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.

1 comment:

  1. To paraphrase Ali G, I was turtling at half time after a wasteful second quarter left the door slightly ajar for Brisbane. In Jackson's defence I think it was Petracca who burned two chances, one of which saw him ignoring a teammate in a better position.


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