Monday, 25 April 2022

Every Which Way But Lose

Every great empire goes tits up eventually. The Romans met the Visigoths, the French dropped successive games in Vietnam and Algeria, Britain threw it all away over the Suez Canal, and Melbourne sacked Norm Smith. With an appropriate level of respect to the original best team of the last decade, I hope the Richmond version is Jack Riewoldt doing pantomime diving actions midway through the last quarter of a losing effort.

If trying to start a fight with one of the most successful players in recent history is the key takeaway from continuing our outright second best winning run in club history, in front of 70,000 people, maybe winning is starting to get boring. Alternatively, he went on so much that it was a genuinely comic moment that deserves to be seen in every format from .GIF to .WMV. 

Even if Jack knew my opinion existed, I'm sure he wouldn't give two shits, so it's probably just a transparent attempt to start an argument with Richmond fans. After all, at this point, there's no other set of fans who can reasonably taunt us about anything. Geelong and Hawthorn have won more flags this century, but at this stage that's about as relevant as Adelaide's back-to-back or Fitzroy 1944. Now that the Bulldogs have stopped crying about popular music I'm over them, so may as well fight with the side we're chasing into immortality.

Richmond circa Round 6, 2022 is not the future Hall of Fame model of a couple of years ago, but I still sensed some good old-fashioned post-flag arrogance towards them during the week. There's never been a better time for swagger than 5-0 with a premiership in the bag, but treating the Tigers like a has-been bump in the road was full of risk. We've all had a surprise loss to Adelaide. They might have half a side that only enthusiasts have heard of, but the rest are still pretty handy. It ended up going about as you'd expect, but was far from a certain win in advance.

If you subscribe to the theory that we're doing a cover version of 2021, there were some similarities to last year's groundbreaking win over the Tigers. We remained unbeaten, the medical sub sat on his arse all night, and they were kept to a criminally low score. On the other hand, was no post-quarter time outburst, no beloved player in milestone game subplot, and somebody informed the post-match host who'd won the medal before they started speaking. This points to a toil and struggle, come from behind win against dreck next week, but for we're alone at the top of the ladder and everyone else can crane their neck looking up.

Our 13th consecutive win didn't come without some frustration. But have any of them? Even the Gold Coast landslide that started it all had some ropey moments in the first quarter. I'd love to kick the shit out of somebody from first bounce to last, but it's not our thing. On this particular night, our thing was an almost unprecedented display of shithouse kicking for goal. With Richmond offering up an endless stream of chances with their dodgy exits from defence, and willingness to set up rebounds by booting to our cavalcade of superstar defenders, we tried again, again, and again to put them away. Got there in the end, but not without racking up an ugly final score of 9.22.

You can find examples of us kicking < 10 goals and > 20 behinds in 196219631976, 1988 and 2000, but none of them came in a win. For that, you have to go back to flag year '59. I prefer the dead-set insanity of Round 7, 1940, when we kicked 34 of the afternoon's 35 behinds. Any way you slice, hook, or shank it, this was a rarity. Not, however, completely unexpected considering some of our struggles to kick straight this year. 

It was a massive night for "if they'd kicked 22 goals instead of 22 points they'd have won by heaps" style analysis. Stop the madness, it's not how this sport works. Maybe if teams kicked-in after any score, but the different ways and places to restart the game based on the outcome means there's no simple switch one column to the other = profit equation. If the first shot misses, the conditions for the next 21 behinds don't necessarily exist. You might still kick them, but it won't be the same players, doing it in the same way, at the same time. Or the first could lead to the opposition booting seven in a row out of the middle. Any professional who offers this insight should be sanctioned under the David King top eight rule.

I'd like somebody who does actual, robust statistical analysis to look at the real value of behinds. Is it ultimately worth less than a point because you put the ball in the hands of the opposition, or a more because it improves the prospect of a seven (or more, if you played against us 10 years ago) point play?

Regardless of what the boffins at the Ponds Institute come up with, when your team is playing you want the result that puts six points on the scoreboard, not one. I've got no complaints knowing the end result, but was in agony by the time we reached 0.6, and at regular intervals for the first three quarters. We've won plenty of games in the last year, but even the most passionate forward line fanatic would agree that a lot of the credit goes to defenders. Occasionally we go bananas and rain goals on the opposition, but generally the secret to our success is slowly chipping away on the scoreboard while the other lot lose their mind bouncing off a brick wall defence.

For this reason, we're vulnerable to days where the backline does their bit but the forwards don't. See Bizarro Queen's Birthday or last year's GWS fiasco. If we contain games lost due to a misfiring attack to one or two in the middle of the year again we'll be well placed to run riot again when it counts. I don't think I could handle going 22-0 anyway, it would feel like being set up for a September collapse that would have neutrals pissing themselves for the next 30 years.

This team is an enigma wrapped in a riddle, so even though we don't put up huge scores I wasn't panicking at being two goals behind in the first quarter. Neither felt like it was the sort of thing they'd do regularly, so the door remained wide open. The problem was that for most of the first quarter it looked like we were going to try and win 4.6.30 to 0.31.31. 

Our cavalcade of crappy kicking covered almost every element of the game other than somebody falling over while running into an empty goal. Perhaps the strangest was Gawn's 'mark' on the line. He may very well have controlled the ball marginally before it went over, but considering the goal umpire called it a point, and somebody gave Max a video review spoiler that caused him to sprint off for a kick-in, I don't know how the decision was overturned when the only video footage had a goapost in the way. If you're going to refer points for video review, maybe spring for cameras in those posts too? It was a classic first quarter decision, no way they'd have done the same thing if the game was on the line. Being an all round good sport, Maximum missed the kick. It's not right seeing him take shots from hard in the pocket without some Essendon humanoid yelling over the fence.

From the "if they'd just done X, Y would have happened" file, who's to say that if they hadn't paid the original behind, the kick-in would have been booted back to him 50 metres out and he'd have got the goal anyway? And that if that had happened maybe Richmond would have piled on 17 in a row before quarter time. All we know is the game ended with Melbourne in front and Clayton Oliver went home with a medal, so best to trust the process.

We were holding on well enough, but could thank a desperate May spoil on the line for not going three goals down. He hit the post with such force that I thought it was about to topple into the front row Leigh Matthews style. The video replay on that would have been interesting, the AFL equivalent of when stump cam catches somebody being clean bowled. Not sure I've been so protective of a player's fitness since early Jesse Hogan, who I expected to be struck down by death every time he changed direction.

We had a lot of opportunities, but after taking the piss out of the person with their finger on Channel 7's ad button, Richmond guaranteed that they'd keep being booked for prime time games kicking two. It was painful but exactly what we deserved.

After six behinds varying from unlucky to criminal, the answer finally came via Ben Brown. Welcomed with open arms after an extra week off for needlessly elbowing somebody in the head during a VFL game, he used the old Inspector Gadget arms to pull down a big grab in the pocket. Fans of 25/09/2021 will recognise it as similar to the start of that last quarter, and with significantly lower pressure this time he snapped it through. That was almost the last we saw of him, as we reverted to our old tricks of only having one forward at any contest, tipping opposition defenders off as to who they should jump on whenever the ball went inside 50.

Brown O'Clock only struck once, but his goal got the party started. In a classic Melbourne-esque piece of business, Richmond rode their luck as we missed shots for 95% of the quarter, then lost interest for a couple of minutes and ended up behind. We'd been mediocre at best, but it was the same in the first half last week, and for large parts of every other game this year. You can't argue with the end result. 

The unexpected lead came from Weideman, arriving from a start so anonymous that you could have forgotten he was playing, bouncing a snap through off the umpire's tockley. In a Hans Moleman-esque twist, it took a left turn off one post and crashed into the other. I was ready to break things if they'd involved Force Majeure and called a point, but we were saved by the little known Flange Deviation Rule, which deemed that the ball would have crossed the line fairly if not impeded by the unmentionables. For comedy value, it would have been better if the umpire had hit the deck squealing "ooh me plums" in a voice three octaves above Kenneth Williams but we had to console ourselves with six points and the lead.

I simultaneously couldn't understand how we were winning, and not further in front. In every element other than placing ball between large posts we were matching, if not exceeding, the opposition. I'll go hee if Petracca is 80% fit, but tellingly things got a lot better when Oliver threw off the lightly applied shackles and decided to rack up possessions like they were going out of fashion. In the second of two 40+ touch career games, it sure shit on the time he got 44 and we lost by almost twice as much.

After Richmond had thrown practically everything in their arsenal at us for no reward, I was hopeful that they'd do the honorable thing and stand aside so the premiers could put on a primetime show. Sadly not, but their wonky disposal did offer us a few opportunities to get going. This was a good sign, but wouldn't be worth much without conversion. You couldn't argue the desperate lunge that touched Spargo's first effort through, but incidents like Pickett opening his angle to about 90 degrees before missing, then Neal-Bullen kicking his set shot like it was a bag of wet cement were causing me actual physical misery. I'm not ready to lose again, it may leave me in tears.

Finally, the six points in one go breakthrough came from a Fritsch free. For some reason, Brown kicks most of his goals in the first half, and Bayley in the second half, so Spargo did his bit for that stat, played on and rolled it through. It was a bit risky, from 30 metres he'd have looked a dick if it hadn't bounced through. We didn't have to wait long for him to have a slapstick miss. Give the chance to instantly cancel one of their goals he flubbed what seemed like an absolute sitter of a snap. 

As much as I love Spargo, who did a kick inside 50 in the first quarter that would have required extra sensory perception to pull off, in the heat of "I never want to lose again" passion, I might have yelled unkind things. Sorry Charleston. And as the captain once said:


I know our expectations are through the roof, and that I promised to sit down, shut up, and enjoy the serenity in the wake of a premiership, but our last five minutes of the first half were vile. We couldn't stop them scoring forever, but Spargo's miss was so bad that we got what we deserved when they pinged straight down the other end for a goal. Turns out we were kicking to the Wasted Dominance End, because just like Richmond in the dying minutes of the opening term, we found a way to turn a solid position into a deficit. I wasn't crazy about the defensive contributions of Hunt or Smith, but we still had them on the run, regularly filling their shorts while turning the ball over, but missed the opportunity to sink the slipper. Overall, we'd been the better side but that wouldn't help if we didn't outscore them by 4+ points in the second half.

If there were suspicions that this would be the night the lights went down on Jake Bowey's winning streak, they went into overdrive when Joel Smith started the second half by handballing straight to a player running into an open goal. It was classic Melbourne vs Richmond, as best demonstrated in this classic clip.

We responded with another pair of points, but just as it seemed the 1940 record was in danger, Weid reappeared to offer a steady boot. As far as respectable hauls go, it ranked alongside Dean Kent's four in Hobart 2016 for the least impressive overall performance but they all count. If anybody had an excuse for coming down with nervous leg it was the guy who permanently lives his life on selection death row. But he did not, and now sits on eight goals in four games. Still feels like McDonald offers more around the ground, but who am I to argue with scoring impact? It's not like any of our forwards are playing four quarters at the moment, but they're all doing their bit.

This kicked off our most dominant period of the night. Naturally, there were more points to come (including Sparrow playing on instead of taking a set shot for some unknown bloody reason), but they were followed by a (relative) rush of goals. Suddenly Fritsch was in everything, kicking two, and setting up two more. He nearly landed a full house with a third goal, but an Oliver pass was probably rightly deemed not far enough, and he missed a panicked attempt to thump it through.

You knew we were officially on top when the Richmond player nobody's ever heard of conveniently suffered a match-ending injury. Fortunate timing, coming just when they were being overrun. Mr. A Random was lucky they didn't put up a screen and shot him on the spot, because he was suffering from a life-threatening... corky. Good thing the replacement did bugger all, we're the dickheads who wouldn't even swing a rort to get Jordon on in a Grand Final and other sides are taking advantage of the most minor complaint to make a change. Meanwhile the camera cut to Toby Bedford, now level with Kade Chandler and James Jordon for Tracksuit Time appearances, and he was nearly falling asleep. We didn't even bother to rouse him when Luke Dunstan copped a bump to the head in the last quarter.

Speaking of Dunstan, he had a solid debut. After 116 games it's not like he didn't know what he was doing. I wouldn't be dismantling our premiership midfield to play him permanently, but the season is young so it's handy to have experienced, competent players like this in the tank just in case. Also, in an odd twist he's the first ex-St Kilda player to join us since Jamie Shanahan in 1998. A few have gone the other way since, meaning it still falls short of the total embargo in direct exchanges with Hawthorn between 1985 and 2011.

We'd played our rare 'comfortable last quarter' card against the Giants, so nobody would have been surprised when Riewoldt popped up just before the last change to keep it interesting. It was the sort of night where we still had time to miss two more shots before the siren. Lest anyone claims sour grapes for the Bowey incident, we have discussed this before, but isn't it weird how bad Riewoldt's record is against us? He's kicking three goals a game against Brisbane and Port, and since 2007 we've kept him to 34 from 21 starts. He's also done his bit, with 46 behinds. Which makes our wayward goalkicking a roundabout tribute to his storied career. It makes no sense when you consider some of the ratshit backlines he'd have played against in that time. I doubt it keeps him awake at night, under a blanket made of three premiership flags stitched together, but it's an interesting anomaly for abnormal people like me.

In an era of moderately higher scoring but insane volatility, I wasn't going to relax over a 21 point lead. You wouldn't think they'd suddenly discover a path through the Great Wall of Melbourne after three quarters of torment, but it couldn't be ruled out. The best thing to do was start kicking goals. That we did. Only once, but combined with them having NFI how to get through Petty, May and friends, and a suicidal approach to moving the ball it was enough.

And what a fun goal it was, with the Weid kicking a fallaway snap that went higher in the air than it did forward, and curled back at the last minute to drop narrowly over the line like a bowling bowl hurled from a second story window. Realistically, that was enough. The game went back into the same pattern of us missing shots, while they struggled to generate any in the first place, and Oliver wandered around collecting possessions like Super Mario grabbing coins.

When Richmond got a goal that made it less than four goals I tensed up a bit. No need to worry, for the last five minutes nothing happened. They put on another point after everyone had lost interest, while we remained stationary on single figure goals and a metric shitload of behinds. I hope when we're eventually dragged into a thriller it will turn out we were deliberately putting the feet up in the last few minutes with the game won, and not that we're only got three quarters and 25 minutes in us.

It was all very good. Nothing to make you start queuing for Grand Final tickets now, but the latest in a string of professional, no nonsense wins that are setting us up nicely. There's no time for complacency, we're still only a game and percentage inside the top four. You wouldn't expect some of these teams to hang around, and most of Geelong's list will be tucked up in bed with a hot chocolate by Round 20, but there's plenty more work to be done. Can't ask for more than beating everyone we play.

For all the well-premature "I can't see who's going to beat them" wankery from attention seeking media nuffies, we're not going to win every game this year, but it's satisfying to know that even after a year and a half of exposure to our system, other teams can't consistently break it. Eventually somebody will get lucky, or the forward line will go to bits and fail to cover a score of 64, but teams are regularly lining up against us with hours of footage about how it's done and still can't work out a way past. How are we ever going to watch again when this is over?

Still, this means STUFF ALL in April. Ask Geelong 2008, Richmond 2018, and sadly not Essendon 2000 about playing a brilliant season then forgetting to show up when it counts. There are going to be challenges that we'll have to adapt to, but the base we're working off is so good it almost makes me emotional to think of how lucky we are to be here. Even if the entire list retires to go Hare Krishna tomorrow, the memories cannot be erased. And if they don't, then we might just give flag #14 a shake. A year after discovering it was all real, I'm still struggling to comprehend being in this position. Ironically, it may not be fully appreciated until it's over.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Ed Langdon
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Harrison Petty
1 - Tom Sparrow

Apologies to Bowey, Fritsch, May and Neal-Bullen.

Leaderboard
15 - Clayton Oliver
12 - Christian Petracca
11 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ed Langdon
8 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
7 - Jake Bowey (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Angus Brayshaw, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
3 - Ben Brown, James Harmes, 
2 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Harrison Petty
1 - Charlie Spargo, Tom Sparrow, Jack Viney, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Almost worth a one-off rebrand as the Ben Holland Medal for Miss of the Year, but I'd need a week to sift through the contenders. Instead, it's got to be The Weid. For one, crumb floats my boat, secondly it went through in an NQR way, and thirdly Sam's joy at kicking goals is infectious. There should be more of it.

For the weekly prize, he wins a Get Out Of Casey Free card to, be played as required on any Thursday night between now and September. No changes to the overall rankings.

Current podium: 
1st - Langdon vs Essendon
2nd - Petracca vs Essendon
3rd - Pickett vs GWS 

Next Week
Back to the MCG on Saturday night. Let's see how the crowd improves against Victorian opposition on a non-public holiday weekend. Hawthorn's early flirtation with mid-table mediocrity should drag a few through the gate. Like most of the sides playing above their pre-season predictions, I don't think they can keep it up all year, but for now there's genuine mystery about which version will show up. One week they're folding like a house of cards against St. Kilda, the next they're pulling out balls to the wall wins against Geelong, then they kick the first five goals against Sydney and lose by 40. Lunatics.

Obviously the COVID Connection of Lever and Viney return. There may never have been a more obvious selection than Lever, but I do feel bad for Dunstan if he has to go. Viney's got enough runs on the board that surely you wouldn't waste him in the seconds (if the VFL moves Ben Brown to walloping somebody, Jack might go off like John Bourke), but I was so fond of the new version's game that I'm prepared to offer him the free game and match payment as sub. Bedford's done nothing wrong, because he hasn't had the chance, but after missing Casey's game this week, it's time to try something different. 

Speaking of the reserves, I caught some of the warm-up win against Richmond and was disappointed that there was no sign of the 7ft leviathan Richmond fans have assured me will be the next big thing in goalkicking. Did a search for him on Twitter to find out where he was and only found somebody begging Richmond for information on if will every play. Maybe don't put him in your Coleman Medal futures bets just yet. 

With El Gigante absent, the most important thing I discovered is that Bailey Laurie will debut before  the end of the year. Otherwise, Casey unpicked themselves from a dodgy situation to win comfortably ("there's an idea" said 23 senior players) but without anyone striking the sort of knockout blow that would make you want to mess with a winning side. McDonald was good, but not so great that I foresess an instant return to the seniors. Melksham was also solid, but it feels like he's been reduced to 'break in case of emergency' status. Meanwhile, I'm pining for Hibberd to replace Hunt, but he's going to need a warm-up run first.

IN: Lever, Viney
OUT: Dunstan (to sub), Smith
LUCKY: Hibberd, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Bedford

So, we stay sensible with the changes for what has to be a danger game. You know it's dangerous because I can go. Worked out alright against the Giants, here's to doing Hawthorn over in similar fashion. I don't want to jinx it, but if Bowey wins here he'll tie the record for best start to an MFC career. Fortunately, he doesn't seem subject to any stress at all, as a baffling post-match TV interview proved. No matter what happens from here, his ride from game 1 to ??? will be talked about forever. Let's keep winning for his sake, he might flip out when we lose.

Final thoughts
More, more, more. How do you like it?

Monday, 18 April 2022

MCG Hammer

There was a lot to be annoyed about between 2012 and 2021, but it always shit me that we'd never properly thrashed the Giants since our first meeting. There have been limited highlights at the 'G, like the 12 goal miracle quarter against a side that went on to win one game for the season (against us), and the free hit after making finals in 2018, but usually a dozen orange-clad nuffies would go home happy while we were left rueing the circumstances that led us to follow Melbourne in the first place.

This season there is no need to curse the friends, family, or random set of circumstances involving Murray Wrensted that landed you in red and blue. Even if you only jumped on the bandwagon after our September antics made your liver quiver, we're doing the right thing by continuing to win every week. It's now the second longest streak in the club's history, and we are blessed to be a part of it. Most of the wins are by just enough to stop it getting interesting, occasionally we garotte somebody. It's a wild scene.

You've got to work hard to find things to be sad about during this golden era, but I'm slightly glum that a demanding life schedule has cost me seeing half a dozen wins in the last year. None of St. Kilda, Geelong, Sydney, Carlton, Essendon 2021 or Essendon 2022 were the sort of epoch-making victories that I'll go to my grave regretting having to watch on TV, but it's still one more than I saw in person across 2013 and 2014. Never mind, as long as Melbourne wins it doesn't matter if I see it, you see it, or 100,000 empty seats see it. Like our Premiership Cup, I don't need to hold it in my hands, just knowing it's a thing is enough.

Finally everything lined up this week, and I was not only able to get to the MCG but stay for four quarters. What a luxury. Somehow, despite all our recent wins my last full game was when we laid an egg against the Giants midway through 2021. Plenty has changed since then, but not the freedom to sit wherever you want. Like last year, this is the bit where you can skip ahead if you're not interested in moaning about my niche seating interests. Otherwise, join me in lustily booing the cheapskates at the MCC for embracing their inner Docklands and closing most of the top level. First they sell the catering contract to Fawlty Towers, now this. People's ground my arse.

"You can sit on Level 1!" said the Ponsford Stand attendant who dived in front of me like a presidential bodyguard, as if somebody trying to get to the top level of an otherwise empty ground would be interested in such a thing. Even in a friends and family crowd scenario I wasn't going to cope well with sitting amongst people. It's happened plenty of times before, and I am paying for the Redlegs seat that is proving about as useful as my Grand Final ticket guarantee, but after two years of avoiding human contact I don't want to share anything short of a premiership with other fans. It's not you, it really is me.  

Just as I was considering chucking a tantrum in lieu of sending in an actual complaint, it was revealed that they had some consideration for the anti-social and nervous, leaving the top of the Olympic Stand open. Cue a night of ducking while seagulls flew low over me like the 9th Cavalry Regiment in Apocalypse Now. How I avoided being shat on is a minor miracle.

God knows where everyone was, but get used to it. After two years of people getting comfortable watching on TV live attendance is now optional. Maybe our posh fans were at the holiday house, maybe people were scared that we'd shit the bed against the Giants again. Or maybe the AFL just doesn't give a shit, which explains why they conveniently picked this week to schedule games in Melbourne featuring Gold Coast, GWS, Port and Freo.

The small audience set up 'comedy material' for the sort of tedious people who make snow jokes. Neutrals, don't be like that. It's more fun to point out that this game was outdrawn by the day we gathered to watch a three month old replay of the Grand Final. Mainly because it will help jog your memory about who won that game.

Anyway, before we make any judgements about crowds on special occasions, let's see what happens to the losers who are scheduled for the early game on Mother's Day. Ahhh shit.


It might have been a disappointing attendance for us, but after playing Gold Coast in front of 4000 people, Giants players would have felt like they were at the 1950 World Cup Final. Attendance figures play no part in my enjoyment of a game. I was back at a place that made me happy even when the team didn't, and we won in a canter. What more could you want?

For the second consecutive week, our attempts to beat an interstate team were aided by them attacking as if heavily impaired. I know you can't just chip side-to-side for four quarters waiting for our steel-trap backline to lose shape, but there's enough evidence from the last couple of years that just terror bombing the ball out of the middle is a very bad idea. At least when you do it high in the air, as Hawthorn discovered when they nearly beat us with a cavalcade of bullshit, scrubby kicks along the ground. Certainly seems worth a try when you watch a side aimlessly thumping it into a nest of May, Lever and the returning Petty, who got his eye in by pulling down a contested mark in the opening minutes and never looked back.

They're all good, but the star of the show is May. He's so good I want to go back to when he got in trouble for having a drink and punch on to defend him. Maybe that shizen first season, also featuring unnecessary suspension, crippling injury and personal drama, was crucial in getting him to where he is now? If so, the nosey prick who shared the picture of him sinking pints should go into our Premiership Hall of Fame alongside Queensland's Chief Health Officer. Though, I suppose if you go to those lengths that means Mark Neeld gets in for overseeing the disaster that allowed us to draft Jesse Hogan, who was later traded for May.

Speaking of Hogan, in his second go at playing against us for the first time, he probably expected to see more people. Instead, he got the familiar experience of struggling to find opportunities in front of 85% empty stands while his team was thrashed. I'll assume the boos for his first shot were related to umpiring, because otherwise it would be like an abusive family who got later got rich yelling at a kid whose life they'd ruined. He only got one goal (and even that came in questionable circumstances), but was otherwise slaughtered by a) the greatest backline ever to breathe air, b) dreadful delivery from teammates, and c) his ongoing demands to have the ball kicked over the top no matter what. I hope he does well for himself against any other opposition, but it pains me to compare the current model to the one that made Alex Rance look like Alex Rank Amateur a few years ago.

The Peter Wright experience (and Harry McKay/Taylor Walker last year) showed that we're not completely impervious to key forwards, but things must be going well when you haven't conceded the ton in about 50 games. To be fair, half of those were either shortened quarters, or played in the lowest scoring era since The Beatles, but any casual observer can see that this is a group eating opposition forward lines for breakfast. I'm still conditioned to panic whenever the opposition go forward, but with a backline at the absolute peak of its powers any forward thrust is just asking to be whisked down the other end for a goal. This will all come to an end eventually, but the good times won't be forgotten. I'll be writhing on my deathbed talking about it.

It took a while to be sure we weren't being lulled into a false sense of security, but we should have known things were going to turn out alright after the first goal. They enjoyed their only lead of the night for about 25 seconds, before the kick-in was instantly transferred down the other end for a goal. Even when you're the confirmed best team in the world, there's still an element of luck to it all. Fritsch's kick couldn't have sat up better for Petracca to rifle home. Half the time the novelty shaped ball would have pitched the wrong way and rolled through for a point. When you're hot, you're hot. See also Pickett and Fritsch converting from difficult angles to make it three goals to nil, while down the other end Hogan was hitting the post from directly in front.

I wasn't all that enthusiastic about how we were doing at the contest, and the random journeyman who replaced Preuss in the middle (sadly denying us a reunion by elbowing somebody in the head) was holding his own against Gawn. Maximum soon demonstrated the importance of ruckmen doing something other than getting first hand to a ball by taking contested marks at both ends, kicking goals, and generally acting like the world's biggest midfielder.

The Giants had plenty of opportunities, they just either blundered them straight into the hands of a defender or missed gettable shots. Even at three goals to nil in front, it felt like we'd wasted an opportunity to take further advantage before they came up with a new plan. How was I supposed to know that, like Port last week, there was no alternative on the way.

Even when Gawn opened the second quarter with a goal, I was convinced there was a comeback on the cards. The Giants obviously hadn't bothered to watch the tape of his goal against Port, or any of the other ones where he's opened the angle to the right and thumped the ball through from distance. One of them put on a half-arsed attempt at running towards Max when he played on, but was still well outside smothering range. And would you want to be in the way of a ball coming off his boot in those circumstances? It could rip your head off Mortal Kombat style.

It doesn't take much to convince me that we're going to throw away a lead, and yes, when we conceded two goals in a row I did actually say "here we go" to the empty seats around me. That the first was gifted to them from a 50, probably for time wasting under the Harrison Petty Rule, but after the second it really felt like we'd blown 40 minutes on top and were about to be dragged back into a contest. 

It wasn't like the explosive outburst where the Dogs reeled in their four goal deficit and built one of their own (before falling in a hole), but things were close enough that I started to get prematurely sad about Jake Bowey losing his all-time great winning streak. Never fear, he's still the undefeated champion of the world. The last person to go 12-0 in such a short time was Mike Tyson. Hopefully similarities end there.

We weren't playing particularly well, but got the perfect cover up from a serious of contentious umpiring decisions. Spare a thought for Christian Petracca, losing a Goal of the Week contender due to Ed Langdon jostling a player out of the way on the line. It was not Ed's finest few minutes, having just missed two set shots. Should have tried reverse banana kicks from the boundary line instead.

At the time I was ready to punch on, but a replay clearly indicates he did a big old shove right in the numbers. Nobody would have argued if they'd paid it but you can't whinge about decisions all day then say things should be ignored for the sake of spectacle. Good thing the same people weren't in charge during the Grand Final, because Tom McDonald pushing the Bulldogs defender off the line like a cardboard cutout was almost as criminal. A lot of people were moved to specifically point out their disappointment with the female umpire, as if they've been thrilled with the performance of male umps over the years.

Worse was the Hogan goal at the end of the quarter, where Petty did well to make up ground on him, punched the ball out Jesse's hands about 0.1 seconds after it hit them, and was either pinched for front-on contact (of the ball?) or it was deemed the mark had been held. This fits into my theory that if you make enough contests in the forward line you'll get a fair number of goals from bullshit frees, which is why I get so upset whenever our attacks are ended with uncontested defensive marks. Even if it ends in a free against, I just want somebody to jump at it and hope for the best. It's like when the soccer goalkeeper is allowed to pissfart around with the ball endlessly and nobody runs at him - look what happened to the Manchester City bloke on the weekend and tell me it's not better to give them something to think about.

The umpires may have disrespected spectacle, and the Petty/Hogan decision was clearly made up, but the outrage provided misdirection from a midfield that was plodding along and a tall forward department that had five touches combined. Turned out alright, but at the time it looked like going tits up at any moment. We didn't have to wait long to sweep the doubts away with one of the great quarters, 10 goals, 10 individual goalkickers, and as serious a party atmosphere as you can generate with the ground a fifth full.

The fun started when the goal was cancelled out almost immediately. Sure there was a half time break in the middle, but as far as game time elapsed it brought up warm memories of when we used to waste Hogan's hard work as soon as was humanely possible. The move was so deeply embedded in our psyche that even when McSizzle took over at full forward we'd still try to let the other team score ASAP every time he kicked one.

No matter how ordinary we were for most of Hogan's stay, I don't remember any of his wasted goals provoking the same total collapse the Giants had here. We went on to our highest scoring quarter in many years (falling just short of the all-time top 10) via an orgy of violence that left stunned Giants players looking as if a UFO had just landed in the middle of the ground. It was two goals short of that NQR 2013 game for our best quarter against the Giants, but was better when adjusted for the game being between premier and finalist, not a pair of losers who should have been liquidated.

A few years ago I'd have given a testicle for us to kick 10 goals in any quarter (and many entire games), but times have changed to the point where it doesn't seem so incredible now. In fact, I pretty much sat there with a wide smile on my face enjoying the experience, rather than being astounded at what was happening. Because somehow we've risen above 60 years of Melbourning ourselves to be really, really, good, and it seems conceivable that we would pile goals on at warp speed. Obviously there's going to be a loss somewhere, and history suggests a troubling dip in form at some point, but overall everything's marvellous.

There's still work to be done, we didn't need to gift them their second goal from a 50 after Oliver did a drive-by sledge on the umpire, but otherwise it was full steam ahead. Kicking the first two proved that we had plenty of improvement in us from the first half, the rest was just laying the boots into opposition that had lost the will to live.

For fans of the Grand Final, which must be every person on the face of earth other than the Footscray lot, there was even a budget version of the Mad Minute. The first goal was almost as good as Petracca in Perth, with Pickett kicking to a contest, then roving the spoil without breaking stride and charging inside 50 to finish on the run. The next one was more of an administrative freebie, coming straight from a 6-6-6 free. Who'd be a coach? Sitting up there with a camera stuck in your face trying to do all sorts of tricky shit to unpick the reigning premier, then your players not only give away a centre clearance because they can't count but it turns into a second consecutive goal.

The discount equivalent of the third bang in "bang, bang, bang" came from McDonald, before Gawn threw in a Preliminary Final flashback for good measure by snatching the ball out of the ruck and snapping from the pocket. It was getting a bit silly, but did go some way to repaying Channel 7's lost ad revenue after we failed to take the hint and demolish Port. I'd like to apologise to anyone who had to sit through multiple showings of that shithouse Landcruiser commercial. Blame the 45.45% percent of our team who kicked goals and the rest who set them up.

It was relatively heartwarming that the Weid got one at the end, because he'd been having a big go all night. A single goal isn't much, but you couldn't fault his effort in covering ground and crashing packs. The problem for selectors is that McSizzle was much the same, other than one howler turnover on the wing where he was perfectly placed to turn around and run straight off. 

We'd now played one good, one average, and one golden quarter, but you gauge the overall commitment of those involved on May continuing to defend like a man possessed after we'd already kicked nine goals for the quarter. Between him, Lever, and Petty you'll be lucky if we ever field a better backline than this in your lifetime. The rest of them are pretty good too, and Tomlinson didn't do anything wrong before being squeezed out, but these three are ace. I'm still worried that there will be weeks where the forward line fails and their good work will be wasted, but surely no team has been better at defending inside 50s since they drew the line in the first place.

After last week, I didn't expect a foot on the throat demolition job in the last quarter, and a tepid opening few minutes suggested more of the same. I was just happy that the backmen continued to take personal pride in tormenting now clearly depressed opponents, but there were a few more goals in our future. After Fritsch's third and fourth, a nice haul on a night where he was hardly dominant but kept finding himself in the right spot, we benefited from one of the great efforts. 

Nobody outside our bubble cares about, or has probably heard of, Tom Sparrow until now, but this footage should be shown to every player in the competition to show the meaning of desire. Here we are 10 goals up in the last quarter and he's pelting halfway down the ground at maximum pace, then diving at full extension like Wayne Harmes to set up a teammate.
Fans of the Shit Melbourne era will remember a similar incident at the same end involving Ricky Petterd and Matthew Bate against Richmond in 2010. The difference was Petterd hadn't burst a lung getting there in the first place, and that the guy who kicked the goals probably won't dive headfirst into the world of conspiracy theory. Also, it's right on brand that the only comment on that 11 year old YouTube video is me hanging shit on Dwayne Russell.

That goal tipped the margin just past the Carnival of Hate for what would have been our biggest win against the Giants. Alas we couldn't hold on, and the original remains the best. They survived despite giving away a second 6-6-6 free, which would have had Neon Leon Klinghoffer tearing puffy clumps of his hair out. For the second week in a row it was polite of us not to do anything that might lead to a coach being handed his marching orders, and the quest to get somebody sacked for the first time since Grant Thomas goes on. Makes a change from when we did so many delistings it affected national unemployment figures.

Some abject cruelty would have been nice, but considering what we'd seen in the third quarter it would be rude to complain about a couple of consolation goals. When a first gamer got one his teammates could barely muster up the enthusiasm to celebrate. We've all been there.

The cover version of 2021 continues. It's a year to the round since we shook off a good but not great first month by thrashing Hawthorn - back when a 5-0 start was a source of wonder and not the bare minimum expectation. The difference is that this time we dropped the bomb immediately after half time, instead of dicing with death until early in the last quarter. This was a more comfortable way of doing it. Hopefully this year we don't wait until Round 20 before dishing out the next thumping in front of an empty stadium. Mind you, if it sets off the same run as the 2021 edition...

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Steven May
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Charlie Spargo

Tremendous apologies to Viney. Significant apologies to Bowey, Fritsch, Harmes and Pickett.

Leaderboard
12 - Christian Petracca
10 - Clayton Oliver
8 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
7 - Jake Bowey (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Ed Langdon, Steven May (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Angus Brayshaw, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
3 - Ben Brown, James Harmes
2 - Alex Neal-Bullen
1 - Charlie Spargo, Jack Viney, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
No championship contenders this week, but a lot of worthy weekly nominees. I thought either of the Pickett or Fritsch set shots at the start were good, but they were soon wiped out. With respect to Gawn's snatch from the ruck, Sparrow's best supporting actor nomination or Bowey's interception, the obvious choice is Pickett kicking to a contest, scooping the footy up on the rebound like it was the size of a basketball and thumping it home on the run. I enjoyed it so much it replaces himself for Gold Coast in third place for the year.

For the weekly prize, he wins a one year scholarship to the Austin Wonaeamirri School of Celebration.

Current podium: 
1st - Langdon vs Essendon
2nd - Petracca vs Essendon
3rd - Pickett vs GWS 

Matchday Experience Watch
Even Russell Robertson didn't turn up. At first I thought he might have the 'cron, then that somebody must have urgently needed The Gambler to be played in a country pub. Turns out he was busy appearing on some shitbox Fox Footy variety show. The replacement was as nervous as fuck, but should be retained as he didn't ditch us to pluck guitar next to Kate Cebrano's brother for the enjoyment of Mark Howard.

Next Week
A down-on-their-luck Richmond get one last chance to recapture their glory days by knocking over the New Big Thing. On paper, this should be even better than the night 12 months ago when we confirmed being a good side but I'm still well within my rights to clench buttock in concern. To be fair I wouldn't have been convinced of victory if we'd played West Coast the week they had to draft the WAFL All-Stars but am happy to continue being pleasantly surprised.

In Brown's absence, neither the Weid or McSizzle delivered the knockout blow that would have ensured they kept their spot. They're going to pick all three at the same time aren't they? If Brown wasn't so important I'd be inclined to give him an extra week off for needlessly walloping somebody in a reserves game that he didn't need to get a kick in to be selected in the seniors at the first opportunity. With regrets I'm giving McDonald the week off. He didn't do much less than Weideman in the second half, and should be commended for regularly trying to kick to the man whose success would likely force him out of the side, but with Lever and Petty back there's less need for a break in case of emergency defensive option and he has only just been going. He's welcome back at any time but I'd rather try and give Weid a run for a few weeks to see if he can get some consistency.

Otherwise, what's the point in making changes when we've got an eight day break? Hunt will go when Hibberd returns, but can't see a reason to chuck him now. Neither Spargo or Pickett had been firing on all cylinders but we stuck with them and they had their best games of the year so trust the process. The VFL fixture might finally fix up Toby Bedford's job as the permanent sub, he's had a great run of being able to sit on the bench for four quarters, bank a career game and a match payment, then still play Reserves the next day, but next week the Casey game comes first so it's probably time for somebody else to don the tracksuit and do a few tentative runs along the boundary.

We should win, but beware complacency and/or Dustin Martin rappelling down the face of the Olympic Stand four minutes before the bounce to dramatically take his place in the side, have 63 touches and kick seven. Or, alternatively, somebody from the starting lineup that you've never heard of to do the same. 

IN: B. Brown
OUT: McDonald (omit)
LUCKY: Hunt, Weideman
UNLUCKY: Smith

Final thoughts
Didn't miss listening to dickheads talk nonsense on the train home, but otherwise it was great to be back. I'm more comfortable with watching on TV then ever before, but there's still a buzz to seeing a win in person. Maybe when we start losing again I'll find dodgy reasons to miss every game. Mind you, by then I'll be retired so will need something to do. Can't go next week (because why would I ever be free two weekends in a row?), but don't pull up and wait for me lads, carry on humiliating people and pushing coaches to the brink of disaster.

Sunday, 10 April 2022

Operation successful. Patient dead.

So, this is what it feels like to lose a Grand Final? Probably better here than 25/09/2021 or I'd have been carted out in a pine box. This is not intended to play down the respect I've got for our women's team, it's just that we're about 25 years of gloom, despair, and agony away from what I'd been through before that enchanted evening. 

I love this team, and we've had such a good season that the result still hit me right in the feels. So much that I chickened out and turned off with 30 seconds left to avoid seeing Adelaide players celebrate. It's no shame that the lead-up couldn't cause the same sort of psychological trauma and near loss of plot as the last one. Everyone else should get a refresher course in the sanctity of Grand Finals, even if you don't go for the competing clubs, everybody leaves you alone when the men were playing, in this case everyone in Australia tried to call me or knock on the door from 12:30 AEST.

Another good reason for not going off the deep end was that this time we were massive underdogs, against opposition that regularly treats us with contempt. This helped in not getting my hopes up. I was desperate to snatch every flag on offer in the world of AFL, but it would require a colossal upset to beat the South Australian All-Stars in their last start before Port come in six seasons late and ruin it for them again. I still held out hope of springing an all-time surprise. I'd even looked at the picture of the premiership men hanging above my desk and wondered if they'd bring out a women's version too, they would have complimented each other nicely. 

The problem, apparently, is that while the men have discovered a love for playing in Adelaide, it's becoming a dead-set graveyard for our women. Whether at Norwood, or now twice at the main ground, we've never gotten close to them in South Australia. Doesn't help that they're the best club ever to play the women's game. The stat that we were only one win behind them all time floored me, but I'm sure they'll cope with the sadness of going 2-4 in 2020 by drying their eyes on any of three flags.

As unlikely as it was to happen, it's not in our nature to storm out of the blocks and put the game away before the other team know what's happening. That would have calmed the nerves. Instead, it was an instant dry-weather replay of the Prelim. Maybe the weather wasn't to blame against the Lions, even in the sunniest of sun we couldn't craft an effective kick inside 50 if our lives depended on it. Hooray then, that the Crows did their best Brisbane impersonation, blowing us away in every aspect other than actually kicking goals. 

Like last week, if the opposition can't/won't take advantage of our slow start, we only need a few minutes to get on a run and turn the game around. I'll admit to having serious doubts about our chances of pulling that move off again, as Adelaide squashed us with their pressure. There was talk on the commentary of us struggling to play on a bigger ground, but the highly authoritative Google.com says that Casey is longer and wider than Adelaide Oval, so that seems a convenient excuse. Mind you, the non-St. Jason Bennett commentator didn't know who half our players were so you can't believe everything you're told.

Last week we were saved from the opening goal by an umpire missing the most blatant free kick since 1858, but they got us this time. Birch kicked off her worst game for the year (and one not befitting the only premiership player in our side) by unnecessarily knocking an opponent on her arse. The resulting kick fell short, but right into the hands of a completely unmarked player. After our horrendous attempts to go forward, this sort of bad luck/poor defending convinced me it wouldn't be our day.

The backline was just holding on, despite filling their shorts every time the ball came near. Sinead Goldrick was the exception, galloping around like she'd been playing the game all her life. Probably didn't hurt that she's played a metric shitload of high-pressure Gaelic finals. I change my favourite AFLW player every week, but she's currently a contender. How long that will last is anyone's guess, it's a fair commitment to come here for seven months a year on average money. Even if she never comes back, Sinead's progress of learning the game from her late 20s onwards has been outrageous. She obviously gets it, so if she stays in Ireland we should keep her on the payroll to scout both male and female players. It was a day for Irish runners-up, with Lauren Magee running second in a half-arsed Grand Final sprint shown on delay at quarter time.

It not only felt like last week's, and our two previous meetings with the Crows, but a lot like the reverse of last Thursday. Then, Port held on gamely against misfiring forwards for as long as possible before being swamped. This time it was our turn, and when they got the second goal I was ready to surrender. The atmosphere of disappointment was not helped by inviting my mum over for the occasion (of course we've never seen any other Grand Finals together your honour), and after never seeing an AFLW game in her life she spent from midway through the first quarter until our first behind commenting on how terrible it would be if we didn't score. Yes, thank you, I was aware of the enormous potential for embarrassment. Lucky we'd been through similar in the 2021 Prelim so I knew how to cope.

We looked so unlikely to score that Daisy was relieved of her duties in the forward line and sent up the ground. And rightly so, imagine it was her last game and we'd left her to rot inside 50 while the ball was constantly at the other end. She had a bash at getting things moving but it couldn't have been any less our day. Eventually we got a point, which was something, before Bannan injected some life into the contest with our first goal. Of course, this happened at just the moment I ducked my head around the corner to pick something up. Sums up the day really.

Regardless of whether I saw the goal or not, it happened. And when we resisted our natural urges to give it straight back out of the centre, we got to half time just 10 points down. Which was 10 points worse than what we'd toiled to in the first half against Brisbane, but within comeback range. Still felt unlikely, but if the tables had been turned I certainly wouldn't have been reaching for the silver polish yet.

Considering only 16,000 people showed up, the half time show felt like it was trying a bit hard, but it was nice to finally see one, after missing the September version while having a stress-related medical episode. Not sure I've ever heard a longer intro for a musical act at a sporting event. Poor old Jessica Maubouy is standing there in 26 degree weather, wearing the sort of raincoat people take off to reveal nothing underneath in adult movies, and the announcer gave every fun fact other than her mother's maiden name and credit card PIN. Obviously, I'd never heard any of the songs before, but that's consistent with the 2019 men's Grand Final when I had to ask who Tone On The Phone was, only to find out she'd been at number one for about 12 weeks.

Any hopes of a comeback were briefly (and as it turns out, permanently) dashed when the Crows got the first after the break. We weren't dead yet, and after doing next to nowt for weeks, Kate Hore got a goal at the most important time, putting us back within two kicks. For the last few minutes of the quarter we looked half a chance of unexpectedly storming over the top for a funny/piss funny premiership. But that's where the goals stopped, unable to make things interesting by taking half-chances. We didn't get another one for the rest of the game, which was an appropriately tragic way for it to end. 

I was deflated, but spare a thought for Tayla Harris. She battled all day to get a kick against multiple opponents and was left with the unique record of losing three Grand Finals to the same opposition for different clubs. The third might not have happened if she'd done something different after marking 40 metres out, directly in front, with the chance to cut the margin to less than a goal. It should have been "cometh the hour, cometh the woman", so god only knows why she thought a 10 metre forward/20 metre towards the boundary dink to Paxman was the right thing to do. 

There's a time to be selfless, and there's a time to walk back and wallop through a post high kick that blows the game wide open. To nobody's surprise, Paxy from an angle was not the better option, and she missed. We got to three quarter time without any further damage, but it was a golden chance missed to send them into the last break with pulsating nerves.

Usually, speculating over the importance of the next goal is only for dickheads like Brian Taylor. In this case I knew we were cooked if Adelaide got it. Our only hope was them running out of gas while we created a couple of goals via brute force before holding on like grim death. Alternatively, get the first early, and hold off on the second until after the siren when the ball is in Daisy's hands 20 metres out. Alas, the dream finish was thwarted. The Crows had plenty left in the tank, our Plan B envelope was circling the baggage carousel at Adelaide Airport, and after a few early minutes of thumping the door down for no reward, they went the other way and finished us off. It is, as always, the hope that gets you.

Ash Woodland didn't do much (though five tackles as a forward probably helped disrupt our malfunctioning backline), but there was still a bit of the Curb Your Enthusiasm music about the league's leading goalscorer winning a premiership against us three years after we delisted her. By my count that makes her the first ex-Melbourne player ever to beat us in a Grand Final.

I was gloomy for the rest of the afternoon, and the atmosphere was not helped by Kayo suggesting I watched the replay no matter what part of their website I clicked on. Could have tried to watch Micronesian Premier League volleyball and it would have still tried to lure me into either the full game or mini replay. How about no, no, no, fuck off, and die.

And... that was it. If we'd lost the other game by any margin the SWAT team would have had to knock me off my roof with rubber bullets but this just left me in a state of misery. I wanted the premiership for myself first, the players second and the fans third, but I'm still proud of everyone involved. This side never hit any amazing heights (even the rogering of Freo B carries a COVID asterisk), but you don't go 9-1 and win a Prelim without being a good side that plays with a shitload of heart. Alas, family-friendly values and general loveability will not deliver premierships. Time to recruit our hearts out and come back next time ready to rip somebody's head off and shit down their neck. 

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

Leaderboard
Probably should have done a vote audit earlier, turns out I'd given Hanks an extra two votes somewhere, and Paxman was in fact right behind her. Lucky people aren't betting on this or there'd be unrest. That means that Paxmania has come from the clouds to claim another title. I'd also undercounted a shitload of Mithen votes after apparently losing the ability to do maths around the start of 2022. Speech and bladder control expected to follow shortly after.

That's five in a row for Paxman, not nearly as dominant as she used to be but a picture of consistency across the season. Congratulations to minor award winners Libby Birch, pocketing her second defender of the year trophy, and this year's Rising Star, Eliza West.  

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

Next year
Three years ago Adelaide walloped us in the last round and I was sure our premiership window had slammed shut so hard the frame would pop out. COVID came just in time to save us from fading out in 2020, but the recruitment of Birch and later Harris, plus drafting Bannan and McNamara, and Daisy's late career revival helped keep us afloat. This carried us to a Prelim last year, where our pretty good side was rumbled by a very good one. And here we are in 2022, one game further into the season, same result.

Pending departures to the four expansion clubs, and whatever wacky format the AFL uses to cram an 18 team competition into 10 (?) weeks, I think we've got enough quality to stay near the top. I presume we'll be without Daisy and Shelley Scott at a minimum. Otherwise, Paxman, Goldrick and Colvin are the only over 30s and they all seem to have a bit left in the tank. The rest of our side is somewhere between relatively and actually young, so they should keep us near the top for a few more years.

The forward line needs work. If Daisy isn't around that's one less experienced option, and the last few weeks showed what happens when everyone realises Harris is our only long kicking option. Wouldn't mind finding a crumber, some good old fashioned front and centre goals would compliment Tayla bulldozing through packs. We've never really had it, Newman barely kicked any goals and they've obviously got no interest in Petrevski. At this point I'd take a chance on a speculative rookie who's handy at kicking goals over her head from 10 metres out.

Explosive midfielders would also help, it's clear that West and Purcell are more your get ball/kick ball players. This is fine, but we could do with some balance. I'm not expecting the female Christian Petracca to walk through the door but quicker transition inside 50 would stop the opposition sending four defenders to Harris when ball leaves boot. The defence is ok but not impenetrable, so we've got needs in all parts of the ground. Not all of them can be solved in one off-season, but you can't just hope that Adelaide will lose half their squad to Port and that we'll naturally take their spot at the head of the table. 

The good news, if you're into that sort of thing, is that the next season is apparently going to start in August. Spare a thought for me having to work out how to make the difference between summer and winter 2022 seasons on Demonwiki. I don't think a summer season answers any of the competition's big problems, but what do I know? Maybe the idea is for it to pop up just as interest is flagging late in the men's season, and for the later rounds to fill gaps in the schedule while finals are on but I can't see how it's supposed to compete for publicity. Do the AFL care? Probably not, I think they're just happy to tick the social inclusion box and get on with their lives. I reserve the right to take it very seriously, even if the games are playing at 6am on a Tuesday.

Final thoughts
Grisly ending aside, this competition is good fun. Let's do it again in a few months.

Friday, 8 April 2022

The Aristocrats

This season is giving me the same sort of stress as if I'd won the lottery. Sure, I'd enjoy having $52 million in the bank but I'd also be too terrified to cross the street in case I was run over by some pisshead driving the wrong way. Now I'm watching the best Melbourne team of my generation with 51% shiny-eyed wonder, and 49% fear of a letdown. It's a thrilling ride, and I'd like to stay on it for as long as possible. 

It's scarcely believable that since chucking it away in Cairns at the end of 2020 we're 26-1-4. Bloody hell. It would take you 13 repeats of 2013 to get to that and you'd still be short the draw. That's why you won't catch me whinging about a flat ending on Thursday. We're living in a glory era, and if I'm going to be stressed in advance about it eventually coming to an end I won't waste any of the enjoyment by demanding perfection.

Like Gold Coast and Essendon, and to some extent Round 1, this was another re-run from 2021. We smothered the opposition into submission but lacked the scoring power to win in a satisfying, brutal landslide. Don't forget it took us 20 rounds to club somebody last year, and 12 of our home and away wins came with a score under 100 - if you're expecting us to go postal like it's September in Perth you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. As much you can during an 11 game winning streak that includes a flag.

File this in the bulging folder of 'professional wins', and don't read too much into the future. Last year showed that we could win ugly against bad sides and still beat quality, as well as struggle gamely to overcome top eight contenders before falling flat on our face against filth. Like science, I don't really understand what's going on but am willing to accept that it's a good thing.

Somehow, after losing every meaningful game in Adelaide from 2002 to 2013 (no, the 2011 NAB Cup doesn't count), we've got the best record of any Victorian club at Adelaide Oval. Our worst loss there is by 25 points. This compares favourably to Football Park, where across three finals seasons from 2004 to 2006 we lost there by 72, 73, 62, 54 and 58 points. It only got worse after that. Surely we'd have won there again eventually, but it's still thumbs up to whoever decided to put a wrecking ball through the place, because the replacement suits us perfectly.

I'll admit to entering this game in a state of terror. We've discussed my inability to lie back and enjoy success, but I was shitting bricks against an 0-3 team playing for their season at home. Part of this was my ongoing refusal to pay attention to other teams, not realising that the fairly important quarter of Aliir, Dixon, Duursma and Grey were all absent. In their place came the biggest parade of randoms since early GWS - and Steven Motlop, who I was genuinely surprised to discover is still playing.

The nerves were calmed as much as possible by Fritsch kicking the opener (not least because I don't think he had one in a first half yet this year). The ease of it suggested we'd find Grand Canyon style gaps in their homebrand backline. Alas no, as we did heaps more attacking in the opening term for no further reward. The good news is they were blowing chances at an industrial rate. It wasn't just the behinds, but the numerous times they turned one of our ordinary forward thrusts back, and didn't get two possessions into the chain before handing it back. 

It was a hilariously inept performance, as they tried their best to keep the ball away from us despite a) kicking like they were drunk, b) playing so slowly it gave us all the time in the world to fill space. To try this in the week that Lever returned wasn't just ill-advised, it was dead-set suicidal. Any team who don't think they can beat us the traditional way should get the tapes of the Hawthorn draw, where they just sludged the ball forward, often rolling along the ground, and it completely negated our advantage in the air.

If we'd taken advantage of their bonkers kicking, the game could have been over by quarter time. I've never missed Ben Brown more, his Go Go Gadget arms would have been plucking marks over the top of hapless defenders until they curled up in a ball and started crying. Instead, with Weid and McSizzle unable to find any space, and a couple of reasonable chances missed, it looked like we'd have to win it 1.7.13 to 0.10.10. Things got so dire that even Steven May wandered forward for a shot.

It was an enjoyable 30 minutes of tormenting the piss out of Port, but the fact that we were only six points ahead didn't leave much margin for them to discover Plan B. Who knows what would have happened if they'd got their confidence up. Certainly not Ken Hinkley, who carried on the same plan and was rewarded in points. I suppose it's not his fault players can't kick straight. We still looked vulnerable, but it didn't help them to hold Oliver and Petracca collectively better than anyone else in ages because even when they won the ball it would soon be booted back to us.

A one goal first quarter in what is allegedly a marquee timeslot must have had Channel 7 executives cursing us. Not like we haven't done it before, but the other side usually kicked six. It's not our fault they failed to recognise that our 2021 success was built on the greatest defence known to man rather than the sort of free-scoring antics that erupted during September. Enthusiasts would have been marvelling over how well we made it impossible for them to find decent targets, the people who send out invoices for ads would have been slashing their wrists

There followed an extended quarter time break. Not for anyone smart enough to have a clear schedule, but for idiots who needed an hour to drive home. This required an extended communication blackout, including no radio, phone on 'do not disturb', and looking away when driving past houses with TVs on in case I saw spoilers. I hate doing this, but if I listened to us play on the radio it would end in the biggest car crash since The French Connection. It's safer for everybody this way.

By the time I picked the delayed telecast up Port probably still didn't have a goal in real life. I'd have been a lot more comfortable if I'd known that, because it took us an inordinately long time to take the hint and lay the boots into them. Our best chance early in the second quarter was from a Gawn mark. For the second week in a row, commentators opted not to make a big deal about his previous kicking mishaps and he responded by missing. 

Reports of Max's death at the hands of Luke Jackson were premature, he was fantastic. It wasn't a flawless performance, witness one of the worst attempts at a snap ever, and the handball in the middle of the ground straight into a Port player's guts, but his presence in all parts of the ground scared the shit out of the opposition. Admittedly, their ruckman going down with a shoulder injury helped, but it was still classic Maximum. He's been so good for so long now you nearly forgot how close things came to disaster before 2015.

Their ruckman might have had a sore shoulder, but at least he didn't cop one in the Lou Rawls like Steven May. Thank god that's all it was, because he hit the ground looking like he'd been elbowed in the face by Tom Hawkins again. "That's a knee into the belly or thigh", said Hamish McLachlan kindly, opting not to raise the serious topic of plum distress in PG time.

After a quarter and a half of footy that would have made Paul Roos bar up, the life of Channel Seven's Chief Financial Officer was saved by Grand Final hero Bayley Fritsch, who ran around from a mark and whomped it through from 50. Crates of cocaine were opened in the Andrew O'Keefe Room at Seven HQ when we plowed straight out of the middle for another. This chance came directly from a horrible bounce that dropped right to the Port ruckman's advantage, furthering my theory that uncontested ruck duals backfire more often than not.

At last Port were sagging, and a few TV executives might have switched to the glass barbeque if Petracca had converted the next chance. They didn't have to wait long to celebrate, with Viney and Harmes tossing another pair of logs on the bonfire, leaving the Adelaide Oval eerily silent. 

The sort of people who complain about the 1907 SANFL premiership not being counted next to real flags would have been kicking their screens in at the revelation that this was their first ever goalless half. Regardless of how you measure the history of Port Adelaide/Port Power and the relationship between the VFL/AFL to the minor leagues, think about how much rubbish they've put out since 1997 and appreciate that achievement. We lost one game by 186 and will never hear the end of it, they lost two in a row by 300 combined and still managed first half goals from somewhere. Sure, they got three and Collingwood/Hawthorn combined for 27 so they'd probably prefer this result, but it was still a welcome achievement.

The record that nobody will ever speak about again had to withstand a final test, with Port kicking for goal after the siren. Or not as the case may be, due to some nuffy grappling with Bowey behind the goal and causing a reversal. The unashamed JOY of our players in having sucked them into this mistake was wonderful. Now I know what premiership arrogance really looks like.

And Kayo, yes the play logo ethereally hovering over Clayton Oliver demonstrates that I stole this image by pressing 'print screen', but I've done more to promote you than that cockhead in the ad who only just discovered the site exists five years late. Having said that, if the "SBOX_FATAL_MEMORY_EXCEEDED" error that booted me out 20 seconds after the final siren ever happens during a thriller I'll be at your office at 9am Monday morning.

The big benefit to watching on delay is that you don't have to sit through half time. Jeff Kennett's fashion advice might be controversial, but he was right that the long break could stand to be a few minutes shorter. In this case, it was only as long as it took me to scan to the start of the third term. Things were going so well that I was nearly scared to do it. For once I could have done with some reflection time. 

When the wee little fellow who gave the free away at the end of the second nearly made amends I was worried, and like the first quarter they had plenty of chances that were wasted by attacking like arseholes. Next thing we're down the other end, Pickett is turning multiple Port players into the turf and Harmes made it seven goals to nil. Still wouldn't have had money on it, even with Oliver (never Ollie) Wines DQed with the unique description of 'nausea'. He ended up having heart scans, and unlike many of his teammates they actually found one.

Port were in such disarray that they managed to stuff up several of the easiest chances at goal you'll ever get, all in the same play. Even after being allowed to run about 50 metres without bouncing they stuffed up so many times in short succession that the very good James Jordon flew in for a late smother. There's never been a better time for this music:
These slapstick shenanigans led to a goal. Unfortunately for the Port fans watching their hopes and dreams slip away, it went to Max Gawn, who did one of his trademark runs to open the angle, followed by a kick that had more power than an intercontinental ballistic missile. You'd be mad not to have somebody stand as close as legal on his right flank whenever he's holding the ball 50 metres out. Anyone else who lets him kick one from the same spot is just negligent.

The locals were so gloomy that they didn't even riot when Langdon was gifted a 50 and goal for being held after disposing of the ball. There's a rule they brought in and promptly forgot about for a few years. Nuffy Cam might have been retired, but Sad Fan Cam was in its element. They'll have to be shit for a few years before any of these shots qualify for an MFC 2018/2021 style 'remember when?' montage.

By now, the real action was in how few points we could keep them to. We got within four minutes of the first goalless three quarters since 1992 before they gave up on their half-baked efforts at crafting a goal and just thumped one from distance. I've seen bad forward lines in my time (some from teams not called Melbourne) and I can't remember much worse play between the 50s. Their defenders did a decent job stopping us scoring, but their escape attempts had worse endings than Ronald Ryan. And I probably wouldn't have been as concerned about their forwards if I'd known S. May would be playing on S. Mayes and his eight goals in five years. Just the sort of player who'd usually have the day of his life against us.

Regardless of what we'd scored, keeping a side to 1.8 at three quarter time was a novelty. We'd reached the Chris Sullivan Line by the barest margin so I was forced to accept there was no way to lose. Now we needed to pile on goals that would either cause Adeladians to storm the exits like a fire alarm had gone off, or make them stay behind to try and crucify Ken. I still counted down the first few minutes as extra insurance against a new record comeback. This proved that at its lowest point, the Line is not as comforting as I've always claimed. Happily, the continuing saga of their awful inside 50s helped take a few minutes off, long enough for McDonald to find Fritsch on his own in Umpire Squib Pocket for a sealer even I couldn't deny.

It would have been nice if the score had gotten perverse. Even if nobody scored for the quarter and they ended on one goal it would have been fun. One of the highlights had been our pressure, featuring an unusual number of handball smothers, and we could have provoked civil disorder by adding a few exclamation mark goals. I don't think their fans were up for chaos, so god knows why else they were still there. Maybe it was to bronx cheer Jordon for kicking out on the full, when their side had 1.10 in the last quarter of a game that was about to leave them 0-4. That showed him. At one point the director hit the wrong button and reactivated Nuffy Cam, proving that people won't stop sooking about umpires, even when their side is guilty of every sporting crime in the book. 

Talk about how we hadn't kept anybody under 30 since the 1970s was good, but less impressive when you consider that we left Gold Coast on exactly that 11 games ago. It's a shame we fell two points short of winning by the ton that day, because there's never been a more perfect game played in front of nobody. Jake Bowey probably went out that day thinking he'd be in the side for a couple of weeks then depart before finals, now he's closing on our all-time club record winning start (14-0 by Bryan Keneally, fact fans), with a flag and two Rising Star nominations. That's the AFL equivalent of winning Powerball, and I bet he's not looking over his shoulder waiting for it to go tits up.

Sadly our manic pressure didn't stretch the full four quarters, and much to the wholesome delight of the crowd Port got the last three goals. Considering how we'd squeezed the life out of them off a six day break I wasn't mad. The people pictured were so happy at these consolation goals that I felt bad about wanting to transfer some of the misery from the days when we struggled to reach double figures. 2014 is actually a very long time ago now, but remember scoring under 40 six times and still being happy because we didn't lose by a thousand every week?

In the end, a 33 point margin didn't flatter us, but I'm not going to complain. We're building up to a September style assault on somebody, it didn't need to happen here. Consider it a favour to Port, if we'd piled on too many goals they might have had to pay the coach out. Now they can spend the money on the rest of The Best of INXS and carry on community singing. Speaking of Ke(r)n, remember when this Twitter account lit up the internet for about 15 minutes in 2013?

You had to be there, and if you were you probably remember us being pulverised every week. We're not handing out regular pulverisations (?) yet, but we do win a hell of lot by comparison. I love this shit.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - James Jordon
3 - James Harmes
2 - Steven May
1 - Jack Viney

Apologies to Brayshaw, Jackson, Langdon and Neal-Bullen.

Leaderboard
'Team effort' season continues, with four of the five vote-getters featuring for the first time in 2022. With 14 men already on the board, we'll see if it settles into the familiar pattern of around 20 player polling, or whether everyone down to a mid-season draftee gets a chance to score. 

8 - Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca
7 - Jake Bowey (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Ed Langdon
5 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
4 - Angus Brayshaw, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
3 - Ben Brown, James Harmes
2 - Steven May, Alex Neal-Bullen
1 - Jack Viney, Sam Weideman

Simpsons Crossover Corner
Travis Boak has done a lot of excellent things in his career, but I can't hear his name without thinking:


Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
After a big run of sizzlers last week, it was back to meat 'n veg stuff here. They all count for six. With respect to Gawn's big bomb, I have to go for the excitement of Fritsch trotting merrily around dispirited opposition for the goal that opened - relatively speaking - the floodgates.

For the weekly prize, Bayley wins two tickets to Schnitz 'n Fritz.  

No change to the top three for the season: 
1 - Langdon vs Essendon
2 - Petracca vs Essendon
3 - Pickett vs Gold Coast 

Next Week
It's the Giants on Saturday night, and as it stands I will be able to go to the MCG and stay for four quarters without having to leave or watch any of the game hours later. So obviously we'll lose, probably to Hogan and Preuss kicking 12 each. (UPDATE - Well, it won't be Preuss, thanks to elbowing David Mundy in the head on Saturday afternoon. Hogan will have to do 24 on his own).

Alas, the Weid missed his chance to knock McSizzle out of the running for our second tall forward job. Which is a shame, because he's probably a better long term option. For the love of god nobody get the idea of playing them both with Brown, it's not sustainable. I wouldn't slash my wrists if they backed Weideman in and 'rested' McDonald, but if you can't see all three in the side in September they shouldn't be there now. The forward line isn't going at full pelt, but with Jackson and Gawn wandering around down there it's not for lack of talls.

At the other end, I've not been crazy about Hunt this year but not sure what alternatives we've got until Hibberd or Salem are fit. Joel Smith did the job (for a few weeks) when Mr. Owl Energy was hurt at the end of last year, but I'm not sure that's his best use. May as well hold and wait for Hibberd or A. Rookie, while Smith goes back into the chasing pack, waiting for one of May, Lever, Tomlinson or Petty to fall over. 

The good news for Toby Bedford is that our fixture keeps allowing him to play in the VFL as well as be an unused sub, so we may as well just keep handing him Chandler-esque free games until there's a schedule clash.

I think we'll win, but I thought that the last time I watched four quarters at the MCG, against the Giants last year. That day our forward line had a touch of the Port Adelaides and/or Ebola Virus and we couldn't kick a big enough score to cover the measly total our backline held GWS to. You hope for better, but it could happen again.

IN: B. Brown
OUT: Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: Hunt
UNLUCKY: Smith

Final thoughts
More wins please, by any means necessary. Eight more for finals will be a good start. And in the short term, now that one half of Adelaide has been conquered it's time for the women to tip the Crows over on Saturday afternoon, leaving Melbourne holding every bit of team silverware offered by the Australian Football League. (UPDATE - Well, that didn't happen).

Monday, 4 April 2022

One Step Beyond

It's official, as if you didn't already know, there has never been a better time to follow Melbourne in 60 years. The men are the best team in the country, and after six years of battling away at the top of the ladder, the women finally get their chance at a flag. We - some of us from very much afar - have been on a wild AFLW ride since 2017. 

When our women's team graduated from an occasional collection of exhibition game players to an actual club, the men were still a bit shit, and had recently said goodbye, farewell, and amen to Paul Roos' storied coaching career with a 111 point loss. The idea that they'd play finals a year later much less win the bloody comp not long after was still ludicrous. After losing their first game (appropriately enough in the rain, against Brisbane), this version of Melbourne FC Women has given good value ever since. They only missed finals the first two years because there was no reward for finishing third, and otherwise have done no worse than a 4-3 season in 2019. Now, in their third consecutive finals appearance, they've finally got an opportunity to win it all before being scattered to the winds as the league props up a ludicrously optimistic set of expansion clubs. 

It's not quite 'now or never', but there seems to have been an appropriate build to this moment. Adelaide and Brisbane have both won flags, and our fellow Class of 2013 chums Footscray also managed to nick one before turning into perennial disappointments. Here we are effectively in the same boat as Carlton, who have done nothing more than occupy a spot for six years. They did use the failed conference to blag their way into a Grand Final... where they were thrashed by Adelaide. I'm not certain we'll fare any better, but it's a great leap forward just to have the chance. 

A short nine years after the first one, the league had some ordinary luck with scheduling a game at the MCG. It landed on a day with pissing rain, and even with live attendance severely necked by COVID the 6436 attendance would have been a letdown. Mind you, last time we played the Lions at Casey a massive 743 turned up, so it wasn't that bad. Also outdrew the GWS vs Gold Coast men's game by 2000, but that's more their shame than anything else.

Regardless of how many people were there, playing in a stadium should have suited us well. You can't judge anything from thrashing Freo after losing a third of the team to the 'cron, but comparing our ball movement at its best to the usual slopping around Casey in unplayable winds suggested anywhere with half-decent structures around the ground should work in our favour. Unless the day coincides with shit weather, making it hard to string together any decent chain of possessions and all but wiping out our most dominant forward. 

Eventually we found other avenues to score, but not without a tremendous struggle - and a stroke of good luck at the other end. Channel 7's lead in program featured unlikeable motorcycle cops letting an Irishman off for using his mobile while driving, partly because he "had a good attitude" and because they enjoyed his accent. This was followed by narration featuring the phrase "to be sure, to be sure" and background music from Riverdance. Even more offensive, them believing his BULLSHIT claim that in Ireland you can hold your phone as long as you're looking for directions. 

The umpires must have been watching 7 during their warmup, because about 45 minutes later they took a similarly pro-Irish stance and ignored Goldrick hanging off the back of her opponent's jumper like she was abseiling. It saved a certain goal, though the Brisbane player didn't do herself any favours by distracting from the contact by dramatically throwing her arms around like a windmill. Still, it was a big let-off when we looked a chance to end the afternoon on 0.0. 

Despite totally outplaying us, it was Brisbane's only score of the quarter - and indeed the only score full stop. As the sides slugged to that solitary point I could almost hear the whinging of people who were upset that the game had been given its own timeslot, denying them the chance to watch the Suns/Giants shitebuster. It wasn't a great game, but the high-pitched, womanly noise of excitement from the crowd whenever something exciting happened was a reminder that defeated middle-aged men were not the target market.

Finishing the quarter a point behind felt like - and turned out to be - an all-time great let-off. The backline held up well, with an assist to some suicidal attacking by the Lions, but we just didn't seem to have any hope of kicking a big score. They didn't look likely to romp to victory either, but I was confident if the final score was 15-10 they'd be the one ahead. So it was flat-out, Ronald Biggs level theft when we kicked the opening goal. I've got NFI who got the last one in the exhibition games, but let the record show Alyssa Bannan did it first when it counted. She paid tribute to the milestone with elite, Wonaeamirri level celebrations.

Regrettably, this goal against the run of play didn't cause the Lions to withdraw in shame. In fact, they were soon back in front and we only got to the half level courtesy of a missed shot after the siren. We'd done well to hold them up long enough to get into the break on level terms, but I was still convinced they were going to romp by us in the end. When they got the first goal after half time I'd have almost had my house on it, because if we'd learnt nothing else from several hundred match reviews over the years I'm a coward who will wave the white flag under any duress. I was just cutting out fabric to create my instrument of surrender as they went forward again, but soon to be two time premiership player Birch saved the day, opening the door for the lightning burst that ultimately won the game.

First Bannan (who I will stop instinctively typing as 'banana' by the end of her career) ran onto a loose ball to put us back in front, then Lauren Pearce snatched one out of a ruck contest an thumped it through a minute later to give us extra breathing room. From the first quarter, when it was clear Harris would be well held in the conditions, I thought crumb was our path to glory. Enter Eliza McNamara, knocked into next week in her previous Preliminary Final start, beating three opponents in the pocket, then rolling a snap past three more - stitching up almost half of Brisbane's team in one moment. 

It was so Langdonesquely unexpected that considering the occasion it's almost the greatest AFLW goal we've ever kicked. When it went in I was walking through a car park and the excitement caused me to thrust my phone in the air and yelled "YES!" to the confusion and fear and a pair of matrons walking the other way. Even if I'd tried to explain they wouldn't have understood..

I'll never be comfortable with any sort of realistic lead, but when Bannan got her third at the start of the last quarter it looked time to put the feet up and go on a victory lap. And based on how the rest of the game had gone, that should have been it. But this is Melbourne, there's always got to be some spanner in the works to keep things interesting. We couldn't just throw another couple on and win in a canter, it had to get uncomfortably close.

Their first goal was bad enough, but things got EXTRAORDINARILY nervous when they got another one with 30 seconds remaining. Even worse is that it came after we'd won the AFLW equivalent of a 6-6-6 free (6-6-4? 4-6-6?, 6-4-6, 13 11 66 Pizza Hut delivery?) after Daisy flapped her arms like a mad woman to alert the umpires to Brisbane being out of position. We might have used this opportunity to dink the ball around, run the clock and look towards next week. Instead the kick was botched and it was straight down the other end to face 30 seconds of terror.

Appropriately, the job fell to our old chum Greta Bodey, bouncing back from twice missing kicks after the siren to convert this time. It would have been ironic, in a rude way, if this ended in somebody else sinking us with a kick after time ran out. Clearly knowing that there was stuff all time left she was quick to kick it, sadly not rushing her routine and landing it in Row Z of the Warne Stand.

Somehow we acted more like modern Melbourne than the classic version and held on. I hadn't taken a breath for so long that I might have started to turn purple by the siren. Making a Grand Final is all well and good for the fans, but it's the veteran players I would have been shattered for if we'd thrown it away. Original recipe players like Lampard, Mithen and Lauren Pearce have time for another crack, and Paxmania looks likely to go on longer than Dustin Fletcher, but I was particularly invested on behalf of Shelley Scott and Daisy Pearce.

After 3.5 quarters of wondering if Scott had gone a year too far, she put in a couple of superb defensive efforts when the game was on the line. And obviously, everyone wants to win for Daisy, who has not been through the same trials as Nathan Jones but has been the female face of our club for nine years and deserved a shot at glory. There's never been a player so beloved that you can double the value of your baby simply by handing her a texta. Why did I never think of that?

Daisy Pearce signing a baby at the G' πŸ‘Ά pic.twitter.com/SJDUbzEUaz

— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 2, 2022

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Alyssa Bannan
3 - Eliza McNamara
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Lauren Pearce

Apologies to Birch, Gay, Goldrick, Hanks, Mithen and Purcell

Leaderboard
Just when you thought it was safe to write Paxy off, she's roared back to within one BOG of pinching the lot. And if it's a BOG in a Grand Final that carries us over the line her trophy should be delivered on a golden throne held aloft by peasants. With one to play it's congratulations to Birch and West, who have sealed victory in their respective categories. 

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

Next week
There was one last part of the equation, crossing our fingers that Freo would topple Adelaide so the Grand Final would be played here. It was unlikely before the bounce, and looked even less so when the Crows jumped to a lead. Freo kept it interesting until about three quarter time, but a missed shot that would have cut the lead to less than a kick was their final gasp. Adelaide went straight down the other end to kill them off and it was no MCG Grand Final for us - for the next five months anyway.

If we're going to do this it will come the hard way. So, all roads lead to Football Park at 12:30 on Saturday. As a believer in games starting as early as possible there's never been a better time for a Grand Final. A decade ago I'd have paid to fly to Adelaide and get my live Grand Final one way or the other. No chance these days so best of luck to those of you who are going to step into the abyss and try to punt us home the double. Why not go for the Thursday night game as well and make it a treble? If you've got time for all that I'm so envious it causes me physical pain.

Based on our last two starts against the Crows, this isn't going to turn out well. Both times they've stopped us kicking a decent score - and in the case of last year's Prelim almost any score at all. Bannan coming into form is a good insurance policy against Harris being well held. Still, we're not going to win this 15-10, it's not enough to save it in defence we'll have to go on the attack. A good start will help, I wouldn't fancy trying to chase them down. But we can do this. In the middle of last season we upset them - albeit at Fortress Casey - and it could happen again. It'll be ironic if I survived my near death experience on 25/09 and this is the game that kills me.

Final thoughts
Gut feeling says they'll beat us, but I'm still full of hope. Either way, this time next week we could own all the AFL premierships. Preposterous.