Monday, 3 May 2021

The last shall be first

Given how many time we've opened our account in an otherwise putrid season by springing a wacky upset, it's only fair that somebody would do it to us eventually. This was not the day, even if I was tempted to drink Domestos during the second quarter.

It was an appropriate week to stumble upon this match preview from 1993, when all we had to do was beat a Sydney side that had lost its last 26 games. Replace 'Sydney' with 'North Melbourne' (just the mere 21 losses of their last 22), 'Balme' with 'Goodwin' and this could have gone out Sunday morning without anyone noticing the difference.

That day the alarm bells rang correctly, ending in the biggest upset loss of my supporting life. Like the famous Essendon comeback a year earlier, it's a result that has scarred me for life. So, while everything turned out for the best, you will forgive me for spending the week on high alert for a five alarm shambles.

The weekend of Kangaroo related festivities began with Casey stomping their reserves into dust on Thursday night. All you need to know about that result is that bookies sent North B in with a +99.5 point start and they failed to cover it. Even the oft-forgotten Casey VFLW side dismantled their Arden Street equivalent. Our record against them this week was so strong that if football clubs still did eSports, M(ario)FC would have rescued the Princess while they were still splashing around in World 2-2.

All that would have counted for nought if the seniors lost. The general public and most North fans refused to accept the possibility but long-term Demon enthusiasts were on guard. The concept that we would never be allowed nice things - even temporary ones - was further reinforced when Footscray lost on Friday night, meaning a win by any margin (or, less desirably, a draw) would leave us sitting alone at the top of the ladder as the AFL's only undefeated team. What could possibly etc...

There was an optimistic group that still spoke of percentage boosting landslide wins, and I respect their efforts to try and will the 'new' Melbourne to show up, even if I thought they should be locked up under the Mental Health Act. I was just happy to win a banana skin game, which shows that my head is still in "when is this going to turn bad?" territory.  

I was worried on so many levels, including the addition of Ben Brown to a forward line that may not have been kicking huge scores but had been doing enough to win. I was excited about him playing, just fearful that altering the balance of our attack would cause everything to go haywire. I won't relax until I see a flag, but ask Bayley Fritsch how he enjoyed having somebody take the focus off him.

Another reason for concern was the best defence in the league coming up against a side averaging seven goals a game. If it were two neutral teams you'd expect it to end with the lesser one kicking 4.8.32 and losing comfortably, but I was still terrified of a reverse. They did kick their highest score since August, ultimately to no avail but concerning for the first three quarters before they died in the arse. Our record in last quarters proves that Burgessball survived the pandemic, but you can't expect it to work every time. On this occasion it did and everyone is happy. North fans less so, but hopefully we've warmed them up for a hilarious win over Collingwood next week.

Now that I'm a master of not accidentally clicking the 'watch live' button on Kayo, my plan was to maximise sleep by getting up at 3pm and hooking straight into the game on a laptop without even getting up. In Bed With Mercado would have worked flawlessly if I hadn't woken up at about 1.40 and not been able to sleep again for wondering how the game was going. Years ago when you knew we were going to lose interstate games by up to 110 points it would have been much easier to doze off and catch up later.

I don't know how many others go to such ridiculous lengths to watch games on delay, but you always know in the back of your mind that it's not real viewing because you could just skip forward and find out the score/result at the touch of a button. I was certainly tempted for much of the first half here, correctly deducing that things could only get better. If I'd landed anywhere after time it would have been ok, but at the break we were 19 points down and heading for catastrophe.

When you're trying to pack a full game into the smallest possible viewing window, including hitting the +15 second button at least three times between every goal, there's no time to relax, it is just two hours of non-stop feelings. One quarter ends, a few button presses later the next one starts. 

This means missing the pre-match news, such as the latest chapter in Jack Viney's long list of toe related mishaps. The trouble started in 2017, carried into 2018, and was declared over just in time to play a ripping finals series. And indeed that seemed to be the end of it, playing almost all of the next two seasons. This pre-season he tried something different by having surgery on the other end of his foot, before this latest little piggy related setback. They say he'll be out 2-3 weeks, to which I'm sure everyone almost said "yeah right". Sadly we believe the injury was not suffered while kicking the person who stole his car last Saturday night to death.

He was replaced by Oskar Baker, which is almost the least like-for-like substitution on the face of the planet. Other than them both looking like the kind of person who might kick a car thief to death, they are nothing alike. Viney's injury must have cropped up sometime after Tom Sparrow played for Casey on Thursday night, as you'd have thought he'd be the closest thing to replicating our winning formula. Viney's form has been up and down but we already struggled to win clearances. I didn't like losing him, but by the time I realised he was gone we were already well on our way to being thrashed at stoppages. 

Sadly, it's clear that Nathan Jones is no longer seen as an option, failing to win a reprieve from being demoted to substitute. It was a fair enough selection decision but seemed a bit harsh to submit the paperwork as flat out 'omitted' without covering up via weasel-words like 'rested' or 'managed'. It would have been the most obvious swizz in history but if anyone's earned the right to have their omission covered up - no matter how unconvincingly - it's him. 

It seemed obvious that he'd be the substitute, so I wondered if there was some obscure rule that says you can't play somebody in any capacity if they've been declared 'managed', but as the substitute rule was invented out 24 hours before the season started that seems unlikely . If he runs down Neitz's 306 record via a few Kade Chandler-esque 100% tracksuit time it will feel a bit cheap, but in the short term he's probably a good option for the sub role.

In the end, Jones almost played a full game, and while I'll cherish any time left with the great man it was a bit grim that his good fortune came from Adam Tomlinson blowing his knee. There's bad luck (ask three time knee victim Aaron Nietschke), then there's finding yourself playing a blinder in a role that you weren't recruited to do, then losing 12 months of your career in the blink of an eye. I don't know if you'd have said it halfway through last year, but his absence will leave a big hole in our side.

Short of life-threatening injuries, there is genuinely nothing more tragic in footy than the victim of a serious knee injury. I've never done a knee or been a professional sportsman (and I suppose the latter is out of the question now), but I can only imagine the psychological trauma you go through in those moments. You could see the difference between him hobbling into the medical room then coming out near tears, obviously having been told that the knee looks cactus. And it's not like he's an 18-year-old with all the time in the world, while he'll only be 29-years-old when he returns and will get every opportunity to break back into the team you'd have to go to bed that night thinking 'is this it?' Am I ever going to be able to play the same way?' Will it happen again?' 'will I come back to a team that has moved on without me" etc...

We have, fingers crossed, been lucky with knees in recent years. Other than Petracca in his first pre-season and Lever in 2018 our top players have escaped unscathed (NB: I will not be held responsible if there's a raft of knee injuries from here). Tomlinson was understandably emotion under the circumstances, and I almost had a tear at one point where he looked particularly shattered, but Fox went a bit over the top showing him on the verge of breaking down every few minutes for the rest of the afternoon. And god knows how many shots I missed skipping the breaks. It was like when planes crash and news crews head straight to the airport for footage of wailing relatives. We hope for a medical miracle that means the injury isn't as bad as it looks, but if worst comes to worst we'll always have his valuable contribution to this mad winning streak.

Part of the 'fun' of playing teams at the bottom of the ladder is that they usually bring about 17 different Kingsley kontenders and you've got to work out which one is going to give us the most trouble. Nobody did enough to earn an official nomination here, but it was almost a Team Kingsley, considering how many times players that only North enthusiasts would have ever heard of were left dashing about without an opponent.

If there's anything to quibble about going 7-0, it's that we haven't delivered a bell-to-bell thrashing yet. We've only grabbed a lead and held it all day against Freo and Geelong, and had to withstand challenges both times. Every other week we've had to clamber out of a Stranglewank Lite hole, coming back from 16 down against St Kilda, 18 against GWS, 10 against Hawthorn, 15 against Richmond and 19 here. It's a credit to our fighting capabilities that we've come back to win all four games comfortably but you wouldn't want to be trying this every week.

After absorbing 15 minutes of pressure last week before coming back like Muhammad Ali in Zaire to knock the reigning premiers out, I vowed not to get excited by a slow start this time. Then the worst stoppage side in the competition effortlessly created two goals from stoppages and I was swearing like a wharfie. When Tomlinson went down as if shot shortly after, I was looking for some sort of assistance line to call. Fritsch crumbed a steadier, but after a bump left him clutching his head like he was dead too I thought this was the cosmic payback for when GWS collapsed due to bulk injuries. It was only a temporary setback, and he got the second as well.

This was more like it. You didn't need a fancy/randomly generated 'pressure gauge' to see that we weren't going at it full pelt but had drawn level anyway. We looked dangerous going inside 50 but were terrifyingly vulnerable when they got the ball, dinking their way down the ground via a series of uncontested marks, setting up last kicks inside 50 that were going towards their players rather than straight down the throats of May and Lever. It's no surprise that teams, even the ones who can't win a game, have worked out the insanity of continually bombing it to our defenders. 

Now that we'd belatedly got going I hoped that our third goal, as lucky as it was to be punched over a pack and into the path of Jackson, would be enough to crush North's fragile spirit. Alas no, first they added another to our significant catalogue of goals immediately wasted out of the centre, then some rookie who looked about 14-years-old smashed through a set shot from distance. It was worrying that they were finding so much space. Having the best defence in the league isn't going to help if the other side has time to pick and choose their targets. What was worrying this time was that this particular opposition was averaging about 50 points a game until now and their best full forward was standing down the other end in our colours.

Fans with a long memory will remember the Gawn vs Goldstein heavyweight clash on the same ground in 2016. Max had been good in the second half of the previous year but that was the day he officially qualified as next big thing. Jackson couldn't get near Goldstein in the ruck duels here, but around the grounds he was eye-wateringly good for a 19-year-old. In his six games last year he did well when he got the ball but was still learning how to find it in senior company, now we're comfortable giving him more responsibility and he is - quite frankly - kicking arse. In this testimonial season for former two time Rising Star nominee Nathan Jones, it would be appropriate if Jackson was not only nominated twice but won the whole thing thing. Given what the award did to the careers of Jared Rivers (injury-plagued) and Jesse Hogan (generally ordinary luck in all facets of life) we might want to sabotage his campaign.

Like last week the quarter time margin, this time five points, seemed simultaneously generous and unfair to us. We'd looked dangerous going inside 50, even if Brown was struggling to come to terms with playing against non-VFL defenders. There was one moment that pointed to the possibility of great things when he gets going, a long-distance set shot from an angle where he infringed on Hawthorn's territory by starting the run up from Launceston and went within millimetres of clearing the defender on the line. 

It was very much the Ben Brown experience advertised when he arrived, find a way to get the ball into his hands and reap the benefits. We didn't do it enough here but, in the famous words of Goodwin during his unpopular years, the connection will improve. As much as I refused to believe we'd win this by any sort of margin I did harbour sick fantasies about him wiping out the all-time record for most goals in #50 (seven) in one afternoon. Not quite, but to the delight of people who love unusual numbers he's almost a third of the way there.

While I didn't expect the same sort of blistering second quarter as last week, conceding the first goal had me ready to punch on again. Appropriately it was set up by Ben Cunnington, famous for actually punching on with Bernie Vince's guts a few years ago while wearing grinning maniacally. He would be one of only a handful of North players left who remember not losing to us for 4248 days. Now that we've extended our streak against them to... err... two wins, let's go for the 20 in a row between 1953 and 1965 that only ended after we sacked Norm Smith at 8pm the night before the game.

Lengthy streaks were the furthest thing from my mind as they lobbed through their fifth set shot, while down the other end we were struggling to create chances from of chaos. Both methods are valid, but it stands to reason that the team finding uncontested marks amongst what is purported to be the league's best backline are having an easier time of things. I did not like how this was going. Can't say I've seen this script before, because even the 1993 Sydney fiasco came when we were a bog ordinary side trying to get back into the finals race, not playing to go top of the league a respectable way through the season. That is was a new experience made it no less distressing.

It's not that we were playing particularly badly, just not keeping the ball out of their hands for long enough or going forward to any structure. It took another Pickett turbo run to get us going. He plucked a loose ball out of the air while running felt pelt towards the boundary, turned inside 50, resisted his natural urge to have a low percentage shot and instead set the ball up for Langdon to mark. Draft coverage is so tedious that I don't really want to watch them the first time, but between him, Jackson and Rivers I could almost be convinced to see this one again while breathing into a paper bag to stay calm.

If I hadn't spent years sarcastically referring to boring people as Mr. Electricity, the moniker would suit Pickett perfectly. Admittedly, I did let out an exasperated, almost cliched 'just have a shot!' when it came off his boot, because unlike Kysaiah (who finally had his real name used on commentary, just so the otherwise sensible Anthony Hudson could rhyme it with 'fire') I am not a visionary. Langdon still had to win a one-on-one marking contest and kick the goal but he could not have been provided any better opportunity by the pass.

For the second time we kicked goals in a burst to - seemingly - get back in the contest. Straight out of the middle a ball squirmed over the top for Brown to soccer through, a method for his first goal that you'd have got offered long odds on before the bounce. As the nicest man since Ed Langdon I thought he might do the old soccer style 'don't celebrate when scoring against your own side' but couldn't help getting excited. He soon discovered the harsh realities of playing forward for Melbourne when his good work was cancelled out at the other end. Unlike previous spearhead incumbents McDonald and Hogan, we were kind enough to wait two minutes instead of standing back and letting them walk the reply through from the middle.

The same class of Richmond fans who can't win enough premierships to get over Tom Bugg 'shhhing' them would have been fanging for us to lose this so they could retrospectively hang shit on Pickett for inviting A.N Other to review the scoreboard last week. He was doing everything possible to guard against shenanigans blowback, following his earlier pinpoint goal assist by getting on the end of a chain of handballs to bring the margin back under a goal. Christ knows how we'd ended up being the team hanging around like an unflushable nugget against 0-6 strugglers but I was just glad to be in a position for when North - I hoped - ran out of youthful enthusiasm. How many times in our total wank years were we in the same scenario, holding on against better teams until you were sucked in by hope before crumbling. To be fair, probably not nearly as often as the times we were demolished straight out of the blocks but it did happen occasionally.

We responded to this good fortune by conceding from the square to a forward who'd kicked 0.2 in five games. Back to being the AFL's equivalent of the Make A Wish Foundation. In my twisted, damaged mind it was starting to look like we were never going to get on top. Either of the game or the ladder.

As excited as I am by obscure MFC related topics, I've never paid attention to Bayley Fritsch's clapping style, but from the footage of Brown being presented his jumper (sadly not by a great #50 like Kevin Dyson) and his applause of the crowd while coming off at the end, Fritsch's wrist cannot be anywhere near 100%. Declaring players in less than prime fitness is a long-term hobby of mine, and I'll throw Gawn into the same mix, but that Nintendo Power Glove must be carrying a heavy load because once it was off he was basically doing hand/forearm claps instead of the standard method. 

Maybe it was the arm concerns that caused him to fend a North player off with a forearm to the face. The good news is that the precedent set by Tom Hawkins avoiding sanction for accidentally caving in Steven May's face with a swinging elbow means there's no possible way they can suspend Fritsch. Even if he'd gotten a token fine it would be hard to argue Fritsch getting the same, but if he's cited for this it will prove that Hawkins benefited from a 100% Famous Face discount. 

Whatever he might have done to this poor, anonymous North player, his wrist issues (please, let's retain some decorum here) didn't affect him where it mattered. He helped win the game off his own boot with four second half goals, shattering his personal best. And what a lovely set of goals they were too, a perfect mixture of crumb and set shots.

Then, just as it looked like we might get to half time a few points down and be set up to charge home in the second half, came the mini-collapse that had me turning the air blue. Sure, the first should have been halted by a free kick for some bastard sitting on Lever in the forward pocket but conceding a second DemonTime special straight after had me ready to denounce everyone. I was so upset that I didn't bother to watch the last 30 seconds of the quarter, rage forwarding straight to the start of the second half.

A 19 point margin was hardly fatal, but I was bleeding from every orifice at our carelessness in letting the two late goals in. Sure, the free kick that should have stopped the first would have probably meant the second wasn't kicked either but you'll go mad relying on umpires to look after you. Their impossible job works in your favour sometimes (e.g. May getting away with a blatant push when the game was still on the line early in the last quarter) but you can't blame them for not beating a side that is at its lowest ebb since before Barassi took over.

Speaking of umpires, as scores continued to slide further towards the historic lows of 2019, further chaos came from a random war on players moving on the mark, and from an even more arbitrary approach to judging distance than usual. If the new rules are meant to do what I think they are, it seems better to err on the side of caution and pay any kick that looks like it's gone 15 metres in order to create a mark and keep the play going. Instead, going the other way and assuming line-ball kicks hadn't gone the distance (hello Jeremy Cameron) just caused more hasty kicks to contests and stoppages. I'm as shocked as you are that the AFL's 'rule of the week' would directly conflict with their 'rule of the season'. The only consolation is that these crackdowns usually only last a week.

Still on a long delay and very keen to see the end of what I expected to be another sub-six point Bellerive thriller live (if only to share my disappointment with others), there was no opportunity for half-time reflection. Watching like this isn't good for your mental health, half time is too long but you need some sort of break. Imagine how much more stressed I'd have been if I'd gotten out of bed yet? It had a touch of the John Lennon and Yoko Ono about it, except that I was in there on my own. Incidentally, a recent look at the Yoko discography reveals that she's probably a Melbourne fan. Song titles like I Felt Like Smashing My Face In A Clear Glass WindowWhat A Bastard The World IsIt's Been Very Hard, and Walking On Thin Ice betray the sort of understanding of life's misfortunes that you only get from following the Dees.

Had we lost here there's every chance that What A Bastard The World Is would have been the title of the post. Just because you're expecting something bad to happen doesn't make it any easier when it does. The most frustrating thing, for now anyway, was that we were constantly on the verge of breaking through before letting them back into it. This will no more determine the course of our season than the rampage against Richmond, but you would hope lessons were learnt for next week.

The emergency circumstances of Tomlinson's injury and the prospect for North's collection of forward randoms to win the game off their own booth finally prompted Goodwin to put McDonald into defence. The last few weeks saw his best form since late 2018, this time he couldn't get near it. Given how much work he does up the ground I can't think the dip was purely because Brown was picked, but under the circumstances I was happy to see how he went back in his natural habitat. Doesn't look like we'll ever get to have the piss-on for him reaching a goal a game average. 

I'll leave it to assistant coaches and game analysis experts to decide how much McSizzle going back contributed, but the switch coincided with North's forward line clocking off. After looking like combining for a group Kingsley in the first half they only got two more goals. I would suggest it was more down to supply being cut off by decent pressure for the first time all day but McDonald did look comfortable down there. At the moment I certainly trust him as third tall more than Petty. This may change rapidly if he unloads a couple old school howlers while trying to pinpoint unnecessarily precise 40 metre passes.

It was obvious soon after the break - 20 minutes for you, about 20 seconds for me - that we had finally turned up. The only problem was that the more goals you are behind the less room there is for error, there was still scope to smash the door down in front of goal for the next hour and still fall a few points short. Like last time in Hobart, and the time before that, and the time before that

Kicking a goal barely a minute after the restart was a nice settler. While Brown was still trying hard to get on the end of everything, the main event on this day were Pickett and Fritsch, who combined again. Whether the ball remained in play or not is up for debate but Pickett's gather on the boundary and turn to get free was already a thing of beauty, before a wonderfully solid handball into the ground that pitched perfectly into Fritsch's hands to turn and kick a close-range banana. That was more like it. Letting them get it back two minutes later was not. Nobody does it better.

That was probably the peak of my frustration. It was also our prompt - for about the fourth time, but permanent at last - to try and win it. We plowed out of the middle for Spargo to get another before a tremendous cockup in the North backline ended in Fritsch toe-poking his fourth to reduce the margin to seven.

More Pickett action followed shortly after, lifting the nation's spirits in these divided times by contributing to a move on the wing, then running on to pluck the ball out of the air after Brown was spoiled, charging into an open goal at a million miles an hour and never looking like missing. You might have noticed I'm into text and plenty of it, but words don't do the Kysaiah experience justice. I wish North no ill will and hope they get as much enjoyment out of the players acquired with the picks we traded for him but I bet the three combined won't have a highlights package 10% as good as what Pickett's going to deliver by the time he's finished. Added bonus - annoys opposition fans.

This was all much appreciated, but we were still behind. Enter, from the conventional route at last, Ben Brown. Wasn't much in the free kick, but the setup was sublime. Jackson turning in traffic and dropping a perfect pass on Melksham, who instantly turned and smashed a bullet towards Brown. I've got trust issues, so even the graphic that showed he was about 20/25 from the the same spot during his career didn't convince me. But the Cliff Young style run-up delivered the goods and at last we were ahead. His excessive technique will also come in handy when we're trying to waste time late in games. 

Turns out we were never to give up the lead but I wouldn't have had $20 on it at the time. Fritsch's fifth extended the margin beyond a kick, but multiple missed opportunities in the next few minutes made me feel like we were being set up for a stooging. All the key factors were in our favour and North had slowed to a crawl but we were 36 points from the Chris Sullivan Line so it was all still to play for.

Last week we started the last quarter way further in front and I was ticking off two minute blocks to get to the point of no return when Petracca kicked the sealer. This time the clock was running down rapidly, but with nobody kicking goals it left us vulnerable. Enter Ben Cunnington, the man most likely to lead his young and in some cases no good teammates to a famous victory that would be talked about long after his retirement. Extra fear points from the novelty way he got the first goal, with a kick over the top nearly rolling out of bounds, before gathering at the last minute and running around a wank-handed tackle like he his name was K. Pickett.

At the time goals from unusual sources who were shaping up to carry 21 men over the line were cause for elevated blood pressure. Once the game was over and the points in the bank a purely rational view is that it's part of the process that helped us win the game. What if they got a goal from the next inside 50, then the next seven? You never know with us. Sorry, force of habit, I forgot we're good now. 

After being walloped at clearances most of the day we finally got on top in the last, mainly through Oliver finally busting the shackles on the bloke who'd been niggling him all day. The crucial goal from a stoppage, however, came from the newly re-signed Double J James Jordon, who burst onto a loose ball and sliced it over the head of a defender at the Large Mysterious Windows end. After the shock revelation last week that it had only been three years since we'd have a 6-0 player, he has gone beyond Spargo and extended his unbeaten streak to seven. We might not have had anyone do that since Tom Wills.

That created breathing space. Still not enough to get comfortable about but by now North was kicking against the metaphorical wind, and we walked the ball out of the middle against scant resistance for the Hamburglar to cap off a great quarter with the sealer. The floodgates were finally open, and barely a minute later Petracca being called to play on for taking a step led to him just lobbing a casual kick to a pack, and because everything was going our way Fritsch marked it. I thought this one, from right in the 3131 district would trip him up on the verge of an era adjusted bag but through it went. My theory about his tender hand flew straight out the window when he celebrated by high fiving everyone. Maybe he does just have an NQR clapping style? Please review vision of him on and off field since his debut and work out whether he used that method pre-injury. Answers on a postcard to 'Does It Really Matter?' c/o Demonblog Towers.

It was hardly a furious rampage like the end of the Hawthorn game but enjoyable nonetheless. Pickett gave us one to go on with in the dying minutes, featuring some more hot shoe shuffle action, albeit this time through defenders who'd lost the will to live.  They're all important for percentage, but more important for our players getting up the bloodlust to kick more in the future. It was far from our best performance of the year - seems we save them for the likes of Geelong and Richmond - but under the circumstances it was just fine. I'd hate to try and rope-a-dope our way from three goals down in the opening quarter of a final, but for Round 7 at Bellerive Oval it did the trick.

As much as I'm trying to play down being top of the ladder due to it ultimately meaning bugger all at this stage of the season, I still wanted to see proof that we were the last unbeaten side in the competition. Considering how hard we'd made it look, Fox Footy showed admirable restraint in not displaying a live ladder until after the siren. It is a good thing, and an achievement considering many of us though the coach would be filling in Centrelink forms by now, but let's not go too far over the top. The famous Round 18, 2004 game against Hawthorn has been discussed at length in recent posts, and I will never forget people going boonta for going top via an uninspiring win against a lowly team only to lose the last six games of the season, dumping us to fifth and out of finals at the first hurdle.

Nobody should be comfortable, or satisfied, by the fact that we're mathematically better than 17 other sides after seven games, but one thing you can say in our favour is that we've won against a wide-variety of opposition. Two against top four contenders, two against also-rans, and three against flaky mid-table mediocrities. You literally don't get platforms like this to build a season on every year. Indeed, we could go 6-9 from here (note: please don't go 6-9) and still be guaranteed a finals berth.

By the end, I felt like Ben Brown. Battered, bruised and bleeding but ultimately happy at the result. He looked more like an escaped mental patient than the lady from Arcade Fire but playing for Melbourne will do that for you. I think we like him. I certainly do. 

Everyone got what they came for. Brown went for medical treatment before bleeding to death, I got up and ate toast, Melbourne fans and their sympathisers saw another win. I'm growing quite accustomed to it.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Bayley Fritsch
4 - Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Luke Jackson
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Christian Petracca

Major apologies to Lever, May or Salem, any of who could have had the last vote. Many others very good, despite the overall flat performance.

Leaderboard
As Oliver rides his last quarter heroics to grab a share of the overall lead, it's becoming crowded at the top of the leaderboard, with four players within one BOG of the top two. No movement in the minors, with Salem retaining his narrow lead in the Seecamp and the Hilton still looking headed down the 'no eligible player' route for the first time in 15 years.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Not an easy week, with a lot of well taken crumbs and goals on the run but nothing even remotely challenging for the overall lead. I'm going for the Fritsch one that he snapped after Pickett did not in any way carry the ball over the boundary line. For the weekly prize Bayley wins a new trophy cabinet in which to hang his Coleman Medal. How they laughed with Gawn tipped him to win it last year, now there's an outside chance it could happen. Blimey.

The clubhouse leader remains Pickett's rapid fire spelunking through the pack and snap against St Kilda.

Next Week
It's Sydney on Saturday night at the MCG, in another opportunity to put away a top eight contender. A couple of weeks ago they were charter members of the Unbeaten Club Superleague, before losing the expansion doomsday double. Though there would be nothing more Sydney than style triumphing over substance, their win over Geelong (albeit with the aid of faulty measurement) has put them back in the mix for the top four.

I don't know how seriously you can compare this season to last, but I'm keen to see what we've learnt from that season-slaughtering loss in Cairns. Not to mention nine of our other last 10 games against them. They've had our measure for years so this is a high alert danger scenario, especially if we allow them as much space as North got in the first half. There simply has to be a letdown at some point and I suspect it's going to be here. Probably better than losing to Carlton the week after, not as good as getting to Round 11 unbeaten and playing the Bulldogs in our highest profile home and away match since god only knows when.

Shame Franklin isn't playing, it would have been good to appear one last time at the MCG before Lever and May tormented him into retiring. On the other hand, last time they didn't need the stars to clean us up, with some bloke who looked like Justin Trudeau and has presumably never had a kick since running riot.

For once we've got an unfriendly selection dilemma, needing to replace both Viney and Tomlinson for an extended period/the rest of the season respectively. Baker is the obvious out in favour of an actual inside midfielder, and as much as I like Harmes he could do with a more competitive VFL run. Sparrow has done enough for me this year to come straight in. The good news for romantics is that after Jones played effectively a full game here there's nothing to stop us from starting him on the bench again.

The Tomlinson replacement is the hard one. I know full well that Goodwin hates playing McDonald in defence but surely it's the way to go, and least to start with. Petty was alright against Hawthorn's insignificant forward line and should get a go at some point but should have to fight his way back in via the 2s.

Weideman remains unlucky. On one hand, if McDonald plays in defence that creates a space for him to come back, on the other the Jackson/McSizzle/Brown combo didn't do much against North so can we trust them against better sides? I wouldn't scream the house down if we picked him but I'd rather somebody smaller. So, after sitting on his arse for 100% of two games already this season Chandler gets a go. While Brown is finding his way there's going to be a lot of ground ball, I know he's not a classic crumber but feels like there will be more benefit than another tall - especially when it's projecting to be damp on Saturday night.

IN: Chandler, Sparrow
OUT: Jones (to sub), Baker (omit), Tomlinson (inj)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: Petty, Weideman

I thought we'd win this week and was tormented for three quarters. Going back to assuming the worst and hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Final Thoughts

Confucius say those who stumble into the lead of a marathon a third of the way through usually go home under a sheet, but for now you won't find me complaining. It was, for the seventh week in a row, certainly better than the alternative.

2 comments:

  1. I never bought Goodwin's insistence that Sizzle wouldn't go back into defence if required.
    I was surprised to see Jesse bob up for GWS. We traded Hogan to Freo because he was homesick. So if he's willing to leave WA, doesn't that he mean he comes back to Melbourne? (not that we need another tall forward right now)
    Adam - the blog wasn't allowing comments last week after the stirring win but I see that someone was able to on Friday. I was going to say that the rollicking 2021 start is on the back of a solid second half in 2020 as Goodwin acknowledged (assuming we erase those 5 horrible days in Cairns).

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  2. I see Fritsch is still eligible for the Brownlow should he miss out on the Coleman.
    During our darkest years a forearm to the head like that would have cost our player 3 weeks. Funny how luck runs with the winners.

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