Monday 21 September 2020

Broken bones and bruised feelings

... and in the immortal words of Kevin Bloody Wilson, "It was over." The slender chance that Footscray would unexpectedly choke were dashed, leaving us ninth for the second time in four years and empty-handed like every season since 1964.

I've been waiting 30 years for a coach to stride in, sweep me off my feet, and carry me away to a better life like Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman. For at least one more year the part of Richard Gere will not be played by Simon Goodwin, who took a mid-table mediocrity team to the ultimate mid-table mediocrity finish - exactly halfway down the ladder.

This would be a great time to get angry about the coach, especially on a day where he's being walloped up and down the internet based on a context-free quote about not talking about strategy during the shutdown, but I haven't got the heart. At this stage of Melbourne, I'm not sure Norm Smith would have much luck turning us into a contender, we are destined to be a punchline for the remainder of time.

As disappointing as it is to miss out in the last round again, there is a strange serenity about it. For me anyway, you're welcome to go off your tits if you want. I was far more hurt by the two day Festival of Farce in 2017 because of all the pain that had come before it. The combination of the Collingwood and West Coast/Adelaide games was the ultimate in kicking the fans when they were down.

The last two seasons have both been shit in their own special ways, but at least the four week run where we finally got it right in 2018 allows us some fond memories from recent years. Unlike 2017 when you wondered if we'd blown the best chance we'd ever have of playing finals again. It doesn't feel like that this time. Now that it's over, it feels silly to have put so much mental energy into another wasted season but that's just what I do.

For me this finish wasn't even in the ballpark of losing to the Bears in the last game of 1995. And for those who were in 1976, obviously nowhere near as traumatic as being tipped out by a draw (also involving Footscray). Before that, you have to go back to 1949 for a last round near-miss, and as we'd won a flag the year before I think most fans would have been philosophical about that.

Obviously all the talk is how we stuffed it up across those two games in Cairns. Seems that way, but can you be entirely certain with this club that we wouldn't have won one or both of those then lost to GWS and/or Essendon? It's another reason why the end of 2018 is remembered so fondly, it was one of the few times we exceeded expectations. 

After all the discussion of the Bradbury Plan, and the requirement of other clubs to stack it ahead of us so we could sneak in, it was apt that it came down to just that scenario. St Kilda and Collingwood had already shut the gate on us, we'd just held on in the face of a Force 10 Farce to do the right thing against the Bombers, now it all relied on Fremantle beating Footscray. I was trying not to get my hopes up, but was simultaneously ready to start heaving and hoing around the house like a madman if they won. In the end it was Heave No, but not without them stringing us along for a half.

Part of the reason I can be so calm about the result is that I barely saw any of it. About 40 minutes before the bounce, just as I was building myself up to peak anticipation of Freo being beaten by a goal after the siren, my daughter took a huge bump off the monkey bars and was left clutching her wrist like Sean Charles. I've done many unscrupulous things to follow Melbourne over the years, but leaving a child in pain to watch a third-party game (albeit one with major implications) was several thousand steps too far, so off we went to hospital. 

On the way, I listened to the dying minutes of the Sydney/Geelong game, still half-thinking that the result was relevant to us. Playing Geelong instead of West Coast would have certainly been a big up yours to all the cowards who said they didn't want to play finals because we were a near certainty to lose to West Coast. We're an absolute certainty not to win the premiership every year we play, why even turn up for Round 1? 

The Swans were the first underdog to have a brave bash and go down, losing by six points. I'm glad if anyone had to lose that way it was them and not the Dockers. Even though Sydney had just shown that a side in their last game of the year didn't need to go out and lose miserably (only if they're called Gold Coast and want to get priority picks 1-15), I still never seriously expected Freo to win. That also helped me cope with the inevitable result.  

Once Michael Walters went out injured I was already mentally writing them off, and when Matt Taberner joined in as a late withdrawal my faith in them springing an upset were reduced to rubble. Considering their outs and the Bulldogs not being the sort of side who'd blow the golden opportunity of a 'win and in' game, I fully expected Footscray to be 30-0 up at quarter time and go on to an effortless win. They got there, it just took a bit more work than expected.  

Concievably, Taberner's absence could have opened the door for Jesse Hogan to do us a solid and kick a match-winning bag, but after exercising the leg for the first time all season a week ago he was restricted to one goal and proved little help. Still wish him well and would have him back in a second.

Competing medical priorities meant I only saw about 15 minutes of play, including the end of the first quarter and the start of the second. Other than that it was snatched looks at scores on the AFL app. This was fine under the circumstances, I cannot begin to imagine what it would have been like if we'd been the ones playing to win a spot. 

The few minutes I saw coincided with the time Freo looked like a half-chance of winning. They were clearly never the better side, but seemed like they might hang around to keep things interesting until the last quarter. When they went seven points up - prompting Fox Footy to throw to a shot of half our list watching while Mitch Hannan tucked into dinner - I thought we might have been onto something. Without the sound on, not wanting to be put on a negligent parent list if a doctor walked in at that moment, I had no idea they were not making much use of the wind. Should have seen them home strongly in the last quarter, unfortunately by then they'd lost interest.

The last thing I saw was the Bulldogs kicking two in a row - literally, the second one came straight out of the middle - to retake the lead, and that's where I tuned out both figuratively and literally. With more important issues to consider I only saw the odd score on the app across the next two quarters. Things briefly got interesting again when Freo kicked two on either side of half time. Turns out they were their last, sliding to a loss that none of them probably gave the fattest rat's clacker about without much fanfare. And why should they have cared? What did it matter to them if we made the eight?

With the off-field damage fortunately restricted to the most pissweak fracture possible, we were cleared to go home early in the last quarter. All I knew was that the Dockers were three goals down and extremely unlikely to do us a favour. That was the end of the drama, I turned the car on, the radio went "... and the Bulldogs are going to the finals!" and I turned the radio off again. The patient remained in good spirits considering her disastrous afternoon, it would have been rude to get upset over something as frivolous as footy.

Still, once we were home I did sit in the dark and have a quiet think about everything we've been through during this weird season. From the hope of the practice games, to the Corona shutdown, travelling the country like gypsies, having our hopes raised and dashed several times over, all while watching some of the finest individual performers of recent Melbourne history struggle to carry the weakest undercard since Wrestlemania 2.

Obviously we didn't deserve to make it, but the finals are not a merit based system. They don't vote the best teams in, and if they did they'd rarely get to eight. The AFL's wet dream is that we'd turn up for a wildcard match with the Bulldogs next week, but if anything this should prove that the finals need to be contracted more than expanded. For now, eight is fine. There are places to fill, and if you can grab one by any means necessary then take it and hope for the best. 

I'm assuming we'd have lost to the Eagles by about seven goals but you never know. Even if it was a futile journey it would still be some reward for players after the cross-country nonsense they've gone through this season. Think of Steven May, who could be the All Australian full back in a couple of weeks but still hasn't played a final in nearly 10 years. Serves him right for joining us I suppose. I was also keen on the novelty value of Charlie Spargo finishing the year with as many finals under his belt as Fred Fanning.

It's hard to get too upset when I predicted we'd finish 8th (albeit in a bracket up to sixth, implying that I thought we'd make finals) but even in the most shambolic of seasons you do still feel a bit cheated. At this time I can't blame anyone in particular. The coach is a popular target, but for all the learnings and connection waffle I just can't bring myself to join in the kicking. Doesn't mean I'd take a bullet for him but after years of sacking bloodlust has delivered us bugger all I'm not sure I care to participate anymore. Until about half time of Round 1, 2021 when I'll be taking up a collection to pay him out.

So, that's it. Big surprise, the losers lost. All that's left to do is finish off the awards that were left unresolved yesterday, frozen in time like the victims of Mt. Vesuvius...

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal final standings
At the same time as the door shuts on his hopes of playing finals, Oliver's campaign for a third Jako also runs aground. Congratulations to celebrity fingering victim Christian Petracca for grabbing the title, adding it to a Hilton and a Prymke in his virtual trophy cabinet. After mid-table finishes in three of his four seasons (along with a fifth in 2017) he has now etched his name amongst the legends of #fistedforever era Melbourne.

The final total of 19 players polling votes is the lowest of all time, but is arguably not much worse than the 21 of last year considering five less games were played. It was the first year than Nathan Jones has ever failed to poll, while the most significant fall was James Harmes - from 68 votes combined across the last two years to none this year. How did that playing in defence go?

In the minors, Gawn for the Stynes is no surprise. Preuss was the only other player to reach the 10 hitout per game qualifying mark, and with all due respect to Old Comedy Moustache Lips, he could play 150 games and not reach the 30 votes Maximum scored.

May in the Seecamp was perhaps a slight surprise. Not because we didn't think he'd be very good, he polled his arse off in limited games during 2019, but because a) who knew he'd stay fit enough to play almost every minute of every game, and b) smaller and running defenders have owned this competition since 2016. Hard to deny he deserves it, now give him the All-Australian and a top three finish in the Best and Fairest. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he won it.

Which just leaves the Hilton, for most of the second part of the season and a neck-and-neck race between two players on one vote. Which made it slightly better than 2005, when no eligible player  polled, but on par with the 2014 edition that featured Jay Kennedy-Harris winning with two votes. Pleasingly, Trent Rivers came home strongly to unexpectedly capture the title and forever banish the idea that he was only picked to fluff for a higher profile West Australian. If they survive, Kade Chandler and Toby Bedford remain eligible next season due to having played four or less games.

Congratulations to our award winners, and to everyone who polled a vote this year. For those who didn't, try harder next time. 

46 - Christian Petracca (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
41 - Clayton Oliver
30 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
28 - Steven May (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
23 - Ed Langdon
13 - Christian Salem
10 - Angus Brayshaw
6 - Michael Hibberd, Trent Rivers (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Sam Weideman
4 - Jake Lever, Adam Tomlinson
2 - Jayden Hunt, Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Brown, Mitch Hannan, Jay Lockhart, Kysaiah Pickett

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
For the first time a player has pulled off the Jakovich/Davey double, with Christian Petracca's scoop 'n thump from obscure angle and distance against GWS named the number one goal of the season. It was one of several nominations he picked up across 17 games, drawing him ever closer to Jeff Garlett's record of 16 weekly nominations. After a year of hotel related weekly prizes, he wins a weekend for two at Fawlty Towers, where the management will remind him of being back at Melbourne.

Scandal Corner
When you're Melbourne it's not enough to just end the season in a disappointing fashion, you may as well throw some off-field scandal in as well. 

The first drama was extraordinarily pissweak, with Max Gawn issuing the least convincing apology in history for Hunt and Petracca engaging in consensual cornholage at the three quarter time huddle. I don't know why it needed to happen, which is probably why I steered clear of playing team sports, but as long as they were both into it (and Petracca guiding the hand up his chuff suggests he was) then no harm done to anything but hand hygiene protocols.  

More consequential was Harley Bennell getting last-minute cabin fever and escaping the hub. At the time of writing there's only speculation about what he was up to so I'm not going to get into that, but it doesn't matter if he was delivering Meals on Wheels to the elderly, a breach is a breach and it's going to cost everyone dearly. He wears a four game suspension at the start of the next year and is suddenly in jeopardy of not being offered a new contract. We pay a full $50,000 fine, with none suspended due to Spargo and Pickett doing a runner earlier in the season. 

Technically if you split the original $25k between Spargo and Pickett and give this one to Harley on his own, he's just eclipsed Nathan Jones' record of $22,750 in career fines in one day.

There's plenty of people who want to delist him after this, I'm not so sure. Not because he hasn't done something stupid after the club gave him a second chance, but because I'm convinced somebody else will take a punt on him after a year of getting his body right and he'll go there and instantly become a regular player. Either way, he's not as certain to be with us next year as he was last week. I hope we give him another go, he's stuffed up but who hasn't. Colin Sylvia kicked his girlfriend in a carpark and we still fawned over him for another five years. 

It's a regrettable incident but as part of my surprisingly zen attitude to today's events I'm not interested in screaming vengeance. According to Gary Pert, Harley "failed to live up to the values of the Melbourne Football Club." I'd say there's no more Melbourne Football Club value than waiting right until the end before making a fool of yourself. 

Next Week

Later in the Year
I'll be back with a season review post once everybody's given up on talking about 2020 and are desperate to move on.

Next Year 
Hard to talk about potential delistings and forced retirements when we don't know how big list sizes are going to be. I'm pretty sure that Jones will be tapped on the shoulder, whether he wants to go or not, and that Tom McDonald is going to be given the old Jack Watts "we've run out of ideas, just take him" trade. Jetta may go on just because he's got another year in his contract, why not get paid even if they're not going to pick you?

As for out-of-contract players, the closest I can find to an updated contract thread is this from about three years ago. Not counting players drafted since I think makes the uncontracted players Hibberd, Viney, Hunt, Hannan, Fritsch, Spargo, Petty, Harmes and Oscar McSizzle. Make your own judgements from that list, but I'd keep most of them with Oscar as the sacrificial lamb. Having said that, if Harmes isn't sending his 2018 highlights package to every club in the land and trying to get a trade to somewhere that will play him to his strengths then he is excessively loyal.

I still don't believe Viney will go, and am almost certain the story about him potentially leaving was leaked just to try and convince us to pay him big money. Maybe they 'll make the brave decision not to be blackmailed and will just let him go, but whether that's a sound business decision or not I reckon they'll be too scared that it will provoke civil war and will roll over.

For more recently acquired players, I'd say The Wagnii, Chandler, Jordan and Dunkley will be looking over their shoulders and that Kade Kolodjashnij will be paid out for the last year of his contract, hopefully to get away from football and get his life back together. I expect Mitch Brown has just played his way into another contract and Austin Bradtke will get another year to develop. And we'll see if our pre-season pledge to give Aaron Nietschke another season survives the Corona cuts.

The way other teams have rushed to start delisting the moment their season ends, I wouldn't be surprised if somebody has been given the arse by the time you read this. Thanks to everyone that has had a go over the years, if it's any consolation you won as many flags as Robert Flower, Jim Stynes and David Neitz combined.

Final Thoughts
Melbourne fanatics, thank you for your support for another season. I can't believe this closes the 16th year for this blog. Recently I found a post from 2007 saying I'd lost interest and could other people please start doing guest posts. Obviously nobody responded, I eventually found my mojo again, and here we are many years later, still waiting for the great leap forward.

And to disaster tourist neutrals who follow sides that have made the finals, here's what I say to a premiership cup.


Sunday 20 September 2020

Barf Time

NB: Come back Monday morning for another post wrapping up the Sunday night spectacle.

No matter what happens from here, at least we've reached the end of the season without completely embarrassing ourselves. The events of the Cairns trip will be a stain on our season if we're knocked out on Sunday night, but the 2017 style nightmare scenario of choking against a lowly team has been avoided. Only narrowly, and in a manner that suggests we're no chance of beating any team ranked 7th or above but better to be inside the tent pissing out than vice versa.

At the time of writing we're tenuously inside the tent, but are favoured to be evicted by close of business. Everything comes down to needing Fremantle to beat Footscray by any margin, which is unlikely but not completely out of the question. I'll watch this otherwise pointless neutral game with more interest than the Grand Final, thankful that our fate is resting on one team beating the other (a draw would be horrific), and that there are no percentage calculations involved.

I expect the Bulldogs to win, but unlike the sort of people who say they'd rather not make it just because we'd probably lose to West Coast in Perth (do you also stand on 10 in Blackjack?) am open to being given a ticket in the lottery. If I wasn't ready to participate, no matter how briefly, in the top eight I wouldn't have nearly given myself a heart attack last week and unleashed several offensive sprays during the last quarter here. 

Having had, at best, four hours' solid sleep before the game, I was in no condition for psychological trauma. For the first time all season I refused to get out of bed, watching all four quarters horizontally, until leaping to my feet in the dying minutes and parading around the room swearing. Before then it was a quite relaxed experience, continuing my rapid slide in middle-aged mediocrity. First it was sitting on the couch instead of standing, then it was the addition of a lovely blanket, now this. Next thing I'll be listening on the radio in an comfy chair, even when games are back in Victoria. Old age and irrelevance can't be far behind, so if Melbourne want to get on with winning a flag that would be great.

When it comes to us there's no phrase more fraught with danger than "all they have to do is win". That wasn't the entirety of the story in this case, but without Saturday, Sunday may as well not exist. That meant having to win as favourites against a side on the bones of their arse. Didn't help that it was Worsfold's last game as coach (ending an Essendon career that began by leading their B-team to victory over us), and while he might be remembered by Bombers fans about as fondly as Matthew Knights that was always going to provoke some players to have a crack. We don't want the opposition having a crack, we want them sucking their thumb in the corner and crying. Even then you wouldn't bet your house on us.

In our favour, the rescheduling of the game from Round 3 due to the Connor McKenna false positive test debacle. Then the Bombers were in form and would likely have beaten us, by now they'd lost nine of the last 10 and only had pride left to play for. As we've seen a few times over the years, that doesn't count for much when you've got everything else going against you. I was hoping for a Melbourne vs Geelong end of 2016 style capitulation (by them), instead they hung around like an unflushable nugget, briefly threatening to pull off a comeback that we'd never have heard the end of.

The game started much like I'd have expected if we were chasing percentage (no longer a factor thanks to Leon Cameron bringing back his impersonation of Leon Klinghoffer), dominant out of the middle and getting the ball forward but missing chances. 

At times like this everyone needs to form an orderly queue behind the best players, and Clayton Oliver was the leader of the pack. We've done a lot of stupid things at the draft, but whoever made the decision to take a punt on him at pick four will go down in recruiting legend. By this stage it's redundant to go on about how good the man who made Mooroopna famous is, but consider that he's only 23 years old, face the Goulburn Valley and pay your respects. Petracca is less than 18 months older. Give them all the money, the appropriate backup from teammates and watch them drag this often disappointing enterprise into the late 2020s. 

Fritsch had our first chance, but while he's great at finding space he's increasingly ropey from set shots and missed what would have been a settler. Of course, after camping the ball at our end with no rewarded they went down the other end to kick the opener. Instead of a settler, this was a churner. I was in no condition for flashbacks to 2017, even if we probably had more tackles in the first three minutes of this game than the first 30 against Collingwood. The presence of a player called 'Hams' was also an uncomfortable reminder of that day, when I returned home from having my heart torn out only for my then three-year-old daughter to present me an MFC mug full of ham as a practical joke. 

They were no chance of going five goals up by quarter time, but with scoring plummeting through the floor at a record rate you don't need to go to those lengths to kill a team off early. Especially one that relied heavily on goals from novelty sources last week.

Somehow our season has been CPRed without any goals from tall forwards, two weeks of zero from Weideman and Brown combined. We've got away with it so far (and Weid did give Hunt a gift that he could have easily put through himself) but good luck winning finals like that. It's something they need to consider for next season. Having said that, Brown played almost the best game you'll ever see by a key forward who finished with 0.2. He was up and down the ground marking everything, and got us out of jail a few times in the defensive 50.

Weideman can never be accused of failing to give 100%, but still sorely lacks another marking target that provides some mystery about who we're kicking to. Brown showed that he may have a role, but it's not as a key position forward. Which is why I still think if we can uncrock Tom McDonald via a series of mystical eastern medications he has plenty to offer. For somebody who loves forward connection more than life itself, Simon Goodwin clearly thinks otherwise, and will be flogging Sizzle to the highest bidder. Probably paying part of his contract too, which is a tremendous comedown from your career peaking by kicking four in front of 92,000 people.

Our first goal came from Jayden Hunt, continuing his end of season revival as a forward. Even better, it came straight out of the middle, as the Bombers wasted a hard fought goal at a speed we'd be proud of. To be fair it was helped by vandenBerg's scrappy clearing kick taking two novelty bounces, the second that allowed Neal-Bullen to set Hunt up. He turned on the turbo thrusters to improve his angle and nine-ironed it through. This prompted Fox Footy to unnecessarily display a live ladder. It lingered on the screen long enough that I thought for a second it was going to stay there, which would have been even more ridiculous.

At this stage you couldn't imagine that the last quarter would involve their second string ruckman feeding a rampaging midfield, it looked like a brutal knockout was on the cards. The only problem was turning our early dominance around the ball into scores. By the end of the quarter we'd only generated two more behinds, a bit of a let down from the (relatively) free-scoring at the start of the GWS game.

Sharing two goals with a struggler hardly screamed premiership aspirant, being on the wrong side of three was even worse. After a few weeks of flipping the script by kicking goals at the end of quarters, we inexplicably let Jake Stringer (playing for the chance to stick it up Kane Cornes for calling him porky) wander out of the back and mark with 10 seconds left. Naturally he kicked it, leaving us two points in the hole at quarter time and me considering not leaving the house until November.

Thankfully instead of inspiring the Bombers, that was the end of them for the next 20 minutes. They did what you'd expect a side of their stature to do, (seemingly) throwing the game away in a brief period of pressure-free madness. For the only time all day we took advantage, kicking five goals to nil that should have put them away for good. This was bloody good stuff, practically an end-to-end domination, and exactly what the Bombers deserved. If only we'd been able to carry it into the second half.

There were a lot of players in our side who were just going, but for a while the unit came together wonderfully. In didn't take long to get the first goal, and it was born from the work of maligned players at both ends of the ground. You wouldn't trust Joel Smith to make up ground on an opponent from five metres away but he is good at one-on-one defensive contests, and a desperate last minute spoil turned what would have been a shot on goal into an attack. Down the other end, Petracca found Neal-Bullen in the pocket, where he kicked a goal from an obscure angle reminiscent of similar efforts by Spargo and Baker in recent weeks. If these sort of people were kicking goals like this against us you'd call it Kingsley Korner. For now we are enjoying an obscure player led revival.

According to Dwayne, Bullet's finish was "straight out of the copybook", a rare non-blot mention of the copybook. I don't think he knows what a copybook is, but due to being a citizen of Mars I don't think he cares.

Of the more recently maligned players, I thought Melksham played another really ordinary game. Turns out he had more 'pressure acts' than anyone else on the team. So it depends how much you rate that stat as worthwhile. I'd rather the half-forward flank attacking weapon of yore but he's obviously playing some sort of coach-friendly role that plebs like me can't understand. 

When Fritsch finally converted his third set shot, Essendon looked like they'd had enough and would be content to just get through to the final siren without jeopardising their end of season piss up. The next goal was an even better (and as it turns out, false) clue that they weren't going to offer stern resistance. Petracca ripped pone of the most exquisite kicks you'll ever see from the wing/half-forward to Spargo 45 metres out, with Weideman, Hunt, and no Essendonians ahead of him. 

Charleston gave it to Weid, who decided to ramp up the tension level by throwing an unnecessary handball to Hunt to make absolutely sure of it. There would have been no more Melbourne moment than the last pass being fumbled over the line and blowing a certain goal, but things were going so well for us that we got away with it. Ex-Melbourne player and now goal umpire David Rodan clearly enjoyed seeing it from close up, with his mind obviously flashing back to the happy memories of playing a handful of games with us in 2013 then doing his knee. Which still makes him one of the more successful players on our list that year. 

If we'd gone on to win in a canter, the next goal would have been my favourite. First, it started with May taking a random bounce through the middle, then ended with Neal-Bullen darting through a gap between two players - one of whom at least half-thought about seeking some vengeance for that Adelaide kid by shirtfronting him - and extending the margin beyond 20. ANB hasn't done much for a couple of years, and you wonder if they might try to flog him at the end of the season, but he has had a good couple of weeks.

The fifth was another case of everyone clearing out and letting the stars do the hard work. From a missed set shot at the other end we got the ball to the wing unchallenged, where Oliver wandered around in traffic like he had all the time in the world and hit a perfect pass to an overhead marking Petracca in the middle of three players. You'd be generous to call it a three-on-one when none of them were anywhere near him, so I'm giving equal billing to the Hamburglar for the perfect pass. The finish was pure Petracca, walloping through an absolute Howitzer post-high from 50 metres. By the end of the quarter the margin was 28 points. As we like to say around these parts, 'what could possibly go wrong?' 

If that was a quarter that made you think we could compete against good sides, the third was perfect for about 8.30pm tomorrow night when the heaving and hoing is over and you need to convince yourself we'd have just been thrashed by the Eagles anyway. We were still clearly the better side, and our backline was taking the piss whenever the Bombers went inside 50, but the avenues to goal dried up, with Brown and Weideman more often than not finding the ball on the wing with nobody to kick to. 

Still looked unlikely that Essendon would get anywhere near our score, even if we kicked 0.0 for the rest of the game. But we were already starting to go into our shell, something that would become an issue before long, and the knockout blow remained elusive. In a performance that would have had neutrals reaching for the remote control, it took 17 minutes for anyone to kick a goal. That was comeback kid Hunt, reaching deep down into his reserves of owl energy to thump through an only slightly less brutal set shot than Petracca at the other end.

Essendon barely looked likely to score all quarter, so with a 34 point lead to defend and seven seconds left what did we do? If you guessed 'Allow a forward 50 entry to a player standing on his own in the pocket with his opponent trailing sadly behind' you win. It's my fault for thinking about an adjusted Chris Sullivan Line just a few seconds earlier. Like saying the name of the devil three times an Essendon game is the last time to summon up the evil spirits of Round 6, 1992.

This second Super DemonTime goal was another big moment for Smith haters, though I'm prepared to concede from his one-on-one defending that there might (MIGHT) be something in him if we can develop his positioning in the VFL. Still need to buy a ready-made third defender from somewhere in the off-season though. 

It was classic Melbourne, gently creaking open a window for strugglers to clamber in and pinch a win, but even I thought there was no chance they'd overcome a 24 point deficit in 16 minutes after kicking three goals in the previous three quarters. On the other hand, there would have been no more fitting end to our season than conceding a third goal after the siren. Perhaps we should have spent three quarter time thinking more about finding the footy than the grundle?

The fatal blow remained unstruck for another 17 minutes, via torturous near-choke. The ultimate battle between Burgess Ball and #fistedforever turned out to be a draw, we didn't run away with it but also narrowly missed being dragged into a reverse Stranglewank finish. In the end, the margin flattered us, not giving any indication of how nervy things got in the dying minutes. 

After three quarters of torment, where he could barely move and was referred to by commentators as looking like he was a hundred years old, moving Joe Daniher into the ruck at the start of the last quarter seemed like a comical move on the same level as when we played Oscar McDonald at full forward. Instead it nearly provoked one of the great comebacks. He shook the cobwebs off quickly, running around like there was nothing wrong with him, matching Gawn at the centre bounces, and setting up play around the ground like he'd been playing the most deep-cover game of possum ever.

The fun started barely a minute in when Stewart got another goal, while we looked to have stopped dead. Maybe Burgess Ball is a myth after all. When some random narrowly missed a snap a few minutes later I was absolutely shitting it. We were trying to save the game rather than winning it. Enter Jayden Hunt again, using the extra grip he'd derived from Petracca's bunghole to take the handball from Fritsch and kick a steadier.

If you thought that would encourage Essendon to give up again you were well wrong. Now 25 points up with eight minutes left it was going to take quite the collapse to throw our season away. Challenge accepted. Straight out of the middle they plowed forward, where Stringer went for the sort of unrealistic screamer that they've been paying all season, clearing the pack for the ball to roll over the back for the instant reply. If I was writing the rules I'd let people go for those ridiculous attempts on the off chance that 1/100 times they pull down mark of the century, but given that players have been pinched for less every week for the past 17 and a half rounds it was a clear as day free. Blinded by the spectacle the umpires let Devon Smith - the only AFL player named after a processed meat - waltz into an open goal and keep the game alive.

Now things were getting nervy, not only were our attempts to chip the ball around for six minutes largely unsuccessful, but luck was going their way too. Just as a free was called in the middle of the ground the ball spilt to a player standing on his own forward of the play. He kicked to that man Stewart at the top of the square, throwing in a knee to Hibberd's jaw while marking it, and the margin was back to 13.

One of Petracca's few blunders, pulling a kick out of defensive 50 and landing it with an opponent, cost us another goal shortly after, reducing the margin to seven with three minutes to go. This is where terse words were uttered in my house, including I believe the sentence "Fuck off, if you cunts lose from here I swear I've had enough and you can all get fucked". Of course I'd have been back at the first opportunity but I felt strongly about it at the time.

It was starting to feel like an era adjusted replay of 1992. Imagine how much damage that game did me aged 11 and consider the potential mental impact here. I've been told we now employ two psychologists, and if it carried on like this I was going to need one of them to call me at the siren. Remember, a draw was as fatal to us as a loss, removing the margin of error no matter what their next score was.

This was a time to shit bricks. Losing from 35 points up in a shortened quarter against a nothing happening team wouldn't have just left us open to mockery from Essendon fans, but would have offered a green light for fans of every club in the competition to pile on. We'll do the pisstaking of our own club and the rest of you can get stuffed. Especially David King, who tried to jump on the bandwagon just three years after writing the article telling us to calm down and stop worrying.

If we were a plane the ground proximity warning would have been making this noise:

Unexpectedly we did, narrowly averting disaster by finally stopping them walking the ball out of the centre. For some reason they'd responded to their last goal by taking Daniher out of the ruck and sending goalkicker Dylan Shiel to the bench. Which probably didn't help. 

With the ball bouncing around the middle of the ground Trent Rivers continued to build his reputation as a big moment player. After a hit-and-miss day he hit a perfect tackle on a player who was wheeling out of a pack, probably seeing half a dozen teammates heading towards goal without an opponent. Said free players were left out of position, and from the spillage Melksham found Fritsch standing in acres of space. Given his record from set shots I'm comfortable with him storming into goal instead of trying to waste time. Fortunately he slammed it home and we were safe.

The only danger now was giving it straight back 20 seconds later, but that was finally the inspiration Essendon needed to go "good try boys, wrap it up", and Fritsch added another one with a snap over his shoulder from the square. Thank god for that. Now if the Dogs win to put us out we can claim that it's not what we've done, but what everyone's done to us.

It was wobbly, it was in no way finals-like but it did the trick. This team shits me, but ultimately they did the right thing when it mattered. That's about the best you can hope for around here.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Christian Salem
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Jayden Hunt
1 - Mitch Brown

Big apologies to Gawn, May and Viney, who could have snuck in for either of the last two votes. Other high-level apologies to Fritsch, Langdon and Lever. 

Provisional Final Leaderboard
A week ago I declared Oliver finished, now he's snuck back into contention if we play again. Still hard to see how Petracca can finish without a share of the title at the very least but something to look out for if there's another game. If we don't then all hail the 11th man in 16 (!) seasons to take the title. He will join Cameron Bruce, Aaron Davey, Max Gawn, Brad Green, Travis Johnstone, Brock McLean, Brent Moloney and Jack Viney. The all-time champions remain five time winner Nathan Jones and two time champion Clayton Oliver.

In the minors, Salem just kept May from confirming victory. He's now (potentially) got four finals to work on overhauling him. Given that I doubt we'll be playing any, and probably losing first up if we do, I'm predicting there's no way for Trent Rivers to now go without at least a share of the Hilton. After polling his only vote against the Eagles, here's to Pickett playing a Weideman-esque surprise finals stunner and polling five votes to draw level.

46 - Christian Petracca (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- No hope without one final ---
41 - Clayton Oliver
--- No hope without four finals ---
30 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
--- Better luck next year ---
28 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
23 - Ed Langdon
13 - Christian Salem
10 - Angus Brayshaw
6 - Michael Hibberd, Trent Rivers (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Sam Weideman
4 - Jake Lever, Adam Tomlinson
2 - Jayden Hunt, Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Brown, Mitch Hannan, Jay Lockhart, Kysaiah Pickett

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
A few options to consider, based on both aesthetic quality and importance. I liked the Anal-Bullet from the boundary, and Hunt had a couple of nice ones, but it's hard not to go with Petracca again, this time for that long bomb set shot. He wins the flex off a mini kettle, and retains the clubhouse leader for the sweep 'n thump special against the Giants.

Midway through the year I was into the freewheeling lunacy of an Eddie/Dwayne call. Today was not the day for it. Under the circumstances I would have appreciated the most sensible commentary team they had. 

Instead, Pies Lotto was back, as Eddie tried to hijack the call with unnecessary references to Collingwood. If you didn't know that James Stewart's dad used to play for the Pies before this, and I didn't know who James Stewart was full stop, you were left in no doubt by the end. Seems Stewart Sr's nickname was 'Big Snaggle', which was about as relevant to this contest as Strzelecki exploring the Snowy Mountains.

Somehow Jordan Lewis went four quarters in special comments without mentioning his involvement in the famous Round 23, 2017 bruise-free first quarter debacle. Actually, it's even more surprising that Eddie didn't find a way to mention it first. Bonus points if it was as part of some Triple M style 'banter', possibly ending with the subject saying "that's good from you ho ho."

Next Week
Come back tomorrow and we'll discuss if there is one.

The Bradbury Plan reaches its natural conclusion

Due to Gold Coast and GWS stooging us (and thanks to the Suns dickhead who stuffed up an open goal trying to play on), the only route to survival goes through a team that has been almost as flaky as us for the last 25 years. Best of British luck with that.

Final thoughts
Now that the chinks in my otherwise iron constitution are showing I'm not sure I'm going to make it to 6.10pm tomorrow night without ending up in hospital. That's not even factoring in the tension from four quarters of a bunch of players you've never heard of (not, sadly, including the injured Michael Walters) holding our future in their hands.

I'm genuinely scared that we're going to miss out in the most farcical circumstances possible, but unless our season ends in a heartbreaking finish I think I can pretend a 9-8 record means we're pointing in the right direction, even if I don't 100% believe it. Might be better for all our health and fitness if the Dogs just plow away to a 50 point lead in the first 10 minutes. Then we can cover up our own failings by abusing the Dockers and vowing never to visit North Queensland again.

In the meantime, reach out and touch the screen of your internet connected device and let's hold a sporting prayer circle that for once a bizarre, unexpected set of circumstances work in our favour. After that, who knows what happens next. Otherwise it's back to the hub to throw TVs out of the window like a double booking of The Who and Motley Crue.

Sunday 13 September 2020

Boy meets hurl

I don't know how, but we've recovered from the worst visit to northern Australia since Joanne Lees to enter the last round of the season a live chance of making the top eight. Like Christian Fittipaldi at Monza in 1993 we've somehow emerged from a massive stack unsteadily heading in the right direction. Astute observers will notice Fittipaldi's wheels fell off but that part of the metaphor will not become relevant until next weekend.

After the twin debacles in Cairns we don't deserve to make it and won't get very far if we do but I'm not turning down a ticket in the lottery. There were no fancy Bradbury style equations about what we had to do here, obscure scenarios where a draw or even a loss might have still allowed us through weren't worth discussing, the only realistic way to stay alive was by winning.

Given the number of times Melbourne has lost a must-win game in my life, combined with the lifeless nature of our last two performances I went in hopeful but far from confident. The Giants should have been vulnerable, they'd just lost to Adelaide, dropped their captain amongst eight changes and are slowly making Leon Cameron look like he'd rather have his head in the oven but there was one key factor that convinced me the night would end in disgrace.

It was 'Member Thank You Round', an event previously known as 'Member Appreciation Round' that has more often than not left members reconsidering their life choices. The 2016 Hawthorn breakthrough and the stress-free rampage of Round 23, 2018 were good, but otherwise the day has been responsible for more horror stories than Steven King. In 2013 the member that won the major prize pack didn't even turn up, leaving an exasperated Russell Robertson to say "we'll have to call him and tell him he's won". Could have also filled him in on our 95 point loss. That week we tweeted a link to an IKEA TV unit instead of the team selections.

The next year it was extended to Member Appreciation Week, which ended in 3.16.34 against a GWS side with one player on the bench after half time. In 2019 it was the Friday night game against the Swans that drew a handful of people and a 53 point loss. There is no bigger red flag than when the club we have given so much to - financially, emotionally and spiritually - tries to say thank you. This time they doubled down by charging fans to put their name on the jumper, which will now become a cherished keepsake, not a Jeremy Howe screamer style reminder of losing.

I think this leaves our record on this most sacred of days at 3-5. Which doesn't sound so bad until you consider how much we lost those five games by. This was the narrowest and most exciting of the three wins, but unless something remarkable happens in the next few weeks it will be hard to match the impact of the win over the Giants in 2018. At the time I called it a free hit but now realise that a loss would have meant playing them again in Sydney - no 91,767 crowd, probably no Weideman running riot. Mind you, would have meant not going to Perth for the Prelim...

Not only was I concerned by the negative energy from a day made up by the marketing department, but we'd played so badly against Sydney and Freo that rumbling a mid-table side, even one listing badly like GWS, seemed unlikely. Cairns felt like one long tactical blunder, and selection didn't offer me any comfort that the people in charge had any idea what was going on.

We got the right result here, but those two disasters are going to be costly in the end so it's still valid to whinge about them. We play Spargo and Brown in the first game, drop them for the second, then bring them back together here. Somebody had to go after Sydney (and I did suggest Spargo out so I'm not trying to take moral highground) but how do surprise inclusions in the third last game of the season get one shot before being turfed immediately?

Considering his defensive pressure is pretty good by our standards Spargo would have been a reasonable late inclusion for Preuss on a rainy night. Instead, we played this huge man who is to overhead marking what Bayley Fritsch is to set shot kicking then immediately dropped him for a game in the dry. I have no issues with him being excluded, just don't understand why he took part in a tropical downpour to begin with. It was the most mystifying selection decision since Guus Hiddink picked Zeljko Kalac in the 2006 World Cup.

So instead, we bring back the guy who wasn't good enough against Sydney, while Tom McDonald is buried as an emergency in a week where the opposition's best defender is out. I liked winning this week (who wouldn't?) but have concerns that we landed ourselves in deep shit trying to be clever against lower sides.

Equally, I didn't see the point in giving Bedford a token game then pissing him off again when Pickett hadn't fired a shot in weeks. He was far better tonight but that's only semi-relevant when you're trying to work out the intention of picking Bedford in the first place if you weren't going to back him in. It wasn't like we were playing Richmond and could take a week off when 99% certain of losing, these were important, winnable games.

Anyway, there hasn't been a coach yet who I've agreed on selection with so the most important thing is that they recovered in time for this game. If we'd lost there'd be a much bleaker tone to this post, but it would be hard to deny that they had a genuine bash. And by the skin of our teeth, via three blown leads and a comeback, we did enough to stay upright. Under the circumstances that's the best result you could hope for.

While I expected/demanded a response, shooting to a three goal lead in the opening minutes was unexpected. Some took their response a bit too seriously, like Jack Viney trying to prove how important he is (especially in the week of a well-timed and probably fake leak about Geelong looking at getting him as a free agent if he doesn't get the contract he wants) by taking on seven players at a time. Didn't work but appreciated the idea.

They could stop Viney, but Oliver and Petracca kept up their end of the bargain in the middle, while recruit of the year Langdon continued his belting second half of the season by exploring empty space on the wings like he was Vasco De Gama. Which made a change from us moving the ball like Burke and Wills. All three were solid contributors to the end result, along with the always dependable May and a cast of randoms that would have left neutrals scratching their heads.

First cab off the rank on the most unusual night of goalkickers in living memory was Oskar Baker, who has spent his time in the hub maturing from a youthful, Danny Bonaduce impersonator to looking like a marauding bikie. Taking advantage of a Giants defending shitting himself in a tackle and kicking on the full instead of letting himself be carried over in the tackle, he was untroubled by an arsehole of an angle on the boundary line.

I quite enjoyed Baker on the wing. He was no Ed Langdon but proved worth keeping around for another year. No idea where this leaves Tomlinson, but he's a fair enough player so we've got about four more years to find something for him to do.

After last week I was just happy to get a goal in the first 19 and a half minutes, but we were clearly on top and missed two more chances in quick succession. No matter how good the early signs you knew it wasn't going to turn into a 65 point win, so any sort of lead in the bank would be much appreciated.

The second goal was from a more regulation finish, but the build-up was superb. Not Lever's wonky kick beyond Gawn (of all the people you could kick over the top of...) in the middle of the ground, but the way Oliver went scooped it up while running around Hunt and turned back into traffic to hit Neal-Bullen with a precise kick. Not everything Clayton does comes off, but it's all conjured up with a mystical sixth sense that he may have got by selling his soul to the devil at a deserted crossroad on a moonless night.

ANB's golf swing tribute to the crocked Angus Brayshaw was nice, but the point at the sky was a little extreme, it's not like he'd died on the operating table. Was it Brad Green who clutched at the jumper in excitement one day only for it to look like he was extremely keen on Hankook tyres? Channel 7 quickly rushed a picture of a living Brayshaw onto the screen to explain the celebration and assure the community that he hadn't bled out from his foot. Though if any team is going to accidentally send a player to a butcher shop hospital that botches an operation you can be 99% sure it will be us.

I still wasn't getting overly excited. We've seen enough games that looked promising when we had the ball but went sour the moment the opposition got their hands on it. But even I started to get a bit excited when we went three up. And yes, people who like saying I told you so, much of this one was set up by Pickett. I would still argue that his fundamentals are sorely crying out for a second string competition to develop in, but he's got a killer instincts that will make him dangerous when he gets the basic stuff right.

He charged out of an unlikely appearance defence, played a one-two with vandenBerg, and gave to Weideman, who intelligently found Spargo storming down into the 50 on his own, and Charleston had all the time in the world to straighten up and finish it. Bonus points for the ball landing behind the goals with a satisfying metallic thud.

It was nearly four goals to nil, but Pickett missed the opportunity to have half the planet misconstrue my comments about him with a rotten set shot. I still don't know why Alan Richardson wanted Jack Viney kicking for his life (maybe he was depressed?) but after last night I'm certain he doesn't want Pickett doing it either. Plenty of time to work on the set shots, I'm just glad he was getting into a position to take them.

This led indirectly to the first GWS goal and the collective groan of "here we go again" from Melbourne fans everywhere. It was a stupid goal to give away too, you can argue whether the force of Lever's post-mark bump merited a 50, but in a year where umpires are conducting a war on niggle it was an unnecessary risk to take. Lever has been handy this year but is prone to doing NQR things then standing there with a wounded look like he's a conspiracy victim. Like old school Tom McDonald he had some classic cock-ups that everyone will remember but also did a lot of good, unheralded work. Still miles from his best performance.

They might have kicked the goal without the 50, but that made sure of it. Next thing they've got players toe-poking loose balls through from stoppages and our dominance of the early stages was been reduced to a six point lead. Had the rest of the quarter played out like that you'd still have been satisfied, but not without the feeling that we'd wasted a golden opportunity to build a solid lead.

Instead experts and internet hacks alike were confounded by us bouncing back with the last two goals. They were both good ones too, starting with solid crumb by Hunt. He doesn't get much of the ball but there's an X-Factor about him that makes me want them to keep playing him. Whether he's a long-term solution for an allegedly aspiring premiership team (let's just start with making the eight) I don't know, but for where we're at now he'll do.

Then, on a night where he was in every pack he could find on the way to 19 contested disposals but wayward by foot, Petracca got full value for this kick:

In the famous words of Alan Partridge, he must have a foot like a traction engine.

 We'd already had one goal from Oliver's silky gather, but all he had to do was dribble around a teammate like Michael Jordan, Petracca reacted to a dropped mark, spelunked through two opponents, scooped the ball up and kicked around the corner over an attempted smother from 40 metres out. Pretty good. The AFL's Twitter department obviously thought so, unlike the butcher who put together the website highlights and didn't see fit to include it.

We got 10 seconds of explanation about why ANB pointed at the sky, but a blockbuster goal like this doesn't make the cut. I demand an Apocalypse Now Redux style extended cut to make sure Truck's goal is given the glory it deserved.

With 30 seconds left it was not only a Reverse DemonTime job, it put us 18 points up again at the first change. Or at least it would have, had we not responded to this stroke of luck in the most Melbourne way possible. I'm used to giving goals back straight out of the middle, but the circumstances here were extra special. Shane Mumford was obviously in a bad mood after giving away the free that led to Petracca's goal, and he took it out on Clayton Oliver's face at the next centre bounce. Sensing a chance to pile on another goal, Max tried to take the advantage, but his wobbly sideways pass to Baker was intercepted, leaving the Giants trotting off towards goal.

Understandably, this turn of events came as a surprise to the coach, who was left open-mouthed with his texta comically poised in mid-air (and another mysteriously held upside down in the other hand) as he tried to comprehend what had just happened. I'll tell you what happened, you've just booked yourself a spot on the meme circuit.

Odds are he was about to write either 'learnings' or 'connection', and the Giants got some of the latter when the ball ended in the hands of baby-faced villain Toby Greene inside 50 for a shot after the siren. Unlike a particular night out at Zagames he failed to connect, letting us (especially a visibly relieved Gawn) off the hook.

Parting Oliver's already ridiculous Barnet with his forearm wasn't the end of Mumford's crime spree. He attacked the task of whacking our players like a Scarface style pile of cocaine. If the ludicrously close 1's in Gawn's jumper number were a tribute to September 11, the swinging Mumford arm that whacked him represented the plane. Did this jumbo-line snorting lummox not appreciate that we might need the Giants to beat St Kilda next week?

Like any high scoring Melbourne quarter, you knew the next one wasn't going to be as good but I appreciated getting to within one of our entire score in the Freo game. It equalled Carlton for our highest opening term of the year, but like that game, and the 15 point quarter time lead against St Kilda it turned out to be nothing more than insurance against the usual 10 minutes where we forget how to play.

It's unlikely that we'll never play in Cairns again but I'd still like an inquest into how we were so bad there twice. Mind you, let's not get too cocky from one (relatively) high score, you're not going to get the novelty top goalkickers line of Baker 2, Rivers 2, Spargo 2 every week. It's just as likely that this skitzo team will go back to kicking 4.9 next week.

One thing we desperately need is for The Weid to get going again. He's having a reverse 2018, doing his best work early then going missing at the end. He's trying hard but struggling for the lack of another tall forward target that offers some mystery about who we're kicking long to. I appreciated the work of Mitch Brown up the ground but he looked as likely to take a mark inside 50 as me, allowing the GWS defence to do as Sydney and Freo did and converge on Weideman as the ball came off the boot. He's not entirely faultless considering he dropped a couple of marks but against a side who should (SHOULD) allow us numerous forward entries next week getting him into the clear occasionally could make a big difference.

Suspicions that we weren't going to run away with an unchallenged victory were confirmed a minute into the second quarter when the Giants plucked a goal from their lower intestine. Forget Lever holding a mark that would have been paid 9/10 times, the way Brent Daniels (never heard of him before last night, will never forget him now) rolled it in from the boundary line, with the most generous bounce of all time - even better than Petracca in Alice Springs - was just the sort of goal we excel in conceding.

It literally could have gone anywhere, including skidding across the boundary 20 metres from goal, before turning like the ball that bamboozled Mike Gatting and rolling through. Would have been good if the goal line cameras had caught one of our players touching it but alas no.

This kicked off a couple of minutes where Pickett was in everything but couldn't kick a set shot to save anyone's life. That was wasteful, but importantly we'd retained our bundle after conceding the bullshit fluke goal instead of standing there in wonder for the next five minutes while they kicked three more. That came later. For now we were treated to the best goal by a number 33 since...
... when Baker snapped his second from in traffic on the boundary line. He's now kicked 4/4 career goals against the Giants and is a red hot contender for their Kingsley equivalent.

Our next goal came courtesy of one of the great hornswogglings of the season. Petracca mowed a Giants player down in the middle of the ground then just ran forward instead of taking his free, allowing Weideman to find him in acres of space to bomb a kick forward that Hunt intelligently tapped into the path of Pickett to boot through the open goal.

In what universe does the umpire not stop play well before that point and order Petracca to come back and take the kick? He must have had a brainfade thinking Weid had taken the advantage when he clearly declined before spotting Truck standing on his own and deciding to go with it. I can understand being on the wrong side of a contest and missing a rugby pass out of a pack, this was fantastically bad and Giants fans would be bleeding about conceding a goal from it. Who knows, maybe they wouldn't have kicked the next three without being robbed blind first? They certainly wouldn't have got the one we bled straight out of the middle 20 seconds later.

Speaking of wacky decisions, Midfield Milkshake had a shocker but did get away with two of the most blatant throws you'll ever see. As karmic payback he was then pinched for 'holding' late in the quarter when the Giants reacted to incidental contact like Jaws was dragging him into the sea. Their third in less than five minutes saw the Giants climb out of the massive ditch we'd left them in with five minutes to play and lead. Fritsch had a chance to get us back in front from one his coin-flip set shots but missed, leaving scores level. I would have taken it if offered before the game but after the first 11 minutes of the quarter it was a letdown.

Melk later relieved some of his frustrations by trying to cave Toby Greene's head in during an aerial duel. The umpire turned a blind eye, reminiscent of the soccer game in Year 10 sports where the opposition goalkeeper was such an insufferable turd that my clattering, red card under any circumstances interruption of his Rene Higuita style run was ignored. Let the record show that I then plonked the ball through the unguarded goal from the halfway line, arguably the finest sporting achievement of my life. Either that or the goal in my solitary intra-school footy match (indeed the only one our pov state school played that year), over my head from 40 metres out, clearly touched and celebrated with a Ric Flair strut that prompted somebody in the distance to yell "what a poof!" You'd never get away with any of it today.

If we hadn't worked hard to blow leads all night I'd have been happy to go into half time level, but there was going to be major disappointment if we'd turned two red-hot periods of play into a loss. There were two more Giants comebacks to get through, one that left us enough time to recover, the other than would have stuffed us too late to do anything about it.

Before that Trent Rivers snatched the lead back with his first career goal. Even better that it came from Mumford giving away an unnecessary free kick via an oafish attempt at a smother that whacked the artist formerly known as Luke Jackson's fluffer in the face. It was a false start, we spent the next few minutes on the back foot and with our season seemingly dying a thousand deaths. It started with another novelty Brent Daniels goal, and was followed by two more than left us in significant trouble.

Just when it looked like we'd have to conjure up a final quarter like the famous 2013 avalanche (still the highest scoring fourth quarter in club history, thank you Mark Neeld), Salem steered through a nice goal to keep the margin in single figures. Sporting stress does strange things to your mind, if I had to write this without being able to check quarter-by-quarter scores or replays I'd swear we'd come from 12 points down to win, even after Salem's goal. It wasn't as romping a win as 2013 but unlike that day it meant something more than the coach being able to leave without having his car set on fire.

With everything to play for in the last quarter and the opposition having a slight edge it was like betting the whole season on black at the casino. My internet connection realised that I was about to excessively emotionally invest in the result and tried to warn me by slowing to a crawl. The WiFi > Laptop > Megawall setup at the Towers occasionally has a dip in quality, but the picture quality usually bounces back before you realise what happened. This was 20 minutes of scaling between High, Standard and Zero definition with no concern for my physical or mental health.

I know the last time it happened was Brisbane at the Gabba last year because it led to a dramatic reshuffle of modems and boosters that saw me through probably a dozen games without major incident before last night. By pure luck the picture was watchable for each of our goals and the dramatic last few seconds, but in the middle it was a Shockwave Player for Netscape Navigator tribute act. Young people - none of those things may mean anything to you, but I can assure you it sucked by modern standards. At the time I'd have given anything to watch a game through AmigaVision, now it's enough to set off a breakdown.

Like the St Kilda game I abandoned my comfortable old person style lying down under a blanket for pacing the room like the mentally deranged. Ever since being told off for swearing so loudly it probably woke the neighbours during the Adelaide loss last year I've been reasonably restrained, but there were moments here that must have seeped out of the house. There was one shithouse turnover when the game was in the balance that caused a scream like Charlie Brown:

When I wasn't making pained noises to nobody in particular, I was walking my feelings out, racking up a couple of thousand steps from one side of the room the other, usually muttering veiled threats or pleas under my breath. I'd like to say I'll realise none of this was worth it when we don't make the finals but in the moment it all matters to me. The key difference is how long after a game I stay upset. The last game of 2019 was a dead rubber but I still went off like a porkchop while it was happening, then turned the TV off and got on with life 0.1 seconds after the final siren. Can't think I'd have been scarred forever from losing here but it would have taken a bit to get over.

Ed Langdon's tireless running along the wing like a good $cully was the undoubted highlight of the final quarter, but a word please for Steven May, the backline general of my dreams. It was mentioned during the week that he always sounds like he's about to cry or punch on. That's understandable when you've spent your entire career with Gold Coast and Melbourne, but get into this article and tell me you don't love him. Sure year one might have been a write-off and some snitch caught him hitting the piss when he wasn't supposed to, but now he's a titanic (in the pre-ship fiasco sense) figure in our side.

I loved this bit:

“What I was stressing to the backline was ‘boys, you might have lost a few critical contests, but we still need you, we’re still alive, so I just need your best five minutes and we’ll reassess from there’.”

Presumably, players say this sort of stuff all the time but it doesn't get revealed in interviews. I don't care, he is now officially my favourite post-Ingerson defender. Bad luck original recipe Rivers,  Frawley and McSizzle. See also the words for Lever and Smith that don't sugarcoat their ropey moments but acknowledge their important contribution to saving it at the end. If anyone knows what it's like to recover from disaster it's the man whose backline conceded 15 goals in the first quarter of his debut.

We love May's chat, but his on-field performances are even better. Lever does a few nervy things and may not turn out to be worth exactly what we paid for him but is otherwise fine, May is so reliable one-on-one and in marking contests that you would let somebody shoot your baby out of a catapult at him. Somebody will counter with one of his get-out-of-jail kicks to the flank that didn't quite make the distance and was cut off. I would invite you to go piss up a rope. When you take almost every kick-in, sometimes they won't hit a target. As long as the turnover isn't 20 metres from goal we'll survive. Mainly because he's probably the guy there to mark the kick when it comes back.

As for Smith, I actually didn't mind his performance. Considering how often he was left one-on-one with Jeremy Cameron he did pretty well, other than two minutes of madness at the end of the second quarter when the Giants had a run on. I reserve the right to be terrified whenever he's involved but am prepared to slightly walk back my unkind comments about never wanting to see him in the backline again. I'd still be more comfortable if we went out and bought an established third tall and kept some combination of him, Sizzle Jr and Josh Wagner as the backups.

I didn't have much faith in Burgess Ball being the difference when the only good quarters the Giants have played recently were the last ones, but we started well, and with the backline holding up our only problem was scoring enough goals to win. The first came quickly from Spargo, kicking a set shot from a distance I didn't fancy him at. He was way more consistent in his first year, but the highlights this season have been better. I don't see him as anything more than a fringe player but worth keeping around. In a big last quarter he also set up a Pickett set shot, and pumped the ball perfectly to the top of the square for what turned into the winning goal.

This season I wouldn't bet on Fritsch to kick a set shot from any distance but the coin flipped in our favour when he converted to put us (back to 'us/we' now that there's been a win) ahead again. There was still too much time left, and it felt like we were being lured into a trap. It's a philosophy to live by over the next week, but always assume the worst is going to happen at Melbourne and enjoy the surprise if it doesn't.

Cue several minutes of the game hanging delicately in the balance. Fortunately for us, GWS' response was to kick out on the full from close range, then dump about five long kicks down Steven May's throat. What happened to Jeremy Cameron? I remember when he used to be a terrifying presence as a teenager, now he's just a good ordinary player. Maybe we should swap him for the Sizzle and see if it helps rejuvenate both their careers. Hardly a fair swap for the Giants, and probably worse than the compensation they'll get for letting him go for free but I'm sure our crack trade team will find a way. How they would intend to pay Cameron is another matter. Can we get him an off the books J**d style job as a financial adviser at Zurich?

In the middle of this melee, Neville Jetta took the bullet in a contest and went off injured. If it's the last thing he ever does for us, taking on a contest with no concern for his own wellbeing would be a fitting way to go out. Like Jones there wasn't much before that to convince me he should go on next year but this is the sort of against-the-odds moment of bravery that we'll remember when he's gone. He's clearly a genuinely good bloke so hope he stays around the club in some capacity.

Also interesting to see Jones on the sidelines with a headset. Maybe he hasn't had enough misery as a player and wants to give coaching us a crack too? I'd say it would be better for him to get as far away from Melbourne as possible, but the longer he stays the longer I have before reneging on the idea of building a statue. Not that he doesn't deserve one, I just wouldn't know where to start, or if it would look like a massive pisstake. Sculptors, if you can recreate his post-goal Elimination Final 2018 pose without it looking like Lionel Richie as done by the blind lady please get in contact via the usual channels.

After living on the edge for several minutes, Trent Rivers was nearly the last person I'd have expected to kick the (eventual) winning goal with 2.30 left. Firstly what were the chances he'd be down there to begin with (hardly Neil Crompton circa 1964 but I'll take it), secondly what were the odds of him kicking two in the same game? Bonus home heart attack points for going up flatter than the proverbial shit carter's hat and swinging back towards goal after initially looking like it would be a point. Also, because of the camera angle you had no bloody idea if it was going to go through or land in the square until the last minute. In the end it cleared the line by miles, nearly braining the goal umpire on the way down.

With more than two minutes left I could have done with a recalled bounce that took a few seconds off the clock. We got the next best thing, a Giants player kicking out of bounds on the wing. Anything to chew up time. There had never been a better time for the old saying 'an 11 point lead is a one point loss waiting to happen'. It would be bad enough conceding two goals in quick succession to lose at any time, much less with the season on the line.

On the boundary the Goodwinmill was back, waving his arms forward and back, trying to inspire one last great defensive effort. With the opportunity to usurp Oscar McDonald and Josh Wagner as the Much Maligned Express, Lever and Smith got out of a two-on-one against Cameron without giving away a goal, before repeat stoppages chewed up more time. This simultaneously made it more likely we'd win and more embarrassing if we found a way to lose. Which we almost did. Packing the defence with 18 players was the sensible thing to do, yet somehow our old mate Brent Daniels gathered, spun so hard around Salem that he probably left a divot and cut the margin to less than a kick with 34 seconds left.

If Daniels had been on the Kingsley radar after the first two goals this made absolutely sure of his induction. In 47 previous games he's kicked 17.31 - including 2.8 this year - and now he's plucking goals from his arse at every stage of the game. He also managed to be the only Giants player to get reported on the night, for what looked like a fair and reasonable attempt at getting the ball which ended in his arse impacting Petracca's head. Couldn't spot Mumford clubbing people with forearms like Andre The Giant but were confident enough in this case to put it in the book before the match reviewer watched the tape.

My central nervous system was oscillating, how often do you get to the last minute of a game less than a goal in front, with your season on the line? Probably helps when it's traditionally finished by Round 15. I believe the answer is the moments after the Jeff White miracle free against the Bulldogs. Plenty of water under the bridge since that night, when I had to listen on the radio and nearly toppled a bookcase with the force of my fall to the floor as Davey hit the post straight out of the middle. Relive it through this video, the quality of which is equal to how I saw much of the final quarter last night. At least then we went forward immediately after taking the lead, this landed somewhere in the middle of that and a week earlier when Geelong had a chance to beat us after the siren.

If you're anything like me (and please do seek professional help), your mind will go through scenarios at the end of close games quicker than the nuclear missile computer in Wargames. With 34 seconds left to defend the most obvious ending was the #fistedforever one, Mumford winning a free for the most incidental of contact and goalling after the siren to finish us off. I also considered the Round 1, 2016 thriller when we gave them nine seconds to kick the winning goal and who else but $cully nearly pulled it off.

We held on without ever really being under threat, but I can exclusively reveal that I nearly shit my shorts when Langdon hung off his man after a mark on the wing. In the second quarter that would have been 50. Even without the Buckenara-lite penalty that would have had him kicking to win the game from 45 metres after the siren, they still had time to do damage. Enter Rivers again, charging to spoil a horrible kick to the forward flank out of bounds.

Now it was going to take a colossal, epic failure of system to cost us. Or alternatively some sneaky kick off the side of the boot from a pack that miraculously landed with an unintended target 30 metres out. Gawn probably got another end of game no free kick discount in the ruck contest, but they still got the ball moving towards their 50. Rivers came to the rescue again, forcing a contest that allowed Petracca to gather, give it to Langdon and get it far enough away from goal that it no longer represented a problem. Game over, and after several minutes of threatening to shoot out of either end the contents of my stomach remained in the middle where they belonged.

There's no more heartwarming sight than an under the pump coach celebrating a win. We should know, every coach we've had for the last 20 years has been under the pump at some point. In not turning on him completely no matter what happens next week, I respect that the players seem to really like Goodwin. Whether this translates to him being a good coach is anybody's guess, but I remember the last time we chucked a player's man he was replaced by somebody who came in, called them all weak as piss and nuked the joint so there's a fine line to walk.

You wonder what would have happened this year if we'd got the shit team draw as originally planned. There's no promise that we'd be in the same position with the original fixture, or that we'd have won five extra games against lowly sides. Don't wonder about it too long because it means stuff all now. As long as we play the last game in the right spirit we've got something positive to think about going into summer. For the love of all that is holy please don't let the season end with a tough as nails, battling win here and a dreadful let down in the last game. I still wouldn't put a Richardson/Viney level of confidence in us doing the right thing but, as always, remain hopeful.

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

Apologies to Baker, Gawn, Salem and Spargo

If everything goes our way we'll play a final, but I have serious doubts that we've got two in us, so I'm comfortable declaring Petracca almost certainly home. Oliver battled hard, but he'll have to concede to the full force of the Truck experience. We won't engrave the plate yet but start warming up the red-hot pen. If we lose next week jam it in your ear.

Steven May's position as the Seecamp winner is even more impenetrable, with Salem now needing to pull back four best on grounds to snatch it. A tad unlikely but you never know. The only award with any legs is the Hilton, which has been saved from disarray by Trent Rivers. If we don't play finals he can't lose, and will only have to share it if Pickett grabs five votes. At 40-1 he will be the second longest shot ever to take the title, behind Jayden Hunt (50-1) in 2016.

43 - Christian Petracca (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- No hope without two finals ---
36 - Clayton Oliver
--- No hope without three finals ---
30 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
--- No hope without four finals ---
28 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
--- Better luck next year ---
23 - Ed Langdon
10 - Angus Brayshaw
9 - Christian Salem
6 - Michael Hibberd, Trent Rivers (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Sam Weideman
4 - Jake Lever, Adam Tomlinson
2 - Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Hannan, Jay Lockhart, Kysaiah Pickett

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Helps when you kick more than a handful, but after last week's impotent showing this was a feast of contenders.  Options considered were:

1) Spargo on the run in the first
2) Hunt's crumb in the first
3) Petracca in the first quarter
4) Baker's snap in the second
5) Salem in the third
6) Rivers at the end

The choice came down to 3) vs 6), and as much as game-winning goals are worth extra points in this competition (see Salem vs Essendon and Watts vs Gold Coast) so I have to go with Petracca again.  I actually liked this better than the turbo thrust sprint out of the middle against North, and am promoting it to the clubhouse lead. For the weekly prize, he gets to go 'round the back' with the hotel employee of his choice. After this season they'll be queuing to Indooroopilly to get involved.

I wouldn't invite either to my birthday party, but for a game that toyed with my emotions Darcy and Brayshaw were probably the best options Channel 7 could offer. Maybe substitute Hamish McLachlan for Brayshaw so you don't have to hear endless McGuire-esque references to the sons of ex-North Melbourne players.

The highlight was probably Darcy responding to a ludicrous attempt at a mark by Fritsch by saying "He almost tunnelled himself. If that makes sense" It did not, but no harm done.

However, every time I watch a game with Matthew Richardson in special comments I feel sorry for him. He seems genuinely nice, and the thought of him tearing up at Richmond winning the flag always makes me tremendously jealous, but the other commentators always treat him with contempt, like they have absolutely no interest in what he's saying. He's not perfect, who is, but I'd rather hear what he has to say than some of the dickheads employed by 7.

Also on the subject of television, what is going on in that ad with a revoiced Petracca flogging McDonalds? Impossible to understand what he's saying, even if you wanted to, after they've given him the numptiest sounding voice of all time. I know players have to sign away the rights for their image to be used in anything but if I was him I'd ring up and offer to redo the same lines in my own voice so I didn't sound like somebody who'd been dropped on the head as a child.

Next Week
I can't see the results we need going our way, but you can only hope that we'll do the right thing. Given that we've previously lost to Essendon's B and C-teams in the same season there's no comfort in getting them while they're on their knees here. Importantly, for fans of history, we want to avoid giving James Hird his last win, and John Worsfold both his first and last as Bombers coach. Watch your back if they fixture us against Ben Rutten in Round 1 next year.

So, like Round 22, 2005 I expect an unnecessarily difficult struggle before winning. Unlike that day when Robbo's wacky bouncing snap was followed by a cut to the Footscray players realising their season has just been dicked, our players will be the ones left sitting around waiting for them to drag themselves over the line in a thriller. Hopefully nobody is stupid enough to allow a camera in to see it.

The postponement from Round 3 was hardly Connor McKenna's fault, he just got the sniffles and a dud COVID test, but it's ironic that he retired by the time the game finally got around to being played. As a nod to the saga they should force him to participate if he's still in Australia, whether he wants to or not. Actually, best not, we're already going to have to put up with Jake Stringer playing angry after being exposed as pudgy and a premiership winning coach desperately trying to end his career with a win so the fewer the storylines the better.

If there's any minor downside to not being eliminated last night it's that I don't get to unload the biggest suggested slaughter in the history of selection. Six points the other way and I've have plunged into double figures, instead it's bad luck to The Wagnii, Austin Bradtke, Kyle Dunkley and anyone else expecting a token game next week, the dream goes on and so do realistic changes.

The reintroduction of McDonald may be controversial in some sectors, but as serviceable as Brown has been he has never offered anything in the way of protection or support for Weideman. We badly need a big body next to the Weid, which was seemingly the idea when they picked Preuss before being abandoned after a week. If you're going to be cynical about it, this is a chance to fatten the Sizzle up for a trade. More importantly, it's a chance to overwhelm Essendon's already fragile backline. He has had one good game in two years but this would be a good time to have a final swing at making the role work.

Replacing Jetta, either injured or 'injured' as required, was more difficult. Lockhart is a better like-for-like switch, and has improved out of sight since the start of the year, but as long as he's 100% fit I'd prefer Hibberd's experience. We've already got Smith learning on the job, I can't take another L plater in the backline for such a crucial game. Also unlucky is Bennell, who couldn't get past Spargo and Anal-Bullet for a game in Cairns so he's not going to break into a winning formula now. No rush, will be an important player next year if his leg doesn't fall apart in pre-season.

IN: Hibberd, T. McDonald
OUT: Brown (omit), Jetta (inj)
LUCKY: Melksham, Smith, vandenBerg
UNLUCKY: Bennell, Lockhart

The Return of the Bradbury Plan

You don't even need a complicated Bradbury equation now, there's multiple options but they're all simple: We beat Essendon and:

Gold option - Footscray lose to either Hawthorn or Fremantle (NB: I took so long writing this that the Hawthorn option is already off the table)
Silver option - St Kilda lose to GWS and we beat Essendon by a margin that closes a 5.2% percentage gap. Rough calculations are that we'd need about a 50 point swing over the two games.
Bronze option - Collingwood lose to Gold Coast and Port

The order of games is important, St Kilda/GWS will be played before us so we'll know whether a) that option is still open to us, and b) how much we'd need to win by to overtake them. Hopefully the Giants release all their pent-up frustration and thuggery on them and win by 10 goals so it's irrelevant, because I can just see us trying desperately to rack up a big score against a wounded team and losing, only for the Dogs to go down as well.

Should we win at the traditional time of 2.10 on Saturday (at the untraditional location of Cararra) and the St Kilda escape route is shut, we've got to wait until 6.10pm Sunday night for the Footscray/Freo game at our old friend Cazaly's Fucking Stadium. Great opportunity for that ground to stick it up us one last time for 2020. That will probably be our last chance, unless Collingwood flub the Gold Coast game on Monday night, which will leave them needing to lose to Port Adelaide in the last game of the year. Which will be a perfect time for Port to shit the bed.

Should we somehow swerve through this minefield of potential disasters and qualify it's almost certain to mean going to Perth to play the Eagles, at which point we might have wished that we didn't make it.

Final thoughts
Patrick Hernandez was right to say it's good to be alive. Given that song was released the year we lost a game by 190 points I don't think he was talking about following Melbourne, but I'm happy to adopt it as an anthem for the next week. It was also used in an ad for booze, which I may turn back to next weekend after several years dry. I don't know why it matters so much for a shortened season with bite-size games and a finals series I can't watch in person but it just does. Enjoy a week of crushing tension and we'll reconvene at the same time next week - possibly without our fate confirmed yet - to discuss the next steps.

Tuesday 8 September 2020

Shower of Shit

Back when such things were of international importance, I was more into Oasis than Blur, but the line "I'm a professional cynic but my heart's not in it" seems appropriate here. As you are no doubt aware Melbourne has done the laughing stock double, losing a must-win game favourite again and reducing their chances of playing finals to the dreaded 'mathematically'.

Even if you entered self-preservation mode and declined to watch, you probably knew what happened by the sounds of anguish from fans across the country. Sensors picked up a MiseryQuake that registered 4.0 on the Neeld Scale. We've earned the right to be referred to as 'long-suffering' and the club remains officially 'much-maligned'. As we head towards finishing with more losses than wins but with a percentage of over 100, the phrase 'downhill skiers' also comes to mind. Only on the gentlest of alpine courses though, the last two games have shown that the smallest obstacle ends in hurtling to our doom like a rank amateur trying the Giant Slalom.

This was in no way a lay-down certainty (though laying down was certainly involved), Freo were 5-9 but have been competitive all season. Even more so than Sydney, who did so much to make us look like clowns last week. They've also moments of high farce, so there was no telling what where this game was going to go. It was certainly a happening. The Dockers have conceded 19 and scored 16 at various times this year, and at one point it looked like the final score might end up being 19-16. We all love to wallow in the misery of others but any neutral was still watching at quarter time needs to have a good hard look at themselves.

When you consider how most of our list are industrial strugglers you'd think we'd be well suited to toil and struggle. Season 2020 says otherwise, when we stop scoring we die. The St Kilda game is the exception, and even then only because a mighty defensive effort covered up for our faulty attack. 

Like kicking a goal then conceding two immediately, maybe things would have turned out better if we'd lost in Alice Springs? Could have provided the wakeup call required to win both these games and basically be playing for a spot in the eight next week. More likely we'd have lost all three, for one half the team look physically shot, and secondly nobody's been worse at dealing with variable weather since Tony Bullimore. 

Even before the belting rain there can't have been a Melbourne fan alive 100% confident. Even if you thought bought into the real possibility of a win, there must have been a nagging doubt about us doing something silly. There always is - in trading, in drafting, but tellingly not usually in delisting.

Mike Tyson said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." In our case it was "everybody has a plan until it rains", selecting Baker, Bedford, Hunt and Pickett for speed and Preuss as a big body to protect Weideman in forward contests. Reasonable ideas, though hard to see what Old Comedy Moustache Lips would do that the out of favour Tom McDonald couldn't, derailed only by a shitload of rain arriving somewhere between the side being picked and the game starting. 

It's the driest part of the year in Cairns, but did nobody think to consult the BOM just in case? Or... look up sometime before the bounce? Even in the wet the quicker players could theoretically have an impact, but the idea that Preuss was going to do anything other than flounder was wildly optimistic. In days of old a coach would realise when conditions didn't suit a tall forward and make a late change. This time we were either a) excessively loyal to the set game plan or b) thought players would just panic bomb long anyway so decided to try and use him to bring the ball to ground. Maybe c) these bastards are just making it up as they go along. Either way, I can't understand how a butter-fingered ruckman made it to the first bounce when (if?) we realised the big piss was on.

This would have been a danger game under any circumstances, but a fringe finals contender making four unenforced changes in the third last game of the year didn't bode well. As suspected by anyone who has watched recently, we have no idea what our best team looks like. I've got nothing against trying to something different after the Sydney stack but it demonstrated that our list isn't anywhere near contending for a premiership. Brayshaw and  Jackson would probably have played if fit, but otherwise it was a side that didn't deserve to play finals. Not AFL finals anyway. All this has left us where I thought we'd be before the AFL became a Ringling Brothers style travelling attraction, a barely top eight quality side that wouldn't beat a premiership contender in a final with a 20 minute head start. 

Under the circumstances I shouldn't get upset but we're footy fans and that's what we do. Part of the frustration is that we've got plenty of top end talent (when they fire) but the depth of a fish pond att he other. Off the top of my head the only players I'd pick without reservation would be May, Salem, Petracca, Viney, Gawn, Oliver and Langdon. There's arguments for the likes of Brayshaw, Lever and Weideman, but it gets very ropey outside the top 10. So when, like last night, the big hitters go alright but not well enough to carry everyone else on their back we're not going to win against any but the worst sides - and even then it might take three quarters to get rid of them. We also tried some wacky moves like Backline Bayley and Melksham as a tagger, nothing helped.

Frighteningly, the industrial strugglers at the bottom of our team are probably still amongst the best we've had for the last 10 years. This should have matched up well with Freo. They had the best individual player in Fyfe, the most dependable in Mundy and the most exciting in Walters, but otherwise had almost as many people you've never heard of as Sydney. And look how well that went. 

This is not to talk the Freo players down. Just becomes I'm willfully ignorant doesn't mean they're not good. Can't believe I'd never heard of somebody with a silly name like Taylin Duman (no relation, as far as well can tell, to Troughman) but go figure, it was his 37th game. Sadly my second favourite Longmuir brother's commitment to novelty selection didn't extend to reuniting Connor Blakley and Ed Langdon and testing whether there was any truth in the story that (deleted on legal advice).

Forget the cavalcade of potential Kinglseys, wht should have worried us was Freo conceding the fourth least points of any team this season. They'd only scored slightly more than Adelaide but the way we attacked last week this was no comfort. We could very well put up some bullshit score like... say... 4.9.33... that any club in the league should be able to cover. 

Nor did I fancy another played in the wind, much less the prospect of quite literally going to water when it started raining. Scarred by our wayward kicking with the wind in the first quarter last week I wasn't all that upset at losing the toss. After narrowly avoiding our first scoreless opening quarter since 2008, I realised it would probably have been better to have the advantage and get some confidence up early rather than rely on coming home with it in the last. But after last week do you trust that's what they would have done? Trust is in very short supply at the moment.

Maybe it would have stopped the ball being camped in Freo's forward line for 19 of the first 20 minutes. The wind was bad enough, but once it started raining our attempts to get the ball from one end of the ground to the other resembled Fitzcarraldo pulling his boat across a mountain. It was just awful viewing, whether tricky handball in the wet or long kicks to somebody who had no hope of holding the mark, we were powerless to keep the ball away from the Dockers for more than a few seconds at a time. At first they could only take advantage by scoring a lot of points. If you could guarantee we'd have taken advantage of the wind it wouldn't have been so bad. We were making it somewhat difficult for them to kick goals, it just looked like they'd barely need to get into double figures to cover our score.

Contrary to publicity, turns out our old mate Jesse Hogan is still a forward. Good for him. Even in the wet I expected this meant he'd kick six, but as gamely as he tried to have an impact it was not his night. There's about as much chance of him coming back as Watts but I've still got fantasies about saving his career - as if anyone's career could possibly be saved by playing for Melbourne. It's still tragic watching him do nothing in what should be the prime of his career. 

For the love of god, the man kicked 85 goals across his first two years in very ordinary teams, now he's 0.3 in five starts for 2020. There needs to be some sort of intervention before his career goes down the gurgler. Also, never seen the show in my life but wish we'd played Freo on the increasingly sandy Carrara for an Ex On The Beach reference. Would have also saved us from Cazaly's Fucking Stadium, the home of white plastic chairs, variable winds and Melbourne losing to the bottom four.

For a glorified VFL vs WAFL All-Star game it was certainly living up to expectations. We may have had one decent chance at scoring - not even a goal, just the ball being somewhere near our goalsquare - once in the first 18 minutes. Down the other end we were holding out reasonably well - including semi-professional Danny Bonaduce impersonator Oskar Baker making a fingertip save on the line. This was all fine, except their score was going up in ones and ours was going up in nones. I was already becoming morose.

Recency bias is a thing, but I'm struggling to think of an overall worse first quarter we've been involved in. We've played some spectacular shockers but it's usually balanced by the other team kicking six goals. This was slop vs slop in the slop. It surprised me that Goodwin didn't have a goalless first quarter until the West Coast final, and none at all last year. This was our fourth in 16 starts. You've got to adjust for shortened quarters but we can't let a couple of weeks of thumping the hapless detract from the fact that our forward line setup is putrid. There are worthy individuals down there but the unit runs like a 1982 Daihatsu Charade. Every once in a while they get lucky but for the last three weeks black smoke has been pouring out the exhaust.

The result of Freo chipping it around like a low-grade version of Geelong and us kicking at 30% when we did get our hands on it was a one goal to nil quarter. Considering how bad we've traditionally been at scoring I'm surprised you have to go back to 2014 for the last time we were involved in a such a lowly opening term. Even our boring as batshit first year team under Roos, and a GWS side that skirted the boundary of child labour laws got to a total of three goals by half time that day. This needed Name a Game to be resurrected just so they could confirm the master tape had been erased.

Highlights of the opening quarter were few and far between. Jack Viney and Gawn had a wholehearted bash for little overall reward. Otherwise, I have no idea. Viney was later kneed in the head in a marking contest with a force that would have killed an ordinary man and immediately bounced back to his feet. Jayden Hunt was less successful, briefly looking like he'd suffered a traumatic brain injury after a bump.

His central nervous system recovered in time to do a snap around the corner from 30 metres that fell short, into the arms of a Docker defender with nobody near him. I guess everyone just expected he'd make the distance into the wind after nearly getting a frontal lobotomy from a Freo player's shoulder. Turns out he was fine, returning to tick off the life achievement of kicking our only point of the first quarter and only goal of the second.

With the chance to reset and take in some words of encouragement from their coach, players came out for more of the same in the second quarter. There was probably still a wind, we just got no benefit from it. Petracca missed a shot early, then Freo went back to kicking points and we went back to falling on our arses, dropping marks, and trying Hollywood handballs in the wet. It was the most dreadful viewing ever.

Just as it looked like we might go to half time goalless, Hunt saved the day. Fair to say his career has gone to shit this year, but watching him return from the dead to undeservedly get us back into the game in pouring rain made me love him all over again. Like Melbourne, that will probably last until about quarter time next week.

If Rivers kicked his set shot in the dying seconds we'd have only been a point down and on the way to Grand Theft Football. He missed but I wasn't going to hold it against him in the circumstances. Trent was (relatively) very good, certainly offering more than just being Luke Jackson's fluffer. It left the total score across 40 minutes of football as 2.12.24. I can't even bring myself to work out the last time we were involved in anything so dismal but the opposition was probably University.

I don't want to turn this into an anti-coach session, but I hated the half-time praise he got from commentators for saying he wanted the players to be bolder with their ball movement. Was the phone from the coaches box disconnected for the entire second quarter? Could this not have been conveyed to them at some point in the preceding 16 minutes, instead of waiting to end the first half on one goal? At three quarter time they were falling over themselves to hang shit on the players for not following the plan, again any chance of getting a message out to them before then?

Even if we were contributing to the worst game ever played on colour television, winning would have made it all worthwhile. There was nothing to suggest that would happen, but blind faith and obligation kept me watching. Then, as it so often does, everything went tits up. In a bizarro world version of the Footscray game, they waited until the end of the third quarter to put us away, and about about 1% of the same speed.

After a few minutes of one side kicking it along the ground to the other and not a cracker of brave ball-movement Melbourne fans across the world were given the shits but conceding the opening goal. Arguably the Freo ruckman wouldn't have snatched the ball from a ball up and kick the goal if he hadn't given Gawn a two-handed shove in the back but that didn't need to be the difference. If you can't overcome conceding one goal to a dodgy decision did you deserve to win in the first place?

With the rain temporarily turned off, Freo wasted the goal at a Melbourne-esque rate, allowing us to go forward straight out the middle for once, finding free range Weid for the first time in two weeks, In a rarity for anyone wearing red and blue in this game he held a mark and converted. This undeservedly got us back into the game, and was another time where we might have decided to stop dicking around and take control. 

Instead, the game went back to 10 minutes of Auskick level skills, before a Gawn fumble in defence cost us a goal. I'm not blaming him, who in their right mind is expecting a gigantic ruckman to gather a loose ball in the wet? Our commitment to playing dry weather footy in the wet is remarkable, it's like we simply don't believe that rain exists and are determined to prove it by carrying it like the game is being played in the Gobi Desert. If Melbourne was a person it would be writing Facebook posts about 5G causing Coronavirus.

Under the conditions, getting the ball to ground inside 50 and applying a modicum of forward pressure was going to make somebody cough up the ball eventually. Freo knew this, and their next goal also came from a defensive fumble. This time it was Hibberd, who apparently went close to being withdrawn late because of his ankle injury. By the end of the night he probably wishes he'd put on a fake limp and settled in for a night with the hotel mini bar.

If you could get the ball to ground and apply even a modicum of forward pressure you were probably going to get somebody to cough up the ball eventually. Freo reiterated this when their next goal also came from a fumble in defence, this time from Hibberd, who apparently went close to a late withdrawal with his ankle injury. After this he probably wishes he'd put on a fake limp and stayed in the hotel.

Crumb is always important, but it's gold in these conditions. Freo got decent value for goals from open play, we couldn't buy one from anything other than a standing start. And could barely get any of those either. The worst miss was Pickett, victim of the biggest post-Rising Star fall from grace since Kent Butcher, who had ages to aim his snap but tried to flamboyantly kick the cover off it and missed. Worlds of potential, could do with some work on the basics. Maybe he's still bitter at that time they fined him for a perfectly good tackle?

From 17 points down we were set to find out if Burgess Ball worked in the wet. I'm not even sure it's real at all, but if it's ever going to work it needs a fully functioning forward line with multiple avenues to goal. And to not have to come back from three goals down in 16 minutes at football's most defensive era since the 1960s. 

Like last week we had a bash but it was too little, too late. This time we did get the margin under double figures, like we would have against the Swans if Langdon hadn't missed a sitter that turned into a Sydney goal. Same result, but without two egregrious set shot misses, and possibly the Goal of the Year at the other end. 

We had a chance through Fritsch, missing from 40 metres out on the left side of the 50 (name a more iconic duo), before the Freo player rolled what looked like the sealer through from a mile out on the boundary line. After a night of both sides struggling to find goals via conventional methods this was exactly the sort of plucked from the arse goal somebody needed. We could have played until Wednesday and not got one as good.

Now that the game was over we started to have a proper bash at winning. Which doesn't make any sense unless you speak Melbourne. With May going forward again, the ball finally spent some quality time in front of our goal, and when Fritsch finally got a first goal from a non-set shot we had three minutes to get two goals and steal the game. Chances are it would have been as pyrhhic a victory as the Brisbane one at the end of 2017 but I'd have had it.

As far as guilty parties getting away with it, this would have been at an OJ Simpson level. Imagine being somebody who advocates for an expanded finals series that would still leave us a chance of qualifying? That we can still make it into a final eight is bad enough. You can only think that the extra five games this year would have worked us out. Once the season is over and people can start to speak freely/leak like a sieve to journos, we might find out that the 21 hour day against the Saints was the physical breaking point, leading to the Sydney game picking up the spare by finishing them off mentally.

Surprisingly, the coach standing on the sidelines doing Goodwindmill manoeuvres with his arms didn't inspire a quickfire double, while time running out on both the game and (most likely) our season. Not the first time we've made fools of ourselves against Freo recently (remember unmade bed Cam McCarthy's Kingsley nomination at the 'G a couple of years ago?). Probably not the last.

And that, comrades, is basically that. There's multiple ways we can still make finals, and some of them are quite realistic but it's not going to happen. It's a long time since the win over Collingwood was so well-received that fans tipped in an extra $100,000. Now the Pies will be playing finals while the players who thrashed them watch from home, hopefully taking notes from top clubs and pondering what they're going to do to improve next year.

Somebody also needing a bit of a ponder is the coach, about to wrap up his third finals-free season of four. It's disappointing, but you can calm down on ordering the coaching death squad to finish him off before Saturday night. He's got less mates than $cully at the moment but is still 0% chance of being sacked without setting foot in Victoria again. The probability goes up marginally once they get home but not by much. Unless Ross Lyon is about to be parachuted in (and I don't know whether to be interested or terrified) I dispute that there will be enough time to do a proper job of getting a new coach before trading/drafting/2021 pre-season. Next season will probably start a bit later than normal but not by much.

My patience is wearing thin but I'm willing to take my blood sacrifice in the form of an assistant coach massacre. No animosity towards them individually, but we've plodded through two years of patchy development and are still suspect under the slightest pressure. Not sure that's what they mean when waffling on about building a recognisable brand, but we've got to get some new faces in. 

Goodwin also hung a millstone around his neck by busting out a motherhood statement about wanting the side to be "more ruthless". Best hope the board don't take that advice, or he might return to Brisbane and find his access card for the hub hotel has stopped working. I expect the word 'ruthless' will now be used to garotte him at every opportunity, like Neeld's infamous "hardest team to play against" shortly before two years of surrender.

As a rallying cry it was lacking, I don't even understand what he meant. Perhaps it's something you need more context to understand. More likely he thought he needed to put on a tough act and reached for a buzz word. Not like ruthlessness is completely alien to us, we did gleefully kick the suitcase out of sides when they were down in the last quarter just a few weeks ago. 

I'll give him the benefit of having said something he didn't get the chance to explain (which presumably will now be used against him by the people who have previously complained that he never says anything in press conferences), but am more interested in playing the same way from the first bounce against teams from 1st to 18th on the ladder than the Vlad the Impaler stuff. Which is why I feel he can't possibly have used the word the way I heard it.

While I'm skeptical about him going the same way as every coach but Paul Roos, the next two weeks will make all the difference. If we die in a screaming heap against the Giants and lose to Essendon by any margin there's going to be so much noise that they'll probably get trigger happy and put him away. There's something to look forward to. Remember, football is meant to be a fun distraction from the rest of your life.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
Nil deserved. You'd complain that a beaten midfield got votes if everyone else hasn't been beaten too.

5 - Jack Viney
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Trent Rivers
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to Fritsch, Langdon and May

As I said last week, the key to winning this award is to poll in shit games. Great news for Petracca, who has all but got it in the bag after doing just that two games in a row. Obviously it's down to him or Oliver now but I'm still optimistically leaving in the elimination lines that involve finals.

Like Michael Jackson in the 90s there's movement in the minors, with Trent Rivers finally bursting the Hilton race open. It was in no way votes just to break the deadlock, in the context of the dreadful performance he was fine. And that's about all you could ask for on a night like this. 

And May is all but home in the Seecamp. He can't be beaten unless we play finals, and given the rate defenders traditionally poll at I can't see Salem stringing together three BOGs into an Elimination Final to draw level, ending his hopes of a three-peat. May will become the first tall to win since Tom McSizzle (remember him?) in 2015, and having played for Gold Coast and Melbourne, this may be the greatest honour of his career.

42 - Christian Petracca
34 - Clayton Oliver
--- No hope without one final ---
30 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
--- No hope without two finals ---
24 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
--- No hope without three finals ---
18 - Ed Langdon
--- No hope at all ---
10 - Angus Brayshaw
9 - Christian Salem
6 - Michael Hibberd, Sam Weideman
4 - Jake Lever, Adam Tomlinson
3 - Trent Rivers (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
2 - Jake Melksham
1 - Mitch Hannan, Jay Lockhart, Kysaiah Pickett

NB: The usual mid-season audit on the votes was delayed due to disinterest. Now finally complete, it turns out I shortchanged Oliver and Tomlinson one vote each. How you get the total wrong when somebody should be on four I don't know, but they have been updated accordingly. Also, it was pointed out that I still had Gawn as provisional winner, that has also been corrected to confirm his seventh Stynes.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Pure extraction of urine to have to give this out under the circumstances. Fritsch's snap wins by default as the only non-set shot kicker of the night but even he'd probably be embarrassed to get a prize for this. Only Melbourne could be restricted to four goals and still get 75% of them in a way that didn't suit the conditions. There's probably some hotel recreation room gag right in front of me but I'm not in a fit state to capitalise.

Speaking of Fritsch, Brad Johnson seemed to be convinced that his surname was actually 'Fritz'. Otherwise, what was there to be upset about? 

Dwayne Russell carried on like he was calling D-Day but there's nothing new about that. The worse we are the less he offends me. One disastrous performance deserves another.

By the time things started getting perverse I wanted them to remove Jason Dunstall from the main call and set up an option (mash the red and blue buttons) where you could hear him and Garry Lyon give uncensored views about our performance. Could have rivalled the legendary Jeff Kennett and Andrew Peacock phone call for profanities per minute.

Next Week

Giving up would be the easy option, and I don't blame anyone who does, but I'll dutifully front up on Saturday night to watch us finish collapsing like a Russian apartment block. Not going to much effort though, might not even waste two hour of pixel life on my TV and just put it on a window in the corner of the computer while I do something that brings more positivity into to my life. Which could be just about anything down to and including a documentary about Ted Bundy.

You couldn't trust Melbourne as far as you could throw them (and now the season is shot it's certainly 'them/they', not 'we/us') but they're not going to surprise us here. We lose, we lose substantially and the Essendon game becomes the least viewed TV game involving two Victorian clubs in history. I'm going to go bananas on the changes for that one, so will be slightly more reserved here.

I'm giving Preuss another go (if it's dry), and if he doesn't show anything then he must spend next year playing as a key forward with Casey. With Gawn and Jackson ahead of him there is no requirement to develop any more as a ruckman, you know what you're going to get there, turn him into a forward who can competently ruck or pay him to sit at home.

Likewise Baker also stays. There's no point just picking these guys then dumping them straight away, so while I have zero faith in as a long term option he may as well get a chance in a must-win game.

The outs start with Pickett, who has all the time in the world to get it right but has been slaughtered by the lack of a reserves competition to develop in this year. It follows with vandenBerg, who I am right off. Don't really even know why but the vandWagon is being parked next to The Reality Bus for the rest of the season. And if Hibberd was fit tonight I'll go hee so he can have a rest.

No idea what Bennell, Harmes and Lockhart are going to do. Maybe Lockhart could play forward? But they're just the first available players I want to see. Marty Hore is available again, but even if he is in Queensland what's the point picking him now? He can have a go as part of the world record number of changes the next week. 

I was tempted by one last swing at Tom McDonald before we inevitably give him away for peanuts at the end of the year. There's an interesting claim in this post that he was told to put on 10kg this year to play full forward, stuffing up his endurance running. Doesn't look that much bigger to me so this may be pure bollocks but something's gone drastically wrong there. We'll see how he goes at another club after the Watts style fire-sale for pick 40.

IN: Harmes, Bennell, Lockhart
OUT: Pickett, vandenBerg (omit), Hibberd (rested)
LUCKY: Baker, Preuss
UNLUCKY: Jetta, T. McDonald, Spargo, J. Wagner

The Return of the Bradbury Plan

Yes it's still marginally alive. Footscray's win over the Eagles and our week of tremendous cockups have made it difficult, but I offer you three unlikely but not possible scenarios. All require us to beat both GWS and Essendon.

1) Collingwood lose to Gold Coast and Port, St Kilda lose to WCE and GWS - leaving a percentage battle between us and them for eight spot. This no doubt ends with us missing out by 0.01%.
2) Footscray lose to either Hawthorn or Freo and St Kilda lose to WCE/GWS - again ends in percentage
3) GWS lose to us and either Adelaide or St. Kilda and Collingwood lose to Gold Coast OR Footscray lose 1/2 - at which point make it by half a game and the AFL steps in to force a return to the McIntyre Final 6.

The more likely scenario is that we lose to the Giants, beat Essendon (?) and finish 10th. Joy to the world.

Federation Square
Your state-by-state guide to season 2020:

Western Australia - bad
Victoria - bad
New South Wales - good
South Australia - great
Queensland - shithouse

Can only imagine the sort of trouble we'd have gotten ourselves into if they'd made us play North in Hobart as planned. There's still time to take Melbourne and Essendon to Norfolk Island in Round 18. And leave them there.

Final thoughts
Most of the time after a disappointing loss I calm myself with an outburst, get on with life and rapidly feel better. This was the reverse, I turned off the TV and tried to convince myself this was how the season was always going to turn out. Then about two hours later a tidal wave of misery hit me. If I had any more of a chip on my shoulder the arm would have fall off. 

We're all aware of the futility of following Melbourne but at times like this, it feels like a long-running reality show pisstake that everyone else is in on. Show some humanity and point me towards the door. Good afternoon, good evening and good night.