Friday, 4 September 2020

Bathwater overdose

Whatever the Melbourne Football Club is, and I've got a few suggestions, we are not 4.40pm on a Thursday in Cairns specialists. In fact, we may have been the worst thing to happen to North Queensland since the Brisbane Line. Secretly you knew it was going to happen, responding to gaining a foothold in the eight by shooting ourselves in the same foot, failing to rustle up anything more than a token effort against the side previously occupying 16th on the ladder.

Is there anything more modern Melbourne than ending up in the same place we expected to be before last week but with the added humiliation of crumbling as red hot favourites? Just when you thought we'd finally mastered the art beating of lowly sides it turns out that only extends as far as 17th and 18th. Time to add a fancy Latin phrase to our logo, and as there's no translation for #fistedforever, I suggest Vitae Dolor Sit - or as we know it Life is Pain.

After the sporting and real-life rollercoaster of 2020, I haven't got it in me to carry my outrage for long. If I'd written this immediately after the game there would have been much more vitriol. Now it's three days until we can partially redeem ourselves at the same ground so I'm trying to look forward to the response rather than thinking in any great depth about the fiasco. But before we can move on here's the few thousand words of 'woe is us' content that you come here for.

Every team has unexpected losses, but imagine going for a side you could trust to do the right thing more often than not. Some neutrals might know how that feels, I can't see a scenario where I'll ever be comfortable. Even if we somehow turned out to be good at some stage in my life I'm so mentally beaten that I'd always be waiting for it to turn bad.

Yes, the weekly swing from restrained elation to pure, drizzling misery is on again. There's very little middle ground when it comes to Melbourne. When we were toxic all I wanted was to be mid-table and mediocre, now as much as I'd rather be here than 2-20 with a percentage in the low 50s I realise that being teased with success is traumatic in its own way.

I wouldn't follow anyone else now, and Melbourne will get my money unless they turn into a front for the Ku Klux Klan, but it's a tiring lifestyle. Forget Channel 7 celebrities doing video messages of hope for stranded Victorians, do one specifically for Melbourne fans. Dr. Harry Cooper could tell us how to put the white sheet up around an entire footy club.

A warning in advance that this post will be about as good as Melbourne's performance. I watched three quarters under psychological duress and listened to the other on the radio and can't remember much except Sydney players standing on their own inside 50 and Sam Weideman trying to take marks from nine deep in a pack.

Of course, I'd say this now, but if you take a long term view, missing this year is not the worst thing in the world. Especially when you can see from our 22 this week that we're not in the same universe as premiership clubs. But the last three games still mean a lot to me, for one I'd love players to get some validation for spending the year touring around like the Leyland Brothers, and on a more person note I'd love some proof that 2019 was the fluke and not 2018. At the moment we're looking at dropping somewhere in the middle, leaving open the possibility of going downhill again in 2021. And that's the point where I'll drop my bundle, kick it across the room, and live stream the cops bashing my door down.

As far as massive debacles against the Swans go, it was no Round 13, 1993 but did bear striking similarities to the end of 2018 when all we had to do was win to confirm finals and stuffed it up. That had a happy ending against a Western Australian team the following week, I'm not so sure this is going to follow the same script. Indeed I have NO IDEA what's going to happen next, this side could do anything between winning by 10 goals and kicking 1.5.11.

Just like that infamous day at the MCG two years ago we turned up (this time virtually in most cases) with hope in our hearts, only to kick for goal as if pissed and leave ourselves in a massive hole at three quarter time. All it lacked was one of our suicidal forward entries being used as a springboard for Mark of the Year. Otherwise, it was bad football played by ordinary teams in unpleasant conditions. If we won there'd be nothing that couldn't be swept under the carpet, but after throwing it all away in one mad quarter again I'm prepared to believe that it means we're finished.

The good news is that if you're the sort of person who can't accept defeat without a conspiracy, there are mitigating factors. Rumours suggest Sydney had been there two days while we flew in that afternoon. Not ideal if true, but that's the nature of this off-chops season. Remember playing Collingwood when they'd had two less days rest? Also doesn't explain why we played like a busted arsehole from the first bounce. I even saw somebody blame the umpires, and while I don't think we were suited to the abolition of 50/50 holding the ball decisions, it's stretching to a dangerous degree to pretend they were the difference.

Like a lower intensity version of the Port game, the tone was set in the opening seconds. Salem was handed the ball in the middle, stood around as if waiting for a bus and was poleaxed. If he'd been able to fling it out like he was playing rugby he'd have gotten away with it, but the Sydney player had so much time to line up the tackle there was no chance of escape. It rarely got any better than that.

Did you have the same feeling of dread as me when they showed a strong wind blowing to one end? Especially with Fox Footy weatherman Alistair Lynch's assurances that it was going to drop off after quarter time. After losing in Hobart several times I'm not keen on games where we have to capitalise on the conditions to win. I don't care if that's how they played footy for 150 years until Docklands (my new mate) was built, 99% of people wouldn't use a time machine to go back and watch a game at the Western Oval. Roof everything.

Even before I knew what sort of performance we were going to put on (about 15 seconds into the first quarter), winning the toss to kick with the breeze was no comfort. Maybe in the week where half our side were contenders for the VFL Team of the Decade recent experience at Casey Fields would have helped. Instead, the team generously labelled The Entertainers when they were pulling goals out of their arse a few weeks ago had no earthly idea how to cope with it.

Watching us trying to go forward was like seeing a small child try to walk for the first time. They knew where they wanted to go but had no idea how to get there. Part of this was down to Sydney having watched tapes of our recent performances (fancy that), and charging on masse to where The Weid was standing whenever the ball came off a midfielder's boot. On a night where he usually had to contend with four defenders on his own, he kept trying but had a disastrous night, two disposals and never going close to scoring.

This wouldn't have been so bad if we'd have had anyone capable of crumbing (plenty capable of crumbling), or our forward pressure rating was higher than:

Sydney are no Footscray, so their rebound 50s didn't end in the same lightning transitions into the forward line. Never mind, even though they'd usually be held up on the way we were rumbled at stoppages too. There's a school of thought that Gawn isn't tapping the ball to the right place, I'm holding the midfield accountable.

I agreed with Pickett being dropped, but we were dead-set putrid when the ball hit the ground inside 50. Talk to me about Melksham, who still does some of the prettiest kicks you'll ever see when he gets the ball in space (e.g. the pass to Brayshaw) but has seemingly lost the plot at everything else. I cherish his 2017/2018 performances but he has never seemed right since the leg injury. Even adjusted for the shortened games, his numbers in every category are well down. I'm surprised that he's only averaging 2.3 inside 50s a game when he always seems to be hanging around on a half-forward flank waiting to have it kicked to him.

Melk's best quarter was the first, setting up two opportunities for teammates to miss. Down the other end Sydney did everything you want a team to do into the wind, kicking goals from open play instead of relying on set shots. When they got the second goal my blood pressure started to rise. I calmed myself with comparisons to the North game, where we took the hint after a slow start and went on to waffle them. And indeed, for the rest of the quarter we were the better side. With May playing every role in the backline on his own we always looked like conceding if the ball got down there but kept them at bay for long enough that you thought (incorrectly) things might turn out alright.

First Brayshaw nearly tested the newly installed goal line cameras by sneaking a snap past the post by about 3mm, then a neat Spargo finish from the boundary put us ahead. The way the second quarter went it's doubtful if Gus' second shot, via the golden Melksham kick, would have made much difference, but who's going to say no to eight point lead at the break after playing so badly? Like 95% of our tackles he missed. Last week we basically won the game by kicking accurately in a bad first quarter while the other side missed everything, this was in fashions the opposite result.

Then, if you thought the wind wasn't that much of a factor in our poor forward play, Sydney set out to prove otherwise. Boundary rider Mike Larkin's fearless weather predictions were not correct, and with their use of the breeze, the Swans spent 20 minutes belting the suitcase out of us, with no obvious plan to stop them. They wiped out our lead within the first two minutes, then added another two for good measure, while we blundered forward and didn't even look like scoring.

I'd spent all day warming up for the late afternoon start by comfort eating to the point where I nearly had to be extracted from the building by forklift, now I was wishing I'd been fed a cup of Russian nerve gas. The lowest moment had to be final confirmation that it's time for Nathan Jones to chunk it in. When he got into space, then punted the ball straight to a Sydney defender it was time for Nev to invade the field, put the arm around him and suggest they both head back to Melbourne immediately.

The road trip is slightly less appealing from Cairns than it would be from Adelaide but I've done that drive and there are highlights if you try hard enough. In rural NSW I drove 200km down a road that turned out to be blocked and had to go 200km back the other way with the petrol gauge plummeting faster than Melbourne's premiership hopes. Turns out the road is still no good - and if you're wondering how I ended up in Central NSW on a trip between Cairns and Melbourne, well I don't know either. Nor did the people whose car I was moving, who had me sign a document saying I'd stay within 200km of the coast at all times. Didn't read it.

Jones 300 is a pipedream now, let alone Neitz's record of 306. I don't want people to watch him with animosity so it's time to go out with his head held high. And as it turns out, his quad wrapped in ice. Considering the wide variety of NQR scenarios he's been involved in during his career, I think going out injured, as losing favourites, on a random ground, in the most obscure timeslot we've ever played in would be appropriate.

By half time we were 28 points down and practically no chance. Enough teams had come back from six goals behind in the last few weeks to suggest there was a chance but I wasn't having any of it. Didn't help that the super-important Viney and Petracca were having their worst games of the season. I'm not holding it against them, they have been going hell for leather for weeks now and there had to be a let down eventually. Just didn't help our chances of getting the ball to a free player inside 50. Fritsch was also terrible, probably still thinking about how close he went to winning the Claw Game in the hotel lobby when he was supposed to be at training.

It can't be understated how bad we were inside forward 50. With the Weid unsighted, Brown was a barely adequate second fiddle, and with nobody else looking likely I doubted we could reach their score of 7.2.44 by full time, let alone stop them from scoring enough to win. Turns out our four quarters beat their first half by two points. This is not a good thing.

It's a long time since Braydon Preuss - of all people - made Aliir Aliir look like an amateur at the SCG. Obviously we'd forgotten that outrageous success of playing somebody on him that night and opted to instead let Aliir do whatever he pleased. If one of our talls was meant to be taking care of him the instruction must have been written in invisible ink. After a half of this I thought maybe they'd throw one of the backmen who has previously kicked goals down there to give a contest. And so it was, with Oscar McDonald (80 games, 1 goal) sent forward while Joel Smith (once kicked four in a practice game on a windy ground) was left floundering in defence.

Disinterest in summer sports means I haven't seen a live event since the day Oscar kicked a goal 55 weeks ago (also featuring people you've never heard of again like Oskar Baker, Kyle Dunkley, Harrison Petty and Corey Wagner), and he didn't add to the tally this time. He did exactly as you'd expect, gamely trying to have an impact in an unfamiliar role while wearing resting baffled face and offering nothing but a warm body in front of Sydney's defenders. I don't blame him for not being able to play in a completely unfamiliar position, but did have several key concerns about what he did in the second quarter while playing where he was supposed to. Sadly, I think I'd still rather him in defence than Smith. I'd prefer Tom down that than either of them.

We were almost as bad with the wind the second time around, keeping the Swans goalless but only kicking one of our own. Even that came from a 50, to the returning Anal-Bullet, who must still be upset that we didn't think enough to him to even launch a token challenge to his four game suspension. Other than that we didn't get any of our own, 50% Forward Fritsch had a chance late (from the left side of the 50, you won't be surprised to learn) but missed, leaving us on 3.7 at the last change, 21 points in the hole.

The obscure scheduling of this game meant settling in for another big last quarter of watching on my phone in a carpark, seeing how many times the Kayo app would crash. I climbed in as the siren went to start the last quarter, and when Sydney kicked the first goal I flung my phone onto the drivers seat, jammed the keys in with a force that could have broken them and drove off. It felt shameful but what was I honestly going to miss from there that justified getting home half an hour later? I'd been up since 5am and there are now more crackheads than normal people in the CBD, I just wanted to get back to the Towers and wallow. Radio coverage would have to do.

After a couple of weeks where it's nearly been exposed as a myth, there was a bit of Burgess Ball about the last quarter. Harmes had made a mockery of my demands to pick him by doing nothing for three quarters, but got the goal that put us back in it. Maybe go back to the original plan and play him as a forward again?

At this stage rain was alleged to have started falling, which made it even more unlikely that we'd rattle home against the remaining breeze and stage the most unlikely victory since Rocky IV, but things briefly got interesting.

First the ultimate 'break in case of emergency' move of playing May forward paid off with a screaming pack mark and a goal, then Langdon was basically handed a free goal by a 50 that brought him to the top of the square on a narrow angle. As this was happening I had two thoughts a) where can I pull off the freeway and watch the rest of the game without being caught by a Corona Death Squad, and b) imagine if he goes back to trying to find every method under the sun to avoid kicking goals?

With no crowd reaction to judge by, the uproarious laughter of the commentators told me I may as well keep driving. And when the Swans went straight down the other end for the sealer it was lucky nobody else was on the road. You would have loved to be driving past me at that moment, as I indulged my favourite past-time while alone and swore like a trooper. I'd already mentally written off any chance of winning after he missed the kick, but conceding at the other end was excessive extraction of piss.

Ed played a dog of a last quarter, but he'd been very good until then. Two high profile cock-ups at the end shouldn't detract from field kicking that has been way better recently. I expect by now he was just stuffed from being the only player who looked remotely capable of moving the ball from one end to the other.

Gawn had a chance from the same spot as Langdon and missed as well. This was less of a shock, given that he has to drop the ball from the top of the Empire State Building to his boot. Which is strange, because his field kicking is fantastic for somebody of that size. Besides, there was no time to win it now anyway, it would have just given us false hope. Instead, we got Colossal Langdon Disaster #2, first doing the right thing by chasing down what would have been a certain goal, then getting excited and trying to take the kick-in and stuffing it straight down the throat of a Sydney player. I respect that he was just trying to get the ball moving given the time and margin but as they say in the classics "don't do shit you're not qualified to do."

It's unfortunate that Langdon and Maximum will be remembered more for what they did wrong at the end than right in the previous three quarters, because (spoiler) I thought they were our two best players. Fortunately we don't subscribe to the theory that you're only a good as your last kick or Mitch Brown would be getting five votes. He finally got our sixth (what an achievement) in the dying seconds but we'd been dead and buried for minutes. You're not going to win very often kicking 6.10.46.

For 16th place they aren't a bad side, now sitting 5-9. Unfortunately as predicted last week we got the version that thrashed GWS, not the one that had been shit against everyone else. More unfortunately, the real Melbourne returned, playing dumb as a post football from siren to siren and tripping over their own feet at every opportunity. Either burn the tapes, or secretly stash them away and release a double pack of anti-coach hate if we lose to the Dockers.

Like Bart Simpson's famous "I didn't do it", the world was poised for Goodwin to talk about learnings and/or connection in the press conference. Would have been a good night for the latter but like his players he wasn't interested. The problem was they didn't keep him there long enough. After a performance like this he should have been subject to one of those Daniel Andrews style 90 minute misery reports where every journalist gets to ask a question, no matter how stupid.

There must be some concern over our forward line. In the last eight games we've now scored 49, 32, 88, 92, 100, 52, 52 and 46. I don't like that as a pyramid, winning with 52 last week was an anomaly that won't happen often. Even that was built on the heroics of our backline, and having watched the MFC career of James Frawley from start to finish I can assure you that having one backman heroically trying to keep everything together will not translate into success.

We're back to the point where I have to say calm down there's no chance of sacking the coach. For my own selfish purposes I need him to get through part of next season to set up the final chapter of the 2017-2021 sequel to The Great Deepression. We haven't played a normal season under him yet, from the gigantic choke in the first season, the fast-burning fairytale in the second, the rapid fall to earth in 2019 and the travelling circus of farce and shambles this season. Where would you rather be?

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year 
No votes deserved, but somebody's got to get them. When your top two both missed from point-blank range in the last quarter of a (semi) tight game you know how well things went.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Ed Langdon
--- Struggletown ---
3 - Steven May
--- The poor part of Struggletown ---
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to Neal-Bullen, who may have snuck in for the last vote.

Over the years we've discovered that the best way to get ahead in this competition is to put in the least stinkiest performance in an otherwise all-round disaster. This would have been a great opportunity for Oliver to claw back some ground on Petracca, but he barely clambered into the top five because everyone else was so crap.

With a minimum 15 votes left, Steven May just remains in front of the first elimination line. Nobody else can win without two finals, and there's no bloody chance of that at this rate. Gawn is just hanging out the back of the Truck vs Hamburglar contest and waiting for a Bradbury-esque stack but I don't like his chances.

No change in the minors, May is now far enough in front of Salem that he wins if we don't play finals. Still nothing in the Hilton, where Austin Bradtke is biding his time waiting for a last round 'play the kids' comedy call-up

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

Kingsley Korner
Sixth gamer Lewis McInerney had a delightful time in the second quarter but it's too early in his carer to judge his Kingsley kandidature. I do, however, object to being beaten by the Prime Minister of Canada:

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Often I'll have a look at the highlights after a loss to help judge this segment. In this case I'd rather watch a DVD box set of Mrs. Brown's Boys while being roasted on an open fire. The winner is Charleston Spargo for his goal from the boundary line in the first quarter. For playing in this match his weekly prize is the DVD box set. Petracca vs North remains the clubhouse leader.

I was so sullen and depressed that even the free-association beat poetry of Dwayne 'n Derm had no effect on me.

Usually one of them will offer some sort of insanity that sticks in my mind. Tonight it was just noise, in Derm's case long and drawn out, for Dwayne high pitched squealing like a kid at an [insert name of hot musical act] concert.

We'll be back on Fox next Monday night. Help us out by letting Eddie recap the top 40 racist slurs by fans at Victoria Park.

Next Week
A four day gap against a team that just scored 4.5.29, what could possibly etc... etc... ? Freo might want Hogan to be a defender but they'd be mad not to give him one more opportunity forward against us. You'd think that May would slaughter him, but with the bonus points for playing against your old side and for a Melbourne team obsessed with doing weird, unexpected things he could kick eight. More likely he plays in defence and gets a years' worth of development in one night as we kick it to him 32 times.

You'd think we'd win but being optimistic this week didn't get me anywhere. So I assume we lose, the season is over, fans go nuts, and crowdfunding campaigns/ petitions to sack Goodwin threaten to overwhelm the internet.

As for changes, get the chainsaw out. Oscar and Smith are not good defenders, though if pressed I'd keep Sizzle Jr. first. I never want to see Smith again unless he's inside forward 50 trying to outdo his dad's collection of screamers. Fritsch can have another week of table tennis while Bedford gets a go, one last chance for the very much out of favour Hunt, and Hibbard, Lockhart and Bennell come back for no better reason than I want to see them.

Spargo leaves with with apologies. He is halfway decent at forward pressure and not terrible when he gets the ball, he just doesn't get enough of it. He's done enough that I'm comfortable with keeping him for next year, but for now step aside and get Bennell back in the side. And Jones will go out injured but sadly I was going to have to drop him anyway. Nothing personal, still love the man.

IN: Bedford, Bennell, Hibberd, Hunt, Lockhart
OUT: O.McDonald, Smith, Fritsch, Spargo (omit), Jones (inj, but secretly omit)
LUCKY: Brown, Harmes, Melksham
UNLUCKY: Hannan, T. McDonald, Preuss, vandenBerg, any breathing individual. Is Oskar Baker still alive?

The Return of the Bradbury Plan

Everything was heading our way for a few days, now we're back in the shit. If Collingwood beat Brisbane tonight they'll be safe, and if the Dogs do likewise against West Coast we'll be left hoping everyone falls on their arse, even in the unlikely event of doing the right thing and winning next week. I did a ladder predictor, and via beating Freo and Essendon but losing to GWS we missed out on eighth spot to St Kilda by 0.6%, which would be an improvement on the margin that kept us out in 2017. Knowing us we're more likely to lose to Freo, beat GWS and forget the Round 18 game is on.

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

Your cut-out-and-keep guide for matches until the next post:

Brisbane d. Collingwood
North vs Port - hope everybody has a fun time
Hawthorn d. St Kilda
Geelong d. Essendon
West Coast d. Footscray
Adelaide d. GWS
Sydney d. Carlton
Brisbane d. Gold Coast

Final thoughts
Like season 2020, this club will never run out of ways to surprise you. Unlike season 2020 we've got to do all this again next year. I'm not giving up, may they find me dead on my couch after a three point loss to North on the moon in 2081.

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