Friday 28 February 2020

All that and not much more

I did fully intend to go and see this live, until I found out it was being live streamed on the website. Happy memories of last year flooded back, including interviews where you couldn't hear anything, large parts of the game missed when somebody kicked the power plug out, and most importantly a win that made it look like we were going to party like it was 2019. "One win down, 27 to go" I said that day - and seven wins in all competitions later I think we're still going to need a couple of years to get the other 20 done.

This was a glorified training session, but what an era to live in when you watch multi-camera coverage of it from home. If your grandparents owned a TV they were probably watching the Grand Final with one camera, now this. I imagine that the last time we played a pre-season game at Arden Street? Nobody even sent a news camera down to capture footage, now this. We may all die of mystery virus crossing over from bats, but will go to our graves knowing we lived in the greatest era for sports broadcasting. CNN had a video to play if the world was about to be obliterated by nuclear attack, and if it has to end for me I'd like to go out watching a scratch match over the internet.

I was so determined to take nothing away from this game that it almost wasn't worth watching. Any time you've got eight ring-ins from Casey playing it's going to be hard to take any conclusions from the way the team will link up, and you've just got to focus on individual performances instead. So, when North spent the first few minutes camped inside their forward 50 my heart rate remained neutral (reminder to self: wear a heart rate monitor for a real game this year and see what happens). There would have been even less concern if I'd know they'd be horrendously poor forward all day.

In a Melbourne AFLW-esque twist, they wasted their opportunities inside 50 - not even scoring - before we shot it out down the other end for the opening goal. By new best mate Mitch Brown gathered a rubbish kick inside 50 and one of several wayward shots fell short for Spargo to mark in the pocket and finish neatly around the corner. Charleston was good today, but with the much appreciated emergence of Forward Fritsch it's hard to see where he fits in - at least until the wave of unexpected injuries cripple us.

Crap forward play aside, the Roos were arguably the better side for the first 15 minutes but had no earthly idea how to convert that into scores. My highlight of the opening minutes was Tom Sparrow crashing through the midfield with abandon. Don't see him as a Round 1 starter unless everyone gets hurt before then, but certainly demonstrated a capability to play in or around the midfield in the future. On the other hand, as much as I enjoyed Oskar Baker's lightning runs down the wing his kicking into the 50 would have struggled to hit the side of a barn. Even if the knock on Ed Langdon is his accuracy, I don't think he's got much to worry about from the game's premiere Danny Bonaduce lookalike.

The downside of watching from home is that halfway through the first quarter a man turns up to fix the roof. A roof not at all blown off by the force of pre-season excitement. This meant missing North's first two goals and our second. In trying to test whether you could pause the live stream and pick up where you left off (answer - no) I saw Fritsch nearly pull off the Mark of all Pre Seasons, then returned for Toby Bedford spraying a set shot 20 seconds before quarter time. That's the sort of quality, in-depth coverage you've come here for.

With the tradesman banished by the start of the second quarter after clearly not reading the visual cues that I didn't want to talk about roofing, I was back in position for the start of the second quarter. Happily the first thing we did in it was a) kick to a leading forward, and b) mark the kick. Fritsch missed his set shot but the effort to get it under the risk of being snapped in two by an oncoming defender was top shelf.

Just as I was starting to get a bit too excited under the circumstances, came the farcical return North goal, which started with Jayden Hunt handballing to an opponent inside our forward 50, went through Oscar McDonald handballing to an opponent in the middle of the ground, and ended with A. Casey Player handballing to an opponent even further up the ground. It was ugly stuff, but I can't see any of them (especially the Casey player) featuring in our side early in the year so no need to get too upset. Sizzle Jr recovered to play a decent game.

Forward Fritsch was good stuff. He couldn't do much in one-on-ones against a physical colossus like Majak Daw, but when he found space or pushed up to half forward he was [insert love heart eyes emojis, however you do that]. Will come in very handy this year, like an opposite side Melksham.

Speaking of Melksham, it won't make the highlights because Pickett missed the sitter off the ground from the square, but for those who saw it live, how good was his underground handball to set the chance up? He was backed into the pocket and could have tried to kick a spectacular goal around the body but saw his teammate running to the line and delivered a beautifully timed handball with an irregularly shaped ball to give him a chance.

Things were looking up, but we were still struggling to put ball between large posts. It took Baker intercepting a shithouse kick by a defender and converting a set shot to put his back in front. Much better kick than anything he'd done on the run until then, though he did immediately give me the big karmic FU for abusing his running kicking from the safety of my house by setting up Brown with a perfectly weighted kick. He missed, because that's just what we do, but Moustache Mitch is still forming as a Round 1 starter.

Luckily this was an event for enthusiasts only, because the quality was barely VFL standard. If it was a regular season game TV executives would be jumping from every tall point in the state as people turned off, but with the viewing audience reduced entirely to obsessed nutters like me and people trying to waste time at work it provided an admirable community service. A six point lead at half time was fair enough, we hadn't been all that good but neither had they.

So far we hadn't learnt anything that was useful for the future - Brown has good presence inside 50, Pickett is lightning quick and will scare the shit out of defenders when he gets comfortable, Fritsch and Melksham are the half forward flankers of your dreams and Bradtke isn't going to be in the ruck mix this season. Then there was Brayshaw, who didn't do much in the first half but was instantly better for the run and amongst our best players in the second half.

You knew how well the third quarter was going to go when the bounce was delayed waiting for "the clock to count down", then they lost interest waiting for it to get from 50 to zero and started anyway. Nobody told Brayshaw it didn't mean anything, going in for some grappling with a local oaf to defend the honour of Double J James Jordon.

In a quarter thin on highlights, I loved Trent Rivers' Salem-esque run and kicking out of the backline. Can see what they liked about him in the draft. He even had the cojones to run around the man on the mark to get us moving, ultimately ending with the ball in Bedford's hands close to goal. He made it 3.11 with another miss and it was just like watching the real Melbourne. You'd be accepting of that accuracy if they'd had 10 wild snaps from the pocket or long kicks that snuck through off a fingertip but more than half of them were set shots from close range. Let's relocate to Docklands and shut the roof.

On his third try Bedford finally kicked one, winning the free after a sparkling chase-down on Daw. Speaking of promising, Brayshaw did his best kick into the forward 50 in 18 months to hit Fritsch on the lead. The only downside was yet another miss, but the set-up was A+++. Bayley got his goal straight after. He kicked the snap but with a major assist from Pickett taking out a North player that was about to get in his way.

It lacked the murderous intent of one of his uncle's shepherds, but you'd get life for doing them these days so I'm willing to accept something that clears opposition players without leaving them picking bits of their teeth out of the turf. Pickett got the next via a free and one of our few accurate set shots. He's not only got lightning pace and charismatic, Lego-like hair, but a wacky galloping run up that will go down a treat when the real stuff starts.

You wouldn't take the result too badly if you were a North fan, but they were terrible in the third quarter. Could barely get it out of the defensive 50, and kicked into the forward 50 as if drunk on their way to 0.0. I don't think they had anywhere near a best 22 (28?), but it made our backline look good. I haven't seen the much maligned Oscar McDonald play that well since his Rising Star game against Hawthorn. You could still hear people yelling Cale Morton style reflex abuse at him whenever he got the ball and didn't hit a target 60 metres away.

North finally got another goal at the start of the last quarter, and just when you started to think "here we go" and held your breath waiting to blow a five goal lead in a shortened quarter they stopped dead again for a few minutes. Again, you wouldn't get too excited or depressed over a game that barely climbed above the level of 'match simulation' but they were very average. If we were playing them in Round 1 I'd say it was a deliberate rope-a-dope to lull us into a false sense of security. Maybe Rhys Shaw is playing 4D chess and trying to outfox *consults Round 1 fixture* St Kilda? Those two should be playing a round robin with Hawthorn, Football Park and Subiaco to determine who tormented us the most over the #fistedforever decade.

The re-sealer came from Bedford, who was set up by a lovely piece of work in traffic from Brayshaw. They went down the other end straight away for a second goal, but by this point everyone was just trying to get to the siren. And thus there were no further scores, ending with a 22 point win. You take it where you can get it.

2020 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre Season Performance votes
Not easy this, considering players were coming and going at a rapid rate.

5 - Bayley Fritsch
4 - Trent Rivers
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Jake Melksham
1 - Oscar McDonald

Apologies to Bedford, Lockett, Pickett and Spargo

All to play for in Tasmania, with the possibility of an even bigger tie than the lukewarm Hogan, Hunt, Oliver three-way of 2017. If Petracca loses he'll quite rightly argue that there's no justice, if you were just giving marks out of 10 he'd be a mile ahead of Fritsch. But we've been using this system since 2005 and aren't going to stop anytime soon so stiff shit.

5 - Bayley Fritsch, Christian Petracca
4 - Trent Rivers, Jack Viney
3 - Angus Brayshaw, Clayton Oliver
2 - Mitch Brown, Jake Melksham
1 - Nathan Jones, Oscar McDonald

Media Watch
By co-branding the event with both NMFC and MFC ads, we contributed to the friendliest atmosphere since Phil Collins and Philip Bailey in the video for Easy Lover. Far cry from the good old days of digitally punching shit out of each other on 'the forums'. Other than the mighty Big Footy history board I can't imagine a situation where I'd ever go on any forum now that involved having to see what fans of other clubs are writing. Couldn't care less, couldn't give a shit.

Pox quality of football aside, the coverage is very much welcomed. I remember listening to a pre-season game on 5AA and it was like a sheltered workshop for the deranged. This was hardly a broadcasting masterpiece but was functional, non-offensive, and featured commentators doing their best to call the action instead of shoehorning in stupid catchphrases. And where else are you going to get special comments James Harmes admitting he parked illegally at Woolworths and then refer to 'the Weagles'?

Crowd Watch
Well done to the teacher who clearly supported one of the clubs and used it as an excuse to take his students on an 'excursion' to Arden Street. When you're going to watch footy on a Friday afternoon a month into the new school year you're on a good thing.

Next Week
Hawthorn in Launceston on Friday night. Should have Gawn back, probably May as well, and a decent chance to test ourselves against another fringe top eight contender. Brings back fond memories of blowing a five goal lead and Austin Woneamirri's hamstring there in 2009. Even for a NAB Cup game I was angry at that, hurling a shoe at somebody else's television in anger during the last quarter meltdown. Can't see myself getting so animated next week but you never know.

Final Thoughts
It was a game of Australian rules football. Not a very good one, offering bugger all insight into how we'll go this year, but for the second game in a row (third if you count Casey in Melbourne jumpers last week) nobody got hurt, so I remain moderately positive about the future.

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