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.

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