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.

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