Monday, 26 April 2021

The Nathan Jonestown Massacre

Over the last 16 seasons, I've covered so many varieties of defeat by margins between 1 and 186 points that there weren't many ways left to describe them. Now that we may never lose another game it's refreshing having to come up with ways to cover positive unusual scenarios.

This week it's an achievement that pre-dates this blog, my life, colour television and about a third of the world's countries. For the first time since 1965, we're unbeaten after six games. Unlike tennis, you don't get anything for going 6-0, and the less said about what happened in '65 after the streak ended the better, but it's one hell of a base to launch a campaign from.

Since 2005 we've done familiar things that have already happened in my time as a fan. There have been a handful of big wins, but never by more than the 121 of Round 21, 1993, played a finals series that fell short of our achievements in 1988 or 2000, and nobody has gone close to Jakovich's 11 goal haul in 1991. In fact, about the only unique thing we've done that anyone enjoyed was the dramatically out of character 12 goal rampage in the last quarter against GWS eight years ago. One win from the next 18 was less welcome.

That day, when Mark Neeld unexpectedly coached our highest scoring fourth quarter ever, was Nathan Jones' 139th game. We'd already been squeezing the life out of him for years so three Brownlow votes and a win were temporary respite from the crushing futility of being at the coalface of a #fistedforever club. Eight seasons after starting his career in a finals side he had lost 75% of his matches and was a regular fixture in the famous table of worst career records. Despite being the only experienced player on our list to improve between 2012 and 2014, his win/loss total somehow got even worse. From the week after the GWS landslide to the end of his first season as captain Jones won five times from 40 starts. Compared to others who took the easy way out, he would have been well within his rights to shuffle off to any one of the 16 clubs whose fans hadn't previously belted his dad.

In his 161 appearances since April 2013, Jones has seen more downs, limited ups, and a lot of hanging around in the middle waiting for his teammates to catch up and eventually pass him. Excluding injuries, personal tragedy etc... I'll punch on with anyone who tries to tell me there's a player who's had it worse. He has just won his 99th game, less than Shaun Atley, Brodie Smith, David Zaharakis or Jack Ziebell. All fine players in their own right, most of who will never win a flag either but none who have endured anywhere near the same trauma. I never updated the famous list beyond 2014 because I didn't want to be responsible for anybody setting themselves on fire in the street. Can't imagine what it was like to live it in person. But there he was, fronting up every week no matter how insurmountable the odds.

For this reason, it was appropriate that for all he's been through, Jones' 300th game landed on the same night that may have heralded a momentum shift which will ensure we don't need another figure for people to rally around while the joint burns to the ground. For a few years anyway. I say 'may have', because nothing is certain yet. We've had a fine victory, are sitting on our best start since The Beatles were a going concern, and appear to have a side that could genuinely contend for... well let's just say top four for now. Take it without question, but don't clear your calendar for September just yet. 

Even going into this game expecting an honourable loss, I should have known everything would be alright when Ticketek finally achieved 'you had one job' certification by delivering me the seat I'm entitled to on the first go without asking for $33. Like Skynet, they are slowly becoming self-aware, placing me in the same area that my membership would normally allow me access to. Compare to the Freo game where it seems like they plucked spots out of a hat.

Acquiring somewhere to sit was one thing, but I didn't think much of being placed five deep down an aisle in an area that you could guarantee would be packed to the rafters. When I discovered this meant sitting in the middle of two unconnected groups with zero spare seats on either side it was clear these arrangements weren't going to work. When the backup plan of sitting on the end of the aisle was harpooned by the actual seatholders turning up (how dare they), I could justify another go at the plan that failed so spectacularly last week.

The difference was that level four of the Southern Stand was open this time, allowing me to escape battery hen conditions and roam free. While it is comfortably the worst of the three top deck options and smelt vaguely of faeces, row DD was as close to total freedom as I'll get until the pandemic is quashed. It may have also been the first time I've ever seen a game from that angle. While it wasn't ideal I'm not sure I can go back to sitting amongst people now. Unless there's a massive crowd (and if we couldn't pull one last night...) there's no reason ever again that crucial goals can't be celebrated by running a few paces to either side while gently pumping the fist. Makes a change from the less-subtle way the fist has been deployed on us over the years.

Like the top of the old Ponsford where people used to openly drink smuggled cans and smoke dope, you can pretty much do what you want up the back. So I don't know why so many people walked towards me, with 85% of the seats free, glaring at their phone to work out the exact seat they were supposed to be in. I'm the sort of softcock who wears a mask on the train just because I'm told to but my respect for law and order comes to a screaming halt when it comes to footy seating. I promise you that once you've reached a certain altitude The Man isn't going to hassle you about being in Q3 seat 1 instead of Q2 seat 7, stretch out and get comfortable. Several rows from me if possible.

It's a bit hypocritical considering my refusal to sit where I was meant to (and admitting this will probably end in a life ban from the MCG just in time for us to be good) but the COVID comeback in Perth and subsequent empty stadium match between Freo and North shows how lucky we were to be there in the first place. Imagine if it had got loose here a few days earlier and the much-anticipated celebration of all things Nathan Jones was played for the benefit of disinterested security guards and bemused seagulls? What an unpleasant thought.

While the end result was a fitting tribute to the never say die attitude of Jones, the first 10 minutes were more like the years when he'd battle against the side while we were battered from the first bounce. This after a clean Max/Pickett clearance from the first centre bounce that temporarily made you sit up and take notice, shortly before Fritsch kicked out on the full, and Richmond whisked the ball down the other end for half a quarter.

You can't blame the forwards when the ball doesn't get down there, but for a while it looked like the newly popular Goodwin might have erred in not picking one of Weideman or Brown. Given how they ripped the VFL a new ringpiece last week, and it took us three quarters to overcome the might of Hawthorn, most assumed one was going to be included, no matter how forcefully they had to be jammed into the structure. By full time it looked even more unlikely that either of them will be picked next week, leaving Goodwin to walk into training on Monday like that old Bill Hicks routine: "Scuse me, scuse me, man with big balls has just been acquitted. I'm off to a victory party."

Once they'd had two missed shots and we were unable to get the ball back over halfway it was starting to feel like being promoted to the Premier League and feeling good about yourself before running into Manchester City. If you're superstitious you'd have noted ruefully that nothing more could have gone in our favour before their first goal, the umpire accidentally laid a block in our favour, their kick into 50 missed its target, May did everything in his power to remove Lynch from the contest and Riewoldt fumbled trying to pick the ball up, only to inadvertently nutmeg Tomlinson and boot it through off the ground from an obscure angle. If that's the sort of novelty goal we were going to concede after doing everything in our power to stop them having a shot it was going to be a long night.

When Riewoldt got a second I was gently shitting it. He has an inexplicably bad record against us (now 32.45 from 20 starts - compare to 60.15 vs Port and 58.35 against St Kilda) and I didn't like the idea of him getting his confidence up. However, in a year where strange players are booting bags up and down the league, this acknowledged bulk goalkicker was barely seen again. This was a credit to both the midfielders who kept the ball away from him, and to the defenders who blanketed both him and Lynch. 

For now, those two goals might have been enough to win, as we looked like playing the first scoreless opening quarter since the amazing rule changes that saved footy from merging with Rugby Union. At 0-15 down, I was picturing all those "do North Melbourne deserve to be playing in a marquee game?" articles being repurposed to cover us disgracing this infinitely more special occasion. The moment that best summed up how it looked to be going was McSizzle taking a lovely mark in the pocket, then kicking it into the man on the mark, before Melksham had a flying shot that went out on the full, leaving us still scoreless.

Before Gil could ask Steve Hocking to resign in shame, Salem added to what had already been a monster start by dropping a perfect kick over the head of a defender to run our first goal through. The midweek signing of a bumper new deal is usually the only thing more like to ruin our players than being featured in the media, but he played with Big Contract Energy, generally unfazed amongst chaos, safe as houses by foot, and getting us out of jail multiple times while the game was still on the line. Like everyone else these days he's only signed to the point where he can make enormous free agent money but that'll do me nicely if this is what we've got to look forward to for the next five years.

Knowing full well that we didn't deserve to be back in the game, we did our level best to give the goal back as soon as possible. It's not easy to get comfortable with big games when you don't play any, but there was a high level of shitting self under Richmond's early pressure. It was the highest-profile match May has ever played (even if Queen's Birthday 2018 had 18k more through the gate, the implications were minor in comparison), and while he wasn't alone in fumbling a pre-downpour ball that he should have taken, it left the Tigers running into what should have been a certain goal. They gave us a sporting chance by dropping a mark, before Tomlinson hacked a hopeful kick out of a pack straight to one of their forwards and restored the two goal margin. Both May and Tomlinson got it out of their system and were almost flawless for the rest of the night, while Lever got a bit excited and caused a couple of mid-air collisions but was otherwise very good.

Less concerned about playing in front of a large audience was Luke Jackson, who debuted in an empty stadium, played two of his next three games in front of sub-1000 crowds, and reacted to his first big game by having 18 possessions and 100% efficiency in the wet. Whoever the Suns got with their priority pick might be good, but if it led to us picking Jackson then best of luck to them I think we'll go alright here. I can already hear dump trucks full of money rumbling across the Nullabor. No idea how we're going to pay all these players but if he can resist the lure of a big money return home we're set for years of enjoyment.

In an un-Melbournelike twist we got the goal back quickly. Due to Pickett's sixth sense he was able to pull a kick to Fritsch that reduced the margin to seven at quarter time. Under the circumstances that was positively generous. While we were technically right back in it you failed to see how we'd do any better than stringing them along for a couple of quarters before losing comfortably. Turns out our now traditional weekly lapse was done and everything after that was going to be great. I'd never have believed it at the time.

It wasn't that we'd played all that badly in the first quarter, just that to nobody's surprise the three time recent premiers weren't letting us run around doing what we liked. On the positive side, Dustin (never Dusty) Martin was being walloped in a tag by Michael Hibberd, which removed one of their key weapons to bludgeon us with. There was post-match talk about him being bothered by injuries, even before going off concussed. Boo hoo, you're breaking my heart.

At this stage, the idea of kicking the next seven goals would have been laughable. Turns out our mastery of the wet against Geelong was no fluke, and after years of tipping over like the Costa Concordia whenever it got a bit damp we've morphed into the Mark McGough XVIII. This burst of rain didn't last long but made things slippery enough to halt all goalkicking for 10 minutes. Given that I was still hoping to hang around until the last quarter and maybe run over the top of them this was welcome.

The carnival atmosphere kicked off when Richmond conceded a suicidally obvious deliberate. I hate how often they pay these, but this was like stabbing somebody then standing outside the police station with a blood-soaked knife protesting your innocence. "What do you want me to do?" shouted the Richmond player, to which the umpire should have responded "Not tap it straight over the line you dickhead". It still left the Anal-Bullet with a difficult kick, from 30 metres out hard on the boundary but he absolutely launched it through. If he tried the same shot 99 more times he would never hit it as well, the around the corner equivalent of Gawn's nuclear missile launch last week. Given how many shots we miss from right in front maybe kicking the cover off them from distance is the answer?

Then just like that, we were not only in front but comfortably so. First McDonald took the sort of inside 50 mark that is keeping Casey's star-studded forward line afloat, then copped a big old fashioned shove in the numbers in a ruck contest, converting both kicks from almost exactly the same position. Considering how damp it was, both were superb kicks, and I for one am delighted at this career revival, even if it does end in him being traded at the end of the year. 

Meanwhile, having just beaten Gawn at a centre bounce, Marlion Pickett's indiscretion demonstrated that there's no more dangerous place for a makeshift ruckman than the defensive 50. Between Gawn, Jackson and McDonald I'm confident we've got this risk covered. Far cry from the pre-Jackson days of playing anyone who could jump off the ground as a second ruck, leading to the triumph of James Harmes setting up a goal out of the middle, and the tragedy of Weideman being beaten all ends up at a boundary throw-in that led directly to a goal.

Back at the present day MCG, things were getting a bit silly, and you expected them to launch a fightback at any moment. Apparently not, and with their best players practically anonymous we voted to ignore the conditions by starting and finishing the next goal via ruckmen. Jackson put the ball through the goal but the majesty of 208cm Gawn being used as a link player through the middle of a night game where it had been absolutely pissing down 20 minutes earlier was a sight to behold.

From the cavernous hole we were in early, a 17 point lead at the half was scarcely believable. As was the idea that we'd keep the boot on their throat after the break. Sadly some bullshit ruck infringement at the first bounce of the third quarter robbed us of one of the great centre clearances, where Gawn put it down Pickett's throat and he was about to royally screw the otherwise unseen Trent Cotchin by ducking out of his tackle and heading forward when the whistle intervened. You've got to put in a few more years at the top before umpires start going out of their way to make life easy for you (isn't that right Geelong fans?) but depriving us of Pickett doing spinny things at the bounce is un-Australian.

In a roundabout way, via half a dozen contests, random handballs and kicks off the ground, whatever infraction Gawn supposedly committed led to his understudy kicking a goal. After shambling it from the back pocket to the wing, Petracca first soccered around an opponent, then took a handball and set up Spargo one-on-one inside 50. It didn't sit perfectly for Charleston but he made a wonderful contest that allowed Jackson time to size up one of the most casual off the ground goals ever, like he was deciding which corner to aim at in a penalty shootout.

Now things were veering from "I hope they don't come back from this" to "gee we're going to look stupid if we lose from here" territory. Which is a dangerous position to be in a minute into the third quarter. Via a missed opportunity when McDonald clouted an opponent in the head (cue Ben Brown and Weideman ringing SEN under assumed names demanding he be suspended), the same man set up Fritsch's second to extend the margin to 30. Nothing seemed real anymore. In the period where the game was won our pressure had been unreal. A team that has become famous for scaring the bejesus out of opponents was on the run from little old Melbourne and it was magnificent.

That was, effectively, the game. There was plenty more action but only four more points added to the final margin. Of course, just when it looked like we might kick away and win by a shitload we almost immediately conceded down the other end. When they went forward and were only foiled by the most desperate of spoils I was having all sorts of inner turmoil, before it was our turn to profit from wacky umpiring. After a fine escape from defence, and flowing move forward, featuring Hunt (who, contrary to earlier opinions is getting better in defence every week) taking a high-risk bounce into the soggy turf, Anal-Bullet got a free right in front for the most innocuous clash possible.

The good news for visiting fans was that they hadn't even stopped complaining about that before their side responded, as much to my distress the game temporarily became a high scoring shootout. Significantly less to my distress we instantly carved them up from the centre and cancelled their cancelling goal, via McDonald's third. It was all getting a bit complicated but the end result was our five goal margin holding against their last gasp attempts at making things interesting.

On a night where tribute was paid to great figures who served both Melbourne and Richmond, it would have been a fine time to crash through the Chris Sullivan Line and let us enjoy the last quarter. We were still far enough in front that I could fear a classic collapse. On the three quarter time siren I started shaking like a leaf at the prospect of blowing it from there. The benefits of being up the back were on show again as I spent the break regaining composure by pacing back and forth like the criminally insane. That wouldn't have gone down well in Bay N3, Row F, Seat 5. Those people were probably salt of earth Dees fans with loves, hates, and passions just like mine but my absence was a better result for everyone, I got space to go troppo, they got an extra spot between seats 4 and 6 and we all got to float home on cloud nine after a monumental win.

Even after Richmond lost two players I wasn't going to claim victory, even reasoning with myself that the departure of Dustin Martin with injury was a bad thing because he'd been squashed so flat by the surprise tag that it might create space for other players to run riot. The coping strategy - and it seems ridiculous to admit this now - was to break the quarter up into two minute blocks. Every glance at the scoreboard showing 2.00, 4.00, 6.00 etc... while we were still in control would be another two minutes closer to winning.

We hadn't even reached the end of the first two minute block between Petracca plowed through a pack  like an out of control train and forced through what was realistically the sealer. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but he is a freak. For all our alleged draft blunders, and with respect to the other guy being concussed into retirement, let us face Moorabbin and pay our respects for them letting us take Truck with pick 2. He doesn't have to be the best player every week, but there will be games like this where he's practically unstoppable. Stop comparing him to other players and start comparing other players to him.

By the time May and Lever did their best Tenerife Airport impression and allowed Richmond to run the ball through from the line it was too late to make a difference. I won't deny that something inside me thought "what if..." but it was well over by then. All we had left was the sort of incident that will ensure extra spice for future clashes between the sides. 

I desperately want to be involved in a version of GWS vs Footscray (as long as we're not the ones who lose a prelim) where there is genuine hatred between the sides. And as much as they have to pretend that animosity is bad, the AFL should want it to. The sign that the old wrestling promoter used to have on his wall is true in every field of entertainment - 'personal issues draw money'. Nobody wants a Giants/Dogs game if there's no chance of Toby Greene sticking his studs up the Bont's nostrils, we're in it for potential fireworks. I thought we were heading that way against Richmond after 2016 (featuring the Tom Bugg "shhh" incident and Alex Rance playing Whack-A-Mole on Jack Watts' head) but they soon forgot us after discovering the joy of winning flags. Hope this kicks it off again. 

What I didn't notice on the night is that Pickett got his downfield free by flummoxing his opponent with about eight leads in 10 seconds. No wonder the bloke lost his mind and dragged him down like Jaws. This prompted some good old fashioned wrestling that will help fill the league's empty coffers, including a cameo from Nathan Jones, who stopped getting fined every 10 seconds a couple of years ago but thought he may as well dive in and write a cheque for old times' sake.

Pickett kicked the goal and celebrated his good fortune by yelling in his opponent's face. You've got to admire Damien Hardwick's record, but hopefully it caused a brief flashback to this great moment of MFC arrogance. Of course, since then Hardwick has won two flags as a player, three as a coach, and had the leg over in lockdown while we've won FUCK ALL so he's still ahead on points for now.

In a controversial twist, Kysaiah got excited by the street fight atmosphere and referred his man to the scoreboard. Jeff Farmer also did that once, unfortunately it was while playing for Freo shortly before we reeled in a 51 point deficit. No hard feelings.

Usually, I'd be against scoreboard pointing antics against opposition that has recently won three flags, but if you didn't play in any of them you're just a bloke with famous friends. This restarted the skirmish, as the league's Chief Financial Officer leapt for joy, causing Oliver to do a slapstick Three Stooges pratfall to milk another free.

This is the sort of thing that you denounce opposition players for but secretly enjoy from your side. Outwardly you have to tut tut and wonder what's happening to the game but deep down you're proud of them for trying to win by any means necessary. Suffice to say, the Richmond fans who hadn't tested the MCG's structural integrity by standing up to leave as the first free was paid were baying for blood. I don't know why after three flags anybody would care enough to get upset about such things but I'm willing to learn.

The seas (of Tigers fans) were indeed angry. At that point ski season would have been the hottest topic at the G, the last (ski) resort of the terminally dull and people who weren't smart enough to jump on the cheese joke bandwagon. Due to being rich many of our fans celebrated victory by getting on the white stuff without leaving the CBD.

By now the people in the cheap seats around me were almost entirely Melbourne, and curiously most of them stood up to watch Oliver's kick. I had no idea why, but joined in anyway. I think they were preparing to go off at 5x volume as it went through before seeking out opposition fans for acts of violent retribution. For once Oliver was the peacemaker, calming down the potential riot by missing. And that did it, with the siren narrowly costing Jones the chance for an on-brand selfless act, setting up a teammate to walk inside 50 on his own and presumably kick another goal. 

It started badly and it ended with a bang, but the middle was a thing of beauty. State of the game wankers wouldn't have thought much of it, but if you appreciate pressure and a team having a whole-hearted 110% bash against superior opposition this was for you. Some would argue that they no longer count as superior but I'd caution you to hold off for a bit before writing them off. In far lower key ways we already thought we'd rocketed past them in 2011 and 2016, so let's just see what happens at the end of the year then reassess. Certainly don't throw your dignity out the window like this guy:

Apparently that's not the ex-Essendon player, but somebody needs to send that guy a new version of this classic letter. If I was a Richmond fan I'd buy that NFT rights to the tweet for $3.50 and print out copies to leave on every seat in the MCG.

Anyway, other teams be buggered, let's talk more about Melbourne. These days I'm content to celebrate the final siren with a round of applause then piss off sharpish, but the prospect of 30,000 people going bananas for Nathan Jones was not to be missed. This inadvertently, and fortuitously, led me to the presentation of the inaugural Checker Hughes Medal, a new best on ground award for this fixture. 

I can do without cups and medals being handed out willy nilly, but was happy to get into the spirit as we'd won. Also, Checker is a fine figure to be celebrated considering he served with distinction during World War I, legged it from Punt Road after winning a flag, gave us the nickname 'Demons', coached a shitload of flags, then stayed around while Norm Smith won even more. Presumably Emo Maric was the second choice if the Hughes family weren't interested.

History does not record if Checker was into comedy, but he would surely have appreciated the fiasco that led to Christian Petracca accepting the medal. The poor old announcer won't achieve Sandy Roberts at Mt. Gambier style lifelong fame for her part in this, but is probably regretting not asking who she was meant to be revealing as the winner before starting the reveal...

... but on a night where people would have gone ballistic for anything, the dead silence after "Will you join me in... well I actually don't know who the winner is..." is wonderful.

What you miss on the TV coverage was a Channel 7 bloke trying to point out who the winner was from about 20 metres away, which wasn't much help considering he was just pointing at 23 Melbourne players. I'd argue that Salem was marginally better, but when offered two outstanding performances as if any voting panel (and was there even one?) isn't going to take the populist option.

Then, once the comedy routine had concluded, it was time to stand up and make a lot of noise for Nathan Jones as he was chaired off. It seems odd that Melksham took the opposite wing to Gawn, but in looking for a picture of the chairing it turns out Bernie Vince was the support act for his 250th so maybe it's a tradition. We won that day too, and though this picture makes it look like no bastard was there, 28,000 saw it. At the start anyway, for a club that had won a premiership 12 games earlier you've never seen people scurry out the door so quickly. Even Richmond fans, having to come to terms with the unfamiliar feeling of losing, didn't storm the exits as quickly as Dogs fans did that afternoon.

The frenzy over Jones was a beautiful thing. Much deserved, capped off by a great win. Still doesn't feel right that we've only had two 300 game players since 1897, or that both came so late that they could be played on Friday night while I watched live. With concussion protocols and fatigue management who knows if we'll ever have a third. If not, this is a good player to stop with.

If they'd kept celebrating I'd probably have stayed all night, but finally once Jones was gone it was time to leave the G before being forcibly evicted. The lid was only finally declared off near the end of my train trip when a man tried to take a piss between the carriages and returned to announce that "most of it went down my leg". For once this was not a metaphor for following Melbourne.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
It's... not Petracca. Though he would have been a worthy winner, I loved Salem's control of the game when it was looking ropey. Five more years of this and only the willfully ignorant will still think we got that trade wrong. Could it be, just maybe, that both we and GWS be happy with what they got out of the deal? I'm bloody overjoyed.

5 - Christian Salem
4 - Christian Petracca
-- a substantial distance --
3 - Luke Jackson
2 - Michael Hibberd
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to almost everybody, but especially Brayshaw, Lever and Tomlinson, all of who could have snuck in for a vote at the end.

Leaderboard
It's a fiesta at the top, with five players within one BOG of the lead. By virtue of being squeezed out of the votes by quality opposition - and the literally flawless performance of his understudy - Maximum fails to add to his lead, and with Oliver also pushed down the order, Salem and Petracca jump headfirst into the mix. Salem also goes ahead of Lever in the race for the Seecamp, the third different leader of the season.

No takers so far in the Hilton, as we continue to look towards a repeat of 2005 when no eligible player scored a vote. Bad news for your Laurie, Bowey, Rosman etc... class, but a (potential) testament to us keeping our best side on the park. Maybe if Kade Chandler is ever required off the bench he might nick it?

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

Statistical Anomaly Corner
Speaking of Chandler, after being unused substitute for the second time he has now 'played' more games where he hasn't spent a minute on the ground than real ones. This further demonstrates what a farce it is to give senior games under those circumstances, but as long as we keep winning here's to him pocketing a premiership medal after sitting on his arse for four quarters. He should have walked up and claimed the Checker Hughes Medal when things got confusing.

Also, as somebody who froths at the mouth for unusual historic moments I thought it would be enlightening to trawl the archives and find out who the last player was to win his first six games as a Melbourne player before James Jordon. The drama lasted all of about 18 seconds before it turned out to be Charlie Spargo in 2018. For another week at least it's advantage Charleston, who must have thought he'd walked into the easiest racket in world sports when his wins came by an average of 11 goals.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Petracca's sealer was not without its charms, and there were a couple of nice team goals, but I'm going to opt for Neal-Bullen from the boundary line. It was a beautiful finish, and important in the context of the game. Under the radar he is having a very good season and now that we know he can kick rippers we'll be demanding one a week. For the weekly prize, he gets to be called by his real name at the start of this paragraph. Pickett vs St Kilda still leads the overall count.

Crowd Watch
Blame Ticketek, the weather, Richmond fans, or some of ours not getting the memo that this has screamed past Queen's Birthday, but I thought the 56k crowd was a bit weak. There goes another chance to relegate Essendon/Collingwood to secondary importance. It was a bit NQR when the crowd erupted on being told they were in the world's biggest sporting crowd post-pandemic when everyone knew that wasn't going to last a day, much less with half the stadium empty.

And, if this is going to be where I end up watching most games from for the rest of the year, can anyone explain why the portholes have a handle? Have these been opened once since 1992, and if so what were the circumstances?

Next Week
It's North in Hobart next Sunday, and by Christ surely even we couldn't stuff this up? There's no recent evidence to suggest a letdown (if you ignore three quarters of the Hawthorn game), but you've still got every right to be worried about an Essendon 2012 style (almost) top vs rock bottom mystery reverse.

I'd be much more confident if the game wasn't being played on Mt. Variable Weather. Given how much time how players spend at Casey you'd think wacky winds wouldn't be an issue, but having lost there by under a goal three times I'm understandably spooked about something zany happening. Google tells me the fear of wind is 'Ancraophobia', a condition I've got out the yin yang at the moment. 

Let's hope the Tasmanian government overreact to North coming back from Perth and ban them from entering the state, then we can play at Fortress Docklands instead. Even I could be convinced we'd win in a canter there. Just our luck that they'll be banned and the game will be postponed to one of the bye weeks, simultaneously necking our momentum, still forcing us to travel and giving them time to get things together after a rubbish start.

It's hard to get your head around changes at 6-0 (that is, just to remind you, six wins and zero losses). Going on statistics alone is silly, for a six touch, three tackle game I thought Spargo was very good so I'm not prepared to lose him. I'm a bit off Melksham, but half-forward is one of the few places we don't have ready-made replacements champing at the bit for a crack. You could push Fritsch up the ground and create a spot for Weideman or B. Brown but I'm terrified at messing with a winning formula, even if much of the formula relates to what's going on at the other end of the ground.

Maybe you give Mr 100% Jordon a rest and bring Sparrow in? Alternatively, just keep going with what got us this far and hope there's no riding high in April/shot down in May style lapse. I think that's the way I'll go - weird training ground injuries notwithstanding - leaving the VFL glamour team of Brown/Weid waiting in the wings for another week. Imagine we take the horses for courses option and bring Brown back for his Hobart experience, Weideman will be touring the facilities at Collingwood by 9am the next morning. 

Anyway, I think we win after a few moments of nerve-shattering terror.

IN/OUT: No change
LUCKY: Jordon, Melksham
UNLUCKY: B. Brown, Sparrow, Weideman

Was it worth it?
Yes, yes, yes, and a thousand times yes. I want more of it. Nobody seriously cares about the Collingwood rivalry anymore but I'm willing to show interest just for another blockbuster.

Final Thoughts
It was a bit over the top for the train carriage to follow the lead of a drunkard - not the same one who whizzed on himself - and sing the song somewhere north of Keon Park, but good luck dampening down people's excitement at a time like this. He had another go a few stops later and everyone was sick of him by then but I secretly wanted to join in and make a grand old scene. This result doesn't change anything other than confirming we won't finish 5-17, but the Nathan Jones implications are almost as important to me as the effect on our season.

Even when I was giving him awards as fast as they could be dished out - including three straight Jakos in our worst years - I'd never have called him my favourite player, because he never lent himself to doing the sort of fancy shit that leads to somebody taking that status. It's why we still wallop ourselves over Jakovich (47 games) more than Neitz (308), despite the enormous gulf between their overall careers. It might have also been because I was terrified at jinxing him when his unifying presence was, at times, all that stood between us and total anarchy. 

After being very good/not great under Bailey, the way he took over as all hell broke loose around him during the Neeld debacle made me respect him more than anyone else who I've ever seen play for us. Other than that goal in the 2018 Elimination Final, the club's highlights video didn't capture Jones' true essence. Because showing a selection of his 141 goals doesn't explain why he's held in such high regard. There are a couple of belters in there - including against Brisbane 2010 when he jumped over a bloke lying on the ground before kicking it - but most of the important action either takes place in a pack or behind the scenes.

Nothing that happened on Saturday tonight changes my mind that his career is rapidly drawing to a close, and now the question is whether he goes past Neitz's total, but what a ride. As I said around the time Frawley arrived at Hawthorn just in time to pocket a flag, it's personally brilliant for you to go elsewhere and taste ultimate success, but their fans will consider you a footnote and ours will, at best, politely acknowledge your contribution. Nathan Jones - on the other hand - will never be able to walk down the street again without Melbourne fans who lived through the worst times wanting to break out into spontaneous bursts of applause. In the unlikely event that we do ever win a flag, no matter how far in the future, I want him to present the cup.

Go well you great man, for however much longer you can. And when it's over legend status, the sort fans of other clubs could never understand, awaits.


2 comments:

  1. So... it looks like Weideman will be fronting up to the Holden Centre tomorrow morning as B.Brown confirmed in against North :P Dunno why, the Pies are a shambles at the moment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They also have nothing to trade so hopefully his agent is casting the net wider. He'll probably go to GWS and form a fantastic partnership with Hogan.

      Delete