Monday 30 August 2021

First we take Adelaide...

Several weeks ago I offered to act as the town bike if this Melbourne side was a legitimate premiership contender. Good thing nobody's legally allowed to come to my house, or there'd have been a kilometre long line on Saturday night. At this rate, nobody will be able to extract "I told you so" revenge until about March 2022, by which point the result of this season will have been long confirmed as Preliminary finalists (good), Grand finalists (better), or premiers (BLIMEY!).

I'm not even prepared to contemplate playing in a Grand Final until it happens, though in my weaker moments I've fantasised about how I'd defy public health orders if we did, but there's growing evidence of good things happening to us. In most years that would mean disaster lurking around the corner, but having stretched this run into the 24th week of the season you can't even put it down to a fluke. Five seasons ago the edge of the lid gently lifted after a Round 1 win, now it has exited the known solar system, and the five other teams left in season 2021 are forming an orderly queue to try and topple us.

Now that the first finals banana peel has been avoided, I'm declaring war on misery about not being able to be there live. Seeing a Qualifying Final the same way I did meaningless pre-season games eats me alive like a flesh eating virus, but who's to say any of this still happens without empty stadiums, fixture changes, mystery flights to Queensland, and interstate finals? I know for sure we beat Brisbane at the Adelaide Oval, can't say with any certainty the same thing would have happened at the G. If that bloke in China had never [insert theory here], we might have still played the Lions and won, we might have lost to David Teague's flag favourite Carlton, or we might have failed to qualify due to finishing 17th again. Time to concentrate on what you know is real instead of dying over hypotheticals. 

If all goes to plan there'll be some bitterness about not being there for the moment you've pictured in your head so many times, but you'll also gain 23 players and a coach whose names you'll be able to reel off on your deathbed. I'm going full steam on them winning it wherever and whenever. Even if we never get another chance in Victoria you'll still have the option to engage in the last refuge of the footy scoundrel and ask other supporters when they last saw a flag. They'll say "did you see it live?", you'll lie and shout "yes, I lived in Perth at the time DICKHEAD", and everyone will go home happy.

None of that will be relevant if we don't win our next game. In that case we'll be left sitting with St Kilda in the loser circle of teams that haven't done shit since black and white TV. The good news is that the many and varied disasters from 1965 to 2020 are only scarcely relevant to the players involved. The number of times 57 years has been mentioned in interviews suggests they know the gravity of the situation, but aren't playing like it. On the other hand, I've got zero contribution to make and am absolutely bricking it. But that's the difference, to them this is a ultimately a job, to me it's a spiritual quest.

This is what separates highly paid sportspeople from Bargearse over here on the couch. They're playing like they don't carry the weight of our expectation, or that something they've been working their arse off towards for years couldn't be swept away in an instant. In real life, I live for good old fashioned workplace pressure, but patiently delivering the ball out of the backline, or kicking a set shot with the whole country watching would give me a seizure. Perhaps that's why I never reached greater sporting heights than losing an indoor soccer Grand Final after falling on my arse in front of goal. That and an entire lack of natural athletic talent.

Whatever this playing group's secret is, and it seems like a long time since they wobbled home with a draw against Hawthorn, the future is in their hands, and they've taken the express route to the second last week of the season. There's something you literally don't see every day, only the second time in the near 30 year history of the final eight that we've vaulted straight to a Prelim. The only other example was 2000, and while that win over Carlton narrowly remains my favourite of all time, there was a sense that we were just playing for the right to lose to a side that had won the other Qualifying Final by 125 points. This time we're up to our necks in it, with no superteam lying in wait with heavy artillery at the end of the road. 

Now that we're shorter priced favourites for the flag than we were just to win games a while ago my nerves aren't coping. In 2013 we failed to cover a +90.5 line against Hawthorn, anybody who thinks they understand what we've been through is kidding themselves. Here's hoping the years of dread don't end in a massive, Saints style, ball bounces left instead of right, chance missed forever, stitch-up.

Despite the weight of expectation after the truly bonkers finish in Geelong, I held myself together reasonably well during the week. Maybe it's because I didn't stop thinking about Gawn's goal until Wednesday. In the spirit of putting the garage door down on my lawnmower while replaying that in my head, I accidentally shut my foot in a door midway through writing this post. If we win the prelim I'm going to try some Jaidyn Stephenson style freestyle BMX.

The panic kicked in at the most unlikely time, when GWS/Sydney looked like it might go to extra time. Given there was still 70 minutes until the bounce I'm sure we'd have only missed awkward pre-match discussion, but at the time my mind jumped straight to a delayed start in Adelaide somehow being responsible for us losing.

For about six months I've been waiting for somebody to tear the hood off and reveal we're fakes, like the end of a Scooby Doo episode. Turns out we're actually pretty good, which still surprises me 18.5 wins later. Over the next two weeks I might go back and read posts from earlier in the season, when no matter how often we won it scarcely seemed believable that we'd be one of the last four teams alive in the premiership race. Now we're even able to survive karma tempting packages like this.

Imagine being a Brisbane fan watching that, you wouldn't have known your side was involved. That would have been embarrassing if they'd won. But they didn't, so well done Channel 7 for backing a winner. They also sent back the same commentary team that delivered the goods in Geelong, saving us at least one more time from having that absolute wazzock BT bring the atmosphere down by spouting shite. I'm glad he narrowly avoided catching fire during the week, but any danger of staying home and resting until about 2028?

This post should wrap up a bit quicker than last week. The game was more important, but in isolation it featured a few dozen fewer twists and turns, or a grandstand finish. We just built a solid lead, withstood a half-strength revival, and held out long enough for star power to make the difference. Neutrals and Brisbane fans feel like we romped it in, I wasn't so sure at the time but am coming around to that view now. If you're strapped for time you might as well skip to the votes now, because I'm about to say all that again in more detail, with additional coverage of my psychological torment.

From the calm of two hours earlier, my innards had nearly turned to liquid by the first bounce. Couldn't have asked for a better settler than Brown uncharacteristically plucking crumb off a pack and slicing it through from 30 metres out. I foolishly thought that if he was kicking those, then he'd run riot for the rest of the night. He went on to play a very strange game, including plenty of solid marks up the ground and score involvements, balanced by dropping the biggest sitter on the lead that you'll ever see, twice taking marks inside 50 that he didn't know were touched, and botching a golden chance to kill the game off immediately after half time. Regardless, he did his job, and I got a rush from seeing somebody wear #50 in a final. Here's to a whole generation of young players realising that silly numbers are great.

In 1998, Chris Fagan took our reserves to a semi off the back of goals from Craig Nettelbeck, so he knows a bit about great key forwards. This time he had to settler for Joe Daniher, who might have kicked a goal in every game this year but holds an absurdly bad recent record against us. Way back in 2015 he kicked 5.0, but has otherwise shanked his way to 5.15 in six starts. Regardless, after 45 goals in the home and away season he represented a dangerous option. Like Brown, when he lined up for an early shot I incorrectly believed it was the start of something big. He missed and failed to trouble the scorers again. Congratulations, you've just met All Australian full back Steven May.

With our old nemesis Hipwood long since crocked by a knee injury, all the action in their forward 50 was at ground level. Which is what you want against our defenders, drop all your big men, play with quick smalls and watch us get nervous when the ball hits the ground. For that reason, nobody could have been surprised that Charlie Cameron was at the head of the Brisbane attack. In fact, he pretty much was their attack. 

This was bad news for Joel Smith, who had the thankless task of trying to keep up with him all night. He lost, but not in the sort of landslide that makes you think anybody else on our list could have done a better job. Sometimes it wasn't entirely his fault, he couldn't have anticipated that a panic, blind, over the head handball from the pocket would land perfectly with his opponent. Or that a tremendously nervy Rivers would flub a handball in the middle that left Cameron barrelling into an open goal, with enough time to fumble the ball, before regathering and kicking it.

In the spirit of playing at the Adelaide Oval, the first quarter was a lot like both our games against the Crows. Our usually impenetrable backline conceded more than you'd like, but the forwards held up their end of the bargain. The concern in situations like this is that we'll keep conceding goals but stop kicking enough to cover them. Like the Adelaide rematch there were no such problems, and it was back to regular service after half time, slowly strangling an opposition to the point where they lost the will to live.

You'd like to think we'd have won anyway, but there was an element of luck in the Lions losing one of their best players in the opening minutes, absolutely CLOBBERED with a knee to the head by a teammate who failed to hurdle him. It was quite the collision. UFC fighters have been knocked out by less, though this lacked an opponent repeatedly punching him in the head after. As we're done with the days concussed players can go off thinking they're Abraham Lincoln and come back later, that was RIP to one of the key pillars of their defence. Back in the day this wouldn't have mattered, you could eliminate any random player from an opposition side and we'd still go to water. Once GWS lost their whole bench and beat us by 10 goals. Thank god we're made of sterner stuff now.

This stroke of luck meant the introduction of Rhys Mathieson, who probably thought the injury was a false flag operation set up by the government. Even if it wasn't for his cavalier attitude to the murder of schoolchildren, you'd still hate him. He's just that sort of character. Not even in a pantomime Toby Greene way, or because he has a face that says "I just bloody love mischief" like Cody Weightman, just somebody to be despised. Now, watch us make a Grand Final against the Lions and for him to single-handedly win it with the greatest game of his life.

After Sparrow got our second goal, we had a few minutes to breathe before the sort of random scoring onslaught that unites both AFL and Channel 7 executives in delight. Unlike either of the warp speed explosions last week, this one was a joint production of both sides.

Everything came up Melbourne in the end, but the way we play I'd have rather led 15-7 at quarter time than 34-26. Only if one of those two goals also came from Pickett plowing through a narrow gap at a stoppage, running towards the boundary line and screwing his shot through from a ludicrous angle. Finals nerves be buggered, he would gladly do the same thing in any week from Round 1 onwards. Brief dip in the middle notwithstanding, what a year he's had. Now that kicking goals from the pocket in a final is like shooting fish in a barrel what can stop him?

I'd have been more excited if we hadn't conceded the reply two minutes later. The ring-in Adelaide fans who we'd tried to buy off with free chips loved that it came from a Lever blunder. There's nobody alive who enjoys football feuds more than me, and for that reason I was ecstatic to hear their sour booing. You'd have to be precious to get upset about it, the game is in a precarious state at the moment, there's nothing that will keep people coming back more than maintaining rage over trivial matters. The good news for upset Crows fans is that he was involved in a couple of other first half cock-ups, the better news for us is that they can see him again by watching their TV in a fortnight. That'll be their only interest in a prelim for the next few years.

When it comes to our midfield, the main events at ground level are almost always Oliver and Petracca, but a moment please for Jack Viney, continuing his 2018 Finals Player of the Year form. About once every three weeks he looks cooked, but couldn't have played his role better here. Like Nathan Jones, he bravely held the fort for long enough that top quality reinforcements could arrive, but unlike Jones finds himself still going at the right time to get a cut of the spoils. There's still a chance for both to end up in the same team again before the end of this year, but if it doesn't happen for Jones, the irony after playing in so many fiascos is that his career will end with eight straight wins.

Sparrow - who I reckon looks more like late 90s Todd Viney than Jack - was also very good, almost confirming that Double J won't be back in the starting side again this year. There is no guarantee (I repeat, in case jinxes do turn out to be a thing, NO GUARANTEE) that we're going to win anything else this year, but these are the sort of unexpected players who often come good just at the right time in flag sides. It's not just him, Spargo, Bowey, Rivers (though not so much this week...), and the Anal-Bullet, have also picked a good time to be in form. 

While Viney is bred for finals, the man who made Mooroopna famous is just naturally good at them. Other than set shots and convincingly falling over when bumped in a pack, there's not much Oliver doesn't excel at. He does love the Adelaide Oval, where he's got half the goals and Brownlow votes as at the MCG in 50 less starts. Bless that man, whoever decided to recruit him, and everyone who played a part in shepharding him through a rocky first season. Now, I defy you to find too many better players in our modern history. You can't compare him directly to Flower or Neitz because they did completely different things, but at the moment his domination is nearly absolute. Stopping him might not even help other sides, two of his best games this year were the Adelaide and Footscray losses. There's a reason why he's just won the Coaches' Award, and will go close to winning the Brownlow. Spoiler alert - we got in first.

Oliver is so good that you know a party's about to break out when he starts kicking goals as well. After a passage of play inside our 50 so scrubby that suburban teams would spit on it, including much ground level scrap, Gawn trying to duck into his opponent for a free, one Brisbane player missing a kick off the ground and rolling the ball through Pickett's hands instead, a smother, Brayshaw booting the ball straight up in the air, an attempted spoil that went in the opposite direction to where it was intended and two Brisbane throws, Clayton eventually said "stand back peasants" and did it himself, walking through a wank-handed tackle and snapping from 30 metres out. Marvellous stuff. Never before has a player with hair that resembles two minute noodles done so many great things.

Again, you'd like to have sat back and enjoyed the majesty of that goal, but we worked our hardest to give it straight back. When Cameron got a third, I half wanted to scour the record books for other great bags against us in finals, but was too scared in case he set the new record. The post-1987 winner is seven by jointly shared by Jason Dunstall in the '88 Grand Final, Gary Ablett in the '89 Semi and Craig Sholl in the 2000 Prelim. I prefer the third one because we still won by 50 points. In the end, Charlie was restricted to five and they didn't go close to winning. Operation successful, patient dead.

This extravaganza of free scoring had me worried. In a week where Carlton made light of the AFL's attempts to artificially increase scoring by sacking their coach for not being defensive enough, I didn't think it our job to provide an exciting finals spectacle. Given that all our losses this year have been by a combined 47 points, there's no doubting we've done well in defence, but it's telling that three losses coincided with our three lowest scores of the year. Then there was Adelaide version one, a game historians will be absolutely baffled by in years to come.

Some sanity was reintroduced with the last goal of the quarter. It was born of a screamer from Luke Jackson, who is ever so slightly pulling back from looking like Weird Al in UHF, directly set up by a pass from Brown, then finished by Langdon from an NQR angle. Like Oliver, this is not what we pay Ed to do, so any goals are a bonus - especially since he hadn't kicked one since the middle of the year. The real reason we got him is to fang up and down the wing like a greyhound for four quarters, and he did that exceptionally well here. His second half of the year hasn't been as good as the first, but he was super important in getting us out of jail a few times on Saturday night.

So, an eight point lead. It was hardly the 2018 Elimination Final for dominant opening terms, but a decent nerve settler. Brisbane were playing reasonably well, their ruckman was doing enough against Gawn, and they had the most dangerous forward on the ground, so the lead proved we weren't ruffled by the occasion. In the end, it lacked the Hannan moment of the Geelong final (and can anything bar you-know-what compare with that release of pressure?) but we won by more. A very good opposition was dismantled piece by piece, and even when they had the better of the game never went close to seriously troubling us. The word of the day is professionalism - not one you associated with us in the days of tax bills being found in drawers, shameless match-fixing, and sacking coaches at the drop of a hat.

If the first quarter was uncomfortably high scoring, the second was far more palatable. In that we kept scoring and they stopped dead. It started, as usual, with Oliver, who set up Fritsch's first. Sure, they got the next one, much for the excitement of chip-scoffing locals, because Lever wobbled on the mark and gave away a 50, but the rest of the quarter was pure Melbourne. It was so pure Melbourne that we turned near total domination into a string of missed opportunities. Finally, after Jackson x2 and Langdon had kicked points, a temporary goal rush tipped things in our favour. That man Oliver put the first one on a plate for Pickett, then the thinking man’s 11 possession player Spargo clamped a textbook inside 50 tackle and we were away.

The rest of the quarter looked like the best of Melbourne 2021. Gawn had taken control after an early scare against the Big O, Oliver and Petracca were doing Oliver and Petracca things, and when the other side got the ball in their defensive 50 they looked up to see a great wall of players that left them nothing to do except kick 14.5 metres for no obvious benefit or thump it long to either be spoiled out of bounds or hoovered up with the greatest of ease. 

The scoreboard was ticking over, but there was no killer blow that might have convinced Brisbane to pack up before half time. We did get the last through Fritsch, pushing the margin over 30, and into 'won't we look like dickheads if this goes south?' territory. Given what happened last week, and the last time we played the Lions, I wasn’t ready to crack the champers and start making plans for my free weekend just yet, but it was a fair platform to work off. May as well have been one point the difference considering how my stomach was going. Good things are not allowed to happen to us. It’s written somewhere in the constitution next to the bit about being a sovereign citizen.

Statistically, you're probably bugger all chance of losing from that far ahead at half time, but all of a sudden I developed an interest in mysticiscm and thought we might be due karmic payback for last week. They say there are no atheists in a foxhole, and likewise it's only when I'm under the pump for sporting reasons that this sort of nonsense starts to seem real. I also couldn't help flashing back to recovering from a similar margin to beat Carlton 21 years ago. Sure, teams scored almost 25 points a game more then, so it makes less sense that it would happen now, but this was no time for sensible, rational thinking.

And then we went goalless for a quarter. This isn’t as bad as it sounds when you consider they only got two, but at the time it caused serious touching of cloth. Things would have looked a lot better if Brown had kicked the first goal. His Inspector Gadget style reach to take it deserved better, but from a range he'd usually cover with his eyes closed, his run-up from centre half-back failed, the kick banged into the post, and the Lions remained alive. Our defence still had them under control, and our old friend Cameron hadn’t been seen for a while, but even with scores at 50 year lows you're still vulnerable to blowing a lead. Once we negotiate a centre bounce, the opposition has to break through the strongest defence since the Battle of Stalingrad, but we’re vulnerable to quick breaks from the centre. Several times over if the Geelong game was anything to go by.

The second knee-head interface of the evening cost Luke Jackson teeth both false and real, as he paid tribute to the return of CM Punk by taking a GTS. I thought he came back with a novelty backup mouthguard that looked like the comedy false teeth Daryl Somers used to wear on Hey Hey It's Saturday, but on closer inspection it's just that the black bit of the design blends into his mouth. He wasn't self-conscious about it, ending the game proudly showing the gap to all and sundry, much to the horror of whoever is in charge of convincing parents to let their kids play the game.

Not for the first time at this venue we were hampered by an unpaid free kick. This time it went in our favour, but we might have been better off had they spotted a red-hot holding the ball in the middle of the ground. Instead of the ball having to be kicked into a crowded forward 50, it kept moving forward at speed and ended in Cameron's fourth. 

started in our favour, but we might have been better served if a red-hot holding the ball in the middle of the ground was paid and they’d had to kick into a crowded forward 50. Instead, it kept moving forward and Cameron ended up with a fourth. That wasn't worth entering ‘here we go’ territory. The goal they got five minutes later was. Other than being a handy player, the only other fun fact I know about Huge McLuggage is that he can’t kick a set shot to save himself. So naturally, cometh the hour, cometh the stitch up, and he cut the margin to less than 20 points. Now I was stressing. As it turns out, needlessly. The way we were defending Brisbane would have had to play until Sunday night to cover our score. That’s why I’m not upset at Smith conceding five, somebody’s going to get them, may as well all come from one source instead of five guys kicking one each.

Until then I'd sat comfortably, now the tension became too heavy and I had to stand. Cue 30 minutes of wandering the room and talking to myself like the deranged. All the classic locations were ticked off, side of the couch, back of the couch, on the treadmill, but never in front of the couch, you don't want to risk accidentally pulling a cord out and shutting the Megawall down at a crucial moment.

With my heart rate approach defibrillator territory, there was a late chance for Fritsch to kick a settler. He left me tormented throughout the three quarter time break by missing, but quickly made up for it after the restart. Now we were back to the half time margin and surely, SURELY, nothing could go wrong. Other than them responding two minutes later. But then world's greatest fourth quarter goalkicker Fritsch did the same and my emotions were fluctuating at a rapid rate. I was almost willing to go with the idea of winning... until Cameron got his fifth. It was an Acting Football League masterclass on the same level as Harrison Petty's timewasting against West Coast, initiating the wrestle, then gladly taking the free when the umpire only spotted Smith's contact.

As far as I was concerned it was game on, and given some of the shots we'd missed (including Gawn failing to relive the spirit of Kardinia Park by missing everything from the boundary), I didn't hold out much hope for Petracca kicking the sealer from hard on the boundary line. Without the additional degree of difficulty from some numptie, middle-finger waving Port nutbag screeching at him over the fence, he just casually went back and smashed it through. I was a touch less casual about it, dancing back and forth behind the couch, throwing punches in the air like this bloke, and shouting "oh you beautiful man!" as it crossed the line. And he is. God, I remember days when I'd watch this side get carved up like a Christmas turkey and lament how every other shit side seemed to have at least one superstar while we were girt by slop. Now we've got five All Australians, the Rising Star, and hopefully a Brownlow winner. I almost don't know what to do with myself.

The final nail in the coffin came from Petracca again, and at last my battered central nervous system was cleared to relax. As was Simon Goodwin's, showing everybody who he thinks our four top players are by taking Gawn, May, Oliver and Petracca off as insurance against tragic late injuries. This idea was validated when ANB stacked into the fence and temporarily looked like he'd done himself a mischief. 

And... err... that was it. No goals after the siren, no total commotion, no pressure on commentators to say anything that would be replayed over and over again for the next week. Just a good, solid, honest victory, and a week off to ponder which buttock you're going to get a premiership tattoo on.

In lieu of a controversial finish, Ed Langdon decided to fire things up by shelving his Nicest Man Alive tag and shovelling shit in the direction of Ross Lyon:

Hope Ed sarcastically dedicates his first premiership to Roscoe, then wears the medal as his headband the first time we play Carlton.

Comrades, everything is going well. I'm under more pressure than a deep sea diver whenever we're playing, but the rest of the time things are quite enjoyable. Any chance of dragging that feeling out for another three weeks? We would, as Hunter S. Thompson said, be fools not to ride this strange torpedo to the end.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Tom Sparrow
1 - Ed Langdon

First division apologies to Brayshaw, Fritsch, Gawn, May and Neal-Bullen 

With two to play, it's over. The avoidance of a third game means Oliver now has an unsurmountable lead. That's also great news for Jake Lever, who cannot now be caught for the Seecamp, an award that's been going so long Nathan Carroll, Ryan Ferguson and Matthew Whelan are on the honour roll. Congratulations to both winners, Oliver's third Jakovich leaves him two behind Nathan Jones, the only other man to win the award multiple times.

The other awards are still in the balance. Jordon is defending his Hilton lead grimly despite two weeks with his feet up on the bench. If somebody other than Bowey snatches it off him, then something very weird has happened at selection. Maximum remains on target for Stynes #8, but the man I still can't bring myself to call 'Dogga' remains within range, and is still above the qualifying mark, so could snatch it yet.

And, back for its second appearance (not counting the retrospective award in 2006, or the fact that I just flat out ignored the 2005 final), it's the oft-forgotten Best Finals Player award. Three years later and I've still not come up with a player to name it after. Probably because by Round 5, 2019 it didn't look like it would ever be relevant again. This one is simple enough that even I can't botch it - Oliver got five votes this week, therefore Oliver leads.

65 - Clayton Oliver (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year, LEADER: Finals Player of the Year)
52 - Christian Petracca
38 - Jake Lever (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
24 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
22 - Tom McDonald
21 - Luke Jackson 
20 - Steven May
17 - Christian Salem
13 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Ed Langdon
9 - Bayley Fritsch, Harrison Petty
7 - James Harmes, Alex Neal-Bullen
6 - Angus Brayshaw, Jack Viney
5 - Jayden Hunt, Charlie Spargo
3 - Michael Hibberd,
2 - James Jordon (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jake Bowey

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
With all due respect to Petracca from the boundary, I can't go past Pickett's barnstorming run and conversion from outrageous angle in the first quarter. He kicked it from almost the exact spot as that deliberate, removing any last semblance of curse from that decision which we haven't already killed by finishing top and winning a final. Will that make me shut up about not being paid the free? No, it will not. 

For the weekly prize, Pickett wins unlimited free play on the lockdown hub Daytona USA machine. Not my fault if it ends in him doing an ankle from excess acceleration.

There was some talk on the Twitter machine about whether it replaced Maximum's goal as the clubhouse leader for the overall award. If you were doing a top five - and next year I might keep a rolling leaderboard to spark public debate - it would be up there for degree of difficulty and occasion, but I still prefer the St Kilda one for confined space spelunkage. And you'll have to kick the winning goal in a Grand Final to beat Max at Kardinia Park.

Next Week
The current plan is to go to Perth and play there on Friday week. Both plans are conditional on who gets the sniffles in WA before then, and how quickly the Premier can have them eliminated. Fans from that state have been amongst the most wonderful supporters of this page over the years, and I'd be thrilled if they got the chance to see us play important games without having to put up with local fans, but if there's any doubt over the state's collective respiratory system I'd be happy to go back to Adelaide, where we have a shit hot record in games not decided by players handballing straight out of bounds. 

You could say "a Prelim in Perth, what could possibly go wrong?", but with a better side, not physically cooked by weeks of playing near their peak, and a neutral crowd, we'll never get a better chance to erase the memories of 1994/2018. 

The opposition will be either Geelong or GWS. So much for a) the blockbuster Grand Final against the Cats that last week's result seemed to demand, and b) my theory that they would pummel Port Adelaide and stay on the other side of the draw. I'm still terrified about playing them again, hence the conciliatory tones last week. Surely it will be them, GWS might have just held one for one of the bravest finals you'll ever see, but Sydney were punching their brains into milkshakes by the end. With two injuries and their captain about to be suspended for jostling an umpire and two other injured players, you just can't picture them pulling off another smash and grab job like they did at Kardinia Park a few weeks ago. I certainly hope they do, even if that backfires and ends in them putting us out. If we lose I'll just assume the same would have happened no matter the opposition, and accept that it's better to happen against a team that I've still never met a fan of. 

We know what we're in for against the Cats, the wildcard for a GWS game will be Jesse Hogan. Go back a few years and tell me he's playing his first final on the same day Melbourne begin a campaign to defend top spot, and I'd stab you for suggesting he wasn't lining up for us. To make it to a game against us, not only do the Giants have to spring an upset, he's got to break the habit of the last few years and stay fit for three weeks in a row. If he makes it, imagine the chaos of a battle against the player we chucked him for, with a Grand Final on the line. Extra points for being played on the ground of the side that used pick six on him and got bugger all in return. Freo fans will give him the Lever treatment and show up just to boo. In the short term I wish him nothing but the best, hoping he kicks nine against the Cats before we hold him to 0.0.

Whoever we get next, current form and self-belief of players suggest we should win. So why am I so scared? Scared but also thrilled. This must be what it's like to go skydiving. With an equal chance of the parachute failing to open.

There's no obvious need for changes. Sparrow entered in the most danger and played one of his best games so he's safe in my book. This is continuing bad news for Jordon, who might have to console himself with another night as the sub. If the opposition is Geelong, Smith certainly survives based on his performance in Round 23, if it's GWS somebody might make a case for Hibberd. I'm genuinely conflicted. Not so much about Hunt vs Bowey, unfortunately for Jayden we've demonstrated ability to burst out of defence without him, so I'm sticking with the JB fairytale story. If we made it he would equal Frank Davis 1964 for playing in a Grand Final in his sixth game. Unless you're Marlion Pickett, you'll never do better than Francis Vine, playing in our 1926 flag on debut after being called up on a day's notice.

There are also questions over McDonald, who was not - contrary to cliche - better for the run last week. Other than that one fantastic lead (and subsequent miss) he did two thirds of stuff all and only had four possessions. But we still scored 93 points, and Fritsch got four standing next to him, so I'm prepared to pretend he acts as an important decoy and go with the same formula that got us here in the first place. Let's stick with the same side that delivered the goods this week and hope for the best. The state of my jaw on Sunday morning suggests I may lose more teeth than Luke Jackson by the time it starts.

IN: Nil
OUT: Nil
LUCKY: McDonald
UNLUCKY: Hibberd, Hunt, Jones

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There's probably about 3000 copies of my book on the shelves of shops that won't be open again by the time the Grand Final has played, but the way it's going the publisher might wear the cost of pulping them Alan Partridge style and putting out an updated edition to reference flag #13. May as well buy the original now and hope it becomes a collector's item. And double down with its big bastard brother, a tome so heavy it will destroy your TV if thrown with enough force.

Final Thoughts
Sit back and relax Dees fans, you've done well. And neutrals, please submit your application to get on the bandwagon using the same permit system that you need to travel interstate. Make a good case for yourself, we're not taking just anybody on this ride. See you post-Prelim, where the tone of this page could look like anything from Woodstock '69 to Woodstock '99.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Delta Force

Time flies when you're having glum, but it doesn't seem like five years since we finished the home and away season at Kardinia Park. You remember, where we'd just torched our minuscule finals hopes against a rubbish team, then farewelled Paul Roos with a 111 point loss. I described it as "being shelled like a heartless rabble". Bit harsh, not entirely untrue.

Even after the false alarm of 2018, I couldn't have contemplated that we'd be back five years later playing for top spot. Could have seen our finals hopes resting on the result, might have stretched the imagination to a spot in the top four, but never the top one. That sort of thing doesn't happen to people like us. Probably the only thing less likely would be to win the minor premiership in front of an empty stadium, as the entree to a finals series without a single game in Victoria.

Even in a season where we've won more games than any other, there were some familiar elements to it. Like nearly losing the game due to several minutes of total insanity. What came next was less recognisable, culminating in one of the all-time great MFC finishes.

What a night to be watching on delay, nearly an hour behind at the first bounce, then having to pause at quarter time as well. Some ground was clawed back by fast-forwarding through the half and three quarter time breaks. This came at the cost of losing any chance to calm down during the match, leaving me an emotional wreck by the end. Thank god we didn't lose to a botched kick after the siren or the Special Operations Group might have been called to get me off the roof.

We weren't playing to stay in the eight, make a Grand Final, or win a flag, so by Sunday I'd have been looking towards a finals double chance, but at the time it would have felt like a steel-tip kick in the dick. Even if the benefits of winning only stretched to a trophy nobody's ever seen, and avoiding giving home advantage to a side we've already beaten away once this year, when a once-in-a-lifetime win is dangled in front of you there's nothing you want more. Feelings run high in these circumstances when you're 2-14, the chance to finish top for the first time since Norm Smith made the tension unbearable.

Somewhere there's a Geelong fan guffawing about our joy at winning, smugly pointing out that it means bugger all without a flag to match. Which is technically correct but fundamentally misunderstands our experience. If a poor person wins division 2 of Powerball it still means a lot to them. And when you follow a team that hasn't won less than seven games in a season since 1973 it's easy to imagine them contending for top spot again soon. We haven't got such guarantees, so whenever something good comes into range we grab at it like maniacs. Geelong could very well have their revenge by winning the flag next month, so rack off for a week and let us enjoy small mercies.

As we couldn't do worse than a double chance, my nerves in the lead-up were nothing like Collingwood 2017 (debacle) or West Coast 2018 (glorious). We might have dropped to third, played in front of Port's crowd, and generally gone into the finals on a downer, but when the best season in living memory was guaranteed, you could afford to ration your emotions in csae of an unprecedented, nerve-shredding finish.

Despite our House of Horrors record at Kardinia Park, I was in no way resigned to defeat, but thought everything would turn out ok as long as we went down fighting like bastards. For top spot, a draw would have also done the job, something that nearly became relevant at the end. For the first 45 minutes things progressed reasonably well, before a short period that resembled 186 left us looking down the barrel of a morale-sapping, finals-momentum shifting massacre. This I did not like. Then, from nowhere, we charged back like West Coast after a lightning break, pulled up just within range, then went through 10 excruciating minutes of not being able to pull in front, while the opposition did everything they could, including slapstick, Fawlty Towers style physical comedy, to keep us in it.

I'm not sure I can do the most flat-out bonkers game in the history of this page the justice it deserves. How do you tell the story of a game that broke a 57 year losing streak via the second greatest comeback in 2460 games and the first after the siren winner in our history? It had so many intricate storylines that I'm still trying to piece them together now. That's why I slept for four hours after the game, and on Sunday night was still in such deep thought about Max's goal that I put the garage door down on top of my lawnmower. If anything more exciting than this happens in the finals we'd better come out on the right side again or I'm going to require therapy.

Compared to what followed, the game started as a quiet, normal, contest of Australian Rules Football. Just players, umpires, and a fake noise machine randomly revving up like the engine of an Airbus A380. It looked like we'd go through the motions, somebody would win by a couple of goals and both sides would move onto next week. Turns out we were inadvertently queuing for the most terrifying rollercoaster in town.

This review was delayed by me not being able to remember what happened for the first three quarters. It's like the brain only has a limited capacity, and the madness of the last few minutes swept everything else out. When we beat Geelong away in 2015 I didn't start writing until I'd watched the full four quarter replay, now who's got that sort of time? Maybe if I was working (*wink*) from (*wink*) home (*wink*), but in my current situation it had to be pieced together like a Coroner's inquest from half-remembered memories, highlights, and the always informative FanFooty blog log. Except for the last quarter, I'd have gone into witness protection to watch that in full again.

I certainly remembered the opening goal, with Pickett pinching the ball from a throw-in and scooting along the boundary at warp speed. He doesn't do this level of crumb every week, but often enough that it scares the piss out of other sides. With no crowd, and the broadcaster polite enough to put on callers that don't fill every available second of silence with shrill, disagreeable screeching, we their absolute panic later in the game about who was picking him up. After a few rocky weeks mid-season when nobody would have complained if he was given a rest, Pickett is threatening to go right off at just the right time.

Considering the star power in the opposition forward line, we did well holding the reply out for five minutes. It was classic Melbourne defence, the sort that has contributed to a season which narrowly held on to be higher scoring than 1928 by 0.2 points per game. Sorry for having a backline so good Jesus would be flat out making the Reserves.

Our backmen are mere mortals, and as impressed as I've been with Joel Smith over the last two weeks, he probably didn't need to get in Petty's way on the kick that ultimately led to their first. Didn't do much else wrong. The pass that set the goal up went about nine metres but by now nobody seriously expects umpires to interpret distance. 

When the commentators pointed out that Luke Dalhaus hadn't kicked more than one in a game this season it made it almost certain that he would not. While this one went through, the other fun fact about him kicking 6.12 for the year prevailed, and he missed two more shots - including a sitter when things were getting spicy in the last quarter. He also had a chance after Lever gave away a reversed free by whacking him in the chest while on the ground. There wasn't much in it, but if they don't pay that people will make their kids play Ultimate Frisbee instead, so it's best to err on the side of caution.

It was one of Lever's few mistakes for the night, and in a season that should end in everyone who sobbed about spending two first round draft picks for him lining up on bended knee to say sorry. I'll admit being a bit suss at the start but now I'm prepared to rename my first born after him.

The first quarter was slog, but not in an offensive way. Just two good teams grappling for the advantage. After a goal conceded from the first weird deliberate of the night we were winning everywhere except the scoreboard. Enter Ben Brown, who did the 'tall man reaches higher than everyone else' thing to mark over a pack. He's done that a few times now, which isn't consistent with the cliche that he's no good unless the ball is stuck down his throat on a lead. The kick was a touch better than the one a few minutes earlier in the middle of the ground that went off at a 90 degree angle, and it put us in front at quarter time

Watching on delay was a lot easier on Foxtel. As long as you remember to tape the next show in case of an overrun, you just have to avoid all other score sources, make sure the TV doesn't load onto the footy channel, and press play. Kayo is superior in every other way (especially not paying for the 97% of slop that you never watch), but picking a game up mid-stream is fraught with danger. There's the usual checklist, like making sure you click 'watch from start', but after that, as long as you've got your phone on 'do not disturb', the only way to get screwed over is if your neighbour starts screaming their tits off in a way that implies a thrilling finish. Nobody else in my street seems to care, so the only way that's going to affect you is by living next door to me.

The only problem was that I hadn't noticed the match timeline was showing. For those who haven't used Kayo, this shows where the goals happen. Very helpful if trying to find something on the replay, useless live. So after pausing for about half an hour at quarter time to mingle with my family, I returned to see it had kept adding goals to parts of the coverage I hadn't reached yet. Lucky it stopped at two or I'd have known something truly NQR was coming at the end of the quarter. 

What you don't get told is which side got the goal, but it revealed that one would come in the opening seconds, and there'd be another not far behind. That's the last in-game pause I'll be doing this season, if I have to watch finals at home every possible precaution will be taken to avoid disasters. In the event of us making a Grand Final (shhhh), this option will be out the door due to it being the only game not available through reliable internet sources, meaning I'll have to watch on an actual television for the first time since moving here. First world footy problems etc... but it would still be unsettling. I'll already be in a state of complete disarray if forced to watch a Grand Final from afar, this might send me over the edge.

We split the spoiled goals one apiece, with Viney getting the opener. This is not what we judge him on, but after coming back to scant enthusiasm from fans (me included), Jack had a really good game. Not nearly as dominant as he's been in the past, but didn't need to be. He just worked his arse off applying pressure. As an added bonus, because the game wasn't won when the siren went, there was no time to get suspended for triumphantly elbowing a prone opponent in the head.

Anything can happen (and how...), but when we were camped in defence and time was rapidly ticking towards where the timeline told me the next goal would come, you knew it wasn't going our way. Enter Jeremy Cameron, marking in front of a sheepish looking Harrison Petty. No hard feelings, every key defender is going to concede goals eventually, and Cameron represented reasonable opposition. He lobbed it through, and I was back to having no idea what would happen next. Thank god for that.

It took two minutes to let the next one in, and what an absolutely bullshit goal it was. A missed mark bounced through Hawkins' legs and Cameron took a violent fresh air swing, before Hawkins returned to toe-poke it through. After 600 career goals I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he meant to do that, but it looked a lot to me like he was in the process of bending down and it just bounced off his foot. Either way, that's the last time we led until after the final siren.

Those two goals gave no indication of what was to follow. With just under nine minutes left in the half we were still only three points down. Then it got very ugly, with Hawkins getting three in a row. Unlike Fritsch last week, we are not offering him the NBA Jam style "he's on fire" treatment. Geelong fans, start your own blog and do it.

Sure, the second was set up by Selwood doing a throw that made up for the cancellation of the Bledisloe Cup, but that didn't excuse the complete capitulation that followed. For the next few minutes, Gawn's taps may have been the only touch we had, and even they were usually swept to the other end for goals. Given some of our performances over the years I must have seen somebody three goals from three centre bounces before, but none since we've achieved some semblance of respectability. In four minutes we'd gone from three points down to 34.

Unlike our famously disastrous visit to KP a decade ago, their violent outburst stopped at nine goals in a row instead of about 30. Luke Darcy and Hamish McLachlan redeemed themselves with a perfect call of the finish, but for now were giving me the shits by talking like losing and playing Port was akin to a death sentence. I was ready to take the challenge of playing them in a stadium full of middle-finger waving Elmer Dinkleys, just preferably not off the back of a massive loss.

Nobody could have been surprised to see Tom Hawkins at the heart of the rampage. Despite being a shite side for the majority of their careers, we've mostly avoided torment at the hands of Lance Franklin (2.4 goals a game), Josh Kennedy (2.4), and Jack Riewoldt (1.6), but this guy has had our number ever since kicking four in his second game. In total he's plundered us for 57.13, including various hauls of four, five, six and seven. Forget homeschooling, teach primary school children maths via AFL Tables. Even at 33-years-old there's not a forward who scares me more. Then, to prove some teams have all the luck (though, admittedly, not on this night) the Cats buy the almost as historically shit hot Jeremy Cameron to stand next door.

At 34 points down I was resigned to defeat. Another 10 points later I wouldn't have bet on us with your money. To our very minimal credit we put the breaks on for about two minutes before conceding again. When you're hot, you're hot, when you're not, you're not. Even luck was treating us with contempt, with an attempted rushed behind landing perfectly for Cameron to tap in from point blank range.

Having been up since 5am, and needing to wake at the same time in the morning, a tiny part of me considered skipping ahead. As bad as it was looking, I wasn't going to go all the way and just look at the score, but might have pressed +15 seconds a few dozen times, until realising things were turning in our favour. I learnt my lesson in 2018 with St Kilda, rage quitting with two minutes left, only to discover we'd nearly won. Missing that would have been annoying, this would have been tragic. I was already going to be driving to work like Lachie Hunter, another 30 minutes in bed wasn't going to help. Turns out the finish amped me up so much I didn't go to sleep until 1. Oops.

You might have spent half time steaming from the ears and kicking the virtual cat, I was straight into the third quarter without any chance to reflect on how it didn't really matter if we lost. On the positive side, it didn't feel like I'd totally wasted my time waiting through the break when they added the first after the restart. It was that man Hawkins again, and on the occasion of his fourth, commentary talk turned to him piling on several more and unexpectedly snatching the Coleman Medal. About the only thing we haven't done wrong this millennium is let somebody kick 10 against us, and I was not prepared to start now. Much to the joy of Harry McKay, Hawkins' challenge ended when his side only got one more goal full stop.

This is the point where things started going right. Slowly at first, gaining momentum like a boulder rolling down a hill, before eventually becoming a lethal force, crushing all in its path. Let nothing that follows detract from the fact that Geelong is the side I'm most worried about running into during the finals, and that I'm well aware they might end the season holding silverware a touch more valuable than the old McClelland thingy. Which makes everything that happened from this point even better. Possibly more than anything else I've ever seen us do. 

We shouldn't have been that far in the hole to begin with, but the escape would make Stuart Diver, Todd, Brant, and the kids in that Thai cave stand to applaud. If it was a final, neutrals would still be talking about it in 20 years a'la Carlton/Essendon 1999. In their absence, we'll keep the memory alive by going on about it for the rest of our lives. You'll tell your kids/grandkids/random kids about it one day. I told my daughter the next day and she didn't give a rats.

For now, stopping them adding goals every five seconds was good for keeping the margin respectable but didn't do much for giving us a chance to win. That's not what I was thinking at the time, when the idea of being in front again would have been the most ridiculous thing ever contemplated. Even after Oliver barged through for the drought breaking goal, the relief only lasted as long as it took for them to cancel it out via a masterclass of coast-to-coast ball movement. It was so good that no sane person could have convincingly argued any case for us winning from there. We might have dragged ourselves to a respectable score, especially if they did the sensible thing and went into self-preservation mode at the end, but the idea that we'd stop them kicking another goal was fanciful. It still is now, even after it happened.

We might have been saved by a fortuitous fumble, with a Geelong player about to carve through the middle and go forward from the next bounce before fumbling. Viney fought like mad to hold them up, Oliver got half a smother in, Salem did a handball with his shoulder, and we survived long enough for Pickett to snap the instant reply. For whatever minimal benefit it was worth, the margin was back under 40. When they almost cancelled the cancel I was ready to commit felonious assault on an inanimate object, but bless him Cameron missed, and we remained alive in the most tenuous, 'doctors have already written the key details on the death certificate and are just waiting to fill in the time of death' way.

I did perk up a bit for Brown's second, featuring him recovering to mark despite falling over before the ball arrived. If he didn't have the world's longest arms it wouldn't have come off nearly as well, and this report might have been haphazardly dashed out in less than 48 hours. Instead,we turned for home 32 points down, a margin so unlikely to be run down that I didn't even bother searching for historical precedents. Turns out it was our equal third best, and as far as I can tell the only bigger margin we've overhauled was 51 against Freo in 2008. That might have been seven points better, this was light years ahead in every other way, and should now be recognised as our greatest ever comeback.

Even when the last quarter started with a Pickett goal straight out of the middle, I was not prepared to believe. I could see us kicking five goals in a quarter, couldn't see us stopping them getting any. We'd been the better side for all but one nightmare period, but just as I was preparing to reuse the same "if you don't want to charge home and fall short, don't fall so far behind in the first place" content from a dozen other posts, Spargo snuck in to soccer one through and our chances became a little less remote. When the margin was 44, one site calculated our chance of winning at 0.2%. I like those odds.

There was still a mountain to climb but now it didn't matter how far they'd been ahead earlier in the game. Nine times out of 10, you're not going to lose from 26 points ahead early in the last quarter, but when it's your side on the back foot, blowing a big lead seems a lot more likely.

I only became properly interested after the next two, first Viney, then Spargo ducking behind a defender to tap one through from close range. Try to forget the end of the game for a second, and let's talk about Gawn's contribution to getting us that close in the first place. Other than the obvious, my favourite part was when he roped the opposition ruckman into fresh airing centre bounces, then grabbed the ball and punted it forward. He was immense, directly responsible for getting us out of the middle numerous times. Oliver was the best wire-to-wire player, and set the frenzy off in earnest with the third of the quarter, and together, the pair of them were almighty in carrying us back within striking distance.

Straight from the restart, via another piece of magic centre bounce ruckwork by the captain, Spargo pinched the ball off the pack for his second, and with 15 minutes to go the margin was less than 10 points. By christ. It was more than enough time to complete the job, with room to spare if things got a bit GWS 2013. Alternatively, there was plenty of scope for Geelong to realise what was happening, slam the brakes on, and try to reintroduce some sanity into proceedings. They flirted with running the clock down via dinky chip kicks, usually with disappointing results.

What a game to be watching without access to the coping strategy of browsing MFC Twitter. By now I was living in mortal fear of a spoiler, especially after the great Kayo kock-up at the start of the second quarter. Every time the picture did the slightest judder I expected it to skip to live and blow the result, or that the timeline would pop up again with all the goals filled in. If I'd missed the last kick they'd have found a laptop hurled through their office window on Monday morning.

Geelong had plenty of chances to kill us off, but bless them they kept missing. Deep down they knew winning meant more to us. Even nature was working in our favour, with Patrick Dangerfield having to evacuate the field due to a sudden onset of the shits. By the time the margin was under a goal I wasn't close behind. I might have been a bit rude towards Patrick Dangerfield after Trengove bounced him like a basketball in 2011, but his innards did us a huge favour, leaving him on the bench for half the last quarter, and without a touch for the rest. No wonder he was seen chatting to Oliver as Max lined up after the siren, he was probably asking where the ball had gone. Hope he wasn't offering to swap shorts. 

Stranglewank Mode has never been applied with more force than when Fritsch did his impression of Hannan in the 2018 finals, taking advantage of another intercept by Lever, then Pickett bolting down the wing like Ed Langdon to nudge his opponent under the ball, run into an open goal and make the margin two. It was a great way to get involved after being practically unseen all night. Big bags are not good for him, first six against North and stuff all the next week, now seven followed by one. But what a one. Cut to an extremely sweaty Chris Scott looking like he was about to puncture the wall Clarko style.

That was the limit of our out of control run, and things settled into a grim struggle for the last 10 minutes. Not before they torched a gilt-edged chance to make the Fritsch goal irrelevant. After we'd snapped goals out of our arse through traffic all quarter, Mr. One Goal A Game plucked a loose ball, heaved it towards an empty square and missed. I tried to calm myself by thinking that it didn't really matter if we lost, but deep down couldn't stand to come this far and have it all ripped away by some fluky goal off a pack, or a tremendous clanger.

The only thing that hadn't happened yet was Joel Selwood bleeding. Of course, the Haemophiliac Association's favourite player started dripping just as Brown was lining up to put us ahead. Ben was already kicking from such an obscure angle that he'd have been on the train line if he'd followed normal runup procedures, so I don't blame Selwood's sudden onset blood for the miss. I am, however, thankful that it meant one of their best players was off the ground. You'd think after 330 odd games they'd have their Selwood bleeding procedure down to the fine precision of a Formula 1 pit crew, but he was stuck alongside Dangerfield (now presumably wearing new undies) for several minutes while a parade of random teammates tried desperately to stop us kicking any more. This almost worked, until they all lost sight of the biggest man on the ground with 20 seconds left.

It wasn't just Chris Scott and I struggling to cope with what was going on, Channel 7's fake noise DJ reacted to Brown's kick turning into a free for Geelong by accidentally leaning on tremendousfrenzy.mp3. Otherwise, the artificial noise was quite dignified. Either that, or the stress meant I'd lost the ability to process changes in volume. 

As repayment for the cheap goal he got earlier, Cameron helped stuff up a chance to stop us in our tracks by colliding with a teammate when they could have raffled the ball and almost walked it to the line. It lacked the comedy value of a "you first, no you first" style exchange where the ball drops in the middle of them and is whisked to safety, but the impact was even better, momentarily taking two players out of the contest. I'm sure it had nothing to do with there being six minutes to play in a game with finals implications, but both were quickly assessed and cleared to continue without having to go through lengthy concussion protocols.

Sparrow was the next to have a go at grabbing the lead, via a magnificent contested mark. It was one of three he took for the night, and as regular readers would know they're the only quicker way to my heart than goals. He's converted from this spot a few times, but was wayward here, reducing the gap to two and putting a draw on the agenda again. For the sake of finishing top I'd have accepted that, but now I really, really wanted to win.

For all the shit I've given to umpires for not identifying 15 metres this season, one of the key reasons we won was a call that forced them to stop dinking and start playing properly with less than two minutes left. Refer to last year for an example of them gently kicking around us while we're powerless to intervene (yes, I know we still nearly won but can't for the life of me explain how). They got the ball back in hand and ran another 20 seconds off the clock, but had been pushed back far enough that they eventually ran out of options and had to kick to a contest. Credit to Petty for ruining that, Harmes for standing up in a tackle, then Oliver for extracting it from trouble, and we were a chance again.

The score worm looked like a Mayan Temple, and my heart was about to leap out and offer itself for human sacrifice. I was still so convinced that we'd fall heartbreakingly short that I remained seated. That is, until a deliberate that surpassed the famous James McDonald vs Port in 2007 as the worst decision in history. 

With less than 40 seconds left, having belted back from more than seven goals down to be within one kick of a win that would land us on top of the table for the first time since the early stages of the Vietnam War, the same umpires who just ignored Selwood kicking it straight towards the line deemed that Brayshaw instinctively booting a loose ball out of the air 30 metres forward and across the line was the right time to adjudicate 'insufficient intent'. You fucking what? Talk about an insane failure to read the context of the game.

Maybe in that split second, Gus did think about punting it forward, gaining territory and allowing us to set up from another bounce. The way Gawn was playing you wouldn't blame him, but surely under the circumstances there was enough reasonable doubt to just let it go. As it turns out, thank god they paid it. I've said 'all's well that ends well' a few times this season but it has never been more relevant. In the moment I was ready to punch on. If there's any record of the words that came out of my mouth I'll have to destroy them or face the biggest defamation suit since Gutnick vs Dow Jones. Diamond Joe probably didn't frame his case with the same words as me. **** was popular, as were ********, ******** and *********. 

With time almost expired, that should have been the end of it, leaving us to whinge forever about being cheated out of the minor premiership, as if if we wouldn't have ultimately been at fault for going 44 points behind in the first place. The irony of a deliberate (or if you're a wanker, 'insufficient intent') decision sending us to the Adelaide Oval was lost on me at the time. If the footage of me after the deliberate would have led to legal trouble, video of my reactions over the next minute would have become internet famous for other reasons.

I'd barely finished calling the umpire a ****** ********** when the Cats decided the best course of action was to kick out on the full. Not how I'd have done it, but much appreciated anyway. As was the unnecessary thumping of ball over the fence by the Geelong player that gave away 50. Finally, a fisting that worked in our favour. You can argue this was an excessively administrative punishment, but given what they'd just paid 30 metres to the left of screen it should have been obvious that these umpires had no issue being controversial. Bet he'd have thought twice if he had to get his car out of Kardinia Park with 20,000 locals milling around outside.

With 27 seconds to go, this left the ball in the hands of Jake Lever (via a trainer heroically jumping the fence to retrieve the ball like he was on Ninja Warrior), who hasn't kicked a goal for five years, and whose entire MFC output stands at 0.1. The Spirit of '64 atmosphere would have been advanced by him playing the unlikely goalkicker role of Neil Crompton. Instead, he spotted Gawn pointing into acres of free space, and with opposition interception machine Tom Stewart applying Deep Heat in the stands, hit Max with the most perfect pass you'll ever see.

He couldn't have hit it any better, but try telling me that the moment the ball came off the boot, when my initial instinct was that it was heading straight to a defender. My emotions spiked so severely as the ball went towards Max that I didn't even process him flirting with a Petterd style juggle and drop before holding it. We'd gone so far into death or glory mode that the first player to him after the grab was May. Almost everyone from both sides was down there, and they still couldn't stop him marking. He's extremely large but that was no excuse.

The obvious first impression was that he was going to miss in similar circumstances to the 2018 Geelong game. That day there was more time left, and he was further out, but with less angle. This had him lining up slightly enough off centre that you could easily imagine the kick cannoning into the post. Because my mind is wired in a deranged fashion, my first thought was how we'd never won a game after the siren. I've been looking for examples since starting Demonwiki, and the best I've been able to find was a goal to draw in 1935. Somebody must have shagged a witch in the 80s, because it's happened to us five times since then.

The recent history of him missing a similar goal in a less stressful situation was more relevant than what's happened since 1859, but it just seemed like destiny that he'd miss, we'd end an otherwise successful home and away campaign as a laughing stock, and that things would continue to go in favour of the team with three 21st century flags and a ground that's regularly upgraded for them on the taxpayer dollar.

To give you an insight into how I watch games at the 2018-2021 Demonblog Towers (P.S - good to see the club considering their own tower as a tribute), business is conducted on a projecter screen powered by a laptop, while I'm sitting on a couch, usually stretched out on an Ottoman type thingy and under an old man blanket, on my own because nobody else in the place gives a shit. 

Since moving in I've watched close finishes sitting, behind the couch, and once sitting on the (non-running) treadmill in the corner because the tension made me feel like I needed a physical barrier to what I was seeing on the screen. This time I stood up, nervously walked towards the door and back, then clutched onto the side of the Ottoman with both hands like I was trying to tear somebody's face off in a life-or-death struggle. My feelings were so strong that it's hard to think now that we were 'just' playing for a token trophy and to avoid a hostile crowd. 

Nobody's ever celebrated winning the McClelland Trophy (I guess the 1990 reunion was cancelled because of COVID), but as far as my central nervous system was concerned Maximum may as well have been kicking for a flag. If he missed it would prove that either there is a cosmic conspiracy against us ever being happy, or that I'm living in a Truman Show style simulation and you're all heartless bastard home viewers who are just here for the drama.  

We knew Gawn was going to kick after the siren, he didn't. So when the siren interrupted his run-up, forcing him to stop and go back for a second try I thought that made the result absolutely certain, and that the cockhead element of society would be gifted 'comedy' material for years to come. Who knows what would have happened if he'd had enough time for the original run-up, or even worse if the siren had caught him during the ball drop, but contrary to all my expectations he bloody walloped it through. 

Cue scenes on the field. Cue a frenzy in my house not seen since that swimming coach went off his rocker in Tokyo. The couch in the Megawall Room was thumped, before I ran into the real living room, gave that couch a few gleeful opened handed slaps, jumped up and down on the spot a few times and babbled to myself about how it was the greatest thing I've ever seen. Maybe it was all a bit over the top to compensate for nobody else being around. Surprised the commotion didn't wake them and the neighbours up. 

The only finishes to TV games that I can remember provoking similar reactions are Adelaide 2001 and the Subiaco Sizzle Miracle in 2017. Both goals came close enough to the siren but not after it, but neither ended in finals so they're both diminished in some way. This goal's place in history will still be determined by what happens next. It will look even better if we win the flag. If we go out in straight sets it will be the high point of the season but tinged with sadness. For now, the 2000 Qualifying Final still rates higher for me as a win, but this is up there.

For all the shit hung on Channel 7 over the years, the idea that anyone sounds better if they're not next to BT was furthered by the call of the finish. No histrionics, no "boy gee. Ho ho ho, whatta ya reckon?", wacky accents or court jester behaviour. Even the comical "what is going on?" after the mark came at just the right time, with just the right tone so you believed that it was how he really felt, rather than somebody playing a character. They were even polite enough to wait until after the kick to do the cliched references to Max's earlier set shot woes. And when it goal went through they shut up for a second and let it sink in before talking again. Perfect. It's nearly comical that a buffoon like Taylor is called on to do Grand Finals, the most rewatched games of all, when examples like this prove everyone else is better at the job.

After the initial commotion died down, the obvious thing to do would have been to watch the kick again. It took me half an hour, like there was some chance that if I kept looking at it he'd eventually miss. Have seen it about 213 times since. Not only did I pick up the near juggle on the way down this time, but also the long, bamboozled faces on the Geelong players when he took it. Dry your eyes on a flag, now you know how we felt after the Zac Tuohy incident. Besides, it's not like they've been eliminated from the competition, I predict a 2007 Grand Final level of revenge against Port.

With a setup like this, can there be any doubt that what this troubled country needs is a Melbourne vs Geelong Grand Final? In fact, may as well tell the other six teams to go home to their families and proceed directly to playing them for the cup next week. Let my 50% vaccinated immune system (side effects may include Melbourne finishing 1st) into the MCG/Adelaide Oval/Perth Stadium/Wagga Showgrounds and I'll sign any waiver you want to absolve blame if I get Coronavirus, Ebola virus, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Do it for the health of my upholstery.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Jake Lever
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Jack Viney

Serious apologies to Pickett, who just missed out on the last vote. Next level apologies to Neal-Bullen, Bowey and Salem.

Finally, Oliver gets the decisive break. With either three or four games left, he's two and a half BOGs ahead and almost certain to take the title. The only question is if he beats his own record for votes in a season, 64 in 2018.  For Petracca, Lever (now officially eliminated, though almost mathematically safe in the Seecamp) and the rest, the consolation prize is the infrequently awarded but never officially named Finals Player of the Year. Highest score in however many finals are played wins.

In the minors, Gawn ends Jackson's one week insurgency in the Stynes, while there's no further movement in the Hilton. Jordon continues to lead, but Bowey can be considered unlucky not to have picked up votes a couple of times so could still spring an upset. He's already played four games, so one more will leave him ineligible to win next year. I'm sure he'll prefer playing finals. 

60 - Clayton Oliver
48 - Christian Petracca
--- Abandon all hope below here ---
38 - Jake Lever (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
24 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
22 - Tom McDonald
21 - Luke Jackson 
20 - Steven May
17 - Christian Salem
13 - Kysaiah Pickett
9 - Bayley Fritsch, Ed Langdon, Harrison Petty
7 - James Harmes, Alex Neal-Bullen
6 - Angus Brayshaw,
5 - Jayden Hunt, Charlie Spargo
3 - Michael Hibberd, Jack Viney
2 - James Jordon (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jake Bowey

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
Several weeks ago I speculated that an exciting last minute goal might have been the only hope of toppling Pickett's phonebooth extravaganza against St Kilda. And here we are. In normal circumstances a bog standard set shot from the 20 metres out wouldn't raise an eyebrow. This was not normal circumstances, and I am pleased to declare it the new clubhouse leader. Well done to Kysaiah for a lead defended for 21 weeks, via several states and multiple lockdowns, but your work is done here. Please accept silver and come back for another go over the next month.

No need for a weekly prize, Max's reward will come in football heaven. Have your 2501st look....

Next Week
For the first time ever it's a final against Brisbane at Check Local Guides for Details. Bit of a letdown from our last finals campaign, going from being one of 91,767 at the MCG to hanging out on my own at home, yelling at the TV. It's sad, but not enough to affect my enjoyment of any potential victory and express route to the Prelim. That means a week off, and perhaps two if the AFL shift operations to Perth (shades of 1990, when we had the extra week off due to the West Coast/Collingwood draw and played our next final accordingly), but why would you? If South Australia's going to be more accomodating with teams flying in and out, tell Mark McGowan to go piss up a rope and play the Grand Final at Adelaide Oval.

Our choice of venue was sadly not dramatically revealed in a primetime TV special, but Adelaide was always going to be the sensible option. Queensland was out due to the opposition, and it would have been excessively zany to choose either of the Mt. Variable Weather grounds in Tasmania. Considering how bad we were at Football Park, we've got a reasonable record at the new place, and if nothing else playing there is reward for the SA fans who used to turn up and watch us get pummelled at every opportunity. If your interest, like mine, involves knocking over a string of foul historical anomalies, you'll note that we start the finals series 0-3 in interstate finals. 3-3 by the end would be nice, but 3-4 would do.

Now selection gets serious, you don't want to do something that leaves fans whinging for years. I don't want to rest on our laurels, but I can't see any major changes. McSizzle didn't do anything in his first start back after injury, so you could argue we're too tall forward but I'm prepared to take the risk. One day he, Fritsch and Brown are going to go nuts in the same week. Why not this one? And in defence, I'm still into Hibberd but considering Smith hasn't done much wrong over the last two weeks and Hunt won't be fit you may as well stick with him. Could be famous last words.  

Given that Viney responded to my lack of faith by tearing into opposition players like a madman I don't think he needs to prove himself further, so the last decision is between Sparrow and Jordon. Tom had a couple of clangers but the big marks save him. Still, wouldn't slash my wrists if they went the other way. Maybe the night of Kade Chandler (remember him?) style tracksuit duty helped freshen Double J up? Or we could do something completely unexpected and high risk. I bet nobody's finals bingo card had Jake Bowey and Joel Smith on it a few weeks ago.

IN: Nil
OUT: Nil
LUCKY: McDonald
UNLUCKY: Jordon (picked as sub), Melksham

I can't bring myself to make a prediction. Let's see what our 1998 Reserves coach does with the theory about teams not being concerned with playing us twice. Worked for Leon Klinghoffer, Clarko, Beveridge, and Chris Scott for half a game. They've already played half a game against us before dying, hopefully they carry on where they left off.

With a second go if we stuff it up, what happens elsewhere is equally important. We could end up in the nightmare scenario of having to stop Essendon get to a prelim, so here's to Footscray scrambling to the most unconvincing, sloppy win in finals history. Even better, win, get onto the other side of the draw with a week off, and go one of Sydney, GWS, Port, or god forbid Geelong for a spot in the Grand Final.

Flogging my own stuff
Now that you're unlikely to walk into a Victorian bookstore until 2022, it's either online ordering or finding somebody that has a) got it in stock, and b) offers click and collect, or c) has no interest in government regulations. Either way, you should easily have a copy in your hand by Father's Day if you order now. Why stop there? Do as Peter Costello said and have one for dad, one for mum, and one for Australia. And if you're missing my nasally voice, there's an hour of it on the Kick To Kick podcast, where we talk all things 1964.

Flogging somebody else's stuff
The fastest way to get on my good side is plugging my stuff. Hence, we suggest you have a crack at, which is chockers with links to my gear, probably leading a few confused randoms towards these posts.

Flogging myself

Final Thoughts
The historical circle was completed when I was sent footage of Chris Sullivan watching the last kick. He probably doesn't remember what happened in Round 6, 1992, but I certainly do. Suffice to say Chris and family were excited. I can't understand how any of us would survive a similar finish to a Grand Final but I'm willing to try. If it means becoming the first Melbourne supporter to die happy since Billy Snedden I'll do it.

Monday 16 August 2021

Going through the emotions

Even after a season where we've just collected more premiership points than any other in our history, that Adelaide game will still be talked about at length for years to come. Perhaps not by sensible people, but I won't shut up about it. Losing a near-unprecedented losing streak to a lowly side, by a point, with one of the great umpiring non-decisions, and crucial goals kicked by a champion player who later torched his reputation with a spot of racism. It had something for everybody.

With our double chance sealed, and much of the work done towards a fixture shenanigans proof top two finish, there can't have more than about 15 of us interested in the rematch. To everyone else, that was an unfortunate one-off that we quickly bounced back from and this was an irritating speed hump in the way of a much bigger game next week. I was intent on proving that we'd learnt something that day and wouldn't make the same mistakes twice. Not sure the case was proven, but via a few ropey minutes during the third quarter we got what we really needed. Back on top, nobody injured, and with our dignity intact despite generously trying to give the 17th best side in the league a competitive game.

You'd have to be an anti-Goodwin fundamentalist to deny we've done well this year, but because deep down I'm convinced we're going to be exposed as imposters, our lineup made me feel like we were one injury crisis away from being a mid-table side. Not that this would necessarily rule you out of finals this year, but would still have ended in Carlton style coaching drama and the sense that we were never going to contend again.  

Any side is vulnerable to its depth being exposed, but consider how well we've done on the (admittedly flimsy) 'games lost by best 22' measure. Even the majority of those come from Tomlinson, whose replacement is playing out of his skin. Maybe everybody else's replacements would too, but I wouldn't have liked to rely on a starting 18 featuring Harmes, Hibberd, Melksham, Smith and Sparrow - and with vandenBerg as the next cab off the rank - since Round 10. All have their charms, will have a whole-hearted bash, and have played very good games this year but there's a limit to how many fringe players you can get away with. However, given that there's always some absolute random in premiership sides, I have no objections with any of them becoming the new Steven Armstrong or Clay Sampson.

The good news is we won't have to rely on all of the above next week and, barring further injury calamity, the finals. Some will be required to play roles, others will make way for Tom McSizzle to maraud around centre half-forward, and Steven May (a late withdrawal on Sunday with a case of not taking the opposition seriously) to resume his role as the physical and moral centre of our defence.

After some of our NQR performances against lowly teams this year, this was the last banana peel to step over before finals - which will now start without waiting for a bye, creating absolute chaos for my viewing schedule. I'm worried every time we play, but was especially concerned here. They might have only beat us by a point via Hail Mary comeback last time, but no side good or bad has moved the ball as easily against us. I've sooked for the second half of the year about teams not being afraid to play Melbourne twice, they got it right on the first go so who knows what was going to happen now. I know they're winding down for the end of the year (notwithstanding almost toppling Port last week), but offered the chance to go top again it still felt like we were being set up for a unique pre-finals humiliation. 

For much of the first three quarters, the Crows carried on like nothing had changed from the last meeting. What saved us this time was that they had a lack of decent options inside 50, and our makeshift Mayless backline played out of their skins to turn chances back. The counter-balance was this time we didn't have Clayton Oliver playing one of the greatest quarters you'll ever see. We'll assume he's saving himself for when it really counts. 

It was also our last game of the year on Fox Footy, a station with an all-time great theme song, pretty graphics, and commentators who'd come off a lot worse if they weren't compared to Channel 7. One of the most appealing aspects of getting back to live games, probably for about three rounds next year before we're back in lockdown, is having a range of calls to listen to. I know there's technical wizardry available to sync TV to radio, but I'm already 30 seconds behind watching on Kayo, my nerves can't stand any further delays.

Eddie McGuire's performance was a touch better than screaming through the last quarter of Freo/Richmond, like he was calling the Invasion of Normandy, but was still not very good. The only purpose it served was for ticking off squares on your Eddie Bingo card. The involvement of Craig Kelly's son meant a certain mention of the 1990 premiership, and naturally various private schools were mentioned, but sadly without 'Derm' next to him he couldn't jam in a single reference to nightclubs or drink cards.

Whenever he does one of our games, I start by saying how I don't want to join in the lazy pile-on from people who'd hate him if he cured cancer, then spend the rest of the report slaughtering his commentary. It's a case of playing the ball, not the man. You can argue what he does in public, you can't dispute that he's a pox caller. At this stage, I'd even pick Dwayne ahead of him in the commentator draft. Which was lucky, because he was there too. Over the next four quarters much rubbish was spoken, McGuire tempted fate by referencing the tremendously un-PC song My Boomerang Won't Come Back, and hopefully whatever room they were calling from has been bricked up so they can't escape until October.

Top four implications aside, this was one of the deadest rubbers around. That didn't mean you couldn't sweat up a treat when the Crows did all the early attacking. We were playing like there had just been a break for lightning, while they carried on like the last five minutes of our first meeting. Not only did they have seven scoring shots, but Paul Seedsman was collecting disposals at world record pace. Usually that's only said for effect, but this time he really was on track for about 90 touches at one stage. Whatever we did to keeping him down to 36 at the end deserves credit.

Despite being on our heels in the opening minutes, we still got the opening goal through Melksham, just before he went into the witness protection program. Things were still not progressing as well as you'd have hoped. The only thing keeping me from cracking the sads was the memory of giving Gold Coast a competitive opening term before tearing them apart. Like last time their kicking neatly avoided contests, they were winning at stoppages, and our big names were being kept quiet. If we hadn't played badly against so many dud teams and still sat top of the ladder with a week to go I'd say it was a poor trial for September. Instead, I'm prepared to put it in the uphill skiing file and move on.

Like Melksham, Brown did all his best work early before drifting away. The difference was that he got two goals, might have had a third if not for Atari 2600 level video review cameras, and kept contesting to the end. The science is settled on him playing in September, and even if he only has eight touches a week I'll gladly two a game. Besides, with the VFL season only the fattest chance of being completed, nobody else will get a chance to stake their claim. Stick with experience and recent results then hope for the best. 

By the end of the quarter we'd weathered the early storm and looked to have their measure. The surprise hit of the opening stages was Joel Smith, who has been one of the most maligned characters of recent times but celebrated a week where he got an extended contract and a surprise late call up by putting in a creditable performance. It was far from flawless, and there was also a surprise hit on Hibberd during an ill-advised aerial contest, but it was far better than expected given his struggles last year.

But as much as I enjoyed the brief Smith redemption story, and Lever tormenting his old side by intercepting everything that came near him, the main event was Harrison (never Harry) Petty. He wasn't playing against the world's best forwards, but the ball was coming down there quickly enough that he could still prove to be safe as houses while playing May's role. Anything could happen, but there's your direct replacement when Steven pulls up stumps in a few years. Defenders can only do so much if the ball comes at them too often or too fast, but between him, Lever and May - and with your Salems, Boweys, and Hibberd/Hunts at ground level, we've got as much chance of stopping the opposition as any Melbourne side since about 1964.

With Petty (21), Lever (25) and Salem (26) entrenched and Bowey looking promising, the future of our backline seems solid. All of them should offer something for years to come, but not as many as Luke Jackson, who is not yet 20 but makes me want to do this every time I see him play:

Fortunately, a dual holding the ball tackle with Oliver saw the free go to Jackson, who converted our third in five minutes after the break. Every other aspect of Oliver's game makes you go gooey, but it's now well-established that he can't kick set shots for shit.

I fancy Adelaide team to be good in a couple of years, and unlike Gold Coast, they didn't respond to the game turning against them by going into their shell and being kicked to death for an hour. Instead they got the next two, reducing the margin to a manageable 18 points. We'd been here against them last time, working our way to an early lead, blowing the chance to finish them off, then trying (and failing) to withstand a comeback.

The real nervy moments didn't come until the third quarter, for now we reacted to their quick goals like they were a mere annoyance. After not having a touch in the first quarter, Fritsch was a touch unlucky that a free right in front of goal bounced straight in the arms of Petracca to thump into the top deck from a metre out, but it calmed things down. The later the game went - quite literally - the better things got for Fritsch and his aerodynamic hair.

For the second time, nobody would have blamed Adelaide for giving up. Instead, they came out after half time at a million miles an hour, booted three in a row and reduced the margin to less than a goal. That, for fans of obscure statistical measurements, represents the thankfully rare Reverse Stranglewank - where we go 24+ points in front, then allow the other side to get within a goal.

Just when they had some momentum we responded by plundering a response straight from the bounce. It was created in the middle, but credit goes to Langdon for fighting his heart out to get a kick inside 50, and Petracca for dashing onto the loose ball and stuffing it home. The Adelaide defender might have done a better job of tackling him, but good luck stopping somebody built like a brick shithouse when they're going at that pace.

This was followed by more Petracca delights, this time setting up Pickett at the top of the square with one of the most wonderfully weighted kicks you'll ever see. Again, it seemed like we'd finally put them away and could get on with running out the rest of the game at slow motion. Except for the bit where the Crows burst straight out of the middle and snapped a goal out of their arse to bring it back under 10 points. 

Given how we've played last quarters this year I didn't much fancy having to come from behind to win. Luckily, the proposed shootout (adjusted for modern standards) was cancelled when the Crows failed to score for the next half an hour. Future Rising Star and key West Coast recruiting target Jackson got the party started with a one-handed mark 20 metres out, and that was it for goals by any Melbourne player not called Fritsch. Bayley responded perfectly to a kick not been deemed 15 metres (a change from our usual policy of kicking it straight up in the air) to bend his shot through and he was heating up nicely. 

At four goals the difference I was far from convinced the game was won, still looking at milestones to convince myself that the fourth quarter had gone so long there was no hope of a comeback. These are the things you've got to do when the same team recently overhauled a 17 point deficit in the last five minutes to beat you by one. The good news was that they'd lost any capability of breaking through our backline. The bad news was we weren't keen on running away with victory, leading to nearly 10 goalless minutes that even I started to find tedious.

Enter Fritsch and the most exciting individual goal rampage since Jeff Farmer vs Collingwood. His fourth was the sealer, and though the Crows eventually got their ninth and last, it was far too late to have any impact. It also turned out to be one of the most counter-productive goals ever, cancelled out straight from the centre, then immediately leading to another two goals. If Fogerty had stuffed his kick into the post they'd probably have finished the game two goals closer.

Number five prompted Dwayne to pull out the same "Fritsch Magnet" gag he'd used 51 weeks ago, acting like it was a completely off the cuff, spontaneous gag. This is why I like to document the most minor occurrences so they can be referred back to later. McGuire and Brad Johnson didn't hear it the first time, because they acted like Bill Hicks had just come back from the dead and done a live show, setting off a back-patting wankfest about what a great call it was. You'd think even young Ed wouldn't have stood for this sort of thing, then I found this clip from 1992 when he's referencing being belted in a school game 10 years earlier. He is nothing if not consistent.

The callers hadn't even finished gently tugging each other off before Fritsch was back for his sixth. Then we shot straight out of the centre and he was shooting for seven. The margin would probably have been true to the way the game was played two goals earlier, so the combination of that, him having kicked six straight, the rarity of Melbourne players going beyond seven, and the bitter memory of the after the siren miss that cost us a hundred point win against Gold Coast three years ago, convinced me that he'd miss. But he was on such a high that it went through. Somewhere the NBA Jam announcer yelled "he's on fire!

Not only was it the last three goals of the game, but he'd kicked our last five. There's something you don't see every day. Five in a row at any time is rare - Jako got the first six of Round 20, 1991, and Scott Lucas the first five of the last quarter here (and another two later), but the record since scoring progression has been tracked must be Josh Kennedy, lobbing through seven on the trot during 2015.

Speaking of historical precedent, Fritsch enters a rare group of Demons to have kicked seven in my supporting life. He'll be attending reunions with Bennett, Cuthbertson, Jakovich, Lovell, Schwarz, Lyon, Neitz, Farmer, Bruce, Robertson and Hogan. Alternatively, here's a gathering of all the Melbourne defenders who have conceded seven:

There's been a lot said about DemonTime, but this was the greatest individual effort in its history. His third last goal went through with 1.27 left, the last on the siren. This left me so baffled after the siren that I had to rewind and make sure I'd correctly seen this gold standard pissfarting around by Charleston Spargo:

He's already won praise for a range of wacky facial expressions, and this was admirably unusual behaviour. Who knows what the in-joke was, but Hibberd giving him absolutely nothing made it even funnier.

As we said goodbye to Fox Footy for the last time this season, there was one last moment of wonky commentary from our old mate Eddie. He loves trying to be dramatic, and went through a long, flowery spiel about how badly we've had it over the years in an effort to get former MFC turncoat Gerard Healy to jump on the bandwagon of 'his club', only for Healy to flat out refuse to get involved. Rightly so, he knows that ditching us in his prime to take the money of a dodgy doctor means he doesn't get to be happy now. Ring Greg and ask his opinion.

That ended the 'home' portion of our 'home and away' season, via two home games in Sydney, playing away to Gold Coast at Docklands, and a total attendance across our last three MCG games of zero. This season would be strange enough just for the COVID related fixturing shenanigans, but the final ladder promises to be the zaniest for years. Six evenly matched teams at the top, a bunch of slop merchants vying for eighth, North Melbourne as one of the better sides ever to finish last, and Gold Coast as one of the worst to win seven games. If we weren't well clear of the finals fringe (for this year anyway...) I'd be crying in 2017 Melbourne watching flotsam and jetsam playing to make it with 11 wins.

The final act in this wacky series of events will be for the Grand Final to officially be relocated to Perth. At the time of writing it's not official, but there's no chance in hell the AFL is going to take the risk that a) fans will be allowed to watch games in Victoria, or b) the state won't go into lockdown at the drop of a hat. Conversely, WA is so hot to win the rights that if somebody tests positive for the big one that week they'll probably smother them with a pillow and frame somebody (wouldn't be the first time) for murder. So be it. If (and I don't believe in jinxes, but let's just through a few more varieties of IF, if and IF in just to be sure) we qualify for a Grand Final/win a flag in Perth there's no guarantee the same thing would have happened here. Take it and run, even if the way things are going your celebrations will be restricted to raising a glass on your own in front of the TV and having a big old cry.

Gary Pert had a go at picking an empty MCG over a full anywhere else in Australia. It was a classic case of flying the flag while knowing full well he had no chance of winning the argument. As expected the other 17 clubs chose option A. Which makes sense, the only interest for sides not involved (which could very well be us by that point) is flogging their allotment of tickets for the biggest possible profit. Personally, if nobody was going to be there anyway I'd rather play at Docklands.

The ultimate irony would be if cases are brought under control in the next month and we reach Saturday 25 September without a Grand Final or a lockdown. Maybe that will allow small groups of fans to watch together. Usually I'd go to the ends of the earth to avoid people, but in the still unlikely event of us being a red-hot chance of a flag, it seems right to be around others who understand. Meanwhile, I'm down for almost anything in politics, but if Victoria doesn't host the Grand Final and they still have a public holiday the day before I might join the Revolutionary Workers' Party. Unless we're not involved, then you can play it in Kabul for all I care.

But if it does go to Perth, and we're in it, they're going to need somebody from that state to hand us the premiership cup. Is there any other option?

Speaking of that wonderful man, here's an award created when we weren't sure if he was still alive....

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Harrison Petty
4 - Jake Lever
3 - Bayley Fritsch
2 - Luke Jackson
1 - Christian Petracca

Tremendous apologies to Gawn, Langdon and Salem, all of who could have snuck in for one.

It's just Petracca's luck that the week Oliver fails to score he only gets one, leaving the margin at nearly two full BOGs. Last week I incorrectly said there were seven games left, which is probably because I went to a state school. There were actually six, now there's somewhere between three and five, so the line of doom is set at exactly 25 points. 

This means the only potential winner from outside the top two is Jake Lever, if he polls almost full votes in every game and we lose our first final. Don't see how we get that far without Oliver polling three more but you never know. In recognition of his likely podium finish, the awards committee has named Jake the provisional winner of his first Seecamp.

With the two horse Hilton race untouched, the thriller is in the Stynes, where Jackson has hit the front. Importantly, his 19 hitouts both take him back over the qualifying mark and offer him some breathing space, now on 10.8 per game. It wouldn't be the biggest boilover of all time if he won (step forward Fitzpatrick/Gawn, sharing the 2013 award with odds of $50 and $45 respectively) but have to be close. Welcome to the future.

53 - Clayton Oliver
46 - Christian Petracca
35 - Jake Lever (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
--- Abandon all hope below here ---
22 - Tom McDonald
20 - Luke Jackson (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
20 - Max Gawn, Steven May
17 - Christian Salem
13 - Kysaiah Pickett
9 - Bayley Fritsch, Ed Langdon, Harrison Petty
7 - James Harmes, Alex Neal-Bullen
6 - Angus Brayshaw,
5 - Jayden Hunt, Charlie Spargo
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - James Jordon (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Adam Tomlinson, Jack Viney
1 - Jake Bowey

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
I'm going to break from convention and jointly award this to all three goals from The Bayley Fritsch Junktime Rampage. Especially the last one, because all my prejudices about watching Melbourne left me convinced he wouldn't kick it. If I was wrong about that, maybe I'm wrong that there's no chance we'll ever win a flag while I'm alive? For the weekly prize he wins a vat of industrial strength hair gel. Pickett retains the overall lead that's held since Round 2.

The All-New Bradbury Plan
The equation is simple, Footscray d. Port and we're assured of a top finish, no matter what happens in Geelong. Every other game and team can get stuffed.

Next Week
Do not adjust your sets, Melbourne (yes, that one) will play to win the minor premiership on Saturday night. It's supposed to be in Geelong, but who knows what will happen before then. The tight as a fish's arse ladder means it's not as simple as win = 1st, lose = 2nd and get a 'home' final either way. Port/Footscray on Friday si crucial, we're safe if the Dogs win (and in that case you may see some kooky late changes), but if it goes the other way we're playing to avoid dropping to third. 

The narrow percentage gap between Port and Geelong means the margins would decide which we play in the first week. If the game is played at either Melbourne ground I'd prefer a second shot at the Cats, if the AFL lose their mind and do it at Kardinia Park, then give me the Adelaide Oval any day of the week. Let's just do it the easy way and win first time around.

The first two changes are obvious, May and McDonald come back as fast as you can possibly get two players in. Making way for them are their recent replacements. Melksham departs after about six minutes of great play across two games, and 154 where he was nowhere to be seen. Smith goes out with apologies, but there's no place for him as long as May is breathing. 

I'm not keen on vandenBerg as sub, as much as it might provoke scandal and media speculation I'd give the job to Viney. Still wouldn't entirely be against Jones coming back into the side, but I just can't see it happening. 

IN: May, McDonald
OUT: Melksham, Smith (omit)
LUCKY: Harmes, Sparrow
UNLUCKY: Jones, Viney, Weideman

Don't quote me on this but I think we'll win. I don't seriously believe this from a football perspective, but am going all in on the dream, shortly before we're knocked out of the finals in straight sets.

Final Thoughts
It had to come just as we're being rooted six ways from Sunday by a pandemic but I'm ready to give full emotional investment to our finals campaign. Odds are that it still ends in disappointment, but no matter where the final breath of our season is taken I reserve the right to stick my head in a dishwasher out of despair if it doesn't end in Max Gawn holding the cup.