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.

1 comment:

  1. I'll leave the reflections on Melbourne's performance to your expertise Adam, but applause is well due for these two bits of impeccable prose:

    "...we've recovered from the worst visit to northern Australia since Joanne Lees"
    "Did this jumbo-line snorting lummox not appreciate that we might need the Giants to beat St Kilda next week?"



Crack the sads here... (to keep out nuffies, comments will show after approval by the Demonblog ARC)