Friday 11 December 2020

"First it started falling over. Then it fell over" - 2020 end of season spectacular.

Here endeth our 55th straight season without a premiership, a drought that is stretching towards record proportions. Only one thing can comfort me now, the greatest ever rendition of our national anthem. Please be upstanding and remove your veils of negativity.

Finishing ninth in a photo finish was certainly a step up from missing out last year by virtue of finishing 17th but that's cold comfort in the grand scheme of things. If good feelings won flags there's be about 11 of them handing out every season.

Realistically, we were never going to contend for the flag anyway, so while it would have been nice to make it just to get some dignity about the place, how much did we really lose? 

In a way, I'm just happy to get through a season where we were shunted around the continent like backpackers with the club in one piece, still financially viable and without our players or coaches (openly) wearing deep psychological scars. Let's have another go next year. We won't win anything then either but it'll give me about 30 weeks to come up with some new content.

It was hardly the best of times, and it was nowhere near the worst of times. The games were shorter, barely anybody (if anybody at all) was in the stands, and the only comparisons to recent years were endless whinging about umpires and Richmond winning the flag. 

Let's just be thankful that it's over and if Victoria can avoid cocking up hotel quarantine for a second time we should be allowed to watch games in person again early next year. That novelty will wear off after about two weeks of schlepping to the 'G to see limp performances, I can't have been the only one to start enjoying watching at home and getting on with my life immediately after the siren instead of packing onto a train carriage with 2000 people.

If you ever live through a stranger season something has gone terribly wrong (think Threads), but to start our look at the season with the Disease that Delivered we flash back to a simpler time...

AFLW Season in Review
In this case, seven weeks was the longest time in football. When the women's season started we were busy PISSING ourselves laughing at people who spent thousands of dollars on cruise ships only to catch a mystery virus. By the time the competition was left unfinished we were PISSING ourselves with fear of losing our jobs and ending up on a ventilator. Can't win 'em all.

Contrary to popular belief, the Melbourne Football Club did win one final in 2020. You're welcome to decide how much that means to you on a scale of 1-100 but it was nice to see the AFLW side finally make the post-season, even if it happened in Bradbury-esque circumstances when the season was subject to arbitrary shutdown.

Round 1 vs North Melbourne - Back from the Dread
To say things changed quickly would be an understatement. The 3500 crowd for the first MFC related contest of the season seemed like a decent warmup for the rest of the year. Hard to envision that male and female combined we'd only play in front of more people three times.

One thing that remained consistent was our inability to turn dominance into winning scores. This was best demonstrated by opening the season with a 0.0 quarter. Fortunately, we both defended stoutly (cliche) and North attacked for the rest of the game like they were drunk, allowing a comeback two point win. We'd got a difficult game out of the way in the first round and things were looking up...

Round 2 vs Footscray - The rain it raineth every day
... and surprisingly we carried on with it. For one more week. The wonderfully surly Libby Birch (who I Trengoved by calling Burch for half the season) helped restrict the team she'd fallen out with to just 1.6, including going scoreless across the middle two quarters. Suddenly it looked like we were going to romp to the first MFC flag (no, AFLX doesn't count) since the 1993 Reserves.

Round 3 vs St Kilda - Friday night filth
Then just as we'd established ourselves as premiership favourites, along came the expansion side that had barely fired a shot in its first two rounds. Like the night we inducted Mo Hope as the first female Kingsley, there is nothing that excites people in a Melbourne jumper more than suffering an unexpected reverse. This was a ripper, with our forward line functioning like a Yugoslavian car on the way to 1.8.14 - none of which came in the last quarter. Somehow we still only lost by five points and the people who hate-watch this stuff just to complain must have been absolutely pulling themselves.

Round 4 vs Collingwood - Close the roof
It was all over if we lost here, and the gravity of the situation must have contributed to the bumper crowd of 21,528. Well, that and the Victoria vs Allies state game that was on right after. I was not amongst them, firstly you couldn't pay me to watch reheated state football, and secondly the 5.35pm start time left me in disarray. Seemed like a weird and wacky time to play football until the men were involved in even more obscure timeslots later in the year.

As it was I barely saw any of it, just enough to know that we won in thoroughly unconvincing fashion. Good enough to keep the season alive, if we could avoid another humiliating reverse against an expansion side. 

Round 5 vs West Coast - International Day of Record Wins
... which we surprisingly did. In fact, the Eagles were clubbed to the tune of 66-7. If the West Coast ladies had scored one fewer point Margaret Court would have thrown battery acid at them when their plane landed. It's not often you get to dismantle West Coast so it was welcome, even if it was in no way payback for the great Preliminary Final fuckup.

The title made more sense when you know it was also International Women's Day. Which was never once referenced in the post itself, so top marks for me there. 

Round 6 vs Carlton - The Sound of Silence
What better way to follow a thumping, brutal victory than starting favourites and going down without a fight? Of course we did. Maybe we were spooked by the crowd being reduced to 80 people, the first time we'd played under Corona conditions. The reaction was to kick 2.3 in the first quarter and 1.3 in the next three combined. Good thing the home and away season was immediately called off or there was no earthly way we'd retain a spot in the finals.

Elimination Final vs GWS - Miracles in an emergency
If the men pulled off a comeback like this you'd never stop talking about it. For now the women's game doesn't arouse the same passions - not in me anyway - but at the time it was still exciting. Unlike the rest of the game, where we kicked one goal in the first three and a bit quarters and found ourselves in what could only be described as deep shit. 15 points down with time running out there was frankly no bloody chance of a win. 

Then, after a year of Peg Leg Pete kicking for goal we converted three set shots in a row to win. The hero was Lily Mithen, who sank a set shot with 30 seconds left to put as ahead. That was as good as it got, the season was immediately cancelled because the unbeaten Freo were being locked behind the Great Wall of Western Australia. Saved us from being savaged by them the next week. By the time footy teams were allowed back into Perth it was too late to get the competition started again. So we finished the year with a finals win and still ended it empty-handed. Seems like an appropriately Melbourne scenario, except for it requiring a finals win.

Daisy Pearce Medal for Women's Player of the Year

For only the second time in the history of Demonblog awards we've got a hat-trick winner, with the peerless Karen Paxman matching the feats of Nathan Jones 2011-2013. I suspect that one day she will be getting this medal named after her, with Daisy respectfully relegated to a secondary award. We love Daisy but Paxy is by an enormous distance the most dominant AFLW player we've ever had.

Somehow she only finished sixth in the league-wide voting, but we've never trusted the opinions of umpires yet so complaining about them now is about as useful as whinging about breakdancing in the Olympics.

Second, albeit miles back, was Footscray refugee Libby Birch, whose dominant defensive performances inspired (we assume) Steven May to play the season of his life. 

31 - Karen Paxman
20 - Libby Birch
13 - Kate Hore
7 - Eden Zanker
6 - Elise O'Dea, Daisy Pearce, Shelley Scott
5 - Maddie Gay
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Tyla Hanks
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Harriet Cordner, Sinead Goldrick

Honour Roll
2017 - Daisy Pearce
2018 - Karen Paxman
2019 - Karen Paxman (2)
2020 - Karen Paxman (3)

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance

Ahh pre-season, where everything looks like a good idea. We've been misled before, but things seems to be heading in the right direction this time. Not counting a glorified Casey team being unmercifully humped by first choice Essendon, we won comfortably thrice.

Turns out that Adelaide, Hawthorn and North Melbourne were all complete wank during the regular season, so the long-term value of the wins is debatable. However, at the time I was ready to run through brick walls.

Mr. February/March proved to be Bayley Fritsch. At the time it looked like Max Gawn's bold - some would say piss-taking - prediction of him winning the Coleman might have some legs. Bayley proceeded to lead to the boundary line all year and kick 22.24. Still, you can't take away his place on the most eclectic honour roll in the history of VFL/AFL football.

10 - Bayley Fritsch
7 - Jack Viney
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Trent Rivers, Adam Tomlinson
3 - Angus Brayshaw, Clayton Oliver
2 - Mitch Brown, James Harmes, Jake Melksham
1 - Nathan Jones, Jake Lever, Oscar McDonald

Honour Roll
2008 - Aaron Davey
2009 - Cameron Bruce
2010 - Brad Green
2011 - Colin Sylvia
2012 - Nathan Jones
2013 - Nathan Jones (2)
2014 - Jeremy Howe
2015 - Heritier Lumumba
2016 - Jack Watts
2017 - Jesse Hogan, Jayden Hunt and Clayton Oliver
2018 - Max Gawn and Christian Petracca
2019 - Max Gawn (2)
2020 - Bayley Fritsch

2020 year in review - part one

Pre-season game 1 vs Adelaide - What could possibly go wrong from here?
As far as predictions go that headline was a fair old understatement. Still, at the time it looked like our off-season fitness campaign was about to deliver a year of runaway wins. What a campaign it was, complete with fancy promotional videos that made it look like our next step was to invade Grenada. Then the length of games were reduced, mostly negating our advantage. There were a handful of romping finishes but none against top sides.

More importantly, the afternoon featuring Christian Petracca announcing his arrival at the AFL's top table with one of the best individual games you'll ever see. Usually, you'd write it off for being in a practice match but given there were more people in attendance than most of our 2020 matches I'm counting it.

Pre-season game 2 vs North Melbourne - All that and not much more
Where we confirmed suspicions that North weren't going to be very good this year by beating them comfortably. A 55-33 final score offered a hint of what was to come when teams packed up and stopped trying to score once the real games started.

Pre-season game 3 vs Hawthorn - A night on the isles
In which we went to Tasmania, when interstate travel was still a thing, and beat Hawthorn in a fashion that you were both happy about and unconvinced by. Melksham kicked four before disappearing for the next six months. And like 80% of his career games vandenBerg injured his foot and wasn't seen again for a few months.

Round 1 vs West Coast - Behind Closed Doors
Featuring one of the most farcical scenarios we've ever been involved in. Just think about the ground that covers. The spiralling pandemic already meant we'd be playing in front of an empty stadium for the first time in history, then shortly before the bounce it was announced that the season was going to be put on hold with no firm date for resuming. 

There was every possible chance that there wouldn't be another game, which would have been the biggest stitch-up ever after we'd put players through a torturous pre-season. Perhaps thinking about this unfortunate twist of fate said players rolled over for a few minutes late in the first quarter and let the Eagles open a winning margin by quarter time. We broke even for the rest of the game but fat lot of good that did.

Then for a long time nothing happened. Until about 80 days of watching our lives go down the tube (the first time eh Victorians?) footy returned, still without anybody in the crowd bar a handful of parents of debutantes. Some got snarky that Jeremy Howe said he was used to playing in front of empty stands because he used to be at Melbourne, but to be fair this wasn't a much worse Docklands crowd than the day he played his last game for us against GWS.

The break seemed to have treated us well when we stormed to a 42 point lead early in the second quarter. Conversely, Carlton looked like they'd had their drinks spiked with deadly nightshade. We followed this with a one goal second half, allowing the Blues to draw level in the last quarter. I was consulting the manual for my oven with Fritsch got a late point (of course he did) to put us ahead again. We narrowly avoided two Carlton attacks and got away with it. All's well that ends well but it didn't bode well for the future.

Round 3 vs Essendon was postponed when an Essendon player got the sniffles, causing everyone to shit themselves. Connor McKenna's mucus worked in our favour, moving the game from when they'd have undoubtedly beaten us to the end of the season when they'd gone to water.

Round 4 vs Geelong - No repayment, no interest
Where the Cats toyed with us for three and a half quarters, playing the sort of chippy, keepings off footy that works a treat when the other side stands around and lets you do it all day. Unlike other times where Geelong has treated us with contempt (refer extensive list of unbelievable thrashings) they couldn't put us away, leading to the ridiculous scenario of us almost winning. Indeed Adam Tomlinson even kicked to put us ahead. It would have been pure and simple thievery but I'd have taken it. 

Neither side was impressive but somehow they ended up in the Grand Final while we spent the finals series in our traditional position of on the couch with thumbs up arses.  

Round 5 vs Richmond - Tora Tora Toilet
Speaking of teams that played off for a premiership, this was arguably a better performance than the Geelong game but we were beaten by three quarter time. You had to feel for the players who'd been told they were going interstate immediately after the game with no indication about when they'd get to come back to Victoria, but I was still getting ready to become morbid and concede the season.
Round 6 vs Gold Coast - The Ecstasy of Gold Coast
Salvation came at the unusual location of the Sydney Showgrounds, our temporary home until New South Wales also achieved disease pariah state status. Even though Gold Coast was already showing the signs of their usual post-Round 4 collapse this still got far too close for comfort. It saw the birth of the Rankin Wankin' phenomenon, as a first gamer threatened to win the game off his own boot and gave the Fox Footy commentary team the firmest horn since Gerard Healy met Nic Nat.

The game ended with Harley Bennell kicking a heartwarming goal after the siren and being mobbed by his teammates. Surely nothing was going to stop him now. 

Round 7 vs Hawthorn - Mask on, lid bubbling
From the post title I presume this was around when Victoria went COVID crazy and we were confined to our homes. Unfortunately on this day I had to leave said place of residence and watch the game on the world's most malfunctioning television. Somewhere in the midst of Fuzz/distortion/NO SIGNAL I saw us recover from a nervy, possibly season-ending start and run away to a comfortable win. I don't know if the lid deserved to be bubbling but at this stage we were desperate to find something worth looking forward to.

Round 8 vs Brisbane - A trip down misery lane
Unless you're into statistical anomalies and unusual scenarios the "sure, why not" game against Brisbane on the Gold Coast was not something to look forward to. Unlike some clubs we could mention they followed their breakthrough season with another finals appearance instead of plummeting back to the bottom of the ladder and were clearly the better side here.

However, we were far from humiliated. And like the Geelong game nearly nicked it. I wouldn't have complained if we'd won, but the twin fiascos of an unnecessary goal review at one end and Fritsch giving away a numpty 50 at the other made sure that wasn't a factor. Realistically, the margin flattered the buggery out of us.

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal

Accused in some circles, mainly this one, of merely being a fluffer to keep fellow Westralian, Luke Jackson from getting the sads and going home (because we've all seen how well that worked for Jesse Hogan...), Rivers proved a handy player in his own right. 

Even before his mysterious goalkicking interventions against the Giants, Trent was proving a handy user of the ball out of defence. As you can see from the mixed bag of previous winners it's no guarantee of bigger and better things but at least he's got his name on the prestigious Demonblog honour board. 

6 - Trent Rivers
1 - Kysaiah Pickett
0 - Toby Bedford, Austin Bradtke, Kade Chandler, James Jordon, Luke Jackson, Aaron Nietschke, Tom Sparrow 

Honour Roll
2005 - No players eligible.
2006 - Matthew Bate
2007 - Michael Newton
2008 - Cale Morton
2009 - Jack Grimes ($4)
2010 - [REVOKED]
2011 - Jeremy Howe ($30)
2012 - Tom McDonald ($8)
2013 - Jack Viney ($5)
2014 - Jay Kennedy-Harris ($15)
2015 - Jesse Hogan ($4.50)
2016 - Jayden Hunt ($50) and Christian Petracca ($10)
2017 - Mitch Hannan ($15)
2018 - Bayley Fritsch ($4.50)
2019 - Marty Hore ($8)
2020 - Trent Rivers ($40)

Demonbracket IX
AKA - The year I lost interest. Where despite relatively low voting numbers I could no longer muster up the enthusiasm for counting ballots from a variety of sources. Especially when everyone just voted for the favourites anyway. 

My first instinct was to shut the competition down and concentrate on the memories, but after an unpredictable change of heart I've decided the bracket will be back in January 2021. Whether it's for just one more season or my love of footy related democracy is reinvigorated will be decided in January/February 2021.

What I'm hoping is that because Twitter voting is a) anonymous, and b) will mean less people voting, that we may get some more 2013 Summer of Sizzle style upsets. And if not I've saved myself several hours total in admin work.

Orthodoxy peaked this year with a final between the #1 and #2 seeds. The dramatic emergence of Petracca was the only thing that stopped the semis being played by the top four. There was little drama throughout the tournament, and the final ended in a landslide win for Maximum. Well deserved but we'd like some tension about whether Aaron Nietschke is going to unexpectedly romp into the quarters.

Quarter Final
1. Clayton Oliver d. Neville Jetta 102-45
4. James Harmes d. 6. Bayley Fritsch 103-44
5. Christian Petracca d. 3. Jack Viney 114-33
2. Max Gawn d. 7. Christian Salem 125-22

Semi Final
1. Clayton Oliver d. 4. James Harmes 99-43
2. Max Gawn d. 5. Christian Petracca 101-41

2. Max Gawn d. 1. Clayton Oliver 160-48

Honour Roll
2012 - James Frawley d. Nathan Jones
2013 - Tom McDonald d. Mitch Clark
2014 - Nathan Jones d. Jack Watts
2015 - Nathan Jones [2] d. Dom Tyson
2016 - Jack Viney d. Nathan Jones
2017 - Max Gawn d. Jack Viney
2018 - Neville Jetta d. Clayton Oliver 
2019 - Clayton Oliver d. Neville Jetta
2020 - Max Gawn d. Clayton Oliver

Welcome to my vendetta

A salute to the tired/poor/huddled masses that have come to us from far and wide. Some of them might leave with their lives and careers enriched but don't count on it.

Ben Brown
He looks like the lady out of Arcade Fire and has the most tedious set shot routine in the history of the sport, but also holds a strong record of kicking goals in an era where scores are crashing like a Russian airplane. And as long as the 3200m run-up is happening at our end who are we to complain?

After one injury riddled season in a crap team, the discount price paid for him can only be a good thing. If nothing else it takes the heat off Weideman, providing some mystery about who we're kicking to inside 50. Add Jackson to the mix and this is a marking forward group that might even be able to cope with the mystifying array of shanks, slices and genuine clangers that will be coming their way.   

Adem Yze
Or as he's more commonly known, the Goodwin Insurance Policy. As long as we don't short circuit his senior career Choco Royal style Ooze will coach at the highest level eventually, the only question is whether he'll have to wipe his predecessor's blood from the office floor first. Obviously I hope that his input as an assistant is maximised in a setup where Goodwin suddenly turns into Norm Smith and goes somewhere else with our blessing after a flag. Realistically I'm expecting him in the top job by the end of the year. Before then, let's have some topical Queen's Birthday footage of him tormenting the Pies.

Board member Brad Green
This doesn't feel as consequential as Yze but it's still a good news story. How much influence a board can really have (unless they do something catastrophically bonkers) is debatable but I can't see any downside. When you add Matthew Whelan returning in a community role it's a welcome return to the (relative) glory days of the early 2000s. And a reminder of just how old I am.

Several draft picks
If there was ever a time to make like a modern person and just post an emoji this would be the time to put up the guy shrugging and move on. On paper all three of Bowey, Laurie and Rosman (sadly not a silly Rochford Devenish-Meares still name amongst them). The only initial thoughts I've got are that Bowey looks like somebody who'd love to punch on in a suburban pub and Rosman will be fighting women off with a stick.

Hawthorn's 2021 third round pick
Acquired in exchange for this year's fourth pick at the point where draft night had dragged on for so long that everyone just wanted to go home.  

Choke Yourself With A Tie
And here's the main event, a near 10 year campaign to get the real Mark Williams (no offence to this guy) to Melbourne finally pays off. Should have been the coach after Bailey and never had a look in when Roos came on the scene but his madcap brand of lunacy has finally arrived. It may only be a developmental role but it will do me. I've never been a sack Goodwin fanatic but Yze/Choco 2021 has a ring to it. 

First my long-held desire to sign Steven May paid off, now this. I don't think I've got anything else I deeply want from another club except a bloody flag.

Celebrate his arrival in the traditional manner.

... and if it goes tits up then let's forget everything I've ever said about him.

Goodbye, and varying degrees of good luck

Lots of AFLW players
Bittersweet stuff for those of us who suffered through the various near-misses of the early AFLW seasons. Other than Elise O'Dea there was nothing to get really upset about, but Harriet Cordner, Bianca Jakobsson, Kat Smith and to a lesser extent Maddy Guerin were classic names as part of the struggle. 

Other than O'Dea I was most distressed at losing Tex Perkins, who turned up as a mid-season injury replacement player and provided the best forward target we've ever had. Pending a rookie season to remember from top pick Alyssa Bannon I guess it's back to the classic 300:1 ratio of inside 50s to goals.

Harley Bennell
You don't want to judge somebody without knowing their circumstances. As far as career-killing moves, costing the club thousands of dollars by escaping the hub to get on the piss then refusing to answer phone calls was quite the way to go. I haven't seen anything like it since the flight attendant who denounced passengers over the PA, grabbed two beers and escaped by deploying the evacuation slide.

It's not only a shame for him personally but I think for the team. He was adequate this year but considering how little he'd played recently you had to think there was improvement in his future. Instead his career has gone to the great footy oval in the sky. Wherever he is now I hope he's well.

The Wagnii
The powers of this none-more-Germanic duo peaked in 2019, when Corey came from North Melbourne and was quite good. Obviously the coaches didn't share my enthusiasm because he didn't get near a game in the improved 2020 side. Josh only got a couple of token appearances late in the year and their AFL careers simultaneously went kaput. Should do well on the suburban circuit if they're interested.

The Sizzle Brothers
Continuing the campaign against brothers, the Sizzle family were simultaneously railroaded out of the club at speeds that would impress the Japanese bullet train. We were so harsh on siblings this off-season that even the Wright Brothers would have been told to shut up and walk. 

Hang on, I'm getting word that our efforts to shift Tom by any means necessary failed and he'll be with us next year. Fine by me. I wasn't going to slash my wrists if he went, and maybe clearing his salary would have given us a chance to join the Collingwood fire sale but I think he's still got something to offer. I doubt he's a Round 1 player, but if one of the key forwards or defenders is hurt he can take their place. Then presumably at the end of the season we do a Collingwood and pay anybody we can find to take him off our hands. Which is a shame because no player has ever embraced my online shenanigans more. To paraphrase Huey Lewis, I'm happy to be stuck with him. Not sure he's thrilled to be stuck with us though... 

On the other hand, Oscar is not coming back. It's no surprise that his time has come to an end, having failed to kick on from what seemed like a breakout game against Hawthorn at the end of 2016. Wasn't in my first choice team but I thought it was a bit harsh how everyone treated him like he killed puppies in his spare time. He never excelled but he was ok, it's just that you can't plod on with ok players forever. We wish him well.

Mitch Hannan
Mitch has returned to his roots with the Bulldogs but we'll always have the 2018 Elimination Final to remember him by. His career never hit anywhere near those heights again, but other than an injury ravaged 2019 he was usually a decent forward and should go alright at a better club. Give the placement of that goal in the 21st century folklore of the club his loss gently tugs at the heartstrings, but at the same time he kicked one goal in his last five starts this year so that shouldn't be hard to replace. The Dogs obviously have a plan, hope it works well for him.

Braydon Preuss 
Here endeth one of the strangest recruiting moves ever, as we say farewell to the Comedy Moustache Lips that brought a touch of vaudeville everywhere he went. I still don't know why he joined us just to sit behind Gawn in the ruckman pecking order for two years but I suppose the idea would have been hailed as genius if Maximum hadn't been so resilient.

I have faith he'll do well with GWS, where he'll form an unlikely ex-MFC partnership with Jesse Hogan (see also Mitch Hannan meets Stefan Martin at the Western Oval). Either it works and we claim to be good guys for giving him two years of development or it fails and we can be smug about how he wouldn't have worked out with us anyway.

Assistant coaches by the truckload
Max Rooke, Daniel Cross, Ben Mathews and Justin Plapp, butchered en masse as part of a joint cost-cutting/mediocre performance resolving initiative. Whether their replacements are an improvement is anybody's guess but we couldn't carry on doing the same thing that has got us nowhere and next to nowhere over the last two years. Shithouse timing to lose your job just as the industry tightens its belt but, and this may surprise you, we're not running a charity. I reckon we're about eight poor weeks at the start of the year from the senior coach joining them on

Our original recipe picks from 2021
We must be the first club ever to trade away all its picks for the following season. We got selections in return but they'll be tied to the fortunes of Brisbane, Footscray and North Melbourne. What we do on field will not make one red hot shit of difference to our position at next year's draft, only whether or not we look like buffoons for trading Brisbane our top pick.

Josh Mahoney
You couldn't say Essendon's new GM of Football presided over spectacular success with us, but he certainly had amazing longevity. Just think of the chaos and carnage he's seen since joining us in 2007, in which time he's been an assistant coach, forward coach, Football Manager, Football Operations Manager and christ only knows what else. If you look at pictures of him then and now I think he's developed a bit of the mad eyes, but who wouldn't after 13 years with us? Good thing he's moving to a perfectly sensible club where absolutely nothing unusual or bizarre ever happens.

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year

Considering only seven players on our list got a single hitout this year this is one of the flimsiest awards around. Five of them failed to qualify by averaging less than 10 hitouts a game. The end result was Maximum winning by a lot.

I can't rule out a future challenge by Jackson, but you feel that if anyone other than Max wins this for the next couple of seasons then we're probably not winning many games. Mind you, he's won it ever year since 2015 and we've had two winnings records in that time so who knows what it all means.

30 - Max Gawn
0 - Braydon Preuss
DNQ - Mitch Brown, Luke Jackson, Oscar McDonald, Tom McDonald, Adam Tomlinson

Honour Roll
2005 - Jeff White
2006 - Jeff White (2)
2007 - Jeff White (3)
2008 - Paul Johnson
2009 - Mark Jamar ($3)
2010 - Mark Jamar (2) ($1.50 fav)
2011 - Stefan Martin ($30)
2012 - Stefan Martin (2) ($12)
2013 - Jack Fitzpatrick ($50) and Max Gawn ($45)
2014 - Mark Jamar (3) ($5)
2015 - Max Gawn (2) ($10)
2016 - Max Gawn (3) ($1.80 fav)
2017 - Max Gawn (4) ($1.25 fav)
2018 - Max Gawn (5) ($1.10 fav)
2019 - Max Gawn (6) ($1.50 fav)
2020 - Max Gawn (7) ($1.05 fav)

2020 Year in Review - part 2

Round 9 vs Port Adelaide - Festival of Fist
By now we'd been shifted to Queensland, and with limited options for the continuing the season if the COVID took off nationwide, the AFL came up with the idea of the idea of stuffing as many games into a couple of weeks as possible. Nothing to do with keeping the broadcasters happy you see. Definitely all about keeping the fans happy.

I was not very happy, at first anyway, considering that we took to the prospect of four day breaks with all the enthusiasm of prisoners of war. Port were very good this year and demonstrated that by strangling us from the first bounce. At the 60 second mark we may as well have called a halt to proceedings and conceded. We lost by heaps and looked as unlikely as ever to feature in the top eight.

Here's an early 1990s clipart representation of how I felt watching it:

What I really wanted to do was:

Round 10 vs Adelaide - Heat melts cube
That dreadful performance led to a game that couldn't have been any more dangerous if it was played at Chernobyl. After flopping against the good South Australians we had to fly to Adelaide to play the ones who'd lost their first nine games.

All the ingredients were there for the sort of embarrassing loss that we'd have been left moping over for the next 20 years, and when we'd only eked out a two goal lead by three quarter time you felt they were going to win. But you were wrong, instead the much-vaunted Darren Burgess fitness program sprung into action and provoked a (relatively) rampant seven goal to one finale. The only person not to come out of it with a smile on his face was Alex Neal-Bullen, who got four games for bouncing a Crows player's head off the ground like a basketball then discovered that we didn't think enough of him to pay for an appeal.

Round 11 vs North Melbourne- Sequel just as good as the original
I could have been the only one who thought we'd used up all our reserves of mental strength beating one side in turmoil at the bottom the ladder and would come of this looking like cockheads. But against all odds we won again, wobbling unsteadily through three quarters of generally awful football before exploding in the final term and stomping the opposition to dust. We've never won a league game in South Australia by more. Which just goes to show how shizen we've been there. 

Round 12 vs Collingwood - Million Dollar Fisting
After a pair of unexpected (albeit slowly developing) thrashings, this big win came as more of a surprise. The Pies were in the midst of a duel injury and form crisis but you didn't expect them to fold like a house of cards. More injuries during the game didn't help, leaving them vulnerable to another free-wheeling, high scoring rampage. Things were looking up again.

Somehow the Pies, despite being coached by somebody who seemingly has the man-management skills of David Brent, made it to the second week of the finals. At that point they were duly beaten to a pulp and responded by trading half their list for magic beans. They will still be back in premiership contention before us.

Round 13 vs Footscray - Putting the cart before the horse
After three wins in a row this was our chance to consolidate a spot in the eight and strike a blow against a fellow contender. For a while things were looked good, until we came back after half time like the team-talk had been done by Sylvia Plath. The Dogs took advantage of a few minutes of madness to open a winning margin and we never looked likely again. After a few weeks of "maybe this is going to turn out alright", the anti-Goodwin society went ballistic again. I couldn't be bothered joining in.

Round 14 vs St. Kilda - Heist society
Where we got to cash in on our annual Alice Springs game AND rescued our season with a thrilling victory. Another defensive masterclass by May, Petracca kicking a goal that took the biggest turn since Shane Warne, and we held on in the face of a furious attack in the last few minutes to put ourselves back in the box seat for the eight. If we won our next two games as favourites. Guess what happened next?

Round 15 vs Sydney - Bathwater overdose
Having subdued our natural instinct to lose games we were supposed to win for the first 14 rounds you wanted to believe we were going to win this but secretly knew it was going to end in tragedy. Even a 4.40pm start on a Thursday in Cairns shouldn't have made a significant difference but down we went. There were arguments over Sydney having more time in Cairns to prepare but that shouldn't have stopped us. If we couldn't win here we were not a finals team. We didn't and we weren't.

Round 16 vs Fremantle - Shower of Shit
Offered one last chance to enter the final fortnight of the season with our destiny in our own hands we responded to another game in Cairns by playing Preuss at full-forward in pissing rain. Surprisingly with quality selection tactics liek this we kicked 2.4 in the first three quarters. Getting within eight points in the last quarter was nothing more than an unnecesary tease. The season wasn't dead yet but it was hooked up to a malfunctioning oxygen tank.

Round 17 vs GWS - Boy meets hurl
The equation was relatively simple, win the last two games to stay alive. Then our fate depended on results elsewhere. All of a sudden after barely scoring a goal in eight quarters in Cairns, our return to Queensland saw the strangest collection of goalkickers all season. Baker, Spargo and Rivers each got two, including the wobbling snap from the latter that theoretically sealed the win. Of course, nothing comes easy and we were left fanatically defending a five point lead in the dying moments. It's debatable whether the occasion was worth the near heart attack it caused me but at the time I felt good about it.

It came down to winning on Saturday and hoping Freo beat Footscray the next day. We did our bit, albeit in a complicated way that left the result in doubt until late in the last quarter. Against an Essendon side who'd ceded their interest in 2020 weeks earlier we got out to nearly six goals ahead late in the third quarter before switching off and letting them get five of the next six. The margin was back to seven, prompting me to unleash an expletive-laden tirade while stomping around the room like a petulant child. 

We recovered in time to win comfortably but it was all for naught, Freo gave a decent account of themselves but couldn't summon up the same sort of upset that they'd pulled against us and our season was over. About two days later I was entirely over it and looking forward to next year.

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year

Welcome to the year where we finally won a high-profile trade. As much as I want to see Hogan do well, his career going into the shitter at Fremantle at the same time May went ballistic in our backline proved that we ultimately did the right thing in swapping them.

Now, you could argue that if we'd kept Hogan things might have worked out but history suggests that's wishful thinking. Some also like to moan about we could have drafted one of the King brothers but that's a false argument considering we traded Hogan specifically to get a ready-made key defender. 

All I know is that after the disastrous 2019 campaign May played a ripping season and I'm dying for him to get a crack at a full year in 2021. He was the rock in our backline and the real electoral irregularity for Donald Trump to get upset about is how he didn't make the 40 man All-Australian squad.

28 - Steven May
13 - Christian Salem
6 - Michael Hibberd, Trent Rivers
4 - Jake Lever, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jay Lockhart
0 - James Harmes, Neville Jetta, Oscar McDonald, Harrison Petty, Joel Smith, Corey Wagner, Josh Wagner

Honour Roll
2005 - Nathan Carroll and Ryan Ferguson
2006 - Jared Rivers
2007 - Paul Wheatley
2008 - Matthew Whelan
2009 - James Frawley ($22)
2010 - James Frawley (2) ($3.50)
2011 - James Frawley (3) ($4)
2012 - Jack Grimes ($7)
2013 - James Frawley (4) ($2.80)
2014 - Lynden Dunn ($25)
2015 - Tom McDonald ($14)
2016 - Neville Jetta ($13)
2017 - Michael Hibberd ($16)
2018 - Christian Salem ($20)
2019 - Christian Salem (2) ($4.75 fav)
2020 - Steven May ($11)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year

Unusually I can't find any specific footage of Petracca's goal against GWS that won the award. I was going to just post the match highlights and make you find it yourself, then I remembered that the legends who make the videos didn't rate it worthy of qualifying for a seven minute video package. From memory, and there's been plenty of water under the bridge since it happened, he scooped it off the deck 50 metres out and thumped it through like a long-range missile. Imagine that in the space provided below.

[Your mental picture goes here]

It was one of seven (!) nominations for the season, leaving him kicking outrageous goals at a rate that early Sam Blease would have been envious of. Not only does he take home the Davey for the first time (and who would be against him being the first man to capture it twice?), but his tally of nominations takes him beyond Jeff (never, ever Jeffy, even in retirement) Garlett to the top of the all-time leaderboard.  

Round 1 - Kysaiah Pickett
Round 2 - Christian Petracca
Round 4 - Christian Petracca [2]
Round 5 - Mitch Hannan
Round 6 - Christian Salem
Round 7 - Kysaiah Pickett [2]
Round 8 - Jake Melksham
Round 9 - Christian Petracca [3]
Round 10 - Jack Viney
Round 11 - Christian Petracca [4]
Round 12 - Charlie Spargo
Round 13 - Sam Weideman
Round 14 - Christian Petracca [5]
Round 15 - Charlie Spargo [2]
Round 16 - Bayley Fritsch
Round 17 - Christian Petracca [6]
Round 18 - Christian Petracca [7]

Honour Roll
2014 - Christian Salem
2015 - Nathan Jones
2016 - Jack Watts
2017 - Tom McDonald
2018 - Mitch Hannan
2019 - Marty Hore
2020 - Christian Petracca

All time nominations (2014-2020)
18 - Christian Petracca
16 - Jeff Garlett
7 - Jake Melksham, Jack Watts
6 - Mitch Hannan, Jayden Hunt, 
5 - Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones, Dean Kent, Bernie Vince
4 - Tom McDonald, Cameron Pedersen, Jack Viney
3 - Max Gawn, Jordan Lewis, Jay Lockhart, Christian Salem, 
2 - Angus Brayshaw, Chris Dawes, Bayley Fritsch, Mark Jamar, Alex Neal-Bullen, Clayton Oliver, Kysaiah Pickett, Braydon Preuss, Charlie Spargo, Dom Tyson
1 - Oskar Baker, Sam Blease, Chris Dawes, Jack Fitzpatrick, Sam Frost, Marty Hore, Matt Jones, Ben Kennedy, Jay Kennedy Harris, Heritier Lumumba, Oscar McDonald, Ben Newton, Aidan Riley, Charlie Spargo, Corey Wagner, Sam Weideman

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

And here he is again, the man who played a dominant season and somehow still went within one game of having to share the award. That's 5-4-3-2-1 voting for you, the greatest of all systems. 

Petracca's maiden win in our premier award was not a surprise result, every major collection of Melbourne fans, best and fairest voters, umpires, and the media all had him as our best player. The only surprise was how close Oliver got. 

This is no slight on the Hamburgler, who played a fine season, but it just felt Truck should have won in a landslide. Coaches didn't think as much of Oliver, only landing him fifth in the B&F, a mile behind Petracca, but they agreed on the winner.

It's hard to believe that the promise of that pre-season Adelaide game paid off, I was almost certain he'd immediately turn it into a mediocre up and down season that left us with red and blue balls. Instead he was reasonably consistent across the year, with several Brownlow quality spikes throughout. Some nonsense talk about him being as good as Dustin Martin failed to distract him, and I've got faith that he's going to continue playing like this next year. Many congratulations from everyone associated with Demonblog, Demonwiki and Brunton Avenue Publishing.  

46 - Christian Petracca
41 - Clayton Oliver
30 - Max Gawn, Jack Viney
28 - Steven May
23 - Ed Langdon
13 - Christian Salem
10 - Angus Brayshaw
6 - Michael Hibberd, Trent Rivers, Sam Weideman
4 - Jake Lever, Adam Tomlinson
2 - Jayden Hunt, Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Brown, Mitch Hannan, Jay Lockhart, Kysaiah Pickett

Honour Roll
2005 - Travis Johnstone
2006 - Brock McLean
2007 - Nathan Jones
2008 - Cameron Bruce
2009 - Aaron Davey ($8)
2010 - Brad Green ($4)
2011 - Brent Moloney ($9)
2012 - Nathan Jones (2) ($3.50)
2013 - Nathan Jones (3) ($2)
2014 - Nathan Jones (4) ($3.50)
2015 - Jack Viney ($15)
2016 - Nathan Jones (5) ($8)
2017 - Clayton Oliver ($35)
2018 - Clayton Oliver (2) ($3.25 fav)
2019 - Max Gawn ($9)
2020 - Christian Petracca ($6)

And that is it... usually the man who lives underground and the Solid Brown Dancers get a run in this post but you can't just dredge up the same tired old gimmicks every season. Alternatively, as you may have noticed, this year has sapped my life force to the point where I just can't be bothered working them in.

Thank you again for your support during this absolute shit of a year, and I hope that we've given you some entertainment while you were striving not to catch a deadly disease. We'll be back for a 17th year (!!) of blogging madness in 2021, but which point I'm hoping my enthusiasm transfusion kicks in and I can get through the year without resigning from the AFL and taking up go karting.

Much love and don't forget to buy your membership,


Monday 21 September 2020

Broken bones and bruised feelings

... and in the immortal words of Kevin Bloody Wilson, "It was over." The slender chance that Footscray would unexpectedly choke were dashed, leaving us ninth for the second time in four years and empty-handed like every season since 1964.

I've been waiting 30 years for a coach to stride in, sweep me off my feet, and carry me away to a better life like Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman. For at least one more year the part of Richard Gere will not be played by Simon Goodwin, who took a mid-table mediocrity team to the ultimate mid-table mediocrity finish - exactly halfway down the ladder.

This would be a great time to get angry about the coach, especially on a day where he's being walloped up and down the internet based on a context-free quote about not talking about strategy during the shutdown, but I haven't got the heart. At this stage of Melbourne, I'm not sure Norm Smith would have much luck turning us into a contender, we are destined to be a punchline for the remainder of time.

As disappointing as it is to miss out in the last round again, there is a strange serenity about it. For me anyway, you're welcome to go off your tits if you want. I was far more hurt by the two day Festival of Farce in 2017 because of all the pain that had come before it. The combination of the Collingwood and West Coast/Adelaide games was the ultimate in kicking the fans when they were down.

The last two seasons have both been shit in their own special ways, but at least the four week run where we finally got it right in 2018 allows us some fond memories from recent years. Unlike 2017 when you wondered if we'd blown the best chance we'd ever have of playing finals again. It doesn't feel like that this time. Now that it's over, it feels silly to have put so much mental energy into another wasted season but that's just what I do.

For me this finish wasn't even in the ballpark of losing to the Bears in the last game of 1995. And for those who were in 1976, obviously nowhere near as traumatic as being tipped out by a draw (also involving Footscray). Before that, you have to go back to 1949 for a last round near-miss, and as we'd won a flag the year before I think most fans would have been philosophical about that.

Obviously all the talk is how we stuffed it up across those two games in Cairns. Seems that way, but can you be entirely certain with this club that we wouldn't have won one or both of those then lost to GWS and/or Essendon? It's another reason why the end of 2018 is remembered so fondly, it was one of the few times we exceeded expectations. 

After all the discussion of the Bradbury Plan, and the requirement of other clubs to stack it ahead of us so we could sneak in, it was apt that it came down to just that scenario. St Kilda and Collingwood had already shut the gate on us, we'd just held on in the face of a Force 10 Farce to do the right thing against the Bombers, now it all relied on Fremantle beating Footscray. I was trying not to get my hopes up, but was simultaneously ready to start heaving and hoing around the house like a madman if they won. In the end it was Heave No, but not without them stringing us along for a half.

Part of the reason I can be so calm about the result is that I barely saw any of it. About 40 minutes before the bounce, just as I was building myself up to peak anticipation of Freo being beaten by a goal after the siren, my daughter took a huge bump off the monkey bars and was left clutching her wrist like Sean Charles. I've done many unscrupulous things to follow Melbourne over the years, but leaving a child in pain to watch a third-party game (albeit one with major implications) was several thousand steps too far, so off we went to hospital. 

On the way, I listened to the dying minutes of the Sydney/Geelong game, still half-thinking that the result was relevant to us. Playing Geelong instead of West Coast would have certainly been a big up yours to all the cowards who said they didn't want to play finals because we were a near certainty to lose to West Coast. We're an absolute certainty not to win the premiership every year we play, why even turn up for Round 1? 

The Swans were the first underdog to have a brave bash and go down, losing by six points. I'm glad if anyone had to lose that way it was them and not the Dockers. Even though Sydney had just shown that a side in their last game of the year didn't need to go out and lose miserably (only if they're called Gold Coast and want to get priority picks 1-15), I still never seriously expected Freo to win. That also helped me cope with the inevitable result.  

Once Michael Walters went out injured I was already mentally writing them off, and when Matt Taberner joined in as a late withdrawal my faith in them springing an upset were reduced to rubble. Considering their outs and the Bulldogs not being the sort of side who'd blow the golden opportunity of a 'win and in' game, I fully expected Footscray to be 30-0 up at quarter time and go on to an effortless win. They got there, it just took a bit more work than expected.  

Concievably, Taberner's absence could have opened the door for Jesse Hogan to do us a solid and kick a match-winning bag, but after exercising the leg for the first time all season a week ago he was restricted to one goal and proved little help. Still wish him well and would have him back in a second.

Competing medical priorities meant I only saw about 15 minutes of play, including the end of the first quarter and the start of the second. Other than that it was snatched looks at scores on the AFL app. This was fine under the circumstances, I cannot begin to imagine what it would have been like if we'd been the ones playing to win a spot. 

The few minutes I saw coincided with the time Freo looked like a half-chance of winning. They were clearly never the better side, but seemed like they might hang around to keep things interesting until the last quarter. When they went seven points up - prompting Fox Footy to throw to a shot of half our list watching while Mitch Hannan tucked into dinner - I thought we might have been onto something. Without the sound on, not wanting to be put on a negligent parent list if a doctor walked in at that moment, I had no idea they were not making much use of the wind. Should have seen them home strongly in the last quarter, unfortunately by then they'd lost interest.

The last thing I saw was the Bulldogs kicking two in a row - literally, the second one came straight out of the middle - to retake the lead, and that's where I tuned out both figuratively and literally. With more important issues to consider I only saw the odd score on the app across the next two quarters. Things briefly got interesting again when Freo kicked two on either side of half time. Turns out they were their last, sliding to a loss that none of them probably gave the fattest rat's clacker about without much fanfare. And why should they have cared? What did it matter to them if we made the eight?

With the off-field damage fortunately restricted to the most pissweak fracture possible, we were cleared to go home early in the last quarter. All I knew was that the Dockers were three goals down and extremely unlikely to do us a favour. That was the end of the drama, I turned the car on, the radio went "... and the Bulldogs are going to the finals!" and I turned the radio off again. The patient remained in good spirits considering her disastrous afternoon, it would have been rude to get upset over something as frivolous as footy.

Still, once we were home I did sit in the dark and have a quiet think about everything we've been through during this weird season. From the hope of the practice games, to the Corona shutdown, travelling the country like gypsies, having our hopes raised and dashed several times over, all while watching some of the finest individual performers of recent Melbourne history struggle to carry the weakest undercard since Wrestlemania 2.

Obviously we didn't deserve to make it, but the finals are not a merit based system. They don't vote the best teams in, and if they did they'd rarely get to eight. The AFL's wet dream is that we'd turn up for a wildcard match with the Bulldogs next week, but if anything this should prove that the finals need to be contracted more than expanded. For now, eight is fine. There are places to fill, and if you can grab one by any means necessary then take it and hope for the best. 

I'm assuming we'd have lost to the Eagles by about seven goals but you never know. Even if it was a futile journey it would still be some reward for players after the cross-country nonsense they've gone through this season. Think of Steven May, who could be the All Australian full back in a couple of weeks but still hasn't played a final in nearly 10 years. Serves him right for joining us I suppose. I was also keen on the novelty value of Charlie Spargo finishing the year with as many finals under his belt as Fred Fanning.

It's hard to get too upset when I predicted we'd finish 8th (albeit in a bracket up to sixth, implying that I thought we'd make finals) but even in the most shambolic of seasons you do still feel a bit cheated. At this time I can't blame anyone in particular. The coach is a popular target, but for all the learnings and connection waffle I just can't bring myself to join in the kicking. Doesn't mean I'd take a bullet for him but after years of sacking bloodlust has delivered us bugger all I'm not sure I care to participate anymore. Until about half time of Round 1, 2021 when I'll be taking up a collection to pay him out.

So, that's it. Big surprise, the losers lost. All that's left to do is finish off the awards that were left unresolved yesterday, frozen in time like the victims of Mt. Vesuvius...

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal final standings
At the same time as the door shuts on his hopes of playing finals, Oliver's campaign for a third Jako also runs aground. Congratulations to celebrity fingering victim Christian Petracca for grabbing the title, adding it to a Hilton and a Prymke in his virtual trophy cabinet. After mid-table finishes in three of his four seasons (along with a fifth in 2017) he has now etched his name amongst the legends of #fistedforever era Melbourne.

The final total of 19 players polling votes is the lowest of all time, but is arguably not much worse than the 21 of last year considering five less games were played. It was the first year than Nathan Jones has ever failed to poll, while the most significant fall was James Harmes - from 68 votes combined across the last two years to none this year. How did that playing in defence go?

In the minors, Gawn for the Stynes is no surprise. Preuss was the only other player to reach the 10 hitout per game qualifying mark, and with all due respect to Old Comedy Moustache Lips, he could play 150 games and not reach the 30 votes Maximum scored.

May in the Seecamp was perhaps a slight surprise. Not because we didn't think he'd be very good, he polled his arse off in limited games during 2019, but because a) who knew he'd stay fit enough to play almost every minute of every game, and b) smaller and running defenders have owned this competition since 2016. Hard to deny he deserves it, now give him the All-Australian and a top three finish in the Best and Fairest. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he won it.

Which just leaves the Hilton, for most of the second part of the season and a neck-and-neck race between two players on one vote. Which made it slightly better than 2005, when no eligible player  polled, but on par with the 2014 edition that featured Jay Kennedy-Harris winning with two votes. Pleasingly, Trent Rivers came home strongly to unexpectedly capture the title and forever banish the idea that he was only picked to fluff for a higher profile West Australian. If they survive, Kade Chandler and Toby Bedford remain eligible next season due to having played four or less games.

Congratulations to our award winners, and to everyone who polled a vote this year. For those who didn't, try harder next time. 

46 - Christian Petracca (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
41 - Clayton Oliver
30 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
28 - Steven May (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
23 - Ed Langdon
13 - Christian Salem
10 - Angus Brayshaw
6 - Michael Hibberd, Trent Rivers (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Sam Weideman
4 - Jake Lever, Adam Tomlinson
2 - Jayden Hunt, Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Brown, Mitch Hannan, Jay Lockhart, Kysaiah Pickett

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
For the first time a player has pulled off the Jakovich/Davey double, with Christian Petracca's scoop 'n thump from obscure angle and distance against GWS named the number one goal of the season. It was one of several nominations he picked up across 17 games, drawing him ever closer to Jeff Garlett's record of 16 weekly nominations. After a year of hotel related weekly prizes, he wins a weekend for two at Fawlty Towers, where the management will remind him of being back at Melbourne.

Scandal Corner
When you're Melbourne it's not enough to just end the season in a disappointing fashion, you may as well throw some off-field scandal in as well. 

The first drama was extraordinarily pissweak, with Max Gawn issuing the least convincing apology in history for Hunt and Petracca engaging in consensual cornholage at the three quarter time huddle. I don't know why it needed to happen, which is probably why I steered clear of playing team sports, but as long as they were both into it (and Petracca guiding the hand up his chuff suggests he was) then no harm done to anything but hand hygiene protocols.  

More consequential was Harley Bennell getting last-minute cabin fever and escaping the hub. At the time of writing there's only speculation about what he was up to so I'm not going to get into that, but it doesn't matter if he was delivering Meals on Wheels to the elderly, a breach is a breach and it's going to cost everyone dearly. He wears a four game suspension at the start of the next year and is suddenly in jeopardy of not being offered a new contract. We pay a full $50,000 fine, with none suspended due to Spargo and Pickett doing a runner earlier in the season. 

Technically if you split the original $25k between Spargo and Pickett and give this one to Harley on his own, he's just eclipsed Nathan Jones' record of $22,750 in career fines in one day.

There's plenty of people who want to delist him after this, I'm not so sure. Not because he hasn't done something stupid after the club gave him a second chance, but because I'm convinced somebody else will take a punt on him after a year of getting his body right and he'll go there and instantly become a regular player. Either way, he's not as certain to be with us next year as he was last week. I hope we give him another go, he's stuffed up but who hasn't. Colin Sylvia kicked his girlfriend in a carpark and we still fawned over him for another five years. 

It's a regrettable incident but as part of my surprisingly zen attitude to today's events I'm not interested in screaming vengeance. According to Gary Pert, Harley "failed to live up to the values of the Melbourne Football Club." I'd say there's no more Melbourne Football Club value than waiting right until the end before making a fool of yourself. 

Next Week

Later in the Year
I'll be back with a season review post once everybody's given up on talking about 2020 and are desperate to move on.

Next Year 
Hard to talk about potential delistings and forced retirements when we don't know how big list sizes are going to be. I'm pretty sure that Jones will be tapped on the shoulder, whether he wants to go or not, and that Tom McDonald is going to be given the old Jack Watts "we've run out of ideas, just take him" trade. Jetta may go on just because he's got another year in his contract, why not get paid even if they're not going to pick you?

As for out-of-contract players, the closest I can find to an updated contract thread is this from about three years ago. Not counting players drafted since I think makes the uncontracted players Hibberd, Viney, Hunt, Hannan, Fritsch, Spargo, Petty, Harmes and Oscar McSizzle. Make your own judgements from that list, but I'd keep most of them with Oscar as the sacrificial lamb. Having said that, if Harmes isn't sending his 2018 highlights package to every club in the land and trying to get a trade to somewhere that will play him to his strengths then he is excessively loyal.

I still don't believe Viney will go, and am almost certain the story about him potentially leaving was leaked just to try and convince us to pay him big money. Maybe they 'll make the brave decision not to be blackmailed and will just let him go, but whether that's a sound business decision or not I reckon they'll be too scared that it will provoke civil war and will roll over.

For more recently acquired players, I'd say The Wagnii, Chandler, Jordan and Dunkley will be looking over their shoulders and that Kade Kolodjashnij will be paid out for the last year of his contract, hopefully to get away from football and get his life back together. I expect Mitch Brown has just played his way into another contract and Austin Bradtke will get another year to develop. And we'll see if our pre-season pledge to give Aaron Nietschke another season survives the Corona cuts.

The way other teams have rushed to start delisting the moment their season ends, I wouldn't be surprised if somebody has been given the arse by the time you read this. Thanks to everyone that has had a go over the years, if it's any consolation you won as many flags as Robert Flower, Jim Stynes and David Neitz combined.

Final Thoughts
Melbourne fanatics, thank you for your support for another season. I can't believe this closes the 16th year for this blog. Recently I found a post from 2007 saying I'd lost interest and could other people please start doing guest posts. Obviously nobody responded, I eventually found my mojo again, and here we are many years later, still waiting for the great leap forward.

And to disaster tourist neutrals who follow sides that have made the finals, here's what I say to a premiership cup.


Sunday 20 September 2020

Barf Time

NB: Come back Monday morning for another post wrapping up the Sunday night spectacle.

No matter what happens from here, at least we've reached the end of the season without completely embarrassing ourselves. The events of the Cairns trip will be a stain on our season if we're knocked out on Sunday night, but the 2017 style nightmare scenario of choking against a lowly team has been avoided. Only narrowly, and in a manner that suggests we're no chance of beating any team ranked 7th or above but better to be inside the tent pissing out than vice versa.

At the time of writing we're tenuously inside the tent, but are favoured to be evicted by close of business. Everything comes down to needing Fremantle to beat Footscray by any margin, which is unlikely but not completely out of the question. I'll watch this otherwise pointless neutral game with more interest than the Grand Final, thankful that our fate is resting on one team beating the other (a draw would be horrific), and that there are no percentage calculations involved.

I expect the Bulldogs to win, but unlike the sort of people who say they'd rather not make it just because we'd probably lose to West Coast in Perth (do you also stand on 10 in Blackjack?) am open to being given a ticket in the lottery. If I wasn't ready to participate, no matter how briefly, in the top eight I wouldn't have nearly given myself a heart attack last week and unleashed several offensive sprays during the last quarter here. 

Having had, at best, four hours' solid sleep before the game, I was in no condition for psychological trauma. For the first time all season I refused to get out of bed, watching all four quarters horizontally, until leaping to my feet in the dying minutes and parading around the room swearing. Before then it was a quite relaxed experience, continuing my rapid slide in middle-aged mediocrity. First it was sitting on the couch instead of standing, then it was the addition of a lovely blanket, now this. Next thing I'll be listening on the radio in an comfy chair, even when games are back in Victoria. Old age and irrelevance can't be far behind, so if Melbourne want to get on with winning a flag that would be great.

When it comes to us there's no phrase more fraught with danger than "all they have to do is win". That wasn't the entirety of the story in this case, but without Saturday, Sunday may as well not exist. That meant having to win as favourites against a side on the bones of their arse. Didn't help that it was Worsfold's last game as coach (ending an Essendon career that began by leading their B-team to victory over us), and while he might be remembered by Bombers fans about as fondly as Matthew Knights that was always going to provoke some players to have a crack. We don't want the opposition having a crack, we want them sucking their thumb in the corner and crying. Even then you wouldn't bet your house on us.

In our favour, the rescheduling of the game from Round 3 due to the Connor McKenna false positive test debacle. Then the Bombers were in form and would likely have beaten us, by now they'd lost nine of the last 10 and only had pride left to play for. As we've seen a few times over the years, that doesn't count for much when you've got everything else going against you. I was hoping for a Melbourne vs Geelong end of 2016 style capitulation (by them), instead they hung around like an unflushable nugget, briefly threatening to pull off a comeback that we'd never have heard the end of.

The game started much like I'd have expected if we were chasing percentage (no longer a factor thanks to Leon Cameron bringing back his impersonation of Leon Klinghoffer), dominant out of the middle and getting the ball forward but missing chances. 

At times like this everyone needs to form an orderly queue behind the best players, and Clayton Oliver was the leader of the pack. We've done a lot of stupid things at the draft, but whoever made the decision to take a punt on him at pick four will go down in recruiting legend. By this stage it's redundant to go on about how good the man who made Mooroopna famous is, but consider that he's only 23 years old, face the Goulburn Valley and pay your respects. Petracca is less than 18 months older. Give them all the money, the appropriate backup from teammates and watch them drag this often disappointing enterprise into the late 2020s. 

Fritsch had our first chance, but while he's great at finding space he's increasingly ropey from set shots and missed what would have been a settler. Of course, after camping the ball at our end with no rewarded they went down the other end to kick the opener. Instead of a settler, this was a churner. I was in no condition for flashbacks to 2017, even if we probably had more tackles in the first three minutes of this game than the first 30 against Collingwood. The presence of a player called 'Hams' was also an uncomfortable reminder of that day, when I returned home from having my heart torn out only for my then three-year-old daughter to present me an MFC mug full of ham as a practical joke. 

They were no chance of going five goals up by quarter time, but with scoring plummeting through the floor at a record rate you don't need to go to those lengths to kill a team off early. Especially one that relied heavily on goals from novelty sources last week.

Somehow our season has been CPRed without any goals from tall forwards, two weeks of zero from Weideman and Brown combined. We've got away with it so far (and Weid did give Hunt a gift that he could have easily put through himself) but good luck winning finals like that. It's something they need to consider for next season. Having said that, Brown played almost the best game you'll ever see by a key forward who finished with 0.2. He was up and down the ground marking everything, and got us out of jail a few times in the defensive 50.

Weideman can never be accused of failing to give 100%, but still sorely lacks another marking target that provides some mystery about who we're kicking to. Brown showed that he may have a role, but it's not as a key position forward. Which is why I still think if we can uncrock Tom McDonald via a series of mystical eastern medications he has plenty to offer. For somebody who loves forward connection more than life itself, Simon Goodwin clearly thinks otherwise, and will be flogging Sizzle to the highest bidder. Probably paying part of his contract too, which is a tremendous comedown from your career peaking by kicking four in front of 92,000 people.

Our first goal came from Jayden Hunt, continuing his end of season revival as a forward. Even better, it came straight out of the middle, as the Bombers wasted a hard fought goal at a speed we'd be proud of. To be fair it was helped by vandenBerg's scrappy clearing kick taking two novelty bounces, the second that allowed Neal-Bullen to set Hunt up. He turned on the turbo thrusters to improve his angle and nine-ironed it through. This prompted Fox Footy to unnecessarily display a live ladder. It lingered on the screen long enough that I thought for a second it was going to stay there, which would have been even more ridiculous.

At this stage you couldn't imagine that the last quarter would involve their second string ruckman feeding a rampaging midfield, it looked like a brutal knockout was on the cards. The only problem was turning our early dominance around the ball into scores. By the end of the quarter we'd only generated two more behinds, a bit of a let down from the (relatively) free-scoring at the start of the GWS game.

Sharing two goals with a struggler hardly screamed premiership aspirant, being on the wrong side of three was even worse. After a few weeks of flipping the script by kicking goals at the end of quarters, we inexplicably let Jake Stringer (playing for the chance to stick it up Kane Cornes for calling him porky) wander out of the back and mark with 10 seconds left. Naturally he kicked it, leaving us two points in the hole at quarter time and me considering not leaving the house until November.

Thankfully instead of inspiring the Bombers, that was the end of them for the next 20 minutes. They did what you'd expect a side of their stature to do, (seemingly) throwing the game away in a brief period of pressure-free madness. For the only time all day we took advantage, kicking five goals to nil that should have put them away for good. This was bloody good stuff, practically an end-to-end domination, and exactly what the Bombers deserved. If only we'd been able to carry it into the second half.

There were a lot of players in our side who were just going, but for a while the unit came together wonderfully. In didn't take long to get the first goal, and it was born from the work of maligned players at both ends of the ground. You wouldn't trust Joel Smith to make up ground on an opponent from five metres away but he is good at one-on-one defensive contests, and a desperate last minute spoil turned what would have been a shot on goal into an attack. Down the other end, Petracca found Neal-Bullen in the pocket, where he kicked a goal from an obscure angle reminiscent of similar efforts by Spargo and Baker in recent weeks. If these sort of people were kicking goals like this against us you'd call it Kingsley Korner. For now we are enjoying an obscure player led revival.

According to Dwayne, Bullet's finish was "straight out of the copybook", a rare non-blot mention of the copybook. I don't think he knows what a copybook is, but due to being a citizen of Mars I don't think he cares.

Of the more recently maligned players, I thought Melksham played another really ordinary game. Turns out he had more 'pressure acts' than anyone else on the team. So it depends how much you rate that stat as worthwhile. I'd rather the half-forward flank attacking weapon of yore but he's obviously playing some sort of coach-friendly role that plebs like me can't understand. 

When Fritsch finally converted his third set shot, Essendon looked like they'd had enough and would be content to just get through to the final siren without jeopardising their end of season piss up. The next goal was an even better (and as it turns out, false) clue that they weren't going to offer stern resistance. Petracca ripped pone of the most exquisite kicks you'll ever see from the wing/half-forward to Spargo 45 metres out, with Weideman, Hunt, and no Essendonians ahead of him. 

Charleston gave it to Weid, who decided to ramp up the tension level by throwing an unnecessary handball to Hunt to make absolutely sure of it. There would have been no more Melbourne moment than the last pass being fumbled over the line and blowing a certain goal, but things were going so well for us that we got away with it. Ex-Melbourne player and now goal umpire David Rodan clearly enjoyed seeing it from close up, with his mind obviously flashing back to the happy memories of playing a handful of games with us in 2013 then doing his knee. Which still makes him one of the more successful players on our list that year. 

If we'd gone on to win in a canter, the next goal would have been my favourite. First, it started with May taking a random bounce through the middle, then ended with Neal-Bullen darting through a gap between two players - one of whom at least half-thought about seeking some vengeance for that Adelaide kid by shirtfronting him - and extending the margin beyond 20. ANB hasn't done much for a couple of years, and you wonder if they might try to flog him at the end of the season, but he has had a good couple of weeks.

The fifth was another case of everyone clearing out and letting the stars do the hard work. From a missed set shot at the other end we got the ball to the wing unchallenged, where Oliver wandered around in traffic like he had all the time in the world and hit a perfect pass to an overhead marking Petracca in the middle of three players. You'd be generous to call it a three-on-one when none of them were anywhere near him, so I'm giving equal billing to the Hamburglar for the perfect pass. The finish was pure Petracca, walloping through an absolute Howitzer post-high from 50 metres. By the end of the quarter the margin was 28 points. As we like to say around these parts, 'what could possibly go wrong?' 

If that was a quarter that made you think we could compete against good sides, the third was perfect for about 8.30pm tomorrow night when the heaving and hoing is over and you need to convince yourself we'd have just been thrashed by the Eagles anyway. We were still clearly the better side, and our backline was taking the piss whenever the Bombers went inside 50, but the avenues to goal dried up, with Brown and Weideman more often than not finding the ball on the wing with nobody to kick to. 

Still looked unlikely that Essendon would get anywhere near our score, even if we kicked 0.0 for the rest of the game. But we were already starting to go into our shell, something that would become an issue before long, and the knockout blow remained elusive. In a performance that would have had neutrals reaching for the remote control, it took 17 minutes for anyone to kick a goal. That was comeback kid Hunt, reaching deep down into his reserves of owl energy to thump through an only slightly less brutal set shot than Petracca at the other end.

Essendon barely looked likely to score all quarter, so with a 34 point lead to defend and seven seconds left what did we do? If you guessed 'Allow a forward 50 entry to a player standing on his own in the pocket with his opponent trailing sadly behind' you win. It's my fault for thinking about an adjusted Chris Sullivan Line just a few seconds earlier. Like saying the name of the devil three times an Essendon game is the last time to summon up the evil spirits of Round 6, 1992.

This second Super DemonTime goal was another big moment for Smith haters, though I'm prepared to concede from his one-on-one defending that there might (MIGHT) be something in him if we can develop his positioning in the VFL. Still need to buy a ready-made third defender from somewhere in the off-season though. 

It was classic Melbourne, gently creaking open a window for strugglers to clamber in and pinch a win, but even I thought there was no chance they'd overcome a 24 point deficit in 16 minutes after kicking three goals in the previous three quarters. On the other hand, there would have been no more fitting end to our season than conceding a third goal after the siren. Perhaps we should have spent three quarter time thinking more about finding the footy than the grundle?

The fatal blow remained unstruck for another 17 minutes, via torturous near-choke. The ultimate battle between Burgess Ball and #fistedforever turned out to be a draw, we didn't run away with it but also narrowly missed being dragged into a reverse Stranglewank finish. In the end, the margin flattered us, not giving any indication of how nervy things got in the dying minutes. 

After three quarters of torment, where he could barely move and was referred to by commentators as looking like he was a hundred years old, moving Joe Daniher into the ruck at the start of the last quarter seemed like a comical move on the same level as when we played Oscar McDonald at full forward. Instead it nearly provoked one of the great comebacks. He shook the cobwebs off quickly, running around like there was nothing wrong with him, matching Gawn at the centre bounces, and setting up play around the ground like he'd been playing the most deep-cover game of possum ever.

The fun started barely a minute in when Stewart got another goal, while we looked to have stopped dead. Maybe Burgess Ball is a myth after all. When some random narrowly missed a snap a few minutes later I was absolutely shitting it. We were trying to save the game rather than winning it. Enter Jayden Hunt again, using the extra grip he'd derived from Petracca's bunghole to take the handball from Fritsch and kick a steadier.

If you thought that would encourage Essendon to give up again you were well wrong. Now 25 points up with eight minutes left it was going to take quite the collapse to throw our season away. Challenge accepted. Straight out of the middle they plowed forward, where Stringer went for the sort of unrealistic screamer that they've been paying all season, clearing the pack for the ball to roll over the back for the instant reply. If I was writing the rules I'd let people go for those ridiculous attempts on the off chance that 1/100 times they pull down mark of the century, but given that players have been pinched for less every week for the past 17 and a half rounds it was a clear as day free. Blinded by the spectacle the umpires let Devon Smith - the only AFL player named after a processed meat - waltz into an open goal and keep the game alive.

Now things were getting nervy, not only were our attempts to chip the ball around for six minutes largely unsuccessful, but luck was going their way too. Just as a free was called in the middle of the ground the ball spilt to a player standing on his own forward of the play. He kicked to that man Stewart at the top of the square, throwing in a knee to Hibberd's jaw while marking it, and the margin was back to 13.

One of Petracca's few blunders, pulling a kick out of defensive 50 and landing it with an opponent, cost us another goal shortly after, reducing the margin to seven with three minutes to go. This is where terse words were uttered in my house, including I believe the sentence "Fuck off, if you cunts lose from here I swear I've had enough and you can all get fucked". Of course I'd have been back at the first opportunity but I felt strongly about it at the time.

It was starting to feel like an era adjusted replay of 1992. Imagine how much damage that game did me aged 11 and consider the potential mental impact here. I've been told we now employ two psychologists, and if it carried on like this I was going to need one of them to call me at the siren. Remember, a draw was as fatal to us as a loss, removing the margin of error no matter what their next score was.

This was a time to shit bricks. Losing from 35 points up in a shortened quarter against a nothing happening team wouldn't have just left us open to mockery from Essendon fans, but would have offered a green light for fans of every club in the competition to pile on. We'll do the pisstaking of our own club and the rest of you can get stuffed. Especially David King, who tried to jump on the bandwagon just three years after writing the article telling us to calm down and stop worrying.

If we were a plane the ground proximity warning would have been making this noise:

Unexpectedly we did, narrowly averting disaster by finally stopping them walking the ball out of the centre. For some reason they'd responded to their last goal by taking Daniher out of the ruck and sending goalkicker Dylan Shiel to the bench. Which probably didn't help. 

With the ball bouncing around the middle of the ground Trent Rivers continued to build his reputation as a big moment player. After a hit-and-miss day he hit a perfect tackle on a player who was wheeling out of a pack, probably seeing half a dozen teammates heading towards goal without an opponent. Said free players were left out of position, and from the spillage Melksham found Fritsch standing in acres of space. Given his record from set shots I'm comfortable with him storming into goal instead of trying to waste time. Fortunately he slammed it home and we were safe.

The only danger now was giving it straight back 20 seconds later, but that was finally the inspiration Essendon needed to go "good try boys, wrap it up", and Fritsch added another one with a snap over his shoulder from the square. Thank god for that. Now if the Dogs win to put us out we can claim that it's not what we've done, but what everyone's done to us.

It was wobbly, it was in no way finals-like but it did the trick. This team shits me, but ultimately they did the right thing when it mattered. That's about the best you can hope for around here.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Christian Salem
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Mitch Brown

Big apologies to Gawn, May and Viney, who could have snuck in for either of the last two votes. Other high-level apologies to Fritsch, Langdon and Lever. 

Provisional Final Leaderboard
A week ago I declared Oliver finished, now he's snuck back into contention if we play again. Still hard to see how Petracca can finish without a share of the title at the very least but something to look out for if there's another game. If we don't then all hail the 11th man in 16 (!) seasons to take the title. He will join Cameron Bruce, Aaron Davey, Max Gawn, Brad Green, Travis Johnstone, Brock McLean, Brent Moloney and Jack Viney. The all-time champions remain five time winner Nathan Jones and two time champion Clayton Oliver.

In the minors, Salem just kept May from confirming victory. He's now (potentially) got four finals to work on overhauling him. Given that I doubt we'll be playing any, and probably losing first up if we do, I'm predicting there's no way for Trent Rivers to now go without at least a share of the Hilton. After polling his only vote against the Eagles, here's to Pickett playing a Weideman-esque surprise finals stunner and polling five votes to draw level.

46 - Christian Petracca (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- No hope without one final ---
41 - Clayton Oliver
--- No hope without four finals ---
30 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
--- Better luck next year ---
28 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
23 - Ed Langdon
13 - Christian Salem
10 - Angus Brayshaw
6 - Michael Hibberd, Trent Rivers (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Sam Weideman
4 - Jake Lever, Adam Tomlinson
2 - Jayden Hunt, Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Brown, Mitch Hannan, Jay Lockhart, Kysaiah Pickett

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
A few options to consider, based on both aesthetic quality and importance. I liked the Anal-Bullet from the boundary, and Hunt had a couple of nice ones, but it's hard not to go with Petracca again, this time for that long bomb set shot. He wins the flex off a mini kettle, and retains the clubhouse leader for the sweep 'n thump special against the Giants.

Midway through the year I was into the freewheeling lunacy of an Eddie/Dwayne call. Today was not the day for it. Under the circumstances I would have appreciated the most sensible commentary team they had. 

Instead, Pies Lotto was back, as Eddie tried to hijack the call with unnecessary references to Collingwood. If you didn't know that James Stewart's dad used to play for the Pies before this, and I didn't know who James Stewart was full stop, you were left in no doubt by the end. Seems Stewart Sr's nickname was 'Big Snaggle', which was about as relevant to this contest as Strzelecki exploring the Snowy Mountains.

Somehow Jordan Lewis went four quarters in special comments without mentioning his involvement in the famous Round 23, 2017 bruise-free first quarter debacle. Actually, it's even more surprising that Eddie didn't find a way to mention it first. Bonus points if it was as part of some Triple M style 'banter', possibly ending with the subject saying "that's good from you ho ho."

Next Week
Come back tomorrow and we'll discuss if there is one.

The Bradbury Plan reaches its natural conclusion

Due to Gold Coast and GWS stooging us (and thanks to the Suns dickhead who stuffed up an open goal trying to play on), the only route to survival goes through a team that has been almost as flaky as us for the last 25 years. Best of British luck with that.

Final thoughts
Now that the chinks in my otherwise iron constitution are showing I'm not sure I'm going to make it to 6.10pm tomorrow night without ending up in hospital. That's not even factoring in the tension from four quarters of a bunch of players you've never heard of (not, sadly, including the injured Michael Walters) holding our future in their hands.

I'm genuinely scared that we're going to miss out in the most farcical circumstances possible, but unless our season ends in a heartbreaking finish I think I can pretend a 9-8 record means we're pointing in the right direction, even if I don't 100% believe it. Might be better for all our health and fitness if the Dogs just plow away to a 50 point lead in the first 10 minutes. Then we can cover up our own failings by abusing the Dockers and vowing never to visit North Queensland again.

In the meantime, reach out and touch the screen of your internet connected device and let's hold a sporting prayer circle that for once a bizarre, unexpected set of circumstances work in our favour. After that, who knows what happens next. Otherwise it's back to the hub to throw TVs out of the window like a double booking of The Who and Motley Crue.