Sunday 28 July 2019

You'll never walk again

For about five minutes on Saturday night we were on the verge of saving football from itself. Leading Australian rules theorists Gil McLachlan and Steve Hocking were in attendance, but not even those serial seekers of change could argue against the entertainment value of our first three goals. Before the Saints had gone forward once we'd launched a series of lightning strikes reminiscent of early German victories during the invasion of Russia. Like that campaign we didn't put the opposition away, leaving them time to regroup, turn it into a war of attrition and send us home in tatters.

By the end I was ready to wave the white flag and let the AFL do whatever they like with the rules. If they can find a way to make a game between two sides this bad look like the 1989 Grand Final I will nominate them jointly for Australian of the Year. Maybe if it turned into an AFLX style pinball wankfest where every game ended 152-146 we'd fall arse backwards into success. It would be hollow to finally win once the game was entirely stripped of its essence but as I enter the stage of my life where I'm patiently waiting for my first heart attack quantity is becoming more important than quality.

Considering the game took place under a roof and with every natural element that might affect skills removed it had an argument for the worst spectacle I've ever seen. The theory that there aren't enough good players to go across 18 teams got a huge boost. Except that we were no good when there were 12, 15, 16 or 17 teams either. However, between the introduction of West Coast/Brisbane and Adelaide we made finals every year, so 14 could be the magic number. It's just a matter of not being one of the four clubs to get the arse to make that happen.

Speaking of 14, that was how many more points the sides put on above the season average, thus making the the game a better value contest for selling ads than one between good teams that finishes with both sides in the 60s. I wonder if that compensate for people turning off in droves after seeing 19 consecutive turnovers.

When multi-billion TV rights deals are successfully renegotiated, let the record show we facilitated two more airings of that QLED ad. You know the one, where the guy supporting Generic Blue Team does the worst fake supporting since John Howard greeted a penalty in the 2006 World Cup by leaping to his feet like he'd just seen a 30 yard piledriver into the top corner of the net. I'm pleased we can provide joy to long suffering TV executives, because after nearly five months of trying not to drop my bundle I'm feeling violated.

After half seriously challenging the mid-table Bulldogs and premiership contender Eagles this was the decider for me. Either we built on the positives from those performances or we gifted victory to a team we were perceived to have rocketed past at the end of last year. It was the latter. Not without a fight, but a pretty low grade one. Like those videos where cruel people pay a couple of winos to throw haymakers at each other in a parking lot.

It was obviously too much to ask for when our forward line includes a 300 game player running down the clock and a converted defender out of necessity but I had this sick fantasy about running riot and kicking a (relatively) massive score. This was based on nothing except blind hope. Like waking up one morning after months marooned on a desert island and thinking "today is definitely the day I'm going to be rescued". At the end of the day you're still sitting there on your own talking to a volleyball.

Nevertheless, even if a big win was beyond us I still thought we'd something worth leaving the house for. I didn't even get to fulfil my fantasy of seeing Braydon Preuss play live for the first time, and now things that were worth treasuring last year like the disco blue jumper and playing at Docklands have been discredited by their association with this contest.

Actual victory meant little but I still craved it, partly as a reaction against the tremendous success of caretaker coaches in 2019. My theory that the benefits of sacking a coach are not sustainable for more than a couple of weeks is in trouble. Maybe this is another football idea that has been poisoned by following Melbourne - Hutchison, Riley, Viney and Craig won eight games between them; Shaw, Teague and Ratten have more than that since Round 11.

Like a roulette player who is convinced a colour has to come up because it hasn't for a while I thought we'd be the ones to nuke the caretaker fairytale. Nothing personal against Brett Ratten, after his fondly remembered stint as midfield coach in 2004 I wish we'd found a way for him to replace Neale Daniher in 2007 or that Carlton unnecessarily sacked him earlier so we could have had him post-186. It could have been Shaw, Teague or Alan McConnell for all I cared, I just wanted to play spoiler.

In the end St Kilda fans went home with the horn and I was the one slinking out of the stadium with my hope for the future hanging by a thread. Literally anything could happen but I don't see how May, Melksham and McDonald (Triple M) alone propel this team back to where it finished last year. The coaches are either going to have to wrench significant improvement out of the players we've got or pull off canny recruiting moves to fill gaping holes and address the ticking time bombs. That I've got more faith in the short term future of our backline than midfield is obscene considering how last year we were practically on our knees thanking the football gods for delivering us an untold bounty in the middle of the ground.

Of course there is the school of thought that you shouldn't draw comparisons with 2018 because our month of glory that started and ended in Perth was nothing more than a middle of the road team getting on an unsustainable run before crashing back to earth. There's something to that, if you look at the losses in the second half of that year you'll see many of the hallmarks of the 2019 troubles. Throw in a raft of injuries and the rest of the league working out exactly what we were going to do from Round 1.

After this weekend I've gone off Goodwin. There was enough of a side on the park last tonight to beat the rag-tag collection of off-cuts, kids and people with none-more-MFC names like Doulton Langlands. If we'd just gone down for a lack of tall forwards I'd have almost understood, but the shambolic skills on offer, and the way we spurned an armchair ride by the best ruckman in the competition was deplorable. He can throw a couple of assistant coaches in the sea at the end of the year, but it's been more than three months since he wanted to be judged on current performance rather than blaming our troubled off-season, and under that criteria I declare it a failure.

This is not to say I want to commit ritual sacrifice and fire him on the spot. After a week of trying to patiently explain to people why we can't just shut the NT deal off without completing rooting the club's finances (see also $2.8 million going with the pokies) I can't justify paying out three years of somebody's contract just because we've had a single, nightmarish season. On the other hand, scrounging for cash to pay off the last two years could be tempting if we're at anywhere near this level of chaos in 12 months.

For now I'm not happy, but I will give him the benefit of a hard reset at the end of the season. New assistants, new recruits, a step back from the cult of contested possessions, and then let's judge a coach in his fourth year with (we hope) a trouble-free run into the pre-season.

Of course, the coach can only do so much. He can't kick the ball for them when they're hestitant, or tell players not to handball straight to their opposition inside 50. For all the piss taken out of Casey Fields as a venue to develop players, this game took place in an environment that couldn't have been more conducive to football and we had 8/22 players with disposal efficiencies of 60% or less. Consider how many were dinky one metre handballs to a teammate (whether they wanted it or not) and weep silently about how badly we played. If you saw the game you don't need the numbers to tell the story, it probably seems surprising that only eight players registered a percentage so low.

The whole thing was just dire. You can't expect much out of a Round 19 battle between also-rans and plummeters but the contest was nearly comical at times, with both teams desperately trying to give the ball to each other. One of our key issues is players trying to make the ball somebody else's responsibility but in this case we cranked that up a notch, regularly bypassing teammates and letting the Saints have the ball to see if they'd kick to one of ours in a better position.

It was like there was a gentleman's agreement to keep the scores close by any means necessary until halfway through the last quarter then may the best team win. That team was not us. With the game in the balance our fuse fizzed and we couldn't go with a team moved to knife the coach two weeks earlier because his side was not only losing but being boring as batshit in the process. Now the dead cat was bouncing like a ball off the concrete Docklands surface, showering the losers with shit as it arced over their heads.

For all the times we've been blown out of the water in a first quarter I've also seen the old kick a few goals before the other side show up then lose scenario a few times. Even then, the game that came to mind as Petracca hit a lovely corkscrew kick from a pack to make it 18-1 was (trigger warning for Jake Lever) the Bulldogs game we won from the same position last year. It came under different circumstances, mostly that we'd just spent five weeks wiping the floor with terrible sides and scoring an average of 133 a week, but same idea - one team has everything go their way for a few minutes, does well to capitalise, then falls to bits when the other side get a kick.

That day we recovered, and behind a gargantuan effort by Nifty Nev held Footscray to four goals for the rest of the match. This time a team only going slightly better than us got an opportunistic win against opposition going like a busted arse.

Whoever played Fools Gold by the Stone Roses before the bounce had the right idea. Not only was it the closest a footy ground has ever come to my all time ARIA Top 40 chart, but what more appropriate tune for an audience of fans who haven't seen a flag since well before man landed on the moon. Music to take drugs in a field to was far more appropriate than giving away Grand Final tickets in the half time quiz, which at a St Kilda/Melbourne game was about as insensitive as spraying asbestos into a cancer ward.

All three of our opening goals were attractive in their own way. First Viney banging a perfect kick to the lead of Fritsch, who couldn't maintain the level of his goalscoring heroics from last week but must not be taken out of the forward line for the rest of the year. Then Petracca running an opponent under the ball and taking advantage of it squirming out of his opponent's hands to set up Lewis, who nearly stuffed up a point blank snap by taking an hour to put the ball on his boot, before completing his hat-trick of involvement in all three by kicking his pearler off a step for 3-0. He couldn't stretch it across three quarters, but apart from Gawn who could? In an all-around distressing exhibition of the sport I was happy enough with how long he strung it out.

Things were looking up. Just like they were in the first quarter against Port (18-1), Richmond (24-13), Gold Coast (20-7), Adelaide (39-24) and Carlton (22-0). You will note that we lost the first four in that list. Conversely, of our five victories we've been behind in the first quarter against Hawthorn (15-29), Freo (13-25), Sydney (34-20), only leading Carlton, and Gold Coast who are the new University. The Stranglewank has been an insider gag for years but is there seriously something wrong with this lot that means they only focus when faced with adversity? I can only imagine how the club psychologist is going. You know when a big truck breaks down and they have to bring in an even bigger truck to rescue it? Like that.

Then St Kilda turned up and we recoiled in fear for 20 minutes. Both teams were doing a series of things Jeffrey Dahlmer would consider horrendous but the Saints were the ones (eventually) capitalising. From the total domination of the opening minutes it now looked like boys chasing slightly bigger boys trying to get a kick. The only reason their run of goals didn't stretch past three is that they're no good either. Perhaps like last week we needed to concede more before waking up. Recovering with a pair of Reverse DemonTime goals through Fritsch - courtesy of a smart handball from Petty - and Smith with a crashing park mark and a perfectly taken set shot - was welcome but created a false sense of security.

The Smith mark was a thing of beauty. What I don't understand is how for the other 99% of the game he barely got in position to jump at a ball coming inside 50. And god knows we put it down there enough. I'd love to sit with a coach and review this game to understand whether it was St Kilda's defence, where he was running to or where we were kicking. He's more than capable of playing as a forward, and should certainly stay on the list next year, but like Weideman just needs to find himself where the ball is more often. Or we need to find them. Either way the next midfield and forward coaches need to spend more time with each other over summer than their families. I'd say give the jobs to a married couple but by the time they're finished it will end in divorce court.

All the emotion poured out in the last 15 minutes, but the second quarter was arguably our worse. The midfield is the only part of our team that hasn't been decimated by injuries this year and they were squashed unrecognisably flat for half an hour. Even with that advantage, and the ball living down their end for the first few minutes St Kilda were equally slapstick and let us get the first goal. What a goal it was too, with Corey Wagner's neat finish the only thing saving the whole thing from having the Benny Hill music slapped under it.

First we saw a kick to the unnatural drugs vs unnatural hair duel of Jake Carlisle vs Jordan Lewis, and because Lewis isn't a key forward and shouldn't be asked to become at this stage of his career he ran straight into Carlisle's back. It was one of the clearest free kicks you'll ever see but consider it payback for that one Gawn was swizzed out of last week. Then Petracca did everything to shimmy and dance through a pair of defenders before deciding the third one was a bridge too far and handballed into the ground. He got another chance when a defender did a ludicrous high, looping pass to a teammate with Truck ready to pounce on him, before he turned it over to Wagner for the snap and goal that restored our 19 point lead.

Turning a clear breakaway from the centre into a shambling goal like that should have been the wake-up call that we weren't going to put the Saints away easily. Then we conceded the reply within a minute, failed to score for the rest of the quarter and somehow led by three points at half time. It's a funny old world. Some say cutting down on the impact of runners has hurt the game. I agree, if they're only allowed out there after a goal how are you supposed to drag everybody who deserves to be dragged? Mind you, we'd have needed an XL bench to remove everyone who needed dragging.

Anyone seen a promising youngster recently? It's almost three years since our last Rising Star nomination, and even Oscar McDonald has watched his career go up in smoke since. With respect to Bayley Fritsch missing eligibility by less than a month we haven't even had anyone hard done by since. There was a one-eyed move to get Charlie Spargo a start last year but like wondering who's going to win the flag that was nothing more than an attempt to stay involved in a competition that has no relevance to us.

I think we managed 15 rotations in one go during the first quarter when there was a malfunction at the junction at our bench, leading to players going on and off at a rapid rate and nobody having any idea what they were supposed to be doing. It was the same level of organisational disarray that saw Gawn arrive late for a centre bounce, fail to escape the square in time and give away a free. Later Harmes took so lining up for a set shot that he was called to play on and flubbed the kick. In some ways this is a professional sporting organisation.

Amongst a handful of players who have provided genuine excitement this year, the high octane insanity of Sam Frost has been memorable. He was in full effect here, doing his usual tribute to extreme sports by marking strongly, dashing off like a gazelle, thumping one of the most powerful handballs I've ever seen to a teammate then later dinking another one directly to the opposition, and falling over in front of goal. Relative to the number of his teammates who were dreadful he was still very good. Long live the lunacy. It will probably cost us as many goals as it saves but at least it's exciting.

The same cannot be said for Oscar McDonald. Who I feel bad for because people have been piling into him like he parks in the disabled spot, but I think after 72 games that it might be time to come to a mutual agreement that the situation isn't going to get any better. He's only 23 so it feels premature folding the cards on a career but if you're going to have zero attacking impact on a game you best be able to defend like a madman and he does not. Our other defenders make mistakes trying to take the game on and set up play, he gets the ball and waits as long as humanely possible before disposing, leaving every option up the field to be blanketed while they wait for him to get rid of it.

With one more year to play on his contract we probably should keep him just in case, but I want to be clear that I'd rather Petty go back into defence first if required. It's a shame Preuss was so bad last week because otherwise May's latest injury would have been a perfect opportunity to send Harrison back to where he's meant to be and park a gigantic bald man at full forward. I've been satisfied with Petty's forward play the last three weeks but surely that's nothing more than an enforced late season move and a potential emergency switch within games, not our long term plan to kick winning scores.

The midfield was located in time for the third quarter, which helped even though we couldn't string more than two kicks together without turning it over. St Kilda kicked 13 goals from intercept possessions, which is an indictment on everyone from our side. We were turning it over forward, back and centre and the Demon Trampoline was in full effect. Whenever we did one of our aimless, panicked kicks forward it would be turned straight over and whoomp there it was, down the other end within seconds.

When we took a relieving mark the next passage of play would either involve a hopeful long kick down the line, usually aimed at Gawn, a boundary throw-in or a shambolic turnover. Frost was the usual potent mix of good and bad, Lever rose above his Docklands PTSD to start well but kick like his ACL was still torn by the end, and Salem had a shocker. It's hard to have a barometer when you're usually rubbish, but if he's giving the ball up regularly you know we're in trouble. The more I think about it I reckon the Saints laid a perfect trap and we walked right into it blindfolded. For all the sour comments about them not being much better than us there is not even the remotest doubt in my mind that they were better prepared, wanted to win more and it would have been robbery if we'd got up.

The quarter was notable for the sudden appearance of Tim Membrey, who kicked three goals. There's a bit of Kingsley talk about him, but I can't with good faith induct somebody who's kicked five goals half a dozen times but only once against us. The good news is that the Kingsleys are open source so you're free to add him to your list.

It was starting to look grim, and maybe I wouldn't have gone off so much if we'd just died on the spot there and lost by six goals. Thanks first to James Harmes for two goals (about the only kicks he had on target), Petracca for intelligently making the most of a ground ball to soccer it through from a pack, and the combination of Jake Carlisle and an umpire - one who lightly touched Harrison Petty around the face during some jostling and the other who got overly excited and gifted us a double goal.

This was the second time Carlisle had been victimised and Saints fans were getting a bit of a persecution complex about the umpiring by this stage. Bad luck. Try playing in the Melbourne backline and discover what disappointment is really about. Of course, after that metaphorical and literal free kick we proceeded to give the goal - and the lead - back instantly. I was still calm and vowing not to get excited no matter where the result landed. That lasted about 15 minutes.

When Oliver kicked the first goal of the last we were back in front, then Harmes added another and it started to look like the big steal was on. But if you steal something worthless is it still theft? We lost and regained the lead once more before giving it away for good. It was all over when we conceded a high tackle to somebody who brought the contact on himself trying to shake himself out of a tackle (to be fair it was hard to complain about the decisions at this stage) and surrender followed shortly after.

If he weren't such a jovial man with a firm devotion to the team ethos and hopefully the 2020 captain, Max Gawn would have walked off at this point. He'd worked his guts out all night but found there wasn't 21 fully operating hearts to go around the rest of the side when it mattered. Not since Nathan Jones 2012/13 has somebody carried so many teammates atop his shoulders only to have them piss down his back

Speaking of Jones, I have grave concerns for his future. He's still contributing, but it's like when you're a kid and you realise for the first time that a beloved grandparent has passed the point of no return. One day they still seem full of life, then they slowly begin to lose it, and next thing you know they're being discovered sprawled across the living room floor in a pool of piss.

I still don't understand why we're seemingly locked into playing him behind the ball. First Vince, now Lewis - it's becoming the new MFC retirement lounge. Give the man a chance to kick goals, he's been pretty bloody good at it over the years, and the way we attack nobody will be able to tell the difference if he makes a meal of the job. He'll likely be there next year but I won't be able to stand seeing him with the football equivalent of tubes up his nose and will want to smother him with a pillow to end the suffering. There is legitimate talk that it would be good for him to join Gold Coast and help prop up their stocks for a year. Looking at it dispassionately they may be right, but I could actually cry if it happens.

Meanwhile, after he's spent the best part of a decade being the face of our shortcomings did we really need to send him on the Sunday morning misery circuit? Any other leaders who could be wheeled out to run through the old cliches and give poor Jonesy a break?
After being so keen to burst St Kilda's bubble before the game I was strangely calm when it sat at under a goal the difference midway through the quarter. By this point I was resigned to losing another thriller and realised that it wouldn't bother me. No matter what happened - kicks after the siren, time keeping fiascos, Gawn being pinched for another howling decision in the square with 0.01 left - I wasn't going to leave upset. Then we capitulated like the sad old slappers we are and I was left like this:

We had contributed to such a bottom four game that I wasn't going home with joy in my heart even if we won. It would have been a good night for the players to choose not to sing the song if it came to that. When we were still ahead was pondering if I'd ever seen a worse victory, but would have been satisfied to see us lose while fighting to the death. Instead we just rolled over and died, letting a nothing team barely operating in a forward direction (which is preferable to the way we're going) dominate us for the last five minutes.

Funny the games that set you off. As bad as we were I was quite happy to continue my propaganda campaign about the extended 2020 pre-season, but the last few minutes turned my temperature up to the point where I was ready to blow. And if that's what it takes to get a flag I will.

Usually it's when you get within a kick and lose a close one that a vein in the forehead pops and you make a cockhead of yourself in public but this was the exact opposite, The further we went behind the more I wanted to denounce everyone and throw myself down the stairs. Thank god the crowd was so spread out that the only people within hearing range were also sad, loner middle-aged male Melbourne fans so they didn't care about hearing all the big hitters being wheeled out.

The four points can piss off, it had nothing to do with that, it was seeing safe as houses and fringe players alike lay down their guns. Like Hawthorn and North Melbourne, St Kilda owned our soul for the best part of a decade, now after three wins in two seasons we've gone back to them treating us with contempt while they whirr around lower mid-table for the rest for eternity winning as many flags as us. Which is a number somewhere between -1 and 1.

At the siren the downtrodden Saints fans who'd seen seven wins since Round 1 went bananas like they'd just seen something significant. You're free to celebrate win in any way you like, but I'd have thought this was best handled with a quick fist pump, possibly staying for one round of the song (but not singing it), then going home happy to have seen a win, not blowing your lid like you've beaten anyone good.

So, now that we're a game and percentage behind Carlton with four weeks to play it's definitely a 17th placed finish. Tell me more about the TAC Cup prodigy who's going to instantly rescue us and make everything better. Or what package of riches we're going to get by trading it.

That is if we ever get the pick. You read it here first, but the stars are aligning perfectly for the AFL to give Gold Coast a priority pick at #2. Chances are they're going to lose 18 in a row to end the season, and the team directly above them is coming off a Preliminary Final. So, the argument will be that we've got a strong enough list not to be disadvantaged by going back from #2 to #3. And what are we going to do? Crack the sads with an organisation that could crush us like a bug?

What might save us is Adelaide hitting the roof about the future traded pick they've got coming from Carlton being devalued. We can only hope. Until it turns out that pick 2 is no good and pick 3 wins three Brownlows for the Crows.

In fact, fuck the draft. Let's trade the picks to Dr Phil Nietzschke and end our suffering now. What about retrospectively merging with Hawthorn? They can be called the Hawthorn Hawks, play out of Dingley, wear toilet colours and retain their existing club song. And I can break away from this disastrously addictive 30 year odyssey of waiting for the Melbourne Football Club (1859-2019) to win anything.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
--- By a tremendous distance only measurable by NASA telescope ---
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Sam Frost
--- Major struggle ---
1 - Jayden Hunt

Apologies of sorts to Viney and Petty, neither of who deserved a vote but could have got the last one in a raffle.

This is where life is unfair. If the voting system was about splitting 15 votes between as many players as deserved them, Max would have got 13 and two others one apiece. Now, his reward for playing a lone hand game is almost entirely negated by Oliver bobbing up in third. What it does is knocks out Viney, all but finish off Salem and clears out a near terminal gap to Harmes, but we're still not much closer to discovering the overall winner.

You may deduce that I think Maximum winning would be a wonderfully romantic result, but I can assure you that the integrity of this award is of the utmost importance and no electoral shenanigans will be entered into. If Oliver legitimately outpolls him by five votes from here then he'll win the award for a third time, but I will not waver from the task of assigning votes almost purely on the vibe.

No alterations in the Hilton standings, though Lockhart's dismissal to Casey was excellent news for Marty Hore, who is just hanging on. A reminder that under the current rules anyone who debuts from next week to the end of the season remains eligible to win the award next year. In 2020/2021 there will be a rule change so anyone who starts the season on four games or less is eligible. I don't think that would have altered any previous winners but I've got a whole off-season to work that out.

44 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
39 - Clayton Oliver
31 - James Harmes
27 - Christian Salem (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
--- Abandon all hope ye below here ---
17 - Jack Viney
14 - Jake Melksham
13 - Angus Brayshaw, Christian Petracca
11 - Marty Hore (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
10 - Steven May
9 - Nathan Jones
8 - Jayden Hunt
6 - Sam Frost, Jay Lockhart
5 - Bayley Fritsch
4 - Tom McDonald, Billy Stretch
2 - Michael Hibberd, Harrison Petty, Corey Wagner

Matchday Experience Watch (incorporating Crowd Watch)
From the turn of the century to when they got dicked in that drawn Grand Final I had a tremendous vendetta against St Kilda based entirely on sitting next to their cheersquad in the '98 finals. I say this because I want you to know that I'm over it and hold no more ill-will against them than any of the other 17 clubs BUT the Saints put on the chintziest, cringe-inducing, community theatre level matchday program of any Victorian club bar none. I don't know what the interstate clubs are doing, but I guarantee you it has to be better than this.

I once worked with a guy who came to a brainstorm session for a 3000 person Christmas party and suggested it be held "at the Casino". He then said we should book Spiderman to make an appearance, and when met with a mystified silence asked rhetorically "wouldn't it be great if we could get Chris Judd to come?" I reckon he's gone on to run St Kilda's promotion department.

I'm not here to suggest there's anything highbrow about dickheads in overalls spinning around paint cans then trying to kick a goal, and we all remember the one week Match the Emoji disaster, but this lot are off their face. They're also desperate to relate every piece of imagery back to the suburb of St Kilda despite fleeing the joint in 1964. Ex-Junction Oval tenants Fitzroy and us have a more recent claim to shots of people drinking coffees and waves crashing on beaches. The Saints should be forced to concentrate on iconic visions of the south east suburbs such as IKEA Springvale, dogging along the foreshore and home invasions.

They've given up on piping in a mournful, funeral version of Oh When the Saints Go Marching In and expecting the fans to engage in community singing like they're at a Port Adelaide game. Instead somebody's gone on a junket to an American college football game and has come back with the idea of a marching band. Oh christ.

It could have almost worked if it was done in the spirit of New Orleans, but instead looked like some Community Cup style hipsters playing a brass version of Kool and the Gang's Celebration in front of 7500 disinterested people. They marched about 100 metres around the boundary line, stopped and disappeared. I will never EVER take any shit for having one bloke on a trumpet again.

There was also some dreadfully acted comedy sponsor spot featuring Leigh Montagna and Seb Ross who was HA! HA! lost and trying to HEE! HEE! find his way to the ground. They had to restart it once because somebody hit play too early and it was interrupted by the marching band, meaning we saw Montagna's intro a second time and could appreciate that it was so wooden you could make a table out of it. Surely that was a one off and they don't play the whole package before every home game. If not, no wonder people were angry and the coach had to cop it in the neck.

The Saints cannot be blamed for something called 'Simba Cam', which the stadium used as an excuse to highlight people holding kids who looked far too young to be at a 7.20pm bounce footy match. It was all going cutely until one bloke who was clearly in an upper deck of the stadium was shown lifting his child up and thrusting it forward to the point where one bump and junior would have been doing his Jeremy Howe impersonation on the seats below. Instead of quickly moving on and saving the child's life they lingered for about 10 horrifying seconds. We assume the kid is ok but would like the Department of Human Services to drop in and make sure. They've also subjected a kid to following St Kilda, which is about as negligent and abusive as making them go for Melbourne.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The game's pinnacle came with Petracca's inside out slice kick off a step to go three goals to nil up. It was beautifully hit, and just the sort of goal out of nowhere that we don't see often enough. For the weekly prize he wins the trade to Port Adelaide - the new Richmond for trying in vain to find happiness with our exes - which we're going to do in three years anyway.

I also enjoyed his toe poke goal in the third quarter, another win for creating a goal out of nothing. Please do not take this as an endorsement of playing him as a deep 50 forward again. He's best suited to a half-forward flank making lightning raids on the midfield and apparently kicking set shots from 50 that he'd spray from 15.

Marty Hore still leads overall. To rest of the season is so meaningless - and we probably won't kick any goals next week - you'd have to dob one over your head from full back to get past him now.

A rare tactical misstep by the Demon Army, leaving the motivational message on the non-run through side and instead displaying some flat reference to superheroes at Marvel.

The door was open for only the second away win in the history of this competition, and though the Saints efforts are too slick and seemingly industrially produced their message nearly scanned right, and they had a nice font. Then the players gently slipped through a concealed curtain like they were exiting the shower, leaving the top 80% of the banner unaffected so it could just be velcroed back and new letters applied ready for next week. With an extra curtain penalty for dishonesty it just gets us over the line. Dees 18-1-0 for the season.

Next Week
I thought West Coast would hump us unmercifully, but we clung on long enough to make the game interesting. Richmond, on the other hand, will touch us in a very uncomfortable place without any concern for our consent. This is going to get ugly, and the 250,000 replays of Sydney Stack killing Jack Viney will have nothing on the brutality they'll have on tape afterwards.

Last time against the Tiges we put in a memorable first quarter then went "that'll do", scored 6.6.42 and slowly ebbed away to a 37 point loss. If we got to 42 points again I'd be staggered. It's going to be a massive rooting and I'm glad I can only watch on TV rather than carting my arse to the stadium and being at the mercy of jubilant Richmond fans.

I know we're not going to make bulk changes because we never do but I'm proposing them anyway. Feels rude to chuck Baker and McDonald after one game but they were both terrible, Neal-Bullen has done chuff all this season, there's no point playing Lewis in this bullshit forward role if he's not going to be there next year so pack him away until our Friday night game in Round 22, treat that as a farewell, then save him having to go to Hobart for the last game.

Yes, that's right, in what looked like a much better idea before Round 1 we've got a prime time game coming up against Sydney. It may rival Melbourne vs Freo 1999 for the lowest ratings in Friday Night Footy history. There's still time for the AFL to reschedule us out of that as part of the Round 23 fixture reveal. I'd play it on Norfolk Island at 10am on a Wednesday.

Brayshaw needs to be this week's ritual sacrifice. Some of his disposal would get you kicked out of a country league where teams win by 500 points. I don't give a rat's that he finished third in the Brownlow, we abuse umpires for every other decision they make so it's ok to admit they were wrong here too. He was pretty good last year, and for patches of this season, but that bronze medal morally belongs to Oliver or Gawn. If his woes this year are from being played out of position either play him in position or stop trying to force round peg into the square hole and do something about it.

The ins don't fill me with confidence but it's about making statements now. Of the five inclusions May is the only one that brings me any joy, and I could in fact do without Dunkley, JFK or Lockhart but I'm buggered if I know who else there is available. Would have loved to finally give Maynard a third game but he's injured, missing his last chance and heading towards an imminent delisting.

I originally had Weideman in, then he was concussed 30 seconds into the VFL game. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. At first I didn't want to rush Melksham back but he got through the Casey game so why not. What's the worst that could happen to a foot? (Mitch Clark, Jack Viney...)

In reality I'll bet you the changes are May for Oscar and we just merrily go to our graves thinking there's some way that 21/22 of the players who just served up a steaming plate of vom might retain their dignity against a side winding up for a crack at the flag. Richmond by a shitload.

IN: Melksham, Kennedy-Harris, May, Lockhart, Dunkley
OUT: Baker, Brayshaw, Lewis, McDonald, Neal-Bullen (omit)
LUCKY: The Wagnii
UNLUCKY: Hore, Maynard, Dunkley, Preuss (sob)

Meanwhile, I've been watching the Casey game while finishing this post and can somebody explain the rationale between playing Preuss as the centre bounce ruckman in a dead rubber, against opposition a foot shorter than him? We know he can tap ruck, we have no problems with him tap rucking, it's that we want forward 50 marks and goals. It's a long time since Casey recruited Fev against our wishes, it is in almost every sense now our reserves side so why are they not instructed to join in the 2020 pre-season spirit? Give Bradtke his chance to be #1 ruck against diminished opposition, put four quarters of forward development into Preuss and if we lose who gives a rats?

Was it worth it?
No, no, no, and a thousand times no.

Final thoughts
The last word belongs to this lady, whose deadpan protest isn't really directed towards Nick Hind, but at the last nine months of supporting Melbourne. And so say all of us...

Monday 22 July 2019

17 and Counting

Ultimately there is next to nothing between finishing 16th and 17th this year. In a few years nobody will remember precisely what spot this death spiral of a year ended in, just that (hopefully) it led to bigger and better things. On the unusual event of winning a flag there will be a long list of things to go back and laugh about and this year would have to get a mention somewhere near the bottom.

The only issue now is whether we pick second or third in the draft. I think you've watched Melbourne long enough to know that whoever we overlook will become a star and our selection will be have a middling career that never lives up to its early promise. Our salvation lies in finding multiple players who have an immunity to the naturally occurring evil forces surrounding this club.

Plunging to second last shouldn't bother me. It's not like the explosive decompression of 2007 where everyone (except me, who clung to hope until the second quarter of Round 1, 2008) knew we had a long, hard few years ahead of us. If nothing else we can go into 2020 hopeful that this year was an aberration. But while I'm as happy as you can be for Carlton fans that they've torn off the Cloak of Distress hurled it back over us I've still got a feeling of deep shame about being in the bottom two again. It's like getting out of rehab, staying clean for a year then falling back into hopeless self-destructive behaviour.

Like 2012 and 2013 we are, once again, the worst team in the competition that has existed for more than a decade. But somebody has to finish 17th, and if you can engineer a soft landing to that lowly position it shouldn't matter in the long run. Pride is temporarily dented, people try to justify sacking the coach, the same tipsters who'd said we were going to win the flag turn hard on us, a few players and assistants see their careers go up in smoke, and in the end we're sitting on the same couch as the 9th placed team watching better sides play finals. Then on October 1 everybody's theoretically equal again.

I'm just glad that if we had to achieve one of the greatest plummets in the competition's history that we went down swinging against a premiership contender. Last week we looked so dull in losing - by an admittedly small margin - to mid-table mediocrity that I started to lose faith in next year. This reintroduced a bit of hope which will no doubt be chewed up and spat back in my face when the Saints clean our clock next week. Then I'll lose the plot and start trying to sack everybody.

It's only misguided hope for next year that's keeping me from whacking a fork in the toaster. From about Round 5 when it became clear this season was rooted my model for a revival has been 2016/2017 Richmond, but even they won eight games in their crisis year and we'd be flat out to get seven. Turns out I should have been looking at West Coast 2010/2011, who went from four wins and last to 17, a prelim overnight, and several years later a flag.

In a long line of recent disappointments this was just another loss but there was a different feeling about it. Some of that was pride at annoying the elite, some was annoyance at going down by under three goals for the fifth time this year, the other 96% was joy at ticking off another week towards the end of this bullshit season.

For many people the highlight of the first quarter was a 9-0 free kick count, offering the convenient excuse of umpiring for our plight rather than being no good. Couldn't see many of them that weren't there given that we were hanging onto opponents at every opportunity, and it makes perfect sense that we'd take to the task of beating the defending premiers by scragging them at every opportunity. You'd think we'd have snagged a free somewhere in that run but it doesn't mean a grand conspiracy is afoot. Like tossing a coin, chances are you're not going to get heads nine times in a row but it can happen. Having said that, there was one corker of a decision in the last quarter that demands a mention but we'll get to that later.

The wheel of umpiring finally turned in our favour when accidental forward sensation Harrison Petty won a free during a marking contest late in the quarter. Sadly he discovered that kicking outdoor is a lot different to under a roof and missed from barely any angle. This was much to the delight of professional television buffoon Brian Taylor, who was convinced that all our goalkicking woes in the first quarter came from not allowing for the wind. Even when they showed a flag sitting perfectly still he just paused for a second and carried on with his prepared remarks.

At the start of the third quarter he claimed the breeze had changed direction but the flags weren't showing it. Had somebody tied them down like the Windy Hill windsock? Is this man doing an elaborate performance art routine? Sometimes I think about how much he gets paid to do this and think about removing myself from society.

The Petty experiment half worked again, he missed two gettable set shots (and who didn't?) but took some cracking contested marks on the way and is worth persisting with for the rest of the year. Equally worthy but with a much shorter shelf life was the Jordan Lewis defensive forward project. Last week he was a tagger, now this, and appropriately they were two of his best games for the year. Let's not get any crazy ideas about going on in 2020 but I'm satisfied for him to play out the year unless we find a kid at Casey smashing the door down for a run. Let's spend the last five weeks playing in a new completely random role every time.

Lewis' presence nullified the always dangerous George McGovern and he even took a couple of handy forward 50 marks. Couldn’t kick straight if his life depended on it but that’s the price you pay for doing something unusual. Petty and Lewis were not alone in missing. Viney and Fritsch also did it by quarter time, leaving us on 1.5.11. The goal came first via Corey Wagner walking into an open goal, after that it was peg leg central. Whoever our next forward coach is they should be working on a masterplan for more empty square goals, they're the secret herbs and spices behind a successful teams.

We recovered to 'only' one goal less than behinds, but it leaves us a shameful -7 for the season. Remember the Essendon game where nobody could miss? What a false dawn that was. Naturally, when they’re kicking against us teams are +62, second only to St Kilda for accuracy against – which suggests you should bet big on a high total score next week. Geelong, on the other hand, are top of the ladder and teams are -29 against them. Can't help being lucky.

Since 1990 we've kicked more behinds than goals in 1997, 2012 and 2014. The common thread is that we were shite in all those years. One spoon, one moral spoon, and one where we had so few goals that every missed shot was worth about double what it is today. Bad kicking is bad football rings true, since 2010 the record of teams making finals with more behinds than goals is 2/72. So you’re a 2.7% chance of finishing in the eight if you score at under 50%. Of course a lot of teams are going above 50% and missing out as well so it's more complicated than that but not wasting chances by the dozen would help. One day a coach will chuck sports science, put on extra goalkicking practice and thrive. Then everyone will follow.

I went in thinking we were no good and the first quarter did nothing to change my mind. There were signs of life from forwards who won't be playing the same role in Round 1 next year, but also in defence where they will. The backline wasn't perfect (except Michael Hibberd, who disposed at 100%) but having May, Lever and Jetta together is a big win. Now get to work on stopping it rocketing towards them as if shot from a cannon.

If that unit gets to Round 1 2020 intact it will be a fair start to recapturing our dignity. The midfield was also doing well, even with Gawn suffering flashbacks to when nobody defended him against West Coast the first time and playing an ordinary game by his standards. Oliver did Oliver things, Harmes did Harmes things, and while Brayshaw ended the first quarter on world record pace for conceding free kicks, he did such a good job of tagging Elliot Yeo that the Eagles man was later moved to do the old Jakovich style 'up yours' after kicking a goal.

If wobbling to quarter time 20 points down furthered my belief that we were no chance, the first three minutes after the break seemingly confirmed it. Two more easy goals, a 32 point lead, and the prospect of a supercalifragisltic demolition job was on the cards. Which would have gone down well with the largely pro-Eagles crowd.

The usual disclaimers about NT games apply, but any danger of going back to playing Gold Coast there so we can keep up the pretence of a home game? Even GWS. Problem being Channel 7 has latched onto the game (possibly due to a large sum being deposited in their bank account too), so they're not going to let us play unfashionable opposition as the lead-in to the Sunday news. They haven't had their hooks into Darwin yet, so let's go for 1/2 NT matches against sides with no fans next year.

From those disappointing origins, cue one of the most low key comebacks of all time, leaving us just a point behind at the half via a couple of short, sharp, bursts of goals and the opposition hitting the brick wall of our shiny new backline. We certainly didn't have any trouble marking inside 50, it was just the putting of ball through the tallest set of posts that proved an issue. Fritsch had no such problems with three in a quarter that should see him never allowed in the defensive 50 again. Lewis also got two, one from a free that saved him after hitting the post from point blank range, and Viney another. The post-tall forward philosophy of finding goals from alternative sources was alive and well.

It was the ultimate Reverse DemonTime, with three goals in the dying minutes, and the last to Fritsch after the siren activated reverse Stranglewank mode. Still didn't think we'd win but it was nice to have renewed hope of something positive happening. Draft picks be fully buggered, I still want to win. Another at the start of the third quarter put us ahead and really made me pay attention. I could almost have believed in keeping their score down but held zero confidence in us kicking a big enough score to win.

A dip in the middle of the quarter let the Eagles back in, and because I was looking for any opportunity to stop believing that was good enough for me to concede. I'd be shithouse in a war. It got worse when Viney was confirmed finished for the day with concussion and May was seen going for treatment on his hamstring. That would be right, it's been a while since we've been bulldozed by the Media Curse, so what better time than just as he emerges from the darkness to receive a glowing tribute in the paper. Fortunately he treated the curse like a Brisbane player, kicked it in the grundle and made a triumphant recovery. I haven't felt this way about a #1 since Jamie Shanahan.

There were the usual blunders, but we also had moments of clarity where the ball movement was top eight standard. Revival 2.0 started with a piece of A+ play from Fritsch and Hunt to set up Wagner's second, followed by Oliver capping off a sensational quarter of wrenching the hard ball (CLICHE) from wherever it fell by kicking a sweet goal from the pocket. We were up by six and this was either going to be a magnificent victory or a replay of Adelaide.

It was the latter, with Jack Darling invoking the name of Lucas Cook by kicking two, and a string of misses on our side that condemned us to defeat. One came from a new contender for the ugliest kick of all time, with Gawn plucking the ball out of mid-air while lying on his back and being pinged for "dragging it in". Somebody will probably tell me it was a technically correct decision etc... etc... but talk about going against the spirit of the contest.

After the Ruck Craft incident he was terrifically restrained in not telling the umpire to blow it out her arse, possibly with thought to the earlier goal where Jake Lever responded to a free kick by yelling words to the effect of "that's fucking bullshit!" and copping a 50 for "abuse". Congratulations to whichever of Lever's teammates tried to rope the umpire into repeating his words with a live microphone on, and boo to the umpire who wouldn't join in.

After three Melbournesque misses by the Eagles we had a last gasp at creating a thrilling finish when Petty converted at his third attempt. It came the hard way, with Preuss first ruining an otherwise delightful lead by dropping an absolute sitter like a ball of fire had hit his hands and caused him to recoil in pain.

When you're all in on something you’ll either be right or very wrong, and I'm here to tell that you that as it stands Preuss forward is wrong. Not writing him off forever, and he has got about three more years on his contract to get it right, but yesterday was one of the great disasters of our time. As a tap ruckman he’s good, but unless Gawn burns his hand off in an industrial accident that's not what we need. I'm prepared to go into bat for late-era Spencil, but this was like his first few games when he had absolutely no idea.

In the last two weeks old moustache lips has dropped about 10 marks under minimal pressure and I can't have it. Also, he cost us a goal by getting halfway through a tackle and instead of dumping the guy to the turf like Dylan Grimes in Shepparton let go halfway through. We've been spoiled by the rare scenario of having the best player in the competition in his position but this was not good. I'd feel like a dickhead for advocating so strongly for him but all I (we?) asked was to give him a chance to prove himself as a forward. That he has not, and based on yesterday it would be better to play Weideman or Smith and just wear the reduction in quality taps. It's not a permanent write off, I still have high hopes for him in the future but this week he's got to be a human sacrifice.

Petty mopping up the mess left us needing two goals to win with plenty of time to get them. It could have happened, see for instance the end of the second quarter, except we had to do it with a makeshift forward arrangement. I had a fantasy about Preuss doing something insane and coming out triumphant. Instead, like the '87 Prelim and forgetting how much time there was left at Docklands, we found a none-more-Melbourne way to lose.

One goal would have made it anyone's game, so when we stormed out of defence and landed the ball with Fritsch on the wing, him setting up the goal that kept us in it would have been a cherry on the cake of his finest day. Instead he tried to kick back into the middle of the ground, missed all the Melbourne players by a mile and turned the ball over for the winning goal. There was added insult to injury when the shot did the opposite of Hannan's kick supergluing itself to the line against Carlton, bobbling around hopefully for a few seconds before going through.

Given the very low stakes we were playing for I hadn't let myself get physically excited but saved my one outburst for this. We probably wouldn't have won anyway, and he could very well have just roosted it inside 50 to a defender and left us in the same situation, but it felt like a cruel way to go down after battling hard, and especially after Fritsch playing so well. All I know is that he should not leave the forward line for the rest of the year.

Between Fritsch and Hunt we had some pace in the half-forward/wing area for the first time in ages. This is a good sign for the future, what are the odds we can get Weid/McSizzle/Other on the end of their good work next year? I'm not even convinced we can do it again next week.

So, we gave a good side a shake. What does it get us? Nothing. Let's just end this outstandingly poor decade in the best possible way and move onto my fifth decade of trying to see this bloody useless organisation win a flag.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Bayley Fritsch
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - James Harmes
2 - Steven May
1 - Michael Hibberd

Massive apologies to Lever and Salem, who were very unlucky to miss out. Lesser apologies to Brayshaw, Hunt, Lewis, Petracca and the Wagnii.

Poor old Max is going to overrun isn't he? It would be sad, but stiff shit that's the way footy awards go. Consider it a warm-up to being hosed on Brownlow night. Harmes is now also within range, but picking up eight votes on Gawn and Oliver in five rounds is probably too big a task. Unlike Melbourne he remains a mathematical chance. As is everyone down to Viney.

No movement in the minors, Salem has still got the Seecamp sewn up, and Hore remains a full BOG in front of Lockhart in the Hilton race. Jay is beginning to flag so Marty should be alright, even if he's unlikely to get a game now that our real backline has been reunited.

39 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
36 - Clayton Oliver
31 - James Harmes
27 - Christian Salem (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year),
17 - Jack Viney
--- Abandon all hope ye below here ---
14 - Jake Melksham
13 - Angus Brayshaw
11 - Marty Hore (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
10 - Steven May
9 - Nathan Jones, Christian Petracca
7 - Jayden Hunt
6 - Jay Lockhart
5 - Bayley Fritsch
4 - Sam Frost, Tom McDonald, Billy Stretch
2 - Michael Hibberd, Harrison Petty, Corey Wagner

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With nothing too flashy on offer I'm going to opt for context. Oliver's finish from the boundary line late in the third quarter gave us the lead and hope. Neither lasted but it was an appropriately clutch finish that I hope he can eventually recreate in a game that counts. For the weekly prize he wins a 40 gallon drum of sunscreen for his next visit to the northern states.

Marty Hore still holds the overall lead, and anyone who thinks they're going to challenge will need to do something remarkable.

Given that West Coast has their players spewed across the ground from the mouth of an inflatable Eagle I didn't think they bothered to do banners for away games. They did and it was very pretty, with bonus points for local language translation. But ours flowed beautifully and had a neat little exclamation mark so I'm going for that in a thriller. Dees 17-1-0 for the season.

Not hard when you're next to a bloke who talks complete jibberish all day but Hamish McLachlan is better than he used to be. He's no Jason Bennett or Anthony Hudson, but compared to some of the lunatics they have calling games I can handle him. Goes for the occasion howler of a gag but he feels more genuine than somebody reading off a list of pre-prepared interesting facts or rehearsed 'funny' lines.

He did have one moment of high farce while in conversation with Gilbert McAdam. He accidentally said three-quarter time instead of half time and did a pretty good job to cover it by throwing a question to Gilbert only for it to be greeted with dead silence because the Gil it's ok to like had ducked off for a hot dog.

On the topic of Gilbert, he's a refreshing personality but any danger we could find out Viney had been off the ground for 16 minutes within 16 minutes? TV boundary riders always seem to be miles behind the news with injured players, whereas their radio equivalent are practically leaping into the third row of the bench to get the scoops on the most minor issue. If you're going to subject us to hysterically screaming commentators get the basics right.

Finance Corner
We go through the selling of home games thing every time, but what I will not accept is a lazy "if that was at the MCG we'd have won it", as if we play well there. Maybe if we turned it into a home game at Docklands and ended up paying a fortune just to turn up, but we are decidedly ordinary on our own turf. Which is a bit of a problem. Had we won either of the close NT games we'd have picked up as many points interstate as in Victoria. May as well sell more. Now that Brisbane's good again they might pay us to play home games at the Gabba again.

Coincidentally I re-read Ian Ridley's Urge to Merge during the week, and as much as I'd rather set myself on fire outside the MCG than shack up with any other club it's frightening how right he was about the club's position. There was money in the bank in 1996 but part of the reason for trying to swallow Hawthorn whole was projections that we'd be rooted in a few years. And we were, Gutnick's money was pissed up the wall, we rattled the tins at the start of the Stynes administration and were bailed out by the AFL less than five years later.

I can't see a situation where they get a taste for executing clubs again, and even in that case I think there's at least two that would be in the gun before us, but there is no divine right to survival just because we're called Melbourne. Last year we put $7 million in the bank by selling the Leighoak Club (not quite the $11 million suggested here), which provides a buffer but leaves us with one less asset, and a Bentleigh Club that we're going to run without pokies from 2022. There's nothing in the financial results that suggests whether Bentleigh turns a profit anyway, but they're going to have to make the joint work without gaming or it'll be a weight around our ankles.

The point is we're not Collingwood and you can't act like it. We all love taking over Casey and having an AFLW team but that costs money. Increased investment in football department spending is not compatible with playing all our games in Victoria, dumping pokies, and if you listen to some nervy people paying out the coach well before his contract expires. This is our lot and will be for years to come. If the NT money goes we're in more trouble than the early settlers so best make the most of it, because if they pull the plug we'll be left throwing money into a blanket carried around the boundary line at three quarter time.

Next Week
Because we're a tragic enterprise doomed to eternal failure we develop our seconds players at a ground with a wind (and as it turns out a surface) that turns the game into a deathly struggle. This leads to games with scores of 39-48 defeat, doesn't do a thing for kids who will play on real grounds in the seniors, and tells us nothing about form for next week.

For that reason I'm going to be extremely conservative on changes. Let the group that did well in Alice prove themselves by backing it up. Sadly I'm tapping out on the Preuss experiment. Sometimes there's an argument for playing people just for development's sake but I can't go for it in this case.

The Weid hasn't played for a couple of weeks so it's a bit NQR to put him straight back in, but here we are. I think we're safe from a Tankquiry so if he's fit play him. Otherwise send Petty (injured ankle and all) to ruck school during the week and hope that the midfield does the business. I once saw James Harmes win a centre bounce ruck tap, play him in there if you must. I don't want to run Gawn into the ground but you just can't turn a blind eye when somebody drops about six uncontested marks.

If you're fanging for a top two pick the good news is that St Kilda's done the time honoured sack coach/win next game move. It usually fizzes out quickly, but this year North and Carlton have both done so well since pushing the boss out a window that teams will probably start replacing coaches after winning a Prelim.

Back at Fortress Shithole for the last time this year I'd like to think we'll win but you never know what you're going to get with this lot. I'm going to allow myself to be sucked in with Linda Lovelace force and tip us to win. Which is really just a set up to go right off if we don't.

IN: Weideman (if fit) or Kennedy-Harris
OUT: Preuss (omit)
LUCKY: Neal-Bullen
UNLUCKY: Kennedy-Harris (if Weid fit)

Final thoughts
Turns out we match up pretty well against the Eagles as long as there's not a Grand Final berth at stake. This has given me some hope for the future, but I need for that to be validated over the next five weeks by a series of strong performances. Either way it's going to be a very long summer waiting to find out whether 2018 or 2019 was the fluke.

Monday 15 July 2019

Same old story

When you're having a bad season there's nothing like the games where you might win but probably won't. As such, this contest was greeted with all the excitement of a trip to the dentist and ended equally as painfully.

In these circumstances advantage goes to the confirmed mid-table mediocrity. Anybody who's seen us start as favourite in similar circumstances would know this doesn't always translate to a win, but it was hard to picture a way we were going to win with a list full of battered players who are as desperate to wrap things up and get on with next year as the rest of us.

They could have caught the opposition unaware and made a pre-2020 statement by kicking a massive score, but given we were playing without a forward line I suppose it was a bit too much to ask for a win so massive it put the Fitzroy Bulldogs back on the agenda.

So in the end it was another defeat that means stuff all to our season. How very 2007-2009 and 2011-2015. I felt like three seasons of being close to - or god forbid once IN - the finals would give me an insatiable taste for being in the running but the overwhelming sense of being in limbo feels like a homecoming. Cast your mind back to Round 17, 2015, where we lost by kicking a sad six goals and were left on five wins with Carlton and Gold Coast immediately below us. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 2015 we ripped out a surprise, organisation lifting win against Collingwood the next week, picked up another win in the last round and were pretty happy with ourselves. This year we might get to seven if we're lucky, but it's a hell of a comedown from a pair of finals wins in front of 180,000 people.

When you're left fighting to win seven games and possibly avoid the bottom three you've got troubles, so even though Footscray has spent most of the time bobbing up and down doing nothing since winning a flag it felt right that they won here. What a long way down either of the wins over them last year, now we're just adrift and floating aimlessly to the end of the season. Too many injuries, too few inside 50s that hit forwards even when we had them and too much tossing off over contested footy at the expense of everything else.

I'd say you can't play Carlton every week, but by next Sunday night they'll have beaten Gold Coast and gone above us on the ladder so perhaps we should be happy to have played three winning quarters against them. That's not a great advertisement for the year, but you'd have to be emerging from a coma not to realise that this campaign has been shithouse from day 1 of pre-season training.

Compared to some years five wins is still a tally to be grateful about, but given that none have been by more than four goals and our total winning margin against the two (current) bottom teams is five points you can't help but get a bit grim. But you've got to play out the season, and the mark of a group nearly squashed flat with adversity is how they carry themselves to the line. Yesterday we lost due to having all the poise of a horny teenager about to get laid for the first time but at least we tried for four quarters. That's literally all that's left to cling on to.

I was never worried about a thrashing, the Dogs are hardly an attacking juggernaut and we'd finally got our Round 1 backline on the park in Round 17. My key concern was kicking the lowest Australian football score ever under a roof. To say we had no came in with no forward line would be an understatement. Not only was McDonald fully crocked for the season but Weideman lost his chance to be #1 when he went down hurt as well.

We've spent years trying to play without half-forwards but this was the full enchilada. Given how our scoring has been this year (now up to 73 per game. Which, if you're wondering, is still shit) with a full complement of talls to pick from there were two options - find an alternative avenue to goal or kick 2.6.24. I didn't foresee a third option, the emergence - temporary anyway - of a new tall forward.

If Preuss/Weid was an unlikely combination, the double take when I discovered Harrison Petty was down there nearly caused whiplash. In all the joy of getting Lever and Jetta back I didn't even notice he was still in the side. By the end we might have lost, and he was nowhere to be seen in the last quarter, but he might have just found a way to keep himself in the side without having to wait for defenders to get injured or suspended.

Good thing he unexpectedly dropped in and kicked three, because even those only helped us to a paltry nine goals. RIP after one week to my theory of Channel 7 getting all the adds they wanted if they pitted mid-table and lower sides against each other.

Sadly, at the other end of the spectrum Preuss had his #freerickypetterd moment a week later than expected and couldn't get near it in attack. I'm not laying the blame entirely on him, he was only supposed to be a pinch hitting forward not the leader of the pack.

Still thought he was good when he got a chance in the ruck, but given that Max isn't going anywhere it will have the people who recruited Preuss in the first place nervously adjusting their collars and thinking it might not work as well as expected. I say keep going, but like a Trump fan who is too far down the rabbit hole to admit their man is a bit rapey I've gone too hard on the Preuss for the 1s campaign to pull back now. Otherwise don't mess around, flip him to a team that could do with a #1 ruckman (Essendon?), recruit the Spencil as a backup and let's move on.

If there was anything to this game outside of getting close and accidentally discovering a prospective forward, it was the long awaited first meeting of our backline outside the rehab group. Lever and Jetta were rusty as fuck, Hibberd and Frost put on their usual high octane, high risk performances and Gawn may as well be counted amongst them for all his cameo appearances, but the main event was May and Salem. Now that's a combination to spark joy. I don't care about what Josh Kelly does with his life or that May got on the piss while in rehab, this is a combination for dedicating your life to with an almost religious fervour.

The defenders' reunion nearly ended as quickly as the Jetta-less one on Queen's Birthday. I've watched enough episodes of Air Crash Investigation to see a midair collision coming, and it didn't take long before Lever and Frost tried to do a cover version of the Tenerife Disaster by trying to intercept the same kick. They survived the impact, but at the cost of leaving a Dogs player to snap through an unguarded goal.

He let us off the hook by missing, the first of three wide open goals they flubbed from a similar spot in the first quarter. We were also favoured by a failed attempt to play on after marking directly in front of goal. This was a surprise, the article about their recent poor conversion should have set off a reverse media curse that ended with a final score of 16.1.

It was very charitable of them to keep us in it, even with the Kingsley Manor lights flicking on and off like they were calling for help. First we let in one of two goals to somebody called 'Roarke' who looks like a fringe Home and Away character and before yesterday had one goal since 2015, then Josh Schache joined in and Kent was karted off in an ambulance.

'Roarke' (surely not his birth name) was at the high end of the Dogs' silly haircut faction. At least his long blonde locks invoked memories of Warwick Capper, unlike the several of his teammates getting about with mullets. You couldn't be a Melbourne fan if you weren't into irony and self-deprecation but while it's one thing to have joke hair for the two hours a week you're on TV where's your dignity for the other 166? I didn't like Lynden Dunn's pissy moustache and I'm not crazy about whatever Oliver's doing with his barnet, but if any of our players ever appear with a mullet I'll write him off immediately. I'd rather somebody with neck tatts because you know they're in it for the long haul.

Things were much as expected, we weren't leaking goals at any great rate but were struggling mightily to kick them. Hunt took one good forward 50 mark and continued his good work from the Blues game, but otherwise we were always in full hit and hope territory.

We still dragged the margin back to one at quarter time courtesy of a pair of rarities. First a goal from a forward 50 stoppage without Gawn in the ruck, as Petty's (?) contest ended with Lewis (??) bustling through the pack and striking a lovely soccered goal. Then almost as strangely, Christian Petracca converted a set shot. As he lined up a graphic said he was 8.6 for the season and I instinctively yelled "LIES!" at the TV. But through it went, only for him to even the ledger by missing an easier one in the last quarter.

My favourite bit of the first quarter was the 10 minutes when Petracca was in everything. I was watching with another member of the faithful who pointed out there was no chance he'd play that way for four quarters. Even I wasn't mad enough to believe that, but would three quarters be too much to ask for? Apparently yes, as his stats look ok but his impact was reduced to next to nothing. I like Trucking and I like to Truck but one of our many off-season projects should be devising a way to keep him involved all day. Otherwise he's heading into Jack Watts territory, years of being serviceable but inconsistent before being traded to Port Adelaide.

Speaking of the 2014 AFL National Draft I'm increasingly suspect that they're going to turf Brayshaw at the end of the season. Show me the deal and I'll tell you if I'm for or against it, but if it addresses any of our other glaring deficiencies sign me up. They don't seem keen on playing him in the guts, so what's the point of having him there at all. Mind you, if he was going to be sold better to fatten his price with the same sort of bulk possessions that unexpectedly vaulted him to third in the Brownlow so maybe it's just the usual Melbourne style ruining of a promising career.

When Sam Lloyd kicked two to start the second quarter a call came through live from the ambulance letting us know that they'd just had to sedate Kent before he did a blanket induction on the entire Bulldogs list. We didn't look likely to kick another two goals for the day so it could have been a match-winning break, before another rare moment, the back-to-back first career goalkickers. First Petty, then Dunkley.

There was much made of Dunkley booting a goal over his brother's head, but fair to say the one with 39 disposals, 15 tackles and 3 future Brownlow votes took family honours. Our one shows promise (maybe not 39 disposals worth), but compared to playing Carlton this exposed how far back he's starting from. Again, when he got the ball he knew what to do with it but is well off the AFL pace. He's certainly worth another year of development, but for now looks exactly as you'd expect from a player plucked from nowhere six weeks ago. Like a pre-injury Weid, we may as well give him a run when there's nothing to lose.

Also off the pace, and in this case further than a harness horse with a busted leg, was Mitch Hannan. We all love the 2018 Elimination Final and accept that he's had a difficult year with injury but he's offered little since returning and yesterday was the worst game of the lot. How do you play 78% of a match in modern football and only get three possessions? There's not much in the reserves as a replacement but time for a spell anyway. He's probably haunted by the vision of that bloody ball not rotating one more time against the Blues.

In comparison to crying out for more than the eight combined touches of Dunkley and Hannan, there were 35 from Jones and Neal-Bullen that we could have done with a lot less of. Jones has been prematurely written off in some circles but this is the second time in 2019 I've been moved to say that it's the worst game I can remember him playing. Still worth seeing if he can kick a goal, almost nobody else can.

As for Anal-Bullet, he can't get to the end of this season quickly enough. He has a bash but is just so tentative when he gets the ball. When it's bobbling about inside 50 and you don't have a teammate standing alone in the square nobody's going to hang you for having a shot. Except when your snaps have the power of a man that's had his thigh muscles removed. I can't decide who I'd want snapping for my life less between him and Charlie Spargo.

There were precious few positives, but when Petty got his second I was half tempted to ditch my commitments, sprint out the door and head straight for Docklands. After seeing Jamar and Blease kick five, the idea that I'd miss another unusual player doing it gave me more concern than the actual result. He pulled up after an impressive three. Can take a mark, can kick straight, give me more of that for the rest of the year.

Just when you dared to dream (about a opening a gap on 17th), we were dudded by one of those classic bullshit free kicks that is probably technically correct but makes you want to gouge your eyes out and take up audio description of another sport. As is his want against mortals, Gawn was clobbering every opponent who went near him, so instead of properly contesting a ruck dual one of them just jumped into his outstretched arm and got a free.

I understand that you're not allowed to just push a guy out of the way with a straight arm (though personally I reckon people would go wild if ruckmen could maul each other in the contest) but there's a big difference between that and putting your arm out straight and having the guy jump into it. Add that square up for Jeff White 2005 to the goal they got earlier from a 'play on' 20 metres forward of the ball after all our players had stopped and wonder why Dogs fans sooked so loudly about the umpiring that I started to wonder if Ross Oakley had been right. By the end both sets of fans thought they'd been horribly done by, but Footscray got to console themselves with a win.

Nobody reacts to bullshit frees like Maximum, and he responded with the immortal line "that's ruck craft, big boy" to a hapless whistleblower. Sorry Max, ruck craft doesn't create as many goals as frees in front of goal. Gawn could already be best on ground 22 times in a row and they wouldn't give him the Brownlow so belittling an umpire should completely kill off his chances. Suffice to say the rest of the afternoon was spent with ruckman straight arming each other, but the free was never paid again.

Until that happened we were - somehow - winning the quarter. It only left us still a point behind, which was a pretty good result considering we weren't playing at all well. God help us against the Eagles, Richmond, Collingwood and Bellerive Oval in the next six weeks. Or St Kilda and the Swans come to think of it. Why shouldn't they take their chance to sneak a cheap win by the end of the season as well?

Under the circumstances I was thrilled to get to half time on six goals. I could easily see our all new steel trap defence holding another side to 41 but didn't expect to get anywhere near that ourselves. The backline nearly saved us too, only conceding another four goals for the second half. Which is great, except when you kick 3.8 in response. They started it, opening the third quarter with seven behinds in a row before we wiped out all but one of them in an instant. An experienced defender was so concerned with Harrison Petty of all people he held onto him like somebody trying not to fall off a boat and gave away our seventh goal.

After 15 minutes of barely holding them out what do we do after kicking a goal? That's right, give it back about 30 seconds later. I hope Tom McDonald didn't kick something in anger at seeing that. I was certainly on my feet and had the leg poised before thinking better of it after the big boot near the end of the Gold Coast game crippled me for about three days. That was it for third quarter goals. Stiff shit Channel 7, take another zero off your broadcast rights offer.

We ended the quarter taking our turn to miss a bunch of shots, leaving us a goal behind at the last change. Deep down I didn't really care if we won, and now less than 24 hours later I'm not even moderately affected by the result, but at the time it meant something. As they're going to write on my gravestone 'it's the hope that kills you'. I didn't expect to win at the start, in the middle, or for most of the end, but give me a sniff of Grand Theft Four Points and I'm there with my full range of emotions.

If the 0-1 first goal is the Bailey Quarter, this was the Bayley Quarter, as Fritsch both started and ended it. When he got the first to level it up within a couple of minutes it looked like we might even be a chance. It would have been wrong to win but that's never worried me yet.

The beginning of the end was a Petracca set shot. Where was Mr. 9.6 when we could have struck a vital blow early in the last? His grab was a thing of beauty, his kick not so much, and *BOING!* the ball flew down the other end for a goal. I'm not blaming him for the quick transition, but if he's going to take massive grabs I'd rather him do it in the middle of the ground where we seem to lose every aerial contest. If we're not last in the AFL for contested marks outside the 50s I'd be astounded. I'm not even concerned if we take the marks (because as the Jeremy Howe era showed he world's greatest mark means squat if the following disposal is a turnover) but a contest that stops the other side from doing it would be nice.

After dropping into defence to save us all day the next goal came directly from Gawn confusing fantasy and reality and trying to screw a kick around his body from hard on the boundary line. He put it straight out on the full, and after his mates missed every easy shot under the sun Lachie Hunter did a full Hipwood job on us from the boundary. When another followed not long after I'm sure plenty of Melbourne fans stood up and left. They were right about where it was going but there was a bit of a tease to come first.

I like May as a defender so much that he'll probably end up taking a restraining order out on me, but I'm glad they recognised the game was shot and threw him forward instead of just merrily losing. Like Petracca he took a beautiful contested mark but also missed. Nevertheless, what a man. I wish we'd got the chance to wreck his career five years ago before Gold Coast could really put him away.

Ironically, after the opposition spent three quarters spurning simple chances our last chance of salvation disappeared via the same method. First Fritsch saved our bacon by finishing after everyone else had buggered around trying to get somebody else to kick the goal. Which was good.  Then he got a free for being held. Which was also good. Until from not far out on a more than kickable angle he ran around for the quick snap and missed. Which was all kinds of shit.

Sadly, even if he thought time was about to expire 23 minutes into the last quarter it still wouldn't be our worst clock management incident at Docklands Stadium.

This is where watching on TV is no good. They were halfway through a replay of the free then cut back to it flying through for a point, leaving about 0.5 of a second where your brain can't process what's happened and you know something bad has happened but not why. If you're in the ground you can see him running around and shout "nooooooooooooooo" as if it's going to stop him. If it went through we'd be lauding him for it, but he didn't so it was a dumb idea.

There was enough time left if we could get two quick goals, but after scoring at the rate of about one every 13 minutes until then it was going to take something unusual to happen. It did not, the Dogs casually played the remaining time out and remain on the fringes of the finals race, while we're back to scouring draft profiles. For now it's all about breathing deeply and dreaming of a revival next year. I am going to feel SO cheated 12 months down the line when we're still no good.

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Steven May
4 - Christian Salem
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Harrison Petty
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Fritsch, Harmes, Hibberd, Lewis, Lockhart, Oliver and Petracca.

With 30 votes left to play for Maximum clamps that little bit tighter onto the cup. The line of elimination is slowly snaking up the table, ready to swallow everyone from Melksham to Petracca next week.

In the minors, Hore is holding on to the Hilton, but it's all over in the Seecamp. Salem might have given a point back to May but no matter how much work the defenders have to do until the end of the season I can't see him reeling in a further 19 votes. Congratulations to Christian for becoming the second man behind four-time winner James Frawley to capture the award twice.

39 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
32 - Clayton Oliver
28 - James Harmes
27 - Christian Salem (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year),
17 - Jack Viney
14 - Jake Melksham
13 - Angus Brayshaw
11 - Marty Hore (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
9 - Nathan Jones, Christian Petracca
--- Abandon all hope ye below here ---
8 - Steven May
7 - Jayden Hunt
6 - Jay Lockhart
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Sam Frost, Tom McDonald, Billy Stretch
2 - Harrison Petty, Corey Wagner
1 - Michael Hibberd

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Forget the four flags, it's Jordan Lewis' time to shine. For all the shit that's been hung on him in the last year of his career (and the second last, and parts of the third last) the goal he created in the first quarter was an A+ crumb from a forward stoppage. It was just the sort of thing we haven't done enough this year. Let's not get over-excited and give him a contract to play as a small forward but it was a welcome cameo. For the weekly prize he wins a Carpet Call voucher so he can get his syrup retouched before launching a full-time media career in 2020.

Marty Hore still leads overall. Which must be some consolation for having a broken collarbone.

The "yay we survived" banner from the Dogs was well received but they need to employ a poet to make sure the lines scan properly because it had less rhythm than a dirty limerick. What I did like was their cheersquad holding retro UP YOURS OAKLEY and NO MERGER signs. Unfortunately that's not the sort banners we're judging the competition on.

The only heartstrings ours tugged at were for people who enjoy kerning, ledding and proper rhyming couplets. Much love to Bulldogs fans everywhere for still having a club (which means bad luck Fitzroy supporters I suppose) but you're shit out of luck in this category.  Dees 15-1-0 for the season.

Sadly in a commentary box featuring Joel Selwood and Leigh Matthews, BT didn't duck into a king hit so an adult could take over. Instead we got to hear about a player called "Preust" all day. Is he any relation to Trengrove, Jarrah, McClean and Maloney?

Meanwhile special comments Selwood was probably responsible for boring several elderly members of the viewing audience to death. He might have been a good enough footy player to jump straight into the seniors but he could do with a season or two in the Reserves before graduating to special comments.

Next Week
Stranger, more remarkable things have happened in the history of human civilisation, but if we beat West Coast my jaw will permanently dislocate from dropping so hard. Wouldn't matter if the game was in Alice Springs, Perth, Melbourne or Timbuktu they're going to dismantle us in a fashion that will make the Prelim look like child's play (and given our plight this year any chance of a media ban on mentioning how spectacularly we shit the bed that day?)

I dipped in and out of the Casey game but there was very little of interest. A side very light on for Melbourne listed players with any experience wobbled along for three and a half quarters before launching a fruitless fightback. Double J James Jordon could get a start by the end of the year but no need to ruin his senior career from day 1 with a lamb to slaughter scenario against the Eagles. Otherwise, nothing came out of it that we haven't seen before. JKH and Corey Wagner get a go to reward VFL form, and will presumably then go straight back out again.

IN: Kennedy-Harris, C. Wagner
OUT: Neal-Bullen, Hannan (omit)
LUCKY: Dunkley
UNLUCKY: Baker, Jordon, J. Wagner, Weideman

Pick whoever you like, it's not going to help. As they say in the classics...

Final thoughts

Get this rubbish season over with.

Monday 8 July 2019

Survivor Series

Unless you're Geelong or Kevin Rudd nobody thinks of 2007 fondly*. Especially when it comes to football. I recall it as the middle period of internet broadcast technology, where you still had to listen to lo-fi radio commentary through a website but still thought that was pretty bloody good compared to the days where you were shit out of luck anywhere beyond the Melbourne metropolitan area.

That was my lot last time there was a Melbourne/Carlton game I didn't see in person, listening to Ricky Petterd quite literally bust a lung on a computer barely running Windows 95 in a Thai internet cafe with headphones so unsanitary I was lucky not lose my hearing to an eardrum eating virus.

Since that day we've had a cavalcade of memories both good and bad. From their shameless tanking in the last round of '07, to winning by the ton for the first time in 15 years via Jamar's five, the pro-Viney headband extravaganza after 186, that Pedersen goal, losing to them while they were in crisis in 2015, seeing the Mighty Ducks Finish go up in smoke the next year and 2017's Lewis/Neal-Bullen clock management scam.

Now, 12 years later the internet has further enhanced our lives. Not only have services like Google News Archive, Trove, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube and *ahem* Demonwiki made life worth living, but live streaming technology saves you from a fate worse than death if you can't be at the game. What a wonderful world. I've spent a lot of time in the last week watching games from the early 1980s and realising how much better the field looked without a 50 metre arc, but imagine going back to before mass bandwidth internet. For me, that would be hell.

In Round 14, 2007 we won comfortably (apparently I had such contempt for the reading audience that there wasn't even a real report) so there was no need to get overly excited. In contrast, my actions yesterday would have had me banged up in the Bangkok Hilton. There was also blasphemy by the boatload, as the lord's name was taken in vain several dozen times.

I can't help it, watching Melbourne does uncomfortable things to me physically and mentally. It's my version of people's personalities changing when they get on the piss. It wasn't always like this. With the exception of saying mean things to an old man during Round 2, 1999, punching buggery out of a seat in 2000 and yelling "fuck you!" into the face of a lippy St Kilda fan in the 2006 finals, I was generally quite calm before 2007. It wasn't until 186 when I really flipped out.

In our eventual 2065 Australian Robot Football League premiership review this game will not rate the slightest mention. In isolation it was nothing more than a crisis-averting win where we slipped on a banana skin, did a full flip and landed unsteadily on our feet. But for those of us who saw it live it was a finish only slightly less bonkers than Gold Coast. After that game we ranked all the close wins since 1990, and this would have ranked very highly on the 'insane finish' scale. It wouldn't get past mid-table on the overall list because there was no real importance attached to the result, but if you still didn't nearly haemorrhage from every orifice when Hannan's shot stopped on the line check your pulse to make sure you're still alive.

Let's get the caveats and exemptions out of the way first. No they didn't have Charlie Curnow or Cripps (by the end all the crips were on our bench), and yes a ruthless team would have taken advantage of their bumbling, Three Stooges footy to be so far in front by three quarter time that we could have had zero last quarter rotations and won. Firstly, cry me a river about injuries, and b) it's well established we're about as ruthless as a chihuahua in 2019 so you'll just have to take it for what it was.

It's not like we were at full strength either, lacking the most colossal ruckman in the game. Luckily  we had a more than capable backup in the form of internet sensation Braydon Preuss. I don't know how close Gawn came to playing, but not picking Preuss in the first place felt like a hamfisted plot to fool Carlton into thinking he might. I'd have had them both in the original 22 then pulled Gawn for Kyle Dunkley at the last minute. Maybe they really contemplating running Max around all day on a dud ankle in a meaningless game without a proper backup to try and prove... something. I'd much rather it be a poor attempt at disinformation than a reckless scenario like that.

Unlike Juice Newton II, John Meesen, Free Ricky Petterd, and all the other players we've launched hurt feelings internet campaigns for in the past, Preuss' much awaited appearance was a raging success. He beat an accomplished ruckman in the middle and did all sorts of Gawnish stuff around the ground. Shame his chance had to come because of injury, but considering how well we're going this year it's understandable that a guy we specifically set out to trade for in the off-season can't get a game right?

It was ace. Problem is he'll never get to do it again once Maximum comes back. We all want Gawn to play until his 52, but imagine if Preuss realises he's never going to be #1, whacks in a trade request and ends up at a club where he can be THE man. Today seemed to demonstrate he can go four quarters easily, and that blowing up like the Hindenberg in pre-season had more to do with it being a 35 degree day than his own fitness concerns. He looked exhausted by the end, but at the same age Gawn was also finishing games like he was about to die.

In other news, because I watched with people who don't take this rubbish nearly as seriously as me, it was pointed out that his website profile photo looks like somebody wearing an old tyme comedy moustache. Now I'll never be able to gaze at his photo without thinking of him as old moustache lips.

The sad thing is that until McDonald was injured Preuss was probably going straight back out of the side anyway, because there is clearly no appetite at coaching level from playing his as a forward. I wouldn't be surprise if they give him the boot next week anyway and try a like-for-like surname swap by playing Oscar McDonald at full forward.

Even if sanity prevails when Max returns, Weid/Preuss is a pretty weird forward combination. I'm hoping that BP's brick shithouse physique creates contests that allow Weid to float in from the side and take grabs. They had better make the most of it, I can't imagine the coaches offering a second chance if they're not competitive. Weideman especially needs to get amongst it. I stand by my theory that you just have to play him for the rest of the year no matter what - especially without McDonald - but my resolve wobbled yesterday when he was generally naff.

To say this was an unusual game would be an understatement. We went in with half-decent form, but supporters everywhere (myself very much included) were terrified of the Caretaker Coach Effect carrying Carlton through another week. Usually replacements preside over a few weeks of vastly improved footy, and rope journos into speculating that they might get the job permanently before everyone else twigs about what they're doing and the team slides back into filth.

It's a bit more advanced when we do it. Both Greg Hutchison and Mark Riley started with wins but were back in the doldrums two weeks later, Todd Viney started with a big loss, then dragged us through the last five weeks without disgracing himself, and even Neil Craig had three solid weeks and a win as stand-in captain of Air Farce One before we resumed kicking four goals a game and damaging the AFL's brand.

This was week five for David Teague, so I had high hopes of the effect fizzing just in time to save us from dropping to 17th. They certainly came in on a high, winning last week in a finish that (finals implications aside) nearly equalled Tom McDonald at Subiaco for white-hot lunacy. Marc Murphy standing like Steven Seagal in a gunfight, ducking and weaving bullets before straightening up and shooting Freo between the eyes was nearly the best non-MFC thing I've seen since Mark Williams choked himself with a tie.

At first it looked like Carlton had run themselves to a standstill in Perth, but I had major issues trusting any sort of lead against the sort of Stranglewankin' team that has twice came back from five goals down to win, and once to fall agonisingly short in their last three games. Especially when we're notorious for doing everything right except putting the ball through the middle posts. The actual gulf in class between the sides meant nothing, I had The Fear.

We proved to be the superior footballing outfit in the opening minutes but since when has that ever meant anything to us? In summer, the women can't put a side away, and in winter the men often have the final punch ready before half time but fail to throw it. In addition to a raft of psychologists, we need a sick building syndrome consultant to check the AAMI Park air vents. Whatever toxic forces are at work they don't seem to affect Melbourne Storm players.

In their home game the Blues went out of their way to be as charitable as possible, turning the ball over at every opportunity and leaving acres of space for us to work in. That's not always a good thing, sometimes our players see excessive space and become unrealistic about their capabilities. Chief offender yesterday was Bayley Fritsch. Like a lower profile Travis Johnstone he's like a roulette wheel, there's a near 50% chance of his kicks being either awesome or absolutely dreadful. It was a little bit ahead of the ledger yesterday, but best of luck pulling that off against sides that can defend to even the barest AFL stand.

Speaking of dreadful kicks, have you ever seen us try to score a goal? The first quarter may have delivered four, but was also full of players saying "no you first", "no you first", "no I really do insist" and trying to get somebody else to have the shot. After five minutes of pressure where did everything other than kick goals, it took converted forward Liam Jones to give converted defender Tom McDonald a hectare of space and the first decent shot of the game. Which McSizzle proceeded to kick out on the full from close range.

If you'd told me then he was going to equal his personal best of six in a game but not play again for the rest of the year I'd have only believed you about the latter. Next thing you know he's taken advantage of spectacularly inept defending to go into quarter time with three under his belt. It was quite the turnaround, but the poison mist of #fistedforever wasn't far away.

The third goal was the best, the sort of quick kick out of pack that we've been dying for this year, but it lacked the comic value of his second. We were pressing so hard that even Hibberd got forward for a point, only for the seven point play to come off courtesy of it being kicked in right down Tom's throat.

For now we not only kicked goals - even if it took a few tries - but immediately went back into attack after. For much of the quarter the Blues didn't look like getting anything, to the point where I was tempted to see who we last held scoreless in a first quarter but thought that was tempting fate a bit. Turned out to be St Kilda at Waverley in Round 10, 1994, and we haven't done it on the MCG since 1964.

Even allowing for Carlton's recent comebacks I couldn't foresee a way that we could (on the assumption that all our players ended the game upright) ease up enough to lose. Then we gave suckers an even break, let them get it out of their defensive 50, Marty Hore became the first domino to go down when he burst his collarbone and it was on. They got two of the last three goals, even the unbelievably maligned Levi Casboult was kicking accurately and we looked a lot more vulnerable at 30:00 than we had at 20:00.

Two goals to nil in the first 10 minutes of the second quarter restored some calm to my innards. We were still not playing like a finals team (which is lucky, because we won't be one), but seemed to be holding them at enough of a distance that their spirit would eventually break. In a way it did, but at the same time we were shedding healthy players at a rapid rate without setting up enough of a buffer to insure ourselves against a storming finish.

The slow-moving rot began when we executed our most famous move, wasting a Tom McDonald goal within 30 seconds, before ending the half peppering shots for no reward. The main culprit was Anal-Bullet, who had 0.3 and looked tremendously ropey around goal. He wasn't alone. Only making it to the break 25 points up despite undoubtedly being the better side seemed a prelude to disaster.

We were ahead in every aspect of the game. Lewis was tagging Murphy into the ground, Preuss was beating Kruezer, and the backline had their counterparts smothered. I still felt uneasy that we weren't double the margin in front, and that even one player short on the bench it was asking for them to have another go at us.

For the third time we started a quarter in an excessive hurry to get the game over with. McDonald got his fifth, and enjoyed the rare feeling of seeing it not only come back our way after but going through for consecutive goals. This is where the bitterness kicked in. At this point we still had 21 fit players and were cannoning towards a score over 100, then proceeded to spend the rest of the quarter handing goals back to the Blues almost immediately after getting them.

The sorry tale was:

  • 03:53 Hunt begat 05:12 Silvagni, which made me upset
  • 08:53 Weideman begat 10:01 Silvagni, which made me angry
  • 23:53 Petracca begat 25:42 Casboult, which caused me to rip my headphones out and hurl them as violently as you can when they're still connected to the computer
  • 27:19 McDonald begat 30:14 Setterfield, but at least we held out for a couple of minutes. To make up for lost time the Blues then replied to that goal by going out of the middle for another shot.

Amidst the carnage a new Kingsley emerged. Jack Silvagni has plenty of pedigree, but has so far done bugger all. After avoiding Dylan Buckley we've finally been caught by a father/son Blue. The man currently holding the worst win/loss record in the competition (9-44) went at it like he was almost anybody else in his family and will be taking his seat at the annual dinner alongside Klassic Kingsley Daryl Gilmore, who played one game for Carlton and kicked 3.1 against us.

I didn't like seeing a 38 point lead early in the quarter turn into 30 by the end of it, but even with the otherwise solid Harrison (still not Harry, even if he asks nicely) Petty also out for the rest of the game with a concussion it still looked like we'd be ok. With McDonald beating Liam Jones like he'd stolen something I was convinced for the first time all year that as long as we just kept pumping the ball forward there we couldn't help but score enough to win.

Then, just as I was kicking myself at not being there for McSizzle's tilt at a genuine bag they cut to him sitting on the bench and out of the game with a crocked knee. How very Melbourne, bouncing back from adversity towards the game of your life before disaster strikes. It gave me nightmare flashbacks to Mitch Clark suffering rapid onset disintegration of the foot in the Carnival of Hate when he looked like plundering the Giants for 14.

What a weird week to be Tom McDonald. From the high profile fiasco against Brisbane, to announcing he was going to be a dad, to kicking out on the full horrendously, then booting six and at least semi-doing his knee. It's never a good sign when player and coach alike have to go out of their way to say "it doesn't look like an ACL". Bit of a difference between ending your season and losing half of the next as well.

Luckily it's been confirmed as 'just' a season ending injury, so he's got plenty of time to get away from the pressure and get both head and body right before next year. Maybe when he comes back he'll kick six and won't look up to see half of them going back to the opposition a minute later? Between this and Queen's Birthday I don't reckon any player in league history has seen two sets of six squandered so rapidly.

Not only did McDonald's absence for the last quarter ruin his chance at personal glory, it also left us in all sorts for rotations. 10 years ago you'd have parked Petty in the forward line, faced him towards goal and hoped he'd kick through the middle of the eight posts he was seeing, but now we're concerned about player welfare. Probably a good thing, but RIP one of the great traditions of footy.

Carlton might not be very good at football, but can count to one. After three quarters where they couldn't hit the ocean by jumping off a pier they recognised we were down to one rotation and went us like a hungry man attacking a cheeseburger. On a weekend where I tempted fate by not only discovering footage of the Chris Sullivan Line game, but promoting it to the public this went close to being our biggest three quarter time fold since.

The injuries were a ready-made excuse but I still couldn't handle losing from that far in front under any circumstances. It was a good excuse, even if we tried to play down the impact when Freo lost to us in similar circumstances. Carlton fell agonisingly short of pulling off their comeback, but for teams that left themselves in a cavernous ditch before making a run on a wounded opposition their storm home was of a much higher quality than ours against Sydney in similar circumstances last year.

Scoring nine points in the last quarter is right up our alley, but in this case there was no expectation beyond defending the lead. I'd love to have crashed through the 100 point barrier and delivered the crushing victory that we've waited all season for but this was purely an exercise in running down the clock.

It always felt like we were one goal from winning, but to get to that point we had half an hour like a boxer trying to hold on against the ropes in the 12th round. We'd have been knocked out by a better team within the first 15. None was available but it still went uncomfortably close to disaster.

When Silkingsley's first was rapidly followed by another, then a behind right after that I was shitting bricks. Almost everyone looked like they were about to expire before we'd even scored and I can't fathom how we even got it forward to kick a couple of points midway through the quarter. Unable to take any of our half chances the lead slowly dripped away, before Frost did something a bit silly and put a player on his arse right in front of goal to give away a free.

It might have tainted what was otherwise a red hot rebound defending performance, but to be fair the kick inside 50 was marked anyway. The problem was that it gifted them a certain goal instead of making Casboult kick from the simple distance and angle that makes him break out in hives. I was ready to concede defeat when they rushed out of the middle and went forward again, before thank christ a wild snap took a favourable bounce and was rushed through. More on zany bounces shortly.

Frost did Frost things again by taking a great contested mark, then chipping one high to Oliver that he never had any chance of marking, but from that ball hitting the ground came the match-winning goal. Still don't know how he fits in with Lever, and it would be nice if they spent more than 90 seconds on field together so we can find out, but I'll take the rough with the smooth on Frost. One day he'll unload some putrid kick in defence that costs us a game, and at that point I choose to focus on the fact that he's now inadvertently beaten Hawthorn and accidentally won us this game.

If you can stand it, here's the entire 'last two minutes', which they helpfully stretch out to the last 2.25 minutes so we see all the action:
With my heart threatening to pop out like Alien, the decisive moment came when that beautiful man Clayton Oliver showed why he should consider kicking more by landing an nerve-free pinpoint pass on Hunt 40 metres out directly in front. On the occasion of The Hamburglar setting up the winning goal in a Carlton game, I hope this guy had a fantastic day at the footy.

It was appropriate that the turnover came from Kade Simpson, who is in a neck-and-neck race with Nathan Jones to become the losingist player in VFL/AFL history. It helped him snatch a break on Chunk, leaving him 14 ahead, and just six short of Kevin Murray's all-time mark. There's two Kev achievements neither man will top, winning a Brownlow and going 0-34 as a coach.

Watching Hunt's earlier set shots gave me a greater appreciation of a set shot technique where he removes the glove and dangles it over his Steven Icke before running in. If you meet him after a game don't shake his hand until he's taken the glove off. Now I could barely look at the screen.

First I removed my headphones so I didn't have to hear Dwayne gleefully call the miss, then took a big step back from the computer. I don't think I was lining up to take a running punt at the thing, it was more of a coping mechanism, to be as far away from more late game set shot heartbreak as possible. Hunt has been reasonably accurate this year, but has done enough shithouse shanks and slices that unlike the Weid I didn't think he'd kick it. Which ironically made me more calm as he was lining up. When I die I'd like to donate my brain to footy fan research.

The distance also troubled me, but he hit it perfectly. It started right and flirted with cracking into the post before going through to muted, scared celebrations. From me anyway, Hunt was justified in enjoying his handiwork but the job was only half done. I always say a five point lead is a one point loss waiting to happen, but in this case it has never been more accurate. You had a half-dead side that couldn't stop conceding goals from the middle even when they were fit and I was supposed to believe we could hold out for 90 seconds? Not bloody likely.

Unusually, after a day of NQR centre bounces not being recalled, the umpire shat himself and threw the ball up. He'll probably blame the light rain, and if that's what contributed to us not just seeing it ping straight into Carlton's forward 50 then god bless the man. A lot happened in the next 100 seconds, including for the first time in god knows how long two time-consuming repeat stoppages.

On the third go Preuss lost the battle, but hitouts were shown once again to be a complete swizz by the ball dropping straight into Oliver's hands to go forward. This was good, the further away from Carlton's goal the better. Until Hannan was judged to have illegally contested a mark against two opponents where the ball only narrowly escaped his grasp. What exactly did he do wrong? The Carltonian at the front went flying forward, but he didn't push off him with hand or boot, and the ball only narrowly missed his hand so it's a bit harsh to say he jumped too early.

I was too close to a stroke to notice at the time, but check out Hannan's carefree attitude to throwing the ball back to his opponent. It was one of those where the bloke could have conned a 50 by half extending his arm and letting it fly over his head. See Jared Rivers at the SCG, Round 4, 2006.

I came to when they moved the ball towards the wing, sensibly trying to stretch out a tired team before launching a kick inside 50. At least that's what the first guy was thinking, before his teammate ignored a simple kick to a teammate 20 metres away, who had another on the 50...

... to aimlessly hoof it into a crowded middle of the ground. Carlton fans should hush up about umpiring and remain as bitter about this moment as we do over blowing that St Kilda game in 2015. From that it was back to a contest, and via tough contests from Jones and Viney, Lewis was able to give off to Preuss for a big, "get this ball as far away from me as possible, I'm knackered" hoof down the ground.

If the umpire thought it was too wet to bounce 20 seconds earlier he'd have been embarrassed seeing the way Preuss' kick went *BOING!* off the turf, over a waiting defender's head and straight into the hands of Mitch Hannan. Ironically, after only being in that situation because of a loopy bounce he was then stitched up by an even more obscure demonstration of the magic and mystery of the Australian Rules football.

The competition may be going down the shitter, but when you've got a sport that's so variable the ball could have taken an extra rotation and brought the house down, but instead stopped dead under the watchful eye of David Rodan you're onto a winner.

I'll cut Hannan slack in that he was probably rooted by this stage of the quarter (shout out to "we should reduce rotations so players get tired" wankers), but I think Mitch started to hear the Titanic music again and missed Brayshaw running into goal to his right. Easy for me to say, and after slaughtering various players for not taking the responsibility earlier in the game I don't hold it against him. One more turn of the ball and he'd be a hero. Also in his defence is that he didn't know how much time there was to go, and the game clock was well over 30 minutes so he might have made the safe decision not to handball and look like a peanut when the siren went.

The ball's handbrake stop left Brayshaw sprinting towards the line to try and make a contest. Considering his lung was probably about to do a Petterd he made good ground to get a boot somewhere near it. Going back to do frame-by-frame analysis after the game is pointless so I choose to believe he actually did force it through with his foot rather than it being rushed. Either way, it was a closer run thing than some of the tripe they review.

I hate video referees with a passion BUT if they have to exist this was a good time to get them involved. In the Saturday game between Gold Coast and Richmond there was a 30 seconds interlude while they tried to work out if the ball had bobbled 1mm out of a guy's grasp as he crossed the line, but here the game was in the balance and we just got back on with it immediately.

I'd like to think if they cut to Tom McDonald on the bench at that point (and why not, considering they almost missed the Brayshaw chase prematurely going to Hannan for a reaction shot) he'd have been doing the "I want a replay" gesture. Earlier he did that and the umpire actually fell for it, calling a review that he was never going to do off his own bat.

All's well that ends well, but the wasted time looking at close-ups from zero definition cameras, checking Snicko, and consulting the time of sunrise in Abu Dhabi would have give us time to set up behind the ball and make sure they couldn't dash from one end to the other. Instead a point was the almost the worst result. Sure, it meant we almost certainly couldn't lose but it also left Carlton dashing out of their backline, against a side approaching the finish line like this...

Brayshaw was sucking in so much wind from the chase that he nearly inhaled the Carlton cheersquad, so he wasn't going to put any pressure on the kick-in as it flung past him and up the Southern Stand wing. This was traumatic enough for me, I cannot imagine how I'd have gone from my normal seat, watching the ball coming towards me like a uncoupled train rolling down a hill.

I chucked the commentary again after the ball stopped, because if I heard Dwayne roll out of any of his set piece lines at that stage I'd have slandered and defamed him to the point where he'd own my house. Lucky, because 24 hours later when I hear him say "no time to review it" I want to punch on. You dickhead, how else is there going to be a review after a point?

Anyway, off the ball went down the wing, this time obviously kept away from the guy who thought booting it into the middle was a good idea the last time. They took full advantage of our fetish for players running off their opponent and leaving a free man behind them, setting up one last heave inside 50, where we were nearly on the end of the rudest draw of all time.

In a defence regularly under siege from the centre, Steven May had been so dependable that I wanted to reincarnate Cameron Clayton's 80s nickname and call him THE SAFE. But as he went to ground the not as good McGovern threw a desperation boot at the loose ball and thank the footballing gods it cracked into the near side post. This was all happening too fast for me without commentary and I almost shat myself as ball met boot.

We still had to negotiate seven seconds of a kick-in without doing something unbelievably stupid. I paced nervously as May went to put the ball back into play, trying to shout something about him playing on into the pocket and running around until time expired but was no longer capable of using the English language. It wasn't even a good idea, obviously just hoofing it a mile away from goal was the best way to get to the siren.

Thanks to a Carlton player doing the lightest, most pointless kick away of the ball ever May was given a 50 that took him up the ground and confirmed victory. I'd have understood if the guy had viciously launched at the ball in frustration and skittled half our cheersquad, but it was almost like he thought he'd want a new footy anyway and helpfully moved the old one of out the way. That'll teach him for being helpful.

Even with no realistic way for Carlton to kick a goal I was still pacing around nervously waiting for time to expire. Anything could still happen, most likely May taking half a step off his line, being called to play on without realising and somebody catching him holding the ball. Alas, by the time he was called to play on the siren was about to go, we lived to tell the tale, and with a solid piece of wood in front of me I opted for a reverse Roos, thumping it from a standing position then sitting down and trying to take in what I'd just seen.

It was the Reverse Stranglewank. The fifth time since that became a recognised statistic in 2014 that a 24+ lead has reduced to less than a goal (or worse) before winning. For those keeping score at home, the records are now:

Wank For: 7 wins, 10 losses
Wank Against: 5 wins, 4 losses
Total Wank: 1965-2019

Which means now the rarest result in these circumstances is us blowing a four goal lead and losing. This doesn't mean you should start being confident when we set up a lead. Never trust anyone wearing red and blue.

Carlton supporters blamed the umpires, especially this person, who is working harder than the Essendon fans who wanted to sue over Rampe climbing the post. Of course because we won they're all massive sooks. Unlike the West Coast game where we were 100% in the right and only pure incompetence by the officials cost us victory. Don't leave yourself in a situation where the umpires can be considered the difference in the first place. They got a couple of contentious ones, but so did we. We'd probably won easily anyway had it not been for the injuries, but give me four points (in either sense) and I will drape myself in them like velvet.

You'd be well within your rights not to celebrate a win like that, but it's not like we collapsed with 22 fit players, two defenders and an intact full forward. We weren't much chop before that either, but I'm still proud of the fightback from a disappointing position. They could have easily gone behind, thought "what's the point" and given up but battled it out like the fringe preliminary final team they are at heart. It was grim, it was gruesome, and it was grisly, but it was four points that kept one of our few underlings below us for a bit longer so...

2019 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Tom McDonald
3 - James Harmes
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Sam Frost

Major apologies to Hunt and Viney. Other apologies to Fritsch, Jones, Lewis, May, Preuss, Salem and Petty until injured.

It is most assuredly on. Maximum's absence offered a gap for Oliver and he burrowed through to slash the gap to just over one best on ground. Harmes isn't going away either. The Seecamp race is all but over. With his nearest competition now crocked Salem is your provisional winner. Hore is also in trouble for the Hilton, now having to defend a five vote lead for as many weeks as he's out.

38 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
32 - Clayton Oliver
28 - James Harmes
23 - 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)
9 - Nathan Jones, Christian Petracca
7 - Jayden Hunt
6 - Jay Lockhart
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Sam Frost, Tom McDonald, Billy Stretch
3 - Steven May
2 - Corey Wagner
1 - Michael Hibberd

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Match-winning goals always get a special boost, so Hunt obviously wins. Especially in light of the Weideman incident in Darwin. This requires apologies to Petracca twice. For his first goal, but also the one where he turned his defender on the boundary, ignored being tripped and still kicked it. If we did consolation prizes he'd get one. Instead, Jayden goes home with all the gold, and the weekly prize of a enduring adulation for kicking a clutch-as-all-buggery goal.

Hore still leads overall, because when he kicked his miracle goal I still had hope for the remainder of the season.

It's hard to beat our banners because they're so lovely, but please note the anti-curtain sentiment on this:
I don't know if a player has ever taken notice of what they're running into, but I appreciate that it's BREAK THROUGH and not 'gently pry open a curtain in case you hurt yourself'. That's the sort of sentiment that gets me going. On the other side, the Carlton cheersquad are too busy sooking over Jordan Lewis clocking somebody to put a picture of theirs up so stuff them, I'm not going out of my way just to judge what was probably a rotten effort anyway. Dees 14-1-0 for the season.

UPDATE - I'm told their banner had a curtain that players ducked under (?), and featured a cheese gag. It's a step up from hackneyed snow gags, but still lame. Better to be red wine quaffing Stilton eaters than... well pretty much anything else really. May the rest of you continue to eat lukewarm sausage rolls from Aldi.

Every time I hear one of them call, a new leader emerges in the neck-and-neck backwards race between BT and Dwayne. I think Dwayne would be a nicer person in real life (though am willing to be convinced otherwise) but he's never done a completely unscripted one hit wonder like GEE GOD BOY WOW. In fact I don't think he's ever done anything unscripted, he's like a radio station where all the pre-scheduled classic hits are played by computer with no human intervention.

Taylor has the need to fill every second of the broadcast with total bollocks, but he wasn't the man who said "Dunkley took week off before mid-season draft so he didn't get injured, which you don't always see" as if the mid-season draft had been held at any time since 1993.

Whichever camp you fall in, let's just agree that it's offensive to see Jason Bennett at Arden Street - a ground where people let their dogs shit six days a week - while this travesty was taking place.

Next Week
Back to Fortress Shithole at last, the ground where we did our best work last year. Even on a ground where we play significantly better than the MCG we're not going to beat the Bulldogs playing like this. Our best hope is that they played themselves to a standstill beating Geelong and will turn up flatter than a plate of piss.

I won't be there again, and this is especially hurtful considering the game will be played a few hundred metres away. Fortunately I think I've mastered the art of watching at [redacted] so no major harm done. Still feels grubby not being there but it was about time I started living like an adult.

Thanks to our injury list (temporarily) becoming manageable Casey have had a bunch of AFL players come in and are winning accordingly. Good luck to their coach next week, he'll probably be over on the Casey Fields tennis courts trying to find fill-in players. I can't cop Lever going around on any more suburban grounds so he's back. Same with Jetta. He might have only played one VFL game but given that he's not expected to run all day it would hardly be on par with the ludicrous rush to bring Jones and Viney back for Round 1.

Assuming Lewis is rubbed out that's two defenders and one half defender/half midfielder departing, so I'm going to throw Josh Wagner in as the third inclusion. He's not Matthew Scarlett, but Oscar needs a few weeks out of the limelight so the other JW is it.

Dunkley survives because even if the pace was too much for him he knew where to go, so better to just play him now and get him used to AFL standard before next year.

I haven't even been to one token Casey game this season but understand purely off internet speculation that James Jordon is also doing well and might get a game by the end of the year. In case you're not already feeling over the hill he was born just under four months after the 2000 Grand Final.

IN: Gawn, Jetta, Lever, J. Wagner
OUT: Petty, McDonald, Hore (inj), Lewis (susp) [UPDATE - Lewis not only avoided suspension, but a fine, and even getting a mention in the report. Hope he sues the Carlton Cheersquad and ends up owning it]
LUCKY: Dunkley, Neal-Bullen, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Jordon, Maynard

I don't think we'll win but there's a chance. Best have a red hot go while we can, because after this we've got West Coast, St Kilda (who are rank but have made us look foolish twice in recent times), Richmond, Collingwood, Sydney and North in Hobart. Five wins is a rotten season, and six isn't much better, but seven somehow seems like eating a nicer tasting shit sandwich, so if we can get a minimum two out of the remaining games we can comfortably declare this a shithouse experience and get on with 2020.

If you're a draft pick wanker the good news is that we're no chance of climbing any higher than 15th. Of the sides tied on 6-9 above us, Hawthorn and Sydney are good enough to win consistently, while the Saints have reverted to type and will probably lose every game from here except the one against us. You'll miss this season when it's over. If you're immediately sent to Devil's Island when it ends.

Bradbury Plan 2019
Don't be foolish.

Final thoughts
As we know all the focus on 'improving' the quality of the game is driven by a desperation to keep Channel 7 happy in advance of broadcast negotiations. Turns out they only have themselves to blame. While good teams are keeping it tight enough to keep the total scores to levels not seen since Archduke Franz Ferdinand was alive, shit teams are blundering their way to scores well above the league average.

The solution is obvious, when choosing games for broadcast prioritise teams that play like they're drunk. Either the viewers are going to see a constant stream or ads or they'll die laughing while they wait. Channel 7, we're here for you.