Tuesday, 20 April 2021

High five

Strange things are afoot at the MCG. A team that lost its forward line before Round 1 and has not yet hit anything near top gear sits 5-0. And they're called Melbourne. Not North, South or Port, but flat-out, first club off the rank, still waiting for it to go tits up in some fashion Melbourne. Remarkable stuff. Fans of good clubs probably wonder what the fuss is about, I’m left looking around in wonder like Crocodile Dundee visiting New York.

For the fifth game in succession - seven if you include last year - the experience was grim and gritty, but ended in victory. And when you follow us you can’t ask for much more. 

I'd rather see an unsolicited picture of Jonathon Patton’s dick than watch the first three quarters again, but the landslide finish made the slow start worthwhile. The bit where we played like Godzilla destroying Tokyo could have arrived about 90 minutes earlier, but being forced to earn wins every week must have some unseen long term benefits. I'm still satisfied to win under any circumstance.

Our best start since the same year as last week's best start may ultimately prove a mirage, but not for at least a few more days. Now we're unbeaten, second only on percentage to a side that has enjoyed a downhill draw (reminder: there is no such thing as 'equal first', no matter how much you want it to be real), and are left with a genuine ‘too many good players’ selection dilemma for the first time since about 1964. There's more than one letdown somewhere in our near future somewhere but I'm prepared to ride this mad run as far as it will take me.

The TL:DR review is that we sludged along for three quarters, before a tremendous blunder encouraged us to flip the switch and run riot in a fashion not seen since those wonderful few weeks of merrily kicking shit out of sides during 2018. For a game where the result remained in doubt at the last change you have to go back to the glamour clash against Gold Coast in Alice Springs four years ago for anything that turned so good, so quickly.

No offence to the 10 players left from that day - nine on our side, one with Hawthorn - but the stakes here were significantly greater, even if the opposition wasn't. The same people who'd pumped us up all week would have queued from Jolimont to Wodonga to rip the piss out of us if we'd lost as red-hot favourites. Somebody would have undoubtedly accused Melbourne fans of 'getting ahead of themselves', as if 96% of us didn't go into the game terrified about defeat. There's a difference between thinking you should win, and knowing you will. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in the second camp and wasn't ready to try it out here.

But first, a lengthy personal whinge that approaches Hawthorn fan levels of entitlement. If you're purely interested in the transfer of ball across grass by hand and/or foot, you may exercise your right to fast forward the next few paragraphs.

If you thought the process of Melbourne winning was laboured, you should have seen my path to the game. All it lacked was trains being replaced with a horse and cart running via Waverley Park. The first step was securing a ticket to attend, which shouldn't be a major drama home or away for premium members. Enter the famous Ticketek website, which runs on DOS0.0 via servers powered by somebody riding a bicycle. 

After the unnecessary struggle to get a seat against Freo I didn't anticipate a quick process against a Victorian club, but was prepared to believe that they might have refined their system over the last month. They had not. On the first go it got me all the way to the checkout with a ticket before refreshing the page and sending me back to the start. Until then it had been an easy enough process so I was happy to try again, only to discover that no tickets were available. Seemed strange, so I had a third go and was told that I could have a ticket, by paying anywhere between $25 and $70.

This process repeated a few more times until I was ready to give up and watch from home. They must have used cookies to track my likelihood of committing homicide because on the very last try before caving my monitor in with a peripheral it finally achieved the holy trinity of 1) assigning a seat, 2) not asking for payment, and 3) successfully confirming the transaction. It didn't put me anywhere near where I wanted to sit but the result was better than nothing. 

Everyone knows my seating preferences by now, but I'll probably sit anywhere without serious complaint as long as it's not from the middle of a crowd. Maybe it's delayed trauma from all the verbal stoushes with fans (both opposition and local) when I was young and stupid, but the idea of watching live sport amongst strangers horrifies me. In 2018 I was so high on finals that it didn't matter, but under normal circumstances I'm not interested in being stuck with unpredictable, often boozed up, people yelling stupid shit about footy. 

For this reason I had no interest in my assigned seat #8. There is no worse spot for me, stuck several person deep in an aisle and having to stand up four times a quarter for people who can’t hold a piss or their piss (delete as applicable). Forced into the Southern Stand, my plan was to head due upwards, find a quiet spot and wait for somebody to kick me out. This involved level four being open, so after they made people sit in pissing rain last week I was pleasantly surprised to see the top decks of both Olympic and Ponsford occupied. So, with a spring in my step I bounded up the stairs to level four, only to find:


Now the MCG has discovered how much they can save by shutting stands, does anyone think they’ll seriously go back to open slather seating once everyone's been vaccinated in 2031? By then they'll have replaced food sales with handing out bags of Soylent Green as you walk in, but you still won't be able to sit where you want. Even after social distancing is no longer required (though I would encourage you to be as socially distant from me as possible), forcing people together is going to neck one of the great pleasures of watching an unpopular team live. Let those who have a genuine love of chumming up with others have their spots, and provide safe spaces for the awkward and/or disinterested. 

I've got respect for the idea of contact tracing and would let Brett Sutton teabag me if required but conditions of entry be buggered, I still wanted to a top level by any means necessary. I didn't think they'd let me, but couldn't get morose about seating arrangements until I'd investigated the alternatives. First I tried to get into the Ponsford, hoping that the turnstiles wouldn't realise I was meant to be elsewhere. Sadly not. It came up with ‘WRONG GATE’, the people behind me heard all seven words you can’t say on TV and it was back to Gate 5. But not before a slapstick moment where I accidentally tried to get back in via Gate 6 and was turned back again. If anyone was enforcing the 'mandatory' QR code check-in at the gates I'd have done it four times.

The last remaining option was to sneak from Southern to Olympic stands. This Berlin Wall style death strip took that option off the agenda:


I was confident in outrunning the border guards, but wouldn't have got far before being identified and turfed out so reluctantly conceded defeat and took my assigned seat. Ironically, the first thing I saw on sitting down was an ad spruiking Hawthorn’s commitment to people with invisible disabilities. I'm certainly not claiming that status, but it is clear that nobody gives a fat rat's clacker about people with anxiety. For the first time, Ticketek's wafer-thin commitment to customer service saved me. By the time I finally got a seat it was located in the back row of the ground floor. This meant not having anyone behind me, and being able to clamber over the seats rather than having to be a public nuisance every time I wanted to move. 

Access to games isn't going to return to normal until next season at the earliest, and while I fluked the best option of a bad situation on Sunday there was an indication a few rows ahead of how you're going to be at the mercy of random seating for every away game. I can't imagine my mood would have held up as well if I'd been sat in front of the slaphead Hawthorn fan who leapt to his feet and yelled about every free like it was the biggest miscarriage of justice since Lindy Chamberlain.

Instead, they had me sitting right behind a kid, meaning no matter what happened on-field I had to restrain myself from throwing a tantrum. When nobodys within 20 rows I’ll swear, kick things and make indecipherable, animal-like noises of anguish, but at this stage of life I'm not going to ruin the experience for a kid by acting like a kent. Steven Hocking style fans of stuffing around with the game will note that said child went from diligently filling in the goalkickers in her Footy Record in the first quarter, to losing interest and playing games on a phone while we were pouring on scores in the last.

Depending on your company there aren't many bad places to watch from at the MCG, but the ground floor of the Southern Stand is almost the last place I’d willingly choose to watch from. I can't remember seeing a game from a similar angle since Queen's Birthday 2005. Turns out that day also featured issues with reserved seating, leading me to stand up the back and engage in the sort of verbals with opposition fans that would horrify me now. Standing is also banned in 2021, meaning many of those freaks are now occupying seats, which is another good reason to be as far away from large groups of people as possible.

At last, there was football to be played. Of sorts. In a week where average scoring fell even further behind every season between 1961-2018, this was a throwback to the days of sludging about in the hope of kicking two goals a quarter. At the end we started putting them through at one per minute, but not before causing a few spectacle fanatics to commit hari kari. Let us never return to the dull-by-necessity 60 points per game of 2014, but any total will do as long as it ends with us in front.

Fans of the theory that you can tell how things will go in the first 10 minutes would have been in their element here. The first quarter neatly predicted the next two, with heroic efforts around the ground covering up for the obliteration of our midfield at stoppages, leading to horrid forward play and the ball regularly tearing towards Hawthorn's goal with free men everywhere, where more often than not the backline had to get us out of trouble. Rinse and repeat for three quarters, with only the slightest ebb and flow in either direction.

We looked unstoppable with the ball anywhere between defence and the last kick at goal. The problem was a) getting it, b) converting chances into goals, and c) stopping them going forward so quickly it would catch an otherwise solid defence out. Their forwards were a far cry from Franklin/Roughead, so even without May I could handle them dumping kicks inside 50 and hoping for the best. What worried me were the lightning entries that found players standing on their own. There were a few of those, but not enough to do anything but give us a scare.

While the midfield were being thumped at clearances, there were plenty of people doing good work when the ball came loose. Chief amongst them Max Gawn, whose contested marking is enough to bring tears to your eyes. We have previously discussed the premium I put on this stat above almost all others, and he got us out of jail several times courtesy of being a bucket-handed man of huge stature. He would end on eight for the day, equalling the record (only kept since 1999) he already shared with David Neitz.

Considering how often they led to Hawthorn attacks, the slow eradication of stoppages (both teams combined for just three hitouts more than Max's individual record) probably worked in our favour. It was also a fine demonstration that your career as a ruckman is stuffed unless you can do something other than tap the ball. For instance - getting your side out of jail by taking screaming pack marks and kicking vital last quarter goals.

Behind Maximum statistically, but always in our hearts, Tom McSizzle offered much of the same. Each had 10 marks, and while Tom’s weren't as exciting many of them were just as important. It can't be easy knowing you're only playing for a team that did everything possible to chuck you in the off-season because your replacement is injured. I wondered if that had been weighing on him over the last few weeks, but maybe now he was liberated by Weideman and Ben Brown kicking 10 between them in the Reserves and thought he may as well just go out, play hard and see what happens. Last week he would have been a dead certainty to be dropped for the other two, now we're (maybe just me?) doing furious maths on how to keep him in the side.

And in the AFL360 style spirit of having a Monday hero (on, as it turns out, Tuesday), a word for Michael Hibberd, who keeps coming back no matter how many times I write him off. Lever was the main event in defence, but Hibberd was great in the terrifying moments when the ball broke loose. If you're the sort of person who judges everything on stats he won't get much credit (and you'll vastly overrate Oliver’s 30 touches) but this was Classic Hibberd, albeit against a largely toothless attack. If he backs up in the main event next week I’ll believe that this year’s edition of the comeback is serious. 

Our opening score had every Melbourne aspect you could hope for, a flawless counter-attack from half-back line that ended with Jackson taking a strong mark and hoisting it forward to Gawn, who scared Sam Frost into giving away a free. It looked more like general jostling than a hold to me, and Sam's cracking of shits indicates he agreed. Sadly this didn't lead to a 50 because, much to the delight of dull commentators everywhere, Maximum sprayed his shot. Still, other than the bit where we had to fight out of defence and aim for a ruckman for want of other key forwards it was magnificent.

For the next 10 minutes either side could have had the first goal if anyone could kick straight. Which is very much on-brand for us, the least accurate side in the competition. Nice to get it down there so often and rediscover the joy of forward pressure but missing so many gettable shots will come back to haunt us eventually. It did, temporarily, here, when they found a free man 40 metres out directly in front and he resisted the temptation to join the fun and spray it.

Our reply was - surprise - generated from the back-half. For the benefit of people who like to feud with ex-players it via another free against Frost, this time for holding Brown. Mitch lost the opportunity at a goal when Langdon swooped in and rolled it through. Good team result, not helpful when you're trying to save your career. His reward came during the rampage at the end. He was largely unseen during the first half but I don't hold it against him, he had a genuine bash and wasn't leaning against a goalpost waiting for the ball to come to him.

After four behinds - and let’s appreciate how lucky Langdon was to get the ball past a defender from an obscure angle - I thought this might encourage us to get going. Apparently not. We continued to plug away without looking like breaking free, before the Hawks plucked one out of their back passage to retake the lead. Cue unsettled Melbourne fans everywhere shitting themselves that things were about to go terribly wrong.

As much as I prefer to be back at the ground, there are some things you miss not watching TV. Including our second goal coming as the result of another dubious free against Frost. He was probably starting to feel a bit persecuted, penalised after McDonald did everything he possibly could to let the umpire know that he'd received the slightest mid-air nudge. Before Frost had even finished denouncing the umpire, the ball was already over his head and into Pickett's arms. No wonder he got the red and blue mist and started trying to fight everyone, it was either risk a fine for going one of our players or a five year ban for toppling an umpire. Mr. MRP helped by fining him $2000.

Having finally landed a set shot at about the fifth attempt, I was content to ride out the last two minutes, get to quarter time with a narrow lead and hope things improved from there. This time one of our rare clearances worked against us, with Oliver juggling a lovely tap by Gawn, Lever and Petty being bamboozled by a bastard of a bounce and some bloke soccering through from point blank range. The complete absence of a midfield to take advantage of Gawn’s dominance cost us another goal immediately after, again from a player walking into the square unchallenged. This is where you start to get worried, after an understrength forward line spent half an hour trying to craft conventional opportunities the other lot nick a couple from unmissable range. In a game that looked headed for a 55-45 scoreline this could have been crucial.

While I was being family-friendly and silently mouthing all the filth that I'd usually mutter at a time like this, one Hawthorn fan obviously rated it on the same level as winning four flags, leaping to his feet and triumphantly pumping a fist into the air like the end of The Breakfast Club. Turns out that no matter how successful your club is, there's just as much entertainment value in stuffing up the expectations of other sides. 

Lever was partially at fault for both late goals, but it was only a minor quibble in what was another otherwise fantastic performance. I don't fancy him against Richmond without May as backup, but in this company he was great. Tomlinson wasn't bad either, again not sure it translates to a forward line with a minimum degree of potency but good enough on the day. Step one would be to stop the ball landing on their head within five seconds of any stoppage in the back half, but they coped well here. I still want May to return pronto.

Suffice to say I was on full red alert for a shambles after those two late goals, but Petracca's delightful no-look handball to Milkshake (not to be confused with recent controversial government advertising), and his bendy snap from the pocket shortly after the break calmed me. I'm not entirely off Melk, but other than this he didn't have much of an afternoon. Usually, a rising tide lifts all boats, but when applied to a footy team it can swamp a few people as well. He was excellent in 2018 but may be reduced to spare parts now. Pretty handy spare parts though, a step far above when we were told to play the kids and our side started to look like the cast of Oliver Twist.

The warm feelings lasted about 20 seconds, before our backline politely stood aside and let Hawthorn mark right in front of goal. It was not the last time that we'd immediately waste a goal, and I'm still waiting for Champion Data to confirm that no team in the league has, over the last decade, given so many back within a minute. If there's a team that's done it more often they should replaced in the AFL by the Aspley Hornets.

With stuff all goals to be had, Frost continued to provide entertainment. The highlight was when he grappled with a clearly disinterested Oliver, then pushed him over right in front of the umpire for no sanction. It made up, in some way, the questionable free to Langdon that got us back within a goal. Much was said about David Parkin doing his block on the radio and demanding that the umpire be sacked, but I'd been listening to the Tobins shortly before this and he sounded as if he needed oxygen just to be there so I don't know how much vitriol he'd have been able to summon without being carried out on a stretcher.

Suffice to say, at 31-33 there was a lot of improvement to come after half time. While the defence was coping alright against ordinary opponents, I was dying for a forward who could take advantage of how often we were getting the ball down there, reasoning that even a couple of consecutive goals might lead the Hawks to run up the white flag. Tom Mitchell did his best to get us going, trying to use his Brownlow Medal gold card privileges to carry the ball through a crowd and get away with it. Unfortunately nobody remembers that he won it, and he was duly pinged. Given how we'd been kicking at goal I wasn't going to assume Petracca - notoriously wonky but otherwise delightful - would be accurate from 20 metres out. But through it went, and we were ahead for the first time since the opening minutes.

The floodgates were still 30 odd game minutes away from flinging open, but the complexion of the game had certainly changed. After aiming at McDonald forward all day for one missed shot and one wild snap that ran wide it was nice that he got our next goal. Sadly, the team that has made wasting goals an art form save their best for him. I used to think we wasted Jesse Hogan goals at a rapid rate, but McDonald's usually disappear before you can register that they've happened. Nobody else other than Mason Cox remembers Queen's Birthday 2018, but I remain upset that he kicked six and we gave them back in an average of 112 seconds. I've got your back Sizzle, even if nobody else does.

I cherish Nathan Jones and his contributions to this club, so after looking a mile off the pace all day in his 299th game, when he marked 20 metres out directly in front my first thought was to worry he'd miss. And indeed he did. That Goodwin had to be asked if he'd play his 300th on Saturday (as if any club has ever dropped somebody on 299 games) was testament to his ordinary day. I'm usually suspicious of sentiment but will offer a full exemption in this case. He may be like an old car that you practically have to roll into the dealership to get full trade-in value before it falls apart, but if anyone has ever earned the right to an armchair ride into a milestone match it’s him. Here's to the occasion and crowd contributing to a last, glorious, swansong performance. I've been sitting on a Nathan Jonestown Massacre headline for about eight years, this would be the perfect time to deploy it.

Enter, instead, McDonald for his second. Another goal set up with a run from defence nearly ended in a shambles that even I wouldn't have been able to cover up. After Jackson was given a free in the square, Sizzle tried to play on and may very well have had his kick touched by Frost. Fortunately, not obviously enough for it to be picked up by the cameras and it stood. Still might have been a bit hasty in playing on. Even if Jackson has been a bit Earl Spalding with his set shots this year surely he wasn't going to miss from the square. When players began to set up for a kick-in I got a bit worried, before our very good friend in the video review booth conclusively decided that Frost had got no closer than touching the boot. Admirably decisive, when many would have gone for the easy way out and deferred to the umpire's call. Either way we'd have got the goal and poor old Frosty's shithouse day continued.

This goal would never have happened without a flying save by Hibberd that stopped a near-certain goal at the other end. Hawthorn players had a whinge, and I've seen worse paid, but you can't exactly claim the player is making contact below the knees when he gets the ball and you fall over him. No doubt if the same thing happened at the other end I'd be cracking the sads and demanding the free be retrospectively added to our total, but morally you couldn't claim this with a straight face.

Given our record post-McDonald goals I was about to go off my nut when Hawthorn extracted what looked like a pure centre clearance from the bounce. Distracted by how easily it had come to him the player proceeded to turn it over immediately, allowing us to get to the last change 10 points in front. I thought we'd win from there, but if I'd gone into a coma and woken to the question of whether we won by 50 or lost I'd have definitely picked the latter. 

For now, it was heading towards the same sort of uninspiring win over Hawthorn as late 2004, another day where we papered over the cracks against an ordinary side (featuring the debut of comically named caretaker coach Donald McDonald) via a big last quarter. That day we reached the top of the ladder, the crowd went bananas when they showed it on the big screen and we proceeded to lose every game for the rest of the year. Will be a touch disappointing if that happens again, leaving us with a 5-17 record.

By the bounce, as the bloke who'd started the game six seats to my left was suddenly sitting right next door, I'd talked myself into winning (reasonably) comfortably. Turns out I was right, but when our midfield parted like the Red Sea and let them kick a goal after 13 seconds I was in some danger of finally openly yelling swear words with no consideration to who was sitting nearby.

The Fear used to be that we'd never win another game, now it's about not losing to lowly sides. When they went forward again and a player ducked out the back of the contest to mark in the square it went through my veins in every direction like I'd just rammed a fork into the toaster. Until the ball bounced off his hands, and far enough away that he couldn’t just soccer it through off the ground. Come Saturday night if the same situation ends in Jack Riewoldt taking the mark, kicking the goal, and beating us I will be upset, but not as much as I would have been if it cost us victory as heavy favourites.

For dropped marks in that part of the ground, it didn’t have the same fatal results at Ricky Petterd 2011, but indirectly led to their demise. Maybe losing the lead would have inspired us to come back and kick 11 goals instead of eight? I’m glad we didn’t find out. Just as our midfield was about to be referred to as the dreaded 'much vaunted', they roared to life. 

Appropriately, magnificent man flying machine Max Gawn presided over the opening ceremony. After several fruitless attempts to pay tribute to Bayley Fritsch with goals from the boundary line, a Melksham kick that was never in a million years meant to go where it landed, flopped right into his arms. Comfortably further inboard from where all the other kicks had missed from, Maximum unloaded what must be the most perfect set shot of his career. There have been missiles launched in times of war that didn't take off as well as this kick.

After much celebration, including Charlie Spargo nuzzling into his armpit due to the height differential, he didn't even have to go back to the middle to help set up another, providing handy cover in a marking contest for the ball to fall to Brown. Cometh the hour cometh the journeyman. A viewing of the highlights (NB: via Kayo Mini, never again the 'some of the goals' collection on the AFL website) reveals that Mr. Media Watch Brian Taylor suggested "now they can really penetrate deep". For once he was right.

Now I was as confident as you dare to be around this place. The margin was only three goals but I doubted Hawthorn's capability of kicking that many in the time remaining. When Langdon further enhanced his status as our greatest free player of the modern era 90 seconds later, I'd have been happy to pull the shutters down and accept the four points. Players who haven't got 32 years of trauma weighing them down like me were not as concerned with self-preservation, bless them they saw blood in the water and went for limb-from-limb destruction.

Turns out my theory about Langdon being the nicest person on the face of the planet is backed up by a storyline on the Gawn/Brayshaw podcast. I missed this as I'd rather exercise the Chopper Read option on my ears than listen to any podcast featuring footy players but am glad to finally be proven right about something after 16 seasons.

From there it was party time, procession mode and a dead-set rooting rolled into one. Things were going so well that we even followed a goal - to Petracca - with another straight out of the middle. Sadly we were denied the sort of insane Frostball run and turnover that would have brought the house down, but he did help a teammate reach the same conclusion via setting him up with a wonky handball. His mate showed him how it was done, thumping the ball straight into Melksham's hands in front of goal.

While nobody threatened to self-immolate when we traded Frost, I don’t think he left with any animosity. Quite the reverse in my case, while some expect defenders to be flawless and will crucify them for making mistakes, I prefer to remember his insane, ferret up the leg style gallops out of defence where nobody - much less him - knew what was going to happen next. It was still marvellous to see him get into the spirit of playing against his old club. In a WWF style 'we know this is made up but we’re getting into it' way, fans played along and everyone was happy. It was about a 5% on the Carnival of Hate scale compared to another ex-Hawthorn and GWS player, but that's how it should be. Let no ex-player ever give us a real reason to despite them again.

The last goal was not the best for quality, but considering how well won the game was it got bonus points for effort and commitment. Pickett had about eight goes at winning the ball before a player finally fell into his back for a free. Was a bit of a pissweak free but formed part of the carnival atmosphere. Even my mum, who has officially retired from sports and probably doesn't know anyone other than Gawn and Jones, sent a message about how impressed she was with his fight. He is a rare talent, who so far does not look like having the life force coached out of him. Last season the natural skills were obvious but he was clearly desperate for experience. One pre-season, interrupted as it was, and he's terrifying everyone we play. You do, as the kids say, love to see it.

And that, from christ only knows where from, was a 50 point win. It was our biggest win against Hawthorn since 2006, which was not all that surprising when you consider we lost every game to them for a decade. Hard to imagine us ever having the same wood over one club that Hawthorn, North and St Kilda all did at the same time against us during the #fistedforever years, but we're up to four in a row against them now. Long may it continue against Hawthorn and everyone else. What a time to - it seems - be alive.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Tom McDonald
3 - Jake Lever
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Michael Hibberd
 
Massive apologies to Langdon, Pickett and Petracca. Lesser apologies to Oliver and Hunt.

Leaderboard
Given that this is always the first bit I do, there was no justification for the state of total disarray the leaderboard was in last week. Until a kind reader pointed it out I had Gawn on there twice and May leading the Seecamp with fewer votes than Lever. It's all sorted out this week, and I've even thrown in a complimentary audit to make sure the overall tallies are correct.

By virtue of running riot here, Maximum has shot into the lead. You'd still back the midfielders to catch him and Lever due to the fact that they can rack up tons of disposals in otherwise rubbish losses - and there's got to be some of those coming eventually.

14 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
11 - Clayton Oliver
9 - Jake Lever (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
8 - Christian Petracca
7 - Kysaiah Pickett, Christian Salem
5 - Steven May
4 - Tom McDonald
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Jayden Hunt, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd, Charlie Spargo

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It's got to be Gawn. We'd only just avoided losing the lead again thanks to the dropped mark at the other end, and this squashed Hawthorn's spirits so flat that they instantly hung out the white flag. Delightful stuff. For the weekly prize he wins a decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missile to place in his garden as a reminder of the time he kicked one of the most thumping set shots in modern history. It’s not enough to topple Pickett vs St Kilda for the clubhouse lead but was a ripper in anyone's language. 

Matchday Experience Watch
This stuff is a disaster no matter who puts it on, but there's a big difference between chintzy segments conducted at a respectful volume, and the KFC jingle being pumped out at 110% volume while people are encouraged to win chicken by dancing. May as well just offer to inject paint thinner into their veins. This went on for what seemed like minutes, and actually was, before the cameras settled on some bloke who had swapped dignity for a Zinger. Later, the club that would rather fold than sell their pokies held a Dance Cam segment presented by the idea of responsible gambling, a message which may not have filtered down to the punters putting their houses through machines at Waverley Gardens.

Next Week
Considering Richmond’s recent record of winning flags, our current streak of winning games, and Jones' 300th, this is already our highest-profile home and away game in years. Throw in the Anzac stuff (even if Anzac ‘Eve’ is a bit of a fake thing) and things are set to go boffo. It doesn’t have the implications of some late-season home and away matches or (god forbid) finals, but hard to think of too many times recently where we’ve come into a match against a massive side in this position. Even Queen’s Birthday 2006 was only 3 vs 6, and the opposition hadn’t recently won a shitload of flags.

Shame, then, that even if the government is convinced to allow 100% capacity - and no sign of that at time of writing - we won’t get anywhere near it due to a) people losing the will to live dealing with Ticketek, and b) the fact that crowds will never get back to their peak (2019 by total numbers, 2008 by average) now that people are comfortable watching from home. My key concern is outdrawing Essendon/Collingwood and relegating them to second division blockbuster status. There was almost a disaster when I was so busy sneakily writing this post that I missed the start of the ticket sales, only luckily realising it was on 10 minutes in. To their credit, for once, Ticketek delivered the goods without a fuss this time. They've even landed me where my reserved seat would be located in normal times, which may indicate things will be back to normal soon. 

It has also been a long time since we've had such a serious selection conundrum. Considering how young Hawthorn was, who knows what randoms were playing for Box Hill but Casey still walloped them, with Weid kicking seven and Brown three. Add the fact that Fritsch may be ready to come back from his mystery mid-week wrist fracture and at last we've got more good players than available spots.

At the other end, as bad as May’s eye looked a week ago, he avoided surgery and may be alright to go, possibly while wearing a Phantom of the Opera style mask. Petty was not disgraced but it's a bit of a stretch to go from not playing as an AFL defender for two years, to one warm-up game against a nothing happening forward line, to taking on Jack Riewoldt in front of a shitload of people.

As convinced as I am that the Weid will be off to Collingwood at the end of the year, you have to reward his seven goals against Hawthorn Jnr. over Brown’s three. Him who looks like the lady from Arcade Fire has more experience and strikes me as a more consistent option, but you can’t say Weideman doesn’t have a bit of big game form after kicking four in front of 90,000 people two years ago. I think you can eventually fit bit both of them and Fritsch in, but where does that leave McDonald? If it's dry maybe you can play him as a half-forward/wing and fit them all in. Buggered if I know, but if I was playing Sim Selection Committee I’d say:

IN: Fritsch, May, Weideman
OUT: Melksham, M. Brown, Petty (omit)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: B. Brown, Sparrow

As for the result, I have no faith that we can stretch this to 6-0. Part of that is natural Melbourne fan pessimism, part is the opposition. As long as the margin stays hygienic I can handle losing (he says now…) but I’m not completely writing off the prospect of a boilover. Either way, this would be a great opportunity to press our credentials as a legitimate finals side. You won't catch me saying the ‘p’ word at this stage, unless it's "piss off and stop sitting next to me".

Was it worth it?
Eventually, with a substantial assist to the random draw that left me in a seat that didn't cause a nervous breakdown, it certainly was. The tapes of the first three and a bit quarters should be incinerated then cleansed with acid and buried under concrete but it was an enjoyable experience when it got going.

Final Thoughts
You don’t win anything for being unbeaten after five, but it’s significantly better than the alternative. How we finish the year will determine how fondly this run - as long as it goes for - is remembered. For now, it feels like the fondly remembered five weeks in early 1998. Tellingly that streak ended against Richmond, and was followed by a mid-season slump that almost put us away, before we righted the ship and went as close to not winning a premiership as ever. Here's to doing all that again and more.

3 comments:

  1. It only takes a few injuries and the "nice problem to have" quickly disappears. Remember when May and Lever hardly played a game all season? McSizzle will find himself back in defence despite all Goodwin's assertions to the contrary.
    I spent most of the match in the car so listened on the radio. The next day I went to the AFL highlights expecting to see at least 11 goals of 15 plus Hibberd's smother. I was lucky to get 8 and no sign of Michael. Thanks for the tip re Kayo.
    I agree re Chunk. We owe him 300 but missing a very gettable set shot doesn't exactly lock you in for the following week.

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  2. Chunk isn’t Best22, so whilst he’ll play tomorrow night, I think he becomes a spare-parts man for the rest of the season. I just hope we treat him better than how Junior McDonald was treated.

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  3. Great report, Adam. It was a game that we would have found easy to lose in the past so the resilience is reassuring....but I am never confident. Hopefully someone will sort out why we always start off so poorly because eventually, with injuries, we may not be able to rely on our superior fitness to carry the day.

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Crack the sads here...