Monday, 2 August 2021

Stuff the silver, we came here for the Gold Coast

It's gone a bit Dr. Seuss at Melbourne. This game went from being played at Cararra, to Marrara, then a week after playing against Jamarra, it was back to Carrara. Oh the places you'll go - in a tightly controlled travel bubble. But not, as it turned out, Metricon Stadium. 

In the sort of scenario that could only happen to us, players boarded a plane on Saturday morning, and arrived in Queensland to discover the state had just gone into lockdown and the game was off. It wasn't as simple as turning around and flying back, for the next couple of hours professional sportsmen who are collectively paid almost $13m a year sat on the tarmac like hijack victims, wondering if their next destination was Melbourne, Perth or Entebbe. Eventually, they were cleared to go home, the extreme version of when I got all the way to the front door and found out I'd left my keys at work. 

For all the shit hung on the AFL in these pages, you've got to feel for them. Just when they found a safe space to keep the season going, a few people catch the big 'un and it turns out once elections are won governments aren't as keen on bending over backwards to look after you. Could have been worse, Gold Coast's reserves were ordered to pull up and piss off 10 minutes into the first quarter. At least they only had to drive home, we did our bit for global warming with an unnecessary 12 hour trip up and down the eastern seaboard.

There had been suggestions earlier in the week that the game would be played at Docklands. After being rejected for not fitting the -arra rhyming scheme that's where it ended up anyway, a day late and a crowd short, as the opening act in a double-header with quintessential Victorian rivals Greater Western Sydney and Port Adelaide. Hopefully there was time to paint green over some of the concrete bits between games.

All's well that ends well when you win by 98 points, but who knows why the emergency fixture landed us at Marvel and Essendon at the 'G. Hope that makes Bombers fans feel better about being locked out of the place in Round 1. If I'm not going to be there, give me Fortress Docklands any day. We're absolutely mad for playing there with as few people in attendance as possible. From breaking that string of losses in front of a record low crowd in 2015, to the lockout wins over Carlton and Footscray, we're more comfortable when it's just us, the opposition, and ball clanging off the goalpost half a dozen times.

A game I could have legally walked to the door of but wasn't allowed in to see was a fitting way to celebrate the end of my longest ever holiday from work. The grand plan was to catch every live game possible from mid-May until Round 20, and instead I ended up seeing one loss. The best reason to play games by any means necessary instead of delaying the season now is that at this stage I'm well placed for the first, third, and god forbid fourth weeks of the finals. Can't wait to discover what sort of late-breaking virus shenanigans fix that up.

As much as I wanted to get this game over with ASAP, our record against pox teams convinced me that playing less than 24 hours after the most unnecessary travel since Jeff Bezos in space would bring us undone. This didn't reckon with Gold Coast playing like they'd flown in on Aeroflot. Can't blame them for being flat, imagine finding out at the last minute that a season you lost interest in weeks ago will end with three weeks of living in hotels like Alan Partridge, while undergoing dozens of brain-digging COVID tests. Makes a change to what Suns players used to stick up their nose. You can say "stiff shit, that's what all the Victorian teams did last year", and you'd be right, but it still doesn't mean they're not traumatised by it.

Anyone who's watched Melbourne over the years can recognise players suddenly realising what they're doing is futile and wishing they were anywhere else. For the Suns, this happened late in the first quarter. Until then they'd been outmatched, but had willed themselves to stay within range. For the next 90 minutes, Stuart Dew should have replaced his runners with trained trauma counsellors.

If you told me in 2019 that Gold Coast would play two home games in Victoria, the obvious question would have been "who did they merge with?" But these are very weird times. After the Grand Final last year I said...

... and we must be getting close. Playing Port at the Gabba for an audience of 350 last year was weird, but there was some stability after the initial break to the season. Now we're just having dead-set chaos on a weekly basis. I'm glad to have held off reading that book about how the 2020 season unfolded, because it's going to need an update at the end of this year. Not to mention seasons 2022-2029 once the Epsilon, Lambda Lambda Lambda, Romeo, Alpha, Zulu and Quebec variants have had their day.

Things were a bit different to the last time Zaraffa Coffee and J&D Sports Indooroopilly were seen on the Docklands advertising hoardings. One long month ago the Suns brought the house down with a memorable win over Richmond, now their life force has been squashed so ferociously the players involved can only be identified by dental records.

For all the "just watch them stuff this up" premonitions of doom, taking the ball straight into their 50 and hammering away at the goal was a good start. Mind you, we did the same against Hawthorn, and look how that turned out? Like that game we finally turned territorial domination into the first goal, and in an early sign that the Suns didn't really fancy it, Tom McSizzle was allowed a ridiculous degree of space to run around and hook through from the boundary. I can't remember the last time a side was so ludicrously casual about defending a player in that position, and the result was exactly what they deserved.

In an unexplained phenomenon that we've been tracking for several years, McDonald's goals usually lead to us either conceding one at the other end or going uncomfortably close. On this occasion Oliver was pinched as part of a brief crackdown on dodgy handballs, and whoever was meant to be minding the red-hot Touk Miller said 'Touk this job and shove it', because he went perilously close to an immediate reply that might have led to me throwing something at the screen. 

Expected to look after the original Demonblog Jr while this was going on I offered her two options: a) watch the game with me, or b) play computer games in the next room. Obviously she picked the latter, but was delighted to run in and point out that I'd yelled "Oh for FUCK SAKE" as the ball came off Miller's boot. Oops. It's no defence to say that this is a side that will often make you swear in front of the kids. I don't think our fans are top of the Department of Human Services watchlist, because unlike some we prioritise feeding and clothing them, but I'd be surprised if the neighbours hadn't contemplated a call once or twice.

Instead, we got the second goal as well and things were starting to look up. The biggest disappointment of the day, even more than narrowly falling short of the famous 100 point mark, was that Kelli Underwood was given every chance to say 'Slick Fritsch' again but wouldn't come to the party. Unlike BTs and Dwayne she seems to have some degree of self-awareness, and should have gone on pretending it was a real thing. It wasn't before she said it, now some of us really do want to call him that. Refer to Bart Simpson when everyone wanted him to say the famous line. Only she didn't, and for that we are all poorer.

Not sure how many people were watching in the first place, especially as Australia was probably winning gold, silver, and bronze on the other channel. The viewing figures might have jumped a bit when news came through that we'd kicked a third without response. And a lovely third it was, with the Anal-Bullet taking advantage after a free and parking the ball directly on Ben Brown's tit. Brown's opponent was so impressed by the pass that he stood still and let his man run straight towards it.

If you happened to stumble upon the score at that stage and decided to watch just in case things got perverse, you'd have turned on just in time to see us convert minutes of total domination into two goals against. The first was normal enough, the second was playing with the emotions of an already fragile audience, with a ball that was slowly rolling through for a point suddenly sitting up to be soccered through. "Here we bloody go" I thought. "No we bloody don't" said S. Fritsch, who plucked the ball off a pack for his second a minute later.

For once all the forwards were getting involved, which boded (?) well if we could get the ball down there enough. For now the Suns were staying afloat, with the famous Fox Footy pressure gauge showing the two sides equal. Shame they didn't have filtered version with the mystery formula applied only to the forward line. We brought back animal pressure in attack, they didn't have a tackle inside 50 until the third quarter. Didn't help that the ball went in there about three times during the second quarter.

It felt like we had them covered, but for now there was a hint of Adelaide about it, where we paid for not taking our first chance to kill off lesser opposition (or in that case, second or third) and lost. Even worse when they got the next one. Sparrow must have developed Deep Vein Thrombosis of the fingers from sitting on the bench too long, and did a handball straight up in the air that was whisked down the other end for their third. Words were said that I came to regret a couple of hours later when they hadn't kicked a fourth.

Considering how severely Gold Coast went tit up in the second half last week, I was pinning my hopes on another collapse here. We didn't have to wait for the third quarter. In fact, we didn't even have to wait for the second, again instantly replying. This convinced them to cover up and let us wail on them for the next hour. Jackson got the first, then piled on another for good luck, and 20 points was far more reflective of how the quarter should have gone.

At times it felt like we had more players on the ground. And at the start of the second quarter we did, with Harmes left legging it off the ground before somebody called a Guy McKenna style headcount. Instead we got away with a 6-6-6 warning, giving commentators the chance to do the usual whinge about why it's a warning rather than an instant free, as if what fans want is more games to hinge on purely administrative decisions.

Even if they'd removed our score we'd have still been in front at half time. The Suns are renowned for falling over in the second half of a season, but if a racehorse finished like them it would end up served in a French restaurant. Everything was going wrong for them, even after Oliver suffered a temporarily crippling blow to the knackers he still recovered to convert the set shot from a difficult angle. Maybe that's what's wrong with his kicking for goal, not enough plum distress.

The good news was that we didn't concede straight after that one. Or any of the next 12. Oliver was so good in the first half that the Suns were forced to concede one of their few genuine senior players in an attempt to stop him reaching 50 possessions. It worked as well as anything else they did, but the damage was done when he was in absolutely everything early. Sure, about 25% of his handballs might not have been legal, but everyone else is doing it so why not us?

After Brown worked his arse off to get from the defensive 50 to a mile in the clear at the other end, and Harmes missed the first of three shots, there was further bad luck for the Suns. This time in the form of one of the most pissweak frees of all time, with the lightest touch to Jackson ending in a goal from the square. All MFC-aligned internet channels would have melted down if it had been paid against us. 

For the first time since the last quarter against Hawthorn, procession mode was active. We kicked six for the quarter, they got a point. Ultimately Max King will prove to be a shit hot player that any side would want (and we'll probably need a forward in a couple of years, so be nice) but May blanketed him so comprehensively it's a surprise he didn't asphyxiate. Didn't help that they were constantly turning the ball over in the middle of the ground, and the rare inside 50s were usually hopeful 'let's make this somebody else's problem' bombs that Lever picked off with the greatest of ease.

Also impressive in defence, debutante Jake Bowey. His disposals were, as promised, clean as a whistle, and he also nearly pulled down a screamer. Before we write Hibberd off for 2021, let's see how Bowey goes in a game where he actually needs to do some defending. Still, welcome to the future.

Speaking of the future, after a few weeks where it looked like he was running out of gas, Jackson was in everything. By half time he had four goals, furthering his status as the next Jeff White (no pressure) by equalling his PB. Alas, we were denied the wackiest bag since Blease got five, but he looked very good. I'm sure Gold Coast will be uproariously happy with the player they got with their priority pick (the first one, not the eight they're going to get over the next decade), but if we can turn the West Coast dump truck of cash away, being forced to pick Jackson instead might turn out to be a wonderful accident.

The poor old Suns were flummoxed, having absolutely no idea what to do when they got the ball. Earlier in the year I talked about the underrated highlight of watching opposition players struggling to escape from defence, and this was the purest example yet. The only thing that stopped us from piling on even more misery was an outbreak of Hollywood football. Until then we'd stomped them doing the sensible things, all of a sudden it was handballs over the head, selling the dummy, and attempting to fend off. Sometimes this worked, but not as well as it should have given the lifeless opposition.

For all that, the half time margin was only 59. Bit rude to question eight goals in a row, and a match-winning lead, but it really could have been more. In the week we remember, a decade since 186 (relive that popular post here, complete with pretentious headline), the usual question needs to be asked. How in Dutch buggery could we be almost twice as bad as this in a half? Given that our commitment to defence started and ended with Jurrah on the wing and Dunn belting Paul Chapman, I'll go with it being more to do with a ruthless opposition, wound up in the bloodthirsty savagery of a season where everyone was belting each other.

These days, sides would rather score 20 or 30 than lose by 120 or 130, so they set out to do just that, parking the bus mode for the second half. Cue minor stemming of the bleeding in 'only' conceding 5.6, but at the expense of not scoring a cracker themselves. I've run out of time for investigating frivolous stats, but possibly the first time we've held a side scoreless after half time (in any quarter?) since the original Carnival of Hate. GWS had the excuse of being an expansion side, this lot has been around for 10 seasons and still play like one. Now that it probably won't be us, my idea of merging them with a Victorian club to open up a spot for Tasmania looks better than ever.

To say things weren't going well for the visitors would be an understatement. There was one Melbourne-eseque piece of hilarious bad luck where they got the ball so close they could almost walked it through, only to score nil, then watch us go down the other end for a 12 point turnaround courtesy of the ball taking a wacky bounce.

This came just after the ball skimmed over the line off a defender's boot and Gawn of all people kicked a towering banana from the boundary. On one hand I can't see why they didn't let cheersquads sit at different ends of the ground to provide some atmosphere, on the other the Suns lot (and imagine what atrocities they've endured?) might have needed restraint from jumping into Victoria Harbour.

The opposition might as well not have been there, but it was still enjoyable seeing the score rocket towards the ton at three quarter time. It's not often (ever?) that the Sullivan Line is doubled, and while the ideal scenario would have been to go for the upper echelon of our all-time greatest wins, you can more than understand the cue being jammed so ferociously that the rack fell off the wall. 

McDonald went off with a sore back (and after what we went through on Saturday can you blame him?), Petracca was parked forward, and no great emphasis was put on running up the score. We'll live. Especially with percentage all meaningless due to our draw. Now, watch one of the other top four contenders unexpectedly have a draw of their own in the next three weeks and finish ahead of us by 0.4%.

When the first goal extended the margin beyond 100 it looked that we might raise the bat without really trying, but that was it. Not that we didn't try, just that we forgot how to kick straight again. The Suns tried to hold on and not totally disgrace themselves, but our players were still queuing up for the chance to miss. Even May had an unsuccessful ping, before we switched to charitably trying to gift Gold Coast their fourth goal via a series of comical blunders.

Shame they just managed to get into the 30s. It was still the lowest score we've conceded since 1994, but I'd like to have keep them under out of sheer sadism. The last sub-30 score was also a sub-20, keeping the Norm Smith coached South to 2.6.18 in 1971. Suffice to say it doesn't happen often. Not in our favour anyway.

This was a lot like the Gold Coast 2018 game, where we withstood the lightest of challenges early, rushed to a massive lead, then pulled up instead of brutalising them. Like Fritsch after the siren that day, Harmes had the chance to plant the final margin in triple figures in the dying seconds, but consistent with his other set shots it missed by miles. 

Never mind, if we couldn't get the 16th hundred point win in our history, we achieved partial Scorigami with a first 98 point victory. Now the only margins left under the century are 99, 91, 88 and 86. Why not complete the set over our next four games? Perhaps not, even for their recent iffy form West Coast and oh god not Adelaide again will offer sterner resistance than this. So would the Noble Park Under 15s, but that doesn't mean it wasn't enjoyable.

In the grand scheme of things it's just one step towards the double chance, but it was nice to finally treat an opposition the way others have treated us. Still plenty to do against competent opposition, but no matter the circumstances, you'd be hard of heart not to have appreciated this. Like a wedding video, nobody's ever going to watch it again but we'll remember what a good time we had on the day.

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Luke Jackson
2 - Jake Lever
1 - Alex Neal-Bullen

Apologies to almost everyone, but especially Gawn and May.

Like Ed Langdon trying to free himself from Angus Brayshaw, Oliver just can't get rid of Petracca. What's absolutely clear now, no matter if there's anywhere between four and eight games to play, is that one of them is going to win the Jako. Lever, McDonald and Gawn are having a bash for their various departments, but given that a non-midfielder has won this once in 16 seasons it's business as usual at the top.

There's a bit of action in the minors. Lever has set up a handy lead in the Seecamp, but Gawn sees his buffer in the Stynes slashed to one BOG. With Jackson still hovering just about the qualifying mark well-placed sources are suggesting that race is ON. And while Jordon retains his lead in the Hilton, at least there's another candidate in the race now. For a while it looked like Bowey was going to sweep in and pinch the award off him on debut, but Double J retains the lead.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
The Suns were so loose in defence, and with turnovers, that we didn't need to pluck too many goals out of our arse. Instead of the odd bits of crumb, let's pay tribute to Gawn's grand banana from the boundary line. All it lacked was an unruly Essendon fan sharing the moment from over the fence. Pickett still leads for the twisting, turning, spinning goal against St Kilda.

The All-New Bradbury Plan
The rest of Super Sunday was a mixed bag for us. Good old Clarko did the right thing by toppling Brisbane, but Essendon stuffed up their own finals chances (good), but left Sydney a game and a half behind us with a piss easy run home (bad). Neon Leon's Orange Army could have done us a favour, but fell in a heap, leaving a six-way race for the top four.

All the other contenders will play before us next week, so your action-packed Bradbury Card is: 

  • GWS d. Geelong
  • St Kilda d. Sydney
  • Essendon d. Footscray (I'm playing the percentages here, but feel free to reverse the result if you're still worried about a 2004 style finish)
  • Adelaide d. Port
  • Fremantle d. Brisbane

Next Week
Theoretically, it's West Coast in Perth next Monday. The way things are going if one person gets the sniffles west of the Nullabor we'll be playing on Dirk Hartog Island. There's already been one shift, with the original Sunday game pushed back a day so our players can complete the tighter than a fish's arse restrictions to enter WA.

They're coming off a putrid display against Collingwood (and don't we know that feeling?), but at home, and knowing one win will all but guarantee finals you would expect them to have a go. Hopefully it turns out like the last time we played a team with Coast in their name, rather than a repeat of 2011, when we went from tonking the Suns directly to me trying to sack Dean Bailey. 

Doesn't feel like too many changes are necessary, but I don't fancy all of Viney, Harmes and Sparrow in the same side. I'm finally going to bite the bullet on Viney, who is going at about 100% effort and 5% execution. If we leave him in hotel quarantine all week then don't pick him he'll probably want to kill somebody, so let's do just that, then unleash the beast against the Crows a week later. Call it 'managed' to save any controversy. Jordon didn't do much when he came on in the last quarter, but did anyone? He's had the best part of a week off, get him back in.

Otherwise, the Casey game didn't offer any obvious changes. I came in well after their wind-assisted 40-1 first quarter, after which Footscray did a reverse Gold Coast and started playing. Baker and Jones got a few touches, but nothing to make you go wobbly at the knees over. Not even sure how seriously we were taking it, the only players with AFL experience in the side were Lockhart, Baker, Jetta, Jones and Bedford. Majak was on the plane to nowhere, Hibberd was rested, and if rumours are to be believed the Weid was looking for directions to Arden Street.

Presumably if you were in this team you weren't on the plane to Perth, which makes me sad about how Jones and Nev are ending their careers. If there wasn't some outside hope of Bradburying into a finals side they'd have probably pulled the pin with dignity by now, instead of sludging around suburban grounds alongside fill-in players.

On paper we should beat the Eagles, and winning there to (all but) secure a top four position would be a nice upgrade on 2018's winning there to make the eight. The way things are going we could end up playing finals there, whether Perth teams are involved or not. As we've discovered this year, what you think is going to happen usually doesn't, so this could go in all sorts of directions. I'm going to assume we lose and hope to be pleasantly surprised. 

IN: Jordon
OUT: Viney (omit)
LUCKY: Harmes, Sparrow
UNLUCKY: Everyone else

In Memoriam
No plugs for the book this week, you know what to do by now. Instead, I'd like to acknowledge the contribution of John Lord, who passed away over the weekend. In late 2019, John was my first interview, and though he was recovering from a major health issue he still made time to have me in his home, and lent me an amazing collection of scrapbooks that his father (also an ex-player) had kept during John Jr's career. My thoughts with John's family, friends, and teammates.

Final Thoughts
The crazy ride goes on. I still rate 1998, 2000 and 2018 as more enjoyable years but am open to reassessing if something completely improbable happens by the end of September.


  1. Mate, spectacular as usual, but the Hamburglar seems to have slipped from the top of the leaderboard ... into oblivion. I'm thrilled Petracca's alone at the top!

    1. That's 100 quality control breaches this season. Everyone run onto the ground.

      Thanks for letting me know, the great man has resumed his rightful spot now.

  2. *this is me running on to the ground*


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