Sunday 30 August 2020

Heist society

Considering it's a shortened season Melbourne must be nearing the record for how many times a team's prospects can be revived. We're like incurable heroin addicts who have been brought back to life about four times in 12 weeks. I've been as guilty as anyone not employed in clickbait media of swinging from optimism to misery at the drop of a hat, and with a minute left last night I was high on the tightrope and wobbling, ready to plummet into total 'give up and play the kids' despair.

Instead, we held on to win, and with a wide-open draw ahead of us it's now our finals spot to throw away. Which probably means we'll do just that, but for now I'm just happy to be alive and once again trusting the mythical 'process'. It might only last a week, only the most positive would believe that this the encouragement we need to go straight, but being upright and breathing is better than the alternative.

Suffice to say, I didn't hold out much hope of winning here. Playing in Alice Springs wasn't going to do all that much for us, and after watching Footscray twanging out of the backline unchallenged all last week I fully expected the Saints to do likewise. But when you think about it with the benefit of hindsight, was that really what lost us the game against the Dogs? No doubt it cost a couple of goals, but in the third quarter we barely got the ball forward enough for them to use the rebounds against us. Either way, the more times you let a side go forward at warp speed the more likely you are to concede, and we addressed the issue to the point where you could almost see the life-force ebbing away from St. Kilda's half back runners when they got the ball and looked up to see a wall of Demons in front of them. Even if we'd lost this would have a been a positive and I'd have to find something else to whinge about.

Speaking of the Alice Springs, have you noticed that no matter who we play in the Northern Territory, they always have more fans? I understand South and Western Australian teams having big followings due to geography, but even St. Kilda would have been surprised at the pro-Saints frenzy that erupted last night. There were only 1917 people there but about 80% percent of them seemed to be mad for Moorabbin.

Is there no respect for our various contributions to territory footy, including Mark Jamar being interviewed while seated on the ground, Sam Blease high fiving the crowd, Jeremy Howe wiping blood on an opponent, Jayden Hunt's monster torp and sending Don Pyke off the deep end? Obviously not. Well, stiff shit for backing the wrong horse here, hope following the Saints offers all the benefits that their east coast fans have been enjoying for the last 50 years.

While I didn't agree with all the changes, at least there was response to throwing it away against the Dogs. They were the sort of inclusions - including the reintroduction of the Much Maligned Express, Oscar McDonald and Josh Wagner - that make people say things like "this game was lost at the selection table" (wherever the table is currently located). Unless you win, then we just keep quiet like we had no qualms whatsoever. All of them played their role, and though I prefer some of the players on the outs (especially Fritsch and Lockhart, maybe Bennell) if we're going to have a proper crack at the finals, every man who came into the side did his job.

I thought there might have been a late change. The PervoCam shot of a topless James Harmes de-taping himself while having a casual chat with Old Comedy Moustache Lips immediately before the bounce implied somebody was on the verge of late withdrawal. I know emergencies have to be ready to go at short notice (e.g. Hannan last week), but considering how long the pre-match ceremonies went for it seemed telling that he remained ready to go until the very last minute. Harmes was never spoken about again (though he always remains in my thoughts) so I guess they were just being extremely cautious in case somebody cooled down during the ceremony and blew a hammy before the bounce.

For the first few minutes the only way any of our players were going to injured was from the backdraft of an opponent turboing away from them. Their ball movement out of defence look very ropey for us, which makes our response even better. Like the Dogs, they were dashing around with free players everywhere, always threatening to find somebody a mile free inside 50.

Luckily for us they couldn't take advantage, blowing a pair of good opportunities to kick the first goal. This time we were the suckers being given the even break, but I still thought they only way we'd win would be if the Saints kicked 2.24. The only problem with that was still having to find 37 points of our own, which has not always been a certainty. All's well that ends well.

Petracca continues to be the explosive character of our dreams. Last night was nowhere near his best performance, but he was still pivotal to the result. In the week where everyone's punching on about player ratings, I'm on the side who believes you can play a crap game and still kick four goals (see Kent in Hobart, the goals were welcome but he was otherwise shite). This was in no way a crap game, but he contributed in a different way to how you'd expect. One day he's going to combine both halves of his game and put on the best performance you've ever seen.

His first major contribution was a cannon of a set shot from outside 50, the sort you're more confident in him kicking than one from 20 metres out directly in front. It was a perfect response to the Saints missing two far easier shots. They did get the next one, but otherwise the rest of the quarter belonged to us. Somewhere a switch was flipped that completely shut down their run, leading to visible frustration from players who'd obviously come in thinking they were going to fill their boots with cheap possessions. About time we properly frustrated somebody other than the fans.

That man Petracca was responsible for the second goal as well, with an assist from Viney's chip to the top of the square and St. Kilda's defence for not reading the multiple tells of what he was up to before pulling the kick. It was a blow to the minutes old theory that you'd rather Petracca kicking from 50 metres than 20, and all of a sudden we had the Saints on the rack. Didn't understand how, wasn't going to complain.

When Gawn drifted forward and marked 30 metres out directly in front things were getting tasty. Of course because he had one high profile miss from a similar spot that was all the commentators could talk about, just minutes after calling Petracca's kick from close range a certainty when he's missed plenty of times from the same place. Maximum stuck it up them by converting and it was on. Three goals straight, and for once we were punishing somebody else for being wasteful inside 50.

Whoever at Channel 7 played Fools Gold after that has quite the sense of humour. We nearly paid the gag off by letting St. Kilda plow straight inside 50 from the bounce. To say I was ready to crack the shits at immediately wasting a goal we'd worked hard for would be an understatement, the neighbours were about to think there was a murder going on. The defence held firm and all was well with the world.

Given our record of conceding late, I firmly expected to leak the softest goal in the history of Australian Rules football during the last minute. For the second week in a row we turned the old DemonTime cliche on its head (temporarily anyway...) by kicking a goal of our own. Melksham had another up and down game, but his contribution here was wonderful, getting rid of an opponent by faking to go one way, then dropping what would be called a perfect inside 50 kick on Weideman if there wasn't an even better one coming soon...

... which was early in the second quarter as Salem gathered a loose ball and instantly hit a scorcher that probably left a mark on Mitch Brown's tit. The man who has now escaped the Phil Egan Club for one gamers showed that he might be a handy inclusion for the rest of the year with our fifth successful set shot from five, another from distance and obscure angle.

We had their number to a near-ridiculous degree. Hanging shit on the coach is the second most satisfying thing in footy behind winning, but as much as you can argue about in-game moves there is no doubt that whatever plan we had to stop their run worked beautifully. After last week's Demon Trampoline disaster that's a big win for Mr. Learnings, and for the second time in a row the best connection on the ground was opposition midfielders kicking to our defenders.

It was good having May and Lever intercepting everything that came near them last week, but the problem was all the times they never got near it because the ball rocketed from defence to Footscray's medium sized forwards. This time we blocked off the escape routes and made them kick to contests, slowing down their attack and forcing them into Melbourne-esque panic bombing to outmatched forwards. There stood the million dollar combination of Lever and May (now figuratively as well as literally), readily accepting donations.

St. Kilda's 2020 forward line is hardly Lockett and Loewe, but they've given us trouble before, and now with a next big thing goalkicker I expected them to test us. Apparently not. We benefited from some peg-leg set shots early, but otherwise it was a knockout win for the backline. There were the contractually obliged nervy moments, and I'm still not convinced Oscar (once again promoted to the head of the McSizzle syndicate) is third tall in a finals team but generally well done all round. Even the lesser lights like Rivers and Wagner were very good. Josh is my second favourite Wagnii but if he can keep it up for the next few weeks this could have been a career-saving performance.

The star of the show was, again, Steven May. I don't think any one man could have saved us last year but it does make you wonder how things would have been different if he'd stayed fit. I'm just glad that he's in red-hot form and condition now and we're starting to see the benefit of the contentious Hogan trade. Whether it pays off in the long-run nobody knows, but after a wasted first year he's been a star this time around. If they all stay fit I reckon he'll finish a close third in the Bluey behind Petracca and Oliver, and has to be in contention for the All-Australian shortlist at the very least. At this rate they'll be able to hold both events at the same time over Skype from the Virgin Lounge at Sydney Airport.

Things were going unusually well, three and a bit goals up and opposition ball movement being maliciously strangled. Then Real Melbourne turned up. To be fair, the first goal of the end of quarter trifecta was unlucky. Even after they'd broken through our midfield with an NRL style chip 'n chase we would still have gotten away with it, except that as Viney grasped mid-air for a loose ball the face of Laughin' Ed Phillips got in the way. You had to pay the free but it was about as unlucky as a player could be to concede.

I could handle letting in one goal, it's got to happen to us eventually, but when we found ourselves deep in defence with 50 seconds left alarms were going off in my head like there'd been a bank robbery. We had the chance to escape when Nathan Jones got control of the ball, which was a good thing, then he tried to thread the needle with a sideways kick and put it straight down the throat of an opponent. Which was less good. No player has been around for as many of the gimmicks I've introduced on this page, and he must have tensed up, instinctively known we were deep in DemonTime.

Jones has been through so much trauma that abusing him is like berating a natural disaster victim, so I'm prepared to accept that he was trying to work it out to the wing where Langdon was running riot. That made sense, but considering he must have known the quarter was almost over it was probably time to be conservative. 5/10 for imagination, 0/10 for execution. Whoever does the AFL website highlights must be a long-suffering Melbourne fan, they show him winning the free then cut straight to the St. Kilda bloke having a shot. All it lacked was a couple of seconds of SCENE MISSING. This time there was no reprieve from NQR goalkicking.

This tremendous cock-up was good news for Channel 7 keeping viewers through the half-time break, but interrupted Rankine Wankin' style foaming over the number of times Max King had flown for a contested mark and not come down with it. There's no doubt he's an exciting prospect, but there's no Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry. A word of caution for Saints fans, it's all looking good now but I was there when Hogan kicked seven against you (and missed an eighth from point blank range), now he's a defender who can't get a game for a struggling team. Nurture your young stars properly.

After an otherwise very good quarter the Viney free and the Jones debacle were a blow, but not as much as the spectacular pisstake of letting them charge straight out of the middle for another goal, cutting the margin to two. I fully expected us to use the remaining six seconds to concede a free and two 50s so they could get another before half time. We survived the centre bounce, but it was a deflating way to go to the break when we'd had control of the game for so long.

To our credit, bundles remained undropped, though we did briefly give up the lead when Oliver handballed straight to an opponent in front of goal. For the first three quarters it was not his night, but he certainly came good when the game was on the line. I'm willing to overlook the odd disposal disaster when his sixth sense handballs have gotten us out of so many sticky situations in recent years.

After getting lucky with opposition injuries a few times in recent weeks there were two occasions where it looked like we were going to lose somebody for the rest of the game. Angus Brayshaw briefly seemed dead after having a knee stuck through him during a marking contest, and considering he may as well have had the cartoon Xs over his eyes my first thought was that he'd been smashed in the head. Turns out it was only his upper back and he returned after regaining his senses. After a few good weeks it wasn't his best game but I'm still satisfied that he's coming good right when it counts.

Next to go was Hibberd, who rolled his ankle in a marking contest and hobbled off as if completely crocked, interrupting these two guys who were busy loading a box. Must be strange working for a footy club, putting on the colours, being around the players whose moods swing hard on the results of the game and not even seeing it played because you're occupied packing a crate.

Before then we'd grabbed the lead back, with Jones ironically taking advantage of nutso disposal in defence to set up Petracca's third. "He owes them one!" yelled Luke Darcy, which was true in the context of the night (though he probably owed two), but during his career we still owe him about 50 goals and several years of his life back.

That carried us beyond the point where we would have won if they did kick 2.24. Unfortunately their remedy to that was to walk a goal in from the square to go back in front less than a minute later. Our response took a lot longer, but it was pretty when it arrived. Also one of the great Seconds from Disaster goals, created by Lever baulking at the top of the square and walking through three forwards to clear the ball. If he'd been caught we'd be pouring immense quantities of shit on him now, but it worked a treat. Tomlinson recovered from a dropped mark on the back flank, and set up Hibberd to drop a perfectly weighted kick into Weideman's path, who gathered and rolled it through to calm the nerves. Hibbo's reward was to crock his ankle about a minute later.

If you're a believer in Burgess Ball you'll have been confident that we could ride out the last quarter against a side full of run, but scores were too close for comfort. After relying almost entirely on talls + Petracca it wouldn't have taken much to put us away if the small forwards didn't belatedly come to the party. We were also vulnerable to any number of flubbed kicks straight to opposition players.

At first it looked like Hibberd was finished, much to the confusion of James Brayshaw, who declared he was "moving well" at the last break immediately before going down the race again. Hibbo did eventually return, presumably with so much juice in him that he thought he was back at Essendon. He would have thought they'd injected a hallucinogenic if he went on The Age website after and saw...

If you're a football purist the last quarter wouldn't have been for you. But if you're a football purist would you still be watching? It was one goal each and a lot of midfield toil and struggle, but when the goal came what a ripper it was. Again, nothing for purists, but fans of both Melbourne and comedy were well looked after.

Winning is good. Winning controversially is better. Also gives an out to the other side, who can claim they were robbed no matter how dubious the evidence. What was ultimately our winning goal had it all, a lovely Oliver kick to Petracca in a one-on-one (the commentary buried it as 'one on three', even though two of them of them were nowhere near the contest), him arguably marking it, then throwing boot to ball in a tackle, watching it seemingly going through for a point before taking a Shane Warne-esque bounce (appropriate, given the number of ads for his 'smell of middle aged desperation' fragrance during the game) towards the goal.

The same bloke who'd spent all night trying to find a free target upfield desperately lunged at the ball as it reached the line but didn't get there in time. Also key in this sequence, Petracca's wounded look when they went to the replay as if he knew conclusively it had gone over the line, and the woman behind the goals going absolutely off her nut at the umpires for not just paying it and repeatedly yelling "that was a goal!" And it was. So says the official record anyway. Provide conclusive proof otherwise.

For once technology - or a lack thereof - paid off for us. So did the old methods, the goal umpire who was hovering right over the top of the play said it went through. Lucky he did, because the collection of camera angles on offer for the review were never going to end in anything other than 'umpire's call'. Made up ever so slightly for that review debacle that may have cost us in the Brisbane game. I say 'may', because like that night it's a leap of faith to assume that just because one decision went against you that the rest of the game would have panned out the same way.

We'd probably have flubbed a kick to a free play against the Lions and scored nothing, while St. Kilda may very well have taken the point and booted the kick-in straight to a forward 20 metres out. It certainly doesn't follow that they get their last goal in the exact same circumstances and go in front. They might have gone coast-to-coast then kicked three in a row out of the middle and won in a landslide, we'll never know but cheers to whoever decided not to install goal line cameras in Alice Springs because "what are the chances it will be important?" There's still time for this to rebound on us, the AFL is rushing Jim's Electrical to Cairns to install the cameras, where it will no doubt cost us the game.

I've been a Brett Ratten fan ever since he was at the helm of our surprisingly good 2004 midfield, but his comments that Dougal (?) says he touched it weren't very helpful. Of course he touched it, the debate was where. The man who followed his successful year with us by coaching an Eastern District League second division side was otherwise magnanimous about the incident, admitting that it wasn't the deciding factor in the result. More power to him. If a St. Kilda flag wouldn't leave us marooned firmly to the bottom of the historical Laughing Stock League I'd want him to win one.

It left us 10 points ahead with six minutes left, far from enough to get comfortable. After spending the first three and a bit quarters on the couch, under a blanket like the elderly I was on my feet for the finale, taking care of my nerves by maniacally pacing the room. There's a small - fortunately sturdy - kiddy table right behind the couch, and at one point I walked across it. No idea why, it was just in the way of my pacing. I'm bad enough in close games that don't mean anything, let alone season-defining thrillers.

Two minutes later my concerns were proven correct. I was nervous that after thumping them in the air all night the game would end with a key position goal. By our previous standards against the Saints it was more likely to be some cheap goal out the back, but at the time all I could think of was the irony of Max King finally pulling in a grab and kicking a goal to roll us.

They needed two to win, and the first came from the exact sequence you'd expect - finally getting some run out of defence and finding a forward in space. King had been withdrawn to the white Bunnings plastic chairs by now, so it was Tim Membrey's chance to make it interesting. I feel bad for Oscar McDonald, who clearly had an "oh shit everyone's going to blame me" look on his face as he trailed in behind.

Having kicked 5+ goals in a game six times in his career, Membrey is far from a Kingsley kandidate but you'd be right to feel like he regularly stitches us up, averaging nearly three goals a game against Melbourne. After missing twice you knew deep down that he was going to get this one. Lo and behold straight through it went, leaving us four minutes to defend a lead that could be wiped out in the blink of an eye.

In real life I love swearing, especially when nobody's around all you can really go for it. All the classics, Fs, Cs, f'ing Cs. I just tone it down on here out of respect for people reading on their work computer (though that hasn't stopped years of ongoing references to the fringe practice of fisting), but in the last few minutes of a close game where there's nobody else around I'm like Malcolm Tucker on speed. Why do you think I don't want to sit near anyone at games? Imagine being forced to internalise this while there are kids three seats away? Fuck that for a joke, take me to Row MM and let's give it the full In Bruges treatment.

This was my last four minutes, walking the room and muttering dark, regrettable comments about players and umpires alike. It didn't get much cleaner than yelling "Miss it you prick!" as Membrey ran in, and the rest was frankly unprintable. My joy of life was not enhanced by them getting a free out of the middle and going forward again, only for Zak Jones to unload a kick into attack that was arguably worse than his brother's blunder at the same end. The only concession I'm willing to make is that Langdon may have touched it off the boot, but it cost them an opportunity to get in front.

Cue three minutes of intestinal distress, including May being outmarked for the first time all night by a ruckman, who was left shooting from roughly the same spot Petracca had goalled from in the first quarter. Rowan Marshall is apparently quite good, but he's not Petracca good. His shiftily darting eyes suggested he didn't have any confidence but he gave it a decent hoist, and for the splittest of seconds I thought it had evaded Gawn's punch on the line. There was never a suggestion it was anything other than a point but that's where I was at psychologically.

After a year of calling for Salem to kick in more, he randomly got the chance with the game on the line. He'd learnt from the end of the first half that this was no time for being tricky and he did exact what May would have done and hoisted it long towards Gawn. This ended in the ball going to ground, where Charleston Spargo paid off two weeks of meh performances with the tackle of his life, pouncing on a player who was about to walk into space and send the ball forward again. That's the sort of thing that will get you a game as a defensive forward even if you're not kicking goals.

Cue two minutes of scrap, scramble, and the Saints looking far more likely to kick the next goal. I was skeptical of Tomlinson as a defender but he continues to impress, taking another strong overhead mark to get us out of jail. Didn't last long, even though we got away with Brayshaw throwing a rugby pass out of a pack the ball was soon back down their end. A top drawer spoil by Lever and another ripping Spargo tackle failed to halt the progress of the ball, and with a few seconds left it was flying towards their goal again while I touched cloth.

We may have got extremely lucky, forget disputed goal umpiring decisions, a view of the replay shows that as the ball came off the pack it was heading right towards Marshall to presumably snap the winner, before taking a novelty bounce past him and into Brayshaw's hands. That would have been it if Mitch Brown's backwards kick to Langdon had been deemed 15 metres, but the umpire helpfully choosing that moment to get snippy about distance meant he just had to rip the kick forward and hope that didn't leave them enough time to rebound.

Most teams would be confident in stopping the other side going from one end to the other in the last 15 seconds, but even after a night of doing just that I greeted the free kick against Melksham on the half back flank with a stream of obscenities. There was no need to worry, our old friend Dougal (??) showed why players should never get to know how much time there is left by dithering on his kick and making sure we'd win unless somebody did the modern equivalent of Jim Stynes running across the mark and failed to run east/west at 180 degrees past his opponent without his arm in the air and a sprig of parsley behind his ear.

Appropriately the last kick belonged to Dean Kent, who I otherwise wish nothing but the best for, but he ran out of time and we held on. It didn't end in the same dignity-free scenes as either of the 2017/18 Perth wins (falling to the floor and pounding it while orgasmically yelling YES! YES! YES! after McDonald's goal or taking off around the house with my arms aloft like I'd just won the Olympic 100 metres after the Kent-powered finals-clincher), but was right up there with other times I've thought my central nervous system was going to pack it in.

I could simultaneously be amazed that we'd won and understand how it happened. It wasn't Grand Theft Football but it was at least shoplifting. It was uncomfortable being under siege for the last couple of minutes but there were plenty of heroes in a backline and midfield that deserved credit for helping save the points. If you're still looking for similarities to 2018, it was the Crows at Adelaide Oval where we rebooted our season by holding on in the face of a furious comeback. That year we slaughtered a lowly side the next week, then choked against Sydney a week later - this time we get to play struggling side Sydney so anything could happen.

St. Kilda would be entitled to wonder how they did everything but win it in the dying minutes. I invite them to review the final quarter of our last game in the NT, where we blew a 16 point lead by kicking 1.8 and missing a goal with 10 seconds left. That's hard times. This was a double tough gutsy win, not nearly as much fun as the time we tore post hostage crisis Adelaide limb-from-limb, but better than coming back from five goals down to beat Gold Coast. It's happened a lot later in the year, but like those wins it's also critical for our chances of playing finals.

I can understand players getting excited under the circumstances, and the carnival atmosphere was topped off by somebody later to be revealed as Greg Stafford accompanying the theme song by going hell for leather on a bin lid. Forget Darren Burgess joining us from Arsenal, with a technique like that Stafford might get a job with the Houston Astros. Some miserable cove like J**d will have a problem with it, I'm happy for a coaching group that has been defamed weekly for the last two years to let off some steam by acting like they've joined Stomp. I wonder what the bonkers woman who jumped the fence for a chat with him that time thought of it.

The siren coincided with the news that they'd flushed the loose turds out of our water supply (yes, interstate readers, this was a real thing) and it was safe to go near the stuff again. Which is lucky, because if we'd let in a late goal I was going to waterboard myself. I still expected it to come out of the tap in lumps so chose not to toast victory with a glass of Yarra Valley Water's finest. The shits were not to be had in any fashion last night.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
5 - Steven May
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Christian Salem

Massive apology to Viney, narrowly tipped out of the last spot by Oliver's final quarter heroics. Regulation level apologies to Gawn, Lever, Rivers, Tomlinson, Wagner and Weideman

Gawn is the only one of the big hitters to miss out this week, but by virtue of kicking goals, goals and more goals Petracca stretches his lead to eight and will be difficult to catch, especially if there's more than four games to play... if you know what I mean... wink, nudge etc...

No further movement in the minors, though Rivers would probably win on a countback if you made me choose between him and Pickett. Not how it works though, and we're looking at the first draw since Hunt/Petracca 2016. Now there's a pair of careers heading in opposite directions. And I'm reasonably confident May won't be caught in the Seecamp, so he's been handed provisional winner status.

39 - Christian Petracca
32 - Clayton Oliver
25 - Jack Viney
21 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
--- No hope without one final ---
14 - Ed Langdon
10 - Angus Brayshaw
--- No hope without two finals ---
9 - Christian Salem
6 - Michael Hibberd, Sam Weideman
4 - Jake Lever
--- No hope without three finals ---
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), Adam Tomlinson

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Though his mortar shell set shot in the first quarter was both technically better and entirely indisputable, you'd be mad to go past Petracca's match-winner. Sure it only went through courtesy of an obscure bounce, and we'll never know if it fully crossed the line before being touched but that's not important now. It will cost it the clubhouse lead in the yearly prize, but that's not a massive issue for Truck because he was already in front for that steamroller goal out of the middle against North.

For the weekly prize he wins a one-on-one Daytona USA lesson in the entertainment room of the Cairns Motor Lodge (which is not a patch on Rockhampton's Porky's Motel) with leisure technician Bayley Fritsch.

I wouldn't have either James Brayshaw or Luke Darcy in my SuperCommentary team, but watching a Channel 7 game without some bloke shouting like his jompers are on fire was refreshing.

You can only imagine what the end of this would have been like if their alleged #1 team had been involved, with Big Turd saying things like "next goal wins" and prefacing either ridiculous or patently obvious statements (but never anything in between) with "I reckon".

This would all be bad enough, except that on the victory lap after one of the great commentating careers, Bruce McAvaney has decided he has to try and keep up with this nonsense. It's like a social drinker trying to take a raging alcoholic on in a drinking contest. Regain some dignity Bruce, for your own sake ask them to place you in Channel 7's version of the Witness Protection Program and work with any other commentator.

As for the coverage we were watching, there wasn't much wrong. They hit their quota on lingering shots of the crowd and telling us 200 times how much the people of Alice Springs loved being able to watch footy (I don't expect the Cairns crowd to get the same level of patronising coverage), the only thing I had an issue with was an over-reliance on using the picture-in-picture to show live play while a replay took up the main screen. And good on them for not bringing a goal-line camera.

Next Week
Imagine kicking off your September campaign at 4.40pm Thursday in Cairns. We've gone further north plenty of times, but it feels like years of gags about being forced to play in an exotic timeslot on the Spratly Islands have finally paid off. Fine timing for all you pricks 'working' from home, some of us will be forced to engage in an afternoon of 'special projects' to watch. Which will be fine if we do the right thing and win against a Sydney side that has been ordinary all year. Here's to getting the Swans that could only beat Adelaide, Hawthorn and North, not the one that mysteriously belted GWS.

Two weeks ago Sydney kicked 2.7.19, and have the biggest cast of players you've never heard of since season 1 GWS so you'd be in a murderous mood if we lost. But deep down would you be surprised? As it's located in the disputed region of Western Sahara, there's no social distancing requirements at Kingsley Manor, and Kent is currently wondering whether he can get all of (consults *AFL Tables for names*) James Bell, Zac Foot, Colin O'Riordan, James Rowbottom, Dylan Stephens, Jackson Thurlow and Sam Wicks in at once.

We'll find out when they tear us a new ringpiece on Thursday afternoon, but are these real people?
For those of my vintage (middle-aged but still in control of most bodily functions), this may bring back memories of International Cricket on the Nintendo, where they couldn't afford the rights to real players and had to come up with a squad of soundalike knockoffs.

Surely all these fictional people can't fire at the same time, so I can't bring myself to think we'll lose but there are too many variables to be truly confident. For one, I'd prefer to know that the side picked this week isn't the one they expect to take to the finals. In the world of football cliches the axe can only swing after a loss, and I bet they won't dare make the sort of changes they would have if St. Kilda had rolled through a late goal. I propose changes not once, not twice, but thrice.

No idea what role Hannan was playing but I didn't fancy it. If he's not inside 50 I am not interested. I'm very interested in Pickett, but he needs a week watching nothing but review tapes to try and get his attempted highlights/actual highlights percentage into double figures. And the vandWagon has blown a tire in recent weeks so he can have a rest too.

Replacing them:

Fritsch - given a reprieve from the air hockey table after being dropped for somehow turning up late for training while in a hermetically sealed hub. I reckon they secretly chopped him for offering bugger all forward pressure but we should (SHOULD) get a lot of forward 50 opportunities next week and he's a proven commodity for finishing them.
Harmes - after Wagner did well in defence (probably due to being a defender), bring him back as a midfielder. Is in no way the same player as AVB but I have faith he will offer more both offensively and defensively.
... and Bedford is the next closest thing we've got to a small forward if Pickett goes out, so let's give him another bash.

Was close to Bennell in for Jones, but despite the high profile cock-up I'm still seduced by the romantic aspect of him being in the side. For one more week at least. NFI what to do if Hibberd doesn't play - Lockhart doesn't seem a like-for-like swap but might have to do. Whoever it is, it won't be Double J James Jordon. I thought he might get a go at some point until he crushed a finger between dumbells and had to have plastic surgery to correct the damage. If he gets caught up in the 2021 list reduction massacre the permanent deformity will be a happy reminder of his time away with the Dees.

IN: Bedford, Fritsch, Harmes
OUT: Hannan, Pickett, vandenBerg (omit)
LUCKY: Jones, O. McDonald, Spargo
UNLUCKY: Bennell, Lockhart

The Return of the Bradbury Plan

It's back in our hands now, which if anything is even scarier than having to fight from behind. Even if you got yourself into a difficult position, missing from a weaker position means you can unconvincingly claim that it's not what we did but what everyone else did to us. Now we get to look like buffoons if we miss out with what looks on paper like an easy draw. I'll wait to see what happens next week but bless whoever sent us to Perth for Round 1 so we get to play Freo in Cairns instead of at home.

Luckily a day of Dougal (???) style dithering has meant I can factor in Carlton/Collingwood and Gold Coast/North before publishing. Feels odd to be going through all these permutations after 13 games but here we are.

For all the ridiculously premature talk on the TV coverage about Carlton being finished by the loss they are still a threat. What this does is make their next game against GWS huge. If they win they're still in the mix, but significant percentage behind us and stuffs up the Giants. This is what Bradbury life is all about, you've got to look into the future and see potential impacts on the Plan. And people who say "you shouldn't be relying on other teams losing" clearly have none of the mental scars you get from following Melbourne.

As for Collingwood, they have a difficult draw but I'm all but conceding a spot to them now, leaving us in a battle for eighth. Nothing's certain but I think they've done enough to be finals cannon fodder.  Finally, Essendon's draw against Gold Coast and Hawthorn's massive collapse on Friday night can piss right off. The Bombers should be removed as a factor by playing West Coast, Geelong and Port in the next three weeks but I do not fancy playing them in an in/out game in the last round. I want them to be practically begging the AFL to allow a walkover so they can send their dispirited players home.

No threat to us, win everything - Brisbane, Port, Geelong, Richmond, North, Adelaide, Sydney, Hawthorn
Could be dragged into the race so may as well lose to non-threats - St. Kilda (↓), Collingwood (↑)
Likely no threat, can do us favours by beating other mid-table teams - West Coast, Fremantle (↓), Gold Coast (↓)
Outside threat. Beat some mid-table teams, lose to everyone else - Carlton (↓)
Big threats, lose everything until further notice (matches between them to be decided on a case-by-case basis) - GWS, Essendon, Footscray

And your cut-out-and-keep guide until the end of Round 15. Given that we're the fourth game of the round it's all subject to change:

Adelaide d. Hawthorn - strange game to get an interest in, but I wouldn't mind the Crows getting some confidence up before playing GWS and Carlton.
West Coast d. Essendon
Richmond d. Freo - just to make sure the Dockers are dead, hopefully with their morale shattered
Carlton d. GWS
Brisbane d. Collingwood

Have at it sports fans. Willing to accept alternative plans that cover any intricate details I've missed. And if you haven't had enough permutations there's a ladder predictor to go sick on here.

Final thoughts
The coping strategy about this being a throwaway season was lie told by the head that the heart doesn't believe. It is a throwaway season but I still desperately want to make the eight. We can play finals - for the first three weeks it doesn't matter if I can't be there and we're still not good enough to make the fourth so it won't matter - and use this as a springboard to 2021.

There are still too many holes to be confident that we'll be a guaranteed finals side next year, but barring another off-season from hell I'm reasonably confident that we won't be any worse. The good news is we'll never have had a shorter off-season before finding out which way it's going to go, in what we hope is a proper length season with regulation quarters and players not flying around the country ad nauseum like Charles Kingsford bloody Smith.

Anyway, see you on Thursday for "yeah, I told you this season was bullshit. It's ok if we finish 9th by 0.1% again" style misery.

Sunday 23 August 2020

Putting the cart before the horse

Following Melbourne, there are often reminders that you can't have it all. In the week where we mysteriously discovered a few million dollars under the couch, our three match orgy of fourth quarter violence against hopelessly outmatched opposition came to a shuddering halt. Funny what happens when you run into a side of comparable (and as it turns out, superior), well-drilled talent that don't lose a player to a crippling injury in the first half.

On an otherwise sunny Gold Coast day (I would say 'is there any other type?', but after going on holiday there in 1993 and sitting around for three days while it pissed down they can get stuffed), our chances of winning at Carrara were affected by a strong wind. It need not have been fatal, if you don't do things like try to kick across the defensive 50 into the teeth of it, but made it less likely we'd kick 16.4 like last week.

I was hoping that we'd compensate for the tricky conditions by walking goals in from the square like the Hawthorn game, and via some arsing about in front of goal that's how we got the first. Preuss did the sort of hack kick out of the middle that looks brilliant if it works and shithouse if there's a defender in the way, bouncing straight to Petracca, who saw Weideman waltzing into goal on his own. We should have known how the day was going to go when he overcooked the easiest possible handball, forcing The Weid to scramble around on the floor trying to pick it up.

I'd rather commit self-harm than watch the rest of the highlights but I think that's the last goal we got from the square until the game was dead and buried. Certainly the last goal of any variety for the first quarter, as the Bulldogs took the ball straight down the other end and parked it there for the best part of 15 minutes.

The first goal we conceded was equally as telling. The Bulldogs stormed out of defence like an invading army, literally rolled in one of the worst forward 50 entry kicks ever by a non-Melbourne player and still ended up kicking a goal. Hibberd has been very good in 2020 but this was not his finest day, beginning here with a horrible attempt at kicking into the middle of the ground that hung up on the wind and landed right in the arms of Marcus Bontempelli. Remember the name, you'll be screaming it in frustration later.

Even one of the league's genuine superstars couldn't help getting involved in the circus, rolling his attempted kick to a teammate along the rapidly decaying Carrara turf too. With Hibberd still 20 metres up the ground, probably looking at his foot and wondering what had gone wrong, there was more than enough space for them to finally gather and put the viewing audience out of its misery. Any neutrals who and didn't turn over to [any other program] there and then only had themselves to blame.

If the quality of play didn't put you away, surely the bonkers Fox Footy production did. The director must have thought they were being artistic by doing extreme close-ups and NYPD Blue style quick cutaways but it was giving me the shits. Also no help to commentators who are sitting in a studio in Melbourne calling it off the TV, which didn't stop Garry Lyon regularly complaining about players not looking for options ahead of the ball that he couldn't confirm were even there because the screen was on 20x zoom. Usually Fox production shits on Channel 7 (commentary a draw) but this was terrible. I know Melbourne/Footscray is hardly a glamour game but there will be plenty of dead-rubbers in the next few weeks to try techniques you heard about in an online sports broadcasting seminar.

After vandenBerg was adjudged to have taken advantage when he took a couple of steps and put his hands up to stop the play, you could have settled in for a day of blaming the umpires for everything. I preferred to concentrate on what we could have done to win it ourselves. Considering some of the slurry we got last week you have to realise that umpiring is done at random and there will be days where the opposition will be allowed to throw the ball to each other like they're playing rugby league.

Incorrect disposal was no longer a thing, but there was still plenty of time for unnecessary score reviews, including one where the goal umpire was very passive-aggressive about having to participate. The umpires were also red-hot on kicks not travelling the required distance, presumably having received instruction not to let the Melksham Debacle happen again.

There was a decent patch in the second quarter where it looked like our backline was going to get us out of jail, but the seeds of why we lost were sown in the opening minutes as the ball pinged out of our forward line like a cannonball. The old Demon Trampoline was back, with the intense forward pressure that broke Collingwood's spirit a week ago left in Brisbane. Carnival time for Bulldogs defenders, who could send the ball forward under no pressure, usually finding free teammates all the way up the ground. You've watched enough Melbourne teams over the years to know that there's only so many times a brick wall defence can keep the opposition out before breaking down.

Maybe Burgess was right and we really were four day break specialists? This wasn't near the white flag surrender experience of the Port game but there were elements of it. All the forwards can share some blame (though I'll excuse Weideman because he was usually peeling himself off the ground after contesting), but Spargo had the most violent fall to earth. He barely got a touch in the first half (on ball or opponent), and was involved in a debacle at the other end where he greeted a player running into goal by jumping in the air, only for his opponent to walk past him and kick it. None of it was pretty, and though he got a goal later it was a very ordinary day for him. Pickett also looked lost, he tried hard and almost beautifully crumbed a goal in the first quarter but things weren't going his way. If there were reserves you'd give him a week with them to get some touch.

Between the wind and our tall defenders we managed to keep them to two goals, but I can't have been the only one sweating up like a doped racehorse when the clock hit 1.30. Channel 10 used to have the five minute warning, Fox Footy should show DEMONTIME. I will trade the copyright for Dwayne being banned from our games.

This time we did it to ourselves. Petracca - who had plenty of disposals for much less overall benefit than other weeks - tried a ludicrous kick across the ground, which not surprisingly held up in the wind and led to the Bulldogs having a shot. There wasn't much good work to undo, it would have just meant not getting away with playing a clearly inferior quarter and only being a few points behind. They missed, and all was well with the world. If you believe such a thing can happen, quarter time was an opportunity for the coaches to reset and come up with another way to win.

Things looked better at the start of the second, when Melksham (who had a textbook 50% good, 50% shithouse game) fed The Weid for a beautifully taken running goal. It was another week where you thought Sam might go on to kick bag and it didn't happen. The more the merrier but I'm satisfied with his two goals a game plus the additional benefits from providing a target and crashing packs. Consistent four quarter performances will come eventually, for now, I'm just happy to have a confident marking target again. Freo doesn't want Jesse Hogan as a forward anymore, bring him back. Then we get the additional goalkicker and can enjoy the power and the passion of Steven May without that trade being referred to every 10 minutes.

Speaking of May, I know we got him towards the end of his career and last year was a bomb but I haven't felt like this about a genuine key position defender since early Jared Rivers. Maybe even Anthony Ingerson. It's not easy being a rock in our defence but he just about pulls it off. If he's Ingerson, Lever is nowhere near Seecamp but I thought yesterday was one of his better performances. There was a pissweak attempt at grabbing an opponent that eventually led to a goal but we're paying him to intercept footballs, not to do flying, horizontal tackles on the wing.

For a few minutes we'd improved to the point where it seemed we might even have 'worked them out' (cliche). We had not. After a second goal kicked on Harmes (possibly because he's not a bloody defender), the reply was spurned when Melk's set shot from 20 metres out directly in front was touched through. Arguably, the defender jumped over the mark but surely they do that 99 times out of 100 in the same scenario and nobody else manages to skim it through off their fingertips. Consistent with his on again/off again day, he made up for this by walloping the next goal through from 50 to keep things interesting.

We were still narrowly behind in the dying minutes before the hunted became the hunters for once, and two late goals put us ahead at half time. First Oliver with a delightful snap in traffic, then a rampaging Viney set up Fritsch for a shot at the death. Toss a coin for Bayley no matter where he's kicking from but this went through, giving us a barely deserved but much welcome seven point lead. "He's the Fritsch Magnet" yelled Dwayne, very happy with himself and not daring to use the real nickname of Fritzl. We should have embraced the magnet gag, it was all downhill from there.

At half time we got 20 minutes of ads (including Open Mike with Jack Trengove from a pub, which is where you'd go after captaining Melbourne too), Bulldogs players got detailed instruction on how to stitch the Dees up, and our players must have been daydreaming about seagulls. They continued to look bamboozled after the restart as Footscray whacked through two quick goals to take the lead. May and Lever were doing well (with a winning cameo from Tomlinson, who I'm still not convinced in as a defender but will change my mind if he keeps playing like this), but this didn't factor in the medium-sized forwards walloping us.

Footscray fans seem to treat premiership coach Luke Beveridge like Mark Neeld, but he was an early adopter of the idea that hitouts, especially in the middle, are almost meaningless. So it was again, tearing open the Plan B envelope and putting previously blanketed key forward Josh Bruce in the middle to try something different. It did nothing for their hitout numbers, but that didn't mean anything when our midfielders couldn't get near the drop of the ball. Garry Lyon spent most of the call talking Preuss down like he was the worst tap-ruckman ever to breathe oxygen but I dispute that it was his fault - the Dogs were just smart enough to stop our lot getting near it, and for most of the day they were left to sweep it majestically out of the middle unchallenged.

I'm no expert, but I'd have thought you'd do something about Bontempelli. It's one thing - a questionable one - to start the game letting one of the best players in the league roam free, but when he sets up the first goal and of the quarter and kicks the second within the first couple of minutes you've got to do something. I don't know if Goodwin's phone was plugged in because we just carried on like nothing was wrong. What about sending Harmes to him? I don't understand what they're doing with him otherwise. He's not a defender, and he's not running the ball out of defence. So what's he doing other than withering on the vine?

If I was Harmes' agent I'd cut up a highlights package of the second half of 2018 and ship it to every club in the league. He's never going to win the Brownlow but he did significant damage in the second half of that year and hasn't been used in the same role since. Certainly not here, when we might have thought about trying to curb the influence of a good player with somebody who can rack up disposals going the mythical 'other way'. Instead we just let Bontempelli do as he wished. Didn't win the game single-handedly but it helped.

In the heat of the moment when they were tearing us apart I was ready to punch on. Now I'm over it. Last week we got the perfect conditions to kick buggery out of a team around our level, this week we didn't. That's textbook mid-table mediocrity. I respect the view that we'll never get any better under Goodwin, but knowing that we're not going to sack him this year (even with our improved financial position) I'm going to hang on through the off-season and see what they do to plug holes in the side. Last time I held off on turning against a coach over summer it lasted until about three quarter time of R1, 2013. You're welcome to go off now, I'm not going to fight about it.

There were opportunities to steady the ship, coin-flip Fritsch missed a snap from 30 metres out, before Sparrow became the latest to have his shot touched through. Then the Melksham pendulum swung back to bad, costing us the goal that killed off any hope of a come back. Plenty of time left, not enough good players. He was pinged for an administrative 50 on the wing, but it's not like the umpire didn't yell at him about 10 times before paying it. Can't really argue that you couldn't hear over the crowd noise when there's 2500 people in the ground.

By three quarter time we were 27 points down and had left ourselves far too much work to do, even with whatever advantage the wacky wind was providing. With an extra four minutes I'd have held out hope of romping home with a Burgess Ball inspired Stranglewank (stuffed up a sponsorship deal by not getting close enough), but they'd have had to wobble like Lachie Hunter in a suburban street to lose from there.

I understand the necessity this year, but shortened quarters are horrid. Eventually people would get used to having no hope when five goals down at the last change but it would take a while. When I woke up on Saturday morning to pissing rain and arctic winds I thought it was just the sort of day to get down to the 'G and have my heartbroken, but if you're going to lop 16 minutes off a match to cater for the people who have the excessive spare time in their lives to watch nine matches a week I'll just sit on my couch under a blanket and get on with life immediately after the final siren.

There was a brief outbreak of interest when McSizzle took a 2018 style overhead mark and goalled in the first few minutes. Then in an even more 2018 style incident we wasted his goal immediately out of the centre and my blood pressure recovered to normal levels. In the five stages of sporting grief I'd gone from denial in the first quarter, to anger in the third and bargaining after the Sizzle goal, then skipped depression and went straight to acceptance. We'd had a few good minutes but couldn't capitalise, and giving away five minutes only to have the score in the same place as where we'd started was confirmation that this game was going nowhere.

We got a bit panicky and went back to trying to work our way back into the game via the miracle handball. It didn't always work but there was a touch of cynicism in the call when they (mostly Garry Lyon, back into his comfortable place of Melbourne playing badly) chastised handballs that would have looked brilliant if they'd bounced left instead of right. Of course you'd prefer every disposal hit a player standing miles in the open but that's hardly compatible with games played in nine day Chinese traffic jam style congestion.

Unless you were Charlie Spargo, who got the consolation prize of a goal from an unguarded square, there wasn't much on offer for the rest of the game. The glory of short quarters was further demonstrated by Mitch Wallis wasting time for a shot he was never going to make the distance from just to run down the clock.

It was genuinely unwatchable stuff for Melbourne fans unless you were interested in weird things happening. Fritsch had a set shot that was perfectly on line until a gale-force gust of wind hit just as it was about to cross the line, and after his recent golf celebrations Angus Brayshaw did the equivalent of teeing off into a low hedge by failing to kick over the diminutive Caleb Daniel.

The Dogs fully deserved to win, there were only a few minutes where we were the better side, and while I'd love to have got close enough to have a crack at Grand Theft Football like Geelong or Brisbane, a win here would have been equally as undeserved. Any of them would have come in handy though, like 2018 we're not going to make the eight by just beating lowly clubs, we'll have to do over another contender at some point.

As far as further 2018 comparisons go, this was the equivalent of the loss to Port, who were right around our level at the time (before folding like a house of cards and missing the eight). The difference is that we had another nine rounds to consolidate our spot in the eight - and needed eight of them - whereas now we're fighting from outside with five to play.

If there's ever been a time for learnings and connection - and if you listen to our coach it's when you need to deflect losses - they've got plenty to work on before next week. The Saints are the last top four contender we play, but we're still going to have to rely on other results to get us in. Please refer to the weeks where I said I wasn't all that concerned if we made it, rather than the post-win reviews where it sounded like I'd be smuggling myself to Queensland on a freight train like an old time hobo.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
5 - Steven May
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Jake Lever
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Clayton Oliver

Major apology to Salem, who just missed out on the 1. Normal level apologies to Langdon, Petracca and Weideman. Up and down for the rest.

Now that we're outside the eight we've got to work on a maximum of five remaining games, meaning the dreaded line of elimination is valid for everyone below Angus Brayshaw. The Wagnii will need to pick up 5s every week from here until the Semi Final (just one of them, can't score votes as a unit) if they want a finals related share of the Jako.

There is some movement at the top, with Oliver restricting Petracca's lead to one full BOG. Realistically, I can't see anyone outside the top three winning. Gawn could come back and get votes but are the others going to stop scoring enough to let him in? In the minors, May has delivered a near-fatal knockout blow in the Seecamp, while the Hilton is an ongoing embarrassment. First Jackson looked like he might break the tie and his hamstring exploded, then Sparrow seemed likely and his collarbone broke. No wonder Pickett went missing for most of the game, he must have known what was around the corner. Barring something unrealistic happening, he and Rivers are the likely last contenders standing.

35 - Christian Petracca
30 - Clayton Oliver
25 - Jack Viney
21 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
16 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
11 - Ed Langdon
10 - Angus Brayshaw
--- No hope without one final ---
8 - Christian Salem
6 - Michael Hibberd, Sam Weideman
4 - Jake Lever
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), Adam Tomlinson

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies to Oliver's snap or Melksham's long bomb but it'll have Weideman on the run in the second quarter thanks. Sam wins one of those roll-on things for removing the bags under your eyes. Hope he has better luck with it than I did. Still no word back on him being the celebrity spokesman for my foundation to support the baggy-eyed.

If Channel 7 is going to pay the much unmaligned Jason Bennett to sit at home playing XBox, then I can handle Mark Howard being added to the Fox team. He understands that you've got to do a bit of boofy, blokey bullshit that deadshits who like BT enjoy but in proportion.

Howard (never 'Howie') also entered my commentary hall of fame for calling Dwayne out on the set-up Fritsch Magnet gag, asking him how long he'd had that planned for. The awkward silence that followed was an ego-deflating like a faulty hot air balloon. I wouldn't be surprised if Dwayne 'had a word' at half time.

Any hope that he might refuse to come out of his room for the second half like a petulant teenager was sadly dashed, and we were treated to regular outbursts of nonsense and random voice rises as if a dog had just bit him on the dick. With 3.41 left Footscray kicked a goal to lead by 26 points and the Master of Disaster yelled "They might be home!!!!1!1!!!!" You reckon? I think that's the point where you can put your neck on the line and make a firm prediction.

Next Week
Now that we've torched a gigantic opportunity to kick somebody else in the head on our way up the ladder, we've got to fight from underneath against the Saints, who in the past few years have gone past us, behind us and past us again to the point where anything could happen. If this is how we play against sides in or above our bracket then I don't hold out much hope, but stranger things have happened.

I doubt playing in Alice Springs for the first time will have impact on them, but hopefully it plunges them into crisis for a week. What you can bet on, after Friday night's BT debacle, is that the commentators won't patronisingly refer to indigenous fans in the ground like it's the first time they've ever been to a city.

As for changes Gawn is an obvious inclusion. When we nullified Grundy last week there was some controversial chat that our set-up was better without him. Cobblers. I appreciate Preuss' endeavour the last couple of weeks, and he's welcome to hang around on the list if he doesn't have anything better to do, but it's not all about the taps. I almost had a plan to save him, tossing up dropping McDonald and trying Preuss forward one last time but it's too risky. McSizzle is McCrocked but he still offers marginally more as a target. Maybe Mitch Brown will get another go? Otherwise, he's heading straight towards the Phil Egan Files.

If Jones is right I'll have him for Sparrow. Our stocks are pretty thin otherwise - Bedford, Jordon, Rivers, Sizzle Jr, Hunt, Baker, Jetta, Smith, The Wagnii, Bradtke, Chandler and Dunkley. Who amongst that list would you really want to see? I'm going to send Pickett away for a week and give Bedford another go. Bennell also back, replacing Spargo. Charleston had a good couple of weeks before this but it's time to get the quality players back in and have as big a bash at beating the Saints as possible.

IN: Bennell, Gawn, Jones, Bedford
OUT: Pickett, Preuss, Spargo (omit), Sparrow (inj)
LUCKY: Hannan, Harmes, McDonald
UNLUCKY: Preuss, Brown

The Return of the Bradbury Plan

Now that we're outside the eight there's a heavy reliance on other teams doing us a favour, which makes this a far purer Bradbury than last week. It suggests that 6/8 spots are taken and that the battle remains for 7th - 12th. The big movers are Carlton, with their two recent wins catapulting them back into the mix at the expense of Gold Coast. I'm prepared to write the Dockers off as well, not quite entirely but close enough to. Still time for them to finish ahead of us mind you.

No threat to us, win everything - Brisbane, Port, Geelong, Richmond (↑), North, Adelaide, Sydney (↓), Hawthorn (↓)
Likely no threat, can do us favours by beating other mid-table teams - West Coast, St. Kilda, Fremantle (↓),
Outside threat. Beat some mid-table teams, lose to everyone else - Gold Coast (↓)
Big threats, lose everything until further notice (matches between them to be decided on a case-by-case basis) - Collingwood, GWS, Essendon, Footscray, Carlton (↑)

I don't want to be negative, but I reckon it's shut the gate if Collingwood beat both North and Carlton, the Dogs beat Geelong and we lose to St. Kilda. Anyway, your guide for the next week and a bit:

Adelaide d. Geelong
Brisbane d. St Kilda
North d. Collingwood (who, for all the shit we poured on them last week, will be six points clear went they win)
Hawthorn d. Essendon
WCE d. Richmond (unlikely to have an effect)
Geelong d. Footscray (crucial result now)
Sydney/Port - no interest
Freo d. GWS
Carlton vs Collingwood TBD (if the Pies beat North we may as well concede that they'll make it and get to fighting for eighth. Otherwise this could go either way)
North d. Gold Coast

The Finance Report
If we're going to be out of debt next year and comfortable enough to turn down (further) AFL assistance, you have to wonder how rich we were going to be before the pandemic. The million dollars of panic fundraising helps but that's covering costs that didn't exist without the season collapsing.

The highlight of the article was that we'd made $100,000 in memberships and donations since tonking Collingwood. There are two things Mick Malthouse was right about - Steven Milne and that the Pies are our Grand Final. If this was a comedy program we'd cut to the MFC membership office now, with the phones ringing off the hook from everyone trying to get their money back.

The breakdown of our improved finances is interesting:

  • The sale of Leighoak (in the end wonderful timing before pokies joints were shuttered for the year) helped buy a $7.5 million investment portfolio. Which is good until we put it all into an essential oils pyramid scheme.
  • Even though its only benefit post-pokies will be to split up and sell, the value of the Bentleigh Club has shot up to an alleged $20 million. Did they discover oil under it? You'll never build an apartment block big enough to be worth that price in Bentleigh but if you can't trust "industry sources" who can you trust?
  • Saving $500k on the rent for AAMI Park this year is a masterstroke. 
  • $400k in free money from the MCG despite not playing there. Which is nice of them. 
  • Thanks to the people of the Northern Territory for staying Coronavirus free enough that we can still pocket our $600k for playing there next week. Also to their government for letting us in, unlike the Tasmanians stitching up North.
  • ... and a million tipped in by the fans on top of only having to refund 100 memberships. That's less people who used to go on a month-by-month plan and cancel their credit card in July.
Not surprisingly, the China Southern Airlines sponsorship era is over. I'm still not sure if they were a real business or a front for running guns to third world countries. All-in-all as good a result as we're going to get in this climate, even though the figures on Bentleigh seem tremendously rubbery. As long as we don't get dudded into playing both Anzac Eve and Queen's Birthday as the away team next year, and we get some hint of the new admin/training base not being in Gippsland hard to argue with how the administration is doing. And if they want to redirect some of that money to me I'll be even more flowery in my praise.

Final Thoughts
The only good news is that the nightmare scenario of somehow making it through to the Grand Final and having to watch at home with no guests is over. That is a rare time when I would want other people to be around, if not a bit hypocritical after shunning human contact for 20 years. This is not a side that will beat enough finals contenders in the home and away season, let alone taking them out in a September/October/December (delete as applicable) finals series.

I picked us to finish 8th at the start of the season and don't think I'll be more than a couple of places out. The problem is that's now far more likely to be 9th or 10th than 6th or 7th. I can tell you with absolute certainty that it won't be 6th. If it all contributes to a barnstorming 2021 when we become genuine contenders - finals first, flag second - it will all be worth it. History suggests it won't be.

Sunday 16 August 2020

Million Dollar Fisting

Best get the bad news out of the way first. Eventually we'll have to play a team that makes it through four quarters without suffering a serious injury. That's it for negativity, pull up a chair and enjoy the latest leg of our faithful cover version of 2018. We've had the weeks of low scoring where everyone hated the coach, now we've enjoyed a mysterious outbreak of free-wheeling demolition jobs on lesser sides.

Like 2018, this season may end with an interstate final (or it may not, settle down) but this time I won't be flying in (or boating in, or stowing myself inside an interstate freight train) to see it. I'm comfortable with that, it seems we're not going to disgrace ourselves so anything from here is a bonus. Unless you're North Melbourne, holding our first round pick as its value goes down faster than Virgin Australia shares. No matter what happens from here - until the inevitable heartbreaking finish - everything looks better than the driving towards a cliff recreation of 2011 of three weeks ago.

Even after two landslide wins I didn't expect The New Entertainers to reach triple figures here. We had enough trouble doing that in full-length games last year. I was mentally preparing for a slopfest but turns out everything (other than a brief pelting rain) was in our favour - a functioning midfield, surprisingly crisp delivery to a marking forward line, accurate kicking for goal, a dispirited opposition shedding players at a record rate and some of the zaniest umpiring decisions you'll ever see in our favour. After two weeks of umpiring rub you can pretty much lock-in the royal shaft next week.

While the Dees got off to a decent start, my first few minutes were less successful. It was only when I browsed Twitter and saw people hanging shit on AVB for an incident that hadn't yet occurred on my screen that I realised I was about three minutes behind the play. Thanks to the excessively long breaks after goals it only took until quarter time to catch up. I can't stand being delayed, even by a few seconds, knowing things have happened that I don't know about. Sometimes it's unavoidable, this was 100% human error.

The delay meant you saw our wonderfully constructed opening goal before I did, with the previously maligned (mostly by me) Brayshaw and Oliver (maligned at your peril) combining to set The Weid up for a perfect run at the ball right in front of goal. Crucially for his confidence he kicked it, and while he only got one more (two a week will do me nicely) Weid continued to provide an important contest in the air all night, absolutely terrifying defenders who had to jump against him. I thought he was guaranteed a letdown week after getting much-deserved media recognition (no word yet on whether he's going to be the public face - as it were - for my baggy eyes support group) but his re-rearrival continues. After seven appearances his two goal a game average is better than every forward in the league other than the reasonable company of Hawkins and Kennedy.

It was a good contested mark but don't discount the contribution from Oliver's kick. With a defender up his ginger he took the ball, swivelled and immediately dropped it 50 metres to the perfect spot. His kicks don't always work, but whose do? According to last night's stats, Pickett and Sparrow but you see my point. Brayshaw was also good again, put in the middle where he belongs instead of on the outside where his occasionally NQR disposal can do the most damage. If this is what gets him back to his best then bless him and long may it continue. The love/suspicion relationship continues - I don't know if anyone has ever appeared in my votes and potential outs so many times in the same season. This week votes, next week who knows.

After two weeks of conceding unnecessary early goals to flotsam and jetsam, going two up midway through the term was welcome. Brayshaw was in the second as well, launching one of the long bomb set shots that set the competition alight two years ago. As the pass came from Spargo I was forced to disavow unkind comments I'd made about two players at the same time. It was that kind of evening, by the end I was even praising umpires for their avante-garde approach to the laws of the game.

For the second week in a row, Gus celebrated his goal with a quick golf swing, before being immediately shown on the bench under instruction from Goodwin, probably telling him to stamp it out. I'm into it for the novelty value but I can see why coaches would want to stick to the dour old ways of celebrating goals instead of turning the AFL into the WWF. Forget AFLX for getting the internationals interested, embrace smart arse celebrations and excess niggle.

Speaking of characters, I didn't think much of his Don Mattingley in the Simpsons style no-sides haircut, but Preuss was solid. Treated like a Nick Smith 2004 style comedy selection, he more than held his own against a multiple All-Australian. It was not the sort of knockout performance you might have got from Gawn but if that's the best Grundy can do then best of luck paying him a million bucks for the next seven years. Preuss was not only competitive in the taps but held marks around the ground, which came as a surprise to anyone who remembered his crab-handed attempts at marking in late 2019. I'd still send him to the VFL - when it exists again - and try to teach him to take contested marks in front of goal but if he's content to live as a second or third-string ruckman for the rest of his contract he's not the worst 'break in case of emergency' option.

Despite having a break-even ruckman and a midfield that ultimately won the game, the Pies got the ball out of the centre comfortably early before dropping their bundle. The problem was their kicking into the forward 50 was a Melbourne level of haphazard. On the night we suddenly started connecting with targets left, right, and centre they were doing panic dump kicks that were swiftly rebounded. Even Lever finally took a towering contested mark when he could have just punched the ball away. He later spoiled the goodwill by handballing straight to a Pies player for a gift a goal but I appreciated it at the time.

If we're doing a BABBA style tribute to 2018, this was the note-perfect version of the first finals quarter against Geelong. Absorbing pressure then striking back with furious vengeance, and with enough Weid content to keep even the most cynical fan smiling for a week. There was added crumb, with Pickett pouncing on a loose ball to make it three goals to nil. Our forward pressure was top shelf, and Spargo deserves credit for being involved in this one as well. He had some decent games in his first season but this half was the best he's ever played. By half time Pies fans were flicking through their Kingsley equivalent trying to find other Melbourne players who'd had career-best days against them (Darren Cuthbertson doesn't count).

There were also missed opportunities, as we ran rings around them inside and out, and cleared the ball with the greatest of ease. Even when they had a fully fit forward line they didn't look like kicking a decent score. If nothing else it was clear we weren't going to lose a shootout. If we could play a couple of good quarters in a row and ease our score out to 50 or 60 we'd likely win. Easier said than done, how many times have we followed one promising term with 0.3?

After quarter time the Geelong 2018 comparisons were limited. It lacked Sam Frost (or a replacement) telling the equivalent of Sam Frost to "pull your fucking head in", but had the added drama of an opposition player being knocked into next week in a collision. Shithouse news for him, and we hope he's ok, but after two games of taking full advantage of the other side losing a player to injury early in the game I was finally ready to admit this might work in our favour.

Even after a quarter of near-complete domination in all aspects of the game, tensions still rose when the clock ticked towards DemonTime. If there's ever been a modern side that has conceded more goals in the last 90 seconds of quarters than us I'm yet to meet them. Even when we were attacking with a minute left you just knew the Pies - so far restricted to 0.1 - would probably get another go. And so it was, ironically via a ludicrous decision in our favour. Holding the ball is as big a lottery now as ruck infringements, but I'd have thought Melksham gathering, taking a couple of steps and feigning to handball before being tackled constituted prior opportunity. Later Viney got one free for diving at Steele Sidebottom's legs, then got another for a Collingwood player doing the same thing to him. Always good to see the rich and powerful (clubs) get stitched up.

Milkshake was so surprised not to be pinged that he just blindly hooked it into space, allowing the Pies down the other end and kick the last goal of the term. It almost made you want to destroy furniture, but not as much as conceding another 30 seconds after the break when the weight of Jay Lockhart's ludicrous moustache caused him to topple forwards and leave his opponent unguarded in front of goal. Other than his poor choice of facial hair Lockhart was very good again, and has all but killed off the much loved Nifty Nev. Earlier in the year, I said I didn't want to watch him learn to be a defender on the job but I didn't know he was going to pick it up so quickly.

This made things a bit ropey for us. It's a cliche but it would have been easy for players to be disheartened, drop their heads and waste all the good work of the first 15 minutes. Instead, a surprise attacking juggernaut was about to break out, as we came out on top 7-4 in an 11 goal quarter that even neutrals would have to admit was genuinely exciting to watch. Especially after watching the world's most boring one point in the earlier game.

That was about as far as the wonky decisions went for the Pies. You can only imagine the pain of suffering of their fans (dry your eyes on a flag) when Petracca unsuccessfully tried spelunking through three men, disposed of the ball by [SCENE MISSING] and still contributed to a goal. Tomlinson, Sparrow and Jones had a hand in the buildup, but the finish was a joint Milkshake/Weid production. I don't know if Melksham was having a shot, or intended for his around the corner kick to land at the top of the square, but it curled perfectly for Weideman to run back with the flight and mark in the square. When you're a commentator it's more important to be first than right so there was brief consternation that he hadn't just let it go through, until the replay revealed that's because the Collingwood defender would have spoiled it. No matter the evidence to the contrary I choose to believe Melksham 100% meant to drop the ball on him in that spot and it was an act of genius.

If you're a Collingwood fan make sure you watch the highlights because every second one features your side being rorted by the umpires, including Viney blatantly dropping the ball in a tackle seconds before vandenBerg's perfectly legal flying spoil ended in Collingwood player head being violently introduced to Gabba turf. He had eyes for nothing but the ball but I expect there were still Pies fans at home demanding an ANB style excessive suspension. Wouldn't have happened if they'd paid the obvious free right before.

After a break to cart the injured player off, we continued the demolition job, complete with Preuss thumping a long kick to McDonald for another goal. As we wait for the much-anticipated All The Goals video, it's negligent of the AFL not to include this in their highlights package. He may never do a kick that good again in his career, it deserved to be spotlighted. I still don't understand how every goal doesn't count as a highlight in the lowest scoring season (no longer our fault) since 1923.

Via Lever's wonky handball gifting Jamie Elliott a goal (consider it a special gift for even half-considering joining us in the off-season) it was time for one of the most unusual cameos of the seasons. Enter Charleston Spargo, the man who looked like he was in his mid-40s at 18. He is starting to more realistically resemble his age and was about to have the time of his life. I don't know what's going on in his personal life but I doubt he's had a better 10 minutes since whatever he breached lockdown protocols for.

Charlie was solid last week, but this was his version of Woodstock (coming soon: Weidstock), kicking three goals in 10 minutes. It was hard to judge whether his second or third goals was better. The first involved juggling a mark, following up with pressure on his opponent, then snatching it back to snap from a distance I didn't even know he could make. The third was from much closer range, but was arguably better, snatching a nearly-mark from McDonald, jinking around defenders, and poking past a half-hearted attempt at goalkeeping by a defender. Hibberd would have dived full stretch and tipped it around the corner for a point but not everyone has a burning desire to be in the nets for a fictional International Rules team.

In the middle of Spargo-mania, Preuss did launch another big kick that generated a goal, via another McSizzle juggle that sat the ball up perfectly for Melksham to stuff home out of mid-air. This one made the highlights but it wasn't as good a kick. It was still more than most of us expected Preuss to do though. He's too one dimensional to play if Gawn is fit but if you were a fair to middling side who needed a #1 ruckman this might have made you ponder trading for him.

Even after six goals and further evidence that we had Collingwood's number, I think we all knew what was going to happen late in the quarter. Lo and be-fucking-hold the traditional DemonTime goal crossed the line just inside the famous 90 second range. Forget somebody at this club having a sexual fetish for blowing four goal leads, there's a raging horn on for letting goals in at the end of quarters. Unusually, for the second time in recent weeks we conceded at one end, then stormed out of the middle to cancel it. Even more likely, the reply came from Langdon, who celebrated with an expression that gave away that he knew just how many ridiculous near misses he'd had before then.

That made the half-time margin 32 points, and we were either going to win or come out looking like the biggest buffoons (non-Adelaide division) of 2020. In theory, the rain that started falling during the break should have worked in our favour, but the way we usually treat precipitation it may as well have been acid rain. For a few minutes the script was followed to the letter, adjusting to the conditions via a series of dropped marks, fumbled ground balls and handballs to nobody. Ok, that happens in the dry too.

Our plans had been interrupted by the wet, but it quickly became clear that the opposition were even more miserable in the conditions. It was the perfect opportunity for somebody you've never heard of before to have a quick 30 touches and four goals to join Dick, Oxley and Cox as Collingwood Kingsleys but their spirit had already been torn out and strewn across the Gabba turf like a Mortal Kombat fatality.

Now that he had a taste for it, nerves were settled by another Langdon goal. This time via TWO dubious frees (👍), before Petracca kicked one of those goals from the boundary line that you feel he's more likely to get than from 20 metres directly in front. For degree of difficulty, it was nowhere near the Carlton bloke having to relocate half a Ted's Cameras store, various cables and a plastic chair before kicking the winning the goal after the siren, but Truck still managed to have snippy words with a photographer before landing it from an obscure angle. I love him deeply.

Now we were next to no chance of losing, but with the elusive Chris Sullivan Line still one goal away you weren't going to catch me claiming victory. Especially when they ended the quarter (not, for once, in the dying seconds) with a nonsense goal from a wild snap that dropped like an anchor into a forward's arms at the top of the square. It was unlikely to have any impact on the six goal margin, especially as they'd just lost another player to injury, but as you well know the best thing to do with Melbourne is expect the worst and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Six goals up, on a wet ground, against a side with two days less break and two crocked players be buggered, I was still nervous that we'd find a way to lose, or at least allow them to get close enough that it no longer felt like an important victory. Those of us with little faith were quickly put back in our box. Burgess Ball didn't have the same sadistic streak that it did against the rock-bottom rancid sides, but it still ended in a much-appreciated runaway victory.

Everything was coming up Melbourne. After an otherwise ordinary night, Fritsch got his first when the ball skidded past intended target Weideman and landed perfectly with him to turn around and kick the goal. He added a second, but not before the ultimate entry in the "it's funny when it happens to somebody else" file. There was Jake Melksham minding his own business at the top of the forward 50 when Collingwood Player #1 mistakenly kicked the ball about eight metres straight to him. Understandably, Collingwood Player #2 thought there was no way the umpire would pay a mark for such a sawn-off kick and tackled him only to be pinged for a 50.

Think of history's greatest comedians - Hicks, Carlin, Bloody Wilson, and ask yourself if they have ever created anything more humorous than those two decisions put together. No matter what the margin was, if we'd been dudded in the same circumstances I'd have punched on Paying the mark is one thing - as pointed out in commentary the umpire had clearly decided he was going to allow the original kick and had a brain fade when it was intercepted - but the 50 was just insulting. Even if it was technically there it would have been an appropriate time to realise the initial mistake and issue a warning instead. Oh well, stiff shit.

Of all the scenarios that could have provided the cherry on top, I didn't expect it to involve Tom Sparrow leading majestically down the middle of the 50 like one of the great full forwards. I dare say he wouldn't have been given as much space against a defence that still had its life force but it was great movement nonetheless, capped off by another well taken set shot. Sparrow is probably keeping Harmes in half-back purgatory, but I've enjoyed his performances since he came back. If it doesn't work in the midfield get him leading inside 50.

Sparrow gets credit for the lovely lead but I really enjoyed the dainty kick from 100 Games of Salo (wait until you see the party we've got planned for 120). I've been critical of his accuracy recently but this was his best game in a few weeks, and this was as good a kick from the position he was in that you'll see, not even trying to stand up after gathering before pinging it straight to the oncoming forward. In the immortal words of Gavin Wood, "you'll bar up".

That's 15.11 to 1.3 in last quarters over three weeks, with a percentage of 1233.3. Darren you magnificent bastard. Credit also to Mr. Learnings and Connection, who has learnt something and improved our connection. Whether it stands up under scrutiny from better, fitter, teams is anybody's guess but I'm much happier to be in this position than the way it was going

In a surprise twist on last week, the unusual hours I keep ended with me watching part of the game in a car park again. This time, though, it wasn't just a throwaway first quarter before I could get comfortable for the rest of the match, this was the whole second half. I was truly at the mercy of 4G reception. One day I'm going to have to watch a close finish under these circumstances and will be found dead of an aneurysm. Politely, the tenuous connection between Optus and Kayo carried me until halfway through the last quarter when the result was confirmed before shitting itself, regularly leaving me 15/30 seconds behind again.

Against the odds it was a fun night. There was no 'big' moment like the timeless 2018 Watts goal, but it was the widest margin we've beaten the Pies by in 20 years. Jeff Farmer's nine in the second half that day narrowly shade Charlie Spargo's three in the first this time but both work in their own way.

Things are looking up but there's no time for complacency. If this is a condensed version of 2018 we'll still need to drop out of the eight (indeed, by the time you read this we probably already have) and fight our way back in the hard way, including two games in Fortress Cairns and playing through to the end while everyone else has a bye.

Some would say it shows a lack of ambition to be happy about temporarily sitting eighth, I say try following Melbourne for 30 years and see how your perspective changes. It may only last a week but we're nudging from mid-table mediocrity towards finals lottery ticket holders - and that's all you need to be a chance. I'm convinced this side is still nowhere near a chance of winning it all. This comforts me when I think that we might (MIGHT) make finals at the same time Victoria is treated like a plague state where death squads pick you off for doing a Kentucky run after 8pm BUT am hopeful that it's a tuneup for our proper crack at glory next year. Either that or another 17th place finish.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Angus Brayshaw
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Christian Salem

Apologies to almost everyone, but especially Hibberd, Lockhart, May, Melksham, Spargo, Weideman and Viney.

More of the same for the big hitters, with Petracca ceding points off the lead but remaining more than a full BOG ahead of The Hamburglar. If there are only six games left, the best any of the zero vote people can do is tie for the title, if there's more The Wagnii are still a chance.

No change in the minors, except for Salem narrowing the gap on May, but in the unlikely event of him scoring 21 or more points Preuss is now eligible for the Stynes. And the Hilton continues to be a bit of a shambles, especially now that Luke Jackson's blown his hamstring and is out for the rest of the year.

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

I have noticed that in this 16th (!!!) running of the Jakovich we're tracking to break last year's record for the least individual players to score votes. It remained reasonably steady through good and bad from 2005 to 2018 then tightened up over the last couple of seasons.

2005 - 27
2006 - 24
2007 - 29
2008 - 28
2009 - 28
2010 - 26
2011 - 29
2012 - 27
2013 - 30
2014 - 26
2015 - 29
2016 - 26
2017 - 27
2018 - 26
2019 - 21
2020 - 16

What does it all mean? No idea, do I look like Champion Data to you?

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year 
I enjoyed Petracca's goal from the fence but am going with Spargo's Pickettesque dance steps and finish in the second quarter. Truck retains the overall lead for his barnstorming goal of the middle last week, but Charlie wins the weekly hotel related prize of a Corby Trouser Press, to be dismantled at his leisure.

For once, there's not much to say here. See what happens when Fox Footy supply an adult, professional commentary team instead of people who go off like a pork chop for four quarters.

A couple of times during the first half I didn't have the commentary on for a few minutes (could people not interrupt me during a Dwayne or BT call?) instead, but was there one mention of Sam Weideman's family connections to Collingwood. Not only did Eddie McGuire have to watch his team go tits up but they didn't even take note of the 12 pages of Pies references he supplied.

There was, for unclear reasons, a half-time highlights package of Jeremy Howe marks despite the fact that he hasn't played for six weeks. I guess somebody had gone to the trouble of making it so they thought best not let it go to waste. Because the half time score was superimposed over the score of the games where the marks were taken you were free to enjoy some of his screamers for the first time without being reminded that we were 82 points behind. I still prefer a gentle chest mark that leads to or stops a goal. Give me The Weid tracking Melksham's kick back to the square over Howe standing on a Sydney player's head then turning it over every day of the week.

I know the Fox production team must be working like prisoners of war with all these back-to-back games but you'd have preferred a hastily assembled collection of Lynden Dunn's angriest moments. Hurling abuse while standing on the mark, bullying younger players, provoking Brent Harvey into cheating. For his finest non-niggle related performance you can either have the five goals against Richmond in 2010 that opened the door (soon slammed shut) on an unlikely finals run OR the enormous defensive performance against Essendon in the Salem game. I don't care that he was seen celebrating after the Pies toppled us out of the finals in 2017, he'll always be welcome back. 

Next Week
Now that we've broken through in one part of South East Queensland, time to tick off the other and win at Carrara. We play Footscray, only a marginally less wacky fixture than Collingwood in Brisbane, in another crucial mid-table game. Their percentage is shithouse, so a win could all but kill them off. On recent form we should win, but it's usually when you start to believe in this side that they stitch you up so I'm staying vigilant.

With two decent breaks to come there doesn't seem to be any reason to rest players unless there's something wrong with them, and other than McSizzle having looked half-crippled for 18 months, none of the big guns seem to be struggling so we'll let the side roll for the Dogs game. I'm not crazy about AVB but now that they've got Brayshaw going in the middle I'm happy not tinkering too much with the midfield mix.

Tomlinson worries me in defence, but until you can come up with a better alternative than Oscar (resurgence cancelled) he'll have to do. We'd best use what picks we do have this year to draft or pick some big defenders - one ready to play immediately, one developing big bastard to take over from May in 3/4 years time. Your suggestions please on potential trade targets, I'm not interested enough in other teams to know who the suitable options are. Alternatively, apply essential oils to whatever ails Tom McSizzle and put him back down there.

For now, Sizzle offers enough around the ground that he should hold his place ahead of Preuss if Gawn returns. This is no slight on Old Comedy Moustache Lips but what are you going to do with him if Maximum is in the side? McDonald 2020 is no McDonald 2018 but he's still more likely to kick goals forward.

Appropriately, the Bulldogs were the first opponents to hold us to a normal score after we ran riot for three weeks in 2018. Still won by plenty, even after giving them a three goal start. More of that without a 20-1 first quarter deficit and Lever blowing his ACL on a concrete surface please.

IN: Gawn
OUT: Preuss (omit)
LUCKY: Tomlinson, vandenBerg
UNLUCKY: Bennell, Hannan, Rivers

The Return of the Bradbury Plan

We've been down the long and winding road since the last time this feature was last live, after we completely buggered it up against the Swans at the MCG. Long odds that the next week we'd win in Perth and make it all irrelevant, much less win two finals in front of a combined 185,000 people soon after. I don't know where it ends this time but we won't see that many fans combined until about Round 3 next year.

So, after it was only spoken about in the broadest terms after we won two in a row to get to 3-5 last year, the world-famous Bradbury Plan is officially back. Remember, it's open source so I'm only dreaming big enough for us to finish seventh or eighth, but you can adjust your predictions if you think we'll finish higher. It's not an exact science, I once had Port Adelaide in the rock solid out-of-sight, win everything column and they proceeded to miss the eight.

So, initial team rankings:

No threat to us, win everything - Brisbane, Port, Geelong, North, Adelaide
Likely no threat, can do us favours by beating other mid-table teams - West Coast, St. Kilda, Richmond, Sydney, Hawthorn
Outside threat. Beat some mid-table teams, lose to everyone else - Carlton, Fremantle
Big threats, lose everything until further notice (matches between them to be decided on a case-by-case basis) - Collingwood, GWS, Essendon, Footscray, Gold Coast

If you consider Collingwood, GWS, Essendon, Footscray and Gold Coast the likely contenders, the good news is that none of them play each other until Collingwood/Gold Coast in Round 17 - by which point one of them is hopefully dead and buried to the point where we can openly go for the other. St. Kilda/GWS in the last round is also a concern, but there's generally a clear run from here where you should be able to clearly identify your preferred winner. We can also do ourselves favours by beating the Saints, Giants and Bombers. Difficult to comprehend that this would even be a topic for discussion after the Port debacle but there you go.

Here's your cut out and keep guide to where I think games should go between now and the time I'm likely to finish next week's post.

Adelaide d. Bulldogs (fail)
St. Kilda d. Essendon (pass - though there is a St Kilda plummet theory that meant I could have got something out of it with an Essendon win)
Hawthorn d. WCE
Richmond d. Suns
Carlton d. Suns
Hawthorn vs Port - no interest
Richmond d. Essendon
Sydney d. Freo (with scant interest)
Adelaide d. Geelong
Brisbane d. St Kilda

Final Thoughts
By Monday morning, Eddie will be scrambling to find anything to distract from his side turning in a stinker. While you wait for him to deliver an ill-considered opinion on a ninth placed breakfast show I advise you think about nothing but this game. If you haven't got four quarters to spare just remember the Melksham 50 and laugh heartily at the rage and frustration it must have caused their supporters. If it happened to us I'd have vandalised AFL House.