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.

'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)

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).

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