Wednesday 27 October 2021

2021 End of Season spectacular - 🏆 Victory lap edition 🏆

On the scale of things I never expected to do, reviewing a premiership season sat alongside climbing Mt. Everest and having the ARIA #1 single. The first two can get stuffed, staying alive long enough to see Melbourne win a flag is my greatest achievement.

Some of you were privileged to see it in person - legally or otherwise - the rest of us should just be happy to be on the same planet at the same time. Why we had to break our long, painful, premiership drought in Perth isn't important now. 'How' is worth thinking about at length. 

But first, as we're meeting in an official capacity, please remove your premiership cap (or, thanks to Australia Post, any available substitute) and rise for the national anthem:

[IMPORTANT NOTE: RIP to the YouTube account containing the video of Ricky May singing the anthem really badly. I once downloaded it just in case, and when I find where it was saved will restore to its rightful position in this post].

Lucky I've been recycling the same format on these end of year posts for about 10 years, otherwise I wouldn't know where to start. Now that our lifelong quest for a premiership is over everything will be different. One day there will be generations of fans who were too young or too not yet alive to fully appreciate 25 September 2021, but if you're old enough to read this you're old enough for it to remain a positive memory until the day you croak.

Five years ago, I included an apt line from Bertolt Brecht on the back cover of The Great Deepression, "the man who laughs has simply not yet heard the terrible news". Now I'm a bit sad for the people who really will be born later and never experience our joy that night. There could be more flags, and they'd all be welcome, but none that can match the feeling of this one - even from the other side of the country. And if they have to wait 57 years (or longer), I've got mine and nobody can take it away. 

So, where do I pre-book a Soylent Green ending? The final act will be a replay of the last minute of the third quarter. James Brayshaw being the last voice you hear is a small price to pay for going out watching the greatest moment in the history of sports. Until then, I'll spend the rest of my life trying to find a greater high than the moment Oliver capped off the mad minute. Give me all the sex, drugs, rock and roll I can handle, none will come close.

Welcome to the new dictionary definition of 'If you get it, you get it'. Plenty of droughts have been broken this century, none in such a mad fashion. Everything between Sydney by four points and Geelong by 119 would have been great, but none featured the same rollercoaster of emotions as this. I'd have been more likely to die at the exact moment Leo Barry took his mark, but the Swans hadn't just blown a four goal lead, then climbed back from the edge of a cliff before unleashing the blitzkrieg of a lifetime. I'm not going to punch on over who enjoyed their flag more, but nobody's going to win it under circumstances like this again. It was once in a lifetime, and thank god for that because a repeat might have killed me.

It all started on a sunny afternoon in late January...

2021 AFLW season in review

Round 1 vs Gold Coast - The Many Moods of Melbourne 
The first COVID related fixture change of the year left us playing the eventual wooden spooner, instead of a scheduled game against the eventual premier. Which was helpful. Seemed alright at the time, and the AFLW season turned out pretty well, but you'd have been less enthusiastic if you knew the Suns would finish 0-9.

Round 2 vs Richmond - I've got a Tiger by the tail
In a rare 2021 scenario, the game was played between the scheduled teams, at the scheduled venue, on the scheduled day at the scheduled time. In a nine game season, a 2-0 start was welcome, even if it was another uninspiring win against traditionally shithouse opposition. With the 'Rona starting to take hold again there was, for the first time, speculation that the season wouldn't finish. And as we discovered in 2020, do everything you can to finish the men's comp but stiff shit for the women if things get tricky.

Round 3 vs North Melbourne - Home Alone
Finally, a win against a good side. Shame nobody was there to see it, as Lockdown IV: What The World Is Watching saw the gates slammed shut. The lack of background noise inspired our lot to pile on six goals in the second quarter. Which was great, until we conceded four after the break, leaving us just one point ahead at the last change. All was well that ended well, as the competition's glamour team was dismissed, putting us in an excellent position to be left high and dry if the season was called off.  

Round 4 vs Footscray - Can't buy a thrill
Crowds returned in time to see the Bulldogs took advantage of injuries, variable breezes, and an opposition kicking the putrid final score of 2.12 to get their season going again. Shortly after, it stopped again and they finished eighth. Bad kicking was bad football, as were bad handballing and bad defending. Not our finest hour, but better than the following week.

Round 5 vs Collingwood - Dead end street
The sense that we could do the impossible and miss the finals from 3-0 in a nine game season came to life at Victoria Park, where we kicked one goal, leaving us 3.20 across the previous fortnight. It was a long way down from the side that was kicking goals for fun against North a couple of weeks earlier. All of a sudden we were in more trouble than the early settlers.

Round 6 vs St Kilda - Pearce them off
With the season hanging by a thread, the prospect of a coach sacking only kept at bay because AFLW drama doesn't sell newspapers, and a forward line operating like an Albanian automobile, we had a go at something different and sent Daisy Pearce forward. This worked a treat, and after starting the season in full decline as in defence, she was given a new lease of life. A rampant win was only soured by pulling up at three quarter time instead of delivering a tremendous, percentage boosting thrashing. 

Round 7 vs Adelaide - From woe to go
It's one thing to beat St Kilda, now our wonky forward line had to kick a winning score against the 5-1 premiership favourites. Or not as it turned out, with the backline giving us a taste of things to come in the men's season by keeping the opposition to 15 points. Our 6.7 still wasn't all that convincing, but better than scores of 37, 38 and 40 in the next three wins. It was a strange season.

Round 8 vs Fremantle
- Flying high again
The AFL's COVID powered wheel of fixturing stitched us up a treat, putting on three games against top sides to end the year, while other sides in the mix for a top six spot got the chance to dismember the league's rubbish. Throw in the coach being absent because his wife was about to have a baby, and we looked scant chance in Perth. In the sort of weird game you only get in AFLW, Freo went three quarters without a goal and could have been considered unlucky to lose. But they did, and for the first time ever we made finals without an assist from the season being shut down midway.

Round 9 vs Brisbane - Melbourne AFLW, your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?
The job of qualifying was complete, now it was about showing we were serious by turning over another finals bound side. That we did (though they had the last laugh by winning the flag), with another assist from our very good friend 
(ultimately, a flag winning one) the novel Coronavirus. This time a late breaking virus outbreak in Queensland meant Brisbane's players were confined to one floor of their hotel on arrival, which can't have helped their mood. Also, the hotel was in Glen Waverley, which is a few luxury steps down from the New York Hilton.

Qualifying Final vs Fremantle - When you're hot, you're hot
By now we'd played the Dockers' women twice and men once so I was getting fairly sick of them. Like the men's game, this one took place without Daisy Pearce, who'd gone down with a knee injury against the Lions. Freo wasn't taking too well to our repeat meeting either, going three quarters without a goal again. This time there was no thrilling near miss, falling 15 points short. They were out, we were a game from the Grand Final...

Preliminary Final vs Adelaide - Interstate of Disaster
... and that's where we stayed. The cover version of the 2018 men's journey was complete, storming into the Prelim on a wave of momentum, then running out of petrol at the first bounce. Like the West Coast (yay)/West Coast (boo) doubleheader that year, the Crows weren't falling for the same trick twice within a few weeks. After briefly toying with us in the first quarter, Adelaide realised there was no resistance coming and got on with things. The margin was only 18, but kicking 1.9 - and most of that after Adelaide went into self-preservation mode - was a flat end to an otherwise enjoyable season.

AFLW Defender of the Year

It's a triumph for the Emerald Isle, with the vastly improved Goldrick joining 2015 Prymke Plate champ Heritier Lumumba and countrywoman Laura Duryea (retrospectively) as overseas-born award winners.

Name for new award (other years given retrospectively) pending. Give it a couple of years to shake out and we'll apply the honour to somebody deserving.

5 - Sinead Goldrick
2 - Gabrielle Colvin, Sarah Lampard, Casey Sherriff
0 - Libby Birch, Meg Downie, Chantel Emonson, Sarah Lampard, Lauren Magee

Honour roll:
2017 - Laura Duryea and Katherine Smith
2018 - Katherine Smith (2)
2019 - Harriet Cordner and Meg Downie
2020 - Libby Birch
2021 - Sinead Goldrick

AFLW Rising Star Award

Another new award that I'd forgotten about until it was time to write this post. On paper there wasn't much competition for rookie on our AFLW list, but ultimately the women got twice as many votes in 11 games as the men did in 25. 

McNamara had a very good opening season, until she was knocked to buggery in the opening minutes of the prelim. Won't turn 20 until after next season, so we look forward to a glorious future if the AFL resists forcing us to trade her to one of the 213 new expansion clubs. 

3 - Eliza McNamara
1 - Alyssa Bannan
0 - Megan Fitzsimon, Lauren Magee, Krstel Petrevski

Honour roll:
2018 - Tegan Cunningham
2019 - Tyla Hanks
2020 - Casey Sherriff
2021 - Eliza McNamara

Daisy Pearce Medal for AFLW Player of the Year

Paxmania reigns supreme again, eclipsing Nathan Jones 2012-2014 for the longest winning streak in a main award. The final margin suggests a romp, but it didn't come without a strong mid-season challenge from Tyla Hanks. The legend couldn't be stopped, and won handily. Not hard to be the best player in team history after five seasons, but future generations will have to go a fair bloody way to beat her record (to date) of four wins and a second.

36 - Karen Paxman
27 - Tyla Hanks
21 - Lauren Pearce
20 - Lily Mithen
10 - Kate Hore, Shelley Scott
8 - Maddie Gay
6 - Tegan Cunningham, Eden Zanker
5 - Sinead Goldrick
4 - Daisy Pearce
3 - Eliza McNamara
2 - Gabrielle Colvin, Sarah Lampard, Jackie Parry, Casey Sherriff
1 - Alyssa Bannan

Honour roll:
2017 - Daisy Pearce
2018 - Karen Paxman
2019 - Karen Paxman (2)
2020 - Karen Paxman (3)
2021 - Karen Paxman (4)

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance

In the year I introduced this award, and let's be fair it was initially just an excuse for the gag name, we played one NAB Cup and three practice matches. Four games was enough to sensibly come up with a winner, two just caused a massive logjam at the top. Still, fair group to share it, hardly two rookies and a delisted free agent.

There were supposed to be three games this time, before COVID cost one. While it seems ludicrous declaring an overall winner when nobody could score more than 10 votes but here we are. Spare a thought for the Demonblog budget, we've got to pay for three plates now. Also for Kade Chandler, who almost got as many votes as times he was the unused substitute.
7 - Max Gawn, Steven May, Christian Petracca
4 - Jake Lever
3 - Kade Chandler
1 - Ed Langdon, Clayton Oliver

Honour roll:
2008 - Aaron Davey
2009 - Cameron Bruce
2010 - Brad Green
2011 - Colin Sylvia
2012 - Nathan Jones
2013 - Nathan Jones (2)
2014 - Jeremy Howe
2015 - Heritier Lumumba
2016 - Jack Watts
2017 - Jesse Hogan, Jayden Hunt and Clayton Oliver
2018 - Max Gawn and Christian Petracca
2019 - Max Gawn (2)
2020 - Bayley Fritsch
2021 - Max Gawn (3), Steven May, Christian Petracca (2)

2021 AFL Year in Review - part one

Practice match vs Richmond - The carnival is back in town
After the various pandemic related shenanigans of 2021, things were looking up. Cricket had pretty much gone off without a hitch, and nobody really cared that tennis didn't, so we settled in for a new campaign and... err... watched an early morning YouTube feed. A handful of people tried to watch through the fence at Casey, presumably because their internet had failed. You'd be mad to get excited by such a frivolous, throwaway game, but ultimately the formline of a comfortable win against a strong side held up pretty well.

AAMI Community Series match vs Footscray - FFC vs FFS
The break from restrictions and regular fixture changes lasted about eight days, leaving this as the only official pre-season game on the calendar. Bad news for AAMI, missing a week of promotion in the year they took over from companies like JLT and Marsh (me either), who nobody had ever heard of, throwing their money down the drain. As a nervous person always expecting the rug to be pulled from under us, I declared the Dogs premiership favourites (close) and suggested we'd be lucky to scrape into the eight (bit wrong).

Round 1 vs Fremantle - Mainly happy returns
Other than being assigned seats so random it was like they'd come out of a barrel, the long-awaited return to live games in Victoria went off with our a hitch. After a year on the couch I was willing to go along with everything they wanted. For about two weeks, then I spent the rest of the year whinging. On-field, we won with the absolute minimum oomph required against a travelling, injury-ravaged, mid-table side. Any Round 1 win is a good win. Hard to see us adding the next eight as well.

Round 2 vs St Kilda - A cat couldn't scratch it
After remaining respectfully sceptical of Simon Goodwin throughout 2020, I was ready to finally give in to public sentiment and turn on him halfway through the second quarter. We pulled up just before stacking it, narrowly pulling ahead at half time. Pickett kicked an unreal goal from inside a phonebooth, and we won by 18 points. Turns out the Saints were decidedly ordinary, but we weren't sure about that at the time.

This exchange is still remembered fondly, even if Goody kicked Jones to the kerb about three weeks later. 
Another week, another win, and another comeback from a semi-hopeless position. Even at 3-0, there was still nothing to suggest we'd contend for the premiership. For now I was just happily working towards being a fringe finals side. Significantly more excited, Kelli Underwood, declaring that "they" called him "Slick Fritsch", a nickname that would have gone down a treat on Grand Final night if anybody else in the media joined in. Not the stupidest idea, they've all adopted Dwayne's bloody chaos ball, why not this?

Round 4 vs Geelong - Be still cat
Finally, something approaching a statement win. The margin wasn't huge, but considering some of the rubbish we'd put out against the Cats over the years it was more than enough. It was especially impressive because a) we put in our best performance in the wet for years, and b) most if was without Steven May, who'd been assassinated by the recklessly swinging elbow of Tom Hawkins. I still wasn't ready to queue for finals tickets, not yet knowing that the queue started on the other side of the country, but this was the first time I seriously sat up and took notice.

Round 5 vs Hawthorn - High five
This was a strange day out. An unbeaten team struggling to get rid of flotsam, Mitch Brown beating Ben Brown into our forward line, Gawn running around taking contested marks like a madman, and a last quarter rampage from out of nowhere that carried us to what a comfortable win. In reality, it was anything but, not firing until we'd endured a goal in the first 20 seconds of the last quarter, and some bloke dropped a sitter in the square that would have given them the lead. Everything after that was fun though, and I wasn't going to turn back a 5-0 start for the first time in christ knows how long.

Round 6 vs Richmond - The Nathan Jonestown Massacre
The night we discovered that 2021 was real and spectacular. The scope of Richmond's decline wasn't quite clear yet (and they could very well roar back to life next year for all I know), but overcoming a rocky start to run away with an easy victory in front of a pandemic adjusted big crowd, showed that we were something approaching the real deal. The other item of interest was Nathan Jones' 300th, much celebrated because he'd climbed through 50 layers of shit to get there. Unknown to him, the finish line was just around the corner, but it was nice that he hit the rarest of MFC games milestones on the night we were confirmed as pretty bloody good. Evening ended with a farcical trophy presentation where the host didn't get told the winner before she started talking.

Round 7 vs North Melbourne - The last shall be first
First we announce our arrival, then we line up against an 0-6 side with the chance to go top of the ladder and spot them a four goal start.  The good guys got the job done, but not without some serious fretting about winning all those games then flopping face-first as favourites. North's youthful enthusiasm ended in the third quarter, and Bayley Fritsch got his party started with six goals (also getting away with smacking a bloke in the head with his forearm), but it was nothing more than four much-needed points in the bank.

Round 8 vs Sydney - Eight the hard way
If you're going to wobble, you may as well do it while winning. Especially against another top side. Mind you, since a five win run to start the year they'd lost to Gold Coast by 40 and beaten Geelong, so who knew what sort of opposition would turn up. In the end we got something in the middle, and they hung around like an unflushable nugget until halfway through the last quarter. It was hardly convincing, but you'd have been insane to turn down an 8-0 start. Forget premierships, I was still worried we'd find a way to miss the finals.

Round 9 vs Carlton - Channel 9/0
Now that you know how it ends, let's be ruthlessly honest and agree that this was a shite performance. We did enough to beat ordinary opposition comfortably, via kicking a ton of missed opportunities in the last quarter, but nothing suggested our hot start would translate into long-term success. I could sense that a loss was coming, but surely not until after playing the reigning wooden spooners...

Round 10 vs Adelaide - The recession we had to have
... or just when we played the reigning wooden spooners. I don't what aged worse, our defence being blown open, the shithouse umpiring decision at the end, or Tex Walker being hailed as a hero. Was still one of our highest scores of the home and away season, which confirms that it was just a flat-out strange night. Randomly struggling against a shit side was hardly an anomaly considering what happened against Collingwood and Hawthorn later, but perhaps without it we wouldn't have rumbled a pair of premiership contenders across the next fortnight. 

Round 11 vs Footscray - Bouncing back
Back to an empty Fortress Docklands, where our response to the Adelaide debacle was James Harmes kicking a goal so quickly that Channel 7's fake crowd noise machine hadn't yet warmed up. After Adelaide unexpectedly scored heavily against us, restricting a contender to eight goals was reinvigorating. Featured Tom Sparrow coming on as the most token medical substitute in history, replacing a concussed Ed Langdon with about 50 seconds left in the last quarter.

Round 12 vs Brisbane - Dees go to 11
The first half of the year had been spent regularly climbing out of holes (keep that in mind, it becomes significant again later), and at half time in the unusual surrounds of Sydney Showgrounds we were in all sorts. Just as our top four hopes were about to swirl around the S-Bend we hit the accelerator and ended up winning unexpectedly easily. Strange things were afoot at the MFC.

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award

From the few good seasons we've had, it's clear that the best thing for a high-scoring Hilton race is for the side to be so putrid that shitloads of young players are given their chance. 
None of that this year, with the winner playing every game (albeit with a few appearances as unused sub), with only three eligible players making an appearance.

Despite falling slightly out of favour at the end of the year, it's a deserved win for Double J, who went close to votes a few times at the start of the year. He couldn't stretch it out for a full season, but there's never been a better year to be in and around the side. The emergence of a literally unbeatable Jake Bowey added some mystery to the competition, but it was still not a banner year for statistical fanatics.

Important historical note, even with the post-premiership Truth and Reconciliation Commission pardoning of all the people that have screwed us over the years, we will not be derevoking the 2010 award. The original winner will have to get over it while lying on a bed made from money. 
2 - James Jordon
1 - Jake Bowey
0 - Kade Chandler

Honour roll:
2005 - No players eligible.
2006 - Matthew Bate
2007 - Michael Newton
2008 - Cale Morton
2009 - Jack Grimes ($4)
2010 - [REVOKED]
2011 - Jeremy Howe ($30)
2012 - Tom McDonald ($8)
2013 - Jack Viney ($5)
2014 - Jay Kennedy-Harris ($15)
2015 - Jesse Hogan ($4.50)
2016 - Jayden Hunt ($50) and Christian Petracca ($10)
2017 - Mitch Hannan ($15)
2018 - Bayley Fritsch ($4.50)
2019 - Marty Hore ($8)
2020 - Trent Rivers ($40)
2021 - James Jordon ($30)

Demonbracket X

Eight months before a panel of distinguished voters/'how did they get here' randoms unanimously awarded him the Norm Smith Medal, Christian Petracca was named the #1 selection of the fans in a landslide Demonbracket final. Solid bookends for any season.

The good news is that the Twitter-only voting format, and subsequent 2000% reduction in admin work, reignited my passion for the concept and we'll be back for version XI next year. Hard to see how one of Oliver, Petracca or Gawn doesn't win, but I wouldn't rule out Steven May going close.

2012 - James Frawley d. Nathan Jones
2013 - Tom McDonald d. Mitch Clark
2014 - Nathan Jones d. Jack Watts
2015 - Nathan Jones [2] d. Dom Tyson
2016 - Jack Viney d. Nathan Jones
2017 - Max Gawn d. Jack Viney
2018 - Neville Jetta d. Clayton Oliver 
2019 - Clayton Oliver d. Neville Jetta
2020 - Max Gawn d. Clayton Oliver
2021 - Christian Petracca d. Max Gawn

Welcome to the family

Last time we won a flag you could travel to Ceylon, East Germany, Rhodesia, South Vietnam or Upper Volta. It’s been a while. In that time we’ve been dragged through muck from pillar to post, tried voting ourselves out of existence, and had worse luck than anyone except St Kilda or Fitzroy. Drag out any reference material in your house that pre-dates 2021 and write our name in the premiership list.

Happy memories
Turns out that a large part of the premiership afterglow is the little moments that neutrals won’t remember, but which will be burnt into your brain forever. These include, but are not limited to:
  • Basil forgetting to let the coaches speak
  • Various cup related shenanigans - e.g. Hibberd piss-bolting off with it, and Brayshaw/Gawn conducting an on-field interview.
  • Jako swearing on live TV
  • Gawn atop Tomlinson's shoulders in the nightclub
  • Petracca trying to do an AFL360 interview in the back room of a pub with people randomly walking in throughout.
  • Insert your own in the space provided [                                               ]
Luke Dunstan
Arrives on a free transfer from a tragic club just in time to hear all about what a good time we had without him. Bit unlucky, but better than not having a job at all. As usual I don't know anything about him, even after playing against us 10 times since 2014, but I'll take your word that he can get heaps of the ball then spray it like a fire hose. Sounds like the perfect candidate for a redemption story. Or just a reasonable insurance policy against injuries.

Tayla Harris
Key off-season AFLW recruit, who shouldn’t be expected to perform miracles (after all, she did nowt last year and holds a career average of under a goal a game), but will add strength to a young forward line. I still get annoyed when that Colgate ad shows her playing for Carlton, which, proves there’s a level of pettiness that even winning a flag can't eliminate.

Draft picks
IN: First round, second round, and third round picks this year. OUT: a different second round pick, and next year's first. Based on recent results, who am I to argue? 

The grand old flag…
Maybe they’re waiting to visit Bags O' Flags after lockdown, but I've never needed to see a piece of fabric more. It’ll look the same as all the other ones, but for the first time in my life our bloody name is on it. Melbourne. Premiers 2021. I will never get tired of seeing that written/sewn/spraypainted/dripped in blood. It's NQR to say 'we' when you didn't have anything to do with the result, but in this case the 'we' stands for everyone who went through an absurd degree of humiliation waiting to be vindicated. 

Now, 'we' have this:

And anyone who doesn't like that can blow it out their arse.

Wished well in future endeavours

Austin Bradtke
While Luke Jackson might argue, ruckmen usually need a few seasons to get going. Which is shithouse luck for somebody who gets one full season in the VFL before it’s effectively cancelled for the next two years. Doesn't help that the best ruckman in the game and the next big thing are ahead of him in the queue. If he doesn't get re-rerookied Bradtke will have to decide whether to follow dad into basketball, mum into tennis, or [long list of Melbourne players] into premature retirement.

Darren Burgess
Vale BurgessBall, a philosophy of physical fitness that I was never quite convinced actually existed. Maybe it had nothing to do with us running away in a Grand Final but it can't have hurt. He's exercised the Scott Thompson option to go back to Adelaide, leaving somebody with the fantastically 1920s name of Selwyn to carry on his legacy. Wilbur and Ethel are presumably not far behind.

Kye Declase
There's not getting a decent run at it, then there's being drafted mid-season, shortly before the only competition you've got to develop in is shut down. Departs with fond memories of the greatest paid holiday to Western Australia of all time, and I'm sure they'll look at giving him another go in the pre-season if we've got any room on the list.

Marty Hore
Not many players have played 14 games in one season and never been heard from again. In my time Robert Pyman holds the record with 19 in 1997, but otherwise Craig Ellis, Ben Kennedy and Craig Turley are your lot. The common thread is usually injury (except for Kennedy, who they just lost interest in), and Hore was unlucky to miss two full seasons with burst quad and equally burst knee. At one point I thought he'd be the new Neville Jetta, now they'll probably end up in the same backline at Collingwood VFL.

Neville Jetta
... and speaking of Nifty, it's farewell to one of the great revived careers. Arrived as a 'medium forward', but everyone expected him to start kicking goals out of his arse just because he was indigenous. For five years he didn't do that, mainly balancing his career between a shitload of losses in the seniors and wins while in exile at Casey. 

Nev's great revival came under Paul Roos, who successfully recast him as a defender. Soon the rocky early years were forgotten and he became one of the most beloved figures of our recent history. I'll always fondly remember his willingness to fly into contests against much bigger men - or several - despite being one major concussion from oblivion for about the last 100 games of his career. Has moved into a coaching role at the Pies, where we hope he does extremely well while the club falls to bits around him.
Nathan Jones
Since 25 September I've discovered that there are practically no regrets about winning a flag, but it feels like we've moved on quickly from the man who put a god-awful club on his shoulders for years with scant reward. I'm as guilty as anyone, going from dreams of building a tribute statue, to one of Clayton Oliver with his arm outstretched and a brass Luke Jackson going boonta in the background.  

On the day he was drafted, as I drove towards Albury well under the speed limit so SEN's signal would hold out until our first pick, nobody could have predicted how his career would pan out. Fancy being drafted to a side that had just made the second week of the finals, then going close to playing in the most losses in league history. If he'd known that I might have found him on my way home, running across the Hume Highway trying to get run over. 

After seeing so much horror, and carrying so much dead weight that he would have been forgiven for walking away from the club/game/country, it was an appropriately #fistedforever finish to be within touching distance of playing in our breakthrough flag but not even in the ground when we won. Never let what happened while he was watching on his couch detract from his contribution to the long, painful lead-up. May he enjoy 100% joy in whatever comes next and never have to pay for anything in the vicinity of a Melbourne fan again.

Jay Lockhart
The worst timed knacker injury in history kept him out just long enough for us to move on, and our magical run with injuries left him out in the cold. Showed some promise as a defender in early 2020, but ended the year in the hub equivalent of the reserves, and probably won’t get another spin. Still, as far as MFC careers that fizzed after 22 games go, a last official act of going on the piss with premiership-winning teammates beats what happened to Rod Keogh and Jack Fitzpatrick.

Money spent on Grand Final merch
Most of the clothing is so ugly it should be sold out the back of a car at the Caribbean Gardens market, but we were still moved to drop hundreds/thousands in all the excitement. Christ knows where any of it actually is though, I think mine is currently halfway down the Panama Canal. 

Aaron vandenBerg
Handy player in his day, but has been around so infrequently over the last few years that I can't even remember the fun fact about how many possessions he had in that NEAFL game. We’ll always have a) his winning cameo at the end of 2018, b) the time in 2016 he tried to kick a goal and was pinged for deliberate, and c) increased health insurance premiums from all his treatment.

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year

After six years of thumping, challenge-free victories, Maximum finally got some competition in the form of Luke Jackson. At one point the race got very tasty, before Maximum brought home title #8 in style with his dual demolitions of Geelong. 

The more I watch the Grand Final, the more I think Jackson was unlucky not to get votes (two time winner SME is still wandering around Perth Stadium wondering WTF happened at the end of the third quarter), suggesting the trucking good times should carry on long after Max has moved into a lucrative media career.

29 - Max Gawn
21 - Luke Jackson 
0 - Austin Bradtke, Majak Daw

Honour roll:
2005 - Jeff White
2006 - Jeff White (2)
2007 - Jeff White (3)
2008 - Paul Johnson
2009 - Mark Jamar ($3)
2010 - Mark Jamar (2) ($1.50 fav)
2011 - Stefan Martin ($30)
2012 - Stefan Martin (2) ($12)
2013 - Jack Fitzpatrick ($50) and Max Gawn ($45)
2014 - Mark Jamar (3) ($5)
2015 - Max Gawn (2) ($10)
2016 - Max Gawn (3) ($1.80 fav)
2017 - Max Gawn (4) ($1.25 fav)
2018 - Max Gawn (5) ($1.10 fav)
2019 - Max Gawn (6) ($1.50 fav)
2020 - Max Gawn (7) ($1.05 fav)
2021 - Max Gawn (8) ($2)

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year

There was a time when people were ready to fight in the street over trading two first round picks for Lever. We'd been through so much that there wasn't much willingness to wait and see what happened, or consider that we might have used the picks on rubbish anyway, and when he had a rocky start there was a lot of muttering about how we'd blown it. Then, just as he got going after a few weeks Lever's knee blew on the thinly veiled concrete surface at Docklands, costing him back 12 months of playing and 18 months of development time. 

Fast forward to the present and nobody cares what he cost, because ever if it looks like a minor royal from the late 19th century and talks like a three cartons per day smoker, Jake has just put together one of our great defensive seasons in a premiership year. Much love also to the men around him, specifically May and Petty, who helped form a steel-trap defence only seriously challenged by Hawthorn doing fluke kicks along the ground for want of anything better to do. 

38 - Jake Lever
20 - Christian Salem
19 - Steven May
9 - Harrison Petty
5 - Jayden Hunt
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jake Bowey

Honour roll:
2005 - Nathan Carroll and Ryan Ferguson
2006 - Jared Rivers
2007 - Paul Wheatley
2008 - Matthew Whelan
2009 - James Frawley ($22)
2010 - James Frawley (2) ($3.50)
2011 - James Frawley (3) ($4)
2012 - Jack Grimes ($7)
2013 - James Frawley (4) ($2.80)
2014 - Lynden Dunn ($25)
2015 - Tom McDonald ($14)
2016 - Neville Jetta ($13)
2017 - Michael Hibberd ($16)
2018 - Christian Salem ($20)
2019 - Christian Salem (2) ($4.75 fav)
2020 - Steven May ($11)
2021 - Jake Lever ($8)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year

Pickett's confined spaces masterclass against St Kilda survived 21 weeks, and he claims for a nomination from the finals goal from the pocket against Brisbane, but match-winners will always have a special place in my heart. How, then, can you go past Gawn kicking the clutchiest of clutch goals in Geelong? The kick that swung the door open for us to enter September with a distinctively un-Melbourne swagger.

The Petracca dribbler which kicked off our mad minute in Perth was more instantly important, but Gawn to battle against the crushing weight of history. It sent us towards the finals on a high and we never looked back. 

I still can't watch without thinking that somehow he's going to miss - especially when his original run-up is interrupted by the siren - so we best have another look to make sure:
2021 Nominations
Round 1 - Ed Langdon
Round 2 - Kysaiah Pickett
Round 3 - Kysaiah Pickett (2)
Round 4 - Bayley Fritsch
Round 5 - Max Gawn
Round 6 - Alex Neal-Bullen
Round 7 - Bayley Fritsch (2)
Round 8 - Tom McDonald
Round 9 - Tom McDonald (2)
Round 10 - Clayton Oliver
Round 11 - James Jordon
Round 12 - Tom McDonald (3)
Round 13 - Clayton Oliver (2)
Round 15 - Tom Sparrow
Round 16 - Bayley Fritsch (3)
Round 17 - Tom McDonald (4)
Round 18 - Charlie Spargo
Round 19 - Kysaiah Pickett (3)
Round 20 - Max Gawn (2)
Round 21 - Ben Brown
Round 22 - Bayley Fritsch (4)
Round 23 - Max Gawn (3)
Qualifying Final - Kysaiah Pickett (4)
Preliminary Final - Max Gawn (4)
Grand Final - Christian Petracca

Honour roll:
2014 - Christian Salem
2015 - Nathan Jones
2016 - Jack Watts
2017 - Tom McDonald
2018 - Mitch Hannan
2019 - Marty Hore
2020 - Christian Petracca
2021 - Max Gawn

All-time nominations (2014-2021)
19 - Christian Petracca
16 - Jeff Garlett
8 - Tom McDonald
7 - Max Gawn, Jake Melksham, Kysaiah Pickett, Jack Watts
6 - Bayley Fritsch, Mitch Hannan, Jayden Hunt
5 - Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones, Dean Kent, Bernie Vince
4 - Clayton Oliver, Cameron Pedersen, Jack Viney
3 - Jordan Lewis, Jay Lockhart, Alex Neal-Bullen, Christian Salem, Charlie Spargo
2 - Angus Brayshaw, Chris Dawes, Mark Jamar, Braydon Preuss, Dom Tyson
1 - Oskar Baker, Sam Blease, Ben Brown, Chris Dawes, Jack Fitzpatrick, Sam Frost, Marty Hore, Matt Jones, James Jordon, Ben Kennedy, Ed Langdon, Jay Kennedy Harris, Heritier Lumumba, Oscar McDonald, Ben Newton, Aidan Riley, Tom Sparrow, Corey Wagner, Sam Weideman

2021 year in review – part two

Round 13 vs Collingwood - A farce to be reckoned with 
Undoubtedly the worst part of the season, where we lost millions of dollars by playing Queen's Birthday in Sydney (shortly before they got shut down by the big one too), around the same time we missed out on the annual Alice Springs windfall. All of that would have been bad enough on its own, without another collapse against shizen opposition. Accepted wisdom is that the Pies played out of their skin because their coach had resigned, but clearly it was because our forward line was badly misfiring, leaving us vulnerable to opposition kicking any half-decent score. I was a touch worried.

Round 15 vs Essendon - Saturday Night Lever
The mid-season slump was temporarily halted by a battling win over mid-table opposition. It doesn't take much to make Essendon fans see conspiracy theories, but a bit of wacky umpiring had them rushing the umpires like Trump fanatics attacking the Capitol. We won, but it didn't encourage you to start putting money away for impulse merchandise purchases in late September..

Round 16 vs GWS - Misery is the best policy
After this, I was all but running through the streets ringing a bell and crying "the end is near". Premature considering they were still in the hunt for finals, but it all seemed like a Candid Camera style set-up to make us look like idiots for getting excited by the 9-0 start. Since then we'd been tickled by wins against top four contenders, lost to bottom four certainties and I didn't know what to think anymore. I haven't seen a live game since, and it went so well I probably never should again. 

Round 17 vs Port Adelaide - Uphill skiing d. Downhill skiing
I didn't know what sporting pressure was until the last two games of the year, but until then this was as close as I got to freaking out and hiding in a mineshaft until it was over. A promising season badly on the turn, in front of the full Friday night national audience, against a side that had proven incapable of beating the best. Now to work out if we really were in 'the best' or only good enough to make up numbers in the eight. Turns out we were - though this wouldn't be proven for another few weeks - and a professional performance saw us home, much to the disgust of some locals:
Round 18 vs Hawthorn - White light, dead heat
Just when you thought we were back on track, our top four campaign hit the skids again with an unexpected draw against a bottom four side. I was left distraught, thinking we were about to throw away 9-0, limp into the finals and get knocked out in the first week by Essendon.

Round 19 vs Footscray - The plot sickens
Our second top of the table game against the Dogs without a crowd, and the sequel was not as good as the original.
At this point I'd have thought us more likely to win the French Open than an AFL premiership, and reacted accordingly, thinking about a concession speech for our premiership tilt and wondering where to buy a white flag. In retrospect it wasn't so bad, but felt like death at the time. You can go through the archives, find my comments in the aftermath and mock me now for not having faith but after about one good performance in six weeks I was entitled to see a bit of tits up in our future.

The COVID crisis that saved our season, where a flight to Queensland was pulled up short and sent home, leaving the game to be played the following day. Cue a Suns side whose life force had ebbed away weeks earlier being forced to travel at short notice and realising about halfway through the first quarter that they'd forgotten to pack their will to live. With Jackson and Brown building nicely towards the finals, we finally pulled off the violent beating I'd been waiting for since Round 1 and never lost again.

Round 21 vs West Coast - Living on the end of a lightning bolt
Where the weirdest season got even weirder. Winning confirmed we'd finish top four, but not until building a near unbeatable lead, missing the chance to put them away early in the last quarter, going off for a 40 minute lightning break, then having to withstand a furious comeback that left me with my supporting life flashing before my eyes. Thanks to Harrison Petty for saving the day with some of the most egregious timewasting in VFL/AFL history, and to the umpire with a box seat view who let him get away with it. Any Perth-related frustrations were later taken out on Geelong and Footscray.

Round 22 vs Adelaide - Going through the emotions
Now that the double chance was certain, it was a matter of making sure we got our choice of venues (anywhere you liked as it wasn't in Victoria or New South Wales), and ideally finishing on top. With an all-star clash against Geelong on the horizon we just needed to beat the Crows to enter the last round with our fate in our own hands. Easier said than done considering what happened earlier in the year. Again, it took far more effort than it should have, but we held our nerve long enough for them to run out of youthful enthusiasm. Ended with Bayley Fritsch kicking the most ludicrous run of quick goals until the next week. 

Round 23 vs Geelong - Delta Force
Most years it would be hard to beat the excitement of coming from 40 something points down to win the minor premiership with our first winning kick after the siren in history, but just over a month later this would have been lucky to tie for second as the most ludicrous thing to happen in 2021. No matter what happened next, never forget how wonderful this night was.

When you're playing for top spot, shipping a bunch of quickfire goals out of the middle was far from ideal, but felt like the natural progression in a long list of Kardinia Park debacles. Then the locals clammed up (other than Dangerfield, reported to have been literally dripping with gastro), we dragged it back within a kick, got a 50 that the umpire wouldn't have dared pay with a hostile crowd present, and the unlikely attacking combination of Lever/Gawn combined to set up the famous kick. 

That was all very nice, especially the Geelong players looking accusingly at each other, but the pre-September 2021 Melbourne script would have piled an extra layer of misery on us by having him miss anyway. You know what happened next. Cue wild scenes at the ground, in my house, and the worldwide fluctuation of internet capacity as the kick was watched on repeat. 

You can't overstate how important Maximum's kick was. It wasn't as breathtaking thrilling as his prelim antics, or immediately equal to the Grand Final rampage, but without it maybe neither of those things happen. We might still have gone the long way to win the flag, but it wouldn't have come in the same glorious, iconic fashion. Fair way to end the year for somebody who did two knees and once got in trouble for having a smoke in his car on the way to training.

Qualifying Final vs Brisbane - First we take Adelaide...
The forgotten final, a perfectly decent, grown-up performance that will always pale in comparison to the insanity that followed. Felt like gold on the night, especially after Channel 7 debuted that terrifyingly presumptuous montage about breaking the alleged Norm Smith curse. The almost all-MFC build-up felt like a level of disrespect to the Lions that would make us look stupid in the event of a loss. Fortunately said Lions were warming up for the game not watching TV and did their very best to keep the fairytale finish alive. We carried on as you'd expect first to against fourth, earned the express route to a Prelim, and got a week off to fret about Geelong taking revenge for the grand finish in Round 23.

Preliminary Final vs Geelong - Just win baby
Nothing will ever beat the torment I went through on Friday and Saturday of Grand Final weekend, but this lead-up went close. Not only were we playing to go into the Grand Final as favourites for the first time since 1964, the legacy of the Kardinia Park comeback and Gawn's golden goal were both on the line. If this went wrong we'd never be able to watch it again without thinking about their old age pensioner side taking revenge when it really mattered. 

Max took us in his arms, quietly whispered "don't worry, everything's going to be alright" and unloaded one of the all-time great finals performances, dynamiting what had looked like a competitive game with a five goal haul that helped build an insurmountable lead. Both he and everyone else ran out of goals in the last quarter, keeping the margin to 'just' the most we'd ever beaten Geelong by since first playing them in 1860. Turns out it was a taste of things to come.

Grand Final vs Footscray - Everybody loves a happy ending
Spoiler alert. This goes tremendously well at the start, sour in the middle, then turns into pound-for-pound the greatest explosion of footballing power ever see. I'm not going to get deep into my feelings on this, because the trauma detailed in the above match review captures the moment far better than memories from a month later.

What I will say is that there couldn't have been a more Melbourne way for the first two and a half quarters to go. Teased by a hot start against a side which completely failed to come to terms with the extra week off, going within touching distance of putting the game out of their reach before they settled down, then having success snatched from before me eyes, leaving me on the verge of a meltdown.

Still don't know what the half-time entertainment was because I was too busy nearly having a stroke. An hour later I was considering a stroke for entirely different reasons, having just seen the most indescribably insane half of all time. It got within a goal of "oh shit" territory (which they could very well have had), before an eruption of such power and fury that replays should have this flashed on the screen just as Harmes' pass landed with Fritsch.

As Kevin Bloody Wilson might have said, "Six thousand tonnes of TNT, the noise, the blinding flash. The coach of Western Bulldogs said 'what the fuck was that?'"

Americans are mad for giving recognisable names to sporting moments, and what happened at the end of the third quarter should be known as The Minute. I appreciated retaking the lead from 19 points down, but what came next was the most enjoyable 45 seconds since my first sexual experience. Petracca rolling one through from the boundary like Peter Daicos was one thing, but when Sparrow got one from the next bounce, (with an assist to McSizzle treating a defender like a vaccine mandate on the line) then Oliver chipped in for another before running away with his arm aloft like Alan Shearer the foundations of my house were under more stress than during the earthquake.

God knows what the Dogs were doing, but with 15 seconds left they almost let us get out of the centre again, and we'd scored another I might have died from excitement on the spot. No need to be greedy, it was already the best thing I've ever seen on a footy ground. And after about 750 views over the next month, probably the only passage of play I've seen more than Jako's scissor kick against North or the Alan Partridge calling Liam Jurrah highlights.

I've always been fond of Bill Clinton's promise to be there for his supporters "until the last dog dies", and it finally came true in the last quarter, with each Footscray player's will to live shutting off one-by-one, until they were nothing but target practice. God it was fun. Which is probably why the second half has been streamed more times across the world than Squid Game.

The only problem was the entire quarter yet to play, and with the veil of negativity cutting off airflow to my brain there was still a tremendous level of fear about cocking it up. I knew that you'd have to do something amazing to lose from four goals ahead at three quarter time, against a team who'd just been mercilessly destroyed in one magical outburst, but after all we'd been through, would there have been any better way to confirm our status as the game's most unlovable losers by coming this far, then capsizing with one hand on the cup, never winning a premiership, and leaving me to die looking like this:

There will still be plenty of reasons to go out old and sour, hated by family and strangers alike, but none caused by missing a flag. Nerves were quickly settled by lovely, zanily numbered, looks like her from Arcade Fire, Ben Brown, and the procession continued unabated. We'd broken them, and it was magnificent. I ran outside and screamed, and when there was absolutely no way to lose unashamedly cried my eyes out.

Bit rich to say this after shunning human contact for years, but I partly feel cheated at missing out on the chaotic, mass outpouring of public joy Fever Pitch ending. However, if it had been possible then maybe we wouldn't have been the ones enjoying it. Go with what you can confirm happened, and the fear/terror/joy/astonishment I went through at home that night will still occupy a special place in my happy memory Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly there hasn't been one random nosebleed since. Nor have I had a truly good time, so maybe that night ruined me forever. Totally worth it.

Garry Lyon Medal for Finals Player of the Year

A decade ago you wouldn't have known if we had any 'big game players', because we weren't in enough big games to find out. 12 months ago I hated triumphant Richmond fans for taunting us over not picking Dustin Martin, now I'm prepared to face Moorabbin and offer thanks that they didn't draft Petracca.

He's been 'good' for years, but Petracca's ascendency to the top table began by walloping the Crows in that pre-season game last year. Via a pair of All-Australian campaigns, and a contract that should keep him at the club for the rest of his career, the hard work paid off with a Grand Final rampage for the ages. After four votes in the first two finals - behind Oliver and Gawn respectively - this was enough to carry him to a comprehensive, well-deserved victory.

While we're at it, recognition please for Jack Viney. He came back from foot death to win the award in 2018, and has done the same (via an unnecessary suspension) to run second here, polling in all three games. There was a time I refused to believe that players could be 'made for finals', but the evidence in his favour is overwhelming.

13 - Christian Petracca
8 - Jack Viney
6 - Clayton Oliver
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Charlie Spargo, Tom Sparrow
1 - Ed Langdon, Christian Salem

Honour Roll:
2005 - Not awarded
2018 - Jake Viney
2021 - Christian Petracca

2021 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

Given our record with high draft picks, eyebrows were raised so far when we took a punt on Oliver that they almost flew off the top of the head. Obviously a super talent from day one, it took him a season to get into the swing of footy club life, but has been near unstoppable since. See, for example, the first Geelong game, when they tried to stop up with some bloke who'd tagged opponents into the ground in the early weeks. Oliver said "that's nice" and went on with his business, dragging his minder around all day like he was on a rope.

Retrospectively, you can see the moment we picked him as when it all started to turn good. There's a bit of luck in everything - he might have had 17 concussions in his first year and retired - but pick four for the man who made Mooroopna famous would have been value at twice the price now.

64 - Clayton Oliver
61 - Christian Petracca
38 - Jake Lever
29 - Max Gawn
22 - Tom McDonald
21 - Luke Jackson 
20 - Christian Salem
19 - Steven May
13 - Bayley Fritsch, Kysaiah Pickett
11 - Jack Viney
10 - Ed Langdon
9 - Angus Brayshaw, Harrison Petty
7 - James Harmes, Alex Neal-Bullen, Charlie Spargo
5 - Jayden Hunt
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - James Jordon, Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jake Bowey

Honour roll:
2005 - Travis Johnstone
2006 - Brock McLean
2007 - Nathan Jones
2008 - Cameron Bruce
2009 - Aaron Davey ($8)
2010 - Brad Green ($4)
2011 - Brent Moloney ($9)
2012 - Nathan Jones (2) ($3.50)
2013 - Nathan Jones (3) ($2)
2014 - Nathan Jones (4) ($3.50)
2015 - Jack Viney ($15)
2016 - Nathan Jones (5) ($8)
2017 - Clayton Oliver ($35)
2018 - Clayton Oliver (2) ($3.25 fav)
2019 - Max Gawn ($9)
2020 - Christian Petracca ($6)
2021 - Clayton Oliver (3) ($6)

Next season
Thinking about the community madness at the end of Fever Pitch led me to watching it again for the first time in about 15 years. Frightening how much of myself I recognise in the main character that wasn't there when I first read the book/saw the movie in the late 90s. There's a bit at the end, where he says "We still see each other all the time. And I still love them, and I still hate them. But I have my own life now. My success and failures aren't necessarily linked up their theirs. That's got to be a good thing I suppose." 

Never thought it possible that I could reach that point, but also never thought we'd actually win the bloody premiership. But don't think the small matter of flag and a midlife crisis will spell the end for this page, I'll be back for everything starting with the 2022 AFLW season and ending with rising sea levels turning the MCG into a swimming pool. Might just not take it so seriously. Let's see how many weeks into 2022 that lasts.

Final thoughts
In addition to his earlier comments, our old friend Brecht also said, "how can I eat and drink if I snatch what I eat from the starving?", and while at this moment I couldn't give a continental about the feelings of anyone outside the MFC bubble, may all neutrals get to experience this feeling once in their life.

Who knows when the joy will wear off. Hopefully never, and even after our turn at the top has eventually ended, we'll bond over how close things came to disaster on that most glorious of nights, recite the exact order that the goals were kicked, and laugh at how unreal (in all senses of the word) it was. And on the occasion where we finally become the team to chase:


  1. Thank you. What a year. What a month. What a night. What the f#@! happened for the last 40 minutes of that game?!

  2. Thanks for all your efforts, words and keeping us all connected.
    Ya dun good.

  3. thank you for the blog and the book! Will be back next year


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