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

Buy

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.

Hold

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.  

Sell

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
  • $200 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
  • $300 - James Jordon
  • $1000 - Aaron Nietschke
  • $1200 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
  • $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
  • $70 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
  • $200 - ANY OTHER PLAYER

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal

  • $6 - Jake Bowey, Bailey Laurie
  • $10 - Fraser Rosman, Toby Bedford
  • $20 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
  • $30 - Kade Chandler, 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.

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