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 myheartbeatstrue.com, 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.


  1. i think you may have been a bit harsh on danger and the other cat players that went missing late.i am quite sure they watched dan andrews presser earlier in the day and decided to uphold the curfew rule and do NOTHING after 9pm on the night ? just my thoughts

  2. I woke up most of my neighbours screaming "Big Max!!" when the mark was taken. Louder yes, but a better tone than the obscenities uttered earlier when Brown and ANB were slammed without prior opportunity but deemed to have thrown the ball. Not to mention deliberate against Oliver when he was more concerned about Hawkins' full weight crashing on top.
    I can't stop watching Lever's kick to the top of the square. Look where Stanley and Hawkins are. Why wouldn't you put some body pressure on the opposition's tallest player?
    Sizzle looked restricted and might have missed if we were against weaker opponents. Full confidence he'll get himself right for this week's final.

  3. Comebacks like that only happen to other people's teams. I'm still buzzing.


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