Friday 31 July 2020

Festival of Fist

Like references to 'Boomers' and 'Karens', I've already had enough 'Festival of Footy'. One day in and there hasn't been a worse carnival since the one where the Ferris wheel collapsed.

Never thought I'd say it but you can't play Hawthorn every week. From the dizzying heights of kicking a former superpower on their way down here we are two weeks later, thrashed by a good but flaky side, with our percentage burnt to a crisp. Normal service has resumed, (trading as Demonblog) apologises for any heightened expectations.

Losing to the better sides in the competition is par for the course, but restricting the margin in our worst performances (and nearly winning one of them) a wholly uncompetitive performance like this still came as a shock. When you follow Melbourne the phrase 'tits up' often springs to mind, but this was as comprehensive a smothering as you'll get in the AFL's no scoring era. 

It was a fitting tribute to the last time we played a game on July 30 and lost by 186 points. Don't let anyone tell you we haven't taken some steps forward in the last decade. Mind you, if that's what they served up to celebrate nine years since our (second) darkest day I hate to think what we'd get next year... Best ask for a late July bye now. If we keep playing like this the fax might need to go to the Eastern District League.

Yes, you can forget the warm and fuzzy feelings from winning two in a row, we're back in the toilet. Not quite swirling around the S-Bend yet, but the fickle finger of fate is poised on the full flush button and ready to finish us off. I feel robbed blind by taking comfort out of the Hawthorn win. Still, you can't say I didn't warn you - that post said the good times "may only last two weeks", and at the end of the second week the slow-moving juggernaut has been left teetering on the edge of the cliff like The Italian Job. "I've got an idea" said Michael Caine. I'm glad he did, we just merrily went to our death from first bounce to last.

I won't say we've never seen such an exhibition of botched disposal, insane decision making, and players asking "can't somebody else do it?" because this is Melbourne, but it was still gruesome viewing. We didn't even get the consolation of Jack Watts (not on their injury list, can we have him back?) flattening us Round 1, 2019 style. It was just an all-round, Gerard Healy commentary level bucket of misery. Enough to make you get your My Chemical Romance albums out and have a little cry.

It wasn't long after the first bounce that the only festival the game resembled was the burnin', lootin' and worse extravaganza of Woodstock 99. Like the comparisons between that and the original it was OUT: Peace and Love, IN: Break Stuff. Was there something about Sydney that gave us life, or were those two weeks a blip in the road in our record of being the worst travellers since the Fakawi tribe.

Considering all the desperate comebacks we've launched over the years I rarely trust that you can tell how a game will end after five minutes, but it was certainly true in this case. We were being beaten at the clearances, and in that mythical land referred to as 'the outside' and while we got the ball forwards lots there was no reward because every kick was panic bombed slurry that Inspector Gadget would have struggled to mark. Down the other end, Port had a goal from a strong mark within a minute, from a third game forward who went on to kick three and all but guarantee another Rising Star nomination against us.

I remember when we used to take marks inside 50. Not just two weeks ago, but two years ago, when Hogan and McDonald at least grabbed a percentage of the several dozen random wonky kicks aimed at them from the midfield. You can argue the wisdom of chucking Hogan but given his luck he'd probably have been eaten by a shark in the hub hotel swimming pool and we'd probably be in the same position. I'm more concerned about McDonald, who has gone from a hard-running, decent-marking, accurate-kicking forward to somebody who looks like he's running on an ill-fitting prosthetic leg. It's nothing new, he's been like this for a year. 12 months ago I thought it was an injury, now I'm completely baffled. 

It would be great if journalists stopped wasting their time asking niche questions about Angus Brayshaw's time on ground and concentrate on how you go from kicking more than two goals a game in a finals year to being not much more useful than when we played Troy Davis at full forward for the laughs. I'm probably the biggest Sizzle fan on the market but even I can't justify playing him forward anymore. He's either physically or mentally shot, and while Jackson isn't getting big numbers he's doing well when he does touch the ball so we may as well give him a few games together. In a season where the reserves have been replaced by multi-club scratch matches it's probably better for his development. 

Personally, I'd put McDonald back into defence. Take your pick of whether that bumps out his brother, whose revival was short-lived, or more controversially Lever. I'm not writing Lever off forever but has he played a good game since he came back from the knee injury? Plenty of ok performances and the odd important intervention (e.g. late against Gold Coast) but I feel like he could do with what would politely be described as 'a rest'. And a shave. I don't expect this to be a popular view, especially from people who base their opinions entirely off the stats, but he doesn't offer any of the marking or attacking power of old McDonald (turnovers blah blah blah, I'm prepared to argue that the good outweighed the bad) or intercept anything that's within miles of an opponent. Confidence is low.

Whether or not you think the price was right, May is easily our best defender. Which was like being the best pilot on a plummeting plane, but still... The only thing I can't take is his kick-ins. Not sure if player or system but I think we've overplayed the boot it long to Gawn tactic, the moment May went off the line in the square they knew exactly where it was going and got there en masse to disrupt the mark. 

Surely opposition kick-ins are one of the first things teams scout, you can't just keep doing the same thing. We've been shithouse at kicking in for about 19 of the last 20 years but it's just the same thing over and over again, until eventually he gets frustrated and does a low percentage bomb into the middle. Has the old 30 metre kick to a free player in the centre of the 50 been abolished by opposition tactics? Seems it's either ultra-short kicks into the pocket or long heaves that you expect to come straight back. And last night they did, many times.

For a while the inside 50s - still the most pointless statistic ever invented - were even. There's rarely been a better example of why the figure should never be taken seriously. Ours were a product of total disarray, while they were finding one (or more) on ones and aiming at them accordingly. Then there were the mismatches and players standing miles on their own.

There was next to nothing enjoyable about spending Thursday night on this. After Port kicked the first two I tried to keep calm and think of our recent comebacks from dreadful starts but when they got the third I contemplated turning over to SBS World Movies, even they'd have had less explicit rooting. 

A Mr. G. Lyon of South Melbourne must read this page, because he correctly identified it by one of our key phrases, labelling the first half "shambolic". Worryingly, the man who took full responsibility for appointing the worst coach in the history of our club went on to say he wished he could "go and do something about it". On-field lessons much appreciated. Off-field not so much. 

Scoring was the only consolation, oddly enough through Lockhart, who somehow ended up as the designated give-off kicker from outside 50. For defenders having long shots in the state of Queensland it was a fair way down from Marty Hore against Gold Coast. Until then we were threatening to have an inside 50 conversion rate divisible by zero.

There was already next to no chance of coming back to win, but Oliver hitting the post after the siren denied us any hope of clawing our way back into it. Are there any quarter hour ratings breakdowns for Australian TV? I'd love to see the spectacular plunge as people decided to go to bed. Our chances were further diminished by conceding the first three goals of the second quarter. It was more Blockbuster Video than Blockbuster Comeback. Now we could barely get our hands on the ball, and when we did it was usually turned over in a blind panic with all the poise of 18 men trying to escape a natural disaster. They got a couple of soft goals from the umpires but if you think that made all the difference you may be a no-eyed fan. 

Picking on Gawn while he's trying to drag this team along is as bad as targeting Jones in 2013, but the undoubted highlight of our awful attacking was him kicking to a nil on two in the pocket. The defenders were so confused by this strange tactical move that they crashed into each other trying to get it. We still didn't score. 

Halfway through the second quarter you just wanted to get one token goal to prove we could. If it was a long way from walking goals in against Hawthorn, the distance between this and our best attacking football two seasons ago could only be measured in light years. I've got no time in my life for watching footy outside of current season games, but at some stage I have to watch that Gold Coast game where we had 83 inside 50s and scored 146 points. It can't be as simple as just not having Hogan there.

Trying three talls was a noble experiment, though strange from a coach who just a few weeks ago was bemoaning how his forwards hadn't played much together, but it went nowhere. Weideman had a bash without much success until the second half, and Jackson did a few nice things early then disappeared off the face of the earth. Hannan and Fritsch meh, Melksham ok at best. I'm not surprised we scored bugger all.

I had high hopes for a McDonald revival when he pulled off a ripping contested mark against two defenders in the pocket. He went on to sneak it through for a point, leaving us on a measly three behinds with time ticking towards a Prelim 2018 style goalless half of shame. There was a lot of that game in this one, albeit with far less on the line. A shithouse attack, an outmatched defence, a losing midfield, and players who looked like they'd plowed into the wall at top speed. This was better because I didn't waste money flying across the country to watch it.

Despite the margin we weren't much good last week, but you felt like they wanted to be there. By all indicators this was a spirit free outing. Lyon floated some theory about them discussing revenge for the 2019 Port loss, and if that was part of the motivation then I can understand why we did so badly. Or was there hub controversy? Minibar privileges revoked? Caddyshack style turd in the pool scare? Kids not allowed to go to Sea World? I can't believe they didn't turn up ready to go, but the moment the opposition came out swinging they folded like an umbrella and went through the motions for the rest of the night. May's honesty in saying he was "pissed off" at the end is appreciated but it's nothing we haven't heard after almost every loss for years except when Sam Blease mysteriously said that he wanted to "crack in and have a crack."

Even Fremantle blundered their way to two goals in a hurricane the other night, we were staring down the barrel of a humiliatingly low score. To add to the fun Oliver tried to escape losing to Adelaide next week by elbowing somebody in the head. Like most of our efforts it was half-hearted and he'll likely just be fined.

Port made mockery of our struggles to kick a goal by interrupting their time-wasting dink in the dying minutes to add a sixth without response. That it came from a 50 caused by contact softer than a Melbourne attempted tackle was no comfort. Save your anti-umpire sprays for when it really costs us a game, not when it was the cherry on top of an already steaming turd.

With any semblance of a contest erased, the commentators tried to keep neutrals watching beyond half time by making excuses about our four day break, as if Port's extra day gave them some sort of superhuman advantage. You'd have tried to be sympathetic to this theory if we hadn't been rubbish from the opening seconds. It's not like they were saying this after we'd failed to score in the last quarter (like, say, the last time we played Port) or fallen over dead to blow a lead. Even in those two wonderful years where Essendon collapsed against us after the short break post-Anzac Day they were in it for a half before failing.

The best bit about trying to excuse us for being tired was that we'd just been sent a propaganda video about Darren Burgess' experience with short turnarounds in the Premier League. Must have wished he was back in England watching this. Given that we've finished shortened games pretty well, you have to wonder how badly his fitness campaign has been shafted by the reduced quarters? I wonder if players are going to be as willing to smash themselves and do it all again over summer this year? You can be sure the To Hell and Back cameras won't be returning, at least not under that name. Go for accuracy and call this year's documentary Here Comes More of the Same Old Shit.

It was far from his best night, but Petracca was still there when we needed him, kicking a goal that didn't do anything for our chances of winning but meant we didn't have to worry about finishing on 0.6.6. In an almost perfect merger of classic Melbourne traits we were a May fingertip from giving it straight back with 15 seconds left in DemonTime.

The nine year anniversary of 186 (half time margin - 114) was a timely reminder that things can always be worse, but I still considered our chances of winding back a 33 point deficit on a par with the outbreak of world peace. Much like the last quarter against Brisbane, I just wanted to avoid joining our lowest scores since 1980. You could argue that the reduced playing time meant it didn't count, I'd ask if you're really convinced we'd have scored enough in 20 minutes to make a difference.

Once Channel 7 viewers had sat through their usual half time drivel it was back to the regulation drivel, with Port kicking the first goal after the break. Sure, the man we overlooked for hot prospect Jimmy Toumpas dived headfirst into a tackle and should never have got the free but let's be honest, they'd have found a way to kick one anyway. I was trying to look at things philosophically, but when Lever jumped for an uncontested mark and punched it instead I was ready to wind back all the kind words of the last few weeks, sack everybody and play Charlie Spargo at full back. Tanking doesn't exist if there are no draft picks involved. I may have said something rash about preferring Oscar to Lever at this point. My lawyers have instructed me to make it clear that I don't want either.

With a couple of minutes left we were not only 10 goals behind, but still inside our all-time top 10 lowest totals, level with a 1.5.11 debacle against Collingwood in 1898. Back then players worked as butchers, bakers and candlestick makers for five days and had a kick on the weekend for the love of the game, now we pay the list a combined $13 million and things aren't much better. And 1898 fans got a flag two years later, I'll die waiting.

I'm sure that even late in the 19th century two defenders didn't standing right in front of goal, watch a ball land at their feet, think the other guy was going to do something about it, and watch the opposition kick a goal. Comedy club stuff. There's not much to laugh about at the moment but we were doing our best to keep the nation's spirits up.

In the middle of this relentless sadness, I'd like to pay tribute to the heroic diving save by Hibberd that saved another goal. Would have been easy to give up under the circumstances but it was a great effort. Like they name an All Australian team to play nobody, he should be given the token role of Australia's 2020 International Rules goalkeeper. Naturally, we proceeded to let in the replacement not long after. No idea how it happened, all their goals started to bleed into each other eventually.

Out of literally nowhere we got the next two, for what use that was. Certainly stuffed up a Spinal Tap "these go to 11" gag I was working on. First Melksham, then an uncharacteristically Harlem Globetrotter-esque end-to-end job. The made the score 'Brilliant Play' 1, 'Farce/Shambles' 52. Which was roughly the same margin we were losing by. It's hard to believe we were so close given how badly they'd outplayed us. It didn't even end as the biggest thrashing of the year, so we've got that to be grateful for.

Much to the joy of Dazzling Darren, we had another (relatively) solid last quarter and restricted the damage to 51. This was only a positive in the sense that it looked like we were going to lose by the treble at one stage. The two quick goals carried us above our pair of 2.8.20s as lowest score since 1980, and against all odds we almost save me a Demonwiki edit and escaped the top 10 entirely.  But not quite. I doubt Jake Milkshake was thinking about getting the score above 34 when he kicked after the siren, and as the only person outside the gambling community with an interest I was sadder about him missing than anything else we'd done since the opening minutes of the second quarter. 

With a disclaimer about shorter quarters this was our outright 10th lowest score in the last 40 years. There's no consolation in that we scored less in normal length quarters four times across 2013 and 2014, but if we got through that era without pouring varnish into our eyes then we'll get through the mid-table mediocrity years. Or at least I think that's where we're at, the next two games will be instructive.

We can now be absolutely sure there's no need to smuggle ourselves into Queensland on a freight train for an October Grand Final, but despite rapid burnout (can you tell?) I can't walk away so I'll just have to keep going. Nathan Jones isn't in our next premiership side, but at this rate neither are his grandkids. All I can do is remember that one day all these players and coaches will be gone and we'll still be here, patiently waiting for any sort of ongoing success. I don't need a time machine to give you a spoiler from the future - it's not coming.

P.S - Naturally the TV that rodgered me rigid when I was trying to watch a win offered a 100% crystal clear picture all night 

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
Almost tempted to bring back the 186 votes and give Jordie McKenzie five as he genuinely deserved them more than almost anyone in this game.

5 - Steven May
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Jay Lockhart

Apologies to Langdon, Gawn and Hibberd, who were in the mix for the last spot.

It's advantage Truck, who takes advantage of a low quality field to extend his lead on Maximum. If the season gets through the full 17 games without Queensland becoming a plague state there are 45 points left to award, so the Jakovich is still literally anyone's to win. In reality, you can't see the top four all losing enough votes to catch them.

May goes in front of the Seecamp, fittingly in a game where we were poleaxed, while the Hilton is still a competition desperately in need of some razzle dazzle.

27 - Christian Petracca
21 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
17 - Jack Viney
15 - Clayton Oliver
9 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
7 - Christian Salem
6 - Michael Hibberd
5 - Ed Langdon
4 - Angus Brayshaw
3 - Sam Weideman
2 - Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Hannan, Jay Lockhart, Kysaiah Pickett (JOINT LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Trent Rivers (JOINT LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year 
Feels sarcastic awarding this under the circumstances, but I'll go with the opener by Petracca and be thankful that it wasn't also the closer. There will be no weekly prize.

Brian Taylor thought it pertinent to comment that we've never played Port at the Gabba before. Brian Taylor is an idiot. We pay a lot of players more money than they deserve but there's a minimum salary cap involved, what's Channel 7's excuse? Like Jordan Gysberts' dual Rising Star nominations, the broken clock showed the right time once when he said Gee God Boy Wow and it's all been downhill since.

Also, reader Tim proves that WhatsApp can be used for something other than planning acts of terrorism and white-anting your political opponents by pointing out some prime cut Channel 7 nonsense:
Meanwhile, what about owner of a punchable face Tom Browne doing a pre-prepared Brayshaw time on ground question on the night he played 78%? Goodwin was sat there looking like he wanted to self-harm so it was nice that there was somebody there he could treat like an idiot. He later mentioned connection, much to the joy of a journalist who had tried to get him to say the line Bart Simpson style a few questions earlier.
Next Week 
Appropriately for an Adelaide/North game, I wouldn't have gone for the Crows more since the 1998 Grand Final. I doubt Matthew Nicks will have the tape out as motivation, but in 2007 we lost our first nine then beat the Crows so next week could be their belated revenge. 

Part of me says you don't take a risk with widespread changes in the week before you play a bottom side. Another says you've got to make some sort of statement after a stale piss performance, no matter how token. The rest thinks we don't have much in reserve anyway so we may as well settle on the best 22 and get to work on ironing out the bumps.

I've squibbed it and landed somewhere in the middle. AVB replaces Brayshaw, Tom McSizzle goes back into defence for Lever and Tomlinson goes onto the wing. If we lose next week then there may not be enough players on the list, including Austin Bradtke and The Wagnii, to replace all the players I'll want to drop. Having said all that, I'm into the Carnival of Hate possibilities of Lever playing the Crows in Adelaide for the first time and recognise that there is no chance in hell that he'll actually be left out so it's irrelevant.

IN: Tomlinson, vandenBerg (+ Neal-Bullen if Oliver is suspended)
OUT: Brayshaw, Lever (omit)
LUCKY: Hannan, Jackson, Jones, The Sizzle Brothers, Pickett. Oliver will also be lucky if he doesn't get rubbed out.
UNLUCKY: Every fit man on the list. And Mitch Brown, who is firming as a Phil Egan style one game import.

If we'd lost to Port in a competitive contest I'd be expecting to stomp the Crows into dust, now I'm bracing for disappointment. Even though it's on their ground we should still win, but everything depends on their reaction to this fiasco. Like Gold Coast 2019, Adelaide might not be winning but they're not being thrashed either so a high chance of a boilover if we don't turn up ready to kill. And if that happens Goodwin will be as popular as a fart in an elevator again. He's still not going to be sacked though, you can stop fantasising about that. There's a movement to get Ross Lyon, at which point I'll probably get RSI updating that lowest scores list.

Final Thoughts
There's a bit of pandemic adjusted 2011 about this season. None of the off-field tension (as far as I know but feel free to leak if you know otherwise), but the on-field is just as up and down. I doubt it'll end in a 31 goal loss and the general tearing asunder of the club but you never know. If we do have to plunge into crisis again - and really, it shouldn't get to that - could they do it right this time and make the explosion so spectacular that the club folds and frees up my time. Welcome back desolation.

Monday 27 July 2020

A trip down misery lane

Farewell, Fortress Sydney, as the world's zaniest season sees us relocated to Queensland for a month. Which is not the worst place you could be at the moment, except for the bit where they expected us to venture from Brisbane to Adelaide to Brisbane to Hobart to Brisbane in about eight days like Abel bloody Tasman.

Like most things relating to the 2020 fixture that idea lasted about 24 hours, until Tasmanian Premier [name to be supplied] did us a solid and told the AFL they couldn't come in. With the number of fixture switches, alterations, and outright cancellations so far who knows what's next. By the time you read this, we'll probably be playing Port on a disputed island in the South China Sea.

If you count the times we flogged games to the Gabba for quick cash it's not our first stint as a Queensland based club. Though that was only for a week at a time as we tried to avoid trading while insolvent, this is tilting towards Jeff Kennett's 2009 plan of relocating us there lock, stock and barrel. We'll go, but we're taking the rest of the competition with us. I think we'll all be back in Victoria by the start of 2021, but the way the situation in this state is going it's hard to have absolute faith. After making a Trump-esque pandemic prediction in the Carlton game post I won't believe we're safe until the vaccine needle is hanging from my arm and I've got a 5G powered microchip upside the head.

Like most of our other interstate home games we lost, but not without nearly pulling off another brave but entirely undeserved come-from-behind victory. It's positive that we were nowhere near as second rate as the Geelong game, but ultimately we've had a combined zero points from both and sit 13th. I'm not going to talk down our performance against a top team (strange, my understanding is that you make the finals for the first time in years, have everyone go to surgery and blame that for spiralling down the ladder), but it's frustrating that our Stranglewank fetish is still costing us games. Blockbusting comebacks are great, but like a real deal SW only happy endings are magic, everything else leaves you dead. Or so I've been told.

I don't know how we got so close. Sometimes a few minutes of madness puts you five goals down and you play well enough for the next three quarters that you can imagine winning. In this case we were never better than ok, with a handful of heroic performances not enough against a side that was way better drilled and had a winning habit of being in just the right place for every miskick and zany bounce. They deserved to win, and justice was served. All it gave me was confidence that we'd have beaten most teams around our level and should run rampant over lesser sides. Of course, this is Melbourne so you can almost bank season imploding losses to North and Adelaide.

Like Geelong, you could tell we were in trouble early but got to quarter time in a neutral position. Either time this could have offered the chance to reset and go at them full barrel for the next three quarters, instead we plodded along until the last term, with Gawn dominating the taps for little reward and the forward line butchering chances at an industrial rate.

If it was hard to find somebody to leave out of the apologies last week this was almost the reverse, everyone had a decent bash and the premium players did premium player things but as a whole we were clearly second-best. Which makes it even more baffling that we could (and should) have had a shot to win in the last minute. Never mind, if the earlier trends continued it would have gone across the face and out on the full. Would have been nice to have our destiny in our own buttery fingers.

Again, like Geelong, we nearly won against the odds, but I still found myself strangely unmoved at the siren. This might have had something to do with the four quarters of relentless melancholy from special comments expert Gerard Misery, who treated the whole experience like he was being forced to participate at gunpoint. I don't dispute that he knows what he's talking about, but like Dermott Brereton can't explain anything in snappy terms, Gerard can't do it without sounding like he's having the worst day of his life. The only time he gives off any joy of life is when he's soiling his shorts over a mid-level Nic Nat highlight.

He may be the person in footy media I'd least like to be stuck in a lift with. BT would talk tremendous shite, Dwayne would shred his throat screeching a running commentary of the emergency service response ("he could be the firestopper" etc...), but Healy just seems like the sort of disagreeable individual that would want to have an in-depth discussion about wearing masks at Bunnings. For legal reasons I'm sure he's a fine, upstanding citizen that uses his left and right turn indicators but his special comments are next level dreary. If Joy Division is music to kill yourself to, this is the commentary equivalent. They should have flashed the number for Lifeline up on screen every time he spoke. It's no coincidence that his greatest moment was an accident.

Even with Gawn competing against clearly outmatched ruckmen, it was clear early that the Lions had our measure at the stoppages. This is never good news for us, the team that bet their house on contested footy in 2019 and ended up living in a cardboard box. At one stage the midfield was being dominated so handily around the stoppages that they were in danger of somebody sarcastically calling them 'much-vaunted'. Viney and Oliver recovered to have a massive bash but it was nothing like the unadulterated, X-rated spectacle of last week.

We didn't help ourselves by torching some golden chances, including Weideman, whose life force had visibly seeped away by the time he missed three opportunities. I don't know if a forward's confidence coming from their first shot is scientifically proven but it sure set the tone, kicking out on the full from 30 metres. I'm not going to turn on him, he still competed well and did enough to have the three shots on goal. Try again next time. If things don't go well for the rest of the year he'll 100% be requesting a trade to Sydney or GWS so he can take advantage of New South Wales atmosphere more often.

Even with half our side well below their best, and our contested footy superpower successfully dulled we somehow got to quarter time level. It took two opportunistic goals, first to Melksham (landing me the Demon Army first goalkicker competition thank you very much), then to Fritsch. They were well taken goals from nowhere, Brisbane wasn't going to let us walk them in from the line like Hawthorn, and no team is going to win a game solely on set shots. Especially a team that kicks inside 50 like an ice addict who hasn't slept for three days.

The 14 point margin at half time felt a lot more realistic. We started the second quarter well, with Gawn taking advantage of a 50 to hit a bullet pass to Forward Fritsch, but Brisbane took over after that. The triers were trying but we weren't even going to close to scoring while the Lions kicked goals out of their arses at the other end. All the sort of stuff we were doing last week against a crisis club but couldn't recreate against a contender. This is pretty much how I expected this season to turn out, even before it was slashed to a 17 game traveling circus. As long as we get through the must-wins without dropping our bundle it should keep us in the mix until the end.

To get anywhere this year, and now that we're losing again my interest has dipped appropriately, we need to get the fringe firing. After a fortnight leading the McSizzle family Oscar struggled, Hannan, Bennell, Lever, Harmes and Jones were meh. The Weid kicked like Wood. May (and what about the moment where he was running at a Brisbane player on the boundary line in the first quarter, who didn't think that was going to end in a five week ban?), Langdon and Salem balanced the good with the occasional howler. Pickett and Jackson were ok the few times they did get it. Jetta did an alright job defensively without adding anything to our ball movement other than a farcial deliberate. Lockhart was in the same boat (without the deliberate) when he was on zero touches at quarter time but recovered to play his best game as a defender yet.

There weren't many passengers, but the gap between our best and our 11th best was far greater than that between 11th and 22nd. Speaking of players down on form, I don't understand the obsession of commentators about how much time Brayshaw spends off the ground. Are they the minutes where he was going to hit a target? We know he can play, but his disposal is no good. He probably had his best efficiency numbers of the season last night (from the lowest number of disposals) but they've got to try something else. Call it resting for the string of games to come if you need justification. I note that being left out of the side in 2018 was the inspiration for his best season.

I lost faith entirely during the third quarter. It only had a little bit to do with Jetta having a brain-fade and kicking the ball out of bounds in the back pocket. Fair to assume he was trying to roll it through for a point but as he'd probably have been pinged for deliberate anyway, at least the ball going out of bounds meant they had to kick from an obscure angle instead of from directly in front. Didn't matter, after two and a bit quarters of asking for frees Charlie Cameron took advantage of a gift-wrapped one to extend the margin to a time-adjusted Stranglewank qualifying 20.

After half an hour of relaxation this inspired us to have another go, only to be hurt by a series of slapstick incidents. Turns out these were just the warm-up act for one Benny Hill-esque passage of play in the dying minutes. First Pickett, after weeks of desperately trying to give the ball away instead of doing instinctive snaps, finally tried to kick one when he had Langdon on his own in the square. Then, after a much-appreciated goal from Melksham (in easily his best game of the year), Oliver created the perfect opportunity for Bennell to run into an open goal on a slight angle only for him to botch it. Forget post-goal mobbings, on the occasion of his first monumental blunder he is now officially a Melbourne player.

That miss was not so bad in itself, except that the Lions dashed up the other end, did some thrilling Harlem Globetrotters double tap-on shit and ran into an open goal for the 11 point turnaround. Crucial in a shortened game where the attacking juggernaut that briefly appeared last week had been dulled. Hard to see a way back from here, even harder to understand that we might have won. If you believe that we wouldn't have found a way to cock up any sort of golden opportunity we were presented with in the last 90 seconds.

There was much indignation about umpiring throughout the evening, to the point where Dees Twitter started to resemble a pack of West Coast fans, but while I'm a firm believer that blindfolded decisions balances themselves out in the end, the 'dangerous tackle' free on Pickett nearly made me walk out of my house. He ran into his opponent like a heat-seeking missile, opted not to plow him into the ground like John Ironmonger, and was still pinged.

Lucky I didn't just go and sit in the garden or I'd have missed him being done in similar circumstances during the last quarter. At least that one had a bit more of the suplex about it, the first was just the motion of the collision lifting the opposition player marginally into the air before being put down gently like they were having a professional wrestling match.

I'm not holding it against him, we knew what we were getting from his draft highlights, including a shepherd that looked great but skirted the bounds of legality. Still seemed a bit trigger happy. If the umpires from this game were in charge of the Under 18s he'd probably have been run out of the competition and left playing whichever has a higher standard out of park footy and the SANFL.

There will be a school of thought that he has to change his ways to avoid this happening in the future, I say let them pay these frees every week until everyone notices how ridiculous it is. He'll be a martyr for everyone who says the game has gone soft. What makes it even more ridiculous is that earlier in the game Gawn had a knee jammed into the back of his head in a perfectly legal contest and nobody blinked an eyelid. Which I have no problem with, you've got to accept some risk when you play the game, it's just strange that people wank over the high mark while umpires do a tendon blowing the whistle on infinitely less dangerous stuff.

If you want to talk about risk on a footy field find Neville Jetta, who has been one major concussion from the glue factory for the entire span of his career resurgence. He took two blows to the head in the same game and Healy acted he'd only just come up with his technique after 153 games. At one point he was talking like Nev had some sort of death wish and was trying to get clobbered.

The comeback was slow-burning, Weid and Harmes both missed a chance on either side of the three quarter time break, before Jackson set up Viney - mighty in the second half - for a goal. We narrowly survived giving it straight back courtesy of a desperate Lockhart stop at the other end, leading to Anthony Hudson making him sound like a sex offender by saying he was "the toucher." Which is better than being called the Yorkshire Ripper but still doesn't sound good on your highlights reel.

I started to perk up when Jones (who was ok, nothing special but not bad) got our second of the night from a 50, putting us within a goal. When Jackson set up another, this time with a smart kick to Melksham, who booted an ice-cold finish from 40 metres, we had the balaclava on, the crowbar in hand, and were ready to commit Grand Theft Football. According to the Fox Footy PressureMetre, something we're supposed to salivate over without any explanation as to why it's important, we were ELITE. Which is... good? Let's try stringing our eliteness over four quarters instead of turning the pressure on and off like a tap.

The thrilling finish was nearly short-circuited when the Lions had a set shot, then another attempt on goal ended with Lever marking on the line, looking up and seeing loose players everywhere. The problem was the goal umpire having a crisis of confidence over whether he'd juggled it, at a stage of the game where a behind would have absolutely no impact, and calling for a review to confirm his decision. It took the reviewer no time to work out that Lever marked it, but by then the moment, and any chance of a coast-to-coast masterpiece was gone.

I'm not going to turn feral over this, we still had to get the ball to the other end without turning it over, but it does make me wonder if a player can concede a score review that is supposed to be working in his favour if he's happy to concede the point and get on with things. I suspect not, and even if he tried it would have given the Lions precious time to block off the escape routes. It may as well have been a point by the time he finally got around to kicking, because all he had left to do was the old chestnut of hoofing it to the half back flank and hoping for a Gawn mark.

He didn't find Maximum's bucket-like hands, but from the resulting stoppage we threw the game away with as Melbourne a sequence of events as you could imagine. It was the reverse of Salem vs Essendon 2014 when everything went right. Other than Petracca doing Petracca things by plowing through a pack, it was wall-to-wall slapstick comedy. Fritsch leading to the fence, Hannan kicking it to the fence, then Fritsch losing his mind and trying to delay giving the ball back, all but daring the umpire to give a 50. Which he did, rescuing the Lions player from being pinned up on the line in defence, freeing him to move to the middle of the ground and get it as far away from our goal as possible.

For the sake of my own mental health I'm not going to review the play to see who else was free. I'm told Viney was 35 metres from goal on his own and may shed a silent tear if that turns out to be true. Would have a great opportunity to test the Alan Richardson controversial hypothesis about his clutch kicking. We'll never know.

Any hope of a horror turnover that allowed us to walk it in at the other end was dashed well before they took a mark that made sure of it. That was enough for me, I didn't find out he'd missed for about half an hour. I was confident that one of their defenders wasn't going to have a psychotic episode and punch Jake Melksham in front of goal at the other end. I'll stay to the end of a live game but I don't even like watching the final siren in games that don't involve Melbourne, if I can't be happy about footy I don't want to see anyone else enjoying themselves.

Outwardly I'm not that disappointed, but the three hours of restless sleep I had after suggests there are still some deep psychological issues at play. Some are even related to football.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Jake Melksham
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to May, Hibberd, Jackson and... until the last 90 seconds... Fritsch.

More of the same at the top of the table. I suppose it's a good sign that the same players are racking up votes every week, even if it means less variety in the final table. While the main event seems to be down to four there's some interest in the minors (except the Stynes, where Gawn remains the only eligible player) - a run of apologies for May still has Hibberd narrowly ahead in the Seecamp, while Jackson is edging closer to joining Pickett and Rivers in the Hilton race. I'm sure he'll get another go, but at the moment Rivers' three games would be by far the least played by a winner.

23 - Christian Petracca
21 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
17 - Jack Viney
12 - Clayton Oliver
6 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Ed Langdon, Christian Salem
4 - Angus Brayshaw, Steven May
3 - Sam Weideman
2 - Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Hannan, Kysaiah Pickett, Trent Rivers (JOINT LEADERS: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year 
Not many contenders this week. You could argue for the first Melksham goal, but with apologies to Jones' set shot I liked Milkshake's second one better. After everyone spent the night missing he couldn't have hit his kick any better. Doesn't dislodge Salem from the clubhouse lead, but he wins one free movie (adult features not included) from the hotel as a weekly prize.

Next Week 
Not quite season on the line stuff against Port Adelaide at the Gabba (where else?), but a loss would leave us with minimal margin of error in the remaining weeks. There's not much time to think about it before we play again on Thursday. I assume we're not going to rotate players yet, and will just wind back training to try and keep important players fresh. I bet Darren Burgess never saw this coming.

I'm torn between giving some of the other players a run and letting the players who rooted Hawthorn redeem themselves. I want to get McSizzle back in and would like to float the prospect of playing him on a wing. He marks better in the middle of the ground than inside 50, he can run all day, and if it goes tits up at either end of the ground he can fill a key position. Out, with no thought at all to team balance is Brayshaw for reasons previously mentioned.

IN: T. McDonald
OUT: Brayshaw (omit)
LUCKY: Nobody, everyone's done something decent in the last few weeks. Just not in all of them.
UNLUCKY: Tomlinson, Rivers and Bedford if he's still alive

Final Thoughts
I'm not considering anything finals related until we've played Adelaide and North, because it's curtains if we lose either of those. Like winning games after being outplayed all day, I wouldn't say no to finishing in the top 8 under any circumstances (remember when people were saying it was "too early" for us in 2016, as if that's a thing?) but if there's ever a year for a team to finish 9th or 10th and get an appetite for destruction the following season it's this one.

I'd prefer not to get 2017 close and miss by a minuscule percentage, but as long as we have a few highlights between now and Round 17, beat the teams we should and still miss out there won't be that much harm done. Which is exactly what you say when you've just seen a two game winning streak go up in flames.

Monday 20 July 2020

Mask on, lid bubbling

In 2018, Fortress Shithole was located at the previously maligned Docklands Stadium, now the home of liquid football has shifted to the even more unlikely Sydney Showgrounds. Just in time for us to have to leave New South Wales, the new pandemic pariah state. Any Melbourne fan knows you can't win them all. In this case, we'll have to settle for a pair of season reviving wins. It's the hope that kills you.

Yes, extract head from thine oven, we'll back level with the card and on the outskirts of the eight with a game in hand. Put everything I said about this season being a waste of time exhibition series on ice for a couple of weeks, I'm prepared to go along with the ride. It's all I can do for Mr. Learnings and Connection, who has in the past two weeks discovered both learnings and connection with sexy results. It's like the fortnight where we treated him with contempt in 2018 before we started wrecking sides with abandon.

As usual with this club, it's been a rollercoaster ride. In the last month we've almost blundered our way to a win over a lower top eight team, been played off the park by the defending premier, beaten an emerging mid-table side and tonked a previously great outfit that has been running on fumes for two years. Who knows which one the real Melbourne is. Celebrate this win for what it is, but the real action is against Brisbane next week.

The excitement of rogering somebody in a live game for the first time in almost two years was tempered by watching on the worst television in all of Christendom. I haven't had a more frustrating viewing experience since the 1990 World Cup on SBS. The picture stalled, jumped, distorted, dropped out and generally acted like a massive arsehole randomly during play, then worked perfectly during the ads. I considered switching to the delayed feed via Kayo but decided that if the other people watching in the same room were going to see what was happening live I wanted in.

If the troubles were being caused by an erupting Indonesian volcano I was given false hope for a minute at the start of the second quarter before the ash clouds started wreaking havoc again. The problem with digital TV is that you just have to sit there and cop it. There's no twiddling knobs and adjusting rabbit ears like the old days.

I finally cracked the shits and took on the risk of watching on my phone, turning the volume up to 11 to try and block out the sounds of whistles and excitable commentary from the television. That got too stressful so I went back to the TV, at which point it went to 'NO SIGNAL' for 10 seconds and the phone was called on again. You can miss a lot in 10 seconds. A guy had just kicked after the siren to win the early game, imagine trying to watch that in minus definition? I'd have had heart trouble. Mostly from elevated blood pressure after raining punches down on the TV. Suffice to say by the last quarter the game was won and I was happy to take the odd interruption to watch in comfort. Of course, the coverage came good in the last quarter when it no longer mattered.

I'd have understood if the signal quality was flatlining at zero, but the perfect display of the ads was heightening my aggravation. You'd get the pervert tradie sniffing his mate's armpit (#adchat) in perfect quality, then lightning ball movement and Davey-esque forward pressure was cause it to have a breakdown. It's like the TV had a problem showing quick motion, which is a fair bloody prerequisite for being one. I'm expecting to find that somebody was taking the piss out of me by jiggling cables.

For the first five minutes I'd have been happy if the coverage was replaced with Fish Cam. It looked like everything we'd gained by beating Gold Coast (and how often do you say that?) had been forgotten. After kicking the first goal against us for the Giants twice, our old mate Turncoat Tom turned provider, setting up Gunston - their only competent forward - for the opener.

The ex-Melbourne player at Hawthorn that you don't have fond memories of went on to be brushed off like dirt by both Petracca and Gawn, playing his usual game of covering kilometres like Cliff Young and doing precious little else. Presented for your enjoyment, here he is being dismissed like yesterday's news twice:

Maximum hasn't treated anyone with contempt like that since dumping the technicolour Gawn on his bed in China. Hope Max doubled down by breaking into the Hawthorn hub and dropping a steamy turd on his duvet.

$cully may never win a flag (boo hoo, you're breaking my heart), get near a Brownlow, or earn widespread respect but the plan from the start was obviously money first, footy second so on that measure he's done well. He'll be 30 the next time we play Hawthorn and I'm starting to reflect on how much I'll miss the fierce one-way rivalry when he's gone. There's still be time for him to stop being boring and embrace it for a couple of seasons. More likely we'll draft him when he's done at Hawthorn, prompting a huge moral crisis. Not for me, I'll be waiting for a tearful public apology to the family of Jim Stynes before I even acknowledge his existence.

Gunston was worth worrying about but had to play a lone hand because the rest of their forward line was breaking down like an Eastern Bloc automobile. Jon Patton is hardly Tony Lockett but I'm still happy he wasn't there. After kicking two sixes and fives in his career he's hardly a Kingsley contender but you could still see him relaunching his injury-ravaged career by kicking the shit out of us. No wonder he shed a tear when injured last week, for broken-down players a game against us is like your birthday and Christmas coming at the same time.

Tim O'Brien already has an invite to Kingsley Manor courtesy of walloping us in early 2018 (three goals that day, one for the next year and a half), but missed joining Brad Dick and Beau Maister-Wilkes as a double nominee by doing his ankle early. That was all we needed, the sight of an opposition player producing their Medicare card on the sidelines still evokes a primal fear of stuffing things up. Much like having a big lead in the last quarter and expecting to lose, all because it happened once 28 years ago. But more on that later...

The next 10 minutes progressed without any obvious hint of the coming savagery. Pickett did one of the neatest dances on the spot you'll ever see, both teams had a string of possessions in what was looking like another dreadful 45-35 slopfest, and some Hawthorn debutante missed from right in front. This might have been the turning point, imagine we'd have gone two goals down, started panicking and lost the game with one of our famous 10 minutes of madness.

Instead, the sound of ball clanging into the post had the same effect on our players as Pop Goes The Weasel did for Curly  They went ballistic, putting on one of our better exhibitions of pressure for years, especially inside 50. You wonder how much better our "kick long and hope for the best" tactics of the last couple of years would have worked if there was this level of chase and tackle at ground level.

I can see why we bet big on Pickett, he is still not racking up massive possessions and needs to go to the vandenBerg school of sticking a tackle but the old inferred pressure (cliche) is off the charts. Now that he's adding goals he's an automatic selection. Winning comes first, but entertainment value is next and he's offering that in bulk.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but our future pick trade with North was the equivalent (before father sons/academy picks and all that horseshit) of finishing 12th. There are no guarantees we'll finish that high, but in a year where multiple top draft prospects are already going to other clubs (including Collingwood getting somebody inexplicably called 'Reef') and there will be minimal Under 18s games to judge their recruits on they can - at this stage - have it. Perhaps, much to the disappointment of clickbait enthusiasts and people who think everything is a win/lose equation, both clubs might come out of it happy.

Hawthorn were hunted like we'd holed our players up without food for a few days. Pressure on the ball-carrier is great, but it doesn't mean instant success. If you don't stop them merrily racking up cheap possessions malicious tackles won't save you. Fortunately then, Hawthorn's forward line was so bad that you were waiting for them to steal a Roos desperation move and send Frawley forward. As multiple long kicks were cut off with the greatest of ease he and Frost must have glanced at each other and shared a "We've seen this before" look.

The first two goals came directly from inside 50 tackles, first to the resurgent Hannan, then Viney, finally doing something for Alan Richardson's kooky comments about his set shots. They helped erase any sour memories of the opening minutes, leading to a period of intense demoralisation. It was good, clean, family fun, not only were Hawthorn shitting themselves with every touch of the ball in traffic, Gawn and his midfield were putting on a centre square monstering reminiscent of when Jamar/Moloney debuted The Psychic Connection against Adelaide in 2011.

Petracca's star-turn just shaded Max in a competitive race to best on ground, but the captain was immense again. When he wasn't wrecking a two-time premiership ruckman in the middle of the ground, he was either taking massive contested marks in defence (just like Stone Cold Craig Jennings suggested) or providing the target for almost all our kick-ins.

He has done Nathan Jones #fistedforever era levels of load-shouldering already this season but we probably need to put some mystery into the kick-ins, like when teams eventually twigged that we were going to kick it to Jamar every time. Soon he'll have nine men rushing towards him every time the ball is sent back into play. Having said that, there's nobody I'd be more confident in beating that many opponents to a contested mark - his six yesterday were only his equal third career-best but all four performances sit comfortably in our top 20.

Max is widely acknowledged as a great man, you can't fluke three All-Australians, but it took the proverbial village to grind Hawthorn's midfield into dust. Last week he was tapping everything in sight and only getting partial value, this time his mates came to the party, delivering as comprehensive a knockout blow as you'll see. God knows where $cully was during all this, probably doing some selfless running up and down the wings to get his kilometres up.

The star of the show was Petracca. It's a great sign that everyone knows he's in red-hot form but still can't stop him. He's not at superstar level yet, but ability to run riot under scrutiny is a key indicator towards getting there eventually. This week he added mostly effective disposal to his spelunking in and out of tight spaces, and generally ran around like he was untouchable. Is it a coincidence that his career took off immediately after we nearly drowned him in mid-2019? If that's the case, grab the bricks from Christian Salem's backpack and lob a few more players into the Pool of Dreams.

I was considering loading my pockets with rocks and entering a body of water myself after that first goal, but things calmed down by quarter time. Underrated in Hannan's opening tackle and goal was Weideman's contest when the ball was heaved long to a pack. I am an unashamed Sizzle fan, but Weid has shown he needs to be the full-forward while Tom roams up the ground. His contests were great all day, including the one where he went back with the ball and copped a shiner to go with the massive bags under his eyes. The only minor blemish was missing a shot at the end that would have given him four goals. Three was still a great result. Can you arrive twice?

Given that we didn't have a goal with four minutes to play the term ended in an avalanche. Hannan gave up on boundary line goals from obscure angles and smashed through his kick from 50, then less than a minute later Viney joined in. "Not sure where the prior opportunity was" said Hamish McLachlan after the Hawthorn bloke fended off one player and spun into the tackle. I don't mind Hamish (never Hame), but like Dr. Jonathan Brown's eye injury clinic there's no need to have an instant opinion on every decision.

The Hawks were having all sorts of problems on the left side of their defensive 50, conceding the first three goals from similar spots. From almost exactly where Hannan mowed Burgoyne down a couple of minutes earlier, Fritsch took a pass from Viney that could only be described in cliche terms as lace out (very much a cliche). Strangely no thoughts from the commentary box on Frawley pushing him over after for what should have been a 50. I didn't hold out much hope for Forward Fritsch after missing two easier shots but he came to the party with a kick that was so 'over the umpire's hat' he nearly qualified for the World Limbo Championship:

We didn't play a great quarter, but squashed the life out of them with that burst. It was the sort of good run that you expected to be reversed almost immediately. Again, it took a few minutes to swamp them with our rampant domination around the packs. To the untrained eye, it didn't look like we were playing much differently to the week everyone hung shit on us, just against worse opposition.

If anything there was probably a little less panic bombing to the square but it was hardly night and day to the Richmond game. I'd like to replay that with two tall forwards and see what happens. Weideman's good game last week rolled into a very successful turn as our #1 forward and Jackson provided handy backup for a second gamer. Certainly beat expecting Fritsch to take the big grabs, giving him the freedom to get more of the ball too.

This first goal of the second quarter was a thing of beauty. vandenBerg flubbed a handball in the middle but his second effort saved the moment from being wasted. Did an intelligent tap-on to Melksham, and while his kick inside 50 fell flatter than a plate full of piss, Harmes (never confine this man to the backline again) and Petracca (xoxoxo) combined to win it back. Bennell (also xoxoxo) then steamed through from the middle, having set the whole piece of play up in the first place and thumped a BRUTAL handball to Hannan in the square for the tap in. Goals through unguarded goalsquares are great because a) they remove doubt about converting, and b) it makes the opposition feel like dickheads for letting somebody get so close to goal on their own.

Say what you like about Steven May for pick 6, but if he helped get Harley over the line (with apologies to Kolodjashnij, who could have been handy before injuries put him away) he's achieved. He was good in defence, albeit against a one-man attack, including a hefty specky that could have killed the man underneath. Here's to him subduing his deep urge to belt Brisbane players next week.

The next didn't take long, and things were certainly looking up. It started with a towering Gawn mark in defence (somewhere, Stone Cold might have cracked a smile), ending with the Weid kicking another empty square goal. Like most key position goals we wasted it in record time, one of the few times we were beaten out of the middle, but not before Lockhart was denied what would have even been a textbook holding the ball in the pre-Clarkoball era.

Much to the obvious distress of Melbourne 1997 wooden spoon winner Al Clarkson, their immediate response was immediately responded to. More strong tackling in the middle and a dandy handball by Jackson to Bennell set him up to wallop it through from 40 metres out. His calf may be set to snap like an elastic band at any moment but I'm enjoying him while I can. Has also played in three wins out of three, not only a rare scenario for a Melbourne player, but for him, given he was 19-1-62 before joining us. Who'd have thought your prospects would improve after joining us?

The next goal was my favourite. It started with Weid bouncing up from being clobbered, went through the sort of quick handballs that gave Garry Lyon a stroke, and landed with Pickett, who deftly stepped back into traffic to get onto his right foot, causing the Hawthorn defender to stop so suddenly he probably left a divot in the turf, then running around and booting an unorthodox but forceful snap.

After doing all that hard work we went within centimetres of conceding in DemonTime, with Oscar continuing to relish his role as the temporary leader of the Sizzle Family by making a fingertip save on the line. That left us five goals in front with 32 minutes to play, and any reasonable person would have conceded that we were home.

The local Hawthorn supporters (and yes, Corona Cops, I was with these people for an essential reason) were keen to tell me it was a lost cause but you're taking a major risk any time you trust Melbourne. I've never calculated a half time equivalent of the Chris Sullivan Line, coincidentally also the game where we blew our biggest ever half time lead. 45 doesn't sound all that safe but once you've seen us lose a half by 19 goals nothing does.

When Viney steamed out of the middle and had a shot within a few seconds of the quarter it looked like the avalanche was going to continue. That prompted the Hawks to have a brief go, kicking two in a row, including one Melbourne special after our backline crashed into each other. The lead was back to three goals and I was starting to sweat up. I don't care how much of a swizz the season is, there will never be a time that blowing a big lead isn't a nightmare scenario. Even if we went into the last round 2-19 (and it did happen less than a decade ago...) I'd be upset at caving like that. Unless there were draft rorts involved. You've got to be pragmatic.

When some bloke who used to play for St Kilda and is for some reason referred to as "the Human Meatball" (?) had a shot at another we were on the ropes. You'd like to think the domination of the midfield would have carried us over the line even if he'd kicked it. Instead, we went nuts again. It took a few minutes to get going again, recapturing the joy of abuse with a beautiful end-to-end goal. From a May spoil, to a chain of handballs through Lockhart, Petracca, Brayshaw and Jackson, a kick landed right on Melksham's head, and he found Fritsch and Weideman two-on-one against a hapless defender, leading to another easy tap-in.

This was all the encouragement Hawthorn needed to fold their tent, conceding one to Milkshake from a free, then a Reverse DemonTime gift from Weid to Jackson after a good mark inside 50. Have I told you how much I loved Weideman's contests?

Adjusted for the reduced quarters, a 42 point three quarter time lead was probably enough to confirm victory. But it wasn't the original Sullivan Line so I couldn't relax, spending the next 16 minutes saying "could do with another one". There was only minor comfort from the first, which came via another strong, Fyfe-esque (no pressure) contested mark by Petracca.

The rest of the game was inessential. Unkind people would call it 'garbage time'. After two near-flawless weeks Oscar cost us a goal by needlessly keeping a ball in a play, which was great news for the people who want to blame him for everything that's happened to us back to the day he was born. Otherwise he was fine. Might as well try to get some continuity between him, May and Lever instead of adding somebody else to the carnival of mid-air collisions.

Petracca was going so well that even his shit kicks came off, bursting out of a pack and rolling one into the 50 that bounced perfectly for Fritsch. He turned around and dropped it right on Weideman in the pocket for a third. We can't play too many teams that leave this much space inside defensive 50 but it was exciting while it lasted. On a related note, I'm disappointed that Frost didn't do one of his high-velocity, high-risk sprints out of defence. It might have worked in their favour, they were at a Melbourne-esque level of not knowing what they were doing moving the ball.

There was time for another outbreak of champagne football, putting us on the verge of our first 50 point win since the demolition job on Gold Coast in late 2018. The Petracca Show concluded with him working his opponent under the ball in a marking contest, turning to run onto it before it went out of bounds, then surgically squaring the ball for Fritsch to run between two defenders and run into another open goal. I choose to believe it was 100% what he was trying to do but extra credit for Fritsch for his attack at the ball that brought it home.

It was one of 14 score involvements by Petracca from 21. Seems like a high percentage. It's been noted in a next big thing frenzy, featuring some well-premature comments about him 'going past' Dustin Martin. It's nice that people are talking about one of our high draft picks without the context being how badly we've stuffed it up, but let's hold off a bit before dethroning a two-time premiership player and Brownlow winner. The obscure Channel 9 show where the claims were made had the air of a Hutchy production. I was unable to answer my question but did find reviews of working at Crocmedia. You won't be surprised they're tighter than a fish's arse.

We narrowly missed the half-century, but given everything else he did I won't hold it against Weid for missing one he probably should have kicked. It allowed the Hawks to go the other way for a cheap one that meant they only lost the last quarter by a point. Would have been nice to steam away but I'm not going to get hung up over it. It wouldn't rate near the top of our great modern wins but in the context of a shortened season I appreciated it. The first time I went to the MCG, John Longmire kicked 14 goals, now we're overjoyed when 18 players get that between them.

The Hawks have a Terminator-esque ability for regeneration, but as we won't play them again this year I think they can be safely written off. What do you expect fielding 3/18 players from the #fistedforever era? I was waiting for Dean Terlich to run off the bench and join in. Having Barry, Trengove, Toumpas and Watts at the same time didn't do much for Port, and this is going the same way. It's a bits and pieces team cobbled together from whatever's available, and like a poorly maintained plane, every lift off is one closer to the inevitable fiery crash.

Would you honestly care if you were a Hawks fan? 10-year-olds who arrived too late to appreciate flags can sook but I'd have tuned out of this halfway through the second quarter and started fantasising about any of the Grand Final wins. There would be some professional jealously about Geelong staying afloat longer through the same pick 'n mix recruiting. Otherwise past success must be the ultimate psychological airbag. The alternative view is that they've won as many games as use this year and we were a laughing stock two weeks ago so who am I to talk down to them? For now, who cares, let them burn and we shall clap our hands.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
--- Distance ---
3 - Sam Weideman
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Jack Viney

Major apologies to May, who was squeezed out of the one spot in a thriller. Normal level apologies to almost everyone else.

After two years of Gawn vs Oliver, the main event is now Gawn vs Petracca. Either we're cursed to only have two dominant players at any given time or it's just easier to with the flow than make a case for giving top votes to an unusual player. With 11 to play (no talk about extra games yet, please) there are still 55 points to be gained so it's literally anyone's title to win but it's hard to see either of the big hitters missing from here.

20 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Christian Petracca
12 - Jack Viney
8 - Clayton Oliver
6 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Ed Langdon, Christian Salem
4 - Angus Brayshaw, Steven May
3 - Sam Weideman
1 - Mitch Hannan, Kysaiah Pickett, Trent Rivers (JOINT LEADERS: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year 
Yes, it's Pickett for his back-and-forth shimmy step and goal but I'm sticking with Salem's snatch and grab from last week for the clubhouse lead. For the weekly prize, Kysaiah wins one free game of Daytona USA in the hotel's 'entertainment' room valued at $2.

I was too stressed out by the picture troubles to listen to most of what they were saying. This isn't a bad thing when Ling (and to a lesser extent Brayshaw) are involved.  

Crowd Watch
I assume there was minimal paid attendance, because after we got a free somebody screamed out "SOFFFFFFFFFFFFT" (bad luck dickhead), but they were never shown. Maybe it was Jeff Kennett?

Virtual Crowd Watch
I enjoyed the guy in the Fan Wall who was getting internet from the same place as my TV signal. They'd cut to eight people going troppo for goals and him sitting there like his death warrant was being read, just getting his celebrations in before it cut off.

Next Week 
After playing the Gold Coast in Brisbane twice (and winning a landslide both times), it's Brisbane on the Gold Coast. Last year when they were good and we weren't it went to script, we stuck with them for half the game before folding like a house of cards. We were not disgraced, nor did we ever seriously look like winning. Standard 2019 stuff. Let's see if anything has changed.

Unlike some teams, the Lions haven't followed their breakthrough season with controlled flight into terrain. This sets up a tasty clash, they're 5-1 since the resumption of play and sit second but are by no means dominant so we might be a chance. After picking us to lose twice in a row I'm going to keep betting against us in the hope that I keep being proven wrong.

As for changes, it's hard to argue with such a (relatively) dominant performance but I'm still not sold on Lockhart in defence. He was by no means terrible but I'm just into trying something else. Doesn't really make sense to bring Jones back but I just want him to play so sod team balance. I'll stick with Brayshaw and AVB both kick like they've got gangrene but I'm going to stick with them as reward for being part of such a dominant unit.

As for the Jackson vs McSizzle conundrum, I really liked Jackson and can't bring myself to drop him. He's going to be in and out of the side for a while before he's established but I want to give him two games a row. McDonald had played his best game of the season and was doing well in another before being eye-poked but I reckon we let him relax his eyeball for another week, give Jackson another shot, and let Sizzle come back refreshed to play who bloody knows (one of Adelaide, Collingwood, Essendon, Footscray, Freo, GWS, North, Port, St Kilda or Sydney) after that. If they start scheduling games at a rapid rate we're going to have to get into squad rotation eventually, may as well start now.

IN: Jones
OUT: Lockhart (omit)
LUCKY: Brayshaw, vandenBerg
UNLUCKY: T. McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Rivers, Sparrow, Tomlinson

Now that The Weid has exceeded expectations, Brown is no longer unlucky. I would also like to see Sparrow get another run eventually, but not this week.

Final Thoughts
No matter what else happens they can never take away our unblemished record as a New South Wales-based side. Two starts, two wins. Never said a bad word about the place. Let have a schooner of potato scallop.

Things are looking up, but it's too early to think about smuggling yourself into Queensland for the finals. The way things are going it's too early to assume there will be finals. But, with 11 games to play we've entered a battle royale that stretches from fifth to 14th, instead of expecting to finish last. It may only last two weeks but is without doubt A. Good. Thing.

Sunday 12 July 2020

The Ecstasy of Gold Coast

How much actual ecstasy this was worth (see Laurence Angwin for a quote) is up to you, I just needed the headline to be topical. Incidentally, despite us having absolutely no connection to the colour gold, tell me this would not make sick walk-on music at the 'G. If Gold Coast or Hawthorn haven't already bought the rights I want in. Now, on with our scheduled 'less miserable than last week' coverage.

At this stage of our lives "if you'd told me a year ago we'd..." is almost redundant because everything is unbelievable, but in July 2019 I'd have thought a game against Gold Coast at Sydney Showgrounds meant we'd merged with GWS. However, no matter how far society goes down the shitter there are some things that will never change. At almost any time in the last 15 years, the news that we were going into Round 6 with one win and pressure heaping on the coach would have been greeted like an old friend.

It was the week where the world finally noticed that we play as if drunk and piled on accordingly. There was no need to adopt a siege mentality, it was about time that the media game to the party. The consensus was that we were getting ourselves into trouble by playing too fast. Garry Lyon tried very hard to get the term 'red mist' up, and like commentators lowering themselves to Dwayne's level by saying "chaos ball", I bet we'll hear it for the rest of the year.

The idea that we should shelve spectacle and play like a Ross Lyon sex dream was not surprisingly championed by Ross Lyon. His analysis of the Richmond game was fair and reasonable, except for the bit where he held our first quarter play on rate up as part of the problem, which was unfair given it's the only one where we kicked any goals. The idea of slowing down and dinking the ball to and fro a bit more was noble, but it left me wondering how comically bad things could get if we tried any tactic that required two or more accurate kicks in succession.

It was the biggest all hands on deck pile-on since Paul Johnson and John Meesen were asked for comment on tanking allegations. Even Stone Cold Craig Jennings had a ping, making some reasonable suggestions, while simultaneously pretending he hadn't been there last year when the same failures were happening. Maybe the AFLX Group B premiership coach was howling into the void all 2019 and nobody was listening? Certainly sounded like he had an axe to grind with a certain senior coach. Possibly still upset about this incident:
From the more emotional side of the argument came The Ox, re-embracing his Neeld-era role as reliable rent-a-quote. His sincere passion is undeniable, but the insight free, white-hot nuffery was like something I'd write rather than an attempt to seriously analyse the club's plight. He didn't say anything particularly wacky but lost me at the extremely unlikely scenario of fans rising up to challenge the board. Our supporters may do a lot of things, up to and including charging the fence to yell at players with a tomato red face, but it would take something tremendous to get a re-run of Gutnick vs Szondy 2001.

After taking a much-deserved kicking from all and sundry, and after the coach half-implied that the hublife weeks were make-or-break, I was more fired up for this than any of the previous three games, including the aborted Essendon one. Either we got a response, and hopefully a win, or we got to light pitchforks and charge the team hotel stay within our local government area. Except for those few lucky fans who finally got reward for living in Sydney and could easily have launched a miffed fan vs Gary Ablett style showdown in the event of disaster.

Fortunately, there was no need for rioting. Which was lucky considering they parked our fans directly in front of the coaches' box. A loss would have all but condemned our season but I'm not sure I could have mustered up the energy to punch on if we'd lost. Gold Coast are a mid-table team, defeat would just confirm suspicions that we aren't.

Maybe you have to adjust for it being against a less experienced side, but we did play better. Certainly scored more, though it was still often like pulling teeth to get goals. I'm not reading too much into the future based on one performance, I'm just happy to win after a serious last quarter challenge. We'll deal with next week when we get to it, it wasn't the Ocean's 11 style points heist of the Carlton game so I reserve the right to be satisfied for a few days. Comfortable? Never.

No doubt there are a few people secretly disappointed that we won and their scheduled outbursts have to be postponed. There is still a stigma from losing to the Gold Coast that, even after having more top picks shovelled their way than us, would have led people to ignore their obvious improvement and go off like a bomb. Bad luck, but don't throw all your notes out yet, this was a welcome distraction but our problems are far from cured.

I didn't think we were going to win, but expected a much better performance. Still not interested that we nearly beat Geelong, that was an even worse performance than against Richmond. Them nearly throwing it away didn't excuse three and a half quarters of standing flat watching the spectacle of precision kicking like it was a footy version of Cirque De Soleil. This was a lot better. It had to be.

There were still some nervy moments, especially in the first quarter when we were doing the usual heavy labouring to kick goals and they were booting them from obscure angles. They started as they meant to go on, with Brandon Ellis (didn't even know he played for them now, shows how much interest I take in other clubs) doing one of the most casual snaps you'll ever see from way out on the boundary and putting it right over the goal umpire's hat.

If that was cause to yell "here we go" from my couch - still seated, not standing up for this season yet - our reply was very un-Melbourne like. Salem, allowed to push forward more with the return of Jetta, slid out of a tackle and did a dainty bouncing handball to Viney, who turned through traffic and chipped it to Petracca in the pocket. It was a lovely set-up, and on a night where disposal was the only thing that let him down Truck whacked through a thumping banana to get us on the board.

Any score was appreciated at that point, halfway through the quarter we'd had plenty of chances but hadn't converted. For all Garry's whacking off in the booth about how we'd slowed down, it was looking like an inferior return to the first quarter against the Tigers where we went about it like ice addicts. Sizzle Sr was pushing up the ground well, the returning Weid was competing well, we just lacked the - you're welcome Simon - connection to score.

And how did we respond to that much needed goal? Naturally, by conceding the best first goal since Sam Blease. With Wonderboy Rowell crocked, and the guy we would have picked at #2 so anonymous I didn't even know he was playing, we were instead stitched up by a former #3 who missed all last year with injury. Izak Rankine's piss-streaked hair was second-worst only to whatever weird, Ben Nason-esque strategy Clayton Oliver is working on, but the goal was a special.

In the first act of a return to the days where you were guaranteed a Rising Star nomination playing against us, he bounced it like a basketball, turned the corner and kicked truly over his shoulder. It was the sort of goal that you almost don't mind conceding. After all, we let in so many easy ones, why not appreciate the top-shelf gear? The kid continued to torment us all night, but I note he still kicked two fewer goals on debut than Brent Heaver so how good can he really be?

Even with the equal #1 ruckman in the league giving the #3 a pizzling at the taps, we were still struggling to get any control. The novelty goals kept coming courtesy of some Last of the Mohicans looking bloke running around Lever like a traffic cone and thumping it through from 50. The disappointment was offset somewhat by the slapstick scene of Sizzle Junior putting the goal umpire on his arse as he tracked the ball through.

It wasn't all entertaining shenanigans for the Sizzle family, not long after the older brother was assassinated by a finger jabbed Corona test style deep into his eye. It was completely accidental but obviously hurt like buggery. Try telling that to Jonathan Brown, who offered the instant analysis that Tom 'went down a bit late'. Given about 12 replays and the shot of McDonald sitting on the bench with his jacket covering half his face like the Phantom of the bloody Opera, Brown never bothered to say "whoops, I was wrong, maybe it really did happen" and nobody thought to bring it up.

Sizzle later appeared on the bench with a facial dressing that made him look like this guy:

It was soon obvious he wasn't coming back, but you'd like to think that if the rest of our bench had been obliterated by injury he'd have come back on with one eye.

After him and Weideman, our next best tall forward options were Gawn, May and his brother, so I started to tense up over the prospect of not kicking another goal. After all, you wouldn't expect us to alter how we play to accommodate a mid-game change of circumstances would you?

Indeed we did not, aiming at Weid inside 50 as much as we at Gawn from kick-ins. Against all odds it worked, despite having the biggest bags under his eyes since me, Weid took to the challenge brilliantly, getting himself into good spots, and either taking marks or making contests as required.

It wasn't a flawless performance, and he was caught out of position a few times but it was a lot closer to the Geelong final than anything he did last year. Unless there are exceptional circumstances he's got to play every week from here. This season may turn out to be a waste like the rest of them, but it's critical to work out if he's a future player or not. After last night all signs point to probably.

Based on the two games that gave everyone the shits, a two goal haul was way better than Geelong but not as good as Richmond. By our standards - Carlton game excepted - it was on brand. The seven point deficit was less welcome, we'd played alright but blown opportunities (what, with our reputation?) and they'd made use of limited opportunities to be in front. I would like to acknowledge that this is how I expected the rest of the game to go - for us to go through feats of Herculean endurance to get goals, only to give them back 30 seconds later from a ball rolling through the unguarded goalsquare.

The action started in earnest early in the second when Pickett won a bullshit in the back free and set up Harmes - finally somewhere forward of centre again - for the first goal. In a none-more-AFL umpiring style stitch up Pickett should have had another free almost immediately after for a far more likely free and they called play on. Insert shrug emoji at your leisure.

Relatively speaking this opened the floodgates, and we got another shortly after, via a tremendous cock-up where Salem smothered a kick from the boundary and ran inside 50 to goal, his first since the day we briefly looked like beating the Suns by 186 in 2018. It was a well-taken goal, but his more important contribution came across the four quarters at the other end. Like most of our players he does a fair share of bloopers but his run out of defence is underrated. Jetta didn't do much to suggest they

If Salem was an unusual goalkicker, Hibberd was even zanier. Sure it came from a 50, but he still had to finish it. It wasn't his best game of the year but he's still light years ahead of where he was last year. Still patiently waiting for Melksham to have the same revival. He was much better this week, and I really liked him at the odd centre bounce, but he hasn't been the same since he was crocked against the Suns last year. Still has heaps to offer if he gets going.

It could have been better if Petracca hadn't fresh-aired a shot right in front of an unguarded square but having once single-handedly lost an indoor soccer Grand Final by doing the same thing (with additional falling over) I'm not going to pass judgement. Even an elite athlete's coordination can sometimes malfunction like a rank amateur.

His miss would have been a lot more of a problem if we hadn't got the next goal anyway - albeit after another five minutes of toil and struggle. And what a nicely constructed goal it was too. From a chain of handballs in defence that never left anyone in grave danger, to Oscar's long kick to Bennell's advantage in a one-on-one, Harley's deft pick up and a lovely kick to the advantage of Weideman for a juggling mark and go. Stuff the concerns about defence, I absolutely love Bennell. He's not playing at peak level but his ground ball pickups are delightfully effortless, and the way he turned like he had all the time in the world to land his kick perfectly on the forward here should be celebrated. Wait until he really gets going and we'll come out of it with some good memories.

This left us 18 points up and with the game finally in control. We celebrated by giving it back to them immediately. What is it with us wasting key forward goals? In 2016 and 2017 it was Hogan, in 2018 it was McDonald, last year it was nobody for obvious reasons, now this. It usually happened when we had the second string ruckman in the middle, but now that Gawn is the 80 minute ironman there's no need for it. He's got 148 of our 150 hitouts for the season, surely heading towards the highest percentage of the modern era. He wins a high proportion of contests but it's not an instant guide to success, there's still going to be times when it bounces the wrong way. Or, like one earlier in the game when he inexplicably belted it right into the path of an opposition player. I'm not as interested in the taps as the towering marks that regularly get us out of jail, that's where his maximum (if you will) value lies.

After clobbering them for the whole quarter they got a second in a row, narrowly avoiding players running into each other like Matthew Elliott and Mark Waugh, leaving one of the survivors to run into an open goal. Typical Melbourne, wasting a dominant period in the blink of an eye. We had a chance to restore some of the lead through Brayshaw, but his miss left us just seven points up. Better than being seven points down, but the way we let them climb off the canvas hardly filled you with confidence for the second half.

From there it was a scrap (but a more attractive one than most games this season), and we were never really safe until the last couple of minutes but that's to be expected against a team on this level. It stands to reason that we should (SHOULD) still comfortably wreck some of the bottom sides as the season goes on. If we do that the sky (at least the lower rungs of the eight) is the limit. I won't believe it until I see the Hawthorn game. If we lay an egg there you can get back to expecting nothing better than mid-table mediocrity. For now, I live in hope, much like I have since 1989.

There was some breathing space when Viney and Hannan (with an assist to Weid for bringing it to ground against four opponents) set up Melk for a goal a minute into the third quarter. We went within a finger-tip of another straight after but couldn't keep it up long enough, going into an extended period of being torn asunder by a first gamer. First, he nailed Hibberd in a tackle for a ClarkoBall free, then bustled his way through a contest to kick one off the ground from 25 metres out. It was like watching peak Allen Jakovich play in front of 200 people.

More important than somebody going for the rare Goal of the Year/Rising Star double on debut, was that the margin was back to a point. For once we snatched the goal right back, with Harmes bursting out of the middle (fancy that), and Pickett intelligently tapping the ball into Forward Fritsch's path for the quick reply. All these years later I still don't know what a one-percenter is, but Pickett is full of them. Also looks good when he gets ball in hand, I'm not all that concerned that he's not kicking goals, he has offered X factor out the yin yang and we should get as many games into him as possible.

It wasn't long before that man Rankine was back in the action, winning one of the most pissweak frees in history against Ed Langdon. When Ed's career wraps up and you look at his page on AFL Tables, always mentally deduct one from the 'frees against' column. An ill-advised attempt to run around him Lever style ended in a tackle that was somehow called 'high', and ended in a cheeky handball over the top for another goal from the boundary. The game could not have been set up any better for him to beat us singlehandedly, meaning having to hear about it for the rest of his bloody career.

All this carry on ended with us three points up at the last change, far too close for comfort considering how much better we'd been for most of the game. The resurgent Mitch Hannan, boundary line finishing specialist, mowed down a defender to get the first but we never looked like running away with it. Indeed, the extended lead lasted barely two minutes before guess who ran onto a Gawn tap in front of goal for his third, bringing the margin back to a point.

The Rankine Wankin' was well deserved. As they say in the classics, you can't play against Melbourne every week but he looked like a star. When the umpire gave him a free for generally pissweak (though completely unnecessary) contact by Oliver after the ball went out of bounds I was ready for a deluge of audio jism the likes you've never heard. Thankfully he missed, leaving the scores tied with plenty of time for any sort of Cararra 2019 style insanity to break out.

We survived courtesy of some solid defence, but I still find it hard to trust our backline. We seem reasonably tight when the ball isn't flinging from one end to another at lightning speed but it still feels like there's a fiasco lurking around every corner. Credit then to Oscar McDonald, maligned like no man since Cale Morton, who played a flawless game. He wasn't called on to do the hardest work but that's the point of being a second or third-string key position player. What he did, including shirtfronting a goal umpire, he did well. For now he's an infinitely safer option that Smith. We've already got Lever and May having mid-air collisions five times a game, we don't need Air Smith in the aerial clusterfuck too.

May is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. Like old school Tom McDonald defending, he does a lot of good things but leaves you with some howlers to remember him by. The problem is we spent pick six on him, not pick 53, and he's closer to the end of his career than the start so there's an added layer of tension. I'm still a big fan, even though he spent the last few minutes playing like the poster child for panic football, the positives outweigh the negatives.

I'm also glad we kept Ben King reasonably quiet, because I cannot take another round of this ridiculous theory that we were ever going to get him. The idea is that because Gold Coast got King with the same pick we gave them for May we're buffoons for not having used the Hogan loot on him.

Even Melbourne, one of the great draft and trade comedy clubs, can't have this one pinned on them. First, I am a great believer in the idea that if May wasn't available we were going to play Jesse in defence last year. Sure it would have lasted about five quarters before they smashed the big red panic button and sent him forward again but I don't doubt it's true. Secondly, for all the ordinary luck Hogan continues to have at Freo, who in their right mind thinks that after making a Prelim (not really, we did), we'd have traded an emerging key forward to go into the draft in the hope that another, younger, forward would be available at six? It might have turned out better in the end if we'd gone down that path but you're deluding yourself to think there was any chance of it happening at the time.

As a long time May fetishist, my favourite bit other than the marks, general defence and the loving way he looks at Bennell, was when he ran out of defensive 50 flubbed a kick, had an "aww fuck" look, then kept running to the forward line. It was almost like the dream scenario of a player benching themselves after making a horrible error. The move forward had no ill-effects on us but bloody hell I was nervous about doing it with the scores level. Imagine the chaos if we'd done one of our famous NQR turnovers and it rebounded the other way for a tall to pluck a mark over Nifty Nev? All's well that ends well, but at the time I was touching cloth.

As reward for a massive effort as the lone forward, Weideman got the chance to be a hero. He was set up by the sort of inboard kick from Hannan that Garry Lyon would have you think we haven't done since 2004. I appreciate Garry's interest and knowledge of the subject, but he was laying it on a bit thick, like Hannan would have put it in Row Z having a shot last week.

Speaking of Hannan, the angle and position of his run gave me warm flashbacks to the oft-discussed Geelong final. All it needed was BT making up distances. Seems like a good excuse to look at that again:

Any chance of ever getting that feeling back? The TV coverage does no justice to the loudest noise I've ever heard for a Melbourne goal. It wouldn't have affected me nearly as much if he'd kicked it this time (and I freely admit to having goosebumps from watching the original), but this time he did the team thing and set it up for Slammin' Sam. I had some troubling thoughts about the tragic finish to the Adelaide game last year, but he put that out of his head to kick his second and cap off a job well done.

The way the Suns had been pulling goals out of their arse like an erotic magician all night, a six point lead was no comfort. I'd have been more comfortable if May had gone back into defence then, but you can't argue about the final result. If you thought Marty Hore landing a howitzer from distance to tie the scores, then winning via a miskick into the post last year was odd, I was all set for your man Rankin to hit a bicycle kick from 50 metres out on the boundary line.

He did get a chance to tie the scores, but proved himself less deadly from the set shot. (Update - I forgot the glorious sight of the ambulance lady sitting on the boundary line with absolutely no interest in what was going on in front of her, tooling around on her phone under her colleague side mouthed that they were on camera).

It was only temporary comfort, we were in front but had to extract the ball from our backline and run down the last five minutes. The hero, after going hard all night but kicking like he had a wooden leg, was Petracca, but an assist goes to popular ethnic footballer vandenBerg for burying a Gold Coast player in a savage tackle at the other end. Often players step around him easily, but whenever some hapless fool wanders into his killing zone he hits them like a freight train, offering one of the best visual spectacles in the game. Package his tackles up for the Americans, they'll go weak at the knees.

That got us out of jail at the other end, allowing Oliver to set Petracca up with a lovely pass. It was a rare game where the Hamburglar kicked more than he handballed, possibly just trying to make a point to the dickheads who turned on him after one ordinary game. How quickly his demolition job on media darling Patrick Cripps a few weeks ago was forgotten. If he was spite kicking I'd rather he didn't because most of them missed the mark, but this was a pearler.

After a game where he did everything right but hit targets, admittedly an important component of the modern game, Truck rifled the set shot through from distance. Good lad. Things were looking up, though if a five point lead is a one point loss waiting to happen, you know what that makes an 11 point lead. The difference is that (circumstances permitting) you show some understanding at being done over by one kick, whereas conceding two in a row to lose would be cause for turning your couch over and frightening the children.

At this point, my mind turned from the loser coping strategy of it being a throwaway year, extended pre-season for 2021 etc... and reverted back to normal, thinking that with the game in hand we'd be within striking range of the eight. I doubt it will go the same way, but remember the queue of people (myself included) waiting to walk out to sea with a pocket full of rocks after the twin abortions against Richmond and Hawthorn in 2018? Stranger things have happened.

Would have been a moot point if we'd lost, and there were still some nervous moments with the ball in front of our goal. Bless his heart, Jake Lever did what we pay him a lot for by taking an important intercept mark right in front of goal. It didn't have nearly the impact of that day he rooted the Crows in Alice Springs and the traffic cone debacle was a lowlight, but this was one of his better intercept games. His mark was enough to help us get away with it, even extending the margin to a lot-more-comfortable-than-it-looked 17 with a heartwarming goal after the siren.

As Gold Coast pushed forward in a desperate attempt to find a goal, the excellent Viney shook off a tackle with contempt and belted the ball into space. Pickett legged it inside 50 and generously squared for Bennell to kick from the opposite pocket. He converted his first goal in nearly three years, via about 20 calf explosions, after the siren and received the appropriate reaction from his teammates. Given that they'd mobbed him when they thought he'd kicked one earlier, nobody should have been surprised at the post-siren mauling. I thought it was especially nice that the pass came from Pickett because there was a moment earlier in the game after Kysaiah gave away a downfield free (and didn't the umpires love paying those? They didn't have nearly as much interest in holding the ball), and shortly after the cameras cut to the bench where Harley was clearly telling him not to worry about it.

Given that we weren't even allowed to celebrate making the finals without some joyless fuck having a whinge, I expect there's somebody, somewhere (and clickbait captain Kane Cornes, I'm looking squarely at you) lining up an article about us over-celebrating a victory. The usually rock-solid Anthony Hudson didn't help with his "you'd think they'd won the flag", but unless you're being deliberately provocative you'd accept that the reaction was about 95% more ecstatic than it would have been in normal circumstances because of where Harley has come from. Enjoy the rare good news story, don't expose yourself as a dickhead by complaining about it.

And that, for the eighth consecutive time, was the end of Gold Coast. Imagine losing to us that many times in a row, they should get a priority pick.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Max Gawn
--- Full, middle of the day brightness style daylight ---
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Christian Salem

Major apologies to May, who was well in contention for the last spot. Other apologies to Bennell, Hannan, Harmes, O. McDonald and Weideman.

16 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
15 - Christian Petracca
11 - Jack Viney
6 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Clayton Oliver
5 - Ed Langdon, Christian Salem
4 - Angus Brayshaw, Steven May
1 - Mitch Hannan, Kysaiah Pickett, Trent Rivers (JOINT LEADERS: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal) 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year 
Finally, a highlights package you can scan for our goals without wanting to put your head in the oven over the final result. And also the first couple of reasonable contenders for the yearly award.

As much as I liked both Petracca's efforts, and Hannan from the boundary line, the weekly nomination goes to Christian Salem for the charge down and running finish in the first quarter. Finally, all these years of players dancing about on the mark like they're in a nightclub has paid off. Somewhere Jack Trengove, the absolute master of the shuffling from side to side with his arms waving is looking on and having a little cry.

For the weekly prize, Christian wins one free item from the hotel mini bar valued at $99.99 and takes the clubhouse lead for the overall prize.

Good thing this wasn't a Dwayne game, he'd have reacted to the Rankine show like Bill Lawry calling a Merv Hughes wicket on the 12th Man. Instead, we were left with a quietly competent broadcast team. Even Dr. Jonathan Brown is fine when he's not prematurely accusing players of playing for frees when they've just had their cornea fingered. Having said that, whoever was back in the studio and crossed to the other game by saying we had a "brilliant win" needs counselling.

Also, Kayo users, what's with the atmospheric music and "we're in an ad break" message? I suspect they're trying to sell a different ad package to what's going out on Foxtel, because at the start of all the breaks there would be a flash of a Harvey Norman ad (sadly not this one) before that tedious NAB one came over the top. Then they're have some generic Fox Sports promos, then "we're in an ad break" featuring Tubular Bells in the background, before the program started again. No big deal, if we're going to see ads in the breaks one way or the other they may as well try to recoup some of their losses on this season. 

Fox Sports didn't do the digital banners for long, probably because they're currently running on a lower budget than Channel 31, but we are able to satisfy for your craving for this feature courtesy of Tom from Sydney. 

It's more of a tarp watch, but it will do. The comparison is between Gold Coast's dainty offering, presented with the CHIPS ON A STICK (!?) van in the background....

And our monster size, Port Adelaide 2011 style offerings that covered entire bays.

Obviously, the Dees win.

Crowd Watch
Has an official attendance been released? The St Kilda/Freo game was announced at around 1700 but I haven't seen anything on our game. We know there were at least a few hundred Melbourne fans present. Not sure if any there was a solitary Suns fan in the ground, don't remember the camera ever crossing to them after a goal. I know it will look shit if they have to show that there were only 850 people there but this sort of thing is important for nerds like me. 

Sources at the game estimate the numbers were approximately 200-10 in our favour. One was apparently told by Melksham to "fuck off back to Melbourne" after being offered constructive feedback, which is ace. Along with players accidentally tweeting out their opposition notes and the North bloke that did the mask gesture at Connor McKenna, this is exactly the sort of thing footy needs.

Next Week 
Back to Fortress Showgrounds (never GIANTS Stadium as long as I breathe air) for a Sunday afternoon game against the Hawks. To say I'm concerned about giving another down on their luck team the chance to get their season going would be an understatement. It's classic Melbourne to offer a glimmer of hope that things have turned the corner before they slam the door in your face, but here's to this being a genuine turn, with nobody mad enough to rest on their laurels.

I'm not aroused enough to think that our performance was so good you couldn't make any changes, but it's hard to see too many alterations. Weideman did what was required, Melksham was way better without setting the world on fire, and they'll die before dropping Brayshaw. They'll have to think about rotating players soon, if the fixture is going to be fois grased full of games to the point where we're playing off multiple five day breaks, but pending that starting next week (and we've got to fit the Essendon game in somewhere too) there shouldn't be much chopping and changing required.

The only question is whether McSizzle's eye injury keeps him out. Or if he's busy in court roasting Jonathan Brown for defamation. If he can't play it would be suicidal to revert to Plan A and leave Weideman one out. He was in classic end of 2018 Weid the People mode, but no matter how wobbly the Hawks look, you can't give a four time premiership coach a week's head start on knowing where we're going to kick it every time. This is no time for complacency.

I'd love to give Jackson another go but I don't want to take any chances and have to opt for Brown as the replacement. I'm also intent on getting Jones back into this side at some point, for sentimental value if nothing else. Hard to see how unless Melksham gets a 'rest', especially now that Hannan and Bennell are looking comfortable in attack.

Still not in love with Brayshaw, and I liked seeing more of midfield Harmes this week. He's not exactly a laser precision disposer of the ball but feels less likely to instantly turn a good position into the ball coming the other way with a panic kick. Problem is what you do with Harmes' spot, you're going to put Fritsch back there again. Tomlinson? (who I didn't think was all that bad) One of the Wagnii? Probably best to stick with Gus for now and see what happens next week.

That'll do me for changes. Mind you, Bennell didn't have any tackles (though I'm sure I saw one) so that could be all the excuse they need to isolate him in solitary confinement and make him think of ways he could be more defensive.

IN: Brown (if McDonald unfit)
OUT: McDonald (if pirate eyepatch not available)
LUCKY: Brayshaw, Melksham
UNLUCKY: Jackson, Jones

And please, local Dees fans, you basically have an open mic at these games, don't boo $cully, make snide remarks that we can all enjoy, preferably ones that make the Channel 7 commentators get moralistic.

We might very well win, but I wouldn't cash in your superannuation and go all in on it.

Final Thoughts
Last year we kept the season alive by beating Hawthorn, then narrowly pumped further life into it with that bonkers win over the Suns. That left us a game and percentage outside the eight, coincidentally about where we'd be now if we won our game in hand. Which we wouldn't have at the time it was supposed to be played, but one win and I'm far more willing to keep an open mind than I was this time last week.

After that exciting but grimier than a peep show booth win over the Suns we thought things were looking up, only to lose 11 of the next 13. Now, season 2020 has been given a life it barely deserved, let's not cock it up at the first hurdle.