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.

1 comment:

  1. I applaud you for the Shower Of Shit title. It absolutely was/is.


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