Monday, 10 May 2021

Eight the hard way

In 1999, when The Footy Show was still essential viewing there was a classic running gag where Eddie McGuire's intro would be interrupted by an update on how many games Collingwood had lost in a row. You had to be there. Now that you know he had to be in on it and have spent years hearing him sook about jumper colours, it's not nearly as amusing. One of the number reveals was very influential on me, and for 22 years I've thought about streaks - occasionally good, usually not - being counted via banners dropping from the ceiling. In my head, all I can see now is the unfurling of a giant number eight. In lieu of anything else to unfurl, it will have to do for now.

Even their glory era never had to come up with a way to introduce the number eight, as the Pies pulled up just in time, before going back to losing the next week. We have temporarily forgotten what losing feels like. Let me clarify, for the benefit of future societies who will recover the contents of this website from the bottom of oceans which will no doubt rise en masse when we're about to win a Grand Final, the once tragic Melbourne Football Club has started the 2021 season 8-0. That's 8, eight, VIII, ٨, ፰, ൮, etc wins... and zero losses. I'm still struggling to come to terms with this run, god knows what 'the future' will make of it.

As much as I'd love some right now, this has not come from a string of thumping victories. We have been tested in various ways by the good, the bad, and the mediocre and found a way to come out on top each time. When will this madness end? After this introduction, almost certainly next week.

Dating back to last year we've now won 10 games in a row (good thing we didn't ruin it by making the finals eh?). There's not much to compare that to. Since the club's first official game in 1859 we have achieved this exactly 10 times. Blimey.

  • 19 - Round 15, 1955 to Round 13, 1956
  • 11 - Round 5, 1960 to Round 15, 1960
  • 10 - September 1892 to June 1893
  • 10 - September 1894 to July 1895
  • 11 - Round 5, 1964 to Round 15, 1964 (stay tuned for more on that delightful season...)
  • 10 - Round 17, 1927 to Round 8, 1928
  • 10 - Round 8, 1941 to Round 17, 1941
  • 10 - Round 1, 1955 to Round 10, 1955
  • 10 - Semi Final 1964 to Round 8, 1965
Those of a nervous disposition will note that we could still smash through our all-time record then go out of the finals in straight sets. Either way, no matter what happens from here we're living in extraordinary times. And like the St. Kilda and Geelong wins I wasn't there to see it. This time it's all my fault, I am officially a poltroon who should have a yellow streak painted down my back. I had a ticket, and had time to get from work to the first bounce but chickened out due to a combination of factors that would never have stopped me in the decade when we were complete piss. 

In no particular order, I gave up on my long held beliefs about having to be at the ground no matter what due to - in no particular order - having about four hours sleep, needing to get up again at 4.45am, living about as close as you get to the middle of nowhere while still being in the Melbourne metropolitan area and having a train line that was replaced by buses. How I used to laugh at people who used train replacements as an excuse, now I am one and it's undignified. 

Considering some of the unethical shit I did to watch us lose from 2007-2016 it gets me down that life has caught up to me in a time that - as the above table demonstrates - we may never see again. It almost feels disrespectful to the players, as if they give a fat rat's clacker what I do. However, there's every possible chance I would have risen above all these negatives and gone if you'd guaranteed being able to sit wherever I want. That's what has really done me in this year. Imagine having to sit in my assigned seat, four down a row, squashed in by people I'd never met, and going through the agony of a thrilling finish? Odds on I'd have accidentally delivered a Tom Hawkins style elbow to a neighbour.

Nevertheless, by 7.25 I was battling a tremendous sense of guilt about not being at the MCG. On the other hand, I spent the last few minutes before the bounce with my feet up on the couch eating dinner and knew that no matter the result I could be in bed 20 minutes after the final siren so it wasn't all bad. Not going to any games last year didn't entirely break the spell - my preference will always be to see the game live - but it helped. Much love to the boffins who worked out how to stream live sports over the internet.

My traumas were not all self-inflicted, a week alone atop the ladder to the general disinterest of everyone not aligned to Melbourne left me with raging imposter syndrome. There's just something NQR about seeing Melbourne on top of the ladder which made me expect an immediate 2004 style swan dive. If it's coming there has been a delay of at least a week. Any chance of putting it off until, say, March 2022?

The sense that things were going too well meant that by the first bounce I had mentally written this off as the loss we had to have. That didn't take much effort if you consider our recent record against the Swans. The disastrous last start in Cairns is the most relevant, but there have been plenty of unfortunate memories since that wonderful day when we steamrolled them at the MCG in 2010. We've had a win and draw since, but I'm still scarred by losing by 110 and electing Tommy Walsh as the first international Kingsley. Not to mention a bunch of other losses between 30 and 60 points and that cock-up in 2018 with finals on the line.

As you'd expect when you've beaten everyone for the first two months of the season, things are going much better now than any time we've played them recently. Based solely on consecutive wins we haven't been this good since they were South Melbourne. But if there's anything to complain about, it's that despite having the league's best ruckman and one of its best midfields we're regularly being battered at centre clearances. We're fine at stoppages around the ground where the action happens inside a phone booth, but in the wide-open spaces of a centre bounce there's mass agoraphobia, and no matter where the ball is tapped we generally let the other side get it first.

Some days this issue corrects mid-match (e.g the fourth quarter against Hawthorn), but on Saturday night we started badly and didn't get any better. Quick breaks from the centre often turn into the sort of hopeful long kicks that suit our defenders perfectly, but the less time the ball is at the other end the better. Also, now we've got a full forward who is good at leading and kicking straight, stick a few quick passes down his throat and he'll kick a bag. Still, it's nice to know there's still room for improvement after winning the first eight. It's not like we're winning these games playing out of our skin and have nowhere to go but backwards.

Of all the Sydney players I expected to dick us, second only to Lance (never Buddy) Franklin was our old mate Justin Trudeau, who was last seen taking time out from Prime Ministering Canada to run riot against us in Cairns. Since our first meeting, he's stuffed the lookalike up a bit by cultivating a mullet but otherwise carried on where he left off, kicking the first goal after 30 seconds.

This was almost the closest we came to stopping one of their centre clearances and still let it slip out, leading to a pained Tom Papley's saying "awwww fuck" on prime time TV after colliding with a teammate. I appreciate Tom as a heel on a similar scale to Toby Greene (albeit more blue-collar and without having belted a security guard), but to prove he's not all that bad he later did a Hawkeye Pierce impersonation to stem bleeding from James Harmes' head:

Bit of a strange thing to do but it takes all sorts. His kick ended in Justin T snatching a loose handball for the opener, and though our backline soon came very good they were purely responsible for a second not long after. A flat as a tack kick by Petty bamboozled Tom McDonald, who started a chain of pointless handballs that ended in a goal. After Richmond (and GWS, and St Kilda, and North) I wasn't going to write us off based on a 12 point deficit but early signs were not good. They looked, to use a technical term, up for it and we seemed tired. But were we really? It feels like a full team equivalent of Gawn 2015/2016 when he'd smash through four quarters despite looking like he was about to die halfway through the third.

When they nearly got a third a minute later I was was ready to declare us dead and start studying the draft. I didn't think much of our chances if they were going to continually ping the ball inside 50 at speed. Fortunately, the centre bounces were about the only scenario they converted into quick attack, and once we got the ball forward they were stuffed, left unsuccessfully trying to pick through a wall of players everywhere they looked.

But before we could lock them behind the Great Wall of Melbourne the ball had to get down our end. Enter Turbo Hunt, who charged through the middle to set up our first. I maintain that if you just get in his road he'll be stuffed, but allowed open space to run into here he turned defence into attack in an instant. We were, perhaps fortunate that McDonald was paid a kick that travelled about 10 metres at a time where umpires are being tight about distance, but considering it cosmic payback for the Jeremy Cameron debacle last week. 

Sizzle started the year playing like he was on death row, witness a rotten set shot from directly in front in the first quarter against Freo, but even after an off-day last week he is now playing with full swagger. And a mysterious sticky substance in the middle of his jumper all night. Maybe the goo was his version of Peter Brock's energy polarizer (quote: "it makes a shithouse car good") because after not going near it in Hobart he kicked goals from every angle here.

We all love McDonald (well on this page anyway) but the speed at which we give back his goals nearly constitutes workplace harassment. He must have been standing up the other end mouthing "here we go again" when they plowed straight out of the centre, Franklin got his only win all night against May by 'removing him' from a contest and lined up for a shot less than 20 seconds after the restart. Even with the option to basically run around the man on the mark, a move he practically invented, Franklin failed to make the distance. Coming back from injury or not, this was like watching a late Muhammad Ali fight where the opponent was just punching the piss out of him. Literally in Steven May's case, fined $2000 for allegedly biffing him during the first quarter.

By midway through the quarter we'd recovered the earlier deficit. For an insight into the genius of Christian Salem please review his kick to Melksham after being called to play on for no apparent reason. Even with an opponent charging him down he landed a perfect pass right on Jake's tit - as they say. There's panic "I've got to get rid of this" kicks, and there's knowing exactly what to do in a crisis. He is terrifically underrated by fans of other clubs but the coaches must be well aware of the threat he poses.

The entire night was spent with rules being ignored or selectively applied, which worked in our favour for the third goal, as holding the ball was temporarily suspended and Spargo put the ball on the exact sort of platter that best suits Ben Brown. His run up started in my backyard but you can't argue with results. After a nervy start last week he was very good this time. Got into good positions, worked hard to cover ground, not much chop when the ball rolled free but that's not why we got him. 

Between Brown, McDonald, and everything Fritsch has done until this week it's hard to see The Weid getting a game anytime soon. My earlier theories that Collingwood would be on the phone are hampered by the fact that they won't have a good draft pick for about five years once they get Daicos III. The obvious solution is to find a contender that needs a forward and go there, but all the money might be coming from Hawthorn and North, who will have a fortune in cap space but nobody to spend it on. The way they're going I'd almost rather play for Casey but you wouldn't begrudge him looking for opportunities and making shitloads of cash on the way. Who knows what nightmares the rest of the season holds, he could be playing full back by Queen's Birthday.

The question is how hard we try to convince him to stay. He has shown a bit without becoming essential but should still be playing long after Brown and McDonald are retired. I'm happy to go all-in on any system that works this year but if we don't go deep into the finals do you try and set up for the long-term instead? Mind you, I'm almost convinced that after restoring his reputation McDonald will stick two fingers up at Goodwin and go elsewhere. It would be very Melbourne to spend the year debating how to fit three players into two positions only to end up with two leaving. Also, even if Weideman gets back in the side, how the hell are we going to pay for him if his career takes off? I already thought the salary cap was heaving, this week's Petracca megadeal must have it fit to burst. 

While our forwards are doing enough to hold their position without kicking huge scores, the backline is operating as well as any that I can remember. They're so good at keeping scoring down that we should arrange to save one welfare check by having Steve Hocking and the Weid watch games together.

Last week I tempted fate by suggesting May would harass Franklin into retirement, confident that the theory would never be tested. Which led to a bit of tension when the Swans unexpectedly brought him back from injury, giving me visions of a Fantastic Franklin Flashback where he kicked 9.7. 

While this would have been undoubtedly shit, it would have been new to us, like Jack Riewoldt he holds a surprisingly average record against Melbourne, having played the same number of games against Carlton and Essendon for 30 goals more against each. Of all the clubs that existed at the start of his career, Fremantle is the only side he's got a worse record against than us. That's not surprising considering Ross Lyon was running a fetish club for low scores for most of that time. We, on the other hand, we prone to muntings for most of his glory era. Somehow we fared no worse than a haul of six in 2008 and five in 2011. It helps that Melbourne is the only club that a man who has kicked around 270 more goals than points has sub-50% accuracy against. I've heard the unlikely story that he was a Melbourne fan as a kid but this is ridiculous.

It's unlikely that he'll call a press conference on Monday, but the bit about May tormenting him certainly came true. In the twilight of his career, the greatest goalkicker of the modern era must have wondered if it was worth carrying on when a man who saw 15 goals go over his head in the first quarter of his debut was beating him in an endless stream of one-on-one contests. In the third quarter he was such a broken man that after a rare mark 50 metres out on angle he tried a pissy kick to the square instead of doing what we all expected by running around a mile and dropping the ball five rows over the fence. Out of respect to his legendary career I hope Lance gets to rip one last team to bits by the end of the year but I won't be fretting if we have to play him again.

We won't stop them forever, but over the last two months our backline has all but rendered opposition tall forwards extinct. The loss of Tomlinson, whose sideline misery was only touched on by Channel 7 after Fox Footy spent all last week sticking cameras in his face like a disaster victim, was not entirely covered by Petty, but he did well enough. I wouldn't want him kicking for my life but he's solid enough in the contest. And given we have bugger all other options (and after McDonald's performance I'm prepared to follow newly-minted Supercoach Goodwin's philosophies on which end he should play at) he'll never get a better opportunity to develop than with May/Lever as cover and Salem/Hibberd etc... at ground level. If he's still shinning clearing kicks in Round 23 I'll whinge about him. Alternatively, he'll do something wacky next week and I'll bring that timeframe forward.

Now, at three goals to two, things were looking up. The only problem was spending the next five minutes at half-forward without pressing home the advantage. Considering the conditions it was, surprisingly, a better night for tall forwards than small. Pickett started in long sleeves, played for frees with such ferocity that the umpires couldn't pay them without looking stupid, came back in short sleeves, and for the first time all year didn't kick a goal. Not concerned, given that we won anyway it's worth the odd reminder that life cannot always be this easy.

See also the man some call him 'Slick Fritsch'. On this occasion, he was so slick as to be nearly invisible. Happens to the best of players so no hard feelings, but ironic considering he was initially banned for a week after his high fend-off against North. Personally, I think it was a silly thing to do and he could have had no arguments if the week stood, but was simultaneously prepared to be morally outraged based on the fact that nobody was interested when Tom Hawkins caved Steven May's eye in.

After Michael Christian declined to accept six goals as a qualifier for the Famous Face Discount, we were forced to win Bayley's freedom via the (footy) courts.  Now that we can afford to hire from outside the Denis Denuto category on lawyers.com, this was successful, only for him to play arguably the worst game of his career. Maybe he was sacrificed to do coach-friendly things that plebs don't pick up on, maybe it was an OJ Simpson style guilty conscience, either way he did stuff all. But so did McDonald before going into defence last week before having the time of his life six days later so no point getting upset.

He's a proven performer now so will bounce back, but of the limited but varied list of players who have kicked six or more in a game in my time the only one who had a more disappointing follow up was James Cook. And that's because he was carried off half-dead after two kicks the next week, never to be seen again. (Stats fans, the rest of the post-1989 club are Bennett, Bruce, Cuthbertson, Farmer, Hogan, Jakovich, R.Jackson, Lovell, Lyon, T. McDonald, Neitz, Robertson, Schwarz, and Smith). 

All these wasted opportunities led - as you might expect - to Sydney going down the other end and nicking a goal. By the strictest definition of DemonTime it was a couple of seconds early but spiritually formed part of that great tradition. It shouldn't have happened in the first place, coming from Gawn dropping the sort of mark he usually eats, then May committing one of his few errors all night by blindly handballing to nobody. End result - a goal to Gawn's opposite number, the much-travelled Tom Hickey. Not fatal, but a huge waste at the end of several minutes where we might have built a lead. Or, more likely, we might have kicked a goal, lost the centre clearance and given it straight back.

There was much commentary box amazement at how Hickey has 'improved at his fourth club' as if the number of teams you've played for has any relation to career progression. Every game Mark Jamar played from 2009-2011 was better than the first 50 and he never went further than the rehab group. The Hickey miracle theory also ignores when he played 20 games for West Coast in a finals year. Not like he came to this point via a Spencil (I miss that guy) style career progression of 6, 2, 0, 0, 8, 8, 5, 7, 0, and 2 games. I'm more amazed that he hasn't lost the will to live after moving interstate four times, that would have driven me bonkers.

The coach was understandably frustrated at quarter time and got a good reaction from the same players 'pundits' would have said were 'not playing for him' if things were going badly. The surprise hit forward combination of McDonald and Brown combined for the first, with the Sizzle delivering a lovely pass for his new mate to reel in one-handed above a desperately trying to get out of the way Clayton Oliver with no Swans in sight. This, I would like to see more of.

By now it had started raining, which in my mind justified the decision to stay home. I'd have been exposed to it from where they wanted me to sit, and might have had a breakdown seeing all the non-MCC bits of Level 4 shut. Like a more slog-heavy version of the Richmond game, we were surprisingly good in the wet, while the Swans went to pieces trying to break out of their backline. McDonald played another brilliant part in the next goal, turning what would have been a front-on contact free 9/10 times into a perfect spoil that ended in a Petracca goal. This was followed by an awkward moment where Truck wanted the double high five, which Tom ignored and leapt on him instead.

We ended the quarter in similar style to the first, playing the better football without reward. Just as we've reached celebrity status, the lack of goals after the (Channel) seven minute mark will probably see us pushed back down the TV priority list behind the popular clubs. It's one thing being top of the ladder, but if you're not triggering ads you're useless to them. It wasn't for want of trying, we had several goes but were wasteful. So when the last few seconds were spent with the ball deep in the Sydney forward line I think we all suspected how it would end. In a surprise result, we escaped unscathed, not before Petracca got away with dropping/having the ball knocked from his hands. Still, considering we'd given the opposition their courtesy head start and have been good in second halves all year it was our game to lose.

The third term was all over the shop. First Sydney burst out of the blocks, jammed the ball down their end and kept it there for five minutes until kicking the first goal. Which was bad. But then original odd couple Brown and McDonald combined to restore a double digit lead. Which was good. It never happened without another pinpoint kick from Salem (*swoon*), and for once two of our players jumping at the same ball came off, with Sizzle inadvertently knocking the lone Sydney defender out of the way for Brown to mark. I've already grown accustomed to the run-up that gave me the shits so much when he played for North, and as he turned around after a few steps and went to casually chip it through I actually shouted "noooooo", thinking he was going to rush and miss. Watching the replay, the casual reaction of the crowd suggests half of them weren't looking either.

Striking back after being on the run at the start of the quarter was important. It led to, for about the only time all night, a goal from a centre clearance. Not, mind you, without first turning it over and benefiting from an off the ball free, but that goes to prove the blinding obvious that it's better in your direction than theirs. Remember a few years ago when Geelong would get battered in the middle but still win games and people wanted to tell you how centre clearances were irrelevant? You'll note that was not one of their premiership years. 

Like all stats except goals, centre clearances can only be properly valued by knowing what happened next. If you shank it to an opposition wingman or straight to a free defender who sends it the other way at warp speed you'd have been better with a stacks-on pile that led to a repeat stoppage. When you've got a shit hot defence you can get away with losing a few but unless we do address this it will cost us a game eventually.

Speaking of stats, I don't know how they dish out goal assists, but the Sydney player who unnecessarily bowled Jackson over for the free should get one, because once the kick came off the pack McSizzle intercepted a handball, bumped off one opponent (in that he ran into, not killed him), barged past another and snapped a goal that officially announced - as if you didn't already know - that he was back in form. After he and Fritsch traded shockers over the last two weeks, it's seemingly Brown's turn, but considering Carlton's ropey defence you'd be disappointed if he didn't kick [insert obvious exaggeration later used by Blues fans to 'prove' overconfidence].

If that created a much-needed break, McDonald's next rampant appearance helped us to an even better position. He tore a defender down with a tackle to win holding the ball, then converted the free from the boundary line. Cameron Ling sooked about Pickett playing on and missing, ignoring the fact that he's so fast that he kicked it before the free was even paid. You would have to be an absolute cove of an umpire to not bring that back.

At this time we were introduced to a man who was absolutely desperate to get on TV. Almost like he was doing some sort of self-promotion and will miraculously show up on Big Brother by Wednesday desperate. It would be hypocritical to point the finger (as it were) towards anybody doing wacky things in the crowd considering I once went to a game dressed like this...


... but I would note the difference between hiding your face on national television and being seen by a several hundred thousand people looking like this:


If it was some kind of swizz, a set shot occurring directly in front of him was a happy coincidence. He took full advantage, getting more screentime on Channel 7 than any paid advertiser for most of the second quarter. Sadly, after being offered free advice during his run-up, McSizzle didn't counter with a suggestion to jam the novelty implement up his chocbox. This led to a few awkward seconds where after drawing attention to himself, Captain Bollocks had to look magnanimous about conceding, including awkward attempts to clap with the novelty still attached. Hopefully he doesn't tire of jokes about his giant hand, because he may now be referenced in every Sydney-related post until the end of time.

I foolishly thought this goal, extending the gap to 22 with six minutes left, would be the gateway to a comfortable win. Even with all the trust built up from seven wins in a row you'd still be a fool to trust Melbourne. After nearly giving his first back and fighting all our natural instincts to avoid wasting the second, we finally stuffed up one of Tom's goals on the third go. It was not immediately out of the middle, but two minutes later on the first rebound 50. Near enough if you're actively seeking confirmation bias. 

Even worse it fell to somebody who had a) not kicked a goal all year, and b) came via hasty play on after not being paid a mark that was plenty longer than the one we were paid in the first quarter. The chance to not think about a set shot probably helped Jake Lloyd, who hasn't kicked a goal for a year, casually whack it through without worry. What a waste of a great finish at the other end. After an evening silently fuming about being thrashed in the middle I cracked the shits in a way that wouldn't have been possible at the ground. 

Oliver, Harmes and Jordon were all individually amongst our best players, but any time the game restarted with a bounce they were bamboozled. Did Brayshaw ever go in there? After all you hear about him being forced out of the middle by other players, this seemed like a good time to give him a chance to either extract the ball or at the very least lock the bloody thing in so we could have another go. 

Brayshaw has had a red-hot bash recently, risking having his already suspect block knocked off by running back into several contests, but his disposal lends itself to an inside player rather than what we've got him doing. He's contracted until the end of next year, but safe in the knowledge that we'll have bugger all money to spend anyway and are not going to play in a position that will maximise his value pre-contract he may want to go somewhere that can better fit him in. Let's be honest, if we keep playing like this somebody's going to get squeezed out eventually, and if it's mutually beneficial for all parties I wouldn't set fire to myself outside Gate 1. For now he can concentrate on helping us win silverware.

Of course, I still wouldn't have been confident at 16 points ahead to start the last quarter but it would have been a step closer to safety. Instead our old mate, Dr. Tom Papley crumbed the bejesus out of a loose ball after spending the night missing chances and the margin was back under two goals. There's a fair psychological boundary between a 10 and 16 point lead. Either can disappear in a couple of minutes but you feel much more relaxed with the extra goal. Every six points after that until the Sullivan Line is breached factors into my personal Duckworth Lewis Method of how relaxed I can get without actually being certain of winning. In this case it went from 'not very' to 'new undies please' very quickly.

We'd got there via a vastly different path, but our three quarter time position was reminiscent of the Hawthorn game. As was the opposition scooting straight out of the middle to kick a goal 20 seconds after the break. The comparisons ended there, this was not the sort of opposition to be wiped off the table in a 10 minute orgy of scoring.

Relief came from the thinking man's footballer Charlie Spargo, a player whose contribution will never be explained by bog-standard statistics. Maybe even the top draw Champion Data stuff the clubs have access to would struggle to tell the story, but you can tell from the naked eye how important he is.

The joy of his pluck of a touched ball and quick kick through traffic was delayed by the most unnecessary goal review in history. When spectacle fanatics like Gerard Healy moan about the game going too long they might want to consider the time spent on a frame by frame analysis of this as if the video reviewer was trying to see up Sharon Stone's skirt in Basic Instinct. They weren't satisfied by the ball landing well over the line, even though nobody had suggested the ball was touched off the boot that was investigated as well.

Because I don't want to be sued like Matt Rendell, I just ask you to compare to the goal umpire in Hobart who correctly backed himself on multiple close calls. This meant the game could continue without having to wait a minute for somebody who knows they'll be sacked for making a mistake to make a judgement on vision that looks like it was recorded by Sega Megadrive.

That was, sadly, not the end of the Swans. Insert references to the fighting spirit of 'The Bloods' that didn't become a thing for about 30 years after they relocated and file next to 'Shinboner Spirit' in the Hall of Nonsense. We must be set for another catchphrase. Remember when we went continental in 2018 and rallied behind 'esprit de corps'? That turned into 'esprit de corpse' about five minutes into the Prelim and was never heard of again.

These club identities are almost as big a wank as community singing before the bounce, but if you've got a negative stereotype about Melbourne I'm probably happy to adopt it as a coping strategy. When Sydney dragged the margin back under a goal with 12 minutes left I was convinced - for about the 21st time in the last month - that we'd finally run out of petrol and were about to be swamped.

As a sweaty John Longmire turned a shade of beetroot, we got the decisive goal through who else by the Sizzle. This time it was Brown's turn to give him a hand in the contest, allowing McDonald to reach over the top of the pack and mark. When he opted for the wacky sideways kick from barely outside the square I suspected a humiliating miss was on the cards but he pretty much did the exact same thing he had from the boundary 30 minutes earlier, albeit without some glory-hunting poon yelling at him. 

Cue 10 minutes of nobody scoring, while my heart rate approached that of a skydiver whose first chute hasn't opened. I was convinced that after being ransacked all night, this was the bit where Franklin would come alive and win the game. He didn't go close, but that left 21 other players who were just as likely to do it as far as I was concerned. Time was ticking down, but if you're less than two kicks in front you can't relax until about the last 30 seconds. Maybe even less, remember Round 1, 2016 when GWS kicked a goal with nine seconds left, fanged inside 50 from the bounce and nearly got a shot off before the siren? If not, that's what I'm here for.

After eight games without losing, James Jordon is nearing the top shelf of novelty footy statistics. This AFL Tables page used to be the go-to for seeing how many of our players ranked amongst the worst win/loss records in the competition (rejoice, currently none), now we've got an eye on the 'most career games without a loss' category. It doesn't guarantee success - ask Geelong's Josh Cowan, who lost once in 16 starts and was last seen busting his leg in Daylesford - but means you've played in a decent side. Somewhere Jimmy Toumpas is kicking the metaphorical cat, wondering how his career might have been turned out if he hadn't been thrown to the wolves in dreadful company.

Our record is 14 straight by Bryan Kenneally, obviously aided by walking into a side that had more flags than the United Nations. Surely Double J isn't going to stretch his good fortune that far, but he certainly justified his spot in the side. I'm not getting over-excited about his 23 possessions because they included a fair bit of clang, but his pressure was fantastic. Like everyone else he was unsighted at centre bounces, but around the ground his tackling was great. He's no Jack Viney - for one thing, his foot works - but this was a reasonable cover version.

The last of his tackles proved crucial, mowing down some Ed Langdon-lite headband wearing blonde steaming towards Sydney's 50. You'd like to think our defenders would have mopped it up anyway but I was glad not to test the theory. They certainly dealt with the next threat. It was lucky the Swans were paid a mark just outside 50 because that man Franklin picked the ball up and was about to arc around and have a shot when the umpire called him back. The guy who was forced to take the kick displayed far less urgency, wasting another 15 seconds before gingerly kicking it to a pack and seeing the ball punched out of bounds.

This wasn't the worst result for the Swans, they were more likely to snatch a goal out of thin air than craft one anyway, but we survived long enough to drag the ball back into the centre square and waste another minute. There was final concern from the ball bouncing off Franklin's chest before he snapped straight up in the air. I yelped like a small dog when Mills had a shot that went out on the full, and with 90 seconds left that had to be it. One extraction from defence and a few kicks from side-to-side and it would be over. 

We achieved the first objective, before getting the ball forward almost too successfully. There was no natural break for a player to stop and do a dinky, time-wasting kick to a teammate, instead we went forward in a wave and heaved the ball at McDonald. Fair enough under the 'when you're hot, you're hot' rule, but in this case it would have been better if it bounced away from him and over the line. He gathered, and with too much room to do an 'oh dear, I appear to have been tackled over the line' move tried a high-risk pass to Brown, covered by two defenders in the middle of the 50. This opened the door for Syndey to rebound straight down the middle of the ground. In his defence, he would probably have been smothered if he tried to kick to the only player ahead of him (and yes, this would have been a better result but you can't hang somebody for not calculating every last permutation of a snap decision. Unless you've got it in for them and need a reason to prove they're no good) and would probably have been pinged for deliberate if he'd rolled a kick out of bounds in the pocket.

With less than a minute left it would have taken something spectacular to lose, but we still had to get through a couple of loose moments. Tom Papley MD dropped a mark, before a hurried kick from 50 fell short, leading to an even more hurried snap that barely snuck through for a point and we were home. Thank christ, my nerves couldn't take any more. And people want a count-up clock. Get stuffed.

Given how well Salem played after signing a bumper new contract, I was hopeful Petracca would celebrate his seven-year multi-million dollar extension by playing the greatest midfield game in the history of the VFL/AFL competition (get to shite interstate people, it's the same thing). No pressure though. Alas while he was solid and workmanlike it was far from his best, falling some way short of the projected 48 disposals and seven goals. 

In the spirit of nothing ever coming easy at Melbourne, he was also felled in a collision with about five seconds left, coming out with a corky (a word I'm not sure I've ever written before) after momentarily looking like he'd done something serious. Shouldn't stop him playing next week but might need another round of the cupping that left him looking like a medieval torture victim in the early rounds. He was jovial enough in the post-match interview before hobbling away like the elderly but importantly, like our unbeaten streak, he survived to go again next week. If things get any more exciting I may need to watch the second half of the year under heavy sedation.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Tom McDonald
4 - Steven May
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - James Harmes
1 - Christian Salem

Major apologies to Jordon. Other large scale apologies to Brown, Langdon, Neal-Bullen, Petracca and Spargo

Leaderboard
Arise midfielder, take thy natural place at the head of the leaderboard. Any non-crippled player on the list can still win from here but after two years of letting others win the title, Oliver is now in the box seat to grab Jako #3.

There was only slight movement in the minors, with May making up ground on Salem in the Seecamp but still sitting almost a full BOG behind. The Stynes is interesting, you'd think Gawn's lead will be enough to ensure he wins for the eighth time, but Jackson's hitout average is still lurking just above the 10 per game qualifying mark so he remains a live chance. And James Jordon may be the unluckiest player of the week, barely missing the vote that would have kicked the Hilton race off two months late. Plenty of time left.

17 - Clayton Oliver
14 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
13 - Christian Petracca, Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
11 - Kysaiah Pickett
9 - Jake Lever, Steven May, Tom McDonald
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
It's got to be McDonald, continuing his rebirth by barnstorming through half of Sydney's defence before snapping the goal. In case he leaves, for the weekly prize he wins a framed selection of photos remembering all the great times we've had together. From narrowly avoiding debuting as a late inclusion for 186, to [whatever the hell happens this year] via underrated defence, a weekly howler turnover, mysterious goalkicking form, the 2019/2020 slump, a lot of complaining about umpiring decisions, and his much-appreciated return to form.

Pickett retains the overall lead for his spelunking effort against St. Kilda.

As much as TV commentary infuriates me it does mean you catch some of the zanier off the cuff shit they say. Like, for instance, Luke Darcy forgetting he was on TV rather than radio and saying the ball was 'on the AFL logo' when it was clearly smack in the middle of a Toyota Hilux ad. This is the reverse of the old Rex Hunt trick where he'd just flat-out make up fence signs that conveniently matched the AW sponsors.

In the commentator draft, I'd still have Darcy and Hamish McLachlan ahead of BT or Dwayne but they do talk some crap. I can understand botching names and referring to 'Jordan Jones', but the undoubted highlight was McLachlan telling us that the last time we'd started 8-0 "Ron Barassi was in his first year as coach". Which is correct. He was at Carlton, but whoever wrote that fun fact obviously failed to make it clear. Darcy chimed in with "in 1956..." then after a pause which suggested a correction coming through the earpiece he corrected himself to 1965. And this is the better of the Channel 7 call teams. 

Words With Fiends
You may have heard, and if you haven't you no doubt will, that I'm going pro with an honest to goodness, real life, proper book. You may remember some light sizzle for this project about a year ago, suffice to say it's taken a while to get to this point. The focus is the 1964 season, the characters involved, and the bonkers way we won our 12th flag but there's also plenty about the death spiral plummet that followed. I think it's pretty good, and hope you will too. 

This time a professional publisher is involved so not only can you buy it from actual stores from July 7, but you can contribute to Jeff Bezos' next divorce settlement by pre-ordering on Amazon now.

There are pre-order options on a bunch of other sites, but none that have ego-feeding bestseller charts. I had a brief stay at #1 in Amazon's eclectic selection of 'American Football' books (featuring Australian rules, Rugby League, Soccer, and even the odd one about actual American Football) on Sunday, and while that's hardly the New York Times bestseller list it's still a buzz for a rank amateur. Thanks for your ongoing support of my on and offline antics.  

(And yes, everyone except the publisher hopes the title will be rendered irrelevant by the end of September).

Next Week
We've got Carlton at the MCG next Sunday, and as if I don't already have enough on my plate flogging products there's the minor matter of the birth of Demonblog Jr. II about 18 hours later. So you'll forgive me if I sit this one out with no regrets. I'll be firing up the megawall and warming up for the miracle of life with a Sunday of slurry. This will also impact delivery time for the post, I'm sure you understand.

I'll cop starting as favourites given our lofty position but you'd be mad to think this will be a walk in the park. Other than absolutely mugging them in 2018, they have regularly pushed us in recent years. When they were seemingly cruising to victory against Footscray I was half scared and half glad that they might be set for a comedown the following week, now I'm 100% convinced they're going to start angry. Here's to treating that idea with contempt and shutting the game down ASAP. 

While I'm concerned about Eddie Betts' career best form and our vulnerability to small forwards, there's got to be something for us in their leaky backline. It may end in a Hocking-friendly shootout but if we turn up at 100% we should win. I'll take anything as long as it ends in a 9-0 record but get the sense that after so many tough games there's a letdown in our near future.

Jones not even making the sub this week doesn't bode well for his future prospects, but I can see him being restored to the job next week. Chandler has to play in the VFL, so why not park somebody on the bench who knows what he's doing and can deal with heading straight back into the fray (if required) without having played the previous week.

Otherwise, I can't see any need for changes unless there are injury issues. I've got concerns over Brayshaw and Melksham long-term but can't fault their contribution here. Apologies to all MFC listed players at Casey - who didn't get to play this week because some bloke in Sydney caught the big one - but you're just going to have to wait for somebody else to fall over.

IN: Jones (to sub)
OUT: Chandler (to VFL)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: Chandler, Weideman

Final Thoughts
The good news is that we're all but sure to avoid the wooden spoon, and it's been a while since you could say that after Round 8. More importantly, from 8-0 a side would have to be either desperately unlucky or negligent to miss finals. I'm still not allowing myself to look any further than how many wins we are ahead of 9th. Once we cannot mathematically be dislodged from the top eight I'll brew up a top four Bradbury Plan, until then sitting four wins clear of the 6th-12th battle royale will do me quite nicely.

3 comments:

  1. Definitely GOTW but what about Sizzle's goal for Demonblog GOTY? Great agility from somebody who's not expected to twist and turn through traffic then snap one on his non-preferred foot.
    I reckon I could have named most of 14 players to have kicked 6 goals or more post-1989. The Bruce would not have been one of them.
    I think I caught a glimpse of Mitch Hannan playing for the Bulldogs yesterday. Good luck to him if it was, he certainly wouldn't be getting a game with us right now.

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  2. Might I suggest a way to introduce the number eight Adam?
    -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wdhy2tzyrfk

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  3. Great write up as always Adam, We have an amazing ability to play to the lowest denominator regardless of our ability, I am actually more concerned about this week than last.

    At least May and Lever likely make life more difficult for McKay but it will certainly be a reasonble test for Petty.

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Crack the sads here...