much needed drama into the contest. In the Seecamp, Salem remains well clear of Hore, even with Frost polling for the second time this season.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It could have been either of Jay Lockhart's goals, but as much as I enjoyed the sweeping handball by Viney that set up his second it's impossible to go past the other one, where he fought like a madman to get back in the contest multiple times before executive a perfect snap. 95% of the time when a Melbourne player does that much hard work inside 50 he'll end up kicking it to somebody in the square or stuffing it up with an NQR handball.

For the weekly prize he wins a science fiction style trip to an alternative universe where he's still a Casey player and has to go drive a forklift or something on Monday morning. Now he's an AFL player and a handy one at that. Marty Hore continues to hold the clubhouse lead for the main award, continuing his impressive 100% ratio of career goals to leads in this competition.

Interstate teams start at a disadvantage in this competition, but I thought Freo did a respectable job. If it weren't for their awful Ds (so to speak), that looked like Os stretched to purpose they'd have finished as one of the better interstate sides. Unfortunately they ran into an effort on our side that should set a standard for 16 other sides (DQ - West Coast)
Note the quality of the font, the spacing between the lines the use of punctuation, and the gorgeous contrast created between the first three lines and the last by a subtle colour change. If I were to be pedantic I'd ask if there was a slightly oversized gap between 'best' and 'way', but that's not important. This was a world class effort, congratulations to all involved. I also enjoyed the barely discernible suggestion that this season is shot and time to start concentrating on what happens next. Dees 12-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch
At first glance the announced crowd of 20,000 seemed fanciful, but because it's not a GWS home game I'll give the authorities the benefit of the doubt and assume that most of them were huddled up the back under cover.

There was a surprising number of Dockers fans around. Maybe their contingent looked bigger because they were concentrated in the Ponsford but I prefer to think hundreds of Heave Ho enthusiasts saw we were rubbish early in the season and planned holidays to coincide with a guaranteed win. Sucked in.

Of course had history turned out differently I might have been one of them. My teenage empty gesture of rebellion against the Melbourne Hawks and their shithouse theme song was going to be running off and joining the Dockers circus. Much love to Don Scott, because no matter how many times this club whips me like a dog I'm perfectly satisfied with my choice of team. Til death (to at least one party) do us part xoxo.

With a headcount of 67 people in the top of the Ponsford 10 minutes before the first bounce going all the way up to Row MM was unnecessary, but once you've busted through the single letter rows you may as well carry on to the top. The wisdom of this decision was shown in the last quarter when I was able to lean half on a seat, half on the window behind me and pace up down a vacant aisle like a crazy person. Try doing that in Row A.

The only problem was exactly what I feared after the hysteria about crowd behaviour crackdowns. In the second quarter two of the "political correctness gone wrong" brigade realised that security have never been up that many stairs in their life and came up to express themselves without fear of being turfed out. Amongst some other 'funniest' they proceeded to do the serious dickhead move of loudly fake-cheering the away team. As the only other person within about 20 rows they might have been directing it at me, I just turned my radio volume up to ear-splitting levels to drown it out. I should have used the police state to my advantage and narked them to the offensive behaviour hotline.

If this is happening during lightly patronised interstate games I hate to think what's going to happen against Victorian teams. Free speech advocates are right that the security guards never come that high (they always do the same move in the Ponsford, standing at the entrance-way watching the game for a few minutes, then walk up a maximum of 10 rows, turn right, go across a vacant aisle, walk back down and disappear) but can I implore you to set up your libertarian paradise somewhere other than a row away from me. Preferably the Southern Stand, where I can't go into the back row because the sheer diagonal drop makes me want to vom.

Next Week
We're off to the Gabba to confront the terrible reality that Brisbane is a reasonable side again. I'm not entirely discounting our chances, but unless we can crock a couple of their players it will be a far sterner challenge. Accidental crockings only, hopefully Steven May will have a week of intensive therapy to help him get over his primal urge to assault Brisbane players.

Lever for Petty is a no-brainer, unless he goes down with another mystery injury during the week, but I can't see much other scope for changes. The VFL is unlikely to give us any further clues given that Casey played one of the competition easybeats and barely beat them. The Set Loose Preuss campaign is temporarily suspended due to Smith's goals and McDonald's revival, so the only other alteration I'm going to make is for sentimental purposes. Lewis comes back, plays against Hodge, has one more game in Victoria then is respectfully farewelled.

There's plenty of Casey players that I want to get a look at by the end of the year, and would like to think that many or all of them will get a chance by the end of the year. I'm especially interested in Kolodjashnij having another crack in the brief window where he's not injured. But not this week.

IN: Lever, Lewis
OUT: Petty, Wagner (omit)
LUCKY: Baker, McDonald
UNLUCKY: Preuss, Stretch

Was it worth it?
It was all going swimmingly until I came back to finish this post after about four hours of work on Saturday night and series of computing mishaps ended with Blogger wiping it. You'll just have to imagine how spectacular the original would have been.

Anyway, yes it was. The MCG is my happy place, and I always feel better walking in there. Usually I don't feel as good when I leave, but in this case all the planets aligned and here we are - back in the race for the top 15.

Where are they now?
Several years after perfecting a reputation for appearing in photos looking like he'd just beamed in from Mars, Slamming Sam Blease is now the interim coach of the Bulldogs AFLW team. You read that right. The man who introduced the world to Doin' It With Blease, pioneered the phrase "crack in and have a crack", and achieved the unreal feat of playing two games for zero best and fairest votes is back. For my own enjoyment I really need him to get that job permanently.

Up In Smoke
On the surface there's nothing for us in arsonists torching the Big Brother house, but like the CBUS ad where they drive around saying, "I built that", there's a bit of us in that rubble.

The guy who built it was a Dees man, and must have needed a tax dodge because he offered to give it to the club for free once complete. We cut a deal to sell it to Channel 10 (them again) for $400,000 once it was done, meaning an instant profit for the club. Then the builder ran out of money, and because we'd already agreed to on-sell it to Channel 10 the footy club had to step in and cover the cost of construction. We didn't lose any more money on it, but it meant the $400k free kick became $0k. Which is a shame, because then we'd have only lost $1.8 million for the year.

Given that the show started in 2001 and this was reported two years later you'd call bullshit if it was reported anywhere other than the AGM, but there you are. This was the same year somebody found three seasons of unpaid tax bills in a desk drawer and realised we owed $1.2 million to the ATO. What an organisation!

Final thoughts
Round 1 is about nine months away. Let the countdown begin.

1 comment:

  1. We need to describe Frosty’s dash that led to Smith’s third goal. Frost took possession deep in defence, then started a long run into the forward line which included two handballs and the final kick under pressure to Smith. Thrilling stuff.


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