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.

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

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.

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