Monday 23 March 2020

Behind closed doors

After 160 seasons of gags about us having no fans the inevitable finally happened and we played in front of zero paying customers. I always thought it would come to this, this only surprise is that the rest of the competition came along for the ride.

Nobody was doing it by choice, but if playing in front of empty stands was the price to pay to have something to think about with the country about two weeks away from The Purge breaking out then that was ok with me. More importantly there was the long game of trying to keep the AFL and clubs afloat after Channel 7 come knocking with their hand out to get a refund on the broadcast rights fees. We've come a long way since the competition was in such rude financial shape that they could afford to spend millions importing semi-interested rugby leaguists for expansion sides.

Hanging shit on the league is a national sport around here, and as of a few days ago I was floating conspiracies about them taking the opportunity to stick with shorter quarters forever, but they tried their best to make sure the 17 game schedule was delivered. They had to, not only are their high paying jobs on the line but they'd be well aware of the cataclysmic effect on club finances when they can't replicate the $314 million they distributed to clubs last year.

The next TV rights deal was already a ticking timebomb for a competition over-leveraged to buggery on broadcast money, now it's prematurely gone off and they'll need a forensic Air Crash Investigation style team to stick it all together again. You could have forseen something like this happening, but realistically nobody expected a situation where the world is crocked by the playing of sport was still feasible - we thought more likely an asteroid would clobber us or rising sea levels would wash the eastern seaboard away, something that would have made footy impossible to play. Now we've got several hundred players, thousands of support staff, empty arenas all over the country, and a host broadcaster that lost $400 million last year and has had 1/22 of what it paid more than that to show this year.

I don't know if there was some insurance scheme going on, but the AFL dithered throughout the week like they were waiting for somebody else to make the decision for them. Eventually they decided to go on, and by the way Gil ended the week looking like Marty Feldman I accept that they were under all sorts of pressure. If somebody's not already working on a documentary called Round 1 then the media is kidding themselves. Get a start on it while stuck inside for 14 days, do the interviews when enough time has passed for it to be hygenic, factor in the aftermath in a few months and drop it right before next season (presumably) starts. This could be the greatest AFL story ever told if it doesn't end in voluntary administration.

Much to the disappointment of people who think you can turn 18 businesses with a $50 million turnover on and off like a tap, they did their best to go on at a reduced capacity. We already knew clubs were still going to be in deep financial shit based on the loss of gate reciepts, corporate hospitality, memberships, merchandise etc... the idea of getting some sort of season away was important in making sure the league was able to provide the safety net to help clubs stay afloat. I don't buy any of these pearl clutching theories about it sending a bad message to the community about isolating, it was the right thing to do for their industry, and a low enough risk that you wouldn't be able to pin the end of Western civilisation on it.

For three days the idea worked. While we all knew the season was on borrowed time and would be pulled up eventally, and the empty stadiums were a bit strange, footy gave people an outlet to do something else other than bulk buy TP and feel sad. There even time for a Coronaboner when sports starved Americans discovered the game. As one of the two games not televised in the US we didn't even get to participate in that - though you'd have to be a masochist to willingly follow us. One TV station decided they were going to be massive fans of the team that plays at the MCG - Richmond. It's enough to make you put your head in the oven.

Not everyone was satisfied with the compromised start of the year. Players wanted 22 games (and so did I, completely ignoring the reality of the situation and focusing on my own interests), Channel 7 didn't get the chance to cut to shots of defectives hurling abuse at umpires over the fence, and some were rattled by the lack of crowd noise. For mine it just looked like when they have a VFL curtain raiser at the 'G and nobody is there to see it, I was otherwise unmoved by the silence. Which should come as no surprise given my long-held views on isolation at football grounds. Some had the corny idea of piping in fake crowd noise to create 'atmosphere', and I'm sad that didn't happen because it would have replaced Leanne Cock as the funniest thing to ever happen on Australian television.

Then, as usual, Sydney ruined everything. 5000 people enjoyed a night at Virus Beach, the country shit itself en masse about people not taking 'social distancing' (CLICHE) seriously and started slamming down travel restrictions down left, right and centre. We could have gotten away with Tasmania and the Northern Territory shutting their borders, but when South Australia joined in that was curtains for the AFL. And thus, two hours before our game started we already knew that there wouldn't be another one for a minimum 10 weeks. This cast an air of disappointment over the contest, shortly before we smothered that with the doona of negativity.

I'd love to know if they floated the zany idea of temporarily relocating all 18 teams to Victoria carrying on like the VFL had risen from the grave. You know how it would work, give them a couple of weeks to work things out, shift everyone here, dish out bullshit grounds like Casey Fields to interstate clubs and carry on regardless. It would have looked stupid and been rough on players - especially those sitting around in a hotel room for seven days a week because they can't get a game - but given the choice between the mooted 20% pay cut and the 50% now looming they might have gone for it. Could have made Sydney and Brisbane perform as South Melbourne and Brisbane respectively.

Alas there was no miracle solution or NRL style attempt to play the competition on a mining complex (imagine the carpet cleaning bill after 500 rugby league players have been there for a few weeks?), they bowed to the inevitable and the season died with dignity. Which made the playing of the only full game after the news came out seem like a waste of time. Except that after waiting since August 24 for another competitive, meaningful game I was prepared to suspend my disbelief for a couple of hours and pretend it meant something.

If footy returns this loss becomes relevant, because in a 17 game season losing the opener instantly puts you on the back foot. 22 games is a one dayer, there's plenty of time for ebb and flow - 17 is T20, where a shit start means the game is over for everyone other than the betting community. Imagine we still had to play the Giants next week? I take back all those years where I demanded good teams in the first few games so we could test ourselves. That was only because I knew we wouldn't make the finals, now it's expected that we'll at least be fringe contenders and I don't like the idea of only having 15 games to battle back from 0-2. Will it matter? Probably not.

Pointless as it was, the contest allowed us to answer that time-honoured philosophical question - what is the sound of no mouths booing? And would an interstate team finally get a free kick in Perth if locals making noises like a constipated cow were removed from the equation. Footy Unplugged narrowly got got us over the line in free kicks 11-9, only for us to waste any advantage by kicking into the forward 50 like arseholes again. You can change the world in the space of a month, you can't change the way Melbourne go forward.

It was another example of necking ourselves in the first quarter and being left to chase a significant margin. No chance of a Stranglewank here, the Eagles were too good to let us get close, let alone to a point where we may have threatened a boilover. I'm not here to sack Goodwin - god knows we won't have the money to pay anyone out now, let alone the senior coach - but the ratshit first quarters under him deserve scrutiny.

Since 2017 we've been down by 20+ at quarter time 12 times in 70 games, which is better than Neeld's 11/33 or Roos' 16/66, but they were in charge of slop. That's not even taking into account games where the slide continues after quarter time. This is a good team (on paper) that starts like a busted arsehole and rarely recovers. In an unwanted throwback to 2019 (and let's be fair, some parts of 2018) we weren't that bad, just incapable of taking advantage of opportunities, leaving the ball to spring back off the Demon Trampoline at warp speed, putting the backline under so much strain that they had to crack eventually.

Under the circumstances the tall defenders did well. Well not to tell their teammates to piss off and storm off to sit on the bus until it was over. The smalls... not so much. And after a few minutes at the start where we were competitive, the Eagles showed us the joy of having a spaced out forward line with people standing on their own. If the season ends here we managed to get a Kingsley in, allowing journeyman forward Brendon Ah Chee - likely not even playing if the other bloke hadn't substituted Red Bull for urine - to run riot. In this time of shortened quarters one 16 minute domination session is enough for me to add his name to the list.

For most of the first quarter it was, if nothing else, less of a fisting than the infamous Preliminary Final. Classic Viney was scrapping in the middle like society had already collapsed, Pickett flashed onto a loose ball and nearly kicked a spirit-lifting goal, and Langdon was sweeping up everything that went near him on the wing. Shame he was kicking it with a peg leg, but we were delivered goods as promised - lots of speed, suspect delivery. Still played a good game compared to many of his teammates. I'd prefer him streaming down the wing than Michael Hibberd, who demonstrated a near sexual fetish for hammering the ball inside 50 and straight to a defender.

I'd love to tell you how bad their disposal efficiencies were, but in their pre-crisis wisdom the AFL website completely buggered up the player stats. Never thought I'd think back fondly to the functional but detail light original. Until I discovered this:

That's all the stats you can get - and the Dream Team numbers are so very important - in alphabetical order, with no way to filter out any team not called Melbourne or sort the columns. Suspending the season is almost preferable to having to use this. They've got bigger issues at the moment but just a filter and column sorting would be a start. The IT department is probably redundant as of this morning but there's got to be some 15-year-old kid who understands this shit and can fix it in exchange for a signed footy.

For 15 minutes it was like watching our AFLW team, with the backline barely hanging on because the forwards couldn't convert for shit. Then whack, whack, whack and whack went the Eagles and we were five goals down in the blink of an eye. Can't even blame a curse on our training facilities since men and women shifted to separate venues.

The bit where it was most 2019 was when a centre bounce skewed in favour of Nic Nat, and as Gawn stood back waiting for him to tap it to somebody the Rich Man's Stef Martin just grabbed it one handed and pumped the ball back into attack. That's when I half contemplated switching off, before realising that I will always be a Dees Nuffy and keep watching no matter what.

Ending a first quarter in Perth 30 something points down without kicking a goal, didn't that bring back memories of days past. Remember the glory days of September 2018, when the Dees were on the way up, interstate travel was unrestricted, and you could still duck down to the shops for a milkshake without being shot at by a paramilitary strike force. 63 point half time margin aside it was truly was the better of times.

The rest of the game barely deserves coverage. You don't care, I don't care, nobody bloody cares. Anal-Bullet did kick a nice goal out of a pack when everyone had given up waiting for the umpire to blow his whistle, so at least we had one goal on the board. In no way did I expect this to be the start of a miraculous, Lily Mithen-esque comeback. And indeed it was not. He does get the Aaron Davey nomination for the week, so that's some sort of high to end your season on.

Meanwhile, can I tell you how I hate Harmes in the backline with a passion. It's a complete waste of him, he's more useful in the midfield than Brayshaw and I hope that by the time footy returns and Salem is fit that this ludicrous concept will be put to bed. If that means Brayshaw is dropped then bad luck, he's solid but Harmes is better. Salem may be required to replace more than one person, because we also have to 'look after' Hibberd too (in the sense of a dignified exit). Not sure Nev isn't losing significant ground either. Lockhart moved well in defence but that's a work in progress, and suddenly it feels like we're half trying to go for it with players like Langdon and Tomlinson, and half in a rebuilding phase.

Forward Fritsch didn't live up to Coleman expectations, but can you blame him with that sort of delivery into the 50? He was still the only player to make a half decent go of the mince that was being aimed out of the midfield. Mitch Brown didn't get near it but I don't blame him, Tony Lockett would have struggled to contend with having the ball panic bombed to the point where you'd have to be Shaun Smith '95 to mark comfortably.

Same goes for Tom McSizzle, but he's not entirely blameless either. Stop backing back into packs like the ball is going to fall neatly to you, everyone's sussed this move. Sure you've had multiple leads burnt by horrible forward entries but you just have to keep going and make them change what they're doing. Still, you wouldn't argue if he kicked two goals a week by any means necessary. If he keeps that up for the rest of the season he'll end up on.. two.

Literally the only interest from the third quarter, as I started to adjust to the idea of not watching this rubbish for a few more months, was Kysaiah (not Kozzie - work on spelling his real name right and you'll get it eventually. Let's not have any of this Buddy, Jeffy etc.. rubbish) Pickett running relatively riot. There was not much to come out of this that I wanted to see again next week but he looked like a natural. We'll soon coach that out of him.

By three quarter team Team Gaff had Team Gash well covered, and the shortened quarter meant that Spartan fitness regime or not there was no chance in hell of overtaking them. That's your lot when 16 minute quarters become the norm (and they will, because after this Channel 7 will get everything they ever want including floating fixtures, 6-6-6 finals, and BT as the CEO of the competition) don't expect to see your side ever come back from five goals down in the last quarter again.

We kept it fragrant after quarter time but the performance did nothing to dispel my theory that we wouldn't be able to go with top teams this season. However, I do think we'll kick shit out of a few lower sides and fellow mid-table strugglers if we ever get the chance to play them. This might not be such a bad thing, it could still land us in the lower reaches of the eight if we're lucky, but if you think there's a premiership just around the corner you've been drinking 600ml bottles of Methadone.

So that's it, everyone go your separate ways and we'll see you in June (?). Should give them plenty of time to review this to see how a consistently good team plays. Here's to half the squad coming back looking like they've sucked air from a hose and the one or two who'll be keen to know if off-season drug testing still counts as an essential service getting away it.

Also, Jake Lever. Your moustache looks shit at the best of times, but in play it makes you look like you should be invading Poland. Please attend to it during the break.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal
If the season never comes back it's lucky we've got leaders in all categories except the Stynes. This is probably the longest standing club award outside the Bluey Truscott so perhaps I should protect its integrity and not award anything if there's no a minimum number of games played. Watch this space. But not anytime soon.

5 - Jack Viney
4 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Ed Langdon
1 - Kysaiah Pickett (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Apologies to Oliver, Lever, Neal-Bullen, Harmes and, Lockhart

In these tough times noted humourist Gerard Healy gave us all something to smile about when he said he was going to "enjoy the next two hours". Which was a change from the last decade of moaning for four quarters every week.

Speaking of Fox Footy, soon to be the second least viewed channel on Foxtel behind the Jesus one:

a) Who thought playing the menu music from a Sega Megadrive game after goals would add anything? Makes it sound like somebody's playing Ecco the Dolphin after every major.
b) The on-screen scoreboard is awful. It's equally as 1994 as the soundtrack
c) Gerard Whateley doesn't look at all comfortable doing that Robbocop ad. Sufference definitely involved.

Next Week
I didn't want to play GWS next week, but this is an extreme way to get out of it. See also all the other games until winter at a minimum, and that's not a time of the year where anyone gets flu like illnesses is it? What about poor old Nathan Jones, this has shot both his 300 games and a run at Neitz's record. Even in a pandemic my thoughts are still with Jones. I would give him my last roll of toilet paper.

With no actual game to watch I'm going to put on a weekly Facebook Watch Party of classic content. Had to give myself a crash course on how to do it this afternoon but it seemed to be ok. The only issue is that it turns out I stopped downloading torr... err... legitimate copies of our wins at the end of 2013 so the options are a bit limited at the moment. Trying to get copies of the two 2018 finals in a usable format, but we might have to go for a few classics from the vault in the early days. Please contact via the usual channels if you have an easily accessible stash of 2014-2018 wins.

Final Thoughts
As they used to say on The Virology Show, it's been a big month in illness. On March 1 my season preview didn't mention Coronavirus, Covid-19, or the prospect of our season being stopped for any reason other than good taste. Less than 22 full days later the whole competition is walking the Brad Green Mile, and there is no longer rock solid certainty that clubs are going to come out of the other side of this ok.

If you're a bored billionaire this would be the best time to amuse yourself by proposing a new competition, with club costs bankrolled for the next few years until they get back on their feet. There's no reason for this to happen, but if you're loaded and looking for something to do while you're in lockdown it would give us something to talk about.

Unless you really need it give your club this year's membership money as a donation. I'll be getting even less use out of my reserved seat and Grand Final guarantee than ever before but this isn't the time to be scrambling to save every dollar, especially now they're shutting brothels down.

Whatever happens we go again, in the unlikely event that the AFL dies under a mountain of debt and the Melbourne Football Club is dragged down with it then we'll start again in whatever competition - top level or otherwise - will have us. Lineage that goes back to 1858 will continue in one way or another, even if I have to go down to VAFA HQ and sign up to start a team in the Division 4 amateurs myself. It shouldn't come to that but we have to remain vigilant.

Not only has the men's season come to a crashing halt, but the miraculous victory of the women on Saturday is now worth nothing except memories because their season has been stopped too. They don't even get to come back and play the last two rounds in August, they've had the plug pulled entirely with no premier to be awarded. Bit rude, but that's where we're at.

So, with no new Melbourne FC content in any format, unless there's a need for a midweek Crisis Post I'll be off blogging again until games resume. If you need me I'll be hosting the watch parties on Facebook or doing doing the usual discount Titus O'Reilly schtick on Twitter.

May you and your families stay safe in this arsehole of a time. Play us out Charlie...

Sunday 22 March 2020

Miracles in an emergency

Before we start talking remarkable finishes and heroic victories, let's admit that in most ways this has been our worst AFLW season yet. We peaked at five wins in season one, and at 39.85 points a game last year. This season it was 4-2 and 34 points with a potential strangulation by an unbeaten side to follow. It's good to know some things never change though, losing last week left us perfectly poised to miss the finals by a slender margin again.

Enter the Coronavirus. You may have heard of it. With the league needing a sacrificial lamb to pretend they're taking public health seriously and not just playing the men's game to protect broadcasting rights, AFLW season was curtailed with two games to play.

Rumours of going straight to the Grand Final were unfounded, and instead they ambitiously decided to try and get three more weeks out of the competition. In classic AFL fashion that announcement was a cock up, suggesting that only the top two teams would qualify. This seemed feasible under the circumstances, before a few minutes later they had to clarify that it was actually going to be an eight team series - in a 14 team competition. This was a bit excessive, but I think we're clear that the AFL has decided to use this worldwide crisis to test all the nuffy shit they've been dying to do for years.

Though playing the last two would have likely seen us fall to fourth, we weren't an entirely fraudulent finals side. We were in the top three anyway, and while I doubt that would have survived playing the Dockers this week we were in the right place at the right time when everything that didn't have A, F and L in it ground to a halt.

Given that Collingwood was only behind us on percentage and had nearly beaten Freo a few weeks earlier. Adding them meant you had to find an eighth side (though did you? Couldn't just give the Dockers a bye?), which was good news for Gold Coast. Teams that have lost more times than they've won playing finals - welcome to the AFL's dreams. They played the part of space fillers to perfection, losing to Freo by 70. We'll handle the fairytale finishes in this round thanks.

So, after three years of last gasp misses than ranked somewhere between heartbreaking (2018) and brutally inevitable (2019) the sweetest words of all were de/fault. The general effect on the global pandemic has been extremely poor but if it's worked for anyone it was the mid-table mediocrities of AFLW. We were well on our way to demonstrating that they should have just picked the top two on either side before some deadset bonkers shit went down.

Realistically, it would have been hard to get properly upset if we lost. In a season where knees have been popping like bubble wrap, we also lost both the Irish players to the fair enough idea of getting home while they still can. This meant picking a first gamer who was a mile off the pace, a ruck who was in no way 100% match fit, and a handful of others who wouldn't be getting a game on form under normal circumstances.

Alas, there's no connection between realism and being a footy fan, so as we were sliding to our doom in the last quarter I was becoming annoyed as if there isn't much worse to worry about at the moment. If we'd just flat out lost it would have been easier to take, but we were rising above all the handicaps to play so well in many parts of the game that it was frustrating to see it break down so often while going forward.

Libby Birch was safe as houses in defence, the star midfielders were doing what the star midfielders do, and the return of Lauren Pearce in the middle was much appreciated, but whenever the ball got near our forward 50 we went to shite. It wasn't even the usual hopeful long bombs and endless stoppages in front of goal, just rubbish that broke down before it even got there.

The Giants weren't much better, contributing to a quarter time score of 2-1. This was great news for people who like to hang shit on AFLW, but you'd have been hard-pressed to try and spin it as anything approaching a watchable quarter. I say this as somebody who's seen all but one premiership game this club has played, but there's no way I'd have come back after quarter time as a neutral.

Imagine how much more depth these teams would have if they hadn't added six teams in two seasons? I love the way semi-professional players go about the business, but the standard of play is no better than four years ago, and arguably worse. There are as many excellent players as the first season, but a whole lot more who have no reason to be in a top grade competition.

It's a long term project, so nothing to pull the shutters down over but they'd be mad to add the remaining AFL teams anytime soon. Let Port, Sydney, Essendon and Hawthorn play a post-pandemic, off-Broadway series at the same time as the next AFLW season, but adding any of them (and Kennett will whinge until they add the Hawks) to the main comp would be suicidal.

I don't know if there was a wind, certainly nobody mentioned one, but as much as the Giants had dominated general play in the first quarter (including keeping six of our players without a disposal) it was now our chance to return to traditional values and trap the ball down there for little reward. In case there were any neutrals left watching, we did our bit for entertainment value by finally kicking the first goal. After four seasons and a razor-thin near miss against the Eagles, Lily Mithen got the first of her career from a set shot. Keep that in mind, it'll become important again later.

Would have been a good opportunity to kick away, but after keeping the Giants goalless for almost the whole first half Ms. DemonTime arrived, and in the last minute they swept from one end to the other and kicked a goal right at the end. Of course they did. Even in a game where the scoring is the subject of unkind comparisons to the world game we can't help ourselves.

The scoring end came into play again in the third when we couldn't score. Not a cracker. Not even the traditional botched set shot or a long kick that slides through for a point. The forward line was basically non-existent until the last eight minutes, and for the first few minutes of the final term both teams were still unable to introduce oval ball to middle posts. This just made me more upset, the Giants were there for the taking but our inability to convert was going to neck us.

Enter one of the more remarkable MFC related finishes you'll ever see. The Giants went into full lockdown mode a few days early and unsuccessfully tried to ride out the last few minutes. Despite what happened this was the sensible thing to do. After the way we've attacked all year how were they supposed to know that we'd pull off the million to one shot of kicking three in a row - much less all from set shots.

After a day of not even being able to get it into the hands of forwards so they could spray their shots, we finally started to consult experts. First dairy extraction specialist Shelley Scott, then Tex Perkins. Tex barely had a touch in the first three quarters but when required she smacked through the sort of set shot that we've been missing for four years. She also deserves credit for battling hard in the ruck duels while the ball was trapped in our forward line.

That goal, from 40 metres out on a shithouse angle, cut the margin to less than a goal with three minutes left. Plenty of time for us win it, then lose it again. Enter the returning Lauren Pearce winning a ruck contest, and the well-held Kate Hore thumping a kick forward in hope, only for all nothing of Lily Mithen to take a huge contested mark. Semi-contested anyway, the defender clearly had NFI where the ball was going to drop and got caught behind.

Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome suggested that having stormed back into the game, and because she'd converted from a similar spot earlier in the day that this would slide across the face and land in the pocket for no score. Amongst the feelgood video of the men watching there was some criticism of the bloke who said she wouldn't make the distance - to me that demonstrates an intimate knowledge of the way this team has kicked for goal since 2017.

In this case though, she was ice cold, sinking the shot then doing a celebration that resembled an Irish jig. It was a terrific end to a terrible game, making it memorable for at least one reason. Nothing that happened suggests we'd beat a good team but I was happy to take this and run with it in this time of grave national crisis. There was 30 seconds left for us to cock it up, but against all odds we survived.

I'm not concerned for GWS fans, because you'd need the world's most powerful microscope to find them, but you had to feel for the players who'd been swept away like that. Other than not trying to get it out of our forward line and the marking contest for the winning goal they didn't do much wrong. You'd say we thieved it if all the winning goals hadn't been so well taken.

Apart from Giants players, the most disappointed person was Demonblog Jr. She'd parked herself in front of the Megawall midway through the last quarter and declared the Giants were her favourite team. Must have seemed a good bet at the time, before the family tradition of being bad at picking sports teams came back to haunt her.

Mind you, there was a heavy element of trolling at the Towers this afternoon, at three quarter time I'd been presented with a card which I thought was a nice gesture until I opened it to read...

Yes, that's indicating NO DAD. Didn't quite capture my hair but a decent effort nonetheless. I'd have been more triumphant at the siren but it's best to remain diplomatic towards your family when you could be locked inside with them for two weeks at any moment.

2020 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Libby Birch
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Eden Zanker
1 - Daisy Pearce

Apologies to Scott, L. Pearce, Hanks, Cordner, Gay and Sherriff.

31 - Karen Paxman (WINNER: 2020 Daisy Pearce Medal)
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

Next Week
Theoretically it's Fremantle in Perth, but there's fuck all and no chance of that happening. Either the season is delayed or they just call it off with four sides left. Maybe Western Australia will secede? Nothing would surprise me now.

Let's just say it goes ahead - Freo has won all seven games this year, and if we don't find an avenue to goal they will kick our brains in. Unless they have a total meltdown we're not going to beat them by scoring 28 points. If it was the Pakistani AFLW you'd be some chance of them throwing it as part of a betting rort, but in this case our slender hopes rest on putting up a minimum score of 40.

I guess when you've got replacement players on the list that you can't play them in preference to the originals, but given the option I'd drop Cunningham and use Tex, Scott and Zanker as the talls. Perkins is not racking up massive possesion numbers but when she gets the ball she's doing good stuff with it, is a competent forward 50 ruck, and most importantly a better set shot than anyone else on our list. They're off chops if they don't draft her to play full forward next season, she's never going to do a Kate Hore style turbo running goal but it adds much needed power and accurate kicking to our otherwise toothless forward line.

Final Thoughts
If it's got 'Melbourne' written on it, and I can watch I'll go bonkers for winning under those circumstances. Twice more for the women please. And somewhere near 20 times for the men.

Tuesday 17 March 2020

🎶God help me, I had COVID 19 🎶*

(* not personally, no. I'm just pleased with the gag and running it into the ground appropriately. Now, on with the scheduled misery)

'May you live in interesting times' they say. And here we are. Just as Australian rules football reached peak professionalism and clubs achieved total control over players, along comes a super virus that blows the doors off the sport and leaves it in its most perilous state since World War II.

What we know at the time of writing is that the season has been reduced to 17 games, and will start with games in front of empty stadiums but if one player blows a fever it might be over in an instant. What a time to be alive. At least temporarily.

You can understand why it's happening, but shutting the gates is one of the wildest angles in the history of the game. Even when the Spanish Flu was clobbering people at a rapid rate in 1919 the paying customer was still welcome. Fans of omens will adjust their collar nervously at the news that we didn't win a match that season, but at least they got a full 18 game program in.

Not since 1943 has a regular season had less than 18 matches per club. Then they had the bloodiest conflict in the history of mankind to blame, with the war escalating to the point where we only had six of the premiership side of two seasons earlier on the list and Geelong was forced out of the competition due to travel restrictions. The VFL had a unique solution to having an uneven number of teams, dumping the last placed side after Round 10 and playing five more games between the survivors. This time everyone plays 17 - in theory anyway, quite literally anything could happen between now and time running out to get the season finished.

It will come as news to the people trying to look humble with "my grandfather went to war and I had to sit on the couch. I'LL BE FINE" Facebook posts, but until it mutates and we start bleeding from every orifice there is no fair and legitimate comparison between Coronavirus (or COVID-19, if you prefer to be formal/do headline gags) and war, but think of all the challenges of the years since that haven't caused footy to grind to a halt. Since then a couple of rounds were delayed by weather, the goalposts were torched at Waverley, and one game was understandably called off when a coach got murdered, but even after five decades of Cold War where we were one accidental button press away from the nuclear apocalypse, nothing has seen games trimmed off the schedule, or the widespread changes expected to help keep things going.

For mine, I'm happy to keep playing if they can find players to do it. I think we can handle a few hundred people going out in public without it becoming the tipping point that wipes out the human race. If any players don't want to play then they can stand aside and Jay Lockhart can win the Brownlow. Views amongst fans vary, but as we'll get to shortly I think simply getting something on TV is important. This will pass, I don't want to come out on the other side without our clubs. Feels selfish, but bad luck. Call me when societies into a re-run of Threads and I'll reconsider. You've got to give the people some entertainment, it's not like the community is going to pull together and do great things without sports.

As trite as it is to say, things may never be the same again. We're at the early stages of this fiasco, but I'm struggling to think of many more significant events in my lifetime. The first major news story I remember was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union going under, but that was a win for our side. Also, nobody took that lot seriously by the late 80s anyway. The closest I got to a personal rivalry with the Iron Curtain was Debbie Flintoff-King beating them in a photo at the '88 Olympics as a young Bruce McAvaney nearly burst his o-ring in elation.

Next cab off the rank was the original recipe Gulf War, which not only did we win in a canter but also provided the novelty of being able to watch bombs dropped down people's chimney. For the rest of the 90s I was too much of a self-indulgent sulky teenager to be moved by world events. Can't retrospectively claim to have been hanging off the war in Yugoslavia or the Rwandan Genocide, and couldn't for the life of me understand why my mum started crying when Princess Di stacked it.

At this stage September 11 remains clubhouse leader based on the near two decades of flow-on effects. I reckon that was the first time I ever got a shameful rush about being alive for a earth-shattering calamity. There's no pleasure derived from these things, it's just an uncontrollable adrenaline hit that you feel bad about afterwards. Don't suppose Channel 10 are ever going to get to that episode of Sports Tonight that I was waiting for when the second plane came from nowhere out of the corner of the screen and... well, you know...

That was easy to treat like a video game, our current situation as left me in gloom, despair and agony. People who live in countries where this sort of crisis is par for the course are saying "welcome to the party dickheads", while we throw haymakers at each other for the opportunity to buy toilet paper but you can only deal with what's in front of you. I certainly won't be putting on a woe is me routine when I inevitably catch it, especially when you consider that people in nursing homes are sitting around waiting for the bullet with their name on it while the rest of us go "nah, she'll be right it's only a flu". I am legitimately flat even before anybody I know has been affected.

Under the circumstances the fate of a few footy teams isn't all that important, but nevertheless it still means a lot to me and many others, and my concern is that by the time this is over there will be a lot of clubs teetering on the brink of disaster. My immediate concern is with the Melbourne Football Club, but should revenue pour out of the game in the next few months then I reckon everyone other than Adelaide, Collingwood, Essendon, Hawthorn, Richmond and West Coast will come up skint. Can't even hold a public gathering to rattle the tin.

This feels a bit "the sky is falling", but I have my reasons for concern. Last season we lost money on a $48.5 million turnover, with gate reciepts accounting of $6.2 million. This year we should have banked at least $2 million more than that, now every week without crowds there's a hole being torn in that. Then there's the $10.2m from corporate hospitality and sponsorship. At least if games are played on TV we can give the sponsors some value, but hospitality is down the tubes, merchandising is finished, and membership sales will have dried up to somewhere between nil and bugger all (update: not quite, well done humans).

Arguably we sold the pokies and banked the cash just the right time before all but the most self-destructive gambling addict thinks twice about putting their finger on a germy screen next to somebody hacking up their lungs coughing, and if you add that money to the property asset of the Bentleigh Club we might just get through this crisis ok, but where's the cushion against future suffering?

Leighoak has been sold, the pokies licence gone, and if things become grim in the future there's nothing other than the Bentleigh Club to sell. The $11 million currently in the bank sure isn't going to be replenished through simply being good guys at sports, this century we've made a $1.3m operating profit once and have lost at least that much five times. I think we're better placed than at least two Victorian clubs if the AFL declare their version of The Purge but I feel cheated that we've worked out way off the canvas only to see financial security disappear again.

There's an idea that the AFL will be the Bank of Bailout for clubs that get into trouble, but where's the money going to come from if they're in the hole as well? Everyone hung shit on the NRL asking for a government bailout but maybe they're the smart ones. The government will inevitably tell them to piss off but maybe they're trying to signal - without creating too much panic - that they're so indebted to broadcasting revenue that the competition is rooted without it.

What I need to understand before I decide to get really morose or not is the AFL's exposure if they can't fulfill the 198 games that were sold to broadcasters. Their desperation to play the lot by any means necessary is tinged with the sort of panic consistent with having to write cheques to Channel 7, Foxtel, radio stations, Telstra and god knows who else if the games aren't played.

Channel 7 lost $444 million in the last financial year, they're not writing off five weeks of premium content (cliche) out of goodwill. Similarly, Foxtel is about as financially secure as the Venezuelan Bolivar, so they'll also be wanting a refund if entitled to it. If they haven't got a clause that gives them money back if the agreed product isn't delivered then their negotiator was a bum. Maybe there's an insurance option that will cover both parties? I'm sure companies (probably Zurich, likely to go bust under the pressure and cost us a sponsor) would have been happy to take the money from sporting competitions to insure their season when the only reason a major sport has ever had its competition curtailed since the invention of television has been industrial strife.

For now we can write off a large part of the gate receipts, but as long as we can find a way to play Anzac Eve, Queen's Birthday, and the game in Alice Springs things might not turn out too badly. But what are the chances? If Dick Wilkins can catch the thing from mingling with the stars of Hollywood so can 700 professional players, any number of coaches, and the semi-professional ring-ins required to play a condensed season. They might get to 17 games eventually but there's as much chance of them in a row as there is of Oscar McDonald winning the Coleman. Whether it means in-season breaks or them just shutting down will depend firstly on whether governments make them stop, and secondly on how much ending the season early is going to cost.

As far as I can tell the full broadcast rights agreement isn't available anywhere, but let's say on average it costs the league $500,000 for every senior men's game that isn't televised. That's less than a third of what you get from dividing the total annual payday by 198 games, so maybe I'm being too conservative. I'll update if anyone can provide more realistic insight.

Assuming that the maths randomly plucked from my keister are right, the five cancelled rounds will cost the AFL $20 million. Last year, after distributions to clubs, special funds etc... they had a surplus of $27.9 million. By far the biggest expense was distribution to clubs (for instance, we got $16 million from them), so there's not a lot of fat to cut if they desperately need money to keep the existing clubs alive. People will demand the slashing of executive salaries but that's not going to pay for much, and I can't see them risking a critical beating by axing AFLW to save $20 million. More than half their revenue came from the broadcast rights, so you can understand why they'd be so keen to get anything resembling the regular season on TV.

I'm well into the conspiracy theory of a Victorian club being welded to Gold Coast in order to open a spot for a new Tasmanian side but in this case I'm prepared to trust that the AFL is doing the right thing to try and keep everybody alive. Which is like the frog carrying the scorpion across the river, but what's the other option? Go all Premier League and sell clubs to Middle Eastern oil interests? Clubs could borrow more money but that's just going to create a death spiral of debt that will end in them having to be bailed out or euthanised further down the track.

That's the cheerful picture of the long term future of small clubs, what about the short term. The upside to no crowds is that if Sunday goes ahead we might get a free kick in Perth for once. In the unlikely event of the season continuing beyond that, the reduction to 17 games means not playing anyone twice. Technically it's fair, but the T20 of season lengths, greatly reducing ebb/flow and the opportunity for teams to either storm the finals from a mile back or die in the arse from a great height.

We lose second winnable games against Gold Coast and St Kilda but dodge the return against Collingwood and Freo in Perth. I presume they won't be cruel enough to take our Alice Springs payday away, so if they don't radically alter the fixture after the first four games that also knocks out a visit to Adelaide Oval. However, anything could happen from here, up to and including not a single ball being bounced and the game being bombed back to the stone age.

One idea is to smash as many games out as possible early in the season just in case it's shut down later, which seems like both the most cynical thing you've ever heard in your life, and confirmation that the league (trickling down to clubs) are in more trouble than the early settlers if TV games are lost. To faciliate this they're talking about shortened quarters, and at this point I'd like to switch back into conspiracy mode. Steve Hocking would have a Corona Boner at the chance to trial this so they can leave it that way once the game goes back to normal. Somebody ask Gil for a commitment that the rules will return to what they were before crisis mode and see if his eyes swivel about uncontrollably.

They're also talking about increasing the interchange cap. Hopefully that has a positive effect on scoring (in proportion to the length of the game) so we can rule out this ridiculous theory that the game would improve if you deliberately made players tired.

To faciliate the playing of games on four or five day breaks there's also talk about having yet another draft, this time for temporary players. With the VFL shut down until the end of May you don't want to go down this path too quickly, otherwise you'll just be left with five, 10, 20 more players hanging around doing nothing. The part of me that loves statistical anomalies (which is probably the same part that perks up for disasters) and obscure players is the only part getting any enjoyment out of this debacle. Maybe we should do something really unusual and draft Karen Paxman, that would throw the cat amongst the pigeons and add some much needed interest to what's otherwise going to be a shithouse season.

Everything is going to shit, but if you're looking for a positive omen in these times of strife, we won the flag from sixth in a 17 game season in 1900. It doesn't matter how many games are played in the regular season, as long as the finals are played as expected the flag is valid. There's something to aspire to.

Just our luck that we'll Bradbury our way through to the Grand Final and it will come too late to be played at the MCG due to a clash with the West Indies - New Zealand T20 BLOCKBUSTER being played there on October 25. Assuming the guaranteed Grand Final ticket that has given me so much joy over the last decade would still be valid I'd be sweet to get in, but if you thought the price of flights for the prelim was bad, imagine the cost of getting to Perth for this? Don't care, will accept a lift from Bradley John Murdoch if that's what it takes. Maybe by then it'll cost less to fly cross country than catch a train to the MCG?

More likely scenario - we lose the first two games and spend the next 15 (probably spread over 45 weeks) scrambling just to stay in contention before finishing 10th. Anything lower and forget Coronavirus, I'll be offering to test Ebola vaccines.

I have no good way to end this post, so let's part until Sunday (maybe) by agreeing that weird shit is happening, and given the pace of the weird shit there may be further crisis updates required by the end of the week. In my book (which is the perfect length to read while in self-isolation) I had a back cover quote that said "the man who laughs has simply not yet had the terrible news", and that feels equally relevant now.

By the weekend I'll need a distraction and opportunity to yell obscenities at the TV. For now I'm almost at the point of applying a hot towel to the forehead and coughing so I can lock myself away for 14 days and not have to have every workplace conversation revolve around this bloody virus. Give me a fortnight away to crawl through newspaper archives on Trove and maybe when I come out this will all be over. Until next time sports fans...

Sunday 15 March 2020

The Sound of Silence

For years I've been doing gags about empty stadium matches, and what do you know one bloke eats the wrong bat and six months later here we are - games played without crowds for as long as it takes for one player to start singing God Help Me, I Had Covid 19, the season is shut down and multiple AFL clubs find themselves in deep financial shit.

What an unusual scenario. I understand why it's happening, and why we need to put the brakes on an illness that's going to cut a swathe through vulnerable parts of community, but I've got genuine concerns that pretty much every sporting team I go for is going to come out of this gasping for dollars. And without being totally awful that is to me only slightly less concerning than a death in the family.

It would give me some relief if club or competition could explain how we're going to cover up to $6.2 million in lost gate receipts (and that's based on last year when we had a shit draw and were playing like arseholes), plenty of money in corporate hospitality, $700k in merchandise, and god knows how many people stopping payment on their monthly memberships or just flat out demanding a refund. The AFL is probably secretly thrilled, they'll never get a better opportunity to neck a couple of Victorian clubs and blame it on somebody else. Ross Oakley is sitting at home wondering where this was in 1989.

Anyway, for now there's a club and there's games so let's enjoy it while we can. Not a lot of happy memories to look back on if it all goes tits up. At least while the world is crumbling we can still play games for cash in Alice Springs. And given that barely anyone turns up in the Territory anyway - even for men's games - we probably didn't lose too many off the gate. As long as the NT's money keeps flowing, and it's not like governments will have other things to spend money on in the near future, that will help keep us afloat for a while.

Technically Traeger Park wasn't 'empty', apparently 80 family and friends were allowed in because they'd 'pre-booked'. I'm sure this won't be responsible for the end of civilisation but it's nice to know the rules are so flexible. Good news to the people who spent money to travel, I doubt the people who have wasted hundreds of dollars on flights to Perth for next Sunday will get the same courtesy.

Crowd or no crowd, a win would have nearly sealed our spot in the finals. At this rate who knows if the finals are even going to be played (which would still rank below Round 23, 2017 for farcical Melbourne finals misses) but I was keen on putting the Blues away and locking down our spot in the top three as soon as possible.

Given that there's less AFLW games to play they could easily shut the season down for a few weeks and come back for a delayed finals series later in the year. I started to think that the alternative would be winning a flag in front of empty stands, joining AFLX as the most disappointing Melbourne premiership triumph of all time. Fortunately the second half cured me of any notion that this team could possibly challenge for the flag.

It was another round - like most of them - where we advanced like the Allies invading Normandy with the firepower of a Congolese canoe. Can't play West Coast every week. Our scoring has otherwise been dreadful, leaving us relying on the backline to keep the other side to a manageable total, which is a terrifically high risk strategy. Sometimes it works (Bulldogs), sometimes it works and we still don't kick a big enough score (St Kilda), and then there was this. The world might have changed in the last few weeks but the Melbourne AFLW attitude to attack (at least against competent teams) has not.

We were nearly left cursing that mouthy Collingwood defender who assured us that Tayla Harris was "useless" at ground level, when Harris gathered the ball at ground level, stood up in a tackle, and had there been a teammate anywhere goalside would have had all the time in the world to handball to them for the simplest tap-in. Looked pretty solid on the ground to me, and there were plenty more opportunities for her to prove the doubters wrong.

Fortunately this time nobody was there, allowing us to get back to kicking a lengthy stream of points. When we weren't putting through points we were losing players in tackles, with Newman being throw to the ground in a suplex that Kurt Angle would have been proud of. Presumably the helmet softened some of the blow but she still went off rooted (technical term).

It took a bit of magic to finally get going, because god knows doing it the conventional way wasn't having much an effect. Hore had a bounce, shrugged off a half-hearted tackle, had another bounce, did the team thing by trying to set up McEvoy, and after getting what could politely be described as an Irish handball back snapped it through from deep in the pocket. It was ace. Conceding the reply 20 seconds later was not. That's bad enough in a competition where teams are scoring 80 a game, in a land of few goals it's just careless - leaving the play as the equivalent of when Jeremy Howe used to stand on somebody's head then kick it straight to the opposition.

Still, that wasted goal aside things still looked good. At last my prayers of finding a player who could kick set shots from 40 metres out was answered in the form of replacement player of the year Tex Perkins, who lobbed one through post high. Where have you been all my season? If we have to fake an injury to keep her for the rest of the year it must happen (don't fake an illness, the whole club will be shut down). Mind you, the rate our players get hurt it won't be required. More on that later.

An eight point lead was probably a fair indication of the game, if not the actual scoring chances. Mind you, anyone expecting ruthless scoring efficiency by us at this stage of the competition is being excessively optimistic.

The eagerly expected Tayla Harris groundball experience finally got us for their second goal. You could argue she pushed Harriet Cordner in the mark in the marking contest, but when it hit the ground she put in a massive second effort, and with her teammates having learnt their lesson and queuing up for scraps they got the goal.

I think the umpires might have been suffering from an NQR flu, not only did they miss the big old shove from Harris, but then one of the Carlton players tried to kick the ball off the ground in the back pocket, swung her foot so wildly that she only toe poked it, and when it went out of bounds he called for a throw in. There was unseemly chat on the commentary about whether we thought it went out on the full or were appealing for deliberate. Doesn't matter either way, you kick it, it goes out of bounds, you get a free. Not in the Northern Territory apparently.

Shortly after I used the precious breath that I've still got abusing the umpire (update: incorrectly as it turns out, I'm told there's no last touch inside the forward 50s in AFLW this year. I apologise to everyone involved. Now to get rid of it in the middle of the ground and we're good to go) the all-important reply goal came from a free. Cow milking type operator Shelley Scott lobbed through the set shot to restore the eight point lead, and via one last Carlton inside 50 that made me say "here we go again" for the sixth consecutive week, we shepherded the lead through to the break.

Having seen her 'best goal ever' record stolen, the returning Newman (maybe the helmet did work) tried to get it back via a three bounce speed extravaganza that took her from outside 50 to the forward pocket. She's not Kate Hore (but who is?) and missed, her sixth point of the year without a major. It's one thing being quick, but as Usain Bolt demonstrated during his brief all-speed, no other idea stint as a soccer player that's not enough on its own.

You can't assign blame based on Sliding Doors moments, but had that gone through Sarah Lampard probably wouldn't have done her ACL in a collision at the other end. This competition has so many serious injuries that you may as well start selling sponsorships whenever somebody's knee gives way. That's the fifth for us this year, one of the great (by which we mean large or immense) runs in the history of the game. It's like having an entire list consisting of David Schwarz and Luke Molan.

Lampard's knee and our lust for life departed at roughly the same time. Soon Harris kicked a goal in the way you'd have expected her to, via a mark and goal, which was fair reward for Carlton's dominance. Everything we had done well in the first half was out the window and the Blues had the ball locked in their forward line. It wasn't long after that they went ahead via - wouldn't you know it - a lightning Harris handball off the deck. I've got no trouble with being walloped by a good player but RIP to the punditry career of a certain Collingwood player, who has made the worst prediction since they said there was no need for a computer in the home.

The lead should have been shortlived, if not for Cunningham bringing the ball to ground after a marking contest (good), then possibly thinking she had less time than she did and toe-poking the ball across the face of goal (bad) for a point. That at least kept the ball in our forward line, and via a multi-player move where nobody was able to get clear enough for a shot, Hore was nigh on decapitated by a high tackle. Still feeling the ill-effects of the clothesline she missed the lot, and it was beginning to look a lot like Melbourne.

That was all part of a couple of minutes of none-more-Demon attacking, capped off by Elise O'Dea having a flying shot from 40 metres out on an obscure angle that bounced practically on the line and back into play. Jesus H Christ. She got another go from a set shot after the siren but didn't make the distance, probably dejected from being rorted out of the first one. If nothing else, and other than one point there was nothing else, it was a decent recovery from the few minutes when Carlton looked like thrashing us.

A thrashing was duly avoided, but we never even got a look at winning it. After a few minutes of back-and-forth in the last quarter the Blues put us away with the opening goal. Shelley Scott marked a ball that had an unsanitary amount of hands touching it but missed, leaving us still needing two goals in five minutes.

This was the sort of bullshit attacking performance that you had to fear when we were racking up a massive score against totally overmatched opposition a week earlier. Even Tex got into the MFCW spirit by taking a mark well within her range, playing on to kick on the run for unknown reasons and missing. Then O'Dea self reported for a kick that hadn't gone far enough that the umpire was going to pay anyway and you started to wonder if there was any way left to avoid kicking a goal. All it missed was one going through and being called back for a free off the bal found to miss a goal.

One of our earlier misses came back to haunt us, when from almost the exact same spot that Cunningham botched her attempt at soccering a goal, a Carlton player did it properly. Game over. Season now hanging by a thread pending a trip to Perth (TBC) to play the top - and as of the time of writing only unbeaten - team in the comp.

It was a very ordinary performance, not quite Kellogs FC recruit Mo Hope slaughtering us for Collingwood at the same venue two years ago but close. Daisy was nearly anonymous, O'Dea and Cunningham have dropped off massively from last year and we are desperately lacking forward options. Cunningham and Newman have kicked two goals between them this season, it's not good enough.

Sure, a player down on the bench in warm weather they were all knackered by the end but we've seen this performance on home soil before. You know we could have done the same thing at Casey. I was briefly fooled into thinking that we were a chance but am reverting to my post-2019 view that this is a side that is good enough to compete but nowhere near good enough to win a flag. Injuries are a contributing factor, not an excuse.

So, off we go to the last round again (presumably) with the opportunity to miss out on the finals by the narrowest of margins again. Where else would you rather follow?

2020 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Kate Hore
3 - Libby Birch
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Eden Zanker

15 - Libby Birch
13 - Kate Hore
6 - Elise O'Dea, Shelley Scott
5 - Maddie Gay, Daisy Pearce, Eden Zanker
3 - Tyla Hanks
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Harriet Cordner, Sinead Goldrick

Feature cancelled until further notice.

Next Week
Currently scheduled to be against Fremantle at 4.10 next Sunday in Perth. If that happens it will a) be a perfect lead in to the men disappointing us, and b) tremendously important for our season. If we lose and Collingwood beat St Kilda in the next game they'll be a game ahead of us going into the last round. Imagine that, a Melbourne AFLW season going right down to the wire before we missing out. Extra degree of insult on offer from the conference system, where we'll probably be in another situation where the sides on the other half of the draw make it with less wins than us.

Final Thoughts
I've changed my mind on whether we're good or not so many times this season, but the last two weeks have demonstrated beyond doubt that we might be good enough to beat mid-table and lower teams not called St Kilda but are sadly lacking against quality. I don't expect this competition to get to the finals but if they do I now have serious doubts that we'll be in them. Some things never change.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

International Day of Record Wins

Remember the days when a Melbourne side would discover completely outmatched opposition and pummel them into submission? If so, you probably think fondly of the month in 2018 when the men were an attacking juggernaut, the likes of which we hadn't seen in years. Most of the rest of the time they struggle to kick 6.6.42. Likewise the women, who have spent the last two seasons struggling to wins with scores that are even low by AFLW standards. This was partial redemption, dismantling an expansion side that were in more trouble than the early settlers from the first bounce.

For undisclosed reasons I watched the pre-game with subtitles and the very first thing I read was "it's windy at Casey". What a surprise. Shortly afterwards Bec Goddard was referred to as Adelaide premiership coach 'God God', which is a nice promotion for her. After that I had to go to mute, subtitles coming up five seconds after the play is fine when you don't care about the result, but for your own team it's too distracting.

Simply being better than the opposition isn't enough for this side, I've seen us dominate and come out with nothing to show for it more than once. One goal doesn't mean much, but there were still absolute SCENES for the #releaseTex community when Sarah Perkins - finally taking advantage of our black death style injury list to get a game - nailed a hapless defender holding the ball directly in front. As keen as I was on her kicking the goal she resisted the temptation to play for person glory by passing to Eden Zanker in a better position. She converted, and for about the second time in four seasons we scored a goal first, instead of working our way there via a series of misses.

Considering the wind we should have had more, but you could argue it wasn't a factor at all given our rampant fourth quarter. Maybe the Patron Saint of Broadcasting, Jason Bennett explained what was going on. I'll never know. You don't want to be greedy, but two goals was poor reward for playing all over them. There was dozens of opportunities, and Tex was in everything, but it took the Irish combination of Goldrick and McEvoy to get the next one. Unless Brian set up Jim or vice-versa, and given that Sean Wight was born in Scotland, it might have been the first all-Irish goal in club history.

The chances kept coming but to no avail. However, while we still may be the only team ever to keep opposition to zero inside 50s in the first quarter and still lose, it was clear that West Coast were completely crap and there was no chance of them launching a surprise victory. Then just as I relaxed wouldn't you know it, from the first attack of the second quarter the Eagles kicked a goal from 40 metres out on the boundary line. As with the men, the phrase "here we go" got an airing. Unlike the men, we then kept the opposition goalless for the next two quarters and 19 minutes.

West Coast had one last go in them before the white flag went up, once they missed a chance to level the scores they reverted to being expansion strugglers. They didn't even score again, which looked unlikely when they briefly had control of the game in the middle of the quarter, but broke down going forward even worse than we usually do. Being an expansion side didn't stop St Kilda finding a cannon-legged forward, but they had less than zero in attack.

Via a series of handballs that walked the tightrope between quality ball movement and "can't somebody else do it?" panic, we settled the question of Collapse or No Collapse immediately after half time. From there the rest was a procession. As a demonstration of how expansion sides should be treated cruelly this was a far better effort than the St Kilda fiasco, a fair few inside 50s were blown via panicky hit and hope kicks, but we converted some of them. Which is more than you can for the last three quarters at Moorabbin.

It was a who's who of goalkickers in the Melbourne forward line, Hore, Zanke and Scott. Even Cunningham, who has been shizen this year, and was ready to be written off after one kick didn't make the distance from 30 metres out redeemed herself. As far as forwards went I was all about Tex, even though she didn't kick a goal until right at the end her work on the ground was admirably desperate and she was always working to set up her teammates. Let's keep her. Hopefully it's an option when other players start coming back.

The best goal of the lot, and how nice to have one where there's a lot of options, was Shelley Scott mastering the Casey Fields wind to put through a set shot that swung so hard it looked like it came from the hand of Wasim Akram.

West Coast could have played until Wednesday and not reached our score, so there was no concern about blowing it spectacularly at the death. We do things on a grander scale, botching entire seasons in the last game. No drama here, they started thinking about what a prick of a trip it would be from Cranbourne to the airport, became depressed, and surrendered to brutal defeat.

There was no sense of theatre from the umpire when #ReleaseTex snatched the ball, played on, and kicked a high, wacky bouncing goal around the corner that got called back after a free. Looked in one motion after the free from me. Fortunately, Parry did the right thing and converted anyway.

That put us in range of the 54 point record winning margin from season one against Freo. As a fanatic for novelty statistics I was almost off the chair when a Lily Mithen set shot was headed for goal and looked to have crossed the line before falling short at the last minute. There was some sort of indeterminate goalmouth scramble that ended with a rushed point and I started to get gloomy about missing out. It was like when we hammered Carlton in 2018 and I reached a state of ecstasy of such pure ecstasty in the last quarter that I would have been genuinely upset to 'only' win by 99 points.

Enter your friend and mine Tex, finally getting reward for an excellent game with a pass that left her kicking for the record after the siren. Not sure she was thinking too deeply about extending the margin beyond 54 points, but I certainly was, riding it home like a kick after the siren to win. Through it went, and the indignity of being powerbombed by our greatest ever margin shifted from one part of Western Australia to another. Dry your eyes with iron ore.

Daisy Pearce Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Eden Zanker
3 - Elise O'Dea
2 - Shelley Scott
1 - Sinead Goldrick

It will be hard for Birch to drag this back. Hard enough to get votes as a defender anyway, let alone having to recover 11 in somewhere between three and five games.

23 - Karen Paxman (PROVISIONAL WINNER)
12 - Libby Birch
9 - Kate Hore
6 - Elise O'Dea, Shelley Scott
5 - Maddie Gay, Daisy Pearce
4 - Eden Zanker
3 - Tyla Hanks
1 - Harriet Cordner, Sinead Goldrick

Another walkover victory, I'm going to stop doing this in pre-season and AFLW if other teams aren't going to take things serious. 3-2-0 for the season.

Ad Chat
The Tyla Hanks for Bunnings ad was an unexpected addition to the collection of MFC players in commercials. I rated her performance below that of Mitch Clark for Ultratune and Daisy Pearce for Chemist Warehouse, but above Jack Watts for Energy Watch.

Next Week
Carlton on Saturday night at 'TP'. Turns out this is Traeger Park and not 'toilet paper'. You want spectacle? Replace the footy with a roll of Quilton and players will tear each other apart to win the hard ball.

With the Bulldogs unexpectedly as bad as the expansion teams (Libby Birch was right, they are a rabble), the race for the top three is down to four. We've got a game on Collingwood now, so a win over the Blues would leave us needing a spectacular Greg Norman-esque choke to miss out. On the other hand, lose and the next trip is to Perth for a Freo side in good form, so might be worth barracking hard against the Pies for the next few weeks just in case we stuff it up. There's also significant opportunity for a real MFC calamity when we play Gold Coast in the last game.

Next week's TP Cup is a 50/50 proposition, before this landslide we were one of the worst scoring teams in the competition, while the Blues are equally have one of the best attacks and leakiest defences around. Can't play West Coast every week, so I'm not convinced we'll kick another (relatively) big score. On the other hand, we've always been good against Carlton. Just win baby.

Final Thoughts
We're within striking range here, but there's no way we're converting well enough to beat top sides. I guess we'll find out over the next fortnight whether we'll be serious challengers or just making up the numbers. First things first, I'd be happy just to make the finals. So, pretty much the same as any other season played by a version of the Melbourne Football Club.

Saturday 7 March 2020

A night on the isles

Pre-season is over, and unless you're an Essendon fan who wants to believe that beating Casey players in Melbourne jumpers is relevant it's been flawless. The natural reaction is to denounce the three wins as meaningless and advise you to force the lid down with all your might, but while I'm not convinced it translates to anything better than fifth, I think I'm going to like how we play this year. Which will make a change from wanting to put my head in the oven at the end of last season. Until about Round 8 when everyone's injured, panic has set in and we're playing Aaron Nietschke at centre half-back on crutches, then it'll be on the phone to Technika asking if there's a SuperGas setting.

For now, enter the new season with hope in your dark, damaged hearts. I fantasise about reversing the Round 1, 2019 debacle and using our superior fitness to run over the top of the Eagles in the last quarter but am willing to retain my bundle if that doesn't happen. If it does the lid is going to join the space program. Hold for everyone to simultaneously drop dead in Round 18, but for now the ruthless off-season fitness program looks like a tremendous winner. For the third game in a row we ran an opposition into the ground and waltzed to a comfortable victory.

If everyone stays reasonably fit my light on evidence analysis is that we're a 60 goal a year full forward away from being very good. That could be Tom McSizzle if a) he can find space instead of trying to mark from three deep in packs all the time, and b) we kick it to him in space. Otherwise we're going to need goals out the yin yang from Forward Fritsch, Milkshake, and hopefully Jones so I can continually refer to my tirades from last year about them playing him anywhere but in attack.

Other than the suspicion that we'll need a dozen inside 50s per goal again this year, the only downside to last night was the vandWagon slowly pulling to the side of the freeway with smoke coming from under the bonnet. In footy terms, somebody going off with a 'sore foot' after years of foot trouble is a bigger red flag than a top draft pick delaying his new contract when an expansion side is sniffing around. "It's a precaution!" they said, "piss off, it will end up amputated" we replied. At the time of writing there's no official verdict on whether he'll walk again.

As Tasmanians showed their decreasing interest in watching relocated Victorian sides by watching in their hundreds, perfect conditions ruined the last chance for my Lousy Marsh Weather headline I've sat on for months. Like JLT before them, Marsh has paid out the wazoo to sponsor sports and still nobody's entirely sure what they do. I thought they made BBQs, but Google suggests they're into insurance and are making more than enough money to support these futile gestures. I still don't like it. What happened to the pre-season being sponsored by products for the common man like televisions, booze, airlines on their last roll of the dice and home loans. It all started going downhill when banks get involved.

Anyway, we won at footy, and that's all that matters, whoever's name is on the marquee. It didn't come easily mind you, we looked like a sick hybrid of MFC 2018/2019 where we had almost all our good players involved, won plenty of the ball and defended well enough but had limited idea how to convert all that into goals - the dollars of Australian rules football. Behinds are cents and inside 50s are good intentions that mean CHUFF ALL if they don't end in a score.

Rather than a Casey Fields style ordeal, the worst the conditions offered was a fair wind that made kicking for goal tricky. We didn't need typhoon strength gales to squeeze the spectacle out of this contest, combining to ruin the hopes of commentators and neutrals that attacking footy was back by putting on the same sort of low-scoring slog that will end with Channel 7 trading the TV rights to 10 Peach. Can't have a hands-off, 400 rotation scoring extravaganza with the crowd doing the Mexican Wave every week. Mainly because there was no crowd, people were so spread out that they wouldn't have known when it was their time to throw dignity out the window, lift the arms and go "wahhhhhhhhhhhey" in a public place.

There wasn't much to complain about, but we still made hard work of winning. At one point Garry Lyon audibly lost the will to live, not because he was putting a Dwayne Russell level of stock into a pre-season game, but because you could tell he realised that this was what's going to be on offer across the league for the rest of the year. The upside to the next broadcast deal being worth stuff all and all the players going back to being semi-professionals is that there'll be no time to waste carting pre-season games all over the country. Back to playing at Kyabram, Seymour, Shepparton and the grounds of a school. There's two teams in the other states (bad luck Tassie), they can play a best of three series against each other in Mandurah, Elizabeth, Penrith and Toowoomba and leave us out of it.

No, it was not a pretty exhibition, but by the end it was effective. Not without a few nervous moments though, by midway through the third quarter I was down to gambling on our newfound Herculean fitness to carry the day. Indeed it did, and pre-season or not it was much to my enjoyment.

I didn't invest much emotion in winning, but losing still gets to me no matter the circumstances. At least the players were taking it seriously, I was nearly off the couch in celebration with Jones starting grappling with Turncoat Tom in the first quarter. Last year was his first without being fined since 2011, and coincidentally his worst season since. Sure, he's got a retirement nest egg to look after, but if he's going to invest a bit in trying to fire his teammates up this year what better target to start with? Later Melksham tried to clean our very good friend up with a shirtfront but only managed to clonk heads and come off worse. Can't win them all.

It was nice to see most of our defence together. With Salem missing I'm sad they didn't give Trent Rivers another go after his star turn in the North game. When a first year player kicks like that get him in senior company ASAP. Given that we know Salem's got to come back anyway (unless there's something sinister going on...) it wouldn't have detracted too much from the Round 1 side to let the new Riv have a go against AFL players. Any way you slice it I'm eager for more Rivers - not eager enough to all the way to Casey and watch mind you.

Thank god for May getting through a full game without injuring himself or hitting somebody. He suffered from Tom McDonald Syndrome, doing plenty right but only being remembered for the howling turnovers. It's dangerous to say he'll be (as the kids say) a weapon because he might take it the wrong way and destroy somebody, but confident that he will (like so many others before him) be better for the run come Round 1.

Next to him, it was hard to accurately judge given the opposition, but Lever looked very good at doing what we bought him to do. The moustache is an outrage, but at this stage I'm willing to accept players who are climbing the scale from Neck Tatts = Shit Bloke to Face Tatts = Shitter Bloke and beyond if that's what it takes to get some success. Likewise, you wouldn't get overly excited about playing two sides with very ordinary forward lines but Oscar McDonald has had back to back his best games in years. This is a good thing, I almost had him in the votes for the second week in a row. Didn't get many touches but was far more attacking with his disposals than in his limited, nervy appearances last year where he always looked like he was waiting for a hook to appear and drag him off.

Other than the vandenBerg foot fiasco and a twisted ankle to Weideman, everyone survived but let me tell you I was wincing every time a player changed direction. Especially Gawn, who interrupted pre-season or not, instantly showed his immense value with a range of fancy over the head taps and contested marks that got us out of jail. Weideman was in no way disgraced, but the difference between superstar ruckman and tall bloke having a go is stark. There was also a moment when Viney did a u-turn and I actually did a sharp intake of breath. It's not he's ever done the knee before but it was the perfect motion for somebody to end up on the turf clutching at a burst ACL.

Having Maximum in the middle didn't do us much good in the opening seconds, we went within a a leaping Oscar of conceding a goal immediately. You'd get even less worked up about a goal in a pre-season game than the game itself, but I didn't think much of being opened like a tin can that quickly. Parity was restored for the rest of the night, with a midfield starting the season in such good shape that Harmes has been relegated to the half back flank. Doesn't mean he won't do well there but his second half of 2018 was a great ride and I'd like to recreate it. Wasn't the deciding factor to us winning but note we took off big time when they freed him from defence late in the third quarter.

If anything's going to neck us this year, other than injuries, loss of confidence, and the unbearable lightness of being Melbourne, it will be missing solid goalscoring opportunities. First Fritsch, then Melksham botched what should have been easy shots. Recovering to kick nine goals between them was good enough for me. At the fourth attempt Milkshake put one through and eased what minimal tension there was.

Other than accurate goalkicking, most signs point to yes at the moment. And when discussing Melbourne doing well, always be sure to add "at the moment". Viney was extracting everything, and Petracca continued to plow in and out of packs with no interest as to who was near him. He couldn't live up to the Adelaide game but was still a super important player. That full-throttle acceleration through packs will create a metric shitload of opportunities for our forwards this year.

While I still suspect we're a 5th to 8th team, I also feel that there could be a few Spirit of 2018 style massacres against lowly sides. Alas, I don't think there's going to be many truly dreadful units in the competition this year but we'll get somebody on an off day and kick the suitcase out of them. It's just about not losing to the 16th placed team at home a fortnight later and occasionally beating the good sides.

There was minor controversy in Demonblog Towers when Junior came in to watch just as Melksham kicked the first, and when I said "go Dees" she said. "No, go Tigers, I like the Tigers!" which I thought was a bit unnecessary. When asked why she liked them the response was "because they won a championship." Now, let your kids do whatever they bloody want when it comes to sports but who's been brainwashing her to become a glory hunting bandwagon jumper? I didn't even know she understand the concept of a 'championship'. The karmic payback for being unloyal/disloyal was swift, midway through the last quarter she developed the screaming voms and has been at it ever since. I have all the parental sympathy in the world but an important lesson has been learned about messing with the football gods.

When the first quarter ended at one goal apiece you could hear the red pen going through both club's names at AFL HQ, but I was satisfied with the performance. I absolutely loved Tomlinson, not just because he has a head like Ivan Drago, but because he demonstrated exactly why they recruited him. Sucked in by signing Langdon (who has greatly improved his stock by letting the hair flow free), I thought what's the point of a wingman if he doesn't run at lightning speed (refer season preview post). What an idiot - let's see if he does it in the real stuff, but I underrated the benefit of a man built like the Berlin Wall who has the endurance to go all day. He was excellent and I'm very much looking forward to the next instalment.

All my late stage Nathan Jones dreams came true early in the second term when he hit Melksham with the most bullet of passes. To be fair he didn't have that many possessions, but this was up there with the best kicks of the night. Like most things we do it was great in isolation, we just need to do more of it.

On that note, in an era where teams (usually us) struggle to break through opposition defences and get a decent shot on goal, this was good shit.
Good thing he kicked it too, there's nothing worse than an A+ setup like that being wasted at the finale hurdle. Credit to May's kick to start it, but what about the run and safe-as-houses mark by Gawn? 20 years ago the Hawthorn player would probably have tried to knock him out, even in a pre-season game, but in this kindler, gentler world we now live in, Maximum was allowed to turn and put it in the vicinity of Langdon to create the goal.

With the advantage of what little wind there was, we should have carried on from there but instead shut up shop in front of goal until late in the quarter. The around the ground play was still fine, it was just lacking what Goodwin called 'connection' at every opportunity last year'. Hawthorn got the next when Lockhart failed to convince an umpire that he'd marked an obvious half volley, and was either pinged for holding the ball or for yelling that the ump was a filthy kent.

Lockhart certainly needs more seasoning in defence before he can be considered for the seniors, he moved well in the open but was pinched holding the ball three times trying to take players on unsuccessfully. A man's got to know his limitations.

After clearly being the better team it would have been offensive to go into half time behind, enter Jack Viney, to whomp through a goal from 40 metres. Could have pass to McSizzle on his own in the square but no complaints when they kick it. One lovely goal doesn't prove anything, but imagine being the person who thought he was going to sook up at not being captain anymore? I would be honoured to be vice captain in a two man leadership setup, it's a bit more personal than being one of nine in a wankfest leadership group.

For mine this is the greatest thing Goodwin has ever done, even if it was probably driven by him only getting two names in the leadership voting. Refer my whinging from 2013 when a quarter of our list was in the group and we were still a rudderless, drifting wreck. We haven't done anything truly innovative since recruiting players from Ireland, this deserves to work just so all the other clubs realise you don't need to give players titles to have them lead. Either that or Max will retire to the Hare Krishna by Queen's Birthday because he's had enough.

After Fritsch got an early goal, the next 25 minutes of the third quarter were light panic stations. We looked to have gone to bed, and while Hawthorn weren't playing particularly well they eventually got in front despite themselves. Then after blundering back into the game they had the sort of DemonTime lapse that would make you rip an MCG seat out and hurl it towards the playing arena if we did it. First two defenders crashed into each other and let Bayley kick another one, then they bled another goal straight out of the middle.

The best bit about running away with the win was that Gawn sat out the whole second half. They sent Jackson on, and I was super impressed by the way he played. Not so much what he did, but how he adapted to being slaughtered in the first few ruck contests and changed his tactics, so that as the game went on he started to break even with an experienced ruckman who had a size and weight advantage. It showed good game smarts, and as long as you're not expecting him to turn into Jeff White by July then I think we're onto a winner here.

Bedford also got a run in the second half and impressed. With Pickett left out, this was almost a good enough trial for me to promote him past Tobes in the Round 1 pecking order. He had dash, he fired off some good disposals, and he generally looked like he wasn't too far away. He can't be, or they wouldn't have picked him for this game. This was a near best 22 + five or six on the fringe. He might not get there for the opening game but will play at some stage this year.

Who knows, or indeed cares, how many players the Hawks left out, but they appeared to have the depth of a fish pond. Unless there's a rich seam of star players hidden beneath the surface you wouldn't want to have a run of injuries or it could all go a bit Melbourne 2019. There would be scant sympathy, they've had their fun. Also, if we go belly up and need a coach maybe theirs will relish the chance of starting again?

I reckon they packed it up Melbourne '09 style in the last term. Fritsch outmarked an opponent who looked to have no idea what he was doing in the backline for the first goal and we were as good as home, then Bedford added another five minutes later to make sure of it. Who knows how hard the Hawks were trying, but it looked to me like we again had an extra gear that carried us through to the final siren. Milkshake and Fritsch added another, and like Adelaide all over again what looked like a competitive match midway through the third quarter became an easy win.

Fitness isn't going to win every game, don't we know there are some times when you're all over the other side in the last quarter but just can't score, but think back to the Port Adelaide disaster at the start of last year. Viney and Jones were out there on the back of one half-intensity Casey practice match, we went to pieces at the end, failed to score in the last quarter and the season instantly looked wobbly. And we all know how well things went from there.

Whether the result is different this year is yet to be determined (and may kill me if it's not) but I'm supremely confident that if nothing else we've got the preparation right. Now, let's go and win some games that matter.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Bayley Fritsch
4 - Adam Tomlinson
3 - Jack Viney
2 - James Harmes
1 - Jake Lever

Apologies to Petracca, Oliver, Melksham and O. McDonald.

Final Leaderboard
Bit unfortunate for Truck that he played the greatest practice match of the millennium and still finished third, but that's all part of the rough and tumble of the most eclectic leaderboard in the AFL. Congratulations to Bayley for adding this to his 2018 Hilton, why not go for broke and sweep them both out of the way to hang your Coleman Medal?

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

I'd let 'Huddo' host my funeral, but you don't get to refer to a player by their initials just because they've got an unfamiliar foreign name. It's not the sort of thing you'd start a petition about but enough with commentators using cutesy nicknames. Changkuoth Jiath himself is into the CJ thing, callers don't need to follow. Also, he is right that the Simpsons do need to be on Netflix. Disney Plus can go piss up a rope.

My view is no matter where the person is from surnames should only be buggered around with for comedy value. Personally I'd have snuck in a 12th Man Reference and called him Jiath Crackers.

I was watching on delay so skipped all the pre-game and breaks. Given that the Hawthorn Cheersquad Twitter account hasn't posted since February 22 I'll assume they didn't have turn up. They did, however, provide the poles for ours, which is the nicest thing Hawthorn has done for us since 1996. Our was a solid pre-season effort that looked wider than usual. Also, we assume the Bernie referred to was neither Vince nor Sanders.
Update: With all the deserved respect to their second home, and the fact that taxpayer money is bleeding out of every orifice to keep them playing there, the Hawks didn't bother to participate. And the Bernie is affiliated to the Demon Army..

Next Time
A week off before the dead-set madness begins - 22 weekends out of the following 23 where you're prepared to walk over hot coals like Nigel Smart for premiership points, hopefully ending in an extension to our year of somewhere between two and four weeks. West Coast in a Perth is a $cully of a draw, but embrace the challenge.

Final thoughts
Until Sunday 22 March at 18:20 AEDST, I leave you with this easy decision. Unless you're 80-years-old or have a crocked immune system join me on the cruise ship of destiny and set sail for September.