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.


  1. I must have been in a similar mind frame. Before reading your report I also looked through our goals/points this year. Imagine being a defender who has struggled to keep the ball out only for straightforward shots to be pissed away (esp. WCE x2, Adelaide). Worse, imagine being one of those defenders (reputedly the best kick in the team) who is sent forward to show how it’s done and ends with 2.2 instead of 4 zip. Oliver’s goal proved you don’t need to allow for non-existent breeze or left-to-right fade. Just kick the bloody ball straight. After taking a contested mark that almost resulted in spinal damage.
    Pro Eagles crowd: so much for the time and toil invested in NT over the years trying to woo the locals. No more games for Alice. Puts Darwin on notice to toe the line.
    Not sure what Maximum has done to offend the umpiring fraternity. Horrible decisions against him two weeks running which took the wind out of our sails at key moments (but not the sole reason for defeat).

  2. Was at the Alice Springs game.. behind the goals and the Dees cheer squad. A bloody gale was blowing into my face before the toss and during all the first quarter! Couldn’t believe that we won the toss and decided to kick first in the opposite direction!,
    Of course in the second quarter the wind died down to about 10% of what it was...
    In the first quarter the Weagles were roosting 60m kicks down the ground while some of ours didn’t even make the distance from 45m out... you’ve covered the 5 points kicked which were all gettable.. but difficult given the wind strength....somebody screwed up biggly.

  3. Just a comment on crowd percentages.. I would estimate that the crowd was about 65% eagles supporters... but it looked like a lot of them had flown in! Plenty of darker skinned locals wearing Demons colours.. I know I was standing in a group of them.. I must have looked like a stone chip on a dark car on TV screens!


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