Sunday, 14 June 2020

Two quarters good, four quarters bad

With Coronavirus reduced from all-encompassing destroyer of society to a mere annoyance [Hello from two months later, where I've discovered that this was a SHIT PREDICTION], footy was allowed to return. This was a good, as much as I dislike shortened quarters and nonsense 'innovations' like fake crowd noise, the return of the Melbourne Football Club was much needed. Not because I thought it would bring me joy, but because there's a huge void in my life that can only be filled by the mixture of joy and dread that only the Dees can deliver.

Having said that, there was a stage deep in the last quarter where it looked like we'd blow a seven goal lead and I was ready to take up rugby union. As a Melbourne fan, you get used to being humiliated, but three months of pandemic related tension was about to blow up into one of the great tantrums. Who knows if it would have topped the sunglass stomping incident after that dropped Petterd mark, but there would certainly have been fireworks. I haven't seen my neighbour for weeks and he may be dead, but if anything's going to get his attention it will have been the volume at which I was anxiously howling at the screen.

The rah rah phase wouldn't have lasted, I haven't got it in me to quit on Melbourne, no matter how many times they've done it to me. I'd have got it out of my system by furiously mashing the keyboard, put the whole experience in the reverse spank bank to be sour about for years to come and looked forward to next week's response by midday Sunday. But in the heat of the moment all you want to do is yell forlornly at a screen that people who can't hear you are dickheads. This is the sort of psychological trauma that leads to grown men throwing haymakers at each other in the stands. I know I've got the bug, that's why I don't sit near people.

Even after all but writing off this season as a novelty to be never be spoken about again, losing here would have left me with scars. Part of the pain was the anticipation after the long break, part was the always provocative situation of having a win dangled in front of your eyes then snatched away, but it mostly came down to the fact that halfway through the second quarter we were as dominant as we have been for years and an hour later only avoided a laughable defeat by the narrowest of margins.

It's difficult to reconcile the difference between our performance across both parts of the game, but given they were on top in the last few minutes of the second quarter and after half time you could say Carlton were the better side overall. They didn't deserve to win, nobody does after going that far behind, but they should have.

I've seen us dead-set THIEVE some games over the years but this was one of the greats. Maybe the finest snatch of the 21st century to date. The last time we played Carlton was a contender, but then we had the excuse of losing our entire bench for the last quarter AND the glory of Jayden Hunt's winning goal. Even Gold Coast 2019 had the Marty Hore screamer to recommend it. This was Grand Theft Football on an industrial scale, theoretically saving our season but simultaneously helping you understand we're not going to beat enough good teams to make the eight.

From a position of almost total dominance, a switch flicked (whether it was ours OFF or theirs ON is up for debate) and the game turned on its head. I don't understand what happened, but hope there's enough assistant coaches left to make a ripping highlights package that educates players on the two phases of the game.

Knowing chuff all about football coaching or tactics I can tell you the problem was Carlton starting to get their hands on the ball. That's a simplistic view, and it's the job of coaches and players to expand on it and ask why we were so good at keeping it away from them early and so putrid at the end. It's true though, for the first 30 minutes (now, regrettably spread across two quarters) Gawn was tormenting the ruckman who has a name like a 1990s internet service provider, we were linking up well by hand and foot, and every time a Carlton player got the ball somebody jumped on him. Then they belatedly turned up 10 minutes into the second quarter and we went into panic mode.

David Teague would be bleeding tonight knowing his side - missing a ruckman and key forward - were obviously more than a match for us but were left in serious stranglewank territory by their poor start. Sounds familiar, based on our many and varied shit starts to games I think Goodwin usually has a better Plan B than Plan A. Today the original worked a treat, but when he went to his pile of printouts to find how to stop a team roaring back unchallenged with a forward line that has ceased to exist he was shit out of luck.

Despite the near-tragic circumstances of the finish, you've got to pay some credit for the start. For future generations who didn't see this game it's hard to explain our dominance. We've blown teams off the park once or twice, but it wasn't like that. The seven goals were reasonably well spread out, came from everyone but the tall forwards and never looked like it was going to turn into a 10 goal a quarter avalanche. It was just an atmosphere of pressure that didn't allow the Blues to do anything, while we calmly built what should have been a match-winning lead.

After years of trying to find a good full forward then trading him, I'm worried by our attack. I'd love to sit down with someone qualified to tell me what's wrong with Tom McSizzle, because in two games three months apart he's looked like somebody who's only going to stay in the side because there's nobody to replace him. He did some nice CHF stuff leading up the ground but was a non-factor inside 50 where we need him to have an impact.

At least in the Eagles game he got a couple of goals from limited opportunity, this time he didn't even get a shot away. For a long time I've clung to a theory that it's because we kick the ball on top of his head all the time, then I found this video of all his 2018 goals and there's overhead marks galore so that's out the window. So what is it then, the lack of a diversion like Hogan, other teams working out the way he plays, shouse delivery or something else?

I want him to be a killer target again so I'm switching to blaming the kicks inside 50 but it's getting harder to play down the fact that he's looking like the poster child for the big fluke of 2018. With ball in hand he did some good stuff, but that's no help without a marking forward to kick to. I love Forward Fritsch, but you're kidding yourself if you think we can thump it long to him inside 50. The answer is to Make Tom Sizzle Again.

Melksham has also been MIA this year, Luke Jackson is purely there for development purposes, and with Pickett in Coronavirus jail we not only lacked aerial options but ground threat as well. When Forward Fritsch got the opener within a minute I thought he was launching his wildcard Coleman campaign, then he kicked four points from close range for the rest of the day. Means he had five chances I suppose.

The undoubted star of the show from beginning to end was Petracca. I was worried he'd overplayed his hand with that ripping practice match against the Crows but this is two games now where the opposition knew what they were in for and still struggled to stop him. I'm desperate for it to continue because at the moment he's in top shelf, superstar form. His ability to be where the ball is, to power through traffic and to contribute to scores is game-winning stuff. Spoiler alert for the votes, but he Gawn and Oliver were so far in front of the rest of their teammates it wasn't funny. Handy trio to have if you can get the other 19 going.

After only getting a reprieve because of Pickett's cabin fever (and you hope some of the players busted for breaching lockdown rules were shagging), I thought Neal-Bullen was very good early. He set up Forward Fritsch's first and was in everything in attack. He's got the attributes to be a regular, and while I don't think a nine possession, two goal game will be the making of him it buys him another go.

As our score kept ticking skywards while Carlton's stayed on the tremendously satisfying 0.0, I had the classic Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome conflict between enjoying it for what it was and being terrified about throwing the game away from an unlosable position. I loved being five goals to quite literally nil up and wouldn't have given that away for anything, but it's cruel when you're almost certain that we won't play another quarter as good for the rest of the game.

It's hard to top keeping a side scoreless (first time we've done it in the opening quarter since 1994) but I was comfortable about them scoring eventually, as long as we scored more. Even running level for the rest of the game would have been a disappointment after that start (a lot like Gold Coast 2012 game where we were 40 up at quarter time and only won by 42. Also featuring a young H. Bennell running riot for the Suns), so you can imagine how well I took nearly losing.

The surprisingly mega lead even caused me physical pain, I've had a sore neck under control for the last week but the pressure of having to hold this rapidly extending lead must have caused the muscles to tense up because by the first change it felt like somebody had whacked me about the shoulders with a cricket bat. Oddly as the game slipped away so did the pain, replaced by language that turned the air blue. I am willing to wear wires during a game so that science may understand what sports do to me.

At this point I was cursing 16 minute quarters for robbing us of four more minutes of domination (at the end of the game when we were saved by the sawn-off clock it was thumbs up Gil, well rule changed), but the thumping took a short break at the end of the quarter. Part of that was when the game stopped for a Carlton player to be stretchered off, and if there's a scenario more likely to end badly for us than the opposition going one down on the bench I'm yet to discover it.

You got a hint of what was to come at the start of the second quarter, they finally put up scores but only via two attacks that should have ended in goals. The second one provoked a response that should have squashed their spirit flat. After nearly 10 minutes of finally getting a kick, with Marc Internet starting to break even with Gawn, we stormed from one end to the other, where Adam Tomlinson did what I assume is the best thing in his career, putting this dainty lob to the advantage of Hunt...
... for the owl fanatic's third goal in a row. Instead of giving the people what they wanted by a making an NBA Jam "He's on fire!" reference, Dwayne Russell suggested Carlton "need a safe word." Not often you get a BDSM reference on Fox Footy. I would argue a safe word only works when you're brutalised consensually, but I defer to his experience in the field.

Fortunately, the Blues didn't take that sage advice and end the session, because they only had to endure one more goal before everyone in a disco blue jumper said "that'll do us" and sat back comfortably to enjoy the show. It was a really shonky goal too, with Anal-Bullet toeing it through off the ground. Another chance for Carlton to drop their head and get depressed about the unfairness of it all instead of springing back to life like somebody revived from a drug overdose.

After not having much to do for the first half an hour, the rot started in our backline. As a long-term Steven May fanatic - even when he didn't play for us - I can say from a place of love and respect that he was ordinary. An ill-advised fly that was 50% spoil, 50% mark and 0% well thought out cost us the first goal and he had a couple of rancid kick-ins. I wouldn't fancy that job, because nobody remembers the good ones, just the howlers, but he must do better in all aspects next week.

Let Trent Rivers kick in, other than joining that packed club of players who have clanged with their first kick he was hitting targets wonderfully. This is not a good sign for Michael Hibberd.

There was no drama with May's one-on-one defending, but he didn't need to do ill-conceived Jeremy Howe impersonations. That was Joel Smith's job, who was kicking four goals as a forward the last time we saw him but has returned to his roots as somebody who jumps at inopportune times in defensive contests. I didn't think much of him as a backman, and if they're not going to give him a bash forward then I don't see a spot for him in the side. We might have cut a secret deal to stop Shaun from suing us.

Maybe May started roaming around looking to get involved because Carlton's forward line was lacking proper big men for him to grapple with? Strange then that we celebrated Nifty 150th game by continually playing him on somebody 20 centimetres taller and 15 kilograms heavier. Nev didn't exactly what you'd expect to him in the situation, put in a whole-hearted effort, with a combination of brave spoils and the taller bloke exploiting the height difference by casually reaching over him to mark.

I expected the occasion would be marked with the latest chapter in his long-running battle with Betts. They obviously thought there was no point given that Eddie has been recruited to play the same 'vibe merchant' role as Bez in the Happy Mondays, but we did our best to give him about five chances to complete the alleged 'fairytale' return during the last quarter. No club is more generous to young and old players alike. We're community builders. Also, spare me the fairytale return stories from players who went for a free agency payday elsewhere, if Frawley walks through the door next year I'll have him with full respect but I'm not going to roll around on the floor sucking up.

For fans of obscure statistics, the matchup of the day was Nathan Jones vs Kade Simpson, who are in a neck-and-neck backwards race towards Kevin Murray's record of 208 losses. Chunk didn't do much, which is a concern for people like me who want to get him to 300 games, but by narrowly avoiding defeat he gave Simpson a two-handed shove towards the abyss, opening the gap between them to 12.

The shortened season might save Jones, but Kade is kactus, now only one short of Murray's mark. Unless this spurs Carlton into winning the flag he will grab the record and shouldn't claw back too much ground on Jones by the end of 2020. There's still every possible chance they'll be first and second by the end of their careers, hopefully with Jones as the runner-up. Another good reason to build a Tribute to Loyalty statue of him outside the players' entrance at AAMI Park. That's one statue nobody will tear down and throw into a river, but if you're keen on that sort of thing may I suggest forming a posse with Steven Smith, Peter Giles and Neil McMullin and toppling the Leigh Matthews one outside the 'G.

If I could have one more bit of positivity before this report on a win (lest we forget) becomes really dark and depressing, I loved Harley Bennell. Like the Ox after his last comeback I'm waiting for him to break down at every turn, but for somebody who has played two games since 2015 he looked comfortable. I don't expect him to be dynamic straight away, but the guy had games where he kicked six and had 39 touches before turning 23. As long as he stays fit the zero we paid for him will turn out to be a ripper investment, and watching him play is one of the things I'm most looking forward to for the rest of the year. Now watch him blow the calf for the 26th time getting out of the car at home.

Anyway, so after keeping Carlton goalless for about 40 minutes we bled two in two minutes, and I'm sure you also loudly said an exasperated "here we go". Of course, I knew this was going to happen. Refer to my text message conversation with Carton supporter 'M' during the first quarter.

I'm not the kind of guy to say I told you so but...

Suddenly the side that could do no wrong in the first quarter couldn't get their hands on the ball, whie the Blues were moving around unmolested. They torched a shitload of chances, but we'd packed up so dramatically that the ball barely got across the halfway line for most of the third quarter. An inside 50 count that was about 12-0 in our favour was overturned and we were left trailing. Inside 50s are a bullshit stat on their own, but in the context of this game they were telling, it was repeat entry after repeat entry and we couldn't escape.

Things were starting to look ropey towards the end of the quarter before Petracca turned up with an absolute special. First he took a contested mark, which is more than you can say for about 20 other players not called Max Gawn, then spelunked through a narrow gap past two players and hit a guided-missile finish from 50. It was ace, and should have been all the encouragement required to refocus and come out after three quarter time breathing fire. Alas no. To his credit, Truck continued to have a bash right to the end.

Given that the excuse for the rock-bottom quality of Thursday night's game was player fatigue after the long layoff, I held out some hope that the fitness advantage we'd worked on all summer only for them to take 16 minutes from every game would still come in handy. Apparently not. Cue a goalless quarter as the Blues piled on pressure against stunned opposition who had no idea how to react.

After blowing countless opportunities they levelled scores with five minutes left, and I was mentally preparing to go absolutely magoo at the final siren. Absolute 'carted to the funny farm by men in white coats' stuff. All's well that narrowly ends well, but we still deserve scorn for the way we fell apart. They were the actions of a mid-table mediocrity, not a finals side. I hope there's a footy TV show left that can devote time to explaining what the hell happened. There was still time to win it, but we were hanging on so grimly it was hard to see a way that we could possibly score more than them for the rest of the game.

We did have chances to (seemingly) put it away. Fritsch missed twice from close range, though the second was ultimately the proverbial handy point, and with two minutes left Viney had his chance to all but kill them off. Who'd have thought that Alan Richardson's left-field suggestion that Jack is the best set shot kick we've got would have a chance to be validated so soon in a pressure situation?

Jack thanked Al for his support by failing to make the distance from 45 metres out, allowing the Blues to fling the ball back the other way unchallenged and stuff up two GOLDEN opportunities to hit targets inside 50 and at least force a draw. I have absolutely no idea how but we survived the last few seconds for our 23rd one point win in history. No sympathy for Carlton, they can burn like everyone else not called Melbourne but still should have won. I suggest we put the master tapes in the microwave and pretend this never happened.

To continue the theme of total unashamed shambles, the singing of the song was a farce too. If I were Gawn I'd have used the huddle after the siren to say bad luck first gamers we're not doing it after that finish. Maybe he did, because by the time he got to the rooms they'd sung it without him and about three other players. Surely they can't have been that eager in circumstances. The good news is that they realised their mistake and started again, which meant even more unnecessary singing. Big laughs all round. Just like the end of Passenger 57 when Wesley Snipes gets the girl and cracks a funny with no thought to his direct role in the death of an Atlantic International Airlines customer.

Anyway, like Sly Delvecchio engaging in witty banter with John Cutter just hours after one of his pilots was also shot dead - best not to dwell on what went wrong. As they say in the classics:

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Clayton Oliver
--- a significant distance ---
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Trent Rivers

The last two only got votes because somebody had to, but apologies nonetheless to Neal-Bullen, Langdon and Bennell.

8 - Christian Petracca
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Ed Langdon, Christiam Salem
1 - Kysaiah Pickett, Trent Rivers (JOINT LEADERS: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I was so flustered at the season being called off that I forgot to do a nomination out for Round 1. There must be an all the goals video, I'll review and get back to you next week.

This week there is only one option, with respect to the passage of play that ended in Hunt's goal via Tomlinson's gentle lob, Petracca's steadier at the end of the third quarter was pure individual brilliance. I loved it at the time, and even more on replay. Good enough to not be historically tainted by us not kicking another one for the rest of the game.

Wow okay CP5! 👀#AFLBluesDees

If we couldn't have Anthony Hudson, Mark Howard is an acceptable replacement. Dwayne, on the other hand, seemed to think Trent Rivers' first name was Ryan. After the safeword incident I desperately wanted Ryan Rivers to be some outrageous pornographer in the mold of the NSFW Aidan Riley but sadly a risky Google search didn't turn up anything more risque than a poker player. Christ knows where he got it from, but he said it twice. Might have gone for it again in the last quarter but by then I was so ready to have an aneurysm that I have no idea what any of them were saying.

Speaking of Foxtel, it's bullshit that they're also doing fake crowd noise. Helpfully the commentators kept telling us how the stadium was empty and how they could hear everything the players were saying because we were enjoying the relaxing sound of waves rolling across a beach.

Double bullshit that the broadcaster with the best chance of setting up a 'press red for natural noise' option didn't take it. Kayo had an 'exclusive' camera angle for an NRL game, how about an option where we can listen to the sounds of the game, audible obscenities and all. All you're doing is setting up a second feed that doesn't have the gimmick, can't cost you much if anything. If you like spectacle you're welcome to it, but the difference in quality between the tiny real crowd at the Showdown and the hairdryer.mp3 sound they're putting over games showed what a farce this idea is, we should be allowed to opt-out.

I don't object to the display of CGI banners, but rating which one was better would be like the sad men who shout encouragement at digital horses in the TAB. You can be fairly sure we'd have won.

Press Conference bingo
To be honest, I never watch these. Once there's a game where something scandalous happens I might tune in, but for generic slop what are you ever going to hear of interest? Journos don't ask the sort of in-depth nuffy questions that people like me want to hear, and now that Ross Lyon's gone, Clarko is about the only coach who might say something offbeat and scandalous.

Luckily we have the hard-working and generally subject to unfair levels of stupidity MFC social media team to translate. The winning results today are:
Learnings ✔️
One day we'll have learnings about the connection and the internet will melt down. Then we'll spend the next week kicking five metres wide of players inside 50 again.

Memorial Watch
Nice of them to highlight the late Tony Bull and Tony Anderson with black armbands, but as much as I don't want to be that person they forgot Graeme Watson, who passed away in April. I know you're reading Melbourne, the man later survived Tony Greig pitching a cricket ball into his head at full pelt, give him something.

As for the players taking a knee, it's not my place in my life to be even remotely offended. But if you were, please make sure to publicly tell the club how you're going to withdraw your membership so we can hang shit on you for being a sook. If you've followed us this long then surely nothing short of a merger with the Real IRA could make you pull out.

I'm not getting involved in politics at this stage of my life but take perverse pleasure at the idea that there are players who don't want to be involved but are wary of causing a Kramer/AIDS ribbon style ruckus. See also the Northern Irish soccer player who was accused of all but spitting in the face of every person ever to take up arms in defence of the British empire by declining a Remembrance Day poppy. Unless you're a card-carrying member of Pauline Hanson's One Nation you'd have to at least recognise the importance of the issue to your indigenous teammates. To paraphrase Alan Partridge, why not combine it with a stretch?

Next Week
Unless the freewheeling activities of Spargo and Pickett create the sort of cluster Cedar Meats would be proud of, it's Essendon at the 'G on Sunday afternoon. Eminently winnable if lessons were learned, but as far as students go we're like Dangerous Minds before Michelle Pfeiffer turns up. Been spending most our lives living in a clanger paradise.

It feels rude to try and drop Hunt, and it won't happen in real life, but as much as his three goals were appreciated he was basically anonymous for the rest of the game. Melksham has done bugger all twice now but has runs on the board and Neal-Bullen was a better four quarter performer, so to get Pickett back in curtains for Jayden. He's welcome to return at the earliest opportunity but it's a team balance thing. Also forward, Weideman's got to get a go at some point, and if McSizzle continues to be nowhere near it inside 50 then it might happen sooner rather than later. Not next week though.

As for Smith, if he's not a forward I'm not interested. We already have Lever leaping merrily into the sky, we don't need somebody doing a not-as-good version of the same thing. For years I've moaned that the problem with Oscar McDonald is that not damaging enough but after he had a good game in Round 1 I'm open to just having him back there being boring. In eight days I'll be trying to trade him to Narre Warren.

And whither popular ethnic midfielder Aaron vandenBerg? He was playing intra-club games, so both his feet must be working. I'm not sure where he really fits in but I'd probably have him over Brayshaw if fit.

IN: Pickett, O. McDonald
OUT: Smith, Hunt (omit)
LUCKY: T. McDonald, Melksham
UNLUCKY: Bedford, Brown, Weideman

Administrative announcements
After three months where people were fanging for old games (though, to be fair, interest dipped dramatically after about two weeks), I finally got motivated to upload more games to my YouTube channel just as real footy came back. Just the kind of perverse marketing strategy that has made me what I am today. Amongst the new additions there are topical games where we went a mile up before nearly losing, and a thrilling win over Carlton.

Also, if you missed the final leg of the crisis special trilogy, I've got a real life, proper publisher and all book coming out next year. It's about the 1964 season and Grand Final, so if you or anyone you know has memories, pictures, or anything to contribute from that season please get in touch via the usual channels (demonblogger at gmail dot com, @demonblog or Facebook). It'll be out around the start of next season but I've got until November to finish the first draft so give me everything you've got via the usual channels.

Final Thoughts
The win was pure filth but it gives us life. We've now played one top four and one bottom four team, and what we do against the nine in the middle will make all the difference. On the strength of this performance it's not going to end well but this club has a habit of waiting until you think you've got the answers then changing the questions, so who knows what will happen next.

I do know we've got good players who demonstrated their ability to play swashbuckling footy on the big stage two years ago. Now 24 games of plodding, mid-table at best football later we've gone 6-18, and arguably all of them have had an element of luck. There have been the odd signs of life, but rarely against good sides and never across four quarters.

I'm not getting into coach sacking talk, especially after a win, and in the era were assistants are being handed their possessions in a cardboard box the man with a contract extension to the end of 2022 isn't going anywhere. Even if we waste the end of Jones, Jetta and Hibberd's careers there's life in the list (mind you Gawn, May and Melksham aren't that far behind), and he's got time to execute a Hardwick-esque recovery. Can't see us being anything better than a mid-table mediocrity at this rate but you never know.

Enough misery for now. Imagine how bleak the mood would have been if we'd lost? Return to your homes and places of business and we'll reconvene next Sunday afternoon in the forlorn hope that the plan will come together and end in a steamrolling victory. Nobody will be more surprised than me.

Other than that, everything was good.

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