Sunday 28 February 2021

Dead end street

The original plan was to see this game on a lengthy delay due to other commitments, and gee wasn't I glad to have rearranged the afternoon to watch live? It would have been better if I'd sat down to watch at 10pm, accidentally discovered that we'd kicked 1.8 and gone back to my Wesley Snipes Film Festival (15 movies down, 35 to go). He was Blade, half of this side would get the chop if there was anybody to replace them. There might be a passenger 5.7 reference if we could kick five goals.

Yes, for once pre-season predictions have come true. The second quarter against North is looking like the biggest outlier since Footscray's premiership, we are officially only good against expansion sides. Not that I expected to beat the undefeated Collingwood, but did expect some sort of a fight. It looked more like a junior team playing older opposition, able to keep up for a while but ultimately no chance of winning.

Any chance we had of springing the upset was boosted by the returns of Hore and Goldrick, then the latter was injured about 20 seconds into the first quarter. She returned, but not before missing most of a first quarter where the Pies only had themselves to blame for not being about seven goals in front. You shudder to think how we'd have gone without them.

If Goldrick had avoided injury then she'd have had plenty more opportunities given that the ball was stuck inside their 50 for most of the quarter. On the rare occasions we broke free the ball usually didn't even get to the forward line before flinging back at the speed of light. Later we discovered that even if the forwards had got near it they wouldn't have made an impact anyway. We haven't looked so unlikely to score since Adelaide tortured us in the last round of 2019.

Everything you needed to know about our likelihood of scoring was when Hore and Cunningham sprinted from half back Baileyball style, only for a hurried kick to land amongst a nest of defenders without a Melbourne jumper in sight. Under the circumstances, I'm surprised we had the opportunity to kick eight behinds. Which is, in a way, a positive.

Now that Collingwood has become a friendly, inclusive club, they did everything they could to keep things interesting, including clanging a chance at the second goal into the post from close range. There were plenty more opportunities to come, every time our overworked defence made the ball somebody else's problem it came back to them moments later. 

If we had 20% of the time in forward half during the quarter it was only because they decided to toy with us by chipping it to and from across the backline. For a bit it looked like the adults vs children spectacle of the Geelong men doing similar last year, but eventually backfired when an out of bounds kick led to Gay winning a free and a first decent shot on goal. It would have been criminal if we'd got to within a point after 10 minutes of playing as if blindfolded. Subconsciously she must have recognised that and kicked accordingly. If nothing else it was a score, which was more than it looked like we were going to get.

Against all logic that meant the quarter time margin was only six. Which was ridiculous, but offered a chance to alter the plan (as much as a Melbourne side ever does) and launch a rescue mission. Maybe a repeat of the time we stopped Freo having any inside 50s for a quarter and still lost? Apparently not. Things carried on in a similar vein, except we missed a shitload of opportunities and saw our percentage plummet like a faulty elevator.

The coach will probably be under the pump if the season goes sour, but Norm Smith would have had a hard time putting up with some of the zany moments on offer. For instance, Tyla Hanks winning the first touch of the second quarter then almost missing the ball with her hand, teeing it straight up for a Pies to play to storm through and launch another forward attack. Otherwise, Hanks was our best player by a mile. Some of her moves in traffic were top shelf. The problem is that for the handful of excellent players in this side there's a lot of strugglers. Now that the VFLW has started there's somewhere for the fringe players to develop - never mind that the national season is halfway over - but I'm not sure that's going to help. 

Speaking of generosity, we did everything possible to make sure they got their second goal. The final, silver platter offering was Daisy flubbing a kick straight into the path of an opponent, who merrily trotted in and kicked it. Had one of our players been gifted in the same circumstances she'd have stood frozen for a second in amazement (except Goldrick, who instantly plays on every time. Which is both thrilling and terrifying), then rushed a snap that fell short and was punched over the line. 

It was as disastrous a performance as you'll ever see from an original recipe AFLW team. I can't believe this is the same side that was kicking goals for fun a few weeks ago. We created an opportunity via the well-credentialed trio of Paxman, Hore and Scott but missed that as well. Still, it was a rare opportunity created by stringing more than two kicks together without a turnover. Down the other end, Collingwood was kicking fluky goals out of their arse so you could be fairly sure how this game was going to go without watching the second half. I haven't seen a situation involving Collingwood and women sliding downwards end this badly since Eddie McGuire and Caroline Wilson. 

There was more chance of peace in the Middle East than us overcoming the 25 point half time deficit but I couldn't bring myself to stop watching. If you gave up on every lost cause following Melbourne there wouldn't be much left. Strangely enough, we actually won the third quarter, kicking 1.4 to a point. Just when our first goalless game was becoming a live possibility, Lauren Pearce of all people was gifted a goal from a turnover in defence, leaving the outsidest (?) possibility of a stirring comeback.

That lasted about three minutes into the last quarter, which was how long we held out before Collingwood kicked the sealer. In fact, that was our only goal for the day, leaving us on a total of 3.20 over the last two weeks. You can imagine the media carnage if the men put in a similar fortnight, the AFL360 sad montage producer would get RSI. 

Sadly we didn't get the goal that would have boosted that tally to 4.20, opening the door to the obvious reference about them playing as if stoned. The best chance came through Bannan, who torched Cunningham like an arsonist while standing on her own in the square and missed. Remember when this team was kicking them from everywhere a few weeks ago? To be fair, you probably get a bit more time and space against Gold Coast and Richmond.

The general atmosphere of farce was topped off by an Emonson kick-in that landed at Paxman's feet, scooted past her and into the hands of a Collingwood player for another goal. The game was lost but we were doing our best to drive percentage down to the point where it might cost us a spot in the finals. As it is we've already got to fight our way back in from seventh. How about swapping next week's opponent for Geelong so we can either a) register a morale boosting thumping or, b) have the sort of Sydney '92 style humiliating loss that makes the club pull up stumps on the women's program and invest in eSports.

2021 Daisy Pearce Medal Votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Lauren Pearce
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Sarah Lampard

Apologies to Scott, Sherriff, Hore, and McNamara.

It's getting interesting at the top, with Paxmania having to fend off serious competition from former Bunnings spokesperson Hanks. Alas, Daisy remains empty-handed in her own award. 

17 - Karen Paxman
15 - Tyla Hanks
9 - Lily Mithen
8 - Lauren Pearce
6 - Tegan Cunningham
5 - Sinead Goldrick
4 - Kate Hore
3 - Maddie Gay
2 - Jackie Parry, Shelley Scott
1 - Alyssa Bannan (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Sarah Lampard, Eliza McNamara (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Casey Sherriff

Next Week
If there's ever been a time for our season to hit the skids it's as the already shaky integrity of the AFLW fixture totally collapses. Due to the ongoing circus of border restrictions, interstate teams are about to face each other for a second time, while we won't have played Carlton or Geelong. For that reason here's hoping the borders stay closed, I'd rather either of them in the last few weeks than risk being drawn against Adelaide, Brisbane, and Fremantle in quick succession.

None of that will be an issue if we lose to St. Kilda, at which point they may as well schedule a game against Chinkapook Ladies for all the good it will do our flag hopes. Even if the 3-0 start turns out to be a mirage finals are not entirely out of the question, via a Ms. Bradbury Plan, but it would take a miracle for this side to beat any of the current top four. 

Memories of the upset loss to the Saints last year loom large. Surely not again, especially when the season effectively on the line. At the same time, after two weeks where players who thought everything was going well have discovered it isn't, there's every possible chance of allowing them in via a mental lapse. If there's any hope left for this season we'll beat them comfortably, playing a minimum of two good quarters. Could happen. More likely we wobble over the line, simultaneously re-entering the race and confirming that we won't make it past an Elimination Final. 

Final thoughts
The only other time we've lost two in a row the second game was also a battering from Collingwood. Which earned us the right to miss the Grand Final on percentage. Even with the top six in place I sense a repeat about this time next month. Thank god the men are back, there's a team that has never let us down.

Saturday 27 February 2021

The carnival is back in town

Footy has gone down some strange roads in the last few years, reaching its most unusual point when games for premiership points were played at 4.40pm on a Thursday in Cairns. However, there has never yet been a game played at 9.30 on a Friday morning that could be considered essential viewing. Despite the involvement of the premiers - and some other team - this wasn't likely to become the first. Any sane person who'd only got home two hours earlier would have taken the hint, stayed in bed and watched a two minute highlight package later. Not me, I'm so still astonished - and grateful - that they broadcast these games that I felt compelled to watch.

Not that two professional organisations, one of which suddenly wins premiership for fun, should schedule their games to suit me, but it would have been helpful the time-honoured tradition of playing the seconds game early, then the (relatively) important match second had been followed. Did the senior players, up to and including flavour of the decade Dustin Martin, have something else to get to in the afternoon? 

In an inauspicious start to what history suggests will be another inauspicious season, I refused to get up when my alarm went at 9.30 on the dot, expecting that the game wouldn't start until they'd had a few minutes of commentary faff and had to reboot the server a few dozen times. Seems like broadcasting even the most frivolous match can now be done seamlessly, because not only did they carry this to the end without somebody tripping over the power cord, as I later discovered there was even a studio host involved. 

Not only did the surprisingly professional production - as much as you're going to get for a practice game at Casey - have a host, it even offered fancy graphics and quarter time replays. Young people will grow up thinking this is normal, imagine when they find out you had to wait for a gardening show to end before you could watch Friday night games on delay? I can't get a cracker of footage from the day we beat the Tigers by 121 points in 1993 but future generations will be able to rewatch decades old Port Adelaide intraclub games whenever they want. It's partially unfair.

Like the stream of the North game last year, the joint production meant we got to see their member ads as well as our own. This meant seeing Richmond telling fans that now was the time to stand up and be proud of their side - not after either of the first two flags apparently - followed by that man Martin placing multiple premiership cups in the middle of Punt Road Oval. 

Talk about a quick turnaround, we finished two games ahead of them in Paul Roos' last season (albeit after they'd played finals for the previous three...), now they're enticing their second hundred thousand members with multiple premierships and we're still expecting to be discovered trading while insolvent at any moment. Not surprisingly our ad, which in the smallest of victories ever was a better production, focused more on the 'footy is back' vibe than any hint of on-field success.

My lack of faith in modern technology meant missing the first 10 minutes. When I finally got around to watching, nobody had kicked a goal and we were on zero it was comforting to know that nothing important had been missed. In fact, it was like season 2020 was still going. A weaker person might have used the suggestion that we have no forward line left to go back to bed but I forged on and was moderately rewarded. 

My relaxed attitude to tuning in coincided with our first score, with Petracca marking after a beautiful lead. If our talls are destined to be in injury related hell for the first half of the season we could do worse than repeating this piece of play several dozen times a week. Sure, he missed and Richmond pinged straight down the other end for the first goal but the setup was exquisite.

Even with both teams fielding relatively strong sides you had to be guarded about taking anything that happened seriously, but to be fair to us for once we finished the quarter strongly. Much of what went on fit right into my core beliefs, including Nathan Jones going forward and kicking a goal, and a marauding Tom McDonald getting up the ground and kicking long for Gawn to mark inside 50. When the MFC Truth and Reconciliation Commission finally sits it may take them a while to get to 2020 but whoever told McSizzle to bulk up before last season should go in the dock.

Petracca went back into the midfield eventually, to great effect, but was in everything up front in the opening quarter. It's refreshing to know that, on the least available evidence, he doesn't look to have gone backwards from his breakout season. If Richmond had trouble containing him, Truck may absolutely torture some lowly sides. And let's be fair, if we don't kick seven shades of shit out of a few strugglers this year we're not going to trouble the best sides when it matters.

Though we always looked like conceding when the ball went anywhere inside Richmond's 50 that wasn't the hands of Steven May, we held up well. Double J James Jordon, the man with the squashed finger, created a goal from nothing, then in the dying seconds a lightning transition set up Fritsch's in the square for his first. In another accidental nod to everything I'm into, the season preview post, rush-released before this game, demanded that we find a way to get the ball to him somewhere other than 40 metres out hard on the boundary. Five metres out directly in front without an opponent in the same postcode will do.

While the lid was firmly welded on, it was a positive end to the quarter. But it was classic Goodwin-era Melbourne, the ball movement looked alright but the moment the other side got the ball players ran around like they were escaping a burning building. This is what will stop us becoming an obvious premiership threat. A homegrown golden generation of Gawn, Petracca and Oliver (plus quality ring-ins like May) should keep us away from the bottom for a while, but I can't imagine us winning a flag in any circumstance other than catching fire at just the right time a'la Footscray 2016. Which will do me nicely, but relying on doing it that way reduces your window for nicking a flag unexpectedly.

My first major shock of the new season was having no issue with the new rules about standing the mark. Quite literally standing, no running from side-to-side, doing star jumps or switching off with a shorter teammate. You can still hurl abuse at an opponent Lynden Dunn style, but throwing clumps grass at them during the run-up is now a grey area. Is this worth getting upset about? I'm a rule change sceptic from way back, and obviously 50 metres is an excessive penalty for such an administrative breach of the rules, but the best way to avoid the penalty will be to just stand still. 

If the other bloke runs around you blame Steve Hocking, then do it to them when you take a mark. If this is what improves scoring and stops the AFL from introducing all sorts of other stupid rules or deleting two players per team then so be it. Anyway, once umpires have been abused in every city for penalising excessive lateral sway the standard for a guilty verdict will be so high - remember the hands in the back rule? - that it won't make a difference anyway. Look for it to be ruthlessly patrolled for a month then all but forgotten until somebody becomes the 21st century Jim Stynes and accidentally takes a step with three seconds to go in a thrilling Grand Final.

Back to Casey Fields, a name that (probably don't open this link at work) sadly still hasn't been adopted by a porn star, where the result wasn't nearly as important as putting in a competitive performance against the best team in the competition. Which is what you say when you don't expect to win. Try telling me it was a meaningless practice run when Jason Castagna turned Oskar Baker inside out to kick the first goal of the second quarter. For a moment I forgot what I was watching, how I was watching it and said some very uncharitable things. That was as far as the angst went, by the time they got another one straight after I was back to rationalising how we couldn't be expected to beat the premiers but this would translate well to playing other fringe finals contenders.

There's a chance that the sort of wind you're never going to get at a proper AFL venue was having an impact. While there didn't seem to be your usual Cranbourne gale, Richmond was certainly doing the bulk of scoring to the left of your dial. In their road stood the mighty Steven May, and further afield Lever was taking some nice intercept marks, but thinks looked decidedly wonky whenever the ball hit the ground inside our defensive 50. This may be the season where teams start doing NFL style squib kicks into attack rather than bomb long and risk May or Lever intervening. 

If you can avoid those two I'm not sure about Tomlinson as the third tall, but he may have to do for now. He's a step up from the numerous times that Richmond managed to craft a premiership-winner vs not-actually-a-defender matchup. Given that Majak Daw didn't play in either game yesterday who knows where he's at, but he could be an option due to being built like a block of flats. I don't expect him to provide a Steven Silvagni level of defence but could be reasonable cover for a year until we can find somebody else. Or he might make people wish they weren't so mean to Oscar McDonald, who knows.

The breeze may have been more across the ground than straight down the middle. When the last remaining member of the McSizzle dynasty marked on the sort of lead he didn't get to do nearly enough last year and tried to steer the ball through from 30 metres it drifted left and into the post. Considering he's got 101.43 since becoming a permanent forward I'm willing to trust that his aim was true. For the same reason I can't believe your Essendons and Norths of the world weren't interested when we were frantically trying to trade him. Get the ball in his hands and he'll kick goals. Not on this occasion, to be fair, but you know what I mean.  

While the wind didn't stop the Tigers kicking multiple goals down the other end, we were more than holding our own. Other carryover highlights from 2020 included Langdon romping up and down the wing and Gawn taking vital contested marks all over the ground. I didn't expect any drastic changes but it seems we're basically playing the same style as last year and hoping for the best. I would expect nothing less in a season where the coach is under all sorts of pressure to keep his job. 

No doubt Richmond are of the same 'if it's not broken...' mindset. The difference being that their style ended up collecting both cup and flag. To be fair to Goodwin, and somebody has to be, our style worked alright last year. We lost to all the top sides but were only blown off the park by Port. Maybe a radical change would suit our list better and instantly vault us into premiership contention? I don't know, ask Adem Yze in about Round 6.

One thing we've never been blessed with is consistency, and to nobody's surprise we followed up a three goal first quarter by struggling to kick any in the second term. It took the long-forgotten Kade Chandler to get the breakthrough, and he ended up making a mockery of my prediction that he'd struggle to get a game this year by kicking three. Admittedly I did say "unless something NQR happens", and this almost qualifies.

Still don't know where he fits with Pickett, Bedford (who kicked a couple of ripping goals in the second game), Laurie etc... but it was a positive performance considering he missed all of last year after breaking his hand three different times. How do you even do that? He must be on the same anti-calcium diet that ruined Sean Charles. There was even another hand scare later in the game, which doesn't bode well for him getting through the year with it in one piece.

Meanwhile, imagine being a young player who is not only cut off from the endless supply of groupies by Coronavirus restrictions, but is then left in a hotel for half the year without full use of the hand? In the preview I spoke of players spending last year living like Alan Partridge, and his string of injuries reminds me of this injury, which had similar consequences.

We finished the second quarter with a rush, and Gawn soon got another from what must have been his sixth contested mark of the quarter. Fortunately, he was in the square so we didn't have to hear the usual 'hilarious' gags about his goalkicking. He proceeded to make sure of it like he was kicking from 50, thumping the ball into the carpark. This was good news for the lunatics who'd committed to watching the game through a fence, colder than a witch's tit, when they could have watched it in perfectly good quality on any internet-connected device up to and including their fridge. Now they could go home with the footy as a souvenir.

The margin was reduced to seven at the half, and considering how likely Richmond looked to score every time they crossed the middle of the ground this wasn't a bad result. Otherwise, we held up pretty well against them. Luke Jackson also took a massive Maximum style grab at one point that made you dream of the original drifting forward and creating havoc more often. Personally, I'd rather get Brown and/or Weideman going and make sure Max is free to get us out of jail in defence, but either way having a huge man like that marking everything that comes near him is a good thing no matter where it happens.

With both the Browns absent, and Weideman reduced to special comments duties, our goalkickers were the eclectic bunch of Jones, Jordon, Fritsch, Chandler and Gawn. It's now how you get them, I'll take everybody in the side kicking one each if it means getting 22 goals in a game again before I die. This egalitarian attitude to sharing the goals barely survived half time, with Gawn adding his second almost immediately after the restart. 

Max truly a man for all seasons, taking the centre bounce, going forward to win a free, thumping the ball through from 50, then taking the relieving mark in defence when Richmond threatened to respond within seconds. It was a minute of the toppest (?) shelf of big man football. Considering how much Collingwood had to pay for how long to keep Brodie Grundy, Max should get a share in the MCG when he re-signs. 

I'm still not convinced by him as captain but he might demand the position for life in lieu of several years at a million dollars plus, and we should do it. If you look purely at hitouts then you might say we can do without - after all, we'll never forget the day James Harmes created a goal from the centre bounce - but that's the most overrated stat since inside 50s. It's everything else he does that makes him so important. Chiefly the marks, some of the grandest grabs you'll ever see. Jackson projects to be very good but he's a different type of player, once Big Max goes so do the big marks, and I will mourn them for the years to come.  

Any argument that the wind was having an impact was boosted by us quickly retaking the lead, with Fritsch taking a smart mark in the forward pocket. It was the same angle he kept running to last year, just 20 metres closer to goal. I had to stop myself from getting excited. A realistic analysis of this performance suggests that they're in the same place they were 12 months ago, good enough to beat lowly teams (except in Cairns), unlikely to knock over the top four. That's fine, fifth place will do me nicely. At this stage, high expectations are just setting yourself up for disappointment.

While you had to adjust your feelings for it being a scratch match, I did almost crack an Ararat when Petracca snatched a ball out of the air and casually snapped another goal around his body. The ability to effortlessly do wonderful things is the mark of a superstar, and whisper it very quietly he may be on the verge.

Things were going well, but there were still a few concerns to keep you grounded. It was the second goal in a row where Richmond ripped the ball straight out of the middle and created a scoring opportunity. Even more worrying than the midfield disappearing was that their kick found the unusual defensive matchup of Riewoldt vs Hunt. This time he missed, but if I was Mr. Owl Enegy I wouldn't fancy being left defending tall forwards. Maybe they're grooming him for the Neville Jetta role of bravely taking on men twice his size every week? God knows why he's even at that end of the ground after showing far more as a forward but I guess that's a lost cause now. Or at least until we're panicking about scoring 5.7.37 three weeks into the season.

Richmond's first of the quarter came from an out of the arse handball and snap, but now it was our turn to burst out of the middle and kick the response. Thrillingly, the move was started and finished by the A-Grade brigade of Petracca and Oliver, who found excessive space to fling it back and forth a couple of times before the Hamburglar booted it through from 50. Sure, he got lucky that the defender on the line was stitched up by a novelty bounce but that's life in a sport with an obscurely shaped ball.

If there was wind it was now working in our favour, and the next goal went our way too. A series of handballs, started with a lovely one from Spargo mid-tackle, ended with Chandler alone in the square for his second. In the sort of free-flowing extravaganza that AFL executives will toss over now but will have been ruined by coaches before Anzac Day, this prompted Richmond to kick one straight away.

Just when you thought we'd done enough to hold a competitive lead going into the last quarter, they got another to cut the margin back to eight. The first outbreak of DemonTime for the men's season (the women are already experts), almost cut the gap to less than a kick, as we were left standing with thumb in arse while they took a shot after the siren. How many times are we going to see similar in the 88 quarters of the home and away season? They missed, and while I still wasn't confident about holding on, nor was I sourcing petrol to set myself alight in the event of a loss.

Given that Richmond packed away some of the stars in the last quarter while we seemingly plowed on under the 'what could possibly go wrong?' rule, it's hard to know what to think about it. Holding on into the wind, which picked up just in time for us to kick into it, seemed to suggest that things weren't going to end well. The sudden outbreak of breeze was demonstrated by an early Langdon shot from outside 50 that fell flatter than a shit carter's hat. Build a roof everywhere. 

Once we did get a goal Langdon was involved again, finding Chandler - whose hand was obviously now back in place - on his own in the pocket. I'm sure Richmond fans aren't too upset by this result but they should ask why our players ended up standing on their own inside 50 so often. He restored the double figure margin. Which lasted about 25 seconds.

If there's any queries to come out of this game it's how many times we were butchered in the middle. Sure Oliver and Petracca performed a couple of surgical extractions, but otherwise we were regularly beaten at the drop. Centre bounces not so important in a season where every game ends 45-39, but if the rule changes are going artificially increase the number of goals kicked we're going to have to put up with a lot more six vs six contests in the middle. Obviously getting Viney back in there will help. As will playing sides who haven't won three premierships in four years.

Even though I'm violently in favour of standard length quarters, I was beginning to burn out on lack of sleep and could have done with them shaking hands up pulling up stumps once the King of Sizzle engaged in a perfect lead/pass scenario with Petracca and extended the margin into double figures again. This almost evaporated instantly when, you won't be surprised to discover, Richmond barrelled out of the centre and kicked deep into attack. There stood the almighty Steven May, recovered from a head knock a few minutes earlier that had briefly left him looking dead and me ready to go on anti-depressants.

They did get a goal not long after, but maybe gifting goals back is the in thing for 2021, because it only prompted us to add another. This time via Spargo flattening a defender with a beautiful tackle at the top of the square and extending the margin back to nine. I'm right on board Spargo this season. It might backfire on me but for now, shut up and take my emotional investment.

Given that Richmond is *checks recent results* good, and have a shitload of fringe players trying to get a game, they wouldn't do the honourable thing and lie down. There was still time for another loose ball inside 50 to cause havoc. With what small defenders we have nowhere to be seen Jake Aarts kicked the goal. A reminder that we're still waiting for him to go off with the blood rule as a chance to use the obscure 'cuts to the Aarts' gag that's been ready since his debut.

If it was a real game I'd have been filling my shorts at the prospect of conceding another and losing in ludicrous circumstances. Can't pretend that there wasn't a little bit of tension anyway, but blow me down their goal begat one of ours. Footy will be high tension viewing this year if you expect to let in a goal within a minute of kicking one. The sealer came via Fritsch barely dribbling the ball through in the middle of a tackle, and for once we managed to avoid letting them get it back at warp speed. 

Job done. The good players were very good. There were pleasing cameos from Chandler and Jordon. Nobody got seriously injured. I'm satisfied. The last time I said something like "1 down, 27 to go" we went on to completely fuck up the season, so this time I'm not tempting fate. We looked good against a strong side, but it's not worth getting over-excited about. When it comes to Melbourne, unlike [insert a cause you're not keen on], the science is never settled

2020 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Kade Chandler
2 - Steven May
1 - Clayton Oliver

Next Week
Officially, this was nothing more than two teams having a kick in the park, and the first 'official' game is Monday week against Footscray. It's shithouse timing for me, a few hours later and I'd have been able to go. I'll be watching remotely and looking forward to making my return to the stands in the only appropriate way, by socially distancing myself from everyone in Row MM of the Ponsford Stand for Round 1.

Final thoughts
Stuff the Community Series, let's start the real season next weekend.

Friday 26 February 2021

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control - 2021 season preview

T.S Eliot called April "the cruellest month". He had obviously never spent an entire season watching Melbourne. As excited as I am for the (presumed) return to footy normality I also enter 2021 shitscared that it's going to be another wasted campaign. I'm not as young as I used to be, thoughts are definitely turning to winning the competition at least once before I snuff it.

In some unpleasant ways, life was easier when we just expected to lose every year. Mid-table mediocrity seemed like a wonderful idea then. Now that we've got a list that you think - rightly or wrongly - should be regularly contending for the finals it's giving me the almighty shits. Lucky we don't have a list anyone thinks should be winning flags or people would really get upset.

Nothing said 'mediocre' like Melbourne in 2020, finishing 9th of 18 teams. There were undoubted positives along the way but ultimately the team that I thought was only good enough for eighth pre-COVID weren't much worse after it. We were never good enough to contend for a premiership so I seriously doubt we'd have been in a much better position under the regular fixture. 

Given that our only big name recruit is already injured, should we expect more of the same this time? Perhaps. It's certainly hard to see a great leap forward. Mind you, I can't visualise any group of men playing as Melbourne finishing in the top four ever again. Statistically it has to happen one day, but given that I was 19 last time and am now decrepit that doesn't bode well for this being the season where it all comes together.

I wonder if the mood would have been more optimistic if we'd fumbled our way into the finals last year, even if the adventure ended in the first week? I expect there were a few players, especially the fringe types who wouldn't have played anyway, who were so sick of being carted around the country to live in hotels like Alan Partridge that they were almost happy we didn't qualify. It's not easy to compare an environment like that to what should be a regular season, with 22 games, regulation length games, and the sort of zany rule changes that are quietly forgotten by Round 4.

Still, even if we did the right thing in the last couple of weeks, the Crumble in the Jungle games in Cairns still rankle. Talk about being handed an opportunity on a silver platter only to drop it cold. Those are the games they should be forced to watch during the off-season - players and coaches alike. We know where we were successful, it's the total cockups that come out of nowhere that have been costing us for years.

Now, because I'm in a rush after realising we're about to play our first pre-season game, on with the regular segments.

Buy, Hold, Sell


Jake Bowey - Drafted as a half-forward/winger, two positions we've had all sorts of trouble with over the years. I expect him to play early and play often, with no concerns about his shorter stature.

Majak Daw - The last time I bought into a fairytale story the Harley Bennell experiment worked for about five minutes before ending in misdemeanour and delisting. But I am a romantic from way back and am ready to love again. 

Contrary to the views of idiots who post on the MFC Facebook page, Daw's recruitment (if he actually makes the list) is the classic free hit. Cost practically zero, length of contract as short as possible, and if it doesn't work we shake hands at the end of the year and go our separate ways.

I doubt he's ever going to kick six in a game again, but for a team that's already lost a defender for the whole season and two key forwards for god knows how long, having somebody in reserve with an adult body that understands the AFL system makes perfect sense. Certainly has a higher chance of success than signing the local yokel from the VFL. I don't see him having a huge impact other than providing experienced filler until Weideman/B. Brown return, but if it somehow comes off you'll find me Majaking it at the top of the Ponsford Stand.

Bayley Fritsch - Last year demonstrated that he knows how to get the ball inside 50. Now all we need is a structure that enables that to happen at an angle better than 40 metres out on the boundary line. I think we can get 30-40 goals out of him. Unless it's his fault that he religiously led out there. God forbid anyone either or both a) pull him up on it, or b) devise a way to improve the forward entries so he gets it in front of goal occasionally.

Luke Jackson - Showed a bit last year before he was - shock horror - injured. Unless he's prone to hamstring injuries that issue shouldn't cause him any ill-effects now, and with both Weideman and Ben Brown out at the start of the year the field is clear for him to have a fair bash at playing an important role in the forward line. 

Ed Langdon - Once he combined fast running with finding teammates by foot Ed became one of our most important players. Should play an important role again this time, though no doubt the traditional Melbourne FC recruit injury isn't far away.  

Steven May - After a rocky start to his Melbourne career, his value has gone up faster than a financially insecure American video game chain. Some might say his luck can't hold for long and something's got to go wrong for eventually but I'm backing him to improve even further on last year. And here's to the All Australian nomination committee opening their eyes when watching him play this time. 

Trent Rivers - One of the big hits of last year. Looked very comfortable in defence, nipped in for a couple of goals and promises to be a Round 1 starter all going well. No longer just an interstate fluffer for Jackson.

Fraser Rosman - Looks like he will dominate the nightclub scene. Also promises to be a good guy at football.

Christian Petracca - Everything you know about following this team suggests that he won't go on with it but I want to believe. He was so good last season that there's no reason he can't do it again, as long as the support in the midfield is there. Comparisons to Dustin Martin are not helpful, he is a very good player in his own right but has more to do to reach elite company.

Charlie Spargo - A controversial selection I'm sure but I thought he did pretty well last year. That's not really borne out in his stats but my gut feeling is that he's going to do well this year.

Tom Sparrow - Very impressive for the month he played mid-season before getting injured. Still not a huge body of work to judge him on but I think he'll be handy. 

Adem Yze - I don't want him to take over as coach mid-year, because that implies we've done poorly, but I do firmly expect him to be in the top job by Round 1, 2022. Otherwise I'm sure he'll be heading off for the first senior role on offer, potentially back to Hawthorn after Clarko loses interest. Who we will then spend a million dollars on with minimal reward a'la Malthouse at Carlton.


Oskar Baker - Did a few nice things in his brief cameo at the end of last year. Can't see him playing Round 1 but should get enough time this year that we can make arbitrary decisions about whether or not he's got a future.

Glenn Bartlett - He's bet heavily on getting our new CBD training venue/social club off the ground, so is going to look like a bit of a cockhead if there's no momentum this time next year. Maybe we can take over the Crown Casino lease, carve a footy ground into the middle of the place and get our lucrative pokies back at the same time? Some people are upset that he and the board stacked the deck against their only challenger to make sure they won. I have no time energy in my life to be upset about such frivolous things. Now, please excuse me while I comb old newspapers for the results of Under 19s games.

Austin Bradtke - I don't see any circumstance other than a crisis where he plays seniors this year. Likely to be given the usual extra time offered to tall players. A season in the VFL will help.

Angus Brayshaw - Has natural talent out the wazoo but how interested is he in translating that to being an A-Grade footballer? Based solely on a string of lazy disposals my amateur psychological diagnosis is 'not really'. In danger of being eclipsed by his brother, newly added to the Freo leadership group, and topping out at just being a handy player.

Ben Brown - I was absolutely thrilled to get him on the cheap, and not just due to his zany hair and even zanier jumper number. Then, having battled injury through last year we didn't even get him to the first pre-season game before he went down sore again. Should turn up at some point during the year and make a difference but you wouldn't bet against him never being heard of again.

Mitch Brown - Extended his AFL career by another year courtesy of a good performance in the last game of the season. Until then I wasn't overjoyed with his performances but he offers a reasonable backup option if other forwards keep getting hurt.

Kobe Farmer - Romantic notions of Wizard Jr. running riot in the forward pocket aside, we've got to take the realistic view that both us and Freo opted not to pick him on draft night so he's not guaranteed AFL talent. Which doesn't mean he's not worth taking a punt on. In the world of small forwards, how much gap there is between Pickett at #12 and Farmer at #nil will only become apparent if we end up with both of them on the list. Given the number of gaps on our list I'll be happy to see how he develops at Casey, as long as Jeff promises not to have an Alan Johnson style sook if it doesn't work out.

Max Gawn - Impact as a captain arguable, impact as a player undeniable. The actual ruckwork is the least of it, try finding somebody else who can maraud around the ground taking contested marks like that AND effectively dispose of the ball despite having to drop it three floors to his boot. I don't know if he's got much improvement left as a player but is still vital to the side.

James Jordon - If nothing else he'll always have the hub life memory of crushing his finger in a weights machine. Presumably, that's all been sorted out now and he's fully digited. He certainly will be if he doesn't get a game in his third year on the list. Admittedly we drafted him at a (relatively) very young age, and like others he's been stuffed by a year without a reserves competition. I think he'll get a game this season, mainly because I'm expecting a black death style injury crisis to leave us relying on fill-ins from the Peruvian league.  

Bailey Laurie - The advice not to trust anyone with two first names doesn't apply if one of them went out of fashion in the 1970s. Apparently he's good at 'agility/evasion', 'creativity', 'impact' and 'finding space', which sounds wonderful if it translates from the junior leagues to the big stuff. Will be offered plenty of time to develop.

Jake Lever - Has hardly set the world on fire since joining us, though 12 months of that were spent with a busted knee, but started to get into the swing of things last year. I think he can improve further, especially if we find a third key defender to play a role midway between his interceptions and May's one-on-one strongman. If not, getting paid a fortune must be some consolation to him. 

Jay Lockhart - Thrown in the deep end as a defender during 2020, I could almost have had The Lock as a 'buy' if I thought the coaches had full faith in him. Probably unlucky to lose his spot for the last few weeks of 2020 and should be right in the mix again this year.

Tom McDonald - Without knowing what was going on behind the scenes, he seemed to be treated shabbily last season, allegedly told to bulk up, then dropped when that didn't work. Still kicked 8.1 with limited opportunities, which implies that if you can get the ball into his hands he will generate scores. Before the multiple injuries to our key forwards he was more likely to be playing for Casey but now has an opportunity to resurrect his career. There's still a chance of the great piss up when he reaches a 1.00 goal a game average after none in his first 60. High likelihood that he's off at the end of the year no matter what happens.

Clayton Oliver - Overshadowed by Petracca last year, he is still a crucial part of our midfield. Can't help getting the ball, arguably needs to distribute it more widely instead of relying on handball. Barring injury he'll be near the top of our B&F count, but can he improve his game further and become a consistent match winner? Linked - perhaps frivolously - with a move to Carlton. If that happens I'll spew up.

Harrison Petty - Is he a defender? Is he a forward? Is he still alive? Will be easier to judge where's he's going once we get him back on the park and see what they've got planned. 

Kysaiah Pickett - Showed plenty of natural talent in his first season but was also obviously as green as grass. Sometimes you don't want natural enthusiasm to be coached out of a player, in this case I reckon a year back in a standard AFL environment will do wonders for him. 

Christian Salem - He's across 100 games so should be going up another gear soon. Does what he does well but there's got to be more in the tank. I reject the general clamour to make him a midfielder.

Deakyn Smith - Tied to us via the exhaustingly baffling academy system, Freakin' Deakyn might be up against it to win one of the two remaining positions on our list (though this article says three...) against ready to go Daw and son of legend Farmer. I'm not prepared to put him on the scrapheap yet because I have NFI what he does or how well he does it. Also likely that if we don't pick him now he'll play the season for Casey and get another look next year.

Adam Tomlinson - Found a role in defence after the great wingman experiment failed, but if he's not needed down there this season I can't see where else he fits. A bit too much time left in his contract to leave him rotting in the VFL so here's to them finding something for him to do.

Jack Viney - Heart and soul player who should give us several more years of good football (via a few random injuries). Not sure if he's ever going to become an A-Grade player, but as long as somebody else is I'm satisfied that Jack can be an important cog in the machine. Would love a return to that brief, thrilling, era where Gawn used to do fancy overhead taps just as he was steaming past.

Sam Weideman - For a few weeks last year it looked like he was ready to go supernova before fading towards the end. Arguably that had more to do with the rest of the forward line collapsing around him and opposition defences realising we only had one person to kick to. The recruitment of Ben Brown should have helped, until the stress fractures arrived, ruining the first half of his season at a minimum. He's got plenty of time to get back in the swing of things but I wouldn't be surprised if this year was a write-off.  


Toby Bedford - Stranger things have happened, but picking somebody for one game then dropping them immediately twice in the same season doesn't suggest a high level of confidence. He may secretly be hoping for a change of coaching administration. Robbed of development opportunities by the cancellation of the VFL, hopefully the chance to play second level games again will help. 

Kade Chandler - In serious danger of being our first one game and out player in nearly 20 years. Last season stuffed by injuries and lack of a second division competition but barring something NQR happening in the pre-season he'll be fighting from well deep in the pack to get a game.

Simon Goodwin - In more trouble than the early settlers if we have a bad trot at any point of the season. The pro-Yze faction will be dying for any opportunity to stick the knife in, and while I hope he does well his senior coaching career seems to be entering 'air slowly leaking from a balloon' territory.

James Harmes - Childhood Melbourne fan or not, I don't know why he didn't try and go elsewhere at the end of last year. Apparently we're going to try him in the midfield again this season, but the lost momentum since that wonderful second half of 2018 doesn't fill me with much hope. I have faith that he can do good things, I don't know if the coaches agree.  

Michael Hibberd - Came back from the dead Fatal Attraction style last season but can't see him doing it again. I have him in my starting lineup but that's down to limited alternatives.

Marty Hore - I don't want to kick a man while he's down, but by next year the ACL victim will have missed more full seasons than he's actually played with us. I'm sure he's going to be given another chance next year but he'll be coming from miles back.

Jayden Hunt - I like him and want him to do well, but the idea that they're going to playing him in the backline again this season is horrifying. He's a half-decent forward, and was only briefly a half-decent defender before other teams sussed his one direction turbo running. If they insist on going back to that he'll be at Casey for most of the season. Here's hoping sanity prevails.  

Neville Jetta - You've got to love him (no really, it's mandatory) but he seemed absolutely shot last year. A return to the traditional AFL environment will help but the signs of deterioration were already showing before the league became a travelling circus. 

Nathan Jones - One of the great servants but it's hard not to feel that he's going a season too far. Given our fishpond depth having him around just in case (plus leadership, culture, etc... etc...) isn't the worst idea in the world but it's going to get embarrassing if he gets within striking range of 300 games and they start trying to carry him there. Here's to a surprise end-of-career renaissance. Still worth giving a decent go as a forward.

Jake Melksham - Tremendously important in 2017/2018, but has never been the same since he injured his leg. Goes into this season under another cloud after doing chuff all last year. Hibberd had a miracle recovery when he'd been written off, here's to the Milkshake doing likewise. 

Alex Neal-Bullen - Not a bad player, but clearly never going to rise above his current level. Handy enough to have around for depth but it was telling that we tried to flog him to anybody who was interested at the end of last year. I still think he can have an impact but don't expect any sudden outbreaks of glory.

Aaron Nietschke - With the demise of Kade Kolodjashnij he's become the player whose name you're most likely to do a tendon typing. Or in his case, a knee. After two ACLs this may be his last chance to make an impression before we move on to the next kid.  

Joel Smith - In all sorts now that Oscar McDonald is gone and the world is looking for a new scapegoat. I didn't mind him as much as some (many?) others, but wish they'd kept playing him as a forward. Has potential to float around as an intercepting mark in defence but should never be asked to play one-on-one shutdown roles ever again.

Aaron vandenBerg - Doesn't have much say over the matter but if he doesn't stop getting injured there's not going to be a place for him. I enjoyed his came at the end of 2018 but has done little since. Should have fled to Sydney when he had the chance.

Betting markets
NB: Markets will be updated after the pre-season. No refunds if players not currently on the MFC list are not signed. We reserve the right to reframe the market if somebody has been left out. If gambling is becoming a problem for you call 1300 36 70 70.

Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

  • $4 - Christian Petracca
  • $6 - Clayton Oliver
  • $10 - Steven May, Jack Viney
  • $12 - Max Gawn, Ed Langdon
  • $20 - Christian Salem
  • $25 - Angus Brayshaw
  • $50 - James Harmes, Nathan Jones, Jake Lever
  • $75 - Ben Brown, Bayley Fritsch, Luke Jackson, Jake Melksham
  • $90 - Neville Jetta, Adam Tomlinson
  • $100 - Michael Hibberd, Trent Rivers
  • $125 - Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Aaron vandenBerg
  • $150 - Mitch Brown, Kysaiah Pickett
  • $200 - Jayden Hunt, Jay Lockhart, Sam Weideman
  • $250 - Oskar Baker, Alex Neal-Bullen, Tom Sparrow
  • $400 - Toby Bedford, Harrison Petty, Joel Smith
  • $500 - Jake Bowey, Kade Chandler, Bailey Laurie, Majak Daw
  • $520 - James Jordon, Fraser Rosman
  • $1000 - Kobe Farmer, Austin Bradtke, Aaron Nietschke
  • $1500 - Deakyn Smith
  • $5000 - Marty Hore

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year

  • $3 - Steven May
  • $5 - Christian Salem
  • $8 - Jake Lever
  • $20 - Michael Hibberd, Adam Tomlinson
  • $30 - Neville Jetta, Jay Lockhart, Trent Rivers
  • $40 - Jayden Hunt, Joel Smith
  • $60 - Harrison Petty
  • $100 - Majak Daw, Tom McDonald
  • $120 - Bayley Fritsch, Jake Melksham
  • $300 - James Jordon
  • $1000 - Aaron Nietschke
  • $3000 - Marty Hore 

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year

  • $2 - Max Gawn
  • $8 - Luke Jackson
  • $25 - Majak Daw
  • $30 - Tom McDonald
  • $50 - Austin Bradtke, Adam Tomlinson

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal

  • $6 - Jake Bowey, Bailey Laurie
  • $10 - Fraser Rosman, Toby Bedford
  • $30 - Kade Chandler, James Jordon, Kobe Farmer
  • $75 - Austin Bradtke, Aaron Nietschke
  • $100 - Deakyn Smith

Projected ladder
More than ever, this is a red-hot guess. There may not have been so many average sides at once for years. I don't think the top sides will be outstandingly good or the bottom sides will be complete toilet, which should make for an interesting season, once we've gotten over arguing about what the man on the mark can do.

1 - Western Bulldogs
2 - Richmond
3 - Brisbane
4 - Port Adelaide
5 - West Coast
6 - Geelong
7 - Fremantle
8 - Collingwood
9 - Melbourne (and won't this go down well?)
10 - St. Kilda
11 - GWS
12 - Carlton
13 - Gold Coast
14 - Sydney
15 - Adelaide
16 - Essendon
17 - Hawthorn
18 - North Melbourne

Demonblog's chosen 22
Yes, I am aware that actual positions are completely irrelevant in the modern day and ruck rover has probably been defunct since Ron Barassi, but in the interest of tradition here we are.... Weideman and Brown are only omitted due to fitness concerns. Melksham would have probably got a start if not for his hammy. 

B: Hibberd, May, Tomlinson
HB: Salem, Lever, Rivers
C: Langdon, Oliver, Petracca
HF: Fritsch, M. Brown, Spargo
F: Jackson, T. McDonald, Pickett
Foll: Gawn, Viney, Harmes
Int: Brayshaw, Sparrow, Lockhart, Hunt

Will it be worth it?
There will undoubtedly be ups and downs - which makes a change from the years when it was all downs - across the 22 (20? 16? 3?) games, and a few moments where everything looks like it's going to turn out ok but I think in the end we'll just plod along in the middle again. Having said that, if the injury situation puts more stress on our depth things could go south very quickly. 

I'm expecting to either narrowly tumble into the bottom half of the eight and immediately be eliminated, or just miss out. Either way, don't pre-book the session for your premiership tattoo. Get an Adem Yze tattoo instead, it will cost less.

Sunday 21 February 2021

Can't buy a thrill

For those of us with an interest in this sort of thing, the annual fixture against the Dogs offers warm and fuzzy feelings about our contribution to the women's game. And even if you don't give a rats - and I can't see why you'd be reading this - it's nice to know something we did in 2013 had a long-term positive impact. Other than sacking the coach.

Hard to believe it will be nine years in June since the game against the Bulldogs that helped fast-track a women's competition. It also encouraged me avoid the ground floor of the Olympic Stand (former home of the iconic Bay 6 Administration Office) for the rest of my days after finding a dead mouse under my seat. And if there's ever a Melbourne/Footscray game where that mouse is not referenced I'm not doing my job right.

After a surprise loss to St Kilda in the opening round, the Bulldogs have played well, which flagged this as a danger game from miles off. Conversely, we'd won all three but not been impressive from start to finish in any of them. Last week's second quarter was off the charts but the rest were middling at best. You can't get away with that every week. And we didn't.

The Dogs' chances of springing the minor upset were helped by the absence of Goldrick - concussed - and Kate Hore - ill. Never a good sign when two of the best players in a win are absent the next week. Turns out we've got the depth of [insert your most hated opposition political party here] and didn't go anywhere near covering them. 

Missing players - no matter how key - isn't an excuse for losing, we still created dozens of opportunities that we couldn't capitalise on. It was the 2017 GWS and 2020 St. Kilda debacles all over again. For the first three quarters the Dogs were hemmed in and forced to counter-attack, before realising we didn't have it in us to kick a winning score and cantering away to an easy victory.

Like Casey Fields, the Western Oval offers the sort of variable breezes that make the playing and watching of Australian Rules Football frustrating. As the game wore on I very much started to doubt the power of the breeze being endlessly talked up by the commentators, but it looked like it had an immediate impact on Eden Zanker. She spent the first five minutes creating opportunities like Gary Ablett Sr. and converting them like Ray Parker Jr.

When she missed her first - but by no means last - from a gettable range I was a bit nervy about this alleged wind. Considering how badly we've run out games this season I didn't fancy having to spend the fourth quarter defending a slender lead into it. Not, as it turns out, an issue.

Within a couple of minutes Zanker followed that miss with two other legs of the forwards' Grand Slam - - adding a set shot that failed to make the distance, then thumping one out on the full. When she lined up for a fourth go it was surely going to be the quickest anybody has ever achieved the four pillars of the slam in league history. Until she kicked another point. Wasn't just her fault, this was classic old-school 2017-2020 Melbourne AFLW, all of the attack, none of the goals. The tradition continued when we gave up a goal the first time Footscray went inside 50. 

If you want something done right go straight to a legend, and after half a dozen painful attempts at placing ball between middle posts, Karen Paxman snapped the reply out of nowhere. If I'd known we were only going to get one more I may have stopped watching on the spot.

For those who believed the wind was real and not just a narrative device for the commentators - and I was considering joining a Facebook group that labelled it a conspiracy - a lead of four points was a failure on our behalf. We did have a late opportunity to make it a more palatable nine, Shelley Scott burst through a pack like a tank and lobbed a hopeful kick to the square that Bannan pulled in just before the line. She rushed a kick around the corner and missed. On this occasion, it was the team thing to do.

After winning three in a row, this quarter was a tremendous letdown. For all our domination the forward line was looking paper-thin. Didn't mean we wouldn't find alternative avenues to goal, and it's not like we've played four quarters in a win since West Coast last year so it wasn't out of the question that we'd catch fire at some point. Not at this point anyway. I expect the brigade may be needed when Mick Stinear reviews his forward line strategy with Kate Hore and sets fire to it.

Those who still believed the wind theory could point to us immediately pouring on another half dozen inside 50s to start the second quarter. Despite Footscray's industrial - but turns up super effective - defence working hard to give away as many free kicks as possible (much to the ongoing disgust of one nuffy in the crowd) we didn't even register token scores from them this time. No Kate Hore = No Entertainers. Alternatively, would have been a nice day to have Petrevski nibbling around the packs. As it was we had very little in the air and even less on the ground.

It took six minutes of our fruitless, laboured attacking to score. And you won't be surprised to learn it was a point. Cunningham tried hard but was only allowed a handful of chances and botched the lot. This was probably the best, finding herself in space and with an eon to size up the goals before moving. Like Zanker 20 minutes earlier, Tegan had the chance to immediately redeem herself with another shot on goal. It came from the sort of free that I'd have cracked the shits about if it went against us, where the forward practically begs the umpire before it's paid. From nigh on right in front she missed too. Six extra misses left us a goal ahead. This was not a sustainable way to go about things.

From the 'well bugger me' file, the Dogs nearly got their second goal from their second inside 50. We narrowly avoided that disappointment, only to concede from the third, prompting the Western Oval to hit play on some dreadful 100% Hits Volume 223 pop tune. It was loud enough through the television, must have been an ear-bursting experience at the ground. If you've paid to go to a game does it add anything whatsoever to your enjoyment? Would kids go home and cry if they didn't get to hear (fashionable modern act) after every goal? Bollocks they would.

Anyway, I'm not here to whinge about matchday experience, today we're doing missed shots on goal. Our 21st inside 50 ended in another shot. Gay tried to do what the forwards couldn't, delivering a textbook holding the ball tackle that even that bloke in the crowd couldn't complain about. She proceeded to kick it out on the full from 30 metres out as good as directly in front. If you believed in the wind - and by now I was so sceptical of it that I was ready to hold a protest in Fawkner Park - being just the one point down at the half wasn't bad.

Things were already starting to head south though, our last period of dominance had ended when they got their second goal and we'd be on the back foot most of the time since. Having said that, there were elements of our side playing very well. Hanks and Paxman were running riot in the middle, and their attacks were regularly being turned away on the half-back line, but the difference in kicking efficiency around the ground was almost as stark as the rotten goalkicking.

The half-time reset gave us the chance to do something different, like immediately conceding an inside 50 from the bounce. For once the Dogs didn't score, and we successfully moved the ball to the other end before another attack was turned back, this time without even looking like ending in a score. Courtesy of an unnecessary late-bump downfield free - when as far as I could tell without a replay the ball was going to bounce out of bounds anyway - the Bulldogs responded with their third goal. We were not in an impossible position yet but it was hard to imagine kicking a winning score from here. Never before had a team dominated the attack so much and still deserved to lose.

The answer, again, came from the veterans. This time Scott ripped the ball off a pack and snapped a textbook example of crumb. Had the umpire spotted Tyla Hanks being pulled back at the centre bounce like she was on the end of a lasso we might have gone forward again. 

We got down there in the end, for what that was worth, when a holding the ball in Footscray's forward line became a free in our favour when Mithen's head was jammed into the ground. This was followed by a 50 after the Bulldog defender illegally vented her displeasure to the umpire. We got a point out of it. Of course we did. By now the existence of the wind was completely discredited, playing absolutely no role in the game. Which was great news considering we were allegedly kicking into it into the last quarter. Not so great when the Dogs burst down the other end and found a forward line so open that they'd have been able to craft a goal into a force 10 gale. 

Given the number of clear holding the ball frees that had been ignored during the quarter, it was a bit comical that McEvoy got one in the dying seconds which wouldn't have rated amongst the top 20 incorrect disposals since half time. She missed, naturally, because that's just what we were doing today. If nothing else it achieved 'handy point' status, bringing the margin back under a goal.

The idea of winning still seemed ridiculous, though we were within one accurate kick. Or more likely half a dozen inaccurate ones. At this stage I had to pause and watch the rest on a 10 minute delay, which is rubbish because you're always waiting for Kayo to fritz and fast forward back to live play. On the other hand, you can also rage fast forward through the ads when the other team kicks a goal so swings and roundabouts.

My first opportunity to regain 30 seconds nearly came from the bounce. I might have regained 15 minutes if their lightning centre clearance and immediate attack had ended in a goal. We got away with another odd free deep in defence, one of those ones where none of the players know who committed the crime until the umpire points. Sometimes, for extra chaos value, they point the wrong way.

Our strategy was obviously to win through the kicking of bulk points, beginning with Cunningham's third of the day. Shame she didn't get it, and I doubt it would have ultimately helped, but the strong contested mark that created the opportunity deserved better. Problem was this was happening 40 metres out from goal, not right in front where we could be assured (as best possible) of converting.

The Bulldogs had no such concerns. A long kick found Birch and Blackburn on their own, our woman (and their former woman) went for a despairing punch that left her on the ground and their woman (who in the exhibition games, was our woman) rolled it through an empty square. Now we needed 11 consecutive behinds to win. Not out of the question considering the opening quarter.

Birch was in everything, and not in a good way. She missed a mark that offered the Dogs another opportunity. This must have been solid gold to the ex-teammates she fell out with for undisclosed reasons. I think we of all fans can appreciate the level of excitement generated by somebody who left under dubious circumstances having a shocker.

The clock was very much against us now. After tempting fate by looking up our highest scores more than once this year, I was now interested in seeing where 2.10.22 landed us. Only equal fifth as it turns out. We managed to get as far as sixth worst by the siren, but landed on exactly two goals for the first time ever. Which would be worse if we hadn't kicked one a few times. Also, I was surprised that it was only the second time we'd had more than 10 behinds, considering how many horrendously inaccurate performances we've put on since 2017.

By now there was more chance of Queen Elizabeth II kicking a goal than any of our side. Zanker had barely done anything in the forward 50 since her 3/4 Grand Slam, while Bannan and Parry were missing in action. Cunningham and Scott were trying but the forward line was all at sea. We could have kept going until Tuesday and not got the third goal. In the spirit of harking back to things that happened in the past, it ended with another Zanker behind, her third, our 12th. 

Usually when a team kicks that many points in an AFLW game it's because they've won in a landslide and players are queuing up to have shots. This was just flat as a tack footy. I don't blame the inclusions, because their more famous teammates didn't do much either, but Tarrant did nothing as Hore's replacement and Magee played footy like I used to, lots of running around, no idea how to get the ball. What separates us is that she's an elite athlete in another sport and I've done nothing since finishing Enduro Racer on the Sega Master System in 1989.

This was not an unexpected defeat, but it continues the trend of losing as favourites at least once every season. We're probably still better off than I expected us to be at this stage - two games against recent expansion sides notwithstanding - but once you get a taste of winning you want more. As long as our shock losses are to sides of the same calibre as the Dogs (but not often mind you) and we treat the lowly sides with contempt I think we'll still be ok. Alternatively, the name 'Melbourne' is involved so brace for something farcical to happen.  

2021 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Karen Paxman
3 - Maddie Gay
2 - Shelley Scott
1 - Casey Sherriff

Apologies to Pearces big and small, Mithen, Zanker and Heath.

14 - Karen Paxman
10 - Tyla Hanks
7 - Lily Mithen
6 - Tegan Cunningham
5 - Sinead Goldrick,
4 - Kate Hore, Lauren Pearce
3 - Maddie Gay
2 - Jackie Parry, Shelley Scott
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Eliza McNamara (JOINT LEADERS: Whatever It Ends Up Being Called Award for AFLW Rising Star), Casey Sherriff

Next Week
It's Collingwood at Victoria Park, which is good for purists but a shame for those of us hoping to get back into form by crucifying one of the rubbish teams. This has got to be the last week of the COVID pyramid scheme fixture, they've got to run out of interstate teams to play each other eventually. Surely Victoria is off the pariah state register by now. I understand the Western Australian Premier isn't going to do anything to stuff up the election he's projected to win by a million percent, but that leaves three other states for our sides to go to. Personally I'd rather play Geelong, who appear to have no idea.

The Pies, on the other hand, seem to be very good this year. Which is never a phrase you want to read. That could be rotten news for our chances of playing finals. 3-2 will be nowhere near fatal but expect that some of Freo, Adelaide or Brisbane are going to be on the agenda in the last month of the season, while other finals contenders will be merrily racking up wins against the slop. Makes this a genuine blockbuster. Also makes me worried.

Media Street
In 1998 you'd have been chased down the street with pitchforks if you tried to get people interested in women's footy. Which is strange, because around the same time otherwise sane people used to think that it was a good omen if we won the Little League. 

Which is all a semi-topical way of introducing you to my appearance on the Australian Football Video Film Festival podcast, discussing the excessively lengthy and unquestionably great season highlights video Hotter Than Hell. We never confirmed what was on Todd Viney's kitchen bench or why Marcus Seecamp walloped Brad Pearce at Princes Park, but unless you're just here for the AFLW content and stuff the men (fair enough) there'll be something on it for you.

Final Thoughts
Bad kicking is bad football. As are bad handballing and bad defending. Let's see how many of the three we've expelled from our system before next week.

Sunday 14 February 2021

Home Alone

Shutting fans out midway through the season is fast becoming one of the great AFLW traditions. For the second year in a row, fans have been locked out mid-year due to pandemic related nerves. Let's have another go at getting the full competition in without a break in 2022 shall we? By then the Coronavirus vaccine will apparently have us all so full of 5G that you won't even have to watch the games on TV, they'll be beamed directly into your head.

In one way, things are looking up. Last year the first game behind closed doors (half-arsed as it was, still allowing friends and family in) ended in defeat. 12 months later we're recovering from a wonky start to rumble the league's glamour club, offering some outside hope that perhaps, just maybe, if we're lucky, Jupiter aligns with Mars, and interstate teams are allowed to play against Victorians sometime before April that a team called Melbourne may actually be premiership contenders.

It was a night for reuniting with old friends. This is certainly not a reference to Casey Fields, which may as well be in Zanzibar for the good it does me, but to the return of Darren Crocker as opposition coach. Just when I thought that this post had cured me of referencing everything back to the Bailey years. In these circles, he's best known for being the opposition on that day when we were operating the most powerful tank since World War II, did weird things at the selection table, weirder things on the day, lost by 10 goals, and people still went home happy.

Over a decade later, via two further stints as caretaker for the North men, the league's most famous 'break in case of emergency' coach is back to have a crack at the women's game. This time he wasn't assured victory just by turning up. For all the efforts of the league to extract the grassroots enthusiasm from the competition so it's as tediously businesslike as the male equivalent, gratuitous chucking of games for the purposes of getting better draft picks still hasn't come to this league.

And for us, why should it? For we have never been a bad side. Given how many sides they've rushed into the competition in such a short time you'd be hard-pressed not to remain at least a mid-table mediocrity in this competition. But I thought if we were going to take a step back in any year it would be this one, having dumped so many senior players in the off-season. Instead - and god knows what's going to happen from here - we're going to end the weekend somewhere between the only and one of five undefeated sides. One of these options would be a touch more impressive than the other.

After beating two fair to complete bollocks teams in the opening rounds, this was our first real test. The tone was set early when the two midfielders ripped into each other at the opening bounce. At first, it looked like the Roos were going to have our measure, they just looked more likely to eb able to move the ball around in a fashion that would lead to scores.

We did have one marvelously constructed opportunity to score in the opening minutes, with an express end-to-end transition that started with Goldrick in defence, then went through Paxman, Cunningham and Hore. It was comforting to find that much space against good opposition, suggesting that some of the solid gold ball movement from the last couple of weeks wasn't just down to playing a pair of sides that currently hold percentages in the range of 32-33.

Goldrick's role in this setup was the first of a few fantastic runs out of defence. The only way to describe her play was 'marauding'. For somebody who has played about 15 games of the sport in her life she is a fantastic reader of the play. 

The result was that Hore was marginally too far out and her shot was touched through, but you couldn't fault the quality of the setup. On the other hand, you could most certainly the question the NQR kick that cost us the first goal at the other end. Karen Paxman's status as the greatest player ever to wear our women's jumper practically puts her above criticism, but for once her solid as a rock delivery went astray, and a disastrous kick across goal led to North's first. She then botched returning the ball after a free, gifting North another. Well, even Muhammad Ali got knocked out a few times... 

Things were not looking good. Even if the league is full of them, you can't play the shit teams every week. Our willingness to crack in and have a crack (copyright - S. Blease) showed that we could match North most of the way, but all signs were pointing towards a demonstration that we weren't in the top echelon of teams yet. And maybe we're still not, but this was the first real sign of 2021 that the 'good' sides should be worried about us.

We had plenty of inside 50s in the early going, but were always left just outside kicking range. Casey Sherriff got the best value for her kick, running in like she had no confidence of carrying the ball 40 metres, then nearly managing it. Indirectly, this led to our first goal. 

One North player's blatant attempts to scoop the loose ball through for a point fell short, before another shit herself trying to clear the ball, shanking out on the full in the pocket. From the obscure angle, Hore hit the ball on the wrong side, causing it to float away from goal, where it dropped like a rock right into the waiting arms of Jackie Perry. Her conversion reduced the margin to a both understandably close and inexplicably close three points. We narrowly avoided giving it straight back out of the middle in Ms. Demontime, getting to quarter time four points behind.

There was still nothing on offer to suggest we were going to win, but that late goal was enough to keep things interesting. Then, just as I was hoping to get to play out the last three quarters with our dignity intact, we turned into the Harlem Lady Globetrotters. It started with another superb chain, this time via handballs, ending with Hore expertly stepping around an opponent to put us ahead. She is very good. So is Goldrick, who started another move that ended in the ball being speared onto Cunningham's chest for another.

Next thing you know Shelley Scott is lobbing one through from distance and angle, we were the best part of three goals in front and the game was being played entirely on our terms. It's not so much that North had packed it in, they just had no answers to us running rampant. It helped that we were converting at a (for us) a ludicrous rate, three goals from three inside 50s.

Just as you thought it was safe to think the best of a team called Melbourne, the Scott goal was returned a few seconds later. The defence battled hard all night, but this time they couldn't have made it easier, leaving a North forward on her own in front of goal for a simple finish.

We were, perhaps, lucky to get the reply. After Parry was perfectly legally tackled right in front of goal there was the lightest hint of squash on her back right at the end, leading to another goal. I don't want to see players give away frees for that level of incidental contact, but unfortunately the AFL do so that's the rule. This week anyway, the AFL comes up with interpretations more often than Victoria has lockdowns.

The good times kept rolling, with Parry adding another at the end for her third (equalling Mifsud, Cunningham and Newman for the most in a Melbourne AFLW game), and the team's sixth of the quarter. It was the second highest scoring quarter we've ever played, and considering how North looked to have us under control in the first term was a fantastic advertisement for our side. 

Now the Roos must have been lamenting not being able to play shit teams every week. Having conceded two goals in total in their last two games they were all at sea here. It might have been our second best scoring quarter, but considering the competition was easily the best 15 minutes we've ever played. No good side has ever been carved up like that. 

The second quarter may have been end-to-end butchery, but no Melbourne side of any gender plays two good quarters in a row, so when North got the opening goal of the third you obviously thought "here we go again." The lead was still three and a bit goals, welcome but still not enough to guarantee a win in one of the best quality AFLW games yet. There was too much time left to run the clock down, I wanted to win by adding more goals. Turns out the clock running option was the one to go with.

After a few minutes of crushing forward pressure North got another and things were looking ropey. Not nearly as ropey as a few seconds later when they plowed straight out of the centre for another, cutting the margin under 10 points. God bless the administrative 50 that saved us. Paxman got a free in the middle, and as the ball was thrown in front of her - bouncing into her hands - she was marched within range and exercised her champions' prerogative to call things down a bit. The serenity lasted a couple of minutes before North kicked their seventh, officially raising the total scores well above many 2020 men's games at the same stage (if you're into arguing that sort of thing).

Again, the last 90 seconds of the quarter saw us defending grimly, trying to hold on to a seven point lead. Somehow we got away with it, but the margin wasn't nearly enough to be confident about after kicking a combined 2.1 in last quarters this year. 

A couple of early goals would have been nice, but while all the attacking went our way at the start of the quarter - heightening suggestion that there was some sort of mystery Cranbourne wind at play - but there was no real goalscoring opportunity. Cunningham dropped a mark after a kick was perfectly set up for her lead, but otherwise it was all hopeful hoofing into the 50, and none of the liquid football of the second term. 

Naturally, North went straight down the other end and scored. Our AFLW games against North at Casey are like the men playing them in Hobart, every game a guaranteed thriller. At least we win some of these ones.

The umpires came good for us again, handing Alyssa Bannan a free for a hold in front of goal. She sprayed it, leaving us three points up with three minutes to go. If nothing else, the ball was at our end. Now a few minutes after demanding that we keep scoring and win it the 'real' way, I was right on board with running the clock down by any means necessary and hanging on.

North had their chances, but via some frightening close shaves at their end (including Colvin sticking her leg into an opponent, preparing to crack the shits when the whistle went, then realising it was her free) we got it down our end long enough to ensure against all but the most light speed transition. Obviously that's exactly what you expected to happen, but expectations were defied. We even got another goal, with Scott coat-hangered in a marking contest and allowed to kick after the siren. The last player who kicked a goal after the siren that didn't influence the result was Harley Bennell, so let's hope things turn out better for Shelley.

The loss of a three point margin, along with a 3-0 start stuffed up any chance of a 'Three is the magic number' headline, but might come in handy for percentage when things get hairy at the end of the year. Either way, we've built a fantastic base from which to tackle the rest of the year. Given that we don't know who the opposition will be for the last six rounds (or if there will be a last six rounds) it's hard to make predictions but surely, SURELY a 3-0 start in a top six in a competition with a lot of ordinary teams will be enough to see us slip into the bottom of the finals at the very worst. Now, watching us lose the next six and be replaced in the league by Hawthorn.

2021 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Sinead Goldrick
4 - Kate Hore
3 - Tyla Hanks
2 - Jackie Parry
1 - Karen Paxman

Apologies to Gay, Sherriff, Mithen, Cunningham, Scott.

10 - Karen Paxman
7 - Lily Mithen
6 - Tegan Cunningham
5 - Sinead Goldrick, Tyla Hanks
4 - Kate Hore, Lauren Pearce
2 - Jackie Parry
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Eliza McNamara (JOINT LEADERS: Whatever It Ends Up Being Called Award for AFLW Rising Star)

Next Week
Who bloody knows. Presumably a Victorian side. Maybe nobody at all?

Final Thoughts
There should be more of it.

Monday 8 February 2021

The People vs Tom Scully - remembering the feud of a lifetime

When the Soviet Union folded, America got a bit nostalgic because there was nobody left to biff on with. They quickly discovered the joy of fighting Saddam Hussein, those of us who've served in footy's Cold War since 12 September, 2011 are now coping with a vendetta shaped hole in our heart that may never be filled.

The retirement of - and we'll give him the benefit of his real name in this post before he's never spoken of again - Tom Scully closes the door on a saga that has been both incredibly childish and absolutely glorious. I don't want another enemy, he was my best fiend and I'm bereft without him. Nobody else evokes the same feelings. Even when Jeremy Howe and Collingwood lost a heartbreaking prelim I was nowhere as high up the walls in celebration as the Dogs knobbing GWS in a thriller. Extra points for you-know-who being ripped off out of a 50 at the crucial moment.

With Tom goes my last serious interest in non-MFC topics. For a decade it's been us and whoever's been playing him, now nothing. It would be harsh to demand that somebody who'd lost interest in the game continued playing just for my benefit but I'm still having adjustment issues knowing that it's over.

What a ride it has been. Short of somebody involving themselves in serious criminal misconduct or committing the most grievous act of disrespect to our club ever invented, I don't expect to ever muster up the same level of disdain for any AFL player.

The only disappointment (other than him not investing his fortune on the Zimbabwean Stock Exchange) is that the feud was all one-way and he never dignified it by joining in. While it was an obvious Box Ticking Exercise he even thanked the Melbourne Football Club in his retirement notice, grabbing at the moral high ground once more on the way out. You could say this was a sign of professionalism and maturity, I just don't reckon he was capable of joining in. I'd have gone on The Footy Show and offered Melbourne fans tours of my mansion if they were ever in the area.

By reasonable community standards, he never did anything wrong. When you strip the emotion out of it he simply exercised a league-endorsed option to take a higher paying job. And if you can look at it from such a dispassionate, robotic viewpoint you're a better person than me. I prefer to see a player whose reluctance to commit contributed to the instability that helped blow the club. One who legged it elsewhere for big money rather than committing to being part of the solution, and who wouldn't admit he was going until suddenly appearing in a YouTube video saying how happy he was to be a Giant. A Giant tosser in my book.

In almost every one of the 10 matches he played against us since 2012, a commentator was left lamenting how terrible we were for booing him (and in a way I agree, using words helps make sure there's no ambiguity) but considering the state of total panic our club was in at the time I'd say the reaction was reasonably calm and measured. If an Argentinian soccer player did the same thing they'd set his car on fire. In fact, there may never have been a dispute in the history of football that has generated so many genuine laughs. Admittedly most came from a small faction of fans operating on the same disturbed wavelength as me but nevertheless it created comedy fucking gold.

Join us now, for an Australian Football Video style tour through the hate that stopped a nation.

The Next Big Thing
There's been a dramatic rewriting of history to pretend that picking Scully first in the 2009 National Draft was the sort of tremendous blunder that only a team like Melbourne could make. In reality, he was a consensus #1 pick from a mile out. Take it from this random internet person, who correctly predicted the entire top 10, only losing his streak when ill-fated, two-time Rising Star nominee Jordan Gysberts went next. The same article also describes Scully as our 'future leader' and predicted success for Melbourne was 'just around the corner' so you can't be right about everything.

Surprisingly, given the clamour to throw the season and make sure we got him, he didn't rate a mention from until September 30. Even then it was from a third-party. Look at that old-fashioned retweet, doesn't it make you want to spew?

I forgot that he arrived under an injury cloud. That's classic Melbourne, you go to all the effort to get the top two picks, one turns up hurt and the other's foot snaps in two a couple of years later.

As correctly predicted by every serious phantom draft, Richmond used pick 3 on Dustin Martin, who has subsequently won as many flags as our entire club since 1959. Which is fantastic for them, but let's put to bed the fiction that he would have automatically been as good for us. There were a few years where the Tigers woke up every morning expecting to find him floating down the Yarra, don't tell me that our system would have steered him in the right direction. At the time Scully was described as a Richmond fan, so if we hadn't chucked that Jordan McMahon game he might have played for them. And probably still won nothing.

I've never been one to get excited about potential draftees, and there are very few mentions of him by name in my tweets or posts from the time. The more pressing debate was whether we'd have the top pick or the top two picks. Third-party options included the Olympic Stand being torched by fans if we put up a fight and finished 15th. What they didn't know, though most suspected, is that there was a concerted effort behind the scenes to make sure Option A came through.

You can argue the technicalities of the Tankquiry, and I certainly have, but any jury in the land would have convicted us based solely on Name A Game evidence, much less the AFL investigation. Luckily for us, the people doing the investigating were keen to sweep it under the rug long enough to let us have unchallenged access to what seemed like the ultimate draft jackpot. Hawthorn did the same thing once and got Franklin/Roughhead. Some people have all the luck. 

At first I was reluctant to get involved in the real filthy stuff, promoting a theory that we should strive to finish above Freo, but with the handbrake firmly applied to ensure we won less than five games and still banked the priority pick. This way we'd have got returned some self-respect by not finish last but would still have had the top pick. 

If you believe everything you read, panic set in mid-season when we won two in a row and jumped ahead of the Dockers on percentage. Owl Eyes Harvey and the Freo hierarchy could have taken a leaf out of our book, firmly jammed the cue in the rack for the last seven weeks and finished last, but obviously decided it wasn't worth it for pick 2.

Had both clubs set course for self-destruction it would have made our match against them in Round 20 interesting. I picture the equivalent of that soccer game where the team deliberately scored an own goal. We never found out how bad it could get, local pride inspired Freo to win a derby and the ball of corruption was back in our hands. The plan worked so well that there was even room for a morale-boosting 10 goal walloping of the Dockers before the end of the year.

Once I'd learned to stop worrying and accept the tank, excitement about the arrival of the top two rated juniors in the country began to build. Things were looking up, we hadn't yet Melbourned either Watts or Morton, and had another two picks in the top 20. What, as we like to say around here, could possibly go wrong?

The frenzy peaked with a function held by the club on draft night, encouraging members to gather and celebrate our windfall. Al Capone himself would have applauded such a shameless celebration of the proceeds of crime.

There's a theory that GWS had already planned the Scully heist before he was drafted. Maybe that was their idea but as much as I want to think badly of the man himself you can't tell me he was in on it that far out. Perhaps the most shambolic rumour of the time was that he and Ben Cunnington were both going to join, but to take the heat off it the parents of the opposite kid signed the agreement on their behalf. I still have no idea how that would have worked. Maybe Phil crossed Cunnington's name out and wrote his own?

At the time everyone wanted to think the best for the future. Once the relationship had gone tits up the gloves were off for any sort of zany theory. The type of people who are now into QAnon and Pete Evans found hidden meaning in him not putting the jumper on during the parade of top 10 draft picks. Even I thought this was a bit far-fetched, surely if you really were involved in a conspiracy you'd do everything possible to give the appearance of normality, not broadcast coded messages.

After the excessive publicity given to Jack Watts being handed Norm Smith's old number, we did it again with Scully, making a big deal out of him wearing Ron Barassi's old #31. Paul Wheatley must have been sitting at home wondering why he didn't get a ceremony during any part of his decade in it.

Fans of Tom's 'Resting Dead Face' will appreciate the level of excitement he brought to being handed these once sacred digits. At this time what odds would you have got on Joel Macdonald making more money than the rest of them combined?

Even after the embarrassment of late 2009, there were still some lunatics who wanted to throw the next season and get another priority pick. As if the AFL would have been able to turn a blind eye to those sorts of shenanigans twice. After three seasons of watching complete dross, those of us who hadn't suffered a traumatic brain injury were looking forward to improvement. As excited as I was for the Round 1 debut of SCULLGOVE era, it didn't take long for normal service to resume:
Despite that early setback, early returns for both Scully and the club itself were positive. Unlike when fans and journalists alike united in demanding excellence or death from Jack Watts after four games, our latest #1 pick was being given every opportunity to develop. Imagine we knew that neither of them would end their career with us? There would have been self-harm.

The first sign that we might have stumbled/rorted our way into something special came on that wonderful night where top of the league Brisbane were pulverised. His first goal for us was by the far the most memorable of his Melbourne career. In fact it's the only memorable one. There were five others and I'm buggered if I know what they looked like, but they weren't as good as this: 

If that made people sit up and take notice, people were throwing babies in the air over his 39 wet-weather possessions against the Bulldogs two weeks later. Sure we lost, and many of the touches were clangers, but in his seventh game the sheer volume of accumulation, balancing contested and uncontested possession all over the ground was worth sliding off your seat over. 

Turns out I had high aspirations for him both on and off the field. One of these people ended up corruptly acquiring millions of dollars. The other is Tom Scully.

The five votes he got that night were the first of 15 in his rookie season, landing him the prestigious Hilton Award for Best First Year Player. This was later revoked, robbing him of one of the few individual honours of his career.

Across 21 games and second place in the Rising Star, his career was bubbling away nicely. At the time nobody thought it was suss that a first year player hadn't extended his initial contract. Only people who realised what sort of concessions GWS had up their sleeve were getting hot under the collar about him going. "Surely not" I thought. Surely so as it seems.

Another BOG in the second last game of the year was a last-ditch reminder that bigger and better things were on the agenda in 2011. And indeed they were. Bigger wins, bigger losses, and for one player, in particular, the biggest payday of his life.

The Year of Living Suspiciously (featuring Technicolour Gawn)
Some say that the infamous trip to China helped convince Tom that we were not the club for him. With a level of alcohol consumption reportedly matching a Captain Gronewagen style 80s footy trip, Liam Jurrah discovered the joys of sinking expensive booze in nightclubs, and Scully apparently decided to chuff off home early after Max Gawn stumbled in from a night of bulk piss and spewed on his duvet.

We know from Max alluding to it a couple of years ago that there was definitely a vom, but no DNA records are available to show how whether any of it landed on him. Given that he'd reportedly never touched a drop of drink I can understand the terror of a 208cm giant raining alcohol-laden spew on you with only a flimsy hotel blanket for defence. As unpleasant as that was, he might have overcome the trauma if we'd also been able to pay him a million bucks a year. He also missed the chance to win the Kaspersky Cup, which must have been a real personal blow.

Our off-field turmoil would be the talk of the town by the season's end, but was bubbling away behind the scenes for now. As far as plebs like me knew things were looking up. After flirting awkwardly with the finals late in 2010 before inevitably stuffing it up, confidence was high. Even the youth policy that saw Junior McDonald unceremoniously turfed and Cameron Bruce allowed to go without a fight was only being viewed with a "wait and see..." style level of suspicion.

With the enemy within not yet revealed, my main AFL villain remained Chris J**d, who'd talked up his great childhood love of the Dees in 2007 before spurning us for a lucrative joint bid from Carlton and Visy. Soon enough his supervillain status was minimised to the point where I even acknowledged his full name for a few years, until the joyless reaction to us making the 2018 finals saw him stripped of his middle letters again.

It didn't take long into the new year for temperatures to rise.

I couldn't agree with myself more. In reality, he didn't even play until Round 11 due to a knee complaint, offering people who desperately wanted to believe we weren't being played the "just let him concentrate on rehab" excuse. Rehabbing the hand he signs contracts with apparently.

See also, the suggestion that he was welcome to leave as long as he was honest about it. And this goes to the heart of it, I'm not saying I'd have considered him a good bloke under any circumstances but just come clean. At the barest minimum don't pull the wool over the eyes of a dying man. More on that later.

He was making all the right noises, but we didn't want noises, we wanted a name on paper or full and frank admissions of treachery.

Complicating this already shambolic process was the rule that allowed the Giants (and the Suns before them) to approach players within 12 months of their contracts expiring. Technically they weren't allowed to sign them until the end of the season but we all know what was up. Gold Coast used the same rule to have a ping at several of our players, including Frawley, Watts, Morton and Petterd. All turned them down and must have woken screaming in the night about it when we were being thrashed 12 months later. 

While he was out injured, there was little thought given to the Scully contract. We were too busy riding an emotional rollercoaster at a million miles an hour. Dismembered by West Coast one week, thumping the Crows the next, going down to a series of limp defeats and still finding ourselves inside the eight after Round 14. In Scully's first game back from injury we beat Essendon, an under-the-pump Bails punched the roof of the dugout in joy and things were looking decidedly positive again. Not for the first or last time the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be the light from an oncoming train.

Even though he'd passed my arbitrary deadline to re-sign, I still thought Scully's return raised the tone of the club, which shows some level of faith in him staying. Deep down I knew it was never going to happen. Tryign to match the offer of an organisation working with an unlimited budget was risky but I still wanted to keep him, just to stick two fingers up at everyone who'd assumed he would leave at the first opportunity.

A couple of weeks later, with out season very much still alive, the mood had clearly darkened.

To show there were no hard feelings, the next day I had him in the votes as we walloped Freo by 89 points. TA few weeks later he disappeared with an injury halfway through our win over Port, and by the time he'd come back for the last three games we'd suffered 186, the coach had been sacked and the club was in freefall. Would have been a fantastic time for an alleged future leader to call a press conference and say "I'm staying to fix this place". Instead there was dead silence and we knew he was gone. All that was lacking was him admitting it.

The reluctance to commit (to us anyway) came despite a grassroots campaign where fans pledged a treasure trove of novelty items to convince him to stay. I don't think trying to appeal to him with comedy helped, nor did talk about dinner with SEN's Gladiators of Sport (you had to be there...). One fan even offered to perform explicit acts on him in exchange for his signature, which was going well beyond the call of duty.

Once the deadline for accepting the trove expired the turn was on, leading to a #scullyexcuses hashtag trending in Australia. Must have been a slow Twitter day. Any excuse to take the focus off our club imploding like a disused casino. Players and administrators were feuding, board members were leaking like a sieve to the media, and the second-worst performance in the history of VFL/AFL football had somehow saved the CEO who the players were upset with in the first place. Supposedly, the Schwab sacking had been offered to Scully as part of the club's own treasure trove. I have a hard time believing that but the way we were going back then anything was possible. 

I wonder what Tom was doing while his teammates were being ripped apart on that fateful day at Kardinia Park. Was probably so busy packing for the move that he didn't find out the bumper margin until later that night. "Oh that's a shame" he might have said, before sticky taping another box. Never before have I wanted a more boring person to write an in-depth autobiography. In fact, I'll write it with him. Makes sense, who knows more about the background of this issue than me? Maybe we'll come out of it as best mates? Maybe not.

By now it was so obvious he was going that the denials became almost comical. If he'd just admitted it the nuclear heat would have passed much faster. Phil Davis was polite enough to own up in early August, and while Crows fans initially treated him like Pol Pot things quickly blew over.

It's probably better that he didn't pull the pin on the same day as Davis, walking out three days post-186 would have been ordinary timing. Any time before, or between a week later and the end of the season would have been fine though. At least we'd have avoided being strung along for the last few weeks when it was clear he was going (see also the departures of Frawley and Howe). But because he wouldn't say he was going and we couldn't bring ourselves to make a stand they picked him for four of the last five rounds, before he was quietly withdrawn for the last game in case he buggered up our compo by doing both knees on an experimental Adelaide Oval deck.

Suffice to say nobody was really surprised when he announced. Even Sheeds - still bitter that we didn't hire him in 2007 - was giving free hints to journos in the lead-up.
And he was. Any lingering issues with the knee were solved by putting a big bag of money at the end of the Hume Highway and watching him take off like Cliff Young.

This makes the events of Sunday September 11 even more ridiculous. Instead of saying "Yes, I am leaving, goodbye", he went on the Sunday Footy Show, claimed he hadn't made a decision and was just flying up to Sydney to check out their facilities. The good news is that he wasn't alone, Phil joined him to "meet the club". One way or another I hope they had a fire extinguisher ready in case somebody's pants caught on fire.

The tour of the contract signing room was so successful that he made the decision to take GWS' offer right there and then. The secretive nature of his departure is what really triggered the ill-feelings. 

Then there was the rumour that he'd straight up told a dying Jim Stynes that he was staying before dicking us. Jim's side of the story was told in a posthumously released autobiography. Considering his general outlook on life and all the work he did with young people I don't see him making up shit to bury a bloke from beyond the grave, leading me to believe this is a true account of what happened. 

Stynes wrote of meeting Scully in February 2011 and saying, "All I ask is that you be honest with us. If you make a decision to leave, then you make that decision, but I need to know so that the club can make some plans. Don't make us look like fools".

The alleged response was "GWS hasn't approached me, or my manger. There hasn't been contact with them in any shape or form. I love the club and want to play out my career with Melbourne."

At least one of those statements was cobblers. 2011 offered plenty of reasons to be upset about the direction of the Melbourne Football Club but it's a long way down from claiming to a man's face that you 'love the club' and starring on the GWS YouTube channel. According to Stynes, the big money offer for Scully's dad to work as a recruiter with the Giants was made three months before that conversation. Scully Jr. later claimed he had absolutely no idea that his dad had been offered the job. Draw your own conclusions. 

Neutral fans, I know this all seems ridiculous when you weren't involved, but do you see how treating the fans of a club on its knees like they were stupid may have caused some aggravation? Of course it was all very irrational and child-like, and there are much more important things to be upset at in the world, but if you can't see why people got upset you're not trying very hard. Just like there are plenty of Melbourne fans who wanted no part of the anti-Scully sentiment and wished him well, a lot of your fans would set fire to a car if the same thing happened. Of course, most people got over it, I'm still angry even though he's retired.

The sort of people who think everyone should be friends say things like "what would you have done if you were offered a million dollars a year at that age?" I may very well have taken it, but I'd expect people to think of me as a dead-set mercenary for the rest of my days. Perhaps winning a Brownlow and a flag might have quelled that feeling a bit. Oh well, at least he's got the money eh?

It's not like he would gone poor staying with us. Like 16 other clubs we had to work within the constraints of the salary cap, but were hardly offering him KFC wages. He'd still have done extraordinarily well for himself (if he'd sidestepped the inevitable Melbourning), especially if we funnelled him extra cash for a J**d style third party racket. Either way, I doubt he'd have ended up scabbing for change in a blanket if he'd stayed. Maybe the difference in pay was worth never being truly respected. Maybe he looks at what happened to poor old, loyal Jack Trengove - who tellingly re-signed to much fanfare in mid-2011 - and is thankful that took the money and ran.

"What about [insert name here]?", they've said about Jeff White (retrospectively), Mitch Clark (laughably) and Jake Lever since. "Why was it alright for you to sign them?" Unfortunately for these people, White is the only even remotely similar case, with the added attraction of us having rorted the salary cap to pay for him. Even he put in three years before running away. We even handed the Dockers the second pick of the draft in exchange. Which, to prove you just can't help some people, they proceeded to swap for Chris Bond.

More importantly, who told the fans of the aggrieved clubs in these transactions that they couldn't crack the sads? I wish they had, nothing is more exciting in sports than good old fashioned bad feelings. It's not our fault that they were too soft to make a scene. Freo fans should be especially disappointed at their performance, they even got the dream scenario of him debuting for us on their ground. The only signs being held aloft that day said 'Messages On Hold'. Weak.

Once he'd made his apparently spontaneous decision to go, Tom was nice enough to ring around and let the key figures at Melbourne know. This was like calling your partner to say you're leaving while you're in the replacement's bed. Suffice to say the guy who made the Someone Like You video knew it was coming, having the whole thing produced (key line - "Oh Tom, why did you sell out?" Did our 30 goals losses leave you with some doubt?"), edited and ready to go on the day of the announcement. He knew, we knew, everybody knew. I still reckon that even that otherwise non-story about him touring the facilities was only posted because the idea was so laughable they wanted to make sure it was on the public record.

The Herald Sun cited 'sources' who said he got cold feet just before the switch but was unable to renege because he's already signed a contract. Which was about as believable as the celebrity gossip in Women's Weekly. The feet were very warm and now that his career's over I defy him to claim otherwise.

Two first round draft picks as compensation softened the blow, but it's ludicrous to suggest that's a reason not to be upset with the person who left. He didn't care if we got pick #1 or pick #123. It's not like dropped into AFL House on the way to the airport and hammered out the best deal for us. He did not give a fat rat's clacker about what happened to us after that point.

The whole thing was a scam anyway, the Giants immediately got pick #2 back in exchange for the rights to Jesse Hogan, who had never been their player in the first place. To say the AFL bent over to try and make GWS an instant success is one of the great understatements. 

When Hogan was kicking goals and Scully was running around in (relatively) successful GWS sides, it looked like both sides had come out well. Oddly enough, less than 10 years later Hogan is now on his last legs as an AFL player with... GWS and we're left hoping Steven May - swapped for Hogan - pays off this trading pyramid scheme by delivering a flag. History since 1964 suggests that's unlikely. 

Less than a week after Scully left we announced Mark Neeld. Which is another story entirely. I think they would have gotten on well together. That combination might have done wonderful things and ended their career showered in riches. We'll never know. By the time both were gone the only shower that counted was the stream of piss that had been poured over loyal supporters.

Carnival of Hate
Considering how rotten we were for the next couple of years, the Scully saga provided a much-needed distraction. From this point my teams were Melbourne and whoever played against him. It would be easy to say I was young and foolish, but I still felt like this all the way through to the end of 2020. Yes, I am an extremely petty individual, thank you for noticing. Meanwhile he's probably got a $6 million house so I'm sure he's not feeling too bad about his choices.

Suffice to say, once the cloak and dagger deal had been concluded the door was open for things to get a bit nasty.

... and that wasn't even near the sourest, most mean-spirited tweet I sent about him in the following 12 months. I'm not proud of them, but they happened. It's a wonder that he didn't double down and on his big payday and sue me as well. There was also much excitement over a shot of his sister where she was the colour of a terracotta pot and one with he and Blease posed on a beach like a bootleg Miami Vice.

Unless you were one of the sage people who cocked a quizzical eyebrow at Neeld's appointment, there was no indication of how bad 2012 was going to be. Yes, we had quite recently lost a game by 31 goals, sacked the coach, been knifed by our best young prospect, the President was fighting a losing battle with cancer, and had just appointed the youngest captains in the history of the league but other than that everything was fine. Hard to believe it got even worse the next year.

Somewhat sucked in by the fantasy of Neeld turning the place around, I wasn't ready to completely write the year off yet (that came in Round 2). Not until we'd played GWS anyway. I had many frustrations that needed to be publicly vented. 

Given that the AFL create the fixture and own the Giants I'm surprised they didn't protect themselves from wild scenes by scheduling us to play them interstate. They probably thought it was fine to put it on at the MCG because our poncy, cravat wearing fans wouldn't tear the place apart. We didn't, generally opting for comedy instead of hateful abuse. Well, maybe a little bit of hateful abuse. But not much.

The timing of the first match couldn't have been better. By Round 13 they were still likely to be struggling, while we'd be a comfortably mid-table side building towards bigger and better things. Or so I thought. The alternative plan was to win one game from the first 12 and often play as if drunk. By the time the Giants arrived they were only behind us on percentage, had the shit hottest young forward in the competition in Jeremy Cameron, and only just lost to a finals-contending Richmond to two goals. A fortnight later they'd come back to the MCG and lose to Hawthorn by 162 points, but for now, I reserved the right to be VERY afraid of us humiliating ourselves.

In case you've got 2 hours and 22 minutes spare, here's the entire game. At least watch the pre-match package, featuring Scully saying he thinks people will "get over it". Unlikely mate.

It's no spoiler to say we won, and after an early scare won comfortably. I still get misty-eyed thinking how many goals Mitch Clark would have kicked this day if his foot hadn't been injured after the first four. 

The real action was in the stands. Banners included '#1 Prick', and the pointed 'YOU LIED TO JIM'. Old mate was famously pictured jiggling themed money bags, and people were kicked out for pinning money to themselves. Somehow despite three signs reportedly being removed from the MCG, I got away with holding one side of this:
I'd never met the other guy, he just needed somebody to help hold it up and I was happy to oblige. Attempts to cover my identity and avoid potential defamation action was negated by instantly admitting to being under the mask. The next day Channel 9 asked for an interview, I was not hungry for publicity but should have asked if I could do it with the mask on and my voice digitally altered.

It was an excellent banner, saying everything you needed to know in four letters, two numbers and a symbol. Certainly far more successful than the other one, which mocked Phil for his love of Fish Fingers. It didn't have the same lovely font as the anti-Peter Moore banner that he threatened to sue over in 1983 but you can't win them all. I still have both of them, though the only other public airing JUDA$31 has ever had was for the work going away party of a Melbourne fan.

Some of the stuff that went on that day went a bit close to the mark but on the whole it was a triumph for comedy over agro. Mind you, this was the year the Collingwood cheersquad held up 'SPAZ FOR FAZ' and GWS had an ideologically unsound group of Krishna Kockheads following them around the country so you could pretty much do anything you wanted. 

The carnival atmosphere was helped by there only being about 14 GWS fans there, including one planted kid holding a sign saying 'I HEART TOM SCULLY'. I hope moneybags Tom sent him a couple of hundred bucks to say thanks. To prove that we were not entirely terrible people, there was a universally positive reaction to the returning James McDonald, proving we did have some class after all.

We played them again two months later, where despite it being a GWS home game (in Canberra), every touch Scully got was treated with contempt by vocal fans. It was enough to warm your heart. As was beating them again, albeit this time in unconvincing fashion, against a side featuring Israel Folau as the most comically out of his depth senior AFL player ever at the bargain price of $1.5 million. As much as I disliked Scully at least they got some of their money's worth from recruiting him. Meanwhile, he must have looked at Jack Watts sitting on the bench in a green vest waiting for Tom Couch to be subbed off and thought "that could have been me." Or you could have helped drive the culture that would have got the best out of Watts. Either or.

Feelings never ran as deep as again as they did on the first day. They didn't need to. A handful of committed people booed him and I yelled rude things whenever he turned up, but there was no need for further public demonstrations. By 2013 I was probably the only person tracking our meetings with him, taking great glee in beating him again via the bonkers 12 goal last quarter game while everything else was crumbling around us. Our man did us a rare favour when he gave away a downfield 50 in that final term that led to not only a goal but me cramming all of the top seven words you can't say on TV into a delighted five second spray.

Later in the season the Giants finally got us, winning their first and only game of the season. Infuriatingly (but good for the feud), Scully was amongst the best on the ground. I reacted with the fear that he'd mock us by becoming a three-time Brownlow Medallist. Just fell three short. Got seven votes one year though, which was one more than Scott Chisholm in 1999.

From 2014-2017 we were never better than the Giants, regularly losing to them. He still didn't get the chance to beat us on the MCG, missing the game where we kicked 3.16 and lost by 10 goals, but it was clear to me that he was going to win a flag at some point and we weren't. If either side was going to fulfil the saying "the best revenge is living well", it was likely not going to be us.

There was a near-disaster in the opening round of 2016 when he nearly kicked a miracle goal to snatch the game with seconds to play. This coming after he got the first of the match, a none-more-Melbourne way to start the season. Our record of never letting him sully our home turf was about all we had going for us. They finished fourth in 2016  - hilariously losing that Prelim to the Bulldogs - and 2017, while we were splashing around in the middle of the league.

He beat us again in our last meeting before he left GWS, in front of a glory-hunting Canberra crowd swelled to nearly double what it had been for the first meeting there. No sane people really cared anymore but I still cursed the screen every time they showed him, it had become a habit. Even when we weren't playing there would be deep, dark, mutterings under the breath and demands to kick it on the full whenever he got a touch.

By the time we - temporarily - got good in 2018 he was on the sidelines after seriously injuring his ankle in the opening game of the year. After all this you probably wouldn't believe me if I said 'you wouldn't wish injury on anyone...' but I had matured somewhat by that point. However, once he was out of the way I developed a genuine interest in GWS. There was even audible disgust when they were narrowly tipped out of the finals by Collingwood. If we weren't going to win the flag (and we weren't), the idea of him missing out while his teammates got one appealed.

They had a shot the next year (and didn't that go well?), but he was well gone by then, with his salary dumped from their cap via a cheap-as-chips trade to Hawthorn, where the story would continue in 2019.

Toilet colours and beyond
Even though they'd just made the finals, the Hawks looked to be rapidly unfurling from their mid-2010s glory days. Still, weren't you a touch scared that they'd apply miracle cures to his ankle and burst back into premiership contention immediately? I was packing it. It would have been footy's version of Fatal Attraction to think the ankle injury finished Tom off only for him to roar back to life and win a flag.

They did only just miss the finals, ultimately not helped by losing to us, but it was their last gasp. You could be reasonably confident now that he wasn't going to win a flag, and that by peaking at 'good ordinary' status as a player that there would be no late-career revival Brownlow(s). Which is about all you can cling to when your team is no good.

Fittingly, for somebody whose career had been defined by the reaction of fans, our last meeting came in front of an estimated 750 people. I still heard somebody in the crowd boo him, maintaining the rage until the very last moment. 

Now he's chucked it in and I don't know what to do with myself. Unlike the real Cold War there were no winners. Literally none, he never won anything team or individual after leaving, and neither did we. If anything you'd have to give him the advantage simply for making a shitload of money and playing in two more finals on his own than our entire club in the same period.

And so, in closing the book on nearly a decade of animosity against somebody who'd never heard of me (or he'd surely have sued for defamation), let it be said that while I despise him as a football personality I wish him well as a human.

All together now...

There's a hole in my heart as deep as a well...