Sunday 6 March 2022


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.

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