Monday, 28 March 2022

Love Over Gold

I suspect more opposition fans read this than Melbournians, so for those who follow successful clubs, please outline the exact point where you started going into games expecting to win. I don't feel like I could ever get there, but there's got to be a point - and it used to be when you played us - where you know there is no chance of losing. I'm not there yet, but hoping there's a stage where the feet can go up from the first bounce against anybody, even COVID-ravaged West Coast sides with seven players called A. Random plucked from the WAFL. 

Having not activated the famous (?) Demonblog Towers Megawall since the night of the Preliminary Final, it was a bit stupid to try and dive in at 7.55pm for an 8pm bounce. First the sound didn't work, then when my laptop was plugged in the screen went a psychedelic green colour that made me think I was having a seizure. My fault for not using pre-season - or any time during Saturday afternoon - to make sure the system was working.

God knows why we had to wait until 7pm their time/8pm Eastern to watch in the first place. Did they run down the beach dishing out free tickets a couple of hours earlier and thoughtfully give people time to stash their surfboard away? That was another unqualified success, with about half of the heaving 8400 crowd going for us. I'd been up since 2.30am, I just wanted to go to bed, Perth people have been putting up with 5pm games for the benefit of eastern viewers since 1987, now we're bending over backwards for people who don't give a toss. The real enemy is Queenslanders who won't do daylight savings in case the curtains fade. I thrive in miserable conditions so could do with it getting dark earlier, but let's get all the major cities on the same coast aligned instead of acting like some banana republic where everyone goes with whatever time suits them.  

I sorted out the technology issues at quarter time (turns out I the plug that runs the sound system was connected to itself instead of the wall), and got a good quarter out of the main setup before the computer shit itself again and left me watching on a desktop. All I needed was for that to fail as well so I could go down the sliding scale of watching via mobile, tablet, internet-connected toaster, smartwatch, and through somebody's window like a good old fashioned pervert.

For now, it was onto the couch with a backup laptop, hardly conditions to watch a reigning premier. Good thing, then, that for the first 20 minutes we didn't play like one. There's still a tremendous stigma in losing to the Suns, and probably will be even when the cavalcade of handouts finally deliver them a winning side, so while I knew there was no need to panic at two goals down, there was still an element of "I know we have to lose eventually, just not this week". Which is how I felt for different reasons last week, and will against crisis clubs Essendon and/or Port. I'll get back you when an appropriate week for losing has been identified.

My situation wasn't the only one not befitting the contest, Fox Sports 'sent' (to their office to watch it on TV) a commentary team that was practically detrimental to the broadcasting industry. Usually, we like to give commentator chat its own section at the end, but the freestyle madness on offer was so intertwined with the story of the game that it's impossible not to talk about it now. 

I know Dwayne, Derm and Turncoat Healy were flat that Rankine Wankin' had been cancelled by his late withdrawal, but that was no excuse for upping the drivel content to near record levels. There's no doubting their sincerity, but I almost missed Eddie McGuire's forced references to nightclubs and Pants: The Darren Millane Story. There's never been a better argument for every game having a minimum of one non ex-player on the call. Doctors around the country would have been ringing Fox Footy HQ offering free CTE testing. Unconvincing attempts to pretend they were at the ground didn't fool anyone, but at least they didn't just proudly own up to watching on TV like Triple M.

I can't decide if the lack of travelling gave them more or less time to come up with phrases to shoehorn into the call at every opportunity, but could the Commentary Review Officer please determine how many times somebody was described as a 'bull', or as part of a collective of 'bulls'. It must have approached 50 by the end. I know Foxtel is so broke they'll probably lose the next broadcast rights to Channel Nicaragua, but taking cash for comment bungs from the cattle industry is a step too far. That might explain the bull talk, but doesn't account for Dwayne's multiple attempts to get his 'Rivers to cross' gag over.

Nobody except the Bowey family is going to watch this game again, but for the love of all that is holy please leave the tortured puns to amateurs on the internet and stop ruining the historical record of these games. I'm holding out hope that a sporting version of The Terminator will be sent back from the future with a mission to divert some of the chief offenders away from commentary roles and into jobs that better suit them - which in the case of Dwayne and BT is the guy who yells about cantaloupe outside a fruit shop. Healy will be an opposition leader, and 'Derm' will be relocated back to his home planet.

You can only imagine their glee if, as it seemed in the opening minutes, we were sunk by a career best performance by Levi Casboult. If he kicked 8.6 that would have been 14 opportunities to be snide about his goalkicking accuracy, and they'd have been dead-set flogging themselves over the 'recycled player redemption story sinks premier' storyline. A browse through the archives suggests almost every mention of Levi in the history of this blog has been in relation to his 'much maligned' status, but we've never assessed his potential as a Kingsley nominee. Probably because he's only previously kicked eight goals in seven starts against us - three in one day in 2019. I'd have thought a key forward who has barely averaged a goal a game across his career would have stuffed six past us at some stage.

Whether a player who has kicked four goals in a game six times can ever be a Kingsley is a philosophical discussion for another day, but when he found himself in a one-on-one marking contest with Jayden Hunt and converted from close range I'd have signed the nomination papers on the spot. This was part of an ordinary night for Mr. Owl Energy. It wasn't all his fault, their first shot on goal came after he was the victim of the greatest trip since the glory days of Dustin Fletcher. A rugby player couldn't have brought an opponent down with a better ankle tap but he was going so fast that the umpires obviously just thought he'd taken a comedy pratfall. It was not the last time they made it up as they went, with holding the ball and dissent both reverting to the 2021 model.

If you're ever vulnerable to an upset loss against the Suns it's in the first half of the season. Every year they do their impression of the Russian army, coming out all guns blazing before being blown into stringy bits a few weeks later. They won in Round 1, but it's hard to take beating the injury/illness ravaged Eagles seriously. This was going to be far more challenging than when we kicked off the two months of our lives by roasting them in front of an empty Fortress Docklands. Maybe this is the sort of challenge we'd have got that day if the game was played at Carrara as scheduled, instead of Suns players finding out at short notice that they'd have to go interstate for three weeks and losing the will to live accordingly. Thank god it wasn't, and much love as always to Queensland's Chief Health Officer for making that fine day happen.

In a boon for "haw haw, that's good from you knackers" style commentary, our first goal came from a Gawn set shot. You'll never believe what they talked about during his run up. That steadied the ship after we were beaten in the early midfield battles. Turned out all they had was midfielders. And so they should, having had more young men drafted to them than the Vietnam War. What Gold Coast doesn't have is a Luke Jackson, who will become the greatest draft steal since Brad Green at pick 19 if he resists the mining trucks full of Western Australian Dollars currently circling his house. During the first half he ran riot like it was the second half of a Grand Final, Jackson set up Gawn's goal, and collected touches up and down the ground like he was the slightest of midfielders. 

Now that we'd weathered the early storm, things were looking promising. Even more so when Brown rose above the challenge of our own fans talking rubbish to him over the fence and hoofed through a long range shot from the boundary. Other than being gifted a free for a hold three kilometres off the ball, we didn't see much else of him throughout the night. It's no drama, like Fritsch (who did even less) last week, two goals and taking the heat off other players will do me for a contribution.

In a crowded field, Jackson's best moment was the goal that put us ahead at quarter time, snatching the ball from a boundary throw in, running a few steps away from goal, then snapping around the corner and taking off in "did I just do that?" celebration? Yes you did sir, and I'm sure there's plenty more where that came from. If Nic Nat had done similar the front of his pants would have shot off at interstellar speed and landed in the middle of the stadium.

For an otherwise blah match, that was the first of three world class goals. Next was Petracca sticking two fingers up at the Dispose or Die rule, breaking five tackles in five seconds before setting up Viney. On our fourth goal in a row I thought we'd finally broken them and the rest of the night would be a comfortable descent to premiership points. And then we ruined it by conceding one straight out of the middle. It was that kind of night, every time you thought the Gold Coast Nugget had been flushed it came back to swirl around the bowl.

This year, the life expectancy of our backline has been worse than a rat handler in the 14th century, so it looked grim when the just returned Rivers seemed to have done himself a tremendous mischief. I was about to start scouring our top-up player list for replacements (even if it meant one of our lesser players faking a spot of the 'cron) when it turned out he was teetering on the edge of the boundary line because he wasn't sure if they wanted to him to come off, not because of a paralysing injury that made walking almost impossible. 

Rivers returned without further complication, a rare bit of good news for our defenders this year. They might be subject to crippling at a minutes' notice, but are still playing well. Christian Salem is (temporarily) dead, but until he comes back can I interest you in the unbeaten world champion of football Jake Bowey? I know as much about football structures as building skyscrapers, so can't comment on what he was doing in relation to an opponent but by christ when he got the ball it was an experience. At 19 I was struggling to get out of bed (and often didn't bother), he's mopping up play and delivering the ball to teammates on an antique silver platter like he's played 200 games. By the time he reaches that mark unbeaten we'll probably throw a game just to give somebody else a go.

There was another false alarm when we kicked two in a row, only to concede the next two and end up back in the same spot, with a slender lead that was in danger of being overhauled in a couple of minutes like last week. This time we'd been forced to fight from behind instead of dominating from the bounce, so at least we're playing with variety.

The Wheel of Footy Momentum swung back our way at the end of the quarter, with the last two goals. First lovely Luke Jackson running into an open goal, then Petracca dropping a peach of a kick on the otherwise anonymous Tom McSizzle directly in front. By now Christian was in full accumulation mode, racking up disposals by the dozen. He was going so well that 'Derm' promoted him to Brownlow Medallist. Either he was confusing it with the Norm Smith or he knows something we don't about the eight players who finished ahead of him. Might be speaking in advance, he'll get three votes hands down in Round 1, and this was the sort of possession-heavy game that umpires love. It may have been his record possession count, but spoiler alert I preferred Jackson and Bowey. As neither is a pure midfielder, and therefore ineligible for the Brownlow, they may as well give the votes to Trac. 

If the Suns did the honorable thing and just went away we could have had a relaxing second half. Instead, they looked as good as they have since the year their unstoppable march to finals fell apart with Gary Ablett's shoulder. We could have stood to put the foot down a bit harder, but given the steamy weather there was a bit of 'beat [team name] first, then worry about the good sides' going on. It was all a bit too reminiscent of Adelaide last year, where we continually threatened to put a lesser team away but kept them in it long enough to bang on a couple of quick goals and win. Cowardly deliberate decision optional. 

This was not a game for decisive breaks, but a trademark Pickett ripper at the end of the quarter insulated us against last quarter fatigue. It lacked the light-footed movement in a confined space of the one against St Kilda last year, but the way he scooped it up, turbo-powered through two wank-handed tacklers and snapped it around the corner would have caused more moistness in the stadium than the humidity.

That should have been it, and ultimately way, but not before a last quarter of low-level toil and struggle. After Petracca and Pickett both missed chances to put them away, we were reintroduced to an old friend when Noah Anderson made things interesting with a goal (yes, I know he also kicked one earlier but this bit fits better here so pretend he didn't). Remember when we were all but certain to draft him before the AFL gave the Suns a charity pick? Seems like a reasonable player, and might turn out to be very good but if you're pox long enough you'll gather a collection of midfielders, Jacksons rarely turn up. I hope Suns fans are happy with their man, I'm ready to send Gil a ham to thank him for accidentally steering us towards ours.

Every week this season will be a reminder that I can still be stressed about footy post-premiership. A dangerously elevated heart rate during the last quarter was further proof that it's still real to me. See also open swearing and basically pleading for somebody to convert a bloody chance. We never did, with players up and down the ground rapidly losing the will to live in the tropical conditions, but the other lot weren't good enough to take advantage. 

We sandbagged for long enough that one measly goal would be have been enough to make sure of victory. Enter more misses, including an old school Petracca shocker from 25 metres out. He should have sprinted into the pocket and rolled it through from an NQR angle or invited contact from half a dozen defenders, thrown them all off like the Ultimate Warrior, then snapped through over his head. Our field kicking was still alright (for example, see Bowey, Jake xoxoxo) but the finishing was putrid, from 10.1 we ended on 12.10. We will pulverise a rubbish team somewhere on the way this year, but I'm concerned that we might also suffer a slapstick loss against one if we don't take chances. 

Apparently, it's no longer a game against the Suns unless Jack Viney is involved in controversy. Unlike our last meeting where he did something indefensibly stupid and was rightly suspended (possibly carrying him through the flag before his foot fell off again), this was a collision. In an unfortunate result for the Gold Coast player, he was left pissing blood and still gave away the free.

If nothing else, and by this stage there was not much else, the misses pushed the margin from 17 points (a one point loss waiting to happen), to 19 (unlikely to be overcome, but not impossible). A better forward line, playing against a less organised defence might have been a chance. They had less firepower than the Mongolian navy, and even though our players were practically scanning the boarding pass to see if they had an aisle seat on the way home, it took them several minutes more to kick another goal. 

By then it was too late, and once we made sure a Mad Minute wasn't going to break out the result was safe. It was far from our best win but they all count. You couldn't argue the endeavour, especially considering the carnage in our backline, so I'm prepared to tick it off as a job well done and move on. I'm still so frightened of being disappointed that I'm not extending my ambitions beyond thinking of it as the second of 13 wins that will make sure we play finals.  At the same time expect that our next loss in a competitive match will send me into a week long depression. Never mind, by that time I'll be 65 and will have better things to worry about.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jake Bowey
4 - Luke Jackson
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Steven May

Major apologies to Neal-Bullen. Other apologies to Gawn, Tomlinson, Jordon and Viney.

Leaderboard
8 - Christian Petracca
5 - Jake Bowey (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Luke Jackson (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ed Langdon
3 - Ben Brown, Clayton Oliver 
2 - Alex Neal-Bullen
1 - Steven May

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
Forget Rankine Wankin', I'm signing up for the first international Pickett Flick'it:

No surprises, it's into the clubhouse lead. Jackson second, Viney (c/o Petracca) third.

Next week
It's a Friday night banana skin against popular crisis club Essendon. Can't go to that. Then a Saturday AFLW Prelim at the MCG. Can't go to that either. If we can reschedule a game for 11am Wednesday I'll be quids in. Regardless of these now traditional scheduling conflicts, I'll be working around all important commitments to make sure both games are seen in their entirety.

You won't be surprised to discover that I'm SHITSCARED about the Bombers. Because nobody in a sensible timezone cares about Port Adelaide, their rancid 0-2 start will be all the talk this week, and they'll presumably come out firing. Any sensible analysis says they've been beaten by a pair of Preliminary Finalists so don't order a tombstone just yet, but hopefully this will prove that they're heading towards Melbourne 2019 style post-finals darkness. Appropriately, they were responsible for the third of our 0-3 that year, it would be nice to repay the favour.

I reserve the right to be scared. In general, but in this case more specifically about coming off a six day break after playing in Plum Sweat City. We stuck with the same side so often last year - and fair enough - that it's hard to imagine mass rotation after opening the season with a pair of wins. Still, as well as the defence has held up I'd very much like Hibberd and Lever back pronto. We've had two weeks of playing against one-dimensional or less forward lines, that's not going to happen every week. Stopping the other side scoring is one thing, the faster we get the ball going effectively out of defence, the more likely Brown, Fritsch et al will have acres of space to run rampant in.

Speaking of forwards, I have grave concerns over McSizzle. He hasn't been terrible, just very ordinary. Chips in with a goal here and there but nothing like the impact from the start of last year. I've got about 5% faith in the Weid fulfilling his potential, but Tom wouldn't have wanted to see him kick seven in the seconds. Instead, Mitch Brown did. At some stage we should go for novelty value and try him in a Brown O'Clock forward line with Ben. But not yet.

From what I saw of the VFL game, it's hard to judge how good we were vs St Kilda seconds that lost several players to their travelling party to Perth. The ones that stayed weren't much good, which might explain the tremendous margin. I don't know if there's any other major changes to come out of that, and given that Bedford was able to get back to play we may as well keep him in the Kade Chandler free games SuperSub role. 

... and if Viney gets the boot (via a few days of appeals and recriminations), I expect we'd prefer to pick Dunstan than play Brayshaw in the middle.

IN: Hibberd, Lever
OUT: Hunt (obvious omission), Smith (unlucky omission)
LUCKY: McDonald
UNLUCKY: Weideman if he does anything for Casey.

Final thoughts
Considering how bad the tenants have been for the last 10 years, we don't seem to win well at Carrara very often. Other than that grand night in 2016 where James Harmes out Gary Abletted Gary Ablett, you have to go back to the 1990 Brisbane Bears for a solid, effortless victory. So take the four points, stow them safely in the overhead compartment, and let this game never be spoken of again.

Friday, 18 March 2022

Desire: Unfreed

Once they're finished studying the Mad Minute, post-nuclear war scientists will sift through rubble for evidence of the 2021 Grand Final and try to work out why Footscray got so upset about that song. For the benefit of brave, radioactive suited types going through the shattered archives at Blogger HQ, the controversy stems from the players of one team singing the bullshit pop song that the other team liked. This caused World War III to break out, as the UN, NATO and International Criminal Court were too busy mediating between the warring parties to stop Russian and America dropping 4000 kilotons of nuclear weapons on each other.

I understand that no rational, highly paid professional, is going to focus entirely on song-based scandal after conceding 16 of the last 17 goals (👍) but they're sure keen on bringing it up. You couldn't read the words 'Western Bulldogs' in 2022 without one of them mentioning how they took offence, even claiming in one magic moment that it was 'their song'. If the tables were turned and our players were publicly going on about this on September 26 I'd have been furious but the Dogs were still talking about it four days before Round 1. Good thing they weren't around in Norm Smith's day, when Grand Finals wins over Collingwood were celebrated by singing a pisstake version of their theme song. 

Now that the rematch is over, let us never hear about this bloody tune again. Until Round 19 when we need another reason to mock them. Or between rounds 2 and 18 when every club in the competition should slip it into their pre-match playlist and see if they can provoke a Don Pyke Adelaide style death spiral. If Bevo going bonkers in the press conference is any indication, it's not far away.

What a time to be alive, when we can unmercifully laugh at the misfortune of the second-best side in the competition from a superior position. If Kid Rock taught us anything he was right that 'it ain't bragging motherfucker if you back it up'. 

Back to the misfortune of others (and the first game of senior, men's Australian Rules football since the greatest day in the history of western civilisation) later, I had to see our coronation as premiers. It was the ceremony they said would never happen, and many of us concurred. Despite seeing the big game in its entirety several times, as highlights multiple more, and now across three different documentaries, the only thing that confirms it's not a Truman Show style prank on me is that it would have been better TV content if we'd blown the three quarter time lead.

All week I was paranoid about missing what could be the only premiership flag raising of my life while 400 deep in a queue outside. People had enough trouble scanning physical tickets, now access has gone fully mobile and you've got to contend with technology strugglers who forget to log into the app, then have the phone lock itself while they're trying to find the right spot for the barcode to sit. Not to mention making people confirm their vaccination status, potentially leaving you waiting for the munter in front to sook about freedom (not, as we understand, from desire).

I avoided these problems, for one week anyway, by showing up as early as I have since the Reserves were abolished. Ironically in a year where I have about eight minutes of spare time a week I had four hours in the city before the bounce, and given that the Shaft Cinema doesn't look like reopening the MCG seemed the next best place to hang out. I'm delighted to announce that you can change stands again, allowing me to clamber up to Row MM for the first time since Oscar McSizzle kicked a goal against the Pies 18 long months ago. Bit of water under the bridge etc...

The time between opening of gate and hoisting of fabric could have been filled with a classic replay. Even I accept that playing the Grand Final would have been an unnecessary provocation of any Bulldogs fans silly enough to turn up before the first bounce, but another spin of Max going off his nut in the Prelim would have been good. Instead, I went old school, read a book, and listened to stadium music so inoffensive that even Footscray wouldn't have complained. I'd have watched the Prelim myself, but was in full battery conservation mode to watch the second half on the train while going home to - god help us all - get up at 3am.

After nearly an hour of sitting there and thinking there must have been something more productive to do, the emotion of the occasion made me lose the plot and engage in what may have been the saddest activity in the history of the MCG. Without even meaning to I started picturing key passages of play from 25/09/2021 as if they were happening in front of me. What's the point of all this virtual reality, 3D shit if they can't make this a reality? Tupac's ghostly hologram turned up a musical festival 10 years ago, there's been more than enough time to develop this important technology. Then if things go tits up in a few years they could wheel it out before home games to keep fans from self-harming.

The big ceremony turned up just in time to stop me charging the ground and rolling around in ecstasy on the 50 metre line. I understand Bulldogs fans not paying for a ticket to have memories of a humiliating loss shoved down their throat, but where were the multitudes who leapt out of the closet as Melbourne fans in September? A Grand Final rematch on a Wednesday night in Round 1 is stupid on many levels but even the MCC was full of gaps. Maybe they were all stuck in the queues I was trying to avoid.

I missed Round 1, 1997 due to teenage misery, so the only other premiership ceremony I can remember was Geelong 2008. They had somebody parachute the elusive flag in, we're classier so opted for it to be carried by great ex-players instead. Fans of history will see some irony in Stan Alves and Greg Wells at the head of the queue, both of who went elsewhere for flags when we were pox. The good news is that they've been pardoned by the post-flag MFC Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Also nice of Stan to accept the invitation after we got him the sack from St Kilda.

Ultimately, it was a piece of cloth being run up a flagpole but I still almost cried again when the video package came on. If I'd known it was just a membership ad it might not have been as close to tears. Suffice to say the raising was a bit more successful than the sad chapter in our history when some DICKHEAD decided to do it at every home game of 2011. Even after a win I described it as a "horrible, gnawing shame tearing my soul apart". A bit over the top, but dramatic foreshadowing about where that season was headed. 11 years later we don't have to pretend to be defending premiers and everything is ok with the world.

The idea that winning it all had ended my capacity to feel about footy was exposed when I got the shakes just before the bounce. I just didn't want to lose, especially to the team we'd just had the greatest night of our life against. It's not like the premiership cup is some sort of championship belt that you've got to hand over, but it still felt like beating them would be the perfect sign off to 2021. We've got to lose again sometime but I didn't want it to be the very first game after glory. In the end, it wasn't, but Jesus H Christ not without a couple of odd twists in the storyline.

Having not seen a live game since the Round 16 debacle against GWS, and only three others since the end of 2019, it took a bit to tune into the fact that I was watching any teams, much less the best two in the country. I'd obviously never seen Jake Bowey in person, but had also missed Ben Brown's two week stint playing in front of crowds in Victoria. Toby Bedford was another new one when he came on, having previously played in front of nobody in Perth and during a complete cock-up in Cairns.

If electrodes had been attached to my knackers I'd have admitted thinking we'd win by around four goals but I was still more terrified of a loss than expected. Nice to know the nuffy gene isn't obliterated by success. It didn't help that we'd already lost Hibberd, Petty and Rivers, then Lever went out late with a crocked foot. If the Dogs were ever going to extract the merest sliver of revenge and kick a big score this was their chance. 

We're told Jake's foot is ok, and that he may even be back next week, but considering how we've never have a foot injury that didn't nearly end in amputation I won't trust it until he comes back and it doesn't fall off by quarter time.

Politely, Footscray paid respect to the fallen heroes with 20 minutes of the worst kicks to forwards you'll ever see. For a bit of the second quarter they acted like Carey and Longmire were down there, but the start was a mess. It was all rushed, high kicks inside 50 that our B-Team had all the time in the world to get to. After encouraging you to buy Joel Smith shares in the pre-season preview I was nervously adjusting the collar after we picked him in preference to Tomlinson, but he was very good. He's not going to do a Lever/May impersonation every week but more than justified his inclusion here. Lever's misfortune allowed Tomlinson in via the side door and he was solid too. It's comforting to know that the system works with generic parts.

So, after a few minutes of effortlessly turning back half-hearted, panicked attacks, and despite our midfield operating at medium speed, memories of Perth came flooding back via four unanswered goals. Going back to the third quarter of that great night that was now 20 of the last 21 goals against the Dogs. For a moment it looked like the inflation crisis had come to footy [include 80s nightclub reference as a tribute to Eddie McGuire] and we were going win by even more than 74 points.

Once Petracca turned up to fulfil all your non-sexual fantasies (and perhaps some of those too), he was a landslide best on ground, but in the early minutes I was in love with Langdon. Three seasons in, nothing he does is surprising but his fanging up and down the soon to be SK Warne Stand wing was a delight. He fully deserved the first goal of the season after working his arse off from the first bounce. 

This led to mini-floodgate opening, with everybody in attendance except the man on the mark knowing Brown was going to run around and Viney standing on his own with three teammates 30 metres out. Then, with the opposition backline in complete disarray we missed the chance to kill them off on the spot. It took our old mate Mitch Hannan going down as the first victim of the Harrison Petty memorial timewasting rule to gift Bowey the fourth. Now he's got eight wins, a flag and a goal. Remember when he got drafted and David King cracked a 'funny' about his height and hair colour? What a knob.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, the wheels began to fall off. Literally in Christian Salem's case, as he hobbled from the ground with some degree of knee injury. Now we were one backline casualty away from David Neitz having to jump the fence and fill in like it was 1995. I felt sorry for May, who survived the Prelim by the skin of his hammy and was now the sole survivor, looking around at his fellow defenders and asking "who are you people?" 

This Casey Demons tribute act held up remarkably well, except for when our midfield went AWOL and the ball started rocketing down there at warp speed. The situation got so grim that Goodwin was finally forced to do what he had resisted for so long (and who's arguing with him now?), play McSizzle in defence. Speaking of the premiership coach, I did enjoy him bouncing back from off-season historic bullying allegations to being the face of a 'free mental health workshop for your club' ad on the big screen. Probably needs to visit the Western Oval and give his opposite number a hug.

We weren't doing much at stoppages, but it helped that there weren't many. I didn't think much of the Dispose of Die rule that gives players the absolute minimum of time to get rid of it before being penalised. Cue a first half of anyone in a pack frantically trying to keep the ball moving by any means necessary. This fit the AFL's desire to create more scoring opportunities but was hardly the beautiful game. It also removes the option for strugglers to stay competitive by clogging the game up, hopefully giving us time to kick a few monster scores while we're still good. The good/bad news is that on the trajectory of most rule changes they'll barely be enforcing it by Round 4. In fact, some of the umpires seemed to have given up by Quarter 4 of Game 1.

I reckon Oliver was spooked by the new rule at first, not doing his usual routine of walking through packs in slow motion like The Matrix and emerging unscathed. He was very good later - except for conceding seven frees - but it felt like he was desperately trying to avoid players who probably wouldn't have been able to tackle him anyway. On a positive note, we learnt our lesson against Carlton and gave away about 1000 metres fewer unnecessary frees. Instead, Footscray pulled off the trifecta of time-wasting, umpire abuse and a 6-6-6 warning while we behaved impeccably. Didn't stop us being crushed in the free kick count, but that's something I've never been able to get properly upset, sometimes things just don't go your way. Everybody's suspiciously quiet on days when the Wheel of Interpretation spins in favour of their side.

There was, however, one free that set a new benchmark for the umpires making things up as they go. Footscray had already calmed us down and squeezed out their first goal via a defender hoofing one from long range, but it looked like we were going to get to the break with a three goal lead. Then Joel Smith was pinged for doing everything possible to avoid colliding with old mischief face Weightman in a marking contest, to the point where if it had been marked people would have unfairly slaughtered him for not going in harder. I'm certain the umpire wasn't going to pay it until the siren went, and if that's the standard for contact Brown should kick 82 goals. That's just Mitch, Ben and his Inspector Gadget arms will get 200.

So that was 15 minutes of total domination wasted, leaving the door wide open for a Stranglewank comeback. I hadn't even completed the Cluedo mystery passage trip from Ponsford to Olympic, ready for a quick exit at the half like the boring old kent I am, when they kicked the first goal of the second quarter, and was barely in a seat when the second went through. Our midfield had disappeared in quicksand, while Aaron Naughton was wearing a headband like Carl Ditterich and marking like Jason Dunstall. 

There was further umpire angst when one of their goals came from Langdon walking straight out of bounds. I don't want them to pay that, but it was one of Ed's few mistakes not to realise that they're going to every time. In the heat of battle he forgot that one of the key skills in the Acting Football League is to pretend you were trying to keep the ball in when you clearly weren't. He just ran it over like a touchdown and was nicked accordingly. Next time raise your arms like you're about to handball but just happened to run out of space and everything will be fine.

Not only did we lose the lead, they poured another two goals on top, and barely halfway through the quarter we were as far behind as we'd been in front earlier. The full body misery I went through at that point proved that while things can never be the same post-flag, watching Melbourne can still affect me physically. My nerves were so shot by this that it proves there's no way I'd have survived a live Grand Final in person without dying in my seat with a burst brain. It's probably better to have missed it. 

If I'd died around 9pm WST on September 25 I'd not only have missed flag, but another great comeback six months later. Like that night we jumped them, ended up in a cavernous hole after going to sleep, then turned it around to win. This ending wasn't as savage, but it went the right way. The revival started with an ice cool set shot from Brown, before Petracca did even better from a more obscure angle. Bless that man, he carried on like the Grand Final never stopped, throwing another 38 touches on top of his celebrated Norm Smith winning rampage. Total possession count is as useful as inside 50s but this was real life match-winning stuff.

And so, as we crawled off the deck to make it a game at half time I was out the door, hating myself all the way. Hooray for modern technology which allowed me to keep watching on the train, leading to remarkable scenes during the third quarter, as we charged into the lead and I made a dick of myself in a public place. When Naughton opted to try a comically bad short pass instead of having a shot I punched my fist in the air in triumph then looked over to see a woman diagonally opposite wondering if she'd had the bad luck to near a nutbag. I apologised and gestured to the phone to explain what I was up to and it was all smoothed over without the law getting involved.

The comparisons to our last meeting were endless, right down to Fritsch being gifted a goal by a massive defensive stuff up. Good luck living up to his last start against them, but this was his only really good period of the game. Still, when you do stuff all for three quarters and still come out with two decisive goals in a win you've done your job.

When Jackson, looking increasingly like I Lost On Jeopardy era Weird Al, got our sixth in a row historical precedent suggested we'd piss it in unchallenged. Instead, we got a frightening glimpse of what might have happened without the Mad Minute and/or kicking a goal early in the last, missing several chances on either side of the break to blow them to bits.

It wouldn't have been the end of the world if we'd lost, but when a one legged Bont hobbled through a snap to make it close again my stress level went through the roof. Can't have reached Chernobyl levels this time as there was no mystery blood nose. Thank god by now I was the only person in the carriage so could carry on like I was still in Row MM. When Naughton, and the genuine fakhari rug wrapped around his forehead, cut the margin to less than a kick I was ready to climb atop the train and make contact with electric wires.

As the Dogs teetered on the brink of a moderately famous comeback, poor old Jamarra Ugle-Hagan was left sitting on the bench with thumb in fundament, wondering if it would have been better to be drafted by a bottom team after all. It probably wouldn't have made a difference if he came on, but after a short break from gifting Rising Star nominations to all and sundry, I was worried about being on the end of a breakout performance. No worries, he racked up a game without removing his tracksuit (why are they persisting with this nonsense rule?) and we successfully defended the lead.

Enter the captain, lifting us out of deep trouble in slightly less dramatic fashion than R23, 2021. He was probably better odds to kick this from 50 metres out on an angle, and after significantly improving the angle he crushed the kick. Last year he did similar against Hawthorn, and even from the other end of the ground it sounded like baseball connecting with bat. I'd like to think this was the same and hate myself for not having the stamina and/or fortitude to stay and see it. I got home on the siren and couldn't sleep anyway, so what difference would it have made?

Maximum's goal brought the curtain down on Footscray, with Petracca bouncing one through not long after. Then Harmes made up for an otherwise blah night by kicking the official sealer. It was a great finish, suggesting that BurgessBall might have died but the less catchy GriffithBall might continue its legacy - e.g. being credited for any great fourth quarter performances and being described as a myth the rest of the time.

Other than a few minutes of the second quarter when we disappeared off the face of the planet, it was a perfectly sensible and professional win that might not have scared the other top sides but should convince them we're not one hit wonders. NFI if it ends in another flag but at a minimum I believe we're going to give it a fair crack. Best sticky tape the backline together again though, we won't get away with this every week. 

Because I'm a middle aged COWARD I was in bed five minutes after the siren, missing all the fun of Luke Beveridge's spicy press conference. Shattered. It's one thing to enjoy the meltdown after, but seeing this sort of thing live is a once in a decade opportunity. Suffice to say he wasn't in a good mood, and waited patiently for the Tom Morris hand to go up before unloading the biggest spray since Mick Malthouse nearly strangled Stevo with a microphone cord.

His shambolic performance was wonderful viewing because he's somebody else's coach. It made you appreciate Goodwin's dull as dishwater public persona and constant use of the word 'connection'. Beveridge's obviously pre-planned comments went to pieces when he tried to kick Tom out of the press conference only to be informed he had no authority to do that, then tried to wrap things up awkwardly before walking out. I felt his pain, having also been involved in arguments where I want to just flat out publicly call the other person a kent but know it will backfire. 24 hours later they probably had to do several takes of the apology video until he stopped referencing Tom's career fatal group chat fiasco.

The undisputed highlight was the alleged smoking gun about Morris being a Melbourne fan, as if he was a sleeper agent a'la The Americans that we'd put into journalism in order to be activated when needed. Maybe the bit where he hosted the club podcast for 10 minutes was part of the deep cover operation, before we set him loose pre-Grand Final to destablise the opposition. Then, because winning a premiership wasn't enough for us, we got the Tomchurian Candidate to help us win a Round 1 game by factually reporting on the Bulldogs' selection shenanigans. 

Now that Tom's been given the arse for sending NQR messages about colleagues we'll never find out how deep this conspiracy went. Did we recruit him as a child, train him to be a Melbourne fan, put him through uni and use our Fox Footy contacts (also part of the vast conspiracy) to land him the job that would possible, one day, allow him to execute an operation that would benefit the club? And where was Tom's grandmother during the lead-up to Pearl Harbour? Did we release the dodgy messages because his cover was blown and we needed to wrap the operation up? And how busy do you need to be to send an audio message to the group instead of typing your response? 

These questions, and more, will be answered at subsequent Footscray press conferences in association with the United Australia Party, we'll just carry on defending the premiership.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Ed Langdon
3 - Ben Brown
2 - Alex Neal-Bullen
1 - Clayton Oliver 

Apologies to Gawn, May, Smith, Jordon and various others.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
I thought it would be hard to beat Petracca's balls-in-a-wheelbarrow finish from the boundary line during the second quarter. Enter your premiership captain and mine, to hammer one through at full power from 50 out just as things were getting hairy. At first I thought he was eyeing off a short pass, before having an almost visible conversion to thinking "it's my job to kick this". When he ran out I had a moment of terror about it being smothered, but he had no such doubts

Matchday Experience Watch
Announcing that the promised fireworks had been cancelled due to 'unforeseen and unclear circumstances' was magnificently sour. The papers suggest it was due to fears that the MCG would go up in flames, but I'm convinced that there were complaints from the sort of narcs who torpedoed our plans for a training facility in Yarra Park. To me, fireworks are the biggest waste of money since Israel Folau but anything that annoys this group of happy campers is ok by me. Park on a nature strip and/or across a driveway next time you're in the area.


Next week
On paper, if we can weather multiple storms and win (relatively) easily here Gold Coast should be slapped around until our collective hands swell. I'm still not taking anything for granted, this is the only time of the year they're any good, and we're always a chance of a dire performance against lesser opposition. Should win, probably will win, but this proves there will never be a game that I go into 100% confident.

As for changes, both Lever and Hibberd are certainties if fit. The 10 day break might see them both right, but after seeing the way our second division of defenders stepped up this week I won't be horrified if they don't make it. Promises to be an interesting night, especially if the Suns beat new COVID superclub West Coast on Sunday.

IN: Lever, Hibberd
OUT: Bedford (back to the sub), Hunt (omit), Salem (injured)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: Nil until we see Casey.

Final thoughts
The world is a more interesting place when footy's going on. It's even better when we're winning. 17 other teams, feel free to kneel and kiss the royal foot.

Sunday, 13 March 2022

Banana skin avoidance week

You might not be able to play a side ravaged by the 'cron every week, but for the first time in AFLW history we've made it through the entire home and away season without a single upset loss to the lower classes. This important achievement didn't come without a scare, as the last few minutes saw our double chance precariously hanging over a ledge by its fingernails. It seemed that our lengthy winning streak at Mt. Variable Weather was finally about to be hoist on its own wind-assisted petard (no relation to Ricky), but we survived by the smallest possible margin, ending the year with an improbable 9-1 record. Good things happened when Melbourne sides start 9-1, and this time you don't have to sit through the winter wobbles before we test ourselves in the finals.

Carlton might have been long eliminated from finals contention, but as the dictionary definition of mid-table mediocrity you couldn't write them off. It's not like we've got a lot of experience playing them, this was only our third meeting in league history. There wouldn't have been many times in VFL/AFL/AFLW history where there were more players on the field who'd appeared for both clubs than total previous meetings between the sides.

Nevertheless, as much as I tried to play down expectations of another Freo B style rampage, there was still an expectation that we'd win comfortably. Not necessarily by the sizeable margin required to nick the minor premiership from Adelaide, but enough to set up a bruise-free victory lap final quarter before reconvening for a prelim two weeks later. Alas no, as Carlton uncharitably refused to roll over and dying, recovering from a rocky start to nearly nick it in the final minute. First their men failed to acknowledge our new powerbroker status, now this.

By the first bounce, our task was simple. With a big wind on (bugger me, there's a surprise) it was a case of winning by any margin and getting a bye to the Prelim. If we reverted to Classic Melbourne and stacked it at the last hurdle we'd have needed the unlikely scenario of Brisbane blowing their game against Footscray to stay in the top two. A draw would also have done the job, which nearly became relevant at the end.

Before we get into that, a break for some cute content:

This is presented not only as evidence that we're the new People's Club, but also to consider how much our luck has changed in recent years. Not long ago that kid would have accidentally kicked Daisy's face in. I'm still struggling to come to terms with things going right for us. Fast forward a couple of hours and we're defending a slender lead into the breeze and are facing a set shot with 28 seconds left after barely looking like scoring all quarter. Not only did they miss, but we avoided calamity from the kick-in, and got the ball far enough downfield that it could do no more harm. Mission accomplished, but bloody hell not without a few nervous moments.

Beyond the usual suspects, including Tyla Hanks' Clayton Oliver-like ability to walk through traffic, best on ground was the merry prankster who gave the commentator a fake team list. At least that's what I'd be claiming if my strike rate on identifying the right player hovered around 25% until half time. Second best in the unofficial votes to the Melbourne fan whose constant urging on of players seeped into the effects mic. I was hoping he'd drop the magic during the tense finish but sadly not. Turns out not everyone is as uncouth as me.

We might have got the first two goals, but it wasn't indicative of how the game was going. Neither of them was against the play, but at a minimum they were with it. All night we were at our most vulnerable out of the middle, with almost every centre bounce leading to a Carlton inside 50. Good thing they had stuff all presence forward and we were clearing the danger easily. The problem was kicking goals ourselves, and the first nil-all first quarter in history (and only the second scoreless VFL/AFL quarter full stop) looked likely for the first 10 minutes. Harris took a fantastic contested mark at the start, then blew the chance to pulverise her old side by going goalless for the first time all year. The post-match reunion ex-teammates demonstrated a disappointing level of tolerance at a time footy is crying out for blood feuds and personal hatred.

This week's random goalscoring pair was Bannan and Daisy. Literally, they shared the full five between them. Appropriately it was the master of the Diamond Cutter who set up the captain's first, casually shoving her opponent over the boundary line and squaring the ball for a mark at the top of the square. Daisy is in such hot form at the moment that when things got hairy later she went into defence, before turning up forward agains for a second goal. Let's stuff up Geelong and give her a coaching job before they do.

In the last minute, the favour was repaid when Daisy set up Bannan. It was an unusual combo, but with Zanker injured, Hore flitting in and out of the game, and Harris well held it did the trick. I'm legally required to point out that keeping a side scoreless in the first quarter hasn't meant anything since the day Freo had zero inside 50s and ended up beating us, but it still felt like we had them well covered. You knew it wasn't going to be another slaughter but a comfortable win beckoned. Sure we had use of the obligatory wind, but by Casey standards it wasn't much more than a gentle waft so there was every chance of ignoring it and kicking on to a last change margin that rendered it irrelevant in the final quarter.

We had some very good players, especially the aforementioned psychic disposals of Hanks, but it was far from our best night overall. You struggle to see how this performance would have beaten a top team, but I've thought that all year and we've wobbled our way to nine wins out of 10 so what do I know? The good news is that in a fortnight there's no 'I bet you they won't do that against a good team' because we won't have any other option. On our day we can beat anyone in the competition - even, as we proved in mid-2021, Adelaide - but can't rely on teams playing twice in four days or losing multiple players to the big one. Of course, if that does happens I won't be giving the flag back.

Our unlikely quest to hold them to 0.0 didn't last long, but we responded to their opening goal 30 seconds later so who cares. Then they responded to our response with two, and the margin was back to an uncomfortably close two points with five minutes left in the wind power play. Enter Bannan for her third and some much-needed breathing space. Would have been a great time to win the ball out of the centre, instead we were instantly on the back foot. They got it back to less than a kick from a forward standing in so much space it was like she was radioactive. This was one of the few blemishes in an otherwise ok performance from the defenders. They weren't always clean, but stood up under a lot of pressure.

I suppose we might have kicked away with the wind in the third quarter, instead the teams had another go at achieving the elusive scoreless quarter. They went even closer this time, with Pearce getting her second with under two minutes left. Otherwise nobody got anything, and any sad men still hatewatching at this point would have been delighted.

In the interests of full disclosure, I didn't think we'd done enough to hold on. We'd been the better side , and the wind was only a minor factor but it looked like there was a massive pre-finals letdown on the cards. Maybe they've all got something next week that they fancied getting out of? Bad luck, blame the opposition for not taking advantage.

In a terrifying cliffhanger finish the margin was cut to a point with six minutes left, and other than one flying shot from Hore that extended the margin to two we spent that whole time on the ropes. The last chance came via somebody (Lampard?) doing the most ill-advised attempt at a kick off the ground since Colin Garland in Darwin. The idea was probably to boot it up the line and far enough away from goal that Carlton would be a minimum two kicks from goal, instead it shot off her boot like a rocket and out on the full, giving the Blues a chance to all but win the game. Maybe we'd have flown out of the middle with 30 seconds left and snatched it, but the precedent set over the first 99% of the game suggested otherwise.

Instead of blasting it, Vescio tried to steer the kick through, which only made the miss worse, because instead of sailing through for the point that should have made everything ok it dropped into the square for potential heartbreak crumb. Bless you Tayla Harris, who contributed at the other end by getting enough on a marking attempt for the ball to bobble over the line for a point. With an extra digit of security (two if you were happy with a draw), allowing a designated kicker innerer to take the next disposal instead of a forward at the wrong end of the ground was probably the safer option.

Via one short kick that nearly had me soiling myself, we navigated the remaining few seconds to win. It was far from convincing but it was enough. Now we're neck-deep in the premiership race and should go into any prelim thinking we can beat whoever's on the other side. And this is a good thing - both being in prelims, and going into them as one of the best two sides in the competition. Give me all the premierships. Whatever gender, whatever age group, I want our trophy cabinet to be busting at the seams to the point where premiership cups randomly pop out and roll across the floor.

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Daisy Pearce
3 - Alyssa Bannan
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Karen Paxman

Apologies to Goldrick, L. Pearce, Purcell, Heath and Gay

Leaderboard
With a maximum of two games to play it's all but over here. After four wins in a row the world's favourite Karen will soon abdicate in favour of the next big thing. She should get her own Bunnings franchise as a reward.

28 - Tyla Hanks
19 - Karen Paxman
13 - Lily Mithen, Lauren Pearce
11 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year),
10 - Daisy Pearce, Eden Zanker
9 - Tayla Harris
7 - Eliza McNamara, Eliza West (LEADER: Rookie of the Year)
5 - Sinead Goldrick
3 - Alyssa Bannan, Maddie Gay, Sarah Lampard
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Shelley Heath, Kate Hore

Next week
Have a rest. Wednesday night is probably going to feature near-fatal emotion so you'll need the weekend to recover.

After that
You may have gathered from the last 10 weeks that I don't like Casey. It's not just because it couldn't be any further away from my house while still being technically located in the Melbourne metropolitan area, but because the wind means instant death for any chance of a top quality game. But, in the AFLW equivalent of September (I don't think SEN will be releasing an"Oh yeahhhh, mid-March to remember" version of their famous finals jingle) who gives a continental about quality? As long as we win I'm happy to sludge our way into a Grand Final, then worry about playing on good grounds.

Final thoughts
We've finished top two (top one? delete as applicable after the Adelaide game) twice within 12 months. Now that AFLW season is being shifted to start in August - because I'm sure the men's finals won't take any of the focus away - we've got the rare chance to do it three times between September 2021 and 2022. The whole thing's still a bloody mystery to me.

Friday, 11 March 2022

You weren't supposed to be able to get here you know - 2022 season preview

"Defending premier Melbourne" eh? I still don't believe it. Perversely, it may take until we're no good again - currently estimated at some time after the next passage of Halley's Comet - to fully appreciate what a special time this is. 

I'm a bit afraid of wasting the rest of our golden run of this run by constantly reminiscing about September 2021, rather than engaging in the great Australian tradition of acting like an arrogant kent towards opposition fans. What a problem to have, better than the exact same Grand Final circumstances happening in reverse, I'd have moved to the Galapagos Islands and pulled the internet cable out.

Last year I said: "I'm not as young as I used to be, thoughts are definitely turning to winning the competition at least once before I snuff it". So I'm not going to get excessively greedy, but at least one more flag would be nice. Being Melbourne, it's just as likely that we'll finish 15th. This would be a waste, but as long as #13 is still locked up in the trophy cabinet I'll be right.

Now, on with the same old segments as every year, because I'm too old, tired, and broken down to come up with anything new.

Buy, Hold, Sell

Buy

Ben Brown
Was near unstoppable once he got a run on at the end of the year, and should continue to prosper from the ball being regularly booted in his direction.

Luke Dunstan
You could ask what somebody from an also-ran team can teach a midfield that just won a flag. And you'd be right, but even reputation suggests he'll don the white apron and regularly butcher kicks he can still do some damage if required. Should offer some value for zero cost.

Luke Jackson
Piss off Freo, West Coast etc, but I would borrow from the mob to buy shares in Jackson this year. I don't know anything about futures trading that wasn't in Trading Places, but consider a deal that allows you to cash out big time if he's seen browsing property anywhere west of Docklands.

Ed Langdon
A few years ago, opposition coaches worked out that if you could stuff up Jayden Hunt's run by just parking somebody in front of him. Fat chance doing that against Langdon, who dashes from one end of the ground to the other at turbo speed all day. We've pulled off a few good trades recently but this is up there with the best. 

Clayton Oliver
His spectacular luck with injury has to end somewhere, but as long as he plays scientific studies prove he'll run riot about 80% of the time. Nobody's untaggable, but by this stage of his career it's clear Clayts is about as close as we're ever going to see. Also annoys opposition fans. Do not buy shares in his ridiculous facial hair.

Christian Petracca
Hard to get much better than one of the greatest Grand Final performances in history but I'm sure he'll have a red hot go. Any slight loss on investment will be worth it just to know you were part of something special.

Joel Smith
A controversial buy recommendation, but I reckon he will go alright if called on. I'm not mad at Charlie Cameron kicking five, and am surprisingly calm about Smith's prospects if required. A low cost stock for your portfolio.

Charlie Spargo
A forward for the true enthusiast. He doesn't get a massive number of possessions but does something useful with every one, often with a bemused look that suggests he doesn't entirely know how. Had some lean times early in his career but was super-important last year. Being amongst my favourite players is usually a curse, but in a side where about 32 players are in the running I hope it doesn't affect him too badly.

Tom Sparrow
If you can be underrated in a premiership side, he was. You never know how somebody's going to react to reaching the pinnacle of their career so early but I think he's got a lot of years in him.

Adam Tomlinson
Back from the dead before schedule, and just as a Harrison Petty style gap emerged in our premiership backline. Quality of opposition notwithstanding, he looked fantastic against North, good enough against Carlton, and has enough time to make the job his own before Petty comes back.

Jacob van Rooyen
Based entirely on one huge contested mark in a practice match I'm ready to declare him the future of our forward line. And if there's ever been a more likely kiss of death than that I'm yet to see it.

Hold

Club Administration
Roffey, Pert, board members etc... looked good in 2021, but people would be happy with Genghis Khan if he delivered a flag. This year is the real test. Will there be real progress on a decent training venue? Will our Bentleigh Club windfall be lost in a pyramid scheme? And how do you convert the club's highest point since decimal currency into a glorious future where we never have to worry about being merged or relocated again.

I'm for them all, but it was still a bit farcical when they complained about having to put on a costly postal ballot for a board election then neglected to include an amendment that would allow electronic voting in the future. I know postal votes are a great way to make sure your preferred candidates get up, but we're still not well off enough to burn $150k whenever some random wants to have a ping. Otherwise, everything was good.

Jake Bowey
For most seven game players the only way is up, but good luck matching the highs of his career to date. He'll have to lose a competitive game eventually, but has already demonstrated balls of steel that should see him well through his career. Will be interesting to see how he goes once the novelty wears off.

Kade Chandler
Stuck in a lengthy queue of small/medium forwards and likely to have to fight his way into the side. For some unknown reason the AFL is going with the same substitute rule (though, considering how hastily they introduced it you wouldn't rule out a change until the final siren of the first game), giving him the chance to waste more of his career sitting on the bench in a tracksuit. Based on what he's done in the last two pre-seasons I'm dying to see him play some proper AFL games.

Bayley Fritsch
As far as sporting mic drop moments go, not sure he's ever going to beat kicking six in a Grand Final. No sane person will hold him to that standard, and if he can get enough cover to avoid being swamped by defenders he should kick a fair few this year. Still prone to randomly going missing for entire games and apparently enjoys risking electrocution in his spare time.
 
Max Gawn
He's been up for so long I'm convinced this is the year he'll start to ease off (relatively speaking, not expecting him to unfurl a deckchair and sit in the pocket for 20 rounds) so Jackson can have more of the spotlight. We'll just have to settle for an increase in (literally) huge marks at either end. 

Simon Goodwin
Now that everyone's over that pissweak off-field scandal we can concentrate on how good it is that he's just the fourth man to coach us to a flag. The only problem is that the bar is set so high that he'll have to win another flag to improve his position. Go on then.
 
James Harmes
Reinvigorated when they gave up on stupid experiments and just played him as the bloody midfielder he was intended to be. Good. I still suspect that they consider him dispensable but I remain a big fan when he's used properly.

Michael Hibberd
Presumably his last season, and I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't make it until the end, but after erroneously writing him off several times in the last few years I'm satisfied for Hibbo to ride into the sunset without the pressure of having to live up to a buy recommendation.

Blake Howes
Anyone drafted due to an "array of developable talents" is unlikely to be seen at senior level in their first year. But you never know.

Bailey Laurie
Like most of our draftees he came along a decade too late, otherwise he'd have played 15 games by now. One of many players to be slaughtered by games being called off in 2020 then the VFL shutting down midway through the next year. Everything I've read implies he'll be good, and I'm assuming he'll get a crack at some point this year.

Jake Lever
Had a brilliant season and I suspect he'll be the next captain but am worried that every coach in the league will be devising ways to go around (or, for fans of outright Putin-esque thuggery, straight through) him.

Steven May
His 2020 was arguably better in a worse team than 2021 so there is some scope for improvement. Not much, he was a titanic figure last year, had the escape of a lifetime when his hamstring held together by the finest thread, and will go a long way to keeping us at the top of the ladder this year. It's only fear of things going wrong that stops me from declaring him a buy.

Judd McVee
Crazy name, not sure if crazy guy.

Andy Moniz-Wakefield
Wish him well, but for all I know could be a fictional character.

Alex Neal-Bullen
One of the surprise stories of last year, which instantly leads me to suspect he'll get more attention this time around. I'm sure he'll do a reliable job but I wouldn't take out a second mortgage to buy stock.

Harrison Petty
I had nothing but love for him last year, but the magical return of Tomlinson and a month out injured means he'll likely drop in value by the end of this year. A potential long term investment, because in a few years he'll be the perfect replacement for May. 

Kysaiah Pickett
So electric that he could power the MCG lights, and likely to provide a 12 minute highlights package at the end of the year but I'm scared about them ruining everything by playing him more as a midfielder. I love it as a shock tactic, but am terrified at unnecessarily dissolving our crumb. Whatever he can do in the middle can be done by others, nobody else is going to kick the mad goal against St Kilda when he did as much running as possible in the space of two seconds and three square metres.

Trent Rivers
Very much enjoyed his performances last year and was keen to have a motza on him. Lucky I dithered over this post long enough to know about his injury. Will walk back in when fit, but has to get to that point first.

Fraser Rosman
I was mad for him getting a go when things like shaky (well, as shaky as it got) mid-season but he was realistically never near it. You'll know they're expecting Brayshaw to go when ol' Fraiser Crane is fast-tracked onto the wing. 

Christian Salem
Anyone who has seriously watched Melbourne knows how good he is, stupid people are still tying themselves up in knots about a years -old trade that has benefitted both parties. Before his (seemingly) minor injury in the North game this would have been an unqualified, put yours and somebody you love's house on him. Now I'm poised for a massive stitch-up where he disappears for half a season.

Daniel Turner
Like an MFC branded Snakes and Ladders, he moved one square forward when Petty was injured, then dropped back with Tomlinson's return. One of many who could do with a proper VFL campaign (as much as you can in a league with byes dotted nonsensically through the fixture) before any serious decisions are made.

Jack Viney
Will be handy if he remains uninjured for more than eight weeks at a time, but a risky investment when history suggests his foot will peel off at some point.

Taj Woewodin
Fans of exotic names are salivating, and those of us who remember his dad's career feel like senior citizens. As good as Woey was, enough time has passed, and we're not desperate enough for saviours so Junior will be given plenty of time to develop without heavy pressure. Compare to what would have happened if we'd signed Wizard Jr, who would have been expected to continue the family business by kicking goals over his head every week.

Sell

Oskar Baker
Has been around for a while but it's just not happening. Perhaps one of our wingmen falls off the face of the earth and he gets a chance, otherwise I think we're going through the motions this season before he's wished well in his future endeavours. His transformation from Danny Bonaduce to Outlaw Biker will never be forgotten. 

Toby Bedford
Like so many others his career prospects have been affected by being around at high tide, because there's no doubt he'd have played a shitload more games in worse teams. Interested to see his VFL form and hope he sneaks in a few games so we can make an informed decision.

Angus Brayshaw
"Here we go again", you cry, "more Gus bashing. What more can he do except win a flag?" Please note, this recommendation has nothing to do with his performances - which were more than handy during our big run - but because I feel like other sides will dedicated effort to putting the brakes on him this year. He's also some chance of doing a bunk at the end of the year. I wouldn't self-harm over it, we're going to need a shitload of cap space to fit everyone in, and now that he's done his bit in a flag I'm happy for him to go and get golden rocket car rich somewhere else.

Mitch Brown
Would be quite aware of his status as a warm body in case of forward line injury crisis and it's hard to see him playing at all unless the plague rips through our list. At first I was surprised that they kept him, but it makes sense when you consider the potential to find quick replacements if players go down with whatever Ebola-like variant of COVID bubbles up during winter.

Majak Daw
See Brown, Mitch. Perhaps a slightly better chance at playing because he can be used in defence in an emergency.

Demonblog.com
This is promising to a rough year for content. Posts will come out late, probably without needlessly long word counts (you may consider this is a good thing), and my focus may be all over the place but stick with us and we'll get back to normal eventually. Probably just as the team turns shit again.

Demonwiki.org
See above

Jayden Hunt
We were early adopters of Jayden's wacky Owl Energy gimmick, but missing the finals with injury might have been his undoing. Should try and get a job as a forward at a shit team where he'll play every week.

James Jordon
Technically played every game in his first year, but was on the slide towards the end and may have just held on long enough to warm the bench in the Grand Final. Showed a bit earlier in the year so I'm comfortable with him contributing for years to come but could be in and out of the side this year.

Tom McDonald
Second half of 2021 not as good as the first, but was still a fine cog in the wheel. Probably lucky the Weid doesn't seem to be going anywhere so he won't have any immediate pressure but could be in trouble at the end of the year. 

Jake Melksham
Must have been on the edge of being free to a good home at the end of last year, and has barely fired a shot since injuring his leg against Gold Coast two years ago. I'm hoping that this will lead to the same sort of the reverse moz that I   

Deakyn Smith
Beware putting your money into second year players who haven't gotten near a game yet. Not his fault that he's turned up just as we have a good side but we'll need a few Reserves game to assess.

Sam Weideman
We remain patiently waiting for the great leap forward. Didn't get much of a go in the pre-season but what there was failed to excite. Don't know why he stayed, but might wish he didn't after about 10 weeks in the VFL.

Betting markets

The following markets are entirely fictional, so don't a) complain, or b) do your house on a side bet with the neighbour. Any players who are added to the MFC list after this will be assigned an appropriately sky high price.

Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
$3 - Clayton Oliver
$5 - Christian Petracca
$10 - Christian Salem
$12 - Max Gawn
$14 - Luke Jackson, Jake Lever
$16 - Steven May
$22 - Ed Langdon, Jack Viney
$25 - Kysaiah Pickett
$30 - Angus Brayshaw, Bayley Fritsch
$45 - Ben Brown
$50 - Tom McDonald, Alex Neal-Bullen, Tom Sparrow
$60 - James Harmes, Trent Rivers
$70 - Michael Hibberd, Charlie Spargo
$75 - Jake Bowey, James Jordon
$80 - Luke Dunstan, Jayden Hunt
$90 - Jake Melksham, Sam Weideman
$100 - Harrison Petty
$125 - Kade Chandler, Joel Smith, Adam Tomlinson
$150 - Oskar Baker
$200 - Majak Daw
$250 - Toby Bedford, Bailey Laurie, Mitch Brown, Fraser Rosman
$275 - Blake Howes
$300 - Deakyn Smith, Jacob van Rooyen, Taj Woewodin
$500 - Judd McVee, Andy Moniz-Wakefield, Daniel Turner

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year

$3 - Christian Salem
$5 - Jake Lever
$7 - Steven May
$18 - Michael Hibberd
$20 - Jake Bowey
$25 - Adam Tomlinson
$40 - Trent Rivers
$70 - Harrison Petty
$100 - Joel Smith
$150 - Daniel Turner
$200 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
$200 - Tom McDonald
$250 - Majak Daw
$1000 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
$3 - Max Gawn
$7 - Luke Jackson
$50 - Majak Daw
$100 - Ben Brown, Tom McDonald
$150 - Sam Weideman
$200 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
$300 - ANY OTHER PLAYER

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
For the first time ever, I think it's more likely that the listed players will fail to score than any of them getting one. Prove me wrong gentlemen.

$8 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
$10 - Bailey Laurie
$12 - Fraser Rosman
$20 - Blake Howes, Deakyn Smith
$25 - Jacob van Rooyen
$30 - Taj Woewodin
$75 - Judd McVee, Andy Moniz-Wakefield, Daniel Turner

Projected Ladder
There's even more guess work in this than usual because I've had no interest (or respect) in what any other club has done in the off-season. I'm letting the Dogs finish top, because they'll be carried through the regular season on the wings of sooking about people singing some bullshit pop song.

1 - Footscray
2 - Brisbane
3 - Melbourne
-----------------
4 - Port Adelaide
5 - Essendon
-----------------
6 - Fremantle
7 - Richmond
8 - Sydney
9 - GWS
10 - Geelong
-----------------
11 - West Coast
12 - Carlton
13 - Adelaide
----------------
14 - Collingwood
15 - St. Kilda
16 - North Melbourne
-----------------
17 - Gold Coast
18 - Hawthorn

Demonblog's chosen 22 + 1
There's never been less drama in this segment. Other than Rivers and Petty missing the start of the year due to injury, I don't see much reason to tinker with the successful format.

B: Tomlinson, May, Hibberd
HB: Salem, Lever, Bowey
C: Langdon, Viney, Brayshaw
HF: Neal-Bullen, McDonald, Jackson
F: Fritsch, B. Brown, Pickett
Foll: Gawn, Oliver, Petracca
Int: Harmes, Sparrow, Jordon, Spargo
S: Chandler (just to make sure nobody is injured mid-match)

Will it be worth it?
You'd think so. Doesn't mean we're going to win the flag (see Richmond romping through 2018 then being dudded by a novelty player having the game of his life in a prelim) but we should still see a lot of memorable stuff. I'll be lucky to get to about five games this season. This horrifies me, but I'm sure you'll have a good time. I say it every year and never follow through, but you may be called on to provide a guest report during the season so please be ready.

Cheerio and Go Dees.

Monday, 7 March 2022

Purple people eaters

Sun Tzu said: "If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by". I say if you watch Melbourne long enough something crazy will happen. In this case, turning a top of the table blockbuster into an unprecedented massacre, claiming both the highest score and biggest win in AFLW history. For the first time since 1899, a team called Melbourne owns the most dominant performance in a top flight Australian rules football competition. I believe we were also involved in big margins in 1979 and 2011 but am unable to locate further details at this time.

As good as it was to finally treat a side with absolute contempt, the excitement has to be tempered by Freo losing three players to COVID an hour before the bounce and another to injury before quarter time. Years of gags about people playing like they've only just met their teammates finally paid off when they were forced to call up an unlisted player who hadn't been at the club since pre-season and apparently only arrived a few minutes before the game started. Hardly an ideal preparation but she's in the history books now. It was the semi-professional equivalent of having to invite a random into your indoor soccer side when the dickhead keeper forgets to show up.

Despite all these handicaps, I still think Freo had a better team on paper than the expansion St Kilda side that beat us on that dark Friday evening in 2020. Which is what you tell yourself when you really want to enjoy kicking a bumper score instead of concentrating on why they were such an easy kill. Instead, consider the irony of a team from behind the WA iron curtain being decimated by the 'cron while representatives of a disease-ridden pariah state were running around without a rogue antibody in sight. Double your irony if half our side catch the 'rona in Perth, but it doesn't bubble up for another week and leaves us fielding a b-side in the finals.

Even without the dismemberment, it was a joy to watch this team play in a proper stadium. Forget that it looked as if there were 250 people there, even empty seats are a quantum leap from people nearly being blown out of deckchairs onto dirt. The night peaked when Daisy broke our goalkicking record and Jason Bennett made veiled comments about how much better it is watching in real grounds. Even the AFL match report dared to whisper that games are better when played somewhere with walls. Good to see more people coming around to my position, it's not the Bear Grylls Outdoor Survival League.

On another night where Bennett called a game featuring our captain running riot at Perth Stadium, we remember all those years where Melbourne was as likely to win a game on the north face of Mt. Everest as Western Australia. Now, if you ignore the disastrous 2018 Prelim it is practically holy ground for us. The win that broke our finals drought, the lightning strike fiasco game last year, those finals, and now a record-breaking performance for the women on their first visit.

You can't blame Freo for their misfortune, and they put up a decent fight for the first few minutes. When the ball fortuitously fell to a crumber in the middle of six Demons for their first goal I thought "oh god, we couldn't possibly lose this could we?" Certainly not. Even players wearing colours that have run in every state and territory of Australia couldn't help but take advantage of this opposition. In classic Perth Stadium fashion we got about 12 goals in a row before they had another go.

Much of the fun came via Daisy Pearce, doing her best Max Gawn impersonation with five glorious goals. For years I've watched three goal performances and waited for somebody to go a step further. If you knew the record was not only going to beaten but thrashed this year all the smart money would have been on Tayla Harris, but she played a supporting role while the captain went nuts.

The first goal was the best, with Daisy both setting up and finishing it. She flew in late for a spoil, got the ball back from Harris, and snapped through with minimal effort. For a few minutes it was nothing more than a nice settler, while we held them out and moved the ball well but couldn't get anything going inside 50. Enter your friend and mine Tay Tay with another of her trademark running pack marks. This goal waved on the bulldozer that proceeded to squash anyone in purple like ripe grapes.

Our luck extended beyond the suspect immune systems of the opposition, with Hore bobbling a snap through from 40 almost immediately after, and while the Dockers got to quarter time without any further damage it was clear that we were going to have to do something incredibly stupid to lose. Mind you, they once beat us after we'd kept them without an inside 50 for the entire first term so it wasn't out of the question.

The good fortune continued when Shelley Scott was in the right spot for an otherwise hopeful snap to land in her arms, then probably had the ball touched off the boot. Even the captain was about to tell her teammates to stay in position before realising it had been paid and doing the best "got away with that" expression since Uncle Leo found Morty Seinfeld's wallet in a bin. Forget coaching the Cats, Daisy may as well play for them after this performance. If nothing else, it would probably bring their average age down.

At five goals to one just before half time, this was as good as over. Then Bannan crumbed the bejesus out of a contest and it was officially done. Now that Freo had fired all available shots the only question was how brutal we would be. At some places we'd probably have had to deal with a force 10 diagonal gale and would have finished on 8.21. Instead, we unloaded the biggest landslide in the (admittedly short) history of the league, kicking 7.1 to nil and smashing past our previous highest score - also against Freo - by three quarter time.

To their credit, Freo held out for about four minutes, but were in full survival mode. Didn't help that Bannan ran about 30 metres without bouncing before setting up Daisy's fourth, but they were just having that sort of day. For the last time we say goodbye to the previous joint record holders of three in a game - farewell to the eclectic nine, Mifsud, Cranston, O'Dea, Cunningham, Newman, Parry, Hore, Scott and Harris, and hello to the new outright individual record holder. I'm going to come down with RSI doing all the Demonwiki updates to reflect this blessed event.

While the Dockers were now offering little more than target practice, we looked like the greatest women's side ever put together. I'm struggling to know how seriously to take it, but the ball movement was absolutely delightful. Things were going so well that when Casey Sherriff got bored in defence, we chucked her forward and immediately got two goals. Players were queuing up to get involved, and even Paxman ticked off an unlikely square on her otherwise chockers Footy Bingo card with multiple goals, before setting up Daisy's fifth.

You couldn't expect to finish with a similar flourish, but at 78 points ahead with 15 minutes left we were a live chance of becoming the first AFLW team to win by the ton. We didn't quite get there, but did eclipse the league record score Brisbane set just last week. Two Harris goals in a row extended our score beyond 100, and temporarily had the margin at 93 before they got the most consolation of goals in the last minute. Another week, another missed opportunity to do the 93 Red and Blue Balloons headline.

It was quite the performance, especially when compared to a Geelong/St Kilda game earlier in the day that was reportedly the worst spectacle since University was in the league. For lovers of spectacle, it's a shame that one side went into the contest mortally wounded, for those of us who love to see Melbourne sides fill their boots it was glorious. I'm still deeply suspicious of our premiership credentials, and we won't get protocol lucky like this every week but it'll do for now. Here's to it unleashing a bloodlust that carries us through the next few weeks and to a flag. Any chance of relocating this Grand Final to Perth as well?

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
I think this is the first time the naming rights sponsor has pocketed full votes since the award was named after her. Well deserved.

5 - Daisy Pearce
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Lauren Pearce
2 - Tyla Hanks
1 - Karen Paxman

Tremendous apologies to Gay, Harris, Hore, McNamara, Purcell and West.

Leaderboard
23 - Tyla Hanks
18 - Karen Paxman
13 - Lauren Pearce
11 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Lily Mithen
10 - Eden Zanker
9 - Tayla Harris
7 - Eliza McNamara, Eliza West (LEADER: Rookie of the Year)
6 - Daisy Pearce
5 - Sinead Goldrick
3 - Maddie Gay, Sarah Lampard
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Shelley Heath, Kate Hore

Goal of the Week
There are so many options, but with apologies to Hore rolling one through from miles out I'm going for Daisy's first. She made it with the spoil, and the finish was delightful. Hardly Goal of the Year stuff but enough for me.

Next Week
If you enjoy Libby Birch vs Footscray grudge matches, strap yourself in for the big Tayla Harris vs Carlton rumble on Friday night. Having avoided suspension so far, calming down on attempted assassinations in the marking contest as the season has gone on, this is not the time to settle old scores. The Blues are ordinary (and I did say that about their men shortly before they beat us), but things will be a lot tighter here so the best revenge is to kick a metric shitload of goals.

Sadly, after a week in a real stadium it's back to Casey. The good news is that all we need to do for a week off and direct entry to the Prelim is to win, and recent history suggests we can overcome any conditions to do that. Then, assuming we don't kick a big enough score to beat whatever cruelty Adelaide will inflict on St Kilda, it would be the winner of 3rd vs 6th (likely Brisbane/Collingwood) for a spot in the Grand Final. If we cock it up and Brisbane beat the Dogs, we'll be the third place team in that knockout game. Best avoided.

Final Thoughts
I haven't seen Dockers mistreated like this since John Howard was PM.

Sunday, 6 March 2022

Blue ROFL

The most lightweight pre-season schedule since about 1898 is over, and it's thoughts and prayers to Jake Bowey, who has finally played in a loss. Presumably, he didn't react by throwing his premiership medallion into the Yarra, and we should retain our bundle too. Other than the forward line we couldn't have played much worse, against a side operating at maximum excitement, on the first night of strict rule interpretations that we arrogantly paid absolutely no notice to.

Even though a blockbuster comeback from 45 points down just failed, robbing us of the funniest practice match win of all time, the result may have provided a valuable community service. Not just deluding Carlton fans into throwing the lid into orbit, but reminding everyone on our side that there was a lot of toil and struggle before we got to the rampant August-September 2021 run. Better to get this reality check now, and a reminder that you have to at least pretend to comply with the laws of the game, than against the Dogs. 

In front of a crowd so low that the match report just showed TBC as if they're ever going to bother confirming it, we were involved in a memorably odd contest. At one stage during the first quarter it looked like we'd never be again. Opposition defenders were filling their shorts before every disposal, Hollywood tap-ons were finding teammates, and Petracca was lining up for a piss easy kick to put us two goals ahead. He missed, the Blues thought "we might have a go here", and chaos ensued. 

All of a sudden the ball was rocketing out of our forward line classic Demon Trampoline fashion, towards a makeshift defence that was generally having an absolutely shit one. Lever must have looked around to see understudies in place of May, Salem, Petty and Rivers, and wondered what he was getting himself into. A shambles as it turns out, and not the best advertisement for the depth of our defence. Mind you, it didn't help that the ball was often flinging towards them at top speed. Or, on six occassions, slowly arriving via an undisciplined 50. It was a tremendous night for indiscretion, between the 50s and 666 infringements we must have needlessly given up a kilometre of territory. I can handle that kind of ill-discipline in a warm-up but will chuck shit if we don't calm down for the real stuff.

After years of going to practice matches at ludicrous places like Casey, Bendigo, Waverley on a Monday night with 400 people, and on Valentine's Day, I can't argue that at this stage of my life I'm sad that I wasn't there for this one. It was fitting that my real Midlife Crisis year opened while watching on a phone, several hours, in an otherwise pitch black room, and in such a rush that I was not only fast-forwarding through the quarter breaks but also hitting the +15 second button three times after goals and once at every boundary throw in to get on with it as soon as possible. Maybe that's why I'm so calm about going missing for three quarters, and being thrashed in areas that we can usually be relied on to dominate, things were passing by so frantically that there was no time for dark thoughts to creep in.

The first place Carlton did us over was in the midfield. This seemed shocking considering they finished 13th and we - it must said - shit in the finals, but remember them clobbering us in clearances last year? We won that day, as unconvincingly as you're going to get to go 9-0, with a backline that meant we kept them to 68 points. This time it was Lever and the Randoms, ending in players you've never heard of giving it the full pre-season Kingsley treatment. More importantly, the Blues spooked us with manic pressure. The champagne football came to a screaming halt when they stopped letting us run around doing as we liked. Makes sense. You'd think Footscray will try the same thing instead of endlessly sobbing about a pop song.

The end of the first quarter was a fitting tribute to memorable Melbourne sides of the past, as we stood back and let them bang through a run of goals. What should have been a two goal advantage when Petracca lined up was suddenly a 16 point deficit. Considering we recovered from the same position to pulverise North I wasn't panicking yet. Carlton are the ultimate March Champions so even when the margin quickly blew out to five goals and we were kicking like Double Amputee XVIII FC I thought there was probably a way back. There was, but not until we'd gotten ourselves into a 7.5 goal deep pit and they'd removed several players.

When goalkicking sensation Fritsch got his third immediately after half time I thought half-time had offered a much needed break and the ship was about to right itself. Then we let in three straight goals from centre bounce clearances. Piss off, that's our move. Now I was starting to get worried about losing by too much, even though the game was only moderately more meaningful than our half-hearted thrashing of North stop Mt. Variable Weather. After all, is there any reason to be worried about conceding a big pre-season score against a side who kicked 99 points last year and still lost by six goals

Remember when that was hailed as the start of a glorious new era in high scoring footy, before serious games started and the coaches decided to defend again. That too was the first night of new rule interpretations that burnt bright for a few weeks before being a) cracked by the coaches, and b) dialled down by the umpires, who didn't want to be bricked off every ground in Australia. This time the flavour of the month was umpire abuse. 

Apparently when players were briefed on the crackdown our lot were fiddling on their phones, because we kept up the verbal and were punished accordingly. This is terrible news for Tom McSizzle, who loves demonstrating his disgust at umpiring decisions almost as much as COVID restrictions. It cost us here, but no doubt like all new rules they'll lose interest by Round 5 to the point where you'll practically have to John Bourke somebody to be penalised. And if we haven't learnt our lesson by then we don't deserve more flags. Tellingly, Carlton got through the game where the umpires were at their red-hottest in applying penalties without giving a single one away. Not often you can learn something from them, but here we were. Shut your gob and get on with the game, they're not going to change their mind or give you one to make up for it later.

You can't really complain about getting in trouble for calling the umpire a dickhead, but I am sad that gratuitous time wasting is also in the gun. It means we'll never see anything as cynically great, from our perspective anyway, as Harrison Petty vs West Coast 2021. That was so shameless that I guarantee it's the example they use in the video of what to pay under the new interpretation. Should have been paid under the old one too. This has seemingly killed off the old 'who do I give the ball to?' fake confusion after a one-on-one contest, which cost Ed Langdon one of the early 50s in this game. I'm not against this if umpired consistently, I know the Acting Football League likes you to pretend you're handballing or didn't mean to take the ball over the line but this was a thespian step too far.

I'm reasonably confident that if you played this game another nine times we'd have avoided being that far behind every other time, but we looked concerningly unable to stem the tide. Enter the big comeback, with four goals reducing the margin to a very gettable 20. Then - what a surprise - we gave away a goal after the siren because of a 50. At first, it looked like Petracca had been pinched for negative body language, before it was revealed that Mr. Controversy himself T. Mac was the guilty party.

Cynicism about Carlton doing it when it counts aside, they were very much up for it and we weren't so the lead was deserved. I thought that stupid goal from the 50 was going to kill us off, but the Blues ground to a screaming halt, Fritsch got the first two of the final term and it was on again. Then it wasn't before Sparrow and McBackchat got goals that reduced the margin to less than a kick with a minute left. Surprisingly, after we'd twice given away frees in the middle after goals because people can't stand in the right place, we got to contest the centre bounce. I desperately wanted to win just to see if the old Beef Stock, Chicken Stock, Laughing Stock meme was wheeled out again, but sadly the Blues hung o to win. They celebrated like it meant something, we trudged off to a class in how to be polite to umpires.

What does it all mean? Not much.

2022 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Jake Lever

Apologies to Bowey and Neal-Bullen

Final results
Yes, it is verging on a pisstake to give an award based on two performances but I don't make the schedule. Congratulations to Oliver for adding another honour to his bulging virtual trophy cabinet. Lucky I didn't take points off for that disgraceful, Lynden Dunn-esque mo he's trying to wear.

8 - Clayton Oliver
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Christian Salem
3 - Ben Brown, Christian Petracca
2 - Ed Langdon
1 - Jake Lever 

Goal of the Week
Difficult to go past the end-to-end spectacular that highlights this tweet. 

Next Time
It's comically stupid to start the season with a Wednesday night game, but even worse giving away the Grand Final rematch in the first game of the season. I know the broadcast needs a ripper to get things going, and you can't trust Carlton to show up two games in a row and keep things interesting against Richmond, but surely it would be better to give it a few weeks build up. Hopefully you get both sides in form a couple of months into the season and it leads to a blockbuster. Instead, all the blockbust in this one will be centred around our flag unveiling and the inevitable punch-ups in the stands as Dogs fans have their noses rubbed in it.

I'd have made them wait until about Round 17 to prove they've learnt something from the review. I can still see them winning. I don't base that entirely on the performance against Carlton, especially if you believe that a) we learned something, b) there will be renewed desire after the first decent challenge in months, and c) any backline with May, Salem and Hibberd is going to be light years better than the one we put out in this game.

Final Thoughts
Burn the flag if you must, but before you do, you better burn a few other things. You better burn your shirt and your pants. Be sure to burn your TV and car. Oh yes, and don't forget to burn your house. Because none of those things could exist without 23 premiership players, one premiership coach, and a hell of a lot of second quarter goals.