Sunday, 11 August 2019

Longshot kicks the bucket

Maybe it's to do with the sports teams I follow but Facebook has become convinced that I'm troubled and started serving up endless ads for weighted therapy blankets. Apparently you lie beneath them and they relieve stress. We should sell them in the Demon Shop, I'd have draped one over my head at half time and pretended I was at home listening on the radio.

Obviously the football was no good (but when has it been this year?) but our bank balance suffered another dark day, with the lowest MCG crowd for Pies game since 1985. Back then people were at the end of their tether after 20 years of underachievement, this time they were voting with their disinterest on the most disappointing death spiral in recent history. For the second straight week it was only the away game goers of popular clubs that kept the crowd above 30,000 and there seemed to be about 35 Melbourne fans in the ground. Sadly for me, many of those who did turn up congregated in the Ponsford Stand, leaving me irritated by both sports and human contact.

The attendance was also affected by predictions of apocalyptic weather conditions. I don't suppose you can sue the Bureau of Meteorology for making bad predictions any more than you can sue your footy club for the cost of flying to a prelim that they lose by 11 goals but the expected carnage didn't come close to eventuating. It was certainly cold, like it has been in August for my entire life, but the predicted tornadoes and sheet lightning were absnet. In fact, the first half was largely played in bright sunshine. Try telling that to the players who must have assumed it was pissing down ice rain so hard they'd lost feeling and disposed of the ball accordingly.

It certainly had nothing on the conditions in Canberra on Friday night, where for the first time snow fell during an AFL game. Didn't that set off strugglers around the country, with their sides needing surgical repair after using the words 'Melbourne' and 'snow' to fashion an innovative gag. Like the time the Bombers banner told us to go to Mt. Buller in April it just went to prove that comedy is not some people's go. I haven't been near the snow since about 1988 but even I know you wouldn't get far trying to ski these conditions.

Were we really all alpine fanatics who cracked half a bar thinking about chairlifts this would be the sort of thing to get the blood pumping.

Or for the more adventurous...

I'm comfortable with being stereotyped as rich (sadly incorrectly in my case) but feel free to fact check your gags instead of going off like Pavlov's dog whenever snow, cheese or Range Rovers are mentioned.

Now after being wounded by two unexpectedly low attendances in a row we've got a Friday night game that seemed like big business at the start of the year but will now struggle to reach NRL crowd proportions. Hanging shit on Gary Pert is a national sport but if we turn a profit after this without having to import ecstasy from Amsterdam he'll be alright in my book. 

I note from this interview that the membership jump is being credited with putting an extra million in the bank, which might just compensate for the bath we're taking on the last three MCG games. I heard rumour (from somebody who reckons they got one) that we were handing three game memberships out to anyone who'd take them mid-season but I'll trust that the sums add up. In the same clip Pert also becomes about the eighth consecutive CEO to think he's going to get all the holdout MCC/MFC fans to buy a second membership and makes the revolutionary suggestion that we'll make money if we start winning. Which is hardly a stirring, Winston Churchill-esque call to arms.

Maybe the Anzac Eve and Queen's Birthday home games will make up for the loss of all the newcomers who thought they were signing on for success and will now flee as if from a burning building. Bless those of you who've bought a membership for the first time this year and helped clean up some of this mess but buggered if I know how what we're going to do when the pokies money is turned off. That might be where the MFC Pyramid Scheme reaches its conclusion.

Anyway, now that your boss has walked past you reading this at work and seen stock footage of somebody racking lines my work is pretty much done. You wouldn't want to talk about the actual game would you? Let's touch on it briefly.

Even though the Pies have had almost as big an injury crisis as us and have been in wobbly form for weeks there was still very little chance we were going to win. Especially with an attack consisting of Harrison Petty at full forward, Oscar McDonald at centre half-forward and nobody at small forward. The mediums were well represented by the surging Fritsch, Petracca looking excellent in the two quarters he wasn't MIA and Melksham, who started to find touch again in the second half after six quarters of struggle. Which was nice, but I bet there has never been a side that's done anything without either good talls or smalls. Despite this every bit of trade chat involves midfielders who have never kicked more than three goals in a game. We should get a priority pick and be forced to use it on somebody who can apply a basic level of forward pressure.

The strangest part of the day - until one of our last quarter goals - was going into quarter time with the only goal on the board. The Pies were moving the ball better, winning the midfield battle, and Grundy was beating Gawn but they couldn't convert a goal to save themselves and went to the break on 0.5.5. They might have missed a couple of dead set sitters - though we also had Maximum failing to make the distance from 35 metres - but a lot of the credit for not cracking under the relentless pressure went to the defence. They all had a hand in it but the general was my new (well, new in red and blue) footballing crush Steven May. He played a mighty defensive quarter and later paid for it with a serious injury. 

At the other end, you'd accuse Petracca of showing off in front of his basketball friend but he's been playing blinding first quarters then disappearing all season. Shame he missed two set shots because otherwise it was almost the best he's played this year. To be fair to him, in a sinking ship Matt Jones and Dean Terlich in the B&F top five sort of way he has been one of our best and his finishing position in the Bluey will give a hint as to whether the coaches agree. 

In the competitive race to be the best swimmer on the Titanic and win our goalkicking award, the weird return of Jayden Hunt to defence gave Truck a leg up, before each ended with one goal and left Petracca two in front with two to play. Thankfully they've both reached Chris Dawes' eye-wateringly winning tally of 20 from 2014.

The cavalier attitude to survival at the end of this long, painful season was best exemplified by Angus Brayshaw going out sans helmet, ignoring the fact that one solid blown to the bonce might destroy his lucrative sporting career. Better to be put out forever than go through two more weeks of this torture I suppose. He came to his senses and put it back on soon enough, but whether he deliberately didn't wear it or just plain forgot was a fair metaphor for our haphazard season.

While we were torching our limited chances - all from set shots - with wonky kicking, the Pies were going agonisingly close down the other end. May saved one with a desperate lunge, and Brayshaw touched another through. Unbeknown to the live audience there was a minor scandal when it looked very much like they'd reviewed the wrong piece of play. Fortunately the AFL was there to clean up any misunderstandings, throwing Fox Footy under the bus and saying they'd shown the wrong vision. Which is sort of plausible if you try hard enough to believe... Either way I've rarely seen a player so adamant that a ball came off his hand so I'm pretty sure he did touch it. Didn't help in the grand scheme of things.

These near misses contributed to the game being goalless deep into the first quarter. Before Petty's mark/free combo I was expecting Gil McLachlan and Steve Hocking to scream onto the ground in police cars and stop the match while they implemented a series of immediate rule changes. Little did I know that later on Saturday, Essendon (under a roof) and North would reach the midway point of the last quarter on one goal and the Roos wouldn't make it beyond that. Makes you feel a lot better about being a Melbourne fan doesn't it? Perhaps not.

When we got the first goal of the second quarter as well it still wasn't like we were going to win, but less than 1% of your mind must have wandered to something beginning with "if we can keep the total score under 50..." I respect our backline's courage under fire but even that was too much for them. When the animal level of pressure we'd started the game with disappeared so did the Melbourne Football Club and the Pies kicked seven in a row. It was difficult to get upset when this was exactly what I'd been expecting from the first bounce.

My gasket blew in the last 15 minutes against St Kilda, nothing short of a cataclysmic failure or serious injury can hurt me now. Every half-hearted attack and every awful turnover that fed an opposition score was just more of the same shit we've been seeing for weeks. Champion Data never responded to my query about whether we were the worst side ever at conceding goals immediately after kicking them so I doubt they'll get in touch to confirm that there's never been a worse side at defending turnovers.

If anything was going to set me off it would be registering a tremendously low score. Fritsch kept our one goal a quarter average up but we still weren't out of the woods at three quarter time. Petty and McDonald tried their guts out but they couldn't lead the line in a VFL game let alone against a genuine top eight side, even with Jordan Roughead put forward because there wasn't enough challenge for him in defence. Somehow we took twice as many marks in attack as they did, turning what must have been a recent record for us of 12/43 inside 50s into marks. Shame about the peg leg kicking and the total inability to generate goals from any source other than set shots for three and a half quarters.

Five of the marks inside 50 went to Fritsch, the equal most for the season along McSizzle Sr against Carlton (and look what happened to him). He spoiled the effect a bit by liberally spraying shots but under the circumstances I'm happier to concentrate on him looking like a serious aerial threat - also taking three contested marks - than what he did after. 

If we turn up next year with the real talls back and Fritsch is somehow demoted to being a defender again I'll crack the sads in spectacular fashion. For mine - pending any recruitment coups - he's an automatic selection alongside McDonald, Melksham and Petracca (as a mid/forward). Weideman is a likely, leaving one spot available for A. Small Forward. If we can get the ball down there effectively that's a combo that can do some damage. Enough damage to qualify for the eight I have no idea. Would also be nice to have some depth in the tank for when one/all of them fall over.

This season has had more indictments than the Supreme Court, but having to consult the list of lowest scores I've seen in person twice within 20 games is nearly the most damning. Like the GWS game we started the final term on 26, two behind the clubhouse leaders R18, 2013 and Queen's Birthday 2014. I sat through those twin abortions in the belief that it would be many a year until we scored such painfully low totals again, now after one fluke year we're right back in the shit. It's good to be alive.

We weren't likely to score less than two, but given five months ago we opened the season with last quarter nada in bright sunshine it would have been appropriate to do it again in the wintriest day of winter. Never mind, there's still time for the ultimate bookend if we kick into the wind in the last quarter in Hobart. Against a North side that just kicked 1.8.14. Even we've not done that since 1908.

Just as Brody Mihocek had four goals to our entire team's three the Pies thought that if they weren't going to have a percentage booster they may as well get to the end without further injury, offering bugger all for the last 20 minutes. For the second time at the MCG this year we capitalised on superior opposition putting their feet up to finish with a margin that looks good on the historical record but we all know should have been significantly higher. The tide turned when Petracca re-arrived after a couple of quarters off for the sort of snatch-and-grab interception and running goal that teams usually score against us. It was quite a way to kick our first non-set shot goal of the day but about two hours too late for it to matter.

The only downside from the last quarter - other than sitting through the two that came before it - was May's latest injury. If you'd told me he was going to miss the rest of the season I'd have had my house on a frustrated shirtfront, instead he capped off a Gawn-esque game of rock solid toiling for zero reward by blowing his hamstring on the landing from a spoil. Of course he did. 

Thank god the security guards had just completed their first ever lap around Row MM and departed because when he hit the ground and clutched straight at the hammy as if shot I unloaded a string of the finest curse words the English language has to offer. If my feet weren't frozen solid I'd have kicked something. The Pies fans sitting uncomfortably close would have heard every bit but didn't flinch - they must hear some remarkable things every week. He was disconsolate, and even though my hammies were intact I wasn't far behind. Depending on how bad the damage is there shouldn't be any effect on his pre-season but it still felt like the universe was sticking two fingers up at us.

Thank god then for the moment that made it all worthwhile (in a way), when Oscar McDonald broke the fourth longest goalless streak in club history, finally kicking a major in his 74th game. Nobody except the McDonald family and I care about this - though on replay I'm pleased to hear Anthony Hudson blow a comedy gasket in celebration - but it was still something to tell the grandkids you were there for. They won't give a shit but tell them anyway.

The record wait is Don Williams at 95 games, and Bernie Massey didn't get any in 99, but behind them and Harry Parkin (85/0) sat Oscar's 74. So if you consider that we were playing our 2419th game of league football it was legitimately a statistically momentous occasion. It took him 14 games longer than his brother to get one, gathering a bouncing ball that sat perfectly, fending off (!) a defender, and hooking the goal on the left. I'm such a sucker for unusual moments that as he turned to kick it I took a gigantic breath, scared that he was going to miss and never got another chance. Who said there's no place for sentiment in football? Oscar, we've had our issues but I promise to remember this moment forever even if nobody else does. 

He can thank Hunt for flubbing a sliding chest mark, the Collingwood defender for being so disinterested that he wasn't close enough to tackle him after it was dropped, and Hunt again for dinking a little kick around the corner to set it up but once he got the ball he did quite well. Unlike Sizzle Sr and Petty you can settle down on him becoming a permanent forward. The other two quickly showed natural aptitude for playing forward, while this might have been a heartwarming moment but it looked very much like a one-off special.

The last goal of our belated, low-speed comeback fell to Maximum, which was some reward after putting in his usual whole-hearted effort but lowering his colours to Grundy. We'll just have to console ourselves with having the second best ruckman in the competition. Which is better than having the 17th best everything else. 

When he marked inside 50 I had worries of a miss that would leave him open to ridicule from stupid people, and given his kick at the start I had no faith in him kicking it, but with the pressure off through it went. That cut the margin to three goals. Which was outrageous. Not half as outrageous as it would have been if Corey Wagner hadn't flubbed a chance from the square to make it an even two goals with 90 seconds left. There was zero chance of us getting those goals and enforcing a humiliating draw on the Pies but it would have made their inability to put us away even more amusing. 

Oddly, for a season where the Veil of Negativity has smothered everyone we've only lost one game by over 45 points. This doesn't mean much when you consider we had twice as many in the home and away season last year, but we did also lose five times by 10 points or less and strangely enough didn't lose one game by between 11 and 41 points. This season we've gone down 12 times in the 11-41 bracket, and in our five recent losses against four decent sides and St Kilda the margins have been 8, 13, 19, 33 and 17. That we're playing so badly and still not being blown out of the water has to be a rare glimmer of sunshine for the coaching staff. At least those who haven't already found the contents of their office in a cardboard box outside AAMI Park. 

This is the only measure that gives me hope for next year. We've conceded 12.6 more points a game than 2018 and less than four more than 2017 with a sticky tape backline that has seen its best six together for all of one game, and with supporting forward pressure a Little League team would laugh at. It's the 32 points less a week up front that's killing us. Even that's misleading considering the six weeks of glory last year when we were tonking everyone. 

Given that our 12 wins in 2017 would probably have easily got us into the finals this year (that would be right), the 92.5 points per game of that season is probably a fairer comparison - which beats the 90.6 we're conceding this year.  It doesn't have to be all about talls, that year our top goalscorers were Garlett (42) and Petracca (26). You're not going to turn back the 81 combined between McDonald, Watts, Hogan and Pedersen but it just goes to show we don't need to be reliant on McDonald and Weideman to kick 50 each to put up a decent score. Where we're going to find the small forward who gives us the Garlett numbers again I don't know but it's vital that we address that deficiency. 

We've had the fifth most inside 50s in the competition, if anybody still thinks key forwards alone is route one to success they're off chops. Tall forwards provide marks and goals, which is good but requires some degree of structure and precision to get it to them in the first place. If you're not pulling goals out of your arse via other methods you deserve to finish 17th. Let future scholars of the game study the MFC 2019 as a cautionary tale of how not to set up a forward line. If I've had to watch this season from start to finish so should they.

For the second week in a row no sane person would celebrate beating a leaky boat like us as if it was a great win but the Ponsford Pies went right off. They were probably going off the 'feels like' margin of 77 rather than the real margin of 17. Whatever floats your boat I suppose, but the media troublemakers who derive sexual pleasure from torching our players for over-celebrating would have had conniptions watching the scenes of joy following a foot off the pedal, downhill slide against lowly Melbourne. 

Given the difference between us in Round 20 and the Elimination Final (remember those?) last year I'm not entirely writing Collingwood off based on this performance, but allowing the most makeshift forward line since Troy Davis stood next to Jack Fitzpatrick to get within 17 points is a written invitation for the good teams to knock their block off in September. 

At least they'll be there, and lucky for them there's going to be more drivel in the eight since Brisbane qualified with 10 wins in '95 so they should stay alive until the second week at a minimum. It doesn't point to premiership success but better to hold a ticket in the lottery than being wedged between Carlton and Gold Coast. Meanwhile we'll just shamble through the next two weeks, complain fruitlessly on the internet when the AFL give pick 2 to the Suns and go to bed hoping to wake and discover it was all a bad dream. It isn't. The horror is real.

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

Apologies to Brayshaw, Frost and Kennedy-Harris. A couple of others might have scabbed a vote in the melee but none would have been deserved.

It's on again at the top, with Oliver drawing to less than a BOG behind Gawn. I would hate myself for putting an award where Gawn lost after the way he's carried the team this year but these are the breaks. In the minors Salem is already home (but my love affair with May would have kept that award interesting if he wasn't suspended or injured every five seconds), and despite being treated with all the care and respect that you'd expect from the Melbourne Football Club, Hore is hanging onto the lead in the Hilton. If Jay Lockhart scores five in the next two weeks I'll eat my hat but if I can't rule it out the award has to be kept open.

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

Crowd Watch (incorporating Matchday Experience Watch)
If I wasn't filled with inertia I'd have moved almost anywhere else in the ground to get away from Pies fans, but it seemed appropriate to make my viewing experience as painful as possible. None of them were offensive, it's just that when you concentrate any area with all the same team's fans any semblance of rationality goes out the window and they act like a mob. All fans are the same, why do you think I avoid my reserved seat eight times a year?

After an MCG attendant tried directing me to the non-existent Row OO I spent the first couple of quarters in the mid-doubles due to having a guest. This still only got us two rows at best of freedom from people being happy. This offered me an uninterrupted view of the character who sat on his own but took up three seats via the biggest manspread in history and kept pestering the people on either side to give him high fives after every goal. I'm no prude but I wouldn't have touched him with gloves on.

The fun started before the bounce when it was still only half full and an old bloke leant over the aisle to say sarcastically, "pretty packed up here eh?" It was for a Melbourne match. Hope he enjoys queuing to take a piss every week. He then asked us to look after his stuff while he went to wait for his spot a the whizzer in what he probably thought was a reasonable time. What a win for stereotypes, sitting in a stand full of Pies fans and asking the 1% of Melbourne fans to protect your belongings from your own people.

As we recovered to a score that wasn't bad by our standards, the most humiliating part of the day was the introduction of Dance Cam. Fitting that you'd wait for a crowd full of opposition supporters that love chintzy bullshit before rolling it out. With any luck it won't even make next week let alone 2020. Appropriately the Melbourne kids they started with the camera on had no interest and they had switch to an away supporter to get any value for the sponsor's money.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
When we were on three goals from set shots I was almost going to decline to award a nomination. When Petracca kicked his nice intercept goal on the run I thought well at least we've found one. Then something bizarre, baffling and amazing happened. As it won't affect Hore's overall lead in the I can comfortably screw Truck over and let Oscar become the second man this season with a 1 career goal/1 career nomination ratio. Drink it in:
For his weekly prize Oscar wins a bootleg t-shirt from the Caribbean Gardens market saying I SAW TOM MCDONALD KICK 5 GOALS with TOM and 5 crudely replaced by OSCAR and 1 but still showing a picture of his brother.

I thought ours was a bit optimistic in describing us as having an 'awesome list', but I loved the red V jumper look at the top, so against a Pies effort where they were pulling off over doing some good in  the community at last that's enough for me. Dees 19-1-0 for the season.

Next Week
The worst Friday night game of the 21st century is coming. Depending on what happens on the night maybe the worst ever. Given that there will be such a sparse crowd it may as well be relocated to Princes Park the only way we're going to get a start in a marquee free-to-air timeslot next year is to be involved in so many goals for or against that Channel 7 executives receive million dollar bonuses. Let me just consult the state of our forward line.... Right, so it's Fox Footy games all round then.

Sydney has almost as many unknown, ordinary players as we do so winning isn't out of the question, but I can guarantee you this will be a tremendous slopfest devoid of any storylines of interest to neutrals. Neither coach is going to be sacked (sorry anti-Goodwin fanatics), the usually thrilling Frost vs Franklin dual is off due to injury, and both teams would probably be happy to just call it off and take two points each.

The difference is Sydney have pride as an organisation while embarrassment is a lifestyle for us so they'll probably be more up for a face-saving end of season victory. However, if they wanted to roll out the full 2009 MFC style tank they could drop below both Carlton and us with a 150 point loss. Imagine the goalscorers if we were to win a game by 150 at the moment? You may as well imagine all the people sharing all the world because the two are equally likely to happen.

The big question is whether we'll top the 19,178 crowd that turned up to see Modra wreck Jamie Shanahan's 150th by kicking 10 in 1999. If it weren't for a long range forecast that suggests a decent temperature and minimal rain I'd say no chance. I likely won't be doing anything to help. A last minute change of plans might see me there but I've already mentally factored in a TV viewing and tremendous guilt whenever they hang shit on the lowly crowd. (NB: since I wrote this bit last night I have had a surprise change of heart and am now planning to attend. Idiot)

Other than Hore, who was disrespected by not being selected in this week's team to start with, the pickings in the VFL are razor thin. Due to the rare scenario of playing the Casey game after ours they got 13 MFC listed players to pick from, split into three groups:

Depth players who aren't going to have a massive impact: Lockhart, Anal-Bullet, Preuss, Spargo, Stretch, J. Wagner
Kids who aren't banging the door down: Bradtke, Bedford, Chandler, Jordon
In the exit lounge: Maynard, Keilty

I wouldn't object to a wildcard selection of one of the kids, probably Double J James Jordon just to see somebody new being whipped like a dog. Also, Corey Maynard barely qualified for a hello game let alone a farewell one but I'd love him to achieve the statistically weird record of playing one game each in three seasons.

Realistically, all the changes are going to come from the top line. After another week dominating the VFL hitouts I wish Preuss was of some use as a forward so we could use him instead of an all-backmen tall forward brigade. Maybe pick him as first ruck and plant Maximum in the forward line all night? Too radical. Too big a waste of Max when he'll be champing at the bit to bounce back after a comprehensive title fight defeat.

Of the others I know what I'm going to get from Wagner and Neal-Bullen so happy to leave them out, but would like another look at Spargo before writing off his promising 2018 as a rising tide lifting all boats. Also, Baker doesn't show in injury reports but he looked ordinary when limping off the ground so if he's out Stretch is in.

IN: Hore
OUT: May (inj)
LUCKY: Baker
UNLUCKY: Everyone who isn't in the side already

Was it worth it?
For the middle two quarters certainly not. And not really for the other two either, but if nothing else we got to hold a team goalless for a quarter and see Oscar kick a goal so that's something.

Administrative announcement
After years of sitting on a massive stack of DVDs that I've either acquired myself or have had gifted to me, I've started uploading the bastards on YouTube. A lot of it is the old rope stuff you've seen a dozen times but there are some deep cuts that have never seen the light of day before.

If you've got MFC games on disc that you want to get rid of (win, lose or draw) please get in contact via the usual channels and I'll take them off your hands. I've also got a shitload of tapes. Which wouldn't be an issue if I hadn't got rid of my VHS and recording device about two weeks before they were donated. If you're in the northern suburbs and can do a transfer job on the cheap (e.g. $0) let me know.

For now, here's the last game of 2000. (Trigger warning for Scott West) Judge for yourself if Woey deserved the votes that won him the Brownlow outright.

Spoiler - no.

Final thoughts
Roll on 2020. Not because I think it's going to be any better, just that I'll be ready for disappointment again.

1 comment:

  1. I see Stone Cold is leaving the Demons. If nothing else, it should make for a more animated coach’s box next year when a turnover during a late season match costs us a shot at an unlikely finals spot.
    Fellow 2019 strugglers have strung wins together (North, St Kilda, WB) even if it only defers the disappointment for fans. We can’t even pull off a surprise win against a complacent top 8 team. I denied it as long as possible but 2018 is looking like the anomaly rather than 2019. I also admit I was wrong about Hogan – I told a St Kilda mate that our significant wins came when Jesse was out of the side and consequently we’d be ok. It turns out 50 goals a season and crashing packs for our runners is not so easily replaced.


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