Monday, 13 September 2021

Just win baby

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, there was a world where Melbourne didn't make Grand Finals. That world sucked. This one is better. If I'm trapped in a virtual reality experiment, please cue up Melbourne d. Footscray.exe for Saturday 25 September and let me live the rest of my life inside The Matrix.

Two days after our path to the decider was confirmed, with a quarter and a half to spare, the feeling is still surreal. Every post on here for the last 10 years has referenced some element of us being rock-bottom slop, now there's only one team between us and fulfilling the spiritual quest I've been on (other than some sooky teenage years) since 1989.

As soon as we confirmed our place in a Preliminary Final, this was always a chance of happening. Whether the opposition was Geelong or GWS, we would be one of the last four sides in the 2021 AFL season, starting favourite, for the right to play on the biggest stage of all. 

You'd think I'd have been more nervous. Maybe a fuse in my brain popped from midweek stress, and I secretly, so deep down it would never be admitted publicly, thought we'd win. I was not enjoying the serenity. It felt like not worrying was secretly tempting fate, almost guaranteeing we'd lose and I'd end up dictating this post to my lawyer through a plastic screen across several prison visits.

So, for roughly 12 hours before the bounce I waited patiently for that famous moment when your stomach drops like an elevator, and you get a touch of clam in the extremities. It's happened for enough meaningless games over the years, but didn't come when most expected. Maybe it was due to the atmosphere dialling down from tens of thousands of people doing their block, to me yelling at a screen in a dark room on my own. There was no frame of reference for watching a game of this importance on TV since the '94 Prelim, and I don't remember a second of that.

Unexpected air of calm or not, I knew that if the result went down to the wire, it might have ended with a SWAT team smashing through my window. Fortunately, civil unrest was averted by a win so comprehensive, it beat our winning margin in every game played against Geelong since 1860. By modern standards it was near enough to unprecedented, the last two times we've beaten them by a mere 30 points were 2005 and 1994. Don't even think about the sort of damage they've done to us in that time, it's no longer relevant.

Based on recent results between the clubs, everything pointed to a life-and-death struggle. And it was. We got life, they got death. And if the state of Chris Scott in the post-match press conference was anything to go by, they know it. How appropriate that a decade after 186, we'd be the ones to bring the curtain down on Classic Geelong. They've done well to stay near the top for so long, but step aside, there's a new sheriff in town.

As I wrote in the preview, the extra element to this game was protecting the legacy of Max Gawn's goal in Round 23. If we lost here, it would have been a great moment forever tainted by the knowledge that a few weeks later the vanquished opposition returned to fix up our best chance of winning a flag in six decades. Fair to say I didn't expect Maximum to make sure we could enjoy his match-winner until the end of time by kicking four goals in what may have been the greatest quarter this club has ever played. 

The option to enjoy that goal for the rest of your life is a good start, but if things go particularly well in a couple of weeks you'll also be able to rewatch all the moments when supporting Melbourne has emotionally hurt you and laugh, safe in the knowledge that you won't die flagless. They'll all be retrospectively acknowledged as necessary gates we needed to pass through on the road to ecstasy.

I can't explain how I remained so calm for a game of this magnitude. Last year a pre-season game brought on a headache, once we beat Carlton in a thriller and it affected me so much I ended up in an MRI machine having brain scans. But this was serenity now, with not even a hint of anal leakage

About the only time I tensed up on Friday was when Geelong did a shifty with their emergencies, introducing the wonderfully named but rarely utilised Quinton Narkle (who looks a lot closer to 43 than 23). We haven't been Kingsley'd for a while, but I could feel one coming here. Then they didn't pick him, or even make him sub, opting instead for a creaky-as-fuck Shaun Higgins to rescue them in case of emergency. He came on to get 14x more kicks than the man he replaced, but found it hard to make an impact when his side was 10 goals down.

Ill-timed hamstring drama for Steven May left us holding the injury excuse card (and still winning by 83 points), but they countered with illness excuses. In our last meeting Patrick Dangerfield struggled with the squirts, and now he had to contend with teammates dropping like flies from something between COVID 1 and 18. Seeing an opposition ravaged by injury while in a supposedly tightly controlled and quarantined environment is the risk you take stocking your side with the elderly, but for us represents the natural progression of the Bradbury Plan.

It goes without saying that absolutely nothing in the build-up suggested a record-breaking, landslide victory. I was open to us winning, but expected it to come via blood, sweat, tears and fears. There was moderate sweat during the first half, no sign of the rest. An early indication of where we were at came with our first shot on goal. Pickett could easily have let the ball run out on the wing and reset for a stoppage, but instead tapped it around his opponent, piss-bolted away and hit Brown on a lovely lead. 

From as good as 50 out on an NQR angle, Brown hit the post, but the set-up showed good intent. As did non-stop brutal tackling, led by Mr. Finals Jack Viney. I've incorrectly written off so many players over the years that it's becoming embarrassing, but after going all-in on keeping him at the end of last year, my faith was shaken by the needless suspension against Gold Coast. That seems a lifetime ago now. It doesn't make sense that some players are more suited to finals than others, but here we are. He was fantastic, and enters a Grand Final (yes, let's say it again) in red hot form. Literally tread carefully around him until the 25th, one accidentally stepped on foot could be the end of him.

Fans of the idea that you can tell if we're on in the first couple of minutes would have been doubly excited when Pickett set up another shot, this time to McDonald on the opposite flank. Sizzle thumped his kick into the man on the mark, but the early signs were very good. None of this would mean anything if we failed to score, and surprise, surprise, after five minutes of their attacks breaking down like a Yugoslavian car, they got the opener via a ball that skimmed off a pack and into the hands of Jeremy Cameron. He was lucky not to hit the post, but if it hadn't gone through we might not have kicked the next five.

That disappointment was quickly overcome. From the centre bounce, Petracca romped out of the middle to find Brown in a one-on-one contest. He dismissed his opponent in a way not seen since the night Jesse Hogan effectively picked Zac Dawson up, moved him to the side, then turned around to take the mark unguarded. He kicked straight, and Harmes added another soon after, causing me to punch the air before self-consciously realising we were only halfway through the first quarter and winding it back a bit.

Brown turned up again to play his part in the fourth. His towering contested grab at half forward begat a contest where Neal-Bullen hoovered up the crumb, and my god things were starting to go unusually well. Everyone will love Brown if he's a premiership player in two weeks, but the glee I get from seeing somebody in number 50 who looks like her from Arcade Fire kicking goals cannot be explained in words. Like Steven May and Jake Lever, where have you been all my life?

Speaking of life, it wasn't meant to be easy. Just as we were starting to take control there was the inevitable "remember you're Melbourne" moment of despair. Earlier in the year, Steven May had his face caved in by a recklessly swung elbow from Tom Hawkins, and his nemesis got him again here. This time the contact was somewhat incidental, just a casual shove in the back that caused May to land with a dicky hammy. 

At the time you didn't know there was an issue, and were able to celebrate Hawkins wildly kicking out on the full. Not long after my heart sank when they cut to the bench to show May looking crocked. It was clearly not the full hamstring rip/tear/snap, but bad enough when you're trying to defend an early lead in a Prelim, much less with a potential Grand Final on the horizon. He was nearly crying, I was ready to join in.

The only cause for optimism was that Jordon wasn't immediately subbed on, leaving May to sit on the bench for the rest of the quarter undergoing painful looking physio treatments. Then, about two minutes later, Lever was limping around after an attempted smother caught him across the shin. I was having nightmare visions of coming all this way, then losing at the second last hurdle because both our star defenders went down at the same time. Like most of the night, there was no need to worry. Lever's injury was a false alarm, and Petty did a fine job stepping straight into May's role. See also Jake Bowey, who could have been excused for playing with some nerves, but weaved in and out of traffic like a 150 game veteran. In a season where it felt like we were a couple of injuries away from our depth being cruelly exposed, these two have been amongst the all-time great ring-ins.

Like a night at Nadia Bartel's house, the party started with Charlie. By now Geelong players were all at sea, with effluent dripping down their legs like Robert De Castella. They were unnecessarily playing on from frees, botching simple passes, and in this case conceding goals after blindly kicking off the ground from inside defensive 50. That wild swipe landed with Christian Salem, almost the last person you'd want to kick to with your teammates hopelessly out of position, and he found Spargo standing in miles of space for our fifth straight.

When Fritsch had a shot not long after I was looking for a paper bag to breathe into, but he kept some life in the contest by missing. This generosity continued for another quarter, before we flipped the switch to carnage mode and started converting from every available orifice. For now, I couldn't have convincingly pretended to know we'd win. Part of that was natural Melbourne-related dread, part memories of another great return from the dead a few weeks ago.

For all the excitement over kicking the last five, May's situation was giving me conniptions. It was a good sign that he was with the huddle at the break, and when he walked straight into position for the restart, effectively daring the hammy to blow, I treated it like the second (quarter) coming. I was expecting it to explode in a shower of sparks at any moment, but still loved the idea of sending him back out there to test it. Wouldn't have loved it as much if he'd ripped it off the bone at the first opportunity, but he survived until the game was won and should be right for the Grand Final. That's the Grand Final that we're in. Melbourne. In a Grand Final. Bugger me.

The best thing we could do for May's recovery was to make sure he had as little work as possible to do, so  I was nervously adjusting my collar when he was beaten in a marking contest for their first goal after the break. Other than that, and one misguided kick across the ground that we got away with anyway, we got away with it. It wasn't just Petty's fine cover, but Hibberd came back from the dead for about the fifth time this year, and Lever was almost entirely untroubled in mopping up any old rubbish kicked in his direction.

Anything Geelong did, we could do much better. That goal was instantly wiped out via another rampaging centre clearance. If you're ever keen to piss on people treating basic statistics like gospel, consider that Geelong won the clearances but conceded 101 points from stoppages. This one came from the generally unstoppable Oliver, who powered out of the middle and set up Spargo's second. Their response to our response coming from somebody blatantly playing for a free was probably fair payment for some of the rubbish we got in the first half, including Viney flying in to sit on an opponent's back and being given a free for below the knee contact.

The lead was just enough that based on historical precedent we should have won, but would look like absolute cockheads if we didn't. See Round 23 again, a result that looks even more important than ever now that we've collected every reward possible for finishing first - including the ability to bribe local fans to fake support for us via free chips and warehoused merchandise. Thoughts and prayers with the op shops of Perth who'll have to try and shift about 25,000 scarves long after the locals have stopped pretending to care. It's one thing to go to a game as a neutral and want a particular team to win, dressing up in their colours is a bit weird.

I've seen plenty of games where the lead has blown out from 'comfortable' to 'unbelievable' in the space of 10 second quarter minutes. Usually not in our favour. As we whacked on three unanswered goals it looked like their life force was ebbing away. Some of it was luck, like Sparrow falling over just in time for his pursuer to accidentally land knees in his back, some of it was pure genius. See Max Gawn 'marking' a kick that had been touched so much that you could see the ball deviate on TV, not realising the umpire had paid him a mark anyway, and wheeling around to snap the cover off it from 40 metres.

Now we were in an almost unbeatable position. Not that you could have convinced me, I was petrified of a reverse that people would still be talking about in 20 years. In a way, when Pickett got the next one and the margin was left just under 40 I was even more scared because things seemed too good to be true. I knew there had to be some sort of correction, and very briefly there was. Not before we had a couple of chances to extend the gap beyond what they'd given up at Kardinia Park, and considering what we had to do just to win that after the siren they surely weren't going to run down anything beyond 44 points now.

Because of what happened next, I've got no hard feelings against Petracca or Fritsch for their missed set shots, but with the sense that we were missing a golden opportunity for the coup de grace I almost jumped over the back of the coach when Brown's flying shot narrowly missed. It still wouldn't have been enough to relax with a half to play, but enough that it would have taken the most outrageous comeback possible to get us from there. The sort of tits up clusterfuck that's so memorable even neutrals know what they were doing when it happened.

The sense of dread was proven partially correct when they went down the other end for a Hawkins goal. Speaking of aging superstars, desperate for one last crack at glory, Mr. Brown Undies, Dangerfield did his bit to get the Cats moving by theatrically falling under the slightest contact. The wind from Petracca's hands going near his back almost had more force than the 'push' itself, but as somebody who has championed the 'by any means necessary' philosophy, I respect his hustle. He missed, and much to the (I'm sure) disappointment of neutrals everywhere may now never win a flag. 57 years worth of Melbourne players say "stiff shit".

I don't know if Geelong had anyone under 30 playing (maybe the guy with the Support Australian Hip Hop hair?), but all the action was coming from their veterans. Isaac Smith may also leave Geelong empty handed, but at least he can dry his eyes on a collection of vintage flags. Remember when he had the choice of joining us for three years or Geelong for two, and picked them for a better chance of success? Have fun with that. Smith's late goal cut the margin to less than five kicks. Even worse, it had an element of fluke about it. Like Hawthorn all over again, a teammate randomly threw his boot at a loose ball and it accidentally landed on a teammate. 

Those late goals set off my nervous condition, and I spent half time moping about missed opportunities. The last thing I wanted was actual halftime analysis, and if you watched the Fox coverage that would be the last thing you got. There was a shoehorned mention of Collingwood, but with tensions this high Eddie Bingo was strictly a game for neutrals. It was much better for my mental health if I concentrated on hurling abuse at Mike Iceberg than contemplating blowing a 40 point lead and ending the season like dickheads.

At a minimum, I expected a replay of the Brisbane game, where our early lead held up, but not without a few uncomfortable minutes. Just like that game, Ben Brown got a chance to burst the opposition bubble early in the third quarter. Set up by a midfield masterclass by Petracca and Oliver, everything else was exactly like it had been against the Lions - he was kicking to the right of screen, plucked a long kick over a pack with his Inspector Gadget arms, and lined up from 20 metres out on a slight angle. Last time he missed, and we spent the rest of the quarter defending grimly. Naturally I expected the worst, especially during his three hour run-up, but it went through, and we were a step closer to unleashing terror. 

The most ludicrous part of the frenzy was how almost all the destruction was compacted into the first 10 minutes. It was like a tornado ripping through a town and leaving the survivors wondering what the hell had just hit them. There's 'when you're hot, you're hot', and there's nuclear heat. Brown's goal started the party, but a spot of world class goalkeeping by Bowey at the other end stopped them responding with what should have been a simple tap-in from the square.

If that wasn't the moment where Geelong ran up the white flag, it came less than a minute later when Selwood (who had such a disappointing night that his head didn't even split open) gave away a ridiculous 50 metre penalty, promoting a set shot from a questionable position into the certain goal that wiped out all their pre-half time gains. 

For somebody who has had vastly more success in his career than our entire club since about 1959, he enjoys doing stupid things against us in finals. Sam Frost knew what was up:
The comedy value of that mistake reached 100% when at the next bounce, Gawn held his opposite number off in a derisory fashion and put it straight down Viney's throat, before Petracca brushed Selwood off like a Division 4 Amateurs plodder and began caning forward. Gawn's opponent thought he'd better do something and ran at Petracca, leaving Maximum standing on his own in the middle. He got it back, ran to 50 metres and smashed through a kick with the power of a 10 megaton intercontinental ballistic missile. It was magnificent. As was Viney lifting him clear off the ground in celebration. If there was still a monkey on our back it joined the lid in orbit at this point.

In a piece of excellent timing, this was when Mrs. Demonblog appeared from the important task of trying to cope with two children while her other half was yelling nonsense at a screen. I know nobody else in this house really gives a rats, so I'm not going to force them to sit there and watch, but it was nice to have somebody to vocalise my joy to.

The celebrations of that goal were short-lived, but only because 20 seconds later McSizzle was gathering a bouncing ball, turning the corner and casually booting another. This was the point where my central nervous system shut down and I went into a sporting version of the K-Hole. After the glory of the first two, Max getting his third from a bog-standard free kick was welcomed just to calm things down.

Former West Coast player Will Schofield, part of the side that cornholed us on the same ground in 2018, suggested during the week that we might carry some mental scars from that day. Hopefully, he has a job other than football punditry to fall back on, because we did not display a cracker of hesitation from first bounce to final siren. It was already a ludicrous suggestion considering we've got half a new side in comparison, but by the end of our thumping victory, his comments sat comfortably alongside my Round 4, 2020 suggestion that Coronavirus had been reduced to a "mere annoyance" as one of the dopiest things ever said.

The Hardcore Gawn was not over yet. Remember when I wasn't sold on him as captain? Well, here was a very large man strapping the club on his back and storming towards glory. Next thing you know he's pulling down a ball-up and kicking goals around the corner in the same motion. I greeted this with the sort of shriek you usually only get from sitting on something sharp.

Now that we were 71 points in front (!!!!), one more than Essendon's record breaking comeback against North in 2001, even I yelled "there's no way even we could lose this from here" to nobody in particular. Note, it still wasn't "we've got this won", because old habits die hard. Enter Pickett, worrying a defender out of a high ball NRL style, and running into an open goal. 

Even after all that blood dripping, chainsaw massacre slaughter, there was still 11:51 to play before three quarter time. The record breaking 12 goal quarter from 2013 temporarily looked in jeopardy, and this time in a season where we couldn't lose 16 of the next 17 games. Speaking of that day, Mark Neeld will be one of several people hanging out for us to win the flag so the MFC Truth and Reconciliation Committee finally meets to process application for amnesty. If we end the year as premiers I will personally sponsor the rehabilitation of every villain in our history up to and including Tom Scully. 

We've played great finals quarters before, but as popular as the six goal to one opening quarter in the 1941 Grand Final must have been at the time, the goals can't have come in a whirlwind like this.
The only modern comparison was our 10.4 against Footscray in the '94 Semi. This was a more important game and we didn't concede two in reply, therefore it was better. Garry Lyon double figure fanatics, address your complaints elsewhere, I'm not having a bar of it. That can still be great, but it can't be as great as this. 

Because we hadn't had nearly enough of Gawn in this quarter, he banged through a fifth as well, from another set shot. He was doing it all, and anyone of an MFC persuasion would have been sliding off their seat in joy.
Even at six goals beyond the magic 47 points (though given you can't draw a final, it probably should be 48 just in case) I was still half-tempted to suspend the Chris Sullivan Line. Not that I thought we'd lose, but was now expecting something unusual to happen and make the result null and void. As we discovered in the Eagles game, it had already gone beyond the point where the result would have stood if the game was called off, but I'm so damaged by this club that I just couldn't comprehend such a tremendous margin without expecting something to go wrong.

I finally decided to observe official protocols and relax when Hawkins took what would have been paid a mark in the square 22 weeks per season, then failed to get so much as a point out of it when half our backline and a visiting Angus Brayshaw pounced on him like a wild animal. Now I could openly admit, without fear, that we had it. This must have been what Geelong fans felt like, on a much larger scale, when they pulverised Port Adelaide in the 2007 Grand Final. I'm willing to find out how that felt.

Now it was all about avoiding injuries and suspensions, and if they got a few cheap ones to make the margin more respectable, for once nobody would care. Then we won the quarter anyway...

Sadly, Max missed a shot or his sixth, but otherwise we were barely troubled. You can't blame either side for lacking interest at this point, if the option had been available I'm sure both coaches would have agreed to shake hands and wrap things up early. Geelong had a couple of chances but true to a night where you could have played the Benny Hill theme over their highlights, they bungled them in slapstick fashion.

I'd switched to standing when the goal rush started, and remained on foot for the rest of the game, but didn't need to get excited again. Now it was all about nervous energy. My heart has been through a lot over the years, who knows when it might go pop, leaving the family to find me with Xs for eyes the next morning. Not before I get a look at a Grand Final.

Against Brisbane, we discovered that May, Gawn, Oliver and Petracca were the most valuable foursome since The Beatles. Now, with May out of the game we discovered that the fifth Beatle was Jake Lever, when the cue was gently wedged into the rack with nine minutes to play. Fair enough too, after his earlier scare we couldn't afford to risk him. As much faith as I have in Harrison Petty, I'm not yet ready for him to be marshalling a backline alongside Joel Smith and Majak Daw.

Two quick goals briefly put a triple figure win back on the agenda. Even when Fritsch accidentally kicked the ball while trying to pick it up, it rolled directly to Pickett in an acre of space. Slick Fritsch pushed the gap to 89 himself. I know the opposition was hoping for a quick, merciful death at this point, but please go back and review what Brown did to create space for him to mark uncontested.

Like a much higher profile repeat of Gold Coast, the Cats ended an hour of torment with the least consoling goal in history. Jeremy Cameron's rate of converting disposals to goals was an excellent 50%, pity he only had four touches. This almost ended in another moment of high farce, when he played on to snap around the corner and went oh so close to having it touched.

Obviously this meant nothing to anybody, to the point where you could see Jake Bowey give it a dismissive "ahh, whatever" wave afterwards. What a story he is, six games, six wins, and about to play a Grand Final. He's so new that Google hasn't even indexed his page on AFL Tables yet. If you want to feel old, consider that he was born two days before we lost to Adelaide in the 2002 finals. Mr and Mrs Bowey certainly didn't see this coming 19 years later.

Knowing we were beyond our greatest winning margin against them, toppling this 1909 classic (?), there was an undue sense of investment in holding back their last inside 50. No player would give half a shit about record wins, but our backmen had the professional pride to make sure there was no more scoring. Imagine being Will Schofield and thinking that a backline featuring Frost, O. McDonald and (until we sent him forward because the game was stuffed) Smith compared in any way to what we put out here, even with May off the ground having his person manipulated in a number of uncomfortable ways.

We kept the margin above 80, nobody suffered a crippling injury in the last seconds, and the siren was greeted with arms aloft celebration instead of the sort of commotion reserved for thrillers. 

Even if you haven't agreed with everything he's done over the years, you can't help but feel joy for Simon Goodwin (and thank god I only turned about halfway on him before pulling up...). Without a couple of unconvincing wins to start the year he could have been on the couch watching other teams play, now he can preside over the first non-Norm Smith related Melbourne flag since 1926. Imagine going from a figure of comedy for saying "learnings" and "connection" after every loss to instant legend status.

As sad as I was not to see this juggernaut live (refer to the Brisbane post for philosophical discussions about whether good things would still be happening if the season was played as originally scheduled), I'm thrilled that the real, hardcore MFC enthusiasts of Perth have had this drop in their lap after watching us play so badly for many years.

However, now that Victoria's COVID numbers are now out of control and half the state has unofficially adopted the "let 'er rip" philosophy, let's find spurious reasons to get the all-Victorian Grand Final home. For instance, when the crowd got bored with the slaughter and did a Mexican Wave. Can you trust these people with the biggest game of the year? Tell Mark McGowan to stick it up his iron ores and cancel the contract.

I still think they'd rather secretly kill anybody who catches the big one than risk losing the game, so it looks like we'll just have to win it over there. Now we've dodged the bullet of Elmer Dinkley and Friends legally crossing the border to watch live, it might be another crowd heavily tipped in our favour. And if we're so far ahead at the end of this one that they want to do the wave, then best of British luck to them. They can follow it with a Moonie mass wedding and a historical recreation of the Battle of Waterloo as well if it's clear that when the clock reaches 0.00 in the last quarter, that Melbourne will have its 13th premiership.

Now that nobody can stop us playing in a Grand Final (barring major pandemic shenanigans) on Saturday 25 September, I've got to work harder than ever to avoid accidents, comas, and flesh-eating viruses. Not that I'm driving 200km/h the wrong way down the Ring Road anyway, but there's already an extra layer of 'don't cross against the lights' and 'don't make eye contact with the madman in the street', to reduce the risk of any scenario that might leave without hearing, vision, or speed in two weeks. Fans of my finals campaign injuries will be pleased to know that a poorly stacked knife flung out of the dishwasher and took a glancing blow off the top of my foot on Sunday morning. Hopefully that's all the bad luck out of the way.

What a strange night it was. Strange, brilliant and insane. It scarcely seems real that a team called Melbourne is playing in a Grand Final without rugby league being involved, and the pure, white-hot insanity of the third quarter will live in the memory for years to come. Who knows where this will end, but I'm absolutely FANGING to find out. Unlike 1988 and 2000, there is even a chance we might win without having to hope the opposition are struck by lightning.

Good thing I dithered over this post long enough to see the video package below. For the first time there were nearly tears. It's easy to feel like you're alone when you actually are, but seeing the effect this is having on other people is enough to make a heartless bastard like me get all watery. I remain eternally grateful that you choose to spend some of your MFC related emotion with me.
Drink it in friends. One way or another we're going to be talking about the next two weeks for the rest of our lives.

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

Apologies to everyone - especially next cab off the rank Salem. Heroes one and all.

Somehow, a week before he wins a Brownlow there's bad news for Oliver. He's won the main event in a canter, and I didn't even notice that he broke the record for most votes in a season after the Brisbane game, but Petracca has hit the lead in the as-yet unnamed Finals Player of the Year. I'm still open to suggestions for players who have delivered memorable finals moments since 1989. Currently leaning towards Lyon - and if he presents a certain cup on the 25th you can be sure that's where it's heading.

66 - Clayton Oliver (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
56 - Christian Petracca (LEADER: Finals Player of the Year)
38 - Jake Lever (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
29 - Max Gawn (WINNER: 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, Jack Viney
7 - James Harmes, Alex Neal-Bullen, Charlie Spargo
6 - Angus Brayshaw
5 - Jayden Hunt
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
By christ, how many contenders can you have in one night? It's one thing for a bunch of players to be kicking goals out of their arse in Round 15, but the quality in a Prelim was top shelf. Even more bizarre that three of them came from a ruckman in the space of 10 minutes. Any of Maximum's big three would have worthy winners, so here they are ranked:

5) The free kick from the exact same spot as Round 23
4) The set shot for #5
3) The quick snap out of the pocket. A worthy winner any other week.
2) Kicking the bloody cover off it after running through the middle.
1) Playing on when he didn't have to, wheeling around and snapping from 40 metres. WHAT. A. MAN.

Max's weekly prize is immortality, but I still can't go past Kardinia Park for the overall leader. If that doesn't happen, then maybe none of these five do. Maybe we'd already gone out in straight sets and were settling in for a summer of recriminations and backstabbing? Now, anything could happen.

If you were into omens that it was going to be a good night, forget following a team that finished top of the ladder and won its first final easily, look no further than the commentary team. Expectations of a momentous occasion ruined by Brian Taylor talking shite were replaced by a perfectly sensible call.

Anything involving people's champion Jason Bennett is good, but add Hamish McLachlan proving that anyone sounds better when not dragged into BT's cocoon of horror, and Channel 7 should lose the broadcast rights if they don't use this team again for the Grand Final. 

I don't care if they're in a studio in Melbourne, it shat on anything Taylor has ever done. Some people like him. Some people like being shat on.

Next week
Under normal circumstances, I've have cracked the sads over waiting an extra week, but the additional time for May's hamstring to recover will come in handy. The AFL hasn't done us a favour like this since sweepijng tanking under the rug. 

I'll also look forward to 14 consecutive days of being one of the few Dees fans anyone knows. They'll be coming from absolutely everywhere now, but true enthusiasts know who's really feeling it and who's just along for the ride. All the years as an office worker, having people almost forming an orderly queue at my desk on Monday to discuss what stupid shit we'd done on the weekend were leading to this. My entire adult life has been spent trying to avoid mingling, but just as every bastard is locked away I want to breach the orders of the Chief Health Officer and meet them all for a spot of small talk.

The week after
Because Port couldn't hold on for one more game before doing their traditional finals faceplant, we're in for a 1954 Grand Final repeat against Footscray. Remember the bit where I tipped them to win the flag pre-season? That might come back to haunt me.

Port's flat as a tack performance was bad news for notorious mischief lover Choke Yourself With A Tie, who would have relished the chance to turn over his old side. Now we run the risk of losing a flag to the unusual ex-MFC combination of Mitch Hannan and the SME. I doubt that's ever happened before. Crackers Keenan and Stan Alves did it together in 1977, but we weren't involved due to the small matter of finishing second last.

The involvement of fringe ex-players is a storyline for enthusiasts, neutrals are more likely to gravitate to the tragic histories of the clubs involved. The Bulldogs breaking their drought five years ago takes some spice out of it (imagine playing St Kilda under the same circumstances? Lifeline would put on extra operators), but it's still the previous longest premiership drought playing the current record holder, and two teams who could easily have been wound up at various times over the last 30 years.

Sadly, if we're going to win a flag, it's not only long-suffering fans who won't be there. Nathan Jones has taken the decision to come home for the birth of his kids. He was unlikely to get a game - though watch about six players go down with injuries now - so it makes a lot of sense, but the idea of him being there to see it live felt important. His legacy is complete no matter what happens, while family is forever, so no sane person could seriously hold this against him. He'll have plenty on his hands once the kids have arrived, but I really hope he's got somebody to watch with. I'll sneak past the 5km exclusion zone death squads and do it if nobody else is available.

His absence has necked my innovative plan for him to present the Premiership Cup if we win. Not that it was going to happen anyway, you could see a mile off that as Garry Lyon's in town he'll be doing the job. I won't argue it. With apologies to Ron Barassi, I'd have Neale Daniher in a flash if the game was being played in Melbourne, but Gaz is also a fine choice. Wasn't much chop at picking coaches, but you'd have to be Bill Brownless to get unhappy about seeing him - especially because it implies that we've just won the bloody flag.

If we don't win, Garry (or Allen Jakovich, or Darren Kowal), will be left sitting in the stands with their thumbs up their arses while [insert relevant Bulldogs figure] is handing over a trophy, so the most important thing is to get a side on the park that can win. The key injury concern is May, but it looks like he might get over the line. If he's fit, and Hibberd's performance keeps Joel Smith at bay, that's probably as far as we need to go for changes. If you've paid more attention to the Dogs than I have this year, you might have an argument for a more significant switch, from my rank amateur perspective I don't see it.

There's no way they'll play May if there's a chance his leg will explode two minutes into the first quarter. The medical sub means we probably won't even get him standing in the full forward goal square, hobbling around on one leg because nobody's left on the bench. It does make you think more about who gets picked for tracksuit time. It would be incredibly harsh to ditch Jordon after he got on the ground for the first time in weeks, but do you need somebody who can go back in an emergency? Alternatively, do you keep the much-maligned McDonald to defence move up your sleeve, and stick with a midfielder? 

I'm controversially throwing my support behind Mr. Owl Energy himself, Jayden Hunt. Can play at either end, or go onto a wing if needed, and while he's not an in-the-guts midfielder, if the mystery injury comes just as the opposition are tiring his pace could make things interesting. They're super-conservative with team selection, so I can't see it happening. And the way things are going, who am I to argue? 

Otherwise, Rivers has looked a bit shaky of the last couple of games, and I reckon he'd get a week off if this was the middle of the season, and McDonald is way down on his form from the start of the year, but they're both doing jobs in a side that has is winning finals left, right and centre, so why mess with a winning formula?

IN: Nil (Hunt to substitute)
OUT: Jordon (with the greatest apologies)
LUCKY: McDonald, Rivers
UNLUCKY: Jones, Melksham, Smith

The Dogs are formidable opposition, and whether we start favourites or not, I'm sure this will be the hard fought contest we were mercifully denied against Geelong. Secretly I think we'll win. but for god's sake don't tell anyone. In fact, play it down at every opportunity and invite any Dogs fans you know to get premiership tattoos in advance. Stay tuned for various preview posts during the week - if you've got anything you want to contribute get in touch via the usual channels, and if it's not defamatory it might get a run. 

Promotional consideration paid for by the following
There's never been a better time to buy my stuff. I always dreamed about writing another book if we won a flag, not thinking it could ever happen, but not sure I'm contractually allowed. If something comes out by 'Anonymous' in the spirit of Primary Colors, let's pretend I'm not involved. 

Final Thoughts
As somebody who dwells way too heavily on the past, I'm more emotional about what we've had to go through to get here, than the moment itself. The drought isn't dead yet, and it may never be, but the idea of Melbourne playing in a Grand Final a few years ago would have been utterly ludicrous. 186 was supposed to be a one off humiliation, not the launching pad for years of trauma. 

From 148 (not to mention 122, 111, 108, 105 and 101), to kicking 3.16 on the MCG against a team of GWS kids who'd lost their entire bench, and two seasons where we were about as exciting to watch as paint dry. Even when we finally clawed our way back to respectability you had disappointing ends to 2016 and 2017, then following up a breakthrough season by finishing 17th. 

At that stage, you felt nothing was ever going to go right. You can trace my descent to madness in the archives. But now, a season I was sceptical about for so long has qualified as one of the greats. Each of 1998, 2000 and 2018 have various charms, but I can think of one obvious way 2021 can power into first place...


1 comment:

Crack the sads here... (to keep out nuffies, comments will show after approval by the Demonblog ARC)