Sunday 30 May 2021

Bouncing back

As somebody who won't trust a three quarter time lead under 47 points, it's no surprise that our first loss in 10 weeks left me in a dark place, scouring the fixture for enough wins to guarantee eighth place. It's an undignified way to live, but after 30+ year of letdowns that's where I'm at.

Unexpectedly, one of the four wins required came on Friday night, effectively cancelling out last week and leaving us where I thought we'd be after Round 11 anyway. To clarify, that's where I thought we'd be two weeks ago, not at the start of the year. Anyone who'd tried to sell you a 10-1 record at the halfway mark would have been banged up in an insane asylum until after the Richmond game.

It's official, we are the world's first uphill skiers. After offering the Crows so many breaks they couldn't help but win, the follow-up was to casually disassemble a side that had not only replaced us at the top of the ladder, but clobbered two pox sides that we'd struggled to put away. The Fear means I'm naturally hesitant to come out of a secure underground bunker and get excited, but the lid may have done a couple of orbits.

Other than being first and second on the ladder and both having female presidents, there was very little in common between us and the Dogs. Best defence vs best attack, no home training facility vs free land from the government, lengthy drought unbroken vs broken, and for fans of symbolism in advertising - luxury cars/banking vs pet food/cryptocurrency exchange with a vaguely dildoesque logo. We took Big Crypto's money too but have wisely kept them in the background since. Footy clubs can't be snippy about who's paying them (in this case, hopefully in AUD and not some coin they made up on their lunchbreak) but for gravitas, this deal ranks somewhere between Snowy Mountain Water and Snowdeli.

In a world where no team has ever had their best 18 available by this point of the year, injuries are no excuse, but the absence of Adam Treloar can't have hurt our chances. For my purposes, it was more important that neither the Stefan Martin Experience or Mitch Hannan played. I've got nothing but positive feelings for the pair, but even though it's only happened a handful of times in living memory the prospect of ex-players going nuts against us frightens me. There's plenty of them out there at the moment, but we've dodged Kent, Frawley, Sizzle Jr and Tyson, took care of Frost, and won't have to face Howe or Preuss due to injury. Presuming Harley Bennell doesn't nominate for the mid-season draft, the pressure to do a Brent Grgic may fall on Jesse Hogan, as long as Round 16 falls in one of his limited fit weeks.

One of the great ex-player games was famously by the SME himself. With his post-trade career flatlining, he came to what was then known as Graveyard Docklands and revived his career in an afternoon. The man we plucked from obscurity, played in every part of the ground then chucked for fringe picks has done well to stretch his career this far, but at nearly 35-years-old everyone knows he's just doing a one year lap of honour at the Dogs before retiring. You'd think Gawn would batter him but given that Brent Harvey kicked a career best six goals against us in about his 420th game you wouldn't rule anything out.

Regardless of who was in or out, we did bloody well to react to letting Adelaide have everything their way. As a total coward I didn't expect to win, but was keen on the response. No drama in the end, like Richmond without the shaky start we slowly strangled a top side to death and won without challenge. This was a return to what made us good in the first place, setting up the Great Wall of Melbourne in the middle of the ground, and slowing their forward entries down to a glacial pace.

It was one memorable win that people won't be able to falsely claim they were at in years to come. With The Big One spreading like a Clayton Oliver clearance, Victoria shut down again (for political discussion on this topic please refer to your uncle's Facebook posts, not this page), causing the unexpected return of the Empty Stadium Match. It feels like we played plenty of these last year, but there were only four behind closed doors games. To be fair we did play in front of a few crowds so meagre that the league didn't bother to give a real crowd, just tossing out estimates like 250, 350 and 750. That feels like a lifetime ago now, except that we're about to play Brisbane in Junee with an audience of 27 curious locals who stopped to watch while walking the dog. 

I'm a big fan of the Butterfly effect, so reject any idea that it's "a shame people weren't allowed to see" this game. Maybe things would have gone as well (or better) with a crowd, but as we can be sure the game wouldn't have played out kick-for-kick like it did on Friday night, I reckon stick with the option that ended in us winning easily.

Before we could get on with discovering if our life force had been sucked out by cowardly umpiring, there was the small matter of what we were going to wear. As much as I'd like to blame the AFL for everything, it is reportedly our fault that the indigenous week jumper was DQed at the last minute for clashing with the Footscray version. They told us a month ago that it was too similar, and in a Collingwood attempt at projecting Big Club Energy we didn't bother to appeal until this week. It seems the AFL is still not half as scared of us as they are of Edd.... err... [insert interim Collingwood president here] because we went back into our normal home jumper.

I can't see how it was any more of a clash than Collingwood and Essendon on Anzac Day, but life goes on, and we'll wear it next week instead. Have it for the first game back in Victoria with fans too for all it bothers me. Because he'd rather be burnt at the stake like Joan Of Arc than cross 'key stakeholders', James Brayshaw tried to claim that the mix-up was nobody's fault because they were designed before this week's fixtures were decided. Which is fine, except that we've known that it would be Melbourne vs Footscray in Round 11 since December so let's just put it down as a general cock-up instead of trying to find an alibi for everyone involved.

Speaking of inconsistency, I'm sure every Melbourne fan was ready to kick buggery out of an inanimate object when we were pinged for an 'insufficient intent' the first time a ball rolled over the line. Assuming it wasn't the same umpire who chickened out last week I'm prepared to accept that this guy made the right call (under the current rules) and not get too upset about it. Besides, bit different in the first quarter and not with 30 seconds left in a thriller. Later, Gawn was called to play on for the sin of walking straight back on his mark like you're supposed to. Like every other year since 1897, umpiring is in disarray but the ladder at the halfway point of the season would suggest that overall it's working for us.

Maybe the jumpers were also part of the Butterfly effect, and had players not seen the familiar design out of the corner of their eye we wouldn't have flown out of the middle faster than the Starship Enterprise for a goal after 17 seconds? I was already in the 'centre clearances save lives' community, and hope you'll join me after seeing Gawn walk around an inexperienced opponent and thump it forward, eventually ending in Harmes running into an open goal with his man in a different postcode. 

The goal came so quickly that Channel 7's ACME Fake Noise machine hadn't been properly revved up yet, giving us surround sound coverage of players going nuts in celebration. The digital crowd back later but was so subtle that it made me wonder whether I was just imagining it. This is a good thing, for all the shit poured on the idea they've got it to a background level that will help people who are scared of silence and not annoy the shit out of the rest of us. Meanwhile, the roof provided acoustics Van Halen would bar up over, letting us hear a satisfying Tom Moody six style *THUD* whenever ball hit boot.

Harmes' goal started an evening that brought back fond memories of late 2018, simultaneously tagging an important player into the ground while picking up key possessions of his own. This time the victim was Tom Liberatore, not only an important midfielder but wearer of tattoos so offbeat that they're almost good (compare to Josh Bruce, who has the visual representation of 'dance like nobody's watching' across his legs). With him out of the picture we were free to concentrate on Bontempelli, Macrae etc... Fair group of players, didn't do them much good in the end.

One of the key figures in stopping them from waltzing down the ground unchallenged was Angus Brayshaw. I've been accused of running a campaign against him, but let the record show that recently there has been nothing but praise for his Jetta-esque courage in taking on contests that could end in a career-threatening head knock. It's loose-as-a-goose disposal that concerns me, and while his defensive patrolling of the wing 'only' led to 13 touches, he played his most influential game of the year. Anybody who tries to convince you that players ratings and rankings points tell you everything you need to know about a performance is insane. This was a performance that would have sent me home happy if I wasn't there already.

Things weren't universally going our way, but further reward came with the second goal when a smother by Jordon - who continues to be a defensive animal - opened the door for Petracca to kick the cover off a snap. This prompted the return of Channel 7 Fancam, a usually pointless idea that was brought to life by this quality City Wars content: 

You can tell the Kayo Minis aren't being put together in South Australia because this was inexplicably left in the highlights package despite offering nothing except laughs.

After last week I wasn't declaring victory on a two goal lead four minutes into the opening quarter, but it was clearly an improvement. Then karmic payback for the Fancam incident came about 15 seconds late, when the Dogs burst out of the middle for a goal. At the time I was bleeding but it turned out to be so rare that it didn't matter.

A decade of rule changes has done nothing more than created the second lowest scoring full season in modern history, but the 6-6-6 rule is one of the few changes that helps promote goals. Problem is that after the first bounce of a quarter you need somebody to kick one first, usually after 15 minutes of the ball being stuck in the middle of the ground while TV executives shed a silent tear. As Channel 7's new Friday night glamour team, we almost did our bit, cannoning out of the middle for a shot to cancel out their cancellation. 

Sadly for fans of ads (Channel 7) or awkward silences where the commentators don't speak (Channel 7 via Foxtel/Kayo) it missed, but the much-appreciated major was not far behind. They barely got it outside 50 before a clearly spooked Libba Jr looked up to see nowt but Melbourne jumpers and tried a suicidal kick across the ground, ending with McSizzle putting the ball down Fritsch's throat at the top of the square. He was so startled at being as good as right in front for once that he ramped up the degree of difficulty by playing on from 10 metres out. All's well that end's well, but my heart was in my mouth at the time.

Footscray got their second goal around this time but our pressure was clearly affecting them. Can't play St. Kilda every week. After a couple of minutes where Charleston Spargo picked up possessions at Gary Ablett pace, Fritsch was on the end of another gift botched kick across ground. These are the goals we didn't get last week, because the opposition didn't need to do risky switches, simply kicking it to one of the COVID test length queues of players on their own up the ground.

The Spargo Minutes peaked when he set the most delightful kick to the top of the square for Weideman. It couldn't have been better delivered to him if it came via a butler carrying an ornate platter. He dropped it cold, part of a rotten first half that saw him marking like he'd just received a hand transplant from Donald Trump. Double J saved him, crumbing the bejesus out of it, and kicking one of the most severe 'height vs distance to goal' snaps you'll ever see. In another win for ambient sound, the ball landed on an advertising hoarding with the same sound you'd get by driving into the door of your garage.

This brought us to 'if we stuff this up from here it will be embarassing' stage, which is when you know things are going well. But last week we were in exactly the same position in the opening quarter before getting altitude sick and breathing life back in the contest by conceding a couple of late goals. Even if that happened here (spoiler: it did not), the difference in quality of performances was chalk and cheese. 

The round is dedicated to Sir Doug, but when Gawn kicked a sixth in the dying minutes (after the mention of his shaky set-shot kicking, as mandated by the Broadcasting Act 2018) I was about to have an Uncle Doug. Only a nervous one, we've lost from better positions against worse teams. Still, you'd be the tightest arse in the English speaking world if you weren't satisfied with what you'd just seen. I'd say more goals from turnovers in a quarter than we used to kick in four full quarters represents a win for the system. 

I won't claim to have been a card-carrying member of the Simon Goodwin Fan Club at the end of last year, but regardless of whether the Yze/Choke Yourself With A Tie dream team have helped, or our current position is the result of a player-led revolution, if he's going to take all the heat for us playing badly he can have an equal share of credit when it's going well.

If there's anything to be sad about after a high scoring opening quarter it's that history shows it'll probably be our highest scoring quarter of the game. Doesn't mean we won't still win, but I'd love to mug a team from the first bounce and go on with it. However, due to our a ripper backline I'll settle for creating a break early, then winning without excess fanfare. I'd love a wire-to-wire festival of fanfare at some point this season but winning by any means necessary is a fair substitute.

There's nothing left to say about how good Lever and May are, and the latter bounced back wonderfully after being troubled over the last couple of weeks, but a word if I may for Harrison Petty. Watch out if he learns to kick. This is why I felt bad for Adam Tomlinson going down when he did, imagine watching the guy that replaced you either spoiling everything that comes near him or, in one case, jumping over an opponent for a screamer. Sure, at one point he did kick out on the full at right angles but he's rapidly heading in the right direction.

As expected, fans of high scoring footy were left disappointed. Much like Dogs fans, whose side barely broke even in the second quarter before going down without a trace in the third. Which is wonderful in hindsight, but when they got a goal within the first minute I was almost at the point of yelling "here we go". Except this year total collapse under pressure is now only an option rather than a guarantee. This one came from an optimistic blind handball over the head from Salem, who must got overly excited hearing us moan about his absence last week and returning for his worst game of the season. He and Langdon did nowt, it didn't affect the overall team performance. I think this is what being a good team is all about

After Tim English Muffins got another I was touching cloth. The margin was still 15 but I remember another recent game where we were that far in front with eight minutes to go and lost by a point. There was plenty of time for an unwelcome reverse here. Enter the rare scenario of Melbourne cancelling somebody else's goal directly from the bounce. For the second time we created a goal directly from the Bulldog ruckman fresh-airing the bounce, allowing Max to grab it and thump the ball forward. Why was this bloke not playing for Adelaide with 20 seconds left last week?

Gawn's kick found Petracca 55 metres out, whose claim of taking a shot on goal fooled nobody except the Bulldog defence, which allowed McSizzle to trot onto Truck's pass unchallenged. His kick around the corner was flatter than a shit carter's hat but was close enough not to matter. In a classic case of the original goal costing more than it earned, we turned the next bounce - via a brief retreat towards their end - into another goal - emerging from English's goal with a six point profit. It was that man McDonald again, taking a delightful pass from Anal-Bullet (which, incidentally, is the same sort of object now pictured on the back of Footscray's jumper) and kicking a more conventional set shot.

Seconds later we tried to waste two Tom McDonald goals at the same time by giving their small forward (I bet he's not endlessly compared to Cyril Rioli for some reason...) an hour to place his snap, but fortunately he missed. Cue several minutes of Footscray players losing the will to live while trying to find free teammates, ending in the margin blowing out to beyond five goals. Blimey. It started with Pickett harassing his opponent, and ended with him on the end of a pass, via a risky "we've got no other ideas" kick that was turned over in the middle. 

With five minutes left in the half there we could either:

a) Sludge them out and go to the half with a comfortable lead.
b) Bang a few more goals on to completely ruin the contest
c) Remove foot from pedal and allowe them a couple of goals to keep it interesting.

And after avoiding our self-destructive urges in the first quarter, nobody was surprised that the answer was C. I suppose you've got to concede sometime, but if there's anything I'd like more of from this team it's ruthlessness when the opposition are on their knees. When they had the first decent chance after half time, with the game having degenerated back into a World War I style trench battle, there were genuine concerns that they'd sussed us and were going to chip away until the last quarter before overrunning us. 

Enter Bayley Fritsch, or more appropriately, enter Zaine Cordy. Crazy name, crazy guy. He gave away a high tackle free, took out his frustrations by berating Fritsch for allegedly diving, and was still having a big old sook when Bayley walked around him and kicked the goal. It was the no crowd equivalent of that Essendon fan hanging shit at Gawn (then, apparently, being arrested as a suspected car thief) before the goal was kicked anyway.

That set off as close as we were going to get to the floodgates opening. Fritsch caused the fake crowd to go off like a Geiger Counter in Chernobyl by hitting the post, before the Weid came to life with goals from his first two kicks. Hell of a minute, shame the rest wasn't much chop, but given that his greatest performances came in front of combined crowds of 180,000 playing in front of 0 might have been a letdown. 

Clayton Oliver wasn't required to perform single-handed acts of sporting heroism this time, but evidence is mounting that he and Petracca are the most influential duo since air and water. Whatever happens from here I'll be wistfully reminiscing about seeing them play when old and clapped out. I loved Harmes' game, but these two are at the heart of everything we do. Grant Thomas isn't a fan, but if we want the opinion of a coach who was sacked for losing a final to Melbourne, we'll call Stan Alves thanks.

When Jordon immediately pinged out of the middle for another shot I was ready to pitch a tent, and though it narrowly fell short, a 36 point lead at the last change was worth getting excited about. For Sullivan Line reasons I wasn't going to open a crate of champers and light cigars, but was reasonably confident. Eight years on I'm not even traumatised by the time we led the Dogs by 44 points halfway through the last quarter and almost lost a game that would have given birth to the Jeremy Howe Line.

The last quarter was played out in a fashion befitting the crowd size. McSizzle's third, generated by the hapless Dogs ruckman not being able to bend down far enough to punch the ball off the ground, made absolutely sure of it five minutes in. With nothing left to lose Footscray got a couple of token goals from the sort of edge-of-your-seat footy that would have come in handy a quarter earlier but it was too little too late. I still wasn't truly comfortable until they needed five goals in five minutes. 

As good as it would have been to plow on and bury them, this was a workmanlike, cue in the rack last quarter that made the finish to the Carlton game look silly in comparison. Both involved a controlled descent to a comfortable victory, this time we'd done infinitely more impressive work to get there in the first place.

The AAMI ad had led me to believe that this would flash on the screen at the final siren. Alas no. It just puttered to an understandably atmosphere free conclusion.

Because Melbourne fans are legally not allowed to be happy for more than a few minutes at a time, the  mysterious appearance of Tom Sparrow as super-sub with a minute left caused some concern. Not to Channel 7, who didn't see fit to immediately tell us Langdon had gone off, or confirm that it was because of a head knock until about an hour later. You can set the stopwatch for a mention of Dr. Gary Zimmerman in every Dogs game but even with two boundary riders in an empty stadium, good luck getting important medical news.  

For reasons best known to the AFL, players who'd been together all week, tested negative to COVID then gone face-to-face with up to 23 opponents for the previous two hours had to put on masks to sing the song. When they were a new thing a year ago I could accept the idea of players 'setting an example' for the community. Now it just looked NQR. Shame Port didn't do more to mock Collingwood by wearing prison bar design masks after their win.

Anyway, as long as our players are singing when they're winning they can do it with Tuckerbag paper sacks over their heads for all I care. Every win is another payment towards a September neck-deep in premiership contention. And this, two months short of the 10th anniversary of 186, is an excellent position to be in. May 2021 continue to be dedicated to more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
Bit of a difference from last week, where some players were getting votes for very ordinary games. Now I could have included about nine.

5 - James Harmes
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Steven May

Apologies to Gawn, Lever, Rivers or Spargo who might have had the last vote.

It's 1-2 for the Magic Twins, but Clayton's got the big break now. Plenty of votes left to be awarded, but barring disaster it's hard to see anyone pulling back this sort of a gap. In the minors, there's a slight tightening at the top of the Seecamp but Salem remains almost a full BOG ahead, and the Hilton race remains unopened halfway through the year.

30 - Clayton Oliver
18 - Christian Petracca
16 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
14 - Tom McDonald
12 - Jake Lever
11 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Steven May
8 - Luke Jackson
7 - James Harmes, Ed Langdon
6 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd
2 - Jayden Hunt, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Charlie Spargo

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
I have a great deal of fondness for James Jordon's defensive efforts but generally wouldn't let him kick for my life. However, his snap that defied the laws of physics was delightful, pocketing him the weekly nomination. He wins an ornate presentation case in which to display highlights of - so far - the most successful Melbourne rookie season since Allen Jakovich. 

Goals against St Kilda have since lost most of their value, but Pickett retains the overall lead for his spinny, turny, kicking over the head extravaganza in Round 2.

Next Week
It looks like the only chance we've got of playing for 'TP' next week is players punching on for Sorbent at Safeway. They're not going to wait until midway through the week to decide if we can go to Alice Springs, so I'm expecting by the time you read this it will have been shifted to either the SCG or our old friend Fortress Showgrounds. For the love of all that is holy, anywhere but Cairns.

With respect to the Northern Territory, I couldn't give a fat rat's clacker if we actually play there, I'm just bleeding that it'll cost us $700,000 in sponsorship money. This seems an excessively large amount to pay for one game to be played, but if they're willing to write the cheques we'll keep cashing them. Who knows what the contract says, but surely if they're the ones stopping us from coming when the rest of the country doesn't have an issue it should be on them to pay up. We're probably playing the long game, not chasing them for $700 large this year because we know it's worth $7 million over the next decade. 

Given that the even more lucrative Queen's Birthday is now also in trouble, the only way to recover some costs from this debacle might be to shift a different home game there. If the MCG will let us, GWS in Round 16 seems the obvious choice. Problem for the NT is that this is only going to get the same level of Friday night promotion if they pay Channel 7 a motza or there's bugger all good alternatives for the 'best' timeslot. At this stage, they might just get away with it, only Geelong/Essendon features a Victorian club and looks like having any finals implications.

The cleanest way to handle this would be for Gary Pert to slap down a dossier full of compromising images of NT politicians (and not the ones they've already sent themselves) and get us an exemption to play there. At the time of writing it hasn't been ruled out entirely so I've got some hope. Losing a game in Alice Springs would not only be a financial disaster, it's also a letdown for people who like to hear barely competent middle aged white men make patronising comments about the local crowd as if they're seeing electricity for the first time. On the other hand, great news our Sydney fans, who can enjoy the novelty of watching a game for premiership points alongside about 650 other people.

Whatever obscure venue it's played at, this game will be a further test of how far we've come this year. Brisbane have risen from the dead in the last few weeks to become serious contenders again, but are still trapped in a Battle Royale for premiership favourtism with us (!), Geelong and Port. There's plenty of time for others to come home with a burst, but at the moment it's looking a lot like 2004, where the lack of truly outstanding teams offers the chance for somebody to come through the pack and pinch a flag. Good timing, I've only been waiting 17 years to avenge our spontaneous combustion at the end of that season. 

After two weeks of getting predictions horrible wrong I'm going back to cautious optimism, thinking we could very well win but will fall just short. If we do lose, and it's still hard to come to terms with that being an unlikely option, may it have the same galvanising effect as the Adelaide debacle. For the first time in years Collingwood will be treating Queen's Birthday as their Grand Final, not the other way around, and I don't want any surprises.

The unavoidable change is the concussed Langdon. This is no good, but considering Friday night was probably the least effective he's been for us it proves we can win comfortably without him. The obvious replacement is Baker, but with no VFL to go off this week I'm basing my decision entirely on one Demonland post and giving Fraser Rosman a go. Sure, the same person says Baker was better in the same game but I'm keen to try the man who will dominate the nightclub scene when it reopens.

Despite Weideman not having a kick until the second half, his 60 seconds of glory compares favourably to Ben Brown barely getting a touch in the seconds a week earlier. As a swinging voter I still don't know which option to support, Brown still seems safer, but I understand it's probably better to persist with the Weid because he'll still be going years after Brown retires. We all like Ben, who seems an exceptionally cheery character in the Langdon mould, but given that we signed him to a four year contract that neither party is probably happy with anymore, maybe we'll find a trade for him at the end of the year? At which point all our other forwards will catch a flesh eating superbug.

Brown was unfairly maligned after the Carlton game, a wet day when we shouldn't have played both he and Weid in the same forward line, and in a game of Sim Selection Committee I'd probably pick him next week. In real life that would be a gigantic loogie in Weideman's face. Hopefully his second half was a confidence booster, otherwise VFL form or not (in the current climate, more accurately VFL or not) I'm switching to the guy with proven career form as a goalkicker.

The success of our midfield here - especially Harmes - is both good and bad news for Jack Viney. He is absolutely crucial to our finals tilt, but now we don't have to rush him back. Give him another week off and hopefully his foot stays attached for the rest of the season. Let's unleash him on Queen's Birthday, at which point he'll be so revved up that several Collingwood midfielders could die.

IN: Rosman
OUT: Langdon (inj), Sparrow (omit)
LUCKY: Melksham, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Sparrow, Viney

Regardless of where this is played, even on the deck of a ship in international waters, it promises to be a cracker. I will now accept that we're a top eight side, but won't start gazing lovingly at the prospect of a double chance unless we win here.

Mid-Season Mania
Unlike most drafts we've been involved with over the last 20 years, nobody's stressed that winning caused us to drop a position. For once we're picking like the best team in the country, which lacks a bit of excitement compared to the National Draft - where it implies you've just won the bloody flag.

Unless you're North, about to snatch a highly rated prospect via loophole, it's hard to take this draft seriously. A handful of teams found regulars last time, but most selections never got a game or flamed out quickly. We have a couple of positions that could do with cover (e.g. tall defenders, running half-backs, mid size half-forwards) and up to two spots to fill but considering draftees aren't going to play in the next couple of weeks anyway, you're left going for kids who are expected to develop for next year, break in case of emergency experienced players, or Marlion Pickett style Hail Marys.

The full list of nominees is available here, and I'm not at all qualified to tell you who we're going to pick but wonder if we might take Wiz Jr. this time, just to park him at Casey for the rest of the year and see how he develops. There's not much else there if you're hoping for romantic ex-MFC connections. The lost Brayshaw brother, the Werribee bloke who trained with us pre-season and Mitch White, but sadly no sign of The Spencil, who is too busy running riot at Doncaster to waste his time hanging out on a rookie list for half a season.

Otherwise, we're left looking for wacky names and anomalies. Including several nominees from club 'none', #108 who spelt Heidelberg wrong, #109, who wrote down an address instead of a club name, #126 who casually refers to his club's competition as 'Adelaide footy league', and plenty of others who are clearly just wasting everyone's time by nominating for a laugh. May whoever we end up with turn out to be the shit hottest player ever to lace up boots.

Final Thoughts
Let me be very clear that I'm still not claiming us as a serious premiership threat but imagine if things go super tits-up in Victoria, the league ends up as a travelling circus again, and our return to the Adelaide Oval is to play a Grand Final. There would be a lot of wrist-slashing over not being able to see it live, but at this stage of my life there would be immense (and I mean IMMENSE) personal satisfaction in seeing us win a flag from anywhere, whether that be the ground, my couch, or an iron lung. We're still not even halfway there yet, but it feels a few percent more possible than last week.

Sunday 23 May 2021

The recession we had to have

Given we've only had three other 11 game winning streaks in history there's not much to compare this defeat to, but could there have been a better time to lose than the week ridiculously premature articles about 'daring to believe' started? It wasn't quite David King's telling us to stop worrying in 2017 shortly before we missed finals but still felt like unnecessary jumping of the gun. It's nice that people show a positive interest, but a 9-0 start is nothing more than a deposit on a finals spot. 

A top two finish is desirable, but even the prize you get for the minor premiership has about the same value as a secondhand DVD player from the Salvos. If you're not flying on September 1 it matters not a jot what you were doing in May. Doesn't mean we didn't enjoy the ride, but that will be worth the same as 5-4, 6-3, 7-2 or 8-1 if we're not raring to go at finals time.

An even more appropriate sign of the apocalypse was taking on a cryptocurrency exchange sponsor. In both cases, values have been inexplicably increasing all year while we waited for the boom to fizzle out. Right on cue, fictional concepts Bitcoin and Melbourne leading the ladder both crashed in the same week. If one of them regains their value in the near future I don't think it will be us.

This page has turned simplistic footy analysis into an art form, but there will be somebody out there accusing us of taking the Crows lightly. This ignores us giving slop like St Kilda, North and Hawthorn every chance before coming good when it mattered. That might be the most offensive part of this capitulation (non-umpiring department), we'd indulged another challenge and were set to win with just a few minutes left before pissing it away. 

Now that the great run is over it's easy to be dismissive of past performances, but look back at last week again and tell me that we weren't ripe for a loss. Admittedly, I was as confident as possible that we'd get through here before being touched up by the Dogs, but will testify under oath that the danger sides were there against Carlton. We got away with that because they were an ordinary team that didn't play well. This time we ran into an ordinary team playing out of their skins and fell as narrowly short as you can get.

I tried hard to stop the famous Veil of Negativity dropping from the ceiling. After all, without ever being menacing for more than a couple of quarters at a time we'd beaten all the other lowly sides, why not another one? Salem is so important that the news of his withdrawal with 'soreness' (later revealed to the more sinister-sounding 'groin complaint') was the only time my confidence wavered. I'll take their word for it that he was too sore to play and they weren't just resting him for an 'easy' game with an eye to next week.

In his place came Nev, who is the only 2010s veteran who'll go close to leaving with the same adulation as Nathan Jones, but like Jones is not approaching the finish line at top speed. In trying to remain positive I thought he might free up Hibberd to do Salemish things. He did not. Nor did Hunt. Conceding nearly four goals than any other game this season - oddly enough against North - suggests the backline as a whole had a shocker. Not that they're solely responsible, I love everyone who kept us unbeaten for nine games but throw a rock and you'll hit a contributor to this loss. Unless the rock hits Clayton Oliver, in which case I'll knife you.

Flat performance or not we very well could have still won, but let none of the whinging about missed opportunities or one of the great umpiring bloopers detract from Adelaide's performance. Salem's absence helped, but kids and veterans united to give our defenders a bath, and I've got no earthly idea how our structure-free forward line nearly kicked triple figures. Probably because most of the goals came from the midfield.

Probably the only element of the game we were better at this week was winning clearances. Fat lot of good that did, but far from being proof that you can afford to lose them, it adds weight to the theory that you can't expect defenders to get you out of jail every week. We were ropey enough with the ball flinging down there at speed in open play, I can only imagine the sort of out the arse goals Adelaide would have kicked if it had also been shooting out of the middle. Salem might have been good for the missing two points (if you believe things work that way) but our backline hadn't been under this much pressure since the Port or Dogs games last year. Even the great Cairns cockups had more to do with failing to kick a winning score than anything offensive by the backmen.

Considering how it ended, the early returns were positive. The ease of the first goal made it seem everything was going to be alright. Had things gone as expected this might have been where I'd said "and that's when I knew we were going to win". As if I've ever thought the first goal proved we were going to win. Still, Sizzle and Langdon bamboozling the Crow defence with an intelligent tap of a bouncing ball and a finish from close range suggested good times. We barely looked like kicking a goal from close range again.

One of the reasons we didn't win was on display not long after, when Gawn flubbed an intercept mark in defence that and allowed them to sneak the reply through. He's done this a couple of times in recent weeks and a worrying trend. I know they're trying to protect Petty and add another intercepting option, but if you're not going to take the marks or kill the ball your presence becomes dangerous. This is why Lever just thumps it out of bounds so often. Your first instinct is why didn't he just mark it, then you see situations like this and realise that sometimes it's better to do the conservative thing and make absolutely sure the other side's not going to crumb it.

Speaking of Lever, I'm pleased for Crows fans that they finally got to do a half-baked Carnival of Hate three years after he left. They weren't creative enough for anything more than vigorous booing, but it was their right to sook and I'm glad they exercised it. Considering our form with this sort of thing you'd be hypocritical to complain. In fact, there should be more of it. More personal issues, more Duursma bow and arrow, more Rhys Mathieson, more Toby Greene. That will do more for the game's profile than endless pissing about with the rules.

However, my view on booing has not changed since the dark days of the Adam Goodes debacle. It is the coward's way out. You should say what you really mean and be judged on that. Still, genuine ill-feeling that doesn't veer into bullying (but sure, you were just booing him because he belted Simon Godfrey a decade earlier weren't you?) is good for football. There's got to be some standards though, I'm not accepting Hawthorn fans being pantomime angry at Lance Franklin when they'd probably nosh him off if asked politely.

The hostile reception may have contributed to Lever playing one of the nervier games of his post-ACL life. Or the cuddly-looking Matthew Nicks just found a way to stop him merrily running free and chopping off every kick inside 50. This is a side-effect of playing well early in the year, everyone's got the chance to come up with ways to negate our best features. He still bobbed up for plenty of intercepts but often looked rattled and gave away a goal from a needless push in the back. Jake may have lost here, to the joy of the people sitting along the fence who looked like they'd dug a shallow grave or two in their time, but did avoid the Don Pyke Kidnap Express bus tour so he's probably come out ahead psychologically.

It wasn't the first time he'd played the Crows at Adelaide Oval, but last year they were so bad the ball didn't spend enough time in defence for the skeleton strength crowd to hang shit on him. They may have lost five straight before this, but have clearly come a long way since ending that night 0-10. Not hard to do better than that, but I think they'll be back in finals contention a lot quicker than some perennial rebuilders. Funny how some teams bounce back quickly from disaster and others spend the best part of a decade in disarray.

Like Paul Roos before him, 2021 Simon Goodwin would rather win 45-40 than 145-140, so he must have been concerned at how much space the Crows were finding. When it turned into a contested possession game in the second half we lost anyway, so maybe it would have been better as a shootout? In the end, that's irrelevant, in both the high and low scoring phases of the game we had the four points in the bag and stuffed it up.

We seemed to settle down to proper top of the ladder form midway through the quarter, kicking three goals in three minutes. The first came from McDonald not just selling candy but the entire meat tray and walking around a hapless defender to goal from the square. He wasn't terrible from there, but didn't do much to further his surprise All-Australian campaign.

This was followed by Trent Rivers turboing out of the middle at the next centre bounce and hoofing one from distance. I know some would rather we let the opposition get the ball 20 metres out from goal before we try and launch attacks but this was right up my alley. If they're going to persist with 6-6-6 you may as well take advantage. When Melksham hit a wonderful pass to Weideman for the third in quick succession it looked like we'd finally sussed them and were going to trot off into the distance.

Our problem was that you barely ever saw any of these people again. Melksham set up two goals with wonderful kicks in the first 20 minutes then proceeded to do bugger all, Weid got almost all his kicks up the ground, and Rivers didn't do a great deal forward or back. They were not alone, had we pinched this a top of the ladder side may never have won with fewer players going full pelt.

In the great narcoleptic Melbourne tradition of unexpectedly falling asleep, we failed to press on and kill the game off (or just get to quarter time with what we had), doing our best to let the Crows get back into it. Not long after, the Weid goal was cancelled via a hitout intercept in defence (and if Nathan Buckley has ever been right about anything it's that hitouts are a shithouse statistic to derive any serious meaning from), then Lever gave away another by deliberately handballing over the line. As we discovered later, where he went wrong was not rocketing it over the boundary from 20 metres away.

Usually, you'd say kicking five goals in a quarter was a good thing, but with our defence looking uncharacteristically shaky letting four in at the other was a worry. Not to mention them almost booting another one right at the end. Maybe it was that old MFC fatalism coming back into play but I had much more faith in their forwards keeping it up for four quarters than ours. Perhaps our players felt uncomfortable at not having to climb out of a hole in the first quarter for once? Fine time to wish for a return to the Stranglewank days.

Just as clearances came back, forward pressure disappeared. It was diabolical in the first quarter and didn't get any better by the end. Of the players you'd expect to have an impact, ANB went hardest but balanced his defensive work with rotten disposal, Fritsch acted like a traffic cone when he didn't have the ball, the thinking man's cameo artist Spargo just ran around, and Pickett hasn't looked dangerous for a month. But, forget that he's a 19-year-old second year player finding his way, how about another comparison to four time premiership player Cyril Rioli? 

Our quest to keep the ball down there would have been helped by not stuffing the ball down the throat of unchallenged defenders about 25 times. Seems like as good a time as any to bring back that famous word 'connection'. I'm torn down the middle on the Brown vs Weid debate. When it looked like Jackson was going to be out for another week this looked like a knockout match to decide which one we stuck with, now I'm more confused than over. Weid's role crosses over with Jackson's but in that Geelong final he was taking belting marks in front of goal so it's not like he can't do it. And while Brown hasn't done anything outstanding yet, he kicked five goals in his first two games before playing one dud in conditions that didn't suit him. For now, I'm 51% in favour of the Weid but would be happy either way - mind you B. Brown apparently played an absolute stinker in the VFL today and M. Brown kicked 2.6 so that's probably made their decision easy.

A wonderfully weighted kick Petracca to Fritsch kick that opened the second quarter once again made you think everything was going to be ok. Then Fritsch joined the cavalcade of players who went missing, as we were reduced to playing about 12 on 18 (or for umpiring whinge fans, 12 on 21) while search parties were being arranged to locate the rest.

This was, for once, a Melbourne game that our old mate Steve Hocking would have loved, with plenty of opportunities at both ends. Any suggestion that we were finally going to take the hint and cruise away to another victory was shattered by them kicking two in a row. Sure, then second was just a flat-out pisstake free on Petty for doing nothing more than winning a battle of strength but I'd argue Adelaide got reward for creating a situation where the Wheel of Umpiring could spin in their favour. Maybe if we'd done the same we'd have snagged a couple of dodgy ones?

Enter Clayton Oliver, about to put on the best performance in a loss the golden days of Gary Ablett at Gold Coast. First, he kicked a goal only slightly less ludicrous than that belter at Adelaide Oval a few years back, then he created an opportunity out of the middle that ended in Fritsch hitting the post. He couldn't do it all, and another dropped Gawn mark in defence (what the dickens is going on?) allowed the Crows through again. We not only couldn't get rid of them, but it took Harmes leading with his held like Joel Selwood to win a high contact free and going into half time with scores level.

There was a last-ditch chance to go ahead at the break, with another centre clearance ending in a Fritsch mark. He was - for once - right in front but his kick fell short. There's nothing more that I hate than the assumption that if a player had converted instead of missing that the rest of the game would have followed the exact same path. However, a kick after any of the first three sirens is as close as you're going to get to being able to argue it. Still, even if he'd snuck this through for a point and we'd started the third term one up, it doesn't automatically mean we have one more at the end and draw. Wouldn't have hurt though.

Half time offered us a chance to glance into the Plan B envelope and find a way to stop the Crows dominating uncontested possession. Must have been Salem's week to guard the envelope because we came out to exactly the same sort of game, with them merrily chipping it from one end to the other a'la Geelong 2020. Ludicrously, a third dropped Maximum mark let them in for another and things were starting to look a touch ropey. I said he looked tired a couple of weeks ago and am wondering if - for once - my knee-jerk reaction might have been correct. Certainly a big difference to Hawthorn, the day he could have outmarked the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

If Max had already done more blunders than the last five years combined (and to be fair, he did a lot of good stuff as well, I'm not trying to get him dropped), his involvement in the next Adelaide goal was unlucky. After seven weeks of barely paying 50s they've roared back with a vengeance. Now the mere knocking of ball from hand in a marking contest led to the penalty. It still left the Adelaide ruckman more than 50 metres out. Hence why a teammate ran past for the handball and walloped it through. We've tried that about 50 times in the last few years and it's worked once.

Now at a couple of goals down, there was cause for panic. Oliver and Petracca were having a tremendous bash, but if the rest of them weren't involved in bloopers it's because they weren't getting a touch. For instance, Pickett, who sparked at just the right time to bolt into an open goal after barely getting a touch all night. He finished it but it didn't happen without a great second effort by Jackson, who put on another performance that left you giddy about his future. Until Freo get us back for pinching Jeff White by rorting their salary cap to sign him.

We couldn't help but keep them in it, including Lever doing a good old fashioned shove in the middle of his opponent's back right in front of goal. I was ready to be outraged, then the replay showed he did it. Like a more legitimate version of the Petty free, the more you take defenders out of their comfort zone, the more likely they are to give away frees. We had zero interest in this philosophy and look where it got us.

That man Oliver continued to carry the team on his back, this time recovering that goal from a contested mark. Set shots are not usually his forte but he could do no wrong, almost adding another at the end. That miss left us three points ahead at the final change, and considering our good record in last quarters and the limits of their youthful exuberance this should have seen us home.

Things looked even better when we finally got the game on our terms, with Lever intercepting his way towards a tremendous "fuck you all" win, and their backmen unable to find simple avenues out of the defensive 50 for the first time. So when Spargo turned up for the steadier - set up by Oliver of course - it stood to reason that the floodgates might open. And that they did, albeit temporarily and without enough force to do fatal damage. Incidentally, Spargo's reaction while it was going through was thoroughly giffable. If only there was anything from this game that I ever wanted to see a second time I'd play his sideways leaning antics on a loop.

After Langdon kicked a goal that may have been touched but good luck proving that with the quality of AFL cameras, I reasoned with myself that I'd be comfortable with one more. Enter who else but Oliver, not even bothering to try and bring the forwards into it and rifling home on the run. What a performance this was. Contested possessions have only been a stat since 1999, but he improved on his own record (previously shared with Jack Viney) to have 27. It's a positive stat, but the visual evidence of how he did it was even more impressive.

Turns out he couldn't do it all himself, and my stupid level of confidence in the 'one more goal' theory didn't take into account conceding straight out of the middle. This is why I despise losing centre clearances. Had we held up for a minute, or got the ball forward and locked it in there, they would have had to work extra hard to get it forward, instead we allowed them to immediately neck Oliver's goal and were left in the same place. He might as well have missed and we'd have been a point better off.

We've had a reasonable run of not turning 5/11/17 point leads into one point losses, but you still always know the possibility is there. In fact, we hadn't lost by one since 2010's brutally but accurately described 'Petterd Game'. That's not surprising considering for most of the time since we've been flat out losing by anything less than 50. On the upside, this time we get to point and boo at an umpire as the villain rather than scarring the memory of an otherwise much-loved player from the #fistedforever era.

Like us, Adelaide (defeated Geelong, lost to Hawthorn) must only seriously bother turning up for the big games because they would not go away. For the first time ever I watched a thrilling finish with Child #1, who started the last 10 minutes demanding Melbourne kick a goal and ended it laughing hysterically at me charging around the room shouting things like "I can't believe we're going to lose like this". When the once again much-maligned Petty was cheated out of a blatant holding the ball that led directly to Adelaide's goal I had to internalise words that would have probably ended in a visit from Child Protective Services.

Even though I was already disappointed at myself for caving into public pressure and assuming we'd win, I mentally doubled down and tried to believe we'd get out of this somehow. Would have been a fine time to pluck a goal out of our ringpiece, or perhaps just to find a mark near goal for the first time in living memory. Instead, we spent two minutes shambling around like a team that was 0-9 and protecting their first lead all season. 

Then, much to the delight of that Carlton stroker who wanted to besmirch the good name of Steven May, the winning goal came in a contest against him. He couldn't get a spoil on Taylor (never Tex) Walker, and you just knew the way the evening was going that he'd kick it. Don't want to get greedy after winning nine in a row, but couldn't he have just repaid the favour from Weideman's miss against them two years ago? Apparently not. 

After Leoncelli's famous 2001 winner received a welcome airing during the week I remained open to another miracle finish. Don't know why I was suddenly in full MFCAnon mode after nine weeks of interpreting every slight negative as a sign the end was nigh. As I've just discovered, that's what seeing the run of your life go down the tubes by the narrowest of margins will do.

With 40 seconds left it would have been appropriately comical if we'd just lost the centre bounce and any chance of victory. But we did get forward, where Pickett dropped a mark and the ball fell to ground. At this stage I'd have taken a hurried snap for a point that secured a draw just to avoid having to come to terms with the feeling of losing again. Instead, an Adelaide defender picked the ball up and heaving it over the boundary the line in the most obvious fashion ever. Like Walker's set shot I knew this wasn't going to go our way, and any Adelaide fan who tries to justify it should be excluded from the mainland of Australia. Some tried to justify it by saying the ball deflected off Spargo. These are the same people who think OJ Simpson was a bit unlucky to come home just after a double homicide.

At any other time of game, or place on the ground, the umpire would have given deliberate so vigorously that his shoulder risked dislocation. Instead, the prospect of 40,000 people saying mean things encouraged him to take the safe option. I thought it was suss that, like when Brisbane were dudded at Kardinia Park, it happened to the visiting team. The AFL found a way to kill that theory, letting Port's ruckman almost impregnate Brodie Grundy in the dying seconds of their game. Two one point wins for Adelaide teams, two questionable decisions. What a week to be South Australian (jokes on a postcard to the usual address).

I respect the difficulty of umpiring a fast, complex game with 360 degree movement but this was such a bad decision that it's almost funny. Piss off with the Zapruder film style efforts to pretend the umpire saw some minor loophole, he stuffed it up and it cost us. Not as much we'd recently cost ourselves. The decision certainly took the heat off a team that had stuffed up their chance to kill the game and were left scrambling for a Hail Mary goal in the dying seconds.

As far as controversial umpiring decisions in Adelaide go didn't quite reach the intensity of Fitzroy being crucified in 1991 but still hurt. There's some comfort from being the 'good' side in a situation like this, think back to the few games we unexpectedly won while in a worse position than the Crows and imagine what damage you'd have wrought on inanimate objects if something like this had stopped us winning. For all the shit Peter McKenna got as a commentator, at least in 1991 he had the plums to openly slaughter the decisions that fixed up the Lions. The otherwise gold standard Foxtel team of Hudson, Dunstall and Lyon (not Ricciuto) could only muster up slight indignation and random noises, not the sort of the howling abuse this deserved. The perpetrator may as well have driven through every red light camera on the way home while he was at it. 

Like Brisbane in Geelong, it would have only given us the chance to win. We would still have had to navigate a kick from the pocket with 20 seconds left. I don't believe in mystical bollocks like fate and destiny, but considering our commitment to not winning this game I bet it would have been kicked across the face and failed to score anyway.

The best bit about that Leoncelli goal was the dead silence that greeted both it and the final siren. Vacuuming the oxygen out of the place in the same fashion here would have been cruel but wonderful. We'd have got one more on the board before being beaten next week no matter what, but more importantly would have won another game as red-hot favourite. Now all the familiar dread will come back when we play Collingwood, Essendon, Gold Coast, Hawthorn and Adelaide again. The next game against the Crows comes after playing the Bulldogs and West Coast in Perth, and ahead of a last round game against Geelong away. Winning has been fun, we'd want to be doing a lot more of it before getting to the last month.

A forward pocket boundary throw-in kept open the prospect of a blockbuster finish, but how often do we directly create goals from stoppages that close? I think back to the time Max did a fancy over the head tap to Viney who snapped a goal and wish we could see more of that. This would have been a great time. Alas no. They stopped Oliver or Petracca (because, realistically, who else was going to get it) from scooting onto it, Max tried to take one of the two remaining stoppages out of the ruck himself and the Crows were home. Bah. 

I'm still irked now, but the red mist phase passed quickly. After a few minutes of stomping around the house complaining to nobody in particular life went on. I don't think we were beaten by a better team, but certainly one that were a better side on the night and made the most of their chances. Couldn't care less if they win one more game or 10 as long as they lose to us in the rematch, but I'm willing to accept joint custody of the result - they won it, we lost it.   

So in the end, almost everyone except Clayton Oliver got the result they deserved, James Jordon finally lost, the AFL's going to have a hard time spinning the deliberate decision as anything other than historically bad, and we're just as unlikely to win a flag as we were last week.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Clayton Oliver
--- The distance from here to the Moon ---
4 - Ed Langdon
3 - Christian Petracca
--- Paris to Dakar on a moped ---
2 - Luke Jackson
--- Another measurement of distance ---
1 - Jake Lever

Apologies to Gawn, but only because he was in a neck-and-neck race for an underserved point against Lever. I really did consider every option but can't justify anyone else making it. This is one of those days where you have to just fill in the numbers and pretend the rest of the game never happened.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
The way I feel about Oliver today I'd have given him the award for a tap-in from a metre out with no defenders within 50 metres. Good thing he also kicked a belter. Watching it again will make me angry about the rest of the game but I remember it fondly. For the weekly prize he wins excessive adulation, to the point where I might turn up outside his house. Pickett is still your overall clubhouse leader.  

Next Week
Now we'll never know if - like Nigel Tufnel's amplifier - Dees go to 11. If we play like this over the next two weeks we'll struggle to get to 10 anytime soon. After the Bulldogs, fresh off dismembering St Kilda, it's six wins in a row Brisbane, in a match for the prestigious We Lost Because The Umpire Squibbed Cup.

Footscray are like us with additional ruthless scoring, hence why they've won two games by over a hundred points this year and we've done it twice since 1993. Even if we'd beaten the Crows easily (hah) I'd have expected to go down next week. But now that the heat will be off a bit, let's see how much has been learned from not only this week but also our pre-season game, where they took care of us without raising a sweat. As far as I'm concerned nothing has changed for them, I thought they'd win the flag then and still do now, but we've done much better than expected without ever excelling so it should be interesting. Or it'll be like playing them on Friday night in 2011 with the world at our feet, losing by 10 goals and sacking the coach a month later. Either or.

For all the coverage of our forward dilemmas, I'm struggling to find players to replace the ones I want to get rid of. Salem for Jetta is obvious if fit. If not god help us. Might be a chance to give Bowey a debut. If Viney is fit he has to come back and I'm narrowly going to shelve my distrust of Brayshaw and drop Harmes again because it's not like we play Gus in the middle anyway, so he wouldn't be taking up Jack's spot.

Then there's Melksham, whose zero tackles and anonymous last three quarters mean he gets to be the sacrificial lamb. But who comes in? After last week I can't trust Chandler in a big game and we are otherwise cactus for half-forwards. vandenBerg is only just coming back from injury, Jones is still out hurt, and frankly do either of those options float your boat anyway? I'd rather work out how to give Sparrow another go, even if it's not a like-for-like swap.

Depth is starting to be a concern. There's tall forwards and midfielders, but otherwise the uninjured cupboard is looking a bit bare. We're down to Baker, Bedford, Bowey, Bradtke, B. Brown, M. Brown, Chandler, Daw, Jones, Lockhart, Rosman, Smith, Sparrow and vandenBerg. There's a chance to go crazy picking state league randoms in the mid-season draft but that's the biggest pot-luck process known to man. Fine if you're Richmond and you can warm a guy up for the whole second half of the season before dropping him in the Grand Final, not much help if you're trying to tackle immediate shortcomings.

IN: Salem, Sparrow, Viney
OUT: Harmes, Jetta, Melksham (omit)
LUCKY: Brayshaw, Pickett, Spargo, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Browns of all varieties

I demand to be proven wrong, but will eat the metaphorical hat if we win this. I'm still intending to go if tickets are available (and this result has probably killed the interest of a few of our fans), and at a stadium that's not the MCG will even cop sitting next to somebody. The only question is whether the inevitable fist fight with them comes before or after half-time.

Final Thoughts
Considering how bland we've been for the last few years, we haven't been involved in the upset of the season for a while. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, being on the end of the massive upset means things must be going alright. I'm still looking no further than the gap to ninth.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Channel 9-0

To paraphrase Belinda Carlisle, "in this world we're just beginning, to understand the miracle of winning". The difference is that she's "not af-raid, any-more", while I was terrified of blowing a 26 point three-quarter time lead in the wet against a team that has usually falls over faster than a Russian apartment block.

When it comes to footy/music crossovers, I'm more a Songs of Love and Hate man. While 85% of me is enjoying being unbeaten at the top of the ladder, the rest is looking for a secure location to hide in for when it all goes horribly wrong. 

Everyone involved with the winning of football games should feel good about what they've achieved. As far as fans go, being content after Round 9 is for people who support clubs that have won something. To me, not just battle scarred but permanently maimed, it feels like a Candid Camera style set-up for an eventual stooging. That's why I'm still more interested in the gap between us and ninth than any other calculation. The tension is building, in my head there's already an unofficial Bradbury Plan to get rid of fringe top eight contenders.

I don't think I'm alone in feeling this way, and can you blame any Melbourne fan for not taking the bait? It's not like we've got any frame of reference to know how to react. You'd have to be very old to remember either a 9-0 start, or a combined 11 game winning streak. So old that you're not going to waste your precious last moments reading Unabomber manifesto length posts from me. Your remaining time would be better spent wistfully reminiscing about running riot at the start of 1956 or winning every game between rounds 5 and 15, 1960. The rest of us are flying blind and hoping there's no mountain in the way.

As Channel 7 helpfully kept showing, every year we've won nine games in a row we've finished as premiers. James Brayshaw - of all people - had to be the voice of reason and point out that there are a lot more clubs to beat now. Not to mention four more home and away games, no express route to the Grand Final, and the league pulling strings on the competition like it's The Truman Show. More importantly, all the winning streak/flag interfaces came after earlier success. The third leg of the hat-trick during World War II, after losing the 1954 Grand Final, then three more times under Norm Smith once we'd started collecting flags for fun. In comparison, this is half a team that got wiped off the table in a prelim three seasons ago combining with the other half to put on the run of a lifetime.

This post was delayed by the Monday arrival of my second child, Ms. Demonblog Jr. II (yes, time travel Adam, you are reading that astonishing news correctly). As part of a futile seven year quest to introduce footy topics into conversation with her sister, I pointed out that while this child is being born into a world where Melbourne can't stop winning, her birth came in time to lose the last 10 games of 2014. My story was even worse, but highly appropriate for the litany of failure that followed, dropping during the inglorious one win by one point 1981 campaign. "Maybe babies are cursed..." she replied, and wandered off to do something more interesting.

So, apologies if my bloodlines are subject to the same satanic interference that affected every father/son player between Ron Barassi Jr and Jack Viney (and the way Jack's feet are going you have to wonder...) If they suddenly replace our theme song with this you know there's trouble afoot:

It's obvious which of the two major events I should have spent the weekend most nervous about, and yes the answer was Melbourne vs Carlton. There are distant memories of how to keep a baby alive, I still don't know how I'll react to the end of a once-in-a-lifetime winning streak. Maybe I'll shrug, accept that it's a marathon not a sprint, and consider how far we've gone towards sewing up a rare finals spot. Maybe I'll throw my TV out the window. There's only one way - unless we never lose another game - to find out.

Despite the usual concerns about losing as favourites, this was not the day for the tantrum triggering letdown. Our contractually obligated moment of weakness came and went in early in the first quarter and the game was all but over early in the last. A lot of what we did, against a side defining mid-table mediocrity in a way we could never have imagined, was good, not a lot was bad terrible, and thumbs up to all involved. You will still forgive me not camping in front of BASS for Grand Final tickets just yet.

In a world where my string of sizzling footy hot takes and snide remarks at the expense of other clubs don't generate nearly as much heat as you'd expect, declaring this as a contender for the "worst four goal win in history" on Twitter went down surprisingly poorly. This was probably a touch harsh, it might have just escaped the top 10. First you have to consider how few games we've won by around four goals recently, much less since the days when each Melbourne win stopped the nation. 

Obviously 'in history' was comic exaggeration. Otherwise, I thought it was a reasonable assessment and backhanded compliment. Our ability to sludge out wins this year has been remarkable, and they all count. I don't like our chances of relying on the defence to rescue us for 25 weeks in a row, the midfield group are just doing enough, and the forwards haven't worked out how to play effectively with each other but somehow we're still winning, so long may the party atmosphere continue. Here's to declaring the worst Semi, Preliminary and Grand final wins by the end of the season too.

I'm still entirely grateful for every win. Unlike every person involved in football media, I don't expect every game to be an instant classic that neutrals will be walloping themselves over in 30 years. But it's not a knock on the people who engineered victory to think we can still play better. I'm still hoping for Mike Tyson style violent knockouts when I should learn to stop worrying and enjoy boxers who spent 12 rounds turning their opponent's brains to mush. Either way, the end goal at this stage is to hoard premiership points by any means necessary.

You don't have to feel electricity pulsing through your veins to appreciate a performance, and while there were several points this week where we should have romped into the distance there is nothing about this performance to get properly outraged about. There are areas for concern, and like most games this year it took a lot of work to get rid of inferior opposition, but the end result is that we're five wins clear inside the eight and three inside the top four. Good.

While we were on track for another week without an in-game injury (Chandler finally got to play a real game and probably wished he'd stayed in the tracksuit), theirs was thrust into the game at near-record speed after a teammate did his knee in the opening minutes. Clayton Oliver has form with Blues fans, and there was probably some goon in the stands blaming him for daring to engage in the contest that caused the injury. For the first time ever Channel 7 proved to be the guardians of good taste, avoiding a non-stop Tomlinson style misery watch after he returned to the bench. This was a far more respectful way of dealing with a player's demise than focusing the camera on him at every opportunity and hoping to catch him crying.

When surprise Coleman Medal leader Harry McKay went off clutching his shoulder not long after, sage observers of the game probably thought Carlton's last chance of an upset victory had gone out the window. I expected that, like Richard Kimball, we were about to be led to disaster by a one-armed man. I'm not one to give a rat's what players from other teams do, but the way he battled on while clearly crocked and gave May more of a challenge than most this season (unlike this character let's retain our dignity and say they're both good) would have been inspirational to his teammates. Bad luck then that they could have had Nelson Mandela motivating them and still not combined for a winning score.

We should still be moderately concerned that they still got 10 goals against us. Yes, one was from a 50, one was from a handball intercept, and more than one was from a "we have no other idea what to do" hoof forward, but we still conceded far too many quality inside 50s. Not the ones that count for Champion Data but actually land in the arms of a defender without an opponent in the same postcode, but the sort that can easily catch a defence off-guard or fall to a crumber. 

Our backline is great - and Petty played his best game down there by a mile - but over-reliance on them getting us out of trouble will eventually be the death of us. I prefer when we get it forward, scare the shit out of defenders in open play, then set up a wall, stop the opposition getting it across halfway, then repeat for a few minutes before kicking goals. No matter how much you score out of defence, you don't need to be a footy genius to know that scores from the forward half of the ground are preferable because they eliminate any chance of the opposition kicking a goal.

Tackles are about the only inside 50 stat that I have any respect for, and it's telling that ours were almost half the 2021 average while theirs went up 200%. Mind you, statistics can lead you down a dark path. Without checking I'd have said we got stomped in the centre clearances but narrowly won around the ground, when it turned out to go the other way. Still, when the first bounce saw Gawn get the tap and three Blues players run onto it for an immediate forward entry my bias sense was tingling. That we shot straight out of defence and created an opportunity was good, but risky. You simply won't get away with that forever.

After Fritsch, returning from his self-imposed one week exile, opened the scoring we managed to survive all of 20 seconds before their response. After my demands for more repeat stoppages in the middle, we managed to concede after one of those instead. This time a long kick bounced off a pack and into the hands of the improbably named Owies (I assume all the good Ralph Wiggum references have already been done) to walk into an open goal. Which is one way to get around our backline. 

So that was one goal wasted, and because stats and what other clubs have done in the past be damned our centre clearances are a massive concern, the ball went straight back down there for another one. Not many things set me off more than kicking one goal, then immediately conceding two, leaving you in a worse spot than if the first shot missed.

Last week I telegraphed a deep fear of Eddie Betts taking time out of his testimonial lap around the league to run riot. After kicking as many goals in the last fortnight as his previous 14 starts combined, I had nightmare visions of our finest backline of the modern era being unlocked by relentless crumb. Because there's no such thing as 'horses for courses' after eight wins it didn't even strike me to call for the return of Neville Jetta - who has fixed him up several times over the years. The early signs were worrying, he too found a way to create a goal from nothing, taking advantage of sick forward pressure that left us trying to escape from the last line of defence to intercept a handball and snap a goal. All's well that ends well, he didn't get any more. Not without having an uncomfortable number of opportunities though...

Unwillingness to mess with a winning system probably also led to us taking one too many tall forwards into a game that was going to be affected by rain. After his wet weather masterclass against the Tigers, I'd like to have seen Luke Jackson have another go, but his mystery finger injury finally opened the door for Weideman after weeks of toil in the VFL. Even with rain nearly guaranteed I suppose they felt like pulling him out of the side at the last minute would have been like shooting Bambi's mother.

The good thing is that even on a day where the Weid and Brown went goalless (not without a few excuses), we have a few other avenues to go. Which came in handy after Carlton kicked their third in a row. All of a sudden 50s for infringing the mark suddenly returned, but we couldn't even declare this one to be administrative - Chandler was roped in so badly by his opponent that he almost followed the Jim Stynes line across the mark. The penalty led to Mark Internet kicking about his third goal in 30 games and you began to suspect Carlton's midfield was going for a collective Kingsley nomination.

'Melbourne having bad starts and going on to win' has reached 'name a more iconic duo' status this year but I still reserved the right to be worried. We didn't look much chop going forward, they were pulling opportunities out of their arse at the other end, and it was threatening to piss down raining at any moment. Even after winning two games in the wet this year I still didn't like the idea of having to chase a lead down.

For once we got a goal straight back. Making up for the well-meaning but disastrous string of handballs that led to the Betts goal, doing similar at the other end kept the ball alive long enough for McDonald to hit Neal-Bullen with the sort of pass that could leave a dent. The Bullet has been better than he gets credit for this year, and he could not have kicked a more perfect set shot here if he tried. A lot of players have improved this year but it's a long way for him since he killed the Adelaide bloke (which may be mentioned next week...) and we didn't even ponder challenging his four game ban.

Carlton falling apart at the end of quarters is almost as popular as our slow starts, and after successfully containing us for much of the quarter they undid all their good work in the last few minutes. We did our best to keep them in it, with an over-excited Chandler stuffing up a certain mark for the Weid, but because everything is coming up Melbourne at the moment the ball dropped perfectly for Oliver to stuff home. 

Weideman had a more active hand in the next one, setting up McDonald with a perfect kick in the dying seconds. He won't have much for his highlight reel from this game, but he should include this mark and pass from various angles, in slow motion, and with special effects. Sizzle's mark in between two defenders was almost as good, though you wonder how neither of them even went close to spoiling it. Because he's bursting with confidence, the man whose all-meat diet makes vegans weep never looked like missing. The added bonus was that this time we couldn't give one of his goals back within 25 seconds - though we did have a red hot bash at making up for that from the opening bounce of the second quarter. 

Though my support of him never wavered (cue somebody dredging up all the posts where it did), nobody could have seen McDonald's comeback from near career death this season. Who knows what would have happened if he didn't have a point to prove but there must be a few clubs kicking themselves at not taking a punt on him for whatever minimal trade we'd have wanted. For instance, Carlton. As if they didn't have money for him to help clear the road for the diminishing returns forward line of McKay, Casboult, and Charlie Curnow if he's ever fit again. Stiff shit, for now he's ours.

When Fritsch got a second the optimistic section of my brain thought the floodgates might be about to open. Alas no, Carlton were difficult to get rid of, hanging around for the next two quarters, never seriously threatening but remaining close enough to make it interesting if they got a run on. For now, five points was a bit too close for comfort. Enter the Sizzle again, who summoned up the power of two all beef patties to boot a set shot from a tough angle, then kick another on the run a couple of minutes later. The second was a thing of beauty, taking a pass from Pickett in space, then running inside 50, having a high-risk bounce and effortlessly banging it through. For running goals from that angle it lacked the gravitas of Watts on Queen's Birthday but the finish was just as good.

That should have killed the Blues off, but as much as their fans are about to set themselves on fire in despair at being 3-6 (hello Melbourne fans circa 2015) they way they battled this game out should see them right against a few mid-table and worse teams. Probably won't help them make the finals though, and as they're only slightly less delusional about still being a big club than us that will probably end in David Teague driving an Uber by 2022. Still, they've got the makings of a half-decent side. 

When they responded with the next two goals I had serious concerns that their time was about to arrive. But to be fair, with the psychological trauma watching this side puts me through, Fitzroy 1996 could kick one and I'd start worrying. Enter Jayden Hunt, scourge of the Blues on the same ground two years ago, who reminded us that while the defender thing is going better than expected he can still kick goals in an emergency. He restored a 13 point half time lead, which like many of our margins this year left you both wondering how we were not both further in front and further behind. 

This was the first week where there was no inner turmoil about not being at the game, and that decision looked even better when it started pissing down while all the publicly accessible undercover areas in the ground were bolted shut. The good news is that with the imminent return of general admission ticketing there's no way the MCG can deny Level 4 fanatics any longer. I will blow up deluxe if this just means more people being stuffed into each other's armpit while being rained on. 

There are plenty of reasons why crowds are down nearly 7000 a game compared to 2019, but spare me the Kennett-esque sooking about timeslots and let's see what happens when there's a bit more flexibility in who you can go with and where you can sit. Like it or not, the habit of going every week has been broken for many people (helping Kayo out of deep financial shit and to over a million subscribers, most of who are presumably there for the AFL or NRL, not the World Tram Driver Championship), and they're going to start picking and choosing when to attend live. This is shizen news for teams that are going to be bad for the next few years. In a rare case of good timing this doesn't seem to apply to us.

The game was won in the third quarter, but when it started with the Blues going straight out of the middle I braced for disappointment. That most of our scores came from the backline is a chicken/egg scenario, it's good know we can score from transitions but what would be happening if the ball didn't get down there so easily to begin with? There's a big difference between Round 1, when Freo was setting rebound opportunities up on a platter, and the Herculean efforts of our best backmen to get to contests here. If I was an opposition coach with 'nothing to lose' at the end of the season (e.g. I am tanking), I'd drop all the talls, tell the midfielders to kick along the ground and see how Melbourne copes against an all-small forward line.

A pair of nerve settlers to start the second half coincided with Gawn finally getting on top of Mr. Internet. It was far from a classic Maximum game, but I loved when he'd try and contest his own taps in the middle. That is, when they hadn't already been booted 50 metres clear by the time his feet hit the ground. It's a long way from James McDonald looking over in traffic and catching him having a cig. Junior's reward for helping get this young man's career back on track was to be forced into retirement. From this shambolic beginning Max has reached the point where his post-retirement career should involve life coaching wayward recruits who can't adapt to the professional lifestyle.

When Fritsch kicked his third I half thought we might kick through the Sullivan line and set up a relaxing last quarter. We've nearly lost after building huge leads against them two years in a row but even that would have been a bridge too far. Especially with the way our defence is going. They're not unbeatable but against a forward line with so little firepower they were as close as possible. Paul Roos was right right about everything having to start with defence, he just didn't know that the players he had down there would be replaced by imports from Gold Coast and Adelaide. 

Then, the traditional penalty for thinking the game is won before three quarter time was applied, with McKay rising above his handicap to kick two in a row. Against anyone else I'd have been barracking for the narrative and hoping he got seven in a barnstorming victory. In this case I thought they should have taken a conservative approach and sent him for scans at the break. Old wounds run deep, I'm still not over a game against Footscray 10 years ago when they sent a crocked player to full forward and he helped them win.

Enter your friend and mine (but not fringe Richmond players) Kysaiah Pickett. He had been ok without doing anything spectacular, before reading the ball off a pack and rolling it through from a zany angle. It was one of those seconds from disaster kicks where your first instinct is that he should have just blasted it, before it becomes obvious that he knew exactly what he was doing. You might have already thought the game was won, for me it represented much-needed breathing space. Adjusted for the conditions, Weideman missed a Reverse DemonTime chance that would have all but killed them off, but realistically a side that had blown a five goal lead the week before was not going to recover from a 26 point deficit.

Try telling me that when they cartwheeled out of the middle and had a quick snap that nearly brought up the first goal of the final term. Sanity was restored at the other end when Chandler had his first win of the day, with a blind over the head handball finding Spargo for the sealer. The rest of the quarter doesn't bear reviewing, because we kept kicking points they never got to win it out of the centre, leading to 15 minutes of such tremendousslop that it should have been sponsored by 1800-Got-Junk.

The only really memorable bit was Pickett's moment of Gentlemania, immediately admitting a shot on goal was touched. The umpires reacted by wasting everyone's time with a review. Imagine if a cricketer walked and they still spent two minutes fiddling with hot spot and snicko to decide if he was really out. Gerard Healy, this is the sort of time-wasting nonsense you should be whinging about, not the length of quarters.

Though it was clear that Carlton could play until midnight and not overhaul the margin, I still nervously glanced at the clock ticking down, not finally accepting the win was inevitable until there were less minutes to go than goals required. Having watched North's breakthrough win a day earlier, it struck me how casual I am about regulation victories now. Last week I nearly had a nervous breakdown at the end, but I can think back to games we won by similar margins to this in The Shit Years that felt like discovering the Holy Grail.

How the wheel eventually turns, on Saturday afternoon I sent a message to the same North fan who used to congratulate me after each of our rare victories. To be fair it was more anti-Hawthorn sentiment than genuine support for the Roos but it's the thought that counts. Feeling the freedom to shit on the Hawks is another sign that things are looking up. I respect their four flags about as much as opposition fans did the Norm Smith era by 1974. Congratulations on a glorious recent history, now you're no good.

So yes, the win was greatly appreciated, with nothing truly worth getting upset about. You could say that this style won't stand up in finals - and I have some sympathy for this position - but given that our most complete performances have been against last year's Grand Finallists who knows what's going to happen in four months. I'm not far from suggesting we take it one game at a time. But the still-restrained joy of the last nine weeks can never be taken away. 

I don't think we're going to release a St. Kilda style streak DVD but it's still been fun. However, rinse and repeat every week but you don't get anything for being top after [insert round here]. Even if we somehow finish top, the minor premiership is worth about much as AFLX Group A if you don't go on to the flag. If you skipped from pre-season to the end of the year and offered me a perfect start or a romping Bulldogs 2016 style finish I'd certainly choose the latter, but while we're living in the moment I'm willing to follow the greatest opening to a season in my lifetime (featuring as many combined wins as we had 2012 to midway through 2014) wherever it takes us. In everyone we trust.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Tom McDonald
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Christian Salem
2 - Jake Lever
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Petracca, Langdon, May and Neal-Bullen.

This could be the most balanced top four in the history of the award - you've got a midfielder (of course), followed by a defender, ruckman and forward. Oliver is slowly pulling away at the top, and history shows that bulk possessions are likely to generate more votes than anything other than bulk goals so the odds are in his favour from here. 

In the minors, Salem has put some distance in the race for the Seecamp, with Lever a BOG behind, and May handicapped by playing good games on unfit opponents. Still nothing for Hilton fans, with Jordon and Chandler both going home empty-handed.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The popular choice is going to be the Pickett goal that skidded across the ground, only briefly flirting with disaster before going through. But for the second week in a row, McSizzle gets the nod for a goal on the run. This time he didn't first escape traffic like James Bond, but for somebody whose field kicking has always (a bit unfairly) been slaughtered, this was as pure a finish as you could hope for. There has never been a more obvious weekly prize than Tom pocketing the meat tray.

The good news for Pickett is that he's still got the overall lead for that goal against St. Kilda.

The best time for bad commentary is when you're winning, which means you'll probably never tolerate Channel 7's community theatre style presentation more than you do now.

Sure, you could sit in the rain next to people you've never met before, but would you have heard Brian Taylor saying that Eddie Betts called his teammates "in for a shitter"? Or been baffled by him whispering like a snooker commentator as a reaction to the subdued crowd. 

I know some people enjoy Taylor's commentary in a non-ironic way, but there are others who enjoy being shat on, it's not a mark of quality. Given that you could put anyone in the same role and not lose a single viewer, the idea that he's paid several hundred thousands of dollars to play professional lummox is offensive. But as long as we're good I say GEE, GOD, BOY, WOW, bring on the content.

Meanwhile, Abbey Holmes (who, like most boundary riders, should lobby not to be considered in the same industry as the nuffies calling the game) tried to liven things up for juvenile people like me by repeatedly suggesting that Harry McKay 'pulled himself off' after his injury. Not with the injured arm we hope.

Finally, I'm sure when games are played in Melbourne that the commentators are actually at the ground, but how did the Carlton player lying in a crumpled heap with a serious injury go without mention for about 20 seconds? There's two (alleged) professional callers, colour commentators, boundary riders, and people talking non-stop into their ear but no acknowledgement that a player has gone down as if shot. This is the most lucrative amateur production ever staged in Australia.

Shameless self-promotion of the week
Thanks to everyone who has supported The Last Hurrah in its first week of pre-sales. After a week battling with biographies of Jonathon Thurston and Jarryd Roughead for top spot on Amazon, the fun ended when they ran out of copies of my book and it tumbled down the charts. How you run out of copies of something that hasn't come out yet is a mystery to me, but Amazon currently has a market capitalisation of $1.66 trillion so they must know what they're doing. 

The good news is that they appear to have restocked so you can get it from there. If you're ideologically opposed to Amazon, try pre-ordering via the publisher or demand (and do phrase it as a demand) that your nearest book retailer get it in for you. As far as I know we're still on track for a 7 July release, so you can expect increasingly gratuitous plugs until then.

Next Week
I have played down our chances for the last nine weeks and been pleasantly surprised but for the love of all that is holy please tell me we'll beat Adelaide? They're nowhere near as bad as last year but that's not saying much. And unlike Football Park - the ultimate graveyard for MFC teams - we've got a good record at Adelaide Oval. Given their improvement, Neal-Bullen's indiscretion last year, and the chance of Lever fixing them up there should be a little more spice to it than our last start at the venue, pummelling before 2172 people who were just happy to be allowed outside.

For changes, as much as I respect Brayshaw's courage in flying back into packs with a head that could explode at any moment, his disposal shits me to tears. If they're not going to play him in the middle - and considering how our centre clearances are going, how could it do any damage? - then I can't justify the non-stop clangers. This is not a personal issue, I think he'd be good in another role, just not the one they're using him in. Won't happen, but surely the coaches can see that there's an issue. More than once I've tried to drop him and he's responded by finishing the votes, so here's to another reverse mozz.

Less controversially, I'd like to give Chandler another go but given the scale of his Barry Crocker I can't justify it. Based on what I've seen of him in the pre-season and VFL he's welcome for another go but looked miles of it here. For all the suspicion that we've seen the best of the Milkshake, he would have done the same job more effectively.

Speaking of Chandler and milk, there were odd scenes when somebody had the genius idea to cover him in a pint of the stuff during the song. In a week where Jordan De Goey reintroduced the complimentary grundle massage it was hardly earth-shattering stuff, but still led to questions. I enjoyed the idea of Gawn lecturing teammates on having respect for the property steward. It's not quite the Japanese football team cleaning the rooms but is as close as you'll get from an AFL team. Meanwhile Kade is not only likely to be dropped, he's probably still got cats chasing him down the street.

Given that Jackson is still another week away, we've got another week to solve the Brown/Weideman conundrum. At the moment I've got to have Brown ahead, because he had two good weeks before going missing in the wet. But given how much better Weid was - relatively speaking - on Sunday there's an excellent case for keeping him too. Let them play against a side that should (NB: SHOULD) provide plenty of opportunities and we'll see who comes out on top.

IN: Sparrow, Melksham
OUT: Brayshaw, Chandler (omit)
LUCKY: Brown or Weideman
UNLUCKY: M. Brown, Jetta

Regardless of their marginal improvement early this year, the Crows have gone tits up in the last few weeks and we should take care of them. The only question is whether it's 'comfortably' like Carlton, or 'comfortably' where we finally put a team to the sword. In the end, I'll be satisfied as long as it ends in four more precious premiership points.

Final Thoughts
As the finest major sponsor of my lifetime would say: