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.

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.

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