Monday, 28 June 2021

Saturday Night Lever

Hard to imagine being12-2, basically sealing a finals spot before the end of June, sitting a game clear on top, beating one of the league's form teams and still not being happy, but here we are. It's not that the win wasn't greatly appreciated, but expectations are through the roof and I still think we can play a lot better. The four points are grand, sending Essendon fans home screaming about injustice is even better, but I will be vigorously buggered if that was a premiership-winning performance.

The good news is that just as premierships aren't won in June, nor are they lost when you're a 99.9% chance of making the finals. That number is good enough that even I'll accept we've made it. This gives us eight games to a) hope our good run with injuries continues, and b) iron out some of the kinks that have stopped us delivering any wall-to-wall thumpings so far.

Defensive strangulations are wonderful, I'm just not convinced you can stretch it all the way from Round 1 to a flag. Even Sydney 2005, renowned as the most boring team ever to win silverware (and who cares as long as you're winning it), went 15-7, finished third and lost a final in the first week. I dream of Lever and May bookending their season by tormenting Freo on the MCG in Round 1 and [insert team here] at the same place on Grand Final Day, but have been so damaged by watching this team for 32 years that I can't imagine it happening.

Of course, in the unlikely event of ultimate success we'd look back with the rosest tinted glasses and agree that it was the greatest strategy ever and who needs a killer forward line? Right now there is also the small matter of being the third highest scoring side in the league and having beaten the only two above us, but it might be The Fear talking but that all just seems false to me. I'd argue that with shitloads of regular season and finals to go, trying to defend our arses off and kick a slightly higher score is a bit risky. Sometimes it works, sometimes you lose to Collingwood.

The defence was fantastic again, as they have been for most of the year, but without anyone who we can rely on to kick a score week in, week out, we're always teetering on the brink of disaster. Holding the opposition to 57 is great, but the way we struggled to get 68 should have everyone nervously tugging at their collar. It also helps when the opposition forward delivery plays right into our hands, perhaps more than any side since Round 1. That's not going to happen every week, a backup plan of kicking 20 goals every once in a while would be handy.

It's like we're trying the reverse of 2018, where the attack carried us all the way to Perth, before a brave but overwhelmed trio of Frost, McDonald O and Smith collapsed in a heap. This time there's an unhealthy reliance on the backline to get us out of trouble. It came off here, but if we're serious our performance wasn't much better than against the Pies, it just happened on a better ground. Fortunately, we still think the Grand Final is going to be played on the MCG. Let's hope the full mirror image of 2018 doesn't end in a prelim loss where Fritsch, McDonald and Jackson/Weideman/either Brown/OTHER combine for 0.0.

In every aspect other than kicking a menacing score, this was an enjoyable performance. Giving another mid-table mediocrity a head start was frustrating, but the modern stranglewank is almost our trademark now. The defence was great, the midfield did their job, fringe players were mostly on, and despite the forwards still being lost in the SCG Bermuda Triangle we restricted the opposition score to the point where midfielders could chip in with enough goals to win. Nine goals wasn't many by modern standards, but unlike Collingwood, the Bombers helped us by attacking as if drunk.

No apologies for thinking this was a danger game. You can't trust 'next big thing' chat, but a week of Essendon being talked of as a dynasty in the making (off the back of beating titans like North and Hawthorn) had me worried. We got away with it eventually, but not before wasting a first quarter featuring multiple botched chances. There were already signs that Essendon would struggle to kick a decent score, but if the opposition kicks 2.10.22 (hello Richmond) you only need to fluke 23 to win.

Though the forwards were still psychologically in Sydney, our success was built on a return to the defensive values that have got us where we are today. A couple of their midfielders were on pace for about 70 disposals early in the game, but as they were mostly sideways while desperately trying to find a way across the minetrap midfield the only benefits were for Supercoach wankers. And when they finally broke through the forwards were offered the sort of hopeless long kicks that our million dollar defence eat for breakfast.

While May was very good again, and Petty goes from strength to strength, I was gaga for Lever. After a rocky start, not helped by blowing his knee just as he was settling in, he's been very good for the last 12 months and this might have been the best yet. I've been critical of him punching in contests when he could have marked (but really, how much shit would be hung on him if he cost us a goal by dropping it?) but on Saturday night he was marking everything that came near him opponents or not.

Not actually a defender, but doing almost as many defensive things, Angus Brayshaw continues to show super courage for somebody one major head knock from disaster. Whether he's the long term solution on the wing or not, this was almost as good as his game against the Bulldogs. After being critical of him earlier in the year Gus can smash me in the face with a specially prepared humble pie if his form carries into the finals. It's a nice balance to Langdon running up and down like Roger Bannister on the other side. Hunt also had one of his best games for the year, plowing out of defence at warp speed at every opportunity. I still think he's vulnerable to somebody simply getting in his way, but provided with open space he's off like a greyhound.

Given that our opening chances came through Brayshaw, Jordon and Jackson, it didn't look like a banner night for the usual suspects in our forward line (and indeed, it wasn't). The problem was they all missed. Nobody cares where goals come from, I just wanted somebody to kick straight. Accuracy is not a instant guide to success, we were in the positive in 2008 (shit), 2009 (shit by design) and 2013 (shittest), but it helps when we've got our centre bounce game going and could easily fling the ball straight back into attack.

It took Harmes, flashing back to his early training as a forward, to convert a set shot. For the rest of the night commentators encouraged him to tag one of their prolific ball winners. Can't see why, I'm a big fan of the 2018 style attacking Harmes tag but why should we care if all the opposition touches are coming where they don't do any damage? We had 282 disposals when we lost by 31 goals (shame the other side got 510), I doubt Geelong would have been all that concerned if one player had 50 of them. See also Gary Ablett's entire career at Gold Coast.

Unlike his much earlier goal against the Bulldogs, this wasn't the gateway to a high-scoring quarter. Spargo missed the chance to pour misery on them a couple of minutes later, before we spent the rest of it on the back foot, all that dominance wasted by inability to convert. 

It'll backfire when the next TV rights deal is worth a pittance and all our players have to get second jobs at Pizza Hut but there's something amusing about Channel 7 games without goals. You can just imagine somebody sitting there with a calculator working out how much money they're losing, having just watched Port and Sydney kick 10 goals in the first quarter on a channel with no in-play ads. Somebody with more time than me please confirm that there are heaps more goals kicked in Foxtel games than on Channel 7.

With nobody able to get past the Lever/May wall, it was dictionary definition of enigmatic Jake Stringer who got Essendon going. He was otherwise well held by Hibberd (booed by the home fans for having the audacity to leave the club that injected him with ???), but after being talked about as the second coming of Jebus last week, his few minutes on either side of quarter time left me packing it about him doing it again.

After a practice gallop through the middle for a shot that rolled into the post, he got an almost exact replica right shortly after. When they had another shot from close range soon after I was already ready to kick the virtual cat. The disease was catching because that missed, before we suffered our latest DemonTime outrage on the siren.

In a warm-up for things going bad at the end I angrily walked out of the Megawall Room when Essendon took the mark and attended to other business for a couple of minutes. By the time I returned ads were on and I had NFI if he'd kicked straight, having to open the AFL app on my phone to confirm we had surrendered the lead after a quarter of doing everything but placing the ball between the middle posts. Like most weeks this year, all was well that ended well, but it confirmed all my suspicions about our flimsy forward line. 

The Weid was an obvious out, and I initially cracked the sads that they didn't pick Ben Brown to replace him. Then when it pissed down raining all Friday I thought it might have actually been canny reading of the weather forecast. The outrage had to be reinstated on Saturday after realising there was not a cracker of precipitation in the air, confirmed by the driest BOM rain radar this side of Oodnadatta. Hopes of a late change were dashed, and win to not I still think it was a missed opportunity to start developing the structure we want to take into the finals. Is it too much to ask to strangle teams defensively while also kicking bumper scores? Even just once would be nice.

If that upset me, imagine the atmosphere when we conceded the first goal after the break as well? I don't usually acknowledge opposition goals but this was quite the finish, with a loose ball directed from hand to foot in the shortest possible time about 1cm out from the line. It was hard not to admire but that doesn't mean I was taking it well. On Sunday morning my daughter said "I knew the Demons were losing because I heard a swear word." Oops. Can't believe she only heard one, I was cursing like a sailor. 

More missed shots, including McSizzle for the second week in a row didn't help the atmosphere. It was clear that we were the better side, but also that they were capable of smashing on a few goals in a row and forcing us to play catch-up. The best of the misses came from Luke Jackson, who continues to impress but stuffed up royally taking a mark 15 metres out and playing on with the most craptacular attempt at rolling a goal through that you'll ever see. A minute later the Bombers made him feel better, allowing him to kick a goal anyway via tremendous defensive cock-up.

For classic MFC goalscoring blunders, it still had nothing on Russell Robertson against Hawthorn in 2009. With apologies to Gary Moss, quoth a much younger me:

He takes a great mark in the square, and while lying flat on the ground farcically tries to kick it through. Gary Moss (should I know who this is? Why is anyone called Gary in the 21st century?) says "I'll have that", grabs it out of mid-air and we don't even get a point. Think of Jamar trying to play on in the square against Essendon last year and botching it - then multiply by 50. At least Jamar scored one.  

These sorts of debacles are much easier to take in 2021, when you don't think every goal could be the last before the club is relocated to the Gold Coast. In this case it became the extremely rare 13 point play, with Spargo kicking a lovely snap straight out of the middle to put us in front. That didn't last long, with Peter Wright soon getting one down the other end. It's not like the man contractually obligated to be called 'Two metre Peter' at every opportunity has arrived at Windy... err Tullamarine... as the new Paul Salmon, but you still have to wonder why he couldn't get a game in a shite Gold Coast side. Like Jarryd Lyons being handed to Brisbane gratis, we won't find out until somebody does a hatchet job book on the Suns. Maybe their own media team could write it

This had nothing on Wright's last game against us at the 'G, injuring himself on the first shot of the game, then watching us romp to an eight goal lead by quarter time. How we didn't give our all-time record victory a shake that day is still a mystery to me. At the other end, Steven May was suffering no obvious psychological damage from debuting in a game where the Bombers were 100-1 in front a minute into the second quarter. If I could be remotely arsed doing the required interviews I'd write that Gold Coast book myself just to annoy Tony Cochrane.

Again, the quarter ended with us on the run. Now they were the ones missing piss easy shots, which came back to haunt them when we nicked a late one. Jordon made a surprise forward cameo and won a free. Didn't look like there was much in it, which was great news for Essendon fans who are compiling conspiracy spreadsheets, but goes back to what I said when Collingwood were paid that bullshit mark in front of goal last week. If you create enough aerial contests in front of goal you'll get eventually get lucky.

The game should have been won immediately after half time, when we were again all over them but unable to create goals. When we finally broke through for a double both had novelty value in their own special way. First Fritsch guided a bloke into the post and allowed McSizzle to kick over his head from the line, then the Bombers fell victim to the little-seen double 50 to gift Double J his second. 

The original penalty was for some administrative breach of standing on the mark conventions (and gee, weren't the media right about that rule revolutionising the game - as of this week we're up to 1.4 more points a game than 2019. I don't know if we can take this much excitement). Then the same player who the umpire had warned to stop yelling at him earlier got a bit fruity in his language and gave away the second. Bad luck.

When Petracca kicked a delightful set shot it looked like we'd broken their spirit. Like Gawn having a chat with the local oaf when we played Essendon a few years ago, his post-goal sarcastic wave at their fans wouldn't have been as much fun if we'd lost. As we recently discovered, the gent Maximum had 'words' with was later pulled in by the rozzers to deny car theft, so you take your life into your own hands getting into verbals with Melbourne players. The best part was the bloke who felt it was directed at him and leapt to his feet to appeal for... something. Did he want a free? I've got sympathy for people who instantly overreact in a silly way but that's why you don't sit where the cameras point. 

Not that you had many options at this game, which was part of the reason I didn't even bother trying to get one of the handful of tickets available to away fans. The Towers are currently a bloody madhouse so it's not like I'd have been able to justify going out anyway, but with few opportunities for crowd segregation I didn't fancy being stuck in the middle of footy's version of a Trump rally. Even Docklands - of all places - opened their top level for the friends/family attendance at the Collingwood/Freo game. Every Melbourne fan I know who went was within earshot of a freak.

As you know from my meltdown before the Hawthorn game, I hate sitting in the middle of crowds at the best of times, but a year and a bit of barely seeing anyone that I'm not related to has left me even more anti-social. It's a long wayfrom the mid-2000s, when I'd deliberately seek out nuffies to argue with. It can't have been for blog content, the post from Daniher's last game doesn't mention the loud, terse, argument I had with some Essendon stroker on the train home. Now, I can't think of anything worse. I note the member survey has just come out, feel free to ask them to demand the MCG brings back Row MM.

As next week will have about 43 opposition fans in the ground that seems the perfect time to return. No doubt this means a) losing unexpectedly, and b) being surrounded by Melbourne fans who give me the shits even more than opposition supporters. Don't suppose I can get a special exemption from the MCG to sit on Level 4 if I promise to clean up after myself? 

At the rate other states are going into Corona mode I wouldn't be surprised if Victoria cops another dose - because that's what we do - and the whole thing is called off. Imagine if they got through all the drama of last year then this season was cancelled just as we've got the chance to win something. We'll have to form a support group with the 1994 Montreal Expos. Mind you, if they want to shave a few games off the season I think we can do without the Bulldogs, Geelong and West Coast in the last month.

Another late Petracca goal, sadly without crowd remonstration, left us 17 points ahead at the last change. Given how well our backmen had done against their toothless attack this seemed like a good barrier against a disaster, but after Adelaide I'm not trusting any scoreline that can end in losing by a point. This philosophy held up well when the lead was back to 11 in the dying minutes, hanging on far more grimly than you'd expect.

Is it time to be suss about our last quarters? Take out the landslide finish against Hawthorn and we haven't finished strongly too often. North and Brisbane were pretty good, but we had the coup de grace ready to go against Richmond and packed up, did just enough against Sydney, blew a bunch of chances against Carlton, kicked three in Adelaide for what good that did, and got one against each of the Dogs, Collingwood and Essendon.

I'm not defaming BurgessBall, we're running the games out fine but just not scoring. Even including the Hawthorn romp we've kicked 40.48 in last terms. Compare to 49.39 in third quarters and we'll discuss 'premiership quarter' references in late September. None of this means we're going to do the same next week, the week after, or at any time before the end of the season, but I'd be much happier defending leads than having to chase. And when I say 'defending', I mean being about 75 points up at three quarter time.

If Bombers fans had been a bit upset about umpiring across the first three quarters, there was a total fiasco at the start of the last that had them ready to riot. I wonder how the sort of people who get themselves arrested abusing opposition players were faring? No fanbase in the AFL would be as susceptible to QAnon style nonsense, but it was almost comical seeing Petracca getting away with trying to turn through a tackle in the back pocket, then hitting the ground and fresh-airing his kick. It wasn't quite as bad as the unpaid deliberate in Adelaide, but only because there were 18 minutes left not 45 seconds. Either would be a worthy winner of the OPSM Unpaid Free Kick of the Year.

There was another one with Harmes later in the quarter that looked just as bad to the naked eye. This has since been covered up on the grounds that incorrect disposal doesn't matter if you didn't have prior opportunity. Which is almost the stupidest thing I've ever heard. No matter how long you've got it for, if you whiff on any attempt to connect ball with hand or boot you should be pinged. Never mind, if you're ever going to have a ripping run with umpires do it against supporters that will get the most masochistic pleasure from being abused.

The only disappointment was that the game ended without an outraged Essendonian jumping the fence and making a dick of themselves on national TV. They still created such a spectacle that Channel 7 abandoned earlier experimental coverage featuring weird angles and unnecessary close-ups to go back to the normal programming of nuffies standing up to scream their hearts out in disgust. Not saying I wouldn't have been going off chops under the same circumstances, but if you ever catch me doing it on TV something's gone wrong.

Given that nobody else looked likely to finish the game off, it fellow to Tom Sparrow to kick a lovely set shot that extended the margin beyond 20. The stakes weren't sky high at that stage but it was still a balls-in-a-wheelbarrow finish considering he's the first player on the chopping bloke in the event of a loss, and that the people paid to do set shots were spraying them everywhere. Pity that it bought us all of about 25 seconds of relaxation.

We've handed goals back in some comical ways over the years, but this was new, giving away a 6-6-6 free that allowed the Bombers to thump the ball forward and instantly reply. When we blew our warning earlier in the game I did think "hopefully that doesn't come back to haunt us", but realistically how often do you ever see an actual free for violating this rule? Especially when all you have to do to avoid it is having six men stand here, six men stand there and six men stand in the other place. No idea how we could stuff that up, but true to form the home crowd greeted their good fortune with a bronx cheer.

When they got another to reduce the margin to 11 I was dead-set soiling myself. We held on, but not without five minutes on the run in a fashion not befitting a premiership contender. Thank christ their forward play was still generally dreadful because ours was non-existent. Have I gone on enough yet about how unhappy I was with our attack? Well strap yourself in, there's more where that came from.

Eventually, via much pissfarting around in the middle of the ground we ran the clock down far enough to make it a certainty, banking another vital win. It was a credit to grinding, mentally tough football but doesn't make me any more confident of winning a flag than a week ago.

The only shame was that there was no ceremony after the game that thousands of disgruntled fans with nothing better to do could stay behind and ruin. We did get unusually candid footage of some peanut half-heartedly charging the race as the umpires departed, only to go in reverse and nearly trample a child who was following him. Magic. And the good news with Essendon is that every year there's less of them old enough to effectively hang shit on us about 2000. 

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Jake Lever
4 - Steven May
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Ed Langdon
1 - Christian Petracca

Apologies to Salem, who could have had the last spot if not for Petracca's two crucial goals. Also to Oliver, Hunt and Gawn who were in the mix.

Leaderboard
With anywhere up to 13 to play, it's still a battle between two. Petracca barely shaves anything off Oliver's lead in a rare voteless week, and Lever shifts into massive outsider chance territory but it's still hard to see this going anywhere it hasn't been before. The good news for Lever is that he's drawn level with Salem in the race for the Seecamp, with May not far behind in what promises to be a blockbuster race to the end. Nothing in the other minors, Gawn hard to beat when no other players qualify, Jordon hard to beat when he's the only eligible player getting a game. 

35 - Clayton Oliver
29 - Christian Petracca
19 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
17 - Jake Lever (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Christian Salem (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - Tom McDonald
14 - Steven May
12 - Luke Jackson
11 - Kysaiah Pickett
9 - Ed Langdon
7 - James Harmes
6 - Angus Brayshaw, Bayley Fritsch
4 - Charlie Spargo
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - Jayden Hunt, James Jordon (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Adam Tomlinson 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
As enjoyable as Spargo's snap and McDonald's scoop over the head were I can't go past Sparrow's nerves of steel in the last quarter. Don't let the fact that we stuffed it up immediately by not being able to get six players into the correct part of the ground detract from how good his finish was, considering people paid to kick goals who have far greater job security than him were missing left, right and centre. For the weekly prize he wins an inflatable neck pillow for comfort when he's relegated to unused medical sub again.

Pickett against St Kilda still leads the pack - and any danger of something remotely close again in the next few weeks? - but I'm getting a bit of sick of that now so will be open to any sort of wondergoal taking the clubhouse lead.

Next Week
Finally, we're playing against a team from a COVID ravaged pariah state, with GWS currently applying for refugee status in Victoria. When Alice Springs got the boot the first time I was almost certain this game would be moved to make up for it. Lucky it wasn't, now they've got the Big One as well and we'd probably have ended up playing in Dubbo.

Given that the Giants warmed up with an MCG home game (?) and lost to Hawthorn, you'd think we wouldn't have much trouble here, but I have worrying flashbacks to them threatening us for a quarter and a half in Canberra three months ago. Jesse Hogan is listed as one week away in the latest injury report, and wouldn't it so Melbourne for him to make his latest triumphant return, kick half a dozen, then not play another game for the year? If you could guarantee me they'd be the only six GWS got and we'd win comfortably then I'd offer them to him on a silver platter. Alternatively, he could run into Steven May, which would be like getting dumped, going through three years of total life misery, then being introduced to the person your significant other chucked you for in the first place.

I almost kicked the TV in when the post-match show on Fox claimed our forward line had worked well. I'll say this every week until it either happens or is (more likely) proven incorrect, it's Brown O'Clock. The Ben variety will kick goals, and we're running out of time to get him in the side and on a roll before finals. Our attack didn't work on Saturday night, McDonald and Jackson got 2/9 goals, and one of them was from a foot out. If you rely on the defence to get us out of jail every week it will eventually come unstuck. Brown did his bit by kicking five for Casey, I may punch on if he's not picked this week.

On the off chance we decide to play the proven goalkicking commodity who has previously won the Coleman Medal, kicked 10 in a game and played in as many winning finals as our entire club since 2006, somebody's got to make way. I'm suss on Fritsch's performances at the moment but am initially prepared to blame the lack of protection from other forwards, so instead it's Sparrow who makes way with apologies.

Otherwise, it's hard to see any serious need for changes. Given that we've just had the bye you can't argue that we need to start rotating players with an eye to September. And injuries haven't bitten us yet, with Nathan Jones going one game closer to David Neitz's record by sitting on his arse in the dugout all night. Good for him, he played enough games where he did the work of several men that he may as well get one for free. 

Based on stats alone, Spargo would be shunted out of the side for a rest but he's the ultimate role player. Pickett might be due for a rest, he's having a red-hot bash but is running on much lower charge than he was at the start of the season. The problem is finding a replacement, Chandler flubbed his only real appearance so far, and the VFL is such a farce of a competition that it's hard to assess anyone else's claim.

I know this is veering in dangerous, frightening, territory but I think we'll finally win with some authority. There's no scientific basis to this claim, don't blame me when it doesn't happen.

IN: B. Brown
OUT: Sparrow (omit with apologies)
LUCKY: Pickett
UNLUCKY: Chandler, Jones

Final Thoughts
I love being 12-2 more than life itself, but let nobody think the job is done. Time to kick the suitcase out of a few sides, and put some legitimate terror into the hearts of the other contenders. Fear - from the other side for once - is the missing ingredient.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

A farce to be reckoned with

Last time we played Collingwood I stole the name of a popular reality program to call the review Million Dollar Fisting. And here we are a year (on the football calendar) later, having lost a mil being forced to play interstate, then conceding four premiership points by firmly whopping the entire arm up our own choc box after 10 minutes then leaning back to make sure it was in. That time they ended up playing finals, this year we almost certainly will. Funny old game.

The good news is that we'll be writing off the entire financial loss as a contribution to the Kingsley Institute, where down on their luck players and clubs alike come for a chance at redemption. It's easy to get self-pitying after our second upset loss in a month, but there can't have ever been a league leader at this stage of the season that has given so many suckers so many even breaks. We got away with it against GWS, St Kilda, Hawthorn, and North and could unconvincingly deflect blame for the Crows loss to the umpire, but this was just a fair and square bollocks performance.

In Adelaide, we played badly enough to let a team playing out of their skin kick a decent score but still had enough good performers to nearly fall over the line. This was drizzling shit against a team fielding more random names than Nintendo International Cricket, including one who did the worst kick from a standing start since the Spencil against North 2009. They arguably still should have won by more.

Even after a 1-6 start, it's not like the Pies have been complete piss, but I doubt we'd have started such hot Queen's Birthday favourites since 2005. It's nice to be thought of positively, but I didn't take well to the pressure of having to wait until 3.20pm Monday to find out how well we'd cope. That's why I, unexpectedly the fan of an 11-1 team, spent a long weekend bricking it about losing. Imagine a world where you could go into a game fully confident of winning in a canter. All those years where Pies fans could have had their life savings (jokes on a postcard to the Stereotype Department, PO Box 999 in your capital city) on the result of Queen's Birthday, then we get the chance to ruin their special occasion and put in a half-arse performance that leads to disaster. Why would you follow anyone else?

You can have all the excuses you like about the venue, the emotion of Collingwood's players after their coach hari-kari'ed himself midweek, and players tired after half a season at the top of the ladder, but ultimately we were outworked, outplayed and got we deserved. Publicly available tipping results show that I expected to win, but you will note the conservative projected margin. This is nothing new, we could play Fitzroy 1996 and I'd worry about disaster. My psychological issues have no impact on professional players, but there's enough evidence that this team still can't be trusted. The 11 wins in 13 games are welcome, they don't buy confidence. 

So, while Footscray's bye temporarily keeps us atop the ladder, we flubbed a golden chance to reach the break looking like a serious contender. Having never been in this situation before, I don't know how concerned I'm supposed to be. We could do to Essendon what we did to the Dogs, or it could be the start of the mid-season collapse that has happened in almost every good season of my supporting life. Might be better to get it out of the way, the only time it didn't happen was 2005, when we saved it for the end of the year and went from top to losing an Elimination Final.

Give me all the "it'll be fine" you like, but now I'm desperate to get to the next game and get some validation. Stuff the bye, let's make Gerard Healy's dreams come true and play again at 5.10pm on Thursday in front of an empty MCG. My nerves can't wait nearly two weeks to find out what happens next. Don't forget we come home with the worst month of fixturing known to man, we're 99% sure of playing finals but top four is starting to look wobbly. In a world where we mow down top four teams then lose to dreck, ladder predictors are hardly an exact science but I had a bash for the first time this year and it ended in us finishing sixth and playing an Elimination Final against Richmond. Which would be quite the occasion, but a bit of a letdown after starting 9-0.

For those of a more cheerful persuasion, I hope you're a better judge than the Collingwood fans who spent last week in self-preservation mode, batting back every suggestion of an upset by claiming they'd be thrashed. We've all done it. The difference is when we were 16th on the ladder we were usually right. I could understand them thinking we'd win, but the idea that we were going to suddenly pile on an enormous score just because we were on top of the ladder is like ignoring context and automatically giving votes to whoever gets the most possessions.

There's good news for fans of historical omens. The only other decent season we've had since 2007 saw us thumped in this game. Collingwood had a far better side that day, but kicking the shit out of them in 2016 (yes this really happened) and falling over the line via brief Jack Watts redemption story the next year didn't do us much good. It seems appropriate that the second of those was undone in the rematch, with a mid-table Collingwood side full of people you've never heard of taking advantage of us failing to turn up for a big occasion.

How big an occasion this was is debatable, a game that recently drew crowds of 83k and 74k shunted to a half-full SCG, while a cast less-famous than Celebrity Apprentice (I only know because my daughter watches it, I swear) went down the slide at the MCG in front of nobody but the great Neale Daniher and Channel 7's fake crowd noise machine. The game itself was barely more special than when we tonked them at Adelaide Oval in front of 5000 people last year. It was a triumph for fundraising, and for everyone who's bust a gut propping up Buckley for years when A. Random would have been sacked well before nearly winning a Grand Final, but otherwise an absolute fiasco in every department. 

As you may have already guessed it's welcome to the baby out with bathwater edition of Demonblog, overreacting to a horrible performance while conveniently ignoring six very good recent quarters against premiership contenders. It's not like we were going to finish the year with one loss but if we restrict our defeats to the top 15 of the ladder that would be a start.

We've given up so many leads this year that the old 'are they on?' test across the opening minutes is no longer valid, but things still looked suspect from the start, with Gawn struggling to beat a fourth game ruckman to the taps, Oliver unsighted, and the ball quickly escaping through the side door towards their forward line. This was no one-off, the whole thing was a bit like Carlton, only with our escape routes from defence superglued shut and no match-winning cameos from forwards. 

No forwards at all as it turned out, with Pickett, Fritsch, McSizzle and Weid combining for 1.3 - and even that goal was a snap from the square. I know that in living memory we've tarnished this occasion by kicking 3.10.28, but this was as toothless a forward performance as you'll ever get from a good side. Even last year's 4.8 against Port included two from Weideman. This time the entire unit was cactus. To be fair they were trying to deal with some of the most wooden-legged delivery of all time, but a few more contests would have been nice. Pickett was hesitant, Fritsch blanketed and McDonald playing like somebody expecting to come off the ground and find he'd just missed the birth of his child.

Alas, as mean as it is to kick somebody when they're down, a lot of the focus will fall on Weideman playing the worst game of his life. One of our forwards playing all four quarters and failing to register a kick happened as recently as 2017 to Mitch Hannan in Hobart, but he was a first-year player who didn't go through a lengthy 'when are they going to give him a game?' saga before being picked. This was Weideman's 49th game over six seasons, and his fifth this year where he's done nowt. 

In fact, after being very good in the middle of last year, he fell off the cliff in the last month there, so that's three goals in nine games - two of which came in a minute against Footscray. Talk about Cairns killing off our 2020 season, I think it might have done in his entire career. He was averaging two goals a game before that and has never been seen again. Now his confidence is clearly shot to pieces, and I hate seeing it. At this rate he's doomed to be compared to that Geelong final for the rest of his lift but those 24 touches look a long way away.

Nobody's going to self-report that they're out of form and ask to be dropped, so it's in no way his fault, but playing Weid after two poor weeks did smack a bit of lowly opposition arrogance. Maybe this was a time to introduce horses for courses and play with one less tall. Whether Melksham, Chandler (who may as well change his name to Chandler (Unused) after another afternoon of 100% tracksuit time), Bedford or *insert name here* would have made a difference to the result is up for debate. I don't suppose we expected to deliver the ball so badly. Considering how many kicks landed with a defender on the full, ground level players might have been irrelevant anyway. 

I can only imagine the sort of reception Weideman's getting from the weirdos (see, for example, the reaction to this comedy Facebook post, which could be offered as sworn evidence in court against the idea we're all upper-class twits), and don't intend to pile on like I might have as an immature turd a few years ago. He'll be dropped and somebody called Brown will get their chance to impress. For now I'm still right with Ben, but hopefully the VFL gets going next weekend and they both stake a claim. 

Wing and prayer forward play was not required for the first goal, set up by one of their rare dud kicks in defence and one of our equally rare attempts at forward pressure. Perhaps the rarest of all was Fritsch finding space to step around an opponent and land a lovely pass with Anal-Bullet. ANB smashed through the set shot and Bayley disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle for the next hour. 

Opening the scoring with a set shot was a false dawn, with the vast majority of our few goals coming from open play. Same as last week, so don't tell me there's not work to do with our forward structure. We usually find a way to kick a decent score, but like expecting Lever and May to air traffic control us out of trouble at the other end every week, it's a high-risk route to a premiership challenge.

The Bullet almost had the second too, rolling through an attempted pass that I could see McDonald touch on the way past from Victoria. Based on no immediate review or histrionics from commentators I thought we about to get away with murder. Unfortunately "they review everything" is not just a cliche and the ARC played narc, leaving ANB doing the traditional 'kick goal/leave field' move and sitting down in time to see his goal being taken away.

Those few seconds before crossing of flag and deleting of five points were as good as it got. This signs of doom weren't far behind, with a quick forward entry causing Hunt to hang off Darcy Cameron like he was abseiling, gifting them the reply. One of them would go on to a career-best day. Try to guess which.

Having already handed James Hird his last coaching win, and now adding Buckley to the collection, I thought Michael Voss would be fuming that he didn't do the same against us. Turns out he only beat Melbourne in his second last game. The Kingsley Institute will investigate that right after working out how Cameron and Brody Mihocek, went from three goals combined across the last month to playing like Franklin and Roughead. I know until last week the Pies attacked like Paul Roos and Ross Lyon had launched a joint takeover but this was ridiculous. 

You can complain about our defence until you're sore, I'll keep whinging about how easily the ball gets down there. Who knows what we've got up our sleeve, but the danger of being (relatively) red-hot in the first half of the year is that everyone's seen how it's done and gets a chance to combat it. Top teams will read from the book of Rowdy Roddy Piper and say "just when you think you know the answers, I change the questions", let's see if we've got the plums to go down that route, or back the system that has delivered wins but also provided half the league an opportunity to knock us over.

That goal kicked off a few minutes where they did everything but score more, and we looked in some sort of trouble. The misses, which peaked at 1.5 early in the second quarter, gave hope that they were going repeat their 1.11 in three quarters against Geelong and let us build a match-winning lead, wonky forward line or not. Sadly, at this point we are not Geelong.

There were still plenty of opportunities to score at our end. Not long after Harmes kicked our second, McDonald ran into the sort of open goal he'd usually finish with his eyes closed and sprayed it horribly. Considering how easily they were moving it from one end to the other, any shot that didn't end in a goal was in danger of becoming an opportunity. I presume it's still the narrowest ground in the league, but surely five metres doesn't account for the difference between this and trapping Footscray behind the Great Wall of Melbourne at Docklands. I'd love to point the finger at the venue but it will have to get in a queue behind about eight other factors.

Their string of blown opportunities left us in front against a team who'd only kicked one goal, which was - on paper - a good thing. Maybe it was because the contents of my stomach were dropping like a faulty lift but it didn't feel sustainable. I cared not for all the times Collingwood has put in a hot first quarter then gone to pieces - including on the same ground a few weeks ago - nothing we did suggested a team playing at its best.

We could still win, and as hindsight showed there was much worse to come in the second quarter, but it was like watching a lower intensity replay of last week. We didn't get as far behind this time, and launched another mini-stranglewank comeback, but couldn't keep it up. Even the good fortune of Langdon being paid a mark that was near enough to before the siren that the umpire couldn't tell the difference (and more on umpires not being able to tell the difference later) ended in no score. Bemused by the unusual scenario of being allowed to run around a certain distance despite the quarter being over he kicked it out on the full. 

Stuff the lead, it was still a terrible quarter where you'd struggle to pick out anyone having a serious influence. Still, we've been in worse situations against worse sides already this year so you couldn't rule out a correction. I may have secretly thought the tide had turned when we plowed straight out of the middle for Oliver to kick a goal 30 seconds after the restart. Immediately after, there was another golden chance, this time with Pickett doing a perfect lead only for the ball to bounce off his chest like it was a trampoline. The way our forwards were going he'd probably have kicked a 20 metre sideways pass to an opponent anyway. 

Instead of having another shot on goal, we went and conceded the next four. The first was the textbook example of the difference between the two forward lines - with one forward using a block of dubious legality to keep Lever at bay and allow his teammate to mark in the square. And so he should, most of the time you'll get away with it. Like their opening goal, the most important thing is to actually make the contest in the first place.

There was an element of luck to some of it, witness the blind kick inside 50 that landed perfectly in the arms of a forward, but we had plenty of chances too. Now the team that started 1.5 looked clinical, and by the time some bootleg Oskar Baker lookalike fended off Oliver to kick another, the air around me was turning blue. Spirits were not lifted by Tom Sparrow trying to kick a 70 metre drop punt after the siren, I was cursing anyone and everything involved.

Fox Footy's half-time analysis of Lyon, Brown and Riewoldt was infinitely more sensible than Channel 7's call (which at various times had the game at the MCG and on Sunday, wishful thinking on both counts), and while they've played about 1000 games more than me and should know better I wasn't buying the idea of a subconscious mental dip because a bye was on the horizon. Looked more like a team set up to perfection comfortably leading around opposition that didn't like playing on the ground, and couldn't/wouldn't take advantage of chances to take control. I'll buy they were tired, but the idea that they were deep-down dreaming about the week off seems like cobblers.

The great metaphorical wrist-slashing was temporarily delayed by a third quarter comeback, but not before we nearly let in another goal in the first minute, to a player standing in acres of space on his own inside 50. I was ready to punch on before the kick missed, but like the reverse of Pickett's dropped mark in the second quarter this near-death experience prompted us to play sensibly for a while. I didn't rate Gawn's game highly by his standards, but he had a great few minutes in kicking a goal, then setting up another with an intercept mark. When Fritsch emerged from witness protection for the third we were inexplicably in front. I didn't understand and could scarcely believe it but wasn't going to say no.

It was so much like Collingwood in the second quarter that we should have also kicked four in a row. McDonald got a free from one of our only decent forward 50 contests of the day but hit the post. Never mind though, the momentum was definitely going our way now. The only thing that could possibly stop us was the umpire paying a mark right in front of Collingwood's goal after May had already juggled it. Pointing out stupid things Brian Taylor says is like shooting fish in a barrel at this point, but he was conspicuous in his absence on this one after spending the preceding hour in amazement at the umpires doing routine things like bouncing the ball. 

With the commentary coming from Channel 7's studio in Melbourne anyway it's a shame he didn't pull a vocal cord doing the Big Freeze. They could have made the popular late change of OUT: Buffoonery, IN: Jason Bennett. I've got plenty of problems with their other callers (and let's not forget some of the shrieking lunatics on Fox), but can just about stand any of them when they're not in the orbit of the worst comedy character since Mrs Browns Boys.

Anyway, being rorted by another suspect decision to the right of screen in an interstate game was fun. Again, I'd say if you create enough one-on-one chances you'll eventually get the benefit of the doubt so good luck to them for taking advantage of the red-hot guess.

Jackson got that goal back soon enough, but it was the last we'd kick until the game was all but shot. In a real Demontime stitch up they went back ahead with 30 seconds left. The lead had already changed about seven times so it was hardly a fatal blow, but in a game of limited scoring I was into whatever psychological advantages were available. Mind you, we wouldn't have conceded the goal in the first place if we'd been able to keep the ball from flying down the other end after Oliver missed a set shot a few seconds earlier.

After rolling over and dying several weeks in a row earlier in the year, Collingwood's last quarter against the Crows convinced me this wasn't going to end in a Hawthorn style landslide. Sure they only kicked one goal in the final term last week, but the way we were going it felt like one goal would be a stretch. And it was. In another world, we might have taken them out of the equation and romped to victory. Even a repeat of last week would have done, just to avoid the banana skin and prove Burgessball is still valid. But in this safe space where you don't have to be permanently chipper about every win, let's not forget that even Hawthorn didn't fall to bits until they'd kicked a goal, then dropped a sitter of a mark in the square. 

With Bucks signing off his last address like the crescendo of an inspirational midday movie, they just carried on where they'd left off. I hope he retrospectively ruins the moment with a controversial season-ending victory over them in his next job, for now he must be the first full-time coach since god knows when to depart after two consecutive wins. Maybe somebody died of pleurisy mid-season in 1922 but it can't have happened often.

We were still up to our necks in this game, and could have taken his Gordon Bombay impression out of the equation by steamrolling to an infamous victory. Soon enough the only thing up to our necks was sewage five feet high and rising. Adelaide was a rank performance but at least it had the Oliver masterclass, this lacked anyone (on our side anyway) taking control and trying to drag their teammates with them. The ball went straight down their end and stayed there for a few minutes for a point and a miss. 

Had we taken advantage of this to regroup and win it would be big laughs at Collingwood's expense, instead we necked ourselves with probably our worst conceded goal of the year, gutted like a fish on yet another turnover, with Scott Pendlebury left standing 30 metres on his own in the middle of the ground like he's some first gamer, then our new fiend Darcy Cameron an equally significant distance from an opponent inside 50. I thought they might try and bring back the spirit of QB2018 by picking Mason Cox, but why pick a single bloke who randomly kicked six against us when you can have out of form players combine for seven.

That told you everything you needed to know about where this game was headed. As did Pickett becoming one of the few players ever to be caught taking excess steps while wheeling around for a snap. Umpires usually let them get away with it but this was ridiculous, he was halfway to the safety of Fortress Showgrounds by the time he was pinched, and still didn't look as if he was about to have a shot. This was one of the few times yelling "just bloody kick it" would have been valid. He did a couple of important things off the ball and furthered his quest to give away the most unrealistic marking attempt frees in history but otherwise had as ordinary a day as the rest of his chums inside 50. 

Speaking of that great venue just a few kilometres from where this rubbish was taking place, I can understand why this was at the SCG instead. If the NSW government was paying to host the game they were always going to want it at the iconic stadium. Which is a shame for us, considering we've been shit there for years, not winning in any convincing fashion since the night I saw a gentleman going up on his lady friend in the bushes (so to speak) during 2005.

Whatever the venue did to us, I hope we got a fair chunk of whatever they paid to host, partially offsetting a fortnight where we've blown a comfortable profit, for the first time through no fault of our own. Hard to see what NSW got out of it other than a lot of Victorians taking advantage of the fact that you could travel there but not 26km from your house. It's not like they were going to turn it into a non-stop ad for tourism like the NT, we're all pretty much across what's in Sydney by now. Bit of water, large bridge etc... You weren't going to show us anything new here. So they didn't. Which makes you wonder why they paid for it in the first place. And further makes you wonder if they did pay, or did we get roped into this for the gate reciepts?

God knows if any of them would have paid for the privilege, but if NSW didn't want the game it seems every state and territory other than the one that was supposed to pay us premium bunce last week was happy to let Victorian sides in. Off teams went for games in Adelaide, Cairns, Hobart and Perth, but try getting into Alice Springs without them redirecting the plane to East Timor. Geelong had to live in a hotel before leaving Victoria, then hang out in an Adelaide Oval cricket net for a couple of hours before the game and a) still won, b) seemingly didn't pay SA back by giving them Coronavirus. Let's see if we do get another game into the NT this year, or whether it's all-in on the theory that they were happy to save their money.

We hung on for a few minutes after that dreadful hot knife through butter goal, before Sparrow got pinched holding the ball and they kicked what seemed like - and in the end was - the sealer. Sparrow was very good last week, this time not so much. Certainly helped solve the question of who's going to get the arse for Viney. Double J dismissed any idea that he'd be the one to go, playing (relative to the joint burning down around him), one of his best games yet. 

With the game all but lost we activated Gus Hiddink 2006 mode, going for broke after stuffing up all the earlier opportunities to win. We still couldn't kick a real goal, only pinching one off the back of a pack through Langdon to make it two the difference with three and a half minutes to go. Given that if we were in the same situation I'd be convinced of a loss I tried to be positive and hope for a ludicrous comeback. Then we cooked ourselves by turning several opportunities into a solitary point. 

It was officially the reverse Queen's Birthday 2007, where we were the lowly side springing an upset against a contender. It lacked the theatre of somebody throwing a can at Russell Robertson after he kicked seven but emotionally I was on the same page as that black and white would-be assassin. Having spent four quarters yelling things that would get you arrested in public, I rage quit on the last 25 seconds. Apparently, they kicked another goal. Good for them. It's almost as cowardly to turn off the TV before the end as it is to walk out of the ground (much easier though), but I just don't like watching other people be happy. 

The additional impact of the Buckley wankfest was too much for me. He's never done anything to me (though playing Darcy Moore forward against West Coast was almost the worst non-MFC coaching move of the modern era), but the carry on like he's going into retirement with a terminal illness was too much. Earlier the SCG gave him a commemorative piece of turf, which I'm sure will take pride of place in his garage, under a pile of old newspapers and the tennis racquet he broke COVID curfews with.

Anyone would have cut off an extremity to be 11-2 before the season but you've still got the right to spend the bye week feeling flat as a tack. In the last month, we've lost to two lowly sides and beaten two premiership contenders. Until the AFL introduces the McIntyre Final 18 this shouldn't be a problem for us in September (and yes, we'll get there in some fashion, no need for a top eight Bradbury Plan yet) but you'd think any of Richmond, Geelong, Footscray or Brisbane would be gagging for another shot at us. Considering the power of our uphill skiing so far in 2021 we might beat Geelong then lose a prelim to South Morang.  

We are now a fringe top four side, which is still better than anyone could have hoped for but still feels like a pisstake after loose talk about being Grand Final certainties. More fool me for starting to believe. One thing I won't do is get sooky if the same media who have gently tugged us off for three months do a full turn now. It's a moot point because I don't intend to consume any football media this week but may they be as savage as possible. Question everything, say meaningless things like "what's in their DNA?" and "what do they stand for?" I might be excessively old-school but give me a siege mentality scenario when players are told "see, everyone expects you to go tits up under the pressure, what are you going to do about it?" 

It's amazing how quickly you can get on with life when you don't have to spend an hour getting home (though, to be fair, I haven't seen a loss in person for 22 months so should probably cherish that while it lasts). After utilising half time to do my washing I, like Melbourne as favourites, had a lot of folding to do. There was a good hour of silent fuming and I still feel like kicking the virtual cat now, but what are you going to do? We played a shocker and the long-term implications won't be known for weeks, no point getting hung up on it. Save your arson attempts for when we do a North 2016 and turn top after Round 12 into barely making the eight.

But while you can be as brave as you like in the immediate aftermath, the brain knows what the heart really feels, and that's why I woke up at 3am stressing about the season potentially going down the gurgler. I'm not cut out for great expectations, just give me a top four spot from here, and if that means playing an interstate final stiff shit to us. 

Unfortunately, unlike losing to a team you'd be lucky to have ever met a fan of (South Australian residents, you have my sympathies), every Pies fan you know will come out of the woodwork to flog themselves over this. And so they should. Take your medicine, and if our side is any good there'll be a chance for revenge at the end of the season.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
Nil deserved, but if that was a reason for not giving votes some years would have had a very sparse leaderboard.

5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Luke Jackson
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - James Jordon
1 - Christian Salem

Apologies to Gawn, May for everything other than conceding the goals, Harmes and ANB, all of who might have snuck in for a cheap one at the end.

Leaderboard
On a generally shite day there's a bit of action going on. Petracca keeps eating into the overall lead, Salem solidifies his position in the Seecamp, Jackson gets closer to Gawn on votes but is still under the hitout qualifying mark, and at long last we have a contest in the Hilton. Welcome James Jordon, edged into the apologies a few times in good performances, but one of the first bodies to wash up on shore intact after this disaster. I'm sure he'll always remember the game that put him in the lead, the rest of us would like the tapes incinerated.

35 - Clayton Oliver
28 - Christian Petracca
19 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
17 - Christian Salem (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - Tom McDonald
12 - Luke Jackson, Jake Lever
11 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Steven May
7 - James Harmes, Ed Langdon
6 - Bayley Fritsch
4 - Charlie Spargo
3 - Angus Brayshaw, Michael Hibberd
2 - Jayden Hunt, James Jordon (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Adam Tomlinson 

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
It's got to be Oliver at the start of the second quarter. Mainly because so many of our goals were workmanlike and dull. Only Petracca's goal from the pocket in the second quarter even went close. The Hamburglar wins a comprehensive arm massage, focusing on the area that opposition midfielders clutch on to at every stoppage like their lives depend on it. Pickett against St Kilda still holds the overall lead.

Next Week
Well, not quite next week but all these years later I think the 'Next Week/The week after that' gag has been done to death. Eventually it's Essendon, who will presumably have just pushed their 'next big thing' status a little further up the road by rooting Hawthorn. And won't they be spoiling for a chance to go from one end of the ladder to the other and stitch us up too? At this point, it's not clear whether the game will be played at the MCG, Docklands, or Maralinga, but it should not matter. Even if they play half in Cairns and the other at the SCG I'm going into full crisis mode if we don't react.

Brown (one of them) for Weideman and Viney for Sparrow may be the least controversial changes ever proposed. If these changes don't work I give up, but whoever comes into the forward line has to get a couple of weeks to get comfortable. We've still got a premiership to win here, no more piss farting around.

Will we win? At this point how the bloody hell should I know?  

IN: B. Brown, Viney
OUT: Sparrow, Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: None, everyone else has some runs on the board.
UNLUCKY: Whichever Brown misses, and everyone sitting on their arse because the VFL's off.

Final Thoughts
I only realised after the siren that I'd watched the whole game wearing the famous 'tanks for the memories' t-shirt. I can assure you this won't happen again, not because of mysticism or gypsy curses, but because it's flat-out ludicrous to be using one of the rarest pieces of MFC merchandise in existence for casual wear. It has now been officially retired into the memorabilia wing (e.g. two large plastic buckets) of Demonblog Towers. 

Now, unless you're professionally affiliated to the Melbourne Football Club, go away, slip into somebody comfortable, and come back Saturday week to see if any lessons have been learned.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Dees go to 11

Given that entire 100 game careers start and end within nine years, it's no great revelation to say that a lot can change in that time. It's been that long so I first planned to use this headline, as we were plummeting towards an 0-11 start in 2012. There was even a Tufnel-referencing Facebook Comment of the Week video (before all the comments became about political correctness by defeated men who look like the cast of Don's Party), thankfully rendered obsolete by an improbable Round 9 win against high-flying - in all senses of the word as it turns out - Essendon.

Now all these years and multiple false starts later we are widely acknowledged as the best team in the competition, will end another week as premiership favourites, and the headline can be revived for good rather than evil. We stuffed up the chance of using it for an 11-0 start, but rumbling two premiership contenders in consecutive prime time fixtures will do as a consolation prize for losing in Adelaide.

That this is only the third time we've gone to 11 since 2006 is a cause for national shame, but at the moment our past indiscretions are irrelevant. To people who matter anyway, I'm still troubled by results from the early 90s. As one sage individual put it on breakfast TV over the weekend, nobody's ever won a premiership in June. But, offensive interventions by the footy gods aside, we've never been in a better position to have a go. The best thing is that for everybody playing out of their skin there things that can be improved. By christ(ian), is this really happening? I need to go back and read some Neeld era reviews to avoid getting ahead of myself.

Despite this uncharacteristic outbreak of optimism, I assure you that spiritually I'm shitting through the eye of a needle. There's no way people who have seen a flag feel like this, but when every chance could be your last, the pressure to finish the job is excessive. God knows how St Kilda fans survived those Grand Finals without being carted off to the funny farm. Better them than me, but maybe the true meaning of life won't become obvious until we too have pissed away a golden opportunity at immortality. Alternatively, do a Footscray/Geelong 2007 and get the hard work over in the Prelim before cruising to victory in the big one. Right now I'll take a repeat of any Grand Final winning scenario from 1898 to 2020, up to and including it being played at the Gabba or Waverley.

Against a side that had won seven in a row, I was prepared to make excuses for defeat. Unless we ran up the white flag and conceded 30 seconds in like the Port game last year, a loss would have left me exactly where the previous Friday ended, considering secret Bradbury Plans to make sure we wouldn't finish ninth. Now, via a ropey first half, I didn't see a farce, now I'm a believer.

Having to pull back leads against the good, bad and ugly of the competition is going to backfire on us eventually, but there's no better feeling when it comes off. 20 points is just short of stranglewank territory but there's still a rush from dicing with death before finishing in ecstasy. The final margin was similar to that against North, but the emotions are poles apart. Running away from the wooden spooners elect was a relief, dismantling a premiership contender who looked to have cracked our code in the first half was several million times better. 

It means nothing unless there's a repeat in September but we've now beaten 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and the reigning premier. The only sides in the eight unconquered are Port, who didn't demonstrate any of their famous flakiness while walloping us last year, and West Coast who we don't play until Round 21. Can I mention again that a) things are shaping up very nicely, and b) I'm not psychologically coping (NB: in a sporting sense, this is not a real-life cry for help) well with that.

Like the jumper 'clash'/empty stadium conundrum last week, who knows what would have happened if the game had been played as scheduled in Alice Springs. Maybe we'd have won by more, maybe we'd have lost by 187. The difference this time is that while most of us went to bed happy to get the points in any state that would have us, the Chief Financial Officer was probably having to be restrained from throwing himself into the shredder over the loss of $700-800,000. The people of Sydney were slightly more receptive to our charms than when 1000 of them combined turned up for last year's two game stand at Fortress Showgrounds, but with the yet to be disclosed crowd stuffed on one wing I don't think the gate receipts are going to cover much more than our Minibar bill. 

When the league dragged their feet on announcing the fixture for this week I held out some hope that we'd adopted Mafia tactics to convince the NT government to let us in. More likely they're happy that they didn't have to pay for Alice Springs to get more mentions in the Victorian media than the other 51 weeks of the year combined. No doubt a later game's going to be moved there, we'll get paid anyway and everyone will be happy. Obviously, the authors of the Fat Chance Report, calling for an AFL team in the NT, were so busy printing copies at Officeworks that they missed the news, releasing it on the same day that the game meant to showcase football in the territory didn't happen. The league is currently scrutinising this proposal before filing it next to Los Angeles Crocodiles.

The centre of Australia may have been replaced by the back blocks of Sydney, but we finally got to wear the jumper and it was a corker. It's not my place to interpret the meaning, but as good as the front was, the back was spectacular. One day a team is just going to adopt a full-time indigenous jumper, and I'd be happy if we got in first and permanently adopted this as the rear of ours. It's even handily designed to fit the sponsor logo at the bottom AND offer space to sell another spot at the top. Given we've already been involved in this good news story, being the first club (?) to have an indigenous presence on the jumper every week would be fantastic. If it's a step too far for us, I offer the idea free of charge to Gold Coast, who must eventually get serious and stop dressing like a McDonald's franchise.

If we had to play anywhere for free, the Showgrounds were the next best option. No tremendous cash payment, but a flawless record against neutral sides. To be fair, we did only wobble past Gold Coast before tonking a rotten Hawthorn, but it's a great leap forward compared to earlier games there against GWS. Remember starting underdogs against an 0-17 side and giving them their only win of the season? It's better if you don't, leave the historical misery to me and concentrate on what's good right now.

The difference in our third National Pandemic Cup match on the ground was that we were playing a top team. This promised to be a daunting challenge, but so did last Friday night and we handled that without any major drama. This time there was a serious challenge that left us having to execute another high-risk comeback, but the end result was the same, a (relatively) stress-free last few minutes, another four points, and further confirmation that players you already knew were good are very good indeed.

In scenes reminiscent of Round 1, 2019, the other side started playing angry and we looked spooked. The majority of them couldn't maintain the rage after half time, but in the opening minutes they were the most aggrieved Queenslanders since the man from the succulent Chinese meal. Like that fateful Port game, the primary assassination target was Max Gawn. They should have sent a better hitman, merely winding him with a big bump before he recovered to play his best game since Hawthorn.

Brisbane's attempt to unsettle us with biff backfired when pissweak high contact 60 metres away saw Fritsch gifted the opening goal from the top of the square. When I'm elected to replace Steve Hocking players will be able to do that all day without sanction, but for now, stiff shit and thanks for the six points. Channel 7's fake crowd flipped out over this and continued to go nuts for the rest of the night. After employing a subtle, inoffensive backing track last week, they cranked up the digital excitement to levels not seen since Laurie Lawrence in Seoul (P.S - I vote we adopt Laurie's "stuff the silver, we come here for the gold" as our slogan for the rest of the year). 

Seems they only went for the quiet option last week before it would have seemed silly to play frenzy.mp3 in an empty stadium. Which is a shame, because with the entire audience parked in the same part of the ground they'd have got a decent authentic atmosphere by turning off the soundtrack to AFL99 and letting the live crowd tell the story.

We've got a few players that could handle themselves in a scrap, but after a brief flirtation with serious niggle under Roos, it's not really our go anymore. Not that it needs to be, but if anyone was going to see the red and blue mist it was Steven May, holder of multiple suspensions for whacking Brisbane players. After hitting one of them at the first available opportunity in a pre-season game (and not to open old tribunal wounds, but bullshit that was worth a week) he's shown admirable restraint, but the old fashioned aggro is still bubbling away under the surface.

If he was ever going to flip out and start distributing shirtfronts again, it was in a first half where it looked like our league leading backline had finally been rumbled. The commentators were keen to act like they were witnessing the end of a brief but glorious era of defensive dominance, but I would suggest letting the ball fling down there at pace was to blame. Compare to the second half, when Brisbane was reduced to attacking on our terms and their forwards couldn't catch COVID in a quarantine hotel.

In 20 years people will be watching clips of Pickett crumb on the YouTube equivalent, but the low-key most exciting thing about this year is watching the opposition lose the will to live when the ball is locked at our end and they have no idea how to clear it. They could sell behind the goals footage at Club X and there'd be a queue around the block. Forget spoils and one percenters (still haven't worked out what they are), when this comes off it's a work of art. Takes some work though, requiring us to get the ball down our end, the forwards to make a contest, and everyone to combine in an animal defensive effort when the ball hits the ground. Then if they still get it we stick up the Berlin Wall and dare them to break through without turning it over.

We were not near our best early. None of McDonald, Weid or Fritsch (gift goal aside) was seriously contesting marking duels, and further up the ground Oliver was being relatively well covered. So if the forwards weren't going to take pack-busting marks the next best option was crumb. In this case, from the unlikely source of Max Gawn. Given that he's the fourth tallest man ever to play a league game, his gather and kick in one motion was probably one of the most nimble finishes by such a huge man in AFL history. Hard enough to do when you're a regulation crumber, nearly bloody impossible at 6ft 8.

That had us ahead by seven, but the lead was tenuous. Eric Hipwood - who provoked a great May/Frost stoush in 2019 - had already panicked Lever into giving away one goal from a free, and when he marked in a better spot I had visions of him kicking a bag before dashing off to impersonate Rafa Nadal at a tennis-themed birthday party. He hit the post and kicked another 0.3 by the end of the night. That was retrospectively good, but when he and Daniher were grabbing everything that came near them and some other bloke was kicking goals out of his arse from all angles it looked like their forwards were going to more damage than our misfiring forward line could cover. In the end, we somehow nearly scored 100, and the purported 'best attack in the league' (didn't we just play them last week?) only got to 75. I'm almost at the point of trusting the process but years of mental scars aren't going away in three months.

Nearly 10 years after Baileyball was run out of Melbourne, it returned to haunt us in the shape of crumb king Zac Bailey, whose four goal haul against Richmond a fortnight ago is the only thing stopping him from being instantly nominated for a Kingsley. Just our luck to swat away a team where every second person has the first name Bailey last week, then run into somebody with it as a surname having the time of his life. His second was the sort of lucky goal worth it's weight in gold, sitting up for him to boot out of the air for their second in a row.

While we were under siege, only offering a Weideman shot for no score at the other end, there was one moment that should be blown up to the same size as Father Ted kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse and displayed as an example of what's right in 2021. This Spargo highlights package is much deserved, but watch the mark in the second clip for an example of getting your team out of jail.

At that point we were down seven contested marks to nil and being pushed around like lightweights. I won't claim it turned the entire game, given that we were still shite for another 30 minutes, but it was a brilliant, brave grab. I've been sitting on the screenshot of Gawn saying "poor Spargs" ever since that ill-fated pre-season documentary, but there is no need for it this year. He's not doing anything that will be noticed outside the MFC bubble - though the above tweet should help - but is quietly putting together a very good season. 

Spargo is not Dustin Martin, and nor should you expect him to be, and will still have up and down games due to being 21-years-old, but when he gets the ball his decision making is off the charts. You watch on TV and scream at them for not kicking to a loose player then realise they probably couldn't see him from ground level. Charleston sees them. Hopefully I joined his fan club early enough to get a membership number in the top 10.

Also from the role player playing their role to perfection files (might need to workshop the name), Anal-Bullet has been important too. I'm not qualified to explain why, but the vibe is good. His disposal efficiency on Friday night was not, but I'll allow more latitude for a sprayed handball in close or a quick kick from a pack than a flat-out, pressure-free shank. Brayshaw and Petty have both been tarred with that brush, but were very good again. The bucket-handed Petty is especially promising as the third defender.

After 15 minutes of being second best I could almost handle going into quarter time two goals down, so allowing Hipwood another shot deep in DemonTime had me reaching for the pen to start writing us off. He missed, and I put the sharp object down, but when they got a goal 40 seconds after the restart things started to look grim again. Our reply was one for the defensive rebound fanatics, with a loose kick from a centre break falling into Lever's arms, and after a free to Gawn, Lachie Neale was caught holding onto Petracca's arm like he was trying to clamber into a lifeboat. Maybe he was getting ahead of his duties on Brownlow night and trying to hand the medal to this year's winner now? 

According to James Brayshaw, who looked sensible compared to BT for a while, Petracca had "explosive wheels to get this trip". Is there Channel 7 mode on Google Translate? Yes, he's got a burst of speed that you could describe as 'explosive wheels' if you didn't want to use normal words, but unless he was expected to run around the man on the mark and sprint to 30 metres out before kicking it's hard to see how this was relevant. Instead, he just kicked a conventional drop punt, paying tribute to Matthew Bate by launching from right on top of the Telstra 5G logo.

So now we were back to where we started the quarter, which wasn't such a bad place to be. Enter Petracca again, reminding us after a couple of weeks of mass-frottage over Clayton Oliver that he's also one of the shit-hottest players in the game. Without him the next goal probably doesn't happen, using the famous explosive wheels to dash onto a loose ball, swatting off a tackle with contempt, then launching a long-distance handball into the middle of the ground. Harmes and Sparrow also did brilliantly here, both were standing in space and calling for it, but the moment it went towards Sparrow, Harmes took off around the back to be next in line, setting up Fritsch to pick Jordon's pocket at the top of the square.

It felt like the game was turning in our favour, which is why conceding the next two goals gave me the shits. Lever didn't like the blatant block that allowed them the first one, but more power to the guy who took advantage of the fact that you've just got to make it half look like you were legitimately trying to be in the contest. We should do more of it - see Brown and McDonald against Sydney. The second goal was less controversial, as important as he is Salem has still not recovered his earlier form and was nailed holding the ball right in front of goal.

In an outbreak of goals from the middle, we got this one straight back, before they quickly restored the 20 point lead. It left us back where we started from, but at least we got to hear Brayshaw scream "Lukey Jack!", the strangest thing a commentator has called a Melbourne player since "Slick Fritsch". Is it too much to ask that blokey bullshit be confined to the radio where it belongs? In the same way everyone with a mullet will look back in 20 years and realise their horrible mistake, future generations are going to piss themselves laughing at us for allowing the biggest sport in the country to be called like this. 

I was still not over my outrage at the official record of this important match being sullied by a future star of the competition being referred to as "Lukey Jack" when Brisbane was down the other end kicking the reply to the reply. How you can pay advantage 10 metres ahead of where a ruck free happened when nobody yet knew who had done what I'm not sure, but advantage that man Bailey again and sorry to my neighbours, who may have heard the phrase "for fuck's sake" shouted at top volume. The old blood pressure was peaking off the charts when we spent the next couple of minutes desperately trying to stop them kicking another.

We're not Essendon 2000, there's going to be more than one loss this year, and better against the good teams now than in September but I was still feeling a bit flat. The margin was not insurmountable, but it seemed likely that even if we got our forward line going they'd score enough to hold on. What, as usual, do I know?

After a first half where he'd barely gone near it, Tom McDonald started the second as he meant to go on, kicking what seems like one of our rare goals from a forward 50 stoppage. Somebody will find a stat that disproves this, but it just feels like we don't get as many of these as we should. For the first few minutes there was 100% sizzle content on offer, including him deploying a mysterious goo from a yellow tube on the front of his jumper. Presumably it helps marking, and that's what's responsible for his improvement this year either every player in the league should buy in bulk. Now wait for the AFL to ban it.

On a rare off night for his set shots he missed another chance, but was directly involved in the next goal, courtesy of off the ball shenanigans with Dayne (surely not a real first name) Zorko. Add him to the list of people who, like Toby Greene, are such amazing heels that they become good for football. Never underestimate the impact to the culture of the game of players that you tune in just to see lose. Ask Richmond fans, who have won everything under the sun but are still shirty about the time Tom Bugg shhhed them. The competition needs more of it, but don't be the dickhead who takes things too far and gets arrested.

Other than being a general pest, Zorko's contribution to the angry atmosphere was needlessly delivering a forearm smash to McSizzle off the ball, giving away a downfield free that led to a crucial goal. Sizzle risked a reverse by throwing him to the ground, then unusually yelled abuse in his face before offering a hand to help him up in the same motion. I wonder if he subconsciously realised that he was risking a reversal so tried to take the heat off with a spot of Gentlemania. "Trying to work out who's been reported," said Brayshaw, who I now regret ever saying nice things about. Do you reckon maybe the guy standing the mark of the free kick? When Brian Taylor of all people has to explain what's happening to you something's gone horribly wrong. 

As far as on-field skullduggery goes, it was a step-up from Lachie Neale making this NQR face at Melksham after a spot of manly jostling in the first quarter. Very undignified from a Brownlow Medallist but enjoyable nonetheless. At the other end of the success scale, let's also have more Rhys Mathieson, who invited ridicule by referring to himself as Brisbane's 'barometer' during the week only to be relegated to substitute. Much shit was hung on him but perhaps he had a point, they won when he was playing and lost after he was dropped.

While the rest of our side play the Showgrounds like the Field of Dreams, it's not been a happy hunting ground for the Milkshake. Last year he managed to find one of the 250 people in the crowd to have an argument with, and battled to five touches on Friday. Might have had something to do with the role he was playing, maybe he is just regrettably continuing a slide that's been going since the injury against Gold Coast two years ago. He got the last laugh on Zorko here, it's less certain whether he'll still be in the side for any September rematch.

Pickett's goal, intercepting a handball and rolling the ball through a crowd, reduced the margin to less than 10. Given our response last time we got that close I wasn't ready to buy-in yet, but all the signs were there. We were back to playing like 2021 Melbourne and Brisbane were as helpless as any of the other sides kindly offered a lead before being run down. Except they kicked the next goal, seemingly confirming all my dark suspicions. Of course it had to come through Zorko, whose joy at getting one back lasted all of 30 seconds. We romped out of the middle, Petracca snatched a ball out of the air and flirted with tripping over his feet for a millisecond before banging through a monster goal on the run. Stiff shit Dayne, enjoy writing a cheque for $2000.

It didn't take long for the next to arrive, a touch fortunate given that Harmes nearly botched a quick handball, and ANB only just got the ball to boot while being swung in tackle. That led to more Spargo gold, intelligently tapping down to McDonald, who scooted through and cut the margin to a point. Now even if we lost I could be satisfied that we'd had a red hot go. Brisbane did get another goal, but again we didn't let them keep it for more than a minute before responding. We missed a pair of chances to take the lead late, but had done a fantastic job to get going again.

After a month of half-paced, wobbly at best final quarters, I wanted to believe that Burgessball (a much more popular form of 'ball' than the forwards on the half-back line model employed by the original Bailey) was going to strike again. If we kept playing like the third quarter superior fitness wouldn't be needed, it was just a case of whether we could convert enough chances to outweigh the inevitable at the other end. What seemed inevitable anyway, in the end they only got one more goal, and that was a low-key garbage time job that Charlie Cameron couldn't even be bothered to celebrate with a half-arse, sad motorcycle rev. All he had to do was raise the hands a little higher and hold them closer to his face and it would have resembled this popular GIF:

As it often did on the night, all the fun started with Gawn. Oscar McInerney has done as well as anyone ex-Casey, except possibly Bayley Fritsch, and played in as many finals as our entire club in 15 years but he was brutalised in the ruck contests all night. Here Maximum got the party started by gently dismissing him at the opening bounce and heaving a long kick to Pickett. This time his set shot was bang on, the lead extended to seven, and I was simultaneously buzzing and bricking it at the idea of having to defend another narrow lead.

After a couple of half-chances that might have got the Lions back into it, McDonald's next was a thing of beauty. For goals created via handball out of the backline this was a better team doing their cover of Salem sinking Essendon in 2014. Oliver, Lever, Petty, Neal-Bullen, Sparrow, Rivers and Hibberd were all involved in phone booth style congestion, before Jordon broke into the clear and set up ANB's second effort. He roosted it to McDonald, who nearly knocked it past the defender and ended up goalside, before gathering, ignored Petracca yelling at him for a pass, spun out of a tackle and kicked the goal. Trac was still complaining until he turned around and realised it had gone through.

Everyone who had a hand in it deserves credit, but the finish was class. Taylor Walker might have something to say about it, but I haven't seen anyone come back from the dead like this since Weekend at Bernies II. 

Unlike 2019s less ambiguous Corey Wagner heatmap, McDonald's was an inkblot test for how much of a sicko you are. Either you see a protein powered bicep or an upside-down cock and ball. 

A minute later ANB, Petracca and McDonald combined for another goal. It was clear that Brisbane had given up, a ball rolled to Sparrow's feet at the top of the 50, and without an opponent for miles he could afford to fumble, take a handball from Weideman, run around and thump it through from 50. With eight minutes to play we could easily have given away a 20 point lead, but had the pedal firmly stuck on the floor looking for the exclamation point goal. Spargo and Petracca both missed before The Bullet got reward for a fantastic last quarter. I'm dutybound to point out that this passage of play also involved Spargo fending somebody off.

When the Weid had another go right at the end I so dearly wanted him to kick it. Was hardly going to be the feelgood equivalent of Harley Bennell on the same ground a year ago (and how well did that end?) but I wanted something to go right for him. He'd already been stooged once in the last quarter when a touched ball landed perfectly for him directly in front of goal, and even though I'd already crossed the floor to the Ben Brown Party mid-match, it still would have been nice for Sam to get one. It's hard watching somebody's confidence bleeding everywhere while everyone else is in the midst of a glory era. Then he kicked it out on the full.

You can't fault Weid's effort, and there's a sense that it's going to click eventually, but goals from marks inside 50 are crucial, so I'm going with the guy who has a proven history of taking grabs and kicking straight. If that causes Sam to leave so be it. I want him to stay and be a dangerous forward like he was for a few weeks last year, but we've got a red hot chance to win a flag, so a week after suggesting mutually beneficial trades, now all we are saying is give #50 a chance.

His miss was about as disappointing as the last quarter got, which proves how enjoyable it was. I'm not going to pile in on anyone for not believing we're going to win the flag, but it's delightful how the great unwashed are switching from patronising us to actively disliking our presence at the top of the ladder. Let them hate so long as they fear.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Charlie Spargo
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Harmes, Jordon, May, Petty, Rivers and Sparrow

Leaderboard
Oliver gives up a sliver of his lead, but still holds a commanding gap at the top. If Petracca outscores him at this rate it'll take another 10 games to catch up. I can't see it happening but it'll be fun to watch. Alternatively, he could go for the biggest win in history, the 27 vote Nathan Jones landslide of 2012. He won by 21 the next year, so even though he's all but been forgotten now, anyone caught disparaging his overall contribution will be thrown from a window.

In the minors, Gawn not only strengthened his lead, but Jackson has lost eligibility due to being down to a 9.3 hitout average. I'm not willing to declare a provisional winner yet but we can't be far away. Nothing for the defenders or the rising stars this week but there are serious discussions underway about whether the Hilton will be awarded by the committee's discretion if no eligible players score votes. This means I'll have to go back and make an arbitrary decision about 2005 as well. 

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
You get plenty of nominees in weeks where the set shot is all but abandoned for goals from open play. As much as I loved Gawn supersize crumb, McDonald's storming run in the third quarter, Pickett's intercept, Petracca's in the third, and Neal-Bullen's sealer, but it's hard not to give it to Sizzle for the handball fiesta and Truck burning snap. Usher the kids from the room, pour yourself a stiff drink, and enjoy this in all its glory.

We've already given Tom a shitload of meat in weekly prizes this year, but have some more. Bring it home on the plane and let's see if we can plunge Victoria into another biosecurity disaster. As good as this was, I'm still on Pickett vs St. Kilda for the overall lead. 

Crowd Watch
I've been off Channel 10 ever since they lied about the afternoon repeats of Prisoner coming back after the 1996 school holidays, so can't think how I ended up watching their Friday night news. I thought their reporter's claim that the AFL had wheeled Kevin Sheedy out to do the promotional rounds during the week improbable but it turned out to be 100% truer than Chanel 10's voiceover in 1996. Sheeds even invented something special for the occasion, telling bemused rugby leaguists that "It’s an AFL mid-season grand final and I don’t know whether Sydney people understand that." So there you have it, make room in the trophy cabinet alongside the AFLX Group B title, we're the mid-season premiers. 

And though he was probably continuing his vendetta over not getting our coaching job in 2008 and punting Brisbane home, Sheeds turned up, and according to a Demonblog correspondent "said bugger all to anyone; but diligently marked all goals and behinds in the Record". I reckon the pen was pressed with a tinge of despair whenever we kicked one.

Next Week
In a major improvement on 2020, Queen's Birthday is going to be played. Unfortunately, instead of 70,000 at the MCG, there'll be two men and a dog watching at the SCG, waiting for King Wally Lewis to go down the Big Freeze slide. I just hope that whatever the New South Wales government has paid to host that plenty of it trickles down to us.

In a world where our biggest wins at Sydney Showgrounds are against Hawthorn, Brisbane and Gold Coast, nothing's surprising anymore, but the distance between our games at the SCG against teams other than Sydney must be some sort of record. It started with Essendon in 1904 (locals half-interested), then Geelong in 1981 (locals half-interested), and now Collingwood in 2021 (locals ?). See you there again in 2062 after the alien invasion. Could also be the next time we're this good, so cherish it while you can.

For a few years we went into Queen's Birthday with absolutely no chance of winning, and based on the respective ladder positions of the sides you'd like to think this is our opportunity for a guaranteed four points. Even before Collingwood beat the Crows I wasn't going to get comfortable, now I'm left hoping they've gotten it out of their system and will show up ready to be plunged back into horrible reality.

There are people paid more than me (e.g. anything above $0) to work out how to best use footballers in a structure, and it is their duty to get Jack Viney back into this side without persecuting Sparrow or Jordon. The only way I'll accept the latter is if he's 'managed' as a first year senior player, but that hardly seems necessary on a 10 day break. Instead I'm chopping Melksham and let them sort it out. 

More obviously, to me if not the selectors, is Brown. If we were playing for mid-table mediocrity (see Carlton or St. Kilda) I'd say just keep playing Weideman and see what happens, but we're over the halfway mark of a season where we're 99.9% guaranteed to play finals and are neck deep in the race for the top four (if not top two). We've got to find our preferred combination down there soon. Besides, imagine the odd couple of 0% meat and 100% meat forming the tall forward division of a premiership team? Catering at the victory party would be shithouse, but what a story. If we can't get Brown going at full pelt - and he looked pretty good against Sydney - then it might just be a case of picking whoever provides the best blocking for the rest of them.

IN: B. Brown, Viney
OUT: Melksham, Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: Everyone at Casey who can't push a case for selection.

(UPDATE - One week out of the limelight and I immediately forgot Ed Langdon. Apologies to Ed. Obviously he comes back in. Christ only knows who for, I spent enough time trying to work this out the first time, I've got no life force left now).

After the Adelaide debacle I'm going back to an evidence-based approach, thinking we should win but waiting for confirmation that there will be no huge letdown. I did not like our old recruiting target Jamie Elliott kicking six against Adelaide, let's hope shown his hand and we'll be ready for him. Same goes for the rest of them, half of who are so obscure they can only be identified by dental records. This is the new Melbourne, we've changed, choff, choff, choff, I'm still going in with the self-defence technique of believing it could go either way.

Sale of the Century
After a couple of weeks rest from shameless plugging of my new book, I've unwittingly wandered into a media circus. After 16 years of carefully trying to hide my face, you may have seen me talking all things Dees on the Channel 9 Today Show on Saturday morning. If you missed it stiff shit, but be assured I didn't make a dick of myself. Also, good timing that it's the first time in 20 years I've only got one chin.

I think that's as far as TV appearances go, but look out for a few radio spots in an attempt to capitalise on us being the hottest team in the game for the first time since about 1964. Should you not be into lining Amazon's pockets, there's a list of other online retailers here. As far as I know the hard copies are still on track for shops in about a month, and not on some ship that's been hijacked by pirates off the coast of Borneo. Wait for the epic stitch of bookstores still shut and books locked in warehouse. Anyway, buy now or buy later, you'll have a whale of a time, and in the unlikely event of a flag this year I'll come around to your house with a texta and amend the title. 

Final Thoughts
If you've still got an office to go into, I suggest ordering a fan of an inferior club to kneel before your feet at 9.01am on Monday. There's no possible way that can backfire.