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.

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